Monday, September 25, 2006

Isn't Anyone at Fault for Anything Anymore?

Three premature infants die in an Indianapolis hospital and the first time the hospital president goes on record, he says it's not anyone's fault, it's the "institution's" fault, the "system's" fault. Within hours, new quotes appear, blaming "procedural and human error." Could it be that someone, someone perhaps without the degrees and stature of a hospital president, told him that this sounded a tad, well, lame? Was his initial comments his backward attempt at taking corporate responsibility? Or had he, for a few hours, joined the legion of those in authority who today refuse to lay blame on any human being for anything at any time for any reason?

Am I the only one this bothers? Am I the only one who sees this as sending an awful message to, well, to kids, who need guidance to develop a sense of personal responsibility? employees of every stripe who have little incentive to cop to their mistakes? school administrators who find it easier to isolate victimized students than to identify and punish bullies? judges who find it ever more convenient to toss out stiff sentences in favor of slaps on the wrist? business owners, managers and stockholders who find it extremely beneficial to reap in profits but blame every mistake, blunder, problem, abuse and major error -- regardless of the economic, human or ethical harm it causes -- on systems, computer errors, societal expectations, legislative snafus, and outmoded operations?

Doesn't anyone ever fess up nowadays? Aren't human beings, after, inputting the computer information, overseeing the systems, running the institutions? Yes, it sounds as if the system the hospital was using to identify similar drugs needed overhauling, and Yes, it sounds as if the drug maker should have provided clearer labeling to distinguish between similar drugs, and Yes, it sounds as if the nurses acted in good faith that the drugs normally stocked in their neonatal unit would be of the infant-dose variety just as they always have been, and Yes, it sounds as if the hospital pharmacist was easily confused by the similar labeling, wording and color of the two drugs (one for infants, the other for adults).....BUT....

Isn't there a human being -- better yet -- many human beings in charge of all of those issues: the dispensing, labels, wording, colors, stocking the pharmacy, cross-checking, stocking the neonatal's drug cabinet, removing the drugs, administering them.......?

Isn't anyone, any human being, in charge of the SYSTEM?

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Where Do I Start?

Readers, it's been ages and I have a good excuse. A few good excuses, actually. But excuses are boring, so let's just say I've been too busy with too many issues, both wonderful (first semester of my MFA program) and horrible (my father had a stroke, dropped everything and flew 2,700 miles to help out) and in-between (family vacation, kids going back to school). So let's just say, I'm back and will try to get updated little by little.

Meanwhile, here's something a little bit fun.

Friday Feast 110

Appetizer: Name 3 things that you are wearing today.
Jeans, bright blue scoop neck tee, funky earrings.

Soup: Who was the last person you hugged?
My 8-year-old son, saying goodnight. Nothing sweeter.

Salad: What do you like to order from your favorite fast food place?
Vanilla shake and fries at Burger King.

Main Course: What time of day do you usually feel most energized?
Late, baby. Midnight at the computer......

Dessert: Using the letters in your first name to start each word, write a sentence.
Lemons in store again!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

If 50 is the new 40, I'd rather be old.

The folks at Good Housekeeping magazine have given us a list of 50 things/people/products that turn 50 this year. Among them are:

- Mel Gibson (drunk, stupid, but still good looking, damn it)
- "Dear Abby" (dead, right?)
- VCR (nearly dead, right?)
- Nonstick frying pan (might make you dead!)
- Jif peanut butter (clogs your arteries)
- Four basic food groups (would that be fats, cholesterol, trans fats, and antioxidants?)
- Toaster ovens (does that mean they still exist?)
- Johnny Cash's "I Walk the Line" (So, he foresaw a need for a size 0 jeans-selling jingle for The Gap way back then?)
- The Hermes Kelly bag (and I thought culture was dead)

Glad I'm not turning 50 this year!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Funny in the Family

The e-mail from my cousin's husband was short: Their son, a really good kid, 23 years old and working hard to break into show business, would be performing with his comedy group at a rather small and almost seedy little comedy theater in Manhattan on Sunday night. Wanna come? Well, his comedy group is named Chocolate Cake City NY -- need I say more? (I was a bit disappointed they didn't hand out chocolate during the show, but I digress.)

Sure, we'll come. Any excuse to hire a babysitter (really, the in-laws), get out of the house on a weekend night, cross the river to the city that is only 15 miles away but that we often ignore for months at a time, see some family, and by the way, do it all for 21 bucks ($14 for two tickets to the National Comedy Theater and the $6 tunnel toll -- we scored free street parking, a feat practically unknown to those who drive into New York City and worth the trip and this blog report all by itself, but I digress.).

And now the really good news....the kid is actually funny. And talented -- he wrote the entire 1/2 hour comedy sketch, "The 7 Deadly Sins." And smart -- turns out he put together the original Boston-based Chocolate Cake City comedy group while an Emerson University student (the group, now a legend, went on to create the web-fueled spoof trailer, "Brokeback to the Future.") So after earning his theatrical degree, the kid ventured to California, where he studied with some cool and well-known groups, interned with Jimmy Kimmel Live and eventually fled from the insanity of LA to the relative normalcy of New York (go figure).

So, if you are the type to seek out new names in comedy, or just enjoy a laugh at a decent price, get thee to see my young cuz, Rob Asaro. Do it now, before he gets famous. You read it here first. Did I tell you I once hired an unknown by the name of Ray Romano to entertain at a charity fund raiser -- about 17 years ago. I think he charged about $300....see, I know talent when I see it.

Monday, July 24, 2006


And so, I am back. Back from two weeks away, away from my kids and my husband and my routines and my house and my life, I suppose. It was great and it was sad and I missed my two boys and my hubby so much that when I got back I wondered how I could ever leave again. Unless of course you argue, as I might, that it was two weeks that have the flicker, an inkling, a small chance, to perhaps alter my life in a way that may be wonderful and scary and just right. I will leave again in January, and I will want to.

I was away to attend an intense 11-day session of a graduate school program, 400 miles and five states away. I was merely on the Atlantic coast of Maine, but it felt like a gazillion miles from my little (and, I have to admit, small-minded) New Jersey suburb, at least if you count those miles in the type of people with whom I was surrounded, the wash of ideas and thinking, the shower of intellect and blizzard of possibility. Sure, I know there are smart people where I live, and interesting types with cool jobs and searing intellectual curiosity; problem is, I rarely get to meet them. They don't seem to hang out on line at the supermarket, waiting outside the elementary school, on the soccer sidelines, or at the family-school association meetings that make up a fairly big chunk of my everyday.

And so, how did my little family fare in my absence? Amazingly, surprisingly, competently, and really, very very well. Damn them.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

You Live, You Learn, and sometimes, You Leave

It's been a while and I will tell you why: I am falling to pieces. Maybe not a million little pieces, but enough so that I will write about it someday and maybe even tell the truth. Right now I am reeling with a toxic combination of anxiety, stress, overwhelmed-itis, worry, fear, and I suppose, a dash of excitement.

Next week, I will leave behind my dear husband and even dearer children to attend a 12-day, "low residency" session in the Masters of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing graduate program in which I am enrolled. At first, the idea of spending 2 weeks, twice a year, for 2+ years, away from meal-planning, nose-wiping, and playdate-supervising, seemed bliss indeed. To spend those days, alone, but with others, doing nothing but talking about writing, writing, and learning about writing, alongside others who are also writers and novelists and poets and memoirists -- well, what could be bad about that?

I'll tell you. The reality of actually going. Let me be clear, I want to go -- yes, especially after I applied to 6 grad programs, got accepted by 4 and chose the one whose facility for this course overlooks a beach and bay. Yes, I want to go. But what was I thinking? My youngest son is awash in sadness and I have not yet packed. My oldest is disconcertingly supportive.

Who did I think I was, chasing my heart's desire, when theirs are not yet fully formed? How did I think, at my old age (46), I could keep up with the work volume I now know is expected? What made me think I could live without their noise and goofy grins and hugs? (Yes, even the pre-teen boy still hugs, and fiercely) Where did I think I'd find the time, the mental space to think creatively, create and contemplate others' creative work? And that's not all.

What will happen when, in three years, the student loans (once just an abstract notion) start requiring repayment, and there I am with my artsy degree and no headhunters calling, and my oldest child's college bills looming just three more years after that? Anyway, now I understand that the price of those 2 weeks was not to be found on those student loan papers at all, but in the heart? That loss always accompanies growth?

Sure, I will go. I will learn and challenge myself and I am hopeful I will succeed, and I may fail, but I will learn. And my children will survive, and maybe grow. And I will write about it. Someday.

Meanwhile, can you tell me how to explain to my husband that's it is not just about the best time to call the pediatrician, and which friends can swim, and which cereal to never run out of, but all the rest -- all that resides in my heart and memory and behind my eyes, everything that no one else can ever know, but that my children know, in their hearts, that I know? How do you leave that in a refrigerator note?

Friday, June 09, 2006

Old Volcano, Very Old

At the library, I noticed a children's science magazine all about Pompeii, and since my 8-year-old son recently learned about volcanos, I picked it up.

"Cool Mom, thanks," he said and immediately began paging through it and peppering me with Look at this and Did-you-know?

"I was there," I told him.

"YOU were in Pompeii???" he asked, incredulous. I thought I had told him all about my whirlwind European tour when I was just 9 years old.

"Were you scared?" he asked.

"No, but it was a little spooky," I admitted.

"What did you do?"

"Well, I walked around mostly," I said.

"I mean, what did you do when the hot lava started flowing???"

I feel old. Very, very old.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

How Very Suburban of Me

OK, it’s official. I am a suburbanite. I shouldn’t be surprised, really. After all, I was born in the suburbs, and except for a few years when I lived on an urban college campus and a few months when I lived in a rural horsey area, and another few months spent living in hotel rooms (don’t ask), I have always lived in suburbia. So why is it so disturbing to take the quiz at the Surburbanista blog and find that, although thankfully I do not qualify for full-fledged suburbanista status, I also am not the anti-surburbanista I imagined myself to be. But in fact, a middle-of-the-road suburbanite. In fact, my husband and I are so very suburban, so pathetically colonial-with-two-car-garage kind of folks, I'll bet you can easily guess the name of the U.S.-made, gas-guzzling, DVD equipped, more-room-than-my-first-apartment vehicle, we just bought??? Don’t know what the heck I’m talking about? Then I guess you’re an urbanista!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Not Lost in TV-Land

I grew up in a house in which the television was on, how should I say this -- a lot. Which is to say,it was on most of the time when someone was home, except perhaps in the early morning, when my homemaker mother whistled and was always in a very good mood (I may never forgive her), and did her housecleaning.

The point is that I was determined, as an adult and someday a mom, not to live is such a house. I wanted peace and quiet and a place and space to read, think, and have actual conversations that do not feature lines like, Shh, wait till the commercial, or my personal favorite, when asked what was being watched, “There’s nothing else on.” I always wanted to shout back: Then how about just turning it the *%&*&%^$# off?

And so now I do live in a house where, about 80 percent of the time, the TV is actually turned off, and the VCR and DVD player are not running much either. We read a lot, my boys and I. They play outside and play inside and make stuff up and play jokes on one another and do dopey “science” experiments. But sometimes, they do watch TV. And when one of my sons does happen to watch TV, and it’s time to set the table, and he utters this gem: I’ll do it on the next commercial, well, I am completely and incontrovertibly LIVID.

Now let me explain about the TV habits of my two sons. The older, at 12, is a NASCAR junkie, but may not watch more than 4 hours per week of cars going in circles and crashing, sometimes on purpose. Beyond that, as a future meteorologist, his favorite network is The Weather Channel and his all time favorite show is Storm Stories, a mixture of documentary narration, actual news footage and the meteorological science behind hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, mudslides, tsunamis, and blizzards. From September to January, he watches one NFL game a week. When he is home sick, he gravitates toward the History Channel, or Animal Planet, or Discovery, or PBS. If our cable system carried National Geographic, I am sure he would watch that too. That is about it. He has never – not once – seem The Simpsons or Ed, Edd and Eddy, or anything remotely resembling a cop, crime, or forensic show. Amazing, I know. My younger child is still in thrall to a smattering of PBS and Nickelodeon offerings, but only to the tune of about 3 hours a week. Oh, and America’s Funniest Home Videos, especially if they have anything at all to do with farting or burping. Well, he is eight.

I explain all this to illustrate that, on average, my kids, even on a week when they are home sick for a day or two, or snowbound, still watch at least 15 and possibly as many as 20 hours less TV than the average American child. (I checked). Frankly, I can’t imagine when all these other kids have the time to watch – don’t they do homework, play sports, go to religious classes, belong to clubs or organizations, attend birthday parties, play outdoors, do chores, read and occasionally wrestle with their siblings in the living room and break a lamp now and then?

So why do I go absolutely ballistic when the TV is running -- even if I’m in another room where I could close doors and still read my Sunday New York Times? Vestiges of childhood I suppose, when I knew that if I wanted my parents' attention I would certainly need to wait till the commercial, and probably even have to (as I did on several occasions), stand in front of the low-on-the-floor TV/radio/piece of ugly furniture console unit and block their view of Mannix?

I should relax, one friend says, noting that my children’s viewing parameters and their evolving viewing choices and habits, for the most part, already mirror what I set out to do – raise kids who know how to entertain themselves without television and who, when “there’s nothing good on” know how easy it is to just turn it off.

But one thing still bothers me and it’s this: If I am doing the right thing, the best thing, the wholesome thing, then when my kids are in their 30s or beyond and they lose at whatever turns out to be that era’s equivalent of Trivial Pursuit, will they really, really hate me?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Let Them Eat Cupcakes !

  • Scotch Plains, NJ is not far from here. But, far enough away, I hope, that the Board of Education in my town does not get any ideas. I mean, can't a few things about childhood -- even in this stressed-out, overscheduled, linked-up, crazy world of ours -- be simple, uncomplicated, fun and sweet? Like a birthday cupcake.

    Apparently, the Board of Education in Scotch Plains doesn't think so. They are contemplating outlawing birthday cupcakes in the classroom. Why? They're unhealthy. They're bad for kids with allergies. They're too expensive for some families. But mostly, they're unhealthy. OK, but first, let's review.

    Let's talk about "hot lunch." You know, where they serve those nitrate-laden hot dogs and greasy pizza and fried chicken strips and no-whole-grain-anything bagels and full-fat cream cheese, shall we?
    Let's talk about how teachers, from kindergarten through 12th grade, ply students with bribes of hard candy and candy bars.
    Let's talk about principals who keep buckets of lolandops adn Twizzlers on their desks.
    Let's talk about school fundraisers hawking high-end chocolate by the pound, tubs of processed artificially-flavored cookie dough, slabs of frozen (alleged) pizzas, frozen cheesecakes in 11 varieties, and bake sales up the hee-haa.
    Let's talk about selling artificially flavored, artificially colored, preservative-rich ice cream at lunch.
    Let's talk about candycanes and chocolate eggs and candycorn and sugar hearts that arrive home in backpacks at times of the year that we are no longer even allowed to name.

    When we have finished talking about all of that, and about how all of that will have to be banned as well, then we can discuss cupcakes.

    Till then, board members, go suck on a soy nut.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

College in six years...and counting

There is a peanut butter TV commercial running where a Dad and his daughter are making sandwiches and he folds his single slice of bread over; she asks why and he says it's because his Dad did it that way and when he was a kid, he wanted to be just like his Dad. Someone mentioned this at lunch today and both my boys -- 8 and 12 -- chirp that they want to be like their Dad, too. Except...."I want to go to college," the 12 year old says. "Me too," his little brother agrees. My husband agreed too. (See, although he didn't go to college, he is a very wise father.)

I am kind of relieved that they realize the importance of their future education, and at the same time it's rather sad that they see something so elemental about their father's history -- that he did not go to college -- as something undesirable. His lack of a degree is something we have always talked about openly and on more than one occasion, we have discussed with the boys that it was a missed opportunity for him; that although he has worked incredibly hard for 30+ years, owns a small business and keeps us all in groceries and seashore vacations, he could have -- certainly he would have -- chosen a different, more satisfying path had he had the chance.

Last summer, we were in CVS, my two sons and I, on the first truly glorious day since school ended for the summer, headed to Grandpa's pool, wanting to stock up on chips, drinks and new water blasters. The chip selection looked sparse, but as we are about to walk away, along comes a man in matching blue workday pants and shirt, with Dave embroidered over the left breast pocket and hauling along rolling racks of Gatorade bottles and Lays chips bags. He is sweating.

"Oh good, look guys, here comes the guy with chips and drinks," I say.

"Boy, are we glad to see you," my 12 year old adds.

The chips and soda delivery guy frowns, begins stocking shelves. "See what I'm doing boys?," he asks. "Remember this. Do good in school and go to college or you'll end up doing this someday too," he grunts.

I was taken aback. Sure, I want my boys to go to college, pick jobs and work that is satisfying; of course I do not aspire for them to drive a truck and lob chips bags onto shelves for 30 years. But I also have never want them to look down upon anyone who does. My husband and I have always tried to emphasized the value of all human beings and the dignity of all honest work, done with pride-- that the man who pumps our gas is as vital to our ability to drive our minivan as the engineer who developed passenger side air bags.

My boys looked puzzled and were silent. But I felt something must be said and so I fumbled and eventually blurted out, "Well if you were't here with the chips, what would we do?" I smiled and tried to make eye contact, but he was having none of it.

"Never mind. You boys listen to me, you don't want to sweat like a pig and have a bad back by the time you're 30. Stay in school, study hard, get a good job." He ruffled both their heads and turned away.

Sure on the one hand, he is right. Just a few weeks before, on a steamy humid day, stopped at a traffic light beside a strip mall, we encountered a man pacing back and forth on the small cement median, wearing a sandwich board proclaiming blockbuster sale at the nearby discount furniture store.

"Is it that man's job to stand there all day wearing that sign?" my 12-year-old asked.

"Yup," I said. "That's the kind of job you get if you don't have any education or skills," I had said, perhaps a bit too glibly I now realize.

It is not a small task -- teaching our children to have respect for others' choices, appreciation for honest work done by others, particularly those in the service trades, and at the same time encouraging them to aspire beyond, to plan and dream and do the work that will catapult them into careers and opportunities and lives in which they can wear something other than sandwich boards and delivery uniforms. I know my husband will be the first one to write those college application checks -- and never hint at how much of his paycheck those penstrokes will require.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Baby, Do it Again!

All around me, it seems, other moms I know are expecting new babies. That's all past for me; in fact, it seems to have gone by in an eyeblink, although at the time I distinctly remember thinking my the baby years, for each of my kids, would last forever. So lately it made me think of the things I would do differently if I had the chance. Oh no, could be this an early, early symptom of the future grandma-knows-better syndrome??? Anyway, this is what I'd say to all those pregnant moms out there:

- Read less and feel more. Whenever the baby gurgled in a way I thought was odd, or sipped some bath water, I ran for the books. Countless hours of my baby's infancy were wasted reading every reference to the current problem (which really wasn't), and then cross-checking one authoritative baby book against another. That time could have been better spent listening to my child, my heart, my common sense, and yes, even my mother. Most infant oddities are really just normal stuff.

- Say yes to help. "Let me know if you need anything from the grocery story," my neighbor said. "Let me watch the baby for a while so you can get a haircut," my cousin insisted. Even my client offered, "We can work on this at night or over the weekend if it's easier for you." Each time I said, ever so politely, No thank you. What a fool! Most of the time people really do want to help. Ladies out there expecting a child: give others that chance.

- Lose the agony over logistics. Anytime I contemplated even a short outing my mind reeled. Where would I nurse? What if the ladies room was dirty or didn't have a changing area? What if he screamed like an antelope in heat? Would one change of clothes be enough, or two? What if he wouldn't nap in the car? What if he takes a big poop and there's no place to do a diaper change? What is the hot water in the ladies room sink doesn't work and I can't warm his bottle? Could I handle the car seat, diaper bag, and an umbrella? And if not, what if he got wet? Now I know the answer to most of these questions is: so what?

- Learn to nurse in public. I wouldn't or couldn't and the result was that I missed out on a lot of social interaction and meals, and the babies were also probably bored with our isolation.

- Look in the mirror. So much time and attention was ladled over the baby, but it wouldn't have taken too much time, and in fact would have vastly improved my self-esteem if I had taken 15 minutes each morning to put myself together. Even busy moms deserve a neat hairstyle, one little piece of jewelry, a clean unwrinkled outfit, and maybe a dab of mascara and lip gloss. It's not only baby who should look cute, clean and huggable.

- Travel light. All too quickly the van filled up with the umbrella stroller (for short jaunts), the big stroller (for longer mall or park expeditions), a toy bag (for impromptu visits to child-less homes), an extras bag (fitted with diapers, change of clothes, towel, wipes, bottle, can of formula, pacifier), and a box holding stroller netting, sunblock, hat, swimming pool toys. Later, I added a booster seat and toddler toys (bigger and noisier) and found there was now no room for the groceries. Hey, let's be real. When we visited anyone, a few Tupperware containers, wooden spoon and empty boxes made the baby happy.

- Say cheese. Nearly all the photos of my babies have Dad in them, or maybe Grandparents, cousins, even the house painter. I think I show up in maybe six. It saddens me not to have more everyday pics of me and my babies. Imagine how much sadder I will feel 20 or more years from now, and how little I will care that my hips were wider than Nebraska, or that my hair hadn't been colored in months. Smile pretty, moms!

What would you do differently?

Friday, May 12, 2006

What am I reading? Everything.

Recently, I was at a fundraising event and was presented with an anonymous trivia card to fill out, requesting that I list my favorite authors and favorite books, and toss the cards in a bucket. Then we were to draw a card randomly and -- while mingling and making what used to be called small talk -- try to peg who wrote which card. I was appalled. Sure, it's fun to find out a friend or new acquaintance likes the same things you do. But maybe I'm a bit strange, because I think what I read and why I like it is kind of personal.

I read because I love to and because I want to know and because I love words and how they are put together and I even love the ink and grit of the newspaper and the smoothness of the magazine pages and the smell of books (yes, they do have a smell) and I love the way I feel while I am reading and how I feel right afterward and even sometimes for a long time after, and because frankly, if I did not read I'm not sure I could carry on for much more than a few days and still feel like the adult human being known as me.

I am both particular and indiscriminate in my choice of reading materials. It has to be interesting, I have to relate to it on some level, and it has to touch me somehow. That's about it. It does not have to be "literary," although I love many books which are. It does not have to be written by a favorite author or a prominent author or any author that anyone else may think is important or brilliant or a worthwhile investment of time. Fact is, some of the best uses of wasted time in my life have been reading stuff I might ordinarily not have thought to read, just because I stumbled across the book or magazine or newspaper or website or blog.

The "great books" and legendary writers have never held any particular allure, or at least any more so than books that have turned out to be great to me; although there are some "great books" I love for reasons I often even do not understand -- just as I love many quirky, offbeat, under-the-radar current-day writers, as well as a few (horrors!) popular genre authors who make me laugh out loud or feel something or simply (and wonderfully) because they make me nod and inwardly smile and think, "yes, that's real and strange and true and messed-up, just like life." So you will find Shakespeare on the same shelf as Piccoult and Wolff next to Quindlen and Malamud and Bryson...right next to Dr. Seuss's "Oh, the Places You Will Go."

Because that's what reading is all about -- going places and, at least in my case, not being too concerned about what anyone has to say about my mode of transport.

And what are you reading these days? (Or is that too personal?)

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Thoughts from a frazzled hausfrau

Sure, I work at various part-time and freelance jobs for hours each day, and no, I don't usually act much like a traditional housewife/homemaker/stay-at-home-mom or whatever politically-correct term is currently in vogue to describe someone for whom many many daylight hours are spent tending children and/or tending to home-and-family related details. But. But when your office is in your house and your family acts like your work is not, things can get sticky. And the thing to do then -- aside from renting an office or driving 40 miles west to sit on a bench in a quiet state park or unplug the phone and fax and click the laptop closed -- the thing to do then, is to look around, enjoy the moments and laugh.

► How cute are little seven-year-olds boys; that is, your own little boy, at bedtime, fresh from the bath, dancing around the room in underpants, with slicked down hair, using his GI Joe for a microphone and crooning, Rock and roll.

► How is it that my 12 year old son cannot remember that trash goes out on Monday and recycling on Thursday, but he can retain a season worth of stats on a dozen NASCAR drivers, as well as list the Heisman trophy winners for the last six years and know the order of picks in the NFL draft?

► My sister in law sent me an e-mail the other night that rattled me: Going on vacation this summer? What? Did I miss spring entirely? Is school out already? Last time I checked, I still had weeks to think about that. Then I remembered. She is recently retired, her only child is 28 and gainfully employed, her husband still works and her grey roots are always covered. See, the woman still has brain cells.

I , on the other hand, have two kids under 12, a husband who, while otherwise wonderful is still, alas, male; plus work deadlines, and, in my family room, I have 7,832 ragged scraps of
cardboard otherwise called Box Tops that will net my child's school $783.20, if, if, I can find a few hours before the deadline next week to trim them, inspect for past expiration dates, wipe cookie dough from the slimy plastic ones, count them out in groups of 50, zip them into plastic bags, fill out the submission form and get to the post office.

► Like all Moms, I save things because they might come in handy. Recently, I realized: They will not. At least, not until about a month after I have put it in the trash or sold it for a nickel in a garage sale.

► I got the call about my father's failing memory while in the car on the way to see Chicken Little with assorted children. The sky is falling all right.

► We were fired from our lawyer last week. Let me say that again. Last week, our attorney, who charged us $400 to change precisely two words in a document, gave us the sack. Pick up your file, was how his secretary put it if I recall exactly, and I do.

► Why do I like doing the laundry so much (other than that I am a complete moron)? Probably because it is the only mess in my life I can clean up inside of an hour.

And your day?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Having a spastic moment

“Mom can I ask you something?” It’s my 12 year-old son, asking in the way only a pre-teen can, with that mixture of fear, vulnerability and flip confidence.

“You know how you say I can ask about any word and you’ll tell me the truth?”

“Uh-huh,” I answer, and wonder what smutty, nasty, or otherwise inappropriate word or phrase was coming. Some newly coined teen slang I never heard and probably did not want to add to our family lexicon?

“What does `spaz’ mean?”

Spaz? As in spastic? As in clumsy, awkward, two-left feet spastic? Which, even I must admit, sort of describes my otherwise fabulous son. Hmmm. Do I explain? Dare I risk damaging the shaky self-image every pre-teen inhabits?

“You know, like when someone says, `you’re spazzing me out,’” he adds.


“It means you’re driving me crazy, or you’re cracking me up.”

“Oh. I get it,” he smiles. Well, thanks Mom. Goodnight.”

Good night and good luck to you too, moms and dads everywhere.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Ah Family....Ugh Family...Ahh

Well, it's happening again.

It's springtime, the kids are off from school for a week, my desk is overflowing, the calendar is jammed, and so it must be time for the annual visit from "the folks," otherwise known as Noni and Pop-Pop, or alas, my parents. They live 2,700 miles away, and don't get me wrong, we are happy and blessed that at age 79 and 80, they are still game to endure a 5-hour flight, sleep fitfully on our 19-year-old sofabed, stand in breezy fields watching our boys play baseball, treat us to dinners out and pizza in.

But. They are sleeping on the 19-year-old sofabed that is in the middle of our TV-computer-family-everything room, and wanting to go to dinner out when we'd just rather have pizza in, and coming along to the ball field which we must leave early because it is "too breezy." I am running, as usual, on all cylinders and then some, and Mom wants me to "take it easy." Dad wants the TV volume cranked way up, Mom wants to spritz her perfume daily in a house full of allergic sneezers and asthmatics, and they both want to spend hours daily tracking down all the regional foods and ethnic delicacies they miss in their southwestern U.S. retirement city.

Dad claims to be "no trouble" but a meal cannot begin unless there is a full loaf of baked-today-semolina-Italian-bread-with-seeds on the table. Mom arrives limping because a foot problem two months ago has morphed her size 8s into size 8-1/2 Extra Wides, and she hasn't "had a chance to buy new shoes," so we visit the "comfort shoe" store and me and Alice, the gem of a salesclerk, spend 20 minutes convincing her that white New Balance walking sneakers with velcro are neither ugly nor clunky, not too young for her nor "old ladyish."

Dad complains that everything is overpriced and he is watching his budget, then drops $30 on rub-off lottery tickets at the deli, and did I mention they live in the gambling capital of the U.S.? Mom says she is watching her cholesterol but during a quick trip to the supermarket she slips the following into the shopping cart: Entennman's oatmeal raisin cookies, Stella D'Oro Anisette Sponge, and a four-pack of oversize pistachio and chocolate muffins.

And just when you think you can't take it for even another few minutes, and you realize they only just got here two-and-a-half days ago and will be here for another 18 (eighteen) days, then you catch sight of.....

....your 80-year-old mother telling your pre-teen son about her favorite school subjects and the 1945 Mets and he's listening.....your 79-year-old father, hump-backed and challenged with memory loss, naming a long list of presidents -- first and last names -- as your 8-year-old son pays rapt attention...while playing a word game at dinner, when required to say one positive word about everyone at the table, your Mom, who has an 8th-grade education, calls her grandchildren "thoughtful," and "assertive"....your aging parents, married 59 years, who so often bicker and complain about one another, holding hands and walking very slowly along the driveway, smiling at each other, just glad to be around to see their daughter's family once a year.....well, that kind of makes up for all the aggravation. Kind of.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Playground Musings

Mom or not? I ask Judith, one of my mom-friends, who like me, is firmly on the other side of 40. We are on the playground with our second graders after school.

"Her? Mom, definitely a mom," she answers.

"You think? I don't know, look how low her jeans are." I muse.

"But did you see how fast she jumped up when her daughter fell?"


Judith and I -- and Margaret and Wanda -- often have this little bit of slightly-rude fun when we are feeling particularly vulnerable to the older mom blues.

Is it jealousy or perimenopause or just being in our not-so-early 40s (with various sagging parts), that causes us such consternation at being unable to differentiate between the really young (20-something and early 30-something) Moms, and the au pairs, nannies and teenage older sisters dispatched to pick up children from the elementary schools?

Friday, April 07, 2006

I'm in The Times (too bad not in the money)!

In the swirl of the last month --during which I was accepted to four of the six graduate writing programs to which I applied (MFA in creative nonfiction -- I know, I can't believe it either), I nearly forgot that I also accomplished another writing goal -- a letter in the Letters to the Editor section of The New York Times. Last time that happened, I was 16 and a rabid New York Rangers fan and wrote in to protest Eddie Giacomin being traded to the Islanders. But I digress. For those of you who may not know, the Times receives thousands of letters every week, so if I may say so, it's a pretty nifty thing!

So, here it is -- written in response to an article that declared that letter-writing is a dead art for young people today, growing up in the age of text messages, instant messages, cell phones, and email.

The Touch, the Feel, of That Written Letter

Published: March 20, 2006
To the Editor:
Re "Write Grandma a What?" (Thursday Styles, March 16):
How sad that those of my children's generation — perhaps my own children — may never have the cache of old, personal letters and cards I have in my keepsake box.
I have only to sift through these stacks of letters, still neatly folded in their envelopes (some with obscenely low postage), and I am immediately transported back — to high school, camp, college, my first apartment and other significant times in my life.
There's a letter from Mom, in her neat penmanship, with triple exclamation points and underlines, congratulating me on making the dean's list. There's a card from a long-gone aunt, in her flourishing script, wishing me well on the birth of my first child.
Letters, notes and cards from friends and relatives all tell a tale and evoke the sender, even decades later, across continents, time, even death. What will the e-mail generation have instead? Who prints out e-mail or text messages?
I still insist that my kids (ages 8 and 12) write thank-you notes, in their own hand, mentioning the gift and something good about it. But then, I guess I'm a dinosaur.
-- March 16, 2006

Of Knives and Listening

It’s interesting the things we retain and remember long after. I took an adult class at the high school of a town I lived in 18 years ago, a one-night, three-hour blitz on kitchen knife skills. Before it began, I was afraid to even grasp the neck of the 7-inch chef’s knife, and by the 2-hour mark, I was wielding it like a ballpoint pen; something familiar, something I was sure I could handle with ease. And today, hundreds of dinners and potato salads and thousands of chopped onions later, I can still mince, dice, chop, slice and chiffonade so well that many newer friends are sure I must have grown up in a kitchen where Mom really knew her way around a bouillabaisse instead of one in which most vegetables came from a can and bread was usually the only thing sliced.

I no longer think it’s intriguing that I can sliver basil with precision, though I used to be amazed at my own cutlery prowess, honed not by a job in a restaurant kitchen but just by having learned something once and then with practice, everyday use and trial and error (though only a few that required band-aids and none that called for stitches), the new and untried grew into the routine. Beyond routine -- me with my knife in the kitchen has become a backdrop, and even a trusty companion, when hand and eyes must stay busy while heart and head need attend to something else entirely.

I’ve diced onions while listening to my husband tell me about his father’s stroke and I know he is glad I did not look up and across the small kitchen to where he is leaning against the wall and pinching the top of his nose, willing himself not to cry, although I am--crying; and he will think it's the onions and that is just fine.

My sons pour out the tales of playground indignities and bully taunts while I mince garlic and cleave open, core and slice red and greed peppers and cut chicken into strips. I think they feel safe continuing for as long as it takes me to get the fajitas going. For my part, I hew a bit more intensely to the story in their voice; I know about the emotion in their eyes but at first I want to listen, not look.

Thank God for my knives and the ability to use them without cutting into flesh. Not too deep, anyway.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

What a Mom Never Outgrows

The other night when lying with my 8 year old son before kissing him goodnight, I placed my palmed hand along the side of his face, as I always do, enjoying the feel of his lusciously soft skin, moving my hand slowly along the curve of his cheek to at the base of his chin, skimming over the slgitly upturned corners of his mouth as he smiles at my touch.

He’s still my baby and even at 8, he likes being stroked. He is a cuddler, can’t get enough caressing, will let me rub his back any time, any place. In the dimness of the bedroom, lit by his 15 watt NY Giants lamp, the warm light now caresses his features, and for a moment I am thrown back years. What mother has not watched, with disbelief and aching joy, the smooth roundness of her baby’s cheek, and lingered on the fleeting beatury of the spot where the light catches the child’s eye, outlining lids, eyelashes, rounded eyelids, and the space between the inner corner of the eye and the bottom of the eyebrow? For a moment, his 8-year-old features seemed so soft and new and had the nearly-alien look of cherubic loveliness that all babies exude.

“I don’t ever want you to leave me, Mom,” he says, clutching my hand, nuzzling into the space between my jaw and my collarbone.

“I’m always here with you,” I say, touching his chest. “in your heart, even when I’m not with you. You know that, right?”

“I know.” He nods. “Even when you’re passed away, right?”

“Even then.”

At that moment, I’m not sure if I’ve done an excellent job teaching my precious child about the circle of life (or at least exposed him to The Lion King enough times), or if maybe I was too matter-of-fact in my discussions when our Aunt Mary died recently.

Either way, it makes me ache to have had my children in my early 20s instead of late 30s.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


Yesterday my seven-year-old told me he is "in love." He wants to kiss her. NO !!!! I practically shout, envisioning the zero-tolerance rule coming crashing down upon him...I can see it now -- expelled from school in second grade for aggressive romantic actions! Think it, honey, just don't do it, I counsel. Yesterday, I volunteered at my 12-year-old son's school and got to see, but not be seen, while his class worked on a project in a large multi-purpose area. And, if at age 46 I still remember correctly way back to what it looks like when a 12-year-old girl thinks a 12-year-old boy is pretty special, well, there it was....Wasn't it just yesterday when they were babes?

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Something must be seriously out of kilter, when on a freezing, icy night in early March, the town's baseball "commissioners" have scheduled a "workout," weeks before teams are even chosen?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Post-Olympic Thoughts

The Olympics have finally ended and now I can put away the broom my husband and son were using to practice their curling. Curling? Don't get me wrong, but can you get any more bored watching a so-called sport? I suppose if the International Olympic Committee suddenly decided that dusting or tub scrubbing merited tome on the Olympic agenda, we'd see women heading for spas on Saturday mornings as men and boys in households across the nation wielded Pledge wipes and Tilex bottles with competitive aplomb.

Anyway, I have decided I could live quite happily for many more decades without ever again watching skeleton, in which otherwise sensible-looking athletes plunge head first down an ice run at speeds I've never even driven, or the speed skating group race, which requires guys and gals with more muscles than Ahnold to pat one another's bottoms on international TV. When I was a kid, our parents actually encouraged us to watch the Olympics TV coverage; we'd get up close and personal (remember grand ole Jim McKay?), learn something about dedication in pursuit of a goal; get a geography lesson and maybe pick up a few foreign words.

My kids are no different than I was; they wanted to watch every second of Olympic TV. Trouble was, I got worried what words they'd learn, what lesson they'd deduce from a "sport" called half pipe. We live on a steep hill and I swear I could see the gears turning in my younger son's brain, hoping for ice so he could skeleton. My pre-teen son actually went around declaring his love of curling. And then there was my husband -- who refused to see Brokeback Mountain -- setting the VCR to record the two-man luge and in case you don't know, this is the exciting sport in which two buff men in spandex lie down one on top of the one other before skittering down an ice run, vibrating. For the record, I myself have now seen enough figure skaters reaching up behind their head and grabbing their skate blade to last me two lifetimes.

So now that the Olympics are finally over, our family can return to its regularly scheduled TV fare; you know, educational programming, arts and cultural performances and the like.

In other words, isn't it time for American Idol?

Monday, February 27, 2006

Office Furniture

Don't ask me, but if you do, I will tell you that I think putting a piece of exercise equipment, no matter how sleek it looks or practical it seems, in your home office, is a colossally stupid idea.
I know this because I recently did this exact stupid thing. So now, as I sit at my desk browsing catalogs, reading unimportant blogs (not this one of course), ordering DVDs from Netflix, and otherwise procrastinating and NOT writing, I can look across the room and see my brand new, exceedingly well-designed, $879 NordicTrac treadmill, with the built in multi-speed fan, and think....oh, fine, another thing I'm not doing that I should be doing.

However, I have found that the treadmill is actually quite useful as a landing strip for my son's new Lego Luxury Passenger Jet, as well as a handy spot to plunk down the bags I keep bringing home from Staples, containing the new magazine holders, smoothly-flowing Uniball fine-line markers, color-coordinated file folders, and other nifty items I absolutely positively need for my work.

The work, which at the present moment, I am not doing. Not doing while staring at the treadmill. Feeling guilty. And fat.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Legos..In the bathroom?

It's true, I must have never been a kid, as my husband told me tonight. He on the other hand, must have been enough of a kid for both of us.....what brought this up was, I was trying to take a nap, but kept hearing my two sons in the bathroom, very loudly making up stories about their newest favorite things...a Legos jetliner and helicopter.....Stumbling in to investigate, I find older son in the shower, younger son on bathroom floor and both Legos aircraft (they are big, let me tell you), on the bathroom rug, in various stages of take-off and landing, and numerous loose Lego pieces scattered from sink to toilet.....WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH LEGOS IN THE BATHROOM? I said very calmly (well, maybe I yelled, or screamed or something)...anyway, younger son exits downtrodden, and I huff away. Later, husband says I am a killjoy. "Wasn't I ever a kid who wanted to bring their favorite new toy everywhere?" Well, I was. But bringing my Baby Wetsy doll in the bathroom was clearly a different matter, don't you think?

Thursday, February 23, 2006


Ask any mom.....why is it that we can figure out how to navigate the school system, what teen clothes are cool to buy(usually), and which member of the family likes which peanut butter (plain, crunchy, extra-crunchy, honey-roasted, low-fat, natural)....but we can't figure out how to work our new blog!!

Another day, another few hundred dollars

We moms learn something new every day. Like how difficult it is to go from 51 miles an hour, (which is one mile over the posted speed limit), down to 35 miles an hour (the new posted limit), exactly 1/4 mile before encountering the six (6!) police officers who are pulling over a high percentage of cars, and, with alarming pleasure, issuing tickets.

And, to further my education this particular morning, I learned that 15 miles over the speed limit is a nominal (not more than dinner out) fine, but 16 miles over the limit is a major fine, 4 points on your license and an insurance surcharge for the next three years.

Yes, we moms learn something new every day....unfortunately we often don't learn these things from unfortunate friends who had the above misfortune. No, we learn them first-hand, with children in the back seat, a grocery bag of melting ice cream on the front seat and the sinking feeling that the municipal court probably won't take Visa.

Ask Any Mom

A mom learns something new every day: 1. Today's speeding ticket will usually be roughly the same amount of yesterday's unexpected rebate check.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006


Hi readers, Thanks for visiting my brand new blog. I planned to write a brilliant and witty opening, but because: 1. husband needs help operating complex machinery in the kitchen (dishwasher); 2. one child has something in his eye (I'm assuming he means other than normal anatomy) and is screaming; 3. other child wants desperately to clue me in to the delights of watching curling on the Olympics and won't take no for an answer; and 4. I just remembered the laundry I put in the washer six hours ago, the Ring Ding I started eating while cleaning out cabinets and quickly stashed in the good china cupboard when I heard above-named husband and kids coming home, and the invitations to child number one's birthday party that should have been mailed three days ago and I am sincerely hoping are still under the front seat of the car where they slipped when I slammed the brakes because my friend, on my cell-phone speaker shrieked, "I can't be pregnant. I'm 44!" So, instead of a lovely welcome message about how this is going to be a random account of my life as a mom, and occasionally, my life as an individual person, you get life. Welcome.