Six “truths” all parents know about dance recitals

1. The idea of a recital is better than the reality.

Don’t get me wrong, it is beyond fantastic to watch your little tyke in the spotlight, wearing an enchanting costume and appearing more groomed than you’ve ever seen her (or him) in her (or his) short life.

But your joy will deflate into butt-numbing despair as troop after troop of pint-sized Pavlovas stumbles on to the stage for their turn.

Heading into Hour 3 of this extravaganza, you will die a little inside when yet another class assembles to perform an interpretive dance to the extended version of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight.”

2. These things are ridiculously expensive.

On top of the tuition you’ve paid all year, you will be expected to fork over for a costume, and, in some cases, a recital “fee” to cover the cost of a venue.

For my daughter’s show, those charges were $95 and $75 respectively. I paid less than $95 for my prom dress. Some of the older students had three or four different costumes, so I can only imagine what their parents had to pawn to cover the cost.

Add in professional photos and the obligatory bouquet of flowers and you will walk away from the theater feeling like you’ve been mugged.

3. The otherwise normal and lovely staff at you child’s dance school will turn into lunatics.

I can’t even imagined the pressure these people are under to put on the perfect show. In addition to the fact that parents can be over demanding a-holes, the whole event serves a marketing purpose for the school. Personally, I wouldn’t want the fate of my business to rest in the hands of a 3-year-old’s ability to execute the perfect jazz square to “Hakuna Matata,” but that’s just me.

The woman who runs my daughter’s school is lovely and kind and speaks to the children in a calm voice and makes each one feel special.

During the week of rehearsals leading up to the show, it was as if she ate guano for breakfast.

Her staff shrank in her presence. She yelled at a mother because her 4-year-old child’s ballet shoe lace had come undone. She screamed at the narrator, who I believe is her grandson.

The night before the big show she sent out an email at 10 p.m. that was so desperate you could almost smell the gin on her breath through the screen:

Please, please, please, send your child in with CLEAN tights — no rips, holes or stains.

Please make sure your child’s hair is slicked back OFF HER FACE. Stage makeup should be applied in advance.

PLEASE BE ON TIME.

The subject line was “Listen Up, You F—king Idiots: I’m Not Going to Have My Business Ruined Because Your Children Are Borderline Feral.”

Ok, I’m exaggerating, but you get the idea.

4. You will find yourself getting a little offended by something.

Maybe this is just me.

In my daughter’s show, several classes danced to parts of the overture from “The Sound of Music.” Because presumably we wouldn’t get that, even though it was printed in the program and introduced by the narrator, there was a segue number featuring a pack of teenage girls dressed as nuns pas de boureeing across the stage.

I’m not particularly religious, but when I saw this during dress rehearsal, I had to push my mouth shut. It just seemed a little irreverent, even though the nuns were executing lovely adagio moves and not break dancing. All I could wonder is, what’s next, a rabbi kick line? Imams executing the perfect splits?

In addition, at least one number in every dance recital will feature little girls looking really… unlittle girlish.

When a pack of 8-year-olds in harem pants starts twerking, you know that someone’s lost the plot.

5. The best place to be is backstage.

This year I volunteered to supervise my daughter’s class backstage. Was it stressful? A little. Boring? Not at all.

Me and the 14 six-year-olds in my care had a blast, even though it takes a lot to keep kids that age from rioting when they’re hyped up but have to wait two hours for four minutes on stage.

After rousing games of “Simon Says” and “I Spy,” they were edging towards “Lord of the Flies” territory until I remembered my son’s favorite Internet page featuring kid-friendly Christmas jokes.

Or so I thought.

“What’s Santa’s favorite sandwich?” I read from my phone.

“What?”

“Peanut butter and jolly.”

They giggled.

“What does Tarzan sing at Christmas?”

“What?”

“Jungle Bells.”

They guffawed. Shouting to be heard, I called out:

“Who is Santa’s least friendly elf?”

Then I read the answer and my eyes went wide.

“Who?” they all asked.

“Um, Jeff. It’s Jeff,” I lied.

They pretended to get it. I switched off my phone. The real answer was “Gof—kyourself.” Seriously.

6. No matter how broke and exhausted you are by the time it’s over, you will look forward to the next one with great anticipation.

Because parents are suckers.

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The Kids Are All Write

It’s a given: all parents are inordinately proud of anything their children create. From the first rudimentary crayon etchings to the hand-made popsicle stick picture frames, we simply live to marvel over anything they’ve put their hearts and minds to.

I’ll never forget the absolute thrill I experienced when my son produced his first “drawing.” You see, according to my sleep-deprived, slightly deranged mind, this was the first sign that he was communicating with me. Up until then, I had been doing all the talking, keeping up a non-stop stream of conversation in which I asked and answered all the questions, made all the observations, cracked the best “A priest, a rabbi and a lawyer walked into a bar” jokes.

When he finally put Crayola to paper and left a permanent imprint, I felt like, for the first time, I was privy to what was going on in that sweet little head:

 

Crayon

I know, I know: he’s a friggin’ GENIUS, right?

When he started preschool it became my daily thrill to dig through his Thomas the Train backpack and pull out his drawings, his paintings and his collages.

The excitement only grew when his sister started school. Now that they’re old enough to write, opening their backpacks every day has become even more interesting.

My son has become a particularly prolific author, although his earlier work tended to get bogged down with details:

Ages

Chapter One spring break   

It was spring break and Alice was going to Ashley’s house. I can’t wait to be there Alice exclaimed.
All right calm down said her father. She was 9 1/2 years old and Ashley appeared to be 10 or 11 years old. But Ashley’s half birthday was tomorrow. She’ll be 10 1/2 tomorrow her father exclaimed. 
Her father was 47 3/4.

 

It evolved as he discovered new elements of punctuation:

Exclamation

Chapter 2 It Begins to Snow
Let’s read books said Ashley! Okay said Alice! You read! said Alice!
Chapter 1 Piano Lessons!
Ohhh! said Ashley! one day Lily was going to get piano lessons. She was 10 years old. Ohh! just like you exclaimed Alice! Then Mr. Handmachine stepped up to Lily!

(He also obviously had issues with chronology. And I don’t even want to know who Mr. Handmachine is.)

After reading six pages of the following, I had a talk with him about pacing:

Wahahaha

 

For a while, many of his stories focused on super heroes, such as the high-concept character known as:

Super Naked Hero

 

And the dignified:

Captain bottom
Finally, a hero we can all get behind. (Get it???)

When he began reading ghost stories his own writing focused more on the macabre. Let me tell you, as a parent nothing makes you prouder than to know your 8-year-old produced the following:

Razor blade

“Thooommmassss and Crrrissss haavvveee a nice triiipp, moaned the ghost. And the ghost got out a razor blade and it cut out Thomas and Cris’s stomach and blood was everywhere. The End!”

So stinkin’ cute.

The real hero in this situation, though, is his teacher. Not once has this lovely man suggested professional help or called my son a psycho. Instead, he writes the sweetest, most encouraging notes in the margins.

Considering the following passage:

Parents on wall

“It was a dark and stormy night and Thomas and Chris were heading back to their house. And when they opened the door and their parents were hanging on the wall.”

If you squint you can see that his teacher wrote the following:

“I bet they were surprised!”

Of course, my son isn’t the only talented author in the class. Two of his friends have written a series of novellas dedicated to my son recounting the adventures of a hamburger named Sesome (deliberately spelled incorrectly, they assured me). I must say, Sesome is one of the most three-dimensional characters I’ve come across in recent memory.

Consider this passage:

Sesame Frenchie

“One day Sesome could not get out of bed. He could not stop thinking about Mrs. Frenchie. She was hot, well, at least to him.”

They are truly masterful authors to let the reader decide whether Mrs. Frenchie was, indeed, “hot” by objective standards, or attractive only to Sesome because of some detected spark between the two.

Nearly as impressive is their ability to weave modern American slang into their prose. Consider this passage, after Sesome successfully thwarts a bank robbery:

Sesame Popo

“…Sesome grabbed the bag and ran. He gave it to the PoPo (police).”

Aren’t kids awesome???

This isn’t to say that they limit themselves to the short story genre. Here is a poem my son wrote and then tried to charge me for:

My mom

My mom’s poem
My mom is cool because she is really nice. She let’s Stella the cat in. She is 40 years old. She is very nice to us. She cooke’s dinner. She stays healthy and calm!
The End!

You know what? I am cool. And nice. And I do spend all day letting the cat in and cooking dinner.

But he didn’t get a dime.

Then there was this public service announcement masquerading as fiction:

Ugly Lady

Chapter Two
The Very Ughly Lady
Once upon a time there (three) sister’s. Two sister’s were good. But the third was smoking. She was super ughly!!! The End

I could be wrong here, but I think he is trying to say that smoking is bad and anyone who does it is not only bad but ugly. Not just regular ugly either but UGHLY, with an “h.”

Of course, I don’t always understand everything I pull from his bag. Since I’ve never played dodge ball (let alone “doogeball”) in full protective gear against an angry village mob, this threw me for a loop:

Doogeball

And I’m beyond curious as to what is happening to the unfortunate creature on the right:

Tinker Bell

This is not to say that my son is the only one who makes my heart burst with maternal pride. The following missive recounting our cat’s hygiene practices was penned by my daughter and shall remain in my possession for eternity:

Stelle butt licker

Just. So. Proud.

 

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The very real emotional void filled by my cat, who is a major a–hole

 

My family doesn’t have a great track record with pets. Until recently, our one and only foray into animal ownership was with neon colored fish who kept dying at the worst possible times.

While everyone kept telling us a dog would be therapeutic for the children, I was concerned it would be less-than-therapeutic for me, since I would no doubt bear the brunt of feeding, walking and cleaning up after the thing.

I’ve wanted a cat for years, but my husband is “allergic” to them in that he hates them.

He managed to get over his “allergies” when the children and I fell in love with a sweet white cat with dazzling green eyes who began lolling about in our garden shortly after we moved into our new house.

“Can we keep her?” my kids asked.

I desperately wanted to say yes, but didn’t want to “take” her if she belonged to someone. We put up posters around the neighborhood and tucked hand made fliers in people’s mailboxes. I joined the neighborhood Facebook page and posted her photo but heard nothing.

So, one day I scooped her into a cat carrier and took her to the vet. It turns out she was microchipped and did belong to someone, who didn’t seem at all surprised to hear she was out making eyes at another family.

“She just never bonded with us,” her owner explained, when I called her from the vet’s office. “She comes in at night when we are asleep to eat but otherwise she avoids us.”

I realized I was holding my breath. My children were crazy about this sweet cat, especially Jack, who would spend hours sitting by her side and talking to her.

I was hugely relieved when the woman said we could keep the cat, who my children had named Stella.

To say Stella has brought joy into our house is an understatement. The children adore her. They argue over who gets to feed her, they are thrilled when she chooses to sleep next to them.

As a mother, anything that makes your children happy that isn’t bad for them has a special place in your heart.

But I’ll admit that I have selfish and slightly unhealthy reasons for loving this cat. She is, after all, the baby who will never grow up.

My children are still at the age where they like me. I know that will all change. As part of their growth and development they will need to break away from me, and nature’s preferred method seems to be a spontaneous and organic lobotomy that convinces adolescents their parents are lame idiots who exist merely to embarrass them.

Oh sure, they’ll pass through this phase. (I hope.) But it will never be the same as it is now, when they throw their little arms around me and tell me I’m the best mommy ever, or fall asleep cuddled up next to me, or run to me in excitement to show off the drawings they’ve made or read me the stories they’ve written.

I get that it’s all a part of a healthy emotional development, that without this rebellion they could end up living in my basement as adults, making suits from the skin of slaughtered invalids.

I get it. It doesn’t mean I like it.

Raising children is like being madly in love with someone you know will some day break up with you. You just hope that, in the aftermath, they’ll still want to be friends.

But pets? Pets are different.

As long as I keep the Meow Mix coming, Stella will like me.

With Stella, my kisses won’t suddenly become “lame.” I won’t embarrass her for reasons unknown. I won’t be pinpointed as the cause of her irrational fear of clowns, just because I happened to jump out of the closet in a Bozo suit dripping fake blood and screaming her name as a prank those five nights in a row back in kindergarten.

Of course, because cats are part angel, part a—hole, there are times when I wish we could rethink this unhealthy relationship. While all cats chase and kill small animals, Stella is somewhat of an overachiever in this regard.

Not a day goes by when the carcass of a bird, mouse, rat, lizard or squirrel doesn’t turn up by the back door. Unless I bury their corpses incredibly well, she will DIG THEM BACK UP and play with their rotten, maggot-infested bodies. And then come inside for kisses smelling like death.

One day I discovered she had tucked a couple of lizard corpses under the front door welcome mat and so I tried, unsuccessfully, to sweep them into the bushes. Because their lower halves had been flattened into the front step, their heads flopped back and forth like windshield wipers. I finally managed to scrape them off with a trowel.

It almost made me reconsider the wisdom of making her my emotional crutch.

Aw, who am I kidding? I’ll forever be a sucker for that adorable, contempt-filled face and sociopathic spirit.

 

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The little lady who’s going to help me deal with my children growing up. Here she is striking the classic feline pose known as “Get that effing thing out of my face.”

 

My new favorite kind of birthday party for kids: The “Parents, GTFO” kind

 

As any parent will tell you, March and April are brutal months when it comes to kids’  birthday parties. Starting around February your inbox will be flooded with eVites so numerous you’d almost welcome a plea for help from a member of Nigeria’s royal family.

The past few weekends my husband and I have hardly seen each other in our quest to get both kids to their designated party points. I spent spare moments wrapping gifts. Our bank called and asked if we wanted to do a direct deposit every month to Toys R Us.

In some ways, these parties are great because they give your kids something to do, neatly killing a little bit of dead time with minimal effort on your part as a parent.

But unfortunately, these days it is assumed that you will stick around to keep an eye on your kid and make awkward conversation with relative strangers. (Kind of like modern play dates.)

By now, I’ve watched countless magicians — or “illusionists,” as they prefer to be called — ply their trade, wondering if they date much. I’ve seen scores of little girls lose their minds when they come face to face with teenage girls in Elsa costumes. I’ve enjoyed the banter of pint-sized athletes as they go face-to-knee with the refs at basketball games. (“I guess we’re not calling traveling?” a 6-year-old asked the teenage boy overseeing the game at a party last weekend. I looked into adopting him but his parents didn’t go for it.)

It can be fun if you know the other parents but that’s pretty rare. It can get uncomfortable if alcohol is served and a parent overindulges and acts weird, such as the dad at a party last year who kept bugging me to admit I was Jewish. (I’m not, he was. I took his assumption as a compliment, although it got old the fifth time he slurred, “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” “Pretty sure I’d remember being one of God’s Chosen People,” I replied.)

But lately, a new kind of party invitation has been coming through my inbox. Among the details of date, time and location, parents have been adding a note along the lines of, “Please leave your child here and pick him/her up when the party finishes.” You know, the way birthday parties used to be.

The first time I received such an invitation, I almost wept with joy. It was a double score because I didn’t know the hosts well and the party was near a superb shopping center I don’t go to much because it’s so far away.

I was so excited to have an hour and a half to myself I considered slowing down and pushing my daughter out of the car when we arrived at the birthday girl’s house just to save time. In the end, I walked her to the front door, rang the door bell and jogged backward down the driveway blowing kisses. (“Have fun! Be good! Love you!”)

For the next 90 minutes I lived like a rock star. That’s right: I went to a Marshalls Homegoods store. It. Was. Awesome.

When I’d had enough of that I sat in a coffee shop and read a book. It was one of the most relaxing Saturday mornings in recent memory.

Coming up this weekend I have another “drop off only” party and I can’t wait. This one is for three hours so you can only imagine the shenanigans I’ll be getting into. That’s right, Burlington Coat Factory, prepare to be DOMINATED.

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Thanks for coming! Don’t let the door hit ya where the Lord split ya.

 

 

How my ‘career’ prepared me for motherhood

The other day, my son threw open the door to his room and called out, “Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

I took my cue and went in to browse. My son pointed me toward the bed, which was strewn with an array of random objects.

“The stuff in the way back is all clearance,” he explained. “But those items are final sale.”

“Good to know.”

I left the “shop” with a snow globe, a teddy bear, a single sock, two pencils, a cat toy, three books, a pillow and an earring I had lost months before, apparently behind his bed. Apart from the pillow, everything had been packed into two carrier bags.

The total had come to $5,000.

“Where are we? Venezuela?” I had asked.

He nodded seriously.

“Yes. Yes, we are.”

While swiping my imaginary credit card (he wouldn’t accept imaginary cash) he asked me to put my name and email down on his mailing list for special offers.

What can I say? The kid knows his retail.

When his dad arrived home from work, Jack scurried back up to his room.

“Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

My husband, good sport that he is,  went to have a look.

“Sorry, sir, that’s the wrong door,” my son said.

My husband stood looking confused.

“You have to climb over that barrier first,” my son said, pointing to absolutely nothing.

“I climb over the barrier,” my husband said. “Okay.”

“Now you have to duck under the other barrier.”

He ducked.

“Now you go down the slide.”

He slid. Or pretended to.

“Am I in the shop yet?” he asked and my son nodded.

“The items in the back row are clearance. They are final sale.”

My husband’s haul came to $10,000.

“That’s outrageous!” he cried.

“It’s a game, dear,” I reminded him.

He shook his head and paid, although I could tell his Scottish sensibilities were gravely offended.

“You know, your business model could use a little work,” he said, eyeing the store hours sign that read “Open: 10-11, 4-5.”

“And the entrance doesn’t make it easy for your customers to get in.”

My son shrugged and skipped down the stairs to play something else.

“Actually, I know a few stores that operate like this,” I said. “They’ve stayed in business for years.”

And herein lies the difference between my husband and me. Since finishing university he has always worked in the corporate world, where things are (for the most part) practical and make sense.

My background is in journalism. Did I wield my Fourth Estate powers as a hard-hitting correspondent for a major news network, uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government?

Let’s just say that no one got the results from the 4-H show unless I got to work on time.

As a small-town newspaper reporter I got to see it all. In some cases, twice.

Name a strange situation and I’ve been there. Think of the most outrageous lie someone could tell and I’ve heard it.

I once interviewed a woman who hoped her vast collection of Strawberry Shortcake memorabilia — rumored to be the largest in the world — would be enough to draw customers to the bed and breakfast she’d spent her life savings opening.

I spent several freezing hours making conversation with a cop next to the body of a man who had committed suicide by jumping from the highest building in town, a 6-story parking garage.

I nodded knowingly when an elderly woman hooked up to an oxygen tank and sucking back a beer at 2 p.m. informed me that the crappy post-industrial town she lived in was “God’s country.”

I’ve been cursed at by an Episcopalian priest, hugged by a prison warden and informed by a Somali refugee that I needed to gain weight. (Lovely woman, she was.)

It’s quite a job, one many ambitious young reporters use as a stepping stone to the big city dailies. That was a transition I would never make as I had little aptitude for the profession, in part because I have the world’s least developed news sense.

Here’s an approximation of the sort of conversation I had several times a week with my editor:

Me (hanging up the phone): “Gotta run! Someone’s found a frost heave in their driveway that resembles Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Should I bring a photographer?”

Editor: “We just got a tip that one the selectmen in [name of a town I covered, usually ending in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton] has been arrested for embezzling municipal funds. He planned on using the money to run away with the police chief’s wife.”

Me: “Hmmm, tough call.”

Editor: “Not really. Cover the selectman story.”

Me (shrugging): “Okay but what’s my angle?”

So when my son pretended to open a store with crappy hours, inflationary prices and an impenetrable entrance, it all felt familiar. I was immediately transported back to one of countless “Make Downtown Relevant Again” meetings I used to sit through in any number of towns that ended in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton.

The objective of each meeting was to draw visitors to the long neglected main retail drags people were bypassing to shop at the big box complexes opening up everywhere in small-town USA.

I distinctly remember the owner of a shop selling things no working class family needed or wanted — hand-thrown coffee mugs for $25 and monstrous-looking wire lawn ornaments hand-twisted in India for $75 to name two — lamenting she couldn’t compete with large retailers.

Because a journalist is never supposed to “get involved” in the story, I refrained from suggesting she’d have better luck selling things that more than five people in town could afford to buy. Or that her restricted hours 11-4, NO JOKE, might make it difficult for prospective customers who worked 9-5 to avail themselves of her pricey goods.

So I sat through meeting after meeting while artist coops and fair trade jewelers scratched their heads and fumed about losing customers to Walmart.

This resistance to logic was in no way limited to retailers. The upside of encountering these attitudes is that I never need to negate things when it comes to imaginary play. (I mean, not that I would.)

Your shop is at the end of a water slide? Cool!

You are a ballerina zombie who was brought back from the dead to fight evil? Rock on.

You made that pie out of dog s—t and rocks and you want me to have a slice? Ha-ha! Nice try. Put it down and wash your hands.

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The sign my son made after I tried to shop with imaginary cash.

No more scans

Twice a year, we don’t get to pretend life is normal.

On these days, I drive my daughter to the hospital still in her PJs, usually fussy, sometimes crying because she is hungry and thirsty but can’t eat or drink before the tests she is about to have.

She is the youngest patient in the waiting room by decades. The nurses give her Disney princess stickers or abbreviated coloring books titled — I kid you not — “My Trip to Radiology.”

Every single time, I fill out the same form:

Has the patient had surgery?

Are you kidding?

If so, give the dates.

I list months and years because the actual dates have blurred together.

Has the patient ever had cancer?

Duh.

Does the patient have a penile implant?

Giggle.

We wait for an hour, sometimes two, once for three. When they finally call her name and lead us to the procedure area, I give her long and extensive medical history to the anesthesiologist and beg him (it’s always a him) to please, please, please put anti-nausea medicine in her IV. It will mean the difference between her vomiting once or twice when she wakes up or for the rest of the day.

The doctor always present a syringe filled with the pink liquid sedative Versed. Since I’m not allowed to walk her into the treatment room due to the completely safe levels of radiation, they want her calm when they take her from me.

When she was a baby she took the medicine easily. In her toddler years she pushed it away, or took it and then promptly threw it up. Now that she’s a mature child of 6, we have an agreement, one that many — but not all — anesthesiologists can’t get their heads around. I don’t make her drink the medicine, she goes bravely into the treatment room without melting down.

Many — but not all — anesthesiologists don’t believe she can do it, so I have to bust out my own medical credentials, namely an advanced degree in She’s My Kid, This Isn’t Our First Rodeo, So Kindly Step Off. The nurses always come to my aid, although from the way they shake their heads I can tell they are used to being ignored by Those Who Must Be Obeyed. (If it sounds like I have contempt for doctors, I don’t. I adore them, especially pediatric oncologists, who are g-d—n unsung heroes in my opinion. For some reason, though, most — but not all — anesthesiologists drive me crazy, probably because I disagree with their assessment that God wears a name tag and Crocs.)

They take her from me, weeping but not bawling, and I wave good bye smiling. Inside I am screaming.

The hospital has a chapel. I don’t know if God exists but I go into that room, get on my knees and beg. Please let her sleep soundly, please comfort her when she wakes up, please ease her pain. It feels hypocritical to pray when I’m not even sure what I believe but a parent in this position will do anything.

It’s a sentiment perhaps best summed up by the protagonist of one of the greatest novels of our time, Peter Benchley’s Jaws. At one point, when the beleaguered police chief is powerless to stop attacks on swimmers he declares, “If someone came in here and said he was Superman and could piss the shark away from here, I’d say fine and dandy. I’d even hold his d—k for him.”

Man is this is ever true. Except for the pee and d—k parts. Gross. But if someone told me standing on my head and coloring my face green would ease her pain, I’d flip over and grab the paint. It someone told me the universe is being presided over by a cosmic Elmer Fudd, I’d tell him which way the Wascally Wabbit went and ask him to grant my child mercy.

After the praying comes the waiting. At least four hours, sometimes more than six. For some reason, without fail, there is a band playing Irish music in the hospital lobby, and I don’t mean U2 or the Pogues.

Now, I love Irish folk music as much as the average person. Probably more since I have a few albums. But when this band’s music bounces off the cold marble floors off the hospital lobby, it sounds discordant and irritating, like a 3-year-old sawing at a violin or an accordion being dropped down a flight of stairs.

It’s a huge relief when the call comes in that they have finished the tests.

Upstairs in the recovery room, my daughter is a tiny body in a room full of giants. Groggy and quiet she clings to me as she slowly wakes up, while other patients groan or even rant in alarm because they don’t know where they are. If they shout I cover her ears. The nurses are remarkable at settling the patients down. They must be great with drunks.

On the drive home my daughter usually vomits, a surprised look on her face as the bile erupts from her mouth and nostrils. At home we cuddle and wait for the doctor’s phone call.

With a few exceptions it has been good news: the tumors are the same size, or they’ve shrunk the tiniest bit. We all exhale with relief. I say a prayer of thanks. We are officially granted leave to live in denial for the next six months, which is how we roll in this house.

But last week, when I steeled myself to schedule her next set of scans, I was given a pleasant shock by her oncologist. It’s been three years since she stopped chemotherapy, something I hadn’t realized in the daily chaos of life.

At this point, it is so unlikely the cancer will start growing again that the scans to check their size are considered more harmful than useful. Instead they will check her urine and test her blood once a year.

It’s a joy and a relief. She is no longer the ghostly pale baby who practically lived in a hospital bed. She’ll never again be the bald toddler with track marks in her arms. And now she won’t be the kid who is dragged out of school for debilitating tests and assessments.

She’s not completely out of the woods. She probably never will be, a thought that hangs over our heads when we let it, usually on Christmas and her birthday.

But for now, her life has gotten that little bit better. And for that, we are grateful.

The Blizzard of 2017: One mother’s harrowing tale of survival

Wednesday, 1/4: Reports come in that North Carolina is in for two to four inches of snow Friday night. All the local stations promise extensive of coverage of this “severe” weather. No, seriously, they use the word “severe.”

Thursday, 1/5: Since people didn’t lose their s—t enough, predictions have been changed to three to six inches of snow. North Carolina residents are urged to stock up on bread and milk. We don’t eat much of either so instead I buy beer and cheese.

We’re gonna get through this.

Friday, 1/6: People are finally taking this storm seriously. When I stop by Whole Foods the parking lot is filled to bursting with tank-sized SUVs and hybrids.

Inside it is upper middle class chaos. The shelves have been cleared of bone broth and a nervous-looking mother stuffs bundles of kale into a bag while her toddler munches on a dehydrated snow pea.

The line for the express lane snakes back to the GMO-free bakery, so I decide we can live without smoked turkey legs and place my empty basket back.

On the drive home I pass a municipal salt truck preparing the roads. Spying one is like laying eyes on a narwhal for the first time: you know they exist but can’t quite believe it until you see one for yourself. Since it takes days for Charlotte to clean up after a snow fall, I always assumed the city salt truck consisted of the vice mayor shoveling kitty litter onto the road from the back of a slow-moving Dodge Ram.

Putting the children to bed that night is akin to tucking them in on Christmas Eve. My daughter details the many things she will do in the snow: go sledding, make snow angels, build a snowman. I nod encouragingly, knowing she will be lucky if there is enough to scrape together one sad-looking snow ball.

Saturday, 1/7: At approximately 3 am my daughter asks me if it has snowed. I tell her we will see in the morning. She jumps off the bed and runs to the window.

“Mom, I can’t see anything,” she says.

“That’s because it’s the middle of the night.”

“Can you turn a light on outside so I can see?”

I resist the urge to tell her to get a job and her own place and somehow get her back to sleep.

During breakfast, wide, fat snowflakes begin falling over the layer of ice that accumulated overnight. When we finally make it outside, my son stares around at the thin layer of powder on the ground and asks, “Is this it?”

It is.

He goes back inside to play Subway Surfers.

My daughter really tries to make this work. She flops on her back and moves her arms and legs to make a snow angel. She does a wonderful job of crushing the grass into just the right shape.

We walk down the street to the local park where children are sledding down the only hill they can find: a steep incline by the tennis courts. Over and over they climb the few feet to the top, then have two seconds of sliding before they thwack into the chain link fence. We listen to the thwacks for a few minutes before my daughter decides snow is cold and she wants to go home.

We spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate, going for walks and playing CandyLand. By the time the sun sets, the snow has started melting.

Sunday, 1/8: There are some patches of snow but either the vice mayor or Mother Nature did their job well because most of the roads are clear.

The kids have no interest in being outside because the ground is wet and slushy.

At 6 p.m. I receive an automated call from the school district, informing me that school will be closed the next day due to the “severe” weather. Outside the cat chases after a cardinal and a man walks two golden retrievers.

The district’s Facebook page is a pen of venom, as ticked off parents berate the district. Since every employer in town — except the school district — will be open for business the next day, parents have been left scrambling to make child care arrangements.

Others berate the beraters, pointing out that the school district is trying to keep kids safe, that school buses can’t drive safely in the snow.

“What snow???” one man asks. “There is no snow.”

A woman posts a picture of her road, which is still slick with ice. They start calling each other names and questioning each other’s level of education and general competency, so I sign off and make plans to keep my kids entertained the next day.

Our governor offers these words of wisdom: “Travel conditions are still hazardous. Do not be fooled by the sun.”

That tricky sun.

Monday, 1/9: After a long and trying day of dealing with my kids, I receive an automated call from the school district. Due to the “severe” weather, there will be no school the next day. What they mean is, “Because there is still ice on one school parking lot at the far edges of the district, we won’t have school for anyone.”

Here’s the kicker: Teachers are expected to show up to work.

I add Amaretto to my hot chocolate and try not to cry. It’s not that my kids are horrible, I am merely at my saturation point. I’ve just had three weeks of their delightful company over the winter school break. I haven’t been able to GSD (Get Stuff Done), and it’s driving me crazy.

Tuesday, 1/10: We have exhausted every game in the house. We have assembled and disassembled every puzzle. We have taken long walks along the city greenway and run around like maniacs at the park.

When the phone rings that evening and I see the district’s number, I answer it with trembling hands. The spokeswoman’s cheerful voice informs me there WILL be school tomorrow. I almost sob with relief.

And yet…

…and yet I live in fear of the next “severe” weather system to hit the region. Because every year of the seven I have lived here, we’ve had snow and ice storms that shut everything down. And every time, the locals say, “We never get this kind of weather.”

These are not wimpy people. They operate in dangerously hot and humid summers, they display no fear in the face of the rat-sized flying cockroaches that apparently have the deed to every house in the state. My elderly neighbor routinely kills copperheads with a shovel.

So to see them react with such caution to snow and ice is kind of cute. Or would be, if they weren’t in charge of the %*#ing school district.

How dolphins ruined childbirth for me. (The f**kers.)

Something parents are expected to teach kids these days is emotional self regulation. Apparently the method of clobbering your kid if he or she loses their s—t is now frowned upon. Instead you are supposed to teach them controlled breathing, visualization, even meditation to help them deal with the roller coaster of emotions that cause them to act like assholes.

This past week I was helping my son come up with a “safe space,” an imaginary place he can retreat to in his mind hen he is feeling overwhelmed. Logically, he chose the 72nd floor of a hotel in Atlantic City. I have no idea how he even knows what Atlantic City is, or why he settled for the 72nd floor when he could have easily made it the 110th, but there you have it. I’m guessing penthouse-level views of tainted sea water and drug addicts sleeping off a binge in the sand make him feel all warm and cozy. Aaaawww.

My son then asked if I had my own “safe space.” Tempted to tell him the truth — a slab of chocolate and season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — instead I said, “Mine is a spot in a beautiful forest next to a gurgling spring.”

This isn’t exactly a lie, as this was the “safe space” I came up with when I was preparing to give birth to him.

At the time I lived in what was apparently an extremely fertile suburb of London, as every childbirth class in the immediate vicinity was full. The only option available would have required two bus rides and a train journey (at night), so instead I turned to books and relaxation CDs.

So stupid.

Because every single guru on the market trumpeted the same approach to relaxation during childbirth: picture yourself on a tropical beach.

Look, I am a redhead with reeaaalllly pale skin. Being on a tropical beach is an invitation to sunstroke and/or certain death. It would be like telling an agoraphobic to make their safe space the 50-yard line at the Super Bowl.

But then one relaxation coach made it infinitely worse. In dulcet tones she suggested that, while slowly frying on the sand, I picture two dolphins swimming nearby in the surf to encourage me on my journey.

Aw hell no.

Because as anyone who knows me understands, I f—king hate dolphins. Can’t stand the little assholes. Perhaps the only thing on the planet that could make slowly desiccating in a tropical sun worse in my opinion is to have two of those snarky little SOBs swimming by.

To be fair, it’s not all their fault. About half of my ire comes from the veritable saint status we humans have assigned these creatures, mischaracterizing them as submissive and mild sweethearts who just live for the chance to perform at marine parks and rescue Sandy and Bud from sharks.

But like all animals (yes, humans included), they can be vicious and cruel.

Don’t believe me? Then I suggest you take the highly scientific step of Googling “dolphin attacks.” I’ll wait.

See?

Now, whether they have the right to attack humans seeing as how we pollute the oceans and force them to do stupid tricks such as jump through hoops and search for mines is one thing, but dolphins can also be pricks to each other. They beat up on porpoises, although I’ll bet they’re also jerks. Their sexual practices can be violent and coercive. Males sometimes engage in infanticide. I mean, all behaviors you expect of animals in the wild but hardly the sort of thing you want commemorated on a keychain.

I only became aware of my contempt for them after I went on one of those stupid dolphin encounters years ago. Like most people, I was a sucker for the creatures, having watched “Flipper” growing up. It didn’t occur to me until I showed up at the venue that if you love animals, you probably shouldn’t put them in cages and force them to interact with you but hell, I had a lot to learn. I was only 30.

The place I went to was a penned-in lagoon, the water a dingy brown color. My husband and I were instructed to stand on a platform in the water facing each other while a dolphin swam in between us. Damn, but they are big creatures up close. Once next to one, you also become acutely aware that they are strong and powerful and if they don’t like you, they could make your life pretty miserable.

We listened to the trainer’s spiel and pet the dolphin and posed for pictures and it was all amaze balls. But the dolphin kept pushing up against me, a few times so hard I almost fell off the platform.

“Didn’t it hurt?” I asked my husband after we climbed out of the lagoon.

“What?”

“When he stuck his side fin between your legs? He kept doing that and it was starting to piss me off.”

He looked at me incredulously.

“He didn’t do it to me.”

Oh great. I had just experienced “bad touch” at the pectorals of a dolphin. I’d never be able to watch The Little Mermaid again without a trigger warning.

Look, I’m not saying the dolphin was purposefully engaging in unprivileged physical contact (so to speak), but since that encounter I have heard all sorts of stories about people getting nipped, bit, pushed and even “mounted” by the creatures.

So no, they are no longer on my list of preferred animals, which is why I was forced to pull up sticks on the tropical “safe space” promoted by all the relaxation gurus and move to a climate more suitable to my needs.

My imagined safe space was in a forest glen. A very well-shaded forest glen. The only animals allowed were butterflies because for all I know deer are assholes too.

Unfortunately, as the delivery date approached, I found it harder to concentrate during my relaxation sessions. Without warning my mind would whisk me from the cool, dark floor of the forest to a broiling white hot beach, where dolphins bobbed in the waves making obscene gestures or dragging one fin slowly across their throats in a slashing gesture.

By the time I found myself in the unimaginable agony of pitocin-fueled labor, the forest glen had been leveled in a wildfire and the dolphins were sitting in the delivery room like they owned the place, making long distance calls on my cell phone while detailing their unsavory plans for my young once he was birthed.

Of course, not much could have eased the pain and stress of that delivery, but it might have been easier if those f—king dolphins hadn’t showed up.

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Reading to my children: the Roddy Doyle Experience

 

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The Grinch hated Christmas—
—Why?
—Well, we’ll find out if we keep reading.
—What’s a grinch?
—It’s like a, it’s that thing on the page.
—Is it an animal?
—I guess so. He looks like one. The whole Christmas
—What kind?
—What?
—What kind of animal.
—Maybe a bear?
—He doesn’t look like a bear.
—What does he look like?
—A fish with feet.
—Then that’s what he is. Now, please don’t
—Why’s he living on land?
—Because he’s a fish who can breathe.
—Wouldn’t that make him a different animal then?
—Probably.
—Can we keep reading?
—Gladly. It could be his head wasn’t screwed on just right.
—What does that mean?
—It means, like he didn’t think about things the way he should.
—Huh?
—He hates happy things.
—Why? Seriously?
—Why don’t we keep reading and we’ll find out.

 

My father was born and raised right here—
—Who is his father?
—The man who is his father. His dad.
—How old is he?
—Who? The dad?
—Yes.
—I don’t know.
—Can you guess?
—Sure, let’s say he’s 40.
—I don’t think he’s that old.
—35.
—That sounds right.
right here in Florida, so he grew up—
—He lives in Florida?
—I guess so.
—I’ve been to Florida.
—Yes, you have.
—How old is he?
—Who?
—The person talking.
—I don’t know. Let’s keep reading and we’ll find out. ..he grew up on the water. His dad—
—Whose dad?
—The boy’s dad’s dad.
—His grandfather?
—Yes.
—How old is he?
—The grandfather?
—Yes.
—I don’t know.
—He’s probably really old.
—I would expect so.

 

 

…and it said to the dragon, “Buzz off, that’s my witch.”
—Do the scary voice.
BUZZ OFF, THAT’S MY WITCH.
—Dad’s scary voice is scarier.
—Dad has a Scottish accent. Everything he says sounds scarier.

 

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle lives here in our town.
—In our town?
—No, in their town.
—What town?
—I don’t know. Whatever their town is called.
—Springfield?
—Sure. It’s called Springfield.
—Do they know the Simpsons?
—I’d imagine so.
—I like Lisa.
—Me too.
She is very small—
—Lisa?
—No, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle.
—Oh.
She is very small—
—Why is she small?
—I guess that’s just the way she is.
—Is she taller than me?
—Probably.
—But I’m really tall.
—You’re tall for your age but most adults are taller than you.
—So, is she taller than you?
—Sure.
—Like, this big?
—Yup. …and has a hump on her back.
—Eew.
When children ask her about the hump, she says, “Oh, that’s a big lump of magic.”
—Is it?
—Sure.
—Really?
—Well, she’s pretty awesome, so why not.
—How many pages does this book have?
—Too many.

7 crappy toys my kids won’t be getting for Christmas

The holidays are coming, which means it’s time to figure out what the hell to get your kids.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of retail advice out there. Everyone from magazine editors to “news” program producers to, ahem, bloggers have suggestions for what to buy your littles. Even my kids’ teachers and occupational therapists have sent home lists of “recommended” holiday gift ideas.

I wish I could add to these mounds of wisdom but I can’t. All I can do, after reading through all these lists, is tell you which recommended toys I will definitely NOT be buying my kids:

hopscotch-mat

1. Portable Hopscotch Play Carpet

If memory serves, hopscotch is among the most portable games in the world. All you need is chalk, pavement and a pebble. I suppose you could argue that the mat is for days when it’s too wet or cold outside to play. My response is, for $50 plus tax and shipping (the price quoted in the catalog I saw), my kids can play a game called Find Something Else To Do.

What, are parents so worried that the urge to hop and scotch will hit their children with a fury the day of a major downpour and they’ll be stuck consoling their irreversibly traumatized little tykes because they didn’t have the foresight to spring for the stupid indoor mat? In this case, think of it as a teachable moment, when you as a parent can introduce your children to a little life lesson called “Sucking it up.”

 

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2. Buddy’s Balloon Launch

According to the sales pitch, this game “can teach cause and effect, turn taking, cooperation and sequencing.”

They lost me with one word: can.

Because what is more likely to happen with a toy like this is bickering, name calling and me acting as a referee for a game that looks kinda stupid anyway.

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3. Essential Oils Beginners Best of the Best Aromatherapy Gift Set

Yes, the above was actually on a list of recommended gifts for children. In all fairness, it didn’t mention the age of the child in question, so for all I know it’s for teenagers who want to get their aromatherapy on.

In the hands of my children, however, it would be good only for saturating our furniture with vomit-inducing concoctions reminiscent of a house of ill repute.

ecobonk

4. Ecobonk Organic Cotton Bop Toy

According to the sales pitch, instead of letting your child go 10 rounds with a plastic clown bop toy, with Ecobonk “your little one can cuddle, bounce, and bop with a variety of friendly safari animals.”

Um, not sure if the Ecobonk folks have checked a map lately, but you will find neither penguins nor grizzly bears on the plains of Africa. Unless you’ve been drinking. As for the inferior plastic bop toys in the shape of clowns, I think they’re a few decades off. Clowns aren’t for kids anymore. Clowns are for nightmares sequences in horror movies.

Forgive me for being obtuse, but what is the educational benefit of this toy? If it’s to instruct children in the idea that all nature is violent and we live in a world where the only way to ensure the survival of your species is to kick the crap out of others, then that’s really depressing and accurate. If it’s that grizzly bears just want to cuddle then they’d better have a good legal team on hand.

 

 

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5. No Stress Chess

I’m sorry but chess should be stressful. They made a whole musical about this.

 

i-got-this

6. I Got This! 

This is a game. I think. I started to read the description but it was really boring. I think the idea is to bet on whether you can complete a particular challenge and there’s a self-assigned points system.

Basically, it introduces children to the fascinating world of gambling. I plan on teaching them that by taking them to the track, like a normal parent.

 

sturdy-birdy

7. Sturdy Birdy: The Game of Perfect Balance

My kids would take one look at this game and proclaim it dumb. I would then agree with them.

Look, if I seem weary of the hypothetical joys offered by the world of retail, it’s only because I have bought the equivalent of the above — or worse — for my children during holiday seasons past, only to watch them play more enthusiastically with a bowl of sand. Among my brilliant purchases now gathering dust are a Snap Circuits kit and a $50 inflatable horse described by its Italian manufacturer as both an “involving and relaxing toy” and a “pyscho-motor tool.” What a “psycho-motor tool” is and why I thought it would be appropriate for my children now escapes me. The lesson not to buy anything like it again has endured.

Happy friggin’ holidays.