Wednesday, September 26, 2012

First (Sort Of) Kiss

"Hey," Carmen whisper-yelled. "Billy's going to try to kiss you."

Carmen and I circled the ancient oak that erupted from the middle of our Catholic school's parking lot. Situated among the rectory, school, and convent, the lot served as our playground. We hopped from one of the tree's gigantic, gnarled roots to another, whirling our arms to keep our balance.

"Why?" I asked.  I leaned against the tree, the rough bark scraping my palm.

I glanced at the dodge ball game on the far side of the lot. Billy had just gotten whammed in the side with the red rubber ball of death. It made me wince.  Two days earlier, I'd gotten hit by a fourth grader, and fell to my knees. I scratched at my souvenir scab, which was the only part of my leg that could be seen between my navy socks and plaid jumper skirt.

"Dunno," Carmen shrugged.  Her curly, toffee-colored hair hung loose around her shoulders. "He told me in the cloak room before recess."

These did not seem like appropriate conversations to have in the dark of the second grade class' cloak room.

I rounded the tree, and there was Billy. He had abandoned the dodge ball game, and stood about ten feet away from the tree.  Ten feet away from me.  His hands were behind his back, and an elvish grin pushed his cheeks wide.  His clip-on tie was askew, its pointed tip veering toward his hip. He fixed his big brown eyes on me, and took another step in my direction.

"Run!" Carmen yelled.

So I ran. I mean, that's what you do when you are seven years old, right? You run from smooch-happy boys.  Oh, how I ran. Zig-zagging around kids playing hopscotch, jacks, red rover, hand-clapping games, and, of course, dodge ball.

Billy kept up. I looked over my shoulder, my blond hair slicing my view into stripes.  Billy was gaining.

I couldn't get away. I knew he was closing in, and that I would be his smooch-ee. I know there are worse things than being kissed by a cute boy on the playground. That's the stuff of Norman Rockwell paintings, after all.  But for some reason, I decided that it would be just the worst.  Did Not Want.  Nope.  So, I chose the only path left to me:


I leaped onto the chain link fence that tenuously divided dozens of Catholic school kids from a busy street.  And I climbed, Miss Mary Mack-style, as high as I could go. That turned out to be about three feet.  That's when the eighth grade safety helper blew her whistle, which meant that we had to go line up.  I unhooked my fingers, one at a time, and dropped down to the cracked macadam below.

Billy's kiss slid from the apple of my cheek to the top of my ear.  I can feel it now, my first kiss, delivered as I descended a fence to answer the clarion call of a Farrah Fawcett-feathered-hairstyled eighth-grader.

We lined up.

Billy shyly smirked.

Carmen nudged me.

"Did he kiss you?" she asked.

"No," I asked, staring at the back of Sal G.'s head as we trudged back to class.


"Well," I yanked up one of my socks. It had shed itself of my calf during my during my frenzied run around the parking lot.  "Sort of."

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Sign of Peace

Each Sunday, my two oldest children eagerly anticipate the weekly sojourn to Dunkin' Donuts. (The Little Guy has not been given donuts, because his head would explode from a sugar high.)  This isn't a fait accompli, though.  This is a post-church donut run, and is contingent on their behavior during Mass. 

Yes, to get good behavior from them, I dangle carrots.  Or donuts.

They're good kids.  So, mine is a cavernously empty threat.  Even with good behavior, though, I still offer a re-cap of how things were good, and how they could've gone a little better.  I give you this week's example...

Me:  "Guys, today was pretty good. I really liked how you sat (mostly) still.  During the sign of peace, though, you really should shake each other's hands."

The Boy:  "But we don't want to shake each other's hands!"

Me:  "I know, I get it.  You really should, though.  It's a sign that, deep down, you love each other and want us all to be peaceful."

The Boy:  "I don't want to shake her hand because I know where her hand has been."

(The man walking in back of me with his four-year-old son chuckles.  As do I.)

Me:  "She washes her hands pretty often, honey."

The Boy:  "I've seen her pick her nose!"

(Really hoping the man in back of me didn't hear that... Nope.  More chuckling.)

The Girl:  "It's true!  Sometimes this finger," she jabs the air, "just finds its way up my nose!"

Me:  "Okay, well...  that's just a whole other thing we need to talk about."

And I gave them my permission not to shake hands during the sign of peace if they knew that the other one had gone digging for gold.  I also refused to give them a donut until they'd washed their hands.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Devil vs. the Egg

1982. Halloween. Dusk had just melted into full dark.  Hamilton neighborhood of Baltimore, MD (picture dozens of Gladstone-style houses, with the odd Dutch Colonial mixed in).

When the streetlamps buzzed on, we were supposed to come home.  That was always the rule, regardless of season, regardless of holiday.  Even a holiday dedicated to the unabashed, though unfortunately nocturnal, collection of candy.

The streetlamps buzzed on.  We didn't go home.

Oh, there would be some degree of hell to pay.  But it would be worth it.  Completely and totally worth it.  Well, unless the last house gave us Mary Janes, or ten pennies wrapped in aluminum foil like Miss Barbara.

(Miss Barbara was the neighborhood harridan who, legend has it, grumped at my Grandpop that his hoopty left an oil stain on the street in front of her house.  The public street.  Which she then scrubbed to get rid of said oil stain. Actually, I'm kind of nostalgic for the days when people cared that much about the appearance of their homes and environs.)

Anyway, we figured we'd wheedle Mom's forgiveness by deluging her with our Mounds and Almond Joys.  She loved those candy bars.  We did not.  So, kind of a win-win for all parties.

"It'th time to go home, guyth," my Older Brother said.  He was twelve years old, and dressed as the devil.  His eyes were rimmed with black, and he had a Van Dyke painted on his chin.  He also sported a set of plastic vampire fangs, hence the lisp.  The costume itself, replete with red cape and horns, was a hand-me-down.  My father had worn it to a costume party six years earlier. My mother?  She wore an angel costume to that party. It should be noted that she was visibly pregnant at the time.

"Can we go to one more?" my five-year-old Younger Brother asked.  Still carrying the rounded tummy and cheeks of babyhood, he was dressed as a puppy.  His nose was painted black, with whiskers striping his face.

I said nothing, as was my custom. Still is, really.  I am a pondering sort.  Also known as an introvert. 

Hmm....  I can't remember my costume.  I was probably a ghoul, which was my go-to.  The recipe for ghoul was:  white face, black circles around the eyes, a slight drip of blood for the corner of the mouth, and swathed in a white sheet.  Voila! Scary, eight-year-old me.  Who was, I have to imagine, not at all scary.

"Okay," Older Brother said, audibly sucking spit from the vampire fangs.  "One more. Then home."

We took a few steps along the sidewalk, finding ourselves in a pocket of dark between the streetlamps' amber rays.

That's when Eggy rounded the corner.

Eggy was the neighborhood bully.  His last name was Eichorn, but he was Boo Radley-pale, platinum blonde, and pear-shaped.  Given his coloring, the Hamilton kids collectively decided he was, in fact, egg-shaped.  Between that and the phonetics of his last name, they christened him Eggy.

Eggy stomped over to Younger Brother and snatched the bag of candy from his grip.  Younger Brother wept, his hard-earned treats now funding the ever-widening expanse of Eggy's bottom.

Older Brother jumped forward, still clutching his pitchfork. He had the presence of mind to drop his own candy collection, though, and a few pieces spilled onto the cracked sidewalk.  They scuffled, and Eggy punched him, knocking him down.  I clutched my bag tighter, hoping to escape without giving up all of my chocolate.  But it wasn't necessary.  Once Older Brother was on the ground, Eggy sauntered away, his big, ovate self wobbling as he laughed and ate Younger Brother's candy. 

Younger Brother was still crying.  I gave him a hug.

Older Brother stood up, dusting himself off. After he made sure Younger Brother was okay, he said, "Let's go home." The fangs had fallen out in the midst of the action, so the lisp was gone. He reached down to pick up his pillowcase of candy.

We followed without arguing.

We made our way back to our house, the porch light a beacon in the distance. We told my parents what had happened, they calmed us down, and Older Brother and I split our candy with Younger Brother. 

There's a family photo of Younger Brother in the tub, dolorous, the puppy paint being scrubbed from his face.  Older Brother is also in that photo, mugging, arranging his features in the most devilish expression he could muster.

(Why my father thought that this was a night to commemorate in Kodachrome, I can't say.)

This memory lingers with me because it was the first time I encountered menace. But the thing that really sticks is that even in the face of that, my family protected me.  Not only that, but Older Brother stayed true to himself, and even after getting knocked down, he got us home, and he goofed around until bedtime.

Friday, September 14, 2012

On the Topic of Mom Jeans

Now that I am several sizes smaller than I was in May, I have gone shopping in my own closet and unearthed a couple of slimmer-days outfits.

What?  You get rid of stuff when you outgrow it?

Not me, boy-o.  I think I have more frugality running through my veins than blood.  I often battle my tendency to pinch pennies until they weep.  Poor coppery Abraham Lincoln. 

Anyway, I fight my frugality because I've been burned when I buy the cheapest version of whatever I need.  While it can be true that a product's expense is mainly in its packaging (or bloated marketing budget), sometimes you really only get what you pay for.  So, don't be surprised when that four-dollar sweater from Forever 21 unravels when you simply think about washing it.

Last weekend, I found a couple of pairs of jeans lurking under my cherished stack of mix tapes.*  These are jeans on which I dropped a fair amount of coin, which is why I still have them.  You don't just pitch Calvin Klein jeans, you know?  Nothing gets between me and my Calvins.  Well, nothing besides thirty-five pounds.

"Whoo-hoo!" I thought.  "I can wear jeans from when I was a teenager!"

I slipped on the jeans, buttoning them up with no trouble.  In FACT, they might actually be a little big, which is also kind of exciting. Ah, afterglow. Every skipped cookie is totally worth it. 

(Until a co-worker brings in a platter of cookies and puts them on the kitchen counter DIRECTLY across from your office. At that point, you question your dedication, and you start leaving notes like 'SABOTEUR!" on said co-worker's cubicle. And then you settle on half a cookie.)

At work, though, I noticed something.  There's a full-length mirror in the ladies room.  I glanced at myself.  Herm.  These jeans, which I wore as a teenager, are now not-so-stylish.  Kind of dowdy, actually. Wait. (I peer closer.) Oh God, they are MOM jeans!  The kind of jeans that ride way too high on your waist, have huge pockets, and really wide legs.

How can this be?  I've never knowingly purchased a pair of Mom-jeans.  And then, epiphany!  They didn't start out as Mom jeans.  Would Calvin Klein make Mom jeans?  NO!  Style has changed, evolved.  I wore these during the Grunge Era, where sexy meant hiding yourself in a plaid tent and wearing combat boots.  What was once youthful and chic is now de rigueur for mothers, which, makes it categorically un-hip.  Like using the word 'hip'.

So, yeah, I think it's time for me to give up the old clothes and procure some replacements manufactured in this century.

*I was going to write cassingles, but figured it would befuddle everyone born after 1988.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Added to the List of Things that Confound and/or Bother Me

While in the ladies' room:

...choosing the stall next to mine when there is another empty stall that is NOT next to mine.
...sighing. I just...  Why?  Why would someone sigh?
...observing, out loud, what you consumed that resulted in this visit to the bathroom.

There are loads of other public restroom etiquette rules that I maintain only in my head (which everyone is still obligated to observe, natch), but this hat trick was achieved by the same person.  So, I thought it deserved special documentation.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's a Good Thing I Don't Believe in Signs

The last thing I do before heading downstairs and yelling at children to get dressed is to douse myself in a little perfume.  My go-to for about twelve years is 'Romance,' by Ralph Lauren.  My husband gave me my first bottle of it the night before we were married, along with a necklace.

(I gave him the 'Indiana Jones' box set, and the first three 'Harry Potter' novels. Our tastes are different, his and mine.)

I wore both the perfume and the necklace on my wedding day, and then throughout our honeymoon.  Well, and during the ensuing twelve (nearly thirteen!) years of bliss, of course.

My second bottle arrived as a Christmas gift this past year.  Yes, it took me twelve years to go through one bottle of scent.  I know that seems like a long time, but honestly, I do not bathe in perfume.  Two sprays and I'm done for the day And, after each of my three babes were born, I took a year-long break from perfume because I didn't want them to confuse Mama's natural scent with 'Romance,' and then have them try to hug the spray lady at Macy's.

Despite the breaks, I always come back to 'Romance.' It's lovely. Anyway, that second bottle?  As I've only had it for nine months, it was nearly full.

Was. WAS nearly full.
(1.2 fluid ounces doesn't seem like much, does it?)

I fumbled the bottle this morning. You know what doesn't go well together?  If you said plaid and paisley, YOU ARE CORRECT!  A very close second, though, is glass and marble.

See, for some reason, I decided that I really only needed one hand to yank the cap off of the bottle and spray the perfume.  I don't know why I thought I had the dexterity to perform this task, as I have never, ever done it before.  Also?  I don't know why I felt it was vital to keep clutching that pair of socks in my left claw, like, 'if I put these socks down the morning schedule is jacked.  Must maintain rigor mortis-like grasp on socks.' 

But, that is the choice I made, and oops, there goes the bottle and it crashed into the marble top of the sink and I hope that it OH MY GOD IT SPLIT IN TWAIN AND THERE IS PERFUME EVERYWHERE.

So there's me in my bathroom, looking like I'm doing a footwork drill, trying to figure out how to accomplish the twin goals of (a) cleaning up the cascade of perfume before it has a chance to flow onto the carpet below, and (b) save the drops of liquid cowering in the jaggedy bottom of the bottle.

Finally, I put the Dark Crystal-ish shard I was clenching in the bowl of the sink, snatched a rag and mopped up the 'Romance' bleeding from the other half of the bottle. During the clean-up, I managed to lean against a puddle of 'Romance,' and hey, did you know that perfume stains like greasy french fries?  No?  Well, consider knowledge officially DROPPED on you.

The result of all of this is that:

1) I have a smidgen of 'Romance' contained in a generic shampoo travel bottle;
2) I have a shirt that will now be worn only during painting chores;
3) My bathroom and bedroom now smell like a middle-class bordello.

 At least there's something I can put on my Christmas list this year...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Grief Punches You in the Gut in the Strangest Ways

I was at the gym today ('cause that's how I roll), and I was about halfway through my elliptical workout when she came in.

Fragile. Avian, almost.  Short. And topped by a baseball cap, that telltale, g*ddamned baseball cap preferred by women who don't like the fakeness of a wig, or the frippery of a patterned scarf.

Like my mother. My mother was one of those women.

We buried her with her cap.

This woman gingerly stepped on the treadmill, settled her bag next to the machine, and pulled her cardigan tight against her slim form.  After hesitatingly poking a few buttons, the treadmill started up, and she walked.  Not briskly, but not slowly either.  Somewhere in-between.

I had a clear view of her because the treadmills are in the first row of machines, and the ellipticals are the second row of machines.  She chose the one directly in front of me.  So there I am, Karmin's 'Brokenhearted' bouncing in the background, staring at the back of this woman's head. It looked so much like my mother's -- soft, gray fuzz peeking through the keyhole in the back of that hat -- that I almost cried.  I just wanted to go hug her, to tell her that I wanted her to win, that I was sorry for what she was going through.

But how do you do that?  I have no problem wishing a stranger well.  But I wasn't sure how to navigate the well-wishing without touching on my own loss.  And instead of offering support, I'd be a harbinger of doom.

'I offer you nothing but empathy and support, because you remind me of my mother, who died of cancer after a brief, but dignified, struggle.'

Not a lot of hope and support to be found in her story, not for someone who is trying to beat cancer.

So I stayed on my treadmill, and silently rooted for her, sending good thoughts and energy her way.  (Yes, I understand how hip-tastic that sounds, but there it is).  I understood why she was there.  Call it intuition (or superimposition, take your pick).  She was there because she couldn't control the population explosion of cannibalistic cells in her body, but THIS, she could do this for herself. She could walk on a treadmill and make her muscles strong.  She could get out of the house, or the hospital, or wherever, and do something healthful, instead of lying back and being pumped full of cancer-killing treatment.

She walked for about a half an hour, then packed up to go.  She didn't shuffle, but she tread very carefully, deliberately.

I hope I see her again soon.  I really do.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Public Defender Chic

So, you've heard of shabby chic, hobo chic, and meth chic, right?  (Okay, that last one I made up.  But I have five bucks that says you hear it for real in the next year.)

Apparently, I am public defender chic.

My nonprofit has been sharing the building with a new tenant -- the Public Defenders Office.  It is not staffed by eye  candy like Dylan McDermott, but the folks seem nice enough.  Anyway, they keep very strict hours.  They also keep their front doors locked outside of those strict hours, so clients are often found hovering next to the front doors waiting for the lawyers to open up.

I passed by one such gentleman on my way into work.  Glancing up from his phone for a nano-second, he intoned, "Closed!"

This was intended as an act of kindness, to save me the trouble of jiggling the door handle, I guess.  But I looked down at my rumpled khakis and slightly askew blouse and thought, "Herm.  Perhaps I should re-consider my look if he believes me to be a fellow defendant."

**Cue the landslide of offers to fund a new wardrobe.  What?  I get like eight hits A DAY!  Surely that's worth some paid advertising?**

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I'm Not the Worst Parent in the Cry Room

My church has a cry room.  Correction.  My church has a cry loft.  I think it must have been where a choir performed once upon a time. So, yeah, amplification.  Which seems counterintuitive to the purpose of a cry room.  It used to have plexiglass to muffle the shenanigans going on among the kids and protect the delicate ears of the rest of the congregation.  Admittedly, I felt like I was in a bit of an infant terrarium, so I'm glad the plexi is gone.  Still, though, I feel compelled to keep my kids on the hush-hush.

Sequestering ourselves here is optional.  Even though it doesn't keep our noise contained, it is an option we gladly exercise because the Little Guy likes to wander around, occasionally roaring, and the older two enjoy being in the balcony-type setting.

This past week, I took the older two to Mass while the Little Guy stayed home with Super Ninja.  We parked ourselves in the last pew in the cry loft, and settled in to listen to the First Reading.  As the lector began to offer up Moses' words, a woman crept into the cry room with an adorable four-year-old girl in tow.  She also had a large shoulder bag slung over her shoulder, as do many of the parents in the cry room.

A few minutes later, another woman, also accompanied by an equally cute little girl, slunk into the room.  They sat next to the first mother-daughter duo, and I thought, "Oh, that's nice. Meeting up with friends at church.  I should do that some time."  The little girls were immediately chatty, and Big Bag Mom reached into said bag.  I thought she might withdraw, say, a coloring book, or a dollie, or possibly even a (silent) video game.


She pulled out a round object.  A ball? I thought.

Nope.  Well, yeah.

It was a hamster ball.  With a hamster in it.  For a second, I was convinced that it was a Zsu Zsu pet, but again, no. It was a real, live hamster, rockin' it out in a hamster ball.  In church.

It made me so happy, in an incredibly judgy way.  I have snuck in snacks, books, pens, games, and puzzles.  But who brings a hamster to church?  And lets it run around in a hamster ball?  In the loft?  I kept imagining it going on some cracked out power spin, ramming into the baluster, and popping open the top of the ball.  Result:  airborne rodent.  Double result:  children's tears and a furry splat in the aisle below.

Luckily, Hamtaro stayed locked in his spherical prison, and there were no pet tragedies.  But I seriously would've loved it if the hamster rolled itself up through the communion line.