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Thursday, May 21, 2015

When The Right One Comes Along



“You gonna marry this one?” I asked as an old-one-trying-to-connect-with-a-young-one in a text a year-and-a-half or so ago.

“All I know,” Jarrett responded, because he always responds. “Is that she’s the one.”

My mother, who married my father just three months after they met, always told me that I would “just know” when the Right One came along. Because my parents were happily married until the day my father died almost 50 years later, I believed her. But I also found the concept a little hard to embrace as I doggedly searched for love in all the absurdly wrong places throughout my twenties. I met a string of handsome chaps in one seedy bar or another, feeling electricity so strong that I'd bet my britches on a diamond ring by month's end. Instead, I never got so much as a phone call.

So, while my mother’s goody-goody-two-shoes sonnet surged through my soul, my heart knew the truth. I would never find the man of my dreams. And if by chance I did, I wouldn't even know that he was the right one.

And then I did. 

As my friends and I slip slowly into upper middle-age and we begin to redefine ourselves as something more than mothers, we're suddenly faced with ample time to reflect on our choice of partners. While I have been married for 25 years and have never doubted for a single minute that I  found the Right One, my ever-loving spouse may have a different opinion. And that's where it gets tricky. But he hasn't left me yet and so have to assume that he's in for the long haul.

Lots of my friends have not been so lucky. Life happens, hearts harden and love fades. But when I think about it, so many of my friends who are now divorced, separated or muddling through misery never had that “you just know” feeling when they got married. One of my friends was so unsure of her impending doom that she engaged in an illicitly random rendezvous the night of her bachelorette party. Another fully admitted that her starter husband was chosen for his genes, and they do indeed have beautiful children. One friend was so badly burned by a former beau that she vowed  never to put herself in that position again and married someone she really, really liked knowing he wasn’t the Right One. One of my nearest and dearest simply wanted to have a double wedding with her twin sister. Her sister is still married. So is she. But not to the double-wedding husband. And then there were the friends who thought they might not find anyone better, that they weren't getting any younger and that their biological clocks were ticking. They may have been right on all accounts, but that still didn’t save their marriages.

So much of love is luck. Being at the right party the night the right person walks in. Being in the right frame of mind to open your heart. Knowing the right words to start that first awkward conversation. Knowing the right time to make the right move. 

And, when you're really, really lucky, all those rights add up to the resounding Right One. It's not a guarantee, but it's a pretty good start.

When Hayley and Jarrett got married, they said their vows with love and joy and hope in their hearts. After the ceremony, as the mint juleps flowed and friends and family mingled and meshed, all agreed that this was a union that pointed to perfect. And it was perfectly clear to all who shared in the celebration that Hayley and Jarrett knew for sure that they had both found the Right One.

So, all that's left is to wish Hayley and Jarrett a lifetime of love and luck and happiness. With a hope  that 30 years from now they are graced with the good fortune of dancing at their own children's weddings. And that they are able to share a wistful smile as they spin and dip, knowing that their happy, healthy children have also found the right person with whom to spend the rest of their days. 

Because as any parent can tell you, that is the greatest gift of all.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sixteen Weeks



A lot can happen in sixteen weeks.

I could, theoretically lose 32 pounds in sixteen weeks. The experts claim that two pounds a week is doable.

I could clean out every closet in my house, sort through the sports equipment in the basement and organize the garage. I could go through my boxes and boxes of photographs and scan them into my computer.

In sixteen weeks, I could write a novel. I did that once.

I was engaged for less than sixteen weeks. Though it took my spouse-to-be forever to pop the question, once he did, he insisted on a quick and painless betrothal period. A year-long discussion of seating arrangements and menu selections was no way to start a marriage.

Sixteen weeks was the interminable amount of time I had to wait for an amniocentesis to reveal that my babies were going to be born with all their body parts.  Sixteen weeks was longer than my maternity leaves.

Sixteen weeks is a college semester. The amount of time it takes to fail calculus, or ace creative writing, whatever the case may be. It’s how long it takes to become comfortable in a new job, a new town, a new life.

Sixteen weeks is also the length of a college student’s summer. One hundred twelve days, give or take, depending on when dorms open and close, is how many days parents are blessed with their adult children’s presence.

My friend Jean gets it.

As we watched the finale of American Idol together from different houses, we texted back and forth. Neither of us cared who won and both are secretly thrilled that we only have to endure one more season before Idol goes the way of X-Factor. But what we did care about was the mess that was about to be made of our houses.

My front porch is covered with all of Brian’s crap. 
I warned him this morning that it better be gone by the time I get home.

To which I countered that Leo had just returned from freshman year with a carload of stuff. But that Max, who is currently in flight from LA, won't have much because I refused to pay to check more than two suitcases. 

When I told my friend Maria that today was the day that summer officially begins for me, she asked if I was happy. I responded truthfully, as I always do. Somewhat. I said. To which she responded:

I love how you capture the ambivalence of motherhood. 

Her kids still have a ways to go before college. Ambivalence is a learned skill.

Max’s room is cleaner than it’s ever been. It will be that way for another five hours. Leo’s room is messier than it’s ever been. It’s been that way for 20 hours (but who’s counting) and will undoubtedly remain that way for the next sixteen weeks.  He has claimed Molly’s attic bedroom, but will be keeping his own as a storage bin.

Sixteen weeks is a long time. 

However, I am confident that sixteen weeks from now I will be lamenting the loneliness of my empty house. I’m sure I’ll be sad that I no longer have to tell the boys Every. Single. Day. to put the toilet seat down. Sorry that I will have no one to make penne vodka for, five minutes after I’ve settled in to watch Scandal, fifteen minutes after the kitchen is clean and sixteen minutes after hearing, “No, I’m good. Not hungry.” 

I will surely miss the back door slamming and the multiple footsteps pounding up and down the stairs until all hours of the morning. I will no doubt continue to look for half-empty water bottles under beds and on bookcases and will miss wiping up rings from sweaty glasses of ice water – a minimum of five separate glasses per kid per day. 

I will yearn for the days when $100 dollars of groceries lasted less than 24 hours and the washing machine ran every single day, several times. I will miss the many, many showers and the steamy, steamy bathroom and saying over and over again to put on the fan so the paint doesn’t peel. 

I will miss tripping over size 13 sneakers and picking wet towels off of bedroom floors. I will miss waking up early every day to make sure they are on time for their jobs even though I have to pretend that’s not why I’m up. I will miss forking over 20 dollar bills for one-dollar bagels and sleeping with one ear open until I hear the car door slam.

I will miss talking with them about nonsense and talking with them about the future. Which to them, is often one in the same. I will miss their laughter, their loudness, their friends and their folly.

But I will rest easy knowing it’s a mere sixteen weeks until they descend upon our solitude once again.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Why We Do What We Do



Dear Momma,

             I remember my junior year in high school when we found out you had cancer. I remember the after-dinner conversation when you broke the news to us, and I remember sneaking away that night to cry into my pillow. The months that followed were difficult for me. After school, in the stands, and on the phone I would hear you telling all my friends, girlfriends, teachers, coaches and deans about your diagnosis like it was the hottest gossip since Molly’s first boyfriend. You would excitedly tell all my teammates in the car you were getting a new set of perky breasts.

You thought I was embarrassed.

           You were the PTA president. You were with me on all of my field trips growing up. You were such a fixture with Ms. Claire at the Little League Field that you two deserve a statue outside the canteen. Between Molly’s cheerleading competitions, Leo’s baseball games and my basketball tournaments, your Saturdays were regularly sixteen hours long. Always furious about how off schedule you were, you would drive from state to state to support us- and make it 10 minutes early to every event without ever breaking the speed limit. No matter how many times I told you that you didn’t have to come to my games, you still showed up.

You thought I wanted to get rid of you.

           When I would be playing Xbox you would call to me (often more than once) that it was time for dinner. You asked what girls I liked, what my friends were up to and where the party was knowing all you would get out of me was a “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know.” I would stuff my face, leave the plate where it sat and run back to my games.

           No friend or girlfriend ever left our house without a full stomach or a ride home. After school you would transport entire teams to practice, many times making multiple trips. For months during my senior year you spent more time with a classmate of mine then you did with me, helping her finish high school strong and dragging her through her college applications. In fact, you probably filled out six or seven FASFA applications and you only have three children. You offered rides after parties and money for McDonalds to all 10+ of your informally adopted children. I would roll my eyes when friends I brought around for the first time told me how great they thought you were.
You thought I wasn’t thankful.

           Maybe there were times I wasn’t thankful. Maybe there were times I did want to get rid of you and maybe there were times you did embarrass me. But you were always there. Rain, sleet, hail or snow you were at every baseball game gleefully putting together chants that got all six fans in attendance excited. You would travel across state lines and into the worst neighborhoods to watch me play basketball and you were at every graduation, ceremony, banquet and awards dinner.

           When I had girl problems you always asked what was wrong but only made me go as deep as I was willing to share. When my friends and I would leave empty liquor bottles in the basement you would always scold me with a smile on your face. When I had to tell Pops how I spent my 20th birthday you were sitting there next to me to hold my knees from shaking.

           No matter how often I sucked my teeth, you were fearlessly selfless throughout my adolescence. You attended every parent-teacher conference for your kids for 16+ years and hearing about our academics isn’t your definition of fun. You would and still do text my friends just to say hi. I mean you would make handy-dandy travel packets for teams your children didn’t even play on. At the time I was too young to think twice about those packets, but seven years and a million trips later, I know how much effort those things took to make.

           I know how grueling it was raising three kids and their 100+ friends. I know how exhausting it was doing everything you did without much of a thank you from a lot of people. I know how hard you worked to raise your three kids into smart, independent, hopefully successfully children.

                                        You’re my Superwoman.

No matter how many miles apart we are I’ll never forget all that you’ve done for your children, my friends and our community. You’ve asked us to be high character young adults and you’ve set a wonderful example.

If you thought I was embarrassed of you, I wasn’t. You were and still are the most loving parent I know, and I didn’t know how to embrace that before.

If you thought I was trying to get rid of you, I’m sorry. I truly have no idea where I would be without you.

If you thought I wasn’t thankful then let me now, from the bottom of my heart, say thank you.

THANK YOU.

Thank you for everything. I’m so proud of all that you’ve done. I’m so blessed to have such a wonderful woman in my life. I’m so impressed at the resume you’ve accumulated over the years. And I’m so, so honored to call you my mom on this holiday. This is your day. Please, take a bow.

Happy Mother’s Day.

I love you. We all love you.

Your favorite child,
Maxwell Francis.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Mistakes Mothers Make




In the midst of the worst terror attack in our nation’s history, I left my kids to fend for themselves. As I watched the twin towers come down with a bunch of strangers in a service station, my three kids waited at school wondering when I would show up with the other panicked parents. I thought about it, I really did, but I was afraid to overreact and be labeled one of “those” parents. As it turned out, that’s exactly what I was.

When I met the school bus that afternoon, my wide-eyed kids asked why “everyone” except them got to leave school early. I responded with an endless loop of junk food and Disney videos in the basement while I stayed glued to CNN, trying to make sense of the day’s events and my poor parenting skills.

In subsequent years my friends mocked me mercilessly, wondering how a PTA president and pillar of the community – who worked from home, no less – could have left her children on that fateful day. I simply shrug my shoulders and thank my lucky stars that they don't suffer from abandonment issues.

Sadly, that was far from the last time that I made a questionable mothering move. Some have had positive lasting effects. Some negative. And some remain to be seen.

Mothers have a lot of power. And I always knew that I could change the course of my kids’ lives with my motherly advice. And did. I took Molly, kicking and screaming to visit the University of North Carolina when she knew beyond a shadow of a Blue Devil that she was going to Duke.

I urged Max to live out his football dream and go to Rowan University where he knew he could play. I also told him that nothing is forever and that if it didn’t work out, he could transfer.

“You mean I could transfer to USC or UCLA?” he asked.

“If you can get in, you can go,” I said, confidently believing he’d never make the grade. But he did. And we’ll be paying for the University of Southern California for the rest of our lives.

Perhaps the biggest game-changer of all was not making Leo visit a single college. He went to Rutgers University to play baseball and found that he didn’t want to spend the next four years of his life as a Division 1 athlete. Instead, I watch from the sidelines as his persona, long suppressed by a baseball glove, explodes before our very eyes.  

I joined the PTA, I ran the Little League. I fed the football players and I made Handy Dandy Trip Packs for the baseball team.  I went apple picking a hundred and thirteen times.  I was a Reading Buddy and Picture Day Lady. I ran the Book Fair and Field Day. I rode a bus with a bunch of cheerleaders to Myrtle Beach and drove everywhere from Rhode Island to North Carolina for baseball, basketball and football combines. I sat in the rain, in the snow, on metal bleachers in freezing cold and unbearable heat. But I never gave them flowers or candy grams or purchased lawn signs or full-paged ads in year books.

I dragged three kids to the grocery store every single week until they were old enough to stay home alone. I also took them to every museum and zoo and library and playground in a 50-mile radius. Not with the intent of enriching their souls, but to kill an afternoon.

I made my oldest child come home at 10:30 at night all through high school because I went to bed early. I changed my sleep schedule for the middle one and never bothered waiting up for the youngest.

I have replaced multiple broken, lost and mistreated phones, living with an outdated model myself so one of them could have the upgrade.

I paid exorbitant fines for one child, sat in court with another and am still waiting for the day I post pail for the third.

Having an aversion to blood and gore, I counted on my friend Claire when Max needed stitches. But, I bet I sat through 100 physical therapy sessions with Leo in the years that he was rehabbing his torn labrum.

I short-order cooked. I made chicken and spaghetti and burgers and fries all in one night. I didn’t make my kids eat vegetables. I let them eat ice cream whenever they wanted. I had about four family dinners a year, and that was only when I’d start feeling guilty after spending time with my friend Jean who cooks every single night.

I made Molly get confirmed as a Presbyterian. I entered Max and Leo into the Tony Hargraves School of Religion that says, “If God wanted them to go to church, he wouldn’t have made them athletes.”

I look on my credit card bill and see gym memberships, iTunes, X-box, Spotify and Netflix subscriptions. My cable bill gets higher every month. They order beauty products and school books from my Amazon account . And yet, I don’t change my password. Instead, I’ve been known to slip a dollar or two into their Venmo accounts, remembering how nice it was to get that five dollar bill once a semester from my father when I was in college.

Caring neither for Catholicism or the cost it incurred, I still let Molly go to Paramus Catholic, so she could be an award-winning cheerleader. I didn’t say, “I told you so,” when she begged to go back to Teaneck High School after one semester. And, I let Max go to the Bergen Catholic open house, knowing I would never, ever make that mistake again. Leo never asked.

I bought a push mower under the guise of wanting more exercise, but the truth was, I wanted to protect my teenage boys from the wrath of their father when another day passed and they hadn’t cut the lawn. I allowed my daughter to watch the Kardashians from the couch on snowy days because “girls don’t shovel.”

I welcomed their friends into our home, even the ones I shouldn’t have. I ignored a beloved girlfriend sneaking out the back door at dawn and half-empty liquor bottles stashed in the bushes on prom night. I knowingly watched Molly get in a car with a boy who was as high as a kite but cute as a button. I let Max take the car to Wildwood for senior week, which went against every fiber of my being. But no one else was allowed to drive.

I let Max take off three weeks of baseball two years in a row to go to summer camp in Maine. I didn’t let Leo take off baseball for any reason. I begged Max not to give up basketball when he was in high school.  I didn’t beg Leo not to give up baseball in college.

When Molly announced she wanted to go to Thailand this summer to “find herself,” I said, “It’s about time,” and bought her a plane ticket for Christmas.

I picked my kids up at the bus stop every single day and stayed at my friend Claire’s house until dinner time. We organized a homework club, letting any wayward kid into the house, knowing it had very little to do with the kids and everything to do with my need to socialize.

I yelled.

I screamed.

I cursed.

I compared myself to every other mother in the universe and came up short every time.

I did the right things for the wrong reasons and the wrong things just because they were easier.

I didn’t always agree with their decisions, let alone mine. I turned a blind eye when I shouldn’t have, listened without hearing and taught them not to worry about money. Mom will always bail you out.

But it took my own mother to put it into perspective for me. She’s about as perfect a person as one can be. Yet, even she thinks she made her share of mistakes along the way. “As mothers, we do what we think is best for our children at the time,” she said. “We all just do the best we can.”

My three kids know they don’t have a perfect mother. They know my shortcomings, they know my weaknesses. But, most importantly they know that I will always, always have their backs. That is, as long they keep my name out of their next heart-felt tattoo.



Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend



For no other reason than she wanted to, my mother bestowed upon me, and each of my sisters, a piece of her dead mother’s jewelry at a family dinner one night. There was a strand of pearls, a sapphire ring, a gold tennis bracelet. But I got the grand prize – Nanny’s engagement ring. Not only was it a beautiful diamond, but it went right to the place in my heart where my beloved grandmother still lived. 

Following the presentation the usual chaos and commotion ensued. The four of us sisters were all agog, ogling and coveting each other's family jewels.

“What if I lose it?” I asked, kiddingly.

“You better not lose it,” my mother replied, not kiddingly.

The ring had a hinge that opened so it could slide over my grandmother’s arthritic knuckles. The hinge was broken so the ring couldn’t be worn until I got it repaired. So, I slipped the diamond back into the slot in its deep-blue velvet box and into my pocketbook, fiddling it with my fingers every few minutes.

Dinner over and giddy with my gift; my spouse and I headed off to my sister Nancy and her husband, Pete’s house, where we would spend the night. I placed the ring on top of a high chest in our makeshift bedroom and went to sleep dreaming of my grandmother.

After showering the next morning, I peeked into the box, still beaming over my good fortune.

The bile rose.

The ring was gone.

I took it in my usual stride. I flipped out.

“WHERE IS MY RING?” I roared, reducing my four year-old niece, Olivia, to tears. Her younger brother Harley looked at me blankly, while Molly, my three year-old, shrugged and toddled off after her cousins. Max, still a babe in swaddling clothes, howled in the kitchen from his baby-blue bouncy chair.

I flung open drawers, crawled across floors, stripped beds and clutched my racing heart.

“You better not lose it,” ran like a tape recorder in my brain. “You better not lose it. You better not lose it.”

I didn’t lose it. Someone clearly took it.

I narrowed my eyes, my stomach still lurching and kept pounding away at the toddlers.

“Where is my ring? It didn’t just get up and walk away!” I bellowed.

I tried a new tactic. “Whoever finds my ring gets an ice cream cone! And candy! And a puppy!”

No one budged. Nor did any of them pay very much attention to me at all.

Meanwhile, to add to my angst, six month-old Max, still in his bouncy chair was becoming audibly more distressed. I screamed to my spouse as Max screamed louder. But alas, he was outside, patching the roof with Pete.

“Oh, stop!” I yelled at poor little Max.

He cried louder.

I felt bad. But not bad enough.

I continued on my heart-pounding pursuit through the house, opening closets I never knew existed, shaking out toys I’d never seen played with, cursing in tongues I never before spoke.

I picked up the kitchen phone and dialed my sister Emily.

“The ring is gone,” I screeched louder than Max.

“What do you mean, gone?”

“Gone. The box is empty.”

“Nancy stole it,” she said simply.

“Oh, please.”

“You probably put it somewhere and forgot where you put it.”

“I wouldn’t have opened the box, taken the ring out and put it somewhere. I would have moved the whole box.”

“Did that crazy neighbor come over?”

“I don’t think so. I was in the shower.”

“Then one of the kids stole it.”

“They couldn’t have. It was up too high.”

“Well, that’s what you get for getting the best piece of jewelry.”

I slammed the phone down as the kitchen door slammed shut.

“Find your ring?” Pete asked nonchalantly.

“How did you know it was missing?” I asked, eyes narrowing.

“The whole neighborhood knows it’s missing,” he grinned.

I sneered.

Pete dried his hands and tossed the dish towel on the counter.

“Hot out there.”

I curled my lip.

“Oh, be quiet!” I yelled again at my poor little baby.

“I got him,” Pete said, lifting Max and tossing him into the air.

“Hey, look!’ Olivia squealed as she hovered over Max’s bouncy seat, Harley and Molly right by her side.

There, shining up at me like the North Star, was my diamond ring.

I snatched the ring, grabbed Olivia by the waist and spun her around with glee.

“I put it there!” she said proudly.

“You did not; I did!” Harley sang.

“Me, too!” Molly clapped.

Max stopped crying and my spouse, still up on the roof, never needed to know that I had forsaken our gem of a son all for a little bit of bling.