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Two Elves…and a Mensch (Oy vey!)

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20141211_193835So just when I thought I might be able to retire my elves, my girls were gifted a Mensch on the Bench. (This is what happens when your Catholic children provide a detailed report of every elf move for two years to their Jewish grandma.) And so they tore into their first gift of the holiday season a couple of weeks ago to discover a little old Jewish man dressed for temple. Super excited for an early gift, although a bit dumbfounded, they exclaimed, “What is it? What does he do?” Grandma patiently explained that a Mensch is a “good guy,” someone people respect for his kindness and that this Mensch will keep watch over their menorah and make sure it burns bright.

My husband rolled his eyes and graciously tried to decline the gift. “That’s great, Ma. We will visit him next time we come over and the kids can see where you hid it…in your house.” I gave him the evil eye which he also politely ignored, and the girls continued their inquisition.

“The box says we have to move it which means we can touch it!” (Score one for the Mensch. I don’t have to move it. Woo Hoo!) “It says if we don’t move him, he will get sore,” my little one said perplexed. “What does that mean? Why will he get sore?”

“Well, he’s sitting on the bench all day long,” Grandma expertly explained. “His tuchus will hurt! You have to move him so he can stretch.” I saw the look of disgust roll across my husband’s face and giggled. Sitting on one strange old man’s lap and asking for gifts is bad enough. Now they needed to help another old guy stretch so his ass won’t ache. Two holidays in one month and nobody wants to keep it real.

“I wonder when our elves will come back,” the older one pondered. “Boy are they going to surprised when they meet our Mensch!”

Screwed. Screwed again. That is all I could think. I had hidden my elves so well last year that I had no idea where they were. When Thanksgiving came and went and then December 1 rolled by with no elf reappearance, my kids were actually accepting the notion that their elves might be needed on an important mission somewhere else. (Yes, because Christmas is not all about you!)  For a few days, I listened to my kids tell the Mensch all about the elves and then I accepted the fact that I had been thwarted yet again.  Heaven forbid the Mensch sit on his lonely old bench and guard our menorah without the company of two shiksa elves, so I dug them out and let the insanity take hold of our home once again.

It’s not that I hate the elves, it’s just that I am bad at the elves. I admit it is nice to wake up to my children’s squeals of joy when they discover the new elf spot, but I just can’t get my act together at night and I forget and then I forget again and again and again. It shouldn’t be that hard–my kids aren’t looking for anything complex; a simple move from here to there is enough for them which is good because that is all that they are going to get…if they are lucky. I often wonder how people have the energy or the interest to painstakingly place their elf on the toilet and float peppermint elf turds in bowl. I won’t get started on what kind of sick crap that is (pun intended), but I will admit that when I think of people doing this, I am both intrigued and irritated. Just wait until it falls in and your kid discovers his drowned elf.  Meanwhile, you have to fish out your new and improved pee-pee scented doll and the half melted peppermints at the bottom of the bowl. Really?  Clearly, elf antics do not bring out my Christmas spirit, and as someone who genuinely loves the holiday, I have to work hard to keep my personal priorities in joyful focus. If only I just could remember to move the damned elves!

In any event, my kids forget to move their Mensch regularly which makes me feel a little better. We can all be slackers together. Hopefully the Mensch won’t get a hemorrhoid before Hanukkah; sitting is hard business, you know.   Luckily for him, he and the elves have become fast friends and they take him along for the ride…Watch out, Santa, there’s a new Sugar Daddy in town and he knows how to keep those candles burning!

Hold on, Poppy Mensch.  We are gong for a ride!

Hold on, Poppy Mensch. We are gong for a ride!

I accept that this tradition makes my kids happy and I do my half-assed best. Luckily and in spite of his initial protests, my husband has been quietly moving the happy trio when I fail, although I did overhear him begrudgingly tell my daughter that if someone tries to gift her a pope-on-the rope or any other such nonsense next year, she is to politely decline.

Happy Christmakah, everyone! May all of your traditions–old and new–bring you joy!

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Who let out the Leprechauns?

My daughters are feverishly working to finish their leprechaun trap.  They brainstormed for the better part of this week, sketched out loose plans, and are now officially in construction. All the while, they giggle about leprechaun tricks and the mischief that might abound on St. Paddy’s eve if only they can snare one of those mythical creatures.   It’s all very cute and sweet but what I need to know is when did St. Patrick’s Day become a child’s holiday? The tooth fairy dropped by here just last night and the egg-bearing bunny is coming in two weeks–isn’t that enough magic?  Apparently not.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for magic;  I read the Harry Potter series.  But enough is enough!   If a leprechaun doesn’t leave green pee in my toilet or ransack my living room, I will apparently be a bad mother.   Who started this?  I want answers.

I can’t blame the Irish.  My maternal grandparents were from Ireland and I cannot recall an ounce of leprechaun jabber.  In my childhood, pots of gold and rainbows were always in the unattainable distance.  My only expectations of St. Paddy’s Day were that I  would wear green, possibly go to a local parade, and eat ham and cabbage at Nana’s house.  My grandfather would hum “Danny Boy” and other Irish tunes as he sipped his shot and drank his beer.   The holiday wasn’t much different from any other day spent at my grandparent’s house.  (And you read correctly.  Ham and cabbage.  Corned beef is an American thing.)

I highly doubt that Irish parents in Ireland are struggling to top the prior year’s pranks and mischief.   Nope.  The Emerald Isle is a land where a playdate can mean parking the strollers in the corner of the pub on Tuesday afternoon so the ladies can chat. I’m not making that up.  What can I say?  Some people have their priorities in gear.  Brilliant, really.   Clearly, leprechauns in Ireland know that their place is under the rainbow protecting their pot of gold.

There is only one possible conclusion:  this rapidly growing Leprechaun epidemic is America’s fault.   I should have known.  The Hallmarkian need to pervert every myth, lore, and tradition has declared war on good old-fashioned adult fun.   And since everyone’s Irish on St. Patrick’s Day, no one is safe from leprechaun mischief.  I know it’s cute and fun, and I’m all for fun, but I’m not all for extra work.  I’m tired.  I’m lazy.  If I tint my toilet water green and it stains the bowl, I might end up divorced. It’s too much pressure.  I want to drink beer and laugh with my friends and not worry about leprechauns (In all fairness, I’m more Irish than my kids are so don’t I win?) It makes no sense to mess my house, blame it on the leprechaun and then clean it up, does it?

Of course, I don’t make much sense and my house is already messy, so I suppose it’s not a huge stretch.  And I’m going to drink a beer and laugh with my friends no matter what. Ah, well…as Oscar Wilde says, “The best way to make children good is to make them happy.”  I don’t think he had any kids but whatever. Here’s to St. Patrick’s Day, leprechauns and all…Cheers!

If you touch it…

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Zumba Dance Class

This is exactly how I look when I exercise.)

Today I nearly peed my pants in my gym class. Not because of too many jumping jacks and too much water or anything like that. I am 40 now so that could be a very real problem, but that wasn’t the case. It was because the instructor kept yelling, “touch it.”  I know that’s totally juvenile, but it made me giggle. She kept screaming it on Monday, too, but I had a friend with me then so that alone kept me in tow. Today my friend needed to grocery shop so she bailed and I was left to my own devices. That’s always a problem. Next time, just feed your kids some string cheese for dinner and pop them a multivitamin…They don’t really need to eat anything of substance. Priorities, please!

So there I was alone, facing this fierce, kickboxing bitch (I mean that in the most complimentary of ways) for the second time this week and I knew something had to give. I can barely handle her once a week on Friday. She surprised us by replacing “easy” Monday with “I’m going to bitch-slap you back to reality so start hauling ass, you lazy piece-of-shit, Monday!”  I simply wasn’t prepared for that.

Tuesday followed with  Mrs. Jumping Jack-Death Wish who does those god forsaken mountain climbers. I really hate those mountain climbers.  There’s always that quick second when I finish the set and wonder if I’m going to faint or vomit.  Seriously, what kind of sadist created that absurd manuever?

I skipped Wednesday because I could barely move and because I cannot bear the Gangnam Style pony ride that was recently added to the already too much boobie-shaking Zumba class. Hey, sexy lady! Nope.  Not feeling it. There isn’t a sports bra out there that will change my mind.  Sorry, I simply can no longer participate.  Every girl has her limits.

Perky, young thing bounced in on Thursday to remind me that even when I think I don’t look 40, I am still old. So. Very. Old.  She’s just so full of vigor and pep.  I hate you so perky young thing. I hate you so.  It was more than enough. I was ready to come undone on Friday. And I did.

I was tired.  I was sore.  Perhaps I was delirious from the exertion of repeatedly kicking back my leg while attempting to sweep the ground with my hand , but I was immediately transported back to 1992 every time she screamed, “Touch it! I know you want to touch it! You can touch it! Just do it! Touch it! Touch It! Touch it.”  I had all I could do not to scream back, “but if I touch it, I will have to lick it!”

Perhaps I should explain.

Back in the good old glory days of college, my dear friend coined the phrase, “Be careful! If you touch, you have to lick it!”  These kinds of phrases delighted and terrified me.  I never knew whether people were serious or joking.   For the record, I’m fairly certain I added the “be careful” part.  I preferred a warning rather than a command.  What if I didn’t want to lick it? Was everybody licking it?  Hopefully we can just joke about this and not really lick anything. Yes? Right? Am I right?  Hmm.  Disclaimer: We were (mostly) good girls.  We just liked to run our big mouths a lot, no pun intended.

One of us would be in a bar talking to a boy and someone would whisper in her ear, “You know what happens if you touch it…Don’t touch it!!”   This statement became our mantra.  You never knew where or when somebody would embarrass you by screaming it across a crowded room.  Sometimes you got barraged on both sides with the right chanting, “if you touch it…” and the left following with, “you will have to lick it.”  Dumb boys who were in earshot wondered if it was a weird mating call (it was not).  Clearly, we weren’t the kind of college students who changed the world.  We just liked to laugh. A lot.  I miss those uncomplicated days.  (Note to self: Remember this when you snoop on your teenagers’ emails and see something foul that they insist is innocent. It just might be. Maybe.)

So in any event, there I stood with a wicked grin on my face throughout the class.   I’m sure anyone who was gawking at me in the mirror was more interested in making sure my ass was fatter than hers instead of wondering how I could smile through the torture.  Whatever.  I did it. I touched a piece of 1992 every time I touched that floor.  And I loved every minute of it.

What are you going to reach out and touch today?

Beware the Elf

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My kids have been begging for the Elf on the Shelf for a solid two years now and I’ve politely ignored them.

“Why don’t we have one?  Everybody else has one!  Santa said we were on the good list.  Why won’t he send us an elf?  Do you know they hide in a new place every night!  It is so cool,” my big girl runs on, smiling and nodding in an attempt to infect me with her elf contagion.  My little one slides next to her, lips slightly pouted in a pathetic, “I’m so deprived” stand of solidarity.  I take a mental snapshot of this pose; it would have made a hilarious Christmas card.

But I’m not buying into it.  I don’t want the elf.  I don’t like the elf.   I know I can’t win this battle but I need to do my best to convince them that an elfless house is the place to be so I attempt to invoke some fear.

“You don’t really want one of those elves!  Clearly, Santa hasn’t been keeping up with his naughty list or I’m sure you’d be on it.  He would never have sent you that letter if he heard the fight the two of you had the other day.   Do you really want an elf in the house?  He will see every rotten thing you two do to each other.  Every.  Single. Thing.   Santa will know all about you!  Are you sure you want that?”

I’m met with blank stares as though they can’t possibly imagine themselves ever having done anything wrong.  The whining, screeching, yelling, stomping, and crying that routinely permeate this house are conveniently forgotten, lost somewhere beyond the wide-eyed innocence that meets my threat.  They want the elf at all cost; they’re so thick they’d risk coal in their stockings to have that elf.  After a moment of silence, my big girl starts her closing argument.

“Since Santa hasn’t sent us one, you can get one at Barnes and Noble, you know.  Think about it.   It would be so cool.”    She and her sister wander away mumbling about all the places it might hide if only an elf would come and live here.  “So cool” rings in my ears.   I feel guilty because I’m too lazy and cheap to buy the elf.  Then I feel aggravated.  We go to Macy’s to see Santa and the window displays.  We take holiday light tours around our neighborhood.  We bake Christmas cookies.  We have lots of wonderful holiday traditions.  Why is it not enough?  Why must they need the elf, too?

I think about heading to the book store, but I just can’t bring myself to do it.    I will be the first to admit that much of what Barnes and Noble sells is indeed magical, but not that damned elf.  It’s just one more thing to do and I don’t need any added responsibilities.  Sorry, but I finally found somewhat of a delicate balance to the double holiday craze that shakes the core of my very existence every December and I fear that little demon, I mean elf, might be just enough to send my holiday  system into overload.  Plus, I have several issues with the little freak including but not limited to the following key points:

a. Why would I spend thirty bucks for a weird plastic-headed doll that reminds me of Big Boy (you remember those restaurants)?  I’m fairly certain that plastic head and felt body cost about 17 cents to produce.  I don’t like being price-gouged.

b. The idea of dolls that come to life scares the crap out of me.  Why would I invite Chucky into my home?  What if I discover it in a place I didn’t put it?  What if I wake up and it’s staring straight at me while wielding my big, sharp fancy Pampered Chef knife?  There’s something cynical behind that grin.  There’s something deranged behind those big, blue eyes.  I don’t trust that elf.

c. The entire “tradition” seems a little self-important.  Doesn’t Santa need his elves in the workshop?  There was a time when kids wrote the letters to Santa and then spent a month hoping and praying that their wishes might come true on Christmas morning.  These days Santa sends letters, phone messages, and videos to ensure our children that they have nothing to fear.  They can be little bastards all December long because right after Thanksgiving, Santa confirmed that they are on the good list (Big shout-out to my mother:  Thanks for destroying my leverage, super-Nana!).   It doesn’t matter what I say because Santa outranks me.   And now they need their own personal elf.  Really?   

As I sat there deliberating, my phone beeped.  Their aunty from Connecticut was shopping and wanted to buy them an elf (or two) and send it courtesy of the North Pole.  I couldn’t fight it anymore.  I gave in.  Maybe I could use the elf to my advantage and do some damage control as others claimed they did.   Maybe I could get the elf to teach them a few lessons.  I took a breath and decided to embrace the elf.  Eveybody’s doing it….

Well, the package shipped but the elf never arrived.  I’m guessing that it was rerouted the North Pole.  In hindsight, I believe this was divine intervention.  God knew this elf would be trouble.  God tried to help me.  What did I do?  I flouted God’s help.  That’s right, I ignored the only miracle that may ever come my way.  I went directly to B & N and bought an elf, myself.  I had committed to the idea and there was no turning back.  Why am I so stupid?

Like a giant jackass, I stood in the store for 20 minutes trying to figure out the difference between the boy and the girl.  I determined that the girl elf is really just a boy elf with earrings.  I was tempted to buy the skirt but a boy in a dress is not a girl.   Would it have killed them to give her a cute hair style or something?   I genuinely have no problem with a transvestite elf, but he really should be pretty with distinct air of fabulous about him.  Just saying.  I sighed, bought my androgynous elf and headed home.

Needless to say my kids were delighted.  They squealed with joy when they discovered her under the tree.  I’ll admit I actually enjoyed having the elf for those first few days.   We even came to consensus on the name relatively quickly.   (I refused to buy two; at the very least there needed to be a lesson in sharing.  Glutton for punishment, I know.)

The elf spent her first few days trying to instruct.  When my daughters found her on the clock, they determined that they needed to make better use of their morning time.  When they found her in front of the television, they determined that they were watching too much of it.   I was happy because the elf was reinforcing my rules.  Needless to say, zero effort was made to improve any of these issues, but it was a positive point of discussion.   And then the elf ran out of messages and my girls were befuddled.   I tried to explain that perhaps she was just relaxing and had nothing to say, but they were expecting some form of symbolic communication from the doll.  I know. I asked for it! 

Well, yesterday, the elf was sitting on my crock pot and my daughter lit up.  “Oh, Mom, look!  She’s warning you to start cooking!”

“Um, I do cook!  Maybe she’s telling you to be more thankful for the work that I do.”  Yup: blank stares.  So much for life lessons.  I’m done.  Santa cannot take this little bitch back to the North Pole soon enough!  (The elf, that is.  Not the kid.)

Clearly, my children have learned nothing from the elf.  They are not scared of what the elf will report.  They just want to play an extended game of hide and seek…Why it needed to cost me money and why an elf needed to be involved, I’ll never understand.

What have I learned from the elf?  My children will always find a way to thwart me; they always do. And now I’m saddled with this predicament of waking up in the middle of the night in panic that I forgot to move the almighty elf every December for years to come.  I knew better and then I broke.  I’m weak.  That’s what I have learned.

As far as I can see, the only people scared of the elf are tired, overwhelmed parents who have voluntarily added a new possibility to disappointment their kids, night after night if the elf fails to move.   I’m willing to bet that those of you who think you’ve mastered the elf and invoke fear in your child are simply being played.  Your kid isn’t scared; he/she just likes making you hop.  Sucker.  Not that I am judging or anything.  Those of you who think the elf is super-fun and are super-excited to hide it and don’t know what I’m fussing about need a super smack in the head.  And to those of you on the verge of purchase:  Be strong and BEWARE THE ELF!

The Back to School Shopping Blur

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School has been in session for nearly three weeks.  How did that happen?  One minute I was at the beach watching my kids play in the sand and in the next minute I was watching the bus doors swing closed behind them and they were off.   Somewhere in between, school supplies and new outfits were purchased, calendars were arranged, and activities were scheduled.  Why is it all so blurry?  September is nearly over and I sit here trying to piece together where it went.  I blame the shopping.

Admittedly, I am not a good shopper.  In fact, I am terrible.  I deliberate too much.  I wander aimlessly from store to store second guessing my likes and dislikes, wondering if something better is somewhere else.  I don’t have enough time for the kind of shopper I am so I typically avoid it altogether.  Sometimes, a good sale motivates me to move, but it needs to be a real sale, not a pretend mark down on super-overpriced clothing.   It’s not that I don’t like shopping, I just need the perfect medium to shop  (ie. a big budget, empty stores, no kids and lots of time.)  Since this rarely happens, shopping typically stresses me out.

It doesn’t help that  I do not shop in the summer.   I will not buy school supplies in June;  I don’t care how cheap they are.  One cannot go back to school until one has left school.   I think it’s sacrilegious to buy winter sweaters in the middle of an August heatwave.  Instead, I go to the beach.   I’m trying to live in the moment most of the time, so I live it up all summer long and then I wonder why there is too much shopping to do in September.

To make matters worse, for the first time, my girls wanted to select their own first day outfits.  This nearly killed me.   They’ve selected their own outfits before, but those are the ones I’ve preselected and placed in their closet.  I actually enjoy buying (controlling)  their first day outfits so allowing them to come on the shopping excursion was a big compromise.  Only two short years ago, I enjoyed a nearly perfect back to school shopping experience.  Empty store + real sale + coupon + no kids +  one store in 30 minutes = bliss.  I bought my then 3-year-old an adorable hot pink dress with a black tulle skirt.   So cute.  My then 6-year-old started the year in a hot pink and black plaid skirt with a matching short-sleeved sweater and black and pink knee socks.  So adorable.  I loved that the girls  color coördinated without being too matchy-matchy.  Made for a nice photo-op.  No need for approval:  I bought it, they wore it, the end.  Life was so simple then.

Gotta love those socks!

Isn’t that the way it is supposed to be until they’re at least thirteen?  Apparently not in my house.  I’m not sure 6 and 8-year-old girls deserve their own opinions, but I want to raise strong women with strong minds so I figure I may as well start now.  What they wear doesn’t really matter does it?  No.  (Yes!)  I was stupid enough to assume that secretly, I would be in charge in the store.   Reality set in when they started rejecting everything I held up for approval.  Didn’t they know that I wasn’t really seeking their consent? Nope.  They were determined to select their own outfits.  “I want to pick it myself, Mommy!  And you said I could!  You said!!!”  Thwarted, yet again.

I repeatedly circumnavigated a store called Justice trying not to get seasick  amidst the dizzying waves of bedazzle.  I want to like this store.  Really, I do.  It’s everything a little girl can imagine and then some.   Feel good mottos full of self-esteem.   Hot pink and lime green.  Plaid and tye-dye.  Glitter, sequins, studded you-name-it, they’ve got it.  I like glitter.  I like sequins.  I like hot pink and purple.  If I could get away with it, I’d break out a boa and some glitter and wear them  to the grocery store, but we all know I’d look like an ass so I refrain.  Little girls, however, can wear anything, anywhere and why shouldn’t they while they can get away with it?  And yet,  hot pink leopard print in sequins is just plain out of my comfort zone, even for those little girls.

I  tried to convince my children that the least glittery, sparkly, patterned outfit was the coolest one. (Believe me, my selections still had plenty of bling.)  They didn’t understand why the silver sequined mini tank dress wasn’t perfectly appropriate for school and really all social occasions so ultimately I had to set some limits.  Finally, my 8-year-old selected a tiered skirt, tank, and sequined shrug in pretty peacock blues and turquoise.  My six-year-old selected a funky print skirt with a coordinating turquoise tank and fluorescent yellow open knit sweater.  (I voted for the blue sweater but one wasn’t available in her size.)   They weren’t  my first choices, but they were okay.   Thankfully this was just in the nick of time, because the store was starting to spin and my ears were starting to ring and I was about ready to buy them anything just to get out of there.

Then there were  the school supplies.  I received  a generic list in June and then a teacher-specific list in August.  Glue sticks, number 2 pencils and a rainbow of folders to name a few.  Of course, Target had 5 out the 6 of the colored folders I needed.  There’s always got to be one thing missing.  Did she really need orange?  They have yellow, won’t that do?  It’s in the same color family for goodness sakes!  But because I’m a former teacher and not a mother who can send my children in unprepared, I go on the hunt for the almighty orange folder.  I get to Walmart only to discover that plastic folders there are cheaper, but the difference isn’t worth the gas money to make the return to Target, so I keep them and curse myself for not going to the bargain store first.  Needless to say, there are paper orange folders but no plastic orange folders left.  Next stop:  Staples.

Then there’s the giant glue sticks.  Why must they be so big? They are cumbersome and overpriced.  Kids lose them and then borrow from my child and never give them back!   (Yes, I label them.  It doesn’t matter!)  I’ve had an issue with those glue sticks since pre-K but elementary school teachers know a secret about them that I haven’t uncovered and in my house the teachers get what they want.   Giant glue sticks for everyone!  Whatever happened to the giant jar of paste that our teachers ladled onto a little squares of construction paper, anyway?  I loved paste.  (No, I wasn’t one of those weirdos who ate it.) Seriously, what happened to it?  Bring back the paste! Bring back the paste!

Onto the backpacks.  Purchasing a backpack is like purchasing a purse:  impossible I only care about function and price, and my kids only care about style.  Of course I want something durable, but I refuse to buy a $60 Northface backpack even if it guaranteed to withstand an avalanche.  Suck it, Northface.  (Yes, I may have to suck it when my kids’ cheapo backpacks have holes in them by January but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.)  My kids just want cool characters on a pink and purple background.  The mere suggestion  of an alternate color can ruin the school year before it begins so we stick to purple and pink.  Whatever.  I’m tired by this point.

Lastly, there’s the dreaded sneakers.  I hate sneakers and I hate sneaker shopping.  Sneakers never feel right.  I never know whether my sneakers are a good fit until after I’ve worked out a few times in them and by then it’s too late if they’re awful.  I can’t expect my kids to know how to determine a proper fit.  (And don’t tell me to go to Stride-Rite.  Been there, done that.  FYI:  The people who work there are not foot experts.  They are not podiatrists.  They have no special training.  They are salespeople working on commission.  They will say what has to be said to get your money. Enough said.)

What irks me most is that my daughters will insist that the sneaker fits beautifully if it happens to be the cool sneaker they ‘ve decided they have to have.    The shoe could be three sizes too small, but they will attempt to jam their feet into those shoes like a an ugly stepsister trying to jam her big foot into the glass slipper.  Then they will come home from school with blisters, crying and complaining that I bought them the wrong shoes and the whole process will begin again.

I’m just thankful we’ve moved beyond the light up sneakers.  A couple of years ago, I nearly pulled over because I thought the police were stopping me.  Turned out it was just my kids kicking the back of my seat.  Really, Skechers?  Your kids’ shoes cause car accidents and I’m still waiting for  my new ass courtesy of those tone ups I bought two years ago!    I want my new ass!   You promised!   Did I mention I hate sneakers? Status Update:  My kids are still wearing last years sneakers.  Did I mention that I’m a slow shopper?  Back to school sneaker will be purchased in December if they’re lucky.

All of that shopping is exhausting.  No wonder the last few weeks have been a blur.  But  with their back to school outfits, backpacks, and supplies, my lovely ladies were  ready to head off to school.   And as I watched them climb aboard the bus in the new clothes that made them so happy, I think how little they still are but how quickly they are growing.  Someday they’ll look at pictures and wonder who picked their outfits.  Why did you let me go to school looking so 80s, Ma?   They’ll  reminisce about those giant glue sticks they used in school all of the time and the Monster High backpack that Mommy bought beyond her better judgement.  And it will all be worth it.

Silence and Smoke: A 9/11 Remembrance

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was teaching a 9th grade English class when the principal’s somber voice came over the loudspeaker.  I don’t recall exactly what he said but there was mention of  a plane hitting the World Trade Center and a directive for  staff and students to go the nearest office to  use a phone, if needed.  My class went silent.  I asked if anyone needed to use a phone.  Nobody did.   I asked if anyone knew what the principal was talking about but nobody did.   I hoped somebody with information would walk by the classroom but nobody came.  In an overcrowded school of nearly 4000, the halls were eerily silent.  And so I did what I did best:  I completed my lesson as planned, and when the bell rang I raced to the nearest office to find out what was happening.

Terrorism.  Fire.  Collapse.  Chaos.  The words swirled in my head as I tried to process the situation.  Some of the teachers had gone to the third floor to catch a glimpse of the tops of the towers in the horizon, but they were already gone, only smoke remained.  There were no televisions or computers with internet access on our floor.  How ironic in a place full of information, we couldn’t get any.  It was before the days of smartphones, so we all did our best to piece together details and share what we learned in between periods.

I called my husband, a New York City police officer, who had just come home from work, but was getting ready to head right back.    “I don’t know where they’ll send us or when I’ll be home.  It might not be for a few days.  Don’t worry if you don’t hear from me.   I love you and I’ll call you when I can.”  I told him to be careful,  hung up the phone, and for the first time (but not the last), I felt fearful about the work he did.

Bells rang and classes changed.   I stopped teaching.  My lively students sat silently withdrawn, waiting and wondering what it all meant.  We went through the motions of the day, counting the minutes until the last bell would ring and we could leave.

The ride home was surreal.  The westbound side of the Long Island Expressway was closed except for emergency vehicles.  There was no rush hour traffic, no screeching brakes, no slamming horns.    I traveled east bound with a few other cars and occasionally a  fleet of Long Island firetrucks would whiz by westbound on their way to the city.  Lights no sirens.  It was like a silent movie.  The typical hour long commute took  a mere 30 minutes, but it was the most desolate drive I’ve ever driven.  When I got home, I turned on the television, but we had just moved into our first house two weeks earlier and our cable had yet to be installed.  So I sat alone in an empty place that hadn’t become mine yet, looking at a screen full of snowy static and waited for my phone to ring.

The first time my husband returned home after a tour at the Trade Center,  he silently peeled off his clothing at the door and asked me to put them in bag.   He mumbled something about washing them separately or throwing them away.   I didn’t understand, but I didn’t ask any questions. There was that silence again.  He went upstairs, showered, and went to bed.  When I picked up the clothing,  the smell of smoke and burning flooded my senses.   It was different from the kind of smoke I smelled when I burned something on the stove.  It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before.  So heavy and thick and strongly embedded into the material that I could only imagine what the air was like at the disaster zone.

Any American who was alive and old enough to remember, has a memory of this day, no matter how close or far away.   When I think of those Towers I don’t see them falling like the snipet they play and replay;  I didn’t have a working television so I was not bombarded by those horrific scenes until later.  When I think of the Towers, I hear silence and I smell the smoke on my husband’s clothing.  Such a strange and powerful memory.  I acknowledge the fear in me that didn’t used to be there.  We are not invincible.  We are not immortal.  I take a moment to give thanks that I didn’t lose anyone I loved and to pray for those who did.

May we always remember.  May we never forget.  God Bless America.

Disney’s Magic (Mushrooms)

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I just got home from a magical vacation at Walt Disney World.  We dined in castles and met royalty.  We toured exotic countries and ate exotic foods (well, if you consider fish tacos and sauerbraten exotic, anyway).  We visited the jungle one day and Hollywood the next.     We traveled to space, sailed the seas, and became characters in our favorite fairy tales.  We got rained on, sunned on, and farted on courtesy of Stitch, thank you very much.  (Who is that weirdo anyway?).  We did it all in exactly 8 days, 7 nights.  And as I sit here, still mildly delirious,  I firmly believe Disney drugged me.

The last time I went to Disney my children were four and six and I swore that we would take the casual approach to the Disney experience. I rationalized that my girls  didn’t know what they were missing if they missed anything and I wasn’t going to worry.   I refused to make spreadsheets as friends had recommended.  I refused to wake everyone up early and drag them to the parks before dawn.  It all seemed so absurd. And yet, the minute I entered the Magic Kingdom, I became a woman possessed.   The thought of missing something haunted me.  I dragged my kids, husband, and parents (scooters and all) through park after park, hopping back and forth between them like a crazy little bunny on speed.   I assumed this was my flaw, but I now know it was the drugs.  Damn you, Walt Disney!  Damn you. 

My first inkling that I was drugged occurred during  the spectacular electrical parade in the Magic Kingdom.  My kids were exhausted and it was raining, but I was fully ready to take my husband by the shoulders and shake some (non)sense into him at  his suggestion that we leave the park before the parade. Was he mad?  Was he utterly insane?  So what if was a humid 88 degrees, raining, and we were in danger of growing a scary fungus between our skin and the horrible plastic ponchos we were sporting?  There’s no party-pooping in Disney!  We were going to watch that parade and ooh and ah like all the other crazy bastards around us.  Oh, yes, we were!  And just as we approached the entrance, he recanted his suggestion and found us a spot among the other wet, plastic-clad spectators.  Even my rational, practical husband could not fight the all-encompassing influence of that powerful Disney magic.

And it was there amidst Captain Hook’s pirate ship and Cinderella’s coach, that I spied  one of the characters from Alice in Wonderland sitting atop a mushroom and  toking a pipe.   Real smoke was even wafting from it.  There we were cheering for Peter Pan, Cinderella, and a drug addict smoking crack on a giant shroom.  Oh, yes, we were.  Disney is a sick, twisted wonderfully magical place alright.

Mushrooms seemed to be the theme of the trip.  As we made the long trek from our room to the food court of our hotel each morning, my children made a game of pointing  out “toadstools” around every bend.   They were thrilled by the giant mushrooms and the little lizards that seemed to be everywhere,  I’m pretty sure that if I threw  in a box of popcorn and a bag of cotton candy, we would never have needed to leave the grounds of the resort.  Damn I could have saved  a load of cash.  And all of those mushrooms got me thinking.  Those imagineers are clever.  They’re certainly clever enough to pump something mildly hallucinogenic into the air or the water, I’m sure of it.  That Florida air smelled suspect.  That Florida tap water tasted funny, too….Drugs, I tell you!  Drugs.

What else could entice people to dole out thousand of dollars  to wait on 100 minute lines to ride on Dumbo for 60 seconds?  Sure, it’s a lovely and sweet little ride, but it just goes around in circles for goodness sakes!  (Disclaimer:  I waited no longer than 20 minutes for any ride, but I saw a whole bunch of Dumbos on line as I fast-passed them.)  I remember feeling a little wiggy when I learned at 11 am that I could ride Toy Story Mania at 8:30 pm.  Were they kidding?  Sure, my lazy children had no business sleeping until 8am.  We should have been lined up in front of the gates when the park opened, but there we were, eating Mickey Mouse waffles at our hotel and taking our sweet time.  I knew we shouldn’t have eaten or taken a bathroom break.  Peeing is a luxury.  Eating is for the weak.   Did we think we were on vacation or something?

The big dilemma occurred when I realized this fast pass conflicted with the almighty Fantasmic show.  I had booked a special dinner to get preferential seats for the  show at 8 pm.  I wasn’t giving up those seats. I wasn’t giving up that fast pass.  I would need to rely on the mercy of some Nazi Fast-Pass gatekeeper to allow us access after our window had expired.    I thanked God my children are cute and know how to play it up when the pressure is on.  It also helped to use those birthday pins.  Are your really going to tell my sweet little birthday girl that she can’t see Jessie, you evil 17-year-old control freak?  I didn’t think so.  I needed my Toy Story Mania fix.  I had to have it.  I was ready to trample slow, unsuspecting bystanders as I  dragged my cranky, overstimulated children halfway across Hollywood Studios to ride that 2 minute ride because I had paid good money for that privilege. It didn’t matter if nobody wanted to go at that point.  It didn’t matter if we enjoyed the ride or not.  We were going on that ride.  So much for Disney wholesomeness.  I will take you down if you stand between me and Buzz Lightyear!

And then there was Captain EO.  There are no words but I will try.  As a kid, I remembered friends going to Disney and bragging about how awesome Michael Jackson was in the Epcot 3D film.  I was never a MJ fan, but I was curious.  So when I learned that Epcot had dug the film out of the vaults, I was ready to claim a piece of my missing youth.  That being said, this film made me firmly believe that the entire decade from 1980 to 1990 was on drugs.  That would certainly explain all that  big hair and flourescent apparel.

I’m not going to deny that Michael Jackson had talent, but no amount of talent could save this shipwreck of an attraction.  The premise of the film centers on  a ragtag band of intergalactic renegades who battle an evil alien queen.  This sounds promising, until the renegades emerge.  My personal favorite was the alien elephant in a dirty wife beater who thwarts the team’s mission by eating their map.  Stupid #1:  If you’re going to knock-off Star Wars you’re going to have to do better. Then the leather  clad, soft-spoken Micheal Jackson emerges to take control.  Stupid #2:  Who would trust this guy?  Then again…  So, they  end up an alien garbage dump and are taken to the evil queen and the situation explodes into song.  The power of MJ’s voice turns the enemies into rad 80s dancers who continue to do battle with their awesome dance moves and inspiring lyrics as their weapons.  The queen is ultimately transformed into Angelica Houston.  Oh, Angelica, a sex tape would have been less embarrassing!  Yikes! 

I guess we were all suposed to be moved by the beat and awed by the spectacle that is Michael Jackson but it wasn’t happening.  The man behind me was howling so hard that I started laughing, too.  I laughed and laughed until tears streamed from my eyes and then I got the munchies.  Drugs.  That’s all I’m saying.  As we left the theater I apologized to my husband  who just shook his head in dazed confusion and we left in search of snacks.  If only the  passion of dance and song could inspire world peace. 

The Disney drug conspiracy appeared in subtle ways as well.  While in Epcot,  I did the unthinkable.  I encouraged my kids to pose with giant sombreros on their heads.  They thought I was testing them.    They stood there dumbfounded not knowing what to do.   The person who yells like a mad woman when they put random things on their heads was seriously telling them to try on hats.  Later I told them don astronaut head gear in Mission to Mars.  Finally, we all donned Viking helmets in Norway.  That’s right.  I put a hat on my head, a hat that 10,00 other tourists popped on for a quick photo-op.  This is not the behavior of someone who is terrified of lice.  This not the behavior of someone who does routine head searches during the school year in fear that my kids will bring home bugs from their classroom.   This is the behavior of someone under an influence;  someone who has abandoned common sense and inhibitions.   I’m itching just thinking about it.

There’s just got to be something more to Disney Magic than pixie dust.  It’s impossible that we could have that much fun despite the heat and the rain and the crowds.  Or is it?

If my kids grow up to be gutter mouths….

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Last week a squirrel ran in front of my car and I thoughtlessly shouted, “Get out of the road, Dummy!”  which promptly sent my children spiraling into fits of laughter.

“Mommy said dummy!  Did you hear her?  Dummy’s a bad word, you know,”  giggled my big one enthusiastically.  My little one nodded and giggled back.

“Dummy, dummy, dummy. Hee hee.  Mommy said dummy.”

I couldn’t make a fuss about it;  they got me, guilty as charged. I remember delighting when my parents said something naughty, so I figured I’d let them have their fun.  As long as they knew better than to call another person a dummy, we were square.  They could tease me all they liked and they took every opportunity to do so.  They couldn’t wait to relate the details of the dummy episode to their Daddy, their Nana, and anyone they could get to listen to them.  It was a very exciting week.

“Get out of the road, Dummy!”  they’d shout in unison every time we got into the car.

“Do you remember when Mommy said that?  Wasn’t that so funny,'”  said the big one, tossing her head back and laughing like hyena.

“Mommy, wasn’t that so funny when you said that?  Wasn’t that ‘ilarious?”  squealed the little one, nearly convulsing in hysteria.

“Yes.  It was only yesterday, dear.   I remember it clearly.  It was hilarious.  Hilarious, indeed.  Absolutely freaking hilarious.  I’m roaring on the inside, trust me.”

It was a long week of the dummy.  Well, yesterday someone cut me off and I thoughtlessly mumbled, “asswipe.”  Yup.  Both kids were in the car.   Model mothering moment, what can I say?  When I realized my error I briefly glanced into the rearview mirror.  Little one was preoccupied;  she definitely missed it.  The big one was staring straight at me.  Awesome.  I could see the little wheels turning while she mentally tried the word on for size.  Could she get away with repeating it?  How bad of a word was it?  Could asswipe be the new dummy?

I quickly turned on the radio to distract her  before questions were asked.  Kids have zero attention span for a reason.  “Call me, Baby”  was playing and she immediately began singing and bopping her head.   Sure, kid, sing about meeting strangers and giving them your phone number.  If that’s not good, I’ll switch the station and you can sing about brushing your teeth with a bottle of Jack. Just don’t say asswipe in church or on a playdate and blame me!

I wish I could make excuse for these lapses, but I can’t.  I take full responsibility for my gutter mouth.  I’ve never been particularly good at censoring, so I try to refrain from bad language completely unless I’m in an exclusively adult setting.  I’m just not good at quickly shifting gears.

And because little girls look to their mother as their main role model, it will be my fault if they grow up to be raging gutter mouths.  Sure they’ll eventually learn plenty of trash talk from kids at school, HBO, and the internet, but they’ll know those words are bad.  It’s the words they get straight out of my mouth that are going to stick and seem somehow more acceptable despite my insistence that they’re not.

I learned this the hard way when my firstborn was three.  I was in a “God damn it” phase.  Whenever something frustrated me I would mutter, “God damn it”  under my breath and nearly everything frustrated me.  In my defense, I had two children in diapers and was having  no luck with potty training.   I was nervous that my big girl was starting school (and in a pull-up despite my best efforts).  I was tired.  I said “God damn it” a lot, but I assumed I was out of earshot when I God-damned something.

Then, the night before my daughter was to begin preschool at a local church, her toothbrush fell off the counter and she shouted , “Oh, no, Mommy!  I dropped my god-damned toothbrush!”  The delivery was flawless.  The worst was the way she looked up at me, her big, blue, sparkling eyes searching for approval.  I was momentarily paralyzed.  She didn’t just say what I thought she said, did she?  No.  I must have misheard.  She repeated her assertion: “It’s a god-damned toothbrush, right, Mommy?”  She had listened and learned from her mother and she wanted recognition for this accomplishment.  She was so proud of herself.  I wanted to die.

The next morning I dressed her in a beautiful back-to-school dress.  She had a big bow in her hair and pretty patent leather shoes to match.  She looked like an angel.  She gave me a kiss and skipped happily in to her classroom.  Her teachers nodded with approval and waved goodbye.  And for 2 and a 1/2 hours I waited, quietly terrified that one  of her crayons would roll off the desk and she’d tell the teacher that she had dropped one of her God-damned crayons.  This fear lasted until Christmas when I finally got too busy to worry about it anymore.

Luckily, I never got any reports about naughty language.  I was grateful.  One would think I would have learned my lesson.  I try.  Really I do.  Most of the time.  Unless of course, a God-damned squirrel runs in front of my car and the asswipe is too dumb to get out-of-the-way.  If that happens then all bets are off!

(I know for a fact, I”m not alone on this one…C’mon now:  What bad words have you taught your kid?  I won’t tell…)

Midsummer Night’s Fun

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Margarita

It’s been a great summer.  We’ve been to the beach, the zoo, and the park. We’ve been to Grandma and Grandpa’s pool.   We’ve enjoyed playdate after playdate.    We took a jaunt to the Hamptons for sun and fun and friends.  We road-tripped it to Connecticut to visit Nana and Papa and Aunties and Uncles.  It’s all been good.  It’s all been planned.  It’s nearly midsummer and Mommy’s getting a little  tired.

No matter how much I plan and how much we do, every night two little girls inevitably ask, “What are we going to do tomorrow, Mommy?  Can I have a playdate with..?  Can we go to the movies? Why haven’t we gone —-, yet???”  No matter how full the day is nearly every night, two little girls say, “Hey!  You said we could go for a bike ride and we didn’t!” or “You promised to paint my toes.  Can you do it now?  Ple-eee-ease!”   Then I have to calmly explain to my two tired munchkins that it’s nearly 9pm and because our day was so full and fun, we just couldn’t get absolutely everything done.  Maybe tomorrow.  And my head begins to spin.

With little girls, there’s just no down time.  They want to go, go, go.  I certainly can’t blame them;  they’re just like me.  I love that sometimes my life feels so full that I can’t keep up with it.  I love our adventures.  I love making bucket lists for them, for us, and checking off each experience as it occurs.  I love summer and all the freedom it offers to go and see and do, but I also quietly long for my own grown up adventures.   I miss the opportunity to be spontaneous in a way that I mostly have to put aside now that I am a mom.  So when I saw a chance for some free-spirited fun last Thursday night, I didn’t hesitate.

While visiting my family, I met a friend at a beach in Connecticut and she jokingly suggested that I meet her in Massachusetts for her cardio-funk exercise class and drinks at the local Mexican joint that night.  I’m sure normal people think, “Oh, that would be fun,” and then go home, wind down and go to bed after a long day in the sun.  I’m not normal.  I rushed back to my mom’s house and asked her if she minded watching the girls. This, of course, was a stupid question. My mother loves to have my daughters all to herself to watch too much television and eat too many cookies without my interference.    I had about 15 minutes to shower, dress, pack and go.  I think I was on the road in 11 minutes flat.

In spite of rush hour traffic, I made my hour and a half long, interstate trek to the studio with 15 minutes to spare.  I paused before I got out of the car, thinking this was the ridiculously right thing to do.  Why not?  It’s summer vacation after all.  I entered the studio to a gleeful, “I can’t believe you came!   I am so excited.” My friend then introduced me to each person who entered the building.   My title of the night was “Michele from New York” and my celebrity status quickly became the running joke of the evening.  Don’t they have exercise classes in New York?  You had to come all the way to Massachusetts?  Michele from New York is feeling the burn!  I don’t think we can continue this exercise! I love small town New England (and sometimes I actually miss it.)

The class was awesome. First of all, any cardio class that uses normal music (as opposed to the pop music on crack that they use at my gym) gets a thumbs up.  Pair that with strobe lights flickering, funky moves and the woman behind me who not only felt perfectly comfortable belting out Melissa Etheridge during stretch but then proceeded to saunter across the room, serenading everyone and what could be bad? Fun, fun, fun.   I don’t think I’ve sashayed since I was in kindergarten.  And, of course,  having an instructor who is amazing at what she does and is also one of my very best friends is an added bonus.  Seriously, I’d be skinny if this class were offered locally.  Zumba sucks; Cardio-funk rules!

Immediately after the class, we proceeded to the bar.  In our yoga pants and tank tops.  All sweaty and gross.  Only a dash of mascara applied half-assed in a moving vehicle.  I had to try a little.  If I were anywhere near my house, I wouldn’t be caught dead walking into a bar immediately after an exercise class;  as it is, I hate walking from the gym to the car lest someone should spot me red-faced and breathless.  But there I was sitting on a bar stool kicking back a margarita and laughing.  And this is why I love my friend, Laurie:  She just knows how to have free-spirited fun and her fun is contagious.

After the restaurant, we went back to her house, drank wine and chatted until 3am.  It felt good to talk and laugh, and laugh and talk.  It was exactly the escape that  I needed.   In the morning I had a quick cup of coffee and headed back to my two lovely ladies who had their own little adventure.

Every once in a while, I need to do something a little spontaneous or I put myself in danger of combusting. I love it when I’m ultra organized but I also hate being overscheduled.  I love being with my little girls and my husband, but I occasionally need my adult girl time, too.  And sometimes, things need to be a little messy, a little carefree, and even a little reckless.   A good girls’ night almost always meets those needs. My red wine headache was well worth its trouble.  (Hopefully I burned off  a few of those extra calories, too.)

So what are you doing for a little midsummer fun?