Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Ethan Allen Houses

Six pairs of gnome eyes stare at me from my desk…the gnomes are refugees from daughter’s room as we tear apart walls and paint. They mix well with the silk screened poster of a horse in vibrant primary colors (a gift for my daughter on her birth), the Native American “courage” fetish (my sister gave me that when I started a new job so many years ago), the big pink H (brought back by The Beast and the Husband from their visit to the Sesame Street backstage over a decade ago) and the cup from Lithographers’ Union (scored at Housing Works Thrift Shop in NYC). These tokens of my past and present are mixed in with my old philosophy books, poetry collections and theater of the absurd books that my father passed down to me. This is one small corner of our house. But everything in our house is a memory and also a reflection of who we are…who we were…who we want to be.

Like my childhood home, we live in a busy, messy house which constantly annoys The Husband. We do not live in an Ethan Allen Showroom House. Sometimes when I pick up The Beast from a random birthday party at a McMansion development and I am forced to enter these showroom style homes. Here, where every bit of personality has been scrubbed from living spaces, I desperately search for information about the parents. I look for books, travel souvenirs, hobbies, interests, yet there is nothing to help me.

Walking past the matching wing chairs that flank the seemingly never used fireplace and into the perfect kitchen which makes me clandestinely look for Alice from the Brady Bunch—I wait for The Beast to collect her things from the basement “family room” after a sleep-over. I smile at the flawlessly coiffed mom in leisure attire. She is holding a small dog that is so perfectly groomed he looks like a plush toy come to life. I think—drugs would make this experience truly enjoyable or, maybe, scarier. I wait for the commercial to start, because for a second I think I am transported to a commercial for a cleaning product when suddenly I remember—“oh that is right—this IS reality. “ I continue to search for clues about who these people are or what they do or what they are interested in…a photo of a vacation, a memento of an event, signs of interest in cooking, music, art so I can strike up a conversation….but there is nothing but clean. I finally sink back into the alternate commercial reality and I know my lines…“How do you keep the white rug by the fire place so clean?”

Sometimes when life is surreal—you just have to go with the flow and wait patiently until the commercial ends.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

How Not To Be Scared

Laughing and screaming through the summer storm, as thunder rumbles around us and rain starts to pelt us, we tumble toward to our red VW microbus. A mass of rubber boots, rain ponchos, shorts and tan little bodies all pile into the side door of the bus. Before anyone is in their seat….or for that matter…before even the door is closed…we are traveling to the front beach to better experience the storm moving over Cape Cod. This was my mother’s reaction to storms—“Let’s get closer so we can see it better and really feel the thunder in our chests!”

My grandmother, on the other hand, was home at the beach house hiding in a back bedroom with the curtains drawn and the lights out and jumping in fear with every thunder bolt or flash of lightening.

I asked my grandmother once, why was it that she was so scared of storms whereas her daughter loved them. She said that her mother was deathly afraid of storms and she passed that trait on to my grandmother when she was little.

My grandmother said she was determined not to do the same to my mother—she wanted my mother to be strong and fearless. My grandmother realized she would have to pretend not to be afraid of anything. So all through my mother’s childhood, my very fearful little grandmother would bravely sit quietly through storms, swim with my mother in the cold and rough Marblehead waves and keep her eyes open on scary amusement park rides.

My grandmother said with pride—“and see your mother is not afraid of anything. She won swimming championships, she traveled to NYC and started a new life by herself and now she runs toward the storms. That is what I always wanted for my daughter—to be brave and strong. “

So as I watch The Beast running towards her future with a wild abandon that excites and frightens me—I want to grasp her hand like when she was little crossing a busy street, but instead--I smile calmly. I take a deep breath and try my best to convince her I am not scared because I too want my daughter to brave and strong.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Please Call

I tell my child all the time--"It is not that I don’t trust you or that I feel you lack common sense…you just have no idea HOW incredibly morbid by imagination is—please call when you get to where you are going"

The Beast, unlike her mother, thinks the best of everyone. I am sure she has Beethoven’s 9th symphony cheerfully playing in the background of her psyche at all times, while I have the 5th symphony as the sound track of my life—that of death approaching me and all my loved ones…

At the subway turnstiles I steel myself …”I love you. Remember to stop and think if you are unsure. Never be too polite to tell some creepy guy “NO!” and I mean LOUD. Remember “NO!”…no other word is needed—everyone knows what it means and people will help….but you will be fine. I will be the one to worry—remember…PLEASE CALL WHEN YOU GET THERE.”

She takes her Metro Card out and like a pro slides it through the turnstile and turns briefly to me with a smile to tell me to be brave. She is off—without a concern. She knows where she is going—she has the inspirational Ode To Joy theme song playing in her head as she bounces down the subway stairs and off to SoHo and her new life as a teen writer.

It is so hard to let go—and to balance my clawing fear against the knowledge that independence is something to be encouraged—hanging with city kids in niche bookstores, eating exotic food from hipster food trucks, daydreaming in cool designer boutiques….

It is the beginning of an adult life, of life that is widening beyond…sniff…us

She arrived back at my office after her solo subway travels. She had a glow of success radiating from her. The office IT guy comes up and says, “You know, city kids ride the subway all the time by themselves. It is not a big deal.”

She looked him up and down and said “No! It is a big deal for me and I am proud. You cannot take that away from me.”

Hearing the word NO—my co-worker Debbie, like all good New Yorkers, comes over to assist—“You tell him girl!” she cheered.

And that is what we give our kids when we let them go—we are giving them a confidence and a pride that no one can take away from them.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Nice, JUST Nice

As we walked toward the adorable la Maison Rose in Paris that some famous artist had painted once and was now café for tourists like us—The Husband, The Beast and me, two older British ladies were walking out the door. One exclaimed in her loud, exacting English accent—“that was nice…JUST nice.” To which the still diminutive Beast, unable to control herself, automatically mimicked the condescending phrase with voice and pinched facial features to a T. Leave it to the British to travel around the world and make judgmental pronouncements STILL and even about food.

The phrase “ That was nice…JUST nice.” Has become a family favorite insult.
And I bring this up now…because as The Child and I were biking down to the beach she said in all seriousness—“It is nice hanging out with you, but I would like to have a friend come up.” I looked at her and I said: “I am nice...JUST nice?? She smiled—her teenage smile and said…” Well…”
I have known for a while that the mommy and me days were numbered, but I thought, here, at our little family beach house that time might be frozen—but apparently time stops for no one, anywhere…

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Life is an Open Book Test

“You are not going to know everything when you walk in the door. No one does. Remember that” I tell The Beast as I check to make sure she has the map I printed out for her and the voluminous list of cellphone numbers of everyone in the city she may need to contact in case I am abducted by aliens.

It has been a week of new experiences, really new experiences, for The Beast. She has gone from going to a little camp in the middle of nowhere Pennsylvania with a bunch of nice, crunchy Quaker kids to a competitive writing workshop at the center of the world and intellectually sparing with kids who are older and come from backgrounds that are far different than the comfortable middle class suburban kids she is used to.

“If you are unsure of something—ask.” I tell the child as I tuck an emergency $20 in her pocket.

I guess like everyone--It is just before an event that I always have my greatest doubts. “ Is this too much for her? What if she hates it and hates me?” I think as I put extra money on her Metrocard.

She comes back to me in the lobby of the building. “ I am scared...everyone will be older than I am. “

“You will be fine. You will have a great time. I promise. Just remember to ask questions.” I said making sure she had tissues in her bag.

I met The Beast at the Starbucks a few blocks away 5 hours later. I had my sister by my side for moral support in case there were tears. But The Beast was bubbling over with the energy of a new found passion. She loved it. She loved the other kids, she loved the writing, she loved the “literary excursion” to a gallery and she loved the teachers.

Yes—she said that she felt like the young country bumpkin from upstate NY, but they accepted her. She said she had questions and she got answers. She looked and sounded grown-up. It was heartbreaking for me.

We walk down the bustling, beautiful streets of SoHo toward the subway and I breathe a sigh of relief. It is true what a teacher told me once—life is an open book test—you just need to be brave and ask the questions to get the answers.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Creating Worlds

I sit in this modern, loft-style office with high ceilings and open offices down in SoHo and I strain to hear my daughter as she chats and laughs in the conference room down the hall of this prestigious writers’ organization. She is talking about writing—her writing... She has been writing for years and like the bad mother that I am, I did nothing to really encourage it… until this year. I PUSHED her to apply to a writing program.

Many years ago before she even learned to write the Beast created little worlds hidden on windowsills behind curtains or tucked away in bookshelves. Pulling open a drawer one would come across a carefully thought out scene of Polly Pockets in the middle of some magical event. When she did learn to write I would find little scraps of stories or character descriptions like bits of worlds that were floating around in her mind looking for a home in one of her stories.

Here, The Beast is in her element—talking to other writers—there is an excitement in her voice I have not heard before. The woman who runs the workshop comes to me and says that The Beast is young for the workshop but very socially aware (thank you NPR, the News Hour and mostly Jon Stewart) and mature, they will try to squeeze her in. I tell them—she is an old soul…she has a warmth that can only add to this workshop for high school students. And it is true, The Beast, unlike her mother, is not just thoughtful, but also kind.

The e-mail comes a few weeks later. They feel that The Beast will be a bridge for the other kids in the workshop. She will be the one to bring the group together. First I tell The Husband with victor’s glee that the pushing The Child actually worked this time and then I gaze at my beautiful, smart and nice child and thank Fate for those recessive genes not evident in her parents—maturity and benevolence.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Trying and Failing

First using his fingers to create horns on his head, he then pantomimes swinging a devil tail and he then points at me—The Evil Mother.

I am not evil, but rather—not perfect. I feel imperfection is the hallmark of my parenting styling. The saintly mother, the knowledgeable mother, the good mother, the PERFECT mother just have too tough a job. Because mistakes will happen…miscalculations, misunderstandings….how can you survive with that type of pressure.

My theory is sometimes you try and succeed and sometimes you fail. If I never pushed, the child would still be clinging to the railing at the top of water slide rather than rushing on to the next Pirate’s Plunge waterslide with a giddy triumphant smile plastered on her 9 year old face.

Sometimes the pushing IS too much. I try not to take it personally when she pushes back because usually The Child is right.

So on this day I stand there patting my daughter’s back as she hugs me in angry exhaustion after being overwhelmed by a day that was far too packed with activities….activities that I thrust upon her.

The Beast cannot see her father’s one man show—that is only for my benefit. Because, really, what is marriage for— if not for deeply moving moments like these when you can truly relish your partner’s failure.

The Beast forgives her imperfect mother. I think that is what is key. To forgive the mistakes and realize the thought behind the action. Realizing the man’s thoughts—I reach out and swat at him and tell him to do something constructive like get tissues and make coffee

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Overwhelmed With Love

“It is all very surreal.” I told my doctor the day after The Beast was born. The Beast, swaddled in a baby blanket, lay tiny on my legs that were propped up slightly so I could examine her little alien features. I did not feel a deep maternal connection to this little being. I felt terror and exhaustion.

The doctor looked at me and she said, “I know.” She picked up the little alien and continued, “Let me tell you what happens.” She said in her doctor-patient mode voice, “ It all feels new and scary and this little baby goes home with you and you love her now, but in 2 weeks your love will double and every two weeks your love will double for her. And this is what is really surreal—there will come a time—at about six months when you feel you could not love another being more than you love this little creature and then it will happen—your love will double. It is really overwhelming and it does not stop. But you will get use to it—sort of” she said and handed back the little creature and told me to try to rest.

The Beast looked at me with her dark, dark unfocused eyes—I put the little Beast on my chest and relaxed into the sterile hospital bed. “I normally trust modern medicine,” I thought—“we will see…”as we both fell asleep.

The Beast still sometimes falls asleep leaning against my chest with my arms wrapped around her just like that first day. And what my doctor said turned out to be true. If I am not careful I am overwhelmed with love. It could be something so simple as seeing The Beast practice the piano or striding down the street toward us—suddenly it hits me-- like having the wind knocked out of me and I think: How is it possible to love anyone THIS much?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

It is NOT Family Day

“So…what are you doing for Mother’s Day?” Mr. Attorney inquired on our way home from the city after a RATHER long week.
“Nothing….absolutely nothing” I said with complete satisfaction.
There was a very slight pause and then the cross-examination began.
This is where I should mention that Mr. Attorney views my world, my upbringing, my relationships to my relatives, my hopes and aspirations as though he is Margaret Mead who has just stumbled upon some wild, completely undocumented tribe.
My nice nickname for Mr. Attorney is “20 Questions” because god forbid he is satisfied with just one answer. So the questions begin:

You are not seeing your mother-in-law?—No.
You are not seeing your sister or sister-in-law?—No.
Does your husband see his mother?—Yes.
Does your daughter see her grandmother?—Yes.
And you don’t go with them?—You’re a smart one!

And the questions continue—“Why? Why don’t you see the rest of your family on Mother’s Day? !!”
“It is not F-ing Family Day genius…it is MOTHER’S Day. If my mother were alive I would send her a card and call her and thank her for always being there for me, but she is not, so I don’t. I am the mother—I get the card and the flowers and the ability to do whatever I want on MY DAY. “

You would think this little declaration would definitively settle in Mr. Attorney’s mind what my position on Mother’s Day is…a day FOR ME…a mother.

“Don’t you appreciate your mother in law?” Mr. Attorney attempts to wriggle guilt into my perfectly blissful day.

“I think over the years of traveling together we have clearly established that I am from Venus and you are from Uranus and we will never see eye to eye on anything. Why must you rain on my happiness? I know what you are trying to do, but PLEASE don’t even attempt the Jewish guilt on me—I am an atheist by way of Episcopalian—the ONLY guilt we feel is for not using the correct fork during a meal.”

His little bespectacled face crumples in thought as I pull up to his old Buick parked in the commuter parking lot in the small old-fashioned downtown. “Isn’t that a beautiful car?” He says. He knows my answer because he knows me…

I throw him a bone, because I don’t want start a fight on design and safety of cars at the end of our commute. “It’s you.” I tell him. “Have a good Family Day!” I call out to him as I drive off to luxuriate in MY Mother’s Day Weekend sans family.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Men With Candy

“Are you talking about The Creepers” she said in an off-handed way that suggested this was all old news to her.

We all know them. Something a little off or, as my sister used to say, “charm oozing from every pore.” At my age I need only scan a room once to tell exactly who The Creepers are. Sometimes The Creepers are friends of the family or relatives who have married into the family. I can still remember my mother warning us—“girls, uncle Bob is nice, but a little icky—so decline any invitation to sit on his lap. “

Sometimes Creepers are friends of friends—Ms. Filmmaker and I were reminiscing the other day about the parties my parents’ friend used to throw. They were full of artists from the city, wine flowing freely, dishes of flaming French concoctions and, of course, Andre—a little French Creeper.

Andre had spotted us—young and pretty, and of course, Ms. Filmmaker had her newly acquired big boobs. He introduced himself with his French accent clearly annunciated. He stood just a little too close…granted he was European and they do stand closer than Americans, but something was definitely predatory. The host of the party seeing Andre staring intently at The Boobs wandered over and said to us. “Hello girls! How are you finding your FIRST year of high school? How old are you now? 14? In FOUR more years you will be 18 and adults. Imagine that FOUR MORE years.” He said looking pointedly at Andre. Andre excused himself to get a drink and never returned to complete our conversation on art and Paris.

Some of the Beast Friends still have the look of little girls, but more and more of the girls are looking like women—beautiful women who do not know how beautiful they are. This innocent beauty draws Creepers like flies to honey.

I see the man on the bench outside the library of our little downtown as the Beast and her Friends stride away from me with their new found freedom of teenage-hood. And I see the man…The Man With Candy—his face lights up as he stalks with his eyes the glossy bouncing hair, the big boobs, the long legs, the happy chatter. A salacious smile spreads across his face—“Hello girls!” he says. The girls look at one another and laugh and keep on walking--Ms. Church Lady’s daughter’s, The Bulldozer, says in stage whisper—“ That’s weird—he is like my grandfather’s age.” Thank god for The Bulldozer and The Beast’s band of women warriors—smart and strong and confident.

Ms. Filmmaker and I were just beginning to learn about the world full of Creepers at 14. The Sharks, The Icky Types, The Play on Your Sympathy Jerks---there are a number of varieties, but they are all just Men with Candy….waiting, hoping, seeking an unguarded moment when they can sleaze their way into your life. I talk to The Beast about Men with Candy, to be on the lookout for them and not to be fooled into a bad situation because they play on your sympathy or your need to feel older. Her eyes glaze over—“I know what I am doing.” She says.

“I know, I know beautiful girl that you are smart and thoughtful, but humor me and listen. “ She is a good girl—so she did listen and I hope my voice will be in her head when the high school dropout ten years her senior attempts a pick-up line on her or an older artist suggests going to his loft to see his etchings…

Always be aware of Men with Candy.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What We Hope For & What We Dread

None of them look back.

We are there on the balcony of the departure area of JFK at 6 a.m. on a Sunday morning watching our children rush happily towards their gate for international flights below. We, a tired crew of parents, stand there scanning the group of kids for any sign of slight hesitation…any hint of fear, of home sickness, of missing us, but of course, there is none of that. Not even a look back or a wave.

This is what we strive for— brave, bold children who are unafraid of the world. Yet the look on the parents’ faces is not satisfaction for a job well done, but heartbreak. It all really does go so quickly from the tearful pre-school drop off to the sudden interest in international travel…without us.

I look over at a dad—barely holding it together. “She is just like her older sister—she never looked back. But there is something about the baby leaving…it is harder…” his sentence trailed off. I look to The Man, hoping he would have something comforting to say, but I could tell…he was close to the edge too.

“Buck-up” I finally said, “It is not college. They will be home in 9 days, go home, go hug your dog.”

And that is what we do— we go back home, pet the cats and wait.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Harem

I peer in the large window next to the front door as I wait for someone to answer the door bell. It looks like a harem scene from some Technicolor movie set in ancient Bagdad not a girls’ sleep-over party. Young females in brightly colored loose pajama pants and tight little tee shirts lounging around on couches and rugs while one girl plays the guitar. Their eyes highly painted, their toenails vibrant with nail polish…I see The Beast skipping in with her mane of black curly hair and ancient Egyptian eye makeup—all smiles with an armful of board games.

These early teenage years are full of odd contrasts. There is something so utterly gorgeous about these girls that it just takes your breath away and at the same time they seem to totally lack awareness of this beauty. This is what I find both comforting and scary.

I am standing outside the house because although normally I am cautious, sometimes I forget. An hour ago I dropped The Beast off at this sleep-over party house and drove away. Although not an old friend of the Beast, the girl host seems like a smart, confident child and The Man and I had gone to high school with her mother.

BUT…I heard the girl had a slightly older brother…and what exactly did the parents do? The last time I saw the parents they were at a Halloween Party… dressed a little oddly and I assumed they were in custom for the holiday. Yet, in this artsy-fartsy town, you should really never assume that type of thing. It was actually the older brother factor that was nagging at me…that and the fact that I had not seen parents at the drop off. I did, however, see a dog.

“The dog is my friend.” I thought---he is a means to get back into the house. I call The Beast on her cellphone—“You forgot allergy medicine and they have dog. I am going to drop some off.” I said nonchalantly so as not to tip her off to my real purpose for returning to the house—to spy.

Waiting for the door to open I take in everything like a film noir detective—nice house—older house and not too big, Toyotas in the driveway not BMWs or Audis, bookshelves full of books in the living room and then the best thing I see—the mother coming to answer the door.

What can I say—I am not perfect, but I am persistent.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Freshman Orientation

“I swear to god if you make this meeting a second longer than it has to be by raising your hand, I WILL slap you.” I whisper at Ms. Music Teacher. This is where it gets ugly and a husband has to intervene. Ultimately I win this battle, but only to lose the war because there is a woman with even more esoteric questions sitting just outside my slap zone.

This was parents’ orientation to the high school set in the high schools’ uninspired lunch room.

I am listening to a seemingly endless presentation as I sit with the supermoms. Ms. Music Teacher, decides she wants to ask a question. It is not that I am against questions, but really, why not use a phone or e-mail. “ Let’s be honest—HOW many people have a kid in orchestrate AND band and who also want to sing in the choir—stick a cork in it Ms. Mozart. It is not like you are going to get class participation points.” I tell her in my own sensitive way.
“No…I really feel it is an important question and there may be other parents who have the same question and are afraid to ask.” she insists.

“You should be afraid” I threaten.

Thanks to The Beast and her non-clique personal philosophy—I am familiar with a number of the moms— the artsy, work from home type moms who are writing books or jetting off to photograph a dying population of pray rug weavers in the Himalayas. And also the super moms who are my favorite clique to hang with. They are busy, focused on their careers. I am, of course, not a supermom, but these are my people. These are people who work on the major scientific problems of the day and still have time to remind me to sign The Beast up for kindergarten. These are people who can get 400 kids under the age of ten to sing in-tune and still volunteer, these are people who run Brownie troops and then jet off to Japan for business. And it is not JUST the moms—these are women who managed to balance the art of having a career AND a life. They organize their lives for maximum satisfaction and they get their husbands on board faster than a conductor on a German train.

And these are the moms who ask the questions…lots of questions and I just have to deal with it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Facebook--the good, the bad and the Noble.

I like to occasionally scan the Facebook pages of The Beast and her cousins for signs of deviant behavior…not that I REALLY want to know, it is sort of like a roadside accident—you are drawn into the horror of teenage-hood and you pray that your kids are crawling out alive and not too damaged.

There are, of course, the references to piercings, the possible tattoos, the eventual squabble over girlfriends, boyfriends, and even just the regular sibling bickering between the cousins since they are all only children. However, one incident left me begging to be unfriended.

A girlfriend issue with the eldest country cousin got his small town buddies into a tizzy of name calling. The city-cousin, younger, but more sophisticated than most of us will ever be, stepped in and verbally bitch-slapped those country bumpkins while distancing herself from the country cousin’s stupidity.

Sometimes the city cousin’s parents worry about her because she acts years beyond her age, but she bright, beautiful and has a deep sense of integrity and a personal bravery that is so hard to find.

Once you look beyond the nose piercing, the possible tattoo, the bravado of youth, the fairy princess is there sticking up for her dopey older
cousin…what more could you want from a child who is still wonders how she managed to end up with mere mortals as parents.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lingering Misogyny

“What the fuck is wrong with you?!!” I said…in the nicest way possible to Mr. Attorney on our way home from the city on a Friday afternoon. “Why would you even mention that Lara Logan was a former swimsuit model and had a child with a married man, not her husband?”
Mr. Attorney, although he often tries to push my buttons for sport, seemed genuinely confused. He had that hurt puppy dog look followed by a Scooby Doo turning of the head dopey reaction.
“I was just giving background information” he said recovering from the mental deficient look that had crept on to his face after being accused of misogyny.
“Really? Really? Like if a man had had a similar experience of being gang raped by bunch of men on the street—you would mention: ‘Well….he had been voted handsomest male in his class year book… had been listed as one of the sexiest men alive by People magazine.’ Would YOU?! Would you?! Let me tell you. NO you would have NOT mentioned such shit because he was a man. But with a woman you perpetuate this fucking misogyny. What is wrong with you?!!”

Let me be clear—Mr. Attorney is not a misogynist, but he definitely still has the general mindset that remains in America and elsewhere that places women in a different category, a lower category, than men. For some reason the fact that Lara Logan is sexy lessens everything about her. Her intellect, her bravery as a reporter going into war torn countries, her grace under fire are not mention but rather that she is sexy.

Perhaps my reaction was too strong, but being the mom of a now young woman—I have no patience for this type of lingering misogyny that is so prevalent it goes by unnoticed. So remember—if you hear this type of crap—confront it. Don’t let it continue.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Professional Parenting

Stories from the Trenches

I am waiting for the Beast’s fencing class to end. I am trying to read my New York Times in the little café area outside the fencing room. But there is a constant chatter, no banter, no…no…the more I listen—I realize it is the retelling of war stories—MOM war stories. I pull my attention away from the art and culture section that I have been craving like a like a crystal meth addict all day and look up at my distractions.

There they are-- two moms, professional parents—you know the type—one-upping one another with tales of their difficult lives: one child was on a traveling sport team, while the other was in a gifted program on Saturdays at a local college. There was more…a lot more…boy scouts, school team sports, volunteer service, bar mitzvah preparations….they barely had time to chauffeur them from one activity to the next. The lists were getting longer and longer. They both had two children.

After that first night at home with the baby Beast—we were pretty sure we were single kid sort of parents—so I bow out of these busy mommy competitions on lack of team members alone.

I always try to avoid the martyr mommy syndrome---I first encountered this ailment shortly after The Beast’s birth. Many mommy martyrs start with birth stories and I have heard a ton of these tales doing playground duty those first few years of parenthood …the many hours of labor, being stitched up after the gargantuan baby finally arrives…all NATURAL…naturally.

I, of course, never one for pain or personal suffering of any kind— was screaming “DRUGS!” from the get go, promptly followed by “knock me out and get it out.” Because REALLY—what is modern medicine for?

The mothers notice I am looking up from my paper and then invite me into their Homeric story telling session with an encouraging question. “Oh but it must be so difficult with a girl—right?” They say pulling me forward into their web of saintly motherhood. I am tempted, but as I think—I come up blank. I enjoy The Beast, I am charmed by her friends and for the most part, they are pretty independent and have always been so. “well…I start—she wears A LOT of eye makeup….And” I say fishing in my memories for something—“She was a little snippy with me the other day when I tried to get her out of bed for school….”

The mothers waited with encouraging smiles—but I just couldn’t do it. Life is good. We do stuff, but fun stuff. I sometimes end-up sitting in places like this one, but I view it as an opportunity to A) read my New York Times or B) Get a Blog post. Their smiles fade and they turn back to their Blackberries to check their schedules.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Marriage--You Have to WORK at It!

I was telling a happily, single, older woman, co-worker about what I had done for Valentine’s Day with my husband which was not much because…REALLY everyone knows it is one of those holidays that is just there to make everyone feel like losers—like New Year’s Eve. Millions of desperate people looking for the one good time on that one night of the year. You can cut the angst with a knife. The same goes for Valentine’s Day.

The older woman said to me in a serious voice: “ you know…with marriage—You really have to WORK at it.” I looked at her for a split second before we both dissolved into a school girl giggles. This is when she pulled up the study on happiness and marriage. Apparently single women are the happiest, followed by married men, then single men and then married women. “ Interesting” I said. I normally question studies because I am like that—annoying. But this one seemed to ring true in my gut.

There is an inordinately large body of work designed to tell women how to make men happy….from marriage books, to so called women’s magazines which are all about how to please your man—what to cook for him, how to dress for him, what to do in bed…for him. I, of course, blame THE MEDIA for selling this mind set and women for buying this huge load of crap. Not that I am an expert, but you don’t see magazines for men on how to treat women well. Do you?

I have been around the block…so to speak and I can guarantee you—men are pretty happy furry creatures to begin with. They don’t need a lot of care and feeding—they just want you to stop asking them if your butt looks big—because then they have to think. My advice, not that anyone asked, is to have fun—men will come along for the ride. No instructions needed.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

She's Back....

The Beast is back!

Just when I thought I could breathe easy and talk about my parental angst about things like:

1) Should I attempt to talk about contraceptives one more time or will it turn her into a nun due to the grossness factor, or perhaps, will it make her more intrigued about the whole process?

2) Is it okay to go to high school parent orientation either with a travel cup full of wine or down a glass ahead of time? The only reason why I ask is that I feel I would have had a much better time at those seemly endless kindergarten orientations if I had brought a bottle of wine for all us nervous moms.

And there are many more issues I want to discuss, but alas…I must go to that high school orientation.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mismatched Dishes and Other Signs of True Love

He has an easy cat-like walk— unhurried, gracefully and strong. His face with its large dark, dark eyes competing for attention with full beautiful lips—it is a face that I will always love to look at.

We met in high school, but never connected. 20 years later we did and 9 months later we decided to have a baby and 9 months after that—the Beast was born.

I was, at first, reluctant. Our styles did not match. He loved the country, having a house, driving cars. I loved the city, the energy, the people and taking cabs. I tried to explain—it seemed so clear to me. Our first date alone was enough to illuminate our differences: I was wearing a small black Betsy Johnson dress—he, shorts with hiking boots. But he was so sexy—a summer romance seemed like a good idea.

But, of course, things snowballed… I tried to stop it, but he promised me that mismatched dishes are not something to break-up over. And it was a true to credit to my former therapist and my slowly evolving maturity that I took our mismatched dishes, not as a sign of a doomed destiny, but rather as true love.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I think the Beast has forgotten about my blog. Be very quiet. She has gone off to plan her birthday party or bake Valentines day treats for friends or research European vacations for us....I don't know what she is REALLY up to. I think she might be a spy from the former Soviet Union. Children become so secretive and scary when they turn teenagers.
She just better not be in an outfit like this.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Mountains of Flesh

I feel myself sinking into my normal winter sloth…a hibernation really. The only thing I want to eat is pasta. Red wine is my only other desire. I don’t know why I obsess about my weight in the winter when the my body is swathed in layers of cloth rather than during the warm months when there is far more flesh exposed…I think it is all those New Year’s Resolutions

My normal passion of walking in the city is stymied by unforgiving weather. I, instead, am reduced to wandering the hallways of the university like some forlorn and chubby ghost.

I attempt to pull myself out of these winter doldrums by taking out my barely used yoga mat and exercise DVD and following instructions of some overly perky woman with tiny, bizarrely rippling, stomach muscles. Together we bounce through seemingly pointless exercises….SEEMINGLY until the following morning when I realize exactly where all those little tiny muscles are on MY stomach.

This mind-numbing torture goes on for several days until the morning I wake up late and the following morning when I realize I would really rather have another cup of coffee than an earful of “1, 2, 3, 4—inhale, exhale…GOOD JOB. “

This is my downfall…because once I miss a few days—really—what’s the point of continuing during the week—I can make the rest up during weekend when I will have PLENTLY of time…of course on the weekend—the couch beckons like an old boyfriend I know is no good for me. And I fall and the cats and The Beast fall with me. We all lie on the couch like bears in the den—waiting and weighting for the winter to end.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Tiger Mom--Stop and Smell the Bacteria

We heard him coming. Footsteps pounding down two flights of old wood stairs in our ancient house. He pushed passed everyone lingering in the kitchen…which of course was EVERYONE because it was a late Saturday afternoon and we were hanging by the fireplace in the dining part of the kitchen and watching my mother mangle some poor large piece of meat for dinner. The oven was on and my brother flew by my mother and tossed a test tube into the oven and slammed the door. There was complete silence. “Potentially Dangerous Bacteria” announced my brother calmly as he strode back upstairs to his lab…I mean bedroom.

“See! See! He is going to kill us ALL. He is going to kill the whole town!” my other brother shouted. “ No one believes me.”

Granted…the boys had the third floor of the house and no one EVER went up there. One brother was a WWII naval buff and had, if not the largest, close to the largest, collections of model battle ships. The other brother was the mad scientist with his own models of genes, skulls, human organs and of course the microscope and test tubes etc.

My sister normally tucked in her “squirrel room” with slanted ceilings, odd corners, mountains of books and an electric typewriter humming wandered in to agree. “Did you see the dead frog he had pinned to the cutting board last week that he was dissecting and now Mum is using the same board for the roast beef as though nothing happened.” My father looked up from the Foxfire book he was reading with quizzical amusement and took another sip of coffee, as my mother, never one to be concerned about germs, waved away the apprehensions—“For heaven’s sake—I washed the cutting board—it is perfectly fine. “

Hernan (my Peruvian friend) and I sat by the fireplace with a mound of clay-like mud we had pulled from a neighbor’s ditch attempting to make pottery bowls. Inspired by My Side of the Mountain, we made flimsy shelters from small tree limbs and kite string all over the in the woods near our house and now were attempting to furnish our rustic homes….the old fashioned way.

No one in our family had time to study long hours or practice instruments way into the night. We had agendas of own. We ALL had a agendas—my mother and father included and being a private tutor to four kids who were smart enough as-is was not on the list.

What I find odd about the Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom—everyone seems to SO WORRIED about the kids…my concern is with the mother. For heaven’s sake, to quote my mother, does the woman not have anything better to do than torment her children? I am sure the children will be fine, but doesn’t poor Amy have any friends to go out with? Model ships to build? Amateur experiments with potentially dangerous bacteria? Another book to write?

Enjoy your kids and your life. Life does not have to be one long struggle. Sit back and smell the bacteria, enjoy the failed pottery attempts, absurd obsessions with models and relax.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Piano Teacher

“Do you know how to play?” the silver haired woman asked the little girl who was sitting on the piano bench.

Just as I was saying “no, “

The Beast piped up: “YES!”

“Wonderful—could you play me something?” asked the piano teacher as she relaxed with smile to hear the performance.

The diminutive Beast composed herself and dove into a dramatic piece of music bursting with emotion. Five minutes later the final notes where softly played and the child slowly looked up in triumph at her audience—the music teacher and me.

“That was beautiful.” Said the teacher, “Was it your own composition?”

“No.” said the Beast, “I made it up.”

This was the Beast first piano lesson so many years ago---I was sitting there thinking…because I am not the nicest person—“this is sort of an expensive play-date with the nice lady” UNTIL the piano teacher launched into an engaging lesson about what a composition is and what notes are… The two of them chatted away and tapped out notes on the piano for a half hour. I have never learned so much in my life….the child also had a good time.

As I sit here now—I hear The Beast working on a song that she wanted to modify. The piano teacher helped her explore the process of arranging a piece of music. This piano teacher is a rare find. She has infused the child with a love of music which I feel is a gift that will always be with her. And the Beast is not alone—every child who enters the teacher’s house is eager to come and excited. I think the excitement is because the teacher listens and teaches to the children—she starts with their interests and builds on it. If only we could all have the ability to pass on passion for what we love to others. Like morning coffee.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Designer Children

JGH over at Nyack Backyard wrote a piece recently on the new documentary, Race to Nowhere, and it got me thinking about the driven moms in our little town who feel the need to design their off-spring’s future…map it out and drag them along the path to success.

When I first met Ms. Super Care Mom she told me how to DO IT. “What I have is a file…it is really very simple. Every time Princess Perfect volunteers, is mentioned in the newspaper, joins a club, gets an award or performs in a play—I put it in the file and the whole file is handed into the guidance counselor at the end of the year to become part of her school dossier.

“That is amazing.” I said to the beaming mother. But I was thinking “Amazing the guidance counselor has not gone off the deep end dealing with these parents—she probably either has the patience of Job or is just circular filing this C.V. of teenage brilliance.

Ms. Super Care Mom knows all the tricks to push and pull your kid to the top of the heap and they are all based on good child psychology and strong-arming the school system administrators and teachers. It works and you can do it too, but do you want your child on the top of that heap?

The Man and I were raised in oddly similar laissez faire homes-- packed full of kids with parents who were more artistic than focused. We were fed, clothed and loved and then set loose on the world. There was not a lot of individual attention to FORMAL achievements, but rather constant encouragement to try new things…break rules... be independent.

The Beast and her close friends are, for the most part, unfettered by the chains of an over-scheduled life. Yet, they are busy. They make their own busy—they plan, they build, they create. Our mantra to The Beast has always been— “Try it, you may like it….broaden your horizons” And she does.

God help us when it comes time to do college essays—I am sure the child will decide to film some social media driven event or create street art in response to unseen poverty or whatever passion she is into at the moment rather than write the standard college brag essay.

But that is her and this is a new world.

We are no longer in the 1950’s—what is success today, will be not be tomorrow. As parents, we don’t know where our children's successes will lie, so we cannot give them detail directions how to get there. We can only give them the skills to navigate to find their way—to invent their own future and success.

To quote my favorite educator, Jean Piaget: "Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society . . . but for me and no one else, education means making creators. . . . You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists"

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Beast Blogs

I knew it was just a matter of time. The Beast has created her own teen daughter blog in response to my mom blog. So if you want the other side of the story check out Thoughts From a Wild Thing.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Getting to Know You...Getting to Know ALL About You....

The Beast, like her father, is social…very social. With every new school year I am thrown into a group of New Moms because of the child’s ever expanding social connections. Some moms I click with and others not so much. Some I think I would like, but then some horrible character flaw is revealed—like they don’t drink or are republicans.

“I just picked up a bottle of wine—would you like a glass?” Said the New Mom to me.

So far, so good—always wise to offer to another mom, regardless of event (this happened to be an evening birthday party pick-up) a glass of wine. Then she called out over her shoulder as she was getting the glasses “ I hate keeping wine in the house. I think it is dangerous.”

And I thought—“Freak! Guns are dangerous to have in the house—wine is a good thing.” Obviously this New Mom is taking the D.A.R.E. program to the Extremes.

But instead of being thoughtful and inquiring about AA issues in the home…I said: “That’s odd. I hate if we have less than the case of red wine in the cellar—just on the off chance there is another 9/11 event—we want to be prepared…wine is key, that and the 40 bags of Starbucks coffee.”

She stared at me as though to say—“You know--you are letting the terrorists win.” But instead…she just smiled.

The chic still drinks and has the social wherewithal to offer me wine—she has potential. Unlike the non-drinking, pseudo tea-party types who live in the McMansions down the street.

The Man tells me if I were more open-minded and less snarky—I would probably have more friends. I remind him—I would no longer be the woman he fell in love with: A bitter and sarcastic New Yorker.

I will let The Beast and The Man grow our social sphere.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Erotic Capital

We pulled our red VW microbus up behind the massive black Mercedes with diplomatic plates. It was one of those Technicolor memories from my childhood. The large circular driveway, the huge fountain with that abstract sculpture in the middle, the flags from every country waving in the warm breeze and the grand, glass, rectangle of United Nations in front of us…my sister, beside me, seething…of course.

We had gone into the city on this beautiful, sunny, spring morning (not sure why my sister was not in school—I was barely five) to have a girls day in the city. My mother could not find street parking near the UN where we planned to meet my father for lunch. Rather than go to a parking garage my mother convinced the guard at the entrance of the UN, through smiles and pleasantries, to allow us to park in the stately front entrance normally reserved for heads of state. My sister was mortified. I was…intrigued by this power my mother had over men.

My mother always had a certain style that appealed. Brought up by a single mother, but in the circle of the upper class of Boston families—she had an easy elegance, a common touch and a warmth that carried her through life with a grace and a charm. She had what I now know is erotic capital.

“You don’t hear women in the U.S. talking about Erotic Capital” said the head with the truly great golden blond die job (I would say it has at least three layers of highlights to create that hair color that is almost too perfect) as she looked down at me over her big boobs.
Ms. Older Woman Sexy is probably around my age, but sans child and husband. She takes time on her appearance—fingernails flawless, eye brows perfectly arched—she is sexy. She is also a lesbian, but that does not stop her from using that capital on everyone. It is an exciting skill which I never really thought about in formal terms, but we were discussing the dress style of the younger people in our group—all of whom are very stylish ….and nice…and smart…very sexy.

I, like my mother, use my erotic capital (mainly my very sexy phone voice)…which I define as the ability to connect with people, mainly men, on the more gut level. My sister, although always more attractive than I (and with the exact same voice), never wanted to developed the skill. She refused. Obviously still scarred by the United Nations experience.

Now that I am a mother—I wonder about this skill of wielding erotic capital. I am not sure how I feel about The Beast manipulating that power. There are debates…mainly among women. Does Erotic Capital help women? Does it hurt women? I am not sure—I look at Hugh Grant and Pierce Bronson and think—they have it and use it. It is combination of charm, connecting with people and humor…and of course that underlying sexuality.
“Why not?” I guess is the true question. Sexually will always be there Why Not use it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Secret

“Your life will become a WAR ZONE.” I tell the eager young man. Slowly the giddy smile fades from his face. “I know you don’t believe me now, but I just want to let you know—you will have extremes of emotions and although there are some exceptional highs there are more lows than you could ever think possible.”

“You will hate your wife. You will hate her with a deep-down pit of stomach burning passion….Just the look of her will disgust you. Of course…she will feel the exactly same way about you too, but MORE SO because she actually had to birth the little monster. Just a heads up…"I said lightly, "but don’t worry—it lifts after the first year and it is it intermingled with a great deal of unexplainable, transformational joy.”

“So…when your new baby arrives and thoughts of murder start to bubble up--just remember it is all perfectly normal and remember this conversation that you think is so bizarre right now.”

“I will expect a thank you card in about 2 years.” I tell him. He laughs. And I said—“I laughed too when our birthing class nurse told me I would want to throw the baby from the window…but lo and behold…as I was heading toward the window with that screaming beast 3 months later—I smiled instead of opening the window.”

This is why I always give alcohol to new parents.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

It's that Whole Work-Life Balance Thang

The Man vacuums around me as I recline on the couch. He actively clatters dishes in the sink. He pretends to be searching under MY couch for something that does not exist.

I am immunized to this type of behavior.

I have always felt housework was a complete waste of time unless company is coming or the health department may have reason to investigate.

He glares from his stance far above my couch. I lie there with pen in hand and my little notebook of New Year’s Resolutions and I happily read while I write:
“More Work-Life Balance”