You Rock-Apulco Red!

His head bops in time to the music. His fingers tap out the rhythm on his knee, and his mouth moves as he sings the song in his head, while a little smile plays around his lips and lights up his deep, dark eyes. As long as it’s a song he likes, he’s happy. This morning it was Green Day’s “21 Guns.”

I look over at him, and feel a smile tug at my own lips. “He rocks,” I think. Kinda corny, he is literally rocking out with Billy Jo there in the front seat, but the awesome heavy drumbeat inspires my thought, as does his ten-year-old body moving in time to it.

21 Guns - Green Day source: fanpop.com

21 Guns – Green Day source: fanpop.com

It’s not often that I have such positively-inspired thoughts about my children, any of them. I’ve written much about my struggle to feel fulfilled as a stay-at-home-mom, about my loathing for my minivan, that dastardly Chariot of Carpool, about how needy and hungry and whiny they are much of the time. And all of that is true.

But on occasion, they do rock.

Like my daughter who made up a song while in the shower last night. I heard her off-key singing and verses that made no sense and just smiled and shook my head. When I walked by the bathroom she was staring straight into the mirror, belting it out.

“Oh Mom, I made up this song with a few words, but then these other sentences just came to me, so when I perform it, I’m going to sing the whole thing.” I don’t know where she plans on performing it, and for whom, but she believes she’s going places and so do I. She rocks.

Or the biggest brother who has a nickname for each of his siblings, something quirky and esoteric that only he calls them, that makes them feel very special and very loved by him, makes them smile when he calls them and melt in contentment like a puppy having its belly scratched. He rocks.

And my tiny boy, five for just three weeks, who had a sleepover last night. Not just anywhere, but over the bay and across the bridge, all the way in San Francisco. That’s pretty far when you’re five. But not for him. He loves his little friend, and wanted to spend time with him, and this was the only way he could do it yesterday. So he packed his own bag, and put in three stuffies, and memorized my cell phone number, and gave me a quick kiss goodbye. And had the best time. You got it – rocks.

“Do you like this song, Mom?” my rhythmic rocker asks as “21 Guns” fades into the new one from Eminem and Nate Ruess, the one about their moms. “I do,” I say. “Me too,” he replies, and effortlessly raps the Eminem part. Happy if he likes the song, and happy if I like it too.

I often tell them how impossible they’re being, or wonder out loud why they can’t stop fighting. Nag them to stop eating candy, turn off the TV, clean up your room, don’t say shut up.

But today, you guys, I just want to say: You rock.

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

You Rock-Apulco Red! by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Miss Piggy’s Big Number

My knees bear testament to my clumsiness. They both carry faded yet visible remnants of an epic netball game played in Johannesburg in 1991. We lost. Fifty-zero. I don’t think I was the worst player on the team. Just the clumsiest.

Miss Piggy is not clumsy. She is gorgeous and graceful in all her Miss Piggy-ness. And everything she does – from blowing Kermy a kiss to performing on stage – is a Big Number.

woolymammothblog.com

woolymammothblog.com

But me… twisted ankles always. Graceless runner. Bumped elbows and bruised hips still, as I move too quickly, thoughtlessly. I went flying on that tarmac-covered netball court decades ago, bruised and scraped my knees so badly my husband will tell you it’s the first thing he noticed about me when he met me a year later. No athletic ability at all. Just clumsy.

A few summers ago, my family discovered the magic of Lake Berryessa in Napa County, California. The most incredible lake I’ve ever seen. Enormous and blue with high ochre-colored banks and tall trees. Mirror-smooth water. The air is hot and dry, the water refreshingly perfect when you first dive in, just enough chill to keep you giggling and happy.

berryessa

We rented a speedboat, skis, and an inner tube. The kids tubed for hours, faster and slower, we tried to get them to fall off. The laughter bubbled out of their bodies.

kids_tube

And then I decided it was time for my Big Number.

No athletic ability. As clumsy as anything. But I can waterski. I can engage my arms, and weight my thighs, somehow balance on my wobbly angles and actually stay upright for as long as I want. I can glide over that water, cross the wake, and feel faint whispers of (dare I say it) graceful ability.

My uncle taught me how to waterski. At the Vaal River in South Africa – a long, wide, gently flowing river that separates Gauteng province from the Free State. Beautiful weeping willow trees drape the riverbanks and lazy leguaans (a type of lizard) float in the water. It’s one of the most serene, tranquil places I know. And where some of my most favorite childhood memories live: swimming, barbecues, swinging from a rope off the jetty. Long lazy Sundays of laughter and togetherness.

The last time I skied at the Vaal must have been around the time I scarred my knees. It was 20 years before I skied again. Before my Big Number.

Shivering with anticipation and nervousness, I held the rope tight. The boat moved, I lurched and for a second I envisioned a belly-flop. But I tightened my arms, leaned back… and I was skiing! Whispers of graceful ability.

I breathed in the dry California air, crossed the wake, felt the chill spray in my face, and heard my kids’ happy, whooping disbelief that their mom knows how to waterski.

My childhood memories of fun and happiness, of a gentle, patient teacher with the biggest laugh in the world, propel me up and forward on that water. My Big Number.

Miss Piggy's Big Number by OPI

Miss Piggy’s Big Number by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

 

Koala Bear-y

“G’day mate,” he says to everyone he passes, in a perfect Australian accent. He is walking around Oakland’s Lake Merritt. Some people are amused by the friendly ten-year-old chirping out Australian greetings in the midst of Urban California, while others just ignore him. He doesn’t care either way. He loves his Australian lingo, and loves to use it whenever he can.

koalaHe’s really nothing like a Koala, except for his love of Australia. We have Paul Hogan to thank for that. Nothing like a little Crocodile Dundee with that shark tooth necklace round his neck to inspire romantic notions of the Outback. And a killer Aussie accent. He also eats constantly (my koala that is, not Crocodile Dundee), but thankfully not eucalyptus leaves. Koalas are a little on the lazy side – those leaves don’t provide a lot of energy – and I guess he is somewhat more lazy than the average growing boy his age. He doesn’t like to help clean up, would rather tool around on Instagram than go for a hike or a bike ride, unless it’s round the lake where he can practice his Australian. Or somewhere on a skateboard.

He calls himself the “true middle.” I don’t know how he figures that when he’s the second of four – there are really two middles, or no middles – but he says he’s the true middle. Maybe it’s because he was in the middle first.

Whatever it is, it seems like a tough place to be for him. Easily frustrated. In search of excitement all the time. If we don’t have a fun agenda for every minute of the weekend, he’s mad and disappointed. He nags to have his friends over every day. “No play dates today,” I tell him. It’s already a busy afternoon, and more kids means more chaos. “Fine,” he yells, clearly disappointed, obviously frustrated, feeling many things but definitely not fine.

He worries that plans are going to change without his knowledge. Wears me down with his questions. “Can we see The Muppets Most Wanted, Mom?” “When can we see it?” “Are we going to see The Muppets Most Wanted?” No matter how many times I assure him we will see it, it’s not enough. He wants a firm commitment, a day, a time – preferably today, right now. I can’t commit. “We’ll see it, I said we’ll see it.” My jaw is tight. “But not today. And stop nagging.”

“Fine!”

Oy.

But he has the best sense of humor. Cracks jokes, laughs so hard he cries. Loves to rap, and dance, and play DJ in the car, spinning the dial from channel to channel until he finds the just right song. No alt rock. No Billy Joel. We fight over the radio. He usually wins.

The most friendly. The biggest heart. Compassionate. Sensitive. “What did you do today, Mom?” he asks every afternoon. The others don’t even notice I have a life before 3pm.

Koalas are not actually bears. They are marsupials – like kangaroos and wombats – with a pouch for their babies. A pouch where the young ones feel safe and secure and taken care of. My koala throws his arms around my neck, squeezes me close. I know he’s frustrated when he does that, worried about something, wants to feel safe with me. He plants big kisses on my cheeks every morning.

And yesterday he did something amazing. I wasn’t home, and an elastic band came off his braces. He called me. Here we go, I thought. I’ll have to schedule an appointment, find the time…

“Mom, I called the orthodontist and told them what happened. They said it’s not a big deal and I can just come in tomorrow morning, but I said I had to ask my mom.”

Did I mention that he’s ten? I think he might be leaving the pouch…

I wonder if he spoke to the orthodontist in an Australian accent?

Koala Bear-y by OPI

Koala Bear-y by OPI

This post was written as part of the April A to Z Challenge. To read more of my A to Z posts click here.

Getting Acquainted

Given that I only have one daughter, I like to think that I know her pretty well. One daughter, three sons. I like to think that I know them all pretty well, but her especially. Because the two of us are the Girl Power in our testoterone-heavy family. We are a natural duo a lot of the time: she runs errands with me, we get our nails done, go shopping on rare occasions.

sage

She is as boisterous as her brothers, has water balloon fights and nerfgun wars with them, eats as much as they do, and watches whatever they’re watching at full volume (I’m pretty sure they’ve all blown their hearing by now) but every few days their loud, intensely wolfpack boy-energy overwhelms her as much as it does me, and the two of us retreat. Either alone, or together.

She keeps the door of her bedroom closed. Whether she’s in it or not. She says it’s because she doesn’t want Pretzel the dachshund to shuffle in and pee on the fluffy cream rug, but I rather think it’s to keep her she-domain to herself. When she’s nowhere to be found, I quietly push open that bedroom door, and see her dark head bent over her desk, where she’s drawing or making a card for someone or writing a story.

During her seven years with me, I’ve come to know that the only fruit she really likes is pears, and that she loves art and writing. That she wants to be an actress and go to college in New York City. She is shy but social. Good at karate and mediocre at ballet. I know she loves clothes that feel soft. She cuts out the tags because they itch her neck. When she reads to herself she actually says each word out loud in a soft, barely audible undertone that is not a whisper. I know that she loves to take care of her little brother, but is almost always irate and exasperated with the one just above her and a little in awe of the one above him.

But sometimes she reveals herself to me in ways so full of unexpected wonder I feel like I’m meeting her for the first time.

Like when she told me during my library shift at school today that she’s checking out a picture book because she is reading two chapter books at home – I had no idea. Or when she exploded into uncontrollable laughter watching the little guy inhale my skin (he has some kind of olfactory connection with me) – it surprised me that she found it so funny, and her laughter was so completely uninhibited that soon all three of us were hysterical. She makes witty comments now and again, in a voice so dry and deadpan if I’m not watching her face and her lips move, I would miss them. She is not a jokester like her brothers, and it seems out of character yet so perfect when she delivers these one-liners.

The other day she read my post about Dutch Tulips. And she said, “Mom, I like how you have the word ‘tulips’ at the end of the first paragraph, and then you end the whole thing with the word ‘tulips’.”

I stared at her in wonder while my heart skipped many beats and my brain tried to figure out who this girl, with the green-gray eyes and smattering of freckles across her nose, was exactly. Her intuitive insight into an apparently insignificant detail seemed far beyond her seven short years of life. Because of course it’s not an insignificant detail. It’s so significant. And deliberate. It’s how I tied the piece together, and I made a conscious choice to use the word there. And again there.

My little girl has a killer sense of humor. Can read two books at once, and knows her limits. And is developing an intuition for the written word that she is just discovering. And so am I.

My girl and I – we’re still getting acquainted. I hope the “getting” part lasts forever.

Getting Acquainted by OPI

Getting Acquainted by OPI

 

 

Please switch to airplane mode

Leaving now. Luv u

It’s 5am. I was just falling back to sleep. But I reply:

Luv u

Four, five, six hours later:

Landed 

K. Thanks

He travels a lot. Almost every week, at least three days a week, all over – Seattle, Cleveland, Dallas, Chicago. He takes red-eyes so that he doesn’t have to waste a day, often going all the way to New York for one meeting, returning to San Francisco the same day. There are days when the exchange above is the sum total of our interaction. At least I know he’s alive, and somewhere. Airplane wifi is the greatest invention ever.

airplane-mode-on-icon-0926022143

He’s always traveled, even before we were married and we were living in South Africa with our parents. He would travel to the U.S. and we would have blow-out phone arguments at $2 a minute because I felt alone and abandoned, and he was in meetings all day and couldn’t call exactly when he said he would, and there were two continents and ten time zones between us. I’m sure our parents thought our engagement would be over before it had a chance to begin!

And now there are days when neither of us even notices that 14 hours have passed with no contact. Not because we don’t love each other, or don’t care to talk to each other, but because of L.I.F.E. It was evening, it was morning. And it was good.

Before Kids (B.K.) I hated being alone when he went out of town. Days were busy with work, friends, yoga, dog walks – but the nights… yuck. Long. Lonely. Monica, Rachel, Ross and Joey were pretty good company (remember the one with Fun Bobby?), along with Dr Ross, Nurse Hathaway and nebbishy Paul and Jamie. That was fifteen years ago – I didn’t know to really savor my alone time. B.K.

Six weeks after our first child was born, he went out of town – far out of town. To Taiwan. My mother-in-law sent a sweet email: “Nicki, now you won’t be lonely when he travels.” She was referring to the baby who would keep me company, and to the as yet unknown three future babies who would join us when he left on the gazillion future trips.

I wasn’t lonely – she was right. I was completely stressed out. I had to do everything myself and by myself, from morning till night and through the night. No relief from crying babies, changing diapers, preschool drop-offs, grocery lists, bedtime stories, teething pain blah blah fucking blah. I think I hated him… and then loved him more than ever when he would finally come home.

Until the night of the revelation.

Kids all bathed, fed and miraculously asleep by 7.30pm – thank you very much, there’s nothing a mother can’t do single-handedly! – I inhaled a bowl of cereal for dinner (fish sticks and apple slices have never appealed to me), got into bed, and watched Private Practice… by myself. Alone. Not lonely. Happy! He hated that show, always gave me a hard time about watching it. But that night, I didn’t have to answer to anybody about what I was doing, and why I was doing it. No unrealistic expectations about who was reading to whom, whose turn it was to clean up the kitchen. Only me to expect anything of – so I did it. Or I didn’t. And got into bed. With a book. Or Don Draper. Easy.

He never travels on the weekend. He always makes it back home in time for Shabbat dinner. It is easy, and we’re all used to it. His weekday schedule is unpredictable, and I never know if he’s going to be in town from one day to the next. So I assume he’s not. No expectations equals no disappointments equals happy wife equals happy life. And if he can accompany me to the JCC event, even happier wife.

But I’ve noticed something lately. Something I didn’t notice before. Or it wasn’t there. Or I wasn’t paying attention while I was wiping noses, and cleaning up after the dog, and keeping that one awake while putting this one to bed.

He anchors me.

When he’s not in town, I am not quite here either. I get it all done, and I eat my cereal, or skip dinner, or go out with my girlfriends, or attend the barmitzvah solo. And it’s easy. And even fun.

But I feel like a big red balloon that’s been let go, left to float above the leafy trees of responsibility and accountability. It’s big and blue and airy up there – and kinda scary. Actually, a lot scary. Not because if anything happens to the kids, G-d forbid, it’s all on me. Not because if anything happens to me, G-d forbid, one of those kids will have to figure it out for a bit. Not because it’s exhausting, emotionally and physically, being mom and dad for those days. All of that is true, and for single parents everywhere that is indeed the reality every day, not just some days.

It’s scary because I’m alone with me. I switch to airplane mode. I disconnect.

Because, after 16 years, four kids, one dachshund, two countries, a bunch of schools and home loans and jobs, two minivans and a gazillion flights, he is the tether that keeps me grounded. Gives me perspective. Keeps it real. Even when real is not pretty. And those blow-out arguments are still happening, with stakes now way higher than $2 a minute and we are breathing down each other’s necks instead of transatlantic phone lines.

But pretty or not, real feels better than auto-pilot.

If it’s Thursday it must be LA. But that seatbelt sign will go off.

And airplane mode will switch to fully functioning 4G.