Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Love and politics Part 1

I went to be last night feeling sick to my stomach.  At last night's Planning Board meeting the lawyer for AcuteCare (the dishonest company from Lakewood who snuck a drug rehab facility into our town a few months back without our knowledge) screamed at our planning board, threatened to sue the town and said there's nothing Oceanport can do about this latest project they want to shove down our throats, an 85-unit affordable housing project inside an abandoned hospital on The Fort. 

My husband, thoroughly disgusted, began looking up house listings in Fair Haven. 

Not so fast, buddy. I have a life here. I have amazing friends and so do my kids. I lead a cub scout den. I'm in a tennis fivesome with girls from town. I have the best neighbors in the world. 

This is my home. And I'm not giving it up without a fight.

I never thought that I would get involved in local politics. As I  try to write compelling campaign copy, invite people to meet and greets and find myself terrified at a microphone in front of 350 people completely out of my comfort zone, I shake my head at how I got to the point where I would choose let my free time be consumed working on a political campaign for a write-in mayor and councilman.

But it's either this -- trying to make it better -- or we move elsewhere.

And I really don't want to move.

I guess it boils down to love.

I love my town. I want to keep it great.  It's my home. 

And you don't stand by and watch when you feel your home is in trouble.

You don't listen and wait. 

You don't blindly trust it will all work out.

You defend it.
I don't want to be doing any of this...I have to do it. I'm compelled to do it.  I feel I have a responsibility to my town to try to make things better.  Blame Greg and Pauline. My parents raised us to do our civic duty, whether it was attending jury duty with a smile or volunteering for the local fire company.

I'm not comfortable with the way the Fort property is being divvied up and FEMRA's presence there.  I'm horrified that we now have a drug rehab facility that somehow was issued a Certificate of Occupancy without anyone seeming to know a thing about it.  I'm daunted by the notion that the track could close, taking 28% of our town's tax base with it. And over the past several months I've become frustrated. Last night was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

As my husband Big A says "It's time for a regime change."  Both John Coffey and the current mayor are nice guys. Both are smart. Both are passionate about Oceanport. But we can only support one of them for mayor and that's John Coffey. The one we believe is best for the job given the current set of dire circumstances and challenges we face as a town. 

I gave this a lot of thought and prayer before I got involved. And I did a lot of research. I urge you to do the same even though you will have to read many pages of minutes from town council and FMERA meetings over the past year.  Don't do it without several cups of Rook coffee by your side.

I'm supporting Cullin Wible for write-in candidate for councilman because he's the smartest guy in any room and he's not afraid to respectfully debate anyone. Cullin has a wife, two very young children and a job as a CFO of a huge company and yet in his free time he's been attending every town, Board of Ed, Planning or FMERA meeting and knocking on doors to win the respect and votes of fellow citizens. He asks insightful questions and does the work. I've noticed the current town council has already taken his advice on a number of items, from his suggestion they bring in a map of The Fort to making the town council meetings accessible to everyone. It's clear Cullin knows how to lead. He's already leading. If elected, there's no telling how much he'll benefit Oceanport. 

I have no idea who's going to win this race.  It's anyone's game and that's why every vote counts. So much hangs in the balance of the outcome of this election.  

And yet no matter who is the victor, we're all going to still live in the same town the next day.

So I try to be careful and responsible with my words. I wish everyone could adopt this practice.  It's politics -- don't make it so personal. The former friend you now won't speak to could very well be working the bake sale with you at the PTO Fall festival. The man you defriend on Facebook may be the EMT called to your house when your elderly mother takes a fall.  And how awkward would that be?

You want to destroy the fabric of our town over what?  A local election?  Because someone isn't voting for your guy? 

In Oceanport, we're better than that, aren't we?  Aren't we?

I can say I love vanilla without insisting that chocolate is wrong and hope that it dies a slow and painful death. (Perish the thought!)  I've always been comfortable in the grey area. Not everyone is.
Some people need someone else to be wrong for them to be right.

I'm trying not to be that person. Please -- don't you be that person either.  You won't like yourself in the morning.

But remember how high the stakes are.

Don't be the person who decided to stay out of it and then complain about the outcome as you sat by and watched and let others do the work and take the risk.

Stand for something or you'll stand for nothing.

Stand for something or you'll fall for everything.

Take a stand in a way that feels right for you...a way that allows you to rest your head on pillow at night and say "At least I gave it my all."

Defend your home.

And get involved, ask questions, talk to your neighbors and attend meet-and-greets.

And please cast your vote on Election Day and save Oceanport from ruin.


Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Worst Commercial in the World

I have discovered the worst commercial in the world. 

It deeply offends me on behalf of most of the parents in our generation.

Here is the link to the 15 second spot in all its glory
but this is the gist.

Basically, in this spot for Embassy Suites a young mom is directing the omelet chef to make her child's omelet just so, not by speaking but by gesturing at the chef rudely as she seeks her child's approval at every turn.

When the chef dares to point his spatula towards a dish of mushrooms, the mom's eyes grow big and panicked as she looks to her son for his reaction to this. He smugly shakes his head and she waves her hand away vehemently like she's the third base coach in the world series insisting the runner stay the hell on second.  The commercial ends with both mother and child agreeing that the omelet is perfect because  (and here's when the mom's voice finally pops up in a voice-over) "It's just like I MADE IT!"

This offends me on so many levels I'm not quite sure where to begin.  And I am NOT easily offended.

1.  The kid in the commercial is at least 5 years old. Why CAN'T HE ORDER HIS OWN FOOD?!  Instead of his mom gesturing at the poor chef like she's an air traffic controller landing a plane, why can't this kid say "Can I please have a ham and cheese omelet?"

2. The mom in the commercial is acting like the balance of the world's future hangs within what ingredients are going into her son's omelet.  She looks terrified that perhaps a tiny piece of onion may slip into her little darling's eggs.  I find myself at the edge of my seat, biting my nails to know what horrible thing might happen if her son's omelet doesn't get made exactly as she makes it at home. What is at stake here? Can no one make an omelet for her child as perfectly as this mom can? And what tragedy will befall this poor family if the omelet isn't made exactly to the child's specifications?  The commercial doesn't say, but we can imagine the consequences would be dire indeed.

3. About the omelet being made to order.  Unless your child has a food allergy, I dislike the perception that your CHILD MIGHT DIE if he doesn't have everything he wants exactly as he wants it and exactly as he's used to it. Did I miss the point somewhere along the line?  Isn't going on vacation about TRYING NEW THINGS!?  If my folks hadn't sent me to Myrtle Beach with a friend's family, I NEVER WOULD HAVE KNOWN WHAT GRITS WERE!  I could not imagine my life without grits.  If my folks hadn't taken me to France I wouldn't be in the love affair with cheese that's kept me me satisfied and happy for nearly two decades now. How about teaching your children to be open to new things?  Trying that venison?  Taking a bite of the brioche? Sipping down ice-cold milk straight from a coconut? What is the mom in the commercial so afraid of?  A tableside tantrum?  Her cowed and panicked demeanor in the chef getting the omelet just right makes me think if she got it wrong her child would somehow tip the omelet bar over and kill chef with his own spatula while force feeding his mother all 10 lbs. of cubed ham.

The team of marketing geniuses behind this commercial have cottoned on to the fact that some parents are so anxiously stressed out and eager-to-please their children that they would stay at Embassy Suites JUST so that their children could have the exact breakfast they eat at home every day.  But even though I've stayed at Embassy Suites before, and it was lovely, I AM NOW BOYCOTTING Embassy Suites until they personally apologize to me and other parents who both encourage our children to try new things in life and discourage them from thinking they are the kings and queens of our household. (Our household is more of a cult with one very charismatic leader...and it ain't either of my children.)

Because this commercial gives good parents a bad name. Don't portray us as rude ding-a-lings ruled by our children and expect us to stay at your hotel. I'm sick of it. We are not all a bunch of idiotic numskulls who fidget nervously, rudely directing a chef (with nary a please or thank you) to satisfy the whims of an entitled child.  Many of us take our children on vacation and encourage them to try something new, even if it's a turkey leg at Disneyworld. And we insist they ask for it themselves and say thank you when it's been handed over.  

Kid, you don't like what you ordered?  Try three bites. Thank you.  Variety is the spice of life.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dead flowers and living dreams

All of my marigolds are dead.

For the past 12 years since I've been a homeowner, every spring I plant marigolds and lovingly water and weed them daily.  They serve as pops of color in front of my home and people comment on how wonderful and vibrant my plantings are.

But this year the marigolds are all dead. I haven't been watering them.  The only comments my blooms are getting are pitying looks.

You see, for the past 8 months I've been writing a novel and attempting to get it published. And in doing this, I've had to let a lot of things go.  I've had to take a hiatus from teaching Sunday School. I've had to ask for help in running my cub scout troop. I spent the last school year turning down lunches or walks with friends (or even catching up on laundry) while my children were are school because I would rush home, buckle down and write for the precious hours my 3 year old was out of the house.

I used to have it so together.  So together in fact, that I'd always find the time to bake something when I was going to someone's house for a play date or a hang.  I don't have time for that anymore. I buy cookies from Caputo's. Or just bring wine. Or go empty-handed.

And I keep forgetting to water my poor marigolds.

And you know what? Despite this crazy perma-feeling that everything is sort of out-of-control I have never felt happier.

Because we all have different dreams. And my dream, (in addition to having a loving, happy family, wide circle of terrific friends and good health) has always been to write and publish books for a living.  

And you know what I've found? Following your dream can be really, really hard. I know this because the rejection is surprisingly painful. I know this because people tell me, repeatedly, that it cannot be done. And yet it's incredibly rewarding to follow your dream.  It feels courageous to even admit out loud that this IS in fact my dream. Writing my book and attempting to get it published feels a bit like coming home in a way that even I, as a writer, have difficulty putting words to.  

But it's a bit of a trade-off also. To make space for this kind of creativity and hard work, you have to clear away some other things that were taking up room. Things that you realize perhaps weren't that important. Like gorgeous flowers in your front lawn.

It's been a month since I've blogged because I've been so busy with my book project. My children have been watching way more television because that's how I hypnotize them when my co-author Jess comes over and we send out ever more query letters regarding our novel. Sorry, kids. Or maybe, you're welcome, kids.

But the truth is, I've never felt more alive, more stressed and happier all at the same time. I think I'd rather fail at writing books than succeed at anything else.  It's both exhilarating and profound.

So if you have a dream (and we all know that you do), whether it's opening your own bakery, becoming an actress or running the New York marathon, please at least attempt it. You're not too old, too fat, too unskilled or not good enough.  Please don't squash that dream any further down than you already have.  People won't laugh at you...they'll root for you and support you.  And if they don't you can deep six them to make room for the amazing people who are waiting to come into your life who will.

I guarantee you will come to appreciate the excitement, growth and challenge that comes from pursuing that about which you are truly passionate.

But you may find yourself with a few dead flowers and store bought cookies along the way.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Get It Yourself

For the past three weeks I have been working furiously to finish a writing project I've been working on.  I've forsaken sleep, walks with friends, time with my husband, phone calls to my sisters and mom, outside time and laundry (I totally did not mind forsaking laundry) but the kids now know what "going commando" means.

But the number one thing I've forsaken has been giving my children my undivided attention.

And I think it may be the best thing that's ever happened to all of us.

My laptop has been my constant companion as I burned up the keyboard getting to the 86,000 words I needed to make the work complete.  But at first it was an uphill battle as I was barraged by the usual requests from my kids.

It turns out that in the context of when you're trying to get work done my kids' requests are really, really annoying.  They would interrupt me to ask for juice, demand a story, insist they needed a Band-Aid (they didn't), ask me to check their homework, open a squeezie pouch or beg me to get them a snack.

Rather than screaming out "MOMMY'S WORKING!" at the top of my lungs like Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest (sans the wire hanger, of course) I went with the more benign "Get it yourself."

Them: Mommy, I need a cheese stick.

Me: Get it yourself.

Them:  I'm thirsty and I'd like a drink please.

Me: Get it yourself.

Them:  I want to play Zingo.

Me: Get it yourself

Them:  It's on the top shelf.

Me:  You'll figure it out.

And something magical happened.  Once I stopped being both their combination maid and butler, these needy little creatures actually began getting things themselves!  The 6 year old got cups and poured juice for he and his little sister.  They helped themselves to cheese sticks and crackers.  They pulled a chair over, climbed on it and miraculously were able to get the game down.

"Get it yourself" soon lent itself handily to "Do it yourself" and soon the kids were able to unscrew the cap off of the toothpaste without my help, make their beds (not as well as I do, but the attempt was there) and put their clean laundry away in the proper drawers.  I put them to work setting the dinner table in instead of just clearing their plates after their done hoovering down the delicious meal I've made for them.

Seeing their newfound independence, which had sprung out of necessity, made me a bit abashed.  I guess I'd really been swaddling them in cotton wool as I tried to cater to their every demand.   The kids seem much happier not having to depend on me for these basic things and Lord knows I'm much happier not being nagged by their demands for me to do things of which they're perfectly capable.

Now we've created a monster. My 6 year old requested to "ride to the corner store" on his bike to pick up milk.  It's a busy road that leads into a much busier intersection. We initially resisted but he was adamant in his request.  Independence is great but not at the expense of safety. So we allowed him to do it with my husband following him at ten paces behind.

I hope this doesn't come off as uncaring or callous but I love the newfound independence in my children. When I put my work aside for the day I look forward to spending time with them because I haven't been allowing them to nag me all day.  They're not babies.  They're 3.5 and nearly 7.  And the fact that they are doing more themselves allows me the time I need to write.  And this new way of being prevents our home from being a "child-centered" home which it was in serious danger of becoming for a while there....a home where the children call the shots and rule the roost.

Before tongues go wagging, it's like I've given up all responsibility or control. I don't let the kids chop up apples with knives, use the oven or entrust my 3 year old to give herself a tubby.  However, what they can do, I let them do.  And it turns out that even though they're kids, they can do a whole lot more than I ever thought.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

It's A Date

At first I thought my son was joking. 

Big A had a proposition for us, he said. 

To make a long story short, he wanted to use his allowance to take a girl out on "a date".

He's 6.

He suggested going to Carvel.  He outlined that me, his mother, would drive himself and his date but I was to sit at a different table, hidden behind the drink machine so he and his friend could have some privacy.  The plan was that he would order one huge milkshake with 2 straws.

We were in the car and I was biting my lip to stop from laughing. I wasn't laughing with my son, but at him.  My husband began cackling until he looked over at Big A and saw he was quite serious.

What to do?

"Who's the girl?"  I ask him.

"Tulip. She's in my class." he said.  (Her name is not Tulip.  I am merely protecting her identity)

Most of Big A's friends are boys.  He's 6, after all. But there are a couple of girls he has deemed "cool" who have slipped into the friends circle.

"Do you think she's going to want to go out on"

"I think so.  Can you please call her mom now and ask if she can come on the date?"

I wish he would stop calling it a date.  They're 6 for goodness sake. I stalled for time.

"What if she doesn't want a milkshake?" I asked him.

He thought about this.   "That's okay. She can get whatever she wants."

I called Tulip's mother. Tulip's mother asked Tulip, who said that she would like to join Big A for an ice cream social. A time and date were arranged and yesterday I found myself driving towards Tulip's house to pick her up.

"Now when we pull up, you stay here." Big A directed me. "I'm going to walk to the door and get her. And I'll say 'Ready for OUR DATE?' " He grinned goofily.

"Please don't say that," I begged him. "It's just two friends getting ice cream."

"Okay," he concedes.  "I'll say 'Ready to go get ice cream?' but then I'll wink."

Oh good grief.

We picked up Big A's little friend with no incident.  He held the door for her at Carvel and let her order first. She doesn't like milkshakes, it seems, but she got a dish of Mother Earth.  I sat across the ice cream shop pretending to read a book but straining to listen to their conversation.

Apparently Big A had taken it upon himself to come up with some talking points that I'm pretty sure he pulled from an episode of Clarence

"So Tulip, if you were stranded on a dessert island, what three things would you bring?" 

She thought about this for a minute.  "Water, food and a tent."

"I would bring water, food and a laptop so I could watch Minecraft videos."

"So Tulip, if you were being attacked by zombies, what weapons would you want to have?"

And so on.

The rest of the "date" passed pleasantly, the two of them chatting and eating ice cream until we dropped her home 20 minutes later.  I have no idea what came over Big A but he suddenly announced "What if I kissed Tulip?" and started smiling at the sheer madness of such a thing.  He turned to Tulip and said "Did you HEAR what I just said?"  and the wise girl replied, "No" as she got out of the door.

My husband called to find out how the "date" was going.  We thought it was all so charming but the two kids seemed to think it was normal.  Two friends, getting together, having conversation and having a treat.

My husband and I talked last night about how, (even though it's unusual for a first grader) glad we were that Big A came up with this idea to have "a date."  He doesn't see girls as "other", as stupid, covered in slime or not worth his time.  And what about Tulip? I hope this innocent encounter sets the stage for her expectations of dating.  The guy should plan the date, hold the door and pay.  Accept no less, Tulip!

Because soon enough children will age into teenagers and they WILL be dating.   And I hope it's nice. And mutually respectful.  I hope it means conversation and fun.  Not making out at a party and then never speaking to each other again at school. (I know, I know...I'm wishing for miracles here)   But it's never too early to teach out children good ways of interacting with the opposite sex.

"This is what dating should be like"  my husband proclaimed with a definitive nod.  "Doing fun things with different people and getting to know them." 

We brainstormed the idea of letting Big A invite 4 boys over this summer and turning our deck into an Italian restaurant.  The catch?  Each boy would have to invite a girl as his dining partner. Then they could all gather around the same red checked tablecloth, eating spaghetti, drinking grape juice out of wine glasses and having conversation.  After which they would likely run around our yard like maniacs and fight over the tire swing like the 7 year olds there are but, still, the foundation for the future would be set.

Our child won't truly be dating until...what? High school?  But it's nice to shape his perceptions and expectations now.  I still have NO INKLING as to what made Big A come up with this notion of going on an ice cream date with Tulip.  He seems to have reverted back to being a 6 year old kid.  This morning he was focused on his new lego set, latest baseball game and the thrill of back-to-back play dates with two buddies on Friday afternoon.

But when his Grandma asked him how his "date" when yesterday he told her it was "Awesome."

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Tales from a Bike

I'll never forget when my nephew James learned to ride his two-wheeler. An extremely agile and athletic child, he was around 5 years old when he looked hard at his bike, removed the training wheels himself and began riding around the neighborhood a few hours later.

From what I can discern, this is not a typical bike-riding experience.  At least, it wouldn't be normal for my son.

Until about a month ago, my 6 year old had zero interest in learning to ride a two-wheeler.  I'd be like, do you want to help me put away laundry?  Or go outside and ride your two-wheeler with your dad? 

He'd choose to put away socks.

But now riding his two wheeler is all my son thinks about.

Every day when he arrives home from the bus he yells "Can I ride my bike?"

Unfortunately, he's not exactly a natural.

He gets home from school, throws on his helmet and drags me outside, away from doing Very Important Things (AKA my books and my wine) and makes me run up and down the street, in flip flops (okay my fault, not his) holding his seat.

I let go of his seat days ago. He rides all by himself, though it's in a zigzagy sort of way, like you'd ride if you were really drunk.  Then he realizes I'm not holding on, screams like Nathan Lane in The Birdcage and topples to the ground, wailing.

So we go from determination and pride to wailing within the course of 5 minutes. This scene is repeated every afternoon with very little variation.

I lift the bike off him.  He's huddled on the ground in the fetal position, sobbing.

"Mo-OM! You didn't catch me!" he says accusingly.  

(I want to state that Big A actually has a huge bike that's his correct size due to his legs being so long. When he falls, he falls 3 feet into the ground. If I even attempted to catch him, we'd both get injured.)

"Calm down, calm down," I urge him, his shrieks so high-pitched that neighborhood dogs are moaning and covering their ears. "You're fine!"

"I'm NOT!" he yells, cradling his arm as a tiny speck of blood the side of a freckle appears on his elbow.

Now he's lost all confidence. Now he's lost all the excitement of riding his bike.  And my Chardonnay is still being held captive on the kitchen counter.

I walk the bike back to the garage, as he shuffles and moans like a member of the living dead.

I apply expert first aid once we get inside, splashing wine on his boo-boo and letting my 3 year old daughter bandage him with a Hello Kitty Band-Aid and a kiss.  He rolls his eyes "I'm not wearing this band-aid to baseball tonight."

Big A skulks over to the couch and throws himself on it dramatically.



"Promise me that I'll never fall off my bike again."

I laugh. He glares. I stop.

"I can't promise you that.  You will fall off your bike again."

"Promise you'll always catch me when I fall, then" he says.

I sing a few bars of Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time.  "If you fall, I will catch you I'll be waiting!" I sing.

"You will?" he asks, brightening.

"Actually, no."  I admit.  "Your father and I are always here to help you with good advice and support. We'll try to help you get out of jams and pickles and the like, but I can't promise that I'll always catch you if you fall off your bike.  Like today for example."

He looks devastated.

It dawns on me that this could be an opportunity for a life lesson. I recall the Batman Begins reboot with Christian Bale when he falls in to the pit of bats as a child.

"Do you know why we fall?" I ask him, trying to keep a straight face and be earnest.

"Because I can't ride my bike that well." Big A says.

"No!  We fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves up."

"Why don't you just pick me up?"

"Because if I picked you up, you wouldn't learn how to do it yourself.  And you and your bike are incredibly heavy. You're like the largest first grader I know."

"Why don't you just buy me knee pads and elbow pads then?"

"Because those are for sissies. And I'm cheap." I say.

I come closer and wrap him up in my arms.

"Listen, buddy I know that riding your bike is scary and that falling hurts.  But when you came home today you were so excited to try to ride your bike. You were so proud when you did!  Did you know that you actually know how to ride your bike? The whole time I'm running alongside you, I'm not even touching you, did you know that?"


"Really. It's all mental. And then when you see I'm not holding you, you freak out."

"Mom, we're a whole family of freaker-outers."

"True, but we have passion!  Who wants to be vanilla and calm all the time? Not us.  But the point is, I don't want you to stop doing something you love, because it's scary.  Don't let the fear stop you, okay?"


"And I know that you are capable of picking yourself up, dusting off your scraped elbows and getting back on the bike.  I know it."


"Now do you want to get back on the bike?"

"No, I just want to lay here with my injuries."

His injuries, of course, being the glorified mosquito bite on his elbow.

Big A then stripped off his Hello Kitty band-aid and went to baseball and played with his friends afterwards. 

When he came home, I heard the familiar "Can I ride my bike?"

It was nearly 745 pm and he hadn't had dinner yet or taken a shower.  This defied our nearly sacred be-in-bed-by-8-pm rule. But I was happy he had gotten over his fear so I let him ride up and down the street, once, to show his dad.  

Big A was very proud. 

Until he ate it on the ride back. I was prepared for him to wail so loudly he'd break the sound barrier once again without an airplane.  But there as just silence.

He gets out from under his bike, picks it up, climbs back on and tries again. And again.  Until he falls one final time and we call him in for dinner.

He walks his bike into the garage with his head held high.

"Band-aid?" I offer him since I see a new scrape or two.

"No, thanks.  Did you see me ride my bike?"

"I did!"

He stops.

"Did you see how I fell and I picked myself up all by myself?"

"Yes, Big A, I saw that."

I feel a lump in my throat. Big A has been practicing every day for a month.  Bike riding does not come as easily to my cautious, overthinking boy as it may come to others.  He'll go on any roller coaster and be brave when blood is drawn or teeth are filled but he's nervous about trusting himself. 

I watched him give his bike a little pat, put it back in its spot in the garage and carefully hang his helmet on his handlebars until tomorrow. I know he's going to get the hang of it. And I know the bigger lesson is that just because you keep falling doesn't mean that you shouldn't keep trying.

At that moment I feel a little hand tugging on my skirt and I look down at my 3 year old daughter smiling up at me.  She's managed to put her brother's helmet on her head.

"Can I ride my bike?"

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


A few weeks ago I heard a woman in our town had breast cancer but since her children aren't in the same grade as my children I didn't know who she was. We have some mutual friends which I discovered when I looked her up on Facebook.

Here's what else I discovered.

This mom was really, really pretty.
If her ripped arms were any indication, she works out regularly.
She has lots of friends.

And most impactful, to me:

She is a single mom to three young children.

Breast cancer is not supposed to happen to someone like her. It's supposed to happen to someone else. Someone we all don't know.  Someone who doesn't live a few streets away. Someone who is old. Someone who smokes, per say.  Or eats nothing but pork rinds, guzzles beer all the time and lays around on the couch.  It's certainly not supposed to happen in our small town to an otherwise healthy, young, lovely mother of three.  Didn't God get that memo?  Seriously, W.T.F.?

People started posting pink ribbons as their profile pictures on FB. Photos of her friends in pink shirts started popping up, reminding all of us that no one fights alone.  Her child's class did a special program to let her know of their support and encouragement. 

At times, I hear people criticizing the drawback of living in a small town, where everyone knows your biz. But this closeness is also one of the great advantages -- if people know you have something going on, they can help.  I began keeping this mom in my prayers so I figured I might as well friend her on Facebook.  Friending someone I've never spoke to in real life was a huge step for me, since I've never done that before. Miraculously, I must have looked fairly normal because she accepted my friendship.

A week or two later, I came face-to-face with her at our annual PTO auction by the Platinum prize section and recognized her right away.  I was so happy to meet her.  Luckily I had only had two glasses of wine and could communicate what I wanted to say which was "I don't know you but I'm with you.  I'm praying for you. You're A HUGE inspiration." I hoped it was that cohesive. I may have squealed like I was meeting Taylor Swift.  But she didn't edge away towards the bar so maybe I did okay. What I meant to say was "I'm incredibly sorry this has happened to you. But you are an amazing person and you have brought this town together."  She was so nice. I remember that she listened and spoke to me, (a virtual stranger who approached her to gush) without me worrying she would run off to her friends and go "Who the hec is THAT freak?"  And she mentioned a silver lining: that due to her diagnosis, a number of her friends had made appointments for their first mammograms.

As the weeks passed, I watched her via Facebook trying on wigs with her friends. I watched as she shaved her head and donated her hair, her children close at hand. Maybe 10% of the women in the world have the kind of face and bone structure to pull off a shaved head and still look super gorgeous and she is one of them.  I watched her hooked up for her first chemo appointment a good friend by her side.

I signed up for her meal train but so beloved is she that the first opening is months away.  Thinking she might be sick of all the delicious yet heavy casseroles and zitis surely coming in, I decided to do a French-themed meal with baguettes, cheese, fruits, a salad and napoleons.  I wondered if she could drink wine while she's in recovery and figured I'd throw it in anyway and she'd get to it, eventually.

But even though I barely know this mom or her kids, she is present in my mind and heart.  She's a mom in my town. She could be me. I could be her. She could be any one of us. And if her fight has taught me anything it's that cancer does not discriminate.  And that no one should fight alone.  When I think of moms in the past with illnesses they were made to feel ashamed of, or who suffered in silence and isolation, it makes me want to bake Mark Zuckerberg an entire cake.  God Bless Facebook! 

I cannot imagine what this amazing mom's battle will be like. I cannot imagine the inner-strength this mom warrior will call upon during her fight. But I am sure she will triumph over it.  Hoards of people are in her corner, rooting for her, loving her, supporting her.  What she is going through is terrible but she will not fight alone.

Below is a great way to show your support.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Why I exercise...

I'm going to be very upfront about something.  You won't be seeing a picture of me in a sports bra and boy shorts on social media any time soon. I've noticed this trend popping up lately as everyone shows their before and after pics but I'm pretty modest.  That's not to take away from the people who get a lot of pride and motivation out of posting these pictures but it's just not for me. And there's a context issue. While I'd be comfortable on the beach in my bathing suit with whoever, I just don't want pictures of a scantily dressed me popping up on a Facebook feed next to my cousin's newborn baby and a recipe for gluten-free lasagna.  But these before-and-after pictures are generally posted with an emphasis on working out, weight loss and eating more nutritiously -- all of which are really good things.

Because as much as I wish I could eat mass quantities of Broad Street Dough and NEVER exercise, I think that eating healthily and exercising is really important.  Not just so you whittle yourself away to nothing, but so you're strong, happy and possess an energy level higher than that of a snail.  For the past 4 months, I have been exercising at least four times a week which is massive, considering the number of times I exercised from September to January was ZERO.

And I hate exercising. I mean, I really, REALLY hate it. I hate it more than the NJ Housewives, the wardrobe of Miley Cyrus and Goldschlager combined.

While I'm on a run, I waver between feeling like I'm being tortured and praying that no one is watching me.  It's awful. Like really, really awful.

When I take my weekly karate class, I curse under my breath as I'm made to do squat thrusts, spar guys twice my size who bat me away like a fly and plank for two minutes at a time.  "Why am I DOING THIS to myself?" I wonder angrily, thinking I could be home curled up with a book, a wheel of brie and a box of chocolates from the Red Bank Chocolate Shoppe.

However, as much as I truly HATE AND DESPISE working out, I love having exercised.
For realz, after I'm done running around Meadow Ridge, covered in sweat and red faced, gulping water and drooling on myself, I feel like a million bucks. On any given Saturday afternoon after I've finished letting karate masters far superior to me kick me up and down the dojo, my legs sore and my shirt sticking to me, I feel like the goddamn queen of the world.

So as much as I think exercise is cruel and unusual punishment I love the way I feel when I've done it for the day.  I know it has great physical benefits from healthy heart to strength in your muscles to higher energy levels (not to mention sliding into, rather than shoehorning yourself into, your skinny jeans) but the emotional benefits for me are far better. If something was worrying me before I went for a jog, it seems less important.  My mood is elevated and I'm less likely to bite the kids heads off when they spill an entire bottle of grape juice on the couch. I'm a better listener. More likely to smile.  More apt to feel at peace. And did I mention how much better my skinny jeans fit?

A recent New York Time article reveals:

"The sweet spot for exercise benefits, mostly by walking, is 450 minutes per week, or a little more than an hour per day. Those people were 39 percent less likely to die prematurely than people who never exercised. At that point, the benefits plateaued, the researchers found, but they never significantly declined."

So apparently, I'm also going to live forever!  And alls I have to do is walk for over an hour a day.

I used to drive 6 blocks to the park. Now I throw Little D in the stroller and I walk. I never used to play soccer or basketball with my son, content to let his dad handle that I sat nearby as the cheering section. Now I jump right in and let him give me a run for my money. 

For me, exercise is not about making extra weight on my body disappear, although that's a nice fringe benefit. It's about appreciating my body and letting it do what it's capable of. Not hating my body for not being a perfect and skinny size 4, but loving my body for it's beauty, it's speed, it's strength. 

It's about making time to move my body and being grateful, in fact, I am not too old, or too sick or too injured to move my body through running, karate or sometimes dance.

When I get up at 6:10 to get in my jog, my daughter will sometimes get up and ask "Why you goin' JOGGING?" and I tell her that I'm doing it to be healthy and happy.  Because as much as I don't like the feeling of exercising while I'm doing it and as much as I'm a natural bookworm, not a natural athlete, I like how my body and mind feels when I'm through putting my body through its paces.

And not to mention, a little known fact is that the more calories you burn off exercising the more freshly baked cupcakes you can consume without your cholesterol skyrocketing.   


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wake-up Call

On Sunday morning I found myself zipping around my house like a ferret on steroids, stuffing my son into a jacket and tie, sticking Mary Janes on my daughter and repeating out loud "Do not forget the christening gifts!" After my umpteenth shrieking request, my husband sauntered out to the driveway and shepherded the kids into the car as I chugged a glass of water, grabbed a lipstick to apply in the car and thankfully, I did not forget the gifts.

But I did forget my cell phone.

I realized this as we were halfway to the church, determined to be on time to dress my godson in his christening finery.  I was alarmed to be without my phone all day.  How would I take pictures at the baptism?  How would I send and return text messages? How would I update my Facebook status with adorable pictures of my niece and nephew?  Way too late it occurred to me, "What if I need to make a phone call?"   I felt as though one of my limbs had fallen off. It was like watching any of the NJ Housewives give an interview...I was in a constant state of bewilderment.

It turned out, being without my phone was pretty awesome. 

It turns out that on any given Sunday, my cell phone is way less necessary than I thought.


I didn't have to remember to set it to silent before church began.

Pictures?  My sister, mother of the twins, took oodles of pictures all day and posted them to Facebook that evening.  And I actually got to be in the pictures for once instead of behind the camera.

During the lunch at Char Steakhouse that followed the baptism, I was fully present for the first time, I have to admit, in a long time.  I truly didn't realize how often I dip my hand into my purse to check my phone. And for what? I wasn't expecting an important business call or anything.  Why shouldn't I be completely focused on socializing and eating the vegetarian option on the menu whilst sipping wine with my family?  I didn't realize how much of a slave I am to my phone until I left it at home and realized the sweet freedom and liberation in not having it.

Sure it was mildly bumming when I went to take a picture of my sides to put on Facebook and I realized I was sans phone. However, who's really being hurt by not getting to see my photos of creamed spinach and fluffy mashed potatoes?  Victimless crime.

When I did return to my phone, more than 8 hours after I left it, I had ten missed texts and 3 missed calls.  A couple of play date requests for the upcoming week. A photo of new shoes from a gal pal. A question from a Sunday School parent. A friend had dropped some wine in our mailbox and wanted to inform us it was there. Nothing was critical.  There was nothing that couldn't wait.

When I ended up taking my kids to the park a bit later for some early evening sunshine I intentionally left my phone in the car. It felt good. I felt bad I had missed another parent's calls about directions to the park, but it wasn't Earth shattering. We didn't end up meeting up with them, but we would next week. No biggie.

I shut my phone off completely that night, determined to watch Mad Men Sunday night without its addictive presence.

I am not saying that I want to get rid of my phone of even turn it off all day.  I'm not insane.  My phone is my alarm...if I hadn't turned it back on Sunday night I would have never been awakened for my terrible Monday morning wog (walk/jog).  My phone is my camera. My growing kids aren't going to photograph themselves. My phone holds my calendar of where my family is supposed to be at any given time. My phone is a huge convenience (directions, anyone?), I love texting my friends and it's fun to read articles/ put pictures of baked goods on Facebook. 

But every Sunday, maybe I'll just turn it off all day.  Every night at 8 pm, maybe I'll put my phone to sleep along with the kids for a few hours. Maybe I'll bar my phone from the beach this summer.
 It's very whiny, my phone. Always beeping. Always pinging. Always demanding my attention. And the truth it, when I pay attention to my phone, I'm usually ignoring everyone around me.

So I think I'll be without my phone more often.  It's hard to explain why, but taking long chunks of time away from my phone just plain feels good to me these days. 

It's a bit of a wake-up call to realize how marvelous it feels to be away from something I love so much but I guess distance makes the heart grow fonder.  Ringing off now.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Gossip Girl

It's been a while since I was around gossip of this magnitude. 

I adore my circle of female friends.  ADORE.  And I love stumbling on new friends who speak my language.  Many of them are moms I've met through my kids. While there's sometimes an amazing connection (generally with moms who share my love of books, humor, wine, baked goods and conversation) even the moms I have to make more of an effort to converse with (their discussions center on their diets or home furnishings, neither my forte) are good people who generally don't say unkind things about others and that's why I like them.

Look, I live in a small town and I think, on some level, all of us want to play nice because we realize we're all stuck together (at least through our kids) for the next 13 years. Even more if you have younger children.  But it's been refreshing that the way I've experienced the moms around me has been specifically as "non-gossipy".

We've all gossiped at one time or another, right?  Especially in our 20s, when we were young and irresponsible and perhaps hadn't discovered more enriching subjects about which to chew the fat.  For me, there's always been a high correlation between how insecure about myself I am feeling at the moment and the nasty things that come out of my mouth about others.  It would make me feel better about myself to put someone else down.  But, (and not always) for the most part, that ship sailed many years ago. On my best days, anyway. 

It's been a long time since I've been around nasty dirt-dishing and I only realized it when I was confronted with it the other day.

When I look at my life and my interactions, now, I can see why I was so floored when faced with three other women dragging people we collectively knew through the mud.  The  friends I'm lucky enough to have tend not to be gossip-mongers. Whether intentionally or not they have been selected to fulfill roles in my life. Most of those who adore gossip have been eradicated from my circle, moving away from me and towards those who share their interests.

So when I was in the midst of it, I didn't know how to react. You see, it's been a while.  The three women I was with were going for the jugular as we drank our coffee.  One laughed about a "friend" who hadn't covered her greys in MONTHS!  I gulped, wishing I had worn a hat that day.  Another claimed that the children of her friend were "always acting like brats". 

"She's annoying!" the first affirmed. "She never wants to go anywhere without her husband."

"Oh God, I HATE that!"  I got quieter and quieter until it was obvious that not only had I checked out of the convo, I was sending decidedly judgey vibes towards these women. 

"Oh stop it!" one said "We're scaring Natty."

I wasn't scared but I knew that our blossoming friendship was probably not going to work out.  While they were very nice to me, I felt sure that they would talk about me the moment that I left.  It made me not want to have any more coffee with them. But they're good people. Good people that like to gossip. 

So, I'm not in the club anymore. It's okay, I don't need to be in that club.  I know what I needed to do to be in the club.  Agree!  Exclaim! Make jokes!  Validate our collective superiority by putting others down.

There are so many amazing topics of conversation.  So many events, emotions, ideas and notions worth discussing.  Why talk about how much weight a fellow mom has gained? Maybe she's under incredible stress. We don't know.

I'm not a Little Miss Merry Sunshine.  Realistically, we all have people we don't like.  You can't like everyone. There's a mom I'm acquainted with that I don't like.  It's because she triggers one of my pet peeves.  The way I experience her, she is incredibly rude.  I don't like rude people.  They bother me. Every time I have come in contact with her, she would say something to me and the way I would take it would ruin my day. But I don't drag her name through the mud when she comes up in conversation.  I don't try and enlist others to dislike her also.  I try very hard not to do this, because it's a waste of my time and energy.  I try hard not to do this because I don't want someone who experiences me as rude to try and get others to gang up on me. So, finding this individual rude, I don't hang out with her.  Fullstop. If I bump into her, I'm civil, even friendly (but not familiar). Just because I don't care for her doesn't mean that other people will feel the same way.

I know that it may sound unrealistic to try not to gossip. Everybody does it, right? But it hurts people...and mostly...putting someone else down makes you look bad. It really does.  And from the upcoming election to our fears and hopes for our kids to wallpaper potentially making a comeback to wine to movies...well, there are so many fascinating topics of conversation that won't leave you feeling like you need to wash the ick of your hands because you just dragged someone else through the mud.

Mediocre people talk about other people. Smart people talk about events. Brilliant people talk about ideas.

I'd like to try to be more in touch with my brilliant self.  Thanks to all the wonderful moms surrounding me who seem to feel the same way.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

In the company of men

A few weeks ago, Big G and I were invited to an Irish breakfast on St. Patrick's Day by a friend of ours.  Big G, as is his way, got up early went to work and called me an hour later saying "I FORGOT today was the Irish Breakfast! Arrgh!" 

"Oh well," I responded, "I'll have some bangers for ya, my lad!"

Bangers means sausage.

When I showed up there, it truly was a sausage party. There were 5 dudes.  And me.  But there was also piles of eggs, bacon and coffee so I figured I would stay. I felt awkward for a fraction of a second but then got over it.  All the men present, besides being very nice, were talented musicians. So not only did I have a delicious breakfast cooked for me, I got to witness a truly amazing jam session that was totally awesome.  I was so glad I didn't leave due to my status as the only chick present and I was also happy I didn't just not come at all because my gentleman escort forgot we had plans that morning.  I would have been denying myself great food, terrific music and conversation with other parents who just happened to be male.

See, I am one of the few people who truly believe that women and men can be friends.  Real, actual friends.  I have a number of close male friends, but two particularly come to mind.  One is close friend high school that I've had since I was 14 and another I met in my early twenties at work. Both are amazing men I respect, love and admire and both I consider to be family.  In all of our years together, although I feel their love for me with certainty, neither one of them has ever made a pass at me and if they're even reading this I'd imagine at this point they just fell out of their seats laughing at the awkwardness of such a prospect. 

Thanks a lot guys.

Friendship between men and woman will enrich your life immensely but only if you follow a few guidelines I have discovered along the way.

Your male buddy can only be married if you and the wife adore each other. Fullstop. If she doesn't like you, or even just kind-of-likes you this is not going to work. Because she will get totally jealous and think something untoward is going on when really all you're doing is quoting lines form Arrested Development.  The wife doesn't like you?  The friendship is over.

You cannot be friends with a man who you are attracted to.  I remediate this problem by being friends with men who possess many of the traits I find physically unappealing.  Men who dress better than I do, men who wear jewelry, have long hair, have excessive tattoos or who are overly dramatic make great male friends while also making them sexually unattractive to me. It's a win-win!

By the same token, you cannot be friends with a man who is attracted to you.  Since most men are attracted to everything, even a pumpkin (which I fear I resemble now that I've done all my winter eating) this can be tough. I try to make this easy for my male friends. I tell them in great detail about my child birth, I unload my problems on them demanding advice I likely won't take and I talk constantly about eating. That usually does it.

If that doesn't work, I'll often raise issues about regularity and what works for me.

Example of phone call between male and female friends:


Male:  Hey. What took you so long to answer?
Female:  I just got out of the shower.

No, this is wrong on many levels. It's flirting. The dude just unwittingly pictured you naked. It's not even his fault.


Male: Hey, what took you so long to answer?
Female:  I was picking at an ingrown hair, actually. Then I considered brushing my teeth because it's been days but instead I decided to eat a bag of potato chips while watching Downton Abbey. Do you want to get the kids together?

Viola!  With that statement you have just made any man within 100 mile radius completely unattracted to you and you've likely disgusted some lesbians too.

Male-female friendship doesn't work if said male is waiting, "in vulture position" for your relationship to break up. Ten years ago there was a guy I thought was my friend and one day when we were having a business lunch he busted out with "If you and Big G weren't married, don't you think we'd be an amazing couple?"  I almost choked on my turkey wrap in shock but rather than being flattered I was totally taken aback. 

"Never.  Like never, ever." I admonished him.


"Why?" I sputtered.  "The way you're gnawing on your pulled pork sandwich is reason enough."

"Please don't tell Big G I said this," he pleaded.

But I had to. I couldn't have a secret with this guy that I would keep from Big G.  That would create intimacy between me and Pulled Pork Sandwich. And it's not like he was friends with Big G. He wasn't even really friends with me, it turned out, or he wouldn't have said something to make me feel so uncomfortable. I never had lunch with him again and stopped taking his calls. Like a canker sore on your upper lip, he eventually went away.

Which brings us to, you cannot be friends with a man that doesn't also love and respect your partner.  When I think of my closest 4 male friends, I will bet you dollars to donuts they would rather hang out with Big G than with me or both of us together. Whether it's because I'm around more during the day or less of an introvert than my spouse, who knows.  But they love and respect my husband and that's what makes me able to be friends with them and often puts them that strange grey area where your friends become so close to you they become family.

And for all of this to work, you have to have a supremely trusting, confident spouse who knows you think the sun rises and sets on him. He has to appreciate that you get things from your male friendships you don't always get from your female friendships. He not only trusts you around all your male friends but trusts all of your male friends around you.

If Big G doesn't like someone, that person is out of our circle of friends. Fullstop.

And I'm glad that Big G is so wonderfully adjusted.  Because when I think of all my friends, both male and female, I sift through the laughter, the tears, the adventures, the sad times and the unbelievable ways in which they've added so much to my life, I feel incredibly lucky to not have just limited myself to one gender. 

You know that famous old saying -- "Female friendship is awesome. Male friendship enables you to base an entire friendship on lines from movies.  Stay away from Pulled Pork Sandwich."   It's so true.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Oh, behave!

Not too long ago I was with a couple of other mommies and they were trading war stories of instances of their kids being rude and misbehaved. We all have those, right?  I certainly do, in spades. But these moms had just met me and didn't yet know our family's rich history of terrible behavior.  I was gearing up to add a few of my own tales to the pot when this happened.

This one mom sighs and says of my 5 year old son "Big A is so good. He never're so lucky."

I am not making this up when I say I almost laughed in her face. I don't mean this figuratively. I mean I literally almost lost control of myself and began going "Hahahahaha!" right up in her grill as I slapped my thigh and tears streamed from my face.  I had to settle for biting my lip and grimacing so it sort of looked like I was about to take a really big shit.

Because this:

Some kids are born wonderful. They're mellow and lovely from the get-go.  It's unfair, but true.

Unfortunately, the stork didn't bring me one of those kids.

What the stork brought was a high-strung, emotional and demanding little critter whose looks of pure disgust as an infant caused his aunt to dub him "The Angry Fisherman".

As new parents, my husband and I handled our difficult child the only way we knew how.  By always and consistently letting him have his way. Often at the expense of others and our own sanity. I'm not proud of it, but it's true. We were learning. And believe me, we learned. The hard way.

By the time Big A hit pre-school, he was hitting. He was scratching. He was intimidating other kids with his size and taking their toys away.  He was screaming AT THE TOP OF HIS LUNGS when he didn't get his way.  He wasn't going to win any prizes for Mr. Congeniality, that was for darn tootin'.

I was mortified. I went around doing damage control, apologizing to the parents of his many victims and generally feeling like an incompetent loser in the game of parenting.  But the biggest loser in all this?  Big A.

I was unsurprised, but nonetheless heartbroken when I heard one of his classmates, Suki, say to her mother in the parking lot, "Big A destroyed my sand mermaid today. I hate Big A!" 

"I don't blame you Suki!" I wanted to yell. "And I'm so sorry about your sand mermaid!"

After many instances of Big A's less-than-charming behavior toward his classmates, we were called in to meet with our pre-school's director (and also his teacher) to get a full accounting of his crimes. I began sobbing like a Real Housewife who's had her Botox taken away.  It was a combination of feeling like a failure as a parent, my embarrassment at my son's behavior and my sadness that he was being mean to other children.

"HE'S A BULLY?" I wailed at the top of my lungs.

"No, he's not a bully," the director assured me, "he's only 3 years old."

"Do you think he's going to know...EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS?!!!????"  I blew my nose loudly into a tissue as my husband looked pained.  "Do you think this means he's DISTURBED!??" I sobbed noisily (as I'm sure both teachers were thinking  Big A might very well have a genetic propensity for just that very thing.)

"No, I don't," the director assured me. "All it means is this.  You and your husband will have to worker harder with him.  That's all."

We would have to work harder with him?  That's literally the first time it occurred to me.  This parenting thing which has brought me unspeakable joy, adorable Christmas photo cards, unlimited snuggles and taught me to love unconditionally and blah,'s work?  I did not know that.

My hubby and I went home and discussed. I cried to my mom and my sisters. I berated myself for being such a jellyfish of a mother to the detriment of my child. The blame lay squarely on our shoulders. And though it was humbling, there was some empowerment in that.

We went back to the preschool the next day and said "Okay, clearly we are part of the problem, but the good news is that this means we can also be part of the solution. What do we do?" 

Both the pre-school director and the teacher looked flabbergasted. The teacher said that usually parents are defensive.  They offer excuses instead of solutions for their child's bad behavior.

Fer serious? we said.

Fer serious, they said.

We talked about providing rewards for good behavior and most importantly, (and most difficult to enforce) consequences for bad behavior. We talked about accountability not just in Big A, but in ourselves in order to get him on the path to righteousness.

As the year went on and Big A's bad behavior got better, I noticed the birthday party invitations came trickling in. He began being asked on play dates. And what's more, he seemed so much happier. He wasn't angry and lashing out all of the time, because he was no longer tasked with the anxiety of having to set his own limits. That's a lot for a little kid.

Big A seemed comforted by knowing what the rules were and by the consistant consequences that would follow breaking them.  He knew if he hit another child at school his beloved trains would be in timeout for the rest of the day.  He knew if he screamed into the face of a classmate that we would not, in fact, be going over Grandma's for cookies.  That deterred him and helped him to control his behavior.  And mostly, we talked about feelings. Not his feelings of how unjust it was he couldn't always have his way. But rather, we talked about the feelings of others. How he might feel, for example, if he joined another child to play in the block corner and that other kid shoved him out saying "Go away!"

5 months later, around Valentine's Day Suki's mom mentioned that Suki said she loved Big A and he was her valentine. She also explained that Suki wanted Big A to be her business partner one day in a chicken nugget venture.  It was a huge turning point and something I will never forget because it seemed to be a mile marker of his progress. Suki used to hate him, and with good reason.

When I think back on that agonizing pre-school year, I can't believe we got through it. It was SO HARD to always be managing my son's behavior to help him improve. But honestly, what was the other option? We do nothing and let him stampede about the classroom, being mean to other children and turning himself into a miserable and lonely social pariah?  

I look back at that time 3 years ago and I wonder what kind of a first grader Big A would be if I had opted out of the hard work of teaching him how to treat others with respect.   He surely would not enjoy his wide circle of friends that leaves us with rarely an afternoon where he doesn't have someone to play with.  He surely wouldn't be as happy. Because no one would have wanted to spend any time with a tantrum-throwing, hitting, toy-grabbing, shrieking 6 year old.

It's possible, sure, without my husband's and my interference Big A would have worked things out on his own. But knowing the emotional nature of my son, I doubt it.  I shudder to think I could have been part of creating such a lonely future for my wayward child.

Because what we've ended up with, in Big A, is a child who is complimented not on being a superior athlete or the best artist or the smartest in his class. What I hear again and again whether it's from parents, his teachers or even occasionally other kids is what a sweet and respectful boy our son is towards others.  And knowing how hard his road (our road) has been, no compliment could mean more.

So if you have a kid who's acting like a punk like mine was, please don't give up on him.  You can help bring him through that phase...just keep at it!

So, I'm brought back to that day not too long ago when that mom said to me:

"Big A never're so lucky!"

Of course he misbehaves.  Still. And big time.  He's a kid.

But after all the tears (both his and mine), doubts and agony we went through with him as a little kid, after all the play dates I had to drag him OUT OF for being mean to another kid (where they were freshly baked scones, mimosas and desperately needed adult convo, might I add), after the many times I wanted to throw in the towel and give him his way, BUT I DIDN'T, I say thank you for such nice praise to my son.

But what I don't say is that if you knew him back in his wild years, you'd know that luck had very little to do with it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Be You Bravely

In my small county of many amazing women who share close friendships, there's one woman who stands out. She's universally adored. Her name'll call her Gladys. She is beautiful, smart, fashionable, funny, hard-working, thoughtful, genuinely nice and effortlessly cool and confident.  She is beloved and respected by all the down-to-earth, kind, awesome and interesting moms (the moms I tend to gravitate towards, naturally) and feared by the handful of moms who are not so nice.

Anyway, Gladys is just one of those chic, witty women who seems to fit into no particular mold and fits easily into a number of different groups.  No sooner than someone drops her name than someone else chimes in "OH I LOVE HER!" and actually means it.  When I hang out with her I have to literally restrain myself from taking a selfie of us and posting it on FB so everyone knows we are friends. She's nearly ten years older than I am but manages to look about 28 and yet, I cannot hate her for it.

Sometimes she does things that are so interesting and cool that other people try to emulate her. 

And although people all inspire one another in different ways, I find it unusual when people try to BE Gladys.

Gladys is awesome. Gladys throws great parties.  Gladys has the best handbag and mixes the best cocktails and has the best thing to say to you when you feel fat and ugly but no matter what anyone does, they will never be Gladys.

I mean, I will NEVER be Gladys. Even if I wanted to, (which occasionally I do) I would never succeed because there is only one Gladys.  Whatever Gladys is doing seems very appealing. She is universally loved!  So maybe if we all do what Gladys does and wear what Gladys wears we will all be successful, popular and admired.

But no.  Because no matter how hard any of us would try, we would only come up with being a second-rate copy of Gladys.  Which seems to be an enormous waste of time considering we could easily and with no effort be a first-rate version of ourselves.

Sometimes it's hard to be yourself.  Sometimes it's much easier to look around and see what everyone else is doing and race to join the pack and do it too.

But some famous writer guy said "Know thyself!" as I creep closer to 40 it seems easier and easier to embrace who I am instead of trying to fit in.

No matter how uncool it may seem.  So here's some things I'm going to be more open about from now on and if people don't like it, then oh well.

As boring as it seems, I ADORE being alone in my house reading books.

Even though I feel a little regret about it, I don't want to have any more children even though it seems everyone has three kids.  And my desire to not want a third makes me feel guilty sometimes.

I find huge parties stressful and concerts annoying but I love hosting/going to small dinner parties with interesting food and more interesting people.

NERD ALERT! If given the chance, I will go to a playground that has built in chess boards and try and get another parent to play with me.

It's nice of you to ask but I will never join your boot camp, Mudderella team or train for a marathon because I believe any of these things could possibly kill me and I don't want to take the chance. Do you even know me? 

I may limit their screen time but my kids can eat as many home made cookies as they want.  Even if it's close to dinner.

I am baffled by those who do not drink wine and troubled by those who feel a need to always drink the whole jug. 

I like wearing a dress over jeans.  It's kind of my thing.

I like pinning my hair into a bun and I rarely, if ever, wear it down unless I've just gotten it done. I know I should take the time to make more effort with my hair but I don't because I'm lazy.

I don't ever watch the news because it makes me cry or feel scared.

I did not enjoy the new Cinderella movie very much.

I adore picnics, I hate horror films and I love being a Christian.

I'm not actually sure if Zack Brown is a person, an entire band or a sandwich.

I sometimes lose my temper with my kids, yell at them and feel really, truly, wretched afterwards. I then usually call my older sister, lament about what a terrible mother I am and she tells me to get over it. It always helps.

One of the highlights of my weekend is taking an adult karate class with a lovable collection of weirdos. I fit right in.  I've kept this a secret from many people for over two years. 

Gladys would never do that.  Or would she?  Gladys might keep a secret if she felt like it.

Because the thing with Gladys is that she owns it. If she were to begin wearing rubber gloves as a fashion accessory it would catch on because of her confidence. I could picture her saying "Oh yes, they're much easier to clean than cloth so it saves water. And they protect my manicure.  Super convenient!"

So, be you bravely!  I'm off to go read a book now and practice my jumping front kick while feeding my kids cookies.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

50 Shades of Huh?

Without exception, Fifty Shades of Grey is the most poorly written book I have ever read. As someone who reviews books for a living, I can't even imagine what I would have written if I had to review this piece of crapola.   Just a series of zzzs and a sad face emoticon would do.

The main character was a wet rag.  The romantic hero was a cheesy weirdo.  It didn't make a lick of sense and seemed, at times, to be taking place in the early 80s. If Ana wrote "Oh my!" in italics one more time as Christian ravaged her yet again I was going to throw up in my mouth. Now that's kinky.

And yet, there were explosive sex scenes throughout the book where Ana had mind blowing orgasms that often left Christian with his teeth clenched saying "Sentences. With. Each. Letter. Capitalized. And. With. A. Period. After. Each. Word!"

From a literary standpoint, this book was a belly flop. I tried to read it twice but I found myself getting frustrated with its sheer awfulness. It didn't particularly turn me on so much as make me laugh, embarrassed that not only did someone publish this piece of shiza but that it's an international sensation.  But then again, my secret crush is Alan Rickman and I find guys in wool socks ridiculously sexy so we can all agree my tastes are rather...singular.  Ha!  Ba dum bump!

But the truth is that scores of women bought and loved this book. And I think I know the reason why.

I've spent some time coming up with an answer since my husband keeps begging to know why everyone seemed to adore a book that I keep snickering at as I insist on dramatically reading him passages aloud when he's trying to sleep.

I think women love the book because all of us moms are way too busy, work too hard, and do too much.


Sometimes I dream of escaping and  having an affair one afternoon a week. I picture a gorgeous white hotel room that I don't have to clean. There is a freshly made bed and quiet. No one is pressing me to make a meal or pestering me to design a reading poster. I'm not spackling Hello Kitty stickers off a wall or trying to referee the latest family fight while trying to meet my work deadlines. It's just me, the quiet hotel room and perhaps a book, a nap and room service bringing me a bowl of some kind of delicious cream soup and a giant slice of peanut butter pie that I don't have to share with anyone. There's no other person involved in my love affair. That would defeat the whole point.

To an extent, that's what I think Fifty Shades did for the army of women who couldn't put it down. It introduced the fantasy of man who does everything for Wet Rag Ana. She, as Christian Grey's submissive, has no responsibility whatsoever.  He makes all her decisions, from ordering for her in restaurants to picking out her clothes.  He chooses her car, and being a stalker he always knows exactly where she's gong to be without her having to tell him, let alone give him directions. Also, being a stalker, he notices everything about her, which is the complete antithesis of the husband who's so clueless he wouldn't notice is you ran around nekkid with your knickers on your head. She's totally witnessed by him!  Rather than criticizing her about her weight he forces, FORCES her to eat so that she will be strong enough to withstand their latest round of mind-blowing sex. (That was really the only part that turned me on. When he was instructing her to eat.)  And he's amazing in bed and does all the work while she just lays there, since, being tied up she can't really do much anyway. And he's ridiculously wealthy so he pays for everything!  That means no arguing about the household expenses.  

I think that this fantasy, of the responsibility-free life, where everything is blissfully out of your control (more than Christian's Red Room of Spank), appeals to women everywhere who are constantly over-stressed and overworked.  Although...come to think of it, if you're being spanked, you're usually laying down which seems restful. And if you're all tied up than you're not doing mindless dishes or picking up your kid's legos for the umpteenth time.  Ah to escape into the sweet fantasy where the only thing on your To-Do List is a hot millionaire.  And Ana isn't just Christian's sub, you know.  He gifts her with a car, buys her awesome clothes and even flies her to Paris on his private jet in exchange for all the sex and spanking she allows him.

Wait...this makes Ana sound a bit like a prostitute.  Oh well, that's a blog for a different day.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sick Kid

I haven't left the house since Sunday afternoon.

My 3 year old came down with a bad cold and with our vacation looming mere days away, and in an effort to get her well, we went on lockdown. 

Little D was fine at church this past Sunday but around mid-day when we realized how sick she was, we left my folks' super bowl lunch early. I didn't even get to eat any football cake. We cancelled making the rounds of two Superbowl parties and stayed put at home.  Where we've been ever since.

Since Little D's default state is to zip up the nearest flagpole and hang upside down singing a VERY LOUD SONG it was sad to see her as a slumped little lump balled up in the corners of various couches, beds and laps.  We pumped her with fluids and vitamins, vaporized her and blew her nose countless times.  We snuggled up and watched Disney movies.  We cancelled her ballet and gymnastics classes and called off any play dates for our older son.  Grocery shopping?  It could wait.  I pulled a veggie lasagna out of the freezer and discovered a case of corn niblets in the back of my pantry and rogue jug of apple juice trying to hide behind the gift bags. Perfect.  

And you know what?  Besides the slight cabin fever I'm rocking now that it's Day 4, (and besides that no one likes to see their child sick, of course, there's that) there were a number of silver linings to her little cold.

A.  I stayed in my pajamas from Sunday night until Tuesday morning.  I was giving so many hot baths to my sick child I didn't get a chance to take one myself.  I'm Natalie.  I'm disgusting. I haven't done that since New Year's Day of 2006!
B. I got to snuggle the kids indefinitely and watch Beauty and the Beast. And Lady and the Tramp. And even Frozen.  (Though my kids protested)
C. I didn't have to drive anywhere!  No schlepping the kids in the car in the ice-cold deep freeze.  I didn't want to make Little D sicker so we just stayed home.  It was glorious
D.  But the best Silver Lining was my pleasant surprise at how many family and friends reached out to see how Little D was feeling.  It warmed my heart that our support system would think of her and wish her good health, knowing that we would soon be leaving town. These check-in phone calls are particularly appreciated when you're trapped inside for three days straight with an extremely irate 3-year old who's coughing up flem.

And while no one likes to see their child sick it's an occurrence that forces everything to stop. (And I am not talking about the parent warriors who suffer the agony of having a terminally ill child -- I am merely referring to most of our experience of having a kid with a mild virus or temporary cold) It forces you to focus on your kids and nothing else.  I got zero books reviews done. I didn't go to my work-out class or run any errands. I had to be completely present and available to my daughter without letting even one distraction get in the way.  Because we all do so much in addition to parenting (work, cook, laundry, volunteer, exercise, etc.) it's rare that I get to stay home for three days straight with the kids. And it makes me feel all the more indignant on behalf of moms who work out of the home -- moms who can't stay home three days with a sick kid.  Unfair!  There should be extra sick days for working moms for when your kids are sick. 

I so happy to say that Little D is feeling great today. What a difference three days can make.  Not just for her, but for me also.  I'm not glad she got sick but I'm glad it caused me to slow down and rest a bit myself before we tackle Disney.

Now let's just keep our fingers crossed that her brother doesn't come down with it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

How your kids make you cheesy...the Disney World post

You know those people that have giant inflatable snow globes on their lawn come Christmas?  (Maybe you ARE one of those people).  For many years I thought that was the tackiest thing I'd ever seen.  I wondered WHY would ANYONE put such an atrocity on their front lawn?

And then I had kids.

And I understood that a lot of these families do not have bad taste....they just have kids.  And the joy and delight that fills up their child's face at the prospect of having something SO MAGICALLY COOL on the lawn come Christmas trumps the parents' desire for their home to look classily festive.

And this is why I found myself with a line of light up plastic candy canes festooning my walk this past holiday season. 

There's something else that will happen soon that I never thought would happen.

We're going to Disneyland!

(Actually it's Disney World. But it's so much more fun to say you're going to Disneyland.)

I hate crowds. I mean I REALLY hate crowds and my husband is not much better.  Going to a boy scout pack meeting requires many deep breathing exercises, attending school Halloween parades is best done after a shot of tequila and visiting Funtime America is to be avoided at all costs.  I'm the person who likes to eat out at 5 pm like an octogenarian because no one's at the restaurant and we only go to Chuckie Cheese (once a year) at 10 ON THE DOT on a weekday so that we are the only people there and can then scurry out the door like Chucky's namesake character when it starts filling up.

When we go on vacation, it's always somewhere somewhat obscure, very non-touristy and usually off season so it's nearly empty. Some people thrive on the energy and excitement of crowds but I'm not one of them.   I like quiet, particularly when I'm on vacation trying to recharge. I love when there's "nothing to do".  Jackpot!  More books to read! ( I know what you're thinking..."We MUST HAVE HER at our next party!")

And yet, next month we're going to Disney World.  My oldest is nearly 7 and I had several families urge me to go "before the magic wears off" and this terrified us into booking a trip.  This trip has all of my least favorite things -- crowds, rushing, lines, frantic schedules, bright lights, constant noise and giant turkey legs.

A part of me longs to tell the children that Disney burned down and then go to Block Island instead to sketch lichens and visit the island's lone alpaca.

But their joy in realizing that they're going to Disney is sort of sweeping me up in the excitement also.  My youngest can't wait to see Minnie Mouse and my oldest wants to battle Darth Vader.  They can't believe they're going to visit a haunted mansion and spin on the tea cups.  They are thrilled and euphoric that we're finally going on a vacation in which the main event doesn't involve hiking through a beachside trail because that's really all that there is to do.

And while my husband and I are aren't exactly donning mouse ears yet and prancing around the house to "When You Wish Upon A Star"  I have to admit even we're getting pretty excited. I've been sharing details with the children of our itinerary "Eating with Lady & The Tramp! It's A Small World! Fireworks!"  It's a far cry from our previous non-kid vacations which include visiting the Tate Modern in London and sampling mussels in St. Jean de Luz or sailing completely around this random island as I alternately vomited and went snorkeling for an 8 hour period.  But those kinds of activities aren't geared for children that young. Well, except maybe the vomiting.

Yes, in many ways Disney will be my kryptonite -- over-stimulating, crowded and noisy.  It's the anti-vacation for someone who's at heart an introvert. But I think the looks on our kids' faces and the happiness this trip will bring them will far outweigh any panic attacks I'll be experiencing while we're there.  Or at least I hope.  If it's dreadful we don't have to go again.

Even though it's a giant pain in the ass and extremely expensive, I think travel is really important every so often, not just to get out of your normal environment but to have your kids experience other parts of the world.  There will be a time, yet again, when my hubby and I can go back to the southwestern part of France or take our teenagers on the 12 hour flight to the North Shore of Oahu when it's deserted.  But at this point, it's the Magic Kingdom.  The things we do for our children.

I'll pack my flask. (Is this frowned upon?) Dumbo the Flying Elephant here we come!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Five Nights At Freddy's and other stuff to be avoided

I woke up Saturday morning in a foul mood.  My husband, Big G, woke up in a worse one.  I snapped at him.  He snapped at me.  We glared at each other. Considering the children were at a sleepover at Grandma's the night before, we should have been elated. We weren't. I was in a terrible mood and I had no idea why. Even my morning walk through the woods with my friend Red did very little to get me out of my funk.  It wasn't until later in the day, in my karate class, when I accidentally kicked through two boards and right into a chagrined classmate's stomach that I realized I needed to reign in my bad mood.

I stomped home and huffed over to my husband who was pouting in the other room as the kids played checker-chess on the floor. 

"What's wrong with you?!" I demanded, which I think is, to date, the worst thing you can ever say to anyone as an opening to reconciliation.

"Nothing!  What's wrong with you?" he snarled.

I stopped.

"Honestly, I don't know." I was puzzled.  Why was I in such a bad mood?  "I had a lot of bad dreams last night. I didn't sleep well."

"Me neither," he admitted as the tension broke.  "Do you think it was the movie we watched last night?  Because I think it was.  It's putting us both in a bad mood."

I stopped and thought about that.  Generally I don't see violent movies.  Anything with graphic violence, torture scenes, and gory horror films I avoid like the plague. Some people can watch it and let it roll off them, but that kind of stuff tends to stay with me, the grotesque or disturbing images running on a loop in my head, hence the bad dreams.   I'm either extremely sensitive or I'm just a big wus.

"I've been thinking about it," Big G continued. "The part where the guys feet were cut off--"

"STOP!" I held up both of my hands.  "I don't want to revisit it!"

"And then it got me to thinking about all the other terrible things in the world." my husband continued.  "And it put me in a bad mood."

Could it be?  Could seeing an extremely violent movie color our mood for the next 24 hours?  And if this was the case, what impact could seeing violent movies/ video games have on our children's less developed psyches?

It reminded me of something that happened about a month ago when our 6 year old, Big A stopped sleeping for a few days.  He finally broke down and admitted to us that he saw a friend on the bus playing a handheld video game called "Five Nights At Freddy's"  He was crying and begging us to please "take the scary pictures out of his head."  Which we couldn't do.  Big A saw something he was clearly not ready to understand and now he couldn't un-see it. We reassured him as best we could that video games aren't real but it broke my heart how his mind was affected by seeing something so disturbing. It took a lot of time and reassurance before Big A believed that the scary characters from the Freddy's video game weren't actually real and were not going to attack him the dead of night.

( I looked up "Five Nights At Freddy's" by the way.  It's TERRIFYING!  Bloody animatronic animals jumping out at you...creepy.  This macabre "horror" type videogame is for ages 13 and up but I was freaked out by it.  I was deeply saddened that Big A was exposed to something so frightening on the school bus that had impacted him so negatively.)

However, some kids and some adults can see bad stuff, cringe and let it go.  Our family has a rich history of internalizing.

When my hub and I realized that our moods were in fact being impacted by the disturbing and depressing subject matter of the movie the night before, we snapped out of it and had a lovely evening with the kids, one involving going out for milkshakes and, ironically, the board game Sorry!  But it made me ever more aware of the effect that movies and other media can have on ourselves and especially our children. 

So we won't be lining up to see the next Quentin Tarantino movie any time soon. Or letting our 6 year old play "5 Nights At Freddy's" matter how cool his classmates say it is. Obviously, he can't handle it. And considering how much we enjoy sleep and good times in this house, neither can we.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Just Say No

I know that this is going to sound insane, given that our children are 3 and 6 years old, but we recently talked to them about drugs.

A friend's son had just died of a drug overdose and after the wake, walking to our car, my husband, in an abrupt departure from his usual happy and laid-back self, suddenly grabbed me and said "That was awful. No parent should ever have to go through that. I don't want this to ever happen to our family."  Seeing the destroyed parents is something we will never forget.

It wasn't the first wake we attended for a young person who had died of a drug overdose. But it was the first time we had attended as parents ourselves.

Certain people around me say that we are fighting a losing battle.  That whether or not our kids do drugs is out of our control.  They say that having an addictive personality is something you're either born with, or not.  They say that certain drugs are so powerful that there is nothing we can do to stop them.  And that drugs are everywhere.

So maybe the odds are stacked against us.  But I'm going down swinging.  I want to know that at least I did everything that I could do to keep my kids off drugs.  So after discussing our options after a rather stilted lunch of Korean tacos, we decided to talk to our very young kids about the evils of drugs.

Talking to our 3 year old was pretty easy.  While she likely didn't understand the concept, we figured it's never too early to impart the message.  This is a summation of our conversation.

Us:  Drugs are bad and you should never do them.
Her:  What's drugs?
Us:  Something bad. That you should never do.
Her:  Like Pez?
Us:  Yes.  But they don't taste sweet, like Pez.
Her:  What do drugs taste like?
Us: dirt...and poop. They taste awful.
Her:  Will someone go in timeout, if they do drugs?
Us:  Yes, forever.  Because rugs are bad.
Her:  Will I cry?
Us:  Yes. And we will cry.  If you do drugs.  Drugs are bad.
Her:  Okay.  I won't do drugs. pause Can we play a game where I chase you around with this spoon?

I always say that we need to give our children SOMETHING to talk about in therapy one day.  Talking to our toddler about drugs is a good start.

The conversation with our 6 year old was a little more effective, I thought.

We opened by telling him about the wake we attended that day and how the young man had died due to drugs.

Him: Was he a kid?
Us:  No.  But he was a very young adult. And he was (Name withheld)'s child.  And they are so sad now.
Him:  How old was he?
Us:  22
Him:  Was he married?
Us: No, he didn't get a chance.
Him:  That's really sad.
Us:  It is.  
Him:  Was he like, bad?
Us:  No.  He was good and sweet but the drugs were too powerful.  Once he started, he couldn't stop.
Him:  I won't do drugs.
Us:  You shouldn't. They could kill you. And then you won't get to live a long, happy life.
Him: I want to be happy.
Us:  Good!  Because we want you to be happy.
Him:  I'll only drink beer one day.
Me:  WHOA!  Where are you getting this from?
Him:  I'm going to drink a can when I'm an adult. With a straw.  
Stunned silence.
Him:  Don't worry, I won't drink and drive.
Us:  Err...that's good. But moving on. When you grow up, you might be at a party where there's drugs.  And if that's the case, we want you to call us and have us pick you up.
Him: mildly panicked WHY would you send me to a party where there's drugs?!
Us: If we didn't KNOW there would be drugs there.
Him: hyperventilating now  How did you not know? You should check before sending me! 
Us: If for some reason, there are drugs at a party--
Him:  DefCon 5 I don't want to go to a party where there's drugs!  I'm afraid I'm going to do them, accidentally! I just want to stay home!
Us:  You know what?  You and all your friends are all just going to hang out here during high school. This is going to be the hang-out house, okay?  So we're all sure there's no drugs.
Him: Visible relieved If this is the hang-out house, can we get a ping-pong table?
Us:  Uhhh...sure. When the time comes.
Him:  Can some of my friends sleepover?
Us: Whatever, sure.
Him: YES! Okay, I will NOT do drugs. But sometimes I want to go to my friends' houses. Where there are no drugs.

I know it seems like we promised him a ping pong table in exchange for drug abstinence. And I know that perhaps all of this is way over their heads.  But I want to begin the dialogue now.  I want to drill it into their heads that drugs are bad and dangerous, and can easily ruin the lives of many good people.   I want to let our children know that if doing drugs is cool, I will make them wear mandatory pocket protectors.  I want them to know that I would rather them be the total square that calls their over-protective parents to pick them up and be alive rather than the daring rebel who's willing to try any drug and eventually be dead.  I want them to understand that friends of theirs, desperate for an escape (from whatever) or merely looking to have some fun, may try heavy drugs and, unable to get off of them, may pay dearly, perhaps even with their young lives.  

We want our kids to stay active, interested and passionate about things.  We want to know who their friends are and who their friends' parents are also. We want everyone poking fun at us because we spoke to our children about drugs at such a young age.

We don't care. 

Because the price is too high, the suffering too great to lose yet another child to such a preventable tragedy.  So talk to your children about not doing drugs they way you talk to them about not running into the street.  Both can kill you.