There was a girl who had grown increasingly disenchanted with love.
She was worn thin by the lies, the secret Facebook pages and popped collars.
She was exhausted by the perpetual showering of cheap ‘I love you’s’, the mind-boggling pro’s and cons lists and the overlooking of flaws.
In her sad state, she fled hedonistic, superficial Miami to Tampa with high hopes of finding new meaning in life.
There was a man in the new city, lured by her song, A Sunday Kind of Love.
Their eyes met, or his met her profile picture, her tush squeezed into tight capris.
He made the not-so-bold move and wrote the girl a message. It was no love letter, but it was articulate, humorous and a breath of fresh air.
She was already dating someone else, a “Go Gators” kind of guy, but the “conversations” with this mysterious man were too compelling to ignore.
When they finally met, she saw him across the patio of a crowded restaurant. The jazz music played as she spotted him, looking cool and serious. A Cuban James Dean with nothing to lose.
There was some awkward conversation, mostly carried by her as he stared disinterested at the bar behind her.
She thought the date was over when he turned to her and said, “I thought you said you were going to drag me to some dirty blues bar?”
She grabbed his arm and smiled and they rushed to the bar where the thrill grew and the fun began.
He tried to give her a fist bump and she had flash backs to jocks past. She said she’d rather be spanked as a salutation, so he did.
As they closed down the bar, they ended up having a chat with the dirty blues band singer, his Captain Ahab beard catching the ash from his cigarette.
The Captain said unsolicited, “You guys are gonna make cute babies.”
The mysterious man performed an impromptu Judo throw on the girl as she walked to her car and they kissed.
It was brief, but the spark was there.
As he drove off in the opposite direction, the girl felt the rush of excitement, the feeling of knowing, the visions of a future all laid out like a dream come true.
She saw herself living in his loft in Ybor, nights spent cooking together, drowsy mornings cuddling in the dappled sunlight.
Once that became a reality, it wasn’t long before she saw the wedding, their 1920’s bungalow and a baby.
Before she could hardly realize what had happened, she was married to the man who spanked her on a first date and they were raising two very cute babies together in yet another home in the suburbs.
It hasn’t always been easy. Those cute babies can be demons. Work paired with infants can be a major impediment to romance.
But, she still sometimes has to pinch herself when she realizes she has married that mysterious man, who can still surprise her with his wit.
Now, there are day care date nights, sneaking “quality time” in before commandeering the jukebox at the bar and catching up over dinner and sometimes… sometimes, they still laugh so hard in bed at night their cheeks hurt and fall asleep soundly with the heat of their bodies to keep each other warm.
Here’s my riddle. I am in desperate need of something that flies without wings.
There’s a fine line between having a life that’s moderately difficult and a life that’s nearly unbearable.
The former can be greeted with an acerbic sense of humor. The latter cannot be greeted with anything other than a veritable sledgehammer of curse words, an inordinate amount of alcohol and a river of tears.
Lately, I have found it increasingly challenging to manage my life with shrugs, snickers and snarky comments.
I’ve read articles recently about the curse of having a “Threenager.”
I have a Fournager. See? It’s not even funny because there is no word for a child who has gone from being willful to unmanageable and is also four.
I am bombarded with comments about how her stubbornness and crappy attitude will someday allow her to become a powerful, confident woman. It is of little comfort when I am currently tossing her “powerful” butt in time-outs all day long, every bedtime is a battle of wills and we’ve been forced to swear off all public outings.
Don’t get me wrong, she still melts my heart by telling me I’m her best friend and randomly cuddling up to say, “I like you, mommy.”
But, lately, she’s destroying my life.
I can’t take a bath without the sound of her shrieking upon getting another time-out.
I can’t make it through dinner without her playing with her spoon, flicking her food to the dogs and shouting “Huck touched me!”
I can’t take the kids somewhere fun without her demanding a toy. Since when did it become a requirement to have a commemorative purchase when you go to a Jump Zone?
Huck is not absolved of all guilt.
The other day I heard them arguing about “who won” in the race to get upstairs. (They both say they won no matter who gets to the top first and then fight about it.) Moments later, I heard the loud smack of Huck’s hand across Alma’s face.
Even when he’s not pummeling her, she’s fake crying over something he did.
When he finds out I’m not the one putting him to bed at night, he slaps the air and grunts. If I am in close enough proximity, he slaps me too. Another time-out! Yay!
I am sure every parent has been there at some point, but it feels like the kids are conspiring against us right now.
They’re determined to suck the joy out of every single moment of the day and let me tell you, my days suck pretty hard long before I get home in the evening.
Not to mention all the fun times involved with cool stuff like earaches.
I have tried so many different methods of discipline and parenting (Without spanking, can’t bring myself to get there yet.) to no avail.
The only explanation I can come up with is that they have so little respect for us because we’re… just… not… there.
We’re paying a hodgepodge of day care workers to raise our kids for pretty much the entire day, five days a week.
I can only wonder if I would find better ways to get them to behave if I was actually able to monitor their behavior, their food and their naps every day.
Maybe they’re tired.
Maybe they’re eating too much sugary crap at school.
Maybe they’re harassed all day by whiny brats and no one is there to intervene, so they become whiny little brats when they get home.
Maybe they just don’t respect us because we’re just not there.
It’s a long shot, but Lord knows, I don’t blame the kids. If children behave badly, it’s invariably the parent’s fault, right?
So, now on top of the misery of long commutes and long days at work and long and repeated time-outs, I am wracked with the guilt of feeling like a failure as a parent.
So, if anybody wonders why lately I’m not a font of hysterical anecdotes and amusing quips about my adorable family, that’s why.
I need… more… time.
Dreams where you can fly and naptime aren’t the only things that melt into memories when you reach adulthood.
While you can’t get away with throwing fists-on-the-floor temper tantrums or a sea of stuffed animals on your bed, (unless you’re cool with being creepy) there are some things I feel we have every right to bring back from our youth.
1. Forts. When did it stop being cool to read underneath a blanket hooked from couch to coffee table? What could be more cozy than creating a blatant hiding spot in your own home?
2. Tiny boxes of cereal, especially the naughty kind. I’ve never stopped thinking Apple Jacks are amazing. It’s time to ditch the Kashi and go full-on Fruit Loops! (The tiny boxes will make you feel less guilty anyway.)
3. Trampolines. I know, I know, we’re all over the weight limit. We’ll bend the springs and break bones, but bouncing didn’t stop being a blast just because it comes with some jiggle now.
4. Slip N’ Slides. Avoid the jiggle of bouncing and just slide your way to full-blown embarrassment. You’re going to end up in the grass, but really, why is getting dirty such a big hairy deal now?
5. Fluffernutters. One simple mention of this gooey deliciousness had my brothers, mother and myself determined to buy a big jar of Fluff during the next trip to the grocery store. Feel guilty about ALL that sugar? It has a shelf life of like three million years, so just dip into it every once and awhile and know you’ll be set for the apocalypse.
6. Dress-up. On Halloween, the vast majority of adult women dress like whores. I imagine part of the reason why is because they’ve been storing up the innate desire to play dress-up for decades and all they have left is the desperate desire to look hott. Why can’t we don a tutu in the middle of a week when we’re feeling girlie or a cape when we feel ambitious?
7. Exploring. I have been battling an urge to pull on my tall boots and go traipsing in the woods behind my house for a year now. There are coyotes and deer and rattlesnakes and rabbits and I WANT TO FIND THEM. (Okay, maybe not the rattlesnakes)
8. Painting. I suck at painting, but when you sit me down next to my 4 year old and we’re going head-to-head, I’m the frickin’ Vermeer of watercolor.
9. Passing notes. Can you imagine how thrilled you’d be if someone at work had something hilariously naughty to say and chose to write it in a little note, folded up like a little origami, slipped sneakily onto your desk? If they included the check, “yes”, “no” or “maybe” they would instantly become the coolest co-worker ever.
10. Roller skating. Google Computer Love by Zapp & Roger. Now, turn it up. Now, picture the disco ball, the sound of those skates on the wood and then feel the rumble of the tile as you head to get a soda and some churros. Tell me, you don’t want to be able to pull this off still.
The real story behind the sweet pictures of our Sunday trip to the zoo.
(Worth noting: My son was sick the night before and we were up with him every hour until he woke up for good at 4 a.m.)
Things started off remarkably well.
The first animal we saw was some kind of warty hog that had buried himself under a pile of hay with only his rotund rump exposed. Despite this, my daughter shouted with glee, “This place is fun!”
We dodged dive bombing parrots inside the aviary.
We saw white rhinos, including the enormous lumbering bull that my daughter was determined to call the “mommy rhino” despite some obvious danglage of dude parts.
Both kids were amped inside the exhibit I call “Snakes and bugs and stuff.”
We made our way through the shrimpy funk at the stingray tank and got splashed by mungy water during a feeding.
Then, Alma made her first demand for a toy.
Here we go.
I tell her she has enough toys at home.
She says she wants a different toy.
I say she should start to learn to enjoy the experience of being somewhere fun without taking home a token toy.
Her attitude shifts and the next thing I know she takes a swat at my husband with her bunny.
I take her bunny away and tell her she has to apologize for hitting him with it and she bursts into tears.
She’s crying hysterically while we walk past the flamingos and coy pond.
People are staring, but I am not backing down.
Eventually, she apologizes and we recover on the carousel.
Afterward, Huck wants to go on the tiger train rollercoaster and we’re pumped when we see that he’s over the required height.
Alma and I stand by to take pictures while the boys wait in line and then I see them come back out of the line.
Huck is crying.
They’ve told him he has to be 3. My husband told them he turns 3 next month and they still turned him away.
We try to appease Huck with a watermelon icee and he’s NOT HAVING IT. He’s grunting like a gorilla and swatting the air.
“Do you want to go to the petting zoo?” “Do you want to see more animals?” “Are you hungry?” “Do you need medicine?”
With every question, he does an angry Michael Jackson moonwalk away from me.
I finally get him to calm down enough to take a spoonful of the melted icee and he promptly gets brain freeze and spews it across the ground outside the penguin exhibit and starts screaming.
Moments later, Alma starts choking on her icee. This is just SO MUCH FUN.
Later, we’re standing in line waiting for the “train” (hoping to make Huck feel better) that takes you around the zoo for a brief and underwhelming tour. The kids are eating Doritos, which means mostly just dumping them along the walkway and stomping them into tiny pieces.
Of course while we’re waiting in line, they notify us one of the trams is shut down so it’s a longer wait than usual. (Now, 20 minutes) Then, the speaker system breaks on the working tram while we’re in line and it’s another 20 minutes.
Alma yells, “Mommy, Huck pushed me!” Huck says, “I said I was sorry.” Then he hugs her.
I overhear people standing nearby saying, “Awww” and “There’s still good parents out there.”
There it is. The balance between cracking the whip and showing the kids a good time.
“Here’s a fantastic day where you don’t have to do anything but have a good time. We provide the snacks, juice, icees, rides and carry your crap around. We wipe your bums, bring changes of clothes and spend a gazillion dollars all so you can have a blast.”
They behave badly and we give time outs, take their stuff away and trouble shoot.
People see them throwing a massive temper tantrum and probably think, “crappy parents.”
People see them hugging and apologizing and think, “good parents.
The fact is, we’re good parents BECAUSE we don’t buy into their temper tantrums.
Alma never got a toy. She got to keep the zoo map.
We did not try to smuggle Huck onto the kiddie rollercoaster. (Although it was tempting) He got the tram ride where he kept saying, “There’s no animals. There’s trees.” (An astute observation)
We’re trying so hard, but it’s a battle and one that doesn’t usually end with pleasant memories and grateful children.
As we walk back to the car, Alma is pouting because she didn’t get a toy.
Huck whines, “Where’s MY map?”
Then he crashes, drooling on the car seat.
We were hoping to go out to lunch. Instead, it’s McD’s and buying groceries and consoling Huck when he wakes up and tossing out the kids uneaten peas and watching Batman and breaking up fights over legos and “Don’t hit your sister!” and “Stop crying over everything!” and yes, that’s moonshine in my Coke.
There were good moments at the zoo: Alma in heaven on her horse, Huck mesmerized by otters, the moment when Alma randomly started patting Huck sweetly on the head.
Was it worth it?
Ask me when the kids are in their 20’s and we find out if they even remember this stuff.
Working in news, you have to be detached, even jaded.
You must be bitter, hardened and borderline soulless.
People cope by making dead baby jokes and cracks about crackheads.
I am just as guilty as the next guy.
But, there are days when the stories we cover feel absolutely unbearable. The weight of cruelty crushes your spirit. The injustices, the death of innocence piles up and blinds you to the good in the world.
Today was one of those days.
An unthinkable crime. A father clutches his 5-year old daughter to his chest, lifts her up, then throws her off a 60-foot high bridge into the frigid water to her death.
I first read the headline when I woke up at 5:30 a.m.
It was easily shoved into the back of my brain as I worked out, showered, got dressed and drove to work.
Then, I arrived at work and had no choice but to listen to the coverage of the story. I could feel the tears begin to well up.
Then, I see the first pictures of the little girl. Her name is Phoebe and she’s a cherubic little blonde.
Then, I hear the owner of the daycare she attended talking about how she was terrified of water.
Now, I can’t STOP crying.
The terror she must have felt. Did she survive the fall? Did she struggle to swim? What went through her mind when she realized her own father had just sealed her fate?
MAKE IT STOP.
I could say this makes me want to rush home and hold my children. It does, but it doesn’t make up for the gnawing sorrow in the pit of my stomach, the grieving for a child I’ve never met.
The worst thing I’ve ever had the urge to do to my own children is drop an F-bomb in front of them.
This is unfathomable.
I did see a wonderful post on Facebook where a man similarly darkened by the cloud of gloom suggested everyone use it as an opportunity to post one thing they love about their child.
Just one? Impossible!
I love that my son randomly pets my arm while we sit together on the couch, then looks at me out of the corner of his eye and smiles so I will know that it’s no accident.
I love that my daughter asks every night if it’s my turn to put her to bed and when it is she shouts “Yesss!” and runs to hug me.
I love that my son really believes that if he wears Batman pajamas that he IS Batman.
I love that my daughter demands we call her “Flash.”
I love that my daughter wants to cook me with every night and when that’s actually a realistic option, she squeezes my legs and says, “I love you, mommy.”
I love that my son comes to his sister’s defense when we say she’s being naughty. “Alma’s not bad. Alma’s good!” (Even when she was in trouble for hitting him.)
I love that my daughter asks me if I’m “okay” when I lose at a game.
I love that my son doesn’t just give you a half-assed hug when you ask for one. They’re long and warm and heartfelt.
I love that my daughter is under the impression she can run incredibly fast when in reality it’s more of an awkward sprint.
I love that my son can’t sit still for more than a few minutes before asking, “Wanna play ball?” or “Want punching time?”
I love that my daughter asks a million annoying questions and when you finally give her a real and complicated answer, her eyes get big like her mind just got BLOWN.
I love that when she asks my son for a turn politely, he hands over whatever is, no matter what it is and without argument.
I could go on forever… and now I feel, only slightly better about the world, but fantastic about MY world.
Lately, I can be seen shuffling around like a homeless schizophrenic, mumbling to myself over and over, “It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase.”
For the past few weeks, my daughter has transformed into the kind of girl nobody wants to hang out with.
She has pretty much ruined every holiday event or special occasion.
There was Christmas where I watched in horror as she shredded open gift after gift barely pausing between to assess the present. When she finished she whined, “I want more presents to unwrap.”
I tried to convince myself it was just some kind of OCD obsession with the thrill of unwrapping.
She practically cried when I offered her Cinnamon Buns for breakfast, then downed two of them within minutes, sending her off on a sugary high, shrieking and bouncing around the house like a crackhead kangaroo.
She spent hours in separate “time outs.”
I asked her what her favorite gift from Santa was. (Santa, you know, the “guy” who bought all the presents, wrapped all the presents, decorated the tree and stealthily stuffed stockings when “he’d” rather have been sleeping.) Her response: “The kitty, I guess, but it was the wrong color and I didn’t get the doll carriage I wanted.”
This sent me off on a tear-filled, mimosa-fueled afternoon followed by a splitting headache and sweaty nap.
On New Year’s Eve, we used the Netflix fakeout countdown for the kids during which my daughter whined that she wanted to watch Batman instead.
Afterward, we partook in the Cuban traditions.
We were each eating our 12 grapes when Alma proceeded to drop 2 of them, 1 of which was never located. A slimy grape is currently curled up in our carpet maliciously awaiting a middle of the night barefoot run for a glass of water.
She refused to put pants and shoes on with her pajamas, despite the fact that it was super cold outside, because she wanted to “be Tinkerbell.”
We walked around the house with our suitcases in order to ensure a 2015 filled with travel. Of course, our neighbor walks out in a vest and tie on his way to celebrate New Year’s the way normal adults do. I can only imagine how ridiculous we looked traipsing through wet grass and dog shit with our luggage, wearing pajamas.
We get back to the front door and Alma starts fake-crying because she was under the false impression we would be walking around the whole neighborhood.
We go to dump our bucket of water out the front door to wash away all the crap that’s happened in 2014. Alma is throwing a fit because she wants to do it herself even though the Popcorn bowl is so heavy, she would end up on the sidewalk in the puddle.
Last night, I managed to sneak out of work early because we had short newscasts on New Year’s Day. On the drive home, I am cheerful despite writing about sons decapitating their mothers and boyfriends nearly strangling their girlfriends to death. There is no traffic, it’s not too hot and I am arriving home before the sun sets.
So, we decide to take the kids out for pizza. After the 30 minute drive, we discover the restaurant is closed. Alma commences whining about how all she will eat is pizza, so we end up at chain Italian restaurant that shall remain unnamed.
I always planned to be the kind of parent that would NEVER let their children play on computers at the dinner table… until I ended up the kind of parent with kids that jostle me perpetually, ask “why” repeatedly and don’t allow me to eat a single bite of food without arguing with me about something.
So, I let Alma play with her Leapad. Instead of enjoying herself quietly, she’s demanding that I watch what she’s doing, take part in what she’s doing and talking over the Comicon, Dungeons and Dragons playing waitress who is trying to take our order.
Halfway through our overpriced, undercooked pasta, the little boy in the booth behind me stands up and projectile vomits spaghetti all over the floor.
The C-team staff starts to mop it up and then leaves little wet spaghetti pieces on the floor right next to me and the stinking mop and bucket right behind my husband.
My main resolution this year was just to detox, not for the entire year, but long enough to avoid feeling pickled post holidays.
January 1st and I’m making a Moscow Mule so I can suffer through putting my daughter to bed.
We’re coloring together and she’s wide-eyed and crazed, intentionally coloring hard and outside the lines.
She stays up too late on her computer. I take it away and tell her to sleep.
When it’s finally time for me and the husband to go to bed, he turns off the hallway light and I heard Alma yell, “MOM! MOM! Turn on the light! I can’t see!!!”
She says it like we’ve offended her sensibilities by turning out HER light when SHE is trying to stay up until midnight the day AFTER New Year’s Eve.
I cry myself to sleep while browsing Facebook, looking at people wearing their fun New Year’s Eve hats, drinking champagne, their children grinning and still joyously and gratefully playing with their Christmas loot.
It’s just a phase. It’s just a phase. Until… it’s not.
1. Huck: “I don’t want Christmas time. I want punching time!”
2. Alma: “Can I change my name to Bagheera?”
3. Alma: “My bum is saying it wants to sit down.”
4. Alma while looking at a picture of me as a baby: “So, I was in your tummy then?”
5. Alma: “Can you write me a good letter to Santa?” Me: “Of course, I will make sure it’s a comprehensive list.” Alma: “‘Cause, sometimes I’m good. Sometimes I’m bad. So, you can make it a GOOD letter?” Me: “Uhhhh, not how it works.”
6. Alma: “Am I Indian?” (Huh?)
7. Huck on what we should all be for Halloween: “I’ll be Batman. Daddy is Spiderman. Alma is Engine Turtle. You are Human Cat.” (I told him once I could be Catwoman.)
It’s that time of year, when the world falls in love.
When I reminisce about the idyllic Christmas mornings of my childhood.
The lying awake for a signal from my parents that it’s acceptable to dig under my bed for that first hidden gift, the teaser of what was to come.
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, swishing on socked feet into a living room packed with presents, pouring across the floor like a tidal wave.
My brothers and I clambered around on the Oriental rug, digging through our stockings for the tiny gifts hidden among the cheap chocolate, held afloat by a single orange.
Our bellies still full from the smorgasbord of Teriyaki steak skewers, stuffed mushrooms, sweet and sour meatballs and cheese spread of the celebrations the night before.
In Florida, there are no snow flurries to usher in a white Christmas, but it didn’t stop me from believing I heard the jingle of sleigh bells on Christmas Eve.
It was a huge family affair. My Uncle, Aunt and cousin would come to town from Cincinnati. We’d brave the chilly waters of the Gulf on their behalf and gather sand for luminarias to line our walkway at home.
My grandparents would come down from Massachusetts and our entire holiday herd would go to the St. Pete pier where I would beg my parents to buy me overpriced colored rocks masquerading as gems.
Every year, we would eat at Arigato Japanese steak house, a huge splurge for a family of 5 living mostly off a math teacher’s salary.
Now, nobody comes down from “up north” to take a dip in frigid waters.
The Pier is in disrepair, people kept away with a lock and chain, it’s future uncertain.
Arigato shut down in September. The owner filed for bankruptcy.
Immediately after Thanksgiving I would hold the bottom rung of the ladder (a pointless show of support) for my father as he strung the giant colored lights along our rooftop.
Now they’re considered “retro” and a fire hazard.
Now we put off stringing the Christmas lights along our porch railing because it’s such a pain in the patoot. We’re just too dang busy.
On Christmas Eve, we sat down as a family and read scripture to celebrate the birth of Jesus. We reenacted the nativity scene. I was usually stuck being a sheep by the manger, shrouded in my beloved and battered baby blanket, “Lambie.”
Now, nobody even mentions the “real reason for the season.”
These days, we are so busy redefining “family” that there’s no room to even bother trying to resurrect the Christmas traditions of our childhood.
The massive mountain of presents are now split between 4 homes. Christmas Eve with my in-laws, Christmas morning with my children, another random day with my family and finally a visit with my dad and his wife.
How does Santa pull this off? I don’t know. I just don’t know what to tell my kids.
Holidays should be about lazy mornings in jammies, cracking walnuts, watching football (reluctantly) and afternoons spent with kids crammed onto and underneath sofa beds, watching Rudolph on repeat.
Instead, I will leave work on Christmas Eve to rush home to food that I couldn’t help prepare.
Christmas morning will bring a modest delivery from Old Saint Nick.
The Friday after Christmas, it’s back to work.
Saturday, it’s the next “Christmas” with my family.
I am learning that there is absolutely no way I can recreate the magic of holidays past for my children.
I cannot pull it off.
It makes me sad and angry.
There’s nobody to blame, yet it feels patently unfair.
These days, who’s got the chestnuts? Where’s the open fire?