Friday, October 30, 2009

Moving Hanukkah

My mother is very happy because my cousin from Chicago is coming to visit. I'm happy too because when my daughter and my cousin's daughter met two and a half years ago, they had an almost surreal connection. They were instant best friends. And, from the second they met, my daughter could not rest knowing that my cousin's daughter was somewhere in the world and not with her, so she stalked her all over Phoenix - when they stayed with my mother, when they stayed with my sister, when they did anything that wasn't with us. Finally, exhausted from all this stalking, I drove over to my sister's house and picked them up. This time it's mandatory. They'll be staying with us.

So my mother's happy. Cousin and her daughter are coming. Cousin's staying with me. My house is a mile from her house. She has the gate opener for my neighborhood gate and a key to my house so she can barge in any time. Everything is perfect.

But then she says, "I told your cousin that you'll be having a big Hanukkah party for the family."

Okay, this is true. I'm in charge of Hanukkah for our family, probably because, after 36 years in Arizona, I'm just about the only one in the family who doesn't have a Christmas tree. Admittedly, I'm the big Jewish fanatic in the family. I own about 100 menorahs, have quite a dreidel collection. What other people do for Christmas, I do for Hanukkah.

But I smell a rat. Hanukkah is a little early this year. I believe Cousin's coming after it ends.

I say, "Ma, when's she coming?"

"I don't know. I think December 19th. The week before Christmas."

My mother, the Holocaust Survivor, dates everything by Christmas.

"But Ma, the last day of Hanukkah is the 19th, so the last candle is the 18th."

"Who cares how many days Hanukkah has? Eight shmeight! Why can't it be closer to Christmas this year?"
Does she think I can find a ten-armed menorah?

"Ma, I'm not moving Hanukkah."

"You think you're so Orthodox! I'll tell you what's so Orthodox - when the Nazis killed everyone in my town."

Since I grew up with my mother throwing the Holocaust at my head every morning, noon, and night, this certainly isn't going to sway me. We've been through this before in my family, with everyone in my family wanting to move Hanukkah onto the more convenient Christmas - everyone has the day off anyway! - or moving Passover to Easter, or combining the two.

I ignore her invocation of the Holocaust. I say, "Look, I'll have the party on the last day if you want, but I'm not moving the holiday."

And, faced with my implacable will - I'm the Jewish mother, she's the reluctant daughter - she gives in, pulls out the calendar and makes note of the date.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Swept Away

Even though Bar Mitzvahzilla would prefer to live his life with his nose in a fantasy/sci fi book, or with his thumbs on a PlayStation controller, since he turned fourteen he's had to do one new thing: he's a carpet store employee.

Unfortunately for Bar Mitzvahzilla, since we own a carpet store and Husband slaves away at this carpet store (I do the glamorous administrative work from home) he got this automatic part-time job the minute he turned fourteen and could be put on the payroll. Of course, if he had applied for the job, he would have been our last choice: a lazy, reluctant fourteen-year-old boy? No. And somehow, the $10 per hour pay, despite having a very lenient boss who loves him enough not to fire him, despite having the other employees treat him like the Heir To The Carpet Store, Bar Mitzvahzilla can't stand going down there.

Of course, I can relate to this. I come from a long line of working class merchants. One of my grandfathers was a shoemaker and the other owned a tiny trucking company. My own father owned a commercial laundry in Chicago and a produce market in Arizona. He believed wholeheartedly in his children working at his businesses. He just didn't believe in paying us.

Luckily, I was dying of asthma in Chicago and so completely weaseled out of working at the laundry. But no such luck with the Arizona produce market. I got reasonably healthy once we moved to here and, once my Dad died, I was shackled to our store as readily available teenage labor. Rate of pay? All the produce I could eat.

So I try to put a cheery spin on it for Bar Mitzvahzilla, telling him how lucky he is that he's got a job and Husband's so patient and actually pays him in money, not carpet, to work there.

But Bar Mitzvahzilla fails to see it my way. He insists on reading and working at the same time. He takes the broom in one hand, a fantasy sci-fi book in the other, and then he swings the broom across the floor, scattering dirt and dust and carpet fibers everywhere. He rests the broom for a second against the counter so he can turn the page of the book, and then he starts reading again. He picks up the broom with his free hand and swings it again.

I escape, leaving him to the Wrath of Dad.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Eat, Talk, Cough

Here's what happens when I'm on the phone with my mother. First, since she's multi-tasking, cooking and talking (one chicken breast, boiled), then eating and talking, then coughing and talking, she drops the phone repeatedly. When this happens, this is what I hear: first a horrible clunking sound as the phone slips out of her hand and hits the ground, and then her voice from far away, yelling at the phone - as if I'm inside of it - where it now lays on the floor, "Linda! I dropped the phone! Are you okay? I'm coming!"

This happens several times. It happens so many times that I finally start yelling back from my position inside the dropped phone, "Are you there, Ma? Pick me up!"

Our conversations are interrupted by these drops. Or the coughing - my mother only coughs and hacks into the receiver, never around it. I have caught colds from her coughing on me through the phone.

Now there's a new horror that's been introduced to interrupt our regular calls: my mother's cell phone. She actually only got the cell phone so she could go up to her summer home in Flagstaff and have phone service. Normally once she gets back to Phoenix, she turns it off permanently. To her a phone is still something attached to a house and once she's back in her house, that's it, she doesn't need a cell.

But this year, everything has changed. She has her cell phone on all the time. She even remembers to charge it and has it sitting right next to her house phone. My mother is finally experiencing true bliss - she can get calls simultaneously from two people at the same time all through the day and night. A perfect situation!

So I'm on the house phone with her when I hear her cell phone ring with a ring tone of "Lara," the theme from Doctor Zhivago, her favorite song ever. It's like calling a teenager, the fact that she knows how to program a ring tone. I hear her answer.

I get to listen.

"Hello?" There's a little delay. Then, "Wendy!"

It's my cousin Wendy from Chicago.

My mom comes back on with me. "Linda, it's Wendy from Chicago!"

Right. I heard her because I'm actually inside the telephone sitting in her hand. Anyway, the minute I hear my cousin's name, I know it's the end of my phone call. Local daughter versus out-of-state orphaned niece - I don't stand a chance.

Then my mom says, "You want to ask Wendy if she's coming here in December?"

I have to actually think about this for a second. How exactly would I do this? We're on my mother's two different phones. What does my mom think, that she's a switchboard operator? Is she planning to smash the cell phone on top of the house phone and tell us to yell to each other really loudly?

"You ask, Ma. I don't think she'll be able to hear me."

"Okay, I'll call you back."

She drops the phone as she's hanging it up. As I hang mine up I hear her yelling, "Sorry."

Thursday, October 22, 2009


The other night I was up late when I heard running footsteps through the house. I jumped up to investigate and found Daughter running down the hallway. I followed her till she came to a stop at the door to the garage. She began fumbling with the locks, unable to unlock them. Apparently she wanted to go out into the dark garage at midnight.

Of course, I knew she was sleepwalking. Well, not sleepwalking, but sleeprunning. I instinctively knew that in her upright, but sleeping, mind, she had not anticipated encountering a locked door and that locked door might as well have been Fort Knox. Sleeping Daughter could not unlock it although Awake Daughter is quite agile. I also knew, from my family's history, that you don't argue with a sleepwalker and you don't try to wake them up. You obey them. I unlocked the door and went into the garage with her. She looked around but whatever she had expected to see wasn't in there. I took her back to bed.

I come from a family of sleepwalkers. Many nights when I was a kid in Skokie one of my sisters and I would pass each other on the stairs of our house - me going up and she going down, both of us sleepwalking in opposite directions. We did amazing things sleepwalking. She would climb on top of the tall dresser in the twins' bedroom and regale them with amusing stories until, in the middle of one of them, she suddenly fell back into a regular sleep. Her head would tilt forward and she'd nearly fall off the dresser. The twins would have to leap up from their beds to catch her. My sleepwalking was a little more boring. My sisters tell me that I'd just walk up the two staircases from the basement, sit on the edge of their bed seemingly awake, and have conversations in which I made no sense, speaking jibberish. Then I'd fall face down into the covers.

My mother, superstitious from being raised in the Old Country, knew that you never disturb a sleepwalker. Apparently, if we were disturbed while sleepwalking, we could get trapped in that in between world we were in - not awake, not asleep, mobile, immobile. So she'd go along with whatever the we wanted and then ease us back to bed. She'd get my sister down from the dresser, pick me up from my splatted position on the bed, and tuck us back in.

So this is how I know what to do the night I check on Bar Mitzvahzilla in his room and he is busy sleepwalking - well, sleepclimbing - from the top bunk on his bunkbed to his bottom bunk. I stand there, cringing, ready to catch him but not willing to bust into his sleeping world, as he places one foot unerringly under the other and makes it down.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Here, Kitty

We finally went shopping for a pet. This was pretty amazing for us since Husband and I have Post Traumatic Pet Syndrome. When either of us even think about getting a pet, the first thing on our minds is not my chronic asthma, it's not the kids' springtime allergies and wondering if they'd be allergic to a pet too, and it's not being tied down to an animal just when our lives are getting easier. Instead this is on our minds: our former beloved cat dying an agonizing death from kidney disease when Bar Mitzvahzilla was just a baby.

Since Bar Mitzvahzilla was a dangerously tiny preemie who took ten weeks to come home from the hospital, we certainly had our hands full when he came home in October, 1995. There was an apnea monitor for the baby, an IV for the cat. An oxygen tank for the baby, injections for the cat. Doctor visits for the baby, veterinarian visits for the cat. Carrier for the baby, carrier for the cat.

Unlike the baby, who thrived, busting out of those little unisex preemie outfits like Superman, the cat did not, despite our best efforts to keep her alive. Finally, we had to let her go. We called the mobile vet, laid her down in Husband's arms and the vet gave her the shot to put her to sleep.

So when we see a cute little kitty, we don't just see the kitty. We see the grown up cat, the responsibility, we see the vet visits, and, unfortunately, we see the end. We're not a exactly a barrel of monkeys when it comes to cat shopping.

Based on our checkered past, when we finally went to the Humane Society last Friday to check out the cats, there wasn't much chance of us leaving with one. First there were the four of us and our individual expectations of a cat, then there was the lurking ghost of our dead cat. There was also Husband's list of required attributes for a new cat, which basically meant that the kitty would have to be a reincarnation of our old cat.

Ultimately, none of this came into play. We walked in, we picked out a cat to see. The kids pet the cat, both of them lifting their hands in horror at the cat hair clinging to them and swirling in the air around their heads. Then they began sneezing: six times, seven times. Then they put their cat hair-covered hands to their mouths to cover their sneezes. More sneezes.

We ran for our lives.

Friday, October 16, 2009

One Potato, Two Potato

I call my mom and I have enough time to talk - I'm not really rushed - but I kind of have to triage topics. We have to move quickly along, not hover too long on topics that get her ire up. Like the Holocaust. Or the Nazis.

But there are other, less obvious topics on which she can wax and wane, topics that are not always so obvious. Like food. My mother would like nothing better than to regale me for hours with an unending litany of all the food she and Stepfather eat each day - no detail is ever too small. If I could just remember not to ask her what she's eating, to stay clear of that trap, everything would be fine.

We're on the phone and it's 5:00, which in the time zone pulsating around my mother's house means it's really ten o'clock PM. I've called too late. She and Stepfather need to eat and rush off to bed. I realize my error.

"Oh, sorry, Ma. Do you need to go eat?"

"Eat? Bob and I don't eat."

"You don't?"

"For dinner tonight we're sharing a potato."

"One potato?"

"Between the two of us."

"You can't have two potatoes?"

"Oy! We could never eat so much."

"Well, okay, Ma, I'll talk to you tomor-"

But she's just warming to the topic.
"Do you know what we ate for breakfast?"

"No, what?"

"A boiled egg."

"One boiled egg?"

"For the both of us."

"You couldn't each have your own egg?"

"We can't eat so much. We're not young like you."
It's good to hear that I'm young, especially since I'm turning fifty in five months.

"Well, Ma, I've got to go-"

"And lunch. Do you want to know what we had for lunch?"

"Well - "

"One small salad. For both of us."

Then I realize that if I just give the right answer, it will give her recognition for being the least hungry, most meagerly eating woman on the planet. So I express amazement.

"You don't say?"

"Yes. One small salad."

"One small salad?"

"One small salad."

"Well, I've got to go now, Ma."

"Good. Bob's got our potato on the table."

"Don't eat too much."
And there's a click.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


My mother calls me up. Because her TV's on so loud, she yells into the phone, "Do you have any old towels? Bob and I are going up to the cabin tomorrow and we need new towels."

Now, if anyone else asked me for old towels I'd think maybe it's for a project or for cleaning a car, or maybe drop cloths are needed for some reason. But not with my mom. Just like she said: my old towels are her new towels. She's trolling for my cast offs.

I tell her I have to think about it and I do. I have to examine my towels to see if it's time to give them away.

One time I was over at her house and I made the mistake of opening her linen closet. This is the house we bought in the wilds of North Scottsdale when our whole family moved here in 1973 from Skokie, but from looking at the collection of towels in her linen closet it didn't look like my mother had cleaned it out since the day we moved in. It also didn't look like she had left anything behind in Chicago. It was like being transported back in time. All the towels we had in the 1960s were in there. It was like a time capsule. Does my mother ever throw anything out?

I'm pretty sure my mother's never bought a towel in her lifetime. Since we owned a laundry in Chicago, maybe she got her first towels from the ones that simply showed up at the laundry loose or got separated from a customer's wash, instantly becoming part of our motley household towel collection. And here they are still: in 2009 Scottsdale, threadbare - vintage maybe.

One time, when I was first meeting my husband's family and we were staying with my sister-in-law, I was about to take a shower so I asked her for a towel. She handed me a pile of rags. I looked down at it, actually not comprehending why she had handed me these schmattas. Maybe she needed me to do the dishes before I got in the shower? Scrub the windows? The toilet? But she said, "It's your towel." I held it up and I could see through it, it was so threadbare. Both my husband and sister-in-law then looked at me completely straight-faced and said, "Towels only get soft when they're threadbare."

So, since it's obviously genetic, this predisposition to using things until they disintegrate in my hands, I guard against it by making sure I buy new towels once every two years. How do I know when it's time to get them? Easy. It's like clockwork - exactly when my mother calls asking for the old ones.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Pill Popper

Bar Mitzvahzilla can't swallow pills. This has become a pretty awkward situation for him now that he's fourteen. It's good that he's healthy and this issue doesn't come up often, but when it does, it immediately becomes a problem that requires parental involvement.

First of all, at his age, height, and weight, to give him Tylenol or Ibuprofen in liquid form means he practically has to down the entire bottle. This can get expensive. Also, he has limited tolerance for liquid medications. He will only drink so many of those tiny cups of medicine before he declares himself cured, or at least done. He wants to mix them with them with many substances - fruit juice, Gatorade, smoothies - but then finds that the drinks don't taste just right and there's way too much of it anyway. He always manages to spill as much of the medicine as makes it into his mouth.

When Bar Mitzvahzilla had stitches recently, the doctor gave him an antibiotic to take since we didn't absolutely know what had collided with his face - was it teeth? Was it a rusty nail? The antibiotic was big, about an inch long. He soon discovered our pill splitter, using it to break the pill into halves, then eighths, and, then sixteenths. He breaks them into so many pieces that on cleaning day I find scattered shards of pills on the floor. Must have been the 1/32ths. Of course, he looked longingly at our pill pulverizer - the ultimate pill disintegrator!- but we whisked it out of sight, putting our collective foot down. No pulverizing.

There's the physical act of the pill-taking and then there's the psychological - he has to mentally question this whole process, to see if he can squirm his way out of treatment. He scoffs at the doctor's opinion of the necessity of the antibiotic, then he scoffs at the faulty medical medicine behind the theory of antibiotics, and then he scoffs at our parental decision-making, anything really, to avoid the pills.

I blame all of this on his prematurity. Bar Mitzvahzilla was a small baby - really small. A pound and a half small. He was born 3 weeks before my Lamaze classes were even scheduled. He was born while the crib was on order from the fancy crib store. He was born before my best friend even had started planning a baby shower.

During his 10 weeks in the hospital, besides obvious things occurring like machines breathing for him and surgery and the brain ultrasounds we saw everytime Husband and I walked into the NICU, he was poked and prodded a lot. When he got an infection - and he did - it was not only life-threatening, but it had to be treated with 3 or 4 of the strongest antibiotics ever invented all at the same time. Somewhere, the memory of this trauma lives on inside of him. He's never willingly taken medicine since we got him home.

And since I'm such an optimist, I think, at least he probably won't become a pill popper.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


Since I'm slowly turning into my mother, it was only a matter of time until I acted just like her when shopping.
Since I'm a compulsive shopper, I somehow always think of something to go shopping for after my morning exercise class. This is my favorite way to waste the rest of my morning and put off chores and writing. And anyway, I have a coupon. Of course, I have many coupons from being every store's favorite customer. So I get to the store and shop. I have a goal: I have to hit $75 in order to validate the coupon. I end up buying some longish, fleece shorts for Skinny Stick Daughter in a size seven even though she's ten-years-old. Even though they're a size seven, I'm still not sure they're going to fit her, but if I go any smaller than a seven I'll end up in the toddler department.

I bring them home and she puts the first pair on. I look at her admiringly. They look fantastic! I'm aglow. Not only that, but after the coupon and the sale price and the incentives and the other markdowns, the store practically paid me to take them away! They cost $3.52 each! I'm kvelling at my genius and how gorgeous she looks in them!
Daughter, however, gives me a deadpan look. She touches the rhinestone accents gingerly, wrinkles up her nose, and says, "A Princess crown, Mom?" Like that's all she needs to say. I mean really. Don't I know that all that Princess stuff ended for her a long time ago? If it ever even started. She's more of a Tom boy/girl. She can't show her face at school with a crown on her clothes.

I'm crestfallen. "But they only cost $3.52 after the coupon! The purple pair cost $2.65!" But she's unmoved. She shakes her head. "No, Mom."

Of course, it's inevitable that I've turned into my own mother, the 1960s Jewish shopaholic. My mom's idea of a really good time was to load all seven of her daughters into her 1965 Chevy Nova and take us down to Turn Style, Skokie's version of Walmart.

The first thing she'd do once we walked in Turn Style was to steal all the Brach's Candies from the display. My mother didn't understand the idea that all this Brach's Candy was sitting there on a kiosk, unsecured, yet not free for the taking. To her if it wasn't behind a counter, that meant it was free. When she was done with that, we'd all fan out, the seven of us going off to different departments until we all reconvened at customer service hours later. One of us would have to skulk up to the counter and ask the customer service person to page mom since, invariably, we'd have lost her somewhere in the store.

If I found clothes I liked, I had to lope through all the aisles of the store searching for her in the vain hope that she would actually spend money on something that wasn't food or shelter. With five older sisters and one younger, and a mother who sewed, let's just say that new clothes wasn't exactly what we showed up at the Turn Styles register to buy. We showed up with fabric. And empty Brach's wrappers.

So, of course, my daughter doesn't know it, but she has it good. And, she doesn't know how appropriate that crown probably is.

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Womb is Closed

I'm an old parent. A lot of women of forty-nine have grandchildren. But, due to the miracles of an early marriage that wasted five and a half years of my life, two years in Jewish Singles looking for Husband #2, and then infertility, I have a fourteen-year-old and a ten-year-old. Basically, my life has been played backwards: instead of having kids young and then seeing them off to college when I'm forty, I had freedom up until age thirty-five and will see them off to college at the sprightly age of about eighty.

These kids of mine are very attached to Husband and me, especially Daughter. Bar Mitzvahzilla likes us well enough, but if he's tempted with certain things - let's say a game truck, an Airsoft gun, or any video game, any time - he'll leave our house and never look back.

Daughter's a different matter. If she had her choice she would probably crawl back in my womb.

I have some evidence. She hasn't slept out since she was six, except for when we sent her to camp this summer. After that, I had to practically wear her like a necklace for a week. She prefers that all playdates occur at our house, even if someone offers to take her to a water park - and we live in Arizona. She loves nothing better than a day with Mom, eating sushi and then off to the antique malls. She will even sit on my bed for hours watching HGTV reruns.

I don't know what this says about the future because, according to my calculations, in eight years she'll be leaving for college. Like to live in a dorm at college, not to live at home and commute to college.

I'll just have to tell her the womb is closed. Or change the locks.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mr. Fixit

My mom's phone broke the other day. This can cause some real havoc around Phoenix, with all seven of us calling her, not getting through, calling her cell phone (which she apparently turns off when she's not using it), then calling each other to see where mom was - is she okay? who spoke to her last? when? - yet trying to seem cool about it, like we actually don't call her every day.

Finally, something changed. The phone, instead of ringing and ringing, kept getting answered by some kind of phantom fax machine. As I held my phone to my ear, there was the ear-splitting sound of a fax going off. Of course, I did that about three times before I remembered not to do it.

Finally, she called me.

She said, "Why haven't you called me?"
I said, "Ma! I've been calling! There's a fax picking up the line."
"What then?"
"Something's broken. I hear something screaming in there. Bob's going to fix it."
Oh, well, this inspires confidence in me. Stepfather is going to fix her Princess phone from 1980.

Stepfather loves a project. Nothing inspires him more than a good challenge - propping up a 200 pound cactus with a flimsy piece of rope, fixing the roof with some duct tape. This one's the kind of problem he loves to tackle. He takes the broken telephone with him as he travels from one end of the valley to the other, looking for a good deal on a princess phone. He comes home frustrated. The salesman tried to talk him into a phone with no cord! What does he think, that Stepfather was born yesterday?

When I called my mother last night, she answered.

I said, "Your phone's working!"
She said, "Yeah, it's fixed."
"Bob bought a new one?"
"No. It fixed itself."
I'm kind of quiet for a minute thinking about this, when she says, "You know, it just needed to be unplugged for awhile. Rested."

I'm about to tell her that phones don't just fix themselves, when I think, what am I, nuts? In the world my mom lives in, things do fix themselves.

So I say, "Great!" and we talk till suddenly the line goes dead. And the fax machine comes back on.