Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stuck In The Middle with Bar Mitzvahzilla

Once I had a tiny son who could be brought to any park in the world, unsnapped from his car seat, and, like a revving engine, set down and he was off. Rolling in the grass, playing in the sand, kicking balls, head first down the slide, chasing kids he didn't know, an ape on the jungle gym, and swinging into the sky. He could go and go and go - all day and all night - his battery was always charged. His fun would only end when we hunted him down and lured him into our car, the seat belt click sounding the end to his freedom.

But things change when you have a son who's nearly fourteen.

I used to love sitting on a park bench reading or writing while the kids played safely nearby. Now I'm no longer alone. Next to me sits a silent, brooding teenaged lug, along with his man-sized body, his gigantic arms and legs, his big feet, and an alarming blonde moustache. He apparently is too old for the park. He's too big or too old for every single thing at the park except for sitting there next to me on my bench.

So since he can be a little conversationally challenged, I've thought of a series of questions that I can ask him that will set him off on a twisting, winding, conversational labyrinth that won't stop until my eyes roll back in my head. What's the coolest new video game on the market? What's his dream car? (He aims high - it's a Lamborghini.) Which one's the best Terminator movie? Who had the coolest light saber in all the Star Wars movies? If I can stand to stay awake for the answers I can at least hear his voice.

There are some things he will still do. He'll play basketball anytime and anywhere. He'll surf like a beach bum in the ocean but first he has to find some ocean in Arizona. He'll swim in any pool but lately he wears a t-shirt, hiding something on his upper body. I figure it's probably one valiant, newly-sprouted chest hair, but won't I be the fool if he has a Siamese twin growing under there?

He reads books obsessively, but no book that any girl anywhere in the world has ever said she likes. The blood and gore and confusing Sci-Fi plots take care of that. And he plays video games with such intensity that if I didn't tell him to stop he would actually never stop. He'd forget to go to college and forget to get married. He'd only stop decades later when his hands froze with arthritis on the controls, the house disintegrated around him. Then he'd yell through the rubble, "Mom! What's for dinner?"

Stuck in the middle with Bar Mitzvahzilla; he's not a boy and he's not a man.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Every single day of the school year, I make my children's lunches. I don't know exactly how I lucked into this chore; it's certainly not due to my skill in the kitchen. Maybe it's because I don't work.

So, because I'm the village idiot when it comes to food, I get the lunch-making down to a science. I open the two lunch boxes and, like a conveyer belt, I throw in chips, nutri-grains, fruit, and a juice bag - everyday the same stuff, just twice as much stuff for the human garbage can - Bar Mitzvahzilla - as for the daughter. And then I make sandwiches for each, always being very careful in my slow-witted kind of way that I don't replicate the sandwich I made the day before. No. The kids must have variety, I insist on that.

Then last week I volunteered to help with my daughter's third grade class during lunchtime. Even I couldn't help but notice that there was some discrepancy there.

Some of the kids had the school's hot lunches. Others had fast food lunches that their parents had picked up and brought in for them. There were children whose lunches were lovingly packed - individual containers filled with stir fry, with spaghetti, with taco meat and taco shells, with little individual servings of every food group on the food pyramid. One child even had homemade soup in a thermos. Only my daughter sat there listlessly unwrapping her soggy sandwich out of a piece of torn tin foil, opening a baggy full of stale chips, then giving me a dirty look while she ate it. Oh.

It's really weird that I'm not better at this. I should have it in my genes to be better at this. I come from a long line of balabustas - extraordinary Jewish housewives. Women who could slaughter and then pluck a chicken while giving birth to a child, biting off the umbilical cord with their teeth, and then finish ploughing a field. My paternal grandmother was an object of great awe to me; I heard the stories over and over of how she breastfed my father until he was five. I would imagine my father as a kindergartner - even though he was in Poland and it was the early 1930s - running in their home, grabbing a quick lunch of some breastmilk, and then running back out again. My mother made this sound very logical, like that breastmilk was all the food the family had and only that kept them from starving. Now that's a balabusta.

As an immigrant, my mother might have been a little spotty on the American stuff like driving, or coming to parent/teacher conferences, or English, but she was a phenomenal balabusta. She raised seven children without any evidence of those seven children showing anywhere in the house at all.

But me? The evidence is in: laundry dried so long it comes out burned. Clothes wrinkly from sitting in laundry baskets for days. Sandwiches in my children's lunchboxes 200 days of the year.

Definitely balabusted.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Ring Thing

There are few questions I dread from my children. I am very open with them. After having a mother who nearly sent me go off to gym class in 6th grade with a can of FDS as deoderant because she refused to admit to me what it was actually for, I'd like to think I'm pretty approachable. My kids can ask me about sex and be embarassed by the answers. They can ask me about my ex-marriage I'll answer their questions, even though I've been stuck talking about a marriage that lasted two and a half years for 12 years now, ever since I told them. Still,I'll do it.
But when my daughter looks at the ring on my left hand and she's all aglow with the romance of it, admiring it, watching my diamond glitter, and then she asks, "Is that the diamond dad gave you when you got married?" That's the question I don't want to answer.

It's embarassing to have to admit that no, there is no part of the ring I wear today that is the ring dad gave me under the chuppah. That just sounds bad. When I try to explain that the shape of the diamond - a Princess cut - is the same cut as the one he gave me though it's not the same diamond, she's not buying that. I'm a different kind of Princess for even suggesting it.

When I got engaged I worked in an office at a Big Insurance Company where, for some reason, all of us were getting engaged. Each day, one of my friends was showing up with her engagement ring: one carat here, one carat there. Future Husband bought mine and he wasn't having any of that buying a ring worth three months of your gross income crap. He bought a .80 carat diamond. Then I got to show everyone in the office my ring and, I swear, people were pulling out jeweler's loupes to look at it and weighing the carat content. I skulked back to my desk, my joy in my 80 point diamond ruined. I wish I could say that this didn't bother me but, trust me, it bothered me.

I've been married a long time, long enough to upgrade my ring. First I designed a new setting for the ring and had the jeweler put the old diamond in it. Then a few years and some prosperity later, the diamond got bigger and the old one went in a pendant. I wasn't going to sell it or anything; I do have some sentimentality. A few years later it got a little bigger. I can certainly lift my hand - it's not that heavy - but let's just say that if I had friends at work, or if I worked, for that matter, I could hold my hand high.

Is there ever enough? Yes. I love my ring now. It has a Hebrew band under it with a quote from the Book of Ruth, "Whither Thou Goest, I Shall Go." I have a ring on my right hand with the Ani, "I Am My Beloved's, My Beloved Is Mine."

I didn't always know exactly who I was, but I found out later. I'm a nut for being Jewish. I add Hebrew to my rings and it gives me a feeling of the eternal - they end up being not just Jewelry but JEW-elry. I also like rings thick enough that I can barely bend my fingers and, okay, I need a little glitter. And if my daughter would just stop rolling her eyes, I'd explain that to her.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Anecdote

I was reading a book recently called, Why I'm Still Married - not that I'm thinking about not staying married - it's just a compilation of essays from women writers about why they stay married, probably because the whole world is divorced. In that book, the really long-term marriages are the ones who have been married 16 years. Well, I've been married 16 years too.

Since I have a marriage of such awe-inspiring duration, here's what I believe our secret is. Every night when my husband comes home I ask him how work was, kind of like I'm Donna Reed, except that I never have dinner on the table and the house is a wreck. Then he tells me how business was that day - we own a retail flooring store - and then he ends with his "annoying customer" story. Apparently every single day, a customer comes in the store, looks around, and then says that they can get the same thing cheaper somewhere else. This makes my husband crazy. Why don't they just buy it there then?, he says. He tells me this anecdote every day. Does he wake up with amnesia every day? How can he be both a member of Mensa and not remember that he's told me this, like ten thousand times?

This is marriage in a nutshell: you have to be willing to listen to the anecdote, no matter how much you want to pull your hair out at the thought of it, no matter how much you want to pull his hair out at the thought of it. There just might be something equally as annoying that I do that he puts up with.

For example, even though we've been married 16 years, any time we fight I think we're getting divorced. This is because I was married once before in my twenties and it ruins you a little, or at least your sense of optimism. He's always ready to talk everything out, work out whatever problem we're having, while I'm wondering how we'll handle custody of the kids. Of course, ten minutes later, the problem's resolved.

It's probably hard on him, being married to a nut. But, hey, I have to listen to that anecdote.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dang Fang

It's hard to see myself in my children. And I don't mean just my bad personality. I mean my crappy genetics.

There are some things about my genetics that are good. Being freakishly tall for a Jewish female is good. By this I mean I'm over 5'1. So my kids are not short. Of course, there is something a little creepy about waking up one day and having a gigantic son, a son who can suddenly look me in the eye. But, okay, I got used to that. I got used to him hovering like a wall around me. I got used to him creeping up behind me and a shadow suddenly falling over me. I got used to him squeezed into the backseat of the car until finally I relented and let him sit in front, and then gnashed my teeth as he fiddled with the stereo, played with the seat controls, and blasted all the air conditioning on himself, leaving menopausal mom hot.

But the troubling thing is the physical defects he's inherited from me.

A few months ago I took Bar Mitzvahzilla to the orthodontist to find out when he was going to start his next phase of treatment. For some reason, nowadays when kids get braces they get them on and off, on and off, like ten times. So he'd already had the first set of braces and this was the consultation for the second set.

The orthodontist tells me my son can't get them because apparently he has inherited my jaw.

You know when you were about thirteen and you were keeping a horrible secret about your body? Like that you had a volcanic pimple or one of your breasts was growing on your back? My secret was that I grew this horrific Cro-Magnon jaw. I would look at it sideways in the mirror, just to see how far it stuck out, or I'd look at myself straight on in the mirror and hold something over the bottom half of my face, just to see what I'd look like if I was normal. Of course, at school a group of males noticed - about whom I still have revenge fantasies - and they called me "Chin."
My jaw eventually had to be surgically corrected. So I am disconcerted to find out that my son's inherited this jaw. The orthodontist wants to wait for his jaw to grow before getting his braces back on because who knows how big it will get?

So I watch my son now, or I watch his jaw anyway, waiting for some chin equivalent of a hunchback, some Igor thing to happen - I don't know - is he going to look like Dudley Do Right? Because I once looked like Dudley Do Right. Can I at least hope for Jay Leno?

Then the other day we're eating at a restaurant and I look at him and I'm thinking, he looks fine. He's so handsome! But then I see something new. I say, "What's that?" He opens his mouth and I see there's a fang coming in right in the middle of his gums. A fang just like I had at the same age. If he ever wonders what I gave him, now he knows: a lantern jaw and fangs.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hairy But Hairless

It's just a normal day. I'm sitting around the JCC, happy, wearing my long shorts. I'm happy they're still kind of in style, even though I do see a lot of teenagers lately wearing these micro-mini shorts. Those are not an option; I'm happy to be wearing my quasi-shorts. At least until I notice there is hair growing on the tops of my kneecaps.

The sad thing is that this isn't the most horrible surprise in the world. Like I don't completely faint dead away because I think I'm turning into a werewolf. I don't check to see if there's a full moon or anything. No. It's only a surprise because I realize I missed shaving this area. Among the many miles of shaving I have to do every day, oops, I forgot my kneecaps. See, I'm not really a woman, I'm a wolfman.

There's the normal upkeep, that everyone does: the shaving of the legs, the tweezing of the eyebrows; and then there's the abnormal upkeep, that only mammals like me have to do: the shaving of the arms and the shaving of the moustache. What could my husband be thinking when he looks at me across the divide of our bathroom and sees me shaving my moustache? Does he want to hand me his can of Barbasol? Does he want to compare 5 o'clock shadows with me?

When I was in high school I hung out with a pretty natural, earthy group of girls. One year we all decided to grow out our leg hair. We had all thought about this shaving thing and found it unacceptable. Shaving and shaving for decades and decades just to satisfy somebody's ideal of smooth hairless legs! It was the 1976 Scottsdale, Arizona version of burning our bras.

So my friends grew their leg hair out and nothing really happened. There was a little blonde baby fuzz here and there. But I grew mine out and a pelt grew in. A pelt that hunters might be interested in. I understood there was probably something biological going on there. My family had emigrated from Poland and Lithuania not so many years before. Maybe this was the makeshift coat that generations of ancestors used to keep warm during those freezing Eastern European winters. Of course, it wasn't working too well in the Arizona heat.

My friends continued wearing their flowing hippie dresses, after all, nothing had really changed for them. I, however, suddenly took quite a liking to pants and tights - heavy tights. And heavy pants. My friends were very, very kind. They'd say, it can't be so bad. Let's see. And I'd show them and there'd be silence.

Soon after that, I gave up. I took up my Lady Schick and here I am, decades later, hairy but hairless. Wolfman but woman. And, except for the spots I miss, except for my eyesight failing in the dim shower, except for those kneecaps, I hide it well.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shopping With the Food Police

Today I went shopping with the Food Police - that would be my husband. Since we are off one day a week together (okay, I'm really off every day) we go to a warehouse store on Thursdays. There we get to amuse all the other shoppers by fighting up and down each aisle about what I want to buy and what he doesn't.

I have many nostalgic memories of food I ate as a kid. I want to raise my kids on this nostalgia. I want to give them my childhood in Skokie, almost all of it. Like the Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres on TV and Spaghettios and Frosted Flakes in their mouths. I want them to have the idyllic childhood I had but without the Holocaust things, of course. So that's how I shop. I buy food to make them happy, excited. I look at the DVDs for fun and more fun things to watch. I'm like a ten-year-old in a grocery store.

This drives the Food Policeman nuts because he's a grown up married to a baby. He wants the kids to fall in love with lettuce and with unflavored Cherrios. If he was the mom, he'd probably have a food pyramid chart as art work.

I just need to face it: my husband is really meant to be the wife. He's good at cleaning the house, washing the dishes, and he cooks a good nutritious meal. He can shop a list at the grocery store with so many coupons they finally pay him to get out of the store. And so where does that leave me? Under arrest by the Food Police.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lazy Mom On The Rise

Eventually even extremely lazy, hot, menopausal mothers must rise and notice what's going on in the house.

The kids were strangely silent on Saturday morning. I got to sleep late because they managed not to fight over something which would necessitate coming into my room in the middle of a fistfight. I got up, quizzed them about exactly what they were eating that didn't require any cooking or milk, since they were eating in the den (chips for breakfast?) and then got ready for my day. Since Bar Mitzvahzilla was having a friend come over at 1:00, suddenly my brain began working. I thought: den. They're in the den. That didn't make sense. I had shoved all the extra rugs and giveaway clothes in the den the other day, blocking the couch and the TV set, so how were the kids in there?

So I rose from my side of the house, kind of like one of the presidents coming alive on Mount Rushmore - a rumbling, ominous, earthquake kind of sound - and went to investigate. Of course. They had just thrown everything on the ground - unrolled the rugs, scattered the clothes - all in a desperate urge to get near the TV set.

This resulted in the dreaded event: Mom's deep cleaning. I had the kids coming in and out of the room like that broomstick in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, back and forth, just shoveling garbage out of there. I then made the mistake of lifting the ottoman, where I found a time capsule of my children's meals of the past month.

My kids hate when I clean because when I do it I only do it like a lunatic, with a vacuum cleaner hose as a lasso, and holsters packed with Windex and Comet. I have no half way point. And whenever I do that, instead of just quietly helping, like that nice Sorcerer's Apprentice broomstick, they go existential on me. They say, "Why are you doing this, Mom? Why does it matter so much to clean?" or "Why is it so important that you clean this room, Mom?" Like maybe I should call on the spirit of Albert Camus so I could realize that a dirty room filled with food and garbage is really just a matter of my perception of reality.

So they pushed the lazy mom too far. Now food is banned from the den. They're waiting for me to cave on this but every time I walk past the den and see it so clean and remember crawling around with the hose attachment cleaning up crumbs from under the couch cushions, I think, No.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Gefilte Fishless

I went to my mother's house today, which, by itself, makes her very happy. After all, I came carting the 9-year-old granddaughter. Any grandchild, anytime, is a very good thing.

I also brought her a care package of a type. I kind of gathered this stuff from around my house knowing she'd want it all. My mother, now 78, lives very frugally in the house we moved into as a family in Scottsdale in 1973. What was once an amazingly new, beautifully-maintained house is now a crumbling ruin. Well, it's still standing. My Mom can't see the flaws, she only sees the inside of the house, lovingly decorated with antiques. She doesn't see the listing pillars on the outside, the dying cacti about to fall on cars parked in the gravel drive in front, or the criss-crossing ham radio antennas strung up in the trees over the house by my stepfather.

Here's what I brought her: three magazines - Architectural Digest, Traditional Home and More Magazine; the memoir A Lucky Child by Thomas Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor, which I ordered for her from I had mentioned the interview I heard on NPR a few weeks ago with the author and my mother wanted the book badly; much worse than I did. It's just one of our weird little facts that my mother, who is a Holocaust survivor, just can't get enough of the Holocaust, and I, who was only just inundated with the Holocaust by her, can't stand to read about the Holocaust. Go figure.

I also brought her the horseradish root that I used for my seder plate on Passover. I use real root because I think it makes the seder plate look so cool, to have a jumble of root among the other symbolic foods, but we don't actually pick up the big hunk of gnarled root during the seder and gnaw on it or anything. It's just for show. So off it goes to my mother's house for her to gnaw on it.

The final thing I brought my mother was two jars of Gefilte Fish which I found today at the grocery store for about two bucks each. So, being compulsive, I bought six. This brought tears to her eyes. She grabbed me and got kind of weepy, like somehow in the country in which she lives (that would be one mile south of me, so still in the United States) she isn't allowed to go to the grocery store and buy gefilte fish. I am the bringer of the gefilte fish, and if I don't do it she will go gefilte fishless for years.

Soon after that I had to go. My daughter and I had to go shopping for a Mother's Day present for this same mother who sat crying over the gefilte fish. She was surprised by this. Another present? she said. The fish wasn't the present? No mom, the fish wasn't actually the present.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Lazy Mom

There's been a lot of talk on the blogs I follow about Ayelet Waldman's new book about being a Bad Mom. One of my writing teachers raised an interesting question: would any of us admit to being a "bad mom" if we really thought we were? I mean, probably the really bad moms, like abusive moms, don't just sit around writing essays about how they're bad moms. They're in hiding with those bad things they do, like locking the kids up in cages each night without dinner while feeding their dogs gourmet dog food. You know, the kind who eventually show up on the evening news.

That said, I'll just go ahead and claim the title of "Lazy Mom" for myself. I haven't heard anyone wanting this one.

It goes something like this: I'm pretty productive through the day. I go to my exercise class every day, I do a list of chores a mile long, I keep my kids in clean clothes, folding laundry all day and unloading the dishwasher and other glamorous things. And then 3:15 rolls around and I pick up the kids at school.

The first thing my kids do is they both try to run me over with their rolling backpacks as we walk down the sidewalk to my car. I don't know why, but it's become a problem because I'm an older than average mom and I'm not so swift on my feet. I can't dance around these things like I might have if I was in my twenties or something.

Then they start telling me about their respective days but they both want to talk at the same time, so I have to take turns between them. Sometimes one has something very important going on and we have to prioritze. Sometimes I have to follow up on something that's a multiple-day topic.

Then there are the demands. My son is almost fourteen so he's starving all the time. Just seeing me is enough to make him think about food, like I'm a steak or something. My daughter, the twig, is also surprisingly hungry all the time. They apparently will not make it the 4 miles to our house without perishing. But I am under strict directives from Cheap Husband to "eat the food in the house" no matter what. Really. We can't keep buying warehouse-sized portions from Costco and then stopping at Taco Bell each day.

So by the time we've gotten home, I am tired. I am lazy. I walk in the laundry room, drag my thousand-pound purse in, put it down, and I look in two directions: down the hall toward my bedroom where my bed glimmers at me, the room dark and a little cool, I think. The other way, toward the bright kitchen, waiting for me to cook. Guess where Lazy Mom goes?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Things On My Mind

Here are the things on my mind today:

1) I just browbeat both of my children into going to sleepaway camp this summer. The son was pitching nasty fits about it all week when I finally sat him down and said, "You're going. That's it. No further discussion. Dad and I have made an executive decision." And he shut up. You'd think I was sending him to military school.

2) Jazzercise. (I've always got Jazzercise on my mind...)

3) My Mother's Who Write class is ending. I haven't even had a chance to be nervous about the reading coming up this Saturday because I'm still working on the final piece. Topic: Endings. I am so glad that I finally left my house and became part of this community of women writers. It was very lonely writing before!

4) I'm growing out my eyebrows. This is scary because when I was 13 I had a unibrow, so there is the potential for a Wolfman Jack kind of look. Right now they just look like I forgot to tweeze.

5) I am now officially the Blog Editor for Poetica Magazine, but now I'm terrified to post my first blog entry. Typical.

6) This 6-month experiment husband and I have had of cleaning our house ourselves hasn't worked out very well. At this point, we need an entire cleaning team. Things are getting punchy around here.

7) I'm thinking seriously about cooking husband some meals before we hit our 20th anniversary. Sometimes I feel very, very sorry for him, being married to a wife like me. Let's put it this way: my neighborhood friends are starting to offer to bring meals for him.

That's where things stand today. Random blogbits.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Weight Watchers Drop Out

There was this fantasy that I had during the twelve years I went to Weight Watchers. It was pretty elaborate and, ultimately, kept me joining and rejoining the program for all those years despite the fact that all I ever did was get fatter and fatter.

It went something like this: one day I would finally not only have hit my goal weight, but I would have maintained it for 6 weeks, and this fantasy day would be the one when I was finally going to become a Lifetime Member. So there was going to be a special meeting to celebrate this with lots of clapping, my fat pictures, my family in attendance to celebrate with me, and some kind of pin or whatever they were giving out at the time. Some trinket. The best part of the fantasy would be when I'd get asked for my dieting secrets to share with everyone. I'd be the star for the day, or for the hour of the meeting anyway.

That day never happened. All that really happened was that over those years I became more and more sneaky with my points and sneaky with Weight Watchers and sneaky with my weigh-ins. I plotted everything out before I'd even join, starting with how tall I'd tell them I was. Because at 5'6 Weight Watcher guidelines said that I had to weigh between 122 and 143 pounds and that was really never going to happen. So I would add inches to my height when they asked for it so that they'd set the goal weight higher. Really, if I could have gotten away with it, I would have told them I was 7 feet tall, but I obviously wasn't.

I had more tricks than this up my sleeve. I wore my heaviest clothes to the first weigh-in and my lightest clothes to the second, so I'd have an enormous weight loss the first week, and I built bingeing into my program. I'd go to my weigh-ins early on day seven and spend the rest of the day eating everything in sight.

Over time time this got more and more elaborate: "before" pictures on the morning of each new diet; graphs to chart my weight loss; list after list of the reasons why I needed to lost weight, from the serious to the trivial, like that I couldn't play with my kids, I had destroyed my knees, that I had missed twenty-five years of fashion. One time, in a fit of honesty, I even made a list of the reasons why I didn't want to lose weight.

I tried many times to accept myself as I was. I believed, and still do, that women come in all shapes and sizes. But I was sure this was the wrong size for me.

I guess in my own convoluted way I finally got that fantasy day. Of course, it wasn't at Weight Watchers. I gave a speech but there were no diet tips to give, no family beaming nearby. There was certainly no trinket. I was the speaker at my 12-step weight-related meeting today and it got me a little maudlin, thinking about all those years struggling. So here I am today, happy and maudlin.