Keeping it Real

Posted: November 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Friends and Strangers, Manners, Miss Kate, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

I am a Nazi about thank you cards. Sending them, that is.

And like all people with militant beliefs, I work hard to instill them in my children. Call me old school, uptight, or etiquette-bound, but I want writing thank you notes to become second nature to my kids.

As it turns out, I have no need to worry. At least with my oldest child, Kate, who is a great maker of cards. A tremendous and relentless maker of cards. It’s somehow just in her genes, I guess. And I know that my mother—an ardent disciple of Emily Post—would approve.

Not all Kate’s cards are thank yous. No, she whips up cards for birthdays, sick friends, Valentine’s Day, the death of a pet. When she learned that Paige’s teacher broke his foot last year, she immediately dashed off a card. She made another to bid adieu to our dear gaybors the night before they moved. (Just a few blocks away, but we’re all still sick about it.)

The heart-shaped card she enclosed when we mailed Halloween candy to the troops said, “Dear soldiers, thak you for protecting the U.S.A. Soldiers rok! p.s. My name is Kate.”

(P.P. S. I told her how to spell ‘soldiers.’)

Kate made a card to welcome her pet fish, Karen. It’s hanging by the fishbowl in a spot, I assume, where Karen can easily read it. It says, “Dear Karen I hop you like your noo hom! Your onr Kate.”

The “your onr” line still slays Mark.

I admit, Kate’s thank you note routine has been a bit trying at times. Now that she can write—albeit with her school-condoned “creative spelling”—she’s not just doodling on the sea of notes that I churn out. She labors over each one. I’ll have a list of 20-plus gift-givers to get through and Kate will get hung up on one card for 15 minutes, cutting an elaborate snowflake decoration to enclose with it. I don’t want to stifle her creativity, but I do want to get the birthday thank yous out before we get snowed with the Christmas ones.

The contents of Kate’s notes range from the fascinating non sequitur variety—”Thanks for the book. I just had hot choklit!!”—to the brutally basic. To her great grandmother she recently wrote, “I put the muny in my banc akont.”

There are also the times when Kate’s spelling is inadvertently inappropriate. There was the series of cards that said, “Thak you for cuming to my party.”


She wrote a thank you note to a neighbor who gave her magic markers. The pens, it turned out, were permanent ink. Mark and I discovered this after an art sesh left indelible marks on our dining room table.

The first draft of that note went something like, “Thank you for the magic markers. My mother took them away from me.”

I certainly want to encourage honesty, but I asked for a do-over on that one.

Today we were invited to an ice cream party. My friend Lily was celebrating the end of her chemotherapy (yay!), so she invited 60 friends, relatives, kids, and neighbors to her house for an old school ice cream social. It was the perfect fun lighthearted celebration to mark the end of a truly trying and terrible year.

Now, as you may know, I tend to be a rosy sunshiny, hide-the-bad-details-from-the-kids kinda mom. I’m the one who has assured a worried child there are no robbers in Oakland. I’ve gone so far as to brush off the notion that earthquakes could ever take place in the Bay Area. (“Here? Pishaw!”)

But when Lily got sick I didn’t sugarcoat it for my kids. They’d seen me sniffle and weep after bad-news phone calls, so they knew something was up. But that wasn’t why I was so unlike-me honest about it. The situation was so real and raw, I couldn’t fathom pretending it was something else. Something not so bad.

They knew Lily was sick. And I told them she had to take a kind of strong medicine that would make her hair fall out. And that the kind of sickness she had could be really scary and bad, which is why I cried about it sometimes—because I was scared. Because some people die from it.

So this morning as we got ready to go to the end-of-chemo ice cream party, Kate asked if she could make Lily a card. And I said, “Of course. She would love that.”

Then I got really curious to see what she would write. I half-expected the card to say, “Dear Lily, I’m happy you didn’t die.”

But my concerns were unfounded.

The card said:
“Dear Lily: I am igsided thet you dot hef to tace metsin eney mor!!!!!!!! love Kate!!!!”

Of course, I bawled when I saw it. I bawled about three different times before the party, and at least once more on the way home. I bawled because I think that in getting ready to celebrate this bad hard part being over, in giving into relief, I opened some door inside myself and big blasts of how scared I’ve been snuck out too.

I was totally projecting when I thought of what Kate’s card to Lily might say. The thing that I wanted to say if I weren’t an adult and didn’t know better that it was too bracingly honest: “Please please please kick this cancer in keister. I love you so much my dear, and I really don’t want you to die.”

Because the fact is, she’s not totally out of the woods. Today’s party was like a milestone pit stop. A celebration that the end of the woods are now at least in sight.

It was a glorious sunshiny day. There was a Mickey Mouse jumpy house in full swing in the back yard. We arrived early, but before we knew it their big home was buzzing with friends chatting and laughing, kids running past our legs holding cups of ice cream.

Amidst all those people and all their talking I’m nearly certain no one actually said aloud that they’re relieved that Lily is here and alive and nearly almost altogether well. We didn’t have to. Today what we had to do was eat ice cream.

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I Plan to Age and Tell

Posted: May 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Manners, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

When my mom was little she was poor as dirt.

She was never one to wax nostalgic, but she did tell me a few stories about those days. Just snippets really. And they underscored the fact that—during The Depression when her dad ditched his wife and their eight (yes, EIGHT) children—she and her sibs didn’t exactly pass the time playing with Barbie Dream Houses, or spiffing up their new Huffy bikes with handle-bar streamers.

No, theirs was much more of a kick-the-can existence.

I got the impression there was also a lot of hanging out on their front porch. (See? It’s in my genes.) It was a roost from which they could survey the ‘hood. And wait for something exciting to happen.

Mom was the seventh child, but had one younger brother, my Uncle Eddy. The two of them had a little routine they’d put on for passers-by.

“What time is it?” Mom would ask with dramatic flourish.

And looking at his bare wrist Eddy would reply, “Why, it’s—one hundred o’clock!”

Yeah, okay. So it’s not much of a story, right?

To be honest, I’m not too clear on why she found that so uproarious. Maybe ’cause it showed how kids trying to act cool and grown-up invariably blow their own covers? Perhaps she wanted to console me that I wasn’t the last child on earth to learn to tell time? (Though I think I was close.)

Whatever the case, Paige has been playing her own numbers game recently. But she’s hardly grand enough to get even close to the realm of 100. These days for Paigey everything is about five.

Five is Paige’s exaggeration number. According to a theory of my friend Ruby’s, everyone has an exaggeration number. It’s the number they fall back on when they’re awash in hyperbole. If I remember correctly, Ruby’s was 52 for a while. Which meant it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to say something like, “It took me forever to get out of the grocery store. There were, like, 52 people in line in front of me.”

I mean, I think her number was 52. Ruby’s Exaggeration Number Phase was back when she lived in Sausalito, which was about a million years ago.

So Paige and five. If someone asks her how old she is, she’ll sometimes smirk and say, “Five.” Her big sister is five, therefore five is the baddest-ass coolest big girl age you could ever want to be.  (Though I must say, Paige’s delivery is never terribly convincing. She’ll have some trouble passing off a fake I.D. some day—which I’m thrilled about.)

I often ask the girls, “Did I tell you how much I love you yet today?” And with Kate this triggers a response like, “Yes, and I love you 50 Redwood trees, 100 houses, and a million firetrucks high!”

Paigey says, “I love you five.”

Which just slays me with a tidal wave of mama love.

When I was talking to Paige’s preschool teacher recently I mentioned how she has this five thing. He’s one of those child development gurus who always has a nugget of wisdom to share, even when he’s handing you a plastic bag full of urine-drenched clothing. And he said that for kids Paige’s age—which, for the record, is three—five is the largest number that they can grock. They can say bigger numbers and even count, but I guess their brains can’t wrangle with anything that’s more than five.

Who knew?

My brain has similar challenges accepting the greatness of some numbers. Specifically 44. Which happens to be the age that I turned on Tuesday.

44! How the hell did that happen? In my mind my age seems to default somewhere around 32. But somehow a dozen years got slapped onto my brain’s grasp of my age without me even noticing. Scary.

When I was little I never understood why asking grown-ups their age—especially women—was so verboten. At the grocery store shopping for my birthday party once my mother bumped into a friend. The woman leaned over and asked how old I was turning. After telling her I said, “And how old are you?” At which point my mama nearly fainted into the nectarine display.

Not asking women their age was a lesson that was beaten into me as a child. And every time I was reminded of this particular point of etiquette I resolved to not become one of those women myself. Clearly they felt some shame about their age, which mystified me.

Who really cares how old you are anyway? I mean, I only asked Mrs. Froncillo that day in the grocery store to be polite. You know, since she’d asked me.

The fact is, I do feel a bit weird about how old I am now. In the Bay Area I’m hardly the only 40-something with young kids. But I’m also not the spring chicken of the PTA. Many of my friends are younger then me. Hell, I’ve even got four years on my husband.

But that’s only part of what galls me about this 44 thing. I just feel so much younger than 44 implies. It seems out-of-whack and unfair to have to have that big number as my reality.

Despite all that, there’s some part of me that feels a strong pull to do right by my childhood self. I vowed in a grocery store produce aisle that I’d never be one of those vain, self-obsessed grown-ups who feels the need to hide her age. So this is my year to push aside any glimmers of my own anxiety.

I’m gonna take back my age.

I don’t plan to declare it when I meet you for the first time. I’m not getting a tattoo of two intertwined fours by my ankle. But if it comes up in conversation, I’m not shying away from saying, “I am 44 years old, thankyouverymuch.”

I’ve actually had a few chances to test this out over the past few days, and have gotten delightful reactions like, “No WAY. You look awesome!” And, “Rock on, sister.” And even a “You’re 44 years young,” which kind of indicates to me that I really AM old. But I know they were trying to be kind.

But whatEV. If I keep this up I’m hoping the mini-stomachache that precedes the announcement of my age will eventually go away. I’m hoping that I’ll train myself into coming around to the fact that 44 really is okay.

My friend’s father turned 75 recently. And the report from the birthday bash they threw him was that at some point in the evening he dropped to the floor and did 75 push ups. To the wild applause of his guests, of course.

How rad is that? Way to show you’ve still got it.

So here’s my plan. Every time I feel the sensation of Age Shame coming on, I’m going to get on the floor and do a bunch of push-ups. If I keep it up I’ll be able to wow the attendees at my 75th party some day.

Hey, I’ll be an old woman with a grossly over-developed upper body. I’ve got that to look forward to.

In the meantime, I can rest assured knowing that however old I am, in Paige’s eyes right now I’m only five.


Honk If You Have a Bully

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Manners, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Sisters, Travel | 7 Comments »

Do they make “My kid’s a bully at Greenwood Elementary School!” bumper stickers? I’m guessing not.

It’s hardly the kind of thing you want to publicize. But if more people ‘fessed up about their kids’ unkind-to-others behavior, those of us who are wrangling with this unsavory stuff would feel so much less alone. Less freakish. Less sympathetic to people like, say, Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom.

I actually read a poll in a Motherboard newsletter about bullying. 71% of mothers said their kid had been bullied, but even more moms said their kid had never BEEN a bully. So who’s doing all that bullying then?

Well, now I know: It’s my daughter Kate.

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit soon to hang the bully mantel on her. But in my most neurotic Mama heart I just want to brace for the worst case scenario.

I was on a plane to New York. Yes, New Yawk Cit-ay! Blissfully alone. No diapers to change in a cramped cabin bathroom. No restless children to pacify with a constant stream of new toys and snacks. No dual car seats, immense roller bag, double stroller, and two overtired children to maneuver through endless airport hallways.

In other words, by virtue of simply being airborne alone–People magazine and novel in hand, and free to nap at will–I was already deep into my vacation.

But it was too good to be true. Because when the plane landed and I texted Mark to report my safe arrival, seconds later my phone rang. It was him, calling from home in the middle of the day.

“What’re you doing at home?” I asked nervously. This couldn’t be good.

“Well, I got a call from the school that I had to come pick Kate up. That she’d hit some other kids.”


My feel-good glow turned instantly to a churning stomachache.

“I considered not telling you ’til after the weekend,” he went on. (This getaway was my treat for being the On Duty parent when Mark traveled to exotic ports for work this summer.) “But I didn’t know who else I should tell about it. And I had to talk to someone.”

Why, I wondered, hadn’t he enlisted the ear of an imaginary friend?

Kate’s hitting episode that day was actually her third strike. She’d poked someone, pulled another kid’s hair, and did some other swatting or shoving, and right on the heels of her visit to the principal’s office. Oy.

And so, poor Mark got a call during a meeting with his two bosses (of course). He muttered apologies for his sudden need dash out the door because his five-year-old got kicked out of kindergarten for the day.

Good times.

As I yanked my bag from the overhead compartment and walked off the plane, my cell phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, I outlined my anxieties to Mark.

“So what if this is the first glimpse we’re getting of Kate developing into a sociopathic adult?” I panted. “I mean, you haven’t noticed that she’s been killing squirrels in the back yard with sticks or anything, have you?”

My mind raced. “But really—oh God—what if her teachers don’t like her now?” The one thing worse than being a serial killer in my mind? Being UNLIKED. This thought made me stop to lean against the wall en route to Baggage Claim. “Oh shit. What if she’s turned into the problem child they don’t want to deal with? Did it seem that way when you talked to them?”

Mark started talking me down off an emotional ledge—likely regretting at that point that I was the person he chose to share this news with. He tossed out some theories. Kate’s been super tired after school. The day at kindergarten day is longer and requires more focus than her short playful stints in preschool. Maybe that’s catching up with her? Making her grumpy and irrational? Also Paigey has been prone to hitting lately—a more age-appropriate behavior for a two-year-old, no doubt. But maybe Kate is somehow passing that forward?

This got me thinking. My sister Ellen tied a nun to a tree with a jump rope when she was in Catholic school. Hell, we LOVE that story in my family. And I’m sure that got her kicked out of school for the day. Maybe even a week! And dare I admit to my own behavior in Miss Hancock’s classroom? Bonnie Usher grabbed an eraser I wanted so I leaned over and bit her arm. (She was clearly askin’ for it.)

I mean, these kinds of things are garden variety childhood offenses, right? Ellen and I have never been incarcerated. I’d even go so far as to say we’re both highly-functioning members of society.

But by the time I was in the cab watching a gray day in Queens whiz past the window, my attempt at sweeping The Hitting under the carpet turned on me. And I did what nearly every mother tends to do: wracked my brain for what it was that I’D done to bring this all about.

It didn’t take long to decide that Kate’s playground furor was due to the very trip I was on. Brought about by my selfishness for wanting to be away alone for three nights. Plus, it was just days after another overnight trip I’d taken for work.

It was my fault entirely.

It’s been two weeks now since this all went down. And I can happily report that Kate has made no additional assaults on her peers. A feat that, after her first day back in school after The Incident, she felt was worthy of a gift.

“I didn’t hit anyone today!” she cheerfully reported as she climbed into the car. “So can you get me that ice cream maker toy that I saw on TV?”

Uh, you don’t get a prize for *not* whacking your friends upside the head, kiddo. Puh-leez.

Now most mortal Mamas would just let this go now, right? Turn their attention to other anxieties. But Kate’s parent-teacher conference rolled around a week or so later. Even though it was packed with praise for things like being “a promising mathematician” (Mark’s genes), a precocious communicator, and an all-around smart gal, I found I was clinging to the Hitting. So in the course of our chat with the teacher, I somehow resuscitated a long-dormant anxiety I thought—or hoped—I’d put to rest.

Did we send Kate to Kindergarten too soon?

Everyone is holding kids—sure, mostly boys—back these days. Six-year-olds are as common in kindergartens as lice. Not to mention five-year-olds. Which makes Miss Kate, who started the year off at age four, a wee one in her class.

In terms of book learnin’ the girl’s ready to roll. But is she out of her league in terms of emotional development and social composure?

I flip-flopped wildly on this issue last year. Each time lecturing Mark on the merits of what I was sure was my final decision. Another year of preschool will buy us more time with her before she’s off to college. It’s settled! But then her interest in writing and reading would make me certain that more preschool would bore her. A day later a friend would extol the merits of Pre-K programs and I’d be on the phone with the preschool begging for her spot back.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately the three schools that assessed her all thought she was ready. So we pulled the trigger.

During Kate’s conference I started speculating madly on this issue. (I’d forgotten how good I was at it.) I wanted her teacher to pat my hand and assure me we made the right decision. And in subtle ways she kinda did—saying Kate is intellectually in line with her classmates, and behavioral issues like hitting can crop up in the first six weeks of school. But she didn’t take me by the shoulders and scream this into my face, which was apparently required to really convince me.

So on the drive home Mark—bless his heart—tried talking me off the ledge again. He’s long felt confident that Kate was ready for kindergarten. And even though The Hitting Thing rocked his world too, the fact that it was now ricocheting in my mind to other places, seemed to fortify his hunch that it would all be okay.

After reading Halloween books to a sweet sleepy Kate that night, I looked at her as I closed her door and had a Mama moment. I couldn’t imagine her being any more perfect. I crawled into my own bed and wondered what I’d think if we had held her back, but she still did something like hit another kid. What excuses would we have then? What could I beat myself up about then?

Maybe that champion spouse of mine was right. Once I dove past that thick outer layer of self-doubt and frenzied Mama worry, I found that I arrived at a more peaceful place. There I let all the dramatic self-flagellation slip away, took a cleansing breath, and had a clear calm thought that sometimes these things just happen. And in kindergarten, along with learning to read and to count to ten in Spanish, Kate’ll also learn how to control her emotions, and how to be a better friend.

She will survive Kindergarten. She’ll move past The Hitting until it’s some little incident we—and hopefully her teachers—barely remember. And, God willing, she won’t chop people up as an adult and store their body parts in chest freezers.

At least, I really really hope not.


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.


I Raise My Glass to You, Mom

Posted: April 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Drink, Husbandry, Mama Posse, Manners, Mom, Sisters | 1 Comment »

I spent the better part of dinner tonight trying to hold my lips the way my mother did when she drank wine, and trying (sadly, literally) to not wet my pants laughing.

She used to do this thing when she put a wine glass to her mouth where it looked like she was playing a flute. You know, like she was sorta flattening her lips to blow, with the corners slightly upturned like the early stage of a super fake smile.

It was her Fancy Wine-Drinkin’ lips that she did without fail, every time. I mean, she could have a glass of water and one of wine that she was working at the same time and she could pick either one up at random while conducting a conversation and maybe even cooking dinner and she could still somehow remember to do the Wine Drinkin’ Lips for the wine glass, and just drink like a normal human from the water glass. It was, in a way, impressive.

Unsurprisingly, this slayed my sisters and I. And not just as kids or anything. We’d howl and slap each other laughing (that’s something us Italian Americans do) whenever we saw this, well into adulthood. And of course, we’d razz her about it MERCILESSLY.

(I still regret never having done a blindfolded test where we’d hold up several types of glasses to her to see if she could somehow intuit the presence of a wine glass. My hypothesis is that she’d know.)

So anyway, as I’m here trying to do it during our heat-wave dinner on the porch, Mark is looking at me and trying to show me what face I’m making, and saying, “Okay, so this is it?” But half the time he’s holding his lips out away from his teeth like the teeth’ve got something on them he doesn’t want the rest of his mouth to touch. And of course, that’s all wrong (and frankly, I thought, not even trying very hard), so I’m all, “No, NO, like THIS.” But then unable to keep a straight face to get the flattened flute lips really right. They need to be all pulled back like a super tight face lift with just the smallest opening to let the wine come through. The small hole there is I think what she thought made it all good manners and fancy.

And hey, compared to how I pull corks out of wine bottles with my teeth and just start chugging at the end of my harried kid-tendin’ days, it WAS fancy, man.

So anyway, Mark’s all, “Wait, are your neck veins supposed to be pulsating when you do it?” And he’s sticking his jaw out real tight like a maniac. (Not, by the way, remotely what I was doing.) But hey, it’s not like I have all this isometric lip strength that my mother had from doing it for so long. I mean, it’s not like she looked like she was bench pressing twice her weight when she sipped a pinot grigio.

Finally, after ignoring the children for most of the meal, we gave up on it. Clearly Mark was not taking my attempts at perfecting the look seriously enough, and I was starting to question whether I just didn’t have the skillz any more to nail it.

Besides, in the teeniest small way all the Mom thoughts started to get me feeling a bit sad. I mean, how am I ever going to get it right if I can’t ever watch her do it again?

Last week, on Friday, marked five years since she died. And on that day the so-great-I-don’t-deserve-them Mama Posse had a lovely just-us-and-the-kids garden party as a tribute to my Mama. But I’d likely gone so extremely overboard in stressing to them that yes, a little lunch would be lovely, but please no dead mother poetry readings, or presentations of large poster board collages with pictures of her and words like “#1 Mom!” cut out from magazines. I’d made it clear in my lacking-subtlety way that if I wanted to “go there” and talk about her, I would.

Every time one of the kids called out, “Mom!” to one of us, I think the Mamas were cringing and all pulling them aside and whispering, “Owen, I told you to call me Sacha today not Mom.”

What gals.

And, as it turns out, that day, I didn’t want to go there. It wasn’t that I couldn’t for fear of what I’d unleash, there just wasn’t anything there to really go to. So aside from Mark sweetly saying to me at one point in the evening how happy he is that he knew her, her five-year death-iversary came and went like no big thing.

Usually Ellen and I and our kids get together on that day and on Mom’s birthday in January, and I cook Polish food. We’ll sometimes pull out old pics of Mom, and Ellen–since she’s kinda a hippie–tends to have some sort of special candle lit.

But last weekend Ellen was out of town, her kids with their dad. So we’ll schedule something for another day soon. And maybe then it’ll feel more normal or natural for me to think or talk a bit, or even a lot, about Mom. And if it just turns out to be another great meal with the intention of it being a tribute to her, that’s okay too.

The one thing I’ve learned about the grief thing is you never know when it’ll strike, and it’s foolish to try to summon some disingenuous desperate emotion when you’re heart’s just not going there on its own. No one’s looking to anyone to put on a big show. And not that we have to emulate her, but Lord knows, that wasn’t how Vicki rolled.

One thing I will have to make sure of when Ellen and I get together, is that she takes a crack at the Wine Lips thing. If my memory serves me, she has a knack for imitating it. And even if she doesn’t get it quite right, I’d happily welcome another laughing sesh just watching her try.

Oh, Mama. I miss you.

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My Little Indian–er, Native American–Giver

Posted: March 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Manners, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 1 Comment »

Pre-kids, in our swank San Francisco apartment, Mark and I had a butcher block island in the kitchen. On the lower shelf we kept bulky seldom-used cooking appliances.

One day a friend was visiting with her toddler, and in the midst of an otherwise mellow wine-glass-in-hand hangin’ in the kitchen chat, Mark suddenly gasped and lunged across the room to pluck a large food processor blade out of curious Elias’ wee little hands.

Turns out we weren’t too hip on the concept of childproofing.

Which isn’t surprising since there’s a great divide—nay, a vast wide-open abyss—between observing your friends parenting, and taking a crack at it yourself. The things you’re certain you’ll never do–drink wine during pregnancy, hang charts around the house that show off potty-pooping performance, wipe a baby’s nose with a sock then put it back on her—you may eventually discover you succumb to. Or at least I have.

I’ve long disdained the word “silly.” As a parent I hear myself say it no less than five times a day. I’ve also surprised myself by letting a baby cry herself to sleep, cooking different food for the kids than the adults, (then cooking something else when that other thing didn’t work), licking a finger to spot wash a child’s face, using ice cream to bribe good behavior, and bellowing at the top of my voice, “BECAUSE I SAID SO!”

Oh I’m not proud of these things. In my pre-motherhood days, back when I was naïve enough to think hemorrhoids only afflicted the elderly, I’d sometimes see a parent do something or other and would tell Mark—close witness to this character atrocity, amongst others—how different I’d be when I became a Mom.


“Did you notice,” I’d ask him at the end of an evening, a toothbrush sticking out of my mouth, “that they put Devon in a Time Out for throwing food? I mean, I don’t know about those… Is that really the best way to handle a situation like that?”

Ah, hindsight.

The thing is, tragic as it is to admit, even when you’re quite certain there’s a better way to do something as a parent, hell if you can figure out what it is. And since the not-best way may be readily available, in the clutch you sometimes find yourself resorting to it.

One thing I vowed I’d never do was eat a sucked-upon mushy half-masticated food item that my child—no matter how darling the little cherub—offered to me. Again and again I’ve softly gagged witnessing a mother eat a proffered spit-strewn mac ‘n cheese noodle. Something I’d rather be waterboarded than have to choke down myself. And invariably—oddly—it’s lapped up by the recipient with such overly dramatic glee, I can’t imagine what’d possess them to risk reinforcing the behavior in the child.

It’s baffling.

Since Kate’s infancy apparently swept by Mark and I while we suffered a sleep-deprivation-induced blackout—we can barely remember celebrating her first birthday–I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure she never did the “Here eat this, Mom” thing.  And blessedly, nor has Paige.

Well, that’s not altogether true. Generous soul that she is, Paige has recently taken to holding out a singular black bean offering. She’ll drop it into your hand, but then immediately pluck it back up—going back and forth with this process sometimes up to five times before ending the game by popping the filthy smushed bean into her own wee bouche.

An alternate version of this game involves her taking a, say, broccoli floret, and holding it out to you, but never releasing her grasp on it. She just sort of taps it into your hand, smiles coyly, then retracts it.

I’m not sure how Emily Post (or the Countess deLesseps for that matter) would regard this. It no doubt flies in the face of proper gift-giving procedure. But be that as it may, I’m just happy that with this one thing I said I’d never do as a parent, Paige has not made a liar out of me.

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