Squirrels are jerks.


The chatter came from above, it wasn’t the normal squirrel dispute.  This was louder.  I don’t speak squirrel,  so I wasn’t able to translate.  I could tell they were panicked.   The warmth and fluff I felt at my feet let me know Betty was not involved, I was pleased with her show of restraint.  It doesn’t happen often, she’s normally the first to fight.  She gets that from me; apparently we’re both working to temper our impulsive nature.

I peered up to where the noise was coming from.  Squirrels move a lot, so it took a while to determine the location of the thing that triggered the melee.  They jumped, they squeaked, and they avoided a branch on the avocado tree.  It was where they weren’t going that was telling. There, basking in the hot Florida sun, was a small iguana.  He was a beautiful shade of chartreuse, and he knew it.

He moved slowly, robotically.  The size of the talons at the ends of his legs looked very large as he inched toward the open air and the conclusion of the thinning branch.  He was gingerly keeping his grip, even though it looked awkward.  The branch bounced wildly.  The movement wasn’t due to the tension of the added lizard weight, but the angry squirrel who bounced in protest near the protection of the trunk.  The iguana didn’t seem bothered.  I quietly admired his self control as I watched from below.  Betty did too, it seemed that she’d momentarily surrendered her position as backyard bouncer to join me in observing what would happen next.

The absence of yipping and growling was replaced by another loud, startling noise.  “Mom! Can you type in really cool, offroad truck driving games?” The boy was standing behind me.  I was so focused on the episode of Wild Kingdom unfolding in front of me that I hadn’t heard him open the sliding glass door when he exited the house.  I turned to him, trying to restore the quiet.  His attention was focused on his tablet.  Oversized green headphones were wrapped around his ears, he was unaware that he was yelling. “Can I have a juicebox and popcorn?” he bellowed, I thought for sure his voice would disrupt the creatures and their aerial turf war.

I gently lifted the speaker away from the side of his head,  “Look buddy, look in the tree,” I whispered.  

Whispering, like yawning, is a contagious human behavior.  I don’t really know why.  He removed his eyes from the glowing screen, and the Youtube video playing upon it.

Focusing on the tree he scanned the branches, “Why are we whispering?” he said quietly.  I held in a giggle.  This is normally the question that ends a hushed conversation, when there’s no reason for it.

“We’re whispering because we don’t want to startle the lizard,” I explained while diverting his eyes with my pointed index finger, and outstretched arm.  “Oh, it’s Godzillard,”  My brain, for a split second, pictured the head of Willard Scott on the body of a reptile.  Yes, the visual is as disturbing as it sounds.  “Godzilla,” I corrected.  “No, Godzilla is the big, dark one that lives on the telephone poll.  That’s Godzillard,” he corrected back, making sure to emphasize the “D” at the end.  “Why are we watching him? Can I have popcorn now?”

I wasn’t aware that we had more than one very large lizard patrolling our yard, and although I might have chosen different names, I was thankful for his observations.  I’m not exactly fearful of them, I just don’t want anything to do with them.

“I want to see what happens, he’s having issues with the squirrels.  Do you think he’ll jump in the pool to get away from them?” I was invested in watching this, I wasn’t going in the house.

“Shouldn’t we stop the squirrels?  It looks like they’re picking on him,” he’s very concerned with bullying these days.  “We don’t get involved when animals have disagreements, bud,” I explained.  “Yes we do, you have to stop Betty from trying to eat the kittens all the time.”

“Betty isn’t trying to eat the kittens,  she just doesn’t appreciate their presence.  Those animals live in our house, they have to get along.”

“Is it because they steal her toys?”

“Probably.”

“I’ll have to talk to them about that.  These animals live in our yard, though.  Doesn’t that make them ours?  Why aren’t we supposed to stop them?”

“Godzillard isn’t coming in the house, if that’s what you’re getting at.  No, we aren’t supposed to stop them.  They’re wild animals, and if we get involved they won’t be wild anymore.”

He looked at me suspiciously, “It’s something I heard on Animal Planet.” Thankfully, this seemed to be a good enough source for him.

This was quite possibly the longest conversation I’d ever had while whispering.  As the boy, Betty, and I chatted…the squirrels became more brazen.  The most vocal of the group started to advance down the branch towards the iguana.  I don’t think squirrels are capable of much thought, but this one seemed to question whether it’s actions were a good idea.  It would retreat back to the trunk, then hop down the branch again, with every trip it got a little bit closer.  Godzillard did not react, he continued to calmly hold on while the branch bounced beneath him.

I had almost resigned myself to the idea that we had spent a very long time watching absolutely nothing when it happened, the squirrel had invaded Godzillard’s personal space for the last time.  This time possibly touching him with it’s grubby little paw.  Without even turning his head, he whipped his long, lime green tail in the air.  The boy cheered, as his tail collided with the side of the furry being, launching it out of the tree.  “Take that, squirrelface!”

Apparently, we were all on team lizard.  Betty stopped watching him and bounded into the yard to inspect the point of impact.  I imagine she was disappointed to discover that this was not her chance to further make an example out of one of them for their endless taunting and chatter.  It’s ego might have been damaged, but it hurried back up into the canopy to avoid being a chewtoy.

Godzillard turned around and made his way back through the tree without further incident.  He was only passing through, he meant them no harm.

“See, they worked it out on their own,” I said confidently, pretending that I had any idea on how this confrontation might end.  I contemplated which life lesson I would parlay this into. I don’t know, I always have to have a lesson.  It’s an annoying thing I do.

“Yeah, squirrels are jerks.  I didn’t know that a lizard could play baseball, and..I don’t think I want to try to catch them anymore.”

I decided his take on the situation was sufficient.  There wasn’t anything more I could add, we retreated into the house having had enough nature for the day.

I’ll never be a Sock Monkey, and I’m okay with that


There’s this stuff that pops up in my newsfeed all the time, it’s the same story, written by six different news outlets.  Sometimes the information is life altering, and I can understand why it’s getting so much attention…but most of the time it’s really not.

Last week I couldn’t get away from the dog that takes the bus to the dog park.  She was everywhere.  I bet she’s buckled from the pressure of being in the limelight, and now takes herself to regular appointments with her therapist.  I get it, it’s a dog…there’s a bus,  enough already.

The thing that keeps being shoved in my face, this week, is the woman that’s giving Bratz Dolls radical makeunders.  She’s an artist or something,  her idea was to remove the copious amounts of plastic cosmetics from the faces of these playthings, and then repaint them to look more natural.  That, in and of itself, I thought was a pretty neat idea.  It’s been done before with Barbie, but it was interesting to see it…again…I guess.

The neat factor quickly wore off when I started to read the comments.  Comments will do that to you. People were getting really heated about these dolls and the message they think they send to girls.  They were harping on their clothing.  I believe the general consensus was that these dolls are packaged to look like little strippers.  I kept myself from commenting.   No need to be attacked by a stranger for pointing out that strippers and over application of makeup has been around since before the days of Holly Hobbie.  Yep, people will argue about anything…just a bunch of adults yelling at other adults…about toys.

Now, to be fair, the genetic lottery did not award me with a female human…so, I’m not exactly in the struggle.  I have a son, my living room floor is covered in a layer of plastic superheroes with impressive pectoral muscles.  I have never once stopped to wonder if Spiderman’s washboard abs are negatively effecting his psyche.  I’m not publishing the letters I’ve written to Mattel demanding that they introduce an action figure with a receding hairline and love handles.    This is an area of his life that I’m okay with not over-thinking…because they’re toys, people.  They’re used for play and fantasy.

I know it’s hard to believe but I, at one point in time, was a little girl.  I may not have been the most feminine of womanlings, I didn’t really play with Barbie’s…unless you count cutting off all of their hair…and melting their faces with a magnifying glass as play.  But that’s not the point.  It never crossed my mind that the thing I was destroying had an unattainable physique.  Not once.  I never felt inferior to a hunk of plastic and cried myself to sleep knowing I would never look like her.  Any ill-feelings I had about my body came long after I stopped playing with dolls.

It’s highly unlikely that your daughter is thinking about the fact that she might not grow up to resemble her doll, unless you’ve said that to her…which is kind of a douche move.  If you have pointed this out to her, I hope you also gave her a complete list of things she will not grow up to resemble: Buicks, waffle irons, lamp posts…just to name a few.   While you’re arguing the very adult topics of sexuality and objectification keep in mind your daughter is probably thinking, “I want to play with something brightly colored and sparkly, and it might be a bonus if the thing that is brightly colored and sparkly has a face.”

It just seems to me that this is a thing manufactured by adults that need something to argue about.

I grew up in the 80’s, when we wax nostalgic about this particular period in time we bring up the big hair and hideous clothing.  It was the decade of excess…and orphans…lot’s of orphans.  Sometimes they sang,  sometimes they grew in cabbage patches, sometimes they wore mismatched clothes, sometimes they were adopted by old white men of varying income levels, but they were all somehow abandoned by their parents for entertainment purposes.

No one worried ad nauseum that I would grow up to develop severe separation anxiety and a sceptical outlook on produce. I’m not the most well adjusted woman on the planet, but I can’t blame that on anything I played with.

It irritates me that people assume little girls are this impressionable,  the argument as a whole is ludicrous.  It’s rooted in feminism, sort of, but it really makes women sound stupid. Like we’re incapable of thinking and reasoning.

Not one female I know ever expressed interest in voluntarily becoming a quadriplegic, because they were gifted a sock monkey at a tender age.  “I just want to flop around like Mr. Pickles,” wasn’t a slumber party confession.

When I see a little girl dragging around a teddy bear, I don’t feel overcome by concerns.  There’s no wondering if she’ll grow up, wander into the woods only to get her throat ripped open by a 500 pound Grizzly, because she was trying to put a t-shirt on it and get it to take a nap.

Why is it we can trust that a girl is smart enough to work through unrealistic ideas about the congeniality of woodland creatures, but we suggest she isn’t smart enough to figure out the truth about a doll?

So what if she plays with a toy that slightly resembles your slutty neighbor, Carol.  You’ve got more important things to worry about and fight for.

This space for rent.


“I think it would be fun to live in your head for a day,” the cell phone connection was poor…but I clearly heard these words. I tried to pretend I didn’t…I’m not a very good liar. I’ve heard them before, I’ll hear them again. It’s nothing new. I don’t see it as a compliment, but it isn’t an insult either. It just is. For the record, even if there was a way you could get a Groupon for a discounted daily brain rental…you wouldn’t like it in there.

When I was younger I got used to hearing that I was weird. Now that I’m older, people tell me I’m “brilliant” or I have a “beautiful mind”. It’s nicer, but it basically means the same thing. I’m different. I know. There’s a reason for the way I am.

I’m autistic.

This isn’t the part where you drop a bunch of toothpicks on the floor and see how long it takes me to accurately count them. Count your own toothpicks…you wasteful, lazy bastards.

I don’t feel brilliant or beautifully minded. I’m not writing this because I want people to reassure or compliment me. Aside from being painfully awkward, it wouldn’t matter what you said or how many exclamation points you used…I wouldn’t believe you.

While you praise me for thinking outside the box, I envy you for being able to hold a job…budget effectively…and muddle through the paperwork or other unpleasantries of being an adult human. It’s not that I won’t do it, it’s that I can’t. Grass…greener…you know.

It doesn’t matter what you say or how you say it. It doesn’t matter how logical it is to you. It doesn’t matter how right you think you are. While you’re standing on your soapbox, telling me how to fix myself, frustrated that I don’t leap into action and follow your instructions…I’ve already devised 6 ways to incinerate you and your box.

I’m not like you.

Even if I wanted to be like you, there’s no way I could effectively carry on the charade.

You don’t make any sense to me.

I know that the way I react or interact isn’t normal. I’m just normal enough to fly under the radar. I accepted fairly early on that I would never fit in, so I did my best not to stick out. That took years of practice, years of creating my own coping mechanisms. There was no diagnosis when I was child. I was just labeled hard headed and stupid (thanks, Mrs. Davis).

It’s exhausting and I’m ready to stop doing that now.

When my son was born, I prayed that he’d be healthy and happy…and absolutely nothing like me. My prayers went unanswered in some respects…he’s just like me…and it’s heartbreaking. I didn’t want this for him, having lived it…I know what it’s like.

He got my hair, he got my eyes, he got my smile, and he got my Asperger’s Syndrome. Awesome.

I don’t want this for him. I don’t want him to have to know that with every new friend he makes, he can be certain that he will be asked, “Where do you come up with this stuff?” when he says something that’s a little odd.

I don’t want him to have to figure out a way to explain why he doesn’t like movies, or strawberries, or sweet potatoes, or bananas…for the rest of his natural life.

I don’t want him to slyly have to excuse himself when someone is cutting an orange…as he knows the smell will make him violently ill.

I don’t want him to have to fear that announcing things like, “music makes me see colors” will make him sound crazy. Jackson Browne, incidentally, makes me see a beautiful shade of periwinkle. Amy Winehouse makes me see black and grey. In all honestly, that part is pretty cool, but no one will understand…no one ever does. Eventually, you learn to suffer or rejoice in silence.

I don’t want to have to have the conversation with him about how to protect himself from absorbing the pain of a stranger…how to ignore emotional static…or how to keep himself from bringing home stray dogs or people.

I don’t want him to have to explain that his senses are different…and they will sometimes torture him…and there aren’t enough words to accurately describe the misery or the joy.

I don’t always get what I want, but I see music…and you don’t…so we’re even.

Life on the spectrum.


It’s just a magnetic picture frame, a memento from summer camp. The brightly colored foam sun and flip-flop stickers that encircle the smiling child in the photo are barely noticeable…but only if you know the boy.

His golden locks are not so curly or so golden anymore. You can tell that he’d been outside playing in the oppressive June heat; the strands of hair, stuck to the sides of his face with sweat are a dead giveaway. Souvenir fruit punch stains on his shirt commemorate a lunch well eaten.

I know many a mother that would not display this picture so proudly, but I’m not them. Not anywhere close. The photo, and everything that comes along with it are a milestone worthy of a tickertape parade, it signifies his return.

It’s one of the only pictures I have of him from the last few years…where he’s looking at the camera.

Had I been paying more attention, I might have been able to see what was going on. Looking back, it started at around the age of three. He’s always been advanced…even when it came to developing Asperger’s Syndrome.

I can still hear his tiny voice calling out the name of every car on the road from the backseat of my Honda. “Wook, Mombo! It’s a Cadilwac Escawade!!!” His excitement was contagious. I didn’t realize his obsession was a sign.

At four, when I pushed him forcefully into the preschool shark tank… I was not the least concerned when I was called in to discuss his educational growth. I didn’t send him there to secure a slot in Harvard. I sent him there to eat paste and meet other kids.

He was always surrounded by adults, and as much as I enjoyed communicating with my little professor…I knew how important a peer group was. When he came home and told me that his teacher was stupid, I believed him…because she was.

My kid was smart. They were trying to tell me he wasn’t. There aren’t many children, at the tender age of four that have successfully figured out a way to prank their parents. “STOP THE CAR! We’re gonna get hit! Wook OUT!” As I’d slam on my brakes he’d giggle, very satisfied with himself, knowing that his mother would not punish random acts of hilarity.

Five was marked by his father’s skull surgery and his mother ending a very unhealthy relationship.

Six was filled with cancer (x 3).

I wasn’t sure if the circumstances that life was throwing at him had changed him…or it was something else. I was terrified to know the answers, but I couldn’t just sit back and allow him to disappear. He’d stopped making eye contact. He spoke, but he grunted a lot. He began to lose skills he’d mastered. He’d get lost in his video games. His spark had faded.

There were no happy moments. Getting him to do anything took an Act of Congress, and his mother standing over him screaming until her eyes bulged.

He refused to leave the house. Failed interactions with neighborhood kids usually left him crumpled in a corner like a pile of dirty clothes. All he would talk about was Minecraft.

I tried to get him help his Kindergarten year. I went to the school. I took him to the Pediatrician. I did the meetings. I asked politely. I was ignored. It was suggested he was going through a phase…and he’d get better.

He did not getter better. There was no snapping him out of it.

If it were not for the help of a wonderful Occupational Therapist and First Grade Teacher, we’d still have no idea what was going on. They helped me understand. They helped me see his deficiencies, which are many. They told me what “Sensory Issues” are…and why my son screams bloody murder every time I bathe him, brush his hair, or bring out the toothbrush. They assured me that I didn’t cause this by eating that tuna sub or having that cup of coffee when I was pregnant.

When I was a kid, we called these things “Get in the goddamned shower and/or stand still so I can brush your goddamned hair”.

His psychological reports were confusing. There were a lot of letters… ASD, ADHD, LMNOP…whatever. This only added to my anger and frustration, why couldn’t anyone tell me what this was in plain English?

In retrospect, this anger fuel was a good thing. It sent me into the school with a hired gun called a “children’s advocate” …she didn’t do anything either…until I threatened to fire her and possibly ruin her professionally. I don’t know, when I get mad I don’t remember exactly what comes out of my mouth and what stays in my head. Ok, that’s not true. I totally remember what I said, but that’s another blog for another day. I’d had enough of the run around.

Now that we know, it doesn’t get any easier. The Autism Spectrum is a very confusing glow to bask in. It’s not a disease with very specific symptoms. There is no magic elixir that cures it. When your child is diagnosed as “Spectrumy” you find yourself in the company of highly educated people who basically tell you, “Shit. I don’t know…let’s try this,” and then they charge you $400.00. These doctors don’t accept insurance…I’m guessing because so much of this is trial and error…and they get tired of having to fight with insurance companies to get paid. M.D.’s gotta eat too.

We’ve pulled him out of public school and put him in an environment that is more soothing. He has two teachers and a dedicated aide. He’s made amazing changes. He has friends. He’s speaking in full sentences again. He’s looking at me. He’s reading. Even with all these changes he still can’t focus. When the doctors, therapists, and teachers all gently nudged us towards medication…again…we had no choice but to agree. I know what it’s like not to be able to focus. It’s torture. Life is hard enough without having to fight with your brain.

This morning, as I had to pin my baby down on the couch and force medicine in his mouth, while he screamed, “Why are you doing this to me?” all I could do was hope they know what they’re talking about.

Hands.


I sat in the living room, the babble of the television filling the space. I wasn’t really listening. I watched her chest, making sure it was rising and falling as it should. Her hands were folded softly on her lap as she slept.

“You’ve got a huge decision to make,” some overly coiffed handy-man said from the screen. Immediately I was filled with anger. That happens a lot. The anger, it’s my least favorite emotion. I suppose it’s necessary.   The people on the T.V., their huge decision: picking out drapes.  My huge decision: I may have to pick out a dress for my mother to be buried in.

I haven’t allowed myself to fully accept that there is a very real possibility that I may lose my mother until this week. It’s debilitating. I really haven’t been myself. The waves of nausea that come and go as they please make it difficult to concentrate.

This isn’t fair.

Tears welled in my eyes, making everything look like a watery kaleidoscope. I cursed myself.  All I wanted to do was look at my beautiful, sleeping mother through clear eyes.  I was trying to mentally photograph her and my body was sabotaging me.

I wanted to look at her hands.

Her favorite story to tell me is how she knew she was having a girl.  I was born before a time when expectant mothers had sonograms.  And way before a time when expectant mothers had 3-D sonograms at baby showers.  Stop it, you weirdos. It’s creepy.  It’s like looking at a vacuum bagged frog. Really.

She’d look at me lovingly and say, “Your brothers bounced around in there like they were playing basketball; you played the harp.” She’d flutter her fingers to demonstrate my in utero musical skills.  “Your Grandma Carpenter was really worried about me” she’d always pause to laugh.  “I was so sick of blue, I told her I wasn’t bringing home another boy!”

“Then we brought you home, in a lace dress so stiff you couldn’t move.  And we looked at your hands,”  If my father is in the room when the story is being told, she will always turn to him and say, “Joe, remember how beautiful her hands were? How long her fingers were?”

My mother has beautiful hands too.  They are soft and full of love, I am not ready to let them go.

I’ll buy dinner


“I’m going to buy the groceries tonight, okay?” he held up his change purse and shook it. I smiled, thinking his gesture was gush-worthy. “No, buddy. You save your money. I’ll pay for the things we need,” I asserted…in my soft, motherly, “aren’t you wonderful?” voice. “Nope, I got this,” he said, as he skipped along beside me.

There were people entering the store along with us, they could hear us as we chatted. I hadn’t noticed that they were watching until I made eye contact with an older woman, she was smiling at my boy. I was so very proud that his act of kindness was getting so much attention. The woman patted my son on the head as she walked by us. “He’s a good boy,” she whispered to me. “I’ve got, like… a hundred monies,” he said as he giggled, and showed her his change purse. “You’re very rich, I wish I had a hundred monies!” the woman responded. “I’m buying dinner tonight, I get to pick what we’re having!” it’s not often he engages strangers, but she had a grandma aura about her.

“Oh! What are you having?” she asked, I waited for his response. I was fully expecting him to say something along the lines of chicken nuggets or pizza. He looked around the store grinning, he was basking in all the attention he was receiving. After a few seconds, he opened his little mouth…“I haven’t decided, but what Mommy made for dinner last night was disgusting. It lacked imagination”.

The woman looked at me, unsure of how she should react. Since I was already hysterically laughing…she followed my lead. “We watch a lot of Food Network,” said in between snorts. This exchange set the tone for the rest of our shopping trip.

At his request, I let him drive the cart. We meandered up and down the aisles, him periodically swerving wildly to “check the suspension” and asking to put things in the cart. “Can we have that?” he said, as he pointed to a box of laxatives. “Um, no,” I replied. “But, it’s blue and it’s candy,” he persisted. He had caught the eye of another shopper, a man this time. He smiled at us as he listened to my boy present his argument. “Blue is my favorite color and I like chocolate. I’ll make you a deal, if I get this candy I won’t get in on the car seats.” His negotiation skills need work.

“Buddy, that’s not candy. It’s medicine,” he wasn’t buying my story. “No, medicine looks yucky. What kind of medicine is it mom?” his sarcasm was apparent as he spoke. “It’s a laxative,” I was trying to get out of having to explain this wonder of modern medicine to him in public. “What’s alactive?” I was having no luck. “Well, it’s something you take when you have to poop and you can’t,” I said. “Why does it have a picture of chocolate on it then?” he said in disgust. “It should have a picture of burritos on it!” I try not to laugh when the boy is being logical and serious…but the man within earshot did not have this restraint.

We walked away during the roaring laughter, my son was puzzled. “What’s wrong with that man?” he whispered. “Too much alactive,” I replied…not looking at him for fear my composure would crumble. He accepted my answer as fact. I hope to God he doesn’t go to school and warn his classmates about the frightening side effects of stool softener.

With just a few more things to purchase, I prayed the next few aisles would be empty. My prayers went unanswered. We were too far away from the bakery to grab a free cookie to put in his mouth, I was kicking myself for not stopping when we had the chance. Cookie gag is my go-to boy silencer. We had to get dog food, I agreed to let him select their meals for the week. He was very excited to have this responsibility.

My son, like most people, has difficulty controlling the volume of his voice when he is excited. There were a lot of pet friendly folks around us as he carefully inspected the packaging. He selected the cans with the dogs on them that most resemble his pets. As he showed me one with a fluffy, white pooch, he loudly exclaimed “MOM! Remember that time I CAME INTO YOUR BEDROOM AND FOUND BETTY WHITE SITTING ON YOUR FACE?”

It may have been a tactical error to name our puppy after a celebrity, because the entire store is now under the impression that I am involved in a lesbian relationship (not that there’s anything wrong with that) with a 90-something year old actress. I didn’t even bother explaining. We just hightailed it to the check-out. When he asked for a candybar at the register, I happily obliged, knowing I’d be able to make it to the car without being mortified.

One hundred and twenty-ten


He climbed into the backseat, chocolate stains in the corners of his mouth. He was talking a mile a minute. As I helped him get situated I caught a whiff of his scent. He smelled like fresh air, dirt, and playground. It’s his signature fragrance, the odor that follows him all day except for the few minutes he’s clean after he gets out of the tub.

Conversations with the boy carry on at light speed, with or without the presence of someone to respond. “Mom, we need to go to the store. There’s these things you can buy, they’re little. You go like this, and you make nickelesses.” His hand gestures, as you can imagine, did not clarify what skill you must possess to complete the task. “Necklace, buddy. It’s pronounced NEEECK-LACE.” He completely ignored my correction. “Can you get me the things at the store? Someone was making them at lunch.  They come in different colors.  I want blue, blue is my favorite color now. ” He’s at an age where he’s making all kinds of strange requests, I wish he came with a decoder ring. I changed the subject.

“How was school, buddy?” I asked, as we drove out of the parking lot. “Good,” and then there was silence. Next came the part of the day I like to call “academic interrogation”. He treats everything pertaining to learning guarded, like a State Secret. “What did you learn about today?” I prodded. “Nothing,” he chirped. “Did you know I speak chicken?” I had no idea he was multi-lingual. As he began to cluck loudly to the music on the radio I tried to come up with a creative way to find out what in the hell he’d done for the last six hours.

“Did you go to the library?” I managed to eek out in between clucks. “Bock…bock bock bock,” he responded through giggles. “That means, yes…I read a book,” I was really grateful for the translation, as my chicken is rusty. “Was the book about chickens?” It seemed like a logical question to ask. “No, why would you think that?” his response let me know that I was irritating him. “The book was about a boat, a big boat…it had pictures of sea quibbles in it.”

I work in the marine industry. I have lived around the ocean my whole life. Sea quibbles are new to me. “Remember when you were a little girl…and that big boat sunked?” I did not remember this event. “Remember all the people jumped out into the water? And, it was cold?” Nope, still not ringing a bell. “What’s a sea quibble?” I asked. “Those things that stick to the boat, they look like boogers. They were all over the wreckage.” he answered. (Yes, he said wreckage.)

Suddenly it clicked and I didn’t like where this conversation was heading. “Do you mean barnacles?” I asked, as I glanced up in the rearview mirror. “Yeah, those things!” he said, as he tried to touch his tongue to his nose. Cautiously I continued with my questions, afraid of what I was about to hear. “Did the big boat hit an iceberg?” I almost whispered, hoping he wouldn’t hear me. “Yep!”

“Honey, that happened…like… a hundred years ago.” I informed him. “Duh! I know that!” he was too far away for me to reach behind my seat and swat at him. “How old do you think Mommy is?” He thought for a minute, “you’re like a hundred and twenty-ten…but, you look good for your age.”

If this isn’t of payback of Titanic proportions, I don’t know what is.  I took comfort in the fact that he didn’t come up with an actual number, and the one he did use contained the word “twenty”.  I can remember thinking my parents were really old when I was a kid, but by my son’s account I’m old enough to be dead. I guess we all do this to our parents at some point. Make them feel decrepit.  I once asked my mother what she remembered about WW2, she bopped me on the head with a wooden spoon and set me straight. From now on, I’m never going anywhere without a wooden spoon.

Six


*This isn’t funny

“I’ll take you,” he said, as I stood in their living room. I didn’t want to impose, but it was clear that my father wasn’t going to accept no for an answer. He and my mother can be very persuasive when they want to be. I was relieved, my foot was double it’s normal size and throbbing. I couldn’t really walk, but I didn’t want them to know that. The pain was making it difficult to concentrate on anything other than the fact that my foot really fucking hurt.

He was worried. I could tell by his expression. I hate it when he worries about me, but I was glad to give him something else to worry about. As we drove to Urgent Care, I remembered all the time I spent with my father as a child. I found myself wishing I could go back to those days, when my universe consisted of a half-acre lot on a hill in North Miami. Set far back off the busy street, the house was protected by the giant U-shaped, asphalt driveway. It was a great place to roller skate, or fall…and scrape your knees to shit.

I was six-years-old when that busy street and a grey Datsun almost took the life of my favorite dog. I vividly remember my older brother Todd, cradling him and running towards the house, shirtless, and wearing shorts that today…only Richard Simmons would approve of. It was 1980 something.

“Sweetums got hit by a car,” he yelled to my mother as he ran through the door. They were both terrified, I could hear it in Todd’s voice and see it in the dog’s chattering underbite. Time stood still that day. Sweetums and I never ventured very close to the street after that.

My dad quietly sat with me in the examination room. As the doctor examined my foot, he watched intently. “You didn’t see what bit you?” The doctor looked at me quizzically. “It looks like you were bitten by some fire ants, I would think you would have noticed that.” Yes, I had to agree with her. One would think I would have noticed a swarm of angry insects turning my foot into a blistering, oozing, lump of flesh…but I didn’t. I hadn’t noticed very much in the last few days. I wasn’t going to explain. It wouldn’t help identify my symptoms. “I’m going to give you an antibiotic and I want you to keep your foot elevated and on ice”.

My dad and I drove home in relative silence. I was still ruminating on my old house and the memories that were made in between the dark brown carpet and white tile roof. I thought of the time I spent with my brothers. Like flipping through an album of old polaroid pictures, the memories ran through my brain…stopping at the ones that made me smile. The three of us were all very mischievous in our own right. Todd, being the oldest…was our ringleader.

“Say… I want a banana,” he giggled,  I was screaming and in the throes of a late-night tantrum. I was still in my crib, sharing a room with my brothers. Wailing, with tears, sweat, and snot rolling down my face, he’d come to my bedside to comfort me. It was an exercise in futility. He couldn’t figure out what I wanted…I’m not sure I knew either. I was demanding to see my parents. By the time my mom and dad arrived to the bedroom, I was screaming “I WANT A BANANA,” at the top of my little lungs. I don’t know what happened after that, my memory fails me. I can only imagine that my fruit induced meltdown must have puzzled them, as my brothers laughed under their sheets.

I thought of the day my parents went out to run errands and Todd convinced me it was a good idea to help him ambush our brother Mike with bottle rockets as he lay napping in their bedroom. I wasn’t allowed to light the bottle rockets…because that would have been dangerous. I was allowed to laugh and provide moral support.

Then I remembered the day we all sat on my parent’s bed, my brothers on either side of me, recording our own book on tape. I wasn’t old enough to read, so they took turns reading “Leo the Lop” aloud while I made the “beep” sound to signal that the page should be turned. I was an excellent beeper. These memories brought me the levity I so desperately needed. Uncovering them surprised me, my adult brain rarely reflects on my childhood in such great detail.

Later that night as I followed the doctors orders, I laid in my bed and tried to sleep. I was joined by my boy, who has just turned six. With a lisp that can only be created by a loose front tooth he whispered, “Momma? I had a bad dream.” This is our new bedtime ritual. “That’s impossible buddy, I just put you to bed for the 18th time tonight. You have to be asleep to dream.” I recited, as I do almost every night.

He ignored me, and went on to tell me that a sasquatch had crashed his birthday party, demolished his cake, and ran into the woods with his presents. I looked at him, impressed with his creativity. “But that didn’t happen, right? You had a wonderful party, right?” “Yep,” he chirped.

A few minutes went by and he spoke again. This time he whispered, “Momma? I’m worried about your foot…and I’m worried that my Uncle Todd is going to die of cancer.” My heart sank as my eyes welled-up with tears, I fumbled for the right words to say. “Baby, it’s not your job to worry,” I said, my voice cracking with every word. “My foot will be fine. Uncle Todd isn’t going to die, his doctors are going to fix him.”

He snuggled closer to me, putting his little head on my chest, and thought for a few seconds. “Momma?  What’s cancer?” Again, I fumbled. I could feel my tears leaking out of the corners of my eyes and hear them land on the pillowcase, close to my ears. “Cancer is something that can make people very sick. It’s also a very good reason to let people know you love them, even when you think they know”.

“Do you think he wants to borrow Elmo? Elmo always makes me feel better when I’m really sick.” I bit my lip, inhaling deeply. “No, baby. Uncle Todd would want you to keep him, just in case you need him,” I managed to squeak out.

In the days since I learned my older brother has Stage 4 Colon Cancer, time has again stood still. My text messages to him now contain the words “treatment” and “Oncologist” instead of “beer” and “barbeque”. I never in a million years thought this would be my…his…our…reality. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared.

He’s very optimistic. His doctors assure him that this is treatable, but he’d be lying if he said he wasn’t scared, too. As he has done with everything in his life, he’s determined to beat this. Judging by his track record, my money is on Todd. He starts his treatment tomorrow. I wish I could be there to stand by his side in the darkness, comfort him, or at very least…suggest he demand a banana, if all other words fail him.

Although I won’t be with him physically, I will be with him in spirit…as will the rest of my family. I believe once this very scary chapter is over, when Todd is on the road to recovery, we will all “beep” joyfully as we turn the page.

Why is water blue?


The boy and I had an interesting day of bonding. He was my lunch date on Saturday, although he didn’t really want to be. “I don’t like food anymore, can’t we just go to the toy store?” I had promised him a reward, he was determined to collect it. “You can’t toy shop on an empty stomach, dude. This is serious business,” I said, instead of trying to debunk the “I don’t like food” defense. “I guess you’re right,” he sighed, as we pulled off the road and into a restaurant parking lot.

As we got out of the car, he began to crawl on his hands and knees peering at the undercarriage. “Um, what are you doing?” I asked, as I think any reasonable person would. “There’s a can under there, I wanted to see if you crushed it when we pulled in. You didn’t, can you try to smash it when we leave?” “I’ll try my best,” I responded. I helped him up and led him into the restaurant. We sat outside on the patio, it’s starting to get ridiculously hot here, again. I knew it wouldn’t be crowded and we could quietly chat. He touched the table the way old ladies do when you take them someplace to eat they’ve never been before. “This is nice,” he said, smiling and inspecting the children’s menu.

“Hi, my name is Chris. I’ll be your server today,” the waiter was cheerful and eager to bring us things, I like those qualities in a waiter. “Hi, I’m five. I can ride my bike without training wheels,” my son said with the confidence and demeanor of a politician, while throwing his elbow over the back of his chair. “I don’t wet the bed anymore and… I have a Puffle named Willie. I’m just throwing that out there. What’s your Puffle’s name?” The waiter looked at me, I could see he was taken aback by the little dude. I waited for him to respond, when he didn’t, I wasn’t sure what to say.  I figured things couldn’t get anymore awkward than they were at that moment, so I went with, “Hi. I’m 34. I don’t wet the bed anymore either. I helped name the Puffle, and I’d love a rum and coke in the biggest glass you have”.

“What is a Puffle?” Chris asked. “The thing that makes me want a drink,” I responded, hoping he’d walk away without any further questioning. It didn’t work. My boy might have a future as a Jehovah’s Witness, as he insists on spreading the good word. “Willie is Jr. Flappers’ pet. Jr. Flappers is my Penguin. Willie is red and fluffy. He doesn’t have any arms or legs…but he still rides a skateboard pretty good. I play with them”.

For anyone keeping track, my little nugget of awesome is claiming we are harboring an arctic creature in the simmering heat of Florida, and are forcing a long-haired, quadriplegic, life form to entertain us by riding a skateboard. No, I haven’t replaced his nutritious breakfast with frosted LSD and please don’t call PETA.

All of these things take place in the virtual seventh circle of hell known as “Club Penguin”. Disney thought it would be a great idea to create a social networking site, infused with games, and of course…Puffles. “I have a membership card, wanna see it?” Yes, they sell membership cards. Yes, he carries it with him. “Jr. Flappers has an igloo, you should stop by sometime.” Yes, he just invited someone over to his igloo.

“That’s awesome, I have a daughter. We haven’t reached the Puffle stage yet, I guess.” I was thankful that the waiter had experience wrangling small children and I didn’t have to try and explain. You can’t control what they say, resistance is futile. You can either be embarrassed or embrace it. I want him to be able to carry on a conversation. These are the things that are important to him, so this is what we talk about.

Sometimes, admittedly, he throws me a curveball. “Mommy? Why is the water blue?” he asked as he was getting ready for a bath. I tried to pull up all the long forgotten Earth Science information I still had stored in my head. I said something about reflection from the sun and depth of the water, but I was clearly just making it up as I went along.

He stared at me blankly for a minute, “No, I mean in the toilet…why is the water blue? Everyone knows why the sea is blue.” Apparently,  my long-winded explanation about the ocean bored the hell out of him. “Oh, I put stuff in there to help me keep the house clean,” he thought about my answer and then, “Does it help you concentrate?” I laughed and responded, “Uh, sure.” I still haven’t figured out where that one came from, I guess he must do most of his thinking on the potty.

The toilet cleaning tablets went in the tank on Sunday, but had they gone in on Saturday…I’m sure the waiter would have heard about that, too.

Say CHEEEESE!!!!


“What’s that?” he asked as he walked by the dining room table. He was eyeing a shiny leather case with the word “Kodak” embossed on the front. “It’s a camera,” I responded. In pristine condition, this relic belonged to my grandparents. Everything they owned looked like it had never been used.

“That’s not a camera, it’s too big to be a camera,” he laughed. Born in 2007, he is of a generation that will never be able to look at a common household item and fondly remember its Buick-sized predecessor.

“Can I have it?” This is a question he asks when presented with just about everything he’s not familiar with. Sometimes I give in. “I wanna break it,” he chirped. Thankfully, he hasn’t developed the ability to mask his true intentions. “No, that’s mommy’s,” I said, grabbing the case and moving it to higher ground. The safest place in the house right now is atop the refrigerator, next to the cheese grater and the other things I don’t want him to touch. “Are you gonna break it? I wanna help!”

The boy stood in front of the refrigerator; his arms extended, pointing at the camera. He was trying to will the the camera to leap into his arms. His face twisted in frustration when it didn’t work. He tried again, this time standing on his tiptoes.

“No, I’m not going to break it,” I said calmly as I put dinner in the oven. There are times when the memory of my grandparents has made me want to break things, but this was too cool to smash into itty bitty pieces. I was amused by my son’s experiment with telekinesis. Quietly, I wondered if the Russian scientist who coined the term ever encouraged his test subjects to “put some toe in it,” for extra oomph.

“How does it work?” Relentless curiosity, it’s a good quality to have. He’s also quite the food critic, so I made him wait til I set the oven timer before I provided an explanation. No one likes burnt nuggets. I handed him the camera and let him examine it, watching carefully. He flipped it over several times, pushing the buttons and turning the knobs.

“Where’s the screen to see the pictures? This thing is broken.. You should throw it out. Can I have it?” this sentence came out of his mouth so rapidly it sounded like one long word. “It doesn’t have a screen. It was made before they had screens, they used film. It’s not broken. No, you have your own camera,” I replied, just as quickly. “Fiiiilllmmm?” he repeated, as if I was teaching him a new word in a foreign language. I started to explain what it was, his eyes went blank. I’d lost him. I was thankful, because I know about as much about cameras as I do….mid-century Chilean porcupine sedation techniques.

“I don’t have a camera!” he declared The child has a mental inventory of every object he has ever owned…which makes it hard to pare down the growing collection. Even if something is broken he still demands it be kept, heaven forbid you throw out the severed arm of a missing lego figure. He knows exactly what he has, until he sees something he wants. Because of this talent, I also have to keep a watchful eye on the toy chest to keep duplication to a minimum. “You most certainly do, the red one,” I reminded him.

He knew which one I was talking about, but he paused for dramatic effect. “The red one? Oh, that red one! Where is it?” I wasn’t going to divulge that information. I’d made it temporarily disappear a few months ago. His laughter showed me he was still incredibly amused by the actions that caused the camera to go into seclusion.

It was January, the weather was crappy and we were stuck indoors. There are few things worse than being holed up with a rambunctious child. Admittedly, I was hiding. I could hear him laughing from the other side of the door, but it wasn’t the evil genius laugh. I assumed that he and the dog were still playing the loud game of tag that sent me seeking refuge. It’s not really tag, it’s more chase the dog until she hides under the table…wait until she forgets why she’s hiding…then chase her again. Semantics. As long as a wagging tail is present, I don’t interfere.

I let my guard down and the laughter got further away, resuming my immersion in the article I was reading about Kim and Kanye. I had just gotten to the part where Mr. West introduced Kim as his “babymomma”. I stopped to gather my feelings, which I grouped thusly: A) I was not aware that Dolce or Gabbana designed maternity wear. B) I pictured the woman of his dreams to feature a diamond encrusted release valve, vast amounts of air behind vacant eyes, and a permanently puckered facial expression. C) Kim Kardashian is probably the closest thing to a blow-up doll society has to offer at this point.

I was just about to move on to “D” when the door swung wide open, wildly bouncing on its hinges. “Say CHEESE!!” screeched my boy, clad with his Disney trademarked digital camera. He blinded me with the flash as he rapidly snapped photos. When he stopped and I was able to commandeer the device, I went through the memory of the camera. At the end of the 700-and-something close-up pictures of the inside of his nose and the dog’s butt, there were at least 35 shots of me…sitting on the toilet…wearing my pants around my ankles, and a less than thrilled expression.

If I went through them fast enough, it was almost like one of those flip-books I made as a kid with the galloping horse. I could see myself go from surprised to irritated, mouthing the words “What are you doing? Get the hell out of here with that thing!”

Some of the photos even had me on the commode, seated right in between a smiling Lightning McQueen and Mater. Apparently, you can press a button and add a digital version of your favorite character to the images. Disney really pulled out all the stops when they dreamed this toy up. It’ll be fun, they said. Let your child capture memories on their own, they said.

Either he was prepared to suffer for his art, or he now realizes that he is always granted immunity when his acts of mischief are hilarious. The boy didn’t even try to fake remorse, he just giggled, grabbed the camera out of my hands, and ran into the living room.

As I relayed this story to my parents, they laughed. Then my mother said, as she always does “You’d better look out, you’ve got your hands full. I don’t remember you guys ever acting this way.”  We totally did, my brothers and I just tormented each other, instead of our parents.