Archive for October, 2006

My Halloween Kid

October 31, 2006

I have a Halloween kid. Maybe it’s because Alex was born in October, so when he took his first look at the world it was decorated in orange and black. He certainly made it clear, even before he could speak, that his favorite color is orange. At age one, he could say book, ball, bottle—and trick-or-treat. And while I tried a number of cuddly nicknames for him—wiggleworm, sunshine, honeybun—the one that stuck through most of his baby days was pumpkin. Once he was old enough to grab his own books from the library shelves, he inevitably picked the ones with the little black witch on the binding, so we read Halloween stories in the winter, spring, and summer as well as in the fall. When I offer to tell him a story—and let him pick the characters—the cast inevitably includes a witch or a wizard, sometimes accompanied by a ghoul.

Alex typically plans his Halloween costume all year, frequently changing his mind, before he comes up with his final vision. In past years he’s been a tiger, a witch, Captain Hook, Superman, Picasso, Uncle Fester, an elf from Lord of the Rings, and something from the Matrix. Last year he was a shampoo salesman.

When he was five he wanted his little sister’s costume to coordinate with his. For a while he was leaning towards the Flintstones, casting himself as BamBam, sister as Pebbles, and mom and dad as Fred and Wilma. On the bright side, these costumes would only require a few yards of leopard fabric and some safety pins. But Wilma? Was that how my child saw me?

I had hoped that his plans would change. And they did. He decided that he would be a snake charmer, and his sister could be his snake. We bought the fabric (green and gold) two weeks before Halloween, and for days he scooted off to bed early, without a fuss, "So you have time to work on my costume, Mom." It’s not that he nagged, really, he just checked with me every day to see how much progress I had made. Finally, it was Halloween morning.

Actually, it was 2 a.m. on Halloween morning, and Alex was standing by the side of my bed. “I feel hot.” He sure did—about 103 degrees hot. He dragged himself to the couch and stayed there, hardly moving except to sip juice and chew Motrin. At 10 a.m. I asked him if he wanted to go in the car and see his school Halloween parade. “No, the parade isn’t important to me,” he said. “Trick-or-treating is important.”

I told him it didn’t look like he would be going trick-or-treating, but we would see. And if he missed it, we’d dress him up in his costume and take a picture, and his sister would share her candy with him. “Uh huh,” he groaned and rolled over on the couch.

Then came one of those little Halloween miracles that makes you believe there really is a Great Pumpkin. At 5:15 p.m. I told him I was taking Nadya outside to light the jack-o-lanterns. Alex sighed a weak OK without asking to join us.

When we came back in, Alex was sitting up. “I’m hungry, what can I have for dinner, and can I go trick-or-treating?” I took his temperature again, and it had dropped below 100 degrees. “Could be.”

He ate several pieces of toast, some applesauce, chugged a glass of juice, and ran to put on his costume. A few minutes later, Meghna, his regular trick-or-treating partner, arrived—somehow the messages I had left about Alex’s illness never had been received or had been intercepted by a passing ghost (or that Great Pumpkin). And at 6 p.m. I left the house to take my Halloween kid on his annual pilgrimage.

This year, for the first time, Alex won’t be going trick-or-treating. He’s 15, and it’s not that he feels too old for it, it’s that the people passing out the treats last year were none to happy to see costumed teens at their door. In fact, he said, some seemed actually hostile. He didn’t even dress up for school today; I guess since trick or treating is no longer in the picture, dressing up at all doesn’t seem worth the trouble. Because, as he said when he was five, it is the trick or treating that is important.

I’m sad for him, but he’s resigned. “Halloween won’t be much fun for the next few years,” he told me, “but once I’m in college it’ll get fun again.” Yeah, I agreed, it would. But, I thought to myself, I won’t be there to see it.

So tonight I’ll be wishing for another Halloween miracle when I light the pumpkins, that somehow my Halloween boy will have just a little while longer to be a kid.

Parts of this post were previously published in The Mommy Zone: Tales of the Trenches of Parenthood, by Tekla S. Nee. Some parts were not.

A Silicon Valley Gal in Florida

October 27, 2006

Welcome2florida I’m in Florida on business. To be specific, I’m about five miles from Disney World and I didn’t bring any kids with me. This is many many points against me in the mom-game, it will take me months to catch up.

I realized, driving across the state from the Tampa airport (cheap flights, my company is on a cost-cutting spree) to Orlando that I haven’t been in this strange land for a long long time. During college, I left the snowy steps of my Michigan State dorm every spring for the 20-some hour drive to Florida beaches, a trek immortalized in “Where the Boys Are” (Really, that movie started on the steps of the building where I had my creative writing classes.) Back then, we found it a strange land of weird food and rituals. For one, I’d never heard of a “slider” (White Castle Burger) before Florida.

But I think it’s gotten even stranger. Or maybe because, both geographically and culturally, Silicon Valley is a lot farther from Florida than Michigan.

I scan the radio stations as I drive in my rental PT Cruiser; one out of three is Christian Rock.

There are amusement parks everywhere. OK, obviously I knew about Disney, and Universal Studios, and Busch Gardens, and Sea World. But Dinosaurland? KidWorld? Bible World?

I pass a gigantic billboard advertising no-scalpel vasectomies. I’ve never seen a billboard in California advertising a vasectomy. How does this fit in with the Christian Rock and its message of abstinence?

My hotel is a non-smoking hotel. I think this is good news until I try to find a place to sit outside and realize that every seat on the patios and around the pool has an ashtray next to it and a smoker nearby. I think about going in the hottub, until I realize the cloud over the water is not steam.

I get in the elevator with two thirty-something guys, strangers to each other, who start chatting. They compare their favorite gun brands.

The gift shop in the hotel has a shelf of alligator heads. Real alligator heads. Is this too creepy, or would my kid find this an amazing thing to bring to show and tell? Would this redeem me in mom-points? The fact that I’m even thinking this could be a sign that I’ve been in Florida too long.

Sorority Sisters

October 26, 2006

From about the end of fourth grade until somewhere into my 20s my worst nightmare would have been to be locked in a room surrounded by women.  In college, as soon as I possibly could, I fled from the all-female dorm in an area of campus known as the Virgin Isles into co-ed sanity. You couldn’t have paid me to join a sorority.

Somewhere along the way, I decided there were women in this world who weren’t catty and cliquey and could be trusted in groups. Back in NY in the 80s, some of the best parties were hen parties. And of course, once I crossed the threshold into motherhood, it was get comfortable in the world of women or never go anywhere, because there weren’t too many daddies hanging out at the park.

Still, part of me is still amazed when I spend time with a group of women—particularly women I don’t know—and like it. And this past Tuesday I really really liked it.

I’m sure we all had to scramble to free a few hours that afternoon. I scattered my kids (thankful for indulgent friends with visiting mother-in-laws and nannies), packed for my early morning business trip, and spent the drive up on the phone talking next-day logistics with my husband, not yet back from his business trip. And I left my house wide open. Literally; we’re in the midst of getting the peeling exterior repainted and the painters had removed all the windows.

Strange, meeting some of my fellow SV moms bloggers for the first time. I’ve read all their stuff, I’ve edited some of their stuff. I’ve emailed most of them at least once or twice. But I realized as we scrambled through introductions, that I had never even guessed at what they looked like. Oh, I knew one of the was blonde and another skinny and another had weight issues; that came through in the posts. But I hadn’t even attempted to imagine the faces.

That’s why, I guess, when Elizabeth Edwards walked in she immediately became one of us. I knew her in the same way I knew my fellow bloggers—through her writing about herself, through her emails published in her book. I liked her in her book, because she wrote about stains and spills and the little bumps in life, not just the big bumps I had expected. In person, she didn’t disappoint; I liked the crack she made about Alix, the blonde beauty in our midst—a little sarcastic, but still warm.

And she knew us the same way. We may have stayed up late reading her book, but she had done her homework too.

The session was a combination meet-and-greet, book club, mom group, and writers workshop, but most of all, it was a great hen party. She talked about the writing process; she talked about a make-believe game she plays when driving down a street with her children. We talked about blogging, and health issues, and our kids.

And the whole time I kept thinking, how cool is this, that we can get this very diverse group of women together for the first time with this woman who is plugged into political power like none of us can even imagine, and we don’t have to mess around with small talk, which I find oh so hard.  (The longest 10 minutes of my life were spent in a buffet line behind Steve Forbes when he was running for president. He did try to chat, but that was small talk hell.) Instead, we dove right into the fun stuff—the dishing about other women, jokes about our own insecurities, and honest questions about real issues.

And that is the miracle of the mommy-blogosphere, a sorority that doesn’t have circle pins or candlelight rituals or whatever the heck it is sororities do…and one sorority I’m thrilled to claim as my own.

The Age of Embarrassment

October 22, 2006


It’s official. My just-turned-eleven kid is now old enough to be embarrassed by me.

While I guess I should have been expecting it, I wasn’t. I mean, this summer he’d still hold my hand when we were walking downtown. But not anymore.

It started Monday night. It was my turn to chaperone Alex’s ballroom dancing class, and since the kids are required to dress up, I thought I’d wear something other than jeans. I put on a slightly clingy purple dress.

“You’re not going to wear that!” Alex looked at me in horror.

“Well I was. What’s wrong with it?”

“It’s weird!”

Weird. OK. I pulled out a black snakeskin print dress. “How about this one?”

“Look, just don’t tell anyone you’re my mother.”

That bad.  I tried to think what would pass inspection, and finally got a grudging OK to a plain, dull-green, cotton dress, the color of army camouflage. Clearly I was supposed to fade into the wall if at all possible.

When we got to dance class Alex sprinted off ahead of me and didn’t glance at me when I finally entered the room. I helped the other parents set up the refreshment table, and tried to pretend I didn’t know Alex. It didn’t work.

“Your mom’s here tonight, huh?” I heard one boy say to him.

“Mmmm,” he replied.

“Sorry,” the boy gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.

It got worse for Alex when, because of a shortage of girls, the mom-chaperones had to step in as dance partners. With a lot of scrambling, Alex managed to avoid being paired with me, but I did end up dancing with a few of his friends.

Alex looked grim when he got into the car for the ride home. “What’s the matter?”

“You introduced yourself to Jack as my mom, I heard you!”

“Actually, Jack asked if I was your mother and I said yes. Was I supposed to lie?”


Obviously I didn’t know all the rules of this new phase yet. But Alex was ready to teach me.

“Well,” I said, “I’m sorry if you were embarrassed.”

“You always embarrass me!”

“Like when?”

“Like when you argue with people in stores and stuff.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like this summer when you made such a big deal about the problem with the car rental.”

“You mean when they gave our car away and we had to wait until 1 a.m. for them to find another car?”

“Yeah, you and dad made such a fuss.”

“And we got a hundred-dollar credit.”

“Yeah, well, still, I was embarrassed.”

OK, so on the list so far: don’t wear purple dresses, don’t admit I’m his mother, and don’t argue with car rental agents. I don’t like the rules, but I guess I can live with them.

Because I do get occasional good news. A few nights ago Alex was ranting about a dance choreographer that was working with his drama group at school. “She’s so weird she’s scary, Mom!”

“What’s weird about her?”

“Well she’s about your age and she’s thin and wears really tight pants.”

“Honey, I’m thin and I wear tight pants sometimes.”

“Yeah, but you’re not nearly as weird as she is.”

That was a compliment, I think.

And while I’m not allowed to break the rules, Alex is. On Saturday, while I was sitting in the grass watching his sister’s soccer game, I suddenly found my lap full of Alex. I avoided pointing out that at 75 pounds he is awfully heavy, and gingerly put an arm around him. He stayed long enough for my foot to fall asleep, then jumped up to grab a slice of orange on the way to the play structure, without comment. For a moment anyway, I got to be his mother again.

I think I’ve figured out rule number four: take what you can get.

(I wrote this four years ago when my son turned eleven and started
going to ballroom dance class. I never published it, since it probably would have embarrassed him. 😉  Now it’s past the statute of limitations for his being embarrassed by this particular anecdote (I hope). And my daughter is eleven, going to the
same ballroom class, and finding me equally embarrassing. Guess it ain’t only clothes that get handed
down around here.)

Happy Third-Child Birthday

October 22, 2006

When kid number one turned eight, we spent a month planning his Harry Potter birthday party, to take place on the first Sunday after his official birthday. We sent out hand-made invitations three weeks in advance. I had a detailed schedule, blocked out in 10-minute intervals. We had a sorting hat, to put the kids into teams. We had cauldrons and wands for everybody. I held a potions class, with dragon snot (glue), hippogriff’s blood (food coloring), and polyjuice (liquid starch)—if you put it all together it makes something like gak. We had relay races involving golden snitches (eggs spray-painted with two coats of gold paint), bludgers (black balloons), and brooms. We had a trivia contest with gold galleons as prizes. We served butter beer (root beer floats). We had a Honeydukes, a candy store where the kids spent their galleons to buy EveryFlavor Beans, Lickable Magic Wands, and Dobby Dust. It was my grand triumph after years of increasingly elaborate theme birthday parties.

This year kid number three turned eight. Two weeks ago, about a month and a half after his actual birthday, my husband took him to Diddams to pick out invitations. A week later we sent them out. Yesterday, we had his party. It was scheduled to start at 6. At 5:30 my husband went out to get a cake while I started making hamburger patties and lemonade. At 6 pm the kids arrived. At 6:15 they wanted to know when the activities were going to start.

Not now, I said. Later, after it gets dark, we’re going to play flashlight tag.

They played on the play structure and threw the rope swing around until it got tangled in the trees.

They organized their own relay race and played that until someone got mad.

They started wrestling. I stopped them. Luckily the burgers and hotdogs were ready, and they happily moved on to the food table.

While my husband cleaned up after dinner and tried to prevent them from starting another wrestling match, I took the birthday cake out of the refrigerator to put it on a plate. I grabbed the old Easter basket that sits on top of the fridge and is typically full of candles, birthday and otherwise. I had lots of little votives for Halloween pumpkins,  purchased last Halloween at about 4 pm, but only two birthday candles. It was a small cake, eight votives wouldn’t fit.

I told my husband to stall while I went door to door down the block trying to round up more candles. They were a bit mismatched, but I did end up with eight. We sang, the birthday boy opened presents, and then the kids went back to shoving each other. My husband retreated to watch a football game; I handed out flashlights for my big sort-of-organized activity and quickly made up some rules.

While the kids tiptoed off to hide in the dark, I polished off the last piece of cake, thinking, well, they are sure having fun but I hope they don’t trash the agapanthas again. Still, I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty because, though the third child never will get a Honeydukes;  I should have at least remembered the frickin’ candles!

Just hit Apple-Z

October 21, 2006

The witching dinner hour. I scrapped my earlier plan to make pasta since youngest son had three helpings of spaghetti at school for lunch. He approves my alternate plan to make quiche. All I can find to put in the quiche is broccolli, but the kids usually like broccolli.

Daughter arrives home from school, smells quiche in oven, starts loud tantrum. "I wanted ravioli in fresh sage butter, you said you were going to make sage butter!"

"Yeah, I guess I did mention sage this morning. I changed the plan."

"But I’ve been thinking all day about sage butter!"

Son peeks in oven, sees broccolli quiche. "Smells good, what kind of quiche did you make."


"But I wanted mushroom leek!"

Now I’ve got two kids who aren’t happy, one quietly so, one still crying. I raise my voice to be heard over the wailer. "This isn’t Chez Panisse, you know. You could be eating macaroni and cheese! And believe me, if I could start over again, I sure wouldn’t have taken the time to make you guys fresh quiche. But I don’t get a do-over, so you’ll eat what I made."

Daughter stops mid-wail and smiles. "Just hit Apple-Z"

Do NOT tell me you chose not to vaccinate your kid

October 18, 2006

Images_1                         At least not today, and not for the next three weeks. I know you had your reasons, you were worried about mercury in vaccines, you figured enough kids were vaccinated that skipping a vaccine here or there was no big deal, but I really don’t want to hear it. What I want you to do is today, RIGHT NOW, go get your kids those vaccines you skipped; you can get them without mercury, you have no more excuses.

    Or, if you want to go natural, come on over and let’s have a pertussis party and maybe you can then watch your kid cough and gasp for breath for the next 100 days and then struggle to recover for months afterwards. (Did you know the Chinese call pertussis the “hundred-day cough?) Doesn’t that sound like fun? No? Not nearly as much fun as a chicken pox party? Well I’m on whooping cough watch for the next three weeks, the time it takes for pertussis to evolve from early symptoms into the cough from hell. And I’m sweating it out even though my kids got all the childhood vaccines they could, because, gee, some other kids didn’t get theirs. I’m hoping that we caught it with antibiotics early enough, that the antibiotics work, and that three weeks from now my child is on stage in the big drama production he’s worked so hard on instead of in the bathroom with his head in a hot shower trying to breathe, at risk for pneumonia, a hernia,  or a broken rib. And I’m hoping that my husband and I don’t end up coughing for a hundred days as well. And grateful I don’t have a newborn in the house to worry about. And glad we didn’t have the trip of a lifetime planned for next week—or even a trip to visit the grandparents, who really really don’t need to catch a case of whooping cough.

    Yes, whooping cough, that childhood illness of legend, is back. For its return, the pediatric nurse told me this evening, we can thank all the folks that opted out of the pertussis vaccine when their kids were babies.

    It’s teenagers like mine who are getting it—they’re in close contact with lots of kids and their vaccines are wearing off. This wasn’t a problem when whooping cough was a rare, practically historical malady, but now it is. So whooping cough is visiting our high school this month; last week my kid helped out another kid who was flattened by what turned out to be pertussis; now my son is showing early symptoms. (It’s not the sick kid’s fault, he’s just another teen whose immunity and luck ran out.) My son was the third teen his doctor saw today for suspected pertussis.

    There is a teen pertussis booster. It didn’t exist when my teen got his last round of shots in middle school, and now it only comes packaged with a tetanus shot. He can’t get innoculated until his most recent tetanus booster wears off—a couple of years from now.

    So it’s up to the rest of you who CAN get your kids vaccinated to do so. And please, I know some of you are dying to comment below and justify why you skipped the vaccine, but don’t; today I really don’t want to hear it. (Other comments gladly accepted.) Just call your doctor and make an appointment. (Yeah, if your kid had a severe reaction to a pertussis shot, you get a free pass…and have even more reason than I do to want every kid that can be vaccinated to be vaccinated. Those of you who are just worried about a reaction—make that appointment.)

Stage Mom

October 4, 2006

One night this summer, at 2 a.m., I found my 14-year-old son passed out on the lawn of a house in Old Palo Alto, surrounded by empty beer cups. Back in the spring he ran away from home and ended up camping out in an abandoned shopping mall. Oh, and then there was the time he told off his parents for ruining his life—I think he used the F-word 37 times in the course of two minutes.

    No, I’m not raising a juvenile delinquent. I’ve got a great kid, who is, mostly, a joy to have around the house. But he’s an actor, and sometimes, as a mom, watching him work is a little strange.

    In the early years of his acting career, it was more “awwww” than “oh my.” He played cute kids, like Peter in "Peter and the Wolf." He played animals—a peacock’s wing, a disco squirrel. And then he played an adorable Catholic schoolboy who ends up sitting on the lap of a psychotic nun while he holds a former student at gunpoint.  That’s when things started getting weird. But at least that was fairly unrealistic.

    Now, as a teen, he plays, well, teens. And that’s even weirder, because it could be real. Seeing him as an uncommunicative teen who can’t relate to his father gave my husband and I both chills—and made us appreciate the fact that  he does talk to us, at least sometimes. Watching him play a brilliant paraplegic who regains the use of his legs but sacrifices his brilliance also gave me shivers. Seeing him wearing a ratty army jacket, hair in a blue Mohawk, and angry at the world wasn’t so bad since he was mouthing off to his stage mother, not to me. But when that same angry teen ended up in the abandoned shopping mall, scared and lost, it was all I could do not to jump on stage and rescue him; I was dripping tears. Next month he’ll kill himself over some bimbo, and, even though he’ll be doing it in classic Shakespearean verse, I’ll want to grab the poison out of his hands and stop him, because that’s just what a mother is programmed to do.

    And then, if he doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor, he’ll be a partying—and then passed out—teen in the soon-to-be released movie, Palo Alto. And once again I will have to repeat over and over to myself—it’s only acting.