My mother is Earl Grey tea with a little milk. She is cinnamon toast and yogurt with peaches. She is macaroni and tomato soup on a cold night.
She is the piano playing on a drowsy summer day. She is the soft hush after a nightmare. She is rocking me slowly, singing Carole King until the crying stops.
She is my solo standing ovation, applauding my practice for an audition. She is the voice of reason following bullying and rejection. She is taking me on a shopping spree for clothes so I can fit in.
She is chocolate cake after a rough day.
She is wine and carbs after a bad breakup. She is cruise ships and suntans and Mexican food so spicy I get second-degree burns.
She is a late-night campfire and the deepest, safest sleep.
She is brushing my daughter’s hair, scratching her back. She is picking flowers with her, strolling through the garden.
She is Nana now.
But, she will always be cattails, Vanilla and willow ware, swinging brass pots and Chariots of Fire, cradling me and singing Hush Little Baby.
For all she did for me that I understand now, I will forever be blessed.
Ahhh, the sleepover.
A quintessential part of the American childhood.
Just the word “sleepover” probably stirs up fond memories of late-night giggling, poorly painted toe-nails and itchy sleeping bags.
For me, it dredges up the crying jags and calls to come home in the middle of the night.
The panicky realization that I was actually expected to sleep at some point.
The horror of having to pretend to LIKE pizza and ignoring the aching pains that followed due to lactose intolerance.
My top 3 worst sleepover experiences, in no particular order:
SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY
Maybe it was the title of the movie that had the parents confused.
Sleeping, like a “sleepover.”
Maybe I had led a sheltered life, never having seen a movie that was rated R by the tender age of 8.
But, I could not hide my shock and dismay as we huddled onto our friend’s fluffy, pink twin bed and watched Julia Roberts being raped by Patrick Bergin.
The first sex scene I had ever seen and it was a portrait of a violently abusive marriage.
At this age, the mere mention of sex made my throat swell-up with anxiety.
As I’ve mentioned, I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian family and just thinking about sex was likely to earn you a ticket straight to the fiery pits of hell. (At least in my prepubescent mind.)
At first, I tried to nonchalantly cover my eyes.
That wasn’t going to work.
There was audio.
Can’t cover your eyes and ears simultaneously.
So, I did what any other slightly hypochondriacal youngster would do.
I pretended to feel sick, rushed out of the room and spent a good portion of the evening engaging in calming banter with my friend’s mother. (No mention was made of their incredibly poor choice of films for the sleepover.)
(By the way, I adore that movie now. I guess it’s kind of like, ‘I can watch it now without wanting to die or praying for forgiveness! I win!’)
THE MANSION UTI
My father was a math teacher at a prep school for rich kids.
We didn’t have much money (understatement) and frequently found ourselves with incredibly wealthy friends.
One of those kids lived in a mansion with an olympic-size swimming pool, complete with high diving board and an ice cream parlor.
They were having a birthday party for her brother and I swear to God, they had the longest, most phenomenal Slip ‘N Slide I had ever seen. It ended in a pool that was way bigger than the above ground one we had in our backyard.
Needless to say, I was already intimidated by the home, the toys, the yard, the pool.
Just looking at my friend sitting with perfect posture while playing at her grand piano was enough to make me feel inferior for JUST BEING.
It was around midnight when I started to realize I was suffering from the world’s most wicked urinary tract infection. Dear God, the pain!
I wasn’t keen on being there, but I wanted to impress my rich pal, so I tried to suck it up, tough it out, biting into the provided pillow to try to keep from screaming.
I finally broke down and called my mom and whispered through tears that my private parts were en fuego.
I’m sure you’re already thinking you can guess how this sleepover went. But, wait!
It was a sleepover at MY house and I was NOT the one who puked.
It was my neighborhood friend.
She ran for the bathroom.
She only made it to the hallway.
It was projectile.
It was shocking.
It was the look on my father’s face while he was sopping it up that I will never forget for as long as I live.
He looked like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction.
Or Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained.
Or Samuel L. Jackson in any movie for that matter.
These and also the glaring facts that some parents are also perverts, some guns are left unlocked and some alcohol is on the bottom shelf are the reasons why I will never (don’t hold me to it) let my kids sleepover.
And your (vomiting) kids can’t stay either.
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.
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?