Wat I Did on My Summr Vacashin, by Kate

Posted: August 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Extended Family, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Summer, Travel | 21 Comments »

We’re back from our epic, excellent, six-week trip to the East Coast.

We spent time in five states, saw dozens of friends, had one car get hit and another break down, and—despite what my friend Drew thinks—attended only one parade. But it was a doozy.

My father and his wife should get blood transfusions to revive themselves after the tantrums, food fights, sibling spats, and other appalling behavior we exhibited while under their roof. And I wish their cleaners luck removing all the sand we dragged in.

The girls ate three things all summer: hot dogs, carrots, and ice cream. A couple times they had corn. Me? I lugged my juicer everywhere and obsessively counted my steps with my FitBit.

We visited the town library A LOT, and leathered up our skin from many long days at the beach.

So much more happened, but I’ve got a cold and I’m cranky and I’m on Day 30—yes, THIRTY—of solo parenting. So I did what any self-respecting, lazy-ass mother would do: I had my kid do it. Which is to say, I asked my six-year-old, Kate, to come up with a post on our summer vacation.

She LOVED the idea. She’s told every person who’s called our house, every friend we’ve seen, our fish and our mailman that she’s going to be featured here. So this decision was also a good PR move.

Kate wrote this herself (on paper first) and picked out all the photos. Keep in mind she’s at a groovy progressive school where phonetic spelling reigns supreme. As do exclamation points, apparently.

I got a shot of her entering some last-minute edits. She’s already asked me how old you have to be to have your own blog. So look out world.
















Wat I Did on My Summr Vacashin, by Kate 

I love sumrre! It rocks!

I wint to Bristol! My sister Paige ate a lot of donuts.
















I saw the 4th ov Joliye prad! There wre horsis ther. It wus loooooooong! The bands wer asam!


I have a unckl hoo is a dog. He is so cut! His name is Bruno.


In Cape Code it was fun. We wint on a bote cold Bristol Girl! It wus fun!!!!! We saw seals. Thay wre cyot!


We wint to to Broklin. I got a doll. A Amarukin Girl Doll. My frend gav it to me!

We wint on a long driv to Vrginya! Ther we wint to a weding. The brid wus byotefll!


My grandma gave me a french brade.















I lost 2 teeth. I got a silvr dolr!















We wnt to Cunnetecot. Thear we wnt toobing.

My hayr trnd green from a pool! It looks bettar now.















We had a grate sumre!


Happy Easter-Passover Hybrid

Posted: April 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Mom, Other Mothers, Sisters | No Comments »

I heard the most EXCELLENT thing this week. I was chatting with a mom from Kate’s school, and her cell phone buzzed with a text. She leaned over to look at it, and slowly said aloud as she typed, “Yes, we’re still on for Saturday night.”

Then she looked at me. “We’re hosting a Seder this weekend—not because we’re Jewish or anything—but Dustin,” she nodded in the direction of her son, “wants to be half-Jewish.”

“Wait—” I said, confused, “Dustin’s half-Jewish?”

“No, no,” she explained laughing. “Not Jewish at all. But he wants to be half-Jewish.”

Okay, so how rad is THAT?

As a fervid, shameless wanna-be Jew (and the mother of one as well), this news shook me to my goy core. I’d never pondered the concept of half-Jewdom, and it struck me as sheer genius.

I mean, as a half-Jew you can just pick and choose what you want to get out of the either scene, right? Not into gefilte fish? Why should you be? That’s your WASP genes talking. Don’t want to sit through synagogue? Wear a yarmulke? Or miss out on Santa Claus, Christmas trees, or sneaking spiked egg nog? No problemo! That’s your other half talkin’. Take what you want. Leave the rest behind.

On the other hand, you’ve also got free reign to stuff yourself sick with latkes, call your grandparents Bubbe and Zeyde, feel a deep dramatic connection with Fiddler on the Roof, and have a blow-out bat mitzvah that’d make a Kardashian wedding look like a low-budg gig at a VFW hall.

Man, I’m all hopped up on the brilliant potential of it all.

Needless to say, I wanna be half-Jewish now too. DESPERATELY. And I no doubt freaked out that poor kid the other day when I got all in-his-face freaky fired up. “Dustin! I LOVE that!” I bellowed. “I wanna to be half-Jewish too!”

He was all wide-eyed backing towards his mother’s car, like, “Okay, Kate’s-weirdo-mom… whatEV.” But of course, he was too polite to say that.

Alas, until the time I’m fully indoctrinated in half-Judaism (in a ceremony I’ve yet to concept but will certainly relay the details of here), I’m staring down the barrel of a full-on Easter-only celebration this weekend. Somehow we’ve fallen off the guest list of our friends’ Seder, no doubt because I over enthusiastically made all manner of faux-pas in past years, tapping bitter herbs behind my ears like perfume and feigning gagging noises when Uncle Myron poured me a glass of Manischewitz.

Or maybe it’s just that they’re out of town this weekend.

Anyway, our Easter plan is brunch and and an egg hunt with our turbo-creative neighbors. Their yard is a gorgeous overgrown garden paradise that makes you feel like you’re in some Tuscan village not a suburban North Oakland double lot. Mark’s baking cinnamon buns and will no doubt bust out some highbrow mimosa-like drink.

There will be plenty of other folks and food there too, but there’s part of me that still needs a ham-and-scalloped-potato dinner later in the day as well. Oh, and green beans. Might as well go full-bore traditional.

So I’ll be the last-minute loser at Honey Baked tomorrow being told there’s only a 65-pound 280-dollar ham available that’ll feed 30-40 buffet style or 80-100 for apps. And because I’ll feel like a failure making pasta for dinner on Easter, I’ll buy the damn thing and we’ll be eating ham ’til Fourth of July.

But really, really what I want more than anything is a ham made by my Aunt Jennie. The woman is truly a wizard with a ham. I mean, grown men have wept eating her ham. It’s like some crazy gift, her and the hams.

When my mother was sick Aunt Jennie came to visit with my cousin Sue. They live a couple hours away. The day before, Mom was having a bad day and didn’t get out of bed. But at one of the times when she woke up she told me, “Call Aunt Jennie and tell her when she comes tomorrow not to bring a damn ham.” (Mark still cannot say the word ham without using the adjective “damn.”)

Of course, it’s not like Aunt Jennie had even said she was bringing one. But in one of those ways that you know your siblings inside and out, my mother just knew Jennie, and that Jennie would think a ham was in order.

That’s how Jennie rolls. With a large home-baked ham in tow.

So I called her. “You guys still planning to come?”

“Oooh yuh, yuh,” she clucked.

“Okay, so Mom said for you not to worry about bringing a ham,” I said. Then thinking better of it I added, “I mean, really? She said not to being a damn ham.”

Aunt Jennie just said, “I’m bringing a ham. See you tomorrow.”

And really, when I hung up the phone my sisters and I were relieved that Mom’s request carried no weight. Why would you EVER want to dissuade that woman from working her magic?

My Aunt Jennie is a world-class crack-up. She’s always been my favorite aunt—and my mom’s from a family with eight kids, so that’s actually saying a lot. Jennie has chutzpah like nobody’s business. She’s in her eighties and still works taking care of “old people” (as she puts it). She’s a first-rate grandmother, buying her grandchildren laptops, watching broods of kids after school, and cooking massive Sunday dinners. You can’t leave her house without a plate of something “to have later” and money she managed to stick in your bag “for something for the kids.”

And she will make you piss your pants laughing, in the most dry, innocent-about-her-humor way. Get her talking about the geezers she’s cared for who’ve hit on her. (Scary proof that even decrepit and in oxygen tents all men ever think about is sex.) You’ll nearly pull a Mama Cass on the ham you’re horkin’ down you’ll be howling so loud.

Anyway, God bless my most excellent, one-in-a-million Aunt Jennie. She recently had a mild stroke. Word is it wasn’t so bad, and I truly hope that’s true. If I know her she’s bounced back, poo-pooed anyone who so much as asked after her health, and is planning to serve up a meal this Sunday that’d make Jesus rise from the dead with a napkin tucked under his chin.

If I weren’t 3,000 damn miles away I’d be pulling up a seat myself to that table, as excited about the company as I’d be about the food.

Anyway, as you’re tucking into your holiday meal this weekend—whether it includes matzoh crackers or a green bean casserole, I’d sure appreciate it if you sent a little healing thought my Aunt Jennie’s way. Think of it as paying homage to the High Priestess of Ham.

And if that doesn’t feel quite right to you because you keep kosher or are somehow not a fan of pig meat, no worries. Feel free to consider yourself half-Gentile, if only for the moment.

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My Jewish Mother

Posted: March 16th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Other Mothers, Parenting, Working World | No Comments »

Did I ever tell you how I stalked a woman once?

It was back when Mark and I were looking for schools for Kate. And a school we applied to was hosting a conference where authors, experts, and teachers were lecturing and running workshops. It was all about parenting.

The event fell on a Saturday, a few weeks before we’d be finding out whether or not Kate got into the school. Even though anyone could attend the day’s program—and hundreds of amped up, achievement-hungry Bay Area parents did—Mark and I set out all spiffed up and eager to make a good impression if, by chance, we’d have the good fortune of bumping into the Admissions Director at the continental breakfast buffet.

But minutes into the keynote, given by the handsome, cleft-chinned author of Nurture Shock, we were fully engrossed in the topic at hand. Our ulterior motive of showcasing what great members of the school community we’d make had all but melted away. (Though God knows I could have summoned it back in a snap had I bumped into the school’s French teacher in the bathroom.)

We attended a tepidly interesting session on teaching your kids to read, wandered through the Redwood-tree-lined playground, and made our way into a workshop on temperament being given by a nurse-turned-radio-show-host. It was five minutes into her presentation (I’d admittedly lingered at the coffee urn, scanning for school officials), but we slid into two seats at the back of the room.

The woman at the podium, Nurse Rona as she called herself, was talking about temperament. That some people are “intense” by nature, and some less so. Fairly basic stuff we’re all aware of, but she was talking about family dynamics and how our individual temperaments play a role in how we operate as families.

We got hand-outs that listed a long series of scenarios and gave some kind of 1-through-10  reaction rating for each one.

The good nurse asked us to think of one of our children, and fill out the worksheet based on how he or she would react to the different situations. Mark and I did this together, circling something with a number 10 answer for Kate, then circling a number 3 for Mark. We went through each question and answered for ourselves and the girls, even though Paige was only two at the time.

What was amazing was how easy it was to do. We were having a little laugh as we’d whisper “Paige” and then both be pointing frantically with our pencils to the same answer on the spectrum.  Other things Mark would circle about five times while mouthing “you” at me. It was really simple—and actually quite fun—to map our little family all out.

And at the end of the exercise a distinct pattern arose. It was clear that Kate and I have, well… intense personalities. (Duh.) Mark and Paige? They’re on the more mellow side.

This is not rocket science, people. I mean, I guess we’d both realized this on some level, but we hadn’t really thought much about it, ya know? We’d just been so busy with the day-to-day grind of parenting, that we’d never really stepped back to take note of this now-fairly-obvious thing. And now that this came into focus, the nurse was giving us all this smart advice about how we could handle various situations in our family life based on this information.

It was a huge aha moment. It made me realize why, when given a chance to divide the kids up to run errands, Mark gravitated towards taking Kate, and I did the same with Paige. Call it opposites attracting, or personality load-balancing, but there’s just a reason why those groupings tended to form naturally. Even long after the time when I needed to be with Paige for breastfeeding purposes.

I was fascinated. This revealed so much about my growing-up family too. I finally understood why people said one of my sisters and my mom were so much alike—a comment that always confused me since the two of them seemed to clash more often than get along.

So later, in line at the salad bar when I saw Nurse Rona, I made my move.

“Amazing workshop,” I gushed, throwing some mixed greens on my plate I had no intention of eating.  And I went on to overshare all my take-aways from her workshop. It was like I was wedging in a free quick therapy session while blindly piling croutons onto my plate.

Anyway, after that weekend I couldn’t help thinking about that woman and her work. She was a nurse who’d spent decades in hospitals and taught various kinds of parenting courses. I tuned into her radio show the next Sunday morning. I went to her website. And then one day while the girls were napping, I decided to send her an email.

I told her I loved her presentation. Reminded her we chatted at the salad and cold-cuts buffet. Told her all about my media background and recent foray into little more than “nose and butt wiping” for my kids. But that her work was so compelling I was wondering—Did she need a research assistant? A ghost writer? Someone to bring her coffee during her radio show?

I hit send and figured I’d never hear back. Or that she’d think I was mad.

I was deep deep into my stay-at-home mom life. This email was liking tossing a crumpled note over a tall stone wall into the world of the working set. A world that had once been incredibly familiar, but had grown distant and even a bit mysterious. I had dim flickering memories of the place, but could only imagine how vastly it had changed since I’d been there. And it seemed absurd to imagine that someone on that side would want to communicate with someone on my side.

I didn’t expect to hear back from her. But it was thrilling nonetheless attempting to make contact. In fact, after so much at-home childcare time, it was exciting to even feel a rumbling of professional curiosity still lurking in my bones.

I was passionate about motherhood, and had lost interest in my former career. But maybe I could do work that was related to parenting. Chocolate and peanut butter together!

Anyway, it turns out I did hear back from Nurse Rona. The same day even. A lovely and encouraging note, along with an invitation to lunch. “Do you have childcare?” she asked. “If not, I can come to you and talk around the kids.”


Lunch-time Rona was just as fascinating as lecturing Rona. We talked all about her work and my pre-mama career. I heard about her kids and grandchildren and I gushed about Kate and Paige. She told me about the constant funding struggles with her non-profit and keeping Childhood Matters, her radio show, on the air. She promised to read my blog.

There wasn’t any immediate need for my help, but she was at the beginning of a book project and various other endeavors. Who knew what we might be able to collaborate on?

She invited me to an event at her non-profit. I called into her show a few times. I’d see her at farmer’s markets, or we’d grab a cup of tea. She ran a workshop out of my living room. Her daughter started babysitting for my children. In short, over the course of the past couple years we became friends.

I’ve even appeared on her show as a guest a couple times. Once with the author of a book about the importance of family dinners, and once with a family therapist talking about babyproofing your marriage.

And she may not know it—or maybe it’s blatantly plain to see—but she’s become one of the mothers I’ve adopted. You know, I do this now since my mom is gone. “Borrow” other peoples’ mamas for practical or emotional purposes, or just for fun. It’s like I’m hand-picking the village that it takes to raise me, still at age 44.

Rona is so warm and wise, and with a great California sensibility that’s enlightened but not too far out hippie-dippy. Who wouldn’t want her as a mama?

Last Sunday, after more than nine years of bringing great thought-provoking information to parents, Rona’s excellent radio show Childhood Matters went off the air. They finally lost their perpetual funding tug o’ war, and decided to put their remaining resources into their Spanish-language parenting show Nuestros Ninos.

It’s bittersweet for sure, but this change hardly leaves Rona sitting around eating bon bons. She’s got her book project underway, podcasts with Christine Carter (author of my new favorite book, Raising Happiness), workshops, coaching—you name it. You just can’t keep this woman away from work that helps families.

After more than nine years of waking up at the crack of dawn to get to the recording studio, this Sunday Rona will get to sleep in. I hope, for her sake, it’s delicious.

And the way I see it, she needs all the rest she can get. I’m not the only mama out there who’s  eager for whatever wisdom she’ll continue to share, be it by radio, book, or lecture. I’m just lucky to be one of the few who’s also got her cell phone number.

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My Peter Pan Complex

Posted: January 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Extended Family, Holidays, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Other Mothers, Parenting, Travel | 6 Comments »

I used to spend Christmases at home. And by “home” I mean at the house I grew up in—my mom’s—in Rhode Island.

Then a number of things happened to change that, not the least of which was that she died. But aside from that even, I got married and became a mother myself. And a few years ago, despite my inclination to still do my winter migration to Little Rhody (now to Dad’s), Mark started lobbying for us to stay at our own house for Christmas.


“The girls should wake up in their own beds on Christmas morning,” he opined, ever the rational one. He also likely tossed in something about holiday travel being a hassle, expensive, and particularly taxing with young children and cross-country flights.


Sure, I saw his point. But what about me? What about me waking up in my own bed? What about Santa delivering presents to my house, not that place where we live in California?

And the thing is, Mark’s right. Well, I’m not actually sure I’m ready to embrace his stance entirely. Let me downgrade that to, “I can see his point.” It IS kinda expensive and it IS kinda a hassle to get there.

Sometimes I let him make the decisions, you know, to empower him. So for the past five years I’ve done some supremely selfless parenting and allowed my kids to be the kids—not me—at Christmastime. I must be up for some kind of mothering award.

A couple weeks ago Mark helped me with some blog stuff. He is both husband and IT consultant. (In this economy you’ve gotta be able to wear several hats.) If it’s not glaringly apparent, I’m embracing a fairly scaled-back user experience here. But I sometimes fall prey to blog peer pressure (self-imposed, mind you). I’m the world’s biggest luddite, but every now and again even I realize I should implement some sorta new feature to keep up with the other kids.

So Mark helped me add a Facebook “like” button to the bottom of each post. So now you can not only “like” motherload on the whole, you can “like” any individual posts that rock your world.

It’s a regular like fest.

Amazingly I have not obsessed over this. I have not checked every four minutes to see if I have more likes. (Good thing too, since they’re not exactly pouring in.) I will cop to having had a small obsession several years ago when we sent out an Evite for a party. I spent the better part of a day compulsively hitting “refresh” to see who’d RSVPed. It was not healthy.

Anyway, the new, more mature me will manage this “like” button much more rationally. (Though I’ll still be your best friend if you use it every once and a while. In fact, I double-dog dare you to do it right now.)

Speaking of Le Face Livre, in the new year I’m reversing an ill-formed personal policy that I’ve been foolishly adhering to. What is that you may ask? 2012 is the year that I will finally friend my mother-in-law.

Now I’m curious to hear how you all manage this yourselves. Initially my take on the parental-level Facebook friend was this: Who knows what they might see. Who knows what they might read. And moreover, who knows what I would have to edit, avoid, or otherwise regret.

But now, a few years in to seeing her friendly face crop up in my “People You May Know” list, I’m wondering what the hell I’d been thinking.

It’s not like I’m selling crack on Facebook. (I do that on my other website.) It’s not like I’m publishing skanky pictures of myself. It’s not like I’m really doing anything much other than making snarky comments on the often dizzying state of motherhood, a topic that, of all people, my mother-in-law is very much in touch with.

Keeping her at social-media arms length was apparently my way of maintaining a foothold in the world where I’m the kid and the grown-ups are the grown-ups. It may have taken me 44 years, but I’m finally willing to throw in the towel and admit that I’m an adult.

Of course, I have no intention of ever acting my age. And Facebook is the perfect outlet for my raging immaturity. The way I see it now, my mother-in-law and I can act immature there together.


Mewy Cwistmas!

Posted: December 25th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Cancer, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Scary Stuff | No Comments »

Last week I asked a mom at Kate’s school a casual question. And I’ve been feeling bad about her answer ever since.

It was at morning drop-off. I’d hustled Kate into her classroom on time. Phew! I was dashing down the school’s front steps, dragging Paige by the hand with the frazzled determination of a working mom with one more kid to ditch before fighting commuter traffic into the city. And I saw a mom I kinda know standing there. She was waiting to lead a tour.

“How’re you surviving the holidays?” I called over my shoulder. This, I later realized, is my go-to seasonal greeting to other mothers.

“Eh,” she answered, shrugging her shoulders. “I’ll be happy when it’s over. This isn’t my favorite time of year.”

It was not one of those eye-rolling oh-life-is-hectic-but-I’m-getting-it-all-done kinda responses. The reaction I realized I’d come to expect. My off-the-cuff question was the kind of quick check-in mamas often do at the holidays, back to school time, birthdays—when we’re feeling particularly taxed. These passing exchanges are sympathetic nods to each other. Our way of saying, I hear your life is crazy now, hang in there sister.

But this woman was clearly not referring to having too much shopping to do. She wasn’t feeling harried about having to juggle cookie-baking parties or get everyone packed for a ski trip. She wasn’t begrudging the maternal mayhem that’s often the necessary underpinning of busy, fun family times.

I’m not sure what makes her want the holidays to just be over—and that morning on the school steps wasn’t the time to find out. But several times since our brief exchange I’ve thought about her.

In fact, the next day we went to the San Francisco Ballet’s Nutcracker. It’s become a tradition between my sister, my niece, Kate, and me. And this year for the first time Paigey was old enough to come too.

Getting there was painful. Kate argued about wearing a dress. She refused to wear tights. She sat on the floor of her room crying, wailing, and miserable. I finally consented to letting her wear yellow and gray striped socks—the only ones she deemed comfortable. (Not a great look with a red dress and black flats.) We scrambled into the car late and tear-strewn, with me threatening to not take Kate in future years if she couldn’t get dressed. I’m guessing this isn’t the best way to manage a child with sensory issues around clothing.

But our fashion meltdown wore off somewhere between Oakland and San Francisco. The local all-Christmas radio station plus the pretzel snacks I’d grabbed took hold. And as we walked up the grand steps of the SF Ballet, fake snow flurries pumping out over the sidewalk, I got a deep hit of just how lucky we were to be there. That we live in this amazing cosmopolitan place. That we can afford this beautiful magical experience each year. That we are happy, healthy, and together, and spiffed up in our best winter coats—even if Kate’s socks were all wrong.

The thought of the mother at Kate’s school zipped through my head, and I took a big breath and exhaled before walking in. We are here, I thought, and this is so amazing. It was like the Ghost of Christmas Present came and tapped me on the shoulder. “Be here now,” she said. “Hug your daughters. Drink it in. Not everyone gets to do this.”

Message received.

A few nights later my sister had a Christmas party. Her huge Victorian was packed with adults, kids, food, dogs, a roaring fire in the fireplace. At one point Mark gave Paige a bite of the cookie he was eating. One of those Magic Cookie Bars with the graham cracker base, a mid-layer of chocolate, and walnuts on top. They scream of the the Bruno house circa 1979. And I love that my sister still makes them.

Within minutes Paige was in a crying fit. She was thrashing on the couch, yelling that her tongue felt funny and that she wanted water. I somehow attributed her behavior to the late hour and the crowd. But then I realized it was the nuts. Weeks earlier she’d had an encounter with walnut oil and her lip swelled up. D’oh!

Before swallowing the full dose of Benadryl, she barfed everywhere. And I had a full dose of maternal guilt for having ignored the earlier warning sign.

Poor lamb. I’d call her doctor first thing in the morning to schedule allergy testing.

In the meantime I took note of my visit from the Ghost of Christmas Puke. Seems impossible to get through the holidays without him stopping by.

On Wednesday we went to my friend Lily’s house to make gingerbread houses. It was super fun and the holiday huts turned out swell. I even managed to not micro-manage the girls’ design choices! And the kids didn’t slip into diabetes-induced comas from all the candy they horked down while decorating (eat one, stick one to the house, eat two…). We took this as a small victory.

But the biggest victory no one even talked about was that Lily just had her last radiation treatment. After a brutal year of surgery, chemo, radiation, and endless doctor visits, she is DONE. Officially out of the woods. Yee-ha!

I’d sent her flowers with a note that said, “Thank freaking God that’s over.” It was one of those embarassing-to-recite-to-the-florist messages, but one that needed sayin’.

As I watched Lily help her kids shellack their house’s roof with frosting—rocking her fabulous wig with the style and beauty only she could—I noticed The Ghost of Christmas Past stroll behind her, then slip out the door, taking Lily’s crappy year with him. I’ve never been happier to see someone go.

Let’s keep that cancer stuff in the past, shall we? On to a happy and healthy new year.

In fact, we’ve had our own health scare around here. A close family member went through a series of tests that all seemed to be pointing in a very bad direction. But suddenly, the last most rottenly invasive—but decisive—test came back negative. Clean. Nada, zip, zilch.

Perhaps you heard me letting out an all-body phew when I got that call?

Can I say THAT really knocks things into perspective? Your shopping may not be done, and the star on your tree might be missing, but someone called and said “the test came back negative.”

That’s all the gifts I need, thanks. The garland on my mantle may be a bit bedraggled, but the things that matter in life are a-okay.

And really, my garland is actually quite perfect.

But thank you, thank you, Ghost of Christmas Yet to Be, for that mega-dose of things-could-be-worse. But they are thrillingly, blessedly, not. In fact, they are most excellent, with clear sailing ahead.

Knock wood.

It’s nearly dinnertime on Christmas day. After an abundant morning of gift-opening, we headed out with the girls and Mark’s parents for a hike in the Redwood forest. And my geek-chef husband is about to remove our free-range, organic, fancy-pants turkey breast from the immersion circulator. (Ah yes, just like mom used to make.)

I am not someone who’ll be happy when the holidays are over. For that I am eternally grateful.

Throughout these past couple weeks I’ve been sending out little wishes to that mama I talked to on the steps of Kate’s school. Here’s to hoping she enjoyed the holidays more than she thought she would this year.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

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The Recipe Box

Posted: April 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Food, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Miss Kate, Mom | 5 Comments »

I recently discovered granola. Turns out it’s really good with fruit and yogurt.

Who knew?

I realize this is not a revolutionary finding. I think others before me have stumbled upon this holy trinity of foods. But what can I say? I’m a late bloomer.

At the holidays some friends brought us homemade granola as a hostess gift. It sat around for a while until I was desperate for food one day. Then, as these things usually go with me, I became obsessed with it. After devouring it all, I needed to lay in new supplies. And I remembered that my mother used to make her own really really good granola.

Over the years I’ve found that taste memories have been a weirdly strong way of reconnecting with my bygone Mama—through her wine biscuits, her chourico and peppers, and especially her Polish golumpki. So I was especially fired up to unearth this long-forgotten recipe.

And, luckily for me, I have her old recipe box.

I grabbed the black Tupperware thing from my cookbook shelf. It’s hardly a charming tin box decorated with little red roosters or the word “recipes” in some cute script. This thing is a dull dark rubber, awkwardly bigger than your typical 3×5 cards, and hard to wedge into a cupboard alongside anything else. It’s unapologetic in its homeliness and obtrusiveness. And, like everything in the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle life of my mom’s, it’s utterly and thoroughly disorganized.

Of the 200-plus index cards, newspaper clippings, and recipes scrawled on random notepaper (“Glens Falls Cement Company” and “State of Rhode Island House of Representatives”), there was no way to distinguish entrees from side dishes from desserts. If I wanted my granola taste flashback, it was going to take some digging.

But as I sifted through the recipes, some hilarious in their typification of the Bruno family’s Americana cuisine—Seven-Layered Salad, Seafood Newburg, Strawberry Molded Salad, Magic Cookie Bars—I came across something totally unexpected. Postcards that my sisters and I, along with some other folks, had sent to Mom.

I had my kids late in life (told you I was a later bloomer). I’ve spent the majority of my existence child-free. But there are times when I feel an especially acute super-saturated dose of mama-ness. And it’s not when one of the girls runs to me for a hug ’cause she bonked her head, or when one of them screams from the bathroom hallway, “I had an accident!” It’s other weird little times that are harder to put my finger on. But I do know that one of them for sure is when I feel the need to hold onto something that my daughters made for me.

This fall, with Kate just a few weeks into kindergarten, Mark and I went to Back to School night. All the parents were given a little envelope of things their kid had made for them. The one from Kate contained a bunch of different drawings, and a strip of maroon paper that had the words “My family is ____.” printed on it. In the space Kate had written in “SPSHL.”

I wanted to weep with how sweet it was, and run around the room waving it in the faces of all the other parents. “Look what my smart Katie did! I didn’t even know she could sound out and write words! Is this not TO DIE FOR?!”

If only there were a locket big enough for me to hang that thing from my neck every day. It’d be like some maternal gang medallion.

If the house ever goes up in flames, I’m running back in to get that scrap of paper.

So anyway, finding these post cards, wedged into my mom’s recipe box with the same lack of order everything else was shoved in there, was like unearthing a trove of her my-family-is-SPSHL papers. Things I can imagine she wanted to look back on one day. You know, some day when she was hot on the trail of her Spicy Swedish Meatballs recipe.

One card from 1996 is from my cousin Nancy, who my mom considered to be her fifth daughter. It’s entitled “Route 1 to San Francsico” and pictures the Pacific Coast’s dramatic cliffs and coastline. “I have sore, tired feet from traipsing all over this beautiful city,” Nancy wrote. “The weather has been pretty weird—but a nice change from R.I. heat and humidity.”

One card from London, date-stamped 1998 is in my sister Marie’s writing. “Yesterday was the queen’s birthday and they had a special ceremony at the changing of the guard.” Turns out they never laid eyes on her Highness, as they were hoping to. On that card my nephew—now a few years out of college—signed his full name in a sweet, loopy school-boy script.

And from Venice, in a card without a date, my other nephew reveals, “Daddy got us lost twice already.”

There’s a card from me praising the wonders of the new-fangled heat-resistent spatula, two of which I’d apparently included with the note. And my friend Amelia sent a save-worthy card, addressed to “Mrs. B” as she called her, thanking mom for the meatballs she’d made her and remarking, “despite my protestations, I haven’t taken off the kakhi J. Crew shorts since you kindly passed them along.”

There was one from my junior semester in Paris, and another from my sister’s visit to Rome. For all I know more cards will fall out of Mom’s battered Betty Crocker cook book the next time I haul it out for something.

Did I feel at all voyeuristic reading mail that was addressed to my mom? Nah.

The fact that they were postcards—generally not the medium one reserves for private or intimate communication—helped me get past any such thoughts. And with her gone, I can’t help but feel like any new discoveries about her world are fair game.  In fact, they’re happy accidents I relish.

Besides, it wasn’t the contents of the cards that was revelatory. It was finding them in this unlikely spot. Getting a glimmer of insight into what it was my mother held dear. Always one to choose home over travel, I imagine my mother cared less for the places we all went, and more for the fact that her people thought about her when they were away.

Kate’s class put on a play a couple weeks back. A fabulous rain-forest-themed musical where the kids sang in English and Spanish, signed all the words in ASL, helped make their costumes, and painted and built out the dizzying colorful set.

It was a tour de force. The students have come light years from their “My family is____.” exercise. And Kate, as Tree Frog #2, was unstoppable.

The day after the play Kate’s backpack was brimming with artwork as usual. As I sifted through the crumpled papers—some penned by Katie, other art-gifts drawn by her friends (“To my frend Kate, Love Emily”) I came across a yellow envelope that said MOM in red, surrounded by black hearts and stars. Inside it was this letter:

Thac you MOM!

For makeg my costom.

It was grat. Avre wun wonid to tac picshrs uv me! Thac you for hlpeg me practist my lins.

Love Kate

I had to sit down on the kitchen floor to read it again.

Thank you, my dear Katie. I’m not sure where I’ll stow this little gem, but you can bet that this letter is a keeper.

As for the rest of you, if you’re ever seeking out a recipe for Ratatouille, Tuna Casserole, Green Tomatoe [sic] Relish, Pecan Sandies, or something simply called Bean Bake, I’m your gal. I’ve also got one for a little crowd-pleaser called Cut Glass Torte, which involves two different colors of Jell-O, whipped cream, and graham cracker crumbs. Take that, Alice Waters!


Swimming with Sharks

Posted: February 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Extended Family, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Music, Scary Stuff | 1 Comment »

When Mark and I were first dating I bragged to him that I could play Hot Cross Buns on the recorder.

I know what you’re thinking—that I’m a ruthless sex kitten who really knows how to reel the men in!

But Mark was in a band at the time. He was the lead singer and played guitar. (He also plays piano and probably some other instruments too.) And as we got to know each other, seeing how he had all this musical know-how really underscored my own pathetic lack of it. So I thought I’d be grandiose about the limited proficiency I had. You know, make big of something very very little.

As it turned out, months after my initial allegations that I could rock it on the recorder—or at least play one of the easy-peasy first songs they teach you—we were at a party at someone’s house and they had a recorder. (Weird, right? I mean, who actually owns a recorder?)

“Okay, big guy,” Mark said, handing it to me. “Show me what you got.”

Perhaps you can guess where this is going. And if you can’t, it’s nowhere good. Tragically, I was unable to remember even the few simple notes to Hot Cross Buns.

Despite my great shame, Mark has stayed with me to this day. What a saint.

Anyway, Kate is taking piano lessons now. She’s four weeks in and can already read music, position her hands perfectly, and conjure some lovely sounds from the piano. It’s totally cool. (And no doubt, precedent setting. I now have every intention of forcing Kate and Paige to master everything I never could. Next up? Calculus!)

My excellent brother-in-law (who also happens to know his way around a guitar) was in town recently for work. His kids are Kate and Paigey’s age, and he was telling us that his son, who I’ll call Gordon, recently started piano lessons too.

“So, you got the first two classes free,” he said. You know, to test the waters. “And Gordon really was into it. But before we signed him up for more classes, the teacher gave us this big envelope.”

Guess what was in the envelope? Not just the forms to sign up for more lessons. Nope, there was another little thing in there too. A letter stating that the guy was a registered sex offender.


Now here’s where my brother-in-law was extremely cool and reasonable. He said he knows people can get the sex offender label for things like dating a 17-year-old when they’re 20. I mean, that’s sex with a minor, and sometimes even when it’s consentual and all, things happen, families get angry, blah-dee-blah, and next thing you know you’ve got yourself a permanent record.

Very big of my brother-in-law to have taken a moment to consider giving this guy the benefit of the doubt.

But no. As they continued to read the letter they learned that this dude who is sitting next to kids on a piano bench every day was NOT the fairly innocent recipient of the sex offender label. Turns out he was a pedofile.

Now, I don’t know the details of what kinda kids or how old they were or what exactly happened. And I don’t want to know. Any degree of wrongness in this area counts as deeply horrifying.

My Mama-brain was wigging out, like some record skipping saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I wanted to lean over and barf at the thought of my sweet nephew coming so freaking scary close to that… to that predator.

Needless to say, my brother-in-law and sis-in-law immediately cut all ties with him.

What I want to know is, how many parents who get that “information packet” DO sign their kid up for more lessons with this guy? “Oh Jimmy’s having so much fun learning piano, and I’m sure there are NO OTHER PIANO TEACHERS IN THIS LARGE URBAN AREA. What say we roll the dice and have him hang out with this guy who may just be into raping children?”

To say this whole thing blows my mind (and makes me want to move to a deserted part of Montana, homeschool my children, and never interact with another human) is an understatement.

Nothing happened to my nephew. My sister-in-law was there the whole time he was with the guy. She’s a smart, loving, and protective Mama. So even though she didn’t know what they’d come up against during those “two free introductory lessons,” she kept her son safe.

And really, for all I know, the guy may be somehow rehabilitated.

But call me traditional, cynical, or close-minded (or all three), but I really doubt it. Maybe people can change. But c’mon. To be working with kids when that is your history? Gimme a break!

The thought of my innocent nephew and this cretin turns me werewolf-style into a ferocious, protective, mighty Mama bear. I will growl, scratch, claw, and go to any lengths to keep my cubs safe. This is the adrenaline rush of lifting a car off a baby to the hundredth power. Ain’t nothing coming between me and my babies.

When I was dating The Surfer, we unsurprisingly took a lot of beach vacations. In places where the water was warm and his home-town posse was out of sight, he sometimes deigned to show me the ropes of surfing.

And here’s the thing about surfing. For everyone who imagines that the hard part is standing up on the board, that’s totally not it. The hard part is paddling out. Trust me. Picture waves coming at you. And when you reach out your arm to paddle on the right side, the board is all topply and you almost fall off, so you have to take a quick paddle on the left to balance. Just as you think you’re getting the swing of it a huge wave comes and slaps you in the face and pushes you back towards the shore.

Oh, and I did I mention you also get wax caked on your bikini? Not fun.

But anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, we found some little cove where there were good size waves for Beginner Me. And no huge Samoan dudes laying claim to the surf. (There’s an intense home-boy territoriality about waves I’d never known about.) It was the perfect spot for a little lesson.

When we eventually came out of the water The Surfer was loading the boards on our rental car, and some local guy came up to us. “You guys shouldn’t swim here you know,” he said (though it was probably in some more dude-ish surfer vernacular). He went on to tell us that there had been a bunch of shark sightings in that cove. I guess there were some signs posted around the beach that we’d managed to not see.

No WONDER the beach was deserted! D’oh!

After hearing this I got the full-body willies. Like, as if someone dumped a handful of centipedes down my shirt. Sure, I was safe on the shore at that point, but it didn’t take away the thought that a couple sharks mighta been cruising around just feet away, lickin’ their chops at the delicious sight of us.

Hey Gordon, there are a lot of scary things and people out in the world. It’s lucky for us we’ve managed to dodge them.

Even so, what say we make a pinky pact, you and me? No more swimming with sharks.

Happy Valentine’s Day, sweetie. Your auntie loves you more than you’ll ever know.

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Hit the Road, Angel of Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eddie will be sorely missed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note: This did not make me feel better.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take that, Angel of Death.

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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.


Dear Mom

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Firsts, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 19 Comments »

Dear Mom:

So Kate started Kindergarten last week, and Paigey started preschool yesterday. And I’m dying to talk to you about it. Damn it.

Anyway, maybe through the Cyberspheric Alternate Plane Afterlife Postal System (CAPAPS), this letter will make it to you, wherever you are.

Not to be harsh, but the truth is that with you gone for more than five years, I’ve gotten used to having birthdays, Mother’s Days—even Christmases—without you. A sad fact.

It’s not that I don’t miss you. It’s not at ALL that. I’ve just kinda gotten used to you not being here. Resigned myself to the fact that you never met my girls.

But then one morning last week Mark and I were standing on a playground watching Kate line up with her new classmates, her sparkle-heart backpack nearly the size of her, and I was struck with such a cutting pang of Mamaness. My own Mamaness.

My little baby Kate was suddenly such a big kid. Which made me such a grown-up Mom. Which, in turn, made me want my mommy.

Mark and I were all teary as Kate-o trooped in with her class. She, of course, was smug and confident. Locked and loaded. Ready. She didn’t look back at us once.

Afterward I was trying to think of what it was that made me well up, because in the steel-willed way I no doubt got from you, I’ve always secretly looked down on the preschool parking lot criers. The weak women who can’t deal with their kid going off to school.

Butch up, ladies! Kids grow up. And school is fun.

The closest I got in my emotional deconstruction was the realization that my teariness came from being proud of Kate. How confident and funny and creative and wild and sassy she is. And sure, how much I love her.

But I give myself little credit for her dazzling Kate-ness. It’s like these kids are born and are already, well, who they are going to be. Did you think that? I mean, you had twice the daughters I do, so your sampling is far more scientifically valid than mine.

Anyway, Kate’s been LOVING her school. She’s all algow about it. She sometimes shares parts of her day, but a lot of it she seems to guard as this special thing that she just wants to ruminate on and enjoy herself. (Which obstructs my obsessive smother-mother tendency to want to know. Every. Single. Detail.)

But God, I was kind of a basket case in kindergarten, right? I remember crying and crying for you, and all the other kids were totally chill and happy to be there. Not to make excuses, but I think it sucked knowing that you were right across the street. All the kids who lived further away didn’t have the ease I did of imagining themselves back home with their mamas. From the playground I could sometimes even see you outside gardening.

How long DID I keep up the tears?

As I sit here now, on my sunny porch (on a white wicker chair you’d totally approve of), I’m bracing myself for becoming The Parking Lot Crier next week when Paige’s preschool really kicks in. Yesterday and today they required that one parent stay with their kid. We all took staggered breaks away (I’m on one now) so the teachers could see which kids really crater.

I’m kinda doubting whether it makes sense to have Paige in preschool now. Makes sense for me, that is. I mean, she’s my dumpling! She’s my sidekick. She really IS my baby. And aside from the ghastliness of missing her, with her not home I really should be doing something useful with my time. Like weaving our clothes, or spackling the tub, or assembling photo albums for each child starting with their conceptions. Or hey—here’s an idea—making some money!

Right now I could list three-hundred reasons why Paige should wait another year for preschool. But I know she is ready and happy and will love it. And I can’t let my own shit—sorry, issues—get in the way of her good time.

YOU were always so good about not letting your emotions interfere with what we did. You led the Dry-Eyed Mom Brigade at school drop-offs. You didn’t flinch when I went  to college 14 hours away (12 hours if speeding). And I was the last kid to leave the nest. You never guilted me about coming home when I’d get the chance to be adopted by rich friend’s families for fabulous vacations.

So what I’d really like to know now is, was it that you were really cool with it all? Was the stiff upper lip no act? Or were you just the dutiful Mama bird, nudging me out of the nest ’cause otherwise I’d never fly?

If you could please send me some sort of sign to indicate the answers to these questions, I’d really appreciate it.

Anyway, as we pulled up in front of the house yesterday, after Day 1 of preschool, Paige announced, “Me no need you, Mama. Me big girl now.”

Did you hear me wail from whatever cloud it is you live on these days? Did you hear my car nearly take out the front shrubs as I tearily tried to park? Did you hear me walk around to Paige’s car seat and say, “Now YOU hear ME, Missy. I’m 43 years old and I still need my Mama!”?

Then I sat down on the curb and cried.

Anyway, if you could ever swing by for a visit, I’ve already planned out the day we’ll have. It just consists of us sitting around my house, drinking tea, and watching Kate and Paige play. And me asking you every two minutes, “Aren’t they great? Aren’t they so cute? Aren’t they just the best?”

I might also have you tackle some tough clothing stains I’ve been wrangling with. So don’t wear anything fancy.

Love you, Mama.