Sunday, July 12, 2015


Charming Baby is away for two weeks at an overnight mountain camp.  I am sure he is having the time of his life, but I wouldn’t know for sure because I haven’t received even so much as a postcard.  If I had a girl, I would have three newsy letters by now, complete with details like the names of all cabin mates and a hand-drawn diagram of the bunks and who sleeps where. 

I had originally presented the idea as a one-week trip, but the Professor talked me into two.  Not because he wanted to recreate the lazy BK (before kids) summers of our twenties with afternoon naps and entire days spent trolling around movie theaters, eating as much popcorn and Red Vines as we wished, but because he said it takes a week to get over homesickness and then you really start to have fun.

The Professor, like many east coast kids, grew up going to camp for six or eight-weeks every summer.   (He recalls six weeks, his brother recalls eight.  They both remember starting at age nine.)  When First Born Prince turned nine, the Professor asked about sending him.  You might as well have asked me if I would cut out my heart, throw it on the ground and do the Mexican hat dance on it.

When FBP turned 13, we tried a few of those three-day sports camps hosted at universities where the kids play their sport all day long and sleep in the college dorms and eat in the campus cafeterias.  I didn’t like the fact the kids had unlimited access to their electronic devices, pizza, Coca Cola and candy bars.  He adored the freedom, the long days of lacrosse and making new friends from all over.

Eventually we were turned on to a family-run weeklong lacrosse camp in the Adirondacks.  NO electronics, no candy, no staying up late playing Fooze-ball in the game room, high on partially hydrogenated oil and high-fructose corn syrup.  Just home-cooked meals, lacrosse in the morning, traditional mountain camp activities in the afternoon and enforced lights out.  Even though FBP liked the local university three-day benders better, the Professor and I felt the more traditional mountain camp experience was the way to go and so paved the way for his younger brother to try something similar.

I wasn’t sure about sending CB at age 11.  Yes, younger siblings mature faster but it surprised me that he agreed to two weeks.  Granted, he was going with one of his closest friends, but this is the kid who still refers to the day camp I sent him to when he was five as “Baby Jail.”  A mother’s guilt, fear and shame have no limits.

Thank God I watched the camp’s webinar Parents' Overview last spring.  They told us what to pack, how to pack (Label everything!  Involve the camper!).  The most depressing rule was that campers couldn’t receive food in care packages.  Not even gum.  The most helpful tip for me was about letter writing to our campers -- to just send news about what's going on at home and not dwell on how much we missed them.  I would have written “I LOVE YOU AND MISS YOU SO MUCH!!!!  I CAN’T WAIT UNTIL YOU GET HOME!!!!”  I was forced to be a fake, Chatty Cathy.  I did sneak in a few xoxo's, but I was strong, I even signed off, "Love, Mom" instead of "Mama" which is what he calls me when he's feeling like my baby.  

Perhaps one of his experienced bunkmates is up there coaching him right now.  “Don’t write home, it will just make your mom cry.  Make her think you are having so much fun you forgot to write.”  Maybe that’s what he’s thinking and we can just tell each other the dirty, stinky, bug-bitten truth.  When he gets home.  To his mama.  Next Saturday. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Back-to-School Drinking Game for Moms

I was at a volunteer meeting the other morning and my friend who just dropped her son off at his first year of college told me a hilarious new term she learned.  I'm sure you have already heard of the helicopter parent.  Yes, our generation is guilty of that.  Even though we were raised by parents who vaguely remembered which grade we were in or where the school was located, we somehow have become masters of our children's universes, volunteering, organizing and filling out forms until our fingers bleed.

The guidance counselor at the freshman orientation told the parents, "This is where the helicopter lands, people."  She then went on to explain how critical it was for parents to let go.  Lest you become a SNOW PLOW parent.  You know who you are.  Plowing the way ahead for your child.  Making sure the path is clear, tidy and free of nasty rocks that could trip them.  I am definitely in danger of transforming my helicopter into a snow plow.  Thankfully, I get by with a little help from my friends.  They keep me in check, they tell me to let go, they remind me that real men use shovels.

So, in honor of all of us hard-working helicopters and snow plows, I came up with a way to unwind this weekend.    It's Friday, let the games begin!

Back-to-School Drinking Game for Moms

Grab a friend and a bottle.

Drink if…

•  You went to more than one Staples to find the right sized notebooks.  Drink again if you went to more than two.  

•  Drink if you received a text from your child during the school day this week.  Drink again if this required immediate action on your part. 

•  You filled out a registration form by hand.  Drink again if your child is in middle or high school.

•  You signed up for yard duty.  Drink again if you’re friends with the coordinator of yard duty.

•  You’ve already input all dates for all upcoming fall events into your family calendar.  Drink again if you are in charge of any of these events.

•  You are on a first name basis with the principal.  Drink again if you have his/her cell number programmed in your phone.  Drink a third time if you have ever hugged this person.  
•  You have your child in more than one sport.  Drink again if you have your child in more than one sport and one other extra-curricular activity.  Drink a third time if you have more than three.  Beyond that, empty the bottle.

•  You have more than one volunteer position.  Drink again if you are on the board of your child’s school or sport team.  Drink a third time if you are on both.  If you are on the board of more than one school, and at least one sport team, see above.

•  Last, but not least, drink if you have to set your alarm tomorrow for a sports game.  Drink again if you have to set it for SAT Prep courses.  Drink a third time if you have to set it for both.  If you have more than one child doing more than one of these, see above.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mama's Boy

When we first arrived at the courts near 85th and 5th in Central Park, a huge, muscular middle-aged black man wearing athletic shorts and no shirt was chasing and yelling at a scared looking, smaller 20-year old.  A whole crowd of black guys in basketball gear gathered around what looked like was going to be a fight.

"You think you a man?  I'm a man!  He not a man!  Punch me if you think you a man."

Lots of arguing and hollering, but no punching, thankfully, by any man, ensued.  

Turns out the 20-year old had punched the big black guy's son (17 years old) in the face in self defense.  The 17 year-old had put his hands around the 20-year-old's neck in some sort of fight earlier that evening.  The kid called his dad, who showed up, pissed that a "man" punched a minor, no matter the reason. 

Well, there I was, one of the only three white people at the courts (me, First Born Prince, and Charming Baby) in my J. Crew summer clothes and $3 bottle of chilled water.  CB was next to me, driving his brand new remote control car from FAO Shwarz.  

I typed "9-1-1" into my phone, my thumb hovering over the green call button, just in case, and went over to the benches where cooler-headed players were watching the game that was still going on.  I asked what was happening which is how I got all the details.

FBP was horrified I was talking to them after I promised to just drop him off and then leave, so he went to the other side of the court and pretended he didn't know me.  He kept texting, "Please leave." 

I wanted to make sure everyone knew he was only 14 and confirm they weren’t hoods.  None of them could believe First Born Prince was only 14.  They wanted to know what I fed him, how big his father was, and if we were Catholic (that question had to do with the top NYC high school teams being St. Patrick’s and Bishop Loughlin).  I chatted them up, suggesting they try FBP out, saying he wouldn't ask to play himself because he was shy, being only 14 and all.  They ignored me on that.

I watched several games and started to relax when I saw the players didn’t argue unnecessarily and were making fair calls.   It felt safe, safe enough to leave my baby.  
I waited for him back at my in-law’s apartment, keeping an eye on my phone, waiting for the text saying he was on his way home.  Finally, at dark, liked we agreed, I received, “On my way.”  I exhaled a long, slow breath.

Expecting a jubilant son, I was surprised when his eyes flashed anger as he walked in the door.

“Mom, why did you hang out there for so long, talking to everyone?  You ruined it for me!”

“I am sorry, but with that crazy fight going on, I had to make sure it was okay.”

“A whole hour, and why did you have to talk to them?”

“Oh, big deal, they were nice.  They wanted to know what you ate.  They wanted to know all about you.  They were actually great conversationalists.  I was making sure they were sane.  Give me a break.  Did you get to play?”

“They called me ‘Mama’s Boy’!”

“I am sure they were just joking around.  You know, like you do with your friends.”

Dropping his shoulders, a grin appeared on his face.  He sat down at the table, helping himself to a huge slice of pizza.

At first no one would give him the ball but when one guy had no other choice except pass it to him, the only open man, FBP immediately sunk a clean shot.  The team got excited, “Mama’s Boy can shoot!”  He got a little bit of action, mostly just supporting his new found team.

He went back, alone, the next night, making me promise I wouldn’t go watch.  He stood court side patiently waiting for about 45 minutes until the self-appointed team captain finally made eye contact with him. 

FBP asked, “Do you have 5?”

“Yeah, we got 5.”

FPB looked down, wondering how much longer he would have to wait.

The captain laughed, “You the 5th, Mama’s Boy!”

He went back again several times.  On Saturday, he was there from 2:00 until 7:30.  A woman who knew one of the players brought a cooler full of sandwiches to the court.  They offered one to FBP.  

CB and I rode bikes by the courts later that same day and peeked through the bushes, making sure he couldn’t see us.  He was the only white guy, playing a quiet game, not getting in anyone's face, but he hustled and got himself open and took plenty of shots.  His team high-fived him when he made baskets. 

I took a few photos with my iPhone and then pedaled off, pretending we didn’t know the smiling white boy on the court.  

When we were getting ready to leave New York City, I asked him if he told the guys he had been playing with all week that he was leaving.

"Yeah, I told them."

"Well, what did they say?"

"They said, 'We expect you to be dunkin' next summer, Mama's Boy.'"

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Everyone used to think it was an earthquake to fear if you lived in California.   Now we know it’s a wildfire.  The first time I lived through one, I was nine years old living in a suburb of San Diego.  The fire raged in the state park adjacent to our subdivision.  I recall police cars and rescue vehicles driving through the neighborhood with bullhorns telling us we needed to evacuate.

“Bullshit!” was all I remember hearing from my dad.

He was up on our wood-shingled roof with the garden hose, wetting everything down.  He had the sprinklers in the yard on at full blast and did not seem the least bit concerned that we might lose our home, or our lives.  I remember crying and telling him I wanted to evacuate like all the normal people.  He told me if I was so worried about it to go jump in the pool.  He was not packing a damn thing and if I needed to do something about it, how about making myself useful with a hose.

The second set of fires I recall raged when I gave birth to my second son.  The most devastating wildfires in California history sparked that day and by the time I was cradling my newborn, the entire hospital was filled with smoke.  Nurses were wearing masks and we were told that half the staff couldn’t make it in due to evacuations and road closures.  I wanted to remain in denial with my new sweet baby but left a day early so that women who needed legitimate medical care could have my bed.  Let’s face it, all I was doing was lying around taking Vicodin.  We went home to 3 inches of ash on our doorstep and a sig alert, which required us to remain indoors for a week.  My four-year old and my husband were bouncing around the house while I tried to bond with my newborn. 

The third round was exactly four years later and although we were fortunate to not have to evacuate, we saw people we know suffer from the fires.  I recall spending most of my time on the phone reassuring the Professor’s relatives in New York who were going crazy over our safety that we were OK.

I have also dealt with smaller fires that affected my Grandma.  We spent hours one year trying to find her when she was taken to an evacuation center by “helpful” neighbors.  She slept on a high school gymnasium floor when she could have been tucked into bed in my guest room 15 miles away.

Tonight I see friends on Facebook offering their homes to friends who have to evacuate.  I think about how you can remove the terror from most situations if you stay calm and rely on a little help from your friends, swift neighbors or non-conformist fathers.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Just heard on the radio that St. Paul’s is offering “Ashes-to-Go” this Ash Wednesday.  The program was started last year as a way for the Church to try to reconnect with people who are too busy for, or simply have let go of, attending services.

In New York City, the volunteers with their bowls of ashes can be found on street corners and in subway stations.  That somehow seems less sad to me than where you can find Ashes-to-Go in San Diego -- at Peet’s Coffee and Starbuck’s.

People have time to stand in line and buy a five dollar coffee beverage but don’t have time to drop into their church and pay a visit to a man who has dedicated his life to helping others?

My mother would confirm that this is a sign we are all going to hell in a hand basket.  My best friend would help me gain some perspective and make me feel less like the world is coming to an end and more like creative geniuses are alive and well at work.

Still, isn’t the whole point to get off the hamster wheel for an hour and think about stuff like getting off the hamster wheel?  The Priest says, “From dust you came and to dust you will return,” as he makes the cross on your forehead.  I am not sure if you get the same reminder when the random church volunteer who may or may not have washed his hands blesses you beside the barista counter.

Our synagogue has been faced with a similar dilemma – how to get people connected back to their religious community.  It depresses me when I get notices for adult events like football viewing parties in the social hall and youth trips to places like Trampoline Zone.  I want to attend lectures with interesting speakers, teaching about world events and child rearing.  I want my son to go on a hike or visit the tide pools with his youth group.  I can’t complain, though.  When the bulletin went out to join our Rabbi for a coffee talk brainstorming session to come up with attractive events and outings, I was too busy to join them.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Miracle of Lights


The marketing geniuses of the United States of America have pitch perfect timing and so when I asked some of my sons' friends what they wanted for Christmas, it didn’t surprise me when most of them said, “The new [insert name here].”  Even if your kids already have an X-Box or iPhone, they can ask for the latest version.

My kids don’t have an X-Box but that’s another blog post.  They do have an impressive bunker of Apple products that is due mostly to birthdays in October, generous relatives and a father who values the latest technology above almost anything else.  I purposely deny my sons things they ask for unless it is critical to their health or safety (shoes that are too small, for example) so I will have something to give them at Hanukah and Christmas.

First Born Prince (FBP) was shivering in the car next to me this morning (the climate control panel read “48”).  He was wearing a t-shirt and shorts.

“Where is your sweatshirt?”

“I told you.  I don’t have one.”

“You have three or four of them.”

“The sleeves are too short.”

He has a closet full of XL sweatshirts and dress shirts that fit him in the body but not in the arm length.

 "Just push the sleeves up, like how we rolled the sleeves up on your dress shirt.”

He rolled his eyes and jumped out of the car.

I didn’t want to spoil the surprise and tell him he is getting two beautiful new XXL sweatshirts for Christmas.  I also didn’t want to leave myself scrambling like a methamphetamine addict trying to find something to give him if I handed the sweatshirts over early which is what he is working towards.  Obviously.

I know I am onto something because this past Hanukah I managed to surprise and delight him with relatively simple gifts they would have otherwise gotten out of me “for free” but I had the presence of mind to withhold from them until now.  They got things like word search and crossword puzzle books (my fourth grader has been asking for them since school started), new basketballs, and a foam roller (my 8th grader has an old one that is too-soft and has bites missing from when Charming Baby (CB) was two years old that he uses regularly on his hamstrings and back). 

The best gift I came up with was a few weeks ago after FBP asked me where the measuring tape was and if we had any tape that would stick to concrete.  He wanted to mark off shooting lines under our basketball hoop in the driveway.  Both of my sons are really into basketball.  I was able to tell him, “Sorry” with a straight face, not volunteer to dash off to the store for specialty tape and hope he would forget about it.  I then found a stencil kit with pavement paint online and ordered it for Hanukah. 

When the kit arrived via Amazon Prime, I was nervous.  It looked tedious.  I certainly didn’t want to read the instructions and do all of that measuring and lying out of a pattern.   My Home Economics sewing class in middle school was enough to last me a lifetime.  I feared FBP would open the gift and balk at the three hours of labor I had just presented him with.  Then a miracle happened.  His eyes lit up and he was really excited. 

As luck would have it, the following day was a minimum day for him at school (I did not plan this) so he had extra time for the project.  He and his brother very carefully followed the instructions.  When no tape we had would work to hold down the pattern paper, CB ran into the house and got his wooden blocks (another stroke of dumb luck, I almost donated them to Goodwill last week but then decided to keep them at the last minute). 

CB and I had to leave before the work was finished to go to basketball practice and I panicked about leaving FBP alone with a can of spray paint in my driveway.  I was sort of bitchy as I said, “Why did you start this right before I had to leave?  You better not get paint all over the place!”  He ignored me and I drove off figuring it was a disaster and I was a fool.

Two hours later I was at the mall, in the middle of the new Tevana store, sampling one of Oprah’s favorite things when the text arrived, “Time to play.” 

A huge grin and $30 worth of Maharaja Chai Oolong later, I picked up CB at the JCC and raced home.  Even though CB had just played bball for two hours and was tired and still had homework, he was so caught up in the excitement of celebrating the finished half-court, he shot with his brother for another hour after dinner. 

FBP was proud of himself and CB was happy his older brother was including him.  Actually more than including him, FBP needed him or all the papers would have blown away.  It was a two-man job.

Now they want outdoor lights for their new evening pastime.  I am thinking Santa might be a good one to ask.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In

I was one of the professional women they are talking about in this article -- one who opted out of the career track to stay at home.  At the end of my maternity leave in January 2000, I extended the leave one month, still in denial, still putting off the pain of decision.  I didn't want to say to my mother, or any other professional woman I respected, that I was going to take my education and 10-year career and chuck them.  I was afraid to admit I was choosing diapers and nursing, playdates and parks.  I was scared.  All of us who chose to opt out were fearful.  We'd never be able to pick up where we left off. 

It feels a little less authentic now that I read I wasn't the only one struggling with the decision, I wasn't the only one who became mommy extraordinaire, volunteer queen, and home-making champion.  I was like every other educated mother who could afford to stay home and decided to do it.  I had a great run, too.  Envious of my friends with careers, yes.  Wishing I was in a conference room haggling with clients, no.  Staying at home was rewarding for me.  It also came with a price.  The Professor and I fought.  We almost divorced several times.  We power struggled over everything from money to the kind of turkey I bought. I have learned it wasn't about the money, or the turkey. It was about my decision on how to spend my time.  Owning that choice is difficult at best, even for the black and white thinkers.

The kids are older now.  They set their own alarms, make their own lunches, do their own laundry.  Mommy is still needed to direct and supervise but not execute any more.  This is a natural time to make a change.  I have friends who went back to work because they want to keep up their lifestyle and pay for their kids' college tuitions but can't swing it on one income.  I also have friends who traded with their partner.  She is the bread winner and he is the cook and chauffeur now.  The last group is like me, they have some time while the kids are in school, have maxed out in the volunteering arena and don't care for the Work-Out Barbie look.  Running errands and walking the dog doesn't take seven hours a day.  

Women who are empowered with choice have the easiest time of going back to work after being at home for a long stretch (the article uses 10 years as the average).  Whether that empowerment comes from external -- degrees from top schools, great networks, etc. -- or from internal -- recognizing the price of trade offs and making them (no matter how exhausting and uncomfortable that is) -- depends on the individual.  

The sucker punch in the article was from the woman whose own mother had worked as a high school drama teacher and speech therapist and was home in the afternoons and during school vacations.  She learned from her father, after her mother had died, that her mother had always wished she could have spent more time with her children.

So there is no easy answer.  No matter whether you opt out or not, opt back in or not.   Even when it looks like a woman has it all, in the end we discover she gave up something.