Sunday, November 3, 2013

Encyclopedia Dad



We're sitting at the dinner table eating, I don't know, chicken, I guess. Something unimportant. It's just another night, or another football Sunday night, I should say, when Daughter makes the horrible, horrible mistake of asking Husband a question about some football play - a fair catch.

He answers the question. We seemingly move onto other topics - nice topics, like how I forced her to go to something Jewish today and she did after screaming her head off about it last night, and had a nice time. I am starting to roll on this topic because there's no topic I like better than the topic of how the kids yell and scream about not wanting to go to something they turn out loving, when suddenly, Husband, who I guess hadn't really been talking, answers her football question again, with more information.

And then he expounds on it, elaborating various scenarios in which the player might like to catch the ball one way or another - approaching this simple, tiny question that she asked with the rigor of a Talmudic scholar.

On and on and on and on.

Daughter looks at me from across the table in some anguish. Do I hear the silent plea, the "What have I done?"

And, of course, she should know better. Husband cannot be asked a simple question. He has a mind like an encyclopedia - there's an inexhaustible amount of information in there. Days from now he will be asking her to get out a pencil and paper and a compass or triangle, perhaps, to draw up some possible diagrams. Or maybe he will have downloaded some great examples of fair catches on the Internet, website after website, to elaborate more fully on the issue, and compared how this play is not allowed in Canada for the following reasons but only in the US.

In other words, Husband cannot be asked a question.

When the kids were smaller and enrolled in math classes with material that I understood, they learned quickly which parent to ask for help. Ask mom and get the answer. Ask dad and get a series of questions, word problems and, yes, diagrams and real-life models of the problem. An answer would, of course, not suffice. There was that deeper thing below the answer, that OCD thing, that bedrock of knowledge thing, where all math begins, prehistoric math. That's what he's getting at - to fully explain the answer.

Finally, sometime after the chicken is gone, the grill cleaned, the dishwasher loaded, the leftovers put away, the kitchen cleaned up, lunches made and showers taken; sometime after Husband has run through every possible answer to this football question, it stops.

But only because Daughter has gone to sleep.

Are you the exhaustive answer type of parent or the answer-giving type of parent or something in between?

Monday, September 2, 2013

Mom, Mind Reader



It's 7:40 AM and rather than being in bed, where I should be, I'm in an unusual place: sitting outside my daughter's new middle school, parked in the parking lot with the window cracked open to hear the bell, and watching the clock tick.

Next to me, of course, is Daughter.

She's gone to a Jewish Day School from Kindergarten through seventh grade. Suddenly, last year, she was through. Not the most courageous kid, yet she wanted to move on.

Husband and I were flabbergasted. We were committed to Jewish education - full Jewish education, like through eighth grade since we don't have a Jewish high school. She'd never been interested in leaving before. We'd had a few forays into public school before, most of which ended badly. But Cheap Husband was thrilled about one thing in particular: no tuition. And I was interested in Daughter being happier, with more social opportunities. So we began looking into it, touring, taking placement tests.

And she left, moving from an eighth grade class of ten to an eighth grade class of four hundred.

I can't always relate exactly to everything my kids go through but this, this starting over at a school in eighth grade -- this sometimes feels like the central narrative of my life. My family moved out to Arizona from Skokie just in time for me to start eighth grade. The nightmares of that year can still make me wake up in a cold sweat at night. This whole experience has made me unusually perceptive, almost a mind reader. Good skills to have when dealing with the teenaged Daughter.

Each day, after school now, we talk about the events of her day. I use my Mom Mind Reader skills to ferret out any troubles, troubleshoot any difficulties, offer advice. But there's this one thing, the thing that leads us to sitting in the car at 7:40 AM each morning.

Math's going well, Social Studies is going well, so is English and PE and Science. Lunch is even going well, though each day her group shifts and morphs. Success looms before me when, three weeks in, Daughter informs me that she's no longer a "new kid." I am astounded, mostly because I felt like a new kid in Arizona from the day I started eighth grade to the day I graduated high school.

So it's just this morning thing.

Each morning from the time kids arrive till the bell rings at 7:56, they gather in a huge courtyard socializing. Has anyone ever imagined how terrifying this might be for new kids? It's not that there's bullying, because there isn't. But there's the more subtle problem of non-inclusion, of the established kids hanging with their friends and not talking to anyone they don't know. We've all done it.

So she sits. Then the bell rings and she flies out of the car to her first period class. And as I begin backing out of my space I see she's not the only one. All over the parking lot I see other kids who were sitting in their cars, all waiting out the bell, all dashing from their mind reader moms' sides to their classes the minute the bell rings.

Have you ever started over, or watched as your children have?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Physical Education, Circa 2013



Daughter just transferred from her Jewish Day School to public school for eighth grade. Yes, her first time in public school since Kindergarten. And, happy to say, she's having a blast.

Everyday we sit down on my bed and we run through how things are going. One of her electives is PE, which she likes for social reasons but doesn't like for one very specific reason: they have to dress out each day, which means undressing in front of other girls.

So I asked, "What are you doing in there? Is it hard?"

Who knows, maybe they're running laps in the 109 degree Arizona heat?

She said, "We're just dancing. Line dancing. Working on choreography and some hip hop."

Wait a minute. She's got to be kidding.

You mean there's no fifty foot rope suspended from the ceiling rafters and an angry PE teacher, who not only hates you but also your five sisters before you, pointing to it, to you and saying, "Climb?"

You mean there's no gymnastics horse which you have to leap over, grasping the handles, as if you're Nadia Comaneci, the gym teacher now waiting for you to fall on the other side?

No embarrassing weigh-ins called out from the scale? No lecture the first day of class about how no one should bother complaining about monthly cramps because they weren't getting out of PE and they weren't getting out of dressing out? No one-piece 100% cotton unitard gym suit that snapped up the middle and pulled when you grew? No showers looming threateningly in the locker room? No girls watching from other lockers to see if you'd worn your Monday underwear two days in a row and then hooting and hollering about it?

You mean they're teaching up to date dancing instead of the square dancing I was taught - something I have never, ever used again?

Line dancing? Hip hop?

She'd better get an A.

Any traumatic childhood PE memories out there?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

I Don't Have a Headache, I Have a Thirteen-Year-Old



I'm driving Daughter to school one day last week and I know I've got to tell her that she lost her allowance for the week but I'm dreading it. Am I dreading it because I hate to take away her money? No, she's miserly enough that she's probably got millions stashed around the house. Am I dreading it because it's too harsh a punishment for a few missed chores -- in other words, is my mother's heart weakening? Again, no. This child misses so many chores so much of the time, she has to have missed egregious amounts to finally lose her allowance. If I just counted the chores she made for me by her constant carrying things from one area of the house and dropping them off in another, I would earn a tidy allowance.

I'm dreading breaking it to her because there are better places than the interior of a car to have a thirteen-year-old pitch a fit and start screaming her head off.

But I can't resist. It's become our fight-a-day, the ride to school, whatever she's mad about that particular day, and this, her money, she will scream about all the way there: As I leave our neighborhood, turn onto the major street, drive down three miles, turn again, drive up two miles, and deposit her at the school doors, only the door slamming shut restoring the car to silence. 

She breaks the sound barrier as we drive down the road. Maybe even the windows. And that's when I realize I have a headache. And then I think, wait a minute. It's kind of early for a headache - only eight in the morning! I haven't really even done enough today to get a headache. Then then I realize the truth: I don't have a headache, I have a thirteen-year-old.

When Daughter was born, Husband and I looked on her with some bewilderment. After all, our first baby had weighed a pound and a half at birth. Who was this gigantic, loud, crying, jaundiced child, weighing in at a whopping six pounds nine ounces? Bar Mitzvahzilla hadn't even gone home with us for nearly ten weeks. We practically had to break him out of the hospital at the end, the doctors were so reluctant to release him, so reluctant to try him on outside air. But with Daughter there was no delay; she was ours driving home just a few days after birth.

Husband and I had been rightfully worried about Bar Mitzvahzilla -- born so tiny, he had come home with an apnea monitor and oxygen tubing. Once he moved out of our bedroom, we bought a sophisticated monitor just so we could listen to his every sound. If I could have crawled in the crib with him, honestly, I would have. But after Daughter moved out of our room and proved that her cries needed no amplification, no monitor, no microphone, to travel from one side of the house to the other, we gave the monitor away. We both felt completely confident that this child wasn't going anywhere without yelling her head off.

Of course, we were right. And, of course, I don't have a headache, just a little residual thirteen-year-old, recently disembarked from the car, clearing up a little later in the day, and to return about pickup time.

Have you lived through your child's adolescence? Did you find that they had just the right combination of screams to bring on a headache? Any baby screamers not needing monitors?

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Psychology of Soup


I made soup this last week. While this isn't earth-shattering news, it also doesn't mean that I cranked open a can of Campbell's either. See, I inherited a Soup Gene from my maternal grandmother and that means I don't just make soup, I understand soup, like in a Freudian way.

I think it was back when I was in college and had finally moved into a place with a stove that I called my mother for her Barley Soup recipe. Growing up, Barley Soup and Latkes were two of the only things I'd eat since I appear to have been born with a distinctly Jewish palate. She informed me the first ingredient was water.

"Water? To make soup?" This sounded fishy to me. I'm a little stupid in a kitchen but I would say the first ingredient should have been anything but water.

Then she rattled off a quick list of everything else that needed to be tossed in the pot, with a perfunctory slice here and there: onions, carrots, potatoes, beef short ribs. The mystery of the bay leaf.

"Oh, and barley," she said. "You should probably put in barley. Though I once made barley soup without barley and Dad didn't even notice."

So that's how I make Barley Soup; I just start dumping ingredients into a pot. If I have too many ingredients, and I always do, I go to a second pot. Etcetera. This is how I end up being the go-to-soup-gal for all my sick friends, how I freeze gigantic Tupperware containers full of soup and how I provided my stepfather with soup that he ate sparingly, in impossibly tiny amounts, during his last eight months in Arizona.

So it's really no surprise that the week after he passed away I suddenly found myself with this urge to make soup. Maybe the soup will make me feel better, since I can't save him. Maybe it'll answer the question of where exactly my elderly are for whom I used to make soup? If I make soup and bring it over there, will he just magically appear, regaling me with tales about how he takes my soup and then makes rice to thicken it and extend its usefulness? How magic is this soup anyway?

I would say, "Bob, the soup will go bad, you're making it last too long. It won't be good in a week."

But he looks at me like only someone who grew up during the Depression can, only someone who saves paper and plastic bags, only someone who still pronounces Cincinnati "Cincinnata," and says, "You should try it, Linda! One small box of Uncle Ben's - here I'll show you - and I won't need any more food for weeks!"

Here's what I used to know: I could take one of my gigantic soup pots, put water in it and a bunch of other things and an hour or two later I would have food. From water. From nothing. Food that could keep people alive.

Here's what I know now: I can't. 

Are you in charge of any signature family recipes? Has your family been touched by frugality? Missing anyone?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Life in Fifteen Lines or Less




From time to time I read the obituaries. Like just in case someone I know has actually passed away and I didn't know, or because I'm a writer and I read between the lines - looking at the birth and death dates, the life histories, the old people whose obituaries are accompanied by their picture from World War II. And sometimes I read them because we just need to pay attention. They're there and they memorialize someone's life and I can give them my time.

So I was really surprised when pricing obituaries yesterday, how much it costs to run one. Two hundred dollars for one day and fifteen lines. More for extra days and lines, and even more for a photograph. Somewhere in my naive little mind I thought these ran as community announcements, as community service. Not as ads.

If you read this blog back in 2009 and 2010 you may remember the madcap adventures of the elderly in my life - my Holocaust Survivor Jewish mother and my Ohio Farmer Methodist Stepfather. Her yelling and his deafness, which actually made an ideal combination; his constant puttering, gluing and winching, involved in dozens of mystifying projects around the house, like gluing together ice cube trays and winching broken laundry baskets, because nothing ever needed to be replaced, yet the house was still falling down around their heads. And my mother sat in her place on the couch in the family room, phones and remote controls in front of her - her command center - the living switchboard of our seven daughter family. Who knew those were the good old days?

But then there was decline and a decision that our mother needed to live with one of us due to her need for twenty-four hour a day care. Stepfather did not want to make the same move. He continued puttering about the empty house, still busy with projects, with ham radio, with driving his truck fifteen miles an hour down the road seeking garage sale finds. I saw him often, brought soup. But still I thought, he's 87. He can't live there alone forever.

There were a lot of options available to him, one of which was to move to be close to one of his daughters. And I swear he was alive and well this past January as he shuffled off with his kids, the yard sale items with which the house had been filled compressed finally into six suitcases and a mobile mini.

Who knows what it is that keeps a person in one piece, that keeps a person going? Who knows what strange collection of circumstances and location and relationships - and maybe glue and winches - keep a person going? Because by the end of March, and his 88th birthday, Stepfather was hospitalized, and on May 6th he passed away.

And on May 9th I was on a website trying to figure out how to condense the life of one man into fifteen lines and one day and found that it is impossible.

Rest in peace, Bob Milburn.

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Haven't Been Blogging

 
I'm determined to start blogging again, even though I have so many excuses for why I can't. What would I start with? How can I explain an absence of over a year? So I thought I'd do a Dave Letterman-style top ten list, at least to get my brain working again.

The Top Ten Reasons Why I Haven't Been Blogging

10. The last year has seen me become the mother of two teenagers. Should I stop here?

9. Daughter has grown about 12 inches and gained 42 pounds in the last three years. Can you even imagine how much food has gone into that child to sustain that kind of growth? As far as her height, every time I look away, I look back and it's like a time-elapsed video. Suddenly she's looking me in the eye. And just in case anyone is worried - because who would want to gain 42 pounds in three years? - she now weighs 101 and stands 5'5. Still a Skinny Stick.

8. My book. I'm not going to say much about this because God forbid I promote myself, but the book takes a lot of time. It lived inside my head for so many years, and then it lived inside my computer for several more, so having it out in the world has been amazing, but it's kind of like having an extra child who doesn't live at home. I worry about it. Turns out worrying is also a full-time job. 

7. I started doing yoga last year in addition to my regular exercise. Trust me, this whole over-exercising thing takes up a lot of time. Also, not being the most bendy gal on the planet, yoga has been very interesting. Interesting in that I still can't touch my toes and, just when I'm supposed to be all spiritual and concentrating on my breathing, I'm always somehow adjusting my clothing. In summary, I've found that after a year I'm very good at one thing in yoga: corpse pose.

6. My book won an award (yea) and there have been various things associated with that, including the Writer's Digest Conference - East, and some interviews. Whenever I used to read in Writer's Digest about people who had won the award I won, I always assumed they were famous and about to get a gazillion dollar deal for their books. Just FYI, I'm still not rich and famous. 

5. Both and over achiever and under achiever, procrastinator and perfectionist, I keep taking classes to satisfy my zillions of ambitions. In just the last three months this has included an intro to Improv class, Mothers Who Write and Playwriting. Of course, I want to do everything and am fighting the knowledge that I'm just going to have to lock myself in the house to produce my second book. 

4. Meanwhile, back at my desk, I'm writing that second book, a sequel to Looking Up. Its working, and somewhat facetious, title is Jewish Girls Gone Wild. Yes, it's about my teen years.

3. I was blindsided by the elderly parents getting increasingly elderly, and, having written so many posts about their foibles, found it difficult to write once their decline became apparent. Who knew that one day I'd be looking nostalgically back to when they were their spry 79 and 84-year-old selves? Yet, that is true. It was increasingly hard to be humorous.   

2. Did I mention the teenagers?

And the number one reason I haven't been blogging is...

1. Bat Mitzvahzilla. It's taken me six months to recover, but Daughter had her Bat Mitzvah this past October. During it she wanted me to change the name of the blog to Bat Mitzvahzilla, to which I said no; she wanted to have the kids tables set up to form an "R" for her first name, to which I said no; and wanted to have giant cut-outs of herself for people to pose with at the photo booth, to which I said... well, see for yourself.



Husband, me and our two cut-out Bat Mitzvahzillas

Anything keeping you from doing what you want to be doing? Any high-maintenance children in your life? Aging parents? Forty-two pound weight gains?


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Budding Shopaholic


It's a typical Monday evening. Daughter and I drop off Bar Mitzvahzilla at his tutoring and then, since we're stuck in North Scottsdale for an hour, I drive over to a shopping center that has a rare treat: a Nordstrom Rack.

But first I have to convince the twelve-year-old. Somehow I've raised a non-shopper. She doesn't want to go clothes shopping, she declares. She'd rather go to Michael's and buy more craft project items that we'll never use and end up stuffing in a closet somewhere.

I drag her in there and get ready to do some power shopping, or at least power looking. By then we only have about half an hour before we have to get back to pick up Bar Mitzvahzilla so map out my shopping expedition well. I decide I can only handle a foray through the shoe department.

Well, lucky me. Daughter and I are the same shoe size suddenly. Both 7s.

Then something happens. While I'm looking, and eliminating, and eventually buying nothing at all, Daughter has a tweeny/teeny moment. She has a moment in which she suddenly bursts from being a gangly, wild, child thing into being a woman.

Basically, she commandeers the cart, careens through the shoe department and picks out about twenty pairs of shoes.

I nod my head knowingly. I knew the shoe gene - not to mention the shopaholic gene - had to be passed down somewhere. She might have been pretending all these years with her resistance to shopping but look what happened when I got her in that forest of shoe racks! Though, of course, I can't buy her twenty pairs of shoes. Turns out that right at that moment that she's turning into me I turn into my own father. I say, "What do you think - I'm made out of money?" Neither of us has ever heard me say this before. She has to eliminate all but one pair.

The next week, I tell her we should go to Old Navy for our break during tutoring. She gives me a thunderous look. She doesn't want to go. She can't stand to go. Why does she have --

She walks in, sniffs the air, and immediately starts stacking clothes in my hand. The next thing I know she's in the dressing room.

Born of a shopaholic and a cheapskate, she'll never know a moment's peace. And neither will I.

Are you a shopper or frugal? Have you ever noticed that you've passed those traits on to your children? Are you turning into your own parents?

Thanks for reading,
Linda Pressman, Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Voice from the Bed


My mother was sick recently. Like really sick. Hospitalized sick.

First there was my mom at 80 - spry, the mall walking, seniorcizing ball of energy. Then there was her auto accident a little over a year ago and things changed. Suddenly there was my mom, her couch, her TV remote and her phones lined up in front of her. A smaller life and an older mom where suddenly taking a walk meant walking to the kitchen.

So she got sick like that, just sitting on the couch with not even a breeze blowing by and it was the usual mayhem in the hospital - seven sisters showing up here and there, and grandchildren and husbands and the nurses wondering exactly how many offspring one woman could have anyway?

I knew I had to leave for Chicago right before she was getting out since I was appearing at a Jewish United Fund event for my book but how was I supposed to leave her that way?

I was pondering that, sitting in the hospital room, the oxygen machine hissing away, watching the IV drip, when I suddenly heard my mom's voice from the bed.

"What are you wearing for the presentation? You bought something new?"

Like swimming out of the murky depths of old age, my mother suddenly reappeared before me, as evidenced by her lifelong obsession with the buying of clothes. I breathed a sigh of relief. Nothing could convince me my mother was on the mend more than her quizzing me about clothes.

(that's me in the center at JUF event)

"I have a great outfit, Ma. A brown sweater dress, Clark boot shoes, brown tights and a jacket."

She looks at me askance. She's unhappy, but not exactly with my outfit. She's unhappy that I've taken care of it already and out of my own closet without going shopping. Going shopping in my closet doesn't count. With my mother every event must be shopped for anew even if you have the clothes already. Then she moves on to a different event.

"What about for Joan Rivers?" Somehow, she can't remember how to boil an egg but she remembers my itinerary in Chicago with a mind like a steel trap.

"Gray dress, black jacket, black boots and tights."  
                                                               
She nods but I can tell that she's a little let down. She really wanted to plot out a shopping trip, a meandering path of me traipsing from store to store to store searching for the perfect outfit. Or, based on her history as a lifelong seamstress, her sewing it for me.

When I see that she's about to question me about all the other clothes I'll be wearing and, more importantly, whether I'll be dressed warm enough, I take over and I become the mother again.

When I return from Chicago, she's out of the hospital but back on the couch, the oxygen hissing next to her. But there's still part of her there. I visit her the morning after we return, sit down next to her on that couch. She says, "How'd the outfit go?"

Is there any one topic that your parent(s) love talking about or that you know when they bring it up that they're on the mend? Any aging parent issues?

Linda Pressman
Author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie

Sunday, December 4, 2011

My Mother's Closet (a Faceshuk post)

Daughter is now twelve. This means a few things. Like she's sprouted up to over 5'3. (Though, somehow, she still only weighs 89 pounds...) It also means adolescence - female adolescence - has set in causing her to fight with me each day like I fought with my mother before me.

But it also means this: her clothes doesn't fit anymore or they're too babyish, or not cool enough, or any of a thousand other reasons she can no longer wear them. She stomps into my bathroom while I'm getting ready each morning, says she needs to go shopping, and then goes shopping. Right then. In my closet.

On the one hand I know I should be pretty grateful she wants to go in there. I am 39 years older than her, after all. Also, I'm glad that we actually fit in some of the same clothes especially since I don't weigh anywhere near 89 pounds. But what's the chance of me having anything hip enough for her?

Turns out that the clothes that are now too young for me are just the right age for her. The clothes I monitor carefully, aware that there's a thin line between dressing well and looking like I'm longing for the 1970s and my own teen years. The stuff that doesn't make the cut gets trotted out for the tween.

This wasn't something I could do when I was a kid in Skokie. First of all, even if our mother's clothes had been attractive to us, I had five older sisters who would have gotten there first. Second, her clothes were never going to appeal to us. I was 12 in 1972, for goodness sakes. I wanted - needed - hippyish clothes, maybe a leather bandanna for my forehead, a halter top, bell bottom baggy jeans, maybe a fringed vest.

My mother's closet was not the place to find these items. The most noticeable thing upon opening its door was the smell of mothballs. Then there were the brocade dresses, the handmade suits, the torturous pumps, the foundation garments. My mother's clothes could actually stand up and walk around by themselves, they were that stiff, they didn't need a human body in them. For a free-wheeling 12-year-old who didn't want to dress like Jackie Onassis, that wasn't the look I was going for.

But here in Scottsdale, in 2011, with a mom who writes at home and has her professional clothes gathered neatly in one side of the closet, it's a windfall for the kid. She looks around at the clothes I think would be perfect for her, rejects them all, steals my favorite top off its hanger and sneaks off before I completely notice what she's doing.

As I'm exiting the bathroom I notice another thing: Bar Mitzvahzilla coming in half-dressed, insisting he also has no clothes to wear. The last thing I see is him heading off to his own shopping spree - in Husband's closet.

Did you ever "shop" in your mom's or sister's closets? Can you? Does your daughter "shop" in yours?

Thanks for reading!
Linda Pressman, author of Looking Up: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie
Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, in many local libraries, and at Changing Hands in Tempe.
(The "Faceshuk" in the title and this code: 3daa678fe7c57f042a0645dfc6668578 are intended to establish my blog ownership on the Faceshuk site. Check it out!)