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.”

Cuz That’s How I Roll

Me: “Who are you taking with you this morning?”

B&B: “What?”

Me: “Who are you taking with you? To your thing?”

B&B: “Um. No one.”

Silence.

Hmmm.

Me: “So I have everybody? I’ll watch Waldorf’s lacrosse game and make sure the other 3 are entertained while you learn to prune a shrub?”

B&B: “Yes, that’s the plan.”

The plan is junk.

2 months ago, B&B sent me a text,

“What are we doing on the morning of April 27th?”

I answered,

“Um, nothing yet. Why?”

He replied,

“Excellent! The township is offering a free seminar on pruning trees. I signed up! They are giving away a free tree to every person who attends!”

I replied,

“Cool.”

B&B loves all things landscaping. I applaud the township’s initiative, and I was happy B&B wanted to attend.

He texted,

“Maybe I’ll take Waldorf and the Kenyan to the seminar. It’s about time they start helping me with the yardwork.”

Even better.

But the spring sports season is in high gear. And Waldorf has a two hour lacrosse tournament.

Me: “So, you’re not going to take the Kenyan?”

B&B: “Nah. He can help you with the younger two.”

Fat chance.

B&B: “The Verb and the Interrogator are already dressed, so that should help.”

12 minutes before we have to leave the house, I get a good look at the Interrogator and the Verb. Yes, they’re both dressed. In yesterday’s clothes from Blue and Blue Day. With face paint to boot.

I strip them down and scrub their faces while hollering down the stairs to Waldorf and the Kenyan…

Me: “Guys! Do you have your shoes on? Waldorf, do you have your equipment? Can you please fill your water bottle? Kenyan? Can you hear me? Do you have your shoes on? Jackets?”

I head downstairs, chanting, “snacks, water, snacks, water, snacks, water,” so that I remember why I descended the stairs in the first place. I fill a bag with graham crackers, sliced apples, and water.

Ah, what the heck…

I throw in a bag of chocolate chip cookies on impulse. Homemade chocolate chip cookies.

That’s a bagful of calories I don’t need right now, but the boys will be thrilled.

I usher the kids out the door and look down to discover I’m still in pajamas.

Alrighty then…

While I get dressed, I review my mental checklist:

  • Boys, check.
  • Lacrosse equipment, check.
  • Waldorf’s Water bottle, check.
  • Snacks, check.
  • Water, check.
  • Coats, check.
  • Double stroller, check.
  • Books, check.
  • Stadium blanket, check.
  • Suntan lotion, check.
  • Folding chairs…

“Folding chairs, folding chairs, folding chairs,” is my mantra on my way out to the shed. I grab two folding chairs, and we’re officially running late.

The field is 5 minutes away. I find a parking spot, throw the car in park and jump out to load up the double stroller with kids, chairs, and bags.

Interrogator: Urgently, “Oh, Mom, Mom, the Verb and I want to jump on the mats! Right, Verb? We want to be on the blue mats and the red mats. OK, Mom? We love jumping on the mats, Mom.”

Me: “Interrogator, there’s no jumping on the mats, buddy. We’re going to be on the lacrosse field, not the track.”

Interrogator: Disappointed, “Why, Mom? Why can’t we be on the mats? I love the mats. The mats are fun. Lacrosse fields aren’t fun. Why can’t we have fun, Mom?”

Me: “Oh, you’ll have lots of fun when we get to the field. Let’s go, boys.”

2 kids in the stroller. 2 chairs on the stroller. The straps of a bag filled with food, extra water, sweatshirts, and sunscreen make an impression on my shoulder. Waldorf walks with his stick and an empty hand. The Kenyan walks, carrying the stadium blanket and an open copy of Catching Fire. He reads while he shuffles along behind us.

Yes, I’m aware it’s too old a book for him.

“Kenyan, close the book please until we get to the field. Waldorf, where’s your water bottle?”

He stares at me through his helmet. He looks at the car. He looks back at me.

“Um.”

Never fails.

I lift my hand and aim the keys at the car. Hit the button to unlock it. The door slides open. He still stands there staring at me.

I can lead him to water…and I do…

I move my hand in a circular motion as my eyes roll back into my head. “Let’s go, Waldorf. Get the water bottle. It frustrates me when you expect me to think for you.”

He gets his water bottle, and we head toward the field. It’s a good ¼ mile walk.

Me: “Waldorf, run ahead to warm up with your team. We’ll be right there.”

Waldorf: Hedging, “Um, I like to walk with you. I’m not sure where to go. So, it’s ok if I’m…uh…a little late because I don’t want to..uh…get lost, you know.”

My eyes roll back in my head again. I breathe deeply.

Tree pruning seminar?

We wind up behind a heavy set guy who occupies most of the path.

Beep beep, come on, dude, I have this rig snapping at your heels. Walk right, pass left, let me by!

Someone grabs my arm and I hear a familiar voice…”HEY!”

I turn to see my one of my best friends smiling at me. She looks concerned, “Are you OK?”

My eyes must still be caught in the back of my head. She takes inventory of me…the double stroller, the oversized bag, the chairs piled on the stroller, the four kids.

“Where’s B&B?”

There go my eyes again, “Tree pruning seminar.”

Friend: “What?”

Me: “Exactly.”

She smiles. “Love ya, babe.”

I don’t even bother trying to return the smile.

I turn back to the path and we overtake the big guy. Going uphill.

I’ll choose your lane for you, chief.

There are a dozen teams playing, so we scour the fields to see which Waldorf’s team occupies. I put my hand on his helmet and turn it to face the course he should take.

Mom: “Go, have fun, I love you!”

I roll my kids toward a less populated area of the field.

“Excuse me, pardon me, I’ll just roll to the left, oops, no you’re good, I’ll go this way, thanks. Oh, watch that chair, sorry, Kenyan, close the book, sorry, I’m fine, thanks, no, you sit, I’m good.”

We set up shop in a vacant corner of the field with the woods at our backs.

Me: “Boys, here’s the deal. You may go to the edge of the woods, but you may not step into the woods.”

Interrogator: “Why can’t we go into the woods, Mom? I want to go into the woods, Mom.”

Me: “There are ticks in there.” No reaction. “And snakes.” Stoic. “And poison ivy.” Nothing. “And wolves.” 3 sets of eyes widen. Bingo.

It takes me 90 seconds to lay out the blanket and assemble the chairs. I turn around to find the Interrogator and the Verb with their pants around their ankles peeing into the wind.

Me: “Guys, pee into the woods next time, not out in the open!”

Interrogator: “We don’t want the wolf to bite our penises, Mom! Right, Verb?”

That's how i roll

Verb: “Right, no wolf can bite mine penis, Mom.”

I shake my head, looking at my watch. How long does a tree pruning seminar last?

I’m able to half watch most of the first game. One of the Moms comes over to say hello. She’s absolutely lovely, both inside and out. She walks over with her dog, whom the Interrogator and the Verb know and love. The Kenyan spies the dog and heads straight to the woods to take his chances with the wolves.

The Verb and the Interrogator pet the dog and giggle at her friendly licks. We moms talk, we cheer, we clap, we encourage the players.

After a few minutes, I notice the absence of giggling.

I scan the field. Nope. I scan the double stroller and the blanket. Not there either. I look behind me…and see a flash of the Verb’s blue shirt heading into the woods.

Me: “Excuse me..”

I run after him, “Verb, Verb, Verb, Verb Middle Name Last Name, Verb, Verb, Verb, VERB!!!!!”

I reach him. Put my hands on my hips, shoot him the look, “Dude? Out of the woods!”

Splash! Plunk, Splash!

To my left, the Kenyan and the Interrogator are standing over a filthy muck-filled body of still water, launching giant rocks into it one after another.

If I’d had 3 daughters, they’d be sitting on the blanket french braiding one another’s hair. And you know it’s true.

Me: “Move away from the swamp, boys.” I catch the Interrogator’s eye, “You know what lives in swamps, Interrogator, don’t you?”

I watch the light bulb illuminate behind his eyes.

Interrogator: Whispering, “I don’t like alligators, Mom. I don’t want an alligator to eat me, Mom.”

Me: Eyebrows raised, “Then I suggest you stay away from that swamp.”

Works like a charm. The 3 of them come running back to the blanket. The Kenyan grabs his book, maintains a respectable distance between him and the dog, and lays in the grass to read. I throw graham crackers at the other two.

Game one ends, and the players switch fields. I am lucky enough to be able to move the chairs 3 feet to my right. I look at my watch…How long does a tree pruning seminar last?

Kenyan: “I saw chocolate chip cookies in there. Can I have some?”

Verb and Interrogator: “Chocolate chip cookies?! Can we have some? Pleasy pleasy please can we?!”

No way. I’m not playing those cards yet.

Me: “Not yet. You may have some after this second game is over.”

The graham crackers and the threat of the wolves in the woods are not enough to keep the Verb and the Interrogator contained to the blanket for game two. They find a set of bleachers and set out to make as much noise as possible.

Their kettle drum duet arouses the interest of two kids close in age to them. A little boy, about 4, joins them with his little sister, about 2. Cute kids. They are clutching lollipops, which could create a problem. Their Mom joins them. I look over to witness the Interrogator smiling and making himself comfortable next to Lollipop Mom on the bleachers.

Within a minute, he’s grinning from ear to ear, and she’s belly laughing.

He is a charmer, the Interrogator.

Me: “Is he being inappropriate?”

She shakes her head. “Not at all. He’s adorable.”

I walk over to be sure.

Interrogator: “And she’s really nice. And beautiful. And her birthday is in..how many days, Mom?”

The Lollipop Mom smiles at me. “He’s told me your name, how old you are, that you’re nice, and you’re beautiful, and we were just getting around to your birthday.”

Me: “So much for stranger danger, huh?”

Lollipop Mom: “Oh, he started by telling me that I’m a stranger.”

Well at least he can distinguish the people he knows from those he hasn’t met.

Turns out Lollipop Mom has four kids too. 3 boys and a girl. The little girl is adorable. And currently sharing her lollipop with the Verb. Whose nose I’ve wiped 3 times with his shirt since we arrived.

Verb: “Cough, cough.”

Me: To the 2 year old sharing her lollipop, “Ahem. I’m hoping it’s allergies, but it may be a cold. So, you may not want to share your lollipop with him.”

Interrogator: “Hey, I love lollipops too.”

Her older brother, empathetic to the Interrogator, pulls the lollipop from his own mouth and hands it, with a smile, to the Interrogator.

Interrogator: Smiling, “Thanks,” and it disappears between his lips.

Lollipop Mom and I look at each other. We shake our heads and laugh. She pulls one more lollipop from her bag. “I have one more. Can they share it?”

Me: “Fine by me. Don’t bite it, boys. Sit down with it. Take turns. One lick, one lick, two licks, two licks, three licks, three licks.”

They scream at each other immediately, “Me first, ME FIRST, let go, YOU LET GO!” I walk away, casually shrugging and telling them, “Figure it out or the Kenyan gets it.”

That ends the arguing. I check in with the Kenyan. And watch a few minutes of the game. Cheer, encourage, clap, smile.

Lovely Mom, “So the little ones have made friends, huh?”

I look back over to the bleachers.

Aw, come ON!

The Interrogator holds the lollipop, licking it. The Verb licks it simultaneously. My youngest sons are playing tonsil hockey around a pink lollipop.

I rush over and abruptly end their makeout session. Usher them back to the blanket, where they pick small black particles, probably some form of poison, from the astroturf with their sticky hands.

Lovely Mom’s Husband asks me, “Where’s B&B today?”

I smile and attempt to remove the sarcasm from my voice, “Tree pruning seminar.” I smile again because I’ve failed to remove the sarcasm.

He asks, “Is it voluntary?”

End of game 2. And so begins the chorus of…

“COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES! COOKIES!”

I look at my watch. How long is a tree pruning seminar?

Me: “Alright, guys, it looks like we have to move our traveling circus to a different field for this last game. If everyone helps, you will all get a cookie once we get settled over there.”

New chorus…

“Yay! I want the biggest cookie! I want the first cookie! I want 2 cookies! I want all the cookies!”

2 kids in the stroller, 2 chairs folded and on top of the stroller. Bag holding food, sweatshirts, sunscreen, coats, and water makes deeper impression on my shoulder. The Kenyan carries the stadium blanket and his open copy of Catching Fire.

Here’s how I roll…

“Excuse me, no, you’re good, I’m oh, I’m going this way, no, this way, oh, yes, thanks, alright, oops…sorry, is your foot OK? I’ll just turn that way a little..guys, hands in the stroller…sorry, guys, feet in the stroller…do you want those…excuse me…cookies?”

Once again, we find a vacant corner of the field. I spread the blanket, drop the bag, assemble the chairs, free my prisoners from the confines of their stroller, distribute water, and open the cookies.

Interrogator: Pointing, “I want this one. This one right here. I want it please, Mom. It’s my favorite, and I want it please.”

I hand the Interrogator his long distance request and dedication. The Verb bears witness to the handoff and proceeds to lose his wig right there on the blanket.

Me: To the Kenyan: “What’s up with him?”

Kenyan: Shrugging, “I think he wanted that cookie.”

I ignore the temper tantrum, which proves difficult because we’re bordered by woods, and the Verb’s screams echo through the foliage. The Verb sits on the blanket. He kicks his feet, his tears mingling with an abundance of snot…that may or may not be allergy-induced…and he screams with all his 3 year old might, “I’M ANGRY AT YOU, MOMMY! I’M ANGRY AT YOU!”

I actually find that statement hilarious, so I try to suppress a giggle.

We’re receiving some judgmental stares from the surrounding spectators.

F U, people. Sympathetic smiles I appreciate. Judgmental stares don’t sit well with me.

So I begin singing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen….Nobody knows my sorrow…..”

They look away, either out of embarrassment for me or fear of what will transpire next.

Ding.

I look at my phone, which displays a text from B&B, “I’m on my way. Do you need anything?”

Yes. A vat of wine and a one way ticket to a remote island.

I reply, “No.

The Verb finally calms down. I kiss his sweaty head and offer him a cookie. He wipes the snot from his nose and rubs it on my pant leg.

Thanks for that.

Me: “Boys, you can run down this hill, but you have to stop when you get to the woods. Do you understand? Yes hill. No woods.”

Chorus: “Yes, Mommy.”

They run down the hill, their arms flapping in their attempts to slow down. Their laughter floats back up the hill to me. I smile. They are content. And I have only 5 minutes until reinforcements arrive.

Evidently, a tree pruning seminar lasts 2 hours.

Clap, cheer, encourage. Clap, cheer, encourage.

I turn around to see the Verb and the Interrogator disappear into the woods.

Idiots.

I walk down the hill, collect my children, push them up the hill and deposit them on the blanket. The Verb, laughing, makes a break for it, so I lift him into the stroller in order to restrain him.

Son of a bitch goes rigid. He accompanies his ramrod straight body with screams of, “NO! NO, MOMMY, DON’T DO IT, NO NO NO!”

Do I use my strength to fight him and fold him in half?

No.

Do I wait patiently, showing no emotion, until he relaxes…the way the parenting books suggest?

Wrong again.

I open up the bag of chocolate chip cookies, I place my face very close to his, and I proceed to eat them…one enormous bite after another, within an inch of his runny nose.

Verb: Ballistic, “I WANT THOSE COOKIES! DON’T EAT THOSE COOKIES, THEY’RE MINE COOKIES! STOP EATING THEM, MOMMY!”

Bite, crunch, crunch, swallow. Bite, crunch, crunch, swallow.

You know how you’ll find smokers huddled around their cigarettes immediately after exiting a building? We happen to be inhabiting the cell phone equivalent of that area. Every 2 feet along the sidelines stands a man on a cell phone.

The Jackass on the phone closest to us makes eye contact with me while I’m in the midst of my psychotic cookie binge. He points his finger at the Verb, looks at me and makes the “Shh” sign on his lips.

Oh no u didn’t.

I immediately pick up the Verb’s convulsing body and place him directly at the Jackass’ feet.

Me: “Here, Verb, you cannot go into the woods, but you can run circles around this nice man until you’ve finished crying.”

I give the Jackass the happiest smile of my day thus far. Lots of teeth.

I turn my back on that scene and return my attention to the field.

Clap, cheer, encourage.

B&B: “Hey, what’s going on? Why’s the Verb screaming at that jackass on the phone?”

We both turn around to look at the Jackass, who’s trying to step over the Verb, who continues marching around him yelling, “I’M ANGRY AT YOU, MOMMY! I’M ANGRY AT YOU!”

Me: Shrugging, “He’s fine. How was your seminar?”

B&B: “It was good. What’s all over your face? Is that chocolate?”

Me: Wiping the crumbs from my face, “Did you get a tree?”

Him: Nodding, “Yes. A dogwood. A white one because I know you love them.”

Me: Smiling, “I do. Thanks.”

Him: “Sorry it took so long. There were some people who asked me if I could drop their trees off at their houses since I had the truck with me. So I’m glad I could help them.”

I’m so glad you could help those strangers while I scarfed down 10 cookies in an attempt to discipline your son.

Me: “That was very nice of you.”

End of game 3.

I walk away from B&B, empty handed.

B&B: “Where are you going?”

Me: “To the Acme.”

B&B: “Who are you taking with you?”

Me: Giddy, “Um, no one.”

I blow him a kiss and sprint to my car.

Just another day in paradise…

Happy Trails

“Listen up! We’re going 5 to 6 today! We’ll stay off the trails because it’s muddy! But, you guys need to get comfortable with distance!”

5 to 6 MILES?! Lay off the crack pipe, lady.

I peer down at the Kenyan, standing next to me in the rain. He’s whistling and kicking stones with his brand spankin’ new sneakers.

Between the steady pounding of the rain and the whistling…my child hasn’t heard a word his track coach just said.

“Alright, everybody ready? We have under an hour, let’s get moving!”

I sidle up alongside his coach.

Me: “Um, hi. I’m the Kenyan’s Mom. Did you mean 5 to 6 miles cumulatively? Or individually?”

Coach: “Individually.”

We both look at the Kenyan. He’s still whistling.

Coach: “How old is your son?”

Me: “He’s 8.”

Coach: “And what’s he up to?”

Me: “Pounds?” No freakin’ clue. “I don’t really know what he weighs off hand, I have 4 kids, so”

Coach: Cutting me off, “Miles. What’s he up to in miles?”

Oh, nuts. This kid has only ever run circles around our couch. How do I calculate that distance? Well, let’s see…he runs while he watches one commercial-free cartoon. Which is approximately 23 minutes.

Me: “He’s up to 2 miles. 2 ½ if he’s well rested.”

2 ½ miles if none of his brothers launches off the couch to tackle the Kenyan mid-run. Which is an epidemic in our family room.

Coach: “He’ll be fine. You running with him?”

I try to suppress a giggle. Am I hearing this right? I’m attending one of my kids’ sports practices, and I get to exercise? I’m actually encouraged to accompany him?

Track. Practice. Rocks.

Me: “Happy to.”

She turns her back to me, then quickly turns around again.

Coach: Smiles, “I don’t know what my kids weigh either. I have 5.”

Well, well, well. Look who speaks my language.

“And I homeschool them.”

OOOF! Well, that’s been settled. The homeschooling mom always wins.

happytrails

Me: “Come on, Kenyan, let’s get moving!”

This kid loves to run. He’s been running since he could walk. He’s SUPER high energy, and the running settles him down. Everybody knows this about the Kenyan. And he knows it about himself. When the Kenyan gets antsy in school, his teacher instructs him to do laps in the hallway.  When he gets home from school, I set the timer, and he runs for 8 gloriously uninterrupted minutes before starting his homework. It’s unorthodox, but it works for him.

A 1/4 mile in, I glance over and smile at my male clone.

Kenyan: “Mommy, seriously, why are we running in the rain?”

Me: Winking, “Because we’re hardcore, buddy.”

Kenyan: “No, Mommy, you and Daddy are hardcore. I could run in the family room and not get wet.”

Don’t think I hadn’t already considered that.

Me: “Ah, indeed you could, Kenyan, but here you are part of something. You are a member of a team. Dedicated to improving. This is the only place we need to be. Not many Moms and sons get to do this together on a rainy Saturday morning. I think we’re pretty lucky, huh?”

Kenyan: “Freezing cold rainy Saturday morning.”

Word.

We swap gloves because his, like the rest of him, are already soaked.

This promises to be a long 5-6.

I. Love. To. Run.

Love.

Back when I was a kid, and I hadn’t a clue what stress was, I hated running. Fast forward to one husband, one mortgage, two car payments, two kids under two years old, and one father diagnosed with cancer…and a runner was born.

Am I setting a healthy example for my kids? Yes. Can I still run faster and farther than all of my sons? You bet your ass. But Waldorf is catching up in speed, and the Kenyan is gaining on me in distance. Do I like what running does for my body? Uh, hell yeah. But these aren’t the reasons I run. They are the icing on the proverbial cake. I run because I like what it does for my mind. A run always brings me balance…even a bad run. It is the great equalizer in my life.

And if ever a girl needed some peace, it’s me.

One mile down and the Kenyan is hanging tough. The elements haven’t done him in yet. They haven’t done me in yet either, but I’m thinking the silence may get me soon.

I open my mouth to say something, but quickly catch myself…

Typically I bitch about B&B when I run. And the kids. Can’t go there, can I?  Let’s see…

Me: “So, Kenyan, would you consider yourself more a math guy or a language arts guy?”

Weakest conversation starter ever.

Kenyan: “Language arts.”

Me: “Me too!”

End of conversation.

We trudge on in silence. He slows to a walk.

Mile 2. Probably his first two consecutive miles of his life.

Me: Taking off my hat to wring the rain from the brim, “I’m so proud of how hard you’re working.”

Take that, Nurture Shock. 

Coach pulls alongside us in her golf cart somewhere in the 3rd mile.

Coach: Looking at me, “Don’t make him go the whole 5 to 6. He may be too young still.”

Master of the obvious.

Kenyan: “Mom, I think I’m gonna puke.”

Me: “You’re not gonna puke. You may vomit, but you won’t puke.”

He looks at me and smiles. He’s not gonna puke.

Kenyan: “I’ll toss my cookies.”

Me: “You’ll boot.”

Kenyan: “I’ll regurgitate.”

Smartypants.

Me: “You’ll hurl.”

We repeat this cycle…run, walk, wring out hat, positively reinforce wet 8 year old, scour our brains for synonyms for vomit…for 1 ½ more miles.

What the hell are we doing here? Is he enjoying this at all?

After practice, we drive home. The Kenyan complains his legs are tired, but it doesn’t stop him from resuming his circular running pattern around the family room almost immediately.

B&B: Quietly, “How was it?”

Me: “I think it was a disaster. But he didn’t complain too much. So I can’t be sure.”

The Kenyan talked earliest. Full goddamn sentences at 11 months. He leaned against me one day while he was watching Sesame Street. Reached out, patted my leg, and asked me, “Got crumbs, Mommy?” Nope. Mommy just needs to shave her legs, my little Baby Einstein. If he is at all displeased with something, he is very vocal about it.

B&B: “You know he would whine like an old lady if he didn’t like it.”

Me: “No doubt. I just hope he’s not doing it because we are runners, and he doesn’t want to disappoint us.”

B&B: Nodding, “See how he feels at the next practice.”

We drive to the next practice. No rain. Slightly chilly evening. I’m nervous, but trying to hide it.

Me: “Kenyan, I’m excited we get to run together again. And no rain this time!”

Crickets.

Me: “Kenyan? Are you OK?”

Kenyan: “Huh? Oh, sorry, Mom, I was just reading.”

He thinks I didn’t catch it, but my 2nd grader smuggled The Hunger Games into the car in between some Geronimo Stilton books. I remember hiding Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret between some Beverly Cleary books when I was his age.

Naturally, he’s my favorite today. Hey, I know it’s over his head, but it’s not like he’s unsupervised on YouTube.

We arrive. He does his warm-up laps. Then he does his stretching. Finally, Coach sends us out for a 3 mile trail run.

I suspect she just hammered the nails into the track coffin.

The first mile I’m sprinting to catch him. I don’t even need to look at my watch to know he’s running trails WAY faster than I do.

I hope my 8 year old doesn’t smoke me this entire run.

When I finally catch up, I’m winded. And he’s smiling brilliantly.

Kenyan: “What’s the matter, old lady? Can’t catch me?”

Game on, little man.

Me: “You’re fast tonight, Kenyan. Let’s see if you can run the entire time…no walking. Try your best. If you can’t, that’s OK. It’s something to work towards next time. But, if you can, I may hear Dairy Queen calling your name.”

Kenyan: Cupping his hand around his ear, “What’s that you say, banana split? You’re calling my name?”

Yes. I use rewards. And sometimes they contain calories. Guess what? It works.

He doesn’t stop once.

Well, except for the run-in with the “puppy”.

The Kenyan is deathly afraid of dogs. I don’t know why. He hasn’t had a traumatic experience with a dog. He’s just totally freaked by them. And I love dogs. But I think a healthy fear of a dog is a good thing for a kid. He keeps his distance, and he reduces the risk of a dog biting him square on the mug.

So, we’re cruising along…we have ½ mile left. The Kenyan hasn’t slowed a bit. He’s picking out ice cream flavors…

Kenyan: “3 scoops, right? I think I’ll get strawberry…no, no, no…cookies and cream, moose tracks, and….”

I keep running, smiling, thinking he’s alongside me. He’s not.

I turn around to find him standing as still as a statue with a look of panic in his eyes. His lips are moving, but barely a whisper escapes, “I’m afraid of dogs, I’m afraid of dogs, I’m afraid of dogs.”

I follow his line of sight and see a dog the size of a small bear running around in a field to our right. His owner’s attempting to train him, but he is headed straight for my Kenyan.

Shit.

I change course and sprint at the oncoming dog.

We collide 10 feet before he reaches my son, who is now wheezing with fear.

And then the damn dog mounts me and attempts to impregnate me.

Come on, not in front of my kid!

His owner finally catches up to us and attempts to remove his gigantic animal from my violated body.

Owner: “Sorry, he’s a puppy. He’s still so excited.”

I gathered that.

I have hay in my hair and paw prints on my running gear. But we’ve got a run to finish.

Me: “Kenyan, you were saying? Cookies and cream, moose tracks, and what?”

Kenyan: “Oh, oh, yeah, maybe cake batter.”

We finally finish, and I have to turn away from him and act like I’m catching my breath.

Truly, I’m hiding my tears.

I couldn’t be prouder of my 2nd son. The baby who smiled when the breeze blew. The one year old who took his first steps and then ran. The toddler who worshipped his older brother. The little boy who began drawing and wouldn’t stop until each detail was perfect. The boy whose younger brothers always want to sit alongside. The child who has more imagination in his little finger than I have in my entire body.

He didn’t think he could do it. I didn’t think he could do it. I know it’s “just practice”, but the Kenyan buried it. And I couldn’t be prouder.

So, we head straight to DQ. I call my Little Sister out on the West Coast to fill her in on our evening.

Me: “I love track! It’s so much fun! And today Coach had us do a trail run…my favorite!”

Little Sister: “Wait, are YOU running track or is the Kenyan running track?”

Me: I glance over my shoulder at him and whisper, “We’re running it together.”

Kenyan: “I can hear you, Mom. I AM RUNNING TRACK! NOT MOMMY! Now tell her about the ferocious beast that attacked you.”

We get home and B&B looks at us expectantly.

B&B: Reaches over and removes straw from my hair, “Well?”

Me: Smiling, “He killed it. KILLED it. ½ mile warm up, 3 mile trail run, ½ mile cool down. Without stopping.”

Kenyan: “Except for the puppy incident.”

Me: Shaking my head, “Please, Kenyan, it makes me feel dirty. Let’s not talk about it.”

B&B: Smiling and high fiving the Kenyan, “We’re really proud of you, Kenyan. Way to turn it around!”

Kenyan: “Mom, did I run 4 miles tonight?”

Me: “You sure did, buddy.”

Kenyan: Smiling, “Only 1 more until I’m at 5 miles…just where Coach wants me to be!”

He runs up the stairs to shower. And I shake my head.

I stand corrected. Son of a bitch WAS listening.

The Jedi Mind Tricks my Kids Play

I don’t know a thing about raising girls. I do have some experience with raising boys.

Whether I’m doing anything right is an entirely different animal.

It has been my experience with boys that they need to move their bodies around. Frequently.  So, we hang at the playground after I pick them up from school every day. Before you go kidding yourself that I’m a great Mom, allow me confess…it’s a selfish move on my part. This playground situation is ideal for me. Because the second that my kids enter my car to drive home from school, the commotion reaches an immediate peak. And it remains there, at that ungodly high level, until they are all finally in bed. That’s 6 solid hours of commotion.

Um, no thanks.

The playground sets me up for a mere 5 solid hours of commotion.

It’s less than ideal, but I’ll take it.

One day last month, we’re at the playground. There are a few regulars, who are there every day, like we are. The groupies. I love these other broads. Some are Moms. Some are nannies. We are different ages, different ethnicities, different backgrounds. So, while my kids shake their sillies out, I enjoy the camaraderie of these women who share their unique stories with me.

Maggie is a groupie. Maggie has one son, Eddie.  Eddie is a good buddy of Waldorf’s. Maggie stays home with her son. And his other Mom, Jaclyn, works full time. We adore this family.

Maggie: Half smiling, “So, Jaclyn and I were talking to Eddie about what were to happen if we both die.”

Me: Eyebrows raised, “Oh, yeah? Serious chat to have with your 10 year old.”

Maggie: Nodding, “Yeah, but you know it’s just the three of us.  So, guess what he said?”

Me: “What?”

Maggie: Big smile, “He says, ‘If you both die, I want to live with Waldorf.’”

Me: Incredulous, “Shut up! He did not!”

Maggie: Nodding, “Yes, he did. He said he wants to live with you guys.”

Me: “Jesus, Maggie, seriously?  It would be a tight squeeze, but we’d be happy to have him.”

I am smiling. Glowing. I stay home with the kids, right? But I am somebody who thrives on setting goals, working toward them, and achieving them. That means I have to derive a great deal of pleasure from cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes.  Because I don’t know whether my raising of these kids will be successful for another 20-30 years. Waldorf’s friend wants to live with us if his parents die? That’s an enormous compliment to me. Positive reinforcement at its finest. And I’m a sucker for positive reinforcement.

We love this boy, and we’d be honored to welcome him into our family if, God forbid, he ever loses these wonderful women.

Why us, I wonder?

I wonder if it’s because he sees how I interact with my own kids.

Fun Mom.

Maybe it’s my brownies. Oh, and the chocolate chip cookie bars! Yes, he loves my baking.

Mom who cooks.

You know what? Eddie’s an only child. I bet he’d love to be a part of our crazy dynamic.

Mom who gives her children siblings.

Oh, wait…how could I overlook this one? It’s B&B! He’d love to have B&B as a father figure!

Mom who is married to virile man.

Maybe it’s the entire package!

I smile, look at Maggie, and she smiles back at me.

Well, how about that…maybe we are doing something right.

Me: Excited, “Did he say anything more? Did he tell you why he’d want to live with us?”

Maggie: Nodding, “Oh, yeah, yeah. We asked him ‘is it because you see how good Waldorf’s Mom is with him and his brothers?’”

I raise my eyebrows expectantly….

This is the greatest day of my life. I am savoring this moment. This one right here. Moment of happiness.

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

Eyebrows fall…

Oh.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because Waldorf’s Mom is always bringing those delicious snacks to the playground? Because she always has the good food for Waldorf and his brothers?’”

Eyebrows back up…

The way to a boy’s heart is through his stomach, yes?

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

Dammit.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because of B&B? You know, cuz you don’t have a Dad, you just have us women?’”

I raise my eyebrows again…

Sometimes the sheer Leave It to Beaver-ness of our family makes me nauseous, but maybe it’s appealing to a kid whose family is less traditional. And B&B is a stud of a Daddy.

Maggie: “He said, ‘nope.’”

That settles it. Must be all the Gremlins under our roof.

Maggie: “We asked him, ‘is it because they’re such a big family? All those kids to play with? All that fun to be had?’”

My head hurts from all of this eyebrow raising…

Has to be. Doesn’t it?

Me: “And?”

Maggie: Smiling, “He said, ‘it’s not that Waldorf has so many brothers. It’s that he orders them around. And they listen to him. I watch them. They do it here, on the playground. Waldorf tells the younger ones what to do…and they do it. Every time. I want to live with them so I can give the orders and watch the younger boys carry them out.”

Come again?

Me: “Well, Maggie, this has indeed been both an enlightening and a humbling conversation.”

Maggie: Laughing in agreement, “That’s what he says. He wants to live with you so he can order the younger guys around.”

Pfffffffffft. That’s the sound of my bubble bursting.

I pick up what remains of the homemade brownies, along with the pieces of my shattered ego, corral the kids, and head to the car for my 5 consecutive hours of commotion.

The Pecking Order of siblings. It exists indeed. And it is alive and well in our home.

The Interrogator recently celebrated a birthday. I was slightly nervous about his reaction to his presents after our Valentine’s Day debacle. But, he was thrilled with everything…hard to go wrong with all things Ninjago.

The behavior of his brothers, older and younger, during his opening of the presents was especially interesting to watch.

Typically, I am awake and downstairs by 6AM, finishing the packing of the lunches and the snacks for the kids to take to school. I am vigilant about where I place my feet when I walk down the steps. I know which floorboards creak the loudest and avoid them at all costs. A quiet exit from my bedroom and stealthy descent down the stairs will ensure I’m able to listen, even for only a few minutes, to Howard Stern. Or to the beautiful silence of no one asking me for a goddamn thing.

This happens once every 3-4 weeks.

On birthday mornings, everybody gets up extra early, so any plans for solitude are shot.

But, that’s OK, because I am as excited for the kids’ birthday as they are.  

Every morning, the Verb jumps out of bed with the gusto only a 3 year old can possess.

BOOM!

Verb: “MOM! I’M ALL DONE SLEEPING! I HAVE TO GO PEE!”

The loud boom of the Verb’s feet hitting the ground usually wakes the Interrogator, who sleeps in the bunk above his younger brother. If not, the follow up announcement about relieving himself typically does the trick.

The morning of the Interrogator’s birthday, my little Verb is up before 6. The birthday boy awakes then as well. Within 2 minutes, the Kenyan and Waldorf appear in the hallway.

Me: “What’s the special occasion, guys? Everybody’s excited to get to school early?”

Waldorf: Straight faced, “Ha ha.”

Kenyan: Laughing, “Oh, yeah, Mom, let’s go right away!”

Verb: “Huh? Mommy, it’s the Interrogator’s birthday!!”

Interrogator: Smiling shyly and rubbing his tired eyes,“It’s my birthday, Mom. My 6 birthday. Now I’m 6, Mom.”

Love. Complete and unconditional.

I hug and kiss my birthday boy, the baby who, upon his exit, left me feeling as though my uterus was carrying around a bucket of marbles for a solid 6 months post-partum. Heavy marbles. That moved nonstop.

Me: “Happy birthday, sweet boy.”

The kids race down the steps in anticipation of the Interrogator’s opening his presents. The Interrogator, smiling, reaches for the first present. The biggest present. On the bottom of the present pile.

Waldorf: “Wait, hold on! Don’t you want to open THIS present first?”

He hands the Interrogator a different present.

Waldorf always has an agenda. Always.

Interrogator: “Oh, yeah, yeah, this one, right. OK, I do want to open this one!”

He tears open the wrapping paper and immediately smiles.

Interrogator: Grinning, “Oh, a Ninjago skeleton. I just love Ninjago skeletons. This is perfect.”

He struggles to open the packaging. The Kenyan thrusts a different present under his nose.

Kenyan: Excited, “Interrogator, Mommy will open that for you. HERE! Open THIS present!”

Let him open it if he wants to open it. Good God, these kids are pushy.

Interrogator: Easily convinced, “Oh, yeah, here you go, Mom. Can you open it please? I want to open this present.”

He digs into the wrapping paper, uncovering another…different…Ninjago skeleton.

Interrogator: Smiling, “Wow! 2 Ninjago skeletons! For me? This is the best birthday. I love being 6.”

Again, he attempts to extract the skeleton from the packaging. Impatiently, Waldorf shoves a present between the Interrogator and the unopened skeleton.

Waldorf: Curtly, “Here. Open it.”

I catch B&B’s eye. We exchange angry faces at our older kids’ attempt to control the Interrogator’s birthday present opening sequence.

For the love of God, let the kid open the presents in the order he wants.

Me: “Ahem.”

Both Waldorf and the Kenyan look at me.  I silently take my hand and wave it back and forth across my throat. International sign for “cut it out”, right?

Kenyan: “Someone’s dead? Who’s dead?”

Waldorf: “You’re going to chop someone’s head off?”

This is what it’s like to be surrounded by penises. I mean idiots.

Me: “Waldorf and Kenyan, maybe we’ll let the Interrogator choose which presents he’d like to open next. You’ve both done a nice job helping him. Thank you for that. But let’s let him decide. Go ahead, Interrogator, which present do you want to open next?”

The Interrogator looks at me, then at his remaining pile of wrapped presents, then at his two older brothers.

Interrogator: “Um, I don’t know. Which one do you think I should open, Kenyan?”

The Kenyan grabs a present from the pile. Before he has the chance to hand it to the birthday boy, Waldorf puts his hand on the Kenyan’s arm to stop him.

Waldorf: “No. You want to give him THAT one.”

He points to a different present. The Kenyan immediately obeys. Puts down his first choice, picks up Waldorf’s recommendation, and hands it to the Interrogator.

What the hell kind of Jedi mind trick was that?!

The Interrogator rips the wrapping paper off, unveiling the coveted Ninjago blade cycle. A collective gasp is heard.

Interrogator: Nearly screaming in excitement, “Oh! Oh! It’s just what I always wanted! It’s just right! And I knew Santa would bring it for my 6 birthday because I’m a good boy, Mom, right? Right Mom? Santa bringed this blade cycle for me because I’m such a good boy?”

Me: Struggling not to laugh, “You know what, buddy? You are SUCH a good boy. That’s from Mom and Dad and all of your brothers. Santa’s taking a vacation, and we’re celebrating your birthday.”

Waldorf: One eyebrow cocked, “Um, Interrogator, I need to see that box. For JUST a minute. Please.”

The Interrogator has a death grip on the present he desired most for his birthday. He hugs the box to his chest, takes a deep breath, then hands it over to his oldest brother.

Waldorf’s eyes light up. He smiles. He looks at the picture. He whispers to the Kenyan. The Kenyan’s eyes light up. The Kenyan smiles.

What are they up to?

Waldorf: “OK. Interrogator, we’d like to make a deal.”

Look out. The chief negotiator is on the case.

We listen to Waldorf sell a used car to his younger brother. The Kenyan occasionally chimes in for good measure.

The Interrogator is unsure whether he should accept the offer. He is a hoarder. Not in the way Waldorf hoards items, like aluminum foil hotdog wrappers from school, but a hoarder no less. The Interrogator is famous for taking 8 different Lego characters, all wielding weapons, with him to the bathroom. To pee. It takes him longer to set the Legos up on the windowsill than it does to relieve himself and wash his hands. He has a phobia of his brothers stealing his Legos. We have rescued many a Lego from the toilet as a result. And soaked several in bleach before returning them to his little grabby hands.

But his need for his brothers’ approval surpasses his desire even for his most coveted birthday gift.

Interrogator: “OK, Waldorf. I’ll trade my two new guys for your old guy you’ve been hiding in your closet.”

Waldorf and the Kenyan high five. Waldorf runs past us, averting his evil eyes from our disapproving parental glares.

We’ve just witnessed the perfect illustration of why Eddie wants to live with us. The sway the older brothers posses to manipulate their younger brothers. The pecking order at its best.

Or, from a parents’ perspective, the pecking order at its worst.

B&B and I step out of the room to discuss what’s just transpired.

B&B: Angrily whispering, “This is horse shit. I am going to beat those two morons. I am going to hold them down and beat them. And I’m going to enjoy it. The way they took advantage of that sweet, innocent Interrogator. They deserve a beating.”

Me: Agreeing, “They do indeed. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

B&B: Feeling challenged, “The hell there isn’t. Watch me. Watch me while I beat them.”

*As an aside, B&B never lays a hand on the kids.  I hand out the beatings.

Kidding.

Me: Shaking my head, “It’s the pecking order. You can’t mess with it. Circle of life and all that shit.”

B&B: “It’s bullshit.”

Me: “Yep. But it’s a rite of passage. Nothing you can do about it. You’re the youngest, you should know. Didn’t your sisters dress you up as a girl and put makeup on you?”

B&B: “Maybe. Probably. I know I watched a lot of daytime soap operas. God, I loved Guiding Light.”

This is life with B&B. One minute, he’s preparing to hold the children down and enjoy beating them. The next, he’s fondly reminiscing about daytime soap operas. He is one of a kind, indeed.  

I remember the pecking order in my nuclear family growing up.  My brother is the oldest, therefore he rode shotgun and dictated the music choices in the car. He also capitalized on his status as oldest sibling in order to bamboozle us out of our very favorite candy during our post-trick-or-treat trading fest at the kitchen table.

Big Brother: Straight faced, “Little Sister, I’ll trade you one of my Charleston Chews for 2 of your Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

Oh, that’s junk. Nobody wants a Charleston Chew.

peckpeck

Little Sister: Eager to please Big Brother: “YES! YES! It’s a great trade! Actually, take all 5 of my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

Me: Looking cross-eyed at Little Sister,”Have you lost your mind? Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are your favorites. And Charleston Chews are junk. That’s the worst trade of the night.”

Little Sister: Beaming, “No, it’s fine. I want him to have them. All of them.”

I look at Big Brother, who’s smiling like the cat who swallowed the canary. He throws a Maryjane at her for good measure. Then he laughs.

That’s just plain evil. But it’s the pecking order.

I was guilty of abusing it as well…

Me: “I notice you didn’t make your bed this morning, Little Sister.”

Little Sister: Tossing her curls over her tiny shoulder, “What? Oh, yeah. I wanted to play with my dolls. Don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”

Me: Taking advantage of my poor, innocent younger sibling, “Give me a reason not to tell her, and I won’t.”

Little Sister: Pleading, “I’ll buy you a pack of gum if you don’t tell her. Grape Hubba Bubba. I know that’s your favorite. Please don’t tell?”

I consider her offer. Before I have the chance to accept it, she sweetens the pot…

Little Sister: “And a cherry flavored Laffy Taffy! I know you love those too! I’ll buy you both if you don’t tell Mom I didn’t make my bed.”

Me: “Deal.”

The Pecking Order. The Rite of Passage of Siblings. The Survival of the Fittest.

Eddie wants a taste of it? Heck, what’s another boy in this house. Welcome to the jungle, Eddie.

I sure hope you’re not allergic to dust, my boy.

 

*Special thanks to Maggie, Jaclyn, and Eddie, a family of rock stars, for allowing me to include them in this story. Our school, our community, and our families are richer for the friendship, love, and laughter you’ve brought to them. XOXOXO

 

 

Step Right Up

I typically post about my life with my own kids. Today’s post isn’t a story about my 4 clowns; but, it is indeed a mother’s story.

I have a close friend, Avé, who is one of the funniest people I know.

Fact: Only very fun people wear fuzzy Viking helmets

And she is a Mom. An extraordinary Mom. And her daughter has cystic fibrosis.  Ave’s daughter is 8 years old. And strong, and sweet, and pretty and happy. And brave. Avé faces her daughter’s CF with dignity and determination.

At the end of the day, it sucks. Because there’s still no cure.

What do you do when your friend needs your help?

You hope. You hope for a cure. You hope that, with all of the brilliant people on this earth today, just one of them is able, in this little girl’s lifetime, to design the right drug. You hope for a happy ending to her story.

And when you feel like hoping isn’t quite enough…what do you do then?

Well…you climb.

This is last year’s account of the 24th Annual Wawa Climb for a Cure in which Avé and I participated. I sent this to my family and friends who generously donated to our climb….it is followed by this year’s account of our climb…

Dear Family and Friends,

This morning was the Climb for Cystic Fibrosis to which you all generously donated.  I wanted to thank you so much for your support in this event. We climbed the 53 floors of the Mellon Bank Center for a grand total of 1,019 steps to raise money for a cure for CF.

It was HARD! Much harder than I realized it would be. Yesterday I went to the track and ran the bleachers to wake my legs up for today’s climb. I ran 200 steps, 2 at a time in under 5 minutes. And I felt great. I came home and told B&B my strategy for the race was to take the steps 2 at a time until my legs could no longer handle it. In my mind, I hoped that would be around step 800.

So, this morning we lined up in the foyer of the Mellon Bank Center, clad in workout gear. And freezing our tails off from the wind coming out of the open stairwell door. We went up one at a time, in 20 second intervals. I was nervous at the start because I was towards the front and did not want to get passed.  Naturally, I threatened my teammates that I would imprint my shoe on their faces if they attempted to pass me on the stairwell.

At 9:21 AM, I got the sign to go. So up I went. I hit the stairs 2 at a time, according to plan. A few times I stretched it to 3 steps at a time. I was flying! My strategy was working! Maybe I would win for my age group!

Until I hit the wall. At floor 5. Of 53.  I kid you not, my legs were shaking like Santa’s belly and I was sucking wind before I hit 100 steps. I literally said aloud in the stairwell, “OK, now I am going to walk.” It was a slight jolt to my confidence after yesterday’s test run on the bleachers. I figured I would walk the steps until I got my breathing under control and my heart rate down a little.  And then I heard the plodding of someone’s feet coming closer! Oh NO! I was going to get passed! AHHHHH! Was it one of my teammates? Would I have to make good on my threat? Was it the guy in the gray bike shorts who should never have worn those bike shorts? Would I see even more of him than I already had? Please tell me it wasn’t the 80 year old shirtless man in the hot pink running shorts?! I willed my legs to go faster, faster, TAKE THE STEPS TWO AT A TIME BEFORE SOMEONE PASSES YOU!!!! But they didn’t listen. Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot. Holding onto the railing for dear life. And asking the young girls in sorority sweatshirts at every 3rd floor, “How many floors is this building?” And trying to ignore the shocked looks on their faces when I let out a slew of expletives every time they answered “53! You’re almost there!”

53 bloody floors. Sweet Jesus Almighty, it was horrific. I said that aloud as well. “This is horrific. This was a horrible idea.” I would like to say I thought of Avé’s daughter, who lives with CF, in order to give me the strength to continue up those steps. I didn’t. I just kept thinking, “Get me off of these godforsaken steps, this is a nightmare.”

So, I didn’t take the steps 2 at a time for 80% of the climb.  And I did indeed get passed by a guy younger than I was, so I was fairly certain he hadn’t given birth 4 times. I almost said that to him, but opted instead to tell him, “Be my guest, you young whipper snapper”. And I was never able to muster up the energy to attack the steps 2 at a time again. Absolutely impossible for me.

But I was able, with the help of all of you, to raise $ for a wonderful cause!!! I am humbled by everyone’s kind words and generosity. Truly.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And now, I am going to sit down and put my tired feet up:>)

XO,

Bethany

 

So that was last year. This year…I got smart.

I am a runner, but my poor feet have been angry at me for the better part of this past year. It could be from the constant, repetitive pounding of my gait. It could be from the cumulative 200+ pounds I’ve gained and lost in 50-60 pound increments in a 7 year time frame. Goddamn kids. Regardless of the reason, I’ve committed to listening to my poor piggy toes. They need to cart my ass around for the next 50 years, and I think I owe them some respect. So I’ve scaled my running miles way back. And gotten jiggy with the strength training.

TRX.

My favorite 3 letters. I fear them. I love them. It’s a suspension system designed by a Navy SEAL. It’s portable. It’s horrific. My friends are tired of hearing me talk about it. I take a TRX class at my local YMCA. My trainer knows everyone’s name in the class but mine. B&B thinks this a game the trainer plays because he secretly thinks I’m cute. I explain to B&B that I smell like a bad hoagie during class, I am not at all cute when I exercise, and my trainer is approximately 12 years old. No game. He really doesn’t know my name. But it’s still nice to be married to a guy who sees me as the 20 year old with the bodacious tatas. Because I am far from 20. And there is no longer anything bodacious about said tatas.

Steprightup

In addition to the mother of all strength training workouts, I’ve cozied up to the good old fashioned stairmaster. I figure a good way to train for climbing stairs is in fact…wait for it…to climb stairs. That particular style of machine is always available. It’s not fun. And few people are training for this horrific climb, this is clear.  

Finally, I’ve added some more bleacher climbs into my training program. No fun. Hard workout, short time period. But effective, I hope, in achieving my goal.

What is my goal? It’s the same goal I have for every race I run. Or in this case, every staircase I climb. It’s a stupid, unrealistic goal, but it’s the same every time.

I want to PR (set a personal record). Preferably without spending the rest of the day on the shitter. Which is typically how my day winds up post-race.

So, here is this year’s account of our stair climb extravaganza…

Dear Friends and Family,

Sunday, I participated in Wawa’s 25th annual Cystic Fibrosis Climb for Life. Thank you all so very much for your support. Every dollar that you donated gives hope to people with CF (and their families) that a cure will be found. Fundraising is not among my favorite activities; but, I found myself humbled by the outpouring of donations and encouragement from this amazing community of people I’m fortunate enough to call friends.

Avé and I have participated in this climb two years in a row. Just like last year, we met halfway between our houses and drove into the city together. During last year’s drive, we laughed, we listened to music, we joked about how fun the climb would be.  This year year’s drive had an entirely different temperature. We sweated. We strategized. We swore. Well, I swore, Avé doesn’t swear.

Avé: “This is very important. Are you listening? No sprinting up the stairs at the start this year.”

Me: “OK. No sprinting. Got it. Do we sprint at all? Save the sprint?”

Avé: “See how you feel. But don’t sprint at the start. You’ll be out of juice for the finish.”

Me: “Right. Is it hot in here? I’m sweating. Are you sweating? It’s hot in here.”

I am going to vomit. Why did I sign up for this stupid climb?!

Avé: “I don’t know why we’re doing this stupid climb. I hate this thing. HATE IT!”

Me: “That makes two of us, sister. But we’re raising money for your girl.”

Avé: “Right. We are. We are raising money for a cure for CF. But we are NOT sprinting at the start.”

Me: “Right. Got it. Yes. No sprinting at the start.”

We arrive in Philly, park in the first garage we find (mistake…it was the wrong garage and they raped us with parking fees), and snap what is now the annual picture of the Mellon Bank Center.

53 floors and 1019 steps of sheer torture

Me: Nervous, “Dammit. The building doesn’t look like it’s shrunk since last year.”

Avé: Agreeing, “Not even half a flight.”

We enter the building and immediately see my brother, who’s there to support his wife (my sister-in-law), who, along with a friend of hers, has joined our fundraising team this year.  Go, Rachel’s Rebels!! My two young nieces are there as well. It’s an early February morning, and we’d all rather be at home in our pajamas. But my brother and his girls have made the trip to support my sister-in-law and her friend in their efforts to raise money and awareness for a cure for this disease.

Hope.

We check in and get our black Velcro bands (our timing devices), which we immediately strap to our wrists. Attaching that band to my wrist brought back poignant memories of last year’s climb. I’ve trained a great deal and raced a decent amount in the past eight years (taking time off while I was pregnant with the last two of my four sons). I’m strong and fit, and some days I’m even fast. But last year’s climb remains the hardest physical thing I’ve ever done.

I am going to vomit. Everywhere. Goddamn these stupid stairs.

We mill around. We stash our bags. We discuss our strategy.

Me: “Are you going for two stairs at a time or one?”

Avé: “Well, I timed myself during training. I am significantly faster when I go two at a time. And by significantly faster, I’m talking 20 seconds faster.”

Me: “Ugh. Two at a time is tough on the quads. I don’t know if I can pull that off.”

Avé: “Yes, but we’re going for time, right? Faster to go two at a time.”

Our strategy session is interrupted by a college student, holding a video camera and a microphone.

College student: “Hi! Do you mind if I interview you for Temple University?”

Avé: “No problem. Who’s going to see this?”

She’s a smart one, Avé is. I would never think to ask who’s going to see it.

College student: “Just my class. What’s your name and how old are you?”

Avé: “My name is Avé. Accent on the E. I am 38 years old.”

College Student: “And what brought you down here today?”

Avé: “My 8 year old daughter has cystic fibrosis. I’m here today to raise money for a cure for this disease.”

I have to turn away. Because it’s going to happen any second…I can feel it.

Don’t cry, Bethany.

The brevity of the cause we’re climbing for snaps me back to reality. I have an 8 year old. He doesn’t have CF. Avé has an 8 year old who does. I am here with my amazing friend who needs support…emotional and financial…to find a cure for CF in her daughter’s lifetime.

Hope.

Stop your moaning, Bethany.  And climb the steps.

It’s getting close to start time. We find a corner and warm up. My sister-in-law and her friend will be climbing on a different stairwell. Ours is a timed climb, theirs is not. We wish one another well, and line up with the rest of the lunatics who’ve opted to race.

It’s cold in the lobby, but we know it gets hot in the stairwell. Yes, from our exertion, but specifically, on level 43 it gets excessively hot. (Building maintenance should look into that. Why is it so hot on floors 43 and higher?)  I wear a tank top and ¾ length running tights. And black gloves. I am well aware that I look like a fool, but there’s a method to my madness. My hands start out cold, but get sweaty quickly. So, I wear running gloves to keep my hands warm. And they have skid-proof palms so that I can make the best use of the railings on either side of the stairs. I have my iPod this year so that I can listen to music while I climb instead of the sound of my own labored breathing. And footsteps.

Behind us, a guy and girl are talking. We turn to smile at them. He climbed last year as well. He tells us his wife has CF.

Avé: “How long have you been married?”

Nice Guy: “5 years.”

Avé: “And how old is your wife?”

Nice Guy: Smiling, “She’s almost 30. We’re going to have a big party for her 30th. It’s a milestone.”

Avé: Smiling too, “Yes, it is.”

30 is a milestone for all of us. But, for someone living with CF, it’s an entirely different milestone.

Hope.

There are at least 20 people in line ahead of us. The man directly in front of me is wearing extremely bright salmon colored shorts. They are very short. He is shirtless. He is also easily 80 years old. We remember him well from last year. Someone from the CF foundation approaches him, thanks him for his many years of support, and takes a picture of him.

Hope.

I put my headphones in. Choose a song that’s five minutes in length, hoping that I’ll be about halfway finished climbing by the song’s end.

I look at Avé. Her lips are moving. I think she’s talking to me. I remove my headphones.

Me: “What’s that?”

Avé: “I said no sprinting at the start. Remember…no sprinting at the start.”

I nod my head as I put my headphones back on. Knowing full well I am going to attack the start. My adrenaline has me poised to explode.

Race day nerves are good for something.

Old man goes up. I’ve got 20 seconds to look at that stairwell before it’s my turn. I hit play on my iPod and let the music get me pumped. Scan my wristband on the timer, hear the beep of the clock starting, and I launch into the stairwell.

“GO, BETHANY!” The only thing I hear over my loud music is the voice of my big brother. I smile.

Three flights up, taking the steps two at a time, I’m on top of the old man with the salmon shorts. As I pass him, I reach out, touch his arm, and smile.

Me: “You’re an inspiration.”

Old man: Smiling, “Thank you, young lady.”

I love when people call me “young lady”. Not so much when they call me “ma’am”.

The first 6 flights I am able to hit every other step while pumping my arms. By flight 7, it’s time to rely on my arms for some assistance. I grab both railings and begin pulling myself, while continuing to take the steps two at a time.

Avé says it’s significantly faster to go two steps at a time. For the love of God, please let those TRX classes have strengthened my quads enough to maintain this pace for the next…how many?…ugh, for the next 47 floors.

Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…

Will you look at that…

Me: “On your left…”

I smile at the 40 something guy as I pass him. He smiles back. We both raise our eyebrows and shake our heads.

This is madness, but we signed up for it.

Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…

Me: “On your left…”

I smile at the 30 something guy as I pass him. He doesn’t smile back.

Yep. I’m a girl. Sorry.

Step and pull, step and pull, step and pull, step and pull…

Me: “On your left…”

I attempt a smile at the 40 something guy as I pass him. But my adrenaline kick is over, and the reality of the remaining 33 floors I’m still facing dampens what remains of my cheery mood. I look at him. He looks at me.

Me: “Wow, this sucks.”

He nods his agreement.

I manage to continue the formula that Avé prescribed…taking two steps at a time. But it gets increasingly difficult as my legs fatigue and my throat feels as if I’ve swallowed a sharp razor blade. Scratch that…a handful of sharp razor blades. The higher we climb, the worse the air quality. The stairwell is dusty. And it adjoins floors whose windows have never once been opened to allow in fresh air.

I am literally gasping for breath.

Level 43.

Jesus God Almighty, who turned the heat on full blast up here?

I see something out of the corner of my eye. Striped shirt coming up the steps with purpose. It’s the chick who was behind Avé at the start. She’s come to hand me my ass. I move to the side to allow her to pass me.

Me: “Awesome job, keep at it.”

Her legs are up to my ears.

I continue to climb higher, trying to maintain my momentum, fighting desperately to ward off the little voice in my head who’s urging me to quit.

It wasn’t this hard last year. I trained for this. I’m stronger. Why does it feel harder this year?

I break stride and take one stairwell one step at a time. I need to give my arms a break so that I can claw at the outside of my throat.

Level 47. Finish this. Two at a time.  

I grab the railings and resume my step and pull, step and pull, step and pull.

Me: Whispering, “On your left.”

No glances. No smiles. I am focused only on my completion of this nightmare.

Level 53.

I look blankly at the random stranger standing at level 53.

I can’t talk. Please tell me I’m finished. Please, please, please, please.

Random stranger: Pointing into the adjoining office space, “You’re done! Great job! Get in there and scan your timer!”

I step out of the stairwell, turn to my left and start walking, holding my left arm up to be scanned.

“WRONG WAY!! TURN THE OTHER WAY!”

I claw at my throat, unable to speak aloud the words over the pain I’m feeling. I turn once, twice, a third time, mouthing, “WHERE?” holding my arm up and pointing at my wrist.

Me:  Barely whispering, “WHERE?!”

“Right here! Quickly! Scan it!”

I cover the 5 yards as quickly as my legs will allow.

BEEP!

And I’m done. I look at the clock and know I’ve beat last year’s time. But I hurt too much to celebrate.

I stand at the top of the stairway, waiting for Avé. I want to yell into the stairwell to encourage her, but I have no voice. I motion to the stranger next to me, signaling that I need a sip of her water. She hands it immediately over. I gulp and immediately gag, spraying water all over myself and the cubicle next to me.

Oops. Sorry, innocent owner of that cube.

I try out my voice…

Me: Clapping, “GO, Avé! Finish it out!”

I see the top of her head. She finishes out the last flight strong. I stand by the doorway, prepared to usher her towards the clock and the official finish. She finds it just fine on her own.

She hasn’t seen me yet. She’s just trying to breathe.

My throat hurts so much. More than last year. I can’t do this again.

I wander down a hallway, searching for water for both of us. Avé sees me, and we both take our waters and look for a quiet spot to recover. It takes a several minutes to get our breathing under control. At which time we address our thirsts.

Me: Shaking my head, “They need to find a cure. This year. It has to be this year. Because I cannot do this horrible event again next year.”

Avé nods her agreement.

The nice guy whose 29 year old wife has CF rounds the corner, sees us, and smiles.

Nice Guy: “I forgot about how much it hurts my throat.”

We silently nod in agreement.

Nice Guy: “I think it hurt worst last year.”

I think you’ve lost your marbles, Nice Guy.

We get in line for the elevator. Just like last year, there is a wait. And, like last year, it’s eerily quiet on the ride back down to the lobby.

We stay for the Survivor Party, eating oranges and resting our legs. Screaming over the loud music to hear each other.

My throat is on fire.

Before we leave, we check the finish times, posted on a wall. I scan for my name….

Bethany Meyer 10:40

Son of a bitch. That Avé is indeed a smart one.

I’d finished exactly 20 seconds faster than last year. Just as Avé had predicted when she recommended I take the steps two at a time.

We walk towards the exit of the Mellon Bank Center.

Avé: “Thank you for doing this with me. For the second year. And I say it now, I WILL NOT DO THIS EVER AGAIN!”

Her voice is loud enough that a young guy turns his head and looks at us both.

Avé: Pointing at the strange guy, “And HE is my witness! I WILL NOT DO THIS! EVER AGAIN!”

I laugh.

I love this wacky broad.

Avé: “Well, I don’t feel like I ever need to do this again. But, check back with me in 6 months.”

Hope.

Just last month, the FDA approved a drug that treats the underlying cause of one strain of cystic fibrosis.

Hope.

One of the parents from our school community who generously donated sent me an email last week. She said her college roommate has CF. And that roommate just celebrated her 41st birthday.

Hope.

I hope for a cure for cystic fibrosis. For Avé’s daughter and for all of those who live with this disease. And who die too soon because of it.

I climb to raise money for research for that cure.

Finally, I thank you for your generosity and support in helping me surpass my fundraising goal. A million times over….thank you.

XO,

Bethany

You will hear from Avé later this month…she has graciously accepted my invitation to guest blog…stay tuned…