Watch Your Language! Moms Talking Dirty

We interrupt this week of Grandma Power to get down and dirty with some real Confessions of Motherhood. Well, it’s scripted, but based on reality, the new web show, “Benchwarmers,” co-starring my friend Katie Goodman, from Broad Comedy.

Its premise: Ever wonder what those women on the park bench are talking about as their kids play in the sandbox? Lots and lots of sex.

benchwarmers

I must have raised my kids at the wrong park.

When they were babies, I was one of those parents hovering in the sandbox, damaging their psyches (another blog for another day).

Now I’ve graduated to the bench, while one child plays basketball or baseball, the other plays tag or caveman. I sit with a book, or sometimes get conscripted into the game of tag if there’s no one better to play with. But so far nothing comes close to Benchwarmers.

I’m gonna find a new bench.

 

Thinking of You, Twelve Years Gone

January 27, 2000. I was sitting at the kitchen table finishing a bowl of cereal, soaking up the unlikely view from our window – a secret farm hidden behind a bland 4-unit apartment building on our crowded block of bland apartment buildings in West L.A. I used to call it Brentwood, but it was more Wilshire than San Vicente. Yet my morning walks took me past Monica Lewinsky’s father’s home and the townhouse where O.J. didn’t murder anyone. So Brentwood seemed a reasonable designation.

This view from the kitchen window was the selling point of our apartment. Where else in a densely-packed post-grad-school neighborhood could a person enjoy such fertile beauty? In the garden, my neighbor worked amidst his rows of lettuce, tomatoes and sweet peas, his wide brim hat spreading out as far as his shoulders. He must have lived there for decades, I thought, cultivating the soil behind his building, while on the other side cars competed for scarce parking spaces and tiny dogs soiled the sidewalk, oblivious to the existence of his magic garden.

We had lived there for two years, a long time for us at that point in our lives. It was our first apartment together, my husband and me, the place that put an end to the nightly question as our courtship advanced, “Whose place tonight?” Now we had only ours. Soon we would be moving to our first house, leaving this place that launched our marriage.

My next-door-farmer turned his head, caught me watching him from above, and waved to me. I waved back, an embarrassed voyeur. At the sound of the ringing phone I stood up like Pavlov’s dog and moved to answer it. The clock on the wall said 8:05. It was time to go to work, my other place in the world. I was dressed in casual clothes suited to my identity as a public interest lawyer. I had a touch of the self-righteous to me, working for equality and civil rights. My grandfather, long suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, had nonetheless managed to hold onto his nickname for me, “The Lady Lawyer.” It made him laugh whenever he said it, maybe owing to a disconnect between his perception of me as a little girl, and a lawyer. Maybe he thought I was playing dress-up. “Laura the Lady Lawyer.”

He was on my mind. After many years of being cared for at home by my grandmother, she had added a daytime caregiver. The woman was loving, kind, and strong enough to get him in and out of bed, and to the bathroom. But when the caregiver had to be out of the country for a week, my grandmother knew she could not take care of him on her own. Reluctantly, and at his doctor’s urging, she called a nursing home. After a few days there, he had developed pneumonia. Now he was in the hospital.

I had visited them every day. Them, because my grandmother was always there. I was as worried for her emotional state as his physical. She stayed in that room, fed him, sang to him, told him jokes, trying like hell to get her husband to come back, even for a second. She leaned up close to his face, shouting a punch line. “A million dollars, Al. Get it? A million dollars!” Eyes closed, he nodded. He tried, for her.

“Hello?” I answered the phone. I couldn’t see the farmer anymore. I knew he was still out there, moving down the row, removing weeds and dead leaves from the vegetables bursting out of the ground.

“Laura.” It was my mom. “Grandpa Al…died, honey. I’m so sorry.”

Instead of going to work, I drove to my grandparents’ apartment – their last shared home of a 63 year marriage. My parents, aunt and uncle, and a cousin were already there. My sister and three-year-old niece Rebecca arrived.

“Where’s Al?”  Rebecca asked her mom, puzzled as to his absence from the chair she always saw him sitting in.

My sister answered with words I didn’t expect: “Grandpa Al is in heaven now, with his mommy and his brothers and sister. And he can see you and hug you.” My sister’s eyes flooded as she spoke. We shared a look that said, “Do you really believe that?” and “I don’t know — maybe.”

“Oh,” Rebecca replied. Her mother’s explanation fit naturally into her magical world view. She reached her arms straight up, receiving and returning his embrace. I watched, jealous, wanting to be able to hug him, too.

Now I sit here at my desk, twelve years later, and reach for the sky.

Strength.

My cellphone’s insistent jangle burst into the splendor of the pre-school parent-teacher conference. We were in the midst of hearing about our son’s many strengths: high cognitive skills, wonderful communication, exemplary vocabulary and supreme sense of humor. Embarrassed by the interruption and not wanting to disturb the string of compliments, I found the phone and abruptly turned it off.

A moment later my brain registered concern. I had seen the identity of the caller—my friend who was picking up our older son after school. As the pre-school teacher continued his praise, a fraction of my brain ran through the possible reasons for her call. Perhaps she was reporting that she had him and all was well. Or maybe she was checking if it was okay to get ice cream, since her sugar standards are more generous than mine. I trusted that she could handle whatever might be going on, and that in fifteen minutes I would be done with the younger brother who is always shorted on attention. But part of me was already gone, wondering and hoping nothing was wrong.

The moment our conference ended I called back. I listened for a clue in the tone of her “hello.” I heard no panic, only concern. The news: my child had fallen while playing basketball, moments after he arrived at her house. He was lying down with ice on his elevated foot, which might be the tiniest bit swollen. He did not want to play; he wanted his mommy. Something was wrong.

Relief sprinkled with guilt danced down my spine. This was not an ambulance emergency, but it was a real injury and I had not answered the call. Points off for me.

We hurried over. When he saw me, his red eyes closed, his mouth twisted, and he reached for a hug. He hurt. I lifted him up and carried his 60 pounds to our waiting car.

Settled at home, I phoned the pediatrician. “Didn’t I see you five minutes ago?” she said, herself the mother of a pre-schooler. “What happened since then?”

“Slam dunk contest,” I explained. “Hmm. It could be broken,” she said, “but it’s too late in the day to get an orthopedist appointment and I don’t want you within a mile of the ER. If he can’t walk on it tomorrow morning, go get it X-ray’d.” We kept it on ice, fed him Motrin, and crossed our fingers.

The X-ray the next morning showed three broken bones, clear as the sunny day outside. The orthopedist held the film up to the sunshine streaming through the window on the eleventh floor of the medical building. Four floors below was the obstetrician whose hands guided this child’s entrance into the world, whole and perfect. I stared at the broken bones I was entrusted to safeguard and felt a momentary dizziness, a breach of duty.

The mop-haired orthopedist explained how the foot’s growth plate would create new bone cells to heal these fractures in a matter of two weeks. I wanted to know about long term consequences: “Will this be a problem for his future in the NBA?” He gave me a smile, looked back at the X-ray, and did not spoil any dreams: “No. This won’t be a factor to keep him from professional sports.” Other things may, but not this. Good enough.

From the rainbow assortment of casts, Aaron chose light blue, for the Dodgers. The doctor cautioned us not to scratch under it, warning about cuts and infections. I carried Aaron to the elevator, and his feet almost reached the floor. But he knew how to hold on, his four-foot-four frame wrapped around me. I didn’t mind; it was something I could do for him, a penance.

Downstairs, the pharmacist equipped him with crutches, and told him he was the best 8-year-old crutch-user she had ever trained. But they were no match for the three deep steps leading to our front door. Aaron handed me the crutches when we got home, and reached up for his father’s arms to carry him in.

The rest of the day brought visitors with balloons and Sharpies to sign his cast. His girl cousins drew hearts, his grandfather wrote “break a leg.” He worried aloud about how it would feel to sleep with a cast on.

At 3:00 a.m. the itching began. “Mom!” he moaned from his bed. “It itches so bad!” I thought of the doctor’s warning of infected cuts and tried to comfort him in other ways. I scratched his back. No help. I offered him mind tricks: “Try scratching the other leg and see if it helps.” Uh-uh. I tried persuasion: “An itch is just your nerves telling your brain to scratch, but there’s nothing physical there.” No! Mom, please!

Neither of us could take it any longer. I searched the darkened house for a safe scratcher. I came back to his room with a scrubbed-clean skinny paintbrush. “Use this,” I said.

He accepted the black rounded implement and gently guided it down the top of the cast toward the middle of his shin. One second later came one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard, as beautiful as the cry that followed the frightening minute of silence after he was born: “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” His face relaxed into sheer relief as he exhaled in ecstasy. I took the implement from his hand and set it on the table next to him. He rolled over, murmured “thank you, mama” and fell asleep before I could kiss his head “you’re welcome.”

He had the weekend to learn how to walk on three legs. It was hard, unsteady work. He left the crutches in the corner most of the time, opting for crawling and hopping. His good leg tired. His armpits ached. His heart dampened from missing flag football games. His mind worried about how he would fare at school, with his classroom on the second floor.

Monday came, we arrived at his school with some trepidation. In a matter of minutes he learned some good things: There is an elevator at school. He can choose a different friend to ride with him each time. He can play on the classroom computer at lunchtime with anyone he picks. As the day went on, he and I learned ever more valuable lessons: Children can be kind, patient and compassionate. He is strong. He is resilient. At his core, he has a positive outlook. He can weather this. He can meet any challenge. Nothing can stop him.