It’s About Time

Planning a family vacation becomes complicated when you have adult children.  College schedules, work, life – these things can get in the way.  That’s why, when the stars align and everyone has a few free days, you pounce on the chance to plan a trip.

We took advantage of just such a miraculous opportunity and booked a family getaway to Costa Rica last year.  Several relaxing days in a warm rainforest would be the perfect balm for an icy cold New York January.

I had no idea there would be so much high adventure, tests of human endurance, drama and suspense…and that was before we even got on the airplane.

Let’s begin with the morning before our flight.

New York. January 9th, 4:00 am

It was T minus 24 hours before the car was to pick us up for the airport.

I don’t sleep well the day before I travel. There are so many things to think about. Did I pack the sunscreen?  Were my flip-flops in my suitcase? Was my e-reader fully charged? If I forget my retainer, would I come home with buckteeth?

Tip-toeing around so as not to wake anyone, I busied myself with the final preparations for our vacation.  My plan was to get everything done and grab a nap in the afternoon. Like most of my plans, that nap never materialized. But that was OK, I thought. I’d just go to bed early and get up around 3:00 to shower, put on the carefully selected traveling outfit I had chosen, style my hair, have a light breakfast, water the plants, load and run the dishwasher, clear the perishables from the refrigerator, and empty the garbage so the house wouldn’t smell like a sewer upon our return. After all that, I’d be ready for some R&R.

Apparently, I am a slow learner, because that plan didn’t pan out either.  Here’s what happened instead…

New York. January 9th, 6:00 pm

With PJs on and ready for bed, I said good-night to my family, “Remember, the car is picking us up at four.  So, get to bed early and make sure you all have your passports.”

When I uttered the word “passports”, my son got a strange look on his face. He quickly retreated to his room, shutting the door behind him. I heard a lot of rummaging sounds.

Uh-oh.

He emerged within moments.  I would best describe his face as a combo platter of fear, nausea and guilt. 

Oh no.

“Mom,” he said hesitantly, “I could have sworn my passport was here. But now I realize I must have left it in my dorm room. I am so sorry!” 

Oh, dear god.

His college was 5 hours away (without traffic).

Deep breath. I quickly consulted my phone.  According to Waze, we would get to his campus around 11:00 pm. Doing the math in my head, I was certain we could complete the round trip with enough time for me to shower and change before heading to the airport. (Side note: I am not good at doing math in my head.)

“If we leave right now, we’ll get back in time,” I said.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“Do you have a better idea?”

“I just won’t go,”  he offered. ” It’s ok. Really.”

There was no way we were taking this family vacation without him.

“Get in the car,” I said. 

I threw on some old sweats and we headed to Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 10:53 pm

The entire college was closed for winter break.  We had to track down campus security to let my son into his dorm.  While he and the officer went to his room, I programmed our home address into Waze.  We would return at 3:48 am. Good-bye shower.

As I sat in the car watching the seconds slip away on the app, I also noticed we would never make it home unless we stopped for gas.  Hello putrid garbage.

Tick. Tick. Tick. What could be taking so long? His room was the size of a bathmat.

Finally, I saw my son and the security officer walking toward the car.  My son looked stricken.

“Mom, I am soooooooo sorry,” he said. “I just got off the phone with dad…”

“Oh my god,” I said, “is somebody dead?!” 

“No, no…,” my son continued. He looked at the officer for help. The man put a supportive hand on my son’s shoulder.

“What is it?” I begged. “Out with it!”

“Dad found my passport.  In my room. At home.”

For the second time that night, I told him, “Get in the car.”

As we pulled away, the officer shrugged and gave a wishy-washy wave good-bye.

“I am really, really sorry. Please don’t be mad,” my son pleaded.

“I want you to remember this moment,” I told him. “Look at me. I’m not mad at all.”  And this was the truth – for three reasons.  One, nobody was dead. So, that was good. Two, by this point I had been awake for 19 hours. I didn’t have the energy to get mad. But the main reason is that I love my son and I had missed him. Since he’d been away at school, we didn’t get to talk much anymore.  That road trip, just the two of us in the car, was an absolute pleasure. He stayed awake with me the whole time and we talked about everything and anything. Sheer joy. 

Pennsylvania. January 9th, 11:10 pm

It was time to stop for gas.

And since I mentioned “time”, let me get philosophical for a moment: Time is a funny thing.   It doesn’t actually “exist”, and yet it’s very real.  You can have too much of it on your hands or not enough of it in a day.  It can be on your side or your worst enemy.  And anyone with a GPS knows you’re more likely to lose it than gain it.  So don’t even try to make up time on the road. I should mention that, throughout this entire odyssey, I kept close to the speed limit. Safety first!  Also, if we got stopped for speeding, we’d be totally schtupped.

Anyway, back to the gas…

We had precious few minutes to fill the tank if we were to make it home by four. Now, here is where time decided to eat us for lunch and then laugh at us while it picked its teeth – the gas pump couldn’t have chugged along more slowly if it were dispensing peanut butter. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life. My son and I stared at it in amazement.

At this point, I had a sobering thought: Was the universe trying to tell us something? Did providence know something about this flight that I didn’t? Should I listen?

Screw it.  I pumped enough gas to get us home and we hit the road again.

New York. January 10th, 4:02 am

As we pulled up to the house, we could see the car service parked out front.  My husband, daughter, our luggage and my son’s passport all safely inside it.  I ran upstairs, grabbed my retainer (priorities!) and we left for the airport. 

Now, you probably think this is the end of the story.  Well, it’s not.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:30 am

Technology can be such a time-saving blessing. We were able to use the automated kiosk to check-in and get our boarding passes. 

My husband scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

I scanned my passport. Beep. It spit out my boarding pass.

My son scanned his passport. Beep. It spit out his boarding pass.

My daughter scanned her passport. BLOOP! No boarding pass.  She tried it again.  BLOOP! Nothing.

My husband said, “Let me try.” He scanned it again.  Still no boarding pass.

Seeing we were having trouble with the kiosk, an airline representative came to our aid.  She tried the scanner.  Same thing.  No boarding pass.

“Ohhhh,” she finally said, “I see the problem.”

What a relief.  She saw the problem.  She was going to fix it. Problem solved!

She handed the passport back to my husband, “This one’s expired.”

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:00 am

I could not breathe.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:01 am

Everything went silent.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:02 am

The blood drained from my face.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:03 am

There was ringing in my ears.

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:31:04 am

Time stood still.  Now time stood still?  THANKS FOR NOTHING, TIME!!

Newark International Airport. January 10, 5:32 am

The airline rep gave my husband a document and some instructions, “There’s a passport office in Manhattan. They open at eight. Give them this paper. They will expedite your daughter’s passport and you’ll have plenty of time to get on the next flight to Costa Rica this afternoon.”

I looked at my husband.  I could have sworn, just for a split second, that his expression suggested I should take her to the passport office. Maybe it did.  Maybe it didn’t.  What do I know? It’s possible that being awake for over 25 hours could make a person see things. But there was nothing ambiguous about my expression…it said “Warning! Tilt!  Danger!!”

My son came up to me. He gently took my hands and whispered, “It’s gonna be ok, mom.”

I looked into his sympathetic, soothing eyes and whispered back, “I feel terrible for your sister.  I’m sorry that your father has to take her to the passport office. But make no mistake…I. Am. Getting. On. That. Plane.”

San Jose, Costa Rica. January 10, 11:30 am

When we stepped out of the airport, my son and I were still wearing the same ratty clothes from the day before. So much for my chic traveling ensemble. The warm moist jungle air enveloped us like a welcoming hug. Our cabbie would take us to the resort, which was three hours away.  I didn’t care. I slept in the backseat. I snored. I’m sure I drooled. En route, we stopped for lunch at an outdoor restaurant which overlooked a picturesque coffee farm.  The food was delicious. The view was spectacular. Our ten-hour road trip, five-and-a-half hour flight, and bumpy excursion in a taxi were all worth it. We’d reached paradise.

After checking into our rooms, we took a dip in the pool, had dinner together and hung out in the bar until my daughter and husband arrived.

The band was finally back together again. And now we all had valid passports.

My Gifts To You

A few Decembers ago, I was being really very Scroogie and not at all in the mood for the holidays.  Ever since that time, I’ve practically made it my business to immerse myself in holiday cheer (and I don’t mean by diving into a punch bowl).

No, what I’ve discovered is that nostalgia is the secret sauce that puts me in the festive swing of things. So, starting the day after Thanksgiving, I play holiday music in the house as I put up Christmas decorations and wrap the presents. Then, every night I tune into one of my favorite holiday programs – the one’s I grew up with.

My love of holiday films was sort of ignited by accident. At the age of 16, I saw a made-for-TV movie titled “It Happened One Christmas” starring Orson Wells, Marlo Thomas, Cloris Leachmen, Doris Roberts, Christopher Guest, and Beans Morrocco…an all-star lineup.

To hear the SNORK Christmas Classic “What The Dickens? Click here! 

Marlo Thomas plays Mary Bailey Hatch, a woman contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve. She’s standing on a bridge and just when she’s about to jump, her guardian angel, Clara Oddbody (played by Cloris Leachman) jumps in the water and Mary ends up saving her instead.

As I described this plot to my parents, my father said, “It’s a wonderful life.”

I smiled at him. “Yes, dad. It sure is. So anyway, this guardian angel shows Mary what the world would have been like if she was never born…”

“No,” my father interrupted, again. “It’s a Wonderful Life. That’s the name of the original movie.”

He then explained that I was watching a knock-off of a great American classic. When I finally saw the Jimmy Stewart/Donna Reed version, I never looked back. It’s A Wonderful Life was the gateway drug that got me addicted to classic films in general and Christmas movies in particular.

Then about four years ago, I discovered the joy of listening to vintage radio programming, which inspired me to start SNORK, the podcast.

This brings me to the two little presents I’d like to give you, since you’ve been so good this year.

First, if you’ve been enjoying my podcast, I’m giving you a slew of old-time radio shows, all with a holiday theme.  Click Christmas Old Time Radio to enjoy everything from Burns and Allen to The Gift Of The Magi!

My second gift is a list of the best Christmas movies and shows of all time (or at least as far as I’m concerned).  You can’t watch these and remain a humbug!

Holiday (1938)

This wonderful tale spans Christmas and New Year’s Eve, making it my favorite holiday twofer!  Cary Grant’s Johnny Case (a dashing, handsome, regular Joe) is engaged to the fabulously wealthy Julia Seton, played by Doris Nolan.  But is she really the right girl for him?  Perhaps he’d be better off with Julia’s down-to-earth sister Linda (played by none other than the great Katharine Hepburn). There are great party scenes, acrobatics, tantrums, and excessive drunkenness.  What more could you want from a holiday movie?

Christmas In Connecticut (1945)

Barbara Stanwyck’s Elizabeth Lane has made a name for herself writing a food column about her incredible culinary and hostessing skills.  There’s only one problem – she can’t boil water.  Watch one lie lead to another and another when her unsuspecting publisher decides to run a feature of her entertaining a war hero for the holidays.  Where will Elizabeth get a Connecticut farmhouse, a husband and a baby in time for Christmas?  The movie also stars Dennis Morgan and Sydney Greenstreet.

White Christmas (1954)White-Christmas-1954-15

It’s kind of a toss-up as to who performs the “Sisters” number better – Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen or Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye in semi-drag.  With energized choreography and songs you know well enough to sing along to, this holiday classic will put you in a merry mood. It will also encourage you to go easy on the Christmas cookies as you marvel at Vera-Ellen’s teensy-weensy waistline.

Desk Set (1957)Here’s Katharine Hepburn again, this time matched with Spencer Tracey. She’s the head of a television network’s research department and is dating an ambitious man who underestimates and under appreciates her, while using her smarts to advance his own career. Tracy’s an efficiency expert who’s wants to outfit her department with a computer called EMERAC (which Hepburn and her office mates think will replace them).  In one of my favorite scenes of all romantic comedies combined, Tracy takes Hepburn out to lunch – on the roof of her office building – and gives her a personality/IQ test.  It’s priceless.

Elf (2003)

Who doesn’t love Buddy the elf, his childlike innocence and his legendary sweet tooth? Fun and funny, Elf is the only Christmas movie on my list that was produced in this century.  Why?  Because unlike the recent oversupply of sappy, sentimental, tear-jerking films, Director Jon Favreau goes for old-school charm and comedy.  So, if you’re tired of crying into your fruitcake because some kid needs a Christmas miracle to find his deadbeat dad who is a perfect kidney match for his dying baby sister or because Gramps has to sell the farm but then buys the farm when he falls into the wheat thrasher on Christmas eve…well, you get the point. I’m talking to you Hallmark Channel!

A Christmas Carol (1951) and Mister Magoo’s Christmas Carol (1962)

 

I can’t choose between Alastair Sim’s Ebenezer Scrooge  and Jim Backus’s Mister McGoo’s Ebenezer Scrooge.  So I won’t!

The Bishop’s Wife (1947)

When David Niven finds himself preoccupied with building a cathedral and losing perspective on faith, charity and his lovely wife and daughter, he prays for guidance.  Enter Cary Grant as the angel Dudley.  Loretta Young, as the title character, teams up with Dudley (not knowing he’s heaven-sent), to help her husband reconnect with his family and his congregation.

A Christmas Story (1983)Christmas wishes in 1940’s Indiana can be frah-GEE-lay for a kid who wants nothing more than a BB gun under the tree – but his mother’s worried he’ll shoot his eye out.  Narrated by its author, Jean Shepherd, A Christmas Story follows Ralphie Parker as he schemes and daydreams over the elusive Red Ryder.  Darren McGavin and Melinda Dillion, as Ralphie’s parents, charm and delight.  I love everything about this movie – it is perfect!

Miracle On 34th Street (1947)

Natalie Wood’s natural, flawless performance makes you forget you’re watching a movie. Edmund Gwenn plays Kris Kringle – just a kindly old man or the real deal?  It’s a heartwarming story about generosity, faith, second chances and, of course, Macy’s.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)

It’s hard to imagine, but this beloved Christmas classic was not well-received when it was originally released in 1946.  Now, no holiday season is complete without it.  When Harry Bailey wishes he’d never been born, his guardian angel takes him on an eye-opening odyssey.  He learns that his life touched so many others for the better and that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.

This list is far from complete. It doesn’t include all the TV shows I’ve loved since childhood, like the original Grinch Who Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Year Without A Santa Claus, and so many others.  And if I’m going to see them all before the end of the year, I better get cracking!

In the meantime, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  See you 2016!

Believing Is Believing Revisited

The holidays seem to be sweeter when there are children in the family.  My kids are practically adults now, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were still daydreaming about flying reindeer or bunnies bearing chocolates.  There is something about that wide-eyed wonder that brings out the children in all of us.

One day, however, you might find yourself at an unwelcome crossroads – the day they express your doubts and you’re faced with the major decision of how you’ll handle it.

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What did I do?  Found out in this story called “Believing Is Believing“…

“Aha! I knew it!” I could hear my daughter’s squeaky little voice coming through her bedroom door. She was maybe about 7-years-old at the time.

Emerging triumphantly into the hallway, she began waving something in my face. At first, I thought it was a grain of rice, but her maniacal grin revealed a new gap along her bottom gums.

“Look!” Sure enough, she held one of her baby teeth between her fingers. “I lost this last night, but I didn’t tell a grown-up…and this morning, the tooth was still there…and there was no moneyI knew the Tooth Fairy wasn’t real!

Now, another parent might have buckled. Another parent might have choked. But you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning to outfox this fox.

With the cool detachment of a seasoned poker player or sociopath, I said, “Well of course she didn’t come. The Tooth Fairy communicates telepathically with grown-ups. If the grown-ups don’t know you’ve lost a tooth, she won’t know you’ve lost a tooth.”

My daughter eyed me suspiciously. Then declared, “Well, I don’t believe she exists.”

I’m not going to lie (to you). This stung me. She was still so young and I was not ready to see her give up on those charming childhood traditions.

Deciding to push another button, she added, “And I don’t believe in the Easter Bunny either!”

Seeing that I was still squarely on-kilter, she pounded the final nail into my mommy coffin… “Or Santa!”

NOOOO! Not Santa! On the inside, I died a little bit that day. But on the outside, there were no cracks in my façade. I knew that my reaction would either prolong those fairy tales for a little while, or make her a cynic well before her time.

Without skipping a beat, I called her bluff, “Gee, that’s too bad.”

“Why?” She looked worried.

“Because when you stop believing, they stop coming.” I had her right where I wanted her. But my girl is pretty cagey, having not fallen too far from the tree.

“Hmm…” she thought for a minute. “What if I fake believe?”

Incredible, I thought. This kid is relentless. But I just shrugged my shoulders and calmly said, “Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“OK, fine,” she grumbled as she left to replace the tooth back under her pillow.

Turning on my heel with my head held high, I went into the bathroom, shut the door, and ran the shower to conceal the sound of my sobbing.

My son is a different animal entirely. He instinctively knew it would be sad for me when he “learned the truth” about Santa. I should probably confess here that when I discovered he’d outgrown Baby Gap and graduated to Gap Kids (as was explained to me by a cold-hearted sales associate with no soul), I literally started crying right there in the middle of the store.

Anyway, it was a few days before Christmas when he said he needed to talk to me. He had that look people get when they know they’re going to tell you something you’re not going to like, but have to tell you anyway.

“I have a confession to make,” he began.

You’re 12, I thought. What could you possibly have to confess? I felt a chill run through me.

He stammered and stalled a little bit. Unlike his little sister, he was trying to let me down easy. “Well…I snooped.”

“Snooped?” I asked.

“I looked under the bed in the guest room…”

I immediately knew. And he knew that I knew. You see, all the presents from Santa are wrapped in distinct “Santa” wrapping paper with special gift tags (written in a curlicue hand that does not resemble mine), and stowed under the guest room bed. He had found his presents from Santa when Christmas hadn’t happened yet. This inconsistency in the holiday timeline could not be wriggled out of. I was trapped.

With wide eyes and a sweet loving heart, he said, “I’m sorry mom. Don’t feel bad. I’ve actually known for a while now.” And he put his arm around me. “But don’t worry. I won’t tell her.” The her he was referring to was, of course, his little sister. He was blissfully unaware that she’d already pulled the plug on me during the Tooth Fairy fiasco.

But now, here’s the funny thing about all this: kids really don’t know everything. If they thought for a moment about all those visits to St. Nick they would know that he does exist.

I have never stopped believing. In fact, every year, hubby and I pay that sweet old elf a visit before we go to see the tree at Rockefeller Center. And every year, he is just as jolly and warm and welcoming as the year before. And every year, as I’m walking through Macy’s Santaland, I am a child again, believing in peace on Earth, goodwill toward man, and the everlasting spirit and joy of the season. It fills me with a kind of love and comfort that can only be described as magical.

One day, my kids will experience this same enchanted feeling again. How can I be so sure?

Because, I believe.

Selfie with elf = Elfie

 

Sustenance

Food. Nourishment. Grub. Whatever you want to call that stuff you stuff into your mouth, its intended purpose is to support life.

I remember watching a TED Talk comparing the human brain to other animals. Our brains are more evolved because we cook our food. Could it really be that simple? It is, and here’s why: In order for the brain to grow and develop, it must be fed. The number of calories a human body burns in a day depends on its level of activity; but not your brain. It makes no difference if your brain is sleeping, designing rocket ships or trying to figure out common core math, it will burn 500 calories each and every day, no matter what.

***Listen to SNORK, the podcast by clicking here!***

If you were a gorilla, and only ate raw twigs and leaves, you would have to spend most of your waking hours eating to consume enough calories just to stay alive. If a gorilla had the capacity to cook (or, at the very least, make a smoothie), it could reduce large volumes of food into smaller, more easily digestible meals. By doing so, it could consume many more calories in much less time, making it’s brain larger and, presumably, smarter.

“Hmm, I think this paleo diet is really working.”

So, it was the discovery of fire that essential transformed us into the species we are today. These are scientific facts, people, and I don’t dispute them. But here’s where I get tripped up: what was the turning point that changed our fuel from throwing the day’s kill onto the fire into dinner parties for eight, complete with wine pairings?

Who was the first Homo erectus Martha Stewart? Did she one day think, “Hmm, I wonder if this animal flesh would taste better combined with sprigs of vegetation and some roots?” Was it she that decided meals tastes better when shared with friends? “Hey, let’s invite the Uga-ugas over this Saturday night!”

Was this the advent of our complicated relationship with food?

It’s hard to picture an early ancestor sitting around the cave thinking, “I’m not really hungry, but I could go for a nosh.” I don’t think lower-food chain animals behave this way. Would a lion ever hunt down a gazelle because it’s feeling a tad peckish? Can you imagine a bear polishing off a salmon because there’s nothing good on TV? Or what if a chipmunk’s mate ran away? Would it scarf down all the nuts it was saving for winter because it had no access to raw cookie dough?

No, these disordered uses of food are strictly human. I hate to be a downer, but let’s face it: we sometimes take the very thing that’s meant to keep us alive and use it to slowly kill ourselves. They don’t call it “death by chocolate” for nothing.

And even if you have a very healthy diet, I doubt you view food as simply a way of transporting nutrients into your body. No, we modern-day humans have turned our food into so much more.

Food is a major component of our social lives. We use it to celebrate, to bring people together, to give pleasure, to comfort, to express love…all good things in moderation.

My personal relationship with food, and more specifically eating, is based on romance…and sometimes anger…but mostly romance. When I speak about a good meal, I create a narrative, a sensuous, seductive story detailing every nuance of every bite.

Once, while recommending a restaurant to a friend, my husband said, They have good ravioli.”

WHAT?

“Oh, no, no, no” I said. “They have delectable cheese-filled pasta pillows, that taste like they are lovingly assembled by the chubby hands of baby cherubs…so tender, I could have rested my head on them and slept.”

Now, that’s romantic. Want to know what’s not romantic? A date that does not involve a meal, that’s what.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go on a date. Whether we’re seeing a show, or going to a concert, we always start by going out to dinner. One night, to mix things up a little, I suggested we have a quick bite at home and spend our date playing tennis. Great idea, right? Sure, if you think throwing a hissy fit on date night adds a nice spice to a marriage. I played so badly that the evening devolved into a lot of excuses, blaming, cursing, and pouting. Sexy, no? After that failed experiment, it was back to candlelit restaurants for us – back to savoring each seductive morsel with a good glass of wine and relaxing conversation.

And we judge others by what they eat.

I once threw a dinner party, not knowing one guest was in the middle of a cleanse. Why would someone on a cleanse come to a dinner party in the first place? You tell me. Anyway, he couldn’t eat anything I served, but as luck would have it, I made floral arrangements out of carnations, clementines, squash blossoms and Nasturtiums. So, he ate the centerpiece. True story! And, yes, we all judged him.

The bottom line is this: Food is complicated. We don’t really know why we eat the way we do, or why we like some things but loathe others. All we can really be sure of is that grub does more than just sustain our bodies. It nourishes our hearts, our imaginations, our relationships and feeds the soul.

Happy Thanksgiving from SNORK!

So, this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself sitting at a table with the people you love, feeling full of life’s blessings and enjoying all the flavors of this world’s abundance.

Tips For The Serious Candidate

keep-calm-and-no-politics-no-religionWhen I started SNORK, I made a few promises to myself. For starters, I vowed to create a virtual happy place where visitors would feel welcomed when they arrived and happy or uplifted when they left. Which also meant I would not pick fights or incite controversy – a shock tactic sometimes used to promote things on the Internet.

Now, I can’t say for sure what every person’s hot buttons are, but there are two topics that are notoriously high-voltage: religion and politics. I have seen discussions of religion and politics clear rooms and bring otherwise-reasonable people down to their explosive worst selves. So, as far as I was concerned, those two subjects were verboten for SNORK.

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Well, today, I’m breaking one of my rules, but not in a way you might think.  I’m just trying to be helpful. 

Close friends would probably describe me as a go-with-the-flow kind of gal. I play well with others, don’t much care where we eat or what movies we go to see. Yet, there are still a few things I simply cannot abide, and will not do. Take political discourse, for example. I enjoy discussing politics about as much as – oh, I don’t know – falling out of a moving car…which I have actually done (it’s even less fun than it sounds).

Whenever an election year rolls around, I have to put on a Hazmat suit before I look at my social media feeds. The venomous spitting and mudslinging that goes on among “friends” turns Facebook and Twitter into “anti-social” media at it’s nastiest.

At the gym, I’ve already threatened my workout buddies that, if they don’t put the political arguments on ice, I might have to start drinking every morning. If you see me on the elliptical with olives floating in my “water,” you’ll know that I’ve hit the wall.

My disdain for politics is especially ironic considering I once ran for public office which, to be perfectly honest, wasn’t even my own idea. [Disclaimer: Not all politicians are perfectly honest, but you can trust me]. Without my knowledge, there was a group of politically active citizens in my town who had been vetting me – some were friends of mine, some I didn’t know. Meeting with their approval, I was approached to be their candidate in an upcoming town board election.

How I came to be on their radar is not an interesting story. Suffice it to say that, back in those days, I agreed to nearly every volunteer request and sat on a number of boards and committees.

In any event, since they asked me and believed in me, I felt it was my civic duty to accept. There were other reasons, of course, but none so compelling as my inability to decline a call for help. (Please refer back to the previous “volunteerism” statement).

My story does not have a happy ending (or perhaps it does, depending on your perspective) because I lost the election. I did, however, gain a wealth of knowledge that I’d like to share with anyone willing to throw his or her hat into the ring.

So, without further ado, I’ve put together this handy-dandy campaign management primer called “Tips For The Serious Candidate.”

Lesson #1: Clean Up Your Act

The day before I publicly announced my candidacy, I completely sanitized my social media by deleting anything that could be twisted, misconstrued, exploited or spun negatively in any way.

Depending on one’s lifestyle, potential embarrassments are easy to spot. For example, if you have a habit of posting underwear selfies, or worse yet, tweeting photos of your “equipment,” you should know these will reflect badly upon you (regardless of how magnificent a specimen you believe yourself to be). If you post offending remarks about the opposite sex, your next-door neighbors, fat people, skinny people, religious groups, children, animals, the elderly, trees…you should probably delete those, too. Most rants, no matter how well intended, should probably go bye-bye as well.

This should all seem fairly obvious. However, as we’ve learned throughout history, some candidates are either too egotistical, or too dim-witted to know what’s considered inappropriate. Mainstreaming oneself is the name of the game. You want to appeal to the masses. If you think that’s manipulative or disingenuous, you would be right. But if you plan on running for office, you’ll to have to get over it. Those votes aren’t going to cast themselves, honey.

Bottoms up!

My social media was all very tame. It wasn’t so easy to see things that might be interpreted as transgressions or cause embarrassment to me, should they be made public. I had to pour over everything with fresh eyes, looking for possible land mines. There were some things that stood out more than others, like a photo of me enjoying a 2-liter mug of beer at Munich’s Hofbrauhaus (which, incidentally is where Hitler was rumored to do his best thinking). Delete. There were some photos of me in swimwear. Delete. Cleavage? Delete. How about those jokes or witticisms that one wouldn’t understand unless they knew me personally? Delete.

Most of this stuff was on Facebook and could only be seen by friends, right? Wrong. When you run for office, somehow everything has a way of becoming public and you can’t be sure whom to trust, even among your friends. Which brings us to…

Lesson 2: Trust No One

I learned this lesson the hard way. There was a reporter who befriended me very early in my campaign. Let’s call her Beyotchne. Beyotchne would call to chit-chat. She’d show up at events and make small talk. It was all very innocent, I thought, and she seemed very supportive in a “we women have to stick together” kind of way. Girl power!

...and Beyotchne!

…and Beyotchne!

I had no idea that all those innocuous conversations were actually interviews. It didn’t take long to see that Beyotchne was not a stickler for fair and balanced reporting. Rather, her agenda was to make me look like a moron. Don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Beyotchne asked me how I planned to spend Election Day. While going over my full schedule, I also lamented that my children had dentist appointments, which could not be rescheduled. When Beyotchne ran the article, it outlined all the candidates’ Election Day programs: setting up phone banks to call constituents, visiting the senior center to schedule transportation for people who needed rides to the poles, canvassing neighborhoods for last-minute votes…the lists went on and on. Then it said, “Anita Rotondi Rosner will be taking her kids to the dentist.”

Lesson #3: Go Through Your Closet

For the serious female candidate, political apparel is challenging. When a man is stumping, all he needs are a few conservative suits and a comfortable pair of walking shoes. If he wants to look casual, such as when he’s munching on a hot dog at the county fair, all he needs is a polo shirt and a pair of chinos. When he wants to look like a hard-working common man, he simply removes his suit jacket and rolls up his shirtsleeves. Women can’t get away with that.

Before I hit the campaign trail, my niece, Lina, and I went through my closet. I enjoy being comfortable, and only dress up for formal occasions. The result: a wardrobe of peasant skirts, sundresses, jeans, tank tops, T-shirts, flip-flops and ball gowns. None of these were practical for my purposes. So we went shopping.

After trolling rack upon rack of professional attire, and several trips to the dressing room, it became abundantly clear that, unlike the Geraldine Ferraros and Sarah Palins of the world, I cannot rock a suit. We tried every cut and style imaginable. If the suit had a boxy silhouette, it devoured me. If it was form-fitting, I looked like a naughty flight attendant. I’m just not built for business, if you know what I mean.

Lina and I finally managed to put together a collection of skirts, blouses and conservative dresses (all of which I hated). And what about the shoes? Darlings, you can’t wear flats with a skirt or a dress, so it’s all about the pumps. Have you ever canvassed a neighborhood or marched in a Columbus Day parade wearing high heels? No? Trust me, you wouldn’t like it.

One more note about going through your closet: if, while you’re rummaging around back there, you come across your old KKK uniform, or an illegitimate second family that your current family knows nothing about, please rescind your candidacy immediately. America will thank you.

Lesson #4 – Work With What You’ve Got

My town is predominately Irish and Italian. My co-candidate, John, and I were running against two men. One Irishman. One Paisan. My maiden name is Italian. I married a nice Jewish boy. John (also Italian) insisted I use both my maiden name and my married name during our run, hoping to attract Italian constituents. It’s hard to fit “Elect John Filiberti and Anita Rotondi Rosner for Town Board” on anything smaller than a dirigible, but we managed to squeeze it onto our campaign materials. In the end, I swept one part of town, the one with the largest Jewish population.

Lesson learned, although by whom and for what, remains unclear.

Lesson #5: Rules Are For Suckers

Our fifth and final lesson revolves around the most uncomfortable 30 minutes of my life.

The League of Women Voters traditionally organizes televised debates every campaign season. My team totally downplayed the event in an attempt to keep me relaxed. They were unsuccessful.

I’d seen debates on television. That was the extent of my preparation. Naively, I believed it would be better not to appear too practiced. I simply wanted to answer questions with truth and authenticity – this was my first mistake. I should have rehearsed sound bites and delivered them with the off-the-cuff aplomb of a skilled Oscar winner.

Upon entering the debate venue, we four candidates were seated on stage. Our opponents surrounded themselves with canyons of three-by-five cards, arranged in piles. John opened up several file folders and fanned them out in front of him. Me? I brought along a piece of paper and a pencil, just in case I wanted to jot down some notes.

Remember that Sesame Street song “One of These Things (is not like the other)”?

Look, Ma! No notes!

Look, Ma! No notes!

Yup, I was the one not like the others. Not only was I the only woman on the panel, I was categorically out-papered. So, listen up…even if you don’t need notes and have a memory like a steel trap, bring tons of documents to look serious, official and intimidating. Voters love that.

At the start of the debate, the representative from The League Of Women Voters went over the rules: We would have two minutes to answer each questions. During those two minutes, we were to answer the question asked and only that question. We were not to use the time for any other purpose. There were additional rules, but I can’t tell you what they were, because after I heard “two minutes,” my brain went out the window.

Each time a question was directed at me, my eyes darted to the timekeeper (making me look shifty). Then my response would tumble out, riding on the stream of a single breath. I’d complete my answer with seconds to spare. Only then would I inhale and relax my butt muscles. Unlike other candidates, I did not use my time to clarify something I might have said or to rebut someone else’s remarks. Nor did I ignore the question entirely to barf out my own agenda. I left the debate grumbling that my parents, who taught me to play fair, had failed me by doing so.

In the end, I can take comfort in knowing I fought a clean fight. My campaign was honest and civil. I told no lies, threw no punches. I wanted to make things better. I learned what’s important to people and took their concerns to heart. I had the full love, respect and support of my family and friends. I tried. Did my best. And while I may not have prevailed, I gained more than I lost.

And, yes, I voted for myself. What's it to ya?

And, yes, I voted for myself. What’s it to ya?

Madame Fortuna Knows All

Some people put more effort into decorating for Halloween than Radio City Music Hall puts into their Christmas Spectacular.  All over the suburbs, homes are festooned with strands of orange lights, giant spiders dangling from rooftops, goblins and witches lurking in the trees, mock cemeteries gracing front lawns…  I’ve even seen people take it to the limit by bringing the ghoulishness insides their homes – coffins and skeletons and dungeons.   Me?  I put a mini pumpkin and some gourds on the dining room table and call it a day.

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Even as a kid, Halloween’s main attraction for me was free candy and not much else.  If a grown-up asked me what I was planning to “be,” I’d shrug.  Those important decisions were left up to my personal seamstress (a/k/a my mother).

Mom’s always been very creative and made our costumes by hand.  Store-bought outfits were not an option.  The one exception occurred the year my three older siblings and I were too sick to go trick-or-treating.  Mom spared herself the job of sewing and gluing and toiling – while caring for four cases of chicken pox, or flu, or god-knows-what-all, and instead, bought costumes for us to wear over our pajamas.   Most moms would have skipped the whole thing entirely, but our mom would not deprive us.  Halloween was going to stink that year.  The least she could do was let us dress-up.  Now, that’s a good mom!

Worst Halloween Ever

Worst Halloween Ever

So there we were, four little kids sitting by the living room window, watching all the other kids who were lucky enough to be out.  My oldest brother, Dominic (age 11 at the time), had the important job of answering the door and handing out the candy.  We all expected it to be the dullest Halloween ever.  But then…

A teenage boy (who was not in costume) came up our front steps.  We didn’t know him.  He was all alone, and didn’t have a bag or a pillowcase or a plastic pumpkin with which to collect his loot.  We kids looked at each other.  Something seemed “off.”  He rang the bell.  Dominic picked up our big bowl of treats and, with some hesitation, opened the door.  Without saying a word, and for no apparent reason, the teenager swung his arm, as if to execute an underhanded softball pitch, and knocked the bowl up and out of my brother’s hands, creating a shower of fun-size delights that landed all over the porch and entryway.  Finally, we thought, some excitement!

Even at the tender age of four, I knew there was danger afoot, and was afraid for my brother.  I screamed for my father, who came into the living room just as the boy took off running.  I’d never seen Daddy move so fast.  He flew down the front steps, caught the kid a block away and brought him back by the collar of his shirt.  After making him return every last piece of candy to the bowl, my father told him to apologize to my brother.  Then he gave him a brief lecture on civilized behavior.  The boy could not explain why he had done it (my mother thinks he must have been drunk).  My father agreed not to call the kid’s parents if he promised to stay out of trouble.  The boy dutifully complied because this was the 60’s, when teenagers respected their elders and nobody felt the need to call the police or their lawyers or draw weapons.

I was in awe of my father that night.  He protected his home, avenged my brother, firmly (but kindly) taught a valuable lesson to a wayward child and saved our candy.  My hero!

Many Halloweens followed, and they weren’t particularly eventful.  I didn’t care what I wore (usually somebody’s hand-me-down from the prior year).  During high school, I tried to be a little more innovative.  Most girls went as cheerleaders, cats, bunnies, nurses…girlie things.  By college, they were still dressing this way, except now they went as slutty cheerleaders, sexy cats, Playboy bunnies and naughty nurses.  So much for the women’s movement.

Cher channelling Madame Fortuna

Cher channelling Madame Fortuna

It was in college that I came up with my perfect costume (and alter ego): Madame Fortuna.  Madame Fortuna was born out of sheer laziness – a flowing skirt, a scarf to tie around my head, layers of jewelry, and gobs of dramatic eye make-up were all that was necessary to transform me into this mysterious gypsy fortune teller.  Wandering through parties, the Madame read palms and made up comical, ridiculous predictions for anybody who wanted a “reading.”  My friends and I would go to Halloween events and use Madame Fortuna to make friends, meet cute guys and score free drinks.

When I moved to New York City after college, I realized I’d have to start putting more effort into my costumes – not because I wanted to, but because I had to. My other brother, Michael, threw legendary Halloween parties in his Manhattan apartment and killer costumes were de rigueur.  Guests were instructed to a) dress up, b) bring food or booze, and c) come with something to sleep on.

Michael would move all of the furniture out of his living and dining rooms, roll up the rugs, put strobe lights in the chandelier, black lights in the lamps, roast a turkey and a ham, and let the good times roll.

We’d dance all night, and when the last reveler couldn’t stand up anymore, we’d kick the dirty cups and cigarette butts out of the way, roll out our sleeping bags and pass out on the floor.  The next morning, everybody pitched in to clean up and then we’d go out to brunch. Sounds like heaven, doesn’t it?

I couldn’t attend Michael’s epic parties in a half-ass costume or show up every single year as a gypsy.  It was necessary to think outside the box.  But whomever (or whatever) I came up with, I’d stay in character all night (to the delight of some and the confusion of others).  I once went as Katherine Hepburn’s character from On Golden Pond.  I stippled my face and hands with liver spots, put on a big sun hat and went around calling people “old poops” in a quivering, upper-crusty accent.  One guest, utterly perplexed by my costume (or not familiar with the great Kate – go figure), asked my brother if there was something “wrong” with me.  Um, hello…it’s a costume party, professor!

Are you stupid, you old poop?

Are you stupid, you old poop?

Another year, I went as daylight savings time with clocks taped to my shirt, springs in my hair and autumn leaves glued to my back and butt.  Spring ahead.  Fall back.  Get it?  Neither did anyone else.

When Michael moved to a smaller apartment, he gave up those fabulous parties and nobody offered to take them over.  I can’t blame them.  That kind of magic can’t ever be recreated, even on a night where witches and warlocks abound.

So, a lot of years went by when I didn’t dress up at all.  Then, about 10 years ago, one of my sister’s co-workers was organizing a carnival-style fundraiser at a park in New Jersey.  My sister asked me to do my Madame Fortuna bit for the event.   It was for a good cause, so I figured why not.

I decided to kick it up a notch, and bought some props – a crystal ball and a deck of Tarot cards.  My plan was to have some jokes and tricks prepared in advance, to entertain people donating their money to a phony fortune teller (as if there was any other kind).

So, on a sunny morning in early October, I brought Madame Fortuna out of retirement.

My first customer sat down, and I immediately noticed she was wearing a necklace that read Sandy.  This would be like taking candy from a baby, I thought.

Staring deeply into my crystal ball, and in an accent thicker than goulash, I said to her,  “I am standing on the edge of an ocean.”

She:     [No response]

Me:      I see a vast expanse of beach.  Does this mean anything to you?

She:     [Meekly shakes her head no]

Me:      The shoreline is very grainy.

She:     [Still no response.  I considered checking her pulse.]

Me:      There is a lot of sand.  It is very, sandy.  Yes!  Very, veeeeeery SANDY!  This means nothing to you?

She:     Well…we used to have a house by the Jersey shore. [It seemed I had overestimated Sandy, and her IQ.]

Me:      [Exasperated, I dropped the accent and said] Lady!  Is your name Sandy or what?

She:     Who me?  Oh, yeah…

Next!

A small group of middle school boys stepped up, each daring the other to get a reading with yours truly.  A redheaded boy said he wasn’t afraid.  He also called me “bogus.”

Madame Fortuna and I know a thing or two about redheaded boys.  As a matter of fact, we married one.  They are full of mischief (especially if they also have freckles).  So, I decided to make a not-so-wild guess that this “ginger” was a handful.

Me:      Look into my crystal ball and tell me what you see.

Red:    Nothing.

Me:      Of course you see nothing!  That is because you are not Madame Fortuna! I am.  [This elicited laughs from his friends. I pulled the crystal ball toward me and stared into it for a moment, then clacked my tongue and shook my head in disgust.]  School only started a month ago and already you are into much troubles!  Yes?  [Note: for added authenticity, broken English must always accompany a phony accent.]

Red:    [Flabbergasted] Holy $#@!

Red’s friends gasped and moved closer to my table.  One of them whispered, “How does she know that?”  How, indeed?  My instincts, and follicular profiling, proved to be correct.

Red:   [Suspicious]  Do you know my mom?

Me:      Silence!  [Remembering how my father tried a little mentoring with the sociopathic candy bandit, I saw an opportunity to give Red some unsolicited guidance] Listen to me, my little potty mouth friend, your teachers think you are a jitterbug who doesn’t like to pay attention.  But Madame Fortuna knows you are bored in school.  You must not let this defeat you!  [I wagged my finger at him for emphasis. My jangling bracelets added the perfect sound effect.]  Madame Fortune sees two futures for you.  The first one will happen if you do not heed my warning.  You are understanding me?  Madame Fortuna sees one word, written over and over again, in bright red letters! [Dramatically, I pushed the ball away and covered my eyes as if it were too painful to witness. I opened them and looked gravely at Red.] Juvie!  Do you know what is this word, juvie?

Red’s eyes widened, as did his posse’s.  He nodded his head.  Nobody was laughing anymore.  They were hanging on my every word.

Me:      The second future, if you behave at school, is full with all kinds of wonderfulnesses.  You will be…great leader!  Can you promise to be good boy, kid?

Red:    I will!  I promise, I will!

I liked working with Red a whole lot better than that dingbat Sandy.

Next up were two adorable ‘tween girls, who were obviously the best of friends.  They were holding on to each other, full of giggles and giddy trepidation.  I could hear them talking as they approached, and I noticed they were both very articulate.  I suspected they were a couple of smart cookies, so I took that angle.  One of them was wearing eyeglasses.  A clue, perhaps?

Me:      [Speaking to “Glasses”]  Would you like me to read your palm or your cards?

Glasses:           Can we do the crystal ball?

Me:      Why not?  Madame Fortuna aims to please.  Hmm…I see you in a room, alone.  You are very happy there…because…because…because you are surrounded by books!

Glasses and her friend, Giggles, both let out a scream.   It appeared I had nailed this one, too.

Giggles:           She’s always got her nose in a book!  That is unbelievable!  How did you know that?

Me:      Madame Fortuna knows aaaaalllll.

I had no idea I was so good at reading people, or that sterotypes could be so helpful… bookworms wore glasses…redheads are rascals…

My reputation as a gifted seer (a/k/a lucky guesser) soon spread, and the line to see Madame Fortuna began to grow.  For six hours without bathroom breaks (Madame Fortuna has bladder like camel, yes?), I read old men, young mothers, couples, kids…you name it.  Everybody wanted a piece of the Transylvanian Sensation.

I was surprised to see a repeat customer step up to my table.  It was Glasses with a man who unquestionably was her father. He had his arms crossed and wore a grumpy expression.  No doubt about it, he wanted nothing to do with me.

I figured the best way to loosen him up would be with a joke.  I asked him to look into the crystal ball and to tell me what he saw (I was setting him up for the same gag I had used on Red).  When I retold the joke, Grumpy Dad didn’t even crack a smile.  OK, I thought, onto the next quip.  Some of my prepared jokes ended with song lyrics for punch lines.  I would try the set-up that ended with, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing.”

Me:      [Looking into the crystal ball] I see…hmm…I’m confused…I don’t know what this means…but I see…a porch swing.

Looking up, I saw Grumpy Dad’s face lose its color as his mouth dropped open.  His daughter, Glasses, grabbed his arm and softly whispered, “See, daddy.  I told you she was real!

Me:      What does this mean?  This swing?

Glasses:           This summer, we built a porch swing together as a daddy-daughter project!

How was I doing this?  I felt like Whoopi Goldberg in the movie Ghost.  She plays a con artist, posing as a medium, and bilks people out of money by pretending to commune with the “other side.”  When she finds out that she really can talk to the dead, it terrifies her.  At this point, I was starting to give myself the creeps.  Could I be that lucky of a guesser? It didn’t seem possible.

Me:     Your father loves you very much.  I don’t need crystal ball for to see that.

Glasses:  He’s the best!

Finally, a big fat smile out of Grumpy Dad.  He gave his little girl a hug and kissed the top of her head.  As they got up to leave, he leaned over to me, whispering, “Impressive.”

Me:   [Whispering back] Magic!

The fundraiser was a great success.  Attendees had a good time and a lot of money was raised.  A little girl shared a special moment with her dad.  A skeptical dad opened up to the possibility of magic.  A red-haired boy set his sights on something higher than juvenile detention.  And a woman named Sandy wandered around the parking lot trying to remember where she left her car.  How can I be sure?

Madame Fortuna knows all.

Empty Nest Syndrome

01857bf74df15df4e47a9ff442f79b42Unlike most parents, I used to dread the end of summer when it was time for the kids to go back to school. I’m all about the loosey-goosey lazy days of unscheduled relaxation and the freedom to be spontaneous. For me, sending them back to school meant setting the alarm clock, making lunches, pick-ups and drop-offs, and scheduling life around homework and extra-curricular activities.

And let’s not forget all the back-to-school paperwork. I can never understand why schools make us fill out the exact same forms every single year for each child. Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to send home one printout of your vital information and ask you to send it back only if there are changes needed? But I digress.

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As I was saying , in the past got a little blue at back-to-school time, but that was before I became an empty nester. Last year was the first time in 16 years that both kids were away at school and it was an adjustment for my husband and me, but not in the way you might think. When the first one was preparing to leave for college, I was slightly beside myself – and I’ll share that story in a moment – but first I’m going to tell you something that other parents think, but dare not say:

“This whole empty-nest thing is freaking amazing!”

My husband and I can’t remember when we’ve had so much fun. We travel, go to music festivals and rock concerts, dine out, sleep with the bedroom door wide open… There are never dirty dishes in the sink. The countertops bear no backpacks, books, pencils… I do laundry once a week. ONCE! Nobody calls me in a panic to tell me they forgot their computer in their room, probably on the floor under a wet towel or next to their gym bag, which was also forgotten and could I please drop that off, too? No! There is none of that!!! No forgotten lunches. No back-to-school nights or PTA meetings. That mishigas is all in my rearview mirror.

Now when they call, it’s to ask “How are you?” or “What’s new?” or once in a while it’s, “Can you transfer some money to my debit card?” And ever now and then, they call just to say, “I love you, mom.” Doesn’t that phone call sound a whole lot better than, “I’m in the nurse’s office with a headache. Can you come pick me up?”

re-6-216x300Oh yeah.  Those headaches are somebody else’s headache now.

Yes, these are the things empty nesters don’t tell you, or their children. Because, after all, nobody wants come off as an unloving parent – and let me be very clear, we love our children with all our hearts whether they’re home or at school. All I’m saying is, like anything else, you get used to the changes, you make the adjustments, and then you put your feet up and make a martini.

I never thought it could be this way, or that I’d be so relaxed with them out from under my wing. Kicking that first kid out of the nest was actually quite hard. At the time, I wrote a sort called “Please Release Me.”

Here it is again.  Enjoy!

Please Release Me

Parents have lots of endearing nicknames for their kids: Budgie, Smoojie, Jellybean…  For occasions when their children are being needy, I’ve heard parents call them Velcro, The Warden, The Cling-On… And during those especially trying times: The Barnacle or The hemorrhoids (always said with love, of course).  In our house, you would be known as Whiny Clingman or Grumpus Minutus.

As a tyke, whenever my Sonny Boy was feeling codependent, he’d stand in front of me with his arms raised, saying, “I hold you, Mommy?”  This meant, “Pick me up.”

I know what you’re thinking: how cute!  Yes.  It was cute…for the first seven thousand times.  After that, as I’d try to cook the food, launder the laundry, or tend to our younger child, it would become a tad less darling.

If I couldn’t pick him up right away, he would swiftly transform from Whiny Clingman to Grumpus Minutus – turning me into Grumpus Minimus or Grumpus Maximus, depending on my hormone levels.

Sonny Boy would often wait for the most inopportune time to require cuddling – usually when I’d have his little sister on the changing table.  I would have to bend down, raise my ointment-covered hands like a surgeon, press my head against daughter to keep her from rolling off the table and hug Sonny Boy with my knees and elbows. Try it sometime.  It’s a herniated disk waiting to happen.

He would come from out of nowhere, like a toddler ninja, and insist on human contact.  So stealth.  One time, I didn’t even know he was standing right behind me until he squeaked, “I hold you, Mommy!”  Nearly jumping out of my skin, I jerked, flinging diaper rash goop onto the ceiling and alarming the daylights out of poor Peaches.  The result?  Two disgruntled employers.

Now before you judge my Sonny Boy as demanding, let me tell you, he was the ideal child.  A delight!  Cheerful and sweet 99% of the time!  He loved to sit quietly and look through his books or play with his toys for hours on end.  That’s why I’d feel especially guilty if I couldn’t hold him at the precise instant he needed some extra attention.

Whenever I could, I’d scoop him into my arms, and squeeze him with just the right amount of squish.  I’d nuzzle his sweet ample cheeks, and whisper, “Sometimes you love too much, my little man.” And then we would laugh and he’d kiss me.  It was our little joke.

This all happened nearly two decades ago which, in parent years, was yesterday.  It’s an age-old cliché, but truer than true: time passes faster than you ever thought possible.  These days, Sonny Boy is nearly a foot taller than I, so I’m grateful he hasn’t asked me to pick him up recently.  But he hasn’t asked for hugs either.  If only.

Very soon, we will drop Sonny Boy off at college for the first time.  We live in New York.  His college is deep in Pennsylvania, so it’s practically Kentucky (or Pennsyltucky, as the locals call it).  Being a six-hour car ride away, it may as well be in another galaxy.

I have already warned him that I might be embarrassing on move-in day.  I’m pretty sure there will be tears.  I already wept at orientation, and I wasn’t alone.  It happened when the bursar spoke to all of us parents about college loans and financing.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

But move-in day is sure to be worse.  I will hide behind my huge Jackie O sunglasses.  I’ll probably tear up on the ride there, but as soon as our wheels hit the campus, I will begin the “ugly cry.”  I will try to be brave while meeting his RA and put on a jolly façade as I’m being introduced to his roommate.  By then, however, my nose will be red, my eyes will be puffy and I will be fooling no one.

When it’s time to say good-bye, he will walk us to our car.  He will hug me and, if I’m lucky, he’ll kiss my cheek.  Hubby and I will drive away, leaving him behind.  In that twinkling of an eye, I will have to let him go, for real.  And this will cause me considerable pain because, my name is Whiny Clingman, and sometimes I love too much.

 

sindrome-ninho-vazio-2

Horsing Around

And They're Off!

And They’re Off!

Summers in my heyday included weekend trips to Lake George, sunbathing in Grafton Park, and the much-anticipated Saratoga Racing Season.

Spending the afternoon at the flat track wasn’t just a day at the races; it was an event. Each year, I’d plan what I’d wear, how much money I’d bring, how much I’d be willing to bet, what I’d spend on food and drink, and, no trip to the track was complete without going dancing afterwards, late into the night.

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Let me break it down for you…

First, let’s go over proper attire. Sure, plenty of people show up in cut-offs, sneakers, baseball caps, etcetera, etcetera. Schlemiels. Well, not this girl. No, sir! For my companions and me, half the fun of going to Saratoga was in the dressing up: sundresses, big hats, heels, Jackie-O sunglasses, leather clutch, pearls…you get the picture.

Now, let’s talk about the after-party:

Before heading out to the track, my friends and I would each pack bags of evening clothes and throw them into the trunk of my car. After the last race of the day, we’d go into town for dinner. Then, at about nine o’clock, we’d get into the backseat of the car, change into our “disco clothes” and head to a club called “The Rafters.”

The Rafters was located in the middle of Kaydeross Park, on Saratoga Lake. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I was amazed that I found my way there. “Remote” doesn’t begin to describe it.

It was a favorite hangout for all the jockeys and trainers.

At the risk of sounding “braggy,” let me just say I was a most sought-after girl at The Rafters. Why? Well it could have been because I was…

  1. …young and beautiful
  2. … an accomplished and enthusiastic dancer partner, or
  3. … the shortest woman in the room

If you guessed D (all of the above), you would be wrong.

The answer is C. At 4’11” and 92 lbs, I made every jockey feel like a colossus. I won’t name drop, but I danced with all the greats {Did somebody say Angel Cordero?}

I’d hit the dance floor and stay there until the lights came up and it was time to go home. These were some of the happiest times of my college years.

 

So, imagine my excitement when my friend Harris moved to Baltimore and invited a group of us to come down for the Preakness.

My first order of business was to buy the right outfit for such a swanky occasion. After a period of careful discernment, I settled on a pastel linen skirt –the fabric of which looked like a Monet watercolor. The blouse was a gauzy trapeze top, sheer (with the exception of two strategically placed pockets – if you know what I mean). It was sexy, but tasteful and sophisticated at the same time. For footwear, I selected a pair of gray kitten heels. At the track, there’s a lot of walking on grass and gravel, so a low heel is essential. To round out the ensemble, I chose a straw cloche hat al a Mia Farrow al a Daisy Buchanan al a The Great Gatsby.

Feathered Saratoga Hat

Fast forward to racing day. About 12 of us were camped out at Harris’s condo. I emerged from the guest room, looking like I was being presented at Buckingham Palace.

Harris asked, “Where are you going?”

“Pimlico, baby!” I cheered.

“Not like that, you’re not,” he said.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

He shook his head, “You’re gonna ruin that outfit. We’re sitting in the infield.

“Who’s gonna what now?” I asked.

“The infield,” he repeated. “That’s where we’re sitting.”

Let me put this in perspective for you: At Saratoga, we’d sit in the Clubhouse, at linen-covered tables, soaking up air-conditioning and cool Saratoga Sunrise cocktails. The Saratoga infield was a manicured oasis – lush emerald grass accented with vibrant flowers and neatly trimmed shrubbery.

Through his chuckling, Harris advised, “Go put on some shorts and sneakers. Then you can help us pack the cooler.”

“Cooler?” Really?

I retreated back to the guest room and changed into the aforementioned schlemiel costume (sans backward baseball cap), then reported to the kitchen to help make ham sandwiches for our picnic lunch.

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

Feathered Pimlico Infield Hat

When we arrived at Pimlico, we were directed to a tunnel that ran under the track. It was relatively short, but no less hot, humid or fragrant as the finest New York City subway station.

 

The mob scene on the other side was something like “Woodstock meets Honey Boo Boo.”

The ground was thick with mud, the kind that sucks your shoes off when you walk through it. Drunken revelers staggered all over the place and the smell of pot wafted from every direction.

To give you an idea of the infield dress code: there was a woman in a string bikini made of four seashells and leather straps. We started referring to her as “Shelley.” Some people had pitched tents and dug out privies, I swear to god! (I wondered how long they’d been there and how long they planned on staying).

I didn’t see much horseracing that day, because I was mesmerized by my surroundings. Afraid I’d get lost and end up in someone hillbilly’s encampment, I never left the infield to place a bet. While sitting on a soggy blanket, I drank lukewarm beer from a can and ate sandwiches wrapped in waxed paper.

And truth be told, I never had that much fun at a horserace before or since.

Dadgumit! Where’d Shelley git to?

 

 

 

Good Grief

Our family vacation was only three weeks away when we got the bad news.  It would change everything.

About a month earlier, we decided that our health routine could probably use some tweaking…a lot of tweaking, actually.  None of us were really feeling our best, so we had full work-ups done at a wellness center in Manhattan.   Dr. Morrison examined us, took blood tests, saliva tests, and thoroughly interviewed each of us.

The tests had come in and we assembled in his office for our results.

He went over mine first: No remarkable food sensitivities or environmental allergies.  I will say (with a bit of bravado) that I look pretty good…on paper anyway.

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 Then he went over my husband’s and my daughter’s reports.  There it was in black and white: they were both highly sensitive to gluten.

Thus began the mourning period or as I called it “The Five Stages of Gluten-Free Grief.”

 

Let's the grieving begin

Let’s the grieving begin

Denial and Isolation

My husband’s grieving process was textbook.  He kind of shrugged and said, “Well, I guess I just won’t have anymore gluten then.”    Like it would be that simple.  He had no idea where gluten was hiding.  It was in his soy sauce, his favorite chips, in pizza, in beer!   He ignored the fact that he was surrounded by gluten and could be ambushed at any moment.  Talk about denial!

Our daughter was somewhat more animated about the situation, to the surprise of no one. (New Flash: teenagers aren’t famous for suppressing their feelings).  “Are you kidding me?! What am I suppose to eat now?  Water and lettuce?  No more bagels?  No more soup dumplings?  Like I’m really never gonna have another PopTart for the rest of my life?!”

I gave Dr. Morrison a look that suggested my daughter was hallucinating, then turned to her and said, “Oh goodness.  You know I don’t let you children eat PopTarts.”  Was I in denial myself? Or was I just flat-out lying?  I’ll never tell.

She grumbled and complained on our way back to the house.  When we got there, she grabbed an entire box of PopTarts, and stormed up to her room, slamming the door.

Isolation?  Check.

In fact my daughter is so efficient, she managed to sweep through Denial and Isolation in under an hour; sailing straight into Stage 2: Anger.  The problem was, she got there quickly, but stayed a bit longer than the rest of us were really loving.  That is, until she decided to stretch her negotiating muscles.   Which brings us to…

Stage 3: Bargaining

Since our family vacation was to take place in London, our daughter was already looking for leverage, “If I don’t eat any gluten between now and London, can I have afternoon tea when we’re there?”

If you’re unfamiliar with a proper English afternoon tea, it is a late day meal between 4 and 6 o’clock, consisting of tea with scones, tartlets, pastries, cookies, gluten, gluten and gluten.

So I did some bargaining of my own, “If I find a place that serves a gluten-free afternoon tea, would you settle for that?”

“OK, but if it’s awful, can I get a real afternoon tea?”

She drove a hard bargain, but it seemed fair.  After all, she might never get back to London, afternoon tea was something she had really been looking forward to, and was it really worth ruining the vacation over one meal?   “It’s a deal!” I said.  We shook on it.

We were staying at the Langham London, known for superior service, which I was about to test.  I called and arranged for gluten-free bread at every meal and a special gluten-free afternoon tea.  Their Executive Pastry Chef, the incredibly talented Cherish Finden, prepared an amazing array of delights that would have made your eyes pop out of their sockets.  It was as glorious to look at as it was to taste.  My daughter loved it.

Gluten-free heaven!

Gluten-free heaven!

If you’re thinking we were lucky enough to skip over Stage 4: Depression, think again.  There was no way we would get off that easily.  But the depression did not come from our daughter.  It came from our son, and who could blame him?  Here he was, a foodie with a cast iron stomach, and he had to listen to countless conversations about gluten on his last vacation before going off to college.

I should probably mention at this point that he and I would be gluten-free in front of daddy and daughter, but we guilt-ridden gluten-tolerators were sneaking pizza and sandwiches when nobody was looking.  There is no Gluten-Free Grief stage for that, but if there were, it would probably be called, “The Closet Eating” stage or the “You Ought To Be Ashamed Of Yourselves” stage.

Anyway, we were dining along the Thames at a place called Founders Arms.  There, on the menu, was a burger called the “Tower 42.” If you are a burger lover, which I am not, you would probably walk through fire to get one.  It’s described on the menu as a “double prime beef burger, cheese, bacon, young’s ale onions, lettuce, mayo, ketchup, gherkins, fries.”

Daughter wanted it.

“Sure,” I said, “You can have it without the bun.”

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

It's not your friend, girl.

It’s not your friend, girl.

The ensuing argument took place in hushed tones (we were, after all, in a restaurant), but the venom was no less potent.  After about 10 minutes of hissing, begging, pleading and general carrying on, my son had had enough.

With his phone hidden under the table,  he started texting me:  “For the love of god, LET HER HAVE THE BURGER!  I can’t take anymore.  This gluten issue is ruining my vacation and I don’t even believe its a real thing!”

I texted back: “It IS real! It will make her sick and she’ll be miserable all day tomorrow.”

He responded: “I’m miserable now.”

“Get the burger,” I told her.  My husband looked at me as if I’d lost mind. We’d come so far.  Placing my hand on his knee, I slipped him my phone so he could see the texts. “But,” I continued to our daughter, “If you don’t feel good tomorrow, you’re just going to have to deal with it without taking the rest of us down with you.”

“I promise,” she said.

Am I a bad parent?  Well, which child would you have sacrificed?

Stage 5: Acceptance

The next morning, she was like a bear, poked in her den well before spring; grizzly, grumpy and short-tempered. Prior to devouring the impressive Tower 42, she’d been a total delight; laughing, fun, adventurous, sweet…we had been having a wonderful time. Now, the evidence was staring us straight in the eye.  There was no more denying it.  Gluten was not her friend.  I pointed out that, prior to that burger, she’d been a totally adorable lambkins on the trip.  That’s when the lightbulb went on for her, and for my son, and for me.

Acceptance.

That was about three years ago.  Since that time, both she and my husband have mostly been gluten-free superstars.  But on those occasions when they fall off the wagon, my son and I make a run for it…to the nearest pizzeria.

Ladybug

When I worked on Wall Street, the CEO of our company would sometimes ask me for huge, labor-intensive projects, which were tons of extra work and would prevent me from doing the job I was supposed to be doing.

When I would turn these projects in, he’d say things like, “What’s this? Oh, did I ask for this? Gee, I don’t think I need this. Just hang on to it.” And he’d never mention it again.

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It happened frequently enough, that I decided if he asks me twice, then I’ll do it. So, occasionally, he’d ask a second time, “How’s that report coming?” Then I’d rush to get it done; only to be told later, “Oh, I forgot to mention that I don’t need it anymore.”

That’s when I developed the Rule Of Three. Here’s how it works:

  • Ask me once, I’d say, “You bet!” Then I’d make notes and do nothing more.
  • Ask me twice, I’d say, “I’m on it!” I’d then gather the data, and set it with my notes.
  • Ask me a third time and I’d say, “You’ll have it by the end of the day.” At this point, I’d compile my notes and data, then type up the report and hand it in.

I know, this strategy sounds like the fast track to unemployment, but it actually worked beautifully. I stopped putting in hours of unpaid overtime, stayed on top of the job I was actually hired to do, and the CEO was always satisfied with the special projects that he actually wanted.

I haven’t worked on Wall Street in decades, but sometimes I still use the Rule Of Three. For example, when my mother turned 79, she told me what she wanted to do for her 80th birthday. Taking me aside, she whispered, “Here’s what it is…and you can’t tell anybody in the family: I want you to take me to have a ladybug tattooed on my ass.”

Now, if that doesn’t sound like a Rule Of Three request, I don’t know what does. I told her, “You bet!”

That was in February of 2010. When we saw each other that Easter, she didn’t mention it.   Then Memorial Day came and went. No further conversation about it. At our July 4th barbeque, she didn’t bring it up. So I figured either she forgot about it, didn’t really mean it, or changed her mind.

In August, I got a phone call.

It was my mother. “Did you find a pattern?” she asked.

“For what?”

“For my ladybug tattoo!” she said.

She was asking me for the second time. “I’m on it!” I said.

I searched the Internet for ladybug tattoo patterns.

There were hundreds of them. Who knew? So I picked out a few of the tiniest ones I could find and emailed them to her.

She called me back.

“These are too small,” she said. “Can you find something a little bigger?”

At this point, I should probably tell you my opinion of tattoos. Growing up, I had a Great Uncle Frank. He had a glass eye and tattoo of a hula girl on his forearm. Rolling up his sleeve, he’d say, “Kids, look!” Then he’d make her dance by flexing his muscles. He got the hula girl when he was in the Navy. Great Uncle Frank was only person I ever knew to have a tattoo – until I was touring with a  theater company many years later.

One of our appearances was at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY, and the cheapskates who arranged the tour booked us rooms at a place called the Dome Hotel (which I just Googled to make sure it doesn’t still exists – and it doesn’t, thank God). It was the scariest place I’d ever seen, and I was expected to sleep there! But it wasn’t just the ‘Old Chelsea Hotel of yesteryear meets heroin den’ ambiance…it was the elevator operator. A dead ringer for the crypt keeper, he had tattoos on his knuckles that looked like he’d done them himself with a sewing needle and a Bic pen. I was terrified of him, so I made small talk to perhaps win him over. I thought if we had a human connection, maybe he wouldn’t murder me in my sleep.

“Interesting tattoos you got there,” I said, feigning interest.

“I got ‘em on the ‘inside,’” he said.

Initially, I thought that meant there was such a thing as internal tattoos and he had a few somewhere inside his body. I later learned that “on the inside” was a euphemism for prison, which I’m very glad I didn’t know back then.

So these are my associations with tattoos. Only people who served in the Navy, or served time, have them.

It was this connotation that caused me to have underwhelming enthusiasm about helping my own mother to get one.

However, she hadn’t yet asked for the third time – until that November. She called me two weeks before Thanksgiving and asked me if I’d make an appointment to have it done on Black Friday. Now I had to believe she was serious.

“I’ll get it done by the end of the day,” I told her.

So, I called Big Joe & Sons Tattooing in Yonkers. I learned that tattoo parlors aren’t like beauty parlors. You don’t need an appointment.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving Day. I had 33 hungry people packing my house, waiting for grub. My mother kept pulling me aside to say how excited she was. Every time my mother caught my eye she’d wink, or giggle. As promised, I had told no one in the family. I did talk to two of my closest girlfriends who immediately elevated my mother to Rock Star status.

Finally, Black Friday was upon us – or, as I will forever refer to it, Red and Black Friday.   While everyone else was heading to the mall, my mother and I headed off to Big Joe & Sons.

As we entered, I saw an older woman, I’d guess about 75-years-old, paying at the counter. When she left, I asked the employee, “Is it National Nana Gets A Tattoo Day?”

The girl answered in earnest, “We do nipple piercing, too.”

Ooooooookay.

When it was my mother’s turn, she showed the pattern to the tattoo artist who, I must confess, really seemed to be talented. He showed us how he was going to add some shading and highlighting to give the ladybug more dimension.

While that made me feel a little better, I could not get past the idea that I was party to something that would come back to bite me. What if something bad happens? What if my mother gets an infection? What if my father has a fit and divorces her after nearly 60 years of marriage? But we were already in too deep; she was leaning over a chair and her pants were shimmied down, exposing the back of her hip.

The tattoo artist made lively banter with my mother, (they were sort of flirting, actually) and told her about watercolor tattoos and glow-in-the-dark tattoos, and about the most painful part of a man’s body on which to get a tattoo (take your mind out of the gutter! It’s his ribs, potty brain!).

The whole time, I sat in a chair, watching this surreal scene and wondering if I should revise the Rule Of Three to make it the Rule Of Ask Someone Else Why Don’t Ya. But when all was said and done, the tattoo actually looked quite nice. And I did get a little thrill that my mother had trusted me with her secret – which I had to keep until the following February, on her 80th birthday, when she unveiled her ink to the family.

So yes…we’ve all had some wonderful moments and memories with our mom’s. Some of us remember sitting with our moms, sipping cocoa at an outdoor café. Some of us have felt the touch of their comforting love and generosity in times when we needed bolstering and some of us have taken our moms to Big Joe & Sons for her first, and hopefully, her last tattoo.