Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cardinal Sin

Husband has been off from work since December 24th and that should mean a lot of things: togetherness, bliss, quiet time, romance. Of course, it hasn't.  Instead it's meant this one thing instead:  football.  My nemesis.

Sometimes, in moments of despair, I think, How did this happen to me? How did I end up married to someone whose idea of a really fun, relaxing day is watching football? After all, I'm one of seven sisters, for goodness sakes. That meant no brothers watching football in the house growing up. My father was an immigrant from Poland - that certainly meant no football. He could never understand the importance of American sports - compared to life and death in Siberia during the war? Bah! And because he died right before I turned fifteen, I then lived in an all-female household. No football at all. My whole life was somehow football-free, safely tucked away from the misery of listening to screaming fans on football fields yelling and drinking and eating and throwing punches over the outcomes of games.

Then I married Husband almost seventeen years ago.  Well, actually, I started dating Husband nineteen years ago.  Two years of all the warning signs.  Two years of hugging him and having him position me just so - so he could see the TV with the football game on over my shoulder or over the top of my head. Two years of primitive satellite dishes already beaming football games from all corners of the globe into whatever house we were living in until we moved into this one and a TV that now has about two hundred channels.

And now there's Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter.  Those traitors.  Husband has brainwashed them into loving football. He has taught them all the most minute play information, the philosophical differences between a first down and a fourth down and what you'd want to try for and what you wouldn't if, let's say, you weighed about 300 pounds and wore tight knickers each day to work. And Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter (even my daughter - who should rightfully be shopping with her mom at the mall) sit there glued to the set, analyzing each game with Husband, fascinated by who will make it into the play offs by wins and who will make it by being the wild card.

And to make it much, much worse, Husband has bought tickets to the Cardinals/Green Bay game here in Phoenix this Sunday and nothing, but nothing, will save me from my fate. I have to go. 2:15 kickoff on January 3rd. I can't bring a book and I can't bring my laptop. Bar Mitzvahzilla wants me to wear a cheesehead and Daughter wants me to wear a Cardinal jersey. They should be glad if I get in the car without first being tranquilized.

But here's what I'm going to do: breath deeply, smile happily, know that this should absolutely be the last game I have to go to in my lifetime (I'm averaging one every thirty years), be a good mom/fan/wife for four interminable hours. And then? Never again.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Snowman Cometh

Up until three days ago, Daughter and Bar Mitzvahzilla had never seen snow.  This is kind of funny because we come from a family with a legacy of snow.  My dad, a Holocaust Survivor, spent the war years living in Siberia. Instead of that making him cautious about the cold, instead that made my dad the opposite, quite flippant. When I was growing up in Chicago, he compared the weather there with the weather in Siberia and found Chicago's weather a heatwave, heading out each day with no hat, no gloves, and a flimsy jacket.

He'd say, "Cold? You think this is cold?" We'd nod because with the wind chill factor it was about twenty below zero. "You should have felt the cold in Siberia! Cold is when you get a bucket of water, throw it in the air and, before it gets to the ground, it freezes!"

My mother, who spent the war living in the Eastern European forest with no coat or shoes, had a different perspective.  She had a terrible fear of being cold. She was the one who'd wrap us in miles of scarves, who crocheted mittens for hours, and who knitted sweaters until all seven of us looked like we were wearing the striped flags of obscure countries, our clothes made out of whichever color yarn she got on sale. 

But Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter know nothing of cold.  They are Arizonans - Phoenix, Arizonans. So we decided to do something different for our winter vacation.  Normally we consider only the bottom half of Arizona for a winter vacation because Husband and I shun the cold.  But this year we decided to introduce the kids to snow.

They had a dreamy idea of what it would be like.  Fluffy maybe, like billowing cotton balls? Tiny doilies skittering through the air?  Like pillow stuffing, feathers? Cold doesn't come into any of their descriptions.

We're driving up the Interstate, we get past a certain elevation and there it is - white stuff just laying on the ground.  Other travelers from Phoenix are pulling over in excitement and letting their kids sled down the roadside hills almost into traffic. We pull over somewhere safe and the kids go plummeting into a snow bank. Fluffy? Yes. Pillowy? Uh, okay. Cold and wet? Yeah.

Here's what I find out on this trip.  I find out that I am apparently not too old to make a complete idiot out of myself sledding down hills and capsizing, over and over again.  I find out that Husband, five years older than me, thinks he can head down a hill like a bullet, but then he pulls all his back muscles.  I find out that it's never a good idea to stay in a hotel with "sleep number" beds because the kids will play with the motors over and over again until they break them and they're stuck in a concave position, further putting out Husband's back.

Tonight is our last night away, the last dinner out, the last bundling on of gloves, hats and gigantic coats just to walk to the car and then from the car into a restaurant.

Three days ago the Snowman Cometh but tomorrow the snowman goeth.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pimp My Honda

I’m sitting in my driveway on a cool night watching Daughter cruise down the street on Bar Mitzvahzilla's bicycle. I’m getting baleful glares from her because she’s stuck riding his bike - it’s a red and black Mongoose and has racing stripes. She’s not especially girly, but still. She doesn’t want to be seen on this contraption. As a matter of fact, Bar Mitzvahzilla has abandoned the bike to her.

In the caste system of unspoken eighth grade politics, it’s apparently not cool to ride a bike anymore, or not a Mongoose anyway. Bar Mitzvahzilla remains undecided on what type of bike will be cool enough not to make him lose face. He's mulling this over and it's quite a puzzle.  All he really knows for sure at this awkward age of fourteen is what kinds of cars are cool.

His first choice: a Lamborghini. I advise him he is not getting a Lamborghini.

He sighs heavily, frustrated by the fact that we don’t have any cool cars in our household.

“Mom, why don’t you drive a Mustang or a Camaro?”

I have to think over, mull over the impossibility of driving around in a car that makes teenage boys want to race me.  I try to explain this.

"Then why not dad?"

I think about this.  What would it take to get my very practical husband into a Mustang or Camaro? Probably a midlife crisis.  Right now my husband’s idea of a midlife crisis would be to do something really wild, like not take out the garbage can on trash day.

How did my Jewish son develop such an affinity for muscle cars? His forebears on my side of the family drove peddlers wagons in the Old Country. My father drove a series of wood-paneled station wagons that, even after he sold them, would just keep showing up at our house, embarassing nightmares from our past, loaners from the repair shop he had sold them to. My mother, at seventy-nine, careens through town in a souped up Toyota Matrix.

On my husband’s side of the family, Bar Mitzvahzilla's obsession with muscle cars is even more bewildering. Husband’s father was a mild-mannered pharmacist, a non-driver, who had to take three buses to his job each day working at a drug store in downtown Milwaukee. He finally got a car when Husband was a teenager.

So, no, Bar Mitzvahzilla's not getting a Lamborghini, or a Mustang, a Camaro or his other choice, a Challenger. My husband says his own Honda will be just the right age to be passed down to Bar Mitzvahzilla when he turns sixteen.

He's at first horrified. Then he starts mulling over customization opportunities: custom wheels - spinners? Custom paint?

Wood paneled sides?

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Mother's Merry Chrismukkah

Here's proof that somehow my mother and I have switched roles and I've become her mother:  I'm the big Jew in the family and she's rejected all of our traditions.  Now she's constantly on the defensive with me, trying to justify her lack of adherence.

Two days ago Bar Mitzvahzilla, Daughter and I went over there - that would be on December 23rd. I knew from other Decembers that it would be a shock walking in, but still.  My Holocaust Survivor mother's house, filled with Christmas tchochkes.  And she's so proud of them, trying to take the kids on a tour of Christmas in her family room.  Did they notice the Santa with the full sleigh of Christmas cards from all her old real estate clients she never told she was Jewish?  Did they notice the tinsel, the little Christmas tree, the garlands, the lights, the reindeer, the candles?

My kids and I stood there like triplet biblical Moses', our mouths hanging open.  We were appalled. She realized the kids didn't want a tour of the winter wonderland, and then she looked at me and said, "What?"

"Ma, look at your house! What kind of role model are you for the kids?  You're their Jewish bubbe! And you're a Holocaust Survivor! You're supposed to be my backup here."

She said, "I have something for Hanukah." And she pointed to a thin, scraggly piece of dreidel garland, covered with dust, nearly obscured by the blinking Christmas lights nearby.

This is how I know that my life has descended into irony, that I've crossed the final line, and that I'm raising my mother, and badly.  I can't make her a Jew.  I don't even know how I made myself a Jew.

One time when I was a kid in Skokie we found a tiny, white, plug-in Christmas tree in the alley behind our house and we snuck it inside our laundry room.  I remember the hemming and hawing, trying to figure out the best way to ask mom if we could keep it - like it was a load of heroin we had stashed in the basement. Finally we told her and she came for an inspection.  It was a cheerful little thing, blinking on and off like a migraine headache.  She said, "You can keep it if you hide it down here.  Just don't let your grandmother see it."

And we sat there, for a couple weeks at least, mom sewing, the little tree blinking, me playing Barbies.  Ar least until the day my dad burst in and found it, snapped it half, and hid it in a non-Jewish neighbor's garbage can. Even our garbage had to be Jewish.

My mother now has a blinking tree.  My dad - long dead - gets me.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Shopping Till Midnight

Even though I'm Jewish and Hanukah's over, I've got to admit it:  I'm still shopping. I love shopping in the days leading up to Christmas.

Here's the truth:  It's the only time of the year when the entire world shops the way I do all year long.  And, even better, the stores are along for the ride - coupon specials every day!  Stores open till midnight!  Extra store clerks everywhere you look!  It's a shopaholics paradise.

I used to work in downtown Phoenix and got stuck in huge traffic jams driving on my way to work every day.  What amazed me was that right when all of us downtown workers were heading to our jobs every morning during rush hour, there'd be all these people who had no business being on the road - like tourists or retired people - during rush hour too, just clogging the place up.  That's how I feel sometimes, being a Jew shopping after Hanukkah's over with the Christmas shoppers.  Shouldn't I really stay home and stay out of their way?  Why am I enjoying the ambience of the frenzied shoppers when I really have no business being out there?

Here's the secret about this midnight pre-Christmas shopping:  there's actually no one in the stores.  Well, there's me and the store clerks all restocking for the shopping bonanzas of the next day.  At least in Phoenix - and I've tested this quite a few times now - the idea that the stores are staying open for throngs of shoppers to stay in there is a misconception.  There's only me, really.

I can always find a legitimate reason to be in there.  This week it's kind of important:  snow gear for the family to head up to Flagstaff for our annual jaunt out of town when Husband closes our store. So I need to be shopping, really.  And, other than the midnight shopping, I really need to be out there with everyone running amuck, with all my awesome coupons clutched in my hand, all the lines stretched out before me. 

And, no, I don't need a gift receipt.  Or a box.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Picture at Age Ten

Ten years ago Daughter was a baby just learning how to roll over.  Today she's a pre-adolescent. That went kind of quickly.

Here's a present day picture of Daughter:  she's grown taller but hasn't gained weight.  Her hair is growing out at the rate of one inch per year. She has a perfect memory for everything I ever mentioned in passing that I might be able to do with her some time and no memory at all for anything she ever absolutely promised to do, like her chores. 

Her new thing?  The silent treatment.  Now this is kind of funny because we're Jewish which automatically means we're really loud and can't shut up when something bothers us.  But since she's sneaky and wants to get a lot of attention, she's figured out how to stand out in this family where no one can hold anything in.

First she gets a martyrd look on her face and then she stops talking.  She swiftly moves beyond silently miffed to traumatically silent.  After a lifetime of this child filling the air with conversation, it's pretty noticeable when she stops talking.

When she's really mad she slams the door on her way out of a lot of rooms, apparently enjoying the thud of the door and the sudden end it causes to all conversation.  Sometimes she charges into her bedroom, but she doesn't slam the door there.  She knows if she does we'll remove it from its hinges.

When she's done this about ten times and has finally managed to get some displeasure out of me, she says, "Well, aren't you in a grumpy mood today!" and then she slams out of that room.

I think way, way back, to Skokie.  To seven sisters separated by eleven years.  When we fought - which was often - we'd end up a huge ball of clawing girls rolling through the hallway.  Or one sister would throw a lamp or a hockey puck at another sister.  No silent treatments, just fist fights.  And no slamming doors.  Not because we wouldn't have enjoyed the satisfaction of it but because our mother had installed carpet too thick for the doors to shut at all.

I think, surely I can't be riled by a ten-year-old? I lay down the law, tell her I hope she's enjoyed herself but I'm not planning to be given the silent treatment for the next eight years.

And she nods her head, goes back to childhood and starts talking my ear off again.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eight Greedy Nights

Well the eight days of Chanukah are over at sundown today.  It's been exhausting.

Because I had such a ludicrous Jewish upbringing, I've always tried to make my kids' Jewish holidays incredible, including Chanukah.

My Chanukah as a kid:  all the motley crew of cousins come over - there are the foolish cousins and the egghead cousins, the bucktoothed cousins and the Bryl creamed cousins.  Some of them are actually being raised Jewish and expect that there will be a lit menorah.  My mom is under pressure now.  She has to pretend she's raising us Jewish.  She has to find our menorah and candles. 

She snakes her arm into the cabinet above our stove and finds what passes for a menorah in our house:  a miserable, metal, tilting thing that Goodwill would throw out.  Then she snakes her arm up there again and finds a box of candles.  Since it's stored above the stove, the candles are melted together into one blob.  It's a candle brick now, and she has to snap off the candles that she needs, one by one. Broken candle shards.

My mother, being Old Country, is mystified by the idea of Hanukkah presents. When pressed, she enlists the aid of my grandfather.  He gets a great idea, laboriously rises on his diabetic legs and fishes around in a pocket so big it's like Mary Poppins' purse - I'm thinking he'll probably pull out a floor lamp. He comes up Eisenhower dollars all around. Chanukah gelt.

I go off to school very excited by this whole gigantic silver dollar thing, this whole Zayda as Mary Poppins thing, this whole mystery of the blessing over the candles thing. I'm confronted, however, by the children of non-immigrant families all showing up with presents identical to each others, like they had coordinated it or something.  They all have lovely Jewish stars on necklaces.

Flash forward to parenthood.  Flash forward to eight greedy nights.  The kids and I set up an elaborate eight-day calendar every year, Bar Mitzvahzilla on one line and Daughter on the other, the days of the week on the top. Then we assign themes. Not all are gift nights, one is tzedakah night, where we give to others, and another is menorah night, where we light just about every menorah in the house and start a veritable conflagration. Last night, the lighter not working, Husband helpfully lit a blow torch to help me light the menorahs.

Flash forward to a lifetime of lists now that are like a time capsule of my kids' lives:  Lego Day, Spiderman Day, Hello Kitty Day, High School Musical Day, and now, much to my chagrin, Xbox Day and Moshi Monster Day.
And flash forward to the thing I love the best:  my light up menorahs sitting on my front window sills lighting up our windows just a little, telling the world about the miracle of Chanukah.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Germ Factory

I had planned my mom's visit to my house for my Chanukah party very carefully.  She'd been sick for a while, with the kind of cough that sprays you through the phone, so I thought, surely she'd understand a touch of germ paranoia now!  Especially in this season of the miserable H1N1, when everyone knows the danger of spreading germs.  Surely even my mother will be on board now with my requests not to pick at the food. 

She always makes fun of Husband and me for this exact issue.  Her version of science, pre-1940, indicates
that she only gets sick from cold not from germs.  Of course, she spent World War II living in the Polish forest without a coat, so maybe that's understandable.  But basically, if she can't see it, it doesn't exist.  Meanwhile, she's sick all the time.  My family - I blame Husband - goes with modern scientific theory: cover your mouth when sneezing, don't share germs on purpose.

My mother doesn't believe in any of this.  Loudly.  Her standard answer, perfected over the forty-nine years of my life to an ear-splitting shriek is, "You think you're so smart, Linda!  Well, I raised all seven of you and managed not to kill anyone!"

So she comes over for the Chanukah party and there are a lot of seating options.  She can sit at the long, long kitchen table, far away from the food serving area.  She can sit on one of the couches, also far, far away from the food serving area.  But no.  She sits on a bar stool, right on top of the food serving area, the better so that she can pick at the food. With her fingers.

In my larger family, the family with the seven sisters, for some reason hands are serving utencils.  There's some connection here with dieting that I haven't quite figured out yet, like if they pick, pick, pick at the food with their fingers - no plate - the calories don't count. Because if someone says, "Did you have a piece of cake?" The answer can legitimately be "No." No piece of cake was obtained.  The cake was just picked at until crumbs remained on the platter, but no legitimate slice of cake was placed on a plate and consumed, like a real human being.  So, no calories. 

In my family, platters of meat disappear this way, containers of potato salad are demolished, and, yes, cakes vanish into thin air.

So my mother sat there, sick, picking at all the food, glaring at me if I glared at her, refusing my offer of a plate or for me to make her a sandwich, seat her at the table, a choice chair perhaps - anywhere!  Then I noticed everyone at the party was picking except my little family of germophobes. 

And I thought, okay, obviously I'm the lunatic here.  What did it matter anyway?  Since we knew this was going to happen, husband and I, Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter made sure and isolated ourselves from those germs:  we ate before the party.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Latke Come Lately

My mom was in charge of making the latkes - potato pancakes - for the family Channukah party at my house last night. Would the latkes make it to the party? 

All day I was subjected to a barrage of phone calls advising me about the latkes' progress.  First it was the sheer volume of the potatos - how many pounds - twenty, thirty, a truckload? Then the misery of the peeling.  The agony of the chopping and the woe of the grinding.  I was happy to hear that she wasn't using a hand grinder anymore but still, she was out of date, using a no name blender that she bought with S&H green stamps in the 60s.  It broke in the middle of grinding.  Could I bring her mine?  Sure mom, I'm just getting the house ready for the fifty people who are coming over tonight. No problem. 

While over there I saw the latke factory she'd set up:  her ancient, black, ten-thousand pound skillets sitting on her uneven electric coils.  The cooking spray she had pulled out of a cabinet to convince me it'd be safe to eat her latkes even though the pans were coated deep with oil. The latkes, after fried, sleeping smashed and smushed on top of each other in casserole dishes in her oven melding into one huge, square latke, the super duper latke of my dreams, coming to my house in three hours. 

But would they make it?  My mother had been sick and holed up in her house for two weeks.  She'd been avoiding all fresh air since she was certain that air was the cause of all her problems.  How would she manage to get to my house without breathing the outside air?

She drives over, the latkes steaming in her car, the serving dishes wrapped in towels - some secret old country method of heat-preservation - and then she gets trapped at the gate into my neighborhood.  It's not like I'd actually expect her to be able to enter a gate code.  I don't.  I know she and Stepfather could never in their lives figure out what a pound key is.  Something about the key pad and telephone hanging there just don't compute with them; apparently, they expect an operator to get on the line.  To avoid this, I gave them their own gate opener, which they still can't manage to operate.  Pretty soon there are people backing up behind them all the way onto the main street.

So she calls me from her cell to tell me she's trapped.  Can I leave the party and lope out there with my gate clicker to open it for her?  Can I send Bar Mitzvahzilla out there on a latke rescue mission, looking for Mom and Stepfather in her souped up Toyota Matrix and let them in?

Suddenly she says, "Oh, never mind, Linda.  The gate is opening!  It worked!" And she hangs up on me, the Toyota - latke express - creeping along on its way till she pulls up.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The House that Technology Forgot

On Wednesday I stopped by my mother's house, just for a moment, I swore.  My mom's sick and I was bringing her some magazines, a little care package of sorts, and checking on her just to see how badly she's bungling up her medical treatment.

I promised myself I would not get roped into fixing her whole world at once, as I noticed the cacti in her front yard falling or dead but still propped up with huge slings and stakes, the ham radio antennae strung in the palm trees, and the broken locks on her front door.  No, I would stick to the tasks at hand.  Magazine delivery, medical monitoring.

My mission was accomplished, I was ready to leave.  Suddenly, Stepfather came into view.  A nice man, he's been my Stepfather now for nearly twenty years now.  The secret to their marital longevity?  Mom yells, he's deaf.

He said, "Linda, could you take a look at my computer for a second?"

A seemingly innocuous question from anyone else.  But I'm not that dumb:  this is a trap.  If eighty-four-year-old Stepfather asked me to look at his computer for a second, I might just never leave their house.   Stepfather can touch the wrong key on his computer and the power grids in three states go out.  Maybe I'm remembering this wrong, but I believe he once fixed the light switch in my mother's bathroom so that each time we turned it on, the toilet flushed. 

I gave him a weak smile, "What do you need help with?"

"Just a password."

So I went into Stepfather's lair, which is kind of his computer room and kind of my mom's sewing room at the same time.  The printer was loaded with different colored paper from every flyer that had ever been dropped off at their house.  He reuses everything.  He was reducing his carbon footprint before it even became fashionable.

The computer was not as bad as I imagined.  It was set up to make everything as hard as possible for him to find.  Kind of like if you thought books were your main reference tool and the computer was a backup for the books instead of the other way around.  I fixed the password and, I couldn't resist, I gave him a few shortcuts, and then, I was gone.

Past the broken lock, past the ham radio wires, past the falling cactus.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Rained Out

Last night seemed to be a typical night around here.  At first. 

I was working in my office, which is really our living room.  This means that, in addition to my desk and computer and about a thousand books, my so-called office has two couches in it.

Then Husband decided that he'd come and join me since occasionally he likes to see me and I tend to write late at night.  So there goes one couch with Husband stretched out from end to end.

And then it started raining.

I don't know what it is about the desert but rain is never normal here.  This is what it's like:  first it never rains, like for six months.  It's so dry that, just like in the old Westerns where there are tumbleweeds rolling down the street, we actually have tumbleweeds rolling down our street.  It's so dry that even the cactus are thirsty. 

Then suddenly it rains.  And it doesn't rain just a  little bit, like a splash to give everything a nourishing sip of water, turn the desert green and move on.  No, it's a torrential torrent.  Like all the trees break off like twigs in our neighborhood.  We wake up to a scene from a nuclear holocaust - debris everywhere, tree strewn across roads, powerlines down, houses crushed.  From a rainstorm.  What if we really had weather?

So I was sitting at my desk listening to the thunder cracking overhead, the rain sluicing down, and the wind shaking the house and I thought it didn't sound good.  Best case scenario would be that the power would go out.  The worst case scenario would be that the house would crack a million tiny shards, I would search for Husband, Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter in the shards, and we'd float away to safety on the river of our street.

None of this happened.  Though I looked up and who was there?  Daughter.  Of course.  Because who would you want to be with in a torrential rain but a mom who needs a snorkel and mask just to swim in a pool?  I got her settled in on the empty couch and she began to drift off.

The, after a particularly loud crack of thunder, Bar Mitzvahzilla showed up.  And now we had a math problem:  two couches, three people.  So I decided to let the kids share, one head at each end. 

Turned out this didn't work too well.  Of course, there was a certain amount of entertainment value to Bar Mitzvahzilla in having his feet splayed out in Daughter's face - now this was a comedy routine he could enjoy endlessly. He could also pretend to stretch and smash her nose, over and over again.  Daughter fought back in her own way, laying like a piece of beef on the couch, immobile.  Both kids wide awake.

My writing for the night?  Rained out.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Desert Ruins

My mom's been burrowed up inside her house for about a week, since it got cold in Arizona. This would be fine except that, based on how it's built, it's probably colder in there than it is outside.  Her house, built in 1973 with construction methods that can only be called a little primitive, was built to keep cold in and heat out, not really helpful in the winter.  There's basically the wall of cinder blocks, then there's the sheet rock, and then there's my mom, shivering inside and wearing a coat.

When we moved to Arizona, we had quite a job finding a house.  There were seven girls - six unmarried - and my parents, so we needed like ten thousand bedrooms.  In Skokie we had somehow gotten by with three bedrooms, which made for a very intense home life.  There were the Parents in one bedroom, and then there were the seven daughters split into the two remaining bedrooms: two sets of clawing, fighting sisters battling it out for every inch of space.

The whole move of ours turned out to be quite a shock anyway.  Going from four seasons to two seasons, from snowstorms to duststorms, from trees to cactus, was all quite a shock. And going from a home that had some substance, like a basement and a second story and bricks, to a house that looked like a flat domino that had been thrown across the surface of the desert, that took some getting used to.

My parents searched and searched.  The house had to be just right:  not too close to the Jewish community, not too far.  Kind of more in a Jewish expatriot community.  One day, after we overheard our own real estate agent use an anti-semitic term to refer to negotiating, my dad stormed out of the house we were looking at.  There, across the street, was a billboard for the neighborhood in which we ended up:  Rich Rosen's Hacienda Del Sol.  Perfect.  A street of sixteen houses, all filled with Jews.

We just needed some basic information.  How many bedrooms?  Five.  Was there a pool?  Yes.  That was it.  Who needed to ask about construction methods?  It was Arizona, not the Antarctic!  We drove back to Skokie, loaded up the car and moved.

Add thirty-six years to that and there my mother sits still.  The billboard gone.  The expatriot Jews back to their homelands, my mother's house, built like a refrigerator, a crumbling ruin around her ears. 

Friday, December 4, 2009

Bar Mitzvahzilla vs. the Burger

We went out to dinner tonight.  Bar Mitzvahzilla ordered the largest burger the restaurant had:  two half-pound hamburgers on one bun with a combination of french fries and onion rings on the side.  When it showed up, it was about eight inches tall.  Husband and I looked on in amazement.  How would Bar Mitzvahzilla fit this monstrosity in his mouth?  Who would win?  The burger or Bar Mitzvahzilla?

He made a quick job of the onion rings. Made it half way through the french fries.  He picked up the burger and tried to eat it.  Bar Mitzvahzilla is not the most coordinated fellow on the planet.  He's also fourteen, an age where his limbs all seem too big for him and everything seems slightly out of whack. 

Husband - the engineering type - was giving tips and advice from his side of the table. 

"Flip the burger over so it has a lower center of gravity and more stability," he said. 

I look at Husband.  Is he going to set up a rope and pulley system to get this thing into Bar Mitzvahzilla's mouth next?  Maybe he'd like the crayons the restaurant gave Daughter and the kid's menu to write on so he could come up with some quick algebraic calculations and devise a system of consumption?   

Finally, Bar Mitzvahzilla put the burger down.  A little worn out but still hungry, he began trolling for food on our plates.  First he ate half my quesadilla, then he mooched part of Daughter's hotdog, then he ate the contents of the bread basket in the middle of the table. 

In the box of take home food?  Two half-pound burgers.

Score:  Bar Mitzvahzilla 0 Burger 1 

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

No Clowning Around

My mother is sick, but just like everything else with her, this illness is unique, it can only be handled in her own way.

First she refuses to go on antibiotics.  This goes on for days and days.  Then she suddenly decides she needs antibiotics but rather than go to the doctor, she treats her house as a pharmacy of first choice.  She searches the house from top to bottom and finds one old, moldy bottle of pills left over from who-knows-when that's laying in the bottom of a drawer somewhere with a label on it that's barely legible.

She calls me up.  "Linda!" Coughing and hacking right into the phone.


"What are these pills I found?"

She reads me the name.  I'm not sure, but I think it's a bottle of pimple medicine one of us took.  From the 1970s.

I try to tell her this but I'm interrupted by more coughing and hacking.

I say, "Ma.  Are you there?"  I remind myself never to touch her phone when I come to visit.

She gets back on the line.  "Can I take the pills?"

"No.  Do I have to call poison control to get them away from you?  They're forty years old."

"Okay.  I'll look for something else."

I'm about to tell her to stop clowning around and go to the doctor to get some medicine from this millenium but I'm drowned out by the coughing and hacking. I hang up. New mental note:  stop by mom's.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Deck of Daughters

My mother has two interesting characteristics when it comes to the weights of her seven daughters:  she has complete myopia for any weight gain, and she has supernatural, xray vision for any type of weight loss. 

I've been both fat and thin, or rather, I've been both thin then fat, then thin, then fat, then thin.  Multiply that times ten, because this went on for twenty-five years, so I know what I'm talking about here.  When I was fat, my mother saw only the good in me, which was very, very nice.  She was complimentary, encouraging, and accepting.  Rather than see me miserable, she'd go out shopping with me for a fat wardrobe.

But if I lost a microscopic fraction of one pound, she was all over it like a wolf.  In my twenties I'd slunk in the house from my weekly torturous weigh in at Weight Watchers and I don't really think she had a spycam on my house, but let's just say that somehow the phone would ring immediately.

"How'd you do?" No beating around the bush for my mom.

"A pound, Ma.  I lost a pound."

Then I'd hear her real estate amortization calculator clicking and clacking in the background as she did the complicated math.

"If I average your gains with your losses and amortize that out over 52 weeks, by this time next year, you'll be down thirty pounds. Can you imagine?"

And I'd kind of get a little caught up in the fantasy. "Thirty pounds?"

"Just in time for the wedding!" For awhile there in the 1980s, our family seemed to be having a lot of weddings. "Maybe we should buy a dress now. Saks is having a sale. You don't want to wait till the last minute." And then, caught up in the excitement of that one pound weight loss, I'd buy a dress that never fit me, ever.

But she's not fooling me, what she really loves is thin.  Not too thin, like not anorexic. She doesn't want to worry about us dying, after all.  But to have a bevy of daughters to brag about, to brag about the size of clothes we wear, this is what really lights her fire.  Forget the personal accomplishments!  Forget the college degrees, raising our children, forget everything.  Let's get down to the important stuff:  what size are our pants?

And, of course, that's what happens to me.  I'm at our Thanksgiving Day party and I hear the yell across the room, "Linda!  What size are your pants?"

I glare at her wondering if she'd like me to take them off so she can examine the size label herself? 

But I know that to my mother, her seven daughters are like her resume - our beauty or lack thereof, or thinness, or lack thereof, are a direct reflection on her.  She wants to have a card deck of beautiful thin daughters to fan out in front of everyone she talks to to show what she made.  A full deck, a straight flush, a deck of daughters.