Lost in Translation

It was the vehemence of the assault that surprised me. The attacker: my son. His weapon: my birthday cake. My birthday was last week. With Maria in our family now, I knew this year would be different than the usual … Continue reading

Best Birthday Gifts for Mom

Does a mom experience any sweeter feeling than watching quietly from the staircase as her child, unknowing that he is being observed, makes French Toast for her birthday? Dad is out of town, and this is my boy’s own idea. “I thought of it last night before I went to bed. If you were still upstairs, I would have cut a flower from the garden for you.” He is his father’s son.

His brother comes downstairs sleepily, “You woke me up!” He is his mother’s son. He needs ample sleep and many reminders of things like other people’s birthdays. Consoled by news that his brother has made French toast, he lumbers to the table and puts his head down on his beloved Calvin and Hobbes anthology. His brother and I don’t mention the occasion for the French toast, giving him a chance to remember on his own. After a while I figure I won’t hide the ball, I’ll put it right in front of him, give him a break.

“Can I tell you something?” I ask. I lean in to his warm body wrapped in footed pajamas and reveal, “Today’s my birthday!” He consents to a hug, a smile, and a “Happy birthday.” That’s a whole lotta lovin’ from this one, in his current phase, and I know it. It’s a good reminder to accept my boys as the people they are, brilliantly unique.

The birthday morning brigade

 

It’s no lie that these small gifts from my two vastly different soul-boys fill me up. (The icing on my cake? No morning squabbles, no rushing out the door for school. Birthday miracles is the only rational explanation.)

Arriving at school, another hug is reluctantly offered by the tough guy: “But in the car, mom, where no one can see us.” I take what I can get. But when we are on the sidewalk, I do something dumb. I can’t help myself: I hug him again anyway. I know it’s not good for our relationship. I know I should respect his boundaries. Aachh…I’ll start tomorrow. “Hugging you is like eating a cupcake,” I say, trying to explain my weakness on his terms.

Cupcake and photo by Jessica Heisen

(Cupcake and photo by Jessica Heisen)

His countenance brightens. “Speaking of cupcakes…!?”

I smile and say, “We’ll see.” If I play my cards right, there may be another hug and kiss in this day yet.

That Championship Season

Some balls just get away. They fly over the center fielder’s head, past the white fence, or drop two feet to the left, lost in the sun. Some games get away like that, too.

Never mind that a little brother has dressed like an Oriole, an honorary mascot that the team has allowed in the dugout all season, today decked out in orange face paint, orange and black feathers, and a beak that was painted the perfect shade of orange.

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Everything thought of and arranged and planned for. Everything, that is, but the other team’s bat, their incessant homeruns and ground rule doubles, again and again, unanswered. Sigh.

No matter the few great plays and big hits our team had, no matter the spirit and high hopes they brought to the field; trepidation and fear walked into the dugout, too. Their opponents had come off a week of wins, fighting just to get into this game. Our kids had a week off, too much rest from battle. No taste of vanquished teams on their tongues.

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There will be one more chance. One final championship game.

The team told the little mascot not to dress that way next time: no makeup, no feathers, no beak. It’s simple baseball superstition; whatever was different about this loss is banished, along with it the taint of loss. I hope he doesn’t take it to heart, doesn’t feel he is to blame. My heart’s instinct is to jump out and stand in front of the words fired at him like bullets. He’s too much of a scientist to think his outfit caused the mighty Tigers to hit perfect grounders down the third base line. My protection would draw attention to the attack.

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The mascot runs off the field to the park bathroom and emerges with a remarkably clean face, cleaner than it’s been in days, a pale outline of orange above his ears and eyebrows. He shakes it off. There’s one more chance, he says.

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Recovering from Mother’s Day

I had my worst Mother’s Day, to date. No one woke me with burnt toast. I was awakened by Emmett, actually, but it was with a beautiful hand illustrated book he had made about how much I love him.

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And a bracelet made from paperclips and tape.

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All good. Aaron gave me nothing, because in Middle School the teachers don’t do that shit for you, and he didn’t get around to doing it himself. That’s another discussion.

But I didn’t want gifts for Mother’s Day. What I wanted for Mother’s Day, all I wanted, was to go on a bike ride on the beach.

Aaron was happy to oblige. He was dressed and ready to go. But Emmett, oh that darling, sloooooow and “I don’t wanna do it” Emmett, was not cooperating.

You know what? I can’t even bear to tell you more. It’s too harrowing to relive. So I’m going to let Christopher’s Mom give it to you straight, the story he told her on the phone at the end of the day, which she succinctly boiled down to its essence:

“Laura wanted to go on a bike ride for Mother’s Day to the Farmer’s Market.”

        Okay, I’m piping in. YES, that’s all I wanted!!!

“Somehow, Laura, Aaron and Christopher arrived there in two groups and found that Emmett (who had procrastinated at home) wasn’t with them. Christopher thought he was with Laura and Aaron, and Laura thought he was with Christopher.

“Not only that, but they had all left their cell phones at home.”

       Because we wanted, just for a day, to be unplugged. And we were all supposed to be TOGETHER.

“Laura went to search the Farmer’s Market. The Farmer’s Market manager called the police, who were about to dispatch helicopters, while Christopher raced home on his bike. He found a very shaken up Emmett with his bike in front of their house, who had tried to call all of them, and thank goodness met a nice neighborhood family who helped him!

“All’s well that ends well.”

I still want my damn bike ride.

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Read between the lines

My sister and I had a favorite sight gag as kids. Hold up your middle three fingers toward someone, palm facing you and say, “Read between the lines.”

This is something different.

Our eight-year-old is assigned to read 20 minutes every night. And every night, as we open a book to read, he rolls over and says, “You read. I’m too tired.” We try gimmicks – “I’ll read one page (or paragraph, or sentence) and then you read one!” Mostly he refuses, and mostly I give in and read to him. With his school reading scores pretty strong, I justify it thusly: it’s a wonderful thing to be read to, we are building cozy memories.

But still I worry (of course I do). “He must do the assignment! He must improve! He could be reading at an even higher level!” (Trust me, as I write this I am even annoying myself.) I continue to pester him about reading, and he continues to resist.

Then, this morning, a most inexplicable turn of events. On the drive to school, the little guy agreed to help his brother practice lines for the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. Motoring along the palm tree lined Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Blvd., my son who balks at reading The Hardy Boys aloud, eloquently read aloud the immortal words, “Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art though Romeo?”

He did the entire scene, until he bumped with embarrassment over the word “breast.” It went downhill from there, screeching to a halt at the word “marriage.” He had a problem with saying he would get married to his brother. “Daddy,” he said with no room for negotiation, “you have to say the M-word, cuz I won’t.”

This from a kid who has no qualms spouting words more commonly known by their first letter. Which reminds me, I think he’d enjoy our old sight gag.Image

 

Philadelphia, American History, and Mini-Golf

“California is the most beautiful state, but Pennsylvania is the most historic.” Thus spoke my 10-year-old California boy at the end of a day that had him reading the Constitution aloud at the National Constitution Center, strolling past Independence Hall … Continue reading

The X-Rated Birds and Bees

(Names have been changed to protect the innocent, and the moderately-guilty).

As much as we like to think we are our children’s best teachers, it’s the time they spend with friends that provide them with the most “education.” Case in point: the few days our 8-year-old, let’s call him Huck, spent at baseball camp last month. At camp, the counselors teach batting, fielding, throwing and chewing bubble gum. The campers teach scratching, spitting and singing rude songs. Huck comes home singing about Batman peeing on the wall, Scooby Doo eating poo and a word-play game that he generously teaches his five-year-old brother: “Hey, Butch,” he whispers to him with a sly smile, “say ‘X’ really fast, over and over.”

Butch, pleased to be enlisted in his brother’s game, says: “X X X X X X X.”

Huck giggles uncontrollably. “You said, ‘Sex sex sex sex sex sex sex!’”

Butch is unperturbed. To the contrary, he thinks it is the pinnacle of humor. They keep at it. They sling “X X X X” all over the neighborhood. It’s getting a little out of control. My husband, Stud, decides he has been handed a “teachable moment.” It is time to Talk About Sex.

It’s not like we haven’t talked with our children before about where babies come from. They have long known that a man’s sperm fertilizes a woman’s egg, leading to the development of a baby. They have had long chats about the games they played together as lonely eggs in my ovary, waiting to become zygotes and begin their cells dividing. A sleepy, sluggish three-year-old Butch once commented, “I’m not feeling very fertilized right now.” (Truly, I could not make this stuff up.)

They also know that babies, including them, come out through a woman’s vagina, or sometimes her stomach.  But they have never asked The Big One: how do the sperm and ovum end up at the same party?

I always expected to be the one to have The Talk. After all, two years ago Huck asked my husband, “Daddy, how do babies get inside Mommy’s tummy?” and his wise father replied, chin in hand, “Good question. You should ask Mommy about that some time.”

But this time, amidst the chorus of “sex” reverberating through the house, Stud decides to step up to the plate. “Do you know what sex is, guys?”

“Yes.” Butch replies. “It means kissing.”

“No,” Huck counters, “it’s naked cuddling.”

I listen from the other room as Stud takes a swing. “Sex,” he explains, “is when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina, because they want to make a baby.”

Silence. No laughter. Shock has set in. For all of us.

I listen for a sound, anything. Finally, Butch speaks: “I’m hungry.”

And so we move on . . . .

The next day the four of us go to see Alvin and the Chipmunks. We are sitting in the dark movie theater waiting for the previews to end. Two on-screen characters kiss. “That’s sex, right mom?” Butch asks.

Thank goodness I overhead their dad’s explanation yesterday. I repeat it, adding for good measure: “ . . . because they love each other and are married.” I consider adding that the man and woman have Ph.D’s, but let it go for now.

“Oh yeah,” Butch says, and the movie begins. Sexy girl chipmunks fawn over Alvin, Simon and Theodore and shake their rumps singing Beyonce’s Single Ladies. Horny teenage boys threaten Alvin because species-blind teenage girls have swooned and sighed over these rodent rock stars. Sex is everywhere.

Walking home later, Butch explores every leaf on every plant. I watch him, marvel at his concentration, wonder at his inner conversation. Out of the silence he asks in the slow, articulated voice he has, “Can I play with Kevin tomorrow?” He considers the leaf in his hand. “I want to tell him what sex is.”

Uh-oh.

I envision him becoming the scourge of the pre-school, the playmate to avoid. “Well, honey,” I try to appeal to his sense of propriety, “that’s something his mommy and daddy want to tell him about. It’s not for friends to tell.” I almost add, “Kind of like Santa Claus,” but that would just complicate matters. Butch seems to understand, but his eyes betray significant disappointment. “I wish I could tell him,” he adds.

“I know, honey. But please don’t.”

We get home and I e-mail Kevin’s mother an advance apology for the things my son will no doubt teach hers, not just in pre-school but over the next thirteen years. I get a frantic reply from her, wanting to know exactly what words she should be prepared for. When I tell her over the phone the words we used, verbatim, I hear the now-expected silence, and wonder if the phone has gone dead. Then I hear her breathe. “Wow,” she sputters. “You guys left nothing to the imagination.” Yeah. We figured it was best that way.

And I wonder as we say goodbye, if maybe we’re all going to be on the “playmates to avoid” list for a while.

More than we wished for.

What could be better than to be eight years old, out at dark, running with friends, getting candy door to door. Not much. Except, perhaps, being five years old and permitted to tag along. Or being their mother, trailing with glass of wine in hand.

Halloween did not disappoint. At first I goofed. Forgot my cup. But a friend at one house on our rounds handed me the glass of wine out of her hand. I took it, not so much because I needed wine on this sweet night, but because I needed to know if the rumours were true. And knowing this friend, it was bound to be good wine. She did not disappoint.

Barely thirty minutes into the candy march, our boys surprised us by telling us they were done. Done? I asked. Done, they answered: their bags were too heavy; they had enough candy; they had had enough of it all. They wanted to go home. Proof, as though I needed more, that they are not me.

Their father was delighted. The World Series was on. Phillies vs. Yankees. Father vs. Sons. The boys poured their candy on the floor and straddled their bounty as the Phillies struggled. They arranged, sorted, counted, traded, and consumed. They put away a few lonely rejects. They graced their parents’ palms with one or two good ones. Such good boys. The one with a tummy ache and heavy eyelids went upstairs for a bath, while his father and older brother watched baseball and monitored the doorbell.

Different treats awaited upstairs: a heated bathroom, oversized plush towels, clean brushed teeth, feet pajamas. But then a protest, “I’m not going to bed until Aaron does.” I picked up those fifty pounds of my baby, entered his bedroom though his hands grabbed the doorframe, and sat with him in the rocking chair. I offered a memory as a distraction, “Did you know that when you were a baby, we used to sit in this chair, and I would rock you and sing you songs and you would fall asleep?” He was listening still, so I kept rocking and began to sing.

Twinkle twinkle little star, How I wonder what you are . . . Shelter us beneath your wings, oh Lord on high . . . Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these broken wings and learn to fly . . . If you want to sing out sing out, and if you want to be free be free . . . I could have stayed there all night, singing my wishes for him. I stayed longer than I needed to. Then I pulled his blankets back with my outstretched toes, and slipped him onto his bed.

Downstairs, they continued to monitor baseball and trick or treaters. The eight year old treated “God Bless America” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” with as much reverence as he did the pitches, hits and outs. Maybe more. He sang along, stopping to comment to his father about the operatic singer in military uniform,“He has a beautiful voice.” I was surprised he would notice. They sang together, “For its root root root for the Phillies,” and I was caught off guard again; could he be rooting for his father’s home team at last? “No,” he explained. “It’s a Phillies home game. I always sing the home team’s name.”

The singing ended, the baseball resumed, the doorbell rang. He ran to get it. “39 Dad!” he exclaimed running back to the game. He was counting the number of kids coming to our door, hoping for 40.

It was a magical night. Candy, friends, a Yankees win. And 47 kids seeking sweets at our door. He got more than he wished for.