Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wild Child

My baby Ben.

There is a poem that was illustrated, translated, and made into a hysterical and wonderful children's book. It is called “The Wild Baby" by Barbro Lindgren. It starts off like this:

Mama loved her baby Ben
Her small and precious child,
But he always disobeyed her,
He was reckless, loud, and wild.

Ben dives into the kitchen sink, falls asleep in the grandfather clock, hangs from chandeliers, and runs off to live in the woods, where he scares a wolf and eventually wanders back to his mama, unharmed and undeterred. His mother, understandably, is a complete wreck throughout the entire story. But oh how she loves her Baby Ben. She is in a constant state of panic and turmoil over the thought that he might hurt himself and be lost forever.

Despite reading this book and memorizing its words, I went and named my second-born child Benjamin anyway. Ben is such a jovial name… and Ben is mostly jovial. Except when he isn’t.

As a toddler, he did find ways to injure himself that had never even occurred to me, and he is the only one of my children (so far) who has given me cause to call the cops. (He vanished, the neighbors and I looked everywhere, he was silently listening to us all frantically call his name as he lay belly down in the sandbox. I was so mortified. And I think I have a pretty good indication of how a heart attack begins…)

He is now four and is a dramatic child, prone to lying (NO IDEA where he gets that from) and fits. Tantrums with kicking and crying and flailing. And pleading. I don’t spank, yet he stares at me with big, round, tear-filled eyes and sobs, “Don’t hit me!” First, I say, really, dude? You think I would hit you? And of course, I’m thinking, dear God I hope no one ever hears him say this because I MAY hit the Social Services representatives when they come to investigate. (He’s what some might call a manipulator.)

Yesterday, I heard a door slam and Ben say, loudly, “GO AWAY ELLA NOW!” And then there was high-pitched crying. So I went upstairs. I asked Ben WHY he slammed his door and yelled at Ella.

“I didn’t,” said Ben

“Yes you did,” I said.

“No. I didn’t,” he reiterated, irritated.

“Then why is Ella crying?” I asked, in my “intense voice.”

“Because she fell down,” he lied, brazenly.

I’m not terribly thrilled with this turn of events.

Last night, Ben stayed home with John when I took Caleb to his piano lesson. I came home to find them wrestling in the living room. After we got the kids to bed, John expressed a desire to spend more time alone with Ben.

“I think he gets ignored a lot,” John said. “The twins command so much attention, and Caleb has a lot more going on, so Ben kind of gets left behind.”

This, honestly, had not occurred to me. I try really hard to fairly divide my attention between the children. I considered how well I was actually doing this as John told me all of the things he and Ben had talked about.

“Did you know at school Ben mostly likes to play alone but he has one friend he calls “a rough and ready” guy? And that the girls don’t like him anymore because he jumped out from behind the books and yelled “RAWR” at them? But a girl named Greta DOES like him?”

Then John handed me a Christmas ornament I had found when cleaning out my desk earlier that day. (Apparently, it hasn’t been cleaned out since Christmas.) It’s a little bear with a red scarf around it. Ben had showed it to John and said, “Look! He’s wearing a winter tie!”

I didn’t know any of that stuff. I do ask Ben about preschool, but he usually answers with an, “I don’t know,” or an “I don’t remember” and I don’t generally press him. How could I be missing out on all of his little stories? His four-year old heartaches and his funny little definitions for things and his wacky sense of humor? I had guilt. And remorse. And my heart ached with love for this funny little man.

So, before I crawled into bed, way too late, by the way, I walked into the boys’ dimly lit room where their chests rose and fell softly in their respective beds. I took a long look at Ben’s little sleeping cherub face. He lay still, his arms folded over his chest, his blonde curls pressed against his forehead. I reached down and gently touched his warm, smooth, pink little cheek. His eyes fluttered open and he gazed up at me.

“Mama?” he whispered, drowsily.

“Yes, baby?” I answered, sweetly. He stretched his arms above his head, let out a slow yawn, gave me a half-smile and said,

“I peed my bed.”

When mama saw he wasn’t there,
The tears streamed down her face,
She wept and wept in great despair.
“He’s gone without a trace.
I’ll never find him in the wood,
My Baby Ben is lost for good.”

Then suddenly, out popped his head,
“A wolf just licked my face,” he said.
“I licked him back, he ran away,
we won’t see him again today.”

Mama broke into a smile
and hugged him tightly for a while.
She bundled home her baby Ben,

Of course, he’s since run off again.

Monday, September 28, 2009

A Dinner Effort

I am celebrating the onset of cool fall water by shaking things up a little in our household... wait for it... I am making dinner. I mean, actually preparing a home-cooked meal instead of sticking something frozen in the microwave or ordering a pizza from Mark’s.

Since dinner generally goes so poorly, I am loathe to put any effort into making something fancy- and I admit my definition of fancy may differ greatly from yours. Dinner generally ends in tears and mass consumption of the yogurt I keep stocked in the fridge for these numerous occasions. I usually stop crying by the kids' bedtime and they, at least, get calcium and protein from the yogurt.

Making a meal means following some sort of recipe that uses mysterious words like “dredge” and “braise” and “simmer.” However, if other people can do this, why not me?

I am inspired by my fellow blogger friend who writes the charming Life in A-Town. She shared her lack of housekeeping and culinary skills recently, and as I read her piece, An A-Town First: Recipe- For a Clean House and a Home-cooked Meal, I thought to myself, I could have written this verbatim. Especially the shoving of papers into random closets pre-guest arrival. There was one exception: I rarely cook for visitors, we almost always order pizza or grab subs from Wegmans, because I have a fear of poisoning somebody. But gosh, that cheesy casserole thing she forewent for the yummy stew? Sounds delectable. This may or may not be a hint for a dinner invite.

There are several things to think about when I cook dinner.

1) Will anyone eat this?

I have actually begun a list of home-cooked meals all four of the children will eat. So far, this includes homemade macaroni and cheese and baked ham. That’s it. And I actually don’t even bake the ham. It is pre-cooked and I just, well, microwave it and serve some mashed potatoes on the side. (I just thought of something! I could put ham IN the macaroni and cheese!! Wunderbar!)

Last week, I made my signature spaghetti and meatballs. Caleb ate them. Ella not only refused them, but threw her meatballs AND her bread roll. Daniel refused the entire thing as well, though he happily devoured his roll and the one that Ella threw in his general direction. Ben ate the noodles. He pretty much refuses to eat any meat product. This may account for his pallor.

2) Do I have sufficient ingredients to make this food?

I needed vegetable oil to brown some beef in. I couldn’t find it. It took me a while to remember I had moved it to the high, far corner of the pantry, where the twins couldn’t see or reach it. They had an annoying habit of pulling it out of the pantry and bringing it to me, whining, “Juice? Juice?”

3) There are other questions I must ask myself, like:

How long are onions good for in the fridge? Do bouillon cubes expire? Can I substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce? Where are my swimming goggles?

Swimming goggles are an absolute necessity for me when dealing with onions. There is no other way to not have watery, burning eyes for the rest of the night. I’ve tried everything else Martha Stewart has suggested. I came up with the swimming goggles on my own. Sometimes, I have moments of absolute brilliance.

The following is a lovely fall recipe and one of my favorites from my childhood. My mom occasionally still makes me a birthday dinner, and when she does, I request this. It is yummy. It also works well in the slow-cooker. For sides, I recommend any kind of frozen veggie that can be unthawed about seven minutes before you’re ready to eat. Or bread from the store. Or nothing-tell the kids to suck it up.

Braised Cheddar Beef Cubes

2 1/2 lbs of stew beef, cut up
¼ cup of flour
¼ tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
3 T. oil
2 bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
½ tsp celery seed
¾ cup water
15 oz tomato sauce
2 T brown sugar
4 oz grated cheddar
8 oz fresh mushrooms, halved

Dredge beef in flour, salt, pepper. Brown and pair off excess oil. Add bouillon cubes, onion, celery seed, and water. Cover, cook slowly 1-1 1/2 hours. Add tomato sauce and sugar- cook 20 minutes or until beef is tender. Add cheese and mushrooms. Cook 10 minutes. Serve over rice or noodles.


Dinner did not go well. Don’t let this deter you from making his recipe. Normal children like it. Here were the opinions of my four:

Caleb: “I kind of like it.” He ate three bites and declared he was finished.
Ben: “I’m going to choke!” He spit his first and only bite into his milk.
Daniel: “No! No no no no no!” He flat out refused.
Ella: “Cheese! Cheese!” Though she had a hankering for a slice of American processed cheese food, she did eat several bites! A great success for Ella. I rewarded her with cheese.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Golden Boy

This morning, I was awakened by an inspiring version of “The Star Spangled Banner” sung by Caleb at 7:30 in the morning. It was a little startling, but I did find myself thinking good thoughts about America all day long.

On a different topic entirely, last night, John received his G.O.L.D. award, which you may remember stands for Graduate of the Last Decade, and NOT Good Old Lager Drinkers. There was a dinner at our college alma mater, RWC, which stands for Roberts Wesleyan College and NOT Radioactive Waste Campaign (I could go on like this all day…) in our old dining hall on campus. It was a full room: other awards were presented and there were speeches from those celebrating various milestone reunions. The guy from 1959 should totally have his own reality t.v. show. It could be like an edgier version of Andy Griffith with butt grabbing and another mildly inappropriate jokes.

The best part about the whole evening was having our family all together to celebrate the wonder that is John. John’s brother Scotty Karate and his wife drove in from Philly, his little sister Mary came up from Lancaster, and his parents drove from the not-so-far-away corner of Lockport, NY. My parents and stepmother also came, and his fave professor from college came, accompanied by his most awesome wife , which meant a lot to John.

The second best part of the evening was this layered, lemony cake that had sufficient icing to make me very happy.

John’s friend and colleague Kelly introduced John and spoke of his feats during and since college (should I list them all? Would that be obnoxious? Well… it’s my freakin’ blog, I guess I can if I want.) Actually, his feats are kind of obnoxious. (College senate, Senior class president, RA (which stands for resident advisor and not Random A-h***), magna cum laude grad in college and law school, editor-and-chief of the Buffalo Law Review, attorney for THE FIRM, pro-bono award recipient, political town leader, adjunct professor, father of four, husband of the best trophy wife a guy could ever have.) The last one is not so obnoxious.

What Kelly didn’t mention, and what John didn’t tell her, is my favorite of John’s most recent accomplishments. A picture of John pretending to jump out of THE FIRM’s legal library window graces the cover of THE FIRM’s recent brochure. Because that is often what one feels like doing when one is a lawyer. I believe most of our lawyer friends can attest to this fact. (Picture forthcoming: I have to find it).

My favorite comment of the evening came from my mother-in-law, who told John: “I didn’t even know half of those things!” We were shocked that she didn’t know we had four children, but this is what happens when you yourself have to keep track of five kids, so we forgave her.

My second favorite comment came his fave professor, who incorrectly guessed what year John had graduated. (This in itself is funny since he only had to subtract ten years, but I suppose math is not a strongpoint of humanities professors.) John told him the correct year, and the prof said, “You’re lucky I remember you at all!” I think these humbling statements are good for John.

A woman approached me after the dinner and said, “Behind every great man is a…” This is when I butted in and said, “an even better woman.” Ha ha! I’m also a big fan of that joke about Adam, you know, the first man created by God. God created man, stepped back and took a good look and thought to himself, I can do sooo much better. Thousands, maybe millions (yeah… I went there) of years later, Holly was born.

John now has a huge plaque that he is going to hang in his office at THE FIRM so that the next time his boss berates him for something or other he can point to it and say, while sniveling a bit, “Some people out there actually appreciate what I do!”

John gave a speech about the importance of having Christian liberal arts colleges, and he didn’t say um too many times, which is a problem of his. What makes a Christian liberal arts college different than other Christian colleges? Well, at Roberts, we were allowed to walk with members of the opposite sex on the sidewalks, to form our own opinions about Christianity, and could wear t-shirts that made political and social statements. At the same time, we had chapel requirements, a faith-based education, and a selection of quality liberal arts programs to choose from.

Caleb was the only child to accompany us, and he behaved beautifully. He was distracted by a loose tooth and spent the evening taking bite after bite of a rather large apple in hopes of painlessly extracting it.

I am sorry to say that I must rescind my application as next year’s G.O.L.D recipient, largely because I don’t think I could get my family to sit through all of those speeches for a second year in a row. To those in charge of selection, I know this comes as a great disappointment, but I must stand by my decision. I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied living with the golden boy, who is at the Bills game right now but will be home in a bit. I hope in time to give the boys a bath, because golden boys do these menial chores better than trophy wives do. Just a little information for all you trophy wives out there…

John and his trophy wife.

From bottom left, going clockwise: Scotty Karate, Michelle the belle, Richie Retardo, Mama II, Pa, Sigrid, Mary without Carl (sniff sniff), and Lisa from New Jersey. I would have had a picture of table #2, but my better camera was recently stolen, along with my memory card, and I ran out of memory on my stupid old camera. I await the pics from the Dad, who has a kick-butt camera.

Friday, September 25, 2009

A Good Kid

Conversation with Caleb, just a few minutes before the bus came:

Holly: Did you go to the potty?

Caleb: Yes. (pause) But I didn’t put the seat up this time. And I didn’t pee on it, so it was okay.

Holly: Well, that’s good. But I’d still rather you put the seat up when you go.

Caleb: Why? I hardly EVER get pee on the seat.

Holly: So you do sometimes?

Caleb: Hardly ever.

Holly: Well, let’s turn hardly ever into never by putting up the seat when you pee.

Caleb: (dramatic sigh) Can’t I just be carefuller?

Holly: Yes. Be more careful. With the seat up.

Caleb: (long pause) Daddy doesn’t put the seat up.

Holly: That’s interesting information. Thank you for sharing that.

(Bus turns the corner)

Caleb: (Big sigh.) Another day at school. I sometimes don’t like peeing at school because D___ always tries to listen when people go. Girls shouldn't listen to boys pee. I don’t like that. Well, see ya, mom. When I get home, I’ll try to remember to put the seat up when I go to the bathroom.

Holly: I appreciate that.

Caleb: Don’t forget I want a snack when I get home. Maybe popcorn. Or an apple. Don’t forget.

Holly: I would never. I love you, buddy!

Caleb: (Running down the driveway.) I love you mom! See you later!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Chase Twichell, Poetry, Ecology, Zen Buddhism, and Cookies

The American poet, I have learned, is usually at least one, or perhaps all, of the following things:

1) An ecologist/ environmentalist… which of course, makes sense, since poets are the ones noticing the minute details of nature and describing them in, sometimes, lurid detail (The spicy stench of the stinkbug as its juices explode on the sidewalk…)

2) A Bush-hater. Ironic? Not really. I mean Bush, the former president(s), especially the second one with the W squished between his first and last name. Not a shrub.

I don’t mean they hate Bush the way your neighbor hates Bush. I mean, HATE. Like, they dream about his ultimate demise and death by a barrage of words of affliction. (Poets are generally not fighters; they are adamant believers in that age-old phrase “the pen is mightier than the sword!” The truth of this statement was best exhibited in the last Indiana Jones movie. Remember? When they were in the tank? No- not the latest Indiana Jones movie. I like to pretend that one doesn’t exist. But I digress…) Some people, namely mothers and spouses of soldiers, really sincerely wished Bush had called off the war on Iraq. I think poets like to rail against the war, but never truly wanted Bush to pull the troops, because who then, pray tell, would they have hurled their words of affliction at?

3) Zen Buddhists.

I am none of these things, and perhaps this is why I am a lousy poet. I love nature and hiking and sunsets and little purple violets and drying hydrangeas and the smell of an Adirondack spruce (must be Adirondack, please). But, I do not let thoughts of oil spills and acid rain and the threat of the extinction of the spotted owl consume my thoughts so much as to warrant, well, a poem.

I don’t particularly like Bush… thought he was a crappy president and I do believe the war was based on false pretenses. FALSE PRETENSES! But again, even with the caps on, I can’t muster enough passion (what does that say about me?) to warrant a, um, poem.

This evening, poet Chase Twichell read to a group of earnest college students (and grad students, too) a collection of poems about discovering the self at the University of Brockport Writers Forum. Chase Twichell is a Zen Buddhist, which is, I think, different from a regular Buddhist.

Man, if I wasn’t a Christian, and had the choice of funky eastern religions, I might just choose Zen Buddhism. I would so pursue ultimate reality through greater consciousness like it was my job. To do this, you have to meditate a lot, which sounds very restful and kind of like sleeping ,which is, like, my favorite thing to do in the entire world.

Ms. Twichell said that we are NOT unique but are all a part of one great consciousness. We think we are unique, but that is just the conditioning of our culture and our upbringing. There is nothing new under the sun. I knew that, because God said it first, I think, in the bible. But, I know something Chase Twichell DOES NOT. I have played the game let’s create a sentence no one else ever has before! This is the game where you string random words together to make a completely original statement. Here’s one:

I am going to the Adriatic Sea to eat conch and smell seaweed while stringing toilet paper on my brother who is a sea monkey from Andalusia

I don’t think anyone else has ever uttered those exact words in that exact order. (If you've seen it elsewhere, let me know right away!) Therefore, I put something unique out into the universe, the sound waves of which are still traveling miles and miles away from earth, and I did it without transcending into the greater consciousness of the universe. Does that, y’know, count for something? And isn’t that kind of like poetry? Really bad poetry?

The evening began with a Q & A with Ms. Twichell. She didn’t talk about being Zen until it was almost time to start the reading. In the meantime, we thought of interesting questions to ask her: What was her writing process? Who influenced her as a poet? When does she know her poems are ready to be fossilized? AND why is the sky blue and the grass green and in the ultimate reality, which can only be achieved through enlightenment, is the sky still blue and the grass still green or is it, like, reversed or totally different and are there more colors that we can’t even conceive of because our mind, is, like, not open enough?

My favorite comment came from the student who compared her poetry to “Duende.” He very politely apologized to the rest of us because we “probably have no idea what I’m talking about” and then he said to Ms. Twichell, “but I’m sure you do.” Very smooth, dude! Putting yourself on par with the famous American poet! I literally felt the rest of us fade away so it was just the two of them, discussing the influences of the Spanish poets on her work. It was a very Zen moment.

I wanted to say, hey, man. Lorca and I had lunch and a long conversation about death and the sublime last weekend over at Jines, so who’s enlightened now? But I'm shy so I stayed quiet.

After the Q&A session, I listened to the words of my fellow classmates as we tottered down the hall to the auditorium.

“Her language is just so, so, like, immediate!”

“It’s uncommon to hear someone so naked.” (An actual comment.)

“Oh, Lord have mercy… there are cookies at this event???” (That was me.)

I liked the poetry. I really did! I even listened to most of it. You know when you’re in church and they go ahead and sing all of the verses of a hymn instead of just the first and the last? And how, toward the third verse, you kind of trail off and start daydreaming about lunch or when communion is gonna start because you’re kind of hungry? That’s what it’s like to listen to lots of poetry all at once. For me, anyway. I get overloaded and have to take a mental breather.

Chase Twichell was very cool, for an environmentalist-Bush-hating-Zen Buddhist. She didn’t seem to take herself too seriously, which is important in a person, I think. She had a sense of humor that was light and self-deprecating, which I also approve of. She had very cute blonde hair and wore a pink shirt. (Nothing says friendly like a bright pink shirt.) She read her poems with evocation and answered our questions gracefully with a confidence that, I’m sure, comes from years and years of presenting her work in front of gushing young students who want so badly to be published in the Kenyan Review. So, yeah, my teasing is tinged with jealousy, because I am a lousy poet.

Just the other day, my mother said something beautiful about hydrangeas… about how lovely they are even after the flowers have died. She reflected on the way they dry so beautifully and how the leaves become tinged with brown, like an old photograph. I was all let’s make this a poem! Death is like a hydrangea…

But here’s where my mind went. I could not get any further than the “both humans and hydrangeas dry up and wither and die” analogy. I got stuck because humans, after they cease to exist, are left soulless and pale and full of stinky liquids that need to be drained. I suppose one could write that in the years before death, wrinkles and age spots and yellowed teeth are like browning hydrangeas. I couldn’t quite make it work. And then my mind wandered off, as it does so often, and I started thinking about whether or not I wanted to be buried or cremated and why it is, exactly, that Christians as a people seem so opposed to cremation? And then I thought about whether or not I had signed the back of my new license to be an organ-donor and about how sad my kids would be in the aftermath of my passing and that I better write out a list of things for John to do (or not do) when it occurred, things such as: don’t buy crunchy peanut butter, don’t talk with the twins’ speech therapist about politics, and for God’s sake, wash behind the kids’ ears because, believe it or not, they do get grimy.

And then I thought about my funeral, and what hymns they should play, and the scent of the flowers I wanted to fill the sanctuary, to cover up the sour smell of death… hydrangeas really are so beautiful. And then I found I had come full circle.

But I couldn’t make a poem about it.

The All of It by Chase Twichell

I stood naked in the icy brook
Under stars. I lay on hot granite
Crisped with pearl-gray lichen
We crushed beneath us.

He tied trout flies with dog hair
And feathers, cooked the little fish over the coals, on green sticks
He later burned, leaving nothing.

Was that it? Exactly that,
The Inside Knowledge,
The All of it?

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Ecclesiastes 1:9

Monday, September 21, 2009


I am a liar. (I have decided that, at least for the time-being, I will begin all of my posts with declarative statements. Look for future posts starting with the following: “I am a binge-eater”, “I am not a morning person”, and “I am the Batman.”)

Caleb has been playing with a seashell that hails from North Carolina, where we vacationed when he was but a fetus in my belly. I told him he could hear the ocean when we put the shell to his ear. He wanted to know why. So I told him, of course, that there was a tiny ocean inside the seashell that he could not see, but could hear. The sound was he heard was the lapping of the waves, the wind over the water, the spray of the surf.

Caleb is so stinking rational. At first, he was incredulous. But I was insistent! He asked all sorts of questions:

“I think I hear whistling,” he said.

“Little tiny seagulls,” I said.

“How come no water comes out when I shake the seashell?” he asked.

“It’s so small, you wouldn’t be able to see the water if it did come out.” I said.

“Is there really a little tiny ocean in this shell?” he asked.

“That’s an affirmative,” I said.

“Did God make the little tiny ocean?” he asked.

Oh, man. He had to bring God into my convoluted tale. I was stumped. Did I draw God into my lie? Did I tell the truth? Did I cover up with another lie, like, gosh I think I hear Ella crying?

(I went with the third option. I’m a terrible person.)

This morning, John went and told Caleb that there was no little tiny ocean in the seashell, that the sound was just air circling its cavernous insides. Caleb was crushed. He said he didn’t want the seashell anymore. He gave it to Ben.

“Here Ben,” he said, grouchily. “You can have this for the REST OF YOUR LIFE!”

Then he sat cross-armed on the sofa. I scuttled up next to him and told him I knew how he felt. Because I do! I know what it’s like to believe in something so wonderful, so fantastical, and so beautiful that just believing in it makes me feel a part of something greater than what I am. And I always feel mad at the reality; my fictions are much more fun, more interesting, and make life seems less ordinary. I told Caleb that I knew there wasn’t really a beautiful, blue-skied sea kingdom inside the shiny North Carolina shell, but that I still liked to pretend that there was.

As we waited for the bus, we made up a story about the people who went to the beach inside the shell. Little bitty people who liked to body surf; babies who never dirtied their swim diapers; mommies who had an abundant supply of lemonade and red popcicles; children who never had to reapply sunscreen; daddies who tossed their kids into the water over and over again and never got tired out; sharks who were nice and let people ride on their backs. A very strange, fun place.

I’m hoping this imaginative exercise will help Caleb out when he inevitably realizes there is no Santa Claus, that the fluff left behind by the Easter bunny is just stuffing from the throw pillow Daniel pulled apart, and that the leprechaun that he swears he saw on St. Patrick’s day is a myth perpetuated by people who drink too much and hallucinate angry little green men who horde gold.

The tooth fairy? Oh, the tooth fairy is very real. Very, very real.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Trip to See Regina Spektor in Toronto but Not IKEA

I am a fainter.

I have fainted in an eclectic array of locations. I think my tendency to “black out” on occasion is a combination of rather low blood pressure and other factors like dehydration, intense pain, nausea, or a bad reaction to funky medication. (I’ve never fainted in fright and I don’t swoon. I want to make that perfectly clear. I blush, but I do not swoon.)

The first time I remember passing out was after I cut my shin on my bicycle. It basically sliced off a layer of flesh, and left a thin, white stratum of skin. It looked icky. It really hurt. Christine said:

“On my God! You cut all the way to the bone!” And Holly fell over.

I fainted in the hallway in high school. I have fainted at two separate theatrical productions. The first time I fainted on John was when we were dating. I passed out in front of his dorm building. He stood over me and as I came to I heard him say to the couple who was sitting nearby on the grass on a blanket something along the lines of, “What am I supposed to do with her?

I have refused ambulances twice. I fainted after the births of both Caleb and Ben. I have had smelling salts shoved under my nose. I have never seriously hurt myself. It’s gotten to the point that I can give someone a good three second warning before I keel over.

It is not romantic. It is a hassle and it is embarrassing.

I am also claustrophobic. I get panic attacks when confined to small, stifling spaces. Combine this with a penchant for fainting and kapow! A recipe for an incident.

So why do I go to concerts where people are squeezed together like chickens in a pen to listen to music that is too loud in a dark music hall that smells like body odor, an amalgam of colognes, and beer? I dunno.

We ventured off yesterday afternoon to see Regina Spektor (people keep asking me who she is- she’s a singer, indie-rock/pop, I guess is the best way to describe her?) in Toronto. I think someone stole my camera. I had taken some nice shots of the skyline from the pier.

It was an “all-ages” concert event, which meant that the place was swarmed with teenagers whose shrieking put them on par with screech owls, hyenas, or high-pitched pumas. I stood in the bathroom before the concert began and two girls in their late teens were applying makeup and giggling and I caught all of our reflections in the mirror. I looked… older. Not like a teenager anymore. I can’t quite put my finger on what is different. I guess there are crow’s feet around my eyes and my skin no longer has that bright luminosity accompanied by youth. I’ve always been told I looked young for my age! I think I’m starting to look like (gasp) a mom or something.

John loves Regina. I think she is one of the few women he would leave me for. I suspected this last night when we saw a young guy holding a sign above his head that said: REGINA HAVE MY BABIES. John elbowed his way up, clomped the kid, stole his sign, and held it above his own head for the rest of the evening. All the while, I was thinking, sheesh, don’t you have enough babies?

We chose a cozy spot on the side of the room near a railing where I could lean lethargically. We had a great view of Regina’s curls bouncing just above her piano. I was fine and content for quite for a while. Then the crowd got closer, the girl in front of me with the horrific body odor raised her arms, and I started to breathe more quickly.

The key to avoiding a panic attack it to be cognizant of the amount of oxygen you take in. Breathe deeply. Think happy thoughts. You are safe. The fire exit is behind you. You can move around if you really want to. The person behind you breathing on your neck probably doesn’t have the swine flu. The guy to your left isn’t feeling your butt on purpose; he’s sixteen years old and quite frankly, his androgynous appearance makes his sexuality suspect.

It was only after I realized by camera was gone and that I was starting to feel extremely warm (sudden warmth is a key sign you may be about to (a) lose your cookies or (b) tip over like an abused, unsuspecting cow on a cool fall evening) that we found a spot where we could stretch our limbs, breathe in cool air, and buy me a cool souvenir t-shirt. No incident. Some other guy had an incident. He was escorted to medical help by security men in bright yellow t-shirts. I didn’t see what happened to him but my guess is that he swooned.

Some further thoughts about the evening:

-Forty miles of traffic jam sucks. Especially if you’re driving a stick.

-If sets on Broadway shows can be completely changed in two minutes time, why can’t headline bands make their way up to the stage sooner after the opening act? What do they do back there while we wait? Must they complete the entire yoga moon salutation before appearing? Are they finishing a game of chess? Are they just watching us from someplace hidden and chuckling at what suckers we are, standing and waiting with our arms crossed and our brows furrowed until we spot a sound guy walk across the stage and we can't help but scream with excitement?

-DO NOT GO to the McDonalds near B.J.’s off the 290 in Buffalo. Just don’t.

-Whoever stole my camera sucks.

-Regina has a beautiful, pure voice, and is fantastic in concert. She is I-could-be-a-puppy adorable.

-When given the opportunity to venture to Toronto, every western NY woman thinks to herself… I shall go to Ikea and be gloriously happy! I shall decorate my habitat with inexpensive, Swedish décor! Thanks to traffic jams, NO IKEA.

-Rochester should really get an IKEA.

-Most people who live in Toronto never even heard of the Fast Ferry.

Here are the slightly nonsensical lyrics from one of my fave Regina songs:

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the sheets of paper lies my truth
I have to go, I have to go
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of wonder bread and went right back to bed
And history books forgot about us and the bible didn't mention us
And the bible didn't mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first, I loved you first
Beneath the stars came fallin' on our heads
But they're just old light, they're just old light
Your hair was long when we first met

Samson came to my bed
Told me that my hair was red
Told me I was beautiful and came into my bed
Oh I cut his hair myself one night
A pair of dull scissors in the yellow light
And he told me that I'd done alright
And kissed me 'til the mornin' light, the mornin' light
And he kissed me 'til the mornin' light

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
Ate a slice of wonderbread and went right back to bed
Oh, we couldn't bring the columns down
Yeah we couldn't destroy a single one
And history books forgot about us
And the bible didn't mention us, not even once

You are my sweetest downfall
I loved you first

Monday, September 14, 2009

Expanded Voltaire Quote

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it. Unless you're Kanye West.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Back to School Blues

My husband has a theory about why, statistically, women suffer more than men from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and other post-summer depressive symptoms. He believes that as the days get shorter, men benefit from the healing light that emanates from the television during Monday Night Football. Perhaps this is a biological phenomenon that needs to be investigated. Do the producers of Monday Night Football somehow integrate a healthy level of vitamin D into the bright flashes of white uniforms streaking down a seemingly luminescent football field? And if so, could that same level of vitamin D begin streaming out of the television during soap operas? Specifically, All My Children?

Some women revel in summer’s end because it means that they can once again neatly pack up their children and send them off to school. I’m not quite there yet. This year was better than last; Caleb adjusted to school quickly and I haven’t cried and moaned about the fleeting nature of youth while quoting scripture from Ecclesiastes. (Caleb hates when I do that.)

Caleb didn’t come home after his first day completely exhausted and whiny, but rather ravenous for a snack and wearing a bright yellow bracelet his teacher had given him and all of his classmates. He told me the bracelet was to remind him of a promise he made.

“What promise?” I asked

“I don’t remember. But I have to wear this bracelet for the rest of my life.” And then he solemnly proceeded to eat his sliced apple with peanut butter, so I knew that he took this promise, whatever it was, very seriously.

The third day of school, Caleb came off the bus and into the house and immediately began walking from room to room murmuring to himself. I asked him what he was doing.

“I need to find a toy. I need to find a toy,” he kept repeating. I asked him why. “I need to give it to S___.” (S___ is a boy on his bus I had believed to be his friend.) This seemed odd and also like a very bad precedent.

“Um, no,” I said. “We don’t just give away our toys to friends.” And then, the tears started rolling down Caleb’s face.

“But I have to! S___ told me I have three days to get him a toy or he will give me two black eyes and a bloody nose.” (Sobs.)

I was quiet. And angry. And let me tell you this…

Hell hath no fury like a mother who has learned her six-year old is being extorted.

Worry not, the story has a happy ending. My initial scheme of stalking S__ the seven-year old and threatening him with jail-time never did come to fruition. I truly believe, however, that I could get a lawyer who could find a way to put this seven-year old tormentor into a high-security juvenile facility. For life.

We told Caleb that this boy was certainly NOT going to hurt him because we would never let that happen, but that he needed to stand his ground and show this boy that he could not be bullied. For I know that as soon as you show a bully ONE sign of weakness, you are screwed, possibly for the rest of your life. I learned this in seventh-grade gym class. (The story behind that statement involves pitiful sniveling, a sore ankle, and remains the reason I have never warmed up to the sport of hockey.)

Yesterday, Caleb came home and nonchalantly told me that S___ had “just been kidding” and had never intended to give Caleb two black eyes and a bloody nose. Then Caleb asked if S___ could come over and play next weekend. I still don’t know how I feel about that.

That afternoon, Caleb used his words, a stern voice, and “intense eyes” to communicate to S___ his displeasure at being threatened. And it worked. And I’m so very proud of him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Potty training twins is another thing that is not for wimps.

Yesterday, Ella made the brightest neon green pile of poop that I have ever seen. Which leads me to wonder, how did anyone ever parent without the internet? Pre-WebMd, how many calls a day did the local pediatrician get from hysterical mothers insisting they bring in diapers full of their child’s nuclear green stool samples for close scrutiny and scientific inspection?

I am in the very first stages of potty-training the twins right now (which is such a good time) and one of the things you are supposed to do is to show your toddler where their poop is supposed to go. (This is the potty; it is not a corner in a closet or a shrub outside.) So, Ella pranced behind me as I trekked to the bathroom, or, as the twins view it, the room with fun splashing pool, where I deposited the slimy excrement into the toilet. I flushed and she said, gleefully, “Buh Bye! Bye-eeee!” Then she turned to me and said matter-of-factly, “Geen.” Yes, geen. An ungodly shade of geen.

Potty training is not a talent of mine. Yet, it must be done, especially if I want to ditch the kids in WKids next year so I can eat donuts uninterrupted in the café.

Parents find themselves doing desperate, socially inappropriate things in order to get their kids to use the toilet. For instance, this morning I found myself shouting from the kitchen:

“Daniel! Ella! Mama is going to make pee-pee in the potty! Do you want to see how mama puts pee-pee in the potty?” Modeling is also very important when you are potty-training and, for some reason, Caleb hates the twins watching him take a whiz so the onus falls on me.

The twins think this is a great show and especially love the flushing part, but when I ask them if they want to put their own pee-pee in the potty, I am answered with a resounding “No way!” from Ella.

“Nooo waaay!” says Daniel, soon after.

Just to see if they actually understand what I’m saying, I ask a test question,

“Would you like to throw blocks into the potty?”

“Yesh!” says Daniel.

No way!” says Ella. (Which leads me to believe that she just likes the sound of her authoritative little voice, for I know how much she enjoys a good block throwing water party.)

But these are just the first stages of potty-training. Soon, I will get out the little potty and have them sit on it to get the feel of it. We will decorate it with stickers and then I will offer treats in return for some tinkle in the pot. They will do it once and there will be great rejoicing and cake eating and phone calls to family members! However, as soon as it starts it will abruptly end and not too long after I will resort to pleading and begging and the occasional benign threat. (So help me God, if you don’t poop in the potty I WILL SELL YOU ON EBAY!!!)

And then, one day, one of them will announce to me in a triumphant voice that they’ve gone and made a poo-poo in the potty. I will go into the bathroom to see it for myself, because children, as you know, are liars, and I will say, “Yes, indeed you did make a poo-poo in the potty! But let’s discuss what the appropriate amount of toilet paper to use is so we don’t clog the toilet again…”

Until that glorious, far-off day, I am subjected daily to viewing their number twos in close, personal, proximity. I truly long for that day when I no longer am clipping diaper coupons and only see my babies’ behinds at bath time, when they are soapy and fresh and therefore cute.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Laboring is for the Birds

And she learned that cutting her daughter's hair herself was a bad idea.... a really, really bad idea.

Happy Labor Day. Or the day after Labor Day by the time I get this published. In honor of this great holiday, I feel I should share my brief but memorable involvement in an American-made union.

For one summer, I was a clerk who notoriously refused to wear her blue smock while stocking magazines at Rite Aid. (Or while stocking anything else, for that matter. It was just plain ugly and unnecessarily bulky.) My union rep came in two times over the summer “just to check up on me.” I guess he was supposed to make sure my mouthy manager wasn’t abusing me, that I had access to a potty, and that I knew I was up for a $.03 pay raise should I stick with the job until November.

The union rep was young, had greasy skin and greasy hair and looked south of my eyes when talking to me if you catch my drift. I hated when he came in. He made me feel squirmy.

And that is my only experience as a union member and quite frankly, it’s a pretty forgettable one. Still, I’m happy that law firms give their employees a day off and I’ve personally always felt that Labor Day Sales are a cruel slap in the face to retail employees.

This particular Labor Day weekend marks the one year anniversary of the Great Move of 2008. We have lived in this big yellow house for 365 days now. I should really start unpacking.

I think this is a big house, despite what Better Homes and Gardens tells me. Every time I open up the magazine, I see an article that starts out with this general scenario:

“When Tom and Miranda decided to move from their family-sized colonial in Charleston to a modest, 2300 square foot home outside of Pittsburgh, they needed new décor to celebrate the great change in their lives.”

If 2300 square feet is modest, then I’m a stuffed duck or I’ve been seriously deluding myself. I’m thrilled with the spaciousness of our 2000 square-foot home. My kids can drive their ride-on toys from the great room into the living room at lightning speeds. They run in circle-eights throughout the downstairs. They have an entire playroom just to make messes in. Someday, I’ll get the basement cleaned up and de-spiderfied and we’ll have even MORE space to roam free.

The house has its quirks. For instance, one cannot run the microwave AND have the kitchen lights on at the same time without blowing a circuit. So come winter, I will be microwaving frozen broccoli in the dark.

It’s not a new house, so it didn’t come with granite countertops or whirlpool baths or anything like that. But it fit all of our criteria, was in our price-range, and its walls were neutral enough that we didn’t have to paint anything when we moved in. AND it has a completely fenced in backyard, which is akin to having an enormous playpen attached to the back of your house. I cannot tell you how much this has behooved this scatterbrained lady who shouts out “Where’s Daniel? Where’s Daniel!!!????” about twenty times a day.

This past year has not been kind to this house. My kids have markered the walls and the carpet, have chipped paint off the corners of the walls, have made permanent indentations in the laminate flooring, have banged the doors too hard too often, smudged all of the windows with their tiny fingers, and have definitely altered the appearance of the stair railing in a way that I can’t quite put my own finger on. But I stopped trying to be Little Miss Better Homes and Gardens a long time ago and so my house may be a little beat up, a bit of a relic from the eighties and quite sticky in places, but I’m hoping that it is precisely these qualities that make my house a home.

And since this is Labor Day, I’m not even going to pick up the toys before I go to bed. My union rep, who is completely imaginary and very handsome, told me that was perfectly acceptable.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What Ben Said and Holly's First Day of School

Last night, John and I were appalled when we heard Benjamin call his younger brother a penis-head.

“Daniel, you’re a penis-head!” And then he laughed diabolically.

John and I convened secretly in the kitchen where we discussed how it was that Ben learned such a word.

“I swear he didn’t hear it from me,” John said, with an accusatory tone, I thought. Because that’s the kind of person I am: a person who uses vulgarities like penis-head. In fact, just this past Tuesday, a woman cut in front of me in the Wegmans parking lot and stole my prospective parking space. So I backed my mini-van up behind her, got out of the car and called her a penis-head while waving my fist. Then I stalked her in Wegmans and threw a ham at her head.

(It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I could even SAY the word penis without turning three shades of red. So, no, Ben didn’t get it from me either. I’m pretty sure he came up with this on his own; it’s a brilliant manifestation of his burgeoning, crass, MALE sense of humor.)

I don’t understand the male sense of humor. But I am continuously subjected to it. This past Wednesday was my first day of school. Graduate school. I have been an off again on again graduate student for the past eight years. This is my last class. I was actually done with all of my course-work, with only a thesis to finish, but then I ended up getting myself de-matriculated. In order to get myself re-matriculated, I had to consent to taking nine credit hours. A thesis can only eat up six credit-hours. And that’s how SUNY Brockport got another $1200.00 out of me and why on Wednesday nights, I sit with a bunch of college-aged creative writing students discussing the merits of the film “Being John Malkovich” in the Writer’s Craft course.

The course is a swing-course, which is not as exciting as it sounds and has nothing at all to do with dancing. It is a class that combines graduate students (I think there are 8 of us) with undergraduate students (I think there are 25 of them. Though it feels like 50.) This meant that before the class began, I inadvertently listened to three pimply-faced male twenty-year olds crack up over their mutual friend Sergei’s irritable bowel syndrome.

Poor Sergei.

Poor Holly. Not that I feel old. (There is nothing more annoying than a woman in her early thirties complaining that the kids she babysat for are now getting married and she feels so old!) But I feel beyond this.

When I took my last course, I had just recently given birth to Ben. I drove to the university in my Geo Prism. Wednesday night, I found it significantly harder to parallel park my mini-van on the crowded side-street, and ended up parking very far away and walking a good ten minutes to get to the campus. (Darn you, mini-van! You large, boat-like, totally uncool car! And no… I am not suggesting my Geo Prism was a cool car. It maneuvered a lot easier, however.)

I got home Wednesday night to find my husband and my sister eating Pontillo’s pizza at the table. I told them about my class, how it was full of insipid college students who all believe they are the next John Updike, and how there were even two women in the class over forty; these are students who are referred to as “lifetime learners.”

“Like you?” Joyce asked.


And then John said that lots of people go to school for eight years. We call them “neurosurgeouns.”

And now you know what I’m facing on a day-to-day basis. Let the sympathy pour in, please.