Hit the Road, Angel of Death

Posted: November 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Earthquakes, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting, Preschool, Scary Stuff, Sisters | No Comments »

When I left Paigey’s preschool one morning a couple weeks ago, I noticed a klatch of women—other Mamas from the school—standing on the lawn. They were dabbing at the corners of their eyes with Kleenex.

It was clear something happened to someone at the school. And somehow I knew it was about a pregnancy.

In the crosswalk I caught up with a woman I knew. A mother of one of Paigey’s classmates. Tugging at her elbow, I implored without greeting her, “Okay, so what happened?”

And damn damn damn my intuition. I was right. A mom from the school whose due date was that very day, had a kicking healthy baby just the day before. But when she went to the hospital that morning, she found out that her baby had died.

So sickeningly sad. Someone said later it was strangled by its own umbilical chord. What brutal live-giveth-and-taketh-away irony.

“Oh God, oh God,” I said, wrapping my arms around my stomach on the sidewalk. “Do you know her name?” Because, as it turned out, I know a pregnant woman—someone I’ve worked with and like a great deal—whose son goes to the preschool. From her Facebook posts, I was pretty sure her due date was that day.

It turned out it was NOT my friend. That in that tiny school there were actually two women with the same due date. And although it didn’t diminish the tragedy of the whole thing, I still felt like I’d dodged a kind of bullet. If only by association.

Do you ever go through phases where your computer monitor fizzles and goes black, your car’s transmission gives out, and you drop your cell phone in the toilet? All in the same week? It’s as if there’s some mechanical technological curse on you. If you touch it, it will cease to function—invariably days after its warranty expired.

I feel like I’m currently in that mode, but with people.

Not long ago my sweet Uncle Adolph (no relation to the Nazi) passed away. It was his time. I mean, he was very old, and had been wrangling with Alzheimer’s. But those things make it no easier to grapple with the fact that someone who you knew is suddenly just not here any more.

Uncle Adolph was married to one of my mom’s favorite sisters, Scottie. I think her real name was Sophie, but I never once heard her called that. The two of them were known as “Scottie and Ade.” How much does that rock?

They lived in a small house on a big piece of land on the outskirts of mom’s home town. And what I remember of him is this: Uncle Adolph had a huge garden. In his day job, he was something else. A custodian of some sort, I think. But in his heart, he was a gardener.

We’d pick things from his garden in the evenings, right before dinnertime. He called cucumbers ‘cukes’ which was weird and cool to me. He didn’t talk much, but he’d wipe dirt off a big yellow squash or an eggplant or a strawberry and say, “Now THAT’S a good one,” then hand it to me.

We lived two hours away, so I didn’t see him often or know him very well. But it always felt special being welcomed as an insider into his garden world.

In fact, whenever I conjure a vegetable garden in my mind’s eye I see Uncle Adolph’s garden. I think of him most of the time I’m chopping up cukes too.

Early last week I got a sister-wide email. The four of us mass communicate this way sometimes. But the contents of this one were a bummer. Dad’s long-time neighbor and best friend Eddie had died. A man in his mid-80s, who you’d have sworn wasn’t a day over 65.

Dad and Eddie did projects. Built birdhouses, step-stools for grandchildren, and did all the standard house maintenance stuff. Eddie had a few years on my father, but was vivacious as all get out, and handy as hell. Dad would ask Eddie to help him do something like bring the AC units from the garage to the upstairs bedrooms. And I can’t say this for sure, but I picture Dad acting in more of a ‘supervisory’ role, while Eddie did the actual (and proverbial) heavy lifting. It wouldn’t be weird to see Eddie dangling from a tree in dad’s yard, sawing off a rotting branch.

Regardless of who did what, or whose tools they used, there was no score-keeping between those two. They were a good team.

Eddie’s wife passed away a couple months ago. He was understandably sad, but hanging in. Back to his projects and puttering, and eating occasional dinners at Dad’s. But then, per my sister’s email, the lights were on in the house when they shouldn’t have been, or something like that, which made Dad concerned. Especially when Eddie didn’t answer the phone.

So Dad let himself in with his key, and found his dear friend sitting slumped over the dinner table. Quietly, suddenly, gone.

Eddie will be sorely missed.

I spent a long time hiding death from Kate. Even if I was doing something like throwing away brown neglected house plants, if she asked me why I was doing it I’d avoid saying they “died.” Silly, I know, but I feared the domino effect of her busy mind. If a plant could die, then couldn’t a person? And if a person could die, then didn’t that mean me or her Dad—or other people she loves—could? Or even her?

I felt utterly unequipped to navigate those conversations. I hate thinking about all that stuff myself. So why not extend her innocence for as long as possible?

Around that time I came across an old book of mine that Kate nearly-instantly love love loved. Oh, and me too. It’s called Koko’s Kitten, and it’s about that gorilla, Koko, who learned to communicate using sign language. And if that wasn’t cute enough, she also became friends with a kitten.

Big tough gorilla. Wee wittle kitten. Lots of pictures of them snuggling. Name one thing better.

I read the book dozens of times to Kate, always avoiding the part where the kitty cat, All Ball, gets killed. Yes, this amazing story of cross-species friendship takes a sudden tragic turn when All Ball gets offed by a car. A brutal plot twist even for us grown-ups. Thankfully, with a pre-literate toddler it’s fairly easy to bluff your way through the sad parts.

I guess one of the reasons I hid death from Kate for so long has to do with my own childhood experience of coming to understand death. I remember it so clearly. I was in the car with my mom, driving by Almacs grocery store, and I suddenly pieced together the fact that “old people die” and my grandmother (Mom’s mom) was old.

I was sobbing. Struck with panic over the unfairness of it. Heartbroken by the thought of Bopchi being gone.

My mother, ever the realist, responded to my fearful questions by saying something like, “Well, yes, she probably will die soon.”

Note: This did not make me feel better.

This is why, after the devastation in Haiti, when Kate nervously asked if we have earthquakes in San Francisco, I paused for a beat then said, “Noooooooo. Earthquakes HERE? Never happen.”

But Kate’s a world-weary kindergartener now. Today’s five-year-olds seem like the third-graders of my youth. Which is to say, she’s hip to death. Our friends’ pets have died. Kate knows my mom died before she was born. And, thanks to my NPR habit, she’s heard on the car radio about soldiers, bomb victims, and others dying. (Try as I do, turning down the volume after something unsavory is broadcast never seems to work.)

Sometimes weighty news like the death of her great grandpa barely registers with Kate. I’ve actually wanted her to feel sadder. (Guess I’ve come a long from the days of throwing out house plants that “weren’t happy anymore.”) Then Kate surprises me by sobbing on her bed and drawing ‘I Miss You’ cards for a neighborhood cat we barely knew.

It must be her way of regulating only what she can manage to process. I should have trusted Nature to have built into her something that helps her do that.

As for me, the day of the sad drop-off at Paige’s school I saw my still-prego friend Margot at afternoon pick-up. I was so thrilled, so very relieved to see her in her healthy baby-filled state, I nearly took a running leap to straddle her belly in a full-body hug.

But I was even happier to hear that nearly two weeks after she was scheduled to make her appearance, her cute-as-the-dickens long-lashed baby girl was born. Hooray! Mother and baby are all aglow and love-drenched and healthy (if not a bit frustrated by all the waiting).

Take that, Angel of Death.

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Shit Storm

Posted: October 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Daddio, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Misc Neuroses, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 1 Comment »

At age 81 my father has a newborn. He’s no Anthony Quinn, star of the old-school flick Zorba the Greek, who squired a child with his thirty-something wife when he was in his early eighties. (Mr. Quinn did spend the latter part of his life in a home across the bay from my dad’s. But I’m guessing the most they had in common was a hometown.) 

No, my father’s baby is a puppy. Specifically a wire-haired miniature Dachshund.

And Dad and his wife are the consummate new parents. They boast about the little guy sleeping through the night. They fret over him being overstimulated or needing sleep. They bring him to play group. And they talk about his poop. Poop poop poop poop poop.

Coming in from a walk:

“How’d he do?”

“He made a mess  [This being their New England euphamism for fecal matter.] Get him a cookie.”

“Oh! Good DOG! Good DOG, Bruno!” [Yes, the dog's name is Bruno Bruno.]

“But after he went he seemed to be trying to go again.” 


“I think he might be constipated.” 

“Oh poor baby.”

Did Mark and I talk like this when the girls were babes? I can’t imagine we did—at least not in public—since hearing them seems to dismay me a bit. Though someone discussing so much as a child’s skinned knee can make me light-headed and queasy.

I’m in Rhode Island now, after a fabulous weekend in New Yawk. It’s my, uh, 25-year high school reunion. (Gulp.) And really when I should be focusing all my time and energy on looking 18 again, the theme of our visit thus far has been poo.

So there’s a pizza joint here in Bristol that’s truly world-class. I mean, it well could be why Anthony Quinn moved here when he did. The place has been around forEVER. After I collect my bags from the airport luggage carousel it’s like I’m programmed to go directly there. 

So back when Jesus was a Boy Scout and I too was a youngster, I did something in that restaurant that turned into Bruno family lore. I guess we were gathered around a table, takin’ in a nice pizza pie, and the place—all linoleum-topped tables and sparkle plastic seats that’d sell for a ransom on eBay—was packed. Let’s say, for the sake of fleshing out the scene, that it was a Friday night.

What they all say happened is I banged open the door of the bathroom, it being right off the joint’s main dining area, and announced with my pants and panties around my ankles “I need some help here!”

Mind you, I was young. I’m assuming I was a toddler. 

Anyway, so much about that place hasn’t changed through the years that I wouldn’t be surprised if the next time I’m there some codger sitting at the counter says, “You’re the youngest Bruno girl, right? Well did you know that one night when you were just a little thing…”

But the pizza is good enough that whenever I’m home I muscle through the risk of having someone recount my youthful ass-wiping ineptitude.

In the spirit of all that is shitty, Paige is taking up my legacy. Yesterday we went to the local library. We love doing this since my kids are book geeks, but also because we can walk along the sea wall from Dad’s house and it’s a short walk through town to get there. The kids get books, I grab a decaf Americano at The Beehive Cafe, and my hard-on for small town life is fully actualized. 

So we’re at the bibliotheque and Paige poops. No big. She’s still in dipes. There’s someone in the bathroom, so we wait. I settle in to read Kate an Arthur book, when I see Paige across the room, and notice an unmistakable thick brown smear emerging from the waistline of her diaper up her back and under her shirt. 

Aack! I toss Arthur’s Teacher Troubles over my shoulder like a baseball player throwing a bat, and dive towards Miss Paigey La Poop. 

She’s about to turn and settle her turdy backside onto a large stuffed bean-baggy-type turtle that lives on the floor of the children’s area. And then I see that, lo, she’s already been there. In fact she has left several large clumpish deposits on the turtle’s formerly shit-free shell. 

I grab Paige by what I hope is a clean shirt-sleeve, and pick up the offending reptile, holding it at arm’s length and wishing I carried a pair of tongs in my diaper bag. 

This is when my apprehensions about the friendliness of New Englanders manifests itself into a neurotic full-bore panic. I mean, in the best of situations, in the friendliest of places, I’d feel hard-pressed to comfortably fork over a shit-strewn ANYTHING to anyone. 

But here in Bristol, my wee home town that’s gotten kinda well-heeled over the years, well, let’s just say it’s no friendly feel-good California. As much as I’ve defended New Englanders through the years, the fact is I did notice this summer that other parents don’t extend themselves to smile or chat with you, even when your kids are playing magic princess ballerina (and other tough guy games) at the playground. Yes, here in the land of “who is your father?” social calibrations, this seemed an especially daunting social interaction.

In fact, when I later told my dad this story, he joked, “They didn’t know who you were, did they?”

Anyway, what came next was really just me groveling apologies for my daughter’s scatological proliferation. And the older white-haired librarian shooing me and the offending turtle thing towards the young librarian with a wave of her bejeweled entitled hand. ”Oh, please just bring that to Molly,” she said wincing over her half-glasses.

I guess seniority in the Children’s Room means not having to deal with poop explosions.

Molly later compounded my angst by pointing out that there was not a removeable cover on Turdy Turtle that would allow it to be washed, then scoffed at my offer to replace the thing. In other words, I was shit out of luck in terms of being able to fix the problem. 

Later in the day I chatted on the phone with a classmate I’ll see at my reunion this weekend. She shared her own tale of public poop shame. One in which all eyes trailed her as she walked through a fancy restaurant holding her son. She had no idea why until on the sidewalk she noticed poop literally dripping through his pant legs.

The fact is that if you have a child you’ve likely had an unfortunate episode involving their excretions. 

What’s your story?

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Love Tackles

Posted: August 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: College, Daddio, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Moods, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

I don’t know the first thing about football, but in getting to know—and love—Mark’s college friends, I’ve learned a thing or two about tackling.

The night before our wedding, there was a lobster bake in a tent in my dad’s backyard. It was where Mark and I got that first intense wedding-weekend hit of love from so many fine folk coming from far afield to see us get marinated. It was also, it so happens, the same day my father kidnapped our friend Gary. But that’s another story.

So there I was reveling in the love and the people and the chardonnay and the Rhode Island summer heat, chatting with someone or other, when I was suddenly, quite literally, swept off my feet. It was one of those “it happened so fast” kinda moments. I wasn’t sure where it came from or what it was, but I found myself lifted up and then pinned down onto my father’s desk. The perpetrator—whose head was tucked down somewhere in my midsection—was human. But that was all I could tell.

It took longer than my barely-there patience could handle to determine what was happening. But then the perp looked up, and with her huge grin and mop of strawberry blond hair yelled in high-def close range, “We are HERE, girlfriend! Let the games begin!”

It was Becca. Mark’s glorious fabulous college friend, Becca. Whose house I have the great pleasure of being at this very weekend. In what has most-excellently become an annual pilgrimage to Minnesota for lakeside hi-jinx. Because, six years and six children between us later, we are still giddy-tackle happy to see each other. Though blessedly, in recent reunions she has not knocked the wind out of me.

I mean, I really shouldn’t be pointing fingers here. Since another of Mark’s divine college cohorts, the aforementioned kidnapped Gary—or Uncle Gary as he’s now known to the kidlings—is here with us too. And years before Becca ever tackled me on my wedding weekend, I had the social misfortune of tackling him.

I blame it all on the event’s bartender, who clearly over-served me. Or maybe it was the humid Midwestern lakefront air that clouded my judgment. At any rate, we were at another of Mark’s college friend’s matrimonial celebrations. And I’d had a few.

I was walking from some lake-facing veranda back into the room with the band. And there was Gary. Standing on or near the dance floor. Looking so, well, tackle-able. Some so-bad-it’s-good 80s song was playing, and like some figure skater who visualizes a move before taking to the ice, I saw in my mind’s eye what I would do. That I would run up to Gary, jump with my legs outstretched to straddle his waist, and we would swing jauntily about the dance floor. Like some Travolta-Thurman dance scene from Pulp Fiction.

Compelled by alcohol-borne bad judgment and feeling exceedingly exuberant I ran with the chin-down determination of an Olympic pole-vaulter, and threw myself upon the utterly unawares (and might I add slight-of-build) Gary.

And let’s just say what happened looked nothing like what I’d envisioned.

I flattened him to the ground like a fly. He was stunned, dismayed, and likely injured. I imagine the dress of my skirt landed in a position that revealed parts of me best left to the bride’s grandmother’s imagination.

It was mortifying, and yet, Gary’s good nature managed to rise above. In my vodka-soaked haze I seem to remember him lending me a shoulder as we both limped off the dance floor, me slurring loud apologies in his ear.

Good times.

Ever the mini-me, Kate kept the flame alive when Gary met up with us earlier today. Since his arrival she’s been climbing onto his back and hanging off his neck like one of those long-armed monkey dolls. Despite our once-yearly time together, she’s instantly drawn to him. And though she may nearly choke the dear man with affection at times, she hasn’t (thus far) leveled him to the ground.

With Kate on Gary like her own personal climbing wall, in the other room toddlers Paige and Leo are squaring off. Squatting down and looking each other straight in the eyes, they lunge forward like two Sumo wrestlers going in for the kill. Paige has six months on Leo, so their playing ground is fairly even now. But by next year’s trip he’ll clearly dominate their happy head-butting encounters.

And so the tackling continues. Passed on to the next generation.

As for us big kids, in an hour or so when we arrive at the lake house, I expect the most tackling we’ll be doing will involve the cases of beer that Becca’s husband and Gary both brew by profession. But don’t for a minute think that means we love each other any less.


Boy Parts

Posted: August 15th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Discoveries, Extended Family, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Parenting, Preschool | 6 Comments »


On her last day of preschool, Kate brought home a portfolio of all her artwork. It was made of colored poster board that the teachers stapled together and each kid got to decorate.

Kate had written her name on hers. She also covered the thing with drawings of flowers, rainbows, and penises.

Dismayed, I reached inside the portfolio. The top five papers I yanked out featured more of the same. KATE KATE KATE scrawled on each page. Rainbows, flowers, stick figures with pigtails, and penises. Lots and lots of free-floating larger-than-life penises.

Picasso had a Blue Period and a Rose Period. Could Kate be going through some kind of Penis Period? And if so, for the love of God, why hadn’t the teachers informed us of this? For all I know, these hippie California preschools, they probably just encouraged her to draw an equal number of vaginas.

Now, due to nothing that Mark or I have done knowingly, Kate appears to have a healthy self-esteem. (For now, at least.) At summer camp in Rhode Island, she didn’t fret for a minute about not knowing any of the other kids. She’s game for adventures. Loves new people. Never shies away from reporting that her “story,” “painting,” or “dance performance” was the best in her class.

But her Achilles heel—the thing she often beats herself up over—is her inability to draw hearts. This came up when we were at my dad’s this summer. Out of the blue, a sudden outburst of dramatic blubbering about, “I can NOT draw hearts! Kaylee can do hearts! I will never ever NEVER know how to draw a heart.” Waaaah! Waaaah! WAAAAAAH!

Then she threw herself across the couch, clutching a pencil tragically to her breast.

My lazy mother instinct kicked in. I looked up from my People magazine and turned to my father—who is actually quite a handy artist—and foisted this nagging issue his way.

“Grandpa is great at drawing!” I said brightly. “I bet he’d LOVE to teach you how to draw a heart.”

I’m not sure exactly what happened next, as the article about former-Heff-girlfriend Kendra Wilcox’s new baby was thoroughly engrossing. But I think I remember there being a directive about making a kinda curvy “m” for the top part. Then closing off the bottom with a “v.”

Voila! A heart!

There seemed to be all kind of high-fiving and “that’s the most beautiful heart I’ve ever seen” grandparently reinforcement. I believe Kate ran over to proudly thrust her drawing on top of of my article on the recent Jonas Brothers marriage. “Oooh great,” I said automatically, casually sliding my magazine free.

I realize now that I should have taken more care that day to focus in on the “hearts” Kate was so delightedly producing. The hearts that Teacher Grandpa was administering praise-filled wallops to her little back for. Because—and I don’t want to say that any form of art is “wrong” or “bad”—but the fact is, after scrutinizing Kate’s preschool drawings the other day, I suddenly realized that the things that I thought were boy parts, were blessedly not those at all. They were, at least in the eyes of the artist, hearts.

Alas, when we go back to Grandpa’s in October, I think it’s time for he and Kate to go back to the drawing board.


Hotline to Dada

Posted: February 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Extended Family, Firsts, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters, Travel | No Comments »

I have a sister named Marie. I’ll wait a minute while you go ahead and make your Italian-American pot shots about her name. 


Okay then. Well, on Monday she and her family came over to hang out before going out to dinner for my dad’s birthday. 

Marie is 12 years older than me. And she started younger on the baby-making. So, my two- and four-year-olds have cousins who are 19 and 21.

Since we live a country’s-length apart, we rarely get to see them. They are “big boys,” and handsome to boot. So Kate and Paige were in hardcore show-off flirty-girl modes. We were all convened in the living room, where the girls had a captive audience.

There was some dancing, some serving of wooden toy cupcakes, and some modeling of pigtails. And at one point Paige grabbed a cordless phone off the coffee table, dialed what seemed to be a number in Tokyo, and commenced a long smiley please-watch-me-being-so-cute conversation. Everyone seemed to enjoy this part of the show, so I didn’t immediately grab the phone away from her. 

As she coyly babbled, someone asked who she was talking to. 

“Dadda!” she announced. “Hi Dadda! Hi Dadda!”

Eventually, I took the phone from her and hung it up. We had a reservation to make.

The nine of us started in on various coat-fetching and bathroom-visiting activities. During that wave of pre-departure mayhem, Mark called from Whistler. “I’ll call him from the car!” I bellowed to my dad, while yanking boots onto Kate. 

When we finally connected en route to the restaurant, Mark tells me, “So I called your Dad’s house about ten minutes ago. Before the phone even rang I hear Paige saying, ‘Hi Dadda!’ and giggling.”

Mark spent the next few minutes having a one-sided chat with Paigey Wigs, who looked around the living room at us wide-eyed, triumphantly announcing, “Dadda! Dadda!”

When Mark urged her, “Okay, Paige, give the phone to Mama now,” she began on a round of “Mama Dada! Mama Dada!” And of course, kept clutching the phone.

Cracking up, Mark finally gave up and hung up. Attempts to call back resulted in a long stream of busy signals.

And now? Paige is convinced that all the phones at my dad’s house are direct lines to Mark.

And really, why shouldn’t she be?

Over the past couple days if she’s out of my sight for a minute, I’ll likely hear her chanting, “Dada! Dada! Dada!” It’s a sure-fire tip-off that she’s found a phone.

Poor dear. As it is, she’s been climbing into bed with me in the morning and asking ”Oooh Dada?” which I’ve interpreted to mean “Where’s my father who’s usually here with you, and why the hell has he been gone for so long?” Turns out she doesn’t understand about the whole Olympics thing—that they’re far away and they go on for a while. And then, after spending so much play-time “calling” Mark on toy phones, she finally found one that really makes contact. But whenever she gets ahold of it, I wrestle it away from her.

The reality is, if it weren’t for my fear that she’ll dial her way to Denmark, I’d love for her to think she can summon Mark at will. She’s got plenty of time to understand the true logistics of telephonics. In the meantime, I’m doing my best not to dash the illusions of a Daddy’s girl.

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The Thrill of Snarkery

Posted: February 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Drink, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Travel | 2 Comments »

Am I the only one who wonders if the figure skating couples are doing it?

I mean, I think in the supers along the bottom of the screen they should indicate their country of origin, their standing in the games, and their relationship status. Like “Married” or “Skating Partners with Bennies” or maybe “Hooked Up One Night in the Rink Locker Room But Otherwise Not Together.”

As a viewer, wouldn’t knowing that—instead of spending the whole time wondering—help you to focus more on their skating? I know it would for me. 

At any rate, my hubby is at the Olympics right now. As a reporter, not an athlete. And while he covers the Winter Games in a professional capacity, I’m embracing a full-bore amateur peanut-gallery approach to tuning in from home.

And by home I mean home, as in Rhode Island, where we’re watching on an arcane Tivo-less TV. It’s crazy old school, but oddly quite liberating knowing we can’t pause to go tinkle, or rewind to get a second look at a failed triple salchow. If we miss something, it’s just gone. So we let what we see just wash over us, easy breezy. 

My father, a self-professed die-hard sports retard (there’s a reason I can’t follow a football game), has been a surprisingly fine viewing partner. 

The thing is, we’re dangerous with a little information. You see, Mark traveled to Chicago a couple months ago for a press thing with some Olympic athletes. One thing he learned there was that the cross-country skiers take around 40 to 45 pairs of skis with them to every race. Their equipment is that fine-tuned to the various snow conditions. 

Like me, Dad really dug this factoid. And in typical fashion, was soon relaying it to someone else with an air of authority—except he said each athlete has 80 to 85 pairs of skis on hand.

Okay, so I think he really said 60-something. But the point is, the guy likes to exaggerate. And I have to confess to a sight propensity for exaggeration myself.

We watched the opening ceremony, which is always just a heckle-fest fashion show. But this year, as the screen flashed the populations of each country, and the number of athletes attending from each, we took it up a level. You know, we had some behind-the-scenes insights that not every Dick and Jane watching fom home was hip to. 

Me: “China population: 1.3 billion. Number of athletes attending: 90. Number of cross country skis?” I look over to the other couch.

Dad: “Two thousand!” 

So we had some fun with that.

The other thing I can’t help but do, is the age-old asking of, “You have that shirt, don’t you, Dad?” when the male figure skaters take to the ice in tri-colored shreds of polyester, with large flesh-tone Vs that give the illusion (to Nancy Kerrigan’s mother, at least) of a bare chest.

But each costume is worse than the last, and eventually even I tired of that one.

This time next week I’ll be rink-side myself, having returned to Cali to drop the kids at home with my mother-in-law (God bless her). My dear collegiate frienda Brenda and I just couldn’t let Mark’s work-sponsored condo go to waste. We have tickets to two events, hopes of getting into more, and plans to drink like we’re 19 again. 

In the meantime, my sweet spouse is knee-deep in work. A crowd-averse guy, he’s told me about densely-packed crowds at Whistler, and jockeying for space in the immense press center. But despite the hordes of humanity, it turns out he knows nearly no one else there.

When we talk I ask if he’s had a chance to get out to a bar, to mix it up a bit in the international crowd—get swept up in the revelry. But thus far, he’s just been dropping into bed at day’s end, as spent as if he’d run the giant slalom several times himself. 

If you’re lucky enough to be in the Whistler/Vancouver area these days, and you see a cute guy with a lap-top back pack and reporter’s notebook—skinny, on the taller side, brown hair, Oakleys—that well may be my Valentine.

Tell him I miss him madly and can’t wait to see him next week. Then please, take him out for a drink for me.


The Bristol Two-Step

Posted: February 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Eating Out, Food, Kate's Friends, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Travel | 1 Comment »

We were in the library, so I decided to let out a blood-curdling scream.

I’d been chatting with the librarian. There are two gray-haired ones who still serve there—at my hometown bibliotheque—since back when I was a kid. I’d mentioned that to one of them once, thinking we might have a nice moment. Instead she looked at me like she’d sucked a lemon.

But yesterday I took a chance and mentioned to Kate as we were checking out books, “The woman who is helping us was the librarian when I was a girl.” And, thankfully, she looked up and smiled.

And then we did the Who Are You? Bristol Two-Step. Which is to say she asked me what my name was and who my parents are. And when I told her she said, “Oh sure” then listed off the names of all the streets we ever lived on in town. “Now your mom was on Hope for a long time, then she moved to Beach, right?”

“Your mother,” she said, hunched over the desk leaning towards me. “Her and my friend Dottie DeRosa, those two were out in their gardens at the very first signs of spring. We’d say the ground is still frozen, but there’s Vicki out there gardening.”

I admit my awareness of the girls’ whereabouts had faltered a bit. I was drawn in by the kindly gray-haired librarian. I wanted to hear more funny little stories about my mom. But before I could coax more out of her, I looked up to see Paige step into the empty elevator, and the door start to close.

PAAAAAAAAAAAIGE!” I bellowed, as I did a sideways-flying Superman-type lunge for the door. I wedged my hand in without a second to spare. Blessedly the door lurched back open. Paige was standing inside smiling, as I skidded into her like home base.

After that wake-the-dead Mama shriek, those librarians should have no trouble remembering me the next time I drop in.

At dinner last night, at my favorite chicken parm place, a couple walked in and sat at the table next to us. Some sort of comment on Paigey’s ability to pack away the pasta ensued. Then my father held out his hand towards the man, but squinted by way of saying he didn’t remember his name. Cue the Bristol Two-Step.

“Oh yes,” my father said, hearing the guy owns the photo shop in town. “You live on Court Street! My cousin Jimmy Rennetti used to own that house.”

There have to be a million annoying things about the lack of anonymity living in a small town. But this absurd form of interconnectedness is so extreme, is such a weird form of sport, it’s brilliantly entertaining. At least for someone who only lives it for a week or two every year. Despite the fact that I’ve been away for so long, I love that I still have enough hometown equity to play a fair game myself.

At the end of our meal a little girl wandered over to say hi to Kate, her mom trailing behind her. Kate, demonically excited to be in possession of a piece of take-out chocolate cake, was disinterested in the girl’s attention. So I tried to jump-start their conversation.

“Are you in kindergarten, honey? Where do you go to school?”

When she responded “Rockwell,” my own K through third-grade alma mater, I nearly squealed with glee. I forget sometimes when I’m in Rhode Island, and get excited to see someone wearing a RISD sweatshirt. Or I’ll be driving along, then perk up at the sight of an Ocean State license plate.

Proof of my spaciness perhaps. But also that I’m more used to home being a place where I’m not. My default setting is that any Rhode Islandisms I come across must be far-flung artifacts that’ve managed to make their way West. Like me.

At any rate, Kate’s would-be friend didn’t find my enthusiasm about Rockwell far-fetched. “Did you have Miss Sousa too?” she asked, wide-eyed.

Aw, honey. The thing is, I probably did have a Miss Sousa, but a very different one than yours.

There’s a strong tug of temptation to run around and see a ton of people while I’m here, to schedule non-stop things to do. Instead I’m trying to melt into the scenery. I’ve already handed over highlighting my hair to a chap in Newport who did a bang-up job for—get this—$50! And aside from a grandparent-sponsored jaunt to the toy store for Valentine’s Day, and dinner out for Dad’s birthday, the only plans we have are to go to story time at the library.

We’re meeting Kate’s new friend there. Which is great since I never got a chance to ask her what street she lives on, or who her teachers were at preschool.

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The Waiting is Over

Posted: February 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Firsts, Little Rhody, Milestones, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preg-o, Sisters, Travel, Walking | 1 Comment »

My mother hated when my sisters referred to me as their “little” sister.

It was one of a number of random terms she dramatically voiced her opposition to. Like how she hated the word ‘condo.’ I always suspected her condo issue had to do with the word’s affinity to the word ‘condom’—that it was terrifyingly close to sounding like something that had to do with penises.

But I never really knew for sure.

Anyway, she’d mutter “She’s not little, she’s an adult for God’s sake. She’s your ‘younger sister.’”

But growing up in a small town, the youngest (by far) of four girls—”the Bruno girls” as we were known—my mother was fighting a battle she was bound to lose. If my siblings weren’t calling me their little—or kid—sister, everyone else in town had me pegged as “the baby.”

Frrrrrrred!” old women would screech, lunging toward my father and I in the aisle of Almacs grocery store. “How aaaarrrrre you?” Then turning to me. “And this? NO! This isn’t your BABY is it?!”

As a teen, being in public with my dad caused me no end of aggravation. A big personality still living in the small town he was born in, he knew absolutely everyone. And they all seemed to want a piece of him.

We’d walk ten steps, then stop to hear about someone’s gall bladder operation. Another 15 paces and Dad’d be doling out legal advice about a property lien. We were never anonymous, never just able to run in somewhere quickly.

And brutal as it may sound, the people who rotated in Dad’s orbit registered no social value to me. Many were older and smelled of talcum. They unloaded their legal woes, or talked about recently-operated-upon people I didn’t know. Worst of all, they never had cute teen-aged boys with them.

In my self-centered adolescent universe, waiting through my dad’s conversations with these people was some form of heinous torture that seemed custom-made to heighten my teen-aged malaise.

But Dad was—is—a world-class extrovert. He’ll talk to anyone. And he’s always proud to show us girls off. Decades later, nothing has changed. “Yes, that’s her,” he’ll still say, putting his hands on my shoulders. “The baby.”

I have to admit. At age 42, there’s something nice about there being a place where I’m still considered a baby.

MY baby, the delectable Miss Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop (that’s her champion dog name), turned two a week ago. TWO fingers old! What a big big girl.

The night before her birthday I got all nostalgic with Mark. “It was two years ago tonight that I sat on the couch sobbing that I thought the baby may never be born.”

Paige was—how should I say it?—resistant to emerging from the womb. She got the process underway 12 endless days after she was supposed to. Then, after more than four hours of eye-popping pushing, she still refused to budge. Finally a group of medical professionals went in after her.

The expression on her face when she finally emerged was one of abject dismay. It’d make me really sad if it wasn’t so damn funny and cute. (“My God, I’ve given birth to Ed Asner!”)


Anyway, it’s too bad some sort of Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be didn’t visit me during those agonizing post-due-date days, to whisper in my ear that Paige would so totally be worth the wait.

And it turns out our waiting didn’t end then. After waiting for her to be born, we waited for her baby acne and scaly eczema to subside. We waited for her to sit up on her own. Some time after that, we waited for her to walk. And waited. And waited. And eventually, blessedly, all the things we’d been waiting for finally happened.

Her birthday party last weekend was like a kind of a coming out party. At least to this proud Mama. She walks! She talks! She does everything every other two-year-old does, damn it! And she does it dazzlingly.

You’ve come a long way, Paigey. And I know you’ve only just gotten started.

I am so madly in love with that girl. I’m already fretting about how quickly she (and her sister) will grow up and will no longer be little barnacles attached to my legs.

At what point will it be creepy for me to still be chomping on Paigey’s thighs and doing raspberries on her tummy? And is it so wrong to want to bunk with her in her dorm room when she goes away to college? The really pathetic thing is, I’ve spent so much time mercilessly mocking people who wait forever to cut their kids’ hair because they can’t bear to lop off the baby curls. But now, now I understand their plight. I too am weak, like them. May Paigey’s hair never be cut! (There. I’ve said it.)

Next week I’m heading home to Rhode Island for a visit. My dad is turning a youthful 81, and he has a new dog we’re overdue to meet. Us Californians are hoping to score some snowy weather to frolic in. And I plan to spend a lot of time parading the girls around Stop & Shop, and hoping I bump into some people I know.

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Festival of Four-ness

Posted: September 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Manners, Miss Kate, Mom, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Walking | 2 Comments »

I’m not going to lie. I spent a lot of time crying by the clothesline at the birthday parties of my youth.

Well, not A LOT of time, and not at other people’s parties. Just some intermittent spells at my own parties, when things were happening like other kids were winning the games, or someone else got the big pink frosting rose (even though I’d already been given the bigger pinker one).

I mean, I was THE BIRTHDAY GIRL. Did that not count for anything? In my childhood concept of that term all would bow down before me, I’d miraculously (blindly) reunite the donkey with it’s tail, and Lynn Froncillo wouldn’t show up in a dress that was prettier than mine.

I remember my mother or dad coming over to pry me away from my clothesline-clinging Zone of Despair, but in that way that you have a memory that’s a photo, not a video. I can picture them with me, but hell if I remember what they said to get me to pull it together enough to re-enter the party mix.

So Friday night, the eve of Kate’s big birthday throw-down, I went into her room as Mark was about to read her bedtime stories. Channeling my best inner June Cleaver, I smoothed my skirt, propped myself at the edge of her bed, and serenely said, “I’d like to talk to you a bit about your party tomorrow, Kate.”

I went on to say that sometimes parties can be disappointing. Sometimes your friends don’t do what you wanted them to, or don’t come when they said they would, or don’t sit at the place with the pink paper plate even though they’re a girl and shouldn’t be sitting at the place with the green paper plate. I said that sometimes you get presents you don’t like, or want, or already have, but you still have to be polite and say thank you.

And just when I felt I was getting warmed up and was awash in my own brilliant sage mothering I see Mark dragging his finger across his neck, eyes popping.

Turns out I’d beaten away at my points somewhat excessively, leaving them in tatters like some ravaged, child-attacked pinata.

Well, either all my blather worked, or I never even needed to go there. The party was a blast. No tantrums, no tears, no jumpy house injuries, and no four-year-olds in the liquor cabinet. Kate and the guests appeared to actually–gasp!–have fun! What’s weirder is, Mark and I did too.

The worst behavior the birthday girl displayed was a repeated refusal to open the present her cousin so sweetly followed her around with, holding out to her. Well, that and her lack of interest in digging into gift bags after skimming off the first item. (Note to self: Develop bedtime tutorial on deep-diving into gift bags, with follow-up lecture on expressing appreciation for even the bottom-most layer of presentry.)

The gaybors brought Kate a gift they’d been billing for days as “the gayest gift EVER.” When she opened the stuffed Yorkie in it’s pink-and-purple leopardskin and gold patent leather carrying tote (replete with collar, leash, and hair accessories) she squealed and ran into the house to stow it safely away from potentially-thieving guests.

Speaking of gay men, the best gift we got this weekend is that Paigey started cruising! No, no, not trolling around public parks for action… She’s walking by holding onto the couch and the coffee table! She’s making her way across the house by leaning against the toy shopping cart!

Our little lax-muscled toddler is finally gaining the fortitude of body and spirit she needs to get ambulatory. If she continues to progress at this pace, I’m hopeful we’ll be hosting another party quite soon, the promised She’s Finally Frickin’ Walking! champagne-drenched Paigey-fest.

Anyway, back to Kate’s festival of four-ness. Once all the kids were dragged home for naps and low-blood-sugar transfusions, some of the neighbs stuck around under the pink mesh tea party tent. It was lovely. We indulged in more daytime beer drinking, cupcake eating, and general catching up. There was even an engagement story to savor.

I’m so grateful the party was a hit, and that unlike her dramatic mother, Kate didn’t let the less-than-perfect moments prevent her from enjoying the day. But I can’t help but wonder if it all went off like it did because we don’t even have a clothesline.


Putting the Braces Back On

Posted: July 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Career Confusion, Daddio, Discoveries, Eating Out, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Money, Shopping, Working World | 1 Comment »

I used to be the Patron Saint of Interns. It was, of course, a self-appointed role. But one I took quite seriously.

The thing is, at one point in my career, or rather, the making of my career, I held quite a number of internships. Positions in TV newsrooms, hippie liberal radio stations, and various magazines where I’d earn a meager stipend, or sometimes just an appreciative thump on the back.

The hope being that the inverse ratio of earnings to hard labor would have some karmic redemptive upside.

I’ve lost count now of how many of those posts I’ve held. But suffice it to say, years into real grown-up paying work, my friend Mike and I were catching up on the phone and he asked how my internship was going. Sadly, I fear he wasn’t kidding. But that did become an evergreen joke for us when, over the following years, I’d worked my way through positions of mounting managerial responsibility and in our long coast-to-coast calls he’d ask the same question.

Good times, those.

Alas, aside from dignity-robbing name tags, epic Xeroxing tasks, and occasional demeaning-to-my-education lunch runs (I won’t even get into the pervy remarks from crusty old newsmen)—aside from all that, the biggest challenge with my Intern Era life was my short supply of cash.

Well, actually, I don’t know how much it really bothered me then. I mean, I think I attached a certain nobleness (not to be confused with the richy-sounding term “nobility”) to bushwhacking my way through a poorly-paying, romantic, writerly career path. But looking back, I can’t imagine how I did it.

I mean, I always managed to eat (and drink), God knows. And much as I worked towards self-sustainability, this Daddy’s Girl has thankfully never lacked anything of true importance. That is, even when my father’s definition of importance and mine differed. For some reason, he was maniacal about never allowing a child of his to sleep on a futon, of all things. Guess it seemed all Gypsy-like and what’d-the-neighbors-say to him.

Anyway, back then apartment-establishing jaunts to Target required first off, that I borrow a car. And once there, accumulating crap was a practice in restraint. Necessities like mops and cleaners and such went head to head against fripperies like ceramic Italian-esque pasta bowls and bright striped shower curtains. Sometimes home decor, to the extent it could be humbly called that, won out over specialty toilet bowl bleaches.

Thankfully, I never contracted any illnesses from my less-than-sterile but kinda cute living conditions.

These days Target is still the soup kitchen to my soul. But I shop with heedless abandon. Bolstered by their don’t-need-the-receipt-just-your-credit-card return policy, I toss whatever shiny thing I see into the cart.

Clothing? Well, I prefer not to buy it there (for reasons of snobbery alone), but sometimes a little cotton short catches my eye. And who knows if it’s the Small or the Medium that’ll work best. Buy both. Return one later. Candles, brooms, weird flower-shaped sprinkler attachments for kids to run through on hot summer days. A hectare of Size 4 diapers. I never leave the place without mindlessly spending, well, a lot.

The thing is, somewhere between the Intern Era came, well, the hoped-for karmic career redemption patch. Widely known as the American Dream. Or more precisely, the Internet Boom. Right here in Northern California, USA. And instead of having to desperately take an ‘Intro to the Internets’ class at The Learning Annex, I’d somehow managed to retool my media career into an internet business-type kinda job before all the hoopla kicked in.

Looked up from my laptop one day to discover I’d become a cherished ladder-climbing leader at a company where 27-year-olds made Vice President, bought homes based on the momentary health of their unvested stock, and earned bonuses their hard-working parents no doubt found obscene. I traveled non-stop, managed teams in multiple cities, and spent my days telling people twice my age how to run their companies. All that, plus shrimp cocktail and top-shelf booze at Friday afternoon office Happy Hours.

Like many folks at that time, I felt pretty damn invincible.

Unsurprisingly, my spending habits changed. I could buy one of those loft condos with Corian counter tops if I wanted! Buy last-minute tickets home to RI. Go to swank dinners with friends, order beyond the dinner salad, and not dread someone’s inevitable suggestion to “split the bill evenly between us.”

But more than the stuff I could get, what struck me most—initially, at least—was the lack of worry that my new financial sitch afforded me. More than the thrill of ownership any of the crap I bought, knowing I had what I needed to comfortably take care of myself gave me a supreme sense of contentment. A deep, proud-of-myself-for-making-it-so self-sufficiency and security.

And I realized yesterday that my memory of those days, that feeling in particular, is starting to fade in my mind, alongside the Intern Era. With the Global Economic Recession lurking in the pit of everyone’s gut, and me intentionally unemployed and Living La Vida Housewife, it’s hard to remember spending freely on a credit card that someone else (someone I’m not married to, that is) pays.

Prudence seems to dictate a throttling back on spending. It’s not that a crap run to Target will have us living on the street—blessedly. It’s just that, well, used to be we had two jobs and no kids. Now we’ve got one for the four of us. I’m no math expert, but that nets out to less all around.

So I get it right? I’m able to intellectually understand all this. It’s just I’m not certain how to get there. Regroup with that little voice in my head that used to say, “You can’t afford this.”

I mean, it seems obvious, right? Just spend less. But I’m deadline driven, motivated by fear, and perform best under pressure. I know that I should ratchet back, but I’m not feeling a sting to do so.

And Mark, poor dear. His concerns in this arena should be all I need to react. But I’m not getting spurned on. I’m not kicking into thrift mode with any of the novel glee or romantic challenge of it all.

And I can’t help but think that the monumental passage of the Intern Era’s to blame.

It’s like people who wore braces as teenagers, or however old you are when you do that. Elastic bands with colors or cutesie names, nightmares about corn on the cob, fears that getting inextricably locked with a co-braces-wearer during a make-out sesh might not just be urban legend.

I, thankfully, never had them. But I have to believe that once you get your braces taken off, you put all that gnarly, miserable, clingy-food-bits trauma behind you. Close that door and MOVE ON. You just get out there and enjoy your new straight teeth life, and revel in the knowledge that you’ll never be able to fry an ant with the glare off your teeth again.

That is, until as an adult you discover that your teeth have somehow moved. Shifted when you weren’t paying them any attention. And now you need to get braces AGAIN.

Which, is kinda where I feel like I am today. Perfectly straight teeth, thankyouverymuch. But having, despite myself, to go back to that uncomfortable place of restrained spending, at Tar-jay and beyond.

Well, that, or get a job. A job, or maybe a high-class internship.

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