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.


              your friend and uterus,




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,




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!!!


             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?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Dear Aunt Emmy,

I thought everyone living in a retirement home enjoyed unannounced visits by small children.


Let me start by saying it was so great seeing you last month when we were out west. I've been wanting to come visit you north of San Diego ever since Gram told me how she cried on your toilet seat when she stayed the night at your deserted country home decades ago.

As you know, you are the sole surviving sibling of my late grandpop, and I figured there is no time like the present to drop by and say hi.

At 91 years old, that sassy spark is still all yours. Put the walker, wild white hair and lines in your face aside, you still got it, Aunt Emmy! And, I love how you still refer to yourself as "the baby" of the family.

Your life story is legendary. You left your humble home in South Philly, married a New Yorker, and moved out to California to start an organic food business with your husband. In 1948! You were a renegade. An organic-eating Orthodox Jew who donned a cowboy hat, bought a ranch, and rode horses, while still keeping kosher (most of the time).

When banditos crept onto your homestead, tied up your rail-thin husband, Uncle Allen, and threatened him at knifepoint, you jumped right in to save his life. Aunt Emmy, you karate-chopped your way to freedom, despite getting stabbed, and you banished the banditos for good.

"Tia Emmy es loco!" I'll bet they told their amigos.

You paid the price for that brave intervention. And, I know the bandito story is not mere family folklore because you have worn a compression stocking on your bum arm ever since. (The first time I met you, circa 1990, you had it on; last month, you did not have it on and your arm looked puffy, so while I'm no doctor, I do think you may need to bust out that stocking again).

Heroics aside, Aunt Emmy, you are a literary genius. You are the real writer in the family. Eloquent, straight shooter, never one to mince words.

"I used to run this place!" you declared to me, my husband, and our two little boys as we entered the main "living room" of your lovely retirement home. That was before you moved by yourself to Israel three years ago, at age 88. ("You know, doll, America is my country, but Israel is my HOME").

"Now I'm back here, same place, but it's not the same," you confessed to us. "Everyone's dead, dying. I don't try to make friends anymore."

"But - - "

"I'm 91 years old and I'm not looking to make any friends, doll. Plus, it's very goyish here," you half-yelled across the main living room.

Oh boy.  Here we go.

"Tell me about my brother's funeral," you said, softening your tone, taking my hand.

"Is it true there were soldiers there?"

I explained how my grandpop, your brother, was buried with full military honors befitting a WWII hero, which he was.

You seemed to take great comfort in that.

"What was my grandfather like growing up?" I asked.

"Eh," you coughed, as if spitting out bad prunes.

"Was he a good older brother?"

"Not really."

I laughed until I nearly spit out the hard candy you had insisted I try.

But then---

"What did you say your last name is now, doll?"


"Bis? What . . . ?"

"Italian.  He's from South Philly, just like you, Aunt Emmy," I smiled, nodding at my husband who was feet away trying to contain Fric and Baby Frac.

You eyed him up with a bit of suspicion and a hint of a smile.

"I can tell he's a good one."

"Total mensch," I chimed in. "No worries."

You glanced over at my young sons as they made themselves right at home at your retirement home. They threw off their shoes, jumped momentarily up and down on the sofa next to me, squealed and sucked down apple juice that you put out for us. I thought you would find them endearing.


"Can I take your picture, Aunt Emmy? Everyone back east wants a picture of you."

"My picture days are OVER! Sorry, doll!"

"Ok, how about if we call my sister? She loves getting your letters and she asked me to call her if we stopped in to see you."

Ring ring ring

Aunt Emmy, you picked up the phone and explained in a soft tone to my sister how lonely you are. She replied, "Well, you must be so happy to have Stacy and the boys visiting."

That unleashed the tiger.

"I HATE loud children!  I wish they would just SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP!"


My eyeballs exploded from their sockets as my head spun around to see if my husband heard your rant. (Truly, anyone within a mile, hearing aid or not, heard it).

"Let's wrap this up, babe," he whispered to me.

I could hear my sister howling with laughter from the speaker of my cell phone.

"Not a fan of kids, Aunt Emmy?" I asked as you abruptly ended the call with her.

"CAN'T STAND THEM!" you hollered.  "NEVER COULD."

"Well, we're going to get back on the road now, okay?" I said.

"I hope these boys are getting a proper Jewish education," you chimed in.

"Ah . . . he went to Main Line Reform preschool last year," I replied, nodding at my four year old.

"REFORMED?! I call that 'DEFORMED!'" you cackled.

Oh, Aunt Emmy, it really was a treat to see you.  You were like a dusty old relic from a previous generation where people said it exactly as they thought it.

Although we hit Disneyland, Legoland, the San Diego Zoo, and great California beaches, you, Aunt Emmy, added that extra bit of color that we were missing. And, I would not change you or our visit for anything.

Stay healthy, stay strong, live long, beware of those banditos, and Shabbat Shalom.

Much love,


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Sans Suitcases

I should have known that I was in for a lifetime of trouble when my husband of 14 days informed me at the Milan airport that he had forgotten half of his wardrobe in a dresser back at our B&B in Lucca.

We were clearly in the "honeymoon stage" back then, as we were wrapping up our honeymoon in Italy. I think I giggled, gazed into his almond shaped dark eyes, and offered him my mom's Burberry shawl to warm his sweet soul as we headed back home.

I don't know when the honeymoon ended. But, it did.

A couple of weeks ago, after months of planning, researching, scheduling, and preparing, we left home for a vacation in California with the boys. I spent several days prior packing, organizing suitcases, debating whether Ninja Turtles or Transformers would be more exciting at 30,000 feet, and whether Play Doh would get through security.

All he had to do was load up the car. Let me say that again.  ALL that he had to do was load up the car. Brute strength was all that was required.

Our packed bags were in various rooms throughout the house. The kids' suitcases had their names embroidered on them, so they were tough to miss, not to mention the fact that our 4 year old had practiced wheeling his bag to the "airport" for weeks around the house.

5:15 a.m. He loaded the car.
5:45 a.m. We arrived at the airport.
6:00 a.m. We entered a surprisingly short security line.
6:01 a.m. I could be overheard saying, "This is AMAZING! We are going to breeze right through this line!"
6:01:30 a.m. "Wait - WHERE are the kids' suitcases?!"
6:02 a.m. "You mean, these carry-ons?"
6:02:02 a.m. "NOOOO....I mean their little rolling suitcases with their NAMES ON THEM!"
6:02:30 "We don't have them."
6:02:31 a.m. "What do you mean, 'we don't have them?'! You left them in the car?"
6:03:03 a.m. "I didn't . . . put them in the car.  I didn't see them."
6:03:04 a.m. "YOU DIDN'T SEE THEM?! Well, we need to go home and get them!"
6:03:05 a.m. "We can't, we'll miss our plane."
6:03:06 a.m. "I CANNOT BELIEVE . . . "
6:03:07 a.m. "What was in them ANYWAY?"
6:03:08 a.m. Smoke seeps out of my ears.
6:03:09 a.m. "ALL OF HIS CLOTHES!!!" I seethe, pointing at our 4 year old, who's making an ascot out of his blue blankie. (The other suitcase had all of our stuff for the first night).
6:03:10 a.m. "Well, we couldn't have carried anything else anyway, " he mumbles. And he's right.
6:03:11 a.m. "He has NOTHING but the clothes on his back and we're going to California for a WEEK!"

I turn my back to him so that the daggers shooting from my eyes don't kill him. I am taking deep breaths.  Trying to remain calm in front of my boys - the TSA agents - and the fellow passengers who are now offering up their cells phones because they overhear our "conversation."

"Are you going to be alright?" my husband tries.

I spin around, ready to claw his face and, lucky for him, just at that moment, I spot an old friend from high school.

"David? What are you doing here?"

"Heading to Seattle, " he says from the next security line over, with a surprised grin on his face. "What about you?"

"I'm about to kill HIM!" I confess, nodding at my husband.  "We are going to California for the week and he just informed me that he FORGOT THE KIDS' SUITCASES AT HOME!"

"Wow, thanks, man, you're making me look really good!" David smiles at my husband.

"Happy to help," he replies.

We all start laughing.

And this is how life works.

You breathe.
You laugh.
And then you move on,
smiling straight through security,
sans suitcases.

(Then, you fly across the country, rent a car, drive straight to Old Navy, and buy your unsuspecting son an entire summer wardrobe).

(And, you let your husband live because he's still the best man you've ever met and life would be nothing without the journey, clothes or not).

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Oh, stewardess, I speak jive..."

You're on a plane, heading for the west coast. Your seatbelt is buckled, Xanax swallowed. Your electronic device is on despite ominous warnings to turn it off before take-off.

You spot me, climbing over my children, walking up the aisle and taking the microphone out of the flight attendant's hand.  You close your eyes, imagining this is a safety drill in the event a real life maniac mom approaches the flight attendant and tries to hijack the public address system.

But this is no drill. This is the real deal.

You close your eyes and wonder if fellow passengers can overhear your Bell Biv Devoe remix of "Poison" pumping through your headphones. You can't hear me, but I'm rockin the mic in aisle 2, USAir, flight # RWeThereYet?

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to USAirways," I begin, clearing my throat. "My name is Stacy and I will NOT be your flight attendant. I can barely attend to the needs of my own family, both on land, and at high altitude, so there is no way I could possibly help you with your oxygen mask or "air" vent.  In addition, I cry when I throw up and I may cry and/or throw up if any of you throw up. So please be discreet and use your barf bag located in the seat pocket in front of you."

"So, we are next in line to take-off and I'm looking for one, strike that, a few of you who would like to earn some extra cash during this flight. I need an in-flight fairy godmother, nanny, wet nurse, mother's helper, whatever you want to call it.

Hear those kids making all that racquet in aisle 11? That's what I'm talking about! My boys need high altitude handlers.  My suitcase full of goldfish, lollipops, cars, transformers, books, and stickers are not nearly enough. I need a couple of brawny guys to run relay races in the rear of the plane. I'm thinking Running Bases, Steal the Bacon (or Kosher meal), perhaps Capture the Flag.

I need another few people who can jump out of the overhead compartments and spook my boys because they love to be startled.

I need a few senior citizens to read books and sing songs. - Oh, you in the back?  Perfect!!!  Grab your cane and come on up here! Thank you!

In addition, I need an ex Marine-type to discipline my crew, give time-outs in the 2x2 bathroom.

I need the flight attendants to basically ignore all other passengers on this plane and serve only Thing 1 and Thing 2 back there in aisle 11. Bring snacks at 30 second intervals.

I need someone to take shots of Jameson with my husband and play parlor games if/when he is awake.

I need the pilot to give my boys a tour of the cockpit, but I suggest that happen before take-off.

I need a teenager to change diapers and handle bathroom duty in general.

I need other moms on the plane to coordinate play dates between our children.  I would love an arts and crafts section in the rear of the plane, legoland in the front.  If any of you want to play tag, perfect. You're it!

I need a nurse or doc on board to dose out Benedryl and perhaps narcotics.

Yes, yes! I will take my seat!!!

Once again, thank you for flying USAirways. All of you may clock in right now and get to work. Paychecks and cocktails for all once we reach the west coast!"

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dear Valley Forge Military Academy,

I have a two part question:

How old does my son need to be in order to enroll him as a cadet? (He turned four last month.)

and, do you have any spaces open for the fall of 2013?

Here are the reasons why Valley Forge Military Academy seems to be an ideal fit for my son:

1.  He is already skilled in counterinsurgency tactics, ninja techniques, self-taught jujitsu, hand to hand, and head to head combat. He believes he is "Optimus Prime," leader of the (transformers) universe, but he is as cunning and versatile an adversary as the Viet Cong.

2.  My husband and I are looking for alternative options for him next fall, and Valley Forge Military Academy ("VFMA") seems more reasonable than a year-long "time out" or maximum security prison.

3.  He already knows how to march . . . to his room.

4.  He is in need of discipline and we think he will respond well when his superiors are armed.

5.  If YOU can't straighten him out, nobody can.

6. "Scared Straight" rejected him because their program does not allow children under the age of 5 to be taunted by inmates behind prison walls.

7. He is chopping years off my life, raising my blood pressure and, worst of all, turning my dark hair white.  Not even gray! WHITE.

8. I want my son to attend Valley Forge Military Academy because I want him to be close to home in case he has a nightmare. He can simply dash the 2 miles from VFMA to my bed with his blue blankie in hand, thumb in his mouth.

9. Your school promises, "Structure, discipline, and learning for life."  I can assure you that we are not upholding these core values in our home. Right now, he's watching how to make Angry Birds cupcakes on YouTube.

10. Your website says, "Applications are welcomed from young  men . . . who have demonstrated good citizenship." What exactly do you mean by "good citizenship?"

11. You also say, " Applicants should be physically fit and free from any factors that could limit their full participation in cadet life." Oh, my boy is fit, no worries.  He can hop on one foot and move about like a nimble Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, hero in a half-shell.  I suppose unyielding defiance may be a factor that could limit his full participation in cadet life, but we shall see.

12. I am a former employee of Valley Forget Military Academy.  I had the good fortune of temping at VFMA for exactly seven days circa 1997 when all of the major television networks and cable channels tossed my resume into the garbage without so much as a pause. Perhaps Colonel P. will recall the way I filed his documents with military precision and the way I stood at attention in his office.

Valley Forge Military Academy, I salute you and thank you for your time and consideration regarding the possible enrollment of my son next fall.


Stacy H. Biscardi

ps.  I'll never forget the 13 year old cadet who tearfully approached me on day 7 of my temp job and told me he hated VFMA, that it was like a god damn prison. I contemplated stowing him away in the trunk of my car and carrying him to freedom.

Chances are, if my son enrolls in VFMA next fall, it will take me no longer than 7 days to come rescue him too. We may make a clean getaway in my car, or he may devise a blankie chain out of his dorm room window. Just giving you a heads up.

Either way, 7 days, Valley Forge Military Academy.  That's all I want.

7 days, make my boy a good citizen! A cadet. An officer and/or a gentleman.  The youngest guy ever accepted to VFMA.

He will no doubt wear it like a badge of honor.

And therein lies the problem.

Monday, April 8, 2013

We Didn't Start the Fire (Okay, Yes, We Did) and other Ann Arbor Adventures

The night that I accidentally spit chewing gum in my own hair while partying 
at a Phish show at Hill Auditorium is where my memory of sophomore year at the University of Michigan shampoo to disentangle my infested hair, was just the beginning of a year of debacles. 

In retrospect, it started with my journey to Michigan. My dad was pumped to make the drive from Philly to Ann Arbor with me in my black two-door BMW 325 with tinted windows and red lighting bolt pinstripes.  However, five minutes before our departure, he got a glimpse of my car bulging from all sides.  

“What the hell is in here?” he grimaced, struggling with a duffle bag. 
“Clothes!  Just put it down.  Please!”  I grabbed the straps from his hands and pushed the bag back into the car.  I had not even attempted to zipper the bag shut. Puffy sweaters bulged out.

“You can’t even close this bag!” he protested.

Truthfully, I had never used a zipper on a suitcase in my entire life.  (And I still, to this day, have not). At least, not when traveling by car.  

Next, “Hanibal Lecturer” launched into one of his all-time favorite speeches, “The Perils of Overpacking.” He plucked a few cashmere sweaters out and threw them into a heap on the driveway.

I started to cry. 

“Dad, stop it!  Stop it!” 
His face turned crimson and he realized he might as well have just set my entire wardrobe ablaze.
“Ok, doll, I’m sorry,” my dad attempted, picking up the sweaters from the asphalt. 
“These are good sweaters, Dad!  Apologize!”
“Sweetheart, I’m sorry,” he said patiently.
“Not to me!  To THEM!”  I shoved the sweaters at him defiantly.
My dad apologized to my mistreated clothes.  Apology accepted.  He shoved the sweaters into the back seat with a grunt and we were on our merry way. 

10 hours, 600 miles, and 27 Bob Dylan discs later, when he kissed me goodbye in Ann Arbor, the tears returned. But this time I wasn’t sad about sweaters. As I watched my dad pull away, I thought to myself how he had spent the better part of his life ensuring I was happy, safe, and warm. (And that last duty of his, keeping me warm, was probably why he let my sweaters come along for the ride).

I walked into my new home on Elm Street that I would be sharing with six other girls. The estrogen in the air was palpable. My roommates hailed from New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. 

The house itself was really a bungalow, and one which Greg Brady would have surely found “groovy.” There was plenty of wood paneling to go around and puke green furniture from the ‘60s, which, chances are, had been puked on plenty over the years, considering this was off-campus housing and located conveniently next to two frat houses.  The centerpiece of the living room was a mustard yellow arm-chair that resembled Pee Wee Herman’s “Chairy,” only this one didn’t speak. (At least not when we were sober). We had black lights, overstuffed beanbags and a dining room table, which we would later learn had mystical powers.

Our landlords were Milly and Doug, who happened to have different last names.  Every time we got wasted, we debated whether Milly and Doug were legally married, mere business associates, brother and sister, or perhaps common law husband and wife.  We contemplated Milly and Doug’s romantic link incessantly because these are the kinds of topics that fascinate potheads.

And that was definitely the year that we became party girls.  I'm talking experts.

“I’m going to ‘Stairway to Heaven,” (the local head shop), I announced one cool October afternoon as the Michigan wind whipped colorful leaves off the trees.  “I need an upgrade.”  My girly ‘Little Mermaid’ that my freshman year roomate’s boyfriend had created for me was no longer appropriate.  I wanted something smooth, glass, at least one foot.  Something that signified that I had arrived.

Arriving in that way made everything entertaining.  We would watch the local Detroit news and laugh until we were in tears: "What's with the long lines for the Ladies Bathroom?!" "Also, a live demonstration -Falling through ice, what you can do to protect yourself...at 11and The Truth About Pap!" We would throw our hair up in wet buns and think we looked normal walking to class in 20 degree temps. We would jump in a car and go to Chicago in search of Oprah at the gym, working out, just because we could.

Sometimes we would randomly discover a new form of entertainment. Wheelbarrow rides up the stairs. Or fun with the dining room table. It all started one night, when my roommate, “Pyro,” was torching paper towels over the table, as she frequently enjoyed doing. She dropped the flaming mass on the table and shrieked something unintelligible in her Chicago speak ("Maaaagiano's?"). Fearing for our lives, we raced outside, barefoot in the snow, expecting to see our groovy ski lodge go up in flames. To our glee, the house did not burn down. 

That night we learned a very important lesson: our dining room table was indestructible.  This meant we could roast marshmallows over an open flame directly on the tabletop, which we did every night the rest of the winter. That table became the center of our lives. We gossiped there, drank there, 
and of course, feasted there, mainly on take-out food. Our most difficult daily dilemma was: Amers? Maize-n-Blue? Pizza  House? Or all of the above? We were sophomores, and no longer concerned with gaining the notorious “freshman fifteen.” We inhaled Pizza House chipatis and Stucchis' ice cream and sometimes hit Angelo’s for breakfast. Sure, we cooked from time to time. My favorite was Boboli pizza or Puffed Kashi cereal with a side of Cool Ranch Doritos. 

Did I mention that we loved to bake? Baking usually led to insane food fights that spilled over into every room on the first floor. We would crack eggs over each other’s heads and sometimes turn out a great cookie cake, which one roommate would zero in on like a stealth bomber and inhale after we all went to bed - (and then deny it the next day). There were also sick games, like daring each other to drink an entire quart of milk or eat the nastiest hunk of cheese in town. 

Our house on Elm Street was also quite musical. Karaoke brightened up even 
the grayest days in Ann Arbor. We rediscovered Donna Summer and Neil Diamond and 
choreographed line dances to their greatest hits. The Love Boat Theme song was one of the most requested tunes in our house and I doubt I could catch of glimpse of Captain Stubing today without getting really nostalgic for 1995. We celebrated birthdays, breakups, and who could forget (or rather, remember) Hash Bash? 

My roommates and I tried in vain to understand the Michigan lingo, like “parking structure,” “pop,” and “tennis shoes.” The drive through Beer Depot was a house favorite. So was the local hair salon, Jeffrey Michael Powers, where we would go to get waxed by a woman who was nine months pregnant who would literally hoist her heaving belly on top of us and practically pin us down in order to get our eyebrows just right. 

The wind tunnels chilled us to our bones and our winter jacket collections grew exponentially in order to withstand the Michigan blizzards. We braved bone chilling temperatures and Midwest accents and came to embrace Ann Arbor as our home.

There were some scary moments in our house on Elm Street, as well, and I'm not talking Freddie Kruger. One night, I got locked in my own bedroom. I woke up at 3 a.m. to discover that I was trapped. Frantically, needing to use the loo, I called my downstairs roommate, who I’ll 
call, “Sassy.” Sassy answered her phone sleepily, listened to my pleas for help 
for thirty seconds, then hung up on me and fell back to sleep. Sassy was 
the same person who told me to “suck it up and enjoy the show” after I discovered the glob of gum in my hair at the Phish concert. Clearly, I needed to call a more sensitive roommate, so I tried the girls across the hall. They immediately came to my door and tried to bust through to no avail. “Pyro”  
hollered through the door, “Don’t panic!” Of course the Fire Department was on her speed dial. I was reassured until I heard her telling them to come as quickly as possible. Then a miracle occurred. My roommate from down the hall, “Sex Kitten,” came to my rescue with a hair pin. All of the jokes I had made about her whips and chains, chaps and frequent gentlemen callers were put to rest. 

There were high hopes that year for the Maize and Blue. Our football team had us sitting in negative twenty wind chills, getting frozen marshmallows pegged at our heads, and still we had enormous grins on our faces as we sang, “Hail to the Victors” after every touchdown. Yet one day, despite our vast Michigan memorabilia, face paint, and moral support, our team was crushed, and we 
spiraled into a “sophomore slump.” My roommate, “Pyro,” who had a communications class with many Michigan football players, decided she would cheer them up with an original speech, entitled, “Why Jews should not be upset that Neil Diamond did a Christmas Album.” Her impassioned speech in support of diversity did little to help our ailing team and left Amani Toomer, sitting in the front row, simply unimpressed. 

That year came to a close with the Naked Mile, a senior tradition of streaking across campus. We went to check out the crowd and found ourselves quickly freaked out. “Ew, I had history with him!” I shrieked as I saw a naked dude on a unicycle ride by. What was really unfortunate was when the mass of nude joggers got bottlenecked at the arch into the Diag. It happened every year and before you knew it, thousands of naked people were bumping up against each other, while spectators laughed and took pictures. It was disturbing, to say the least.  At this point, my naked friend on rollerblades wiped out. Luckily, she only skinned her knees. 

Although Michigan didn’t make it to the Rose Bowl that year, the Fab Five had disbanded, the snow didn’t stop falling until mid-April, and I was forced to cut out a clump of my hair because of the gum fiasco (following Phish's opening jam at Hill Auditorium), it was still a year to remember. 

Yes, we went to class. (In case you're wondering). Yes, we studied.  Believe me, we learned.  We worked hard and we played hard.  Were there nights that we spit gum in our own hair or worse?

I'd be lying if I said no.

Would I have had it any other way?

I'd be crazy if I said yes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

All Hail to the Chief

When I was 11 years old, we moved into a new house and got a dog who loved to run around the new house with a toothbrush in his mouth.  That was also the year that the Chief came to live with us.
Our brand new house was on a windy road in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, amidst grand country French homes, wrought iron fences, sparkling swimming pools, Koi ponds, and perfectly manicured lawns.  My parents built our new home from the ground up, pouring carefully over floor plans, measuring out furniture on blueprints, collaborating with contractors.  This was their dream home.

We moved in on the day that my sister and I returned home from overnight camp. Within two hours, we went from bunking in a log cabin in the Poconos full of mice and mildew to a brand new Main Line home full of possibilities.  There would be touch football games, tennis matches, softball, roller hockey in the driveway, barbecuing on the deck, playing in the snow, roasting marsh-mellows in my parents’ bedroom fireplace, screaming contests at the dinner table, blasting music on the vintage jukebox, singing karaoke, baking daddy cookies in the pale pink kitchen.

The windows in my bright bedroom overlooked the backyard, wooden deck, green grass, and tennis court beyond.  “How ‘bout we build a zip line out your bedroom window straight down to the tennis court?” my dad asked, with a twinkle in his eye.  My dad had the best ideas and I often wondered if he was really a ten year old boy stuck in a dad’s body.  He was as excited about this new house that he had worked so hard to build, as a little boy would be about a new tree house.

It looked like a suburban dream.  And, for my family, it was. 

“Do you guys want to paint the rock?” my dad asked the week after we moved in.  The "rock" was a gigantic boulder, roughly the size of a Prius, that stood just beyond the wooden deck in the backyard.

Between the two of us, my sister, Alissa, was the “artist.”  She had perfected her two signature drawings; one, the hind quarters of an elephant, and two, the face of a dog with long droopy ears and freckles, by the time she was eight.  (I was never much of an artist, save for the time I created an abstract masterpiece when I colored off the pages of my coloring book and right up my bedroom wall).

“Dad, paint it, like how?” my sister asked, rolling her eyes.  At 14, Alissa was way too cool for craft projects, let alone outdoor craft projects in the late August humidity.

“However you want,” my dad replied, “be creative.”

An hour later, after a trip to the paint store, my sister and I went out back with brushes and paints in hand and a master plan.  We decided to doodle on the boulder precisely the same crap that we had doodled all over the lined pages of our school notebooks for years.  First, our initials: “SH,” “AH,” “SBH,” “AMH” (my sister decided to give herself the middle name “Miranda” at this stage in her life because my parents had never given her one).  Then we added our flowery signatures that we were constantly revising for the eventual stardom that awaited us.  Next we scrawled: “Benetton, Ton Sur Ton, Guess Jeans.”  I painted my signature “snoopy on top of doghouse,” (which slightly resembled “snoopy on top of embalming table at morgue.”  My sister topped it off with her piece de resistance: “Alissa Rules.”

We were creative geniuses.

“WHAT are you girls doing?” my dad asked, slightly horrified by the sight of the boulder.  We smiled as proudly as Michelangelo must have.

“Dad, do you like it?”  I asked.

“I thought you were going to paint . . . I don’t know, a mural or something . . .”

“This IS a mural!” Alissa retorted, tossing her wooden paintbrush in the bucket with a clank.

There was no use arguing, so my dad didn’t bother.  I’m sure he prayed for a monsoon to sweep through Bryn Mawr and wash away intense coats of “Benetton” and “Alissa Rules” and all of our other artistic nonsense.

The monsoon never came and our masterpiece remained for years.  But, my dad believed that if anyone could turn around the energy (or lack thereof) of our otherwise gorgeous backyard, surely a shaman could.  You see, not only was my dad a big kid at heart, he believed he was a Native American reincarnated. 

“Ten men are coming tomorrow to deliver the Chief!” my dad announced one day upon his return from a business trip to North Carolina. 

“Wha-?” my mom nearly coughed out some chicken salad.

“I bought a Native American chief, for the backyard, it’s spectacular.  10 feet tall wooden sculpture,” he explained as nonchalantly as if he had purchased a new perennial for the garden.

“Where do you think it’s going to go?” my mom asked, skeptically.

“Right out there, by the rock.”  

Of course.  

He was so confident it was as if the spirits had spoken to him in a dream. “He’ll watch over the house,” my dad continued, without a hint of jest.  “And besides, I think the backyard could use a little fang-ship.”

“You mean, “FENG SHUI?” my mom responded, carefully enough for a five year old to get the correction.

“Oh, you know what I mean!”

The Native gods must have been crazy because sure enough a flat-bed truck rolled up several days later and out came the Chief.  Just like my dad promised (or threatened), it took ten beefy men to carry him from the truck to his perch in the backyard and prop him upright.  It was a feat of mankind.  My dad was so overjoyed I thought he might put on a headdress, torch up a joint, and beat a drum.

He was the only resident of the Main Line with a 10 foot hand-carved Native American chief in his backyard.  That was for sure.

And then, the monsoon hit.  (Well, it was a terrible rainstorm with damaging 50 mph winds.  Might as well have been a monsoon).  

“I was up all night, thinking about the Chief,” my dad revealed as he strolled into the pale pink kitchen in his signature Cole Haan loafers and button down shirt.  “I thought the wind might knock him down, but look!” he said, pointing out the kitchen window, “He’s as strong as an ox.”  Alissa and I giggled.
“I’m going to order a plaque for him,” my dad continued.  “His name came to me in my dream last night.”

“I thought you said you were up all night?” my sister chided.

“Yeah, Dad, how could you have been dream-?

“I had a vision, okay?  A vision.  Wow, you two are like little lawyers!”

“So, Mr. Heenan, you say you had a vision, last night, the night of - ?” Alissa continued, in her best prosecutorial tone.

“His name is Chief Strong Winds, Wisdom Within,” my dad declared.

“Dad, you might want to check yourself into the nearest psych ward.”

“I’m serious, doll!  That’s his name.”

“No more questions,” my sister chuckled, rolling her blue eyes three quarters of the way back into her head.

So, he got the plaque, hammered on to the Chief’s base and, next thing you know, “Chief Strong Winds, Wisdom Within,” became a veritable tourist attraction.  Or at least a neighborhood attraction.  Friends and family wanted their photo taken with the Chief, much the way tourists enjoy posing with goofy guys dressed like gladiators in front of The Colosseum.

The Chief has survived some 27 years since then.  He has made multiple moves, suffered a minor foot injury, overseen the birth of five little boys, and has even made it to "show and tell" for my son's unit on Native Americans at Thanksgiving time. (I had to explain to his teachers that yes, the Chief really does live in my parents' backyard and not in some protected national space in North Dakota).

How one man could bring so many people and generations together is beyond me. Of course, it's not the Chief I'm referring to; it's the man with the vision, heart, and soul.  The man who infuses spirit into everything he does. The Chief's chief.

Love you, Dad.