Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wax on, wax off. Breathe in, breathe out.

It was either the best or worst idea.
To sign him up for karate.
Force him to watch The Karate Kid.
Tell him he looked a little like Ralph Macchio.
To channel Mr. Miyagi and demonstrate how to "wax on, wax off."

He just looked so damn cute in that white uniform, belt tight around his waist.
Within seconds, he went from wild child to the picture of self-discipline.
A poster child for body/mind/spirit/inner energy fitness.

He got to run, kick, punch, yell - all for a good cause and all sanctioned by adults.

It was an entire life transformation for him, so I thought.
They were indoctrinating him. Molding him.

Take off your shoes. 


Salute the flags when you enter or exit the mat. 


Count in Korean.

HANA (1)
DHUL (2)
SEHTT (3)

Take home this job list. Complete it and return it each week. "Make my own bed." "Put my things away." Bonus stripes on your belt for completing these tasks.

The masters were hard core, if not paunchy, middle aged men, who wore black belts, and cared little for small children. It all seemed so perfect.

Day 1, the group applauded my 5 year old son for a great first day of karate. He even followed along with the meditation. He was a natural, the master said. At MEDITATING! (I've often thought he was a natural at negotiating, instigating, escalating, and exasperating, but meditating! I believed for that split second that I had birthed a veritable Buddha).

Yes, this karate class was surely changing our lives one "Hiya!" at a time.

But, then my karate kid started punching things at home. First, pillows. Second, Pop pop. He debuted his ninja moves at a shiva, nearly knocking down 80 year old bereaved women and their walkers.

And, this bad Buddha behavior didn't just take place outside of the karate studio.

Two or three classes in, my karate kid started barking, "Yes, Sir!" (instead of "Ma'am) to the teenage (black belt) girl, assisting the class. His eyes sparkled at me through the floor to ceiling mirror as I watched, holding my breath. "YES, SIR!" he continued. All the other little white and yellow belts snickered, responding, "Yes, ma'am!"

When class was over, he decided to spar with one of the masters. He ran over and flicked the black belt. The 50 year old master brushed off my karate kid's taunts and roundhouse kicks off as if he was brushing off a green fly. His glared over at me, as if to say, "Is your kid REALLY trying to kick my ass?"

I just shrugged. He truly was.

I grabbed my karate kid's belt and dragged him towards the exit.

"You CANNOT fight the black belts!" I warned him on the drive home. "That's like rule #1 in karate!"

"I was just practicing my roundhouse kick!"he responded.

"It's not funny. They are going to throw you out of class!"

"THROW me out?! Oh yeah! I'll just punch . . . "

"I don't mean physically throw you out. They are going to say, 'that kid, he can't come back to class.'"

"Well, they said that I was good at meditating the first day. Remember that?"

I counted to three in Korean and tried meditating myself as we drove home.

HANA

DHUL

SEHTT

Breathe in, breathe out.

Okay, so here were are. Maybe 8 classes in.

He runs and plays tag with the other kids for the first two minutes of class. Then he pulls up a seat and decides he's going to "watch the other kids do karate."

"Ummmmm. No. You either go back over there with the group and do it - or we are going home - and never coming back."

"I'm hot. I'm taking this jacket off." He starts ripping the sparkly white karate uniform jacket off as if it's all of a sudden a straight jacket. All bets that he's the next Buddha are now off.

He's wearing a bright yellow t-shirt and that wild child is right back where he started. He's planted, arms crossed, on a chair.

"You get out there or we are going home."

At this point, his 2 year old brother, Sweet Pea, decides to go sit next to him and talk some reason into him. I hope. But what happens next is that they whisper to one another, giggle, and then race onto the karate floor mat, running circles in opposite directions, nearly over, around, and through the class being led by the most sour master of them all.

The master starts yelling, "YOU CANNOT DO THIS! YOU ARE INTERRUPTING MY CLASS!"

"Don't worry, he's leaving!" I yell back.

I throw off my sneakers and salute the Korean flag. (It's the only way onto the mat).

"I'm going to count to three!" I yell. ONE - TWO - THREE!"

The circus continues as sweat drips down my back. I chase after my kids (and, truthfully, I'm not really supposed to be running because I had surgery a few weeks ago).

I'm debating counting to three in Korean just to give the karate kid one more chance, but I can't remember the numbers. I grab Sweet Pea first and rip his shoes off. I salute the flags again on his behalf. I toss him to a spectator/friend because he only weighs 26 pounds and he can still be tossed.

"You are DONE!" I yell at the karate kid.

The other moms stop texting and glance up from their phones to see what Master Mommy is going to do next. I go all ninja and grab him by the arm. I hoist him onto my shoulder - (and, truthfully, I should not be hoisting anyone or anything heavier than 30 pounds, but hopefully my doctor is not reading this). I give the flags a final salute or perhaps an F-U and I fireman carry the karate kid straight out the door, barefoot, kicking and screaming. I lock the car doors.

I breathe in, breathe out. I go back into the karate studio and sweep up Sweet Pea.

"I. do. kayate, mommy!" he says proudly. I kiss his pompadour.

We drive home.
He's in his room for the night.
His karate uniform is in the Halloween costume bin.

Wax on, wax off.
Breathe in, breathe out.










Thursday, February 13, 2014

Letter From an Angel

You either believe in this stuff or you don't.

I definitely believe.

I could tell you half a dozen stories of bizarre/more than coincidental things that have convinced me there is another dimension to life, consciousness, whatever you want to call it.

Here's the latest one:

A classmate from high school, Doug R., recently passed away. I was never close friends with him but I remember him as a nice guy and I was sad to hear via Facebook of his prolonged illness and untimely death. I knew he lived in the same town as me, but that was all I knew.

So, Doug was on my mind.

A few days after his death, I received an envelope in my mailbox addressed to a woman with the same last name as Doug. Immediately, I just knew it was intended for his mother. I felt the weight of a card inside the envelope and I assumed it was a condolence card.

I had no idea where Doug had lived, nor where his mother lived. I went to yellowpages.com and looked him up. The hair on my arms stood on end when I saw his most recent address. I could literally see his home from my front door. I knew what I had to do.

I truly felt that the envelope in my hand was Doug's way of saying to me, "Look, see that house RIGHT THERE?! That's where my mom lives! She could use some company. Go and meet her. Introduce yourself."

So that's exactly what I did.

With my two little boys in school, I knocked on Mrs. R's door, her angel son guiding my way.

I said everything a person says to a stranger after the death of their child.

"I'm so terribly sorry to meet you under these circumstances. Doug was a really good guy. He will be remembered."

A huge smile wiped across Mrs. R's face.

"I remember your face," she said. "I was at your high school a lot, and I remember you. I know exactly who you are. Doug was sick for a long, long time. He's at peace now."

His bereaved mother was grinning as tears were filling up in my eyes.

"I have a card for you . . . and I don't know if you believe in this stuff . . . " I started.

"I do!" she said, taking it from my hand.

"This envelope came to my mailbox, addressed to you. I had no idea you lived here. I really believe it was Doug's way of saying, 'Go meet my mom. She's right there!' This envelope could have ended up at any house in this development, but it came to mine."

Mrs. R. smiled and hugged me close.

"Thank you."

A few days later, I told one of my longtime best friends about Doug's passing. Before I could mention anything about the envelope in my mailbox or meeting Doug's mom, she said to me:

"Remember Doug used to steal my mail in 7th grade? He had a crush on me or something . . . "

I nearly spit out my wine. I only then remembered that Doug used to tamper with her mail.

"He used to steal my mail and then put it back into my mailbox a few days later. He was too shy to talk to me or something, so that's what he would do. So weird."

Do you believe it?


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Two Weeks Notice

Dear Stacy,

It's tough to say, sugar, but it's my time. I am heading south for the winter, and probably, for good.

I've been working overtime for you for the past 5 years and, honey, I'm just plain tired. I have carried those sweet little boys around like they were my own.  I have supported them, sheltered them, and enjoyed (mostly) every minute of watching them grow. But, they're bigger and older now, and they don't need me anymore. You see what I'm saying?

And, you, Stacy, you don't need more anymore either. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. Girl, I have been with you through good times and bad. I have danced my ass off at Bat Mitzvahs and weddings with you, mourned at funerals with you, followed you to school, and more school, and even law school. (That was the worst!) I have skied (unwillingly) with you in the Alps, jumped out of a plane with your crazy ass, ran the 10 mile Broad Street Run with you way too many times. I was there at your wedding. Under the chuppah, under your dress. It was magical.

But, you have tired me out. Yes, you inspired me, thrilled me, but sugar, you wore me to pieces. I know that I'm still young, but I have lived more than my fair share of excitement over these past 38 years. You know I've always been a little tilted, pixilated, facocta, whatever you want to call it. Well, these past few years have pushed me into early retirement. After that forceps delivery, I almost quit right there on the spot. But, honey, I knew you needed me to hang on, and I did. Prayed on it every night. Drank some too. We were an incredible team for #2. And look at those handsome boys now!

Stacy, I thank you for you providing me with such stimulating work all of these years.  It has been an honor and a pleasure (most of the time). Please, honey, know that this is not the end for us.  It's just a new beginning. As soon as I get settled into my condo in Boca, I promise that I will write, or twerk, or sext, or whatever the kids are doing these days.

Sincerely,

              your friend and uterus,

                                                 Yolanda

_________________________________________________________________________________

RE: PLEASE DON'T GO


Dear Yolanda,

I have been in tears since I received your two weeks notice. Please, please, please don't go. You are way too young to retire. Look at Barbara Walters!

I need you.  I really do. I'm sorry that I've worn you out, but I thought our adventure together was just beginning. I thought you would be with our family forever.  Live-in help, preferably.

Look, if it makes you feel better, I won't go for a third. You will just be here to help me chase around the two ninjas. Okay? Nobody else will appear magically, expecting you to carry them everywhere.

Will that change your mind?

You are the heart and soul of this family.

Please, get a grip. You have it really good. Take a moment and reconsider. The new year will lift your spirits.

Begging you,

Stacy

_________________________________________________________________________________


RE: I WANT A RAISE


Dear Stacy,

I'm unpacking my bags. Staying put. But, sugar, I'm going to need a raise. More time at the gym. No more hauling those Poland Spring water tanks around. Forget piggy back rides for children over 3 or under 3 but over 30 pounds. No more Broad Street Run!

And, get this straight, YOU are the heart and soul of this family. (I am just a delightful sidekick).

(singing in the spirit of Jennifer Holliday)
We're part of the same place
We're part of the same time
We both share the same blood
We both have the same mind

And time and time, we've had so much to see and
No, no, no, no, no, no way
I'm not waking up tomorrow morning and finding that there's nobody there

Darling there's no way
No, no, no, no way I'm living without you
I'm not living without you
You see there's just no way, there's no way

Tear down the mountains
Yell, scream and shout like you can say what you want
I'm not walking out
Stop all the rivers, push, strike and kill
I'm not gonna leave you
There's no way I will

And I am telling you
I'm not going
You're the best girl I'll ever know
There's no way I could ever, ever go
No, no, no, no way
No, no, no, no way I'm living without you
Oh, I'm not living without you,
Not living without you
I don't wanna be free
I'm staying, I'm staying
And you, and you, and you,
You're gonna love me!!!


Sincerely,

             your friend and uterus, Yolanda






Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hanukkah Behind Bars

There are many great ways to celebrate Hanukkah, but visiting a maximum security prison is not one of them.



Nevertheless, sometimes the pursuit of justice requires traveling outside of your comfort zone and into the abyss. Dressing up (or, rather, down) as the "warden" is highly suggested (per my mom) and if you can take along a companion to ensure that you get out of prison alive, well, you just might get out of prison alive.

Bess and I met in 2005 when I started at the Firm. She was already an associate attorney. She stopped by my office to greet me on my first day along with another young associate, Tom. Tom did all the small talk and Bess just smiled at me with a twinkle in her innocent blue eyes. (I later learned that Bess fears small talk the way other people fear snakes).

Via email, Bess and I learned that we had grown up in the same area, worked at the same TV station, lived in the same high-rise apartment building, and even attended the same law school, all at the same time.

It was beshert that our paths finally crossed.

And thank God. Because I has just graduated from law school three months prior and all of a sudden the partners at our firm wanted me to represent an inmate at Graterford Prison who was allegedly abused by prison guards. (I'm sure the partners thought the case was frivolous, but upon reading the inmate's handwritten complaint, his claims detailed so articulately, I was pretty sure he deserved his day in court, if not immediate acceptance to Georgetown Law).

But, before I could get to court, I had to go to prison. To meet my client, Mr. W, a middle aged career burglar, and an eyewitness to his abuse at the hands of prison guards, Mr. J., a violent rapist.

(During my first visit to the prison, some prison guards locked me in a cell with Mr. J., separated only by a plexiglass divider, as a "practical joke" because they knew I was there gathering evidence for my case against them. That experience was enough to give a veteran combat soldier PTSD).

But, here I was going back into battle; this time I had Bess as backup.

(Did I mention that Bess not only looks as pure as a Disney princess, but that she actually is that pure? That she once called opposing counsel back to apologize after hanging up on him seconds earlier? That she howls in fear when getting an eyebrow wax?)

Maybe prison was not the best place for Bess after all. Taking Bess to prison was almost as absurd as taking an inmate to Sesame Street. The worst thing Bess has ever done in her life was drink excessively and then drive a local news anchor's car around a sanctioned course for a news special. (And they paid her to do it). But, after much pleading to the partners, Bess was now my co-counsel, and we believed that Mr. W. had his civil rights violated by prison guards.

Bess and I blasted music during the 30 minute drive to prison.  We belted out inaccurate lyrics, off-key, pretending it was just another "Friday concert," which we liked to stage in our offices at the Firm. But, my stomach was churning at the thought of going back behind bars.

Snow was falling as we navigated up the mile long prison drive. Bess and I munched on soft pretzel bites, debating whether I actually kissed our doorman, Rafiq, on his mouth or goatee when I told him I passed the Bar Exam. (Either way, it was a mistake. I was clearly aiming for his cheek, but you know how sometimes the other person makes a quick move and your kiss ends up somewhere you had not expected?)

The barbed wires and stone watch towers surrounded us as we entered, instantly making us feel condemned. Prison guards searched our rental car as we shivered in the snow. (There was no use making small talk with Bess because she fears small talk more than a full body search).


Once inside Graterford Prison, our bodies were scanned for contraband, our hands for traces of drugs. The guards flipped through the prison cell photos in my folder and eyed us up sideways. It's never a good thing when a prison guard tells you that he remembers you. Or that he knows that you're visiting - again - because you have a lawsuit against the prison guards.

Bess and I fidgeted in the waiting room on a long, scratched wooden bench amongst mothers and toddlers and a few stone-faced older children, presumably waiting to see their fathers. But, we could not get swept up in emotion. There was one reason we were spending Hanukkah behind bars. We were there on business; in particular, to interview our star eyewitness, Mr. J., a rapist, locked in solitary confinement.


When we entered the visitation cell, Mr. J. was behind a thick plexiglass divider. He had a grin across his face as deep as his rap sheet. I picked up the smudged telephone on my side of the glass and Mr. J. grabbed his.

"Yo, Stacy, how ya' doin,' counselor?" He winked at me just like he did the first time I met him. I deflected his wink.

"Fine, thanks. How are you, Mr. J.? This is my co-counsel, Bess," I told him.  "She's going to ask you a few questions about what you saw and heard on the night in question."

Now, I had imagined introducing Bess to a nice Jewish gastroenterologist,
a fellow attorney who also blushes when in court, perhaps a funny graphic designer, who ran marathons, like her.  But, never did I imagine introducing Bess to the creepiest convicted criminal imaginable. In solitary confinement.  In a maximum security prisoner.

We stood in the dank gray prison cell and stared at at each other for a couple of seconds.

"Here you go," I said, handing her the telephone. "No small talk. Just business."

(Did I mention that Bess fears small talk even more than she fears convicted criminals?)

She smiled at me and said the only thing left to say.

"Happy Hanukkah, Stace."

"Happy Hanukkah."

(And, in case you are wondering, we took those abusive prison guards all the way to federal court, like you knew we would. If that isn't a Hanukkah miracle, I don't know what is!)




Friday, October 18, 2013

Sweet Pea

He was a heartbreaker upon entrance into the world.

"He has such long eyelashes!" the delivery nurse said, moments after his arrival. "Those baby girls in the nursery are gonna want to meet you, man," she whispered, lifting him off my chest for his first bath. My baby #2.

"Look at that cowlick," our beloved baby nurse, Bette, cried, the morning of his bris.  "I just don't know how to brush this wild hair!"



"It's okay, Bette, he's only eight days old," I said.  "I think I gave birth to a rock star."

Two years have passed, but when you see my baby #2, those are the first two things you see. His movie star eyelashes and pompadour.



His eyelashes are something out of a cartoon. Part doll baby and part Snuffaluffagus. When he falls asleep in his car seat, his lashes rest halfway down his cheeks.



He blinks them slowly and he looks like the Sesame Street character.



Sometimes when he eats Challah, small chunks get stuck in his eyelashes instead of around his mouth. Most women would kill for this problem.

He has many aliases: Sweet Pea, Busy Bee, Spider Monkey, Mr. Pickle. (All fairly innocuous compared to his older brother, El Diablo).

Sweet Pea is most fitting. He blows kisses to cashiers at the supermarket and sometimes to strange men standing in line behind us at the post office, which is a bit unnerving. His voice sounds like a talking doll with a Danish accent.

I'm fairly certain that Sweet Pea wants to climb back inside of my belly - or create a pouch in which to ensconce himself - or claim a permanant spot on my back. (This is why he's also known as Spider Monkey). He clings on to me like a baby orangutan throughout the day and night as if his life depends on it.



He sucks his thumb and holds onto my hair, rips it down from a ponytail if necessary.  He plasters his velvet cheek against mine so tight, digs his little nails into my skin and makes a squeal/sigh of complete happiness.

And, he likes to cling to his daddy too.



Sweet Pea gives new meaning to the word, "mammoni," mamma's boy. When I take a shower, he lies outside of the bathroom door, sucking his thumb, listening, hoping, waiting -  for the water to turn off. When he screams in the middle of the night, I rescue him from his crib and put him in our bed with us.

But that's not quite good enough. He pops up and scrambles over pillows or people to rest for the night on my head. And I don't mean near my head, or head to head.  I mean ON TOP OF MY HEAD. I often wake up to the snoring of a baby javelina and the smell of a pishy diaper on top of me, but I would not want it any other way. When he eventually rolls off of me, he smiles before he even blinks open those baby doll eyes and I can see the whole world shimmering back at me.

Every morning, I ask him the same question: "What did you dream about last night?"
"Ah....digger trucks!" he always replies, with a smile stretched across his face.

I'm sure you're wondering if Sweet Pea is always this sweet and the truth is, yes. (I know he's just turning two, so I may be jinxing myself).  Once in a while he'll swipe a chicken nugget from his brother's plate and dash into the living room, while shoving it into his mouth.  (It's kind of like watching Mother Theresa shoplift, so it's hard to get upset).

There is also a bit of bad boy that comes out when he rocks out to music. Sweet Pea has mad rhythm for a little white boy. He does a pelvic thrust the likes of which I have not seen since Bobby Brown was arrested on stage circa 1989. While a bit lewd on the dance floor, his manners are impeccable. "Down, please," he'll say. "More juice, please." "Ayudame, por favor."

He lives to be startled - and squeals - and laughs so hard, he sounds like a cartoon character.

Sweet Pea, my baby #2, the baby that I was not sure if I would be brave enough to bring into the world.  He was born out of hope - and love - and the desire for our baby #1 to have a suitable sidekick.  He is the the baby who completed our family. (I think).



In a room full of 20 kids, he is the one who is playing happily with digger trucks and trains and making the "woo woos" and the "choo choos" or whispering, "all aboard," in the sweetest, mellow way. Every now and then, he'll run to me and throw his arms around me. "Wha's tha sound making tha noise?" he'll ask if he hears something loud, like a lawn mower outside.

Today, I'll tell him, "That's everyone - all the trucks - and trains - and mowers - and helicopters - and planes - and everyone in the world - wishing you a Happy Birthday!"




Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are You a Good Witch or a Bad Witch?

The white pants seemed like a good idea.

Not turning our car around to retrieve my son's forgotten water wings seemed like a bad idea.

But, we were already late.

We were on our way to my husband's firm's annual family gathering; a pool party, at a partner's shore house.

We arrived, exchanged polite greetings, made introductions, and within one minute of our entrance, our 4 year old son, already dressed in his swim shorts, slipped out of my grasp and climbed into the pool.

He thought he could stand inside the pool.  And, at first, he could.  He thought he could swim.  For a second, he could.  Two seconds ticked away and now he was in the center of the pool, staring at me, frozen with fear. He was sinking quietly.

I watched him go under water once and bob back up. I watched him go under water again and I jumped into the pool, white pants and all, and pulled him to safety.

He was coughing, I was crying. We were a spectacle to behold. My husbands coworker offered me a towel, a kind word. Women offered me dry clothes, moral support.

"Don't be embarrassed, don't feel like a bad mother... It happens to all of us."

"A BAD mother?! I just saved my son's life!"

It really made me wonder. Why are we as women so hard on ourselves and on other women?

A man would NEVER say that to another man who had just pulled off a heroic water rescue. He would just high-five him and mutter, "Nice save." More than a few men high-fived me as I emerged from the pool like a wet mess.

24 hours later, it was time to drive home from the shore. We had two cars.  I took the little guy, not yet two years old.

It's usually an hour and a half drive home.  But, three quarters of the way, we hit torrential downpours, flooded highways, a parking lot formed on the expressway.  We were stuck in the car for 6.5 hours.  Just me and my 22 month old boy. We ate snacks, we drank, we played on the ipad, we laughed.

Snacks ran low.  Water ran out.  Some drivers jumped out of their cars and panicked, or socialized, or walked to the shoulder to relieve themselves.

Was I a bad mom for not bringing more water?  Juice? Not changing my baby's diaper right then and there? Was I a bad mom for taking him to the nearest Wendy's as soon as I could exit the expressway?

Or was I a good mom because I stayed calm, played his favorite train song 20 times, talked to him, held his piggies in my hand, made him giggle in the 30 minute line inside Wendy's playing Nosey Nosey.

You can look at everything both ways.

A frightening near drowning or a lesson learned on the fragility of life and risk-taking nature of little boys.

A drive home from hell or making memories with my baby.

The panic of being stuck with strangers all around you or the calm in recognizing their shared humanity.

"Here, take my shorts. You're all wet."

"Here, take this napkin, there's no more toilet paper in the (Wendy's) bathroom."

"Is your son okay?"

"Is your baby okay?"

Are you a good witch or a bad witch?


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