Friday, April 30, 2010

As Plain As The Ear On Your Face

Last night, my 14-year-old daughter brought home a friend from school, Nicole*. Nicole was telling us that she recently moved to a larger home so that her widowed grandmother could live with them. I asked how she liked having her grandmother in the house. She rolled her eyes and began to tell us how her grandmother was always telling her what to do. “Half the time,” she complained, “I don’t even know what she’s talking about!” I asked her what she meant by that and Nicole went on to tell me that her grandmother uses phrases she’s never heard of and she has no idea what any of it means. I knew exactly how Nicole was feeling.

My grandparents raised me and it set me apart from my peers. Sometimes I felt like I was 16 going on 60. I looked at my friends’ parents, whom I’d always viewed as not just younger, but so much cooler. Just like Nicole, I’d often roll my eyes at what I called, the AARP vocabulary coming from my grandparents.

Despite the obvious generation gap that I viewed as problematic, I picked up a lot of the wisdom of yesteryear. There’s a different mindset among the Depression Era generation. Nothing went to waste; they either used it up or wore it out. The carcass of a roasted chicken never went in the garbage – it went into the soup pot with some greens and an onion – a habit I’ve retained all these years, thanks to my grandmother who was an excellent cook. I learned how to sew from my great-grandmother, Nana, who was a piece maker in a garment factory.

And my grandfather, in addition to being the center of my universe, was also an ace mechanic who taught me how to fix my car. He never wanted a mechanic to rip me off just because I was a girl. I learned how to change the oil, brakes, spark plugs, alternator, water pump, etc. But the air filter never needs to get replaced. It’s a waste of money. Take it out, clean it and put it back on.

There was something nostalgic about that generation. The stories are endless as are the little pearls of wisdom I’ve acquired. I like knowing the difference between a month of Sundays versus two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

What does seem to happen among this set, though, is a lot of confusion about these gems. Our common phrases seem to get all mixed up – sometimes even taking on a whole new meaning. Hearing how they spoke, it’s a wonder I learned any of these idioms correctly at all. But this was really the most fun about growing up with them – laughing about it all these years later!

On any given Sunday at my house you could spot my Nana (cooking) and her sister, Aunt Grace (directing) in the kitchen. Aunt Grace would hang over Nana’s shoulder which would annoy her to no end and it wasn’t unusual to hear Nana crow, “Too many pots spoil the stove!”

My grandfather was really the worst offender of vernacular. Once I made the fatal mistake of interjecting when he was speaking and was severely reprimanded, “Hey! Two heads ain’t better than one, you know!” If you get caught in an untruth, be prepared to hear, “You’re lying through your nose!” Hating to wait in lines, he’d often complain in the bank that it took him, “A month of Mays,” to cash his check. My favorite was when we had unexpected company, “So what brings you to this leg of the woods?”

Then there were the idioms that my grandfather not only misspoke, but also changed around to suit him given the situation. I would witness him at every family function approach the nearly-adult grandkids one by one, to give them his full assessment of Their Lives According to Pop. To my twenty-something cousin who was getting deep into credit card debt: “Your whole trouble is…” this was his opener for every pep talk, “Your whole trouble is, you’re digging too many holes!” Then he’d move on, working the room. He’d approach yet another one of us young adults who was trying to plot out a career and offered some advice, “Sometimes, you gotta dig a few holes.” Huh? What did that even mean? We just nodded respectfully, sipping our rum and cokes, looking for an opening to an exit.

It took many years for us to appreciate what he meant. Now we know what he was trying to say: Be careful: Don’t get yourself into a mess you can’t get out of but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there either.

My grandmother was different. She didn’t mince words. She shot from the hip – calling them as she saw them. Her cousin’s daughter became engaged to a well-to-do man. He boasted a first rate, Ivy League education. My grandmother attended their engagement luncheon and reported back. She didn’t like this guy and wasn’t impressed by his education “Send a dolt to college and you’ll wind up with an educated dolt!” Wise words, which I later quoted to an obnoxious Wharton graduate who was interviewing me for a job right after I graduated from high school. Seemed he didn’t appreciate my plans to post-pone college. I’ll never forget the look on his face when I laid that line on him, got up and left the interview. Priceless.

In her sunset years, those years past sixty-five where diplomacy and decorum are no longer a consideration, she’d change the word ‘dolt’ to something far more colorful. I wouldn’t repeat it here for fear that her ghost would reach out and smack me in the back of the head.

As a teenager, I would find myself embarrassed by their demolition of common English idioms. I don’t know what was worse – the World War II lingo or their butchering of it. Either way, I knew my friends’ parents didn’t speak like that and like any teenager, I just longed to fit in. Anytime they’d talk to my friends, I’d cringe, roll my eyes incessantly and do my very best to pull my friends away from their stories about “the good ol’ days” which was littered with a bunch of rusty mixed metaphors. I was convinced that I’d reflect back on this one day and even my memories would be in Black & White.

Now, older and wiser myself, I realize how priceless it was to have lived with them. They gave me an education not found in any university. A strong work ethic, never be afraid to get your hands dirty, a sense of humor including the ability to laugh at myself, patience, temperance, family values and a profound respect for elders.

Did I miss out by not being raised with a younger generation? Nope. The grass isn’t greener across the street.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Not-So-Fast Food

Like all of my contemporaries dashing to and fro from home to school to extracurricular activities, I find myself frequenting Dunkin Donuts for my caffeine fix. Amazing how busy I am that I can’t even find the time to put up a pot of coffee in the morning. Ok. In reality, just too lazy to get up five minutes earlier, let alone dig out the travel mug.

I ran into Dunkin Donuts on my way to work one morning recently. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the person in front of me gathering up his order and leaving just as I got to the counter. Perfect timing! I smile at the woman behind the counter and give a hearty ‘Good Morning.’ She’s pleasant enough, returning the gesture. I order a large coffee, milk, no sugar and a whole-wheat bagel with cream cheese. Not complicated. The clerk looks at me like I just ordered steak tar-tar and attempted to repeat my order back to me, “Large coffee with cream and sugar and a multi-grain bagel with butter?”

“No. Coffee, milk, no sugar,” at this juncture I shake my head ‘no’ rather dramatically to drive home the fact that I truly don’t want sugar. Hopefully I’ve annunciated ‘milk’ enough as there’s no gesture to distinguish milk from cream. But wait, there’s more: “Whole wheat bagel with cream cheese,” again, with very exaggerated inflection.

“Oh, sorry,” she begins, “Coffee, milk, no sugar. Multi-grain bagel with cream cheese?” OK. Halfway there. Deep breaths. Deep… cleansing… breaths… I muster a polite smile after my sarcastic huff, “NO. WHOLE WHEAT bagel with cream cheese.”

She tries again, “Oh. Ok. Coffee, milk, no sugar. Whole wheat bagel with cream cheese.” I nod affirmatively, smiling politely but my eyes are saying, ding, ding, ding! Johnny, show her what she’s won! Are you kidding? This is what you do… coffee and bagels. Are there really that many variations? How hard is this really? “Yes, Alex. I’ll take bagel and spread options for $1000.”

My quick cup of coffee added eighteen minutes to my commute. Don’t forget – while she eventually got the order correct, now it was up to the prep-person to prepare and bag my order.

I hit all kinds of traffic on the way home from work. By the time I drag myself through the front door, my hungry sons look like they’re about ready to gnaw off a paw. I gather everyone up and hit McDonald’s before karate class. We’re on a tight schedule today. Odds would be against two fast food incidents in one day, but this is my life we’re talking about.

As luck would have it, there’s only one person ahead of me in line as we wait to place our order. I don’t even have the look at the menu – it’s McDonald’s. I’m ready to blurt it out as soon as my turn comes. Two cheeseburger Happy Meals with chocolate milk, Caesar salad, medium Diet Coke. I don’t think I even glanced up at the boards behind the counter. Again, it’s McDonald’s. Simple stuff.

Simple to everyone except the person in front of me. He’s a rather portly fellow, a bit disheveled with high water pants that reveal mismatched socks. He’s carefully pondering his choices. I hear a bunch of “Ummmmm” and “Wait, what about….” I begin to very deliberately huff and puff behind him in an effort to make him aware that there are people behind him and this isn’t exactly The Four Seasons. There are no chef’s specials today. Let’s go!

My sons are beyond antsy. The hungry crankiness gives way to silly restlessness. Others in line are giving my boys the evil eye. I’m trying my best to corral them without making a scene. The scene I really want to make is with this clod in front of me who seems to make up with his discerning palate where he lacks in wardrobe coordination.

I’m screaming, if only in my head, “Good God! We all know you’ve been planning this meal since 10:00am! Clearly, you dressed for the occasion. Big Mac Combo, Large Coke!”


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The REAL Mothers on Facebook

I love my kids! Who doesn’t? Everyone is crazy about their own kids. Everyone thinks their kids are the best and the brightest. My aunt once told me, “There is only one most beautiful baby in the whole wide world and every mother’s got them.” So true. But even our best, most beautiful and brightest little darlings can really get under our skin.

This is never so evident as at the end of a school break. Spring break was over nearly three weeks ago and I'm convinced I'm suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

At the start of the vacation I’m planning day trips to fun places like museums and amusement parks. It will be so much fun to see them really having a ball. Naively, I’m thinking, “Wow, how are we going to do all this fun stuff in just two weeks?” Happily, we roll along to movies, ceramics, the Bronx Zoo, etc. And that’s just Week 1!

Mid-way into Week 2, I’m just trying to keep them busy and out of my hair. The laundry is piling up. The dust bunnies are reproducing and forming colonies under the couch. I’ve run out of snacks and juice – AGAIN! They need to go back! How many more days? I begin having thoughts of just dropping them off at school anyway. Sure, I know it’s closed, but they can just wander the halls, right? It’s safe there – it’s school!

Somehow, someway, I find ten minutes alone with a much-deserved java and log onto Facebook. Ah, let’s see what the gang is up to. There they are – the bevy of phonies. Status line after status line of nauseating gush.

“Boo hoo…. Little Jake goes back to school tomorrow. I’m going to miss him”
“What will I do tomorrow when Amanda returns to school? We had so much fun together.”
“OMG! I loved having ALL 4 of them home! What will I do when they go back????”

Who are these people?!? I enjoy my kids as much as the next mom, but come on! The first part of the school break was great – but people – it’s been two weeks – TWO WEEKS! I want my house back! I want my six hours of not hearing “MOM!” screeched from two flights up. I want my formal living room free of Legos and a dining room table sans Play-Doh. Not to mention the barrage of school projects that had to be completed, which of course, were saved for the last forty-eight hours of this break.

Now, I’m sure there are some mothers out there who genuinely believe what they posted on Facebook, especially after the Prozac kicks in, but you just know most of these Facebook phony posters are barely going to put their cars in park on Monday morning. These poor kids had better learn how to ‘tuck and roll’ from a moving minivan.

“What will I do when they go back?” Is this really a question? It’s rhetorical, right? Because you know what you’re going to do. You’re going to sit in your pajamas an extra hour or so, catching up on your sale catalogs and chatting up with friends on the phone. You’re going to get a manicure to un-do the damage of the last several days of hot gluing school projects. You might even get some pleasure out of strolling through the supermarket and getting everything on your list instead of just tossing in what will hold them over. But in all likelihood, you’ll sit on Facebook and talk about how much you miss the apples of your eye, never admitting that secretly, you’re loving the silence!

Ladies, have we been put under so much pressure to be “the perfect mom” that we even feel the need to make a statement on the internet? I love my “me” time. The time I take for myself makes me better for my kids. I get to recharge my battery so I have some patience. I enjoyed the school break with my kids (at least the first half) but I really enjoyed seeing them go back.

Even June Cleaver wasn’t June Cleaver in real life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Ms. Road Rage

The vast majority of us approach life with a sense of purpose and order. Our purposes may differ but we all follow the same basic rituals. Get up, shower, get dressed, go to work, etc. The destinations may vary. The order in which we do these things may vary but basically we are all trudging about our mundane lives without a whole lot of change in routine. Even the occasional routine upset is carried out routinely. We each have our basic priorities that get carried out in some logical form despite the unforeseen interruption by none other than Murphy’s Law.

So far, the day has begun according to plan: Coffee in the cup holder – check. Cell phone within reach and hands-free device all set – check. Bopping to a good tune on the radio ignoring the guy in the car to your left that’s laughing at you – check, check.

And then, he appears. You know the one. The one who is predictably unpredictable. The one waiting to merge. Clearly, he saw me in the distance forging towards him at 110mph but decided at the LAST POSSIBLE MINUTE that this was his point of entry. He hits the gas and cuts right in front of me, in a huge rush to be one car ahead of me – only to go a whopping 40mph!

God! I hate that! Don’t you hate that?!? Why do they do that?!? And it must be noted that I looked in my rear view mirror at precisely this moment and saw not a single soul behind me. Like he couldn’t have waited! Big rush to go nowhere! What’s the matter? Brain not in use when car is in motion?!?

See, it’s this upset of routine that brings out the very non-lady in me. Not just any upset of routine – I can juggle and multi-task with the best of them. This – this is just stupidity that cannot be tolerated! The sheer rage of this moment of having to jam on the brakes seems to paradoxically accelerate my mouth. The barrage of profanely peppered insults I hurl at this inane halfwit would make Andrew Dice Clay blush.

This venomous pseudo-argument I have with this mentally out-to-lunch, spoiler of my morning, would probably sound hysterical as some stand up bit in a smoke-filled, hole-in-the-wall comedy club, but I’m a card carrying member of the PTA! However, I must say, I’m probably at my funniest when I’m incensed. Had anyone been in the car with me they’d be shocked but laughing. Then again, had anyone been in the car with me I’d never let loose.

Alas, all my best material is wasted on the steering wheel.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Fart Frenzy

There are some upsides to divorce. One of the best are the alternate weekends that my two school age sons spend with their dad. It provides a much-deserved break from the pint-sized invaders of my sanctity. My husband and I utilize the time well eating out at great restaurants trying a variety of red wines out for size. On a Sunday, we bask in the quiet sometimes not even speaking to each other aside from asking, “More coffee, honey?"

Then Sunday night comes. They return. Full of boundless energy. It's as if the transition from their father’s house to mine gives them renewed strength for out of control silliness and attacks of the giggles. Two boys ages 7 & 8. If you have any experience with this population you know what it's all about. It's about farts.

This bizarre bodily function that we adults try so desperately to avoid is the very topic of choice for young boys. Most adults never address the issue of flatulence, in fact, we will deny that it even occurs. We go through great lengths to avoid it, never admitting it and forever blaming the dog. We all know that even Mother Teresa farted in her habit but it’s never open for discussion.

Tell this to my sons who want nothing more than a constant fart-fest! I came to believe that the very word sends them into a fit of hyena-esque laughter. It takes me an eternity to calm them down all the while lecturing them as to why such humor is inappropriate. Surely it doesn’t help matters that their father, my ex-husband, is the Pull-My-Finger king! When I poo-poo his humor (pun intended) he counters with, “But farts are funny,” which then sends my sons into orbit and starts the cycle all over again.

Are they really that funny? Against my lady-like nature, I put this to the test. My sons entered the kitchen after school and I said nothing. “Hi mom,” they greeted. I answered, “FART!” To my chagrin, they doubled over in laughter, faces purple and couldn’t utter a word for nearly twenty minutes. So it really was that simple! Now that I’ve set this in motion and there would be no end to it.

"OK, OK. Joke's over," I say in an attempt to get it to stop, but they are just roaring! It would seem the only thing funnier than a fart is Mom’s distain for the fart jokes. It's pretty much out of my hands at this point. They are in full-on hysterics and the only word they are able to eek out between breaths is of course, "fart."

I must admit, to see them laughing, to hear their squeaks and squeals, does my heart good, no matter the topic. Something came over me – seemingly beyond my control. Their laughter is contagious and I, too, am now laughing at the fart jokes. Guess if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Quarter More

Some old jokes never die. The best jokes are private jokes. Maybe it was your best friend, your mate, your sibling – whomever. It’s usually the result of some long, funny story that only the two of you were there for – the kind of story that when attempting to explain it to someone else loses all humor in the translation. Guess you had to be there. Typically, you and that special someone are the stars of your joke and between you two stars, a great, riotous belly laugh can be conjured up at a moment’s notice. Even a million years later. Even at a funeral.

My friend Jason and I both have a great sense of humor and serve as each other’s best props for a one-of-a-kind comedy show of a relationship. Twenty years ago, movie tickets were under $10, so Jason and I saw LOTS of movies. We went to nearly every weekend. You’d think I’d remember some of the movies we saw, but I couldn’t name one. What I do recall vividly - the U/A really, really wanted you to by the large sized soda and popcorn. They didn’t want you to buy a medium.

Each and every concession worker at this huge complex was robotically programmed to offer you the large even after you’d requested the medium. The gimmick? “You can have the large for a quarter more.” Yes, for a mere 25 cents you could upgrade your medium popcorn and soda to a large. But Jason and I didn’t want the large. It was simply too much. Too much to carry. Too much to hold in our laps and way too much to consume. As it was, the medium was nearly a half-gallon of soda! That didn’t stop the counter-drones, “Are you sure? It’s only a quarter more.”

“Yes, I’m sure,” Jason would say, very authoritatively with a smirk. We’d make our way into the movie and find a seat, Jason always preferring the aisle. We loved the previews. To us, the previews were the best part. The more previews, the better. There were usually only four previews. On the rare occasion there were more than four previews I would ask Jason if perhaps he had paid a quarter more. And so it began.

Any extra anything anywhere was undoubtedly a “quarter more.” If the waiter replenished the bread basket, it was a “quarter more.” Second helping at the Chinese Buffet, a “quarter more.” I once bought a new pair of shoes and the shop owner tossed in those things you stick at the back near the heel so your foot won’t slip out. You guessed it, a “quarter more.” At every mention of a “quarter more” we would laugh till we cried.

It’s been more than twenty years since those days at the U/A but some things just never leave you.

Last year, Jason and I found ourselves, quite unexpectedly, at the funeral of a mutual friend, Joe*. We each didn’t know the other would be there despite talking to each other at least a couple of times a month. The deceased had a huge family and the room was very crowded. Jason and I sat together towards the back of the viewing area. The room was rather quiet except for the muffled conversations going on at the front. We noticed the funeral director shifting some things around, fiddling with a partition.

I turned to Jason and whispered with a surprised look on my face, “Wow! He’s opening up the second room for all the people.” Jason without missing a beat flashes his brilliant smile, “Old Joe must have paid a quarter more.”

*name changed

Saturday, April 24, 2010

On Arrival

At the behest of my very best friend, I am here. I am blogging.

I've always written - mostly to myself - seemingly talking myself down from a ledge during troubled times. I guess had I literally talked to myself I would be in a padded room with that white jacket - you know the one where the arms wrap around you so you can hug yourself.

Instead, I channeled my garden variety insanity into the laptop. The friend of which I speak, my nearest and dearest for about twenty-five years, has been gently nudging me (ok, she's been a nagging, harassing beast) about getting my thoughts and insights out to the general population.

My life... no different from so many others. A woman, 40, a divorce/remarriage statistic, own my piece of the suburban American Dream Pie, keeping my feet wet in my chosen career once a week which had otherwise been derailed by family obligations, pick up his dry cleaning, clean the kitchen, promise in vain to get to this month's PTA meeting. The usual.

But doesn't a funny thing always happen on the way to the supermarket?