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.


Gratuitous Gratitude

Posted: November 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Holidays, Miss Kate, Moods, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Sisters, Working World | 9 Comments »

The cold weather this time of year always makes me grateful.

There’s something about it getting dark early and being all chilly out. I love the evenings. The freshly-bathed girls are snuggled up, safely asleep in their beds. I’m on the couch under an afghan, toe-to-toe with Mark. He’s peering into his laptop, or telling me how a meeting went. Or we’re submitting to some IQ-sapping TV show.

It’s cold outside, but it’s warm in here. Our cupboards are packed with food. Our closets full of clothing. Our beds hold sleeping children, nearly perfect in their unconscious states.

There’s nothing swanky or indulgent about our set-up. No rare art on the walls or luxury cars in the garage. But we are healthy. We are here. We are blessed.

Since the cold set in a couple weeks ago I’ve spent evenings this way, awash in deep contentment. Sometimes I’m nearly giddy with our riches, with all that we have.

But my Seasonal Excess Gratitude Disorder isn’t something I’ve passed on to my children. Just the opposite, in fact. Lately they seem steadfastly stuck on grumbling disquietude, making blatant displays of their lack of appreciation.

Like on Sunday. I took Kate to see a matinee of what turned out to be a really charming, well-acted play called Cinderella, Enchanted. It was one of those adult-performed kid-attended productions where little girls come gussied up in princess attire. But it was Berkeley, so it wasn’t too sickening. You know, the kids wore Birkenstocks under their frocks, and were doused in patchouli.

Afterward, game for more feel-good family fun, we went to an old-timey ice cream shop. We ate linner (as opposed to brunch), and Kate and her friend ordered ice cream for dessert.

It was a lovely day. What kindly, well-mannered child wouldn’t appreciate that her mother blew off her favorite yoga class to spend the day catering to her every childhood want?

Not mine.

We stopped to rent a movie en route home. At one of those places that’s still actually a building where live (albeit socially-inept) people work, and where there are ceiling-high shelves of actual DVDs that you look at and pick out and carry home with you. It doesn’t involve The Internets at all!

And in that same old world vein, they have those candy dispensers. The ones where for a quarter you get a sweaty palm-ful of Skittles or those hard sour candies that’re shaped like little bananas and other fruits.

Kate saw these machines and wrapped herself around one like a rabid koala bear. I looked over my shoulder from the New Releases to give her a definitive, “No, Kate.” At which point she hunkered down like some protesting hippie setting up house in the branches of a soon-to-be-chopped tree. Had I not pried each of her fingers one-by-one off the glass candy-filled containers, she’d likely still be there, trying to gnaw her way through to the sugar.

“Two minutes ago you ate a bowl of rainbow sherbet THE SIZE OF YOUR HEAD!” I growled as I dragged her by the arm through the parking lot. “And I took you to a Cinderella play! Most kids stayed home and played with Legos today. And now you’re begging me for CANDY? And acting like life is unbearable because I said no?”


Mark noticed this with Kate lately too. After running errands with her he cornered me in the kitchen. “What’s up with her and all the begging? My God, there were even things at Office Depot she wanted me to buy.”

And let’s not get started on the Halloween candy. Negotiations for it begin AT BREAKFAST. “I ate all my oatmeal, Mama. Can I have just one lollipop?”

If Mark and I weren’t such candy addicts we’d have tossed out that crap a week ago.

The thing is, especially with candy, I know the siren’s call of drug-like sugar is hard for kids to resist. But sometimes even while they’re eating something they’re already asking for more. Is it too much to want a brief moment of appreciation? Even from a two- and five-year-old?

Sure, we have some instances of unexpected gratitude. Kate will look up at me from dinner, eyes shining and say, “Mama, this is so delicious. Thank you!” Or Paigey will snug up to me after I’ve read her a book and say, “Fank you, Mama for read book. I yuv you, Mama.”

It’s sweet and sincere and makes me think all the time I spend like Sisyphus, rolling a boulder uphill while calling over my shoulder, “What’s the magic word? What do you say when someone gives you something? Wash your hands after you pee!”—maybe some of it actually IS getting through to them.

But then yesterday I did what working mothers across the stratosphere do daily—busted ass out of the office to take the kids to gymnastics. This felt especially foreign and hellacious since I work freelance and intermittently. I’m unused to fleeing the office, jetting to two schools for pick-ups, struggling to pull leotards onto the kids in the parents’ waiting area, then foisting them towards their classes with a head-throbbing wave.

But like some rain-averse dog, Kate put on her breaks. She was unfoistable. I scuttled her towards her already-underway class and she started shaking her head, lip quivering, and muttering, “No.”

“NO?” I whispered in her ear, trying to keep my expression neutral for any onlookers. “What do you mean, NO?” The veins in my left temple throbbed, taking my headache up a level like a jagged peak on the yellow graphs on those aspirin bottles.

Well, no, it turned out, meant no. No class. No, I’m not going. Unh-uh. Just not in the mood.

And since I couldn’t imagine any way to force this to happen, though God knows my brain was racing to figure one out, I relented.

Fine,” I hissed. “You sit over there and watch your sister.”

Then Little Miss Monkey-See Monkey-Do Paigey Wigs (her new official title), decided after ten minutes of participation that she was also not going to take her class. Apparently the sight of Kate sitting on the sidelines picking through the uneaten remains in her lunchbox was more enviable an activity than Paige could bear to witness.

And so, with my sister in tow who was visiting from SoCal (and no doubt thanking God that she has dogs not kids), we left. Fifteen minutes after blasting past old women in crosswalks to get there on time.

And. I. Was. Furious.

I shoved shoes on those little leotarded girls and said to them in no uncertain terms, “Daddy works hard to pay for these classes. This is a special thing you are lucky to be able to do. And if we go through all the trouble to get here and you refuse to go, you… you… you WILL NEVER TAKE ANOTHER CLASS AGAIN!”

This, it turns out, was the most rational thing I could think of to say. Nice, huh? I’m sure there was some other way—nearly any other way, really—to have handled it better. But that was all I had in the moment.

I especially like the attempted guilt trip about Mark’s work. “Your Daddy’s risking his life in a coal mine right now so you girls can learn to walk on a balance beam!”

Keep it classy, Bruno.

Ah well, one more place I’ve likely been put on some Mommy Dearest watch list. Hell, it was the last class of the session anyway. Besides, per my impassioned threat, my girls will never take another class ANYWHERE ELSE AGAIN. So, who’s to worry?

I have had the thought that some of this recent whiny, tired, begging, miserable behavior has been brought about by, of all things, the one-hour time change. It seems silly that one hour could take such a crippling toll on the behavior of my children. But when they’re playing they’re whining for dinner. At dinner they’re ready for bed.

And when they are supposed to be sitting back and savoring all that is good and wonderful and blessed in our lives, they are asking for more. Or different. Or, none at all.

The holiday season is not quite upon us. I have a little time to sort this out so when we arrive in North Carolina where we’ll spend time with Mark’s extended family, we’ll all be aglow in the true spirit of Thanksgiving.

But just in case it doesn’t come together in the happy heartfelt way I’d like, I keep returning to this one thought. Wouldn’t it be nice if—instead of just making you feel sleepy—tryptophan also made you grateful?


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.


Wherein I Say I’m Sorry

Posted: August 28th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Eating Out, Friends and Strangers, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Parenting, Sisters | 2 Comments »

Okay, okay, I confess. Before we had kids, invitations we got for dinners at friends’ houses that started at 5:30 horrified me. At 5:30 on a weekend I was usually still napping on the couch. Or at a matinee. Or hell, doing something else kidless folks do, like having sex or reading a book.

On weekdays at 5:30 I was just hitting my stride at the office.

The time was unthinkably early. So much so, I thought, as to be rude. (This from the woman who got married on a Sunday night.) How could they ask us to accommodate such an untenable hour?

Yet I felt slightly disorientated when I offered to make dinner reservations for a group of friends I was going out with in Rhode Island this summer. I was at a loss for an appropriate grown-up meal time. In five short years I’ve apparently forgotten that there’s any other time for dinner than, well, 6:00. (I still cling—just barely—to the notion that 5:30 is unthinkable.)

But even now that the shoe is on the other foot, I’ve managed to somehow maintain the irrational attitude that people unlike me should still anticipate my needs.

A few weeks ago, while lunching at the glamorous California Pizza Kitchen, our waitress approached our booth, propped a picture-packed dessert menu in front of the girls and cooed, “Can I tempt you with something?” Then ran off.

Galled, Mark and I looked at each other with the Tori Spelling nostril-flare of disgusted disbelief. He snatched up the menu  before the girls could feast their eyes. And weirdly, it worked. It all happened faster than they had time to process. Yet we braced for whining, pleading, and mortifying kicking thrashing tantrums.

Why doesn’t that 19-year-old waitress know that the way to offer us something should have been, “Can I interest anyone in some D-E-S-S-E-R-T?”

Puhleez. Was she raised on Mars?

Yesterday there were a couple events for Kate’s kindergarten. Things to get the kids comfy in their classrooms before school starts next week. I had no doubt Kater Tot would have fun, but I was dreading my own reaction to the day. What if I hated everyone?

In my sister’s kitchen a couple weeks ago, I revealed this.

“You know, I realized,” she said, dunking a tea bag in a mug, “that in any new group situation I immediately decide that I don’t like anyone.”

Now this is why I don’t pay for therapy. What she described is utterly and entirely what I do too. It rocks being able to draft off her self-revelations.

‘But then,” she went on, “After I get to know them a little more, I’m totally fine. I always find people I like.”

Uh, BINGO! That’d be me you are talking about.

So, with Big Sister’s words o’ wisdom in mind, I set my expectations accordingly. At the end of the day I wouldn’t be performing any blood-swapping sisterhood rituals with the other Room 2 moms. But that would be OKAY. Plenty of time to get to know and not-hate each other in the course of the school year.

But then of course, just to ruin my plans, I ended up really liking some of the people I met.

One of the mothers, wearing hip black boots (not black hip boots, mind you), started talking about a form we’d had to fill out for the school. There were four Mamas, sitting around a low kidney-shaped table in plastic kiddie chairs. “You know the question ‘Does your child have any fears or concerns that the teachers should be aware of?’” she asked.

Nods all around, and some anticipatory leaning forward.

“Well,” she stammered, a little embarrassed, “It sounds kind of weird but Jamie has this thing about being trapped in places.”

“Huh,” I offered. “Sounds like a perfectly reasonable fear.”

“So we were at Home Depot, and you know they have those big metal warehouse doors?”

Nods, nods.

“He started getting all panicky that they might suddenly close the store, and they wouldn’t know we were inside, and we’d be trapped.”

Encouraging ‘oohs’ from around the wee table.

“So I go up to this woman who works there and say, ‘What would happen if you were to close the store when we were still here?’ And she looks at Jamie and gets her fingers all wiggly in his face and says, ‘Well those big doors would bang shut! And you’d be trapped in here! And it would be dark and cold, and you’d have to wait until the morning when we open again to get out!’”

The three of us Listening Mamas banged our palms on the table and hollered, “No she DID NOT!” and “You are KIDDING me.” We were ready, in our NorCal way, to band together, get the word out, and ban shopping at Home Deport forever.

“Yeah, so poor Jamie was, like, set back about six months on this issue,” Hip Boot Mama says.

And I’m all, “Yeah you should forward the therapy bills to that woman.”

The thing is, how many times with my often-inappropriate snarky sensibilities have I done something just as bad? As a Mama, now that I’m on the receiving end of the idle thoughtlessness of strangers, I’m appalled by it all.

What is wrong with you people?! Can’t you see we’re trying to raise non-psycho children? Who will buy us large homes and luxury vehicles when we’re old and enfeebled and they’ve struck it rich?

Can’t you tell we don’t get to take afternoon naps any more? And we really really miss them.

Anyway, it’s likely too late, but for all those kids who I might have tempted with inaccessible sweets or unwittingly traumatized in other ways, I’d just like to say for the record that I’m really. Very. Sorry.


Hotline to Dada

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And really, why shouldn’t she be?

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

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

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

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The Waiting is Over

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

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

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

But I never really knew for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chalk One Up for Me

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff, Sisters, Summer | 2 Comments »

People are constantly going on about how Paige is a mini-Mark. And some folks say Kate looks like me.

Frankly, I don’t see it at all. I mean, Paige looks like Paige. A small delicious dumpling with loopy blond curls, a button nose, and pudged-out cheeks. She’s still got those inverted knuckle dimples on her hands. You know the ones? I meant to take note of when Kate went from having those to getting normal convex knuckles, but I missed it. It must’ve happened overnight.

Anyway, Mark. If you ask me, he looks nothing like Paige. He’s a grown man for God’s sake. Lean—in case you haven’t met him—and all chiseled and angular. Not many pudgy parts to him.

I guess when I look at those two I just see Paige and Mark.

As for Kate, it’s even harder—or maybe just weirder—to see myself in her looks.

Which isn’t to say that Mark and I aren’t constantly labeling the things that the girls do as being either him-like or me-like.

Kate screaming a conversation from one room of the house to another? My genes. Her morning rat’s nest hair snarl? That’d be me. Kate’s love of sour cream, non-stop banter from the moment she wakes, and occasional “No one’s paying attention to me!” whining fits? Well, uh, that’d be me too. I’ll also lay claim to both girls’ ability to pack away the pasta, and Paige’s Herculean ability to sleeeeeeeeep.

As for Kate’s skinny butt, obsession with books, and tendency to hang back in new places? Mark, Mark, and Mark. Also Mark: Paige’s love of bikes and music.

At our nephew’s eighth birthday party this summer, Mark discovered something he never knew about me. It was at a pool party, at some fancy suburban community center. There were three pools, and they had one of those bright blue three-story water slides. The kind that have an enclosed tube that loops around like a big spiral staircase and spits you out at a high velocity at the bottom.

When Mark first laid eyes on it, he practically shoved the kids, bags, and towels in my hands and ran towards it, arms flailing overhead. He was giddy, grinning, and asking permission if I could watch the kids so he could do it, as if I was his mother. It was sweet.

Later, back at the kiddie pool, still all smiles from his water slide high, he asked if I’d gone on it yet. I looked over at the thing and said softly, “No.”

“Oh my God, GO!” he commanded. “You HAVE to go on it RIGHT NOW.”

So I went. Spurned by his excited insistence. Buoyed by a desire to be the mother of two who might not wear a bikini any more, but is still game for a good time. But really, scared shitless.

As I got closer, my spontaneous bravado faltered. I still wanted to go down the thing, to surprise myself with how much fun it’d end up being, but I needed back-up. So I enlisted the birthday boy who was waiting in line for some other treacherous thrill ride. I tried coming off like I was rallying him to join me for some big fun. Really I just thought it’d be nice to have some family around at the time of my demise.

En route we saw my niece. I got her to come along with us too.

At the slide, the teen monitoring the line indicated I’d have to go up the staircase alone. “One at a time,” she droned, staring blankly ahead. Here I was taking my life in my hands, and she’s just wishing she was texting her boyfriend.

I had a tight feeling in my gut, but dropping out of line at this point would be embarrassing. So I butched up and trudged onward alone.

At the top, another compassionless teen instructed me to “just lie down with my arms crossed over my chest.” How fitting, I thought. They make you assume a corpse pose.

Motivated only by my wish to get it over, plus pressure from the long line of young sadists behind me, I assumed the position and pushed off. My niece, who’d picked up on my anxiety (smart gal), cried out behind me, “When you see the light Aunt Kristen, hold your breath!”

It was every bit as horrifying as I’d feared. Claustrophobic, jarring, and with a slamming plunge into cold water to cap it off.

For 15 minutes afterward, I shook. I fretted. My stomach flip-flopped. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t trusted my instincts, and vowed over and over in my head, “NEVER AGAIN.”

Gathered round the picnic table, shivering and soothing myself with pizza, Mark was astounded. He had no idea I’d been so afraid, that I hate those fucking things, and that even after it was over the experience could continue to seize me with terror.

Rather than suffer the spectacle of my supreme wimpishness alone, I felt compelled to drag my sister (the birthday boy’s mom) down with me. “Well, SHE’D never do it either!” I said to her friends, pointing to the woman who bushwhacked her way through remotest Mexico, outwitted spies sent out to trail her, and shot films solo (and on the sly) in Asia’s Golden Triangle heroin hub. That gal’s sweet-talked her way out of tight spots and international dramas that’d leave James Bond stymied and whimpering.

They didn’t believe me. So I called over to her.

“Ellen?” I said, nodding my head in the direction of the slide.

“SHIT, no!” she said, knitted her brows together in horror. “You crazy?”

I turned back to her friends smugly, and reached for another slice of pizza.

A couple weeks later, I returned to the scene of my trauma. Or tried to. I wasn’t with a PTSD therapist, just a friend and our kids. But I screwed up the times, and it was closed. As a consolation prize to our disappointed wee ones, we went to some other suburban dream park, replete with a mushroom-shaped water sprinkler, paved wading creek, and a playground the size of Delaware. (I’m telling you, that playground was bigger than Rhode Island.)

The kids stripped down to their suits the second we arrived, and ran off willy-nilly, not sure where to head first.

Basking in the serene sense of suburban safety, my friend and I got to chatting and weren’t hawkishly watching the older kids. And mid-way through some “We have GOT to get sitters and all go there” kinda conversation, Kate runs up to us tear-drenched and screaming. I could barely understand her.

“It’s not like the one at school! It’s not like the one at school!” she shrieked, shaking and snotting and wailing loudly as I snugged her up in a towel.

A minute later Owen cruised up, smiling his sweet charmer’s smile. My friend turned to her son. “What happened to Kate, Owie?” Ready to accuse him of wrongdoing, as we often do with our own kids.

“Uh, she went down the slide,” he said, then took off to get in line for the swings.

The slide. Ah yes. Well that explains it.

That right there would be my genes.


Home is Where I Want to Be

Posted: August 17th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: City Livin', Mom, Parenting, Sisters | 3 Comments »

When I was a kid we got a new refrigerator, and my mother said she’d never wear lipstick again.

It’s not like she was making a makeup-free vow based on some allegiance to the old fridge. The former Frigidaire had a shiny chrome strip down its side, and whenever Mom was running out the door, she’d pause there to peer at her reflection and put on her lipstick.

Weeks after getting the new fridge she’d still stop in that spot, lipstick in hand, then seeing that her mirror was gone she’d whisper, “Damn it!”

Funny thing is, she really did stop wearing lipstick around that time. She told me she tried to retrain herself to use the car’s rear view mirror. But I guess that never took.

Mom lived in that house—1220 Hope Street—for something like 39 years. It’s where I came back to from the hospital as a newborn, held court at countless birthday parties, had my first ever make-out sesh, and brought home college boyfriends.

Okay, so that’s not all true. I mean, I never had a boyfriend per se in college. But if I did have one, and if he was the visitin’ type, that’s where I’d'a taken him.

Anyway, Mom finally sold the house when I was in my thirties. Too old to ever bunk with her again, but attached enough emotionally to feel sorrow that Home as I knew it was going away. Being spruced and shined up for visiting herds of potential buyers. Strangers who’d eventually tear out carpets, paint walls, fill rooms with their own odd furniture, and carry on ignorant of the mundane and momentous events of the Bruno family that took place in those rooms.

Thankfully, Mom at least held onto the same phone number in her new smaller house.

A few weeks ago I was closing the curtains before Kate went to sleep, and I noticed the door jamb in her room. In pencil, in Mark’s small scrawl, it says, “35.5″, 27 months, 12/21/07″

We only made one entry there before I went out and bought a jungle-themed growth chart wall-hanging. The kind of thing made special for families like us. Which is to say, renters. Or rather, migrant urban-dwellers, who tend to move every few years. Never settled long enough for a door jamb to reflect more than a foot or so of kid growth. (Not to mention what the landlord would have to say about it.)

When, I wondered, will we live in a place where we can write on the walls? Where we can record Kate and Paige’s growth so some day when they bring their boyfriends home from college, they can have a laugh about how wee they were 13 years prior.

And if we don’t ever settle into a place long-term, am I doing a disservice to my kids? Robbing them of something far greater than a semi-permanent shrine to their height?

Maybe it’s egomaniacal to want to give my kids what I had. Or maybe it’s just a lack of imagination in my parenting—that I can only figure out how to raise my kids the way my parents did me (minus, God willing, the divorce).

But there are things that seem like signs—big flashing neon signs—telling me to gather up the family and move along. A purse-snatching on our block, a crummy school district, and houses that are both too small and too expensive to compel us to buy.

Oakland hasn’t made one of the Best Places to Live lists, but it has distinguished itself, as my oldest sister, a Boston-area suburbanite, recently called in a panic to point out. “Did you know,” she said, breathless in her hurry to spill the bad news, “that Oakland is the fourth most dangerous city in the U.S.? I just read it on the AOL home page.”

Okay so, let’s just ignore the AOL comment.

“I know!” I squawked. “Can you believe it? Next year we hope to at least make third.”

I joke, because, well, that’s how I roll. But also because there’s a kinda bravado I sometimes embrace about Oakland’s ugly underbelly. Even though our corner of the city, flush with Craftsman homes, gourmet bistros and bookstores, is hardly the hardcore ‘hood my sis—who’s never visited—likely envisions. To her I insist that in their Kevlar play clothes the girls are perfectly safe playing in the front yard.

But really? Well, really I fantasize about affordable grand Victorians, streets where trees form tunnels over the roads, and blocks bursting with sassy, wise-cracking moms who make lemonade for the kids and mojitos for each other. I long for free concerts in the park where we bump into other families we know, and where the kids play free range, without us having to keep our urban eagle-eye watch over them.

I gaze at hours of HGTV, flip through endless magazines, and get heady with visions of a peaceful enclave where the June Cleavers are aging hipsters with sleeve tattoos, the local schools rock, and no one ever eats at Applebee’s. Where small town beauty isn’t marred by Christian dogma being shoved down your throat. Where if you don’t lock you car at night, you won’t find a homeless person asleep in it in the morning.

The question is, does such a place exist? Is the fifth most dangerous city all I require to sleep better at night? And just how far do I have to go and how long do I have to look before I maybe realize that—gasp!—Oakland actually IS my Mayberry?

What’s funny is, for my mother, after decades of life in Bristol, Rhode Island, she still always acted like the townfolk didn’t accept her as a local. I think it was all dramatic hooey, frankly. Something she liked to kvetch about but that never kept her up at night. But who knows, maybe the place never did seem like home to her.

At this point, I’ll never know. But whatever issues she might’ve wrangled with never trickled down to us kids. Which, if I can parlay that forward a generation or two, means that wherever we raise Kate and Paige will likely feel like home to them.

That’s good to keep in mind as a kind of back-up, but it doesn’t stop me from daydreaming.


Nurse? A Manhattan Straight Up, STAT!

Posted: July 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Daddio, Doctors, Little Rhody, Sisters | 1 Comment »

The last thing I expected was that Dad’s hip replacement surgery would be so hilarious. But all’s (thankfully) gone terribly well, and his attitude is so absurdly good, it’s frankly been slaying my sisters, Mark, and me.

It should be known that Dad is the Master of Hyperbole. And his commentary on life since adopting a titanium hip has underscored that. So I couldn’t help but make note of some of his more dramatic remarks.

On our first post-op call with him, I’d have bet the kids’ college funds that he’d say, “I feel like a million bucks!” Sure enough, my sis Marie covered the phone receiver with her hand, leaned towards me, and mouthed those very words.

But that was just the beginning. To hear Dad describe it, the doctor tripped into his room the day after the surgery, giddy over how well it went, and impressed by the robust state of Dad’s 80-year-old musculature. The guy also noted he’d “never seen a hip in worse shape” than Dad’s.

Well, that was the God-given hip. Despite having a nasty case of hiccups, life with the new joint seems to be ducky. To the amazement of the hospital staff, Dad’s sworn off all painkillers, claiming he “feels no pain whatsoever.”

And after some incident of bed-bound camaraderie, he proclaimed, “My roommate is like a brother to me.” Apparently—and unsurprisingly—he got all the guy’s contact info before they parted ways. Maybe what they felt was akin to the love reality show contestants seem to blather on about after even the briefest interludes of cohabitation.

To counterbalance all those hospital-haters out there, I give you Fred Bruno. He described his room as “magnificent,” marveled at the vast dinner selections (having kept a menu as proof for any disbelievers), and, for some reason that’s not altogether clear, expressed delight over the TV remote control.

But hands down the winner of his can’t-keep-me-down Perfect Patient attitude is the comment he made to Marie. “This,” he said, “has been the best two days of my life.”

I’m sure he meant to say, second only to the day Kristen was born.

Dad’s now at a local rehab facility for a fews days, until he can shimmy into his Cole Haan loafers and get up and down stairs on his own. Mark, the girls, and I went to see him yesterday, and aside from the fact that it’s packed with old people—who seem light years older than Pops—the place doesn’t seem half bad.

The facility had the good humor to put a trail of red, white, and blue stripes down the hall carpet, mimicking how the town paints the yellow street lines patriotic colors for The Fourth. The rooms are modern and clean, and there’s even a strange little barn housing llamas, donkeys, and ducks. Brilliant fodder for getting grandkids fired up for a visit to the nursing home.

When we got there, Dad was sitting up in bed, looking like his old self, save for the hospital gown. “Did you know that this place has a cocktail hour on Tuesday and Friday nights?” he said with glee. “If your doctor allows it, they’ll make you a drink!”

I don’t know if my dad did some research to find this place, or if it was just dumb luck. Whatever the case, the true test of his recovery will be his ability to balance a Manhattan against his walker, without spilling a drop.

I have every reason to believe he’ll do just fine.

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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.