Sunday, July 26, 2015

Salad fork, dinner fork, pitchfork

I know my patience level registers time differently than clocks usually do. Waiting for things to begin (like breakfast) and for things to end (like a baby crying) can seem to take forever.

I'm just having trouble imagining how the Internet village turned a negative dining experience for one little foodie, and her family's subsequent review of it at a Portland, Maine diner, into "high-fives" for the cook. But it did, and my Facebook stream was swimming in discontent.

"Good riddance, annoying children who pester me in the hipster eateries I like to frequent because of their boozy brunches." (Not yours, though. Your children are perfect just like mine. They understand the importance of humanely raised veal and locally sourced organic kale.)

Too snarky? Okay. You're right.

Parenting is hard. Business owning is hard. Personally, I'd rather not frequent a diner that takes 40 minutes to serve breakfast, and then freaks out when you order three pancakes instead of two. But by all means, high-five a cook who responds to a tantrum with a tantrum. It's your prerogative as a patron.

But don't think this story is really about rude parents or about crazy cooks.

This story is about the village. A village with pitchforks. This story is a story because people are supporting a cook, who is unapologetic for screaming at a crying child. She declares it was the right thing to do because it worked.

That's it? A serene dining experience is all that matters?

So many people in my little social web seem to think so. And right this very minute some of them are planning trips to Maine so they can “high-five” this new celebrity chef, who has struck a blow for all customers tall enough to ride the bumper cars.

Bully for them.

Parents have been mostly silent, oddly enough. Cowed, perhaps, by the villagers with their pitchforks.

You may be arguing about your own restaurant experiences: how cooks are volatile, how parents of young children are rude, you know … how much you have suffered. But if you go to Maine just to patronize this business, you go in appreciation of an adult losing her cool at a toddler.

It's also not beyond possibility that the owner just succumbed to the pressure cooker that is a commercial kitchen. Everyone is entitled to a bad day.

But celebrating rudeness with a special order of intolerance seems just as distasteful.

But there is one other angle I think we've all forgotten in this debate.

Restaurant owners who treat people of all ages with kindness, and who actually enjoy feeding people, make much better experiences for everyone, too.

Having been a mother of an occasional unhappy traveler, I have always been grateful for the kindness of strangers. I owe them thanks.

So to cooks who make substitutions ...

And to servers who give smiles with an extra bread basket ...  Or who fix a mistake I made as a parent (kid is crying because I ordered wrong, I know it's not your fault).

Even the folks at countless next tables, who not only talk to but also listen to my kids as they prattle on with exuberance for life ...

You are the unsung heroes. You are the proverbial village. And I wish to thank you for making our dining experience a joy.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

A mid-summer night's wake up call

Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep!Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep! Beep ….

4:30 a.m.

Who set that alarm?

There is no answer. Just the ear-splitting sound of a new day dawning without the warm face of the sun.

I stumble across the room and try to turn off the sound. I press all the buttons, rotate all the dials, flick all the levers and still it drones on with its digital shriek.

“Just unplug it,” says my husband tossing around the gravel in his sleeping throat.

Just then, the cat walks across my chest, carrying ill-gotten game in her mouth:  a sable cosmetic brush.

She tosses the brush into the air, and it lands with on the floor with a soft thud before she skitters off to attack the prize again.

Another beautiful summer day off to an officious start.

With each step I take, my joints protest.  But I forget about the pain of age and second-floor dwellings once I hear the sound of fat droplets of water cascading somewhere below me.

I start to breath again when I locate the source of the flood.

It's raining in Minecraft, so, naturally, my son is sitting in the living room clutching the game controller in one hand and an umbrella in the other.

“I'm just trying to make the game feel more realistic,” he says with a sideways grin. I wonder how long he's been awake, and if he's figured out how to circumvent our preprogrammed time restrictions, but I don't speak. I can barely think in syllables: Kitchen. (Two). Coffee. (Two). Now (One).

Problem: We're out of coffee. Didn't get to the store yesterday so there's no breakfast either. The cat skulks past still holding her blusher brush and jumps on the counter.

I wish there were a nuclear option for errant cats, but I know the trigger sprayer filled with tap water is the only sanctioned weapon. … Of course, it's never within arm's reach.

“Not good eating,” I tell her instead. “Too much hair, not enough meat.”

She responds by casually knocking over a glass that was half filled with soured milk. She walks past it, disinterested, as the white-ringed glass rolls toward the counter's edge, where I am lucky to catch it before it breaks into shards.

More rancid milk sprays in my direction. Perfect.

I am searching for kitchen towels to clean up the mess when I hear the cat's mewling answered by the dog's measured bark. I investigate only to find the animals making the racket are all inside the game.

I go back to searching for towels.  And soon realize every single one  –  be they bath, hand or kitchen – has found its way to an upstairs bedroom and is snaking around the foot of one bed or another. It seems amazing how yesterday's laundry has magically transformed into a colorful carpet of moss and pool water.

I pick them up and throw them into the hamper.

As I load the washer, I wonder if I am dreaming. I should pinch myself awake.

Nope. Not a dream. It's just a mid-summer morning in which I have spilled some detergent on myself as I try to activate the machine.

I am just the latest part of this hot mess.

Luckily the cat has chosen this moment to encircle my feet, trying to trip me no doubt. So I wipe my hands on her fur and head back upstairs to bed.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Out and back

The dog speaks to me. And only me, it seems.

A few plaintive groans followed by a high pitched bark. She is bored.

She's our third child; the one who has learned the most from annoying persistence.

But it's not me who's most annoyed.

“Oh, my ghaaaad, would someone let the dog in when she barks,” my husband will bellow, walking in from his garage workshop and staying only long enough to open and slam the door.

What? I never claimed to be a good listener.

The pooch darts in and ambles right on over to me. She sits down and waits for my attention, as has been her custom since she was a puppy. I pet her and she goes on about her business searching for food the kids have abandoned and chasing the kitten.

She is a creature of habit.

She doesn't bother getting up at the crack of dawn when she hears me stir, or when, sneakers in hand, I tiptoe downstairs for a cup of coffee before my morning run. She knows being invited along is the exception and not the rule.

Still, I see her hang-dog expression and it weighs on me.

Summer has arrived and with it summer camp. Only a few blocks from our house at the neighborhood playground, it has been our routine to walk there and back twice a day.

But even so, the word “walk” means nothing to her unless it is said with a collar and leash in hand. Only then will she allow excitement to show in her expression.

She snaps at the air with her teeth, trying to catch the green webbed lead in her mouth. She will drag me forward, hunched down on her front legs has her rump end acts as a lever. Jump and pull, jump and pull all the way to the end of the driveway.

The Park is the promised land with all of its pocket humans lining up to bestow good tidings as they check in with the counselors. They run and play, and dash about as willie nilly as can be. She grumbles at me when I won't allow her to chase after them.

We continue our “walk,” which means meandering down to the post office; hanging out at the flag pole; and maybe wandering over to the bank, where the tellers at the window fawn over her as if she were Warren Buffet.

“Good dog,” she is told as she smiles and wags her tail. She takes their biscuits gently and often saves the treats for later, too excited to scarf them down on the spot. I slip them into my pocket for the walk home.

She barks again as the bank employees return to going about their business. Making sure they know which among their clientele is being ignored. Then she noses my pocket, reassuring herself the prize hasn't actually disappeared.

“That's enough of that,” I scold as we walk back out into the heat of the summer, temporarily grateful for this small town charm that I more often take for granted.

She is calmer now as we head back. She walks by my side without pulling, and only stops for the strongest of scents. She doesn't resist when I tighten the rein. She lets me lead her as we get closer to home.

The return trip always seems to take less time.

I drop the leash, and she runs to the porch, sitting down at the top of the stairs to wait for my arrival.

But I'm not moving fast enough. She starts to bark for me to hurry it up.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Seeing rainbows everywhere

I was positively giddy. From the highest court in the land, filtered through the black robes of jurisprudence, came a rainbow.

There was cheering in the front yard.

It was the sound of kids being kids that summer promises, but only the wanton use of water delivers. They couldn't care less about the news that day.

The humidity, this early in the season, had been treading on every inch of our humanity.

The boy was facing off on the girl; the girl was spitting it right back. With venom.

I thought a bright, plastic sheet attached to the garden hose would help cool things down.

After wrestling the cling wrap slide from its packaging, and charming the tangle of hose into a nozzle, there was a moment of awe. Thin rivulets sprang up from the slick river that cut a straight path through the lawn.

Sunlight caught the mist, and the faintest of rainbows appeared.

For the better part of an hour they slid and splashed together in a soupy peace.

I knew it wouldn't last, but I wasn't thinking about that.

Dripping wet and towel-less, they scampered toward the house where they would shed water and grass clippings as efficiently as a dog shaking off his bath.

I wasn't thinking about that, either. I was thinking about the rainbow.

As I draped my son's soggy Slip 'n Slide over the steps of the front porch to dry, I joked that it looked like a rainbow rung out from all the excitement.

Today is certainly a milestone,” I said aloud as the kids filed past me up the stairs.

My kids just rolled their eyes and went inside to slosh their spent fun throughout the house.

How could I condemn the absence of tidiness when the presence of justice seemed all around me?

But as I cheered the day the US Supreme Court made marriage equality the law of the land, my kids were nonchalant.

"What's the big deal," asked my 11-year-old as she tried to wrap her head around "gay marriage."

"Isn't it just 'marriage'?"

"It is now," I answered with a grin.

In fact, she didn't believe me that it hadn't always been so.

To her marriage is marriage, and family is family. The definition is all about function, not form.

After all, she's been around families with "two moms" for as long as she can remember. Our neighbor, Massachusetts, led the way more than a decade ago when it and an Internet network of like-minded moms introduced us to families that didn't look exactly like ours.

We all loved our children exactly the same.

We all wanted them to be happy and healthy and kind and good people.

As friends do, we had get-togethers in person and online. Soon, we all seemed like old friends.

Straight or gay, of color or not, they came from all walks of life and all occupations. They were journalists, and lawyers, and entrepreneurs. They were homemakers and hippies, conservatives and liberals. They were Christians and Jews and atheists. It was as wonderful and eye-opening as it was infuriating at times. We didn't always see eye-to-eye.

The kids were just being kids. They didn't judge. Neither did we.

We were all just people gathered together by some modern algorithm.

Ten years later we are here. Celebrating this national milestone. We've grown past the toddler stage in our friendships, as well.

Some of us have stay married, some divorced. Sadly, we didn't all stay friends. Now we talk about the next stage of trials and losses that visit us as our children and our parents age.

And that is life, too. Even if we end up having to agree to disagree. But a part of me hopes that we will all accept equality the way children can:

People are people. Marriage is Marriage. Love is everywhere. And rainbows always come after it storms.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The universe and everything in it

My kids rarely want anything.

Of course, this is what I think because of all the time I've spent languishing in department store aisles waiting for one (or both) of my children to make a decision. I swear I've seen my own hair turn grey in those shiny plastic stickers that pass for mirrors.

But the truth is they want a lot of things. And once they've collected all the goodwill and birthday money they can muster, they don't want to be blinded by all the fancy packaging. The tragedy of tragedies would be making the mistake of schlepping home a box of colorful dirt or a fuzzy orange worm with googly eyes.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time ..."

Yet, I know every minute they spend mulling the options adds only a second or two to the item's longevity ... not counting temporary abandonments and what will happen if the dog goes and retrieves it before the kids do.

This time was different, though.

He'd been asking for this Xbox thing for years. Every birthday. Every Christmas. Every Fourth of July. Didn't matter that we already have a video game console. Or that he never played with it. It didn't matter he wanted to play a game on this device that he was already playing on three other computers in our household. And it certainly didn't matter that his parents had always said “No.”

"We are not buying an Xbox."

It was always on his mind: He put a giant X on his list. He stalked it at the store. He waited for a special occasion, and then he pounced.

Turns out he'd also been saving his Christmas, birthday and tooth fairy money for just such an occasion – a sale.

With a fist full of crumpled dollars and a check for $100 made out to him, he bounced around the living room like a rubber ball. “I have enough money for the Xbox, the game and the tax!” he said with exuberance. “Can you take me to the store?”

Of course I wanted to say “No.”

Every fiber of my being told me I'd be well within my mission as a parent in the legislative branch of this family to veto any and all house spending that could be considered “pork." And the look from my husband indicated he wouldn't filibuster that decision.

But I wanted my son to have some independence. I wanted him to sacrifice something, however, intangible as money is to a newly-minted eight-year-old, it was his birthday loot to blow.

Sure … the acquisition would necessitate some new laws.

Taxes would have to be paid . …

Allowances might need to be garnished. ...

He'd have to hook into our electricity and internet. And no doubt, he'd be mindlessly consuming our junk fuel by the fistful as he sat in the living room building imaginary cities and fighting imaginary foes inside of our television.

He's not the only one who wants to use it, after all.

There are other foes that must be dealt with … like the teenage drones his sister wants to watch on Netflix … or the three English blokes, who talk about cars and race reasonably-priced sedans through continents, of whom his father is so fond.

But this is not a democracy.

Not even a representative one.

Sometimes it feels just a little corrupt.

But then I feel I would be foolish not to get something out of it.

So, in order to cash his check, get to the store and purchase his luxury item, he has some chores to do. He's got school work to shore up, pets to feed and an entire room to clean up.

And, since he's agreed to the small print, I've agreed to bring him shopping.

After all, we're just one family with a universal remote.

Sunday, June 21, 2015


We fought on Mother's Day. Over everything and nothing. Mostly, however, the day was punctuated by silence.

Card holidays, I find, despite all the best intentions, can be incendiary.

Too many expectations go beyond cards and trinkets. Adoration, for instance, on demand. A day filled with breakfasts in bed and family harmony.

Just one thing goes wrong, and all of a sudden, everything seems to go up in flames.

I can admit, the simmering fire was my fault and entirely my responsibility to extinguish.

I also knew how it would end ... With an apology and walk around the block with the dog.

Didn't stop me from dragging it out. Fanning the flames a little as I let them burn out.

The cooling off time can still feel oppressively warm. Like hot flashes.

Eventually, we end up fixing all with a little ice cream and sprinkles.

Ice cream is the plaster of our lives. It doesn't matter that it's temporary, it can always apply.

It looked like Father's Day was going to be the unplanned sequel.

Humor that lands with a thud has its own way of spoiling even the best of intentions. Feelings, after all, are fickle things.

Knowing which expense accounts are backing my jokes isn't one of my better skills. Sometimes I can be opaque.

But suddenly increasing the volume of our voices as if we were in a commercial break from this marriage rom-com was clearly apparent.

We couldn't help it. Feeling the anger of 1,000 slights, we just started arguing.

In the car.

With the kids trying to melt into the backseat, as kids will do when their world careens out of  control and the people who are supposed to help them navigate, seem to be driving recklessly.

How many years had we tried to not argue in front of the kids? How many times had the words "this is not the time nor place" crossed our minds and traveled through our lips?

Countless, fruitless times.

Not lately.

Lately, we make time. We talk, yell, argue, debate, bring up old wars and admit that we are not perfect.

Eventually, we agree to a truce. There is calm and quiet. The children begin chattering again, a sure sign that the angry wrinkle in this day has been successfully smoothed out.

For now.

The kids don't want to know that there will be other angry exchanges. I can remember those from my childhood, too. We'd all rather tread water in the uncomfortable silence.

They sound like experts when they point out their discomfort:

"Please don't fight," they say in unison. "It's not good for the kids."

"Not fighting is worse," we reply as a pair. “Jinxed.”

"See what happened there?" He asks them. "It's important you see all the good places disagreements can lead."

Like to real forgiveness, no matter how temporary it seems.

And it's good to remember: we're not jinxed; we're on the same page.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?”

Ice cream ... with sprinkles.”

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The kindness of strangers

“Are you sure you want to do this by yourself?” my husband asked as he stuffed an extra pair of shorts into his already bulging suitcase. “Because, I could …”

But I'd made up my mind, and I didn't need him to talk me out of it.

All by myself I had brought a newborn infant and a talkative toddler on a six-hour journey to Maine in stop-and-go traffic; I had managed to get one kid to baseball and the other to basketball almost simultaneously; I had juggled dance class and theater practices and an untold number of playdates with minimal fuss; and I've successfully navigated at least 300 children through a total of 18 birthday parties during the past 11 years.

I would manage.

I didn't need him to change his plans. It was settled: He would be away for the weekend on business, and I would be running a 5K with our seven-year-old son. What could go wrong?

“Well ... For one thing, you will probably be WALKING the 5K,” he laughed as he zipped the case and started to haul it to the door.

“That would be OK,” I said. To which he responded with a single, raised eyebrow.

He was right. I was deluded.

For weeks, the boy had done nothing but talk about how he wanted to run with his mother, and I believed him.

I believed it was more than just words.

He had even become teary whenever I walked through the door on Saturday mornings, already sweaty and tired from my long-run, before he'd had time to rub the sleep out of his eyes.

“I wanted to go with you,” he'd lament.

“Tomorrow,” I would say, negotiating a two-mile out-and-back before breakfast.

Of course, tomorrow would come and the mother-son run we'd planned inevitably would be postponed.

Maybe it was rained out. More likely it was preempted by some other thing that caught his attention, like Minecraft or a second bowl of Apple Dapples.

“There's always next weekend ...”

But eventually "next weekend" rolled right into race day. And neither of us had changed our minds.

I imagined my son, with his non-stop energy, would be able to run the race twice.

He agreed, but more than likely imagined three miles to be the distance between our front porch and the mailbox.

My husband, turns out, isn't the only one who worried about our sanity. Several people became suddenly silent after they asked about how we trained for this milestone and I just shrugged my shoulders.

"Well ... Good luck."

Even so, I hadn't been worried until the sound of the airhorn, when the crowd started to lurch toward the starting line.

“Are you sure we won't be trampled,” asked the boy as he grabbed for my hand.

“I am sure,” I answered as we started to jog. “Runners are some of the nicest people on earth. They won't run you over. ... Just remember not to run too fast. You want to pace yourself.”

The novelty of running with a pack kept him steady for at least seven mailbox lengths. And then the Are We There Yets began.

“When is this over? You're going too fast. I can't keep up. Can we walk now?”

And so … we walked. And it occurred to me that we were walking more slowly than we have ever walked before.

“You know this is a race … even when you walk, you're supposed to walk fast.”

He just scowled and walked slower, kicking dust up with each belabored step. No manner of cajoling on my part could get him to even pretend there was a clock ticking.

I realized at this pace my wits would meet their end long before we reached the finish.

Luckily, there are always saintly souls in any 5K race. And in our case, these beatific angels were wearing pink shirts with the word “Boobies” across the front.

“I'm going to win,” the lady on the left to my son. “I'm getting ready to pass you just around this bend,” said her friend on the right.

And off he went. I had to sprint to catch up.

The challenge was leveled and accepted at regular intervals until we all crossed the finish line.

As I thanked our pace angels for helping us through, I thought about all the people who ever held a door … or an elevator … or just a pat on the back after I'd bitten off more than I could chew. And it occurred to me, I've never really been alone. Not when I have the kindness of strangers.