Monday, August 31, 2009

Growing Boy

For about a year now, I've served one main purpose in Bar Mitzvahzilla's life: I am his yardstick. He walks up to me each day, assesses my height, and then tries to get me to stand back to back with him in front of a mirror so he can see if he's taller than me.

Since I've actually been shrinking while he's been growing, this is kind of a win/win situation for him. What could be better than having a really old mom whose bones have been eaten away by all of her asthma medications? My last bone density scan was so alarming that my doctor had to put me on 7000 units of Vitamin D per day and a bone density medication once a week, and I'm only 49. At this rate, what will I look like at 59? All I know is that each day when I get up I'm not sure whether all my vertebrae will simply slide down my spinal cord and pool at my feet.

But Bar Mitzvahzilla is a strapping, healthy young man. If I judge him by the size of his feet or hands, I'd say he's going to be a veritable Jewish giant - which means he'll be over 5'8". He's happy about this. He's still at the age where he wants to be older and bigger than everyone else. Of course, he also really likes having two fangs growing in his mouth, so his opinion is pretty unreliable.

To get bigger, Bar Mitzvahzilla is eating a lot of food. I had heard this was going to happen but I don't think I understood the sheer magnitude of it, that feeding my son would end up being the bane of my existence.

Since I am the village idiot when it comes to cooking or feeding my family, always found wandering aimlessly in my kitchen, trying to scrub out a spot on the counter that's actually part of the granite design, I'm not exactly suited for this job of growing a child. When I get him home from school I'm as ready as I'm ever going to be to prepare some kind of slap dash dinner. I manage to prepare something and then he is full. After dinner's done, amazed at my kitchen prowess, I collapse on my bed only to hear, one hour later, the call: he's hungry again. He needs dinner number two. And an hour after that? Dinner number three. It's actually impossible for me to think of three original, interesting things to make for dinner all on the same night. To me, three ideas should equal three days of dinner out of the way forever.

Bar Mitzvahzilla, on the other hand, has got a pretty indiscriminate appetite. Basically, he'll eat anything that's not a vegetable. If it has picante sauce on it, that's really good. If it's a la mode - good too. If told to make his own dinner, he will make salsa and chips.

I won't even get into the sheer logistics of trying to sit down and enjoy a meal at the same table with him - his meaty paws grabbing all the food before anyone can get their hands on it, him watching us for a lull in our eating to ask if we're going to finish our food - and if we're not, can he have it? The mad scramble as he tries to eat everything on his plate at once, till food is scattered everywhere - crumbs on the floor, his shirt splattered, food in his hair.

And when he's full, he's so done that it's like he was never hungry at all. He looks up from his plate and doesn't know what we're all staring at. He stands up, pushes his chair back till it hits the wall, and stalks away from the table, leaving his plate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lead Foot

I have a reasonable amount of credibility in my family, by which I mean that if I say something happened, the people in my family normally believe me. Like if I yell out, "Scorpion!" my husband will show up with the scorpion spray, he won't come to inspect whether it actually is a scorpion while it runs away under our bed.

So, when I kept telling Husband this week that my car was having a hard time starting, since he's in charge of our cars, it would have been nice if he would have given me some credibility. Then a light came on in my dashboard that included an exclamation point. My car, normally mute, was trying to tell me something. I know the rules of writing and the use of exclamation points - they are to be used sparingly. They connote excitement, urgency. So I sat up and took notice.

The light in the dash finally got Husband moving, especially because he could finally use some of the dust-covered tools he's bought and stored in our garage. First he just got to use the tire gauge to measure the air pressure, but then, for true excitement, he got to turn on the thunderous air compressor and fill those tires up.

This afternoon, however, the car stopped moving. Husband had paid attention to the most apparent issue - the exclamation point in the dash - but hadn't paid attention to the other issue, the car barely starting. Luckily, the car worked fine for everything that I leisurely did today: exercise, shopping, a meeting, lunch. It was just when I was about to do what I'm actually supposed to do - picking up Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter from school - that the car wouldn't start. Because Husband is a slave to our carpet store, I had to call my mother to rescue us, which entailed her zooming over in her souped up, bare-bones Toyota Matrix, and then taking me on the ride from hell.

My mother didn't start driving until she was 34. She had a car before then, a faded red Chevy Nova, which was parked under the tree in front of our house in Skokie. She was afraid to learn to drive so it just sat there rusting under the tree while she schlepped out of the house each day with her baby buggy and shopping baskets and 7 daughters, going grocery shopping at the National store about 5 blocks away. Finally, in 1964, she learned how to drive and, as she proudly told me today while she hugged the center line, braked hard for dips in the road, and sped up as she approached red lights, she's never had an accident in 45 years. Maybe if she tries harder.

We got the kids and then my mother briefly considered letting me drive her car. It was like high school again: me, the anxious, shifty teenager waiting for the car keys to drop into my hand so I could zoom out to a boondocker in the desert. Then she shook her head. No, she couldn't risk it. I've only been driving 32 years. That's not long enough.

So she put the pedal to the metal to get us back home. After a few more close calls, we got there.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Falling Cactus

My mother has returned from spending the summer in Northern Arizona. After calling me all summer and making fun of Phoenix for being too hot all summer - which was her way of inviting me up to visit - it finally got too cold up there and she returned home.

Because I live the closest to her of her seven daughters, my mother calls upon me for general house maintenance and run of the mill slavery while she's in Flagstaff. There's the dead and dying arboretum in her front yard that she calls landscaping and which must be tended to. I don't take care of it, I just call to tell her when, finally, her last living cactus has keeled over and whether it's hit the house. Also, for some reason, my mother and stepfather don't fully understand the idea of stopping the paper when they leave for three months, so I have to swing by, pick up the papers that have accumulated on the driveway, and throw them behind her front pillar. After a long, hot summer, the shade behind the pillar and her leaky hose, it turns out I've pretty much started a mulch pile.

Since my mother is elderly, there's no imposition that she won't foist upon me to make her life easier and my life harder. The newest one, just invented this summer, is that now, when she's driving down from Flagstaff, she wants me to pop over to her house and turn on her air conditioning so it will be cool for them when they get there. I need to do this at exactly 9:00 in the morning. They've timed this exactly. They'll be there at 11, which will give the house two hours to cool off from a summer with the air conditioning off. So she wants to know - is there a problem? Can't the kids go to school at a different time? And what do I mean, I need to be at exercise at 9:15?

The next thing I knew, she was back in town but there was dead silence, unusual for someone who usually announces her presence with, "What, you can't come over to see me? You're so busy?" Both her home phone and cell phone were malfunctioning. I left a message on the cell even though I know she's never figured out how to retrieve them.

By the time I got to her house, another sister was already there. She greeted me with cries of, "Oy, Linda! You're so skinny! A size four?" This is actually her standard greeting or farewell comment. When we were leaving she said the same thing as a goodbye to my sister. "Oy, Eileen! You're so skinny! A size four?"

She's back home. Her ringer's back on. Her house is cooled off. The TV's turned on to something that keeps her up at night, like a Holocaust special. Things are back to normal.

Friday, August 14, 2009


I'll be the first to admit that I'm not exactly the outdoorsy type. I'm more the indoor, bookish type who considers nothing more fun than sitting at a bookstore searching through stacks of books. Arizona suits me perfectly with its completely hostile climate. But sometimes I have to leave Arizona and go on vacation. Then we drive west, to Southern California. And when we're there, I'm suddenly supposed to be a different person - I'm supposed to love being outside.

There are a few problems with this reasoning. First of all, from the minute I get out of our car, I'm freezing. After all, I just survived a 45 degree drop in temperature - from 115 degrees to 70. I'm wearing my winter coat. My teeth are chattering. Daughter is wearing mittens. I don't suddenly think, Hey, I think I'll throw my clothes off and go swimming in the Pacific Ocean.

Unfortunately, just when I'm finally comfortable again, bundled up in our hotel room, my husband and children appear before me in swimsuits, holding boogie boards. I feign a grave misunderstanding.

I say, "I thought we just came here to look at the beach."

But they're determined to actually go there and, for some reason, they seem to want me with them. I'd like to think this is because I'm essential to their existence but, after this trip, I know that I'm just their pack mule to haul their stuff down there and their guard dog to watch it all while they frolic in the waves.

My history of beach-going isn't so great. I grew up in Chicago during the era when Lake Michigan was clogged with dead birds and the shoreline dotted with broken glass. Despite all these drawbacks, my mother and aunts would schlep us down there so we could all "get some color," which, apparently, was any color other than our own. My cousins and I would play in the hot sand, watch the oil-slicked water, the dead birds floating, and slowly burn to a crisp. We ended up a different color: red.

I was going to outsmart the beach this time. If it was overcast, I'd bring along yoga pants and a jacket so I could sit comfortably and read. If it was sunny with a cool breeze, I would sit in a bathing suit with my new secret weapon: SPF 85 sunscreen. That strategy worked on the cool days but, finally, there was one day of gleaming sunshine, the kind of day that always makes me think that the pretty, nice sun is my friend. Of course, it's not. I sat in my bathing suit with my sunscreen on, my book in hand, guarding my family's possessions. I was cautiously optimistic. Maybe the outside world wasn't so bad after all.

Three hours of sand and seaweed later, of Frisbees thrown at my head, of every person on the beach shaking out their sandy towel onto me, like I was a still-life, and it was time to load me back up and head back to our place, all of us burned to crisps. Red.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Camper Returns

Bar Mitzvahzilla came back from camp on Sunday. I had gotten a Twitter update that the camp buses left early, so I was stalking the parking lot they'd be pulling into, hovering there for my boy. Two buses pulled in. I stood there, watching the doors of both buses, a smile frozen on my face, my head flipping from side to side - one bus, then the other bus, one bus, then the other bus- when suddenly both were empty. No Bar Mitzvahzilla. Then someone told me there was a third bus that had pulled in while I was watching the first two.

Of course, I missed him completely. I found him over by the mountain of duffel bags -and his lone rolling suitcase - standing there, dirty, with a weird-looking medieval monk-type haircut. It was his hair but with three and a half weeks of grease in it.

Still, there he was! My boy! The joy! The relief! The love!

Then things got back to normal.

Here's what he did immediately. Since he knew Husband and I were pretty much complete blithering wrecks after him away, and after getting his increasingly harrowing letters about camp life ("Mom, this place is like the Holocaust: Never Again."), he pressed his advantage, asking if he could get access to his banned electronics for the night. We caved. So much for a joy-filled evening of camp stories.

In the middle of his anguished month away, when I was afraid to open his letters because of his pleas for me to come get him ("Again, Mom, could you please come pick me up?"), and in order to make sure he wanted to survive camp and live long enough to come home, I promised Bar Mitzvahzilla two things in my return letters: a completely redone bedroom and a night over at his cousins' house before we leave on vacation.

I'm not going to go into a big description of what his bedroom looked like before but let's just say that if I stood at one end of our pretty long hallway with his room at the far end, I could smell it. Also, it was like a museum of his childhood. I guess we just hadn't sorted through the toys for a few years. We had sorted through them back when the Power Rangers had to go, but we hadn't sorted ever since Spiderman had to go. And we had never sorted through the books. I mean, Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? was in there.

So I spent days crawling on my belly with a crevice tool, wearing a chemical poisoning suit from head to toe to grab his bedding and throw it out, and, finally, to reassemble the room as no longer that of a boy, but of a teenager.

He came home and walked in there, mesmerized. A double bed. A macho comforter -not Sponge Bob anymore - toys cleared out except for age-appropriate weaponry hidden underneath the bed. There's a chair and ottoman, so he can entertain.

And then he laid around like a bum. He watched too many DVDs. He monopolized the computer. He had to look through every little thing I bought him from his school supply list to make sure all of it met his exacting requirements to be both macho and cool because, apparently, certain colors need not apply. He was hungry on the hour and ate food by swallowing it whole, but anything he did manage to chew ended up on the floor.

Just when I was starting to get just the tiniest bit impatient with him, he charged up his dormant cell phone and called in the second part of my promise, the night over at his cousins' house. And now? Gone.