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Monday, February 23, 2015

The Importance of Baby Books and Happy Birthday, Molly!

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who has ever met her that Molly didn’t come into this world quietly.

She was a perfect baby in the making. I loved being pregnant. I didn't gain a lot of weight. I never felt the least bit queasy. And I got an acceptable amount of attention. She was due at the end of February and being that it was Leap Year, I hoped for a Leap Day birth. But, Molly started clawing her way out a week early and I as I got out of bed on Saturday morning, my water broke.

I was admitted to the hospital that afternoon and nothing happened. I stayed overnight and still nothing happened. So, Sunday morning they induced labor with Pitocin. And then something happened.

I had joked my way through Lamaze class, certain that I would be tougher than any woman who had ever given birth in all of history. I already imagined saying to the nurse, “Oh, is this all there is to it?”

Instead I said, “Give me drugs. Now!”

To which she responded, “Oh, honey. You don’t know what pain is yet. It’s going to get a whole lot worse.”

Luckily, it didn’t.

Instead, the doctor called for a c-section.

In my post-birth euphoria, I made dozens of calls, retelling the of-no-interest-to-anyone-besides-my-spouse birth story over and over again. I laughed with my sister who had delivered my niece by c-section the year before.

“Why doesn’t everyone do it this way?” I asked, still completely numb, thanks to a stiff spinal injection.

“Oh, just wait till tomorrow,” she said. “Then get back to me on that.”

I guess there’s just no avoiding it. Giving birth is a painful experience.

I kept meticulous baby book records on Molly. I know where we were when her umbilical cord fell off, what day of the week it was when she got her first haircut and have a map of her mouth with each tooth marked as it emerged from the gum.

And being a writer, I knew jotting down some of the cute things she said as a child would make for interesting reading down the road.

April 12, 1999 (Age 7)
“I get this feeling that when I grow up, I’m going to be really, really rich, or famous. Or something.”

January 1998 (Age 6)
Molly: What’s all this business with the president?
Mom: Well, some people are saying that the President has a girlfriend. 
Molly: So, what’s wrong with that?
Mom: He’s married and shouldn’t have a girlfriend.
Molly: Well, why in the world did he tell anyone?
Mom: Actually, he didn’t. She did.
Molly: Well then she’s dumber than he is!

July 24, 1997 (Age 5 1/2)
Today we were driving along and Leo kept squealing for more and more crackers.
“Leo!” I say. “You’ve GOT to be full by now!”
“Maybe he’s just doing it because he likes to see you doing things for him,” says little Miss Molly.
“Do you ever do that, Molly?” I ask.
“Yes. Like today when Max had a hot dog and I said I wanted one so you had to make one for me. And you know I only took one bite.”

November 1996 (Age 4)
We were in the toy aisle at the store and Max was throwing a tantrum wanting every truck in sight. Molly shrugged and said, “Well, Mommy. YOU made him.”

May 1995 (Age 3)
(Molly has had an imaginary boyfriend named Jason for a long time.)

Molly: Jason’s not my boyfriend anymore.
Mom: Oh that’s too bad, what happened?
Molly: He left me for another girl.
Mom: Why did he do that?
Molly: I don’t know. I guess he just realized he never really loved me.

And that was the end of Jason.

October 10, 1994 (Age 2 1/2)
Yesterday we went to Kids R Us. Molly saw the little car outside that you put a quarter in and get a ride. I had told her we were going to McDonald’s afterwards for dinner.
Molly: Mommy, can I have money for the ride.
Mom: No, Molly. I don’t have any money.
Molly: I bet you’ll find some money when we go to McDonald’s.

Then after some reflection:
Mommy, if you don’t have money, do you have a credit card?

April 1997 (Age 5)
Molly: Mommy, do you ever wish you had more time with Daddy?
Mom: Sometimes.
Molly: Well, I know how you could have had more time with him. You could have stopped after me. Just had one child and then you’d have more time.

If I didn’t have it in writing, I wouldn’t believe it.

But then, again, maybe I would. She hasn’t changed a bit.

 Happy 23rd Birthday
to my very favorite daughter, Molly!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Giving up Parenting for Lent

I was thinking I might give up parenting for Lent.

I’ve sacrificed a lot for Lent over the years. I've vowed not to eat chocolate for 40 days and 40 nights. That lasted about 40 minutes. One year I tried to stop drinking Diet Coke, but caffeine withdraw got way too ugly way too early in. I've given up potato chips and made it all the way through till Easter. But that was technically cheating because I could probably go a lifetime without craving a chip.

In years past, I’ve challenged my spirituality by reading a Bible quote-a-day during Lent. And I’ve promised to perform a random act of kindness every single day. I start out great; shoveling the neighbor’s snow, even though he refuses to acknowledge it; sending out-of-the-blue-how-ya-doing e-mails; putting $50 in Leo’s bank account (sorry Max), making a super supper for my spouse. But, by the second week, I’m all tapped out. I lie in bed tallying my good deeds and find the kindest thing I’ve done all day is feeding the dog.

I’m not great at this Lent thing. But, I’m not Catholic so I don't have to be. I know I’m not going to go to Hell if I eat meat on Fridays, I don’t have to get ashes on my forehead and I really don’t have to do or give up anything. But Lent has always given me an excuse to think about what I could or should be doing, or not doing, if only I were a better person.

Last week I came to the conclusion that there would be nothing more perfect than giving up parenting for Lent. It’s got all the elements. It’s got self-denial. I’ve been a parent for 23 years so slamming on the brakes will not come easily. It’s charitable. What child wants their parent in their business anyway? And it’s cleansing to the soul. Imagine a mind free of worry for 40 whole days!

I figured the timing was right. All three of my kids are adults in their own right. They’re all off on their own, having their own kind of fun, making their own decisions, living their own lives.

I’ve been sitting around for the past five months twiddling my thumbs waiting for my new life to happen. But, I find myself checking my texts countless times a day, half-hoping one of the three still wants me for something. I feel a distorted sense of joy when a child admits to needing my help, even if it’s purely monetary.

I was set. This was going to be the Lent of all parentless Lents. I wouldn’t worry. I wouldn’t badger. I wouldn’t ask annoying questions.  Setting them free would in turn set me free.

Oh the things I’d do with my unbridled mind! I’d tap into my creative side. I’d finish my novel. I’d read copious amount of books, and magazines and newspaper articles. And discuss them with my spouse. I’d play Scrabble and Mahjong and learn to love my dog. I’d deep-clean my house and re-grout the bathtub. I’d lunch with interesting women with great ideas for making money. And they’d follow through. I’d go on business trips with my spouse and keep journals and see lots of movies and go to the city and discover new indie bands. I’d cook fancy dinners and be the envy of all my friends. I’d be free to be me.

And then came Mardi Gras.
For a good decade, way before I was old enough to have one, Mardi Gras was on my Bucket List. I did make it to New Orleans, ironically the month before I got pregnant with Molly. My spouse and I went for the jazz festival, and while it wasn’t quite Mardi Gras, I got a pretty good taste of the drunken debauchery that appeals to a certain ilk of people.

Molly lives in New Orleans and loves every minute of it. It’s a city with many things that make her happy. It’s rich in culture, renowned in music and filled with good people, good food and great drinks.

Molly had multiple friends travel from far and wide to join her for her first Mardi Gras celebration.

And it's a good thing she did.

About day three into Carnival, I got a text from Molly’s college roommate, Julianne.

“Molly’s phone was sacrificed last night but we are all alive and well!”

Just what a mother wants to hear. Especially when her daughter is still on the family plan. And had just financed a brand-spankin' new phone for her not six months ago. When the last phone was sacrificed.

While Molly was carousing with her college friends, the UNC parents happened to be together as well. Carla and Joe were in New Jersey for business and Julianne's parents invited us over to watch the UNC-Pitt basketball game. All the other parents had caught wind of the missing phone, but Julianne, from 1200 miles away, was the only one brave enough to tell me.

I decided to play it cool and just sent a "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA" response, knowing Molly would know I didn't think it was the least bit funny. 

But hey, she's young, she's legal, she's semi-intelligent. Let her have her fun. Besides, I was practicing for Lent and not worrying. 

"We're still responsible humans though, don't worry about us," Julianne wrote a little later on.

Now, I'm no stranger to a good party, but when the pictures got posted, I had to wonder. 

Surely, that was iced tea in the two-liter bottle in Molly's hand?

And while she's always been known to be a bit spacey, I can't help but question if that is indeed Molly beneath that helmet, where she got the costume, how much she paid to wear it, and whether she got her deposit back. I didn't even let my mind go to the yard-long drink in the left hand or to the two-fisted drinker to the right.

On Sunday, our pastor actually put in a prayer for the Mardi Gras partiers and in particular, for the safety and sanity of Molly and Nick, another church member who goes to Tulane.

While the decadence is done by Ash Wednesday, or at least at the Mardi Gras level, I woke up this morning knowing I wouldn't be able to give up parenting for Lent after all.

It's just way too much fun living vicariously through my 23 year-old daughter who shares way too much of my DNA.

But I am going to give up worrying. After all, she's got that Fleur de Lis tattooed on her ankle that will surely protect her all the days of her life.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Cruise is a Cruise Till You're Home in the Snow

One short week ago I was whining about my rapidly melting strawberry daiquiri while basking in the sun on a mega-cruise ship. My friend Jean and I were debating the merits of an off-season tan. I, fair and freckled, favored Bingo over burning and blistering for color that would fade 48 hours after crossing the Mason-Dixon line. Jean, on the other hand, believes that a tan is as essential as highlighting your hair and painstakingly repositioned her lounge chair every 15 minutes to optimize the effects of the ultraviolet rays.

I am not an easy travel companion. I don't go anywhere without my portable fan. I can't sleep if I hear someone breathing. I insist on eight hours of sleep, even if that means staying in bed until noon. I wake up to go to the loo three or four times a night. And I have an annoying need to befriend everyone I meet regardless of their stature in life.

Jean has her issues as well. But none of mine. She worries about missing a plane. Or the plane going down. She worries about getting seasick or contracting Norovirus. She thinks about germs and misses her children. And she has no desire to know where the family with the matching neon shirts in the buffet line is from.

Jean is the funniest person I know. And one of the few people in the world who can make me laugh out loud until I'm gasping for breath, not to mention crossing my legs. We are similar in that we are both prone to over-doing and over-spending. And not succumbing to other people's neuroses.

This vacation could be titanically disastrous. 

It all began with Jean's English cousin, Catherine, who was planning a holiday, as they say over there across the pond. She and her friend Tracy were flying into Miami, spending a week in the Keys and then boarding the boat for a Caribbean cruise. Jean, who doesn’t get to see her off-the-continent cousin very often, and who has never vacationed without her family, got the bug in her ear to join them and then planted it in mine. 

All you have to do is suggest a cruise and I’m in. Ask me to go on a mission trip to Guatemala where my personal comfort issues may be compromised and it’s a totally different story. While the cruises I can afford are far from living in the lap of luxury, I know what to expect, when to expect it and how to prepare for it.

This would be my tenth cruise. The first one was back in my early 20s. My sister Emily who owns Travel Finesse, got great travel agent deals on cruises. We paid peanuts for the week, but the trade-off was you could get bumped for a full-paying customer at the last minute. And we did. I think I cried real tears. But eventually, we got on a Costa Cruise to Bermuda and had the time of our lives. Shortly after that, I recruited Penny (aka Patty) and we twice paid full-price for our fun, eating baskets of bread, drinking buckets of beer and flirting with bartenders who really thought they had a chance with us. 

Next up was a cruise with my sister Nancy. After fighting for position at the porcelain throne on the first night (the only nauseously rocky seas I've ever experienced),we had a great time, making friends with half-a-dozen other twenty-somethings. Nancy even had a week-long love affair. 

Then I took a cruise hiatus, got married and raised some children. The year my father died was the year the Queen Mary II launched and my mother, sisters and cousins Bonnie, Susan and Karen all went on a three-day cruise-to-nowhere out of New York. It was a little more elegant than I was used to, but people-watching was prime and we still guffaw over our favorite same-sex couple who carried a dressed doll around with them. Matching that is. To their matching outfits.

We even went on a family cruise to Canada which sealed the deal for my spouse. He enjoyed his haven at the bow of the ship where he caught the sunrise, but even that brush with beauty couldn't cancel out his disdain for organized fun and forced overindulgence.That's when he started sending me off on my own. After all, how much trouble could a couple of middle-aged women get into on a well-oiled ship? 

If only he knew.

Catherine and Tracy were the perfect people to vacation with. Neither one of them outwardly displayed any major character flaws. Like many Europeans, they travel with a vengeance. They want to do and see as much as they can and don't get bogged down with the details. Catherine is fun and personable and has no problem venturing off on her own to parts unknown. Tracy has a dry wit and an unexpected sharp tongue. Though not as exuberant as Catherine (who could be?), she kept us giggling, that is when we could understand her Londonesque lingo.

Scott from New Hampshire, by way of Massachusetts, popped into the scene and became our protector. And our enemy during the Super Bowl. Though Jean mocked him mercilessly every time he said "cah" or "bah," he followed us diligently up and down the streets in port, waiting patiently as we peed repeatedly, bargained with the natives for jewels we neither needed nor could afford and pretended not to listen to us talk about our rubbing-together-thighs as we walked the streets in our swimsuit cover-ups. Until of course, we walked him raw. 

We went to beaches in every port, even though I swore I wouldn't step foot on the sand. We took a boat over to St. John to the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. 

We went to a nude beach in St. Maarten (did not disrobe), a beach where planes soar three-feet above your head and a beach in the Bahamas where an all-you-can-drink from a coconut scam was exposed when the rum turned out to be water.

Even though there were some 3,900 on board, we ran into the same people time and time again. There was Negative Nelly from Calgary who we learned to duck. There was soft-spoken Cecilia from Oregon who didn't share our passion for cocktail hour and Latanya from Atlanta who backed away the minute we started telling stories about the liqueur that Jean bought in St. Maarten. Ryan was a pilot we met at the Mojito Bar the night before he was getting married on St. Thomas. We never saw him again. There was the adorable young couple from Louisville who asked my advice on whether to go for that third child or not. I was honest. There was the kidney doctor and his wife and the know-it-all couple who had been on so many cruises they knew all the crew members.

One day, upon realizing we had only consumed 16,093 calories, Jean and I went off to the late-night buffet. We stuffed ourselves with ice cream and pizza to bring our intake up to an even 20K. As if running into the 400-pound couple on the buffet line wasn't enough of a wake-up call, when we got back to the room, we found our room steward had left us a pig made out of towels. Another night we got an elephant.

A cruise is a cruise is a cruise. They're all so similar, yet each one takes on a character of its own. They are nothing more than a contrived week of forced fun, yet always filled with new friends and experiences. I don't know that I'll ever get tired of going on cruises.

And so, as I spent the week shoveling snow and slipping on ice, I started googling summer cruises. Then I checked my bank account. Which lead me to google Job Opportunities on Cruise Ships. But I'm not sure I want to be the ones serving the drinks or cleaning the rooms or cooking the dinners. So instead, I googled, How to Cruise for Free.

Apparently, you can. You can enter sweepstakes. Multiple ones. Multiple times. And end up on multiple mailing lists and have multiple disappointments as you lose your free trip over and over again. Or, you can try your luck with a Seminar at Sea where you speak once or twice during the week on a topic that will attract the masses. I remembered that my former next-door neighbor used to go on a free cruise every year and lecture about the Panama Canal.

Bingo! I can talk to and in front of anyone. And I've got the perfect hook.

But somehow, I don't think a seminar on Making Friends and Overindulging on a Cruise Ship is quite what they're looking for.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Time Out Parenting

The first birthday wish I got today was from my son, Max. I got a chuckle out of the greeting and thought back to the year I really did turn 40. I hadn't yet had a hip replacement, an ICU-worthy case of pancreatitis, a hysterectomy, a gall bladder-ectomy, or a double mastectomy. My knees were barely arthritic, my back rarely ached. I worked in an office, took my kids to daycare and lived in a crowded and chaotic house. Max was four years-old when I turned 40. Molly was almost six and Leo, not quite two. I think their ages alone is what made my first real vacation from parenting all that much sweeter. 

When we got married, my ever-loving spouse’s bestest boyhood buddies made me take the Wildwood Oath. I had to promise never, ever to allow anything to come between the boys and their August weekend – not  the birth of a child, the death of a distant relative or the inexplicable pang of possessiveness. Likewise, I had the Annual All-Girl’s Christmas Party with my college friends that was non-negotiable.

While a 24- or 48-hour jaunt is always fun, there's nothing like taking a five or seven-day trip. With your friends. Not your family.

The first time I did it was the year I turned 40. Thirteen of us managed to burst the bonds that tie and flew off to the Bahamas for five nights to soak up fun and sun at an all-inclusive resort. Those were the years before cell phones were the norm, but most of the mothers figured out a way to call home and talk to their kids and spouses who had so kindly granted them their freedom.  I, on the other hand, never could understand the need to check in. I’m of the theory we are much more missed and appreciated if we are not heard from.

Besides, I know how the call would go:

“How are the kids?” all too easily turns into, “Did you remember to take the trash out/finish the antibiotics/mail the mortgage payment/get the car inspected/feed the children?” 

You really don't mean to do it, but even a thousand miles can't take the nagging out of your nature. 

And then there’s the vacation-ruinous dissemination of information better left for later.

“Oh, by the way, the upstairs toilet overflowed and was pouring into the kitchen. But, I cleaned it up.”

“With what?” you ask in horror.

“Paper towels,” comes the prideful response.

“Paper towels? JUST paper towels? No Lysol? No bleach? No professional cleaning service?”

“It’s just water!”

“JUST water?”

And, there’s always the no-catastrophic but equally heart-wrenching call.
“How was the party?” you ask in reference to a Saturday celebration at Chuck E. Cheese's for your six year-old daughter's best friend.

“OK, I guess.”

“You guess?”

“I didn’t go. I sent Molly with Jenna and her mom.”

“You WHAT? You didn’t go to the party with her?”

And for the rest of the vacation you picture your poor, painfully shy daughter sneaking a suck on her thumb in the corner, all alone, afraid to ask for a slice of pizza, petrified to jump in the ball pit, eyes wide and sad, wondering what in the world she did to deserve such a frightening fate.

Or, perhaps worst of all is the home renovation call.

“I decided to paint the living room while you’re gone.”

“What color?” you ask meekly.



“Yes. It’s really bright. You’ll love it!”


“Why? Is there something wrong with yellow?”

You squint up at the big, bright, yellow Caribbean sun, take a long, long sip of your YellowBird cocktail and say, “Sounds lovely. Can’t wait to see it.”

“The only problem is, I went to two different paint stores and the walls don’t match exactly. But no one will notice.”

And when you call home, you find that there's nothing left to talk about when you do get home.

“Did I tell you about how you have to barter with all the natives?”

“You did.”

“We had the most delicious fish for dinner one night.”

“You told me.”

“One night there was a huge iguana in my room.”

“Was that the same one that was in your room on Tuesday?”

And as your spouse’s eyes start to glaze over you throw in one more tidbit just for good measure.

“So, there was this guy who was hitting on me the whole week.”

“What was he hitting you with?”

I learned long ago never to call home from vacation.

I was raised with traveling parents, as was my spouse. We value the importance of seeing the world as well as taking a break from our everyday routines. And of all the guilt that is broiled up in my simple little brain, I'm thankful that I never had the guilt of leaving my family for a few days. I am lucky I've been able to do it, and luckier still that they encourage it. After all, a happy mother means a happy home. 

And while I'm not sappy enough to say that the best part of a vacation is coming home, I will concede that there's nothing better than genuine hugs and rapid-firing children recounting the week's events, giggling with glee as they unwrap souvenirs and acting like they truly love you for a good twelve hours. 

The good spouses, like mine, don't play tit-for-tat, running out for a beer with the boys the minute you walk in the door. You know that despite the mismatched shoes on the front steps, the crunched up Cheerios on the couch and the damp bath towels in a heap on the floor, they've done their best to keep the house clean. Not for themselves, because they don't care. But because they know you do.

I got home on Saturday night from my first vacation as an empty-nester. Except for an extra foot of snow, the house looked exactly as I had left it. The kitchen table was clear. The rugs were dog hair-less. The laundry was done. And the dinner was made. 

My spouse and I sat together and ate our meal and talked about where I had been and all I had done. He asked me questions and let me tell the funny stories twice. He told me about his grueling week at work and his snowy walks with the crazy dog. I asked if he felt neglected that I didn't call him. And of course he didn't. 

It was much better to miss and appreciate each other. Because even when the kids are gone, a time out can do a world of good.