Sunday, June 24, 2012

Walk This World

So, I've spent a few very good days in America's heartland, and I completely get why this part of the country has earned that nickname.  I've only been here a few days and I strongly suspect that a part of my heart will always belong to this neck of the woods.

This probably comes as a shock, considering that I am as east coast as they come.

The people are just so.freaking.nice here.  Nice, and open, and friendly, and helpful.

This is a refreshing change from my time in charming east coast cities.  Don't get me wrong, I wear my misdirected rage with pride, but this is such a refreshing change.  I suspect that any person who would dress up like Cookie Monster in Iowa would be friendly monsters, and not tell me to blow him, like "Blow Me Cookie" in NYC once did.

Yes, that actually happened.  I was once propositioned by Cookie Monster.  Despite his generous offer, I declined.  What can I say?  I'm not a fan of overabundant body hair.

I'm sure that a major contributor to this trip being such a success is that I was traveling solo.  While I miss my people desperately, there's something about traveling without the protective armor of my people that enables me to be open to new experiences and new people in a way that I wouldn't have been if I were traveling with my (much beloved) crew.

It's cool--- in that, while I walked this part of the world by myself, I very rarely walked it alone.  I seemed to have picked up interesting companions that traveled nearly every segment with me.

My first night in town, I didn't pay attention to my clothing selection, and was wearing my Penn State shirt through the downtown area.  Brilliant.  Not only did I wear it in the heart of Big 10 Country (genius), but I also was proudly sporting it ON THE NIGHT THAT THE JERRY SANDUSKY VERDICT WAS READ.

Only me.

Suffice it to say that I was a conversation starter.

I came here to tell stories, and was humbly reminded that I am here to LISTEN to people's stories---to enjoy them, to learn from them, to experience them.  Amazing things happen when you shut up, open up and listen.

I'm not a "feelings" kind of person, but I will say that an open heart and an open mind definitely do facilitate wonderful experiences.  Somewhere in my chaotic life, I think I had forgotten that.

It's a good life.  It's a really good life.

Here's to Bernie from Iowa City, Beverly from Iowa City via St. Louis,  Mike the accountant turned cab driver, Joel who misses his kids from New Orleans, to my remarkable classmates.  I have learned from all of you.

Here's to the people who walk this world with me.  To those who walk with me on a permanent basis, and to those who just accompany me for a segment or two.  You all matter.  May I not again forget that.

With love,

PS- A huge thanks to everyone who sent notes of encouragement while I was here.  You know who you are, and now you know that it meant a ton to me.  You rock.

Short and Sweet

Greetings from Iowa City, Iowa!  Effective 4PM CDT, I have successfully completed my very first Iowa Summer Writing Festival Workshop.

I am so coming back next year.

The course itself was really interesting.  In my group, there was an actress (who has been ALL over TV for the last 20 years, and is lovely and charming and smart and funny in person), a PhD who is the child of Holocaust survivors, a filmmaker, a poet who happens to be the daughter of one of the Munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, an officer in the US Army who served in Vietnam and spoke about the My Lai massacre, a senior exec at a NY based insurance company, and an ER doctor.

Oh yeah.  And little old me.  Me who writes about nail polish, ring around the penis, the crazy shit my kid says, and bribing my kid with Shamrock Shakes around the organic police.

I had some learning to do.  And I'm learning.

The essays written by my classmates covered the following topics:

1.  Education in desegregated schools in the South pre Brown vs. Board of Ed.
2.  The experiences and the treatment of returning Vietnam Vets.
3.  The death of parents and the powerlessness that surrounds it.
4.  The experience of Post-Aucshwicz survivors in post WWII Montreal.

Yeah, I wrote about pedicures with my daughter and her acquisition of a boyfriend (I still want to destroy that little f'er, btw).

Reading the beautifully written and compelling essays compiled by these people makes me feel all of the following:

1.  Girl, your life is a candy-coated bullshit kingdom.
2.  You are unbelievably lucky that your life is a candy-coated bullshit kingdom.
3.   Just because you're lucky and don't have compelling stories, doesn't mean that you don't have an entertaining voice and one that should continue to give this writing thing a whirl.

 Off to glorious Cedar Rapids Airport.

Literarily yours,

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sole Mate

I proudly hold the title of First Runner Up in the Most Popular Girl in my own home.  That’s not too shabby.  No one really needs to know that only two girls actually live there.

I'm more of a first-runner up sash kind of girl than a crown-wearing winner, anyway.

I concede defeat.  Sassy little 3-year old Madeline is by far the coolest girl in the house.  She just gave me hugs and told me that I was the "most beautifulish mom in Pennsylvania", so I'm willing to go on record as saying that she's the coolest little girl in the  

Considering that one of my favorite recreational activities is proclaiming Madeline’s wondrousness from every countertop, time-out step and rooftop in the metropolitan Philadelphia area, I should have previously considered that a non-relative might also find her to be wondrous as well.

This is all an unnecessarily verbose way of saying that my tomboy princess has a boyfriend.  His name is Drew.  I’m sure Boyfriend Drew is a sweet, charming and appealing young lad, but no matter.  I hate everything about Boyfriend Drew.  

I was hoping that we’d at least make it to first grade before boyfriends entered the picture.

I’m soooooooooo not ready for this.

Madeline sprung the existence of her beloved on me in the same place where we typically have our most robust woman-to-woman chats--- the nail salon, over pedicures. 

I could attempt to justify the acceptability of recurring child pedicures by indicating that pedicures are our bonding ritual, but the fact of the matter is that I have the ugliest feet known to man and I’ve passed on the Fred Flintstone gene to the girl.  Our toes require regular attention as to not frighten people and domestic pets. 

Sadly, our ugly feet are just a fact of life, and neither feminism nor more conventional parenting practices can change it.  Plus, you know, we bond. 

Ironically, the Boyfriend Drew pedicure almost didn’t happen.  We had no imminent need to glamorize that particular day, but I soon learned that Madeline had other plans. 

I was retrieving her out of her car seat to feed her a nutritious lunch of Chick-Fil-A (at the special, one-of-a-kind, all-organic outlet that only exists near my house), when I noticed that Madeline had brought a pair of flip-flops along with the shoes that she was actually wearing.  Like any seemingly adequate parent would do, I asked her why the flip-flops were accompanying us for lunch.  It went a little something like this:

Madeline:  Mommmmmmmmy… need to wear flip-flops to pedicures or you jack up the polish while it’s wet.

Nicole:  But we’re not getting pedicures today.

Madeline:  Mommmmmmmy….but I always get my toes done on Fridays. 

Right.  We got pedicures immediately following our healthy and gourmet Chick-Fil-A lunch.

We were innocently selecting our polish colors when I became acutely aware of Drew’s impact.

It is important to note that the polish selection is a key component of our pedicure process.  Madeline and I apply a similar, and somewhat Darwinian approach, to selecting colors--- first we narrow down to the general hue that we’d like applied (typically garish purples for Madeline, and boring, old person neutrals for me), and then we rank the remaining shades by the best color name.  Only the strong survive.

For the unindoctrinated, nail polish color names are one of the few remaining mediums where wordplay reigns supreme.  I mean, seriously.   How more perfect could the names “Pinking Up The Pieces”, “Steel-ing The Scene”, or my personal favorite, “Sole Mate” be?  Yes, my favorite nail polish shade is “Sole Mate”.  Hopeless romantic---or at least I am when my 3 year old daughter is not involved.

In any event, Madeline’s selection veered away from the characteristic Barney-purples and into deep shades of red---a deviation that raised my eyebrows.  I was about to ask her about the somewhat astonishing change when she dropped the bomb.

Mommy, Drew really likes red.

I responded, “Well, red’s a nice color, but who the hell is Drew?”  (okay, so the “the hell” part stayed in my head.  But I wondered.)

She got a faraway look in her eyes, as she responded “Mommy, Drew’s my boyfriend, silly.”

Initially, I was nonplussed with the concept of a boyfriend.  She’s a tomboy and her two favorite playmates are little boys named Mason and Timmy, with whom she has spent countless hours playing trains, rolling in the dirt, and my favorite, lets-see-how-quickly-we-can-transform-the-entire-downstairs-into-a-complete-shithole.

I quickly followed up with “So, Drew is your friend who is a boy, just like Mason and Timmy, right?” only to be brutally rebuffed with “No, Mommmmmmmmmy.  Mason and Timmy are my buddies.  Drew is my boyfriend,” complete with that faraway look.  Again.

A few thoughts crossed my mind:

  1. You are so completely and unequivocally $()#$*()@#$*()@#$(*@#$.
  2. Poor Mason and Timmy- they’ve been relegated to the dreaded “Friend Zone”- the veritable No Man’s Land for potential suitors. Poor kids. 
  3. I hate Boyfriend Drew.  I reallyreallyreally hate Boyfriend Drew.
  4. There is no way that Boyfriend Drew is good enough for my Madeline.
  5. Too soon.  TOO SOON!  Not yet.  NOT YET!

As Madeline and I sat side-by-side in pedicure chairs, she debriefed me on all things Boyfriend Drew.  It turns out that Boyfriend Drew likes dinosaurs (most notably T-Rex), the color red, chocolate cupcakes but vanilla ice cream.  Drew pushes her on the swings at recess, counts first when they play hide and seek, and presents her with bouquets of Play-Doh eels.

And they said chivalry was dead.

While Madeline appreciates the eel bouquets and being the first “hider” in a rousing game of hide and seek, she does not yet share Drew’s passion for dinosaurs.  In fact, she shared this nugget with respect to the dinosaurs:

Drew likes dinosaurs, but I think they’re boring.  Do boys always like dumb things?

Ummmm, yes, sweetheart.   Boys often do like dumb, boring things.  This is a life lesson that is best learned early. 


Upon further investigation, Boyfriend Drew doesn’t sound so bad---but I still hate him and want him nowhere near my daughter.   I’m sure I sound like a maniacal and overprotective parent (and that is largely true), but….this angst isn’t about Boyfriend Drew.  Boyfriend Drew is simply the catalyst.

This angst is about me.  This angst is about Madeline.  This angst is about us.  This angst is about where and when, from this point forward, our paths will converge and diverge and run parallel. 

This is entirely about and my little buddy---and the innumerable ways by which our interrelated but still completely unique stories form and reform in the coming years. 

We’re growing up, Madeline and me.  Growing individually. Growing together.  Growing collectively.  Growing apart.  Growing over pedicures and fast food and woman-to-woman chats and more pedicures.

Sole mates.

This growing up, process, though.  It scares the hell out of me.

As a parent, I’m intensely aware that she’s not mine as much as she is on loan to me.  I’d just really like for this loan to take the form of a long-term lease.   I know she can’t stay little forever, but I still want her to stay little—and innocent—for a while longer. 

Life with a small child means that days are long, but the years are short.  We started completely connected- wound together—and the process that follows is one that continually unwinds what once bound us.   We began with her needing me for virtually everything….and now she depends on me incrementally less with each passing day.  Some day, she might not need me at all.

OMG.  Some day, she might not need me at all.

Right now, she looks at me in wonder.  Right now, she looks at me like I am Christmas, her birthday, and Rapunzel rolled into one perfect package.  Right now, she looks at me like I have all the answers and that I can swoop in and solve every problem that crosses her path.

Someday, in the not too distant future, she will realize that I am somewhat tarnished.  And then, someday, she will realize that I don’t have all the answers and that I can only solve some problems.  Then, someday, she will regard me as being the problem.

Please excuse me as my heart breaks.  Just a little.

And, this is the easy part.  This is the part that is about me.  The important part is about her.  Despite my trepidation about her growing up, I don’t want to impede her growth process in any way.  To the contrary, I want her to grow up and have a big and extraordinary life in the way that she defines it.

I want her to grow up with the freedom to make her own choices, to defend her own beliefs and to make her own mistakes.  Gradually.

I want her to figure out who she is and to do it with honor. 

I want her to experience at least some of this growth without the complicating factor of the boys who, if introduced too early, can cloud her judgment and cause her to shape who she is based on their perceptions instead of her own.

I want her to experience relationships while minimizing the baggage that is associated with them.

I want to keep her little heart whole and unbroken----as long as I possibly can.  Right now, her little heart is open, honest and completely undamaged by the world around her.  With each boy that crosses her path, her little heart will grow and expand---and develop some wear and tear.  Her little heart will break and heal---of this, I am assured---but with each break, some scar tissue will form. 

I just want to keep that beautiful little heart in its pristine condition. 

I want her to believe, for as long as she can, that the world is exciting, people are good and hurt is temporary. 

I want to delay that moment when her heart begins to close off in fear of the world around her and the people who fill it.

I want her to believe, for quite some time, that there’s not much that some Oreos, a pedicure, and old mom can’t fix.

I’m learning to navigate the dance of parenthood.  I’m learning to coordinate when to pull in the reigns, and when to let them go.  At this moment, I’m going to let go of the reigns….just a little bit.

So, Boyfriend Drew, please take good care of my little girl.  If you hurt her in any way, I will break all of your dinosaur figurines and make it look like an accident.  She can be your girlfriend. But, Boyfriend Drew, heed this warning.  She can be your girlfriend…but, until further notice, she’s my sole mate.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Back From the Dead

About a month ago, Little M asked to play Whack-A-Mole on a Friday morning.  As I fancy myself as the World's Greatest Whack-A-Mole Player and I am anxious to cultivate the youngin's innate Whack-A-Mole prowess, I was more than happy to accommodate her request.

Yes, I am that good of a Whack-A-Mole player.  If you've played anywhere where I've played, I'm willing to bet that the high score you see on the machine is mine.  What I lack in hand-eye coordination (and that would be anything that remotely resembles coordination, in case you were curious), I more than compensate for in frustration, exhaustion, and a burning desire for a socially acceptable outlet to beat the living crap out of stuff.  Surely, these characteristics point to some aggression and anger management issues, but I'm kind of past that.  Until it's okay to taze/crate/wallop people and/or drink before noon, Whack-A-Mole will have to do.

The girl wanted to play Whack-A-Mole.  There are two places where this wish could have been granted:

1.  Option 1- The place located a mere 10 minutes down the road, which is like a Chuck E. Cheese on crack.  It is a children's play place, which means it is filled with copious quantities of other people's children (oh, my favorite), day care field trips, and EVERY.DISEASE.KNOWN.TO.MAN.   I usually just drive to the pediatrician immediately after departing this joyous place, because I know some undesirable plague is just brewing.

2.  Option 2-  Dave and Busters, located a solid 45 minutes away.  While it's a playground for drunk and disorderly adults, I figured it would be a safe bet at 11 AM on a Friday morning.

As I am a self-sufficient, confident woman, I did what every other self-sufficient, confident woman would do when faced with such a choice.  I conducted a highly unscientific poll of my Facebook friends.

My Facebook friends, wise as they are, resoundingly responded with a uniform reply---avoid disease and drive the 45 minutes to Dave and Busters.

But it was raining, Little M was whining "But I want to play whack-a-mole right now" in her charming howler monkey voice, and one dissenting voter indicated that I was a "paranoid, freakish germophobe"---so I made the foolish decision to spend an hour at the Disease Pit.

I've been paying for that decision ever since.

While the girl did demonstrate a remarkable prowess for Whack-A-Mole (though she did not overcome my new high score!!), the aftermath was, shall we say, costly.

It started with double-eye pink eye, which happened to arrive the morning of Little M's best friend's birthday party.  I exaggerate none when I say that Little M's pink eye was much worse for me than it was for her.  Yes, it was her eyes that were crusted shut, but it was my face, chest, arms, legs and torso that got kicked repeatedly (for 10 days) during the twice-daily eye-drop application fiasco.  Seriously.  I considered calling 911 at points and reporting parental abuse.

Apparently, the brutal abuse of eye-drop human applicators is a common phenomenon.  I know this because I googled "eye drops and preschoolers" and every single article mentioned a full headlock.  Wish they also mentioned protective gear.

At the end of night one of the great pink eye infestation, the girl also mentioned that both ears hurt.  Not long after that, I noted that my own throat hurt just ever so slightly.

And we all went down.

What does "we all went down" mean exactly?


For Little M, that meant pink eye, a double ear infection (that recurred), a sinus infection, and a brutal cough that lingered for 3 weeks---meaning that she didn't sleep and no one else did, either.  Oh yeah, and then for good measure, she was bitten by a deer tick.  Again.

For me, that meant strep throat, the sinus infection from hell, a fever that lingered above 101 for 14 days, ultimately bronchitis----which resulted in a pulled chest muscle that remains.

We all went down- and that's the simplified version.

This also involved a trip to urgent care, about 4 trips to the doctors, and a daily trip to CVS for weeks because the inane laws in this state don't allow me to buy multiple types of the good decongestants on the same trip.  I'm on a first name basis with the pharmacy tech, who probably does think I'm a crackhead at this point.

I must say that I'm very pleased with the creative drug cocktails I created to be able to function and go to work.  My personal favorite was the double shot of dayquil with a mucinex chaser-- a breakfast of champions, if you will.   It didn't do much in relieving the constant face pain and the cough that sounded like TB---but I was certainly mellow.  I'm trying not to read into the comments from multiple coworkers that hinted to how out-of-character pleasant I was.   Maybe that's all I need to do to become a people person - double up on decongestants and go on my merry way.

Don't even get me started on the prescription stuff. Z pack was worthless and I'm allergic to penicillin (like the stab me with an epi-pen kind of allergic), so I got to advance to the medication used to treat anthrax and TB.  Good times.

This was also the month when we learned that Little M is also allergic to penicillin (though, thankfully, not as severely as I am).  That was fun.

So, I'm back from the dead and I've learned a meaningful life lesson.  Facebook doesn't lie.  Seriously. I should have listened to Facebook.  Lather, rinse and repeat.