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

 

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

Daddy’s Greatest Hits

On weekdays, we didn’t see much of my dad – he’d usually leave the house before we got up for school. If he made it home in time, we’d all have dinner together and then, after the dishes were cleared, Dad would open his briefcase and spread out the work he brought home. He’d toil until after we’d gone to bed.

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This was perfectly normal for typical, middle-class American families of my generation. Moms worked inside the home, Dads worked elsewhere. It seemed that moms did all the heavy lifting.  She was responsible for the house and kids, laundry, going to school meetings, making and keeping dentist and pediatrician appointments, shopping for groceries, cooking, pet care – the list goes on and on. It’s funny, but none of us thought of them as “working.” Some people still don’t, but I’ll save that rant for another time.

How do regular women manage?

How do regular women manage?

There was only one mom – our neighbor, Mrs. Norris –who always managed to look as glamorous as Tippi Hedren did in The Birds (before the avian invasion of her beautifully coiffed French twist), even though she had four or five kids and no husband. Full disclosure: they all lived with Mrs. Norris’s parents so, in retrospect, I suppose they did all the work while Mrs. Norris bleached her hair in the kitchen sink (which I’d seen her do on more than one occasion).

Dads were of a completely different species. They got up, shaved, slapped on some AquaVelva, dressed, grabbed their fedoras and backed out of the driveway. Eight hours later, they’d drive back in, looking as fresh as a daisy.

On weekends, however, the tables were turned. Our dad would take us off our mother’s hands so she’d be free to go out for coffee with her friends, or wallpaper the bathroom.

There are so many wonderful things I did with my dad, too many to mention.  Instead, I’ve put together my Top 5 favorite moments.  Here we go:

Number 5: The time my mother had to go to a PTA meeting and left my father in charge of our dinner. He was supposed to make hot dogs, which he did, but he also treated us to a nutritious side dish of popcorn. There was no such thing as microwave popcorn back then because there were no such things as microwave ovens. So, dad made it on the stove and, to entertain us, kept taking the lid off, letting the popped kernels shoot all over the kitchen. Dinner and show!

Number 4: The hours spent tobogganing at Frear Park in the freezing cold. My dad had an analytical approach to this winter pastime focused on maximizing speed. He had four little kids on a heavy five-man toboggan. In order to balance the sled, he took great care in the distribution of our weight and would, therefore, seat us oldest to youngest from the front. He’d then push us to get us moving. Just as the toboggan began its decent down the hill, Dad would make a flying leap to take his place on the back. The set up took ten minutes, the ride took five seconds. We’d reach the bottom and trudge back up the hill to do it all again. If we complained about getting cold, he’d look at his watch and say, “We can’t go home. Your mother’s making hot chocolate and it won’t be ready yet.” I suspected he was under orders to keep us out for a certain amount of time or he had no concept of how long it takes to make cocoa.

Baby, it's cold outside.

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Number 3: Miniature Golf. This activity should have it’s own special exhibit in the Fatherhood Hall Of Fame. I don’t know about you, but we loved playing miniature golf with our dad. On one memorable evening, while playing mini golf on vacation in Cape Cod, Dad was at his hilarious peak. He was goofing around, cracking jokes, using his golf club as a pool cue…he had us all in stitches. At one point, he fell down on the ground. A coup de grace! We roared. Pratfalls were not previously a part of his customary comic repertoire. It took a few moments for us to notice, through our joy tears, that he was rolling around on the ground wincing in pain. Turns out he fell due to a twisted ankle and not for our personal amusement (although, truth be told, we still laugh whenever we tell this story).

Number 2: What favorite moment between a woman and her dad is more memorable and sentimental than the day he walks her down the aisle? In the months leading up to my wedding, the anticipation of this short stroll brought tears to my eyes every time I imagined it. I’d be walking to my office, think about it and start crying. I’d be in the grocery store, think about it and start crying. I’d be riding the subway, think about it and start crying. I went through a lot of tissues and so, I figured, by the time the big day came, I’d be all cried out and we’d sail down the aisle of the chapel dry-eyed with beaming smiles. And that is exactly what did not happen. I wept and, as everybody knows, when the bride is crying everybody is crying. It was a 5-hanky wedding, for sure.FullSizeRender

Number 1:  The time spent with my father cannot be boiled down to a single moment at all. Rather, it’s a collection of lessons, all of which lifted me up, advised me, assured me, or set me straight. He eased my anxiety about motherhood when my first child was born. He coached me on how to ace a job interview. He gave me pointers on buying a car. He explained what to consider when purchasing a house. He counseled me on navigating the minefields of those tricky newlywed years. He taught me how to make French toast. And he probably didn’t even realize the weight of his words in those moments because my father is not a “let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart” kind of guy. Much of his wisdom was imparted to me simply by his being. I learned by watching him, listening to him, laughing with him and loving him.

My Dad

My Dad

So, thank you, Daddy…for everything. Happy Father’s Day.

 

What’d You Call Me?

My name is WHAT?

My name is WHAT?

For the Podcast, click here! 

In the Old Testament, God sent Adam out to name all the animals. He came up with things like, dog, cat, hippopotamus – which is a lot of syllables for a guy who was just created. Kudos!

Even so, people names can be a bit trickier because, let’s face it, a hippo can’t grow up to tell his therapist how much he’s always hated his name.

Which is why names can be a very sensitive subject.

But names are also highly suggestive.

How many times have you encountered a written name (with no other information, no context) and found yourself conjuring up an image or assumption about the person who carries it? Wait…you don’t think you do that? Really? OK, let’s play a game. I’ll give you a list of names and you see if you don’t paint a mental picture of the bearer (no matter how hard you try not to). Ready? Here we go:

Jessica

Eunice

Armando

Sheldon

I predict you envisioned Jessica as a beautiful young woman, probably with flowing hair. She is tall and lithe, with perky boobs.

Eunice is older, she’s wearing glasses, a tweed skirt, possibly support hose and extremely sensible shoes. She talks through her nose (sorry, Eunice).

Armando is a sexy suave European with his sport coat thrown over his shoulder and a scotch-on-the-rocks in his free hand. His gaze is smoldering.

Sheldon, in his white socks, Hushpuppy Oxfords and chinos is sitting in a messy office balancing his clients’ books.

I apologize to Shel as well, but you see what I mean?

This is why some expectant parents torture themselves over the naming of their children. I’ve known people who will not divulge a name they’re considering because, invariably, someone will urinate all over it:

“Katrina? My best friend was named Katrina! She used to pick her nose and eat it.”…“You’re gonna name your kid Luke? Why?”

 …and so on.

Then there are those who are not expecting but have picked names for possible future offspring (that they may or may not ever have) as a way of calling “dibbsies” on their friends and family. I’ve even heard of siblings and cousins competing to get pregnant first so they can “score” a coveted family name. It’s like a twisted pregnancy lottery.

When we were thinking about names during my first pregnancy, we were advised to give each one the “playground test” which means: don’t use any name unless you can comfortably call it out without incident (so “Fire” would be an obvious bad choice), or embarrassment:

“Caesar? Caesar! Caligula Caesar!!! Leave that kid alone! C’mere, honey. Mommy’s got Sunny D!”

“Who’s gonna mess with a kid named Buzz?”

Hubby and I wanted a name that was a little unique, but nothing outlandish. So that’s the kind of name we bestowed on our baby boy. What we didn’t expect was that he’d go through a phase of hating it. I found this out when I learned he was using an alias at day camp.  He was six.  Really, he should be thanking us, because we were seriously considering the name Crispin until we found out St. Crispin is the patron saint of shoes. Why would shoes need a patron saint? They don’t have souls. Oh, hey, wait a minute…

When people tell me the names they’re planning to use, I try not react. I know a woman who is planning to name her boy Buzz, when he’s born this summer. I can’t lie. My first reaction was, “Buzz? For real?” But then I mulled it over a little. “Buzz. Buzz. Buzz!” The more I said it, the more I liked it. In fact, I think I love it. It’s a good, strong, masculine name! Who’s gonna mess with a guy named “Buzz”? It worked for Buzz Aldren (and didn’t hurt Buzz Lightyear either, for that matter).

So that got me thinking about other names, and I began to feel a little ashamed of myself. When Gwyneth Paltro named her daughter “Apple,” I thought it was a marginal form of child abuse. But now I say, “Why not?!” People, especially girls, are named after objects all the time: Rose, Ivy, Peaches…Peaches! So why not Apple? I guess, maybe you just don’t want your kid to be Bananas.

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 money! I 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 fairytales 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 (such as the one that I previously documented here in SNORK) 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

Selfie with elf = Elfie

She

She has always been one surprise after another…

For legitimate reasons, we believed a second child was not in the cards for us. So imagine our surprise when we were dealt a miracle! I was certain we would have another boy, just like our first, with jet-black hair and rich olive skin.

On delivery day, my husband and I were relaxing in a birthing suite at New York Hospital – very civilized. After an epidural (mine) and a nap (his), we started watching a movie, starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer. I never saw the ending because, with only minutes left, my doctor decided that I looked “too comfortable.”

Upon examining me, she turned to her nurse and said, “Let’s go!”

Suddenly, off went the television. Poof! Bette and Charles left me alone with a doctor and a nurse scrambling around the room, and an anxious husband standing over my bed.

“Hang on a minute,” I said. “The movie’s almost over.”

My husband informed me that let’s go meant let’s go right now! “You didn’t see the look on her face,” he whispered.

“Like right now, right now?” I asked. “There’s five more minutes left of the movie!”

My doctor looked at me askance (priorities anyone?) and then told me to push.

Now, if you’ve ever expected a baby, I’m sure some thoughtful, kindhearted person has shared horror stories of women pushing for hours and hours… Me? I pushed once and only once, possibly setting a land-speed record in childbirth. I should have known right away that this little one would be a force of nature.

She draws you in

When the doctor handed her to me, she took my breath away– a perfectly round head covered in wisps of wavy hair, the color of pale summer wheat. She had full pouty lips and skin so creamy and translucent that she seemed illuminated from within. Her eyes were the color of emeralds. This little thing I cradled to my chest looked like a peach with the Gerber baby’s face superimposed onto it.

I fell completely and instantly in love.

If she felt the same way, it was not immediately obvious. Her hands were drawn up to the sides of her little fruit face, fists clenched and she was screaming more loudly than seemed possible for a person her size. Since we’d only just met, I didn’t take it personally.

She’s unpredictable…

Now that I’ve gotten to know her better, I can tell you that everything about my girl, and everything to do with her, is not what you’d expect.

There is no lay-up. There’s never a preamble. She glides and pirouettes with the shifting winds of her own creativity and goes wherever her ideas take her. And just when you think you know where she’s headed, she chicanes. A human plot twist on wheels is she, and I defy anyone to pin her down, or anticipate her next move.

She is a typical teenager…

She has a Tumblr account, Skypes with other kids, wears a ton of bracelets, plays the guitar, and loves to dye her hair crazy colors.

She is unlike any other…

She’d rather hang out in a library than go to a shopping mall, prefers writing with a fountain pen, hand-tats Victorian lace using an antique shuttle and is a loose tea connoisseur.

She is fearless…

Take for example the time she saw an open casting call, a paying gig, for a sketch comedy troupe in Manhattan. You know the Manhattan I’m talking about, right? The one filled with tens of thousands of unemployed actors who’d pummel each other just for the chance to wear a sandwich board in Times Square, if it meant having a job? Well, she asked if we’d drive her to the audition (because 15-year-olds don’t drive). As parents, we wanted to protect her and grappled with preparing a soft landing pad: Just so you know, sweetheart, it’s kind of a long shot… We’re so proud of you for trying, but… Instead, we decided to mind our own business and say nothing – which turned out to be the right thing because they hired her on the spot.

That’s the stuff from which she is made. She floats through life like a curious butterfly, winging it from one thing to another, lighting just long enough to gather an experience and then off she goes again, on to the next thing.

Me? I could never be like her. I am a planner. I like things organized. All the labels in my refrigerator face forward and my drinking glasses are arranged in the cabinet by size, shape and color. According to my calendar, I know exactly what I’m doing through to 2015. I don’t have OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), but living with her has turned me into the OCD (Ordered-Chaos Director). And while I can’t be certain, I’m guessing she was put here to teach me about spontaneity.

She is a parenting challenge…

Living with a person like this will keep you on your toes, I promise you.

So I don’t know why it came as any shock when she announced that she wanted to go to boarding school.

Everything was in place for her to attend our local high school, which is within walking distance from our house. I had mapped out the entire academic year in my head and that map did not lead to a school in another state, 150 miles away. But she had heard about this wonderful place and asked my husband to research it. He thought it was a great idea and made an appointment for a tour and an interview.

Did I mention that this all happened over the course of 48 hours? Did I also mention that I was dead-set against it? Now don’t get me wrong. Of course I want the best for both our children, but before her brother left the nest, there were four full years of high school to prepare for his departure. I knew what was coming. With her, I had no warning at all.

On the day of the appointment, I grudgingly went along for the ride (which was very scenic), took the tour of the school (which was quite impressive), agreed to an interview (which was certainly pleasant), and fell in love with the place (which was very sudden and surprising to everyone, especially to me).

With only two months to prepare, I vowed to make the most of our last scraps of time together. We spent the final week of August lazing by the shore. We walked along the boardwalk, shopped, got matching henna tattoos, and sampled fudge and frozen custard (the sweetness of which could not compare to those afternoons with my daughter).

Contrary to everyone else’s opinion, I will be fine. So what if she has occupied one-third of my waking thoughts and commanded so much of my attention for all these years? What does it matter that, since her brother started college, it’s been just the two of us at breakfast, after-school or whenever hubby is at work or traveling?

I am adjusting. She’s doing it, so I can, too. Right? Here’s how I cope: I imagine that she’s there with me when I have my morning coffee. I feel her presence in the passenger’s seat as I run my errands. I pretend she’s holding my hand, like she always did, when I have to do something that scares me. But there’s one thing I haven’t worked out yet: when I need her advice, I won’t be able to ask her, or call her, or text her. You see, she gives great advice, but I don’t want to interrupt her while she’s busy studying, and getting to know her roommate, and making friends.

She is my best friend…

Conventional wisdom and all the experts say that Rule Number One of childrearing is: Do not become your child’s best friend. That’s a boundary that should never be crossed. “Be the parent!” they say.

I always thought this advice was based on the principles of respect and discipline. If your child views you as a friend, she will not take you seriously. She will not listen to your rules. By relying on you for friendship, she will be hesitant to make friends of her peers.

Well, my daughter does respect me, and listen to my rules, and has never hesitated to venture out into the world.

So, here’s the real reason: Parenting Rule Number One exists not to protect the children, but rather to protect the parents. (Notice I said she is my best friend, not that I am hers.) When our offspring leave the nest, they will be on to their next adventure. They will be forging relationships and making friends and learning about themselves outside the context of their family. But you, my dear parent, will be left behind.  You’ll be sad, and you will be worried and you will be lonesome.

Photo by Paola A. Bowley Photography

I know all this to be true, because she moved out 3 weeks ago. The whole house feels different. And even though she’ll be back, she will be changed. Heck, she practically changes on a daily basis. She will be more mature. She will be more self-sufficient. But there is one thing that will be forever constant: I will always break Rule Number One and she will always be my best friend.

Light and Breezy

DSC_0134

Even though the room was spacious, the four of us were huddled near the far wall.  I was literally backed into a corner.  From there, it was tough to get the shots I needed; and if I missed them, I would not get a second opportunity.  Of all the photography jobs I’d ever had, this was, by far, the most challenging.  It was the first time I’d ever been asked to make a photo-journal of a woman’s labor and delivery.

 

Hey fellas, where ya goin?!!  C’mon men, just because the subject of this post is childbirth, that’s no reason to bail out.  If you’ll promise to man-up, I will promise not to bring you to your knees with gory details.  Agreed?  Great.  Let’s continue…

 

Penny* and her husband, Dave, were expecting their second child.

 

When she approached me about taking pictures, Penny told me she hoped to have a water labor, and possibly a water delivery.  She wanted me to photograph all of it.

 

I thought, Hoo boy!  What is with these young mothers and their wacky new-age ideas?  Instead, I said, “Sounds great!”

 

Yes.  I admit it.  I was judging.  And the truth is, I had absolutely no right to (beyond the obvious reasons).  You see, I had some wacky ideas of my own.  When we had our first child, Hubby and I did the Bradley Method.

 

If you’re unfamiliar with Bradley, allow me to share my personal experience: the class was full of tall, graceful “dancers” (yes, every woman in the class claimed to be a dancer – it seems there is no shortage of ballerinas in New York City).  I was short, clumsy and could no longer see my feet.  They all planned to give birth at  home.  I was worried about getting to the hospital in time.  All of them were seeing midwives.  I was the only one being seen by a medical doctor.  They thought my notions about childbirth were quaint.  I thought theirs were crazy.

 

Still, I went along with the classes.  It was something Hubby felt strongly about.  With the Bradley Method, the father serves as the coach and “leads” the delivery; thereby making him a key player.  I appreciated Hubby’s eagerness to participate, but let’s get real here for a minute.  Unless a man is a doctor, he probably don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies.  Also, the Bradley Method discourages medication for pain management.  No, you’re supposed to envision your happy place and breathe into that sensation of passing a watermelon through the eye of a needle.  No drugs.  Let me repeat: No drugs!  In my opinion, the Bradley Method is like Lamaze in army boots…hardcore. No drugs, no doctors, no hospitals.  What was I thinking?

 

My Bradley instructor, a mother of three (all of whom she delivered in her apartment, armed with only a bowl of hot water, cellophane tape and a paper towel), told us to put a birthing plan together and to discuss it with our caregiver.  So, I typed up my plan, my ideal birth, and gave it to my doctor.  Here are just a few of the requirements that I thought would make my experience light and breezy:

 

The lights in the room must be kept dim.

Talking is to be done only when necessary and only in whispers.

Soft music will be played.

No pain medication is to be offered.  If I want it, I’ll ask for it.

 

When I handed it to my obstetrician, she smiled the kind of gentle, knowing smile of a woman who has been in the trenches.  “I’ll do my best to fulfill your wishes,” she promised, “but I want you to understand that sometimes the baby’s birth plan doesn’t quite jive with its mommy’s.”

 

Message received.

 

Fast forward to delivery day.  After I had been in labor for 18 hours, my doctor finally said to me, “We’re not giving out trophies today.  Please consider taking an epidural.”

 

Her tone was more forthright than ever before.  She knew something about me that I hadn’t been able to admit to my husband or myself: I felt peer pressure to do this the new old-fashioned way.  Natural childbirth.  Nearly everyone else in my class had already delivered.  While all of them had successful outcomes (healthy babies), several of the women had to be rushed to hospitals or needed some sort of medical intervention.  Our instructor reported those births to us with a quality of regret in her voice, as if needing help to have a baby was some sort of failure.

 

I looked into my doctor’s eyes and thought about the atmosphere of disappointment connected to the women in my class whose plans fell through.  I wondered if I would be disappointed in myself.  And then I decided that the only thing I really cared about was holding my baby in my arms.  I knew I didn’t really give a rat’s ass what anyone else thought.  I whispered, “F*ck it.  Give me the epidural.”

 

In the end, I needed an emergency C-section anyway.  Indeed, my baby had a very different birth plan.

 

With my second child, it was an entirely different ballgame.  For various and necessary reasons, my doctor wanted to induce me.  We were sitting in her office when she gave me the news.  Then she asked, “What day is good for you this weekend?”

 

“I don’t have much going on.  What about you?

 

“Well,” she said, “I’m supposed to go to a dinner party Saturday night.”

 

“OK, then.  Let’s do it on Saturday morning.  And please have the anesthesiologist ready when I get to the hospital,” I said.  That’s how Child Number 2 came into this world.  Nice and easy.  Civilized.  No drama.  No pain.  No shame.  Was it natural childbirth?  Well yes, because when you think about it, all births are natural unless you’ve cloned something in a fish tank.

 

Now, back to Penny and Dave.  I arrived at the hospital, as Penny’s contractions were getting intense.  A whirlpool bath was prepared for her and as she eased herself into it, its soothing warmth wash the tension from her body.  Her sister, Carole, started dabbing Penny with lavender oil to relax her while Penny’s mother “lit” some flameless candles.  There was gauzy music playing softly in the background.  Any minute now, I thought, a masseuse is going to tiptoe in and offer up some cucumber water and organic almonds.  But the spa atmosphere was actually working.  Penny’s contractions became much more manageable and far less painful.  I will be a naysayer of water labor no more.

 

About half an hour later, Penny got out of the tub and had a quiet conversation with one of the nurses.  She had changed her mind about giving birth in water and decided to take an epidural instead.  Her contractions were picking up steam.  At one point, in the throes of a whopper, she turned to me and groaned, “Make me laugh.  Tell me a joke to distract me.”

 

Seriously?  I wanted to say, “Look lady.  I’m just here to take pictures.  If you’re looking for comedy, you should have asked Jerry Seinfeld to be your photographer.”  Instead, it was the panicked look on my face that gave her the giggles.

 

Within minutes, the most popular man in the maternity ward walked in.  He was very tall, very handsome, and delightfully cheerful.  But he is best-loved because he is the anesthesiologist.  After he gave Penny the goods, we turned down the lights and all of us settled in for a nap.

 

Four hours later, the midwife examined Penny’s progress.  She announced that the main event was about to start, then left to get the nurse.  Penny sat up, turned the lights on over her bed and switched the music from sultry spa favorites to her “pushing” playlist of pulsating party tunes.  Dave, Carole, Penny’s mother and I all stood up and started stretching to shake off our sleep.  Then we started dancing.  Yes, that’s right.  We were dancing to pump up the energy in the room (and who’s kidding whom?  We were suddenly filled with an overabundance of nervous energy).

disco-ball1

In came the midwife and the nurse.  They saw us getting down and getting funky, so they briefly joined in.  This was not what I expected the experience to be like.  It was way better!

 

With our heads cleared and our mom-to-be ready for action, it was time to get down to business.  I grabbed my camera and moved to the head of the bed, Penny’s mother beside me.  On the other side of the bed stood Dave and Carole.

 

Penny took a deep breath and became as focused as a laser beam.  We all fell silent while she took her first push.  The midwife and the nurse did the cheerleading.  The rest of us intuitively knew to keep our mouths shut.  During the resting phases between pushes, Penny became relaxed and chatty.  We were all giddy and smiling.  There was laughter and conversation.  But when it was time to push again, a hush fell over the room and Penny immediately became the laser beam once more.  It was the most fascinating display of maternal instinct, as Penny worked to bring her beautiful healthy boy into the world.

 

I’ll give no further details because the rest was so exquisite and amazing, that it feels too sacred to share.  And, also, I don’t want to make any of my more squeamish readers pass out.  Suffice it to say, I got the shots I needed even though the lighting was problematic, the angles I had to shoot from were not optimal and focusing was a near impossibility with all those joy tears in my eyes.

*All names have been changed.

Fibs, Lies and Chinese Turkey Rolls

The stuff of dreams.

New parents can be pretty amusing as they rattle off all the things they will never do with their children.  Some declarations are honorable: I’ll never serve fast food to my kids!  Some are sensible but unrealistic: I’ll never let them stay up past ten o’clock on a school night!  Some are control-freaky and horrible: Unless they get straight A’s in high school, I won’t help pay for college!  And then there’s my personal favorite, the sweet: I will never lie to my kids! 

Inside, I chuckle.  After all, how cute that they have such high ideals.  It’s like a four-year-old announcing she’ll invent a time machine when she grows up.  You wouldn’t tell her that time travel isn’t possible because why disabuse someone of a lofty goal?  Also, who knows?  If a kindergartener, back in 1960, told you that you’d be reading this on an all-purpose electronic device that also makes visual phone calls, sends mail, plays movies, and puts all the world’s knowledge at your fingertips, you might have dismissed him with, “That’s very nice, Stevie.  Now go clean your room.”  But he would have been right.

So, I just smile when I hear these assertions that they won’t lie to their kids, because I know that this is actually the very first lie of many, and these parents are telling it to themselves.  For example, somebody bought all those Elf On The Shelf toys last December.  What’s that you say?  You don’t consider that lying?  It’s just a playful fib?  Oh.  I see.

I’m not judging you.  Oh no, no, no!  I just want to give you a teensy little reality check.  And I don’t mean to be a spoilsport.  The truth is, I don’t see anything wrong with traditions that lead children to imaginative play, like believing in magical candy-bearing bunnies, or fairies bartering cash for teeth.  In fact, I love them.  And I concede that there’s certainly a distinction between a fib:  Keep making that face and it will freeze that way, a white lie: The supermarket was completely out of ice cream, and a downright whopper: Your real father is an exiled prince.  For his own safety, and ours, I can’t tell you who he is.

Then there are lies of convenience.  These are the lies we tell to save us time, aggravation, or to avoid an awkward conversation for which we are unprepared.  I knew a mother who, when asked the purpose of a certain feminine hygiene product, told her prepubescent daughter that they were shoe inserts used to prevent sore feet.  Then there was the father who gave such a cursory explanation about the birds and the bees, that his 8-year-old son asked, “Next time mommy lays an egg, can I see it?”

It was one of these convenience lies that sent me on a wild goose chase for nearly 25 years.  Here’s how my odyssey began:

Could you fib to this little face?

When I was a little girl, I wasn’t a terribly fussy eater as long as everything you served me was turkey.  Turkey was my favorite and the only “meat” I’d eat.  No matter where my parents took me, turkey was on the menu (or so they said.  I couldn’t read.).

Once, on a visit to New York City’s Chinatown, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and my parents ordered for me.  When the food came, I was served a warm, bready, fluffy orb, flat on the bottom, and about the size of a softball.  It was golden brown in color with a delicate sheen to its crust.

“What’s this?” I asked my father.

“Turkey,” he said.

I bit into its soft, chewy exterior to discover the most delicious, sweet, moist turkey I had ever tasted.

Thus began my quest for the elusive Chinese Turkey Roll.

When I became old enough to read, I searched the menu of every Chinese restaurant for turkey rolls.  I never found them.  As an adult, I’d ask waiters, “Do you have those rolls?  You know the ones I mean – they’re soft and kind of shiny?  They have turkey in a sweet sauce inside?”

Waiter: “You mean pork bun.”

Me: “Um, no…not pork.  Turkey.”

Waiter:  “No.  No turkey.  Pork!”

This is how it went every time.  They didn’t have what I wanted, so they’d try to sell me on pork buns.  Even though I’d never had one, I knew pork buns weren’t what I craved.  Give me Chinese turkey rolls or nothing.

I once asked my father if these rolls were some sort of delicacy, or if the restaurant in Chinatown made them as a specialty, or if he remembered the name of the place.

“You want to ask me what we ate for lunch 15 years ago?  I don’t remember what I ate for breakfast today,” was his response.

Fast forward to 1986.  I was working as a research director on Wall Street and living on my own in Brooklyn.  My downstairs neighbor, Olivia, called me one night to invite me for dinner.  When I arrived, a deliciously pungent aroma welcomed me at the door.

Olivia greeted me with a hug, “You’re in for a treat!  I was in Chinatown today and picked up lots of goodies.”

After brewing a nice pot of oolong for us, she served our first course: scallion pancakes.  I’d never had them before, but my taste buds had come a long way since I was little. Now I tried new foods all the time (however, turkey was still my favorite).

The pancakes were crispy on the outside, tender on the inside and had a sweet oniony flavor.  We dipped them in a dark sauce that was salty like soy, but slightly sweet and tangy.  Yum!

Then Olivia brought a platter to the table.  It was piled high with, what looked like, smaller versions of my gastronomic Holy Grail.  But I’d been disappointed before, so I checked my excitement until that first bite.  Gently lifting one to my mouth, and hoping against hope, I took a tentative nibble.  And then I heard the voices of a cherubim’s chorus.

“Olivia!  You have to give me the name of the place where you bought these turkey rolls!”

She tilted her head and gave me a quizzical look, “Turkey rolls?  Those are pork buns.  You can get them anywhere.”

Anywhere?

My ecstasy was tempered by the knowledge that my father’s fiction had deprived me of over two decades’ worth of pork buns.  Add to that the embarrassment I felt replaying all the times I’d grilled restaurant employees about those non-existent rolls (sometimes I did this on dates!).  It’s like going into Home Depot and demanding a flying carpet because you just know they really exist.  And when the salesman tells you there are no such things, you think he’s stupid and he thinks you’re crazy.

So parents, next time you tell that little white lie, please don’t forget to straighten things out somewhere down the road.  Yes, my father fibbed about the turkey.  Was that the end of the world?  No.  Did he inadvertently spare me from years of eating something that, let’s face it, would not have made for the healthiest of diets?  Yes.  And in the grand scheme of things, there are worse outcomes born from parental subterfuge.  I could have been that bride walking down the aisle with panty liners stuffed into her shoes.

I danced all night. Thank you, Stayfree!

I danced all night. Thank you, Stayfree!

What the Dickens?!

Let is never be said that I am a Scrooge during the holidays.  But for some reason, this year, I just can’t seem to get my merriment on.

I first noticed it while picking out our Christmas tree.  Normally, I give the same attention to buying a tree as I do to buying a house.  Every year we wander the tree farm, circle back, and mark possible candidates before making that final cut.  This year, it took all of five minutes rather than the usual thirty.  Here’s how it went down:

Husband:  “How about this one?”

Me:  “Yeah, sure.”

We put the tree up as soon as we returned home and it stood naked in the living room for an entire week.  Finally, I strung lights on it.  Two days after that, I slapped some ornaments on with the same enthusiasm one normally reserves for dental work – I just wanted to get it over with.

At first, I chalked up my lack of interest to fatigue but, since I wasn’t busting my back with all the usual Christmas rigmarole, that was a lame excuse.  Perhaps I was depressed?  Since I’m not prone to the blues, that was unlikely.  Was I just being lazy?  Well, laziness is relative.  By my own standards, I did think I was being lazy, but that was only a symptom, not the cause.  I finally settled on my health as being the culprit.  I’d been fighting a cold for a few weeks.  Maybe it was getting the better of me.  So I decided to take a goodly swig of NyQuil, straight from the bottle, and go to bed.

In the middle of the night, I felt someone poking at me.  It was a young woman in her twenties.  She was wearing a shiny suit with big shoulder pads, chunky gold jewelry and enough Stiff Stuff in her perm to paralyze each and every follicle.

I jolted awake from my NyQuil stupor. “Who are you?”

“I am the ghost of Christmas past,” she explained.

Judging by her outfit, I’d say she was the ghost of Christmas 1983.

“Come with me,” she said.  “Touch my sleeve.”

The feel of her garment suggested a Qiana-rayon blend.  Now I was sure she was from the ‘80’s.

The next thing I knew, we were watching three women, sitting at a kitchen table, making ornaments from cornstarch and baking soda.  I quickly recognized them: my sister, my friend Laura, and me.  This was my first apartment, in Park Slope, Brooklyn.  Puffing away on cigarettes, we were having the best time shaping and baking and painting the ornaments, while watching It’s A Wonderful Life.  It was colorized that year, but we didn’t know it because our 12” TV was a black and white set.

“I remember that!  Oh, we had so much fun that day.”  I was delighted by the memory.

On the corner of the old kitchen table sat a stack of Christmas cards that I lovingly hand-addressed in calligraphy.  I remember pouring over boxes and boxes of cards, until I found just the right ones.  Drawn in black and white on the outer flap, was a picture of a brownstone.  The only touch of color was a green Christmas tree topped with a  gold foil star, visible from a second floor window.  Inside it read, “A tree glows in Brooklyn.”  I loved those cards and wished I’d saved one.

“There’s more to see,” said the spirit.

Next stop: Rego Park, Queens about 10 years later.  I was a newlywed.  This time my sister and I were in the kitchen baking Christmas cookies with my little niece.  Baking cookies with me had become a traditional holiday activity for my friends and relatives.

Rego Park Christmas

Rego Park Christmas with my sister and niece.

We only observed the scene for a moment before dashing forward to 1998 and the suburbs of New York.  There in the great room of our first house, with my 8-month-old daughter on my hip and a pastry bag in my hand, I was decorating gingerbread men, while my three-year-old son rolled out more dough, getting flour in his hair, his eyelashes, between the slats of the hardwood floors…  That year we had a holiday housewarming to celebrate becoming homeowners.  I baked about 300 cookies to serve and give as gifts.  Seeing it in this vision, I felt the same warmth and pride and excitement all over again.

Housewarming cookies

Housewarming cookies

In the corner of the room, outgoing Christmas cards were piled on the desk.  They were each addressed with an Avery inkjet mailing label and pre-printed return address stamps.

In the other corner stood our big, bushy Christmas tree, displaying many of those handmade ornaments from my Brooklyn days as well as new ones purchased from the store.

Turning around to see more, I found myself back in the bed of my current home.  My husband was out cold, and seemingly unaware of my recent time travels.

Now, I don’t know about you, but once I’m awake, I have trouble getting back to sleep.  So I went downstairs for a glass of water.

On my way to the kitchen, I walked past our Christmas tree.  Even though I still have some of those original cornstarch ornaments, none of them are hanging from its branches.  Nor are the dozens of others that I’ve collected throughout my adult life.  This year, I grabbed the first storage box of ornaments I saw and only those made it onto the tree.

We moved into our current home, a 19th century Victorian farmhouse, back in December of 2005.  That year, I went crazy with the decorating.  A neighbor said, “It looks like Santa threw up in here!”  And it did.  Not a single surface or nook was spared.  It was cheerful and festive for as far as the eye could see.

I’d scaled way, waaaaaay back on the decorating this year. The wreath on the front door was thrown together about three days ago with ribbon and some plastic holly I picked up at the drugstore.  But at least it fairs better than the giant wreath on the barn, which is completely bare.  Not even a bow to sass it up a little.

There are no cookies in the kitchen, no Christmas cards to be mailed.  The happy little snowman village, which I normally display on the kitchen mantel, is nowhere in sight.  No Christmas countdown calendar.  No jolly mural drawn on the kitchen blackboard.  Nope.  There is just a little bit here, and a little bit there.  If you pass by my house, you wouldn’t just wonder if we celebrate Christmas, you’d wonder if the house is currently vacant.

As I looked around, I had to admit something to myself: I completely half-assed our present Christmas.  But there is nothing I can do about it now.  Christmas is just days away.  It’s too late.  Heaving a heavy sigh, I decided to take some more cold syrup and go back to bed.

Just as I managed to drift off to sleep again, a little girl popped up from beside the bed, all excited and bubbly.  “C’mon!  C’mon!  Come see!”

I took her hand and she led me back downstairs.  As we passed the living room, the lights and tinsel were almost blinding.  Every branch was jam packed with glittery ornaments, both old and new.  There were so many packages piled under the tree, wrapped in shiny paper and bows, that they covered half of the floor.

In the kitchen stood an older version of myself.  I was baking cookies with three of the most adorable little children I’d ever seen.  They were calling me TaTa (my family nickname), and we were all laughing and carrying on.  I could tell they were my grandchildren and was overcome with the most intense feelings of love.  The kitchen mantel was alive with the bustling little snowman village and from the window, I could see the barn, lit up like a used car lot, giant decorated wreath and all.

This is my vision of Christmases yet to come.  I know I will eventually get my merriment back on, bake the cookies, send the cards, decorate the dog, and so on and so forth.  For now, less is more and I’m OK with that.  So I’m taking the pressure off myself, making a cup of tea and heading to the couch to watch Christmas in Connecticut for the umpteenth time.  But before I do, I’d like to wish that all of your holidays are filled with joy, wonder and spirit (whether they be induced by over-the-counter medication or just the pure love in your heart).

Merry Christmas from SNORK!

Merry Christmas from SNORK!