Monday, December 27, 2010

The Need to Freeze

There are many things illogical about living in Arizona. There's the summer, for instance, when we get very excited as the weather "cools down" to 105 degrees. There's the general weirdness of people decorating cacti for Christmas because that's one of the only living things in the front yards. Okay, there's even the general weirdness of being a Jew in Arizona - being rare, like a unicorn or Big Foot.

But one of the strangest things about being an Arizonan is the way we all go seeking snowy weather in the winter, like there's some genetic need to freeze built into our DNA - like the salmon swimming up river in Washington State - and we head out. Since I was born in Chicago and Husband was born in Milwaukee, you'd think we'd have worked this need to freeze out of our systems as kids, but no, here we are, in the middle of our now annual exodus to Northern Arizona.

So even though I've lived in Arizona since 1973, even though I hadn't seen snow since my that last winter in Chicago, last year when we got to Flagstaff it all came back to me. I immediately remembered it all. Layered clothes, bundled up, always prepared. Similar to the Brownie I once was, but the snowy version. And last year it made sense. It was a glorious winter wonderland. Freezing cold with pristine, untouched snow everywhere, we didn't have to bother with a dedicated sledding area; everywhere we looked was a sledding area. We went sledding behind our hotel; we practically went sledding to our car since each night it was frosted in.

This year, except for some gray, piled up frozen slush, there's virtually no snow. Patchy hillsides with slush, mud, rocks and trees, so we can break our necks hurtling down a mudslide on our speeding snow disks.

We try to put a positive spin on it for Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter. It's still cold, right? It's good to be cold, right? How nice to be away from home on vacation! And look at the nice hotel we're staying in! Free breakfast everyday! And now, with all that stupid sledding out of the possibilities, we can spend all our time eating out, right? Let's go to another bookstore, kids!

Are we going to get away with this? Let's put it this way: Daughter was packed a week before we went on vacation. She made a list of all the restaurants we'd go to ahead of time and the days we'd go to each. Both kids are up at the crack of dawn, dressed and waiting for Husband to awaken and take them to the hotel breakfast. Children this neurotic aren't going to let us get away with anything.

Next year: Tucson.

Do you go on vacation seeking something in particular at different parts of the year? Have you ever sought out snow intentionally or is the seeking always for beach and sun? Anyone else have kids this driven?

I'm happy to report that I'm getting close to publishing my book and hope to have it available in the first half of January. I'll post here when it's available in both in print and e-book form and am sorry I've been so sparse lately with blog posts. Thanks to everyone for all your  encouragement.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Wildebeest Kind of Winter

I was driving in my car with Bar Mitzvahzilla, then three, in December 1998. Of course there was no snow, this being Arizona - instead there were Christmas lights on all the palm trees and cacti in the neighborhood, especially the yard of one neighbor who seemed determined to offset our unlit Jewish house by putting up so many lights that his house could be seen from outer space.

I was ready for my his questions. He'd been too young the previous two years to notice anything as we drove around our tiny Jewish world - to our synagogue, to his Jewish preschool and back to our Jewish home. This bubble had to burst sometime.

It wasn't like he hadn't been exposed to the outside world. My family is so diverse it's like a United Nations conference. I was ready for an age-appropriate discussion of religious pluralism. Sure enough, I noticed he was staring out of the window, his mouth open, his eyes wide.

He pointed at the neighbor's house and yelled, "Mom! A wildebeest!"

This I didn't expect. Of course, I knew there wasn't actually a wildebeest in my neighbor's front yard. Even my HOA couldn't be that lax. But I said, "A wildebeest? Where?"

He was pointing at a reindeer. I thought quickly. Should I tell him the truth or should I let him have a little magic for one more year?

I said, "Wow! A wildebeest!"

Sometime earlier that year Bar Mitzvahzilla had become obsessed with the movie "The Lion King." After watching it every day for a year, I came to like it, too. For some reason, his favorite scene was when Simba's father Mufasa fell off the cliff into the stampeding wildebeests. He re-enacted this in our home day after day, clinging to the clifflike edge of my bed, while I, Mufasa's evil brother, Scar, flung him off the cliff. Bar Mitzvahzilla would fall to the floor onto a herd of toy wildebeests that just happened to be stampeding by on the carpet.

So he was a little obsessed with wildebeests. Having them appear all over the neighorhood that December was an truly a wonderful thing.

After he noticed the first wildebeest in our neighborhood, we started taking walks each night for wildebeest sightings. There were the ones who moved their heads up and down as they fed, the ones that looked off to the side, watching warily for lions, the ones that were frozen, caught in mid-prance, or skittering in the hunt, running from hyenas. If something didn't make sense - like the wildebeest that leapt in the air with the blinking red nose - Bar Mitzvahzilla just ignored it. His only disappointment? That there were no elephants adorning my neighbors' lawns, no giraffes with their heads sticking up as tall as the palm trees, and no actual predators lurking in the bushes.

Eventually it ended. He grew older, and we had the talk we needed to have. But for a while, our neighborhood became an African savannah, with wildebeests magically standing in each yard and lions just around the bend.

Has your child ever made up their own answer to a question that was very different than the answer you may have given? Any obsessions with movies, watching them over and over again? Do remember seeing magically through your kids' eyes?

* Although I've always written original pieces for this blog, I wanted to tell my Wildebeest story so I reran it here. This piece originally appeared in the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix on December 11, 2009. Here's the link to the original piece:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mother, Interrupted

Here's what happens when your mom is diagnosed with Alzheimer's. At least if you're me. There's this total scoffing at the doctor's diagnosis. There's the trotting out of a hundred tiny facts your mother remembers even better than you and you're thirty years younger than her. There's the railing at a system of treating the elderly that throws them into categories: one gets dementia, then next Alzheimer's. Next!

Then you notice that she loses a few words here and there. Easy words like the names of her favorite restaurant or the word "checkbook." Then you notice her conversation becomes a little constrained, topic-wise, like she only wants to talk about food, she can talk about it for hours, yet she only says the same thing over and over again - how good it is. You find yourself missing your mother and she's sitting right in front of you.

Then maybe there's an interim event - a fall perhaps, or maybe a car accident, in your case. And then there's no more room for denial. Denial packs a bag and slithers away in the middle of the night. When your mother is recuperating from her injuries, which means she's finally left her convalescing couch, her world becomes constrained. She stopped cooking during her weeks on the couch and now, she tells you, she no longer cooks. Nor your stepfather. Food just magically appears every day and, anyway, they don't eat much. Some rice, some noodles, maybe a piece of challah. And, yes, it's good. Very, very good.

The mother you had - the annoying, argumentative one, the one you used to butt heads with, the one who used to find a way to interject a Holocaust story into every conversation until you were sure you too had lived in the forest running from the Nazis, that mother has been interrupted. And in her place? A different mother. A different kind of mother. A mother and a daughter and a child all at once.


Have you ever had diagnostic news where your first reaction was denial? Have you ever had a relationship interrupted abruptly due to illness or otherwise, something other than you had planned?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Room of Doom

In an act that I can only blame on menopausal hormones, about two years ago I got rid of my cleaning people. Sure, I had my reasons. It was a husband/wife team and the husband used to creepily follow me around while I got ready for my exercise class in the morning. Then I'd get home after they were gone, lift up the ottoman in the family room, and find out that they'd shoved a bunch of junk under there. Was it them or was it hormones?

Either way, they were gone. I was sure I could handle it myself. I have two big strapping children and a  helpful husband, right?

Now, looking back, I want to kick myself with this insane thinking. Husband was once in the mindset that a cleaning crew was necessary our existence. I mean, he had one before I met him! Before I fired them Husband had no idea that wives actually could clean houses. Now? No longer.

So that leads me to this week and the Hannukah party I'm having here on Sunday. And the absolute ruin I live in.

Since I can't really handle all the mess in all the rooms at once, I've worked out a method over these last two years of being the housecleaner. I call it Room by Room, similar to Anne LaMott's Bird by Bird. I only tackle one room at a time. I don't get sidetracked. And one caveat: once I'm done with that particular room,  Bar Mitzvahzilla and Daughter aren't allowed to walk into it again until the party is over. Even if it's, like, their bathroom and there are three days till the party. Go to the neighbor's house.

Now I know I've got five days still but right now our house is basically a tear down and I need to use my time wisely. So I plan to start with the rooms no one uses at all, like the dining room, my art room (haven't used that in awhile), the den (where I can easily clean around Bar Mitzvahzilla sitting frozen staring at the TV screen with only his thumbs moving on his Xbox controller), and my office (thank goodness for my months-long writer's block!)

The rooms we really live in - the family room and kitchen - I have to treat carefully. I can't completely move the kids out, right? And once they're cleaned I don't want to be chasing the kids around and watching each cookie crumb fall to the floor with a wild-eyed look in my eye. So I'll hold off on that and use the kids wisely. Have them do their own rooms. I'll assign chores to them that will be done badly, all in a mad, crazed dash to get to whatever's been promised them in return for those chores.

Then, in one last herculean effort, I'll unclutter the rest of the house and move every last piece of remaining junk, by putting it all into my bedroom - the Room of Doom. Then I'll blockade the door so no one can get in there.

When I greet my guests on Sunday night, our house will look like a house that actual human beings live in. I'll  demur when the few people who've never seen the house before ask for a tour that includes my bedroom (Sorry! It's kind of messy right now!) and then wait for the inevitable outcome of the Hannukah party: a destroyed house. Wrapping paper everywhere, food sloshed and dropped, ground into the floors, babies running and drooling.

And then I'll clean it again. Maybe in time for next Hannukah.

Do you clean just to let things get messed up again or leave them messy and clean afterwards? Do you have a method for cleaning? Do you have cleaning people or do it yourself? Ever have one "Room of Doom" where everything bad is hidden?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Pilgrim's Potluck

Being one of seven sisters means a lot of things. It means that I grew up in a crowded house and found it downright eerie to be alone. It meant never eating out, wearing hand-me-downs; it meant having relatives look at me and always needing to guess "which sister" I was and always get my name wrong. For ease they reverted to numbering us. I am still known as number six.

It also means this: I've never once made a Thanksgiving meal. I'm not happy about this because I kind of like making a big, nightmarish, complicated meal (see Passover blog entries from last spring), but I don't get to. See, I'm not the sister in charge of Thanksgiving. I'm the sister in charge of Hanukkah, so to speak, and since Hanukkah bounces around the calendar, one year at the end of December and the next at the beginning - like this year - I can't do both.

So for Thanksgiving we drive off from our house in whatever direction the party's at - this time it was at sister number seven's new house. I'm assigned a dish to bring, always something suspiciously simple because there seems to be an impression in our family that I can't cook. One small mistake - a charred, inedible brisket - in all these years and my reputation was ruined forever. So this year I was assigned a very traditional Thanksgiving dish, one everyone fantasizes whenever they think about Thanksgiving, right after they think about turkey, stuffing and pecan pie. I was assigned the veggie tray. 

We have a veggie tray at our party for a couple reasons. First of all, in a family with seven sisters and many grown nieces and nephews, everyone's always dieting so vegetables are welcome. Second of all, there are so many people coming (just add up for a moment seven sisters, husbands, seventeen nieces and nephews,  significant others, and five great-nieces) that we run out of food assignments. Hence, the veggie tray. Maybe it's not just my incompetence or my reputation as a bad cook; maybe it's that: there's nothing left to assign. I take solace in the idea that the pilgrims probably had a lot of vegetables at their first Thanksgiving.

Luckily I didn't screw it up. Maybe I can parlay this success into something more significant next year, like soda pop.

Do you cook Thanksgiving or go somewhere? In your family are you assigned food to bring? Ever get assigned something that didn't quite fit the holiday or something really easy?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Synagogue Shopping Season

I was at my synagogue the other day with Daughter and since Daughter is now five feet one (I think she grew twelve inches in the last two years) one of the older ladies I know there asked me, "Have you booked her Bat Mitzvah date yet?"

I looked chagrined. Every good Jewish mother knows she's supposed to book the date with the synagogue at two years out and I'm at one year and nine months. What's the problem?

Is it that I'm afraid that instead of having a Bar Mitzvahzilla, like my son started morphing into around the time period of his Bar Mitzvah, I'll have quite the Bat Mitzvahzilla on my hands? Am I afraid I'll have to change the name of the blog? Or maybe that I'll have to start a new blog just to keep track of her varying demands (a kids' table shaped like an 'R'? Really? Her name in lights?)

Here's the real problem: I'm not sure my synagogue is going to exist in September of 2012.

There's this strange thing that happens in the Jewish community in Phoenix and, for all I know, in the Jewish communities all over this country: Sometime each summer the Jewish community goes synagogue shopping. Since synagogue dues are traditionally due before the high holidays which tend to fall in September and October, around August a synagogue fair is held to showcase new synagogues, old synagogues, and changed synagogues. 

In a community like Phoenix, where there are now fifty-five synagogues and many people who don't affilitate at all, sometimes it feels like, well, synagogue shopping season. Like there just might be a newer, more exciting place elsewhere, a younger, more exciting Rabbi, or lower dues. And, of course, there are valid reasons to leave a place of worship, like fees, like the Rabbi, like for spiritual fulfillment.

But what happened during this past summer was that a lot of people left the place that we belong to, threatening its existence.

Husband and I are a little dull-witted about this kind of stuff. It's not that we're massively spiritually fulfilled by our congregation, it's just that we have a relationship with them that, after thirteen years, feels right. It feels like home. And when we're there - even if we don't understand a word of the Hebrew - it reminds us of the services we grew up with and the Judaism of our parents.

I still live with this one nightmare from soon after our move to Arizona, when I was fourteen. My dad died suddenly at age 48 of a massive heart attack and we were unconnected to the Jewish community. We had no community to lean on for support nor a Rabbi to help us or to eulogize our father. The rabbi who showed up at his funeral - was he on a rotation list for the unaffiliated? - came and went swiftly, almost forgetting my dad's name in the middle of the service. That will never happen to my children and what happened to my father will never happen to my mother. The child of fourteen is now fifty and has changed all of that.

So I guess I'd better just have a little faith and book the Bat Mitzvah date. And get ready for Bat Mitzvahzilla.

Do you tend to change your house of worship frequently, if you go to one? Do you have any clear motivating reason why you do or don't belong to one? In your religion do you have a choice about where you worship? Ever had a kid grow this quickly?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Crashing Through

I've spent a lot of time at my mother's house over the last two-plus weeks, since she and Stepfather were involved in a car accident. I'm kind of their own personal adjuster since my old job, when I had a real job, was handling bodily injury claims for a really big insurance company for eighteen years.

There are things you discover when you putter around an old person's house with them each day. In the case of my mother I discover that, although she apparently has a inbred aversion to taking any prescription medication at all, instead taking horse-size vitamins impossible for me to sort into a pill container, she still somehow has saved every medication she's ever come across.

I open her medicine cabinet the night of her accident looking for Tylenol since one of the things I found out right away is that when you're eighty-five and eighty-years-old and involved in an accident, it might just be impossible to have someone really listen to you who's not related to you. Not the police officers and not the emergency room staff. No one. They'll take a look at your Medicare card, they'll make sure you're not dying, and then you'll be set on your way, even if you can't remember any one of your seven daughters' phone numbers. So neither of them had gotten a prescription at the emergency room.

In her medicine cabinet, however, were pill bottles dating back at least twenty-five years. There was one with my old name on it, from my ex-marriage, and I got divorced in 1989. It was like a pharmacy museum in there: old time pill bottles, typed up labels before computers were used, various treacherous caps that my mom would never be able to open now.

Then I spent some time with Stepfather. I found him outside a few days after the accident hanging up my mother's laundry on the clothes line with the radio blasting. Because we have a bantering relationship I said, "You guys must be very popular with the neighbors, what with the blasting radio and the makeshift clothesline," just a series of strings he had strung all over the patio from chair to chair. He laughed and explained the problem he was having with my mother overfilling her laundry basket and cracking the handles. He'd devised a fix, however, and took me to the garage to show me it. He'd glued the handles back together on both ends with some epoxy and was holding them in place with vise grips. Like twenty vise grips. I said, "Or you could buy a new laundry basket at the dollar store for a dollar, right?" Again, he laughed.

There have been a lot of frustrations over the last two weeks, a lot of doing something and then doing it again and again because of various problems in the process. But there are also several images that will always stay with me. There's the image of my stepfather sitting down silently next to my mother, in pain on the couch, and holding her hand. The image of them getting out of the car together when I took them to physical therapy, again walking hand in hand. And one I'd like to forget: that of my mother, whose Alzheimer's has worsened because of this, sitting beside me on the couch, but being nowhere near.

What strange things have you discovered in your parents' homes? Any strange collectibles, like prescription bottles? Witnessed any touching moments? Any heartbreaking ones?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Battle Over the Halloween Candy

Halloween should be fun, right? Like since I have a son who is about to age out of Halloween - okay, he really did age out but went out anyway - and a daughter who's still young enough to enjoy it, I should be having fun, right?

But no, at our house there's the Battle of the Halloween Candy. And it starts before Halloween, quiets down to a lull on the day of Halloween (kids out hunting for more candy to fill up our coffers) and then continues after Halloween.

First problem: we buy a gigantic bag of candy from Costco ahead of time that contains only the good stuff - M&Ms (peanut and regular), Kit Kats, Baby Ruths, Reece's Peanut Butter Cups. The good stuff.

Then there's the second problem: the family wants to eat it all. I mean, they don't want to eat it all and end up pretending we're not home on Halloween, they want us to keep buying those bags over and over again for the next nine days.

The third problem: the children are distrustful of my husband, believing he'll devour all the best stuff and my husband is distrustful of the children since he, of course, both wants the best stuff and doesn't want them to eat anything. He might talk sanctimoniously about cavities but really he just doesn't want to share. Or buy another bag for fourteen bucks.

And that's only before Halloween.

Then the kids trick or treat and bring home more candy. And it turns out we don't run out of candy because I - the neurotic mother - did buy an extra bag. And then we pool it all and there's like a mountain of candy. And then they're off and fighting again.

So, each year, I get pulled into the fray. Mainly because I don't eat candy or chocolate or, really, anything fun at all, I'm as neutral as Switzerland, as placid as Lake Geneva. So both sides trust me with the candy. I'm the human form of an Armistice. I'm told to hide the candy - how does one hide a gigantic bowl of candy? -and then I have to parcel it out to each of them at three pieces per day.

Eventually they'll forget it, of course. (Except Husband. He'll remember it no matter what.) And then months will go by; I'll throw it out when it's down to Red Hots, black Licorice and Nerds. And then, suddenly, it will be September again, a little Fall in the air, gigantic bags of candy at Costco and I will buy a bag ahead of time. Again.

Do you save the treats for Halloween or indulge ahead of time? Does anyone special have to be in charge of "hiding" the candy in your house? Do you buy what you like or what you don't like? Any non-celebrators of Halloween out there? 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

R.I.P. BlackBerry

On Sunday my BlackBerry died.

It's not like I had time to think about it right then. I had just walked in my mother's house with her and my stepfather, having gotten them from the emergency room where they'd been transported after a car accident. So right then I had time to think only about this: my injured eighty-year-old mother teetering down the hallway, making her way to her bedroom to undress and somehow climb into bed with lacerations and bruises all over her body. So, even though I'm a slave to the blinking red light of my phone, hypnotized by its allure, unable to resist its blinking call, I ignored it and took care of my mother.

You know how you always hear these phone horror stories, like about people losing all their lists of contacts and phone numbers and why didn't they just back it up before that happened, before disaster hit? Well, of course, that's what happened to me. I didn't back anything up, mostly because I didn't understand the back up technology. Like, copy it to what? Online or a memory chip in the phone? Ack. Here was my backup plan: one day I was planning to sit down with my phone and handwrite all those contacts into an actual paper phonebook. With all the time I've spent procrastinating over the last few months, you'd think at least I could have done that one thing, which would have been useful.

Instead? Dead BlackBerry flatlining in my palm. Injured mother on the couch. Tow yards, body shops and insurance companies calling nonstop, doctor appointments to be made, all of these places wanting to fax something, email something, text something. Phone needed.

Providentially this happens to be four days before our plotted defection from Verizon to AT&T and, perhaps, an iPhone 4. So what to do for a phone in the interim? My husband gives me this thing he has laying around the house. A  flip phone. To text I have to go through the entire alphabet for each letter. No emails, no internet. I'm completely unwired in the daytime, like it's 1990 or something. It's like he handed me a chisel and a tablet and told me to scratch out messages.

But somewhere in my brain it's dawning on me that this thing I'm using is actually just what it's supposed to be: a phone. I now also know an incredible reason to have children, beyond the cute baby stage, beyond the make-me-proud stage. It's so when you're eighty and can't handle the small details of your life anymore and can't quite talk to strangers about how they're talking too fast and you don't understand them, it's a good thing to have your adult children standing like a fortress around you.

Do you back up your phone? Do you remember when you were really excited just to have a phone and now have to have a high tech gadget? Any preference between BlackBerrys or iPhones?  Have you had to become the "parent" in any circumstances to your parent?

Monday, October 18, 2010

The On Again Off Again Romance

The first hint that Husband and I might actually be able to get away together - for one whole day and a half - was when I got a memo from Daughter's school about her upcoming fifth grade trip. Daughter, who won't sleep out ever, no matter what, will also not miss a class trip, no matter how much she can't stand letting me out of her sight.

So, being a shameless opportunist, I thought, Maybe we can go out of town while she's gone! But then I thought, But what will we do with Bar Mitzvahzilla?

The next four weeks were a wild, rocky roller coaster, not knowing from one day to the next if our trip was on or off.

We couldn't go. After all, Bar Mitzvahzilla had to go to school each day. And football practice. And Hebrew High.

We could go. Bar Mitzvahzilla, it turned out, was on Fall Break the very same week as Daughter's trip. No school and we'd wiggle out of football practice and one session of Hebrew High.

We couldn't go. Who would keep him overnight?

We could go. My sister.

We couldn't go. My sister was moving and, just our luck, had moved forty miles from our house the day before we were leaving.

We could go. She'd meet us half way to get Bar Mitzvahzilla.

We couldn't go. Daughter started worrying about the trip. Her stomach started acting up.

We could go. Psychosomatic illness.

We couldn't go. Daughter, now crazed with separation anxiety, kept herself up half the night before her trip worrying about missing me. (Somehow she never worries about missing Husband.)

We could go. Planted her on a bunch of pillows on the floor next to my bed and let her watch me all night.

And we did go. We both saw her off at school, carefully, like delicate china, since by then we had non-refundable reservations at a hotel. Then Husband drove Bar Mitzvahzilla to the drop off point, dropped him off, and we took off like a flash.

The next day, rejuvenated, newly back in love, back in our halcyon days of honeymoon and romance, we drove back into town and met Daughter after her return from her trip. Within seconds our romance fled out the windows of the car. We became The Parents once again. Then we picked up Bar Mitzvahzilla so the two of them could bicker at each other. And then we were complete: one bickering couple in the front seat and another bickering in the back.

But there's still that memory. I can live on that for awhile.

Do you ever get away without kids? Do you have to plot and sneak to do it? Does getting away rejuvenate your relationship? What do you do about fighting kids? Any nervious children?  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Time Management

I sit down to write.

This takes a while. I wander throughout the house. I clean, I fuss, I do laundry, I make phone calls. I wander and wander, give myself imaginary tasks and then, when I absolutely can't avoid it any longer, I get in my office. Since I'm pretty good at avoidance, some days I don't make it in there at all.

Then I land in front of my computer. The blank screen. Well, I can't be expected to just jump into writing, can I? I need to relax into it. Mosey into it. Maybe flow into it, right?

So I check the news of the day on MSN, my homepage. Watch some video news, fume at the commercial spots as I watch the seconds count down. Ready to write now for sure. Oh, but I really need to check Facebook. And look, someone's posted some new photos. Then I look at a video they posted. Then I remember I'm supposed to be writing. Then I notice that there's a window I left up from another day of procrastination with some editor jobs in Phoenix. I look at those. Then I mull over whether I should I get a real job, like with pay? One is quite prestigious. What are the requirements? Wow, I'd barely have to lie to get it. Maybe this is what I'm meant to do with my life, not this interminable writing. Maybe I should put in for it. But I need my resume updated with my editor experience. So I pull up my last resume and I start sprucing it up to reflect the editor job I've been working for nearly two years.

I almost finish before doubt assails me. Do I want this job? What if I actually got this job? Could I handle a full-time job with my husband working 60 hours a week at our store? How would I go to exercise and my meetings? Who would pick up my kids? And take them to their myriad appointments? How would both kids participate in sports? And why did I quit my job six years ago where I made $35,000 for 18 hours of work only to sit here applying for a job that pays $40,000 for 40 hours of work? I'd better think about this. So I think about this for awhile. And then I think, look what time it is! I'd better hurry up and write. I have to pick up Daughter in ten minutes.

Pick up Daughter.

Get home with Daughter. Feed Daughter. Read mail. Clean kitchen. Help with homework. Get back in office. Whoa, I am really behind on blogging. Should I write a blog? Maybe I should read all my friend's blogs. Maybe I need to comment on my commenters? Wait a minute. I'm supposed to be writing. I pull up my book. I am now going to write for sure. The phone rings. Bar Mitzvahzilla's football practice is done. Done writing.

Pick up Bar Mitzvahzilla. Feed him. Feed Daughter again. Drive Bar Mitzvahzilla somewhere. I walk back in the house. I look right - my bed looms with comfy pillows on it and the remote controls for the TV set nearby. I look left, towards the long stark hallway to my office and the book I've forgotten how to write.

I turn right.

And the clock just keeps ticking.

Have any problems with procrastination? Is the Internet a big distraction? Does anyone else have this problem with not knowing what to do first? How hard is it to stick to a schedule when you're in charge of it?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Commercial Break

I'm not proud of the amount of time I've spent watching TV lately. Well, not just lately. I can pinpoint exactly when it started: it was late June, when we went on our first summer vacation to Flagstaff. Our hotel room didn't have HGTV, my favorite TV narcotic at the time, and so I started watching Daughter's favorite, Food Network. And that was it. Cupcake Wars. Iron Chef. Throwdown with Bobby Flay. Chopped.

I'm not going to discuss why I suddenly became fascinated with wasting my time and wasting my life away at that exact moment in time. Let's just say that it was right then that I had gotten very depressed about my writing. Coincidence? Probably not. I'll leave that issue to professionals, or to psychogenic drugs, or to the straitjacket that I'm destined for once the masking tape I've stuck myself together with comes undone.

But here's the idea that's dawned on me in this 3-4 month time period that I've been watching television with my kids: they watch commercials and I don't. And I don't mean just that. I mean, they really watch commercials, like they are rapt with attention for the commercials, paying more attention to them than to the actual show we're watching. And I, the polar opposite, do the exact opposite. I really don't watch commercials. I'm hostile to commercials. Commercials are my break time from television. I read, I run out of the room, I change loads of laundry. 

Is it because I was raised in the 60s and 70s, when commercials consisted of Mr. Clean staring at himself in a see-through floor? Or station identification breaks? Or is it a combination of that and the fact that my kids have been raised in a world of Superbowl Sunday commercials, commercials as art forms, commercials with ongoing plots?

I thought I'd beat them at their own game so one day during the commercials I muted the sound, sure that the kids would join me in talking, mulling things over, or even in getting three minutes of chores done. Instead here's what I had: two zombies staring at the soundless TV and trying to read the lips of the actors. Turns out it wasn't really a problem anyway. They'd memorized the scripts long ago.

Been avoiding anything by vegging out lately? Do you watch commercials? Do your kids? Any Food Network aficionados?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Essential Yiddish: Part II

                                                    "Yiddish" in Yiddish 
I've been meaning to write a follow up to my post, Essential Yiddish: Part I, for quite some time. Not that I'm some kind of Yiddish expert. It's just that, having grown up with Yiddish swirling around my suburban Skokie house, listening to my mother give colorful commentary on everyone who walked in and out of our lives, I can't imagine life without it. Yiddish, to use a Yiddish word, is poonkt - a Yiddish word for getting something just right, perfectly, even if we're talking about my house, which is never actually just right or perfect.

                                                   The Yiddish Hoarder

The other day I was watching "Hoarders: Buried Alive." When the show was over I suddenly noticed that I hadn't seen my master bathtub in quite a while because of all the chazerai [haz-er-eye] (junk) I had piled in it. This was because I had taken that chazerai out of my closet and needed somewhere to put it. It's a constantly shifting pile of drek (see Post #1) around here, basically.

Since I was watching Hoarders with Daughter, a true nudnik [nood-nick] (precocious child), she noticed the resemblance between the house on the TV set and my bathroom. She said, "Mom, you're a hoarder!"

I took a deep breath. Instead of shraying [shrie-ing] (yelling) about it, moaning about it, wailing about it, I looked around and I thought, I need all that chazerai like a loch in kopp (hole in my head). But I wasn't sure I'd have the coyach [koy-ach] (energy) to do all the cleaning myself. So I asked the kleina [klayna] (little one) nudnik to help and Bar Mitzvahzilla, who, with all his football training, has become quite the shtarker (heavy lifter, tough guy).

And soon, though I was farmisht (exhausted); though I thought I might plotz (collapse) - the tub? Gornisht [gor-neesh-ed] (nothing). Empty.

Do you have things laying around that you need like a hole in your head? Do you find yourself using one of your kids for heavy lifting and that they have to help you now instead of vice versa? Do you have a secondary language that adds some color to your speech?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Comatose Parenting - Redux

Husband and I were kind of unprepared to be parents, at least to a baby like Bar Mitzvahzilla. Born a pound and a half, he came home after ten weeks in the hospital weighing almost four pounds and hauling a lot of medical equipment, like an apnea monitor, an oxygen tank, special foods and medications, and he had to go to various doctors and specialists three times a week.

Also, he was a smart little baby. The hospital was a twenty-four-hour-a-day atmosphere and all the nurses loved him so he learned to stay up and play with them, as well as a tiny little baby can play. Let me tell you, besides saving his life, the nurses in the NICU and the Continuing Care Nursery really knew how to love a baby. The problem was, he didn't really get the whole Sleep During the Night schtick, much to Husband and my chagrin.

So suddenly there was this tiny, needy, scary looking thing plugged in, really, all over the house to various machines, and he was awake all the time. Husband and I coped as best we could. We set up four-hour shifts of sleeping and caretaking and rotated them so that both of us could be sure we'd get some sleep and our share of middle of the night misery. We'd each hit a breaking point, kind of rotate a breaking point between us, if you will, and, depending on our mental state, our general bug-eyed appearance, the pallor of our skin, and how much of our hair was standing on end, we'd give each other a break.

That's kind of how life feels right now. Not because Bar Mitzvahzilla is in any kind of fragile medical state, which he's not. But because of our wild-eyed frenzy. We assess each other each day. Who's been driving since 6:45 in the morning, and it's now 9 PM? Who has poured herself in a heap on the bed and can't move (that's always me)? Who drove to the high school five separate times in one day because of various football-related pick ups and drop offs? Who can handle the moment, at 9 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when five hundred Jewish parents descend on the JCC all at once to pick up their teenagers from Hebrew High and who will melt down?

So who would have thought that at this late date in parenting we'd get this strange reminder of the earliest days of parenting, and via the same kid - Bar Mitzvahzilla? And that, somehow, we'd remember how to do the same thing all over again. The last one standing, the last one not crying with fatigue - that one goes for the final pick up.

Do you remember those days of bringing home a newborn? Did you have a method to balance the exhausted partners? Any random acts of lovingkindness to those you love lately?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Don't Rush Rosh Hashana

In the row behind us at Rosh Hashana services this year was a family with young children. It was like being transported in time, watching them panic over the antics of their younger child who had no idea he was in a High Holiday service or how that differed from, say, Peter Piper Pizza.

What a difference a few years makes. I remember sitting there (standing there, running there) with my kids and looking longingly at the families with older children, children the ages of mine now, Bar Mitzvahzilla fifteen and Daughter eleven. I mean, I enjoyed that whole baby thing, and what was really ever cuter than Daughter in a little dress crawling with matching pantaloon thingies on anyway? But still. Services.

Still, we never put our kids in the babysitting offered and dreaded the "children's service" since we couldn't hear ourselves think. And we felt sorry for the Rabbi who'd have to conduct the service over the din. And we - okay I - really think that kids have to learn how to stand still. Especially considering that they spend the rest of the time ripping our house to shreds, for example. I explain to them that it's not that Husband and I love being at services, but it's Rosh Hashana. It's kind of amazing that we're still Jewish thousands of years later. Not to mention the Holocaust.

Do they complain before we go? Yes. Do they ask questions about why we have to go? Yes. This year I got a double whammy from Daughter since the first day was her birthday. Wait just a minute. I have to go to services on my birthday? Lucky her, I explained, sharing a birthday with the birthday of the world! I swear, I can put a positive spin on anything.

She was born on a different Rosh Hashana, eleven years ago. Because of Bar Mitzvahzilla's preemie birth, she had to be delivered four weeks early, on 9-9-99, as a matter of fact. By Yom Kippur I was back in synagogue with my newborn in my arms and the congregation oohing and aahing over her. She's grown up there, whether she realizes it or not.

So don't rush my Rosh Hashana, kids. Some things take the time they take. Time to sit and time to stand. Time to think about the last year and the year to come. And time to both whisper and yell at the kids at the same time.

So relax and enjoy it. Because Yom Kippur is right around the corner.

How do you handle the inevitable protests of children not wanting to go to religious services? Do you have a long history at your house of worship? Can you think back to the different ages of your children on the same holiday over the years?
I'm participating in the Global Day of Jewish Learning and write this post in anticipation of November 7, 2010, when Jews around the world will share a day of dialogue and exploration.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Zen of Football

Okay, so I've now gone to two of Bar Mitzvahzilla's Freshman high school football games. This hasn't been without some great effort. Being a bit football challenged, just showing up took a lot of resolve. I knew that good moms go to their kid's games. So I had to go. That was that. No matter that each of the games have been away games, and I mean away - like the first one thirty miles north and the second one thirty miles south. And no matter that I soon learned a cruel fact of being the visiting team: our stands invariably face west into the setting sun in the 100 degree Arizona heat. But it's football, right? Suffering's part of the game.

So far our team lost one game and won another. Yesterday I found myself actually enjoying myself, sitting next to Husband and jumping up and down with all the other lunatic parents. The only thing I can't stand is Husband's preachy philosophizing about the game: what plays the coach should have played, what plays he might play, all the possibilities in the world, apparently, that have to be muttered into anyone's ear nearby. Considering that and the guy yelling "'Go Birds" intermittently, I think ear plugs could make this really good.

By the end of the two games Husband was muttering about something else: Bar Mitzvahzilla hadn't played. Today after practice he told me he doesn't expect to. Husband hit the roof but I chose to look at it in a more Zen-like manner.

When I was watching the game yesterday I forgot that my son hadn't actually been on the field because it seemed to me that just being a part of a team was something too - that his team playing was him playing. There were about four injuries during the overall game, moments during which both sides got down wordlessly on one knee and they and the spectators all showed respect for the injured player by clapping as he was taken off the field. Where would Bar Mitzvahzilla have gotten that experience, exactly, if not for football? That kind of reverence, of control, of understanding that sometimes you're a part of something bigger than just yourself. These are lessons I didn't learn till I was forty - that sometimes you just have to do a whole bunch of work and never know if there will be a payoff. That the work itself has meaning.

Also, football's brought some unexpected benefits. There's the fact that he got to start high school knowing a lot of kids, and coming from private school that was a big deal. There's the fourteen pounds of pure muscle he's packed on his frame. There's the fact that on game day he gets to strut around campus in his jersey. And, not least of all, he gets to look up from his position - yes, right now his position seems to be standing and not playing - and see two parents and a sister who love him enough to schlep all over the planet to show support for his team and his endeavor. And sweat.

He can also see his mother who's learning, after nearly eighteen years of marriage to a football fanatic, to enjoy the game.

Do you ever feel like you should keep a list of all the things you did to show love to your kids that they don't appreciate? Giving out any sage advice to children lately? Football anyone? 

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Husband Goes Gaga

I've been married nearly eighteen years so there's a bit of amused tolerance that goes on in my marriage. Husband, on the one hand, has gotten accustomed to the fact that I have more shoes in my closet than a normal human being could reasonably expect to wear in a year and that, while I have bright ambitions for the clothes I buy, later I can't quite remember what they were and end up dressing like an idiot every day.

And I have amused tolerance for his music. He's a rock and roller and a music snob. He loves classic rock, which, of course, I was raised on too, and has in turn raised our kids on the Beatles, the Stones and all sorts of other 1960s music. He also took up guitar lessons about a year and a half ago and began composing songs that seemed a little personal, odes to me, with names like, "She's Impossible" and things like that. Okay, fine. I could live with all that.

But lately he's gone gaga for Lady Gaga and this, I have to say, is unexpected.

This didn't happen overnight. It also didn't happen without some resistance on his part, and complete investigation of the Gaga oeuvre, as it were. And even though he's confident about his fan status he's still connected enough to reality to be shamefaced about it, to his credit. After all, it certainly didn't happen because she wore a bunch of funky masks to award shoes or outfits that looked like performance art, which is more something I could appreciate. It happened because of raw talent.

First he heard her song Poker Face. An acoustic version that appeared on the BBC. Then he realized that she wrote it and all her own songs. Then he started searching YouTube (note to self: should never have shown Husband that YouTube existed) and he found videos of Lady Gaga in her former life as Stefani Germanotti sitting at a grand piano playing beautifully and singing riffs of her own songs with a scope and talent not exactly born of her years.

And that was it. The next thing I'm expecting is to open the mailbox and find one of those fan club packets I used to get in the 1960s for the Partridge Family or the Monkees. You know, with a button, and ID card, and a fake autographed picture of the object of your obsession.

Yesterday - like my life has become a cartoon or something - my fifty-five-year-old husband says to me, "Did you know that Lady Gaga was here in concert on July 31st? We could have gone!" In slow motion I look at him. I lift my hand to see if maybe he's running a fever. I've spent my entire married life trying to avoid all the concerts he wants me to go to - John Fogarty, Bob Dylan over and over again, and I went, even when Dylan didn't sing at all the entire concert. One time, years ago, he made me go to The Grateful Dead. And now he wants me to go to Lady Gaga?

I try to see the bright side of it. At least it's something we can go to with the kids. Right?

What do you have to look on with amused tolerance at with your spouse or partner? Have you fallen in love with any music lately that seems younger than your age but love it anyway? What about this Lady Gaga thing?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


When Bar Mitzvahzilla was younger, there was one question he loved to ask me that I never could answer to his satisfaction, yet about which he and Daughter could jabber about for hours. What superpower would I choose if I could have one?

Well, of course this stumped me. While he'd look at me expectantly - just waiting to give me his answer - I'd draw a blank. Invariably I thought of Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie. What superpowers were those?  Since I had to come up with something I'd say the only one I could think of, immortality, and be subjected to my son's scorn. Why in the world would I want to live forever when none of the people I loved would be able to? That was apparently the worst superpower. The best ones? Mutability, Invisibility, Superhuman Strength.

If he asked me today I wouldn't have any problem picking one. Easy. All I'd have to do is think back to the last three weeks since he started high school, since I've looked at my planner each day and found that each one of them contained unresolvable conflicts - two places I actually had to be each day at the same time. Both things invariably for my kids. And important stuff.

So I know which superpower I'd pick: cloning.

Was I living in a cocoon all these years, being the mother of two kids who attended the same private school? The ease and comfort of driving both kids to the same school, having one school calendar, of only having to beg with Husband each morning to take my assigned driving days because, invariably, I had stayed up till two in the morning blogging. 

But not anymore. Now Bar Mitzvahzilla has to be off in one direction to arrive at 7:30; Daughter in another to arrive at 7:55. There are the things that we planned that sounded really good during the summer, but in practice? Not so good. Like football everyday after school. Then various Jewish or school-related activities that keep the boy and me hoofing it till 9:00 each night. High school, then home; JCC, then home; tutoring, then home. And back. This, I believe, might just be why people actually buy their teenagers cars.

But here I am, finally. Able to blog after a week and a half. Three whole posts this month.

Now I'll go disappear into my genie bottle until tomorrow.

And what would you pick for your superpower? Ever felt like you've spent the whole day driving, and you weren't on vacation? 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

How-To Guide for Parents of High Schoolers

You can reminisce all you want about the good old days of Spiderman pajamas. About the days when your little boy got a pair of Spiderman gloves and really, truly thought he'd be able to climb the walls of his room. And fell down a few times trying. You can forget about all the Camouflage clothing you bought him too. That was so middle school, after all, him being dressed head to toe in camo, his backpack matching camo, to the point where some days I wasn't even sure I could find him, he was camouflaged so well.

He's in high school now and there are a whole new set of rules.

First of all, no camo. Second of all, he's only allowed to wear one type of shorts: basketball shorts. And those must hang down to his knees. He can wear them in any ridiculous color under the sun (except girly colors or camo, of course) and with t-shirts. But the t-shirts have to pass inspection. While the mom inspects for inoffensive language and no gang symbols (like I'd recognize them), the high school kid inspects according to a different standard: cool. I'm clearly out of my league on this one.

Then there are the accessories. First of all, the wheelie backpack got wheeled away before 8th grade. Apparently it doesn't matter how heavy his backpack is, how many textbooks have to come home with him, how damaged his vertebrae, he must carry the load on his back like a mule. Secondly, no more lunch box.  Lunch boxes are only for middle school. Even paper sacks show a little too much effort. Any lunch preparation from home has to look haphazard, not like we tried too hard. Hopefully, I guess, it should look like we didn't try at all. We need to throw everything in a plastic grocery store bag.

No juice bags or juice boxes. Obviously. He now can only bring cans of soda or bottled water. You guessed it - anything else looks nerdy. I'm afraid to ask about the bags of chips. Do I need to open them up and randomly throw them in a baggie, maybe step on them so they're a little crushed?

And, last thing, I'm afraid to ask, is it now nerdy to be Bar Mitzvahzilla? Is it now nerdy to be locked by your mother in your thirteen-year-old persona on a blog when you're fifteen now and in high school?

I don't ask the question. I don't want to hear the answer.

Have you ever navigated these cool/uncool waters with your kid? Had a kid at one of the transitional ages - middle school, high school? Ever been flabbergasted by all the rules they're obeying that have nothing to do with your own?

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Snitch

Invariably as a parent I'm caught between two opposing desires: I want my kids to have each other's backs, and I want them to tell me if the other one is doing something that puts the other kid in danger. I want them to be on the same team and to be on my team, even though half the time I'm the enemy.

The only problem with the scenario is that Daughter is a natural-born snitch. She loves catching Bar Mitzvahzilla doing something he's not supposed to be doing. She'll sneak around rooms, lurk out of sight, just about shimmy on her belly down a hallway, anything to catch him in some unauthorized activity, which, around here, could be something pretty innocuous, like playing on the Xbox when he's not supposed to.

This doesn't exactly build a healthy relationship between the kids. It also doesn't help that Bar Mitzvahzilla, a nice, mellow kid, doesn't really see this coming each time it happens. He'll be doing his favorite activity in the world, which apparently is killing the bad guys who have pretend-invaded the United States, and won't have made any attempt to disguise his activity - like there are the sounds of bombs and missiles coming from the den where he's supposed to be watching TV. Then Daughter will just happen to cruise through the kitchen  and tell me that her brother's on the Xbox.

It's extremely tempting to use a snitchy child like this as my eyes and ears, to be my spycam on the teenager. But, I know. I have to avoid that. First of all, and even if she can't see it, I need them to be friends. I need them on the same team. I'm willing to have her rat him out if it was a safety issue or risky behavior. But Xbox? I think I can take it from here.

So I tell the snitch that she has to stop telling on her brother, that she has to try harder to consider herself on his "team." The kid team, not the parent team. She gives me a stormy look and goes to tell Husband instead.

Do you have any snitches in the house? Do you find it hard not to want the information but wanting the behavior to stop? Any teenagers (or significant others) with gaming addictions?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Memory Blank

Here I am from my second vacation spot of the summer - Oceanside, California, where we go every year.

Here's what's occurred to me during this summer of two vacations, both to places we've been multiple times, places I would say we've established a family tradition of traveling to: my kids don't remember anything. Well, Bar Mitzvahzilla remembers some stuff, but Daughter? Nothing. All this painstaking building of memories, all the carefully planned birthday parties, all the awful, expensive amusement parks we've gone to. Blank.

When we were in Flagstaff earlier in the summer she said, "Have I ever been here before, Mom?" and I said, "Of course you were!" and then I rattled off a bunch of things we'd done there before while she looked at me blankly. Then here, in the San Diego area, she mentions that we always stay in Oceanside, which means, of course, that she doesn't remember all the other trips.

This could never have happened to me as a kid. First of all, we never took a trip until I was ten-years-old so when it finally happened it was very memorable. And interminable. My parents planned our vacations around all their fellow Holocaust Survivors they could find in various locales and then decided that we'd travel to those places. I spent our vacations stuck to plastic-covered couches listening to lamentations in Yiddish. I could definitely use a few light memories.

But Daughter's lack of memories makes me wonder about this raising kid thing, that I've worked so hard for so much that's disappeared into this big amorphous blob, later to be designated "happy childhood" or "unhappy childhood," or to have her whole life summarized by something I wasn't so good at, like cleaning, instead of something that I was good at, like letting her know she's safe.

But we'll continue. After all, we've still got four days left on this vacation. That's four days left to make memories. Right?

Have you ever noticed that your kids don't remember things that you kind of hoped they would? That maybe you worked hard at? How has vacation gone for you this summer? Do you tend to remember a lot from your childhood?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Miss Yakity Yak

The minute she walked in the house from camp today, Daughter picked up the phone to call her best friend. The best friend wasn't at camp today and Daughter needed to know if she was okay. Also, because Daughter's almost eleven she suddenly wants to be this thing - this Girl Who Talks On The Phone (is she copying me?) and so she's trying her best to monopolize it.

So she calls unsuccessfully but later the best friend calls back. Over the course of the next half hour this is what I see: I see her laying on my bed, talking to the phone laying next to her on speaker; I see her laying upside down on her bed the same way; I see her sitting on the computer reading her best friend her emails; I see her wheeling around the house on the office chair, talking; and, finally, I see Daughter marching around the house, following me, her finger on the mute button, asking me for some ideas of what they should talk about. Apparently there now was dead silence on the phone call.

I say, "If you're done talking, why don't you just get off?" But, of course, that just proves how old I've gotten and the fact that I forgot how important it is to monopolize the telephone.

She gives me a look like I'm nuts and keeps holding the mute button down. "Mom! I want to keep talking! We just don't have anything to talk about!"

Okay. That makes sense.

In my house growing up there were seven daughters and our one mother all vying for not only one phone line, but for one actual telephone. It sat on the wall of our kitchen with a cord that had probably been about six feet originally but had been pulled and tugged by us all over the house until it was actually flattened and stretched to about thirty feet.

There was just this one phone, then, for all the boys in the world to call and ask out all my sisters on dates and then, afterwards, for all my sisters' girlfriends to call to discuss those same boys. Being one of the younger sisters, I had low priority with the phone. If I wanted to sit on the phone with no purpose at all, like Daughter was doing, the phone would have been hung up for me and confiscated.

But I'm helpful if nothing else. I glance quickly at the newspaper. "How about Justin Bieber?"

"Mom," she shakes her head, "We're so over him."

The phone calls ends unexpectedly. The line goes dead suddenly. When Daughter calls her friend to see what happened the friend says during one of the silences she just fell asleep. On top of the phone.

And with that I finally hear the words, "Okay, bye."

Have your kids become obsessed with talking on the phone or did they ever do this? Do they sit in dead silence for hours just to stay on?  Do you remember any "phone battles" from your childhood?
Do you think that kids get their phone behavior from their parents?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heat By Any Other Name

I've really tried not to write about the heat this summer. Really, what could be more boring than a blogger who lives in Arizona writing about the heat? Also, I kind of feel like I need to have a more macho attitude about it. I've lived here since 1973, folks. If I've put up with it for thirty-seven years I can take this one too.
This week, when the temperature hit one hundred fifteen degrees, the word "hot" seemed a little inadequate. Like we were saying it was hot when it was ninety - twenty-five degrees ago. For one hundred fifteen degrees there really should be a new word. Cooking terms seem strangely well suited: broiling, cooked, boiled, burned, searing. Hot isn't going to cut it anymore. 

So, since my brain is literally boiling inside my head, my skin is seared when I walk aboutside, the sun is overhead in the sky burning down at me, and, as a result, my goose is cooked, I haven't exactly wanted to do much. Well, I'll admit I DO want to drop Daughter off at theater camp every day so I manage to get her there. I DO walk in my exercise class by 9:15 everyday because I'm some kind of robot-woman. But by the time the class is over it's already 104 degrees. That's it for the day. 

In Arizona if you're interested in using your air conditioning at all in the summer and not paying eight hundred dollar monthly bills you end up having to do a lot of time of day calculations to determine if you can actually turn the unit on. We're on the free use between 7 PM and 12 Noon plan. So the house is lovely, even wintery, many of those hours. Husband chills the house down to 68 degrees because he knows what's coming after noon.

Between noon and seven all that 68-degree air has flown out of our paper-thin walls to the outside. Since Cheap economical-minded Husband only allows us to turn on the a/c on one side of the house or the other during this time period, I have to decide where I'll be, where the plants are wilting, the produce rotting, where the children are melting. And that's where I turn it on. I plop down on my bed and decide what I'll do. My main question: does it require thinking?

Some positives about this weather? Well, just in case I thought I bought too much clothes at one time or another, I'm actually going through at least three complete outfits everyday. That's good, right? Also, I'd been thinking about doing Bikram Yoga but I was worried about the 105 degree room. Now I don't have to worry. It will feel cooler than what I'm used to.

Right now? Weekend rates. Ah.

How hot is your summer turning out? Am I the only one whose brain appears to have melted away? Does anyone else live with these strange power bill calculations like we do or should I blame that on Husband?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Counting Sheep

Here's what happens on a routine night when Husband and I go to sleep. He's ready for bed. I'm ready for bed. But I have something important to do first. I have to handle my pills.

I used to just have asthma. That was really easy. I had a pill a day to take and a couple of nebulizers: one for emergencies and one for maintenance.

Then I got my brain tumor in 2001 and things got a little punchy. There's just something about having a hole in your head filled with titanium mesh and screws. Some permanent pain and some tuning in of Radio Indonesia if I tilt my head just so. 

Turns out that when you've had a brain tumor and been left with some problems a pill organizer is your best friend. A really big one.

So I have a twenty-eight-day organizer. Each month I fill up all the little boxes, which have individual doors. The asthma stuff (now two pills), the post-brain tumor stuff (five pills), the osteopenia/porosis stuff (two), aspirin, multi-vitamins - who knows what? Let's just say that the gigantic organizer my mother uses with shoebox-sized compartments is starting to look attractive.

So I shake out that night's and the morning's pills and stare at them for a minute. It takes some brain power to figure out exactly which ones I take when. This is not work meant for a sleepy woman. If I take the wrong ones, I could end up staying up all night and sleeping all day. So I pick, pick, pick through them, swallow enough to choke a horse, use the inhaler, and turn off the light.

Husband and I say goodnight. On the count of five he's sleeping. I am stunned. How dare he fall asleep so fast? I'm wide awake, staring in the darkness, waiting for one of the pills to make my eyes shut.

Despite your best efforts, do you find your body falling to pieces as you age? Any insomnia issues? Do you find you ever have to be an amateur pharmacist? Do you have a husband/partner who sleeps like a hibernating bear?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mom vs. The Remote

I discovered something alarming on our recent vacation. My kids' idea of fun TV shows to watch are basically all on the Food Network.

Seriously. Checking the TV guide, setting up our lives around the next episode of Chopped, of Ace of Cakes, of Iron Chef, of Cupcake Wars.  When forced by Husband to watch something educational, they'll turn on Discovery's Man vs. Wild. On that one the guy roasts bugs for dinner. Do I detect a common theme of eating?

Now I readily admit that I've spent about five years watching HGTV drone on and on with Househunters and Design on a Dime, Curb Appeal and Spice Up Your Kitchen, and I know those shows don't exactly have any suspense, but why are my kids so fascinated with food preparation?

Since we were spending a lot of time together and since it was vacation, I had to watch some of these shows myself. At first I was concerned. After all, I used to weigh considerably more than I do now. In the circles in which I run, the Food Network is routinely referred to as "Food Porn." Was this a good idea?

Turns out there was no problem at all. The stuff that the chefs prepare on most of those shows is totally unrecognizable to me as food. One day on Chopped the chefs had to use some fish called Aho in every dish, and they used it - as fish ribs, dried and grinded, and in other torturous preparations. And then they threw in some other stuff, like pork rinds, shaved this or that and then, I swear, jellied blech. Because of these unrecognizable ingredients, I've actually never wanted to eat anything on these shows (okay, except the cupcakes). Most of the time I wonder how the judges can stand it.

I wonder at my poor, hungry children, watching Food Network to just see something being cooked, instead of their own mother who stands in the kitchen blankly, never able to actually think of What's For Dinner? I think of Bar Mitzvahzilla, happily reading the food ads that Husband places before him as he reads the paper, Bar Mitzvahzilla's eyes growing luminous at the glossy photographs of the grocery store ads.

But the kids and I had to reach a compromise somehow. Somewhere in the vast space between HGTV and the Food Network. Finally I found it, my new favorite show: Say Yes to the Dress on TLC. Oy.

What do you get stuck watching on TV in your house? Does anyone else have kids who watch Food Network, like mine do? Are you a fan or is some of this stuff just way too complex? HGTV?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Putting the A in Awkward

The other day we were all walking down one of the quaint downtown streets of Flagstaff on our vacation - me, Husband, Daughter and Bar Mitzvahzilla. We were all pretty normal looking. That is, with the exception of Bar Mitzvahzilla. We'd made the mistake of buying him some sunglasses earlier that day and were paying the price right then. He loped along, supercool. Shades blocking his baby blues. His body built up from a summer of football training. A swagger in his step. My boy, somehow a tough cool guy. The kind of guy I would have hated in high school.

Yet one day earlier - same vacation - we were at the hotel swimming pool and he was ready to go swimming with Daughter. He sat there next to me wracked with indecision. Should he take off his shirt? Swim with his chest showing? What about those teenage girls who were frolicking in the hot tub? Was anybody watching him? I glared at him. Aren't girls supposed to be the ones who drive you nuts? My boy, somehow as insecure as a, well,  teenage girl. The kind of guy I would have liked in high school.

Then another night we all went down for an evening dip in the Jacuzzi and there I ran into my third Bar Mitzvahzilla of the vacation.

First he frolicked with Daughter in the Jacuzzi and then in the swimming pool, playing like a seal or a porpoise, I don't know. I swear he would've balanced a ball on his nose if we'd had one. He was doing acrobatics, swim racing, and then, when we got back to the room, they staged a "death by arrow" video using the arrow Daughter had bought on the reservation nearby. The kind of boy I would have liked -  in grade school.

My three sons, all contained in one fourteen-year-old boy, for one last fleeting moment before they all disappear or coalesce into one. Into the man he'll turn out to be.

Did you ever catch your kids just on the cusp between one age and another? Kid to tween, adolescent to teen? Teen to adult? Where there are flashes of the kid he or she was and the person he or she will be at the same time?

This post is part of the Bigger Picture series hosted this week by Corinne at Trains, Tutus and Teatime, where bloggers write about events which tie into the bigger themes of our lives. Please visit Corinne's blog to participate and to link up your blog!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lazy Family on Vacation

Okay, I'll admit it: we've been on vacation. I hesitate to call it that, though, because not only have we stayed in Arizona (I've previously whined about ending up in Flagstaff for this vacation) but, of course, the kids are with us. Ever feel like you need a vacation from your vacation? Ever feel like the vacation isn't that different from the rest of the summer?

Well, it hasn't been that bad. We decided to act like tourists and so went to Lowell Observatory one day, took the ski lift to the top of Mt. Humphrey another, and today we went to the Grand Canyon. For our family, this is a jaw-dropping level of activity while on vacation. Normally we're more the sleep-till-noon, too late to get our hotel room cleaned type of vacationers. And then we get to listen to our kids nag us about how we never do anything exciting on vacation. Well, we showed them.

Right after we were married, after my first miscarriage, Husband and I came up to Flagstaff, right when I thought I'd really never have children. We stayed at my mom's cabin and I moped around feeling the inadequacy of a family made up of just us two. At one point we took that same ski lift up to the top of Mt. Humphrey. It was quiet. I could hear the wind rustling in the Aspens. I remember thinking that I wasn't prepared to deal with these things that were bigger than me, or bigger than my ability. Husband comforted me, telling me that it would all work out.

And there we were on Monday, going up that same mountain in those same ski lift cars, me and Daughter in one, Husband and Bar Mitzvahzilla in another - and then going down the mountain, switching kids - me and Bar Mitzvahzilla in one car and Husband and Daughter in another. It was an experience of the differences in my kids. My daughter waiting for the lift to break into a million pieces, nearly laying down on top of me, and then my son sitting there, the stoic teen, making me think of the little boy who once pointed at all the sights he saw  - "Look, Mom! The clouds!" None of that this time.

And Husband and I, in separate cars because of the rules of the ski lift, and temporarily divided by the same children we longed for.

Do you have a history of going to a particular place, over and over again, so that your history's played out there? Are you a lazy vacationer or an active one? Ever vacation in your home state?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Midlife, Bad Wife

As Husband and I have aged, I've been waiting for him to have a midlife crisis. Fully expecting it, really. I've been on red alert for convertibles, for blondes, for suspicious behavior, for coming home with a gigantic toupee. Anything.

What I didn't expect - what completely caught me off guard - is that the only one in this family having a midlife crisis is me.

He turned fifty. Then he turned fifty-five. Not a blip on the radar screen. He's steady, he's loving, he's home every night. No convertibles, no blondes. Devoted to his family. Gets up everyday like a robot to work at our store. Impulsive purchase of the year? A spiffy new box truck for the store. Not really a midlife crisis vehicle.

But I am a different story. Through a combination of hormones draining out of my body and, apparently, pooling on the ground, and having a recent disappointment with my book, I found myself falling into a gloom of midlife despair. What was the answer? Maybe I needed to disappear to a deserted island for six months to work on my book. After all, all marriages involve compromise and maybe I'd been compromising my writing too much. Did I need to put my writing before my marriage?

When I was a kid in Chicago I had a lot of aunts, but there was one in particular who was a handful. If something popped in her head, she said it, no matter what, even if she thought one of us was fat or ugly or stupid, she'd say it. She was mean and scary. With my midlife menopause upon me, that's how I felt. Mean and scary. If I thought it, I said it. I suddenly understood what it must have been like to be this aunt of mine; to have almost no control over what was coming out of her mouth. Was it just reflecting the negativity that was playing in her brain?

Just in the nick of time my new bio-identical hormone pellets started working. I don't feel like I'm twenty again but I do feel a little more human. And I did some thinking about that agent and the fact that it's not really her fault that I imbued her with so much magic. She's no more magical than a hundred other agents.  The success or failure of my writing still depends on me. 

Now hopefully I can get back to normal. Watching out for blondes and convertibles.

Hormones acting up lately? Midlife, early life or late-in-life crisis? Do you ever find yourself blaming every thing you've never done on someone else?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Escaping From Our Kids

Last weekend something amazing happened to Husband and me. I had kind of thought we were going on a date on Saturday night but it didn't look like it was going to work out. The confluence of the stars and the planets didn't align, or something like that. Actually, our dates for the last few years have been something I never can plan. It's like  Bar Mitzvahzilla suddenly disappears on a sleepover somewhere and Daughter gets picked up by her best friend's mom and, whoosh, we're out the door, amazed at our good fortune.

But when the plans fell through this time, Husband and I looked at each other and said, "Let's go out anyway." Here's the deal: Bar Mitzvahzilla is turning fifteen in six weeks. That's older than any babysitter we ever had for both of them. Our most wonderful, regular babysitter, whom we had for years when they were little, started with us when she was twelve and Daughter was in diapers.

Of course, that babysitter was a female. Mature. She lived behind us and so her family could hop over our fence to help should something go awry, not to mention the fact that Husband and I could swoop back home. Bar Mitzvahzilla, of course, is a different creature altogether. So his twelfth year passed by and we couldn't leave the kids alone. Thirteenth and no tomato. Fourteenth and finally I could start going to my exercise class or meetings as the sun was setting knowing that Husband would be home soon.

But fifteen? Duh. We're outta here.

It's like we're waking up after a long sleep, rubbing our eyes and shaking cobwebs out of our hair, like we're Rip Van Winkles, asleep for the last fifteen years. What's happened in the world since we've been trapped in that house with those tiny tyrants? What news is there of the outside world?

We head off to our three hour date, home at ten, holding hands.

How hard is it to put yourself back on the priority list? How tempting is it to bring the kids everywhere, even when they're old enough to stay home? Have you ever had this sweet moment of freedom, or noticed its lack?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Better Version of Me

Bar Mitzvahzilla is in the summer football strength training program for the high school he'll be attending in the fall. We're carpooling with a neighbor whose son is also in the training and this neighbor and I have marvelled in the past at all the things we have in common. We drive the same car. We live in the same neighborhood. We're both from Chicago. Both of our sons were preemies but are fine now. There are other little things.

So the other day was my first time to drive her son home from training. He got in the car, pushed over some of the garbage Daughter had scattered all over the backseat and I say, jovially, I think, "This car is just like your mom's. Just dirtier."

Then Bar Mitzvahzilla looks over at me with a smug look on his face. He says, "Yeah mom, except for her GPS and DVD player."

I look at my empty dash, where the GPS should be and the roof where the DVD player should be and say, "Oh."

"And her car is spotlessly clean." The absolute joy of having a teenager! First he destroys the car by spilling every known object and food in it, and then he insults me for having a messy car. And the joy of needling me!

I look at him.

The neighbor kid, a polite person, unlike my son, pipes up from the back, "My dad can't stand for either of our cars to have a speck of dirt on them so he gets my mom's car cleaned every week."

It's then that I realize that my neighbor is actually living the better version of my life. Her car, while the same model, is highly upgraded and clean. Her husband, a neatnik, keeps it clean. She has a high-powered executive job and I am, um, whatever this is. She has a weekly cleaning lady. I have to trade Bar Mitzvahzilla time on his Xbox to get the toilets cleaned. Final proof: during the break between summer sessions, their family is going to Vancouver, which is in Canada; we're going to Flagstaff. If you don't know where that is, look at a map of the State of Arizona. It's where I-40 and I-17 intersect. Not quite as glamorous.

I drive back into our neighborhood, dejected. As we turn the corners to swing around to their house - a basement model of my one-story with about 500 more square feet - all the garbage in the back of my car shifts and crunches with each turn. There's dead silence except for the movement of the garbage.

I drop him off, make a U-turn and my kids and I make our filthy way home.

Did you ever feel that your life might be mirroring someone else's, but not necessarily in a good way? Do you ever feel like certain components of your life are evidence that your whole life is a wreck - like me and my wreck of a backseat? Ever raised a snotty teenager?