About Last Night’s Leftovers

thankful

The silence wakes me.

Not a whisper. Not a murmur. No ever-growing feet pounding down the stairs. No 7am yells of “jerk, that’s mine.” No muffled electronic music from the Nintendo DS. What is it they play? Smash-something?

Just quiet.

The TV sits black and silent. The remote untouched since yesterday. Neat and aligned on the kitchen counter, right where I placed it before I went to bed last night. It’s not often I get to see it, let alone set it somewhere. It’s the hottest item in the house, the “merote.” Whoever holds it possesses those invincible powers of channel control. Powers not to be taken lightly. The fun teen mishaps on the Disney channel can ruin ones day if it’s the darkness of “Gotham” they desire.

So they hang on to that remote because really their happiness depends on it. Or they hide it amongst the stale chip crumbs and candy wrappers under the bouncy cushions of the sofa. And then pretend they don’t know where it is. So we’re stuck with Cartoon Network. Ninjago forever. There’s yelling. And wrestling. And my bedroom is directly above the playroom, so it’s not only Sensei Wu’s creepy Lego voice coloring my serene Saturday morning dreams, it’s also relentless cries of “Give it” punctured with an occasional “Ow” (is there anything more ear-shattering than the low foghorn of a newly-deepened teenage boy voice?). All before 7.09am. Most Saturdays.

But this morning all was still. The remote benignly in plain sight, powerless as it should be.

And I am up before 7.09am.

Even though there’s no yelling. No fighting. No noise. No extra-loud “Good morning, Mom” to retrieve the iPad in stealth. And definitely no wet kiss on my sleepy cheek.

We are half this week. One dad, two bigs away doing adventurous boy things: planes, trains, rugby and rain. One mom, two littles at home doing not that much: cousins, beach, classic movies like “Annie” and “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

The quiet is welcome. The kitchen stays clean. The laundry basket is barely full and there is no room for yesterday’s leftover pizza in the suddenly too full fridge. We never have leftovers. Nobody nags for a friend to come over or to go to Target or leaves wet towels on the carpet. Instead of no I say yes: to ice cream, to staying up late, to overpriced magnets at Fisherman’s Wharf. “You’re the best mommy ever,” they chirp with their arms around each other.

But we are half. And what I am is some kind of half-mommy. While less of them should mean more of me, we are incomplete. And so am I.

It is calm and neat and the washing machine is at rest. But the quiet is strange. Uncomfortable. This is not who we are, half of ourselves. Half the conversations, half the laughter, 50 per cent less awkward hugs and sloppy kisses, way less muddy clothes sweaty from intense hide-and-seek in the backyard. Too many leftovers.

I talk and write about my family chaos a lot. How I long for it to be a little quieter. Not so hectic. How I wish there were less groceries, less shoes, less dentist appointments and haircuts. More room, more time for thoughts and words and yes instead of no.

But that would make us not us.

The weak early morning sunrays reflect off the dull silver of the remote. It waits, untouched. When I open the fridge the pizza box slides out from its precarious spot, squeezed above the unopened gallons of milk. It lands on the floor with a loud thwack that echoes around the empty kitchen.

Only one more night of leftovers.

One Halloween I Went to See a Play on Broadway

One Halloween I bought pumpkins, but didn’t help carve them. The kids asked their dad.

One Halloween I didn’t discuss, plan or purchase costumes. They made, borrowed and raided the dress-up box. Without me.

One Halloween I didn’t volunteer to buy treats for the class party.

One Halloween I didn’t go to the parade at school.

One Halloween I refused to buy candy, and told them to keep the house dark.

One Halloween I arranged for them all to go trick-or-treating with others.

I hate Halloween. I dread it. As soon as summer is over and barely a week into the new school year, it looms. Mentions of costumes, parties, candy, pumpkins creep into conversation around the third week of August when I’m mourning the fading glow of a perfect summer, when the leaves are still green and clinging to their branches, when I’m seven after-school activities deep into my four color-coded desk calendar and I can’t get my head around tomorrow, never mind Halloween that’s still two months away.

I loved it the first few years – when there were two kids to dress up, and we could go trick-or-treating early because they went to bed at 7pm. When they were too young to know about carving pumpkins. We would marvel at the neighbors’ jack o’lanterns, and scary Halloween decorations, collect candy from five houses, and head home. It was low-maintenance, easy, something we watched more than did.

But now, ten years and an additional two kids later, it’s an all-consuming operation. It’s too many costumes, and too much candy, and she has plans with those third-graders, and he is going to that part of town, and the teenager doesn’t want to trick-or-treat but does want to go to a sleepover. Not-so-secretly, I hope it rains.

Yes. I’m the Halloween Scrooge. Not Boo… Bah!

The kids have quickly learnt not to engage too enthusiastically with me about it. To figure most of it out for themselves. They gently suggest a good time to go to the pumpkin patch, because it’s fall, Mom, and the pumpkins look good on the porch. They each pick out a perfect-to-carve pumpkin, and even I choose two for their weird shapes and colors. They creatively brainstorm costumes amongst themselves, and resourcefully borrow and make. We have Batman, a Green M&M and a Zak-in-the-Box this year. I am proud of his originality and creativity – all on his own!

zakinbox

One Halloween I left my kids with the babysitter for four days, and flew east with my husband.

We visited the Washington Monument and saw the President leaving town in a convoy of low-flying helicopters. We walked the streets of Manhattan in the rain, and took fun photos outside the gleaming Plaza hotel, hundreds of windows twinkling in the twilight.

Plaza

One Halloween we rode the subway downtown and then uptown with a mummy, Homer Simpson, kids wearing plaid shirts, torn jeans and blood-like paint (were they murderous hipsters?) and a guy in the most authentic costume ever, except he really is a Fedex delivery person.

One Halloween I sat in a 100-year-old theater on Broadway, and couldn’t wait for the play to start. The set was beautiful: a grand, old house dappled in afternoon sunlight. James Earl Jones’ comic timing was gravelly pitch-perfect and the actress who played the ballet-obsessed sister was my favorite.

broadway

The Trick-or-Treaters back home had fun too! The Green M&M took her small cousin by the hand and showed her how it’s done. Batman all in black got together with his BFF the white ninja and the Dyna Duo hit the ground running, while Zak-in-the-Box bounced his way around the neighborhood. I haven’t heard from the teenager yet but he liked the photo of Rockefeller Plaza I posted on Instagram, so I take that as a sign of life and greeting.

One Halloween I surprised myself. I missed it.

This is a Finish the Sentence Friday post, inspired by the prompt “One Halloween, I…” Hosted by Kristi from Finding Ninee, Dana from Kiss My List and April from 100lb Countdown.

My Kids Only Want to Talk to Me in the Bathroom

bathroom

My kids are pretty self-sufficient. We’re over a month into the school year, they have a vague idea of where they’re supposed to be and when (like school at 8.20am, so stop reading, talking, eating, brush your teeth goodbye), and in theory they are all of the age when they can dress, entertain, toilet and feed themselves. If any of that fails they know how to operate the remote, and although the five-year-old is able to recognize only the sight words he’s learnt during the first seven weeks of Kindergarten (I, am, is, are, the, a, play), somehow he can read the on-screen channel guide fluently. Xfinity is sneaky that way.

So there’s no real need for them to talk to me. And they mostly don’t.

Even when I talk to them. They answer questions with one-syllables, specifically: fine, yes, no, ok (that’s two syllables I know, but it’s barely a real word). They stomp their feet if frustrated, do that “yessss” fist-pump thing if excited, and grunt, yell, whine and tattle-tale in between.

But occasionally they do want to talk to me. And they are very, very selective about when that is. Usually, not always but usually, they talk to me when I am obviously in the middle of something else. When I am clearly not able to give them my undivided attention, which is suddenly exactly what they are clamoring for.

Read more here.

Teen Trouble, 2014 Style

I love a party. Really any party at any time of day, but especially a nighttime dance party.

Bar mitzvah parties are my favorite. Balloon bouquets, party dresses, disco lights and sparkly shoes. Colorful candy and bright eyes and giddy laughter and the promise of “Footloose” on the dance floor. The boys are appealingly cool in their awkwardness, and the girls are squeally and sweet, and all the parents think this is actually their party and we’ll show you kids that yes, it is all about that bass! Good times.

We celebrated my son’s bar mitzvah just like this a few weeks ago (the DJ forgot to play “Footloose”, but he brought his own trumpet to accompany Macklemore, so he’s forgiven). There were cake pops and jars of jelly bellies and glow sticks, and a screen to live-stream all those fun Instagram pics the kids (and adults) were posting. Yep fun, 2014-style!

And a guaranteed invitation for trouble, 2014-style.

Read more here.

instagram

Shitty Mom Rebranded

vintage_momI call myself a “Shitty Mom” at least once a day. Okay, more than that. A few times a day, minimum. That’s vague enough. Definitely every day those nine letters float breezily across my busy brain like a lazy sky-writer sending a message from up high. And then they slowly fade leaving the faintest outline in their place. Or they brand themselves hot, fierce and quick across my forehead, momentarily leaving an angry red scar. 

I’m not sure any part of that phrase Shitty Mom even deserves capital letters. It’s more like shitty mom. Or shittymom. Whatever. 

I feel like a shitty mom when I don’t walk my kindergartner to his classroom. I need to make my 8.30am exercise class and he knows the way on his own. When I don’t buy my 8th grader the protractor he needs for tomorrow because I can’t face dealing with the Walgreen’s parking lot at rush hour for one protractor, and I thought I’d go later but one thing became ten and I didn’t. When I don’t make dinner every night, or even ensure there is something, anything to eat some time between 6-8pm. When my kids hear me curse, when I yell at them again, when I don’t volunteer for the class party. When I forget to remind my son to wash his face and put on deodorant (seriously?!), or when I tell my daughter her hair looks terrible. I’m like Karen from “Will & Grace”: “Honey, what’s up with that hair?”

Shittymom shittymom shittymom.

It’s okay though. I know I can’t be everywhere all the time. I have four children, each with their own needs, schedules, demands, requirements, tastes in food and personal hygiene preferences. And even if I had one less child, or one child, or one child more (never going to happen) I still wouldn’t be able to be everywhere, be everything, all the time. Plus I have needs and schedules and food requirements of my own – and you know, a lot of the time mine and theirs are not at all compatible. Fish sticks? No thanks. I’d rather have chocolate and a glass of wine.

The truth is, I’m not a shitty mom. I may be preoccupied, always late, mostly impatient, too busy to listen right now, or enjoying my book too much to swim or play with them. But it’s okay, because they are more than okay. They’re happy and healthy and some kind of independent. They get enough sleep every night, their clothes fit, they fight with their siblings and help each other out, laugh, whine, tell stories, and don’t stop eating. They shoot baskets, play soccer, say they’re bored, play Minecraft for hours, and also read and joke around and hang out with their friends.

And some of that happens because of who they are, but a lot of it happens because of who I am. Their not shitty mom.

So I’m rebranding myself. What I am is an Honest Mom. Uppercase Worthy!

As an Honest Mom I know:

A sip of mojito or wine won’t kill you, nor will it turn you into a premature alcoholic. I was having a conversation of my own when you asked if it was water, and I distractedly handed you the glass full of ice, mint leaves and a little too much vodka. Even though you’re ten (or five – it’s happened more than once and to more than one) it’s okay.

I do not have to bring snacks for you wherever we go. It’s perfectly acceptable for your tummy to be rumbly while you play on the slide or climb the big tree at the park. It’s only been an hour since lunch, and you can have a string cheese when we get home. And maybe your tummy is rumbling because it’s digesting.

Speaking of trees, I don’t have to watch your every move as you climb on that one. Or scale those rocks. Yes, it may be a little dangerous. You might fall. Scrape your toe. Even hurt your head, or worse. But you are strong and thoughtful and you can do it. Risky situations teach us to be brave, to know our limits. 

It’s not serious if you hear me curse – not all the time, of course, but occasionally. Words are how we express ourselves, and sometimes the evocative F-word is how I express. Your ears are not going to burn off, and usually the words that are accessible are the ones you’re less likely to want to say in a moment of rebellion.

Similarly, it’s not a federal offense in my book if you use “stupid, idiot, shut up.” I’m not advocating mean language, and there are other words you could use instead, but these are words you hear in the world around you, in movies, even read in books, so why shouldn’t you use them?

I do not have to give you a reason for why I say No. Ever. I am your parent and you are the child, and No is No. Don’t ask why. I don’t feel like explaining for the hundredth time why you may not watch your fourth hour of TV. I don’t actually have a reason why you can’t have a sleepover, it just doesn’t feel right tonight so No. I am not going to tell you again about the value of money, and need versus want, and why it’s not necessary to buy that Lego Mixel, those high-top Converse sneakers, that ice-cream cone. Just No. “Because I said so” is a perfectly reasonable reason. Get on with it. 

Shitty mom shrugs it off. Sighs in resignation or laughs in exasperation. Is fine with the way it is, but wonders if it could be, should be better.

Honest Mom knows it’s not going to get better. This is the way it is. And for her, and her kids, this is the best way.

Honest Mom owns it.

**With deep gratitude to my Honest Friend Lawrence, who insisted we reframe the conversation. Life-changing.**