Friday, January 30, 2009

No Biz Like (your kid in) Show Biz

My parents are coming up from southern Cal. to see my son's school play, and these visits are bittersweet. The boys are thrilled whenever Gramma & Grampa can come see them sing, dance, play the drums, play soccer, play saxophone, etc., but it generally means the weekend is crammed full of places to go, which doesn't leave them much bonding time. In fact, every time my father is summoned to one of these performances, he offers "to give the kid a herring". (In case you don't get my father's very strange sense of humor, that's his way of saying we're treating the kids like trained seals.)

I can honestly say I'm not a stage mother. (And my husband is trying not to laugh as he reads this.) Having music directed and taught voice lessons for years, I've seen truly nightmarish behavior (the mom who couldn't eat for a week when her daughter didn't get the lead, the family who praised their son's bravery in dropping out of the show because he was only offered chorus, for which he was far too talented). I don't do any of that, and I hope I've taught my kids to cope with the ups and downs inherent in the arts. (I once mentioned to David that one key to theatrical success was resiliency, the ability to bounce back from disappointments. His response was, "If all it takes is having learned to deal with rejection, I should have a great career!")
But I ache for my kids when they're disappointed, I try to boost their confidence before auditions or tryouts, and I schlep them to the dance classes & drum lessons they ask for. (A few weeks ago, I found myself reprimanding my oldest, saying, "David, if you don't unload the dishwasher, you can't go to ballet!", and thinking, hmmm, this is not your typical punishment for a 15-year-old boy!)

And, of course, I go to the performances, I squint to see David in the back row of dancing gamblers, I try to hear Ben's bongo solo in the band concert, I cheer whenever they get a featured moment, and I always compliment them with a big smile. I've been doing it for enough years that the smiling is easier, as the quality of the performances improve. (Which is a relief, if you've ever attended a 5th grade band concert and listened to what sounds like a bunch of moose in a blender screeching "Frere Jacques"). David's high school does great, professional level shows - of course, the flip side is that they have long, demanding rehearsals, parents have lots of volunteer duties, and we're all totally sleep deprived this week. But tonight's opening will be amazing, my parents will be suitably impressed, and I think we'll bring David flowers instead of a herring.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How do moms know?

3:15 a.m., sound asleep, not even my husband's snoring disturbed me, but it's amazing how quickly I woke up when a quiet voice whispered, "Mom, I think I threw up". Our 12-year-old had picked up that horrid 24-hour flu bug, so after we changed the bed and started the first of 4 loads of laundry, my husband went back to sleep and I sat up with Ben, holding the garbage-bag-lined-trash-can while he continued to be sick. In between bouts, I wiped his forehead, rubbed his back, and felt almost indecently grateful that his illness made him not only let me touch him, but he wanted me to do it!

At one point, Ben said, "Mom, how did you know what to do when I got sick?" I told him I learned from my mother, and I used some common sense - and suddenly I felt like a descendant of Caroline Ingalls, who always impressed me with her calm, assured knowledge of everything from the recipe for sourdough starter to making candles, including making a scrumptious faux apple pie out of turnips. (She's the mom from the Little House books - when I mentioned this to my husband, he said, Engels? wasn't she the actress who played the ditzy blonde on the Mary Tyler Moore show?) (I apologize to my future daughters-in-law - I tried to get my sons to read the books and could only talk them into Farmer Boy, the one about Alonzo's childhood . . . )

There were so many iconic moments from those books (and I'm NOT talking about the t.v. show, folks, which my kids only know from the parody on Family Guy with the overweight dad running through a field of daisies like Laura during the opening credits): making a balloon out of a pig bladder, the locust attack, the time Pa survived being snowbound in a blizzard by eating the Christmas candy, Ma's china shepherdess on the whatnot (which I had to look up in a dictionary). I read and loved all the classic childhood book series, from The Borrowers to All of A Kind Family (a great, fairly obscure series about a Jewish family in 1900s New York - really cool, if you haven't read them!). But nothing made quite the impression of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, and I think it was partly because I knew the stories were true. Real people did all those things - by the time Laura set up housekeeping with Alonzo, she knew how to do them from watching her mother, just like I learned from my own mom: nothing quite so exotic as churning butter or pickling vegetables (although my mom did teach me how to sew, because she loved sewing, and how to make salad, because she hated making salads), but just by example, she showed me what to do when a kid gets sick.

I don't know if my kids will ever write a beloved series of books (or podcasts, or whatever the format is by that time), but at least they'll have a few memories of things they learned from me (how to make up silly song parodies, how to do laundry, how to make the NYTimes recipe for the world's best chocolate chip cookies). And someday, when Ben is up in the middle of the night with a sick child, he'll be able to explain how he knew just what to do.

Hiccups and Hernias and Hemorrhoids - oh my!

The other night, I was describing chicken pox to my 12-year-old, and I was struck anew by how quickly science advances in many areas. Our kids won't ever experience diseases that we remember, like chicken pox and measles, and certainly not ones from a generation ago, like tuberculosis and polio. And the computer that my dad worked on when I was a kid, which was larger than my house, wasn't a tenth as powerful as my tiny cellphone. In the light of these huge accomplishments, I'm doubly perplexed by our inability to solve issues that would seem less difficult - like curing the common cold, or figuring out how to keep socks from losing their mates, or making low-fat chocolate that actually tastes like chocolate.

However, according to the New York Times, evolution, and by extension scientific discovery, isn't linear. A recent article in the Science section explained that our progression to each successive phase is rather bumpy, as illustrated by some physical ailments - namely hiccups, hernias and hemorrhoids - which are caused by our bodies' difficulty in adjusting to living out of water. Funny, I never thought of those 3 conditions as being related, although they sure are fun to say successively out loud (just try it and resist the urge to add "oh my" at the end!)

Hiccups, hernias and hemorrhoids are all minor irritants, usually not life-threatening, but right up there with colds, stretch marks and cellulite as problems you'd think we could solve with all our advanced technology, and conditions that lend themselves to standup comedy. Who knows, someday my children will tell their kids about the olden days, when people actually got hiccups, or had to actually click a remote to change the channel. (And yes, Justice Roberts, I know I just split an infinitive, but apparently you're wrong, it's not a flat-out rule, and it sounds better my way.) Meanwhile, I tried to get my kids interested in that New York Times article - if you ever want to make a teenage boy crack up, just try explaining the mere concept of hemorrhoids to him.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

To sleep or not to sleep - that is the bummer!

3:15 a.m.: I wake up feeling a bit warm - is it night sweats or my husband? I toss off the covers, realize I'm cold again, and try to stop thinking about the fact that my son didn't get the part he wanted in the school play. Then I feel stupid for having stage mother-induced insomnia.

3:37 a.m.: Not sure if I really dozed off, but now I'm wide awake again. My husband makes that little pre-snoring noise, I nudge him gently to get him to roll onto his side, and he insists he wasn't asleep, how could he be snoring? I feel like a heel, but he says it's fine, cuddles against me and falls promptly asleep with his elbow jabbing into my side. And starts snoring. Not loudly, but enough to remind me that he's asleep and I'm not.

3:46 a.m.: I go to the computer, figuring a couple of boring solitaire games will make me drowsy. However, I discover a pile of unanswered emails, start to get agitated, and then decide to try again to get to sleep.

4:01 a.m.: In my effort to get back into bed without disturbing my quietly-snoring husband, I bang my shin on the bookcase and nearly trip over the sweatshirt I forgot to pick up last night. Now I'm wide awake, in pain, and really annoyed with myself - why can't I sleep? Why did we put the bookcase right next to the door where people could bang into it?

4:05 a.m.: Deep, cleansing breaths . . . I relax one body part at a time, starting with my toes, which feel heavy and sink into the bed, then my feet, except the covers are all twisted, let it go, okay, where was I?, oh, right, now my knees are relaxed, except I know that bruise on my shin will be bad tomorrow, forget it, go back to relaxation, think waves of soft blue light, crap, why can't I do this? Millions of idiots manage to meditate and calm themselves and get back to sleep, I'm such a loser!

4:19 a.m.: Get up and go read in the closet, where I can turn a light on without disturbing my sleeping husband, feeling like a total martyr because I'm not reading in my nice warm bed, but he's got to get up for work early in the morning and he has a long day, and besides, reading in bed probably won't help me fall back asleep anyhow. Wow, I had no idea there were so many dust bunnies on this closet floor!

4:32 a.m.: My back feels funky, maybe it's from sitting on the floor, but it reminds me to make that list of all the things I should talk to the doctor about at my upcoming checkup, all 3 minutes of it, but maybe she'll figure out that my insomnia is caused by something treatable and exotic, I'm not just neurotic. I wonder if she'll send me to one of those cool sleep clinics?, only I doubt I could fall asleep with a bunch of electrodes taped to me and people watching me, that sounds so weird.

5:02 a.m.: Okay, now it's a semi-reasonable hour, I can definitely get up and start the coffee. The paper won't be here yet, but I can catch up on some of those piled-up emails. Geez, how did I get so behind? And OH, I wish my friends would stop sending those chain-letter emails where if I don't forward the cute message to five special women in the next five minutes, I'll break the sisterhood circle of support.

5:57 a.m.: How weird, the alarm is going to go off in about 3 minutes, and NOW I feel like going back to sleep! I'm going to be a wreck all day . . . but at least I caught up on emails. And the paper's here!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I'm Older Than The President

These are words being said for the first time by millions of americans, of whom I'm one. Newly inaugurated President Obama is the first post-baby-boom president, and at 47, he's 25 years younger than his two predecessors, so that leaves a huge group of us (approximately 45 million, based on age distribution/census tables - don't you love how easy it is to do this kind of research on the internet?)

For starters, this phenomenon brings up all sorts of questions - "What have I accomplished in my life?" "Is being a hands-on parent more important than making history?" "Should I have gone to law school?" (And those are just the questions I'm getting from my mother.) And of course it's hard not to feel insignificant in comparison to the remarkable achievements not only of Obama, but of all his 'cook-geek' advisors and cabinet members - I used to think I was smart and well-educated, but right now I feel like a Kansas girl saying to the Wizard of Oz, "I am Dorothy, the meek and mild". Then there's the whole idea of second-guessing all the choices we've made in life, wondering about the roads we didn't take, the books we didn't write, the huge amounts of money we didn't make so we could've contributed enough to get to go to one of the really cool inaugural parties.

But mostly, being older than the President just makes me feel old. I used to think that aging was like Carl Sandburg's poem about fog, 'creeping in on little cat feet.' No, it's more like a big, slobbery dog who knocks you over, then just when you regain your equilibrium, the dog comes at you again, only with more momentum. I didn't mind the initial signs, the creaking knees, the slight loss of stamina. Then my friends and I started noticing those early crows'-feet, or wrinkles, or sagging neck jowls. Okay, I can deal with that, nothing looks too bad if I smile all the time. Next it was the realization that even coloring my hair every 6 weeks was pushing it, and I could no longer claim that my gray was premature.

However, being older than the president is a huge transition - it's fine being older than most celebrities (since I feel smarter and more fulfilled than anyone I've seen grace the cover of People), but it's harder to reconcile being older, and far less accomplished, than a brilliant, articulate, family man who happens to be the most powerful leader in the free world. On the other hand, there are advantages to being an official 'older American.' I haven't figured out any yet (other than getting my invitation to AARP the day after my 50th birthday - talk about rubbing salt in the wound!), but I'll try to think of some, while I touch up my roots and explain to my mother, again, why I chose not to go to law school.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Like most suburban moms, I spend a great deal of time in the car, driving kids to school and activities and running errands. I gripe about the cost of gas, being caught in traffic, and how hard it is to park my gargantuan minivan (which I will replace with an environmentally superior hybrid as soon as I don’t have 8 carpools to drive!), but mostly I just take driving for granted.

However, my oldest is studying for his learner’s permit, and suddenly he’s given me a whole new perspective on driving. David studies the online tests, quizzes me about signs he doesn’t recognize, and constantly begs to practice in the local parking lot. His impatience reminds me of the thrill I felt when I got my license, that combination of terror and elation at the thought of being independently in control of a ton of mechanized metal.

I feel like a cliche with all my jumbled emotions; disbelief that my baby is old enough to drive, nervous at the thought of him on the road with all those idiots out there, and of course excited at the prospect of him taking over some of this endless driving. And in the spirit of his enthusiasm, I try to visualize my 16-year-old self, eager for every minute behind the wheel (“Mom, you need me to run any errands?” “I’ll drive the hebrew school carpool!”) while simultaneously trying to ignore David’s running commentary on my driving (“Isn’t this a 55-mph zone?” “You forgot your turn signal”). Nothing like a brand-new driver in the car to make you appreciate driving AND pay attention to traffic rules!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mustaches, goatees and beards - Oh my!

My husband, Scott, just completed his annual facial hair ritual - at Thanksgiving, he stops shaving til he grows a full beard, and then in January, he chips away at it gradually, moving through various sizes of goatees and sideburns to an ever-thinner mustache, and then eventually back to bare-faced. Once we get past the growing-in stage (which hurts when we kiss - he’s a nice hairy Italian boy!), I find the whole process fascinating.

It must be like changing hairstyles for a woman - we all love playing around with different looks, curly, straightened, updos, highlights - so I understand his need to experiment with his appearance. Actually, it’s fun to feel like I have a new man around every week - although some of them are more attractive than others. So far, we’ve gone through Abe Lincoln, Van Gogh, Sigmund Freud, Colonel Sanders, and Maynard G. Krebs (that was the bushy mustache & scraggly soul patch - every time I looked at him I couldn't stop laughing); there was also the trimmed-but-thick mustache, when I couldn’t decide if he looked like James Franco playing Harvey Milk’s boyfriend or a Tom Selleck-ish porn star. Now he’s wearing a shorter mustache, and he looks so much like Kevin Kline that I asked him to keep it for a while. (Confession - I’ve had a crush on Kevin Kline for years, and his ersatz Russian accent in A Fish Called Wanda makes me weak in the knees.)

Growing up in a Jewish family gave me an appreciation for hirsute men - My father has hair almost everywhere except on his head, and I’ve always preferred my boyfriends to have more hair on their faces than I do. But Scott happens to look good clean-shaven, and that’s what I’ve gotten used to. However, we’ve been together for eight years already, and what the heck - a little variety is fun. Plus Scott promised to say sweet nothings to me in a Russian accent - and I've even gotten used to a bristly kiss!