Saturday, May 24, 2014

Mother's Day (How it Unravels)

Hey Mamas! How was your Mother’s Day?
We’re you properly praised or pretty well punished?

Here’s how mine unravels...

It starts off allright...

My son wakes me with a homemade card. A triptych of him and his kid brother, with the senior poodle in between.
“It’s beautiful Theodore…”
We hug.
Then comes: “Can I play a game on your phone?”   

The day plan is this:

We’ll enjoy a slow start. I’ll get in a long, scalding shower... The kind that dries the skin but feels so good... It will include shaving, shampooing and deep hair conditioning. The boys will scooter to MacDonald Avenue for an 11am birthday party at Kids ‘n’ Action (Chucky Cheese minus minimum wage earners in mouse suits). I will get to sit on my arse, drink coffee, eat powdered donuts and catch up with the mamas, while our kids scramble through tunnels like gerbils. Later, my parents will treat us all to a fancy French meal in Carroll Gardens.

Awesome sauce right?

Here’s how it plays out:

After 2 bites of bacon, Theodore returns to bed with an upset stomach. The moans of a ten year old, deeply resentful of personal discomfort, reach every corner of the small rowhouse. I dread stomach aches, my own and those of others. There is nothing to be done about belly pain: no analgesics, no balms, no band-aides. Even kisses cannot relieve nausea.  

“Here,”  I say, handing him his wastepaper basket in bed. “Throw up in here.”

He glowers, turns his backside towards me and sticks his butt up in the air, same as he did a decade earlier, swaddled in his crib. As soon as I leave his room the groans resume and I return, helpless to offer relief, but I return anyway, again and again.

Unwashed and without make-up, I leave the house phone on Theodore’s bedside table and head out to the party with William alone.

Push buttons are problematic. The scooter handle refuses to slide down, so instead of resting comfortably at chest level, the handle nestles under Will’s chin where he grips it,
like a squirrel,
whose just scored a piece of pita,
dumped by a cabbie,
into the gutter,
at the end of his shift.
We set off.

We reach Ocean Parkway—halfway there—I walk the scooter across while gripping William’s hand. Razor scooters are meant to be ridden, not walked. As I reach the curb it swings around and nails me in the ankle. “Dammit!” Pain and anger radiate to my extremities.

I have a choice.

I make the wrong one, though I know the right one: to pause, breathe deeply of the exhaust generated by 4 lanes of traffic, and to carry on. Instead, I take my ankle agony out on my child. No holding back:
“That hurts! That really hurts!! William!!! Why did we bother taking the scooter? You don’t even like to scooter much DO you?? You’d rather bike! Can we sell the scooter???”  

His response is justified:  

“MOMMY!  You are sooooo mean!!  You ruined my day!!!  I’m not even going to the party now!!!!”

I deserve that.

“I’m sorry William. “

“What does sorry mean??? I’m sorry. That’s just words mommy!!!”

Wow. Is this a six-year-old speaking?

He throws the scooter to the ground and plants his short legs on the penisula jutting between Ocean Parkway South and its service road.

The metaphor is obvious: Ocean Parkway and an ocean between us. Choppy. Vast. Unfathomable. I don’t know how to help my child, or help myself, when he gets like this.

I have a chance to redeem myself.

I don’t take it.  Instead,  I PUSH.

“We’re going to the party William. Don’t you like birthday parties??”

“No. They give you very unhealthy food... like cake.”

“Didn’t you like Molly's party in Prospect Park? Rolling around the grass with Sam?”

“No, I hated it. He almost gave me lice.”

My phone rings. I fish around the bottom of my purse and catch the call just before it swims to voicemail.  

“Speak up Theodore.  I can’t hear you. You’re brother is having a fit.”

“I’m feeling really sick.”

“Go to the toilet and throw up. You’ll feel a lot better.”


“Really, it’s the only thing that helps.”


“Okay, I’m just gonna drop William off and run home to you baby. Sit tight.”

No time for bridging symbolic bodies of water with skillful words and hugs; I pull the scooter—and William—the rest of the way.

Homeward bound to Theodore. I stop at the Uzbeki fruit stand to pick through the “dead produce” bin.  I fill a bag with squishy tomatoes at 19 cents/lb. I fill another with limp celery and sprouted onions.

Things are better at home.  Theodore has thrown up.

“Mom! Come clean up my vomit!”

“Did you rinse out your mouth?”

“Yes. Can I go on your phone?”

High Noon:
One child sick in bed, another at a party, what next?  I pull on debutante-length rubber gloves and clean the fridge—the right way—not my usual smear job. Hot soapsuds and scouring pads. I troll the depths for packets in tin foil, sniff and discard them all.  

Still scouring the Amana, I eat lunch from the fridge door: an open kiddie yogurt and a boiled egg from Easter, rolling around the butter compartment.  

1pm :
I dump the Uzbeki tomatoes into a pot, get out the potato masher and make fresh tomato & basil sauce.

This is not the Mother’s Day I envisioned, but my mood is improving.  Mash, mash, mash.

I move on to making broth. I throw the sad onions and celery in the stock pot with water, whole peppercorns and a bay leaf.

I remember to call Nana.
“Happy Mother’s Day mom! Sorry, we can’t join you at the restaurant. Theodore is honking like a goose and hacking up oysters on the rug now. He’s too consumptive to travel.”

My parents had really wanted to treat me to lamb sausage and French lentils at Provence en Boite on Smith Street. Instead, they treat a childless friend to my lentils, or maybe she dines on Theodore’s steak frites. Or croque-monsieur. Dammit.

But wait, it’s cool that my parents pivot and salvage an unconventional Mother’s Day for themselves by sharing a meal in sparkling conversation that does not revolve around a ten-year-old’s lackluster piano practice nor his prospects for orthodonture.  

William returns home with three goody bags and proceeds to open and sort them on the dining room table.  I watch him peel the wrapper off a Hershey Kiss.

A wave of gratitude rolls over me. The first of the day.

 I cave to gaming. Wii Mario something or other. I go upstairs to pack away winter sweaters in mothballs.

I hang tuff about not cooking on Mother’s Day (tomato sauce and veggie broth notwithstanding). The Good Taste delivers chicken and broccoli, long-live vegetarian, pork dumplings, fortune cookies, and 2 free sodas: Hawaiian Punch and Diet Coke.  I demonstrate how to use chopsticks and the boys stab away at their wontons like ice anglers after Yellow Perch.

Another wave.

The evening winds down with an episode of River Monsters on Animal Planet:

‘It’s scary Mommy.”

“Can I hold your hand William? “

“No Mommy, it’s annoying.”

We sit on the sofa, the boys and me, hands to ourselves, googling ghost sharks on my laptop between commercials.

William looks thoughtfully at the TV screen:

“I want to go to the Amazon cause there are lots of mangoes there.”  

One more wave.

It’s an atypical Mother’s Day. No pink carnations and no dinners in restaurants with real napkins. It’s a day of stalemates with a six-year-old,  sickness and sacrifice with a ten-year-old. A day of small mouths with loud voices making remarkable observations. A day of take-out Chinese, and a day of vomit.

Actually, it’s a pretty typical day in the life of a Mother.


One week later:

We are walking that same route down Foster. We leave the scooters at home. William holds my hand and I notice he is tugging erratically. I look down and see he’s not walking. He’s skipping. Yes, gamboling like a lambkin in a field of buttercups. Straight out of a nursery rhyme. Theodore starts to snicker and I shoot him a look which says:

Don’t ruin this for us. Give me this mommy moment.

Soon enough the skipping will stop; about the same time Mr. Bear will no longer be needed to nod off to dreamland.

We turn onto MacDonald Avenue and sidestep a forklift, parked on the sidewalk, moving monuments from a truck bed through the open doors of a warehouse. The warehouse: a graveyard of helter-skelter tombstones piled high; all with photorealistic renderings of loved ones etched into the granite. Creepy.

“What are those mommy?”

Explaining mortality to a six-year-old, under the shadow of the el,  is pointless.

“Let’s just enjoy this day boys. The next one isn’t promised to any of us.”  

A woman, walking briskly ahead, overhears me and nods in agreement.  Without slackening her pace, she ascends the staircase to meet the approaching F.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Extreme Mothering

In celebration of the 100th Anniversary of Mother’s Day, I’m gathering examples of excessive, embarrassing parenting that nonetheless demonstrate our DEVOTION. Where have you gone over the cliff with your kids?

Here’s where I’ve swerved off the road:

In carrying my 10-year-old: “Carry Me downstairs, ” he begs. I oblige, down to breakfast, teetering on the landing, almost dropping him. He won’t be asking for encores anytime soon.

In carrying concealed weapons: I pocket a knife, at all times, on the ready to peel apples for the spoiled six-year-old.

In providing 4 spoons at mealtime: because it’s germy to eat breakfast with any fewer.

In lugging 8 shopping bags of kiddie yogurts and apples on sale 10 blocks home from the C-town.

In sticking synthetic hairballs to the sides of my head and trick-or-treating as Princess Leia with midget Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker.

In cutting up scrambled eggs for the six-year-old:
“Mommy you didn’t cut up my scrambled egg!”
“Use the side of your fork, sweetheart.”
“NO! YOU do it! “
and I do.. sigh..

Where have you gone to extremes in loving your kids?

  • Do you cut the crusts off sandwiches?
  • Do you tie shoe laces other than your own?  
  • Do you rush to the ER for a bad cold?

To all you moms who are public embarrassments to your children, who are still doing for them what they should be doing for themselves, give yourself a hug this Mother’s Day. Give your own mom a hug. Get a hug from your kids, if you can, in private if that’s the only way they’re willing.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Forest Flowers

When was the last time you took a nature walk?  Traded your city sandals for Tevas and stepped out for a small stroll with mama nature? Dropping 40 bucks to scale artificial rock walls at Brooklyn Boulders doesn’t count. This is not an indoors endurance test of you, ridiculous in harness and climbing shoes, chalk on your hands and face.   This is a lakeside walk beside the Boathouse in Prospect Park, or a day trip to Bear Mountain, or a tour around a town reservoir in Westchester.  Just so long as there’s a hint of green and an absence of Hatzolah Volunteer Ambulances. At the end of the day, the worst injury you sustain: a blister or a bug bite.  

As a New Yorker you are already a walker: to the bank, the barber, the bodega, the bakery, the cobbler, the hardware store, the tailor, the pharmacy, the spice shop, the scented oil shop, the school, the subway, and Junior’s 99cents store (You gotta love Junior’s. You just can’t discount the emotional fix provided by a new palm leaf pattern plastic tablecloth). Life decisions in Kensington are determined by alternate side parking regulations. You don’t surrender your spot without damn good reason.  Instead you walk.  If there’s a haul involved, you take the shopping cart. Walking is purposeful, destination-driven and you always return home trawling a full net: dry cleaning, jugs of milk, and whiny first-graders.

So surely you can appreciate the treat it was for me to spend an afternoon over spring break with my sons and their cousin blazing a small section of the Appalachian trail without purpose or packages.  Just three little boys and me, venturing forth through a cowfield in Vernon, New Jersey.  

Volunteers improve our lives in so many ways. For one thing, they maintain miles of boardwalk over wetlands on this historic trail snaking from Maine to Georgia.  The boys picked walking sticks and we were on our way.  It was a mild day.  A mallard couple drifted among the cattails. A bullfrog sat in the muck, under the boardwalk, unblinking, no matter how many spitballs we leaned over the planks and hurled his way. Nature’s palette in early April favors washes of greys and taupe. Soon the forsythia and mountain laurel would leaf out in gold and purple,  but that afternoon only the dull evergreen of native cedars broke up the browns.  

With boys threatening to outgrow me by year’s end, frequent snack stops were required. Leaning against a white birch, munching peeled eggs with crazy salt, I noticed my first flower. It was unremarkable. Pale, low-lying, easy to miss.  Maybe a distant relative to an Easter lily? I bent down. No scent. Couldn’t be an Easter lily. Didn’t smell like a funeral home.  

At the next snack stop, as the boys picked out what they liked from the trail mix: peanuts, sunflower seeds, chocolate covered raisins, I noticed my second flower. This one also, low to the ground,  a small lavender star with a yellow stamen. A far cry from those showy staples of spring: daffodils and Dutch tulips.   Then I noticed another, and another.  All puny and pastel, but together they whispered: winter is over, beauty is underfoot.

Back in Brooklyn now, as my feet return to their duty-driven paths, the forest flowers bloom anew.   Their delicacy and soft-spoken promise of renewal tremble in my mind’s eye as I stop at the fruit stand and inspect the underside of a carton of cut-rate strawberries.  Mushy. I’ll pass. I bump into our old mailman whose route was changed. He smiles widely and asks after my senior poodle, who always gave him a hard time. It occurs to me that forest flowers may take human form.

Returning home with a crate of mangoes, a little girl clacks down the block in her big sister’s high-heeled slippers. She is so pretty in her awkwardness… her pointy elbows, pointy slippers, like the points of a star flower. As I turn into my dooryard, my neighbor, who speaks about six words of English, smiles at me and tilts her head in that special way.  Later, I catch my child alone, admiring his chess trophies. The mailman, the little girl, my neighbor, my son.  They cheer me.  You have to look for them, the forest flowers in your day, but they are there, on your dark as well as your bright days.  Every single day.  Get low to the ground. Pay attention.   

Before me peaceful,
Behind me peaceful,
Under me peaceful,
Over me peaceful,
All around me peaceful…
                 Navajo Indian

from The Family of Man,  a favorite 1960s coffee table book, 503 pictures from 68 countries, created by Edward Steichen for MOMA, with a prologue by Carl Sandburg. Check it out.