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Saturday, December 31, 2016

Bagels for Breakfast on New Year's Eve



 

Though I loved David Bowie like the brother I never had, find the Princess and her mother’s dual death rather touching, and will never be able to wear a raspberry beret without breaking into song -- from my skewed world view, I still say 2016 was as good a year as any.

My two college graduates are gainfully employed. My spouse still goes off to work every day, unearthing news stories. And I have reason to believe that my junior-at-Rutgers child is, at least on occasion, attending classes. My freelance business could be better, but we’re managing to pay the bills. We just can’t find room in the budget to get the dishwasher fixed and pray every night to be blessed with another 20,000 miles per car.

New Year’s is a time of reflection. We think about where we traveled, what we achieved and which dear friends we got to see. We remember beautiful weddings, painful divorces, baby births and college graduations. We think about those we lost. We mourn the good who died young. The not-so-good who died old. And all those who left huge holes in our hearts.

New Year’s is a time of hope. When we’re young and single, we hope to find the party of a lifetime. Or at the very least, to be positioned next to someone kiss-worthy at midnight. When we’re old and married, we simply hope that we’ll be able to stay awake to see the ball drop. And when we’re somewhere in between, we hope we get invited somewhere, anywhere, just so we have something to do.

New Year’s is a time of change. We make all kinds of resolutions, vowing to change who we are and what we do. We promise to stop overeating, stop overdrinking, stop overspending, stop meddling and stop worrying. We pledge to keep a cleaner house, organize 50 years of photographs, stop hating the dog and start writing a novel.

New Year’s is a time of guilt. It tricks us into believing we are stronger, more courageous and more flexible than we are. It points out our flaws, drives us to drink and builds us up just to let us down. It makes us feel inadequate and weak and bad about ourselves when we take that January 1st bite of a brownie or hair of the dog after driving to the gym and not going in.

But still, I buy into the bunk every year. I plan my celebration. I make my resolutions. And I eat all the junk I can hold in my ever-expanding stomach. Because I know, come 2017, I’m going to be carb-free again. 

So today, I'll eat that bagel for breakfast. Drink that bourbon with dinner. And watch that ball drop at midnight. 

And I'm going to enjoy it. Today, tomorrow and well into 2017. Because if nothing else, New Year’s has taught me that just like old minivans, old habits die hard.

Happy New Year to you and yours. 
And kids, as you look for the next best party tonight,
remember that God created Uber for a reason. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Revival of the Christmas Card




I was once the Queen of Cards. Before iPhone calendars and alerts, I had a little book in which I recorded everyone’s birthdays, checking off names after I had sent out their card. I orchestrated mailings for arrival on the big day, or maybe one day before, but never, ever late. Unless of course, I did it purposely so I could send a belated birthday card that had a sentiment perfect for the recipient.

Christmas cards were no exception. Every year, I’d go out the day after Christmas and scarf up the last of the clever cards, for half the price, to send out the following year. Every December 19th, I’d mail them, often addressing the envelopes with green and red calligraphy pens. Once I had kids, I did what so many other proud parents did. I started sending picture cards of the three little rascals poised on the living room couch with teeth-clenched smiles.
 
 And just about the time when I stopped sending those picture cards (click here to read about the last Christmas card), I decided to make a statement and stop with cards altogether. I used the exorbitant cost of a Hallmark sentiment as an excuse and now factor that money into the cash gifts I give. For instance, I no longer write a birthday check to my niece, Olivia, for $500 dollars. It’s now $504.98. (Just checking to see if the other kids are reading this.) And every now and then, if it's a special person, a big birthday or a really happy wedding celebration for which, if I did still buy cards, I'd purchase one of those ones that sing, I’ll factor in an additional $7.98.  

That being said, I really, really love getting Christmas cards. I look forward to my annual look at Tommy Landers with all those pretty sisters; Danielle D’Onofrio with all those handsome brothers; Ben and Ruby Mather, from their vacation spot-of-the-year; the Monaco menagerie, always showing just the right amount of goof; the Sexton’s with their stories of their year; the Klingner’s oh-how-they’ve-grown photo and the Santostefano’s who must be having trouble getting the dogs to pose (the canines, not the daughters), because it’s getting late and they’ve yet to show up in my mailbox.

This year on snap-happy Thanksgiving afternoon, I found myself recalling with mixed emotions how that would be always the official day on which I’d start the weeks-long process of posing the kids for the perfect Christmas card picture. I’d take a roll of film, or two, to CVS the next morning and excitedly pay the rush fee to get the photos developed overnight. Sure enough, one of the kids would have their eyes closed or tongue out or middle finger up. And I’d have to start all over again, eventually settling on a less-than-perfect picture. Then, right when things got less complicated and iPhone cameras became commonplace, I stopped sending cards altogether.

“Let’s get a family photo!” I chirped, stuffed with turkey.

I waited for the groans.

I waited for the excuses.

I waited for the protests.

Instead, they all got up and went outside.

And we got the perfect picture.

Perhaps there’s another one from years gone by, squirreled away in a big plastic container in the bowels of the basement. Or perched on the grandparent’s bookshelf in a drug store frame. But I’m not completely sure that there’s a photo of all five of us together. And certainly, not one with all of us looking like we actually like each other.
 
So, from all of us to all of you. Here's your long-awaited holiday card. 

May your Christmas be merry, your family be happy and your New Year be filled with Peace, Love and Joy.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Pregnancy is the Only Perfect Part of Parenting


 

There was a time when I was absolutely, positively certain that I would be a great mother. I knew I would raise my children with nothing but love and tenderness. I would be patient and wise. Efficient and flexible. My children would worship me. My friends would envy me. And strangers would emulate me.

I would read to my children every night without ever skipping a word.

I would sing carols while decorating the Christmas tree, letting each and every child hang their favorite ornament. And I would smile sweetly when my favorite ornament lost its life to a two year-old’s toes.

I would take all three children to the beach and let them cover me with sand.

I would be firm about fibbing and carefree about chaos.

I would be proud of their creativity when they chose hideous outfits to wear on picture day.

I would never raise my voice. Never show weakness. And never, ever curse.

I would teach them to appreciate the little things in life. And to work hard for the big things.

I would drive the old minivan in circles, day after day after day and never, ever, ever threaten to buy a two-seater sports car.

I would take all my children to the grocery store where they would fill the cart with apples and granola, passing right by the cookies and ice cream.

I would be adept at stopping my toddler mid-tantrum with nothing more than a funny face and a big bear hug.

I would raise Eagle Scouts and good Christians.

I would have family dinner every single night. And I’d never have to beg, bribe or force a single one of them to eat a vegetable.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine your life as a perfect mother before you become one.

On Sunday I went to a baby shower for my dear friend Theresa’s daughter-in-law. Sonia was beautiful and gracious, despite dueling babies (yes, plural) banging around in her bulging belly. She sat on her throne and beamed as she was gifted dozens and dozens of foreign objects – all designed to make her a better mother. There were Baby Bjorns and baby bottles, joggers and jumpers, car seats and Bumbo seats, pacifiers and pillows, swinging swings and rocking loungers, cute little Rangers outfits and teeny tiny onesies, nursing pads and breast milk bags, books, books and more books, diapers, diapers and more diapers.

Sitting amongst friends and strangers, dozens of women from all walks of life oohed and aahed, recalling their own shower experiences from 10 or 30 or 50 years ago. Some shared product opinions, some recounted birthing stories, some tossed out parenting advice and some alternately grimaced and envied the sheer volume of stuff that may one day overtake their lives. 

It was a lovely affair, as Sonia’s mother is not one to skimp when it comes to her favorite daughter. We had delicious food, free-flowing wine and lots of sweets to remind us of just how sweet it is to be carrying a baby. Or two.

We played Baby Bingo and Guess How Big the Belly Is. We unscrambled pairs of words and wrote our wishes for the babies.

And through it all, I couldn't help but think, "Sonia's going to be a great mother."

Because Sonia is organized and resourceful and practical. She's kind and generous and understanding. Plus, she's got a great resume. As a teacher, she's professionally trained in loving and caring for children.

But, at the same time, I thought, "Even Sonia can't escape what's to come."

Because it's happened to every mother in the whole wide world since the beginning of time.

Yes, one day, even Sonia will snap when she should have breathed. Yell when she should have hugged. Judge when she should have listened.  One day, Sonia will break her own rules. She will let her kids watch one more movie, let them stay up one more hour, let them eat one more cookie. She will say the wrong things, make the wrong choices and have too high of expectations. One day, she will let her kids go to bed without a bath, go to school without their homework and go to the prom with a questionable character.

As her children grow, she will doubt her decisions and question her motives. She'll yearn for solitude and solace and the freedom she once knew. She'll feel inadequate and ungrateful and guilty. And wonder if she'll ever, ever make it through.

But then, one day, at her daughter or daughter-in-law's baby shower, a long, long time from now, she'll see that same expectant glow and smile. Just like her own mother did on Sunday.

Because she will know that somehow, through the grace of God, the love of family and the support of friends she, too, managed to raise happy, kind and beautiful human beings. Despite the many, many mothering mistakes that were made along the way.






Monday, December 5, 2016

Why Does Everything Break at Once?



It all began with the car.

The transmission blew in my spouse’s 2001 sporty Toyota SUV. While it’s the oldest of all our cars, it does have the lowest mileage, hovering somewhere around 150,000 miles.  The daughter’s Honda, which is not technically hers, nor does she treat it as such, is 14 years old with the miles to match. The boy’s shared vehicle is a 2003 Acura purchased from the daughter’s college roommate three years ago when it had a mere 179,000 miles on it. And the old minivan has 161,000 miles on it and is still trudging along.

My dear dead father raised us to never buy a used car, to never trust a car with over 50,000 miles on it and to trade in for a new model every three years. My spouse, on the other hand, was raised to never buy a new car and to keep it until it died a natural death. And so, when the transmission died and the cost of rebuilding it was more than the Blue Book value of the car, I assumed we’d be purchasing a brand new zero-mileage car.

Instead, my poor father is rolling over in his grave. And I, being the good wife that I am, just bit my tongue. How can I dispute the fact that a couple (gulp) thousand dollars for a repair is easier on the wallet (or credit card as the case may be) than tens of thousands for a fancy new auto?

Meanwhile, my refrigerator which I have hated ever since the automatic ice maker broke six months after the warranty expired, picked up a new problem on top of it freezing anything on the back half of any shelf. I had been noticing ice on the floor of the freezer, but figured it was the kids knocking the freshly-filled ice cube trays over when they were home over Thanksgiving. But alas, the kids are gone and a quarter inch of frozen water continues to build up each and every day. And so, each and every day, I pry the frozen pea bag from the ice and hack at the freezer with a long-handled serving spoon, spewing sharp shards of ice onto the floor below. But, like the inconvenience of the ice cube trays (of which I fill and use four a day in the winter, eight in the summer), defrosting the freezer daily is way cheaper than getting it fixed.

Unlike the refrigerator that I purchased when we moved into our house eleven years ago, the dishwasher was already here. Like the dog we adopted from a shelter, we don’t really know exactly how old it is. But I always, always think – don’t repair, replace.

My ever-helpful spouse has always been in charge of the dishwasher, unloading it before I venture into the kitchen in the morning.  Apparently, he was consistently rewashing dishes because little particles of food were caking onto glasses and plates. So, he called the repairman. After all, a couple hundred dollars is a lot cheaper than a couple more hundred to buy a new one. When it happened again three years later, he called again. So for a year or two, we just rinsed the dishes well before putting them in the dishwasher which, in my mind, negated the need for the dishwasher at all. When the motor died over this past weekend and I woke to a note suggesting I call the repairman, I rebelled. I averred that I would rather hand wash than throw more good money after bad. And so, my hands are raw.

The very next day, the kitchen sink stopped up. The last of the kids had just left the palace and I presumed someone had stuffed something down the drain. I googled homemade remedies and used a box-and-a-half of baking soda and a bottle of vinegar to get things moving. No go. So I bought the seven-dollar bottle of Drano from CVS and by morning the pipes were clean. For six hours. Then it clogged again. I’m now waiting anxiously the hundred-dollar-plus plumber bill.

Feeling faint from financial distress, I grabbed a parmesan crisp – a carb-free snack my friend Gail taught me to make to satisfy the crunch factor while trying to lose last year’s holiday pounds. As I bit into it, something went funky along my gum line. Assuming it was just a loose cap that needed re-gluing, I sauntered into the dentist’s office with confidence. Sadly, it wasn’t a cap at all. The wiggling I felt was actually a tooth, not a cap. It had suffered a severe fracture, broken so badly it was un-savable. My options were to grind down the teeth on either side and get a bridge or do an implant. Because this is my mouth and not a shared household object, I opted for the replacement rather than the repair.

My college kid recently informed me that his laptop screen shattered. After paying an exorbitant amount of money to get it fixed, he discovered there’s something else wrong that is making it turn off and on at random times. Of course, the genius bar at Apple is stumped and the computer is long past warranty.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he said. “I can write my two ten-page papers on my phone.”

Until the phone died yesterday.

"Don't worry, Mom. I don't have to write the papers," is what I suspect I'll hear next if I don't spring for the new phone.

The upstairs bathroom sink has detached from the wall. The shower sounds like a sick whale as the water fills the pipes. The living room shades are stuck in the downward position and have to be bungee corded up when I want light. The brand new fence lost a panel when a tree crashed through it and now a wooden board is what I see when I look out the back door. The front bumper of my minivan, the inside drawer of the refrigerator and my kitchen blinds are all secured with duct tape. My desktop computer crashes at least five times a day. The light fixture on the kitchen ceiling came crashing to the floor leaving three exposed light bulbs to enhance the decor. The paint throughout my house is fading, peeling and permanently smudged with paw and hand prints. When the gutter cleaners came last week, they left an urgent notice that roof repairs were needed.
 
Meanwhile, every day another package comes from Amazon along with another bill. As well as my three children, spouse, dog, sister-in-law and sister-in-law’s beau, I have a mother, three sisters, a niece, nephew and grandniece. This Christmas, we decided that we should reinstate the give-to-everyone theme as well as picking a “stocking girl.” We fill a secret sister’s stocking with high-end knick-knacks which end up being infinitely more fun (and expensive) than the “big” gift we buy.

My father-in-law,  bless his soul,  insists we donate to a charity rather than showering him with gifts. He doesn’t have to know that we only give ten dollars (only kidding, Gramps).

And so, this holiday season, I just keep on treading water. I don't look too hard at stains on the ceiling, listen too closely to noises in the car or pay too much attention to my body's aches and pains. I just keep hoping  that every e-mail bing I hear on my phone is another job waiting to be written rather than another bill waiting to be paid.

And I just keep telling myself that if this is as bad as it gets, then really and truly, It's a Wonderful Life.