A Story of a Marriage

It was 1985 and I was just shy of my 25th birthday. I was living in Philadelphia, where I had created Morgan Calabrese and penned the weekly comic strip for a handful of of queer papers around the country. My day job was designer for a Main Line party planner for ridiculously low pay and insane hours. (It remains, weirdly, my favorite job.)

It was on that job that I met Kate Bornstein. Years before she became known as the gender outlaw, the two of us connected over art and politics and the impossible coincidence of having occupied the same apartment, one after the other. (I was still receiving utility bills in her dead name).

Unlike New York, Philly in those days didn’t possess a single all-night cafe (no really – we looked), but we stayed well into the morning hours, night after night, in whatever cafe would have us, and over countless coffees, conceived of a women’s performing arts company. (We called it a “feminist evolutionary arts ensemble” but hey, we were young and it was the 80s.)

Over the next few months, we launched our first production. To help with casting and possibly, to stage manage, Kate wanted to bring in someone she knew from NYC, who happened to be between shows.

Sue came on board and instantly meshed with our all-night cafe and art/politics habit. As she needed a place to stay while in Philly, she ended up with a room in the the large Germantown house I shared with a half dozen lesbians and a revolving cast of girlfriends.

The two of us worked every day, rehearsed for hours every evening, then stayed up all night to talk. We were somehow able to do this for weeks functioning, without sleep, on caffeine and creative energy alone. Our conversations never faltered, never lapsed into awkward silence. We never ran out of things to talk about and never tired of our talks together. It was time compressed; we packed years of aquaintance into those several weeks. We became great friends.

Then we fell in love.
Serious love. The kind that bitterly resents the intrusion of mundane obligations that made us part ways for even a few hours. The kind that, all the same, doesn’t miss a beat over distance or time, but picks up as if there’d never been any interruption.

Sue is the shaft of sunlight that breaks across my shuttered gloom. She’s the soft ground I return to after a new enthusiasm has me untethered and drifting into power lines. She’s the adorable goofball on the dancefloor when my vanity makes me too self-conscious to just have fun.

We lived together almost from the day we met. 34 years later, we’ve never been apart.

Life has made it’s demands. Sue left theatre for the regular, if inadequate, paycheck of social work. I continued to do art – but of the commercial, client-centered kind, rather than the kind that kept me up at night, stewing in passion and energy. And always, it’s supplemented by a Faustian-bargain day job that’s meant to make pursuing art possible but leaves no time or bandwidth for it. Our struggle with money has never for one moment relented.

From the beginning, we dreamed of having kids. For years, we played a sort of Mr Potato Head, combining and recombining our favorite parts of ourselves onto our imagined kids. And for years, we held off, waiting for the time it made better financial sense. Until it became clear that it never would. Ten years after we met and privately exchanged vows and rings at a women’s music festival, Sue became pregnant with my brother’s donated sperm.

And lo, our son and daughter look like the best of both of us. They mirror us in their talents, and quirks, and flaws, and in their very best qualities (of which they have a very great many). I have been fortunate to have known great love – but it did not prepare me for the intensity of the love I feel for these two beautiful humans who call me “Ima”.

They are young adults now; our daughter, our baby, is just days away from leaving home for a year in Europe, before starting college. When I allow my mind to touch on this fact, I can’t breathe. Even as I write this, I feel my eyes tear, my lower lip tremble, my throat close. “No!”, I want to scream. “Do-over! It was all too fast!”

There is no happily ever after. There’s sometimes hardship and discord. We’ve grown up together, but we’ve also changed as we’ve grown and so there is negotiation and navigating the unfamiliar.
And every day, we get up again and make it up as we go along. Because that’s what marriage is.

Back to School at the Mall

Back to School at the Mall

Wild Child and the Diva are headed back to school. When they arrive for their first day in a higher grade they will be kitted out in new outfits that say to one and all, “this is who I am this year”. I imagine it’s the same for kids across the country; they’ve grown over the summer and not just in shoe size, so they’re gearing up to start again as a new and improved version of themselves.

It begins with the back-to-school shopping trip. These days, we buy everything from pillows to power tools online but, come the end of summer, with growing kids in tow, we head to the mall like running salmon because there’s no online substitute for “*sigh* Go in and try it on”.

I hate malls. I hate what they represent, hate their climate-controlled artificiality, the pseudo bargains, the foot-tenderizing acreage, and the crowds. Even so, shopping with the Diva is a blast; with Wild Child, there are really good moments. But with the both of them . . . well thank god, it’s only once a year because it easily shaves that much off my life.

Fifteen seconds over the first threshold, Diva kicked things off by loudly proclaiming her disgust at the garment industry’s insistence on adding pink to everything made for girls. In store after store, rack after rack, carrel after carrel, she sucked her teeth and “tutted”, her fashion sense mortality offended.

“This one’s nice”, I say to her. “Yes,” she says, simultaneously cocking her left hip and her right eyebrow “except they just had to slap a peace sign on the front of it.” Okaaaay. Last year, peace signs were “oooh, so cute!” but I make a mental note; no pink, no peace signs. This turns out to be easier than expected because at ten, she’s already so tall that she can no longer wear girls’ clothing. Now while I could hardly be described as a prude, I note that many women’s fashions are really not meant for ten-year-olds. Naturally, it’s precisely these that she prefers. “Oooh!” she exclaims, like she’s just found a stray kitten, “isn’t this adorable?” “What? Where?” I say, “I don’t see anything. Oh that – I thought that was a couple of loose threads.” This earns me several moments of aggrieved silence.

Meanwhile, Wild Child is venting his boredom by crawling around on floor and hiding in the clothes racks. “Hey Iiiiiima – you can’t seeee me.” For his part, he made it clear he would consider nothing but t-shirts and he played skateboard with the cart until we made our way to those racks. For him, if it glows in the dark, smells like cookies when scratched or references video games or annoying sisters, that’s the shirt for him. And a hat. He’s got to have a hat. One of those gawd-awful hip hop hats that perches on one’s head like Papa Bear’s cereal bowl. There’s just no way to get through to him that as skinny as he is, the effect is . . . not really what he’s going for.

Which brings us to jeans. I have a pair of beanpoles; skinny jeans are kind of a cruel joke. “Do you have these in slim sizes?” I ask the sales associate. She looks baffled. “Nooo, they’re skinny jeans.”
In and out of the dressing room we go, my son’s tenuous grip on himself visibly unraveling. “Okay look,” I say to him, “try these ones.” He stands there. “Ima, those are girls‘.” “Yes, I know, but they don’t look like girls’ and they’re skinnier than the boys'”. “Ima…” his eyes shift left, then right. I’m starting to unravel a bit, myself. “Just try the damn things on – they don’t look any different.” Shoulders hunched, he slopes back to the dressing room. They fit. They look good. Great, in fact. And no pink anywhere.

Diva, meanwhile, has found the sneakers for her. The child who has grown three shoe sizes in five months wants a $75 pair of kicks. I calmly explain that such a purchase is madness. She’s thoughtful for a few moments. “How muchwere you going to spend on shoes?” “I was hoping about half that.” She smiles. “Well then, you spend that much and I’ll use my allowance for the rest. I really, really love them.”

Later, as she’s cooing over 3 inch heels, my son sidles over to me. “Ima,” he says quietly, “I don’t mind that they’re girls jeans.” “No?” “No. But, you said it so everyone could hear.” “I embarrassed you.” He nods. “You kinda do that, you know.” Mm. “I apologize. I will try not to do that.” He nods again. “Okay. Thanks.”

Yep, kids grow over the summer.

Fast Food

Fast Food

The other day, I made food that both children ate. Such is my life that this is noteworthy and cause for some degree of celebrating. The kids liked it, I loved it, and my spouse loved me just a little bit more for making it. Upon hearing about it, a number of friends have asked that I post my recipe in this blog. It seems like a reasonable use of the space, so here goes.

First, credit where due: The original recipe for Cambodian chicken & pineapple stew came from Jillie69, posting on Allrecipes.com. Since I do not measure and can’t leave anything well enough alone, I have modified it. My version follows:

After retrieving them from school, drop the kids at the house with instructions to attend to their chores while you are at the store.

Head straight to the store with your nicely organized list. In the produce section: Grab one bunch of green onions, a handful of jalapenos and a ginger root. Hmm. What if your daughter doesn’t want the stew? Add a salad backup.

Meats: Boneless chicken breast. You’ll need two for the stew but you may as well get the big family pack because god knows, you go through it and the price is better in bulk.

In the “Ethnic Foods” aisle: Wait. Was that the cereal aisle? The kids have been complaining about the cereal choices at home. Pick up a new box of something. Now that you’re thinking of it, is there going to be enough milk for the cereal? Probably not; grab a gallon.

Oh, pet food. Right, the cat is down to a single can of food and you don’t want to have to run out in the morning so you’d better get some more of that, as well.

Where were you? Ethnic foods. Two cans of coconut milk, Thai red curry paste, curry powder, Thai fish sauce. Crap, they haven’t got that. Over in pasta and sauces, pick up a can of anchovies to substitute.

Canned fruits: A can of pineapple tidbits. Oh, the little fruit cups are on sale. Add a few of those for kids’ lunches. Wait; weren’t pears on sale too? Back to produce for fresh pears. Now back to canned fruits to return the fruit cups still in your cart.

Okay, assuming there’s still some vinegar, sugar and chicken broth at home, you should be all set.

At home, honk the horn to alert the children that you need help carrying in groceries. When no response is forthcoming, carry them in yourself.

Observe that the TV is on, the carpet un-vaccuumed, the trash baskets full, and the dogs about to explode. Do not stop to holler as you now have only 18 minutes to prepare the soup before dance classes; holler over your shoulder and keep moving.

In the kitchen, drop everything on the table. Heat a skillet with a tablespoon of oil over a high flame while you cut 2 chicken breasts into chunks.

Make 2 cups of white rice, however you usually do that.

Toss the chicken into the skillet and don’t panic about the 18 inch flames, because they’ll burn themselves out and fortunately, your son didn’t see them. Don’t overcook the chicken; it will continue to cook even after it’s off the stove so leave it a tiny bit pink.

Chop up 2 jalapenos. No, three. Wait. No, your daughter won’t eat it that hot. Fish some of it back out. Okay, 2 jalapenos, 2 to 3 garlic cloves, a tablespoon of peeled ginger roo

GET THE DAMN CHICKEN OFF THE STOVE!

Put the chicken on a paper plate and put the chopped stuff in the skillet.

Check the time.

Saute the chile and garlic stuff ‘till it’s soft. Put it into a blender along with both cans of coconut milk, 2 cups of chicken broth, a tablespoon each of vinegar – who cares what kind? It’s vinegar – and fish sauce (or a wee can of anchovies). Add at least 2 tablespoons of red curry paste and about half as much curry powder. Add a couple of teaspoons of sugar. Blend the crap out of it. Yell over the blender to your child to put on dance clothes and shoes.

Pour the blended stock into the rice pot. Add the chicken. Drain the pineapple tidbits and add them. Stir and leave it all on the stove while you go break up a fight in the other room. By the time that’s done, the stew will have thickened nicely.

Serve with chopped green onions as a garnish….you didn’t chop any green onions? Serve it without the damn things, it’ll still be the best thing you ever ate.

A Same Sex Marriage

I’m going to be attending a wedding soon, between a couple of very good friends (actually, I’ll be performing the ceremony *blush* but that’s another story). It’s naturally gotten me to thinking about my own marriage.

the_kiss_sm

My spouse and I will shortly be celebrating our 26th anniversary. The 25th was supposed to have been a really big celebration and there was even talk of a cruise but, when the time came, we were trying to come up with the mortgage, one child had just started in a new school… It goes like that. I’m pretty sure we managed to exchange flowers from Trader Joe’s but I can’t swear to it. Okay, it was not memorable. But it was okay, you know? It’s another year later and we’re still at it.

Once you’ve passed ten years or so in a relationship, you become something of a public resource. “Wow,” people say, eyes widening, “what’s your secret?” Now, I typically respond “I married someone with infinite patience”. It’s flip, I know, but there’s a good deal of truth to it as well. I mean, in many cases, that’s longer than you have to put up with parents. Only sibling relationships have greater longevity but you no longer have to share a bedroom with them. Yep, infinite patience is a valuable component in any long term relationship. Beyond that, there’s not much advice I can give because it’s all new to me. Really. I can tell how we did things up to this point but as of today, I’m as new to it as the next person. Each day brings new challenges, like making the mortgage, getting the kids into bed, being stranded in a vast forested region of Pennsylvania with a car that has died for the last time. (incidentally, if you can navigate that one without screaming at each other, dissolving into helpless sobs or vowing to leave everyone right there and walk home, dammit, your prognosis is pretty darn good).

Parents get this a lot, as well. As though having staggered your way through raising a toddler has prepared you in even the slightest way to raise a teen. It just aint so. We’ve managed. We’ll probably manage tomorrow. We’ll make an ungodly mess of things and go to bed hoping that tomorrow, we’ll try not to holler at the kids, we’ll try to remember to call when we get held up, we’ll try, by good, to mow the damn lawn. But on balance, we’ve done alright. We still love each other even if we’re less demonstrative than we once were, we’ve raised two kids who are awesome and smart and good and who know that Michelle Bachman is a whack job and only slightly less so than the people who think she’s presidential material. They’ll do alright. They’ll probably even do better than us. So that’s okay then.

Oh, and those friends who are getting married? Very sound prognosis, there. Some very deep, mature love going on there. A solid dose of infinite patience, as well. And after all, they have some experience

 

The Funnest Camp Ever

The kids went into full hysteria last week at the mall when they spotted a display of backpacks. Printed above the display, in something like 500 point type was “Back to School”. My son immediately began shrieking and keening in wordless melodramatic anguish. My daughter, for once, did not tell him to shut up and stop acting like an idiot in the store. “But we’ve only had two months,” they both protested. “TWO MONTHS, and it’s all gone and we didn’t get to do ANYTHING!” And so began a new round of their summer-long complaint about “having” to go to camp.

Never mind that it’s only day camp and that they make new friends there and reconnect with last year’s; never mind that their days are spent swimming, fishing, playing kickball, volleyball and field hockey. Or that a major field trip is part of every weekly program – complete with a ride on a motor coach. Or that they come home day in and day out with tie-dyed T-shirts, gimp bracelets, and photos of their (now, alas, sunken) entry in the cardboard boat competition. That they are freckled and tanned, respectively, and covered with hard-fought scrapes and banged-up shins and it’s all such a terrible burden on them. As a working parent, I’m not open to suggestions that they just stay at home, they can take care of themselves. They can. Really. Why don’t you trust us? Which camp they attend is negotiable; attendance itself is not.

I’d tried pointing out that the alternative – what we called one year “Camp Ima” – was a disaster. Oddly, this is not how they remember it. I’d taken the summer off and we’d made a list of all the cool things we could do and designed our own summer camp. Among the things we would do: Learn archery, build a cob oven, raise a vegetable garden, swim in a nearby river, go for bike rides along the rail trail. We’d make videos to share on YouTube, create shadow puppets and cook meals together from our very own family cookbook. Good god, what was I thinking?

The first day of Camp Ima found me vainly trying to get the kids out of bed. After approximately an hour of this, I found that I no longer wanted them to get out of bed. When they did finally drift downstairs, they were already fighting. Our first activity of the day was mediation and blame assignment, after which we repaired to the back yard for the first archery lesson. I began with the safety lesson. I must have laid it on a bit thick because when I finished and handed my son the bow, he shrank and cowered and wouldn’t touch the bloody thing. Diva crossed her arms, sucked her teeth and asked if she could go to her friend’s house.

The next day’s bike ride had to be cancelled due to the kids having left their newly tuned bikes lying in the front yard, from which they were promptly stolen. Instead we did “sign painting” and posted pathetic and ultimately useless appeals to please return our bikes around the neighborhood.

Vegetable gardening got off to a somewhat more promising start. Both kids enjoyed going to the garden center for the spindly little starts we would use and to pick out gardening gloves. “Now,” I said, as I loaded everything into the car, “when we get back, we can’t just stick these things in the ground – we’ll need to get the garden ready for them.”  “Okay” they said, cheerfully.

“Alright”, I said, when we were assembled at the edge of the garden plot, “first we need to loosen the soil, then mark our rows, then build up the rows…” “LET GO! IMA! HE WON’T LET GO OF THE HOE!” “WELL, HOW COME SHE GETS THAT ONE?!” “STOP IT, YOU IDIOT! *smack*

I did manage to get a garden planted that year, while the kids watched TV.

As the summer progressed, it transpired that my son recused himself from any activity that involved touching anything moist, squishy, dirty, sticky, gooey, limp or vaguely defined as “ewey”. My daughter positively reveled in all those textures but wouldn’t stick around long enough to do anything beyond squeeze the dough, throw dirt clods or let the raw egg ooze through her fingers. We completed not a single project, wrote off any number without even attempting them, and spent almost every minute bickering.

In spite of this, as this past summer approached, the kids begged me to do Camp Ima again. “Why?” I said. “You hated it.” They both looked shocked. “What!? It was great!” “Yeah, remember our garden?” “And cooking dinner for Mumma every night?” I stood there, dumbfounded, as the two of them launched into a giddy recounting of a golden, laughter and adventure-filled summer I did not recognize. Both kids draped themselves around me and hugged. “Please, Ima? Let’s do it again this summer?” “Yeah Ima,” my daughter said, “Camp Ima was the funnest camp, ever!”

On Becoming Ima

We’d been together ten years before we got talking seriously of having kids. We’d always planned on children, but we needed to work out the when and the how and – unique to lesbian parents – the who.

Over those years, we’d frequently played something akin to Mr Potato Head, taking our favorite parts of ourselves and sticking them onto our future children: “She’ll have your legs.” “Okay, but your sense of humor.” “He’ll be really smart.” “But I hope he gets your hair.” Etcetera. We had talked often and at great length about our values and our views on discipline, education, creativity and chores, enough to know that we were well in sync. We had not discussed what our children would call us.

​”Mom” and “mom”, beside being impractical, sounds, well, stupid. As we are neither hippies nor teenage babysitters, having our children address us by our given names was also out of the question. I have always wanted kids. I used to drive around conversing with my imaginary two-year-old, six-year-old, preteen. (I see you singing along to Prince in your car so don’t throw stones.) In all those imagined conversations, my child called me “mom”. I so looked forward to being that in another person’s life — “Mom”. Not “Mum”. Not “Nana”. Not any of countless things we considered. And certainly not “Ima”.

​”Ima” is Hebrew for “mom”; we’re Jewish so it seemed like a fairly clever solution. It also seemed appropriate that as the more strongly Jewish-identified, I should take the Hebrew name. I tried it out. In my head, on my tongue . . . and no matter how or how often I said it, it still felt wrong. It wasn’t “mom”, no matter what the dictionary claimed. It was a terrible dissapointment.

​Eventually, the day came when my first child – not even looking at me, but glancing over his shoulder in my direction – called me Ima. I’d love to say the moment was electrifying; that I had an epiphany. But I didn’t. What I felt in that moment was . . . natural. “Yes, that’s right, honey; that’s a ‘cat'”. In that moment, I suppose, I really did become Ima.

​And not only to my own children. On warm sunny days, the neighborhood rings with “Ima”. It matters not a bit to the other children that I’ve told them my name, or that my children have explained that it means mom. One small girl, recently adopted by her aunt, simply beamed when told this. She looked at me and my spouse and chirped, “now I have three moms!” She summed it up well for lot of the other kids.

​Ours is the house where the kids congregate. I’m the mom that makes lemonade slushies and fixes everything from bikes to boo boos. They know I claim to hate messes but tolerate quite a lot of it. Often times, I don’t even know who these children are or where they come from. “Ima, this is my cousin Hector. He’s from Puerto Rico and don’t speak English much. Can we go out back and bounce?”

​One day, during a friend’s visit, two of the boys who’d been riding their bikes up and down the street dragged in a third I’d never seen before. “He wiped out” they told me. The nine-year-old was shy and trying manfully not to dissolve into tears as he lifted his shirt to show me the nasty road rash. I cleaned the scrape and sprayed it with Bactine. I guessed he was at that terrible age when a kiss still would help but can’t be accepted, so I gave his shoulders a little squeeze.

My friend was quiet until after I’d given him an “all better” swat on the behind and sent him on his way. Then, chuckling and shaking her head, she asked, “isn’t he spending the summer with them right across the street?” I nodded vaguely. “Then how come they all come over here to get patched up?” I straightened and looked at my friend. “Because I’m Ima”.

The Ten-year-old Entrepreneur

As I have mentioned before, my daughter will be a fashion designer. She has a phenomenal eye for style, a winning aesthetic and – this may be her most important asset – one wicked entrepreneurial streak. Oh, in recent months she’s done the lemonade stand thing because it’s something her friends enjoy. They never sell enough to recoup the cost of the lemonade but it’s fairly cheap as an entertainment, so what the hell.
But a couple of years back, while the girls down the block were watering-down Kool-aid, my daughter set up a face painting stand.

For weeks, every kid in the neighborhood was emptying their pockets and piggy banks for the pleasure of running around sporting butterflies, rainbows, cat whiskers or Spiderman faces. She took requests and gamely dived in. She carried around a sketch pad I had made for her, with outlined faces in full front and profile. She quickly filled this with elaborate ideas and riffs exploring the many ways one might approach a face as canvas. She actually made money on it. Until her face paints ran out and she discovered that the ice cream truck had made away with most of her profits and she couldn’t replace them.

Then there were the duct tape wallets and bags. And the aluminum can flowers. And the hair makeovers. And the gimp bracelets. And so forth. A couple of weeks ago, I caught her searching some of my bookmarked recipe sites. “You can’t go in the kitchen”, she told me (uh oh). She’d just discovered that we have an ice cream maker; she already had a batch of something a very deep brown glooping thickly on the stove and wondered if we had any pineapple in the house.

The thing about a kid who just has to be making things all the time – particularly if such a kid is also a trend setter – is that she never lacks something original and cool to sell. Her latest enterprise is hand painted t-shirts. They’re pretty cool and very much in demand and she’s filling orders as fast as she can. As always, she takes requests. She’s very serious about the “customer satisfaction” thing but is perhaps just a bit too accommodating:

“Trina,” she tells me enthusiastically the other day, “is going to pay me six dollars for four shirts!”

Hmm. “She’s going to give you four shirts and you’re going to paint them?”

“No…”

“Okay, well, do you know how much they cost?” (Uh uh.) “A pack of three is at least $8. So you’re losing money.

“How can I be losing money if she’s going to pay me?”

“Honey, you’re good at math – it costs $8 but you’re only getting six.”

Comprehension dawns. Then her face clears and she tries to help me with my confusion: “but you buy the shirts.”

I do.”

She nods, happy that she’s been able to clear that up for me.

“So I spend $8, you paint some shirts and you get $6.” Uh huh. “Why would I do that?”

Now she looks confused. And a little hurt.

“So I can sell t-shirts.”

Perchance to Dream

I’m having some difficulty sleeping. Oh, blame it on the heat, or my propensity for drinking coffee until very late at night, but I have another theory. I’m a night owl by nature; I get bursts of inspiration and tend to do my best thinking sometime after midnight, so on a typical night, the rest of my family is already in dreamland when I finally stumble up to bed (this solitary time may account for the timing of my inspiration, but there you go). Only the dogs snooze by my side or underfoot waiting for me to call it a day.

We have one behemoth of an air conditioner that we use to cool the downstairs during the worst of the heat, and one small, ancient, horrifically noisy little beast, sufficient for cooling a single room. In keeping with the wisdom of the airline industry, we put this in the parents’ bedroom. We don’t want moms overheating now, do we? So, on a hot night, this thing goes through its cycles:

rattle rattle rat tattattattattattat rattlerattle griiind griiind griiiiiind rattlerattle ka-chunk! ROAR ROAR ROAR GRIND GRIND ROAR KA-CHUNK! rattle rattle…..

Add to this, that my beloved snores. Twenty five years ago, it was a small, cute sort of noise that was in a way reassuring. Over the years, it has morphed into a great, monstrous symphony of snorks, gurgles, and noises that sound like a balloon deflating, and something reptilian trapped in a drain. Nor are they in the least bit rhythmic, in which case it might be possible to adapt. No, each sound is new, unexpected and guaranteed to jolt one from any light sleep one might have achieved through the previous assault. I use earplugs when  I’m not expected to wake to an alarm but as I am the one who drives the kids wherever they need to be in the morning, that’s not often.

Years it took to get the kids to stop sleeping in our bed whenever they feel like it (pretty much always) but it took only a single 90o night to move them back in. With them, of course, come favorite pillows, stuffed animals, hardcover books, tomorrow’s outfit and today’s stinky cast offs — arrayed as though shot from a concert canon. Both kids fling bony limbs every which way, earning my son with the adolescent-boy joints the nickname “ankle-osaurus”. So we dragged in a twin mattress and told them to make the best of it. The other night, my daughter discovered that the dog bed was infinitely more comfortable than sharing space with her brother.

Now we can’t reach the bed without a half-twisting vault from the doorway only ever attempted by Nadia Comaneci in the 1975 Olympic trials. It is not possible to reach the closet by any means at all. And there we have it: beastly AC, symphony of snores; books, clothes, bedding, and mattress on the floor, one kid on said mattress, another kid on the dog bed. This, I suspect, may be at the root of my insomnia.

The other night I climbed the stairs, performed the vault from the doorway… and landed squarely on a dog. A 70-pound dog whose startled yelp woke the dog occupying my pillow. As I retreated back off the bed, I stepped on the cat. I gave up, went back downstairs, put some Bactine on my cat scratches, and dropped onto the couch.

And can I just say, that is one comfortable couch.

 

ADHD Playdate

My dogs both have tracking transmitters. While our family doctor may raise all sorts of weird, fussy “ethical” objections, I’m hoping the vet may be an easier sell on my proposal to have one placed on my daughter. Diva is ten – ten – and I haven’t seen her for three days and perhaps only a dozen times since the start of summer. Oh, she’s not missing, or anything. She just sort of has a life of her own which, at present, has taken her to a marathon sleepover/playdate. What the hell… it’s summer, right?

We got her a cell phone and she’s very good about having it with her at all times but all that texting and Facebooking plays hell with the battery and she’s drawn the line at carrying around a power cord as well. So, the tracker. To be fair, I haven’t seen a whole lot more of Wild Child, but no tracking device will ever be necessary to locate him. While my daughter roams her kid-sized world with an ever widening circle of friends, my son keeps mostly to his room, ensconced up there in his underwear, surrounded by the discards of snacks and very…um, vocally…playing his Xbox. If I’m not at home though, he’s even harder to reach than my daughter is, as his phone is invariably somewhere useless and far away.
huhsm
I was out the other day and needed to reach him fairly urgently. No answer. Hmm. I pulled over and used my phone to access the computer in my office next to his room. I typed in 96pt. on the desktop: GO GET YOUR DAMN PHONE! then cranked up the system volume to full and turned on something from Avenue Q (which usually gives him fits). I figured he’d hear it, go check it out and see the note. Nope. “Now what?” I wondered, “Ah”. If he couldn’t hear it, it must be because he was wearing his headset. And that meant he was online with his friend. So I called his friend. “Jason, are you live with Wild Child? Yes? Will you tell him, please, to go get his damn phone?” That did the trick. When he called, the first thing he said was “Why does my mom have to be the biggest geek?”

While I worry about Diva’s independence and Wild Child’s lack of it, I was even more concerned about my son’s tendency toward isolation. I’m an introvert and can fully relate to being comfortable with a fairly high level of solitude but “comfortable” in his case, is not “happy”. So when the Xbox took over his life, we went into full panic mode. That our already odd, not-exactly-popular, loner might well disappear forever into a virtual world seemed entirely probable. We put in place rules, limits, timers; we forced him to go outside, we nagged him to call his friends, we badgered him relentlessly and threatened to take away the controllers – in short, pretty much what parents do. None of which had the slightest impact on his consuming desire to retreat to his room and play Xbox.

My little adventure with trying to reach him tipped me to something I’d been missing all along: He isplaying with his friends. That they prefer to meet in a bombed out urban wasteland or on a distant planet, that they communicate over headsets, that some of them are in a different time zone, doesn’t – and shouldn’t – make that much difference. They get together. They play and have fun. In between bellows and shouts and “COVER MY BACK!” and “DUDE, YOU TEA BAGGED HIM!”, they talk about stuff 12-year-old boys talk about. So I think the next time I want him to see his friends, I’ll send him to his room.

Mashed Potatoes and Twigs

There is a phrase that I find so hysterically funny that merely uttering it in my presence will cause me to go into convulsions of helpless laughter; the breath leaves my lungs, my face spasms, something seismic rolls through me and I can’t stop. It can go on and on — waves of laughter — for upward of fifteen minutes. Look at me funny at any point during an episode and it can start all over.

For years, this was my private talisman against depression, for which I have been treated on and off all my adult life. I have heard of classes where participants gather round and force themselves to laugh in order to harvest the benefits attributed to laughter. While the image itself is pretty funny, the concept doesn’t work for me. I need a prop. Mine is “mashed potatoes and twigs”. Yes, there’s a story behind it. No, it’s not important nor would knowing it make it work for you. It’s mine. You’ll have to get your own.

Ours is a competitive family. Any pretext will do, with any commodity as the spur – the computer, the TV, the couch, attention, praise, whatever – but the ultimate competition is to defeat mom at something. My kids have tried unsuccessfully for years to beat me at “Poor Pussy”* This is a game in which each participant in turn tries to make “It” laugh or at least crack a smile by…meowing. Creatively. You get three meows after each of which, “It” — in order to demonstrate her unbroken composure — must solemnly pat the “kitty” on the head and say with a straight face, “poor pussy”. So exceptionally stoic am I, that my mouth has never once so much as twitched and it drives the kids absolutely spare.

Also in vain, they have tried to find my ticklish spots. The truth is, I’m ticklish all over but I take a peculiar, petty pride in thwarting them so through sheer competitive will, I remain blasé.You could say I was asking for it. It was inevitable that my Achilles heel would one day be exposed. When it happened, the kids looked on in delighted awe as Ima went completely to pieces, and they filed away this precious piece of knowledge.

The relationship between parents and kids is an inherently unequal one. Parents are bigger, of course, but we also hold the ultimate authority over bedtime, allowance, chores, play dates, media habits, transportation… pretty much everything. Kids wield a kind of soft power, chiefly in the form of tantrums and selective hearing, but it does little to alleviate their general sense of powerlessness. Let a kid get his hands on a weapon of this magnitude though, and it’s a game-changer. Over the next few months, the kids deployed it without mercy, again and again. I had kids sneaking up behind me, popping out of doorways, looming over me in the mornings, creeping over my shoulder in the car, shouting that magic phrase. Such power!

Toward the end (you saw this coming, right?), the tremors grew milder, the laughs less loud until one day… nothing. Thud. The pool had been fished out. If I was despondent, my kids were horrified. They reacted as though they had been responsible for the death of a small helpless animal. I reassured them that these things have a shelf life, they don’t live forever (and refrained from pointing out that they may have hastened its death). For a time, they’d take the occasional little stab at resuscitating it, as though the problem may simply have been one of delivery. But no luck. We sort of buried it in the backyard and moved on.

This was all at least a couple of years ago and while I’ll never be characterized as an optimist, I’m at least hopeful about life; as I wrote this and got to remembering my little phrase and the day it came into my life, I got tears in my eyes. From laughing.

*props to Mary Voors for introducing me to this game nearly 30 years ago.