Monday, January 21, 2013

It Must Be Puberty

As I came into our kitchen, I spied the giant messy pile on the counter.  Applesauce cups.  Foil half ripped off the top, it looked like a band of raccoons had gotten into the kitchen and attacked the case we bought two days ago at Costco but it was only one 10-year-old boy. I counted as I rinsed them for the recycling bin.   One, two, three... He must have been hungry.  Four, five, six... Did I forget to feed him lunch?

As I leaned into the pantry to throw the cups in the recycle bin, I glanced at the case of applesauce and was shocked.  More than half of them were gone - 18 cups in two days.  I called Ethan into the kitchen and pointed to the half empty box with eyebrows raised.

"I must be going through puberty," was his only response. 

Ethan says this phrase a lot to us.  He calls me into the bathroom after he showers to ask whether I can see the hair growing on his legs (surprisingly he does have a lot).  He is insistent that we smell his pits because he is sure that he has BO and needs to start using his dad's deodorant in the mornings (he doesn't, and thank God because I couldn't take smelly feet and smelly pits).  He wants to buy Axe body wash when we shop at Target and spends five minutes picking out fragrances like Anarchy or Jet.  When we went out to dinner last week, he asked to use his dad's cologne and asked my opinion on which one would smell best on him.

I like this pre-puberty stage. Ethan talks freely with us about anything, and asks my opinion on everything.  Well, almost everything discussions of specific girls at his school are strictly off limits.  Hes a smart boy Mom has a blog and Dad would tease him constantly.  With anything else, he blurts out questions unexpectedly or chews on it for a few days and approaches us when he is ready.  He can't wait for puberty to hit, no matter how much Mom and Dad dread it.
I cherish this time and know that when the puberty gate comes crashing down in two or three years, he won't be asking my opinions or sharing his thoughts so easily.  In the meantime, I smile as we head to the store to buy more applesauce and Axe body wash this weekend.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

LitCrawl - The Day My Eight-Year-Old Called Cialis

LitCrawl 2012 was a fantastic experience for the Write On Mamas group.  We spoke at the CandyStore Collective store in the Mission to a full house, on the topic, "Your Mom Had Sex", which was voted the most popular title theme out of 85 different groups there that night.  A little risque and a lot funny...
I read my piece, "The Day My Eight-Year-Old Called Cialis".  Check out the other Write On Mamas videos on my YouTube channel, and if you are interested in being a supporter, check out our Indiegogo campaign for the upcoming anthology at  Lots of great perks await you!

Baseball vs Politics

Some of my friends don't get my obsession with the San Francisco Giants.  Why talk baseball when there is an important presidential election this year?  When there are so many critical issues at stake, why not put your energy behind those?  To me, the choice is clear:
  • In baseball, two teams compete and play their best. One team always wins, one team always loses. In an election, two sides rip at each other for the better part of a year, tell half truths, and then both declare themselves winners. This year's presidential race is looking to be a rat's nest of a close finish with lawsuits on the horizon.  Between that and a best-of-seven series, I choose baseball.
  • In baseball, 25 guys work together as a team for one common goal. It's a cliche but watching the pair of double plays in last night's Game 3 highlights show what teamwork can accomplish.  In politics, there is no team. Candidates say what they need to get elected by their parties and then do whatever they need to keep their office.  And working towards a common goal? Forgot about it.  
  • I love my Giants.  I have friends that love the Tigers or the Cards (or God forbid the Dodgers).  We can debate the better team and then go out for drinks and dinner.   Try telling people that you are a registered independent and people will try to convert you to their side, Democrat or Republican, as if their soul and yours depend on it.  When talking politics, something must be wrong with you if you don't agree with me.
I sound naive about baseball and jaded on politics, right?  There are plenty of unethical things in sports (hello, Melky Cabrera?) but when I see the Giants out on the field, working hard, working together, it makes me proud to be a fan.

Go Giants!  Sweep the Tigers! 


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Star Of The Day and The Suicide Fish

Every week in Ethan’s second-grade class, one student was named “Star Of The Day.”  As the Star, Ethan needed to create a poster about himself that would hang in the front of the classroom, and he would be the teacher’s special helper during class.  Lastly, the teacher wanted us to speak with Ethan in front of the class for 20 minutes about our family, our home and our jobs.

I immediately had a panic attack.  Professionally, I present in front of hundreds of people each week.   But a room of second-graders?  They are a tough crowd, especially when your job can’t be defined in one word.  Teacher, fireman, nurse - they understand these jobs, but Regional Vice President of an investment management firm?  Most adults don’t understand my job, let alone second-graders. 

The Saturday before my classroom gig, Ethan had a sleep-over with one of his friends.  While I was making pancakes for them on Sunday morning, the friend asked what kind of job I had and presented me the perfect opportunity to practice my spiel.

“Well, I work in investment management, which means I help people who have extra money in the bank make more money.”  I was pleased because it was simple but not dumbed down.

The boy nodded politely while I spoke, so I thought it went well.  “Wow, that’s really… BORING.  Let me tell you what my father does, because it is a lot of fun…”  I was deflated, but had to agree that his father had a much more exciting job, working as a display designer for museums.

The next Monday I showed up at Ethan’s classroom.  He clutched his favorite Percy Jackson book, eager to show everyone, as we went up to the front of the room.  All I could think was “please don’t ask me what I do”.

The kids kicked it off by asking Ethan about his favorite toys, what sports he played, and his favorite books.  They then proceeded to discuss which Percy Jackson book was the best, which characters were their favorites and the distinction between reading the books yourself and having your mom read them to you.  I checked the clock.  Ten minutes to go.

Someone asked Ethan about his pets.  “Well, I have two dogs, Pickle and Sweet Pea.  We used to have three cats but two died from old age and we gave the other one to my aunt.  Oh, yeah, and we had a fish that committed suicide.”

A little blond girl in the front row looked confused, “What is suicide?” 

My parental instincts went into overdrive, thinking how to handle this discussion delicately, but Ethan replied in a matter-of-fact tone, “Suicide is when someone kills themselves.”
Her face became pale and she looked sick. “How did the fish kill himself?”

Ethan warmed up to his topic. “It was so cool.  He jumped out of his bowl, and landed on the kitchen floor.  We didn’t even notice it until the next morning, when Dad almost stepped on him because he looked like a dried-up leaf.”

He hit a vein of interest with the other seven-year-old boys in the class, who responded in kind. “I had the same thing happen with my fish.” “It was a Beta fish, right?” “I had a baby turtle that someone stepped on by accident.  It was disgusting.  I really miss that turtle.”

The little blond girl in the front row looked like she was going to start crying, and I knew her mother was going to wonder what happened in class today.  Maybe I would get a call from the mom tonight but selfishly, I was relieved that my job was much less interesting than Percy Jackson or fish suicide.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Parent's Death

Two years ago today we got the call that you never want to receive.  My dad had a heart attack and was being flown by helicopter to a hospital two hours away from his home.  We didn’t know what was happening but my brothers and I immediately jumped on planes from our different corners of the country then drove a tortuous five hours to his hospital in a remote part of Kansas.   I remember that night, being forced to sit in the plane and then the car while wanting to do something, to see him, to help him.

Dad never liked doctors and trusted them even less when our mom died ten years before.  At 84, he was incredibly healthy for a man who smoked and liked to drink his beer and wine.   A case of polio when he was a young man gave him weakness in his leg, but he still got out in the yard every day to work on his lawn and garden.  When my son Ethan and I visited three months before, Dad happily participated in the Easter egg hunt albeit with a cane and we laughed together over the giant plate of ribs they served at the American Legion.  He seemed indestructible.

As we drove through that dark night, I thought about Mom.  Her death had been unexpected.  A routine procedure in the hospital was followed by negligent care, and ten days later she was gone.  It seemed so unreal that it was difficult to process emotionally.  My grief for Mom was like a gray blanket that enveloped everything I did over the following ten years.   When I got married and had a child, I longed for her to be there and felt myself reaching for the phone to call her with news.  She was my emotional anchor and I was lost without her.

When we reached the hospital in Kansas that night, we were able to see Dad before he went in for open-heart surgery.  The man who seemed indestructible was pale and shaken, but glad to see us.  After the operation, the surgeon gave us the good news that everything seemed to go well, but just as we finished making calls to other family members to share this, he called us back into the waiting room with bad news, that the damage was too severe.  By morning, Dad was gone.

The grief this time was not a gray blanket but a sharp knife to the heart. 

Two years later, I still feel its sting.  I keep the last picture I have of him, sitting at a picnic table counting Easter eggs with Ethan, on my desk at work.  It reminds me of the things we both loved – reading books, drinking wine while watching the sun set, playing cards until midnight, and engaging in conversations about politics, religion or culture.  You might not always agree with his opinion but he was a voracious reader and learner through all his years.

While Mom was my emotional anchor, Dad was my intellectual anchor and I will always be thankful for those memories of him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Careful Mom

“Do you have any guns in the house?” the careful mom asked, as she stood in my doorway with her son.

This was not the typical get-to-know-you chat that starts a play date. I never met this mom before but when Ethan asked to play with his new classmate, a boy who recently transferred from another school, I thought it would be nice to invite him over on a Saturday and his mom would probably appreciate a friendly face in a new town.

“No, no guns,” I said, quizzically waiting for a punch line.

“How about pit bulls or other dangerous animals?” As if on cue, Pickle and Sweet Pea our two French Bulldogs trotted up to the door and the mom gave them a serious once-over.

“No, we have these two dopey dogs, and Frenchies are very friendly. Your son is more likely to be licked to death than bitten,” I joked but she did not look reassured.

“Do you or your husband smoke or do drugs?” At that point, I laughed out loud, startling her. My husband Shannon and I are not dope fiends or crack heads, but I imagined that if we were, would I really admit that to a woman I just met?

I felt sorry for Careful Mom, who didn’t know anyone and whose son had to make new friends in a new place. The desire to keep your child safe, especially when they are in the hands of another adult that you don’t know well, can be overwhelming. However, the “Twenty Questions” routine was a bit over zealous. She quickly departed with a lack of social interaction, but her son stayed for the afternoon so I guessed we passed inspection.

A few months later, I saw her dropping her son off in front of the school. I waved hello but she didn’t see me. Careful Mom was busy juggling her cell phone against her ear, while waving good-bye to her son, and then performing an illegal u-turn while other parents were dropping off their children on the same street. Obviously, the zealous child safety standards she displayed at my home did not extend to her own world or her driving.

Walking back to my car, I had another thought. Why did she need to ask me those questions in the first place? Questioning people I met about unattended weapons and drugs would never cross my mind, and the neighborhoods where I lived there were no vicious pit bulls lying in wait. The people I knew would care for my child with the same diligence that they would look after their own.

But not everyone comes from the same background or has the same security in their friends and family. Perhaps Careful Mom comes from a world where children are exposed to imminent dangers, or the adults caring for them would rather light up than feed their kids or change their diapers. It was a world I never wanted to see, and now that I gave it more thought, was likely the reason she moved here with her son.