No Gifts, Please

Posted: May 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Drink, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Husbandry, Sleep | 17 Comments »

I had a hangover when Mark asked me out on our first date. To be clear, I didn’t get it as a result of going out with him, but at the time he asked me out I was nauseous. I was headachy. I was leaning against the wall to remain upright. My pallor was a sickly shade of green.

And yet he looked past my bloodshot eyes and potential for rampant alcoholism and found me desirable! What a keeper.

We were at a Christmas party, hosted by dear friends of mine. And even though I’d spent the day in bed, moaning, drinking water, and shying away from bright lights and loud noises, I knew I had to make an appearance at this shindig.

So I moved through Elizabeth Kubler Ross‘ Five Stages of Hangovers:

#1 Guzzle Water

#2 Down Advil

#3 Eat a Greasy Breakfast

#4 Return to Bed

#5 Attempt to Shower and Dress [Note: This should not be done prematurely, or could require that you repeat steps 1-4.]

My plan was to spend 20 minutes at the party. Tops.

Not long after my arrival Mark appeared. Charming and friendly. And although my senses were dulled, I thought I  discerned an air of nervousness about him. In the kitchen we chatted for a bit over the butcher block island, as I rummaged through its drawers for more Advil.

And then as I made my farewell sweep through the living room, he stopped me.

“I um, actually have something for you,” he said. And pulled out of—okay my memory fails me here—his pocket? a man purse? the hands of a bikini-clad assistant who was standing beside him? Anyway, he pulled out of SOMEWHERE an envelope. And handed it to me.

Inside were a bunch of magnets. And I think some stickers too. They all said

Chicken Candy was this wacky website idea I’d been ranting about when I’d met him once before. It was the Internet Boom, and nearly any URL you could conjure was already taken. And somehow we’d gotten to talking about the idea of candy that was made out of America’s favorite food—chicken!

I know, it’s odd. I don’t really remember how we got on that topic—and I know right now you’re thinking that I seem to have blacked out a lot during this time in my life, and maybe you should be finding my email address to send me a kind but firm message encouraging me to seek treatment for my drinking problem. (Here, let me make it easy on you. It’s kristen at motherloadblog dot com.) But really, I assure you that my poor memory has more to do with—I don’t know, genetics—than it does with

Oh, sorry, where was I? Just had to top off my glass.

Anyway, so here’s Mark handing me these magnets. He’d designed a logo and there was even a little picture of a chicken on them. And it was a really funny and creative thing for him to do. I mean, how often does a guy A) listen to something you said, B) remember it, and C) do something original with it?

Right, not often.

Some time you should have Mark tell you about his internal dialogue as he handed that envelope to me. It went something like, “What the fuck have I done? This is not cool. This is the most insane stalker-ish move I could ever make and she is totally freaked out by me right now.”

I did find it unusual, but in a flattering way. I was generally at a loss for words—for everything that night—but I somehow managed express to him the wonderfully thoughtful and whimsical nature of his gift.

And I did not puke on his shoes.

Later, on my way to the coat closet he sought me out again, and nervously, shyly, asked if he could take me out to dinner.

The rest, as they say, is history.

My birthday was five months after our first date. And, this being The Olden Days before cell phone texting, Mark and I would chat online using AOL Instant Messenger. And sometimes we sent carrier pigeons.

It was almost like Downton Abbey.

In fact, I saved and printed out all our epic IM conversations since they were so damn clever and cute and we were both trying so hard. I knew even then that they were part of some history in the making.

On the morning of my birthday Mark texted me a link that said, “Click here.”

It’s okay, you can go click on that yourself. Check it out, then come back and I’ll be right here.

Okay, did you look? Did you click into the site? Did you read the About Us (I love that part)? And the Gizzard Truffles? Wait, what was your favorite product? You know, I didn’t even know what schmaltz was at the time.

Yes, the gift he gave me was the sticker taken to the Information Superhighway. He made a whole damn website for my pretend Chicken Candy company. And gave it to me for my birthday.

And it was hilarious.

I showed my boss at the agency where I was working and she wanted to hire him on the spot.

Anyway, I’m ten days shy of my next birthday. Twelve years later, that is.

And I actually woke up pretty hung over this past Saturday. I swear this is a very rare occurrence, but I do understand if you still feel the need to contact me directly with your concerns about my drinking. (Again, it’s kristen at motherloadblog dot com.)

For this hangover, Mark let me sleep late. He got up and fed our daughters breakfast and shushed them when they started talking too loudly near our bedroom door. When I finally woke up he brought me a glass of water and an Advil, and asked me what we should do as a family before he went to his 1:30 tee time.

And then the girls ran into the room screaming and fighting and jumping on the bed and handing me pictures they’d drawn and asking if I would read them a book and could they please have some of their Easter candy?

Ah what a difference 12 years makes. And I wouldn’t change a single thing about them. (Except that I should’ve drunk more water—or less wine—on Friday night.)

Thank you, Mark, for being an exceptionally funny, smart, handsome, handy-around-the-house, IT savvy husband. (And no, I’m not going to say “and friend.” Or “and lov-ah.” But hell, now that I mention it, those things too.)

Happy very-soon birthday to me. I am the luckiest gal in the world. You and the girls—and the vast pretend proceeds from Chicken Candy World Enterprises—are all the presents I need.


Give Me Your Money

Posted: September 28th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Money, Other Mothers, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I’m a sucker for a compliment. Like last year, a friend emailed me saying she needed someone like me—”a responsible person with a dynamic personality”—to do her a favor.

Responsible? Dynamic? Aw, shucks. Before even reading what she wanted, I was in.

Turns out she needed someone to round up some folks and get them on a bus to the farm where she was getting hitched. The task required a firm but friendly approach. The ability to work with old and young alike. It called for one part charm, one part organization. It’s like the gig was custom-made for me.

I shot her back an email. “When do I start? And do I get to carry a clipboard?”

So it was not surprising last spring when I got an email from the Development Director at Kate’s school, and responded like I did. They needed a “captain” for Kate’s classroom. Someone to be a liaison between the parents and the Board of Directors for the annual fund-raising drive.

“So many people have told me you’d be perfect for this,” she wrote.

What could I say to that? I mean, other than, “I’m your gal!”

It wasn’t ’til a few weeks ago when our first meeting was announced that I wondered how I got reeled into this role. Did the Development Director really hear I’d be great? Or had she sent the same message to four other people before me? People who were smart enough to not take the bait.

I decided that she must have been sincere. That it was my winning personality that got me into this. Into what some might find an unenviable role.

While I got ready to head out to my first meeting, Kate stood by the sink to chat. With a toothbrush sticking out of my mouth I explained to her what the fund-raising committee does. “All the cool classes [brush brush brush] like wood shop and Spanish [spit!] and music, and movement [brush brush]—I’m helping raise money for [spit!]. You know [wipe mouth with towel], to make sure you can still have those classes [peer into mirror, fluff hair].”

Oooh,” said Kate, pondering. “Well Mama, I hope you raise one… hundred and… fifty-five dollars!”

“Thanks, kiddo,” I said kissing her head and slinging my purse over my shoulder. Walking out the door I thought, ‘God help me if that’s all I can do.’

But thankfully, I’ve put some thought into this whole fund-raising thing. Even if traditional approaches don’t work, I’ve come up with some innovative ideas. You know, I’m thinkin’ outside the box.

Like, I figured I can volunteer as a car-door opener. Some parents help do this in the mornings in front of the school. It’s like drive-thru fast food meets private education. You pull up and don’t even have to get out of your car. Someone just opens your back door and yanks out your kid and their over-sized backpack.

I figure if I volunteer I could peer in at the parent drivers and say things like, “Nice new Mercedes, Jim! Things at the bank must certainly be going well for you. Have you thought about what you’re giving to the school this year?”

Alternately, people with crappy cars (like mine) must be saving money by not indulging in German automotive technology, right? “You’re certainly not throwing money away on fancy cars,” I can bellow to the driver as I use one hand to extricate their child. “Get a tax break! Bust into that nest egg you’ve been hoarding and make a fat donation to the school!”

I can see it now. People will be pulling over to dig out their checkbooks (I’ll have a pen handy) to make dazzlingly impressive donations on the spot. (Which may, I realize, cause a traffic jam. But really, in the end won’t it be worth it when those spiffy new xylophones arrive in the Music Room?)

I’ve also been scripting a few lines about donations based in direct correlation with the size of women’s engagement-ring diamonds. “What’s that there, Sheila? Two carats? Two-and-a-half?” I’ll purr admiringly. “You must have some moula you can shake free for the school, no?”

I can’t wait to share these guerrilla fund-raising tactics with the committee. I think they’re really quite brilliant. And to think, I never even went to business school! I was just an English major!

Last year I rallied the moms in Kate’s classroom to go out for drinks one night. Even deep into the school year there were so many mamas I’d barely gotten to know. Birthday parties and playdates are fun and all, but it’d be nice to hang out without kids demanding our attention. And with wine.

So this year I decided to start early. Back to School Night was last week. Mark was in Australia for work, so I needed a sitter. I figured I’d make good use of her services and go out for une petite drinkie after the meeting.

So I emailed the moms in Kate’s class—would anyone like to join me? Let’s tack a little socializing onto the end of a school meeting. Let’s let our hair down a bit. Let’s tie one on, sisters, free and unfettered, without our little ones (or even spouses) nipping at our heels. What better way to kick off the school year?

But I didn’t have everyone’s email addresses. Kate’s in a K-1 combo class and I didn’t know the new kindergarten mamas’ emails. So I promised I’d track those women down later. But if anyone knew how to reach them, please forward my email along.

And what a night we had! Fast forward to me, ravaged senseless by gin and showing off my C-section scar at the restaurant. Then later, the moms of Room 2 went all Coyote Ugly—dancing on the bar in an act of drunken homo-erotic bacchanalia. It was off the hook!

Okay, okay… so those things really didn’t happen. Our outing for drinks was lovely, but not wild by any means. Sure, we considered jetting off to Vegas on the fly at one point, but the idea never really took off. In fact, it was what happened in planning to go out that makes up this here story.

Because one of the moms forwarded my email to the group list the teacher uses. A perfectly reasonable thing to do. So ALL the parents in the classroom got it—not just the mamas. This may or may not have left some dad’s feeling left out. Which certainly was not my intention. But I fear that some papas were wondering why they couldn’t come and booze it up too.

The emails started flowing. A handful of women “would love to join.” Others were checking with their better halves to make sure they could slip away. One mama suggested a tiki bar that’s in staggering distance of her house. Another said, “as long as they have wine” she’s in.

Then one brave dad spearheaded the retaliatory drinking brigade. “Why don’t the fathers get together for a beer too?” He summoned an opposition party of wounded left-out daddies. It was a decided “if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em” approach. And even though I could have offered for us to all go out together, it seemed apparent that we were well past that.

Oh it was lively. It was interesting. My small idea was certainly taking on dimensions I never anticipated.

I was suddenly envisioning Back to School Night in a new light—all us parents wedged into small wooden seats in the classroom, moms on one side, dads sitting across the room separately, sneering.

Hell, the way this was unfolding I was maybe going to have to host a pre-party so everyone could loosen up a bit before the meeting. You know, some kind of tailgate in the elementary school parking lot. I mean, there wouldn’t be any drugs or anything. But you know, maybe a few pony kegs. A tray of Jell-O shots. And maybe some of the sensitive new-aged dads would get into the spirit and arrive in face and body paint—in the school colors, of course—like some misdirected, intellectual Oakland Raiders fans.

All I’m saying is I’d be open to seeing that.

At the end of Day One: The Happy Hour Email Incident, the two room parents and I got a note from the teacher. She kindly cautioned us not to use the group email she’d set up. Turns out she’d also been getting everyone’s responses throughout the day. And although she was chuckling about it, several other teachers let her know that they’d been getting the emails too.

Yes, my innocent let’s-grab-a-drink-together invitation—and everyone’s RSVPs, commentaries, and alternate plan suggestions—were being sent TO EVERY TEACHER AND ADMINISTRATOR IN THE SCHOOL.

Um… oops!

Yes, the next morning an official email went out to the entire school community outlining the Dos and Don’ts of the school’s group email lists. And it encouraged us to set up our own email lists.

Message received.

Oddly, a few hapless fathers continued to respond to the all-call for Dad Drinks throughout the day. “Wish I could, but I’m traveling for work!” “Sure, beer’s always good!”"Catch you guys next time for sure!” [Wince.]

On Back to School night one of the teachers—a sweet, funny guy who I adore—whispered in my ear as I walked into the room, “We’ll keep this quick, Kristen. We know you have some drinking to do.”


Another mom informed me that some school staffers were now referring to Room 2 as The Drunk Tank. Greeeeeat.

Yes, it’s all hideously embarrassing. But the way I figure it, Kate’s only got four years left at that school. And Paige starts there the year after next. So hopefully in the seven years before she graduates my reputation as the Boozey Rabble-Rouser Mommy will have waned some.

But in the meantime, I want to humbly say to all the teachers, administrators, moms, and dads whose feelings I may have hurt or whom I otherwise annoyed, “I was wondering if you might be interested in writing a nice big check to the school.”

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My Hubby the Hobbyist

Posted: June 29th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Miss Kate | No Comments »

Years ago my New Year’s resolution was to eat more sushi.

This might not seem like your typical self-improvement-type resolution. But after being with Mark—a die-hard disliker of seafood—for a while at that point, I’d come to realize just how seldom I was eating the stuff. Something that I happen to love.

And I’m not one to deny myself.

I sent an all points bulletin out to my friends. “Available for any and all outings for sushi. I’ve deprived myself needlessly for too long! Seeking seafood redemption, and a good wasabi-induced nasal passage clearing.”

Okay, so I didn’t send out that exact email. But I did tell my possee I wanted to get my unagi on more often.

And I posed it to Mark this way: If I went on like this indefinitely—putting my own desires aside for the greater good of the couple—well, who knows? I might suddenly implode one day. I may do something irrational and regrettable, like, well… like smother him with a pillow in his sleep.

And neither of us wanted that to happen.

I recently got breakfast with a mom from Paigey’s school. We don’t know each other very well, and in the course of conversation she mentioned that she coaches her son’s little league team. And here I’d been thinking that, along with taking the trash out, that was men’s work.

It was the last thing I expected her—she of the fabulous over-sized designer purse—to say. And I love that she does it.

I told her how Mark worked for Sports Illustrated for years covering baseball. How he’s been to every spring training venue, took a road trip after college with his BFF to tour ballparks, and he used to write a popular blog about the Oakland A’s.

Oh, and sometimes? Sometimes he does that sports-nerd thing where he tracks the scores at games on those little cards.

None of this makes a whit of sense to me. But I gather it’s what baseball fans do.

And Mark is definitely a fan. Or, at least, he used to be.

Because, sadly, after years of me whining whenever a game was on TV and I wanted to watch something estrogeny like Friends, and after producing two time-sucking kids, and after getting older and lazier about actually making it out to ball games, the truth is, Mark indulges his baseball fandom about as often as I eat sushi. Which is, sadly, not so much.

I told Little League Coach Mom that Mark also used to be in a band. (She did too!) But now, heck, he rarely even picks up his guitar.

I walked home from our breakfast wondering, “Has parenthood—or marriage—beaten our old interests out of Mark and me?” Over time have we morphed into a common entity, unwittingly abandoning our personal passions in deference to those we share? And have even some of those been swallowed up by our children?

One block further in my promenade I came to the realization that the answer was—thrillingly—no. Blessedly, all that is unique and interesting about us has not been lost.

Mark and I still appear to be different people. Sure, folks say we look alike, but we steadfastly remain one introvert, one extrovert. One cooker of savory foods, one dessert-maker. One Midwesterner, one New Englander. One techno-file, one luddite. And, despite a brief period of confusion (when we both had blue ones), we still even use separate toothbrushes. (I have a friend who shares a toothbrush with her spouse, claiming the result’s no different than what happens when you make out. But still.)

So back to my contemplative walk… What was a bit distressing, was the realization that Mark’s done a far better job that I have of pursuing non-kid-related interests.

But honestly? Nearly anyone would be challenged to keep pace with the man. Not to be overly fawning, but the guy‘s a kinda Renaissance Man. Or at least, one in training. It’s like he’s being guided by some unspoken imperative to educate himself on a super vast array of stuff. Or maybe he’s just training for some reality show I’m unaware of.

And when he gets engrossed in some new thing, it’s not like he takes a cursory dip. When Mark’s interest is piqued, he goes deep.

When we were dating he got into cooking. Lots of folks like to cook, right? Mark began amassing cookbooks (and knives and pots and mandolines) on a grand scale, took a week-long class at the Culinary Institute of America, and became obsessed with obtaining a perfectly cubical dice on his mirepoix. And when I say perfect, it was as if Thomas Keller were going to bust through our kitchen wall like the Kool-Aid guy to inspect Mark’s knife skills.

Generalized cooking over-achieving eventually gave way to Mark’s interest in molecular gastronomy. More gear and high-tech equipment was gathered (taking up even more storage space), and strange chemical agents made their way into our cupboards alongside old-school standards like cinnamon and garlic powder.

Mark practically began making the girls’ morning oatmeal sous-vide. He placed plates of pink dust before me at dinner. “It’s salmon, but I altered it using bio-sodium-carbonate-hydroxy-something-or-other. It’ll just melt in your mouth. It’s the true essence of salmon!”

Cyclocross came onto Mark’s radar at some point before or after techy geek cooking. (It’s hard to keep track.) It turns out his  love of road biking was just the gateway drug to cyclocross—a seems-miserable-to-me sort of obstacle-course laden bike race. Mark woke early on weekends to meet up with other mad men who took pleasure in repeatedly grinding their way through hilly punishing courses that forced them to intermittently run carrying their bikes over their shoulders to get over stairs or streams or tree stumps.

Race mornings that were especially drizzly or muddy had him giggling with glee. In his free time (sometimes in our living room) he’d practice jumping on and off his bike. Or throwing it over his shoulder and sprinting.

He returned from races splattered in mud and nursing minor injuries, happy as a clam. If I didn’t know him better I’d have guessed he was having an affair with some raucous barnyard animal.

The first ‘cross race the kids and I went to was weirdly family-friendly. Most of the 30-something guys were former road or mountain bikers who, after fatherhood, became cyclocross weekend warriors. (The sport serves up a large dose of action to the time-constrained maniac.) Cheering sections formed in small mud pits alongside the race course, made up of hipster mamas and kids clanging cow bells howling, “Goooo Daddy!” After the race grilled sausages and beer were de rigeur (in the Belgian tradition), despite the fact that it was 10:30AM. It wasn’t uncommon to see a mom pushing a stroller with a kid balanced on a case of Trappist ale.

Mud and pain aside, attending that race helped me see the allure of it. But one morning, scaling some slippery hillside with his bike slung on his shoulder like a backpack, Mark wrenched his knee. And faster’n you can clang a cowbell, his obsession with cyclocross was replaced with sessions with a physical therapist. (He still fervently watches races on YouTube. Very weird to suddenly hear a crowd cheering in Flemish from the other room.)

I set one of Mark’s obsessive hobbies into motion when I gave him a food smoker a couple Christmases back. He’s spent hours pouring over food-geek websites, sussing out subtle differences between brisket recipes, contemplating cuts of meat, and photographing (and Tweeting about) every step of the smoking process. He’s woken up in the middle of stormy nights, and gone outside in his boxers and raincoat to check on the progress of his pork butts with a flashlight.

I’d call it excessive, unhealthy behavior if it weren’t for the fact that his pulled pork is so damn good. (His ribs don’t suck either.)

We’re at least three months into Mark baking bread every weekend, never quite content with the rise in his proof or the airiness of his crumb. He’s also been golfing a damn lot. And like his bread loaves, no golf outing ever seems totally satisfying. At some holes he birdies, but bogies at others. The first 17 holes rock, then he falls apart on the 18th.  There’s always the hope that next weekend his sourdough will be surreal in its perfection and he’ll get 18 holes in one.

And while my ass grows rotund from succulent smoked meats and home-baked bread, Mark’s decided to also come down on my liver. Which is to say the man has become Mr. Cocktail. He’s a high-ranking amateur mixmaster, who blessedly has not incorporated flair into his bartending prowess. That’d just be tacky.

I’m currently living in a world where a pre-dinner drink could include something as obscure and colorful as Creme de Violette or as oddly-named as John D. Taylor’s Velvet Falernum. A cocktail cookbook I bought him for his birthday has become his new Bible, and man, we are sipping some lovely fizzy ginny deliciousness ’round here.

What’s great is these drinks are such time-honored classics. Like, I’m a huge fan of the Tom Collins now. So preppy-sounding and old school! And recently at a friend’s house Mark took a mobile tote-bag bar and busted out some lemony minty bev called a—I love this—Southside. How smooth-sounding is that? “Yes, I’ll have a Southside, please.”

And all this is coming from the woman whose first act as President was going to be a law that states coconut-flavored rum is bad-ass. Up ’til now I’ve had the booze palette of a 12-year-old. It’s up just a notch from those who have an affinity for wild strawberry wine coolers. (I prefer peach—much more refined.)

Anyway, to discover that there are some excellent classic cocktails out there that I like? That I wouldn’t be ashamed to order in public? It’s immensely liberating. Plus it frees up my first Presidential mandates to focus on outlawing the use of mushrooms in restaurants, and requiring all children to stay in bed until 9AM.

Speaking of kids, Kate has recently abated her two-week compulsive balloon animal making binge (going everywhere clutching a balloon pump to her chest like it’s her pacemaker). These days she is fervently focused on crafting friendship bracelets.

God help those who deign to darken our doorstep for even a moment. She’ll accost you with a demand for your favorite two—no, three!—colors, then start furiously knotting. Two Jehovah’s Witnesses pushing pamphlets left our porch after a five-second “no thanks” from me, and I could swear each of them was sporting fashionable new thread bracelets from Kate. “When it pops off some day, make a wish!” is her cheery manufacturer’s tip.

Mark and Kate’s hobbies have yet to intersect, but when they do—fly fishing? cartography? Beanie Baby collecting?—I can only imagine how the sparks will fly.

But thankfully, before Paige and I have reason to be fed up with the onslaught of new gear, or the dining table be overtaken, or them being absent for chunks of the weekend, they’ll be on to the next thing.

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Locked and Loaded for Thanksgiving

Posted: November 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Drink, Extended Family, Food, Holidays, Housewife Superhero, Husbandry, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sisters | 2 Comments »

My mother got headaches on holidays. The kind that required to her to be alone in her darkened bedroom. A room that she entered after shouting, “A little bit of appreciation would be nice!” then slamming her door.

Truth be told, I’m not sure this holiday ‘tradition’ took place on a truly regular basis, like the arrival of eggnog at grocery stores. But it did go down a few times for sure. Which in my tattered memory qualifies as something.

Of course, back then, my three sisters and I thought she was a drama queen. We rolled our eyes, called her nasty names (under our breath), and phoned friends to bemoan our misery. But now, as a Mama myself, I’m not so sure my mother was the offending party.

When I think of my mom at the holidays, I see her rolling out these Italian fruit cookies she used to make. More often than not, this was a late-night project. It took up all the counter space and the kitchen table. The cookies are super time-intensive and the dough’s delicate and tricky to work with—so much so that even now as a graduate of cooking school, I’ve shied away from ever attempting them.

But us kids loved them. They’d become tradition. So even if it meant finding time to bake at 10PM—and even though they were her ex-husband’s family recipe—Mom made them. Never fail. Every year.

Like many of the things she poured time and energy into—making pine cone wreaths, going to a farm for real hay for our manger, nurturing Christmas cacti year-round and baking cranberry bread on Christmas morning—all these things we all just took as traditions. Hardly considering how Mom toiled to maintain them.

What I’d pay now to be a fly on the wall back then. There were four of us girls, one of her. What was it we did to set off her tirades? Lazed about in our Lanz granny gowns, refusing to even let the dog out, when she’d woken up at 5AM to start the bird? Moaned about going with her to Christmas Mass? Or complained that the cocktail sauce for the shrimp was too spicy—or worse—was a new recipe we weren’t used to?

Embarrassingly entitled behavior, I know. But all totally feasible scenarios.

From where I stand now—a Mama who’s decorated and baked and shopped and wrapped ‘til all hours of the night—I can’t help but think that the odds were Mom’s tantrums were legit.

Too bad it’s too late to tell her I feel her pain.

When Paige was in a crappy sleep cycle a while back, waking up sometimes five times a night, I was also dragging my ass up at 6AM for boot camp. I was a zombie. Some days when Paigey napped, I’d crawl into my own bed. But Kate doesn’t have the ‘constitution’ for naps. (The gal’s natural pace is hopped-up like a speed fiend’s, and I have no one but myself to blame.) So to ensure Katie-Pie was well occupied, I’d plop her in front of the boob tube. I felt guilty, but I also felt so very very sleepy.

A couple weeks later, Kate and Mark were talking in the kitchen. “You know, Mom’s tired all the time,” Kate reported. “I always watch TV during the day so she can sleep.”

Whaaaat?!” I cried from the next room, tripping over myself to bust in on their convo and rectify my reputation. “I did that TWICE!” I said to Mark. “Okay, maybe three times… Back when Paigey kept on waking up at night.”

Then, turning to Kate like we were sisters in a spat, I sneered, “It wasn’t ALL THE TIME.”

I think Mark knew Kate was stretching the truth to con him into turning on TV. “Hey, it’s cool man! We roll like this all the time when you’re at work!” But maybe, like my memories of my mom’s holiday headaches, Kate saw a small pattern in my behavior and blew it up to be much bigger in her mind.

Whole families can have collective distortions of how things went down. Don’t you think? Stories are told and retold and embroidered along the way, and before you know it that famous playground scuffle William got into in third grade involved seven other kids and a pit bull. And he stole a police car after to get away.

I wonder if that’s the case with Mark’s family and their tales of talking politics around the turkey table. From the lore I’ve heard, there were some holidays that got pretty ugly. Folks fired up with a wee bit o’ holiday cheer duking it out over differing political opinions. I mean, far as I can tell there were never fisticuffs. But maybe a turkey drumstick or two got chucked across the table. At least, it’s fun for me to imagine that.

Were their political imbroglios ever really THAT bad? I can’t picture Mark’s mild-mannered Midwestern family bickering over Hilary’s foreign policy. I’m fairly apolitical, so I can’t even see doing that myself. Just like how I don’t get how a football team losing can put someone in a bad mood all day.

In my family accusations are flung, people storm around, and doors get slammed. But that’s just ’cause we’re Italian. It’s built into us. Moments later we’re all back at the table tucking into slabs of pie like nothing happened.

Anyway, all I know is, at some point prior to my indoctrination at Mark’s family holidays, an edict was set forth to suspend all political discourse. Forevermore.

But, you plug up one hole and eventually water spurts forth from another, right? Try as you will, there’s no way to ensure that a big extended family—with differing ages, political views, and opinions on how the stuffing should be cooked—can gather at the holidays with utter serenity. Even if you cook all your side dishes ahead of time, and avoid dinner-table talk on legalizing marijuana, healthcare reform, and failed family investments, something’s gotta give, right?

A recent Motherboard story I read gives the best reality-based holiday advice. Listen, your mother is going to be critical of what you cook no matter what, so just brace for it, honey. And when your brother-in-law acts all tweaky and insecure about something, GIVE INTO HIS SHIT. Toss out some crap that shocks and soothes him with how understanding and supportive you are.

I just LOVE that. Instead of willing it all to go away, step right into it.

Thanksgiving is always with Mark’s family. It rotates between being at his Mom’s house and her siblings’. This year we’re in North Carolina, which is fab, though frankly we could be in [insert some crappy place here] and it wouldn’t make a difference. Wherever we are we all end up just hanging out in the house anyway. Totally by choice.

Everyone’s even got their own foam coozy with their name on it. How rad is THAT? The bar’s open all day and the food don’t stop coming. This year there are even two—count ‘em TWO—newborns we can babble at and whose heads we can smell. And I just KNOW the cousins from Kentucky will bring some truly excellent bourbon. [Nudge, nudge.]

What’s not to love?

The Milller Family Thanksgiving is nothing like the holidays at my house used to be. (They actually watch FOOTBALL. And sometimes even play it!) But ten years in I can’t imagine spending Turkey Day any other way. Is it too meta to be thankful for Thanksgiving itself?

Well, who cares, damn it. I am.

A few years ago one of Mark’s relatives made a request to omit the nuts in the Chex party mix. This person lobbied that everyone in the family just picked around them anyway. A year or so later, the little pretzels were also removed. (I know, right? One of the best parts!) I joked—after a couple bourbon and Cokes, mind you—that the next year they’d be setting out empty bowls.

“What are these?” folks’d ask.

“Oh, the Chex party mix!” the host would reply. “The recipe that everyone likes.”

So, no political banter. And eventually I fear, no Chex mix.

We will get there! We will achieve celebration perfection!

If anyone’s bound to throw a wrench it in the well-oiled Miller Thanksgiving machine, I fear it’ll be me, or one of my kids. (Our wild Italian genes can’t be held down.) So I’m just bracing for Kate to start lecturing her cousin that daddies should be able to marry daddies. Or ranting about BP’s management of the oil spill. (Kate LOVED that damn spill and still goes on about how “some birds died, you know” and “Uncle John plugged it up.”)

At the same time I can picture Paige spitting out a brussel sprout, screaming, “ME NO YIKE DIS!” then spilling my red wine all over the white linen tablecloth.

Should this take place, I offer this up to our hostess, Aunt Ann, in advance: Talk a deep breath and a swig of chardonnay and remember that you’ve got a back-up plan: There’s a dark bedroom and a headache—either real or well-acted—that’s waiting for you.

Trust me on this. I’ve learned from the best.


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.


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.


Glass Half Full

Posted: November 19th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: California, Drink, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Mom | 1 Comment »

In our house love is measured in ounces. Between Mark and me at least.

Our unexceptionally-appointed kitchen has one of those do-hickies in the refrigerator door that dispenses filtered water, ice cubes, and—well, I don’t mean to brag here but—crushed ice too.

It makes me feel like royalty.

Growing up I lived in a lovely house in a beautiful seaside town. I went to an excellent school, and my dad had a good job. We had a Black Labrador, and my mom took painting classes and did lots of gardening. You could call it an entitled life.

But it was New England. Which is to say the richest man in town drove a battered ancient Volvo, everyone we knew set their thermostats to bone-chilling temps in the winter, and my mother didn’t subscribe to a single magazine. She read old back issues our neighbors passed on to her.

It wasn’t until the late-80s that my sisters and I, home for a holiday and desperate to check our apartment answering machines, went to the Apex in Pawtucket to buy Mom a touch-tone phone. Had we never done this, and were she alive today, I’ve no doubt she’d still be dragging her finger along that rotary dial, and swearing every time it slipped and she’d have to start all over again.

When I started going to school in Providence, I got a taste of life beyond the crusty Yankee world. Not that my city friends weren’t New Englanders too. But some of them were, well, new school.

I had to mask my amazement when, while making packets of Swiss Miss cocoa at Diane Prescott’s house—a structure that amazed me in its unapologetic immensity and modernity (not to mention that her mom drove a brand-new bright orange Pacer)—all we needed to do was turn the knob on a tap at the side of their kitchen sink. Amazingly, the spigot produced boiling water, instantly. It was so handy, so indulgent, I felt simultaneously dazzled and dismayed by it. Nothing should be so easy.

Of course, I never let on any of this to Diane. Though I’m sure she did wonder why, at age nine, I was perpetually desperate for a cup of tea.

But now I’m a Californian. Someone who has had regularly-scheduled massage appointments every six weeks, like haircuts. Someone who—before having kids at least—filled empty spots in the weekends by having Asian immigrants slough dry skin off my feet and scrape dirt from my toenails. I’m no longer amazed (or scandalized) when I walk onto someone’s deck and see a hot tub.

I don’t see any of these changes in me as indicators that I’ve struck it rich. In fact, I’d guess Mark and I have less money that our parents did when we were kids. It’s just that here, on the Left Coast, personal indulgences are not poo-pooed. They’re actually encouraged; signs that you’re taking care of yourself, not acting hedonistic.

When my mother visited San Francisco, sometimes between Scrabble games and her scouring my coffee pot I’d suggest that we go get mani-pedis. But she never had any desire to try one. In fact, she seemed turned off by the idea. Like her take on restaurants—”If you’ve got a kitchen and know how to cook, why would you go out?”—she was unshakeable in her views.

Our rental-house refrigerator’s water and ice dispenser is like some weird time-and-place machine. More than once when someone comes over for the first time, I’ve commented on it as I get them water. “We never had one of these when I was a kid,” I say, pressing the glass against up against the fridge door. “I feel spoiled rotten that I have one now.”

I’m laughing when I say it, but I’m really only half-kidding.

The downside to our water dispenser? It’s painfully slow. (Was Diane Prescott’s like that too? I can’t imagine it was.) To fill even a rocks-sized glass takes something like a minute, maybe two. That might not sound like long, but it feels like dog minutes. I’ve missed the better part of brilliant stories our dinner-party guests have told while I was slavishly refilling their glasses. And after packing snacks, changing diapers, and putting on coats—trying desperately to get out the door—I’ll realize I need water for the girls. My momentum screeches to a halt as I press each sippy cup against the door and wait, my blood pressure spiking.

Sometimes when this becomes unbearable I pivot to the sink to slosh water in the cups. Relief! But inevitably I envision the presence of microscopic water-borne carcinogens. I picture myself polluting my babies’ pure bodies. The burden of that guilt is sometimes worse than tacking another five minutes of lateness onto wherever it is we’re already supposed to be.

In the evenings when the girls are in bed, Mark and I convene on the couch. It’s where we exhale after punching the clock for the day. And like a game of chicken, one of us eventually gets up for something—to pee, to flip the laundry, to get ice cream—and asks, usually without thinking, “Can I get you anything?” It’s only when the response is, “Sure. Water would be great,” that we realize what we’ve done.

I joke that our water dispenser should also serve Ritalin. I can’t imagine anyone, even with a normal attention span (unlike my hummingbird-fast one), not finding the process painful. In fact, Mark tends to just use the tap these days. But every once and a while he’ll come back to me and hand me a pint-glass that’s filled nearly to the top. “This,” he’ll say proudly, “Is how much I love you.”

1 Comment »

Remember the Lake

Posted: September 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: College, Doctors, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Summer, Travel | 4 Comments »

On our way through Marin County—heading towards beaches, hiking, and the Redwoods—we pass by a dumpy roadside motel. The Fountain Motel.

It’s where my mother, my sister Marie, and I once stayed when I was a kid. A dreary gray box of a place, up on the main road, with a requisite off-kilter cement fountain plopped out in front.

So when Mark’s ‘rents were here last week, we were stuck in a good-weather weekend traffic snarl, right in front of said motel. Admitting this was the site of a bygone Bruno vacation—something I’m often compelled to do, despite the shame of it—no doubt makes one wonder whether it was a voluntary vacation. Or if maybe we were on the lam. Hiding out from Interpol. Waiting out time until we got our Witness Protection Program permanent digs.

Or, maybe back then it was nice? Or at least nice-ish? Or maybe at least clean, and a good value?

All I remember about it was that the bedspreads were kinda flashy…

At any rate, it’s odd having a reminder from a childhood trip so close by. Maybe if my mother would’ve known that someday I’d settle in the Bay Area, and that for some unGodly reason that motel would still be standing and in business, she’d have opted for someplace clean AND cute.

Aside from that trip (and an admittedly fabulous tour of Europe), I can’t remember many vacations I took as a kid. I mean, I do have an especially horrible memory. But I can’t help by think that parents put a lot of planning, energy, and moolah into family outings that end up passing through the kids like so much Mexican drinking water.

For my girls, I think I’ve cracked the code to making vacations memorable. The way to hold onto something is to do it over and over and over again, right? Right! Which is why I’ve decided we’re inviting ourselves to spend Labor Days from here on out with some of Mark college friends, at their lake house in Minnesota.

The cabin’s a two-hour drive from Minneapolis, and the perfect blend of charming simplicity meets dazzling natural beauty. It’s feet from the lake. And one whole side of it is windows. So even when you’re inside, say, lying on the couch with a book and a beer, you still feel like you’re soaking up the great outdoors.

I have another annual trip in my past. A now-bygone camping trip—okay, okay, it was at a hippie music festival—up in Humboldt County. I went maybe six times—or eight?—with a big group of old Bay Area friends.

Now, the downfall of vacationing in the same place every year with the same group of people is the exhaustive rehashing and glorified storytelling that takes place about years past. “Remember in ’99 when Al brought that blender with a rip-cord starter engine, and decided to make margaritas at the crowded campsite at 3AM? I thought those guys from Oregon were going to kill him!”

Ah, Al.

Well, we’re finally settling in back home after our new-fangled family-style annual lake house vacation. It was Kate’s second Labor Day weekend on Lone Lake. (She couldn’t remember the first one. My genes.) Last time Paigey was with us too, but in utero.

Lest any of this year’s highlights be forgotten, I’m capturing some here. I figure we can just print this out and read from it around the campfire next year. Then we won’t even have to endure the labors of a spontaneous ad-libbed conversation.

Remember when 4-year-old Spencer used the bacon-grease-drenched paper towel to wipe off his face?

Remember when Gary spent an evening organizing a big box of Crayons according to the pretentiousness of the color names?

Remember when Paige squealed and clapped like an organ-grinder monkey every time Dulce the dog walked by?

Remember when a bird flew into the yard squawking wildly, causing us to look up and see a bald eagle soaring overhead?

Remember when Kate said, “The shadows on the lake look like squid, Dada.” And a beat later added, “I don’t know what squid are.”

Remember the day we ate pig five ways (bacon at brekkie, ham in a salad at lunch, sausage-’n'-cheese glop dip with cocktails, and home-smoked pulled pork sandwiches and pork and beans for dinner)?

Remember when Kate was so goofy crushy on 7-year-old Max, and she tried to impress him by saying things like, “I wrote a 4, Max. Want to see it?”

Remember how Uncle Gary was the sweetest manny EVER to all six kids? (Mental note: Bring him along on all family vacations. Better yet, have him move into basement room as au pair.)

Remember when the college co-ed during the Surly Brewing tour asked Omar beguilingly “How do you drink so much beer and maintain that girlish figure?” and he replied, “Chasing after my four kids.”

Remember how in an unusual bout of “sure-I’ll-try-that” Kate agreed to be towed in inflatable dinghy behind the speedboat, and grinned and gave thumbs-ups the entire time?

Remember when it was taking a while for Gary and proud Eagle Scout Mark to light the campfire, and young Max asked if they’d “ever done this before?”

Remember when Becca regaled us with excellent ER tales of an overweight woman unaware she was pregnant—or in in labor, a snowmobiling tweaker, and a girl skewered by a long golf cart prong? (Don’t worry, the skewered girl got better, the tweaker’d only imagined there was a bomb following him, and the ignorant preg-o decided to keep the baby because she figured it’d give her “something to do.”)

Remember how babies Leo and Paige communicated through the clear dog door like separated lovers at a prison visitation?

Remember how Omar still didn’t beat Mark at Trivial Pursuit?

Ah yes. Good times, all.

On our last night, when Kate should have been saying charming polite goodbyes she opted for an epic tantrum. Once she calmed down enough to speak, she admitted her fit was about having to leave. We’d been with our friends for five days.

“Next year,” she said between big weepy intakes of breath, “Can we stay for six days?”


Welcome to the Team

Posted: August 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Drink, Friends and Strangers, Mama Posse, Mom, Other Mothers, Parenting | 7 Comments »

I have a public service announcement.

The next time you find yourself about to tell someone, “I don’t know how you do it!” please hit your internal Pause button. And while the world is freeze-framed, ask yourself whether whatever it is that the person is doing that’s wowing you so much is even something they want to be doing. Or ever imagined they’d have to do.

Then, before hitting Play and returning to live-action life, decide whether or not to open your trap.

Like, right after my mom died. Amidst effusions of sympathy (that I truly did appreciate) people would say things like, “Personally? I just couldn’t deal with losing my mother.” Or, “You and your sisters caring for your mom like you did. I just don’t know how you did it.”

The thing is, it wasn’t like we signed up for a maternal cancer crisis like you do for the NFL football package on DirectTV.

How do you do it? I don’t know. You just do it because you suddenly find yourself in the shit-sucking situation of having to.

So Saturday. Footloose and giddy with a sitter home with the kids, Mark and I skipped up to Napa to celebrate Surh-Luchtel Cellars’ ten year anniversary. An occasion which, as you might imagine, requires one to drink excessively so as to not hurt the winemaker-hosts’ feelings.

At one point in the party, a point where I’d amply soaked in the fine Surh-Luchtel product, I met the First Lady of the winery’s local Mama friends. And all loose and boozy as I was—though God knows my social skids need no greasin’—I blathered and fawned over one woman’s great haircut.

It was super short and fabulous. One of those styles that the topography of my head and the girth of my schnoz would prevent me from wearing. A look few women go for, and fewer pull off well.

Me: “Blah blah blah known Shelley for 17 years, blah blah blah perfect day for this party [panting boozy wine breath], blah blah blah I just love your hair!”

Her: “Oh, thanks. My six-year-old’s getting chemo, so I decided to shave my head when she started going bald.”

You’ll be happy to know that, even in my wine-saturated state, I didn’t start weeping, throw my arms around her neck, and sob and snot on her dress. I mean, it was the last thing I was expecting to hear on that carefree (and did I mention wine-laden?) day. But I just loved the straight-shootin’ matter-of-fact way she told me.

And I immediately wanted to shave my head too.

Tousling her hair she said it’d been growing out, and was actually fairly long at that point. She told me it’s the third time she’s shaved it. The first time, she and her husband threw a party and pledged a donation to a leukemia charity for every person who shaved their head. And forty of their friends did.

At this point, I was casing the catering table for a plastic knife so I could start lopping off my own locks.

I wanted to be her best friend. I wanted to imagine that I could handle the unthinkable misery of a child with cancer with the same degree of spunk and love and strength. All that and her hand bag was really fabulous too.

Our conversation continued with me rambling on about life and cancer and dealing the hand you get and the infinite wellspring of a Mama’s love that brings you to places of being-able-to-deal that you couldn’t imagine you could ever get to, but hey look, there you are.

I wanted her to see me as someone who got it. One of the cool people. Not one of the folks who I’m assuming react to her story with fear and discomfort, stammering out awkward apologies and aw-that’s-awfuls.

But really, she probably just thought I was drunk.

Whatever the case, before I left we exchanged blog URLs. And I found out where she got her purse. (Though, damn it, they only have the tote left.)

I’m sober now and all I can say is, MY GOD, I have no idea how she does it. And I hope hope hope I never have to find out.

It’s comforting knowing a good knee surgeon, a defense attorney, a locksmith—even though you hope you’ll never have to use their services. And now, without even looking, I found myself a model for amazing maternal behavior in the face of heartbreak. Someone who I’d be thrilled to be even one-third as impressive as, given the same situation. A most excellent addition to my team of experts.

Rock on, sister. My heart—and maybe even my hair someday—goes out to you.


Only in Bristol

Posted: June 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, California, Daddio, Drink, Food, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Mom, Other Mothers, Shopping, Sisters, Summer, Travel | 2 Comments »

Mark and I are still shuddering with PTSD from our day of travel yesterday. One which commenced hellaciously waking at 5AM, arriving at the SF Airport at the spry hour of 6:30, and due to all manner of evil airline juju, finally had us on a plane at noon. By which point, after hours in United queues and some neck-vein-popping negotiations with airline personnel, we found ourselves heading to Boston not Providence and arriving at 10PM, not the too-reasonable-to-be-true 6:30.

Before even setting foot on an aircraft I had the Bad Mother realization that I’d forgotten extra travel duds for each girl. (I know. Total rookie move.) So 16 hours later when we stumbled woozily into my Dad’s house, the kids were not only wrung out and weak from hunger, but chicken-fried in a coating of sweat, milk, Cheerio grit, and sugar drool from the Mike & Ikes the boys seated behind us snuck to Kate.

Well then, what doesn’t kill you, gets you cross-country for $500 a ticket, right?

And so now we’re here. And though I’m still scuffing around in a groggy haze, Bristol isn’t waiting for me to come to before packing its little hometown punches.

At the back road’s Super Stop & Shop with the embedded Dunkin’ Donuts (please scatter my ashes there when I go), I’m ambling down an aisle trying to remember what my kids eat when someone bellows, “Kristen Bruno!” It’s my cousin. The sister of the cuz who gallantly fetched us at the airport the night before.

And before she and I made our way through basic howayas, another woman pulls her cart up right near us, looking me square in my eyes. “You,” she says wagging a finger, “look just like Marie Bruno.”

I mean, how small is this town that someone calls me out for looking like my oldest sister who, if you ask me, I look the least like of all of them? (She of the wee button nose. Damn her.)

Anyway, it was the daughter of an old friend of my mom’s. The owners of the pool that’s responsible for my eyebrow scar. (Back flip—okay, attempted back flip—off the diving board.)

When my mother drove me to the doctor’s house (old school) to get me stitched up that day, I had a bloody towel clamped to my head. But what transfixed me was the fact that my mom put her hazard lights on to get us there right quick. I couldn’t remember a time when she’d driven with those lights flashing, so whatever’d happened to me musta been serious. Cool even. Warranting my mom to transform her old Volvo into some kind of citizen’s ambulance.

Pull aside, people. Comin’ through.

To this day, whenever I double park and flick on those lights, I think of that.

So I realized that this grocery store woman, Cathy, appeared in a photo someone gave me this winter of my mother. It was old and orange-toned. One of those square ones with rounded corners—the format even screamed 70s. Cathy then was a teen, a long-haired brunette beauty in a brown knit bikini. She was holding a bottle of hootch out to my mom and hers, and they were both laughing. It was, the giver told me, a going away party for a friend.

My mom at that time had short hair—a pixie she’d call it—and was thin and tan. I figured out the year it was taken, and realized she was 42 at the time. My age now. Weird.

So in the juice aisle, Cathy (who I’d introduced to my cousin who she said also looked familiar) and I were well on our way down Memory Lane. I ran through how my sisters were doing, Dad’s impending hip surgery, got the report on her mom’s hip job, her dad’s dementia.

If it weren’t for Kate’s embarrassing, huffy, “Let’s GO, Mom” laments, I could’ve leaned over, cracked open a bottle of Cran-Apple and chatted with those two for hours.

But before Kate’s whining became painfully rude, I shoved off in search of Portugese chourico. And without us having directly mentioned her in our chat, Cathy said by way of good-bye, “Your mother. She was TOO much. God, I loved her.”

Later, screeching into the liquor store minutes before the sign flpped to CLOSED, I chatted up the old Italian owner about the bleak weather. “What’s up with this?” I said. “I came home to go to the beach.”

FUH-get about it!” he grumbled, swatting the air. “I just took the afghan off my bed. YEStuhday!”

By the time Kate and I got back to the house, hours had passed. Paige’d gotten up from her nap, and the pocket of kid-free time I’d tried to give Mark had turned into him waiting out our return, wondering what’d become of us.

I hadn’t gone far, nor accomplished terribly much, but by the end of my errand run I did feel, despite our flightmare and my numbing case of jet lag, like I was finally home.