For this author, creative endeavors have been sorely tested by motherhood. But also transformed, and in ways she wouldn’t have imagined – couldn’t have, without her life “rewritten” as it has been, by her children. So linger here, to read all things weaverly, writerly and motherly.


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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Acquaintance in Grief

I ran into an acquaintance the other day.

“I know you,” she said, walking past me in the Stop & Shop parking lot, on her way into the store. I was loading my own groceries into the back of my van.

I knew her too, but we couldn’t place each other.

Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for an acquaintance. I hate grocery shopping, and I’d forgotten my reusable bags. One of my paper bags had ripped, and oranges were rolling down the length of the van.

What I did recognize was the high pitch of her voice, one that can startle even the snoring on a crowded commuter train. 

And then I remembered. She’d been vending next to me in a holiday craft show a couple of years back. She was a teller of stories all lacking any kind of conclusion. She’d talked about her son a lot, her only child. There was some story about her son still living at home in his old bedroom, at forty never having married, a story that stretched thin as a taut rubber band into a one about him buying her a parakeet that perished after swallowing a pin from her sewing table.

Monday, December 5, 2011

A GOOD Craft Show

A while back I blogged about one of my craft shows: a BAD craft show. Bad. Really bad. You know, the kind of craft show when even your tent falls to pieces.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Confessional

“What is it us guys gotta do, to do right by you women?”

We were standing at the edge of my driveway, next to where this guy, himself, had sawed up and hauled away a tree felled by hurricane Irene.

This town man had returned now, my husband having written a letter to “the town,” asking that our town taxes should not only cover the removal of the bush destroyed, (as he’d understood, by the town’s cutting down and dropping the tree on to it) but should cover its replacement as well.

I wished then that I’d put on a sweater. I’d thought I’d only be out there for a minute, when I’d seen the town truck pull up.

That is, until I saw that it was the same town man who’d done us the favor of removing the fallen tree in the first place.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Car Gone Missing

My mother’s car was missing.

It wasn’t in her driveway, when the boys and I arrived, after the hour and a half drive to her house, Kenny’s voice raw from his endless “Are we there yet?” mantra. (I was reconsidering buying them the Nintendo DS so they would have those itsy bitsy screens to stare at.)

She usually only drives locally, literally, a half block to the grocery store, or a full block, to get her hair cut.

Without her cane, she greeted us with open arms and big wobbly hugs. As if her car missing wasn’t perhaps news.

I had to ask. “Mom, where is your car?”

Friday, October 21, 2011

Pamper me!

Ryan often comes home from school asking for stuff. A Nintendo Wii. A Nintendo DS. Beyblades. Pokemon cards. Whatever else other boys have that he doesn’t. (Unlike his younger brother who only yearns for a toilet plunger. “So I can stick it to things.”)

Ryan’s most recent request was surprisingly inexpensive and simple: He wanted me to teach him how to braid hair.

Some other boy at school was braiding the girls’ hair, so he wanted to learn. In second grade, there is definitely talk of marriage, who will and won’t marry who, but I wasn’t prepared for the hair courting.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I won, I won!

Wow! I've just been awarded my first blogger award. Can't remember last time I won anything. Maybe that's why I've never even bought a single lottery ticket, knowing it would be a waste of a buck.

But this lovely lady blogger must have been smitten by my words, since not only has she graced me with an award, but she obviously actually reads my posts and leaves comments!  No matter how great your stats are, they fall flat if your audience remains silent. Thanks for speaking up, Katya! Go visit this sweetie at Mommy Growing Up.

The Liebster Award aims to spotlight up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers – I'm almost there!

Upon recieving this Liebster Award, there are a few rules: 

1. Copy and paste the award on your blog. 
2. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you. 
3. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog. 
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers. Here's to hoping we can all at least win this lottery!

So here are my top picks, and hard ones, since I have many favorites.  These five are favorite creative souls; I admire their work and their perseverance, as we all are trying to sell our handmade wares. Support them by following them, and if they have a shop, drop by and browse! Think Holidays!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Where Have I Been?

I’ve been contemplating our downstairs bathroom.

If you can call it that, a 4 x 4-foot-windowless cell really, an afterthought, as if in the original construction of the house, a downstairs half bath was forgotten in the blueprint. It is a box jutting out from the wall. An indoor porta potty.

I’ve never given much thought to this bathroom. There is literally not much to think about, beyond the 18” vanity and toilet. And tiny tile floor.

Until the slow leak in the basement garage. Just below the bathroom. Seemingly, from the toilet. (Which, since the plumber’s diagnosis, has broken once and for all, the chain having snapped off from the disintegrating black rubber stopper.)

A very slow leak, but one that evidently, from the blackened puddles accumulating in the garage, on an old table and TV, has been persevering for some time.

And, very evidently, from the mold on the ceiling sheetrock.

“Black mold,” my plumber had said, backing away. “That could be black mold. Black mold can make you really, really sick.”

He was happy to fix the leak – once the mold was gone.

I called a mold buster. He gave me an estimate of $1200.

The mold buster told me to call our insurance company to see if we were covered for water and mold damage. 

The insurance guy arrived. He grinned. The kind of grin that lets you know you will be the butt of a joke later, in a bar with his insurance buddies. “And how much exactly did this mold buster want to charge you?”

I told him, and his grin grew broader. He wasn’t at all self-conscious about his crowded, yellow teeth. Yes, black mold can make a person sick, he explained slowly, as if I needed to be reading his lips, but only if you’ve been inhaling it for days on end. Not from a few specks on the ceiling. He told me to get my "handyman," who was outside replacing the rotted trim around the garage doors, to simply cut out the moldy two-foot section of sheet rock, dump it in a garbage bag, and "voila," done.

He also told me that our insurance doesn’t cover mold or slow leaks. Only burst pipes.

He left, still grinning. Maybe he actually had something caught between his teeth that he was trying to dislodge with his tongue. Maybe I should have offered him a toothpick.

The “handyman” is actually my electrician, who’d had enough foresight at the start of the recession to get his home improvement license. To work for people like us, who are not looking to remodel, but to rejuvenate, actually merely to sustain a simple 70s salt box house, to replace rotted trim and shutters.

My electrician laughed when I told him about how my plumber wouldn’t come back until the mold was gone. “What, does he wear pink panties?” he said, getting up on a ladder, with a knife and cutting away the sheetrock. I held the garbage bag open for him to drop in the moldy pieces.

The mold was gone. The plumber returned.

Now he wasn’t afraid to stick his head up into the cavernous hole of pipes beneath the upstairs toilet and poke around with his flashlight.

He still wouldn’t fix the leak.

Not yet –  the slow leak had rotted the plywood beneath the bathroom floor. The whole 4x4 bathroom tile floor would have to be gutted , too unstable to withstand a new toilet.

My plumber gave me the phone number of a reliable tile man.

When I called the time man, he was so eager for the job, he could come over right that minute for an estimate. He had no work, he said, as people no longer ripped out bathrooms just because they fancied a new look. The only ones remodeling were those like us, I suppose, who were forced to, due to water damage. 

I agreed to the estimate, which he said was bargain basement recession pricing, and said to call him as soon as I’d picked out a tile and he would be right over.

So now, after all these years, I actually did have to give this cell bathroom some thought. Quite a bit of thought – well, for a 4 x 4 foot bathroom, anyway. The vanity was a cheap plywood Home Depot one, and from the boys’ toddler years of playing with soapy water and overflowing the sink, it had begun to disintegrate. The latch on the medicine cabinet, equally Home-Depot cheap, long since had broken, so that the door hung open, revealing to all the world messy toothpaste tubes, tangled dental floss and Listerine, and a nose hair picker.

And I had to decide on new tile for the floor. I would stand in the cell, contemplating the old floor, dull white squares, trying to decide on a color.

Blue. I wanted blue.

So I headed to the tile store.

The place was empty. There was one salesperson, and she was playing Angry Birds on her iphone. She looked blue herself, when I told her I was looking for tile to fill only a 4x4 cell. She pulled out what tiles she could offer in blue. Everything else was earth tones. “Well, it’s nice to have someone actually come in looking for color, anyway…” she said, knowing that I would only require about 20 tiles total, what it cost me for just a single week of groceries.

I was able to make a quick decision as there was only two blue choices.

Finding an 18” vanity proved far harder than picking out the blue tile. Obviously, they are not in great demand, as I couldn't find one one that wasn't made out of plywood.

I ventured into a kitchen and bath store, where they custom-make such things; bottom price, for a plain and simple 18” real wood vanity was $600.

$600. Odd, since that place too was empty.

I wound up back at Home Depot. But this time, I settled for a slightly higher-end plywood 18” vanity. Why it is high-end I’m not sure, something to do with the scratch-resistant sink, and the cherry veneer, a closer fascimile to real wood. I would just have to hope that Kenny wouldn’t overflow his test tubes when experimenting with different soap, food coloring and toothpaste concoctions.

So today the tile man returned to start on the floor.

And guess what! The plywood beneath the old tiles isn’t all rotted, as our plumber had thought, only around the leaking toilet. So the tile man didn’t have to actually rip up the old tile.  He could just lay the new tile on top. And scrape a whole hundred bucks off the total cost!

So I’m about to go to sleep. And this is what is keeping me awake: outside of the toilet issue, did we really need to be remodeling this itsy bitsy bathroom in the first place?

The old white 70s tile wasn’t so bad; we could have gotten more life out of the disintegrating vanity, and had long since learned to live with a gaping medicine cabinet….

And what if, just what if I’d never found that leak in the first place?

Which I only discovered in my sudden fall vigor to clean out the garage? My urge to purge of the old, but not necessarily to make room for the new?

Such hard thinking past ten pm makes me want to go to bed and listen to crickets, that even on an October night, can still be heard singing faintly out my window.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Get Rich Selling Felted Hats

There are good craft shows, and bad ones.

This one today was a bad one.

Actually, maybe a notorious one. Or I'm notorious; somewhere this evening, in some elegant Hamptons restaurant,  a woman is telling her story about how she stopped in at this little craft show, tried on a woolly white shawl and it shed all over her silk black shirt:

"Oh, my god, oh, my god, oh my god," she'd chanted, and I thought she was going to go blue in the face as my son used to when he'd lapse into febrile seizures. "I have to go home. I have to go home and change."

Her dear friend, who had been trying on a less wooly shawl, tried to pacifiy her: "You're fine. You're ok. We just need some tape." She turned her freshly made-up flawless face to me: "Do you have any tape?" 

I had masking tape, by golly, and with a big wad, I went to task, picking white lint off the front of her black blouse, so wrinkle-free, it must have come straight from the cleaners or straight off an East Hamptons boutique shop rack.

In the meantime, caught up in her own panic, I lost two other customers considering similar wooly shawls. 

Nevermind. Being in the Hamptons, it was far more important that I didn't miss a single fuzzy white fuzz – though I didn't bother with her backside.

So over some candlelit dinner with similar sophisticated wrinkle-free chic friends, someone is gently asking whether some white cat hadn't taken a cat nap on her back, and she is able to launch into her wooly white shawl fuzzy story. Luckily, I don't think she'd thought to pick up a business card. I remain notorious in oblivion.

Beyond that, I didn't make much of a mark, except to a woman behind dark glasses who cooed to her little Pekingese dog about how "pretty" my scarves were. "So, pretttttty, aren't they my Peaches? I think she thinks they're pretty," she said, not turning to me, but to her dull-eyed husband who was checking his phone.

I did sell two shawls. Almost three, to ambivalent too-well dressed-wrinkle-free women who didn't know their own minds.

And I did manage to talk a little girl into blowing her mother's five dollars on one of my rope bracelets.

Truth is, I should have been selling felted hats. The fiber lady in the tent next to me was selling them as fast as fresh baked cakes at a church sale. Then her customers, with their felted-hat shopping bags would peruse my own fiber treasures, eyes glazed as they were already fully fiber satiated.

Then my tent broke:

Then it began to drizzle. Just a little.

And then I called it a day.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are You a Teeth Clencher?

I was trying to remember when I first started clenching my teeth.

I couldn’t remember. You can’t remember. You only find out at your six-month checkup, when the hygienist – a lovely velvety soft-faced girl, who’d apologized for being late, as she’d used her lunch hour for an acupuncture appointment to treat her migraines – is able to wiggle your two front incisors. Numbers 8 and 9 to be exact.

“Hmm. A little loose.”


Panic gripped me as it can these days, even when my six year old goes to pour his own juice from a freshly opened gallon jug into a tiny plastic cup. “What do you mean? What do you mean my teeth are loose?”

“You can discuss it further with Dr. Williams,” she said, sounding a bit annoyed, and I wondered if she felt a migraine coming on. I sensed that her velvety look, no doubt mineral-based foundation, was a mask for deeper-rooted anxieties than my own. All the same, she kept a calm veneer, taking her time to scrape the crap out from between my teeth.

I’m not six or seven, like my children, when it is normal to have wiggly front teeth. And I’m not elderly, like my mother who had a tooth just crumble and fall out, that she put aside in an antique silver salt dish to show her dentist at a later date.

With the spit-suction tube hooked under my tongue, wide-mouthed and wide-eyed, I stared in horror at a watercolor reproduction on the wall, of a tropical paradise of palm trees and lush orange blossoms.

I like my dentist, and was relieve when she finally appeared. Yet, she never seems to remember me, even though I’ve crossed paths with her at our gym, where she plays tennis. I am usually in baggy sweatpants and a T-shirt, heading on or off the treadmill. She is usually with a gaggle of female tennis friends, wearing some sweet white pleated tennis skirt, even though her legs are fiftyish chunky. It’s embarrassing to run into your doctors out of context, the most embarrassing, when I ran into my male gynecologist at a resort; how do you small talk on a lake beach with a bare-chested man in a ball cap and swimming trunks, who has spread open your privates with a speculum?

Dr. Williams confirmed that I had teeth that wiggle.

She also confirmed that they wiggle, are loosening, because I clench my teeth.

I was offended. Not sure why. “I don’t do that.”

“You do, Dear,” she said in her mothering way. Who wouldn’t prefer, yearn for, a dentist who is mothering?

“If you were a grinder, your teeth would be wearing down a bit.” She peered around my mouth with her little mirror. “No, I do believe you’re a clencher.”

In the warmth of this mothering, I was a child, shrinking to the size of my little boys in their pediatric dentist chairs, where Spiderman or Pooh balloons hang from the ceilings. I turned my feet inward, curled my hands in my lap and lamented, “They’re going to fall out….?”

She laughed, twittered really, like a chickadee, surprising somehow, for such a robust woman. “No, Dear. Your teeth aren’t going to fall out. Some of us are clenchers all our lives, but at a certain point it catches up to us.”

A certain point. Middle age. I wanted to ask if she clenched her teeth, but that seemed all too personal.

She went on to explain that most teeth clenching is done in our sleep, so I would have to wear a night guard. I would have to make an appointment to have my mouth filled with something like Play-Doh to make a mold of my teeth. The mold, in turn, would be sent out to some place where they make “soft and flexible” guards, and I pictured a single studio where one little old man sat bent over the mold, using great precision to shape the flexible plastic over my natural ridges and less natural ones, of my molar implant.

She told me not to bite into bagels and to try to reduce my stress levels.


“Stress is most often a factor in clenching.”

“But I sleep like a rock.” I’m out in ten minutes every night, after the boys’ nightly ritual game of “poisonous pajamas,” when they fight and scratch to “save” themselves from having me force them into their jammies.

She twittered again. Though she didn’t say anything.

This was back last March, and I went home to stress over my stress levels, to examine them up close as I do my children’s splinters. That winter, I had been driving back and forth to my mother’s twice a week through blizzards, as she was recuperating froma fractured pelvis. I’d get home in time to pick up the boys from school, to concoct some tasteless pasta dinner; to insist on homework before I’d play audience to Kenny’s magic tricks of taking off his thumb or vanishing quarters; to pacify Ryan in his latest fixation, usually something he wanted but knew he couldn’t have, like an Ipad or a $200 life-size stuffed dragon. When Daddy finally came home, I’d disappear upstairs to take a Benadryl so that I could sleep like a rock.

Ok, so maybe I was a little stressed. But by March my mother was up and mobile. I was only going out once a week, and at worst, in freezing rain.

“Your teeth are loose?” My husband gasped. We were standing across from each other at the kitchen counter, where he was sorting through the mail, just having come home from work.

I don’t know why I’d chosen to announce my dental news as soon as he walked in the door. Why I hadn’t saved it for an email, an electronic discussion, often more productive than one in the kitchen, with Kenny already having climbed up his back.

“Which ones?” Kenny asked, his arms wrapped around Daddy’s neck. “Is it this one?” he asked, proudly pointing to the space where one of his own front baby teeth had been extracted due to an infection.

Ryan had been opening the freezer for a dessert. Now he looked at me, the freezer door open, cold air wafting out, through the tips of his hair, and he looked as stricken has he had when he realized one day we were all going to actually die. “Are they going to fall out?”

My husband was looking at me, too. Kenny, always the least easily traumatized in the family, looked bored with the whole thing, is head now propped on top of Daddy’s bald one.

“Yes, it is the two front teeth. And yes, they’re a bit wiggly. But they’re not going to fall out.”

Ryan went back to the freezer, standing on tiptoe to pull out a pop. I hadn’t decided yet how I felt about him being old enough to just go in and pick out his own dessert.

Kenny slumped on Daddy’s back, and Daddy went back to sorting through the mail.

I broke the news then, that I was a clencher. And that it could be from stress.

Daddy looked up from the mail. “Stress?”

“What’s stress mean?” Kenny asked, as he’d taken lately to asking the meaning of big words, usually ones he’d ruminate over only days later, while taking a bath.

“You should go for a massage,” my husband said. “Or take back up your yoga. You liked yoga.” This was true generosity of spirit, as my husband himself would make a terrible yogi, unable to even unwind in a lounge chair for longer than ten minutes.

I knew then why I’d told them all. I wanted everyone to worry about me for a change. I wanted to be able to tap them all on the shoulder, interrupt whatever they were doing, be it trying to find ten minutes to enjoy a morning’s coffee, and demand they examine my splinters.

Flash forward to now, six month later: My once pristine night guard is yellowed, and smells like spoiled raw chicken. I was supposed to be cleaning it with peroxide, but I’m no more disciplined at cleaning night guards than I am at cleaning my own house.

Luckily, my dentist’s office has something like a dishwasher but just for night guards!

It never made it as far as the night guard washer.

Dr. Williams held it up to her dental light with a latex-gloved hand. “Looks like we’re ready for a new one. That can happen over a couple of years or so…”

“Years? I only got it in March.”

She looked stymied – she wasn’t remembering me again. She peered at my chart. “March?” She examined the guard more closely now, holding it up to the light like a rare fossil.

She couldn’t contain her shock. “That’s extraordinary.”


“I mean, I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said, forgetting herself. “Holly mackerel,” she said, shedding her professional persona, and I saw her cooling off with her tennis friends over iced teas.

I began to shrink again, to the size of a child in a dentist’s chair that was beginning to feel too big. “Never?”

“Well, not never, I guess” she said, trying to recover herself, placing the guard on a clean cloth, to write some notes. “Though, well, usually the least amount of time to show some wear is a year. But it’s only been what, six months?” She can’t resist referring back to the chart again, “Yes, last March. March indeed. It’s September. Just six months.” She held the guard up to the light again. Her twittery laugh was louder this time. A guffaw, and I re-imagined the ice teas as strong Bloody Marys.

She shook and shook her head. “And by golly, you’ve, well, you’ve actually chewed right through it.” She craned the light toward me so I could see how it shone through actual holes.

I thought of our gerbils. How such incessant gnawing was normal for them. Just put me in a cage with wooden chew toys and toilet paper tubes.

I will be the topic at her next dental annual clenching meeting. You will be able to Google clenched teeth and my name will come up at the top of the page. I will be in the Guinness book of Tooth Records.

As Dr. Williams poked at my teeth, she counted out how many more now had actually loosened, while the migraine-prone hygienist jotted the numbers down in my file: “ 4 and 3, 10, 12, 13, oh, and 15…”

When she withdrew from my mouth, I was free to lament again. “Why? Why is this happening to me?”

“The guard can actually work against you if it wears down this fast…” Her eyes, I saw then, the green of aquariums, sparkled. The rest of her amused face was hidden behind her mask.

But then she gently put a latex hand on my shoulder. “You’re not the only clencher, Dear. Some of us just clench, I suppose…a bit harder than others.”

She couldn’t resist holding the fossil up one last time to the brilliant white light, to turn it this way and that. “We just have to order a new…more durable one. It just won’t be as flexible. A harder plastic one. See how that goes.”

“And what if I chew through that?”

“Then maybe you need a vacation.”

We just got back from one. Cut short by Irene, thank you very much.

They made a new mold. They’ll have a collection of my molds, along with my chewed-through night guards in a dental school display for future dentists to site in their research papers.

So my new guard is a hard, clear sparkling piece of plastic. It’s actually a thing of beauty, could be mistaken for an ice sculpture, just in the shape of teeth rather than a swan:

I still love my dentist. But I no longer want to run into her at the gym; I’m afraid that she actually will remember me, as I am now unforgettable.

On the other hand, I no longer mind running into my gynecologist, as I do now, on weekends, when he seems to have become the family designated shopper at Stop & Shop, with his two near-sighted children in thick glasses fighting over who gets to push their cart. I appreciate that, though he may know me intimately, I am no more memorable than his other intimate examining-room encounters, and we can freely chat about how many Stop & Shop points we have each racked for gasoline discounts at our local Shell station.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Rosey and Boch

Okay, all you (nonallergic) dog and cat people, what's not to love here? How can you resist such cute rodents? 
 Yup, short on time this week because of my next craft show this weekend, but for those of you who love my life stories, I have a great one in the wings, about clenched teeth.  Until then, current entertainment are two sweet girly gerbils:

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sandra's Fiberwork's at Hallockville Museum Craft Fair, Riverhead, NY

Great Day! I did really well, great sales -- two great sellers were these:

All in all, great turnout and great reinforcement for Sandra's Fiberworks! I sold so well, I have to whip up some new scarves this week in time for another craft show next weekend.  Let's hope again for cool weather when buyers
 love to finger fiber....

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hurricane Momma

Call me Hurricane Momma. Best board up your windows against my cyclonic winds, my raging wrath.

We were walking up the beach by my mother’s house. It was a deceptively crisp clear day, as if irate Irene hadn’t unleashed her own wrath only a couple of days earlier. 

I hadn’t been able to reach my mother after Irene was finally spent. I hadn’t been able to drive out to see her, as the roads were still being cleared. I worried; her evacuation had been voluntary, and understandably, at 92, she hadn’t wanted to leave her cats to go sit in a crowded school gymnasium.

The night before Irene, she had assured me that she had a flashlight and a hurricane oil lamp. An oil lamp.  I imagined her teetering around a pitch black house, balancing a lit lamp of oil, and I imagined the worse. When I asked if she’d stocked up on some canned goods, she said, oh, she hadn’t thought about that, it would be all right, she was tired and hung up.

After Irene had stormed up north, leaving behind 500,000 Long Islanders powerless, even though my mother had a landline, I had trouble getting through to her on my cell phone. I was feeling awful that I hadn’t been able to get out to her before the storm, as we ourselves only got home, cutting our vacation short, in time to secure porch furniture and buy some canned goods and bottled water.

By the time we made crackling phone contact, my mother was frantic. Rightly so, she feared she might drop the oil lamp, and her one flashlight was dying down. I put the boys in the car, stocked up on a new Target shipment of D batteries, grabbed one of our own battery lamps, and headed out on the hour and half drive to her house.

Just as we walked in her door, literally, no really, her power came back on. The Refrigerator woke with a roar, the kitchen lights blared.  She clapped her hands, genuinely relieved, and the boys caught onto her happiness and clapped too. “Gramma has power, she’s so lucky!” (We still didn’t, obviously.)

I was relieved as well – and annoyed. My nerves were frayed, like yarn that can get tangled on the nails of my loom. Frayed from all the little crises that had piled up, my mother falling and landing in the emergency room; digging for her lost pill prescriptions through garbage bins; our vacation cut short by Irene; and food I would have to go home and discard from the refrigerator. I must be frayed, as driving out there, I let the boys lunch on big junk-food bags of potato chips, as they sang along to some loud pop station, “Don’t you wish your girlfriend was HOT like me….”

But no one else standing there in Gramma’s kitchen was frayed. They were rejoicing. “Let’s take a walk on the beach, it’s a perfect day!”  Gramma declared.

A walk. With Gramma and the boys.

These multigenerational walks proved more and more of a challenge, as my mother has slowed down significantly. Once at the beach, we all walked down to the water, where the sand was wet but firm and she had surer footing. Then Ryan took off. Running.

Kenny meandered behind, until I told him to catch up to Ryan to tell him not to run so far ahead.

Kenny caught up with him, but they didn’t slow down. I should have figured out that he would just do as his big brother would.

Too quickly, they were both reduced to specks in the distance, hard to distinguish from the light glinting off the water, as I had to stare directly into the afternoon sun.

What I could distinguish was Ryan zigzagging in and out of the fierce tide, still turbulent from Irene. And far out of the lifeguard’s range.

 “I’m ok. You need to catch up to them…”  my mother said, as she had up at the lake this summer, when Kenny had drifted off oarless in a kayak, and I’d left my mother to lean against a tree.

At least if she fell, it would be on sand.

I walked faster, calling to Ryan.

I called until my throat hurt. I yelled for the whole beach to hear, running now, past rows and rows of sunbathers and Kindle readers who I imagined staring up at this frayed mom.

The more I yelled, the faster Ryan seemed to run. Heedless. As he had been ever since he was two. But then he had been a toddler; toddlers are heedless. Not seven year olds. Hurricane Momma was brewing.

I ran.  I sprinted.

By the time I caught up with them, Hurricane Momma was in full force. She could topple a tree. She could rip one out of a brick sidewalk.

I grabbed Ryan by his arm. “What are you doing. When I call you, you answer me, get it?”

He stood in his sandy tracks. I was yelling in his face. “Damn it, Ryan! You’re not two!”

He had a handful of shells. Big clam ones, broken. Jagged.

I had to look away.

I turned around. I started back toward my mother. Staring wide-eyed down at the sand. Damn it, damn it. Language I would not use around my children under calmer conditions.

My mother now was a tiny speck, but I was grateful for that distance. It was a space I could call my own for a few brewing moments, where I was free to storm in silence. For those few moments, in that breadth between my mother and children, and all their needs and wants, I wanted to revel in some fleeting freedom of not giving a damn at all.

But I did give a damn. I was still seeing Ryan clutching those shells. Looking up at me in utter surprise. At how suddenly I’d stamped out the sheer delight, of just that. Running up a wide-open ocean beach. Heedless.

I looked back once, to be sure the boys were following. They were. Disconsolately. Ryan on tiptoe. Clutching those shells.

“How could they get so far so fast?” My mother asked, as she could marvel at how I could carry grocery bags just because they had become too heavy for herself to carry.

I had no answers today. I gave her my arm for support.

She resisted it. “I’m ok. Really.” She was fully my mom then, knowing her daughter was frayed. Knowing to allow for my lack of words.

Up by the parking lot, we sat on a bench to wait for the boys who had slowed to a turtle’s pace.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have called you. I could have gotten by, I just was afraid, with that lamp….”  She was apologizing as she had in the emergency room, after she had fallen. Then, I had told her she should never be sorry. That she certainly should never not call me.

I wanted to tell her that now. I wanted to tell her how much I cherished her and worried about her. That even when I was annoyed, it was out of relief that again, she was going to be ok.

But I was spent.  At that moment, I truly was wordless. My throat was raw from screaming. I was a hurricane that was downgrading to a tropical storm, but my winds still could whip the tops of trees.

Then Ryan was standing I front of me. With his jagged shells. “Can you hold these?” he asked tentatively.

It felt like an act of forgiveness.

 I was grateful. I turned them over in my hands.

Then Kenny was calling to him. “Ryan!” He had climbed to the top of a wall of sand dredged up to protect beach erosion against Irene.

Thankfully, Ryan forgot about me. Joining his brother at the top, they slid down. Over and over. Laughing. Back to their silly selves.

I was relieved by, and in awe of, how quickly Ryan had rebounded. Although I knew it didn’t necessarily mean that he would forget. But at least forgive.

Still. I wished I could build a wall of sand against erosion from my own hurricanes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Irene's Wrath on Refrigerators

We had a new rule. No one was allowed to open the refrigerator without calling a family meeting. None of the normal refrigerator gazing, when precious cold air could escape. We’d been without power now for a day, due to Irate Irene. A truly wrathful lady.

I was armed with a pen and sticky pad. I’d already written down what Daddy wanted, a cold ginger ale. If still cold.

“Cheese stick,” Ryan said.           

“How about a yogurt instead?” I said.

“I don’t feel like a yogurt.”

“The cheese sticks will last longer than the yogurt so we want to use those up.”

“Why ask if you’re going to tell us what to eat?” Ryan said.

“Oh, it’s all going to go bad, anyway,” said Daddy. “No one’s going to touch those wires with that tree like that.” He was staring out the window. At the tree, supported only by one wire left intact after, snapping at its base, the fallen trunk ripped out our electrical, cable and even old Verizon wires, along with the meter box. An Apple and internet addict, my husband, suffering from severe Macbook and Yahoo withdrawal, spent a lot of time contemplating that tree, why its sheer weight hadn’t brought down the wires all together:

As Irene had simmered down, and neighbors emerged to inspect the damage, our tree became the biggest lure. One neighbor took a photo on his ipad to send to his son away at college. “He just wants to see the reason we don’t have power yet.” If people didn’t take pictures, they were like my husband, watching and waiting for the tree to fall. They’d tiptoe if going for a stroll, or speed up if driving under it.

The tree continued to dangle precariously evening after evening, when the neighbors seemed to have a lot more leisure time, to do things like take pictures. You’d see the dog walkers coming around the block more than once.

That was back when loss of power was still novel, even to my internet-addict husband, who read a book by a battery lamp. Kenny spent a lot of time beaming his flashlight through his toy test tubes of different mixtures of toothpaste, shampoo and crushed chalk. Ryan pretended he was a ninja and a flashlight was his sword. We ate dinner by actual candlelight.

This novelty began to wear off with the loss of hot water – when I let the boys go dirtier than usual, not wanting to have to lug pots of boiled water upstairs for baths. It was enough that I had to boil those pots for dishes, and then actually hand dry even silverware, the dish drain too quickly filling up. I started to ration clothes, (though my husband refused to wear dirty socks more than once); even though the laundry mat may have power, there would be the same lines as outside the Hallmark Card shop where the manager had set up an electrical power strip for charging phones. It would be as packed as Starbucks, the only place with a Wi-Fi connection. We started to ration the flashlight fun, as we had no spare D batteries. No more science experiments in the dark, and Ryan had to resort to making paper ninja swords in the light of one of our only two precious battery-operated lamps.

And the refrigerator. I obsessed over it. I’d stand in front of it, contemplating the clutter of magnets, a deceptive front for the nastiness building inside the cooling, gradually warming dark:

 I tried to remember what was in there: eggs, milk, butter, yogurt… I imagined the mold starting to sprout on leftover containers of broccoli spears and mashed potatoes. I wondered how long butter could last.  Certainly longer than milk and yogurt?  In the freezer, there was one more package of frozen meat, which probably had thawed and would make for one more meal. I marveled at my stupidity before the storm, at having bought frozen fish sticks – we could light our gas stove with a match, but I wasn’t about to try that with the oven.

That evening of our last meal, a LIPA (for those of you not from Long Island, Long Island Power Authority) contractor knocked on our door. My husband shook his hand too vigorously, as if he were meeting Steve Jobs, his icon.

The tall man in a hard hat and orange vest told us he would send a truck over to cut down the tree the next day. But our joy was dampened with the news that, beyond the tree, LIPA could do nothing until we got an electrician to replace the meter box:

My husband’s face thinned out in disappointment. As if Jobs had turned out to be an imposter, a man in a Mickey Mouse costume.

He warned us that electricians were scarce, our being not the only ones with a downed meter box. Luckily, we have one who likes us so much, he gave us one of his amateur paintings of a sunset, after we made him rich by having him rewire our entire house, stripping out the aluminum fire-prone wiring to replace with copper. He put us first on his list for the following morning.

That same morning, a big truck with a cherry picker came to begin trimming down the tree, starting with the smallest top branches:

Now we know why the weight of the tree hadn’t forced it to crash to the ground. It had no weight. Completely hollowed out, as light as a feather:

Now that the tree was taken care of, and our meter box replaced, we waited for the LIPA men to return.

They didn’t.

Not that day or the next day.

Or the next.

I finally opened the refrigerator. Wide. It didn’t stink as I was expecting it would. But I cleaned it out entirely, clawing around in the dark, pulling out moldy containers, dumping sour milk down the drain. I packed up our laundry and escaped with the boys to my mother’s house an hour and a half away; she at least had her own power restored (good thing, considering she only had one flashlight and an oil lamp).

And cable! Gramma had her electric and cable back, all in one day! So here I am, able to reconnect!

And there, back home, abandoned to the dark, is my husband. But he is smiling: after a warm shower at the gym each night, he has found a great place to connect up, the next best kept secret after Starbucks, the local pizza parlor. A most faithful patron now, they like him so much there, they took his picture:

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Post Irate Irene, Love Cell Phone

I appreciate cell phones a little more post-hurricane, my only source of communication, in our pitch-black powerless house. On our vacation – cut short by fear of bridges closing down the day before Irene ripped the electrical wires, meter and all, right off our house – cell phones were purely annoying, starting from the moment we arrived at the family resort.

My expectations for that afternoon were simple; savoring a cup of coffee on our room’s porch overlooking the lake, before leisurely unpacking. Far more leisurely than my frenzied packing, with one child or another at my elbow; Kenny with a new magic trick, pulling a stuffed rabbit out of a black hat he’d taken to wearing. Ryan with a new spear he’d constructed out of paper. What mom doesn’t want to stop in her frenzied packing tracks to admire her children’s ingenuity?

This mom, who had a sticky post-it list of to-dos stuck to the counter. Who, if not interrupted by her children, was stalled in her packing tracks by Gramma’s phone calls because her dryer wouldn’t dry, and she couldn’t get an appliance man to fix it. While I was scheduling a repair appointment, she was on call-waiting to tell me, oh, nevermind, her tanks were just out of gas.

I got one bag packed before she called again to tell me she finally thought of what she wanted for her birthday; I finally reminded her I was packing for our mini- family-four-day vacation (to be cut short by Irate Irene). She had forgotten that we were leaving the following day, felt awful for interrupting my packing, apologized, and quickly hung up. I felt awful for getting snappy; I never did get to hear what she wanted for her birthday.

Upon arrival, while my family resort tradition is to grab quiet time alone in our room, Daddy’s tradition is to take the boys to their favorite place, the Climbing Forest.

I’d barely sat down on the porch with my coffee, when my cell phone rang. I had to get up, go back inside, to dig the obnoxious ringing electronic out of my purse.

It was Daddy. “I’m starving.”

Here’s the thing. We’d ordered lunches to go that morning to eat in the car. I got a hefty sandwich to last me. He’d ordered a tiny container of fruit salad.

“Why didn’t you order something more this morning?”

“I wasn’t hungry then.”

Huh? Logic here?

I put the phone on speaker, to unzip a suitcase. To let him know I was terribly busy.

“The boys are up in the tree,” he added.

Which meant they were somewhere climbing up a fake tree trunk with peek-a-boo windows, to scamper through tunnels where Daddy probably couldn’t even get to them.

“Can you go bring me a hotdog from the stand?” he asked.

I didn’t answer.

“Either that or come watch the boys while I go?”

If you like Chucky Cheese climbing apparatus, then you might enjoy the loud squealing of children transformed into wild monkeys in the Climbing Forest.

I opted for the sunny walk down to the lake for the hotdog.

From our room, I had to trek down a hill, then past rows and rows of vacationers sunning themselves on lounge chairs while reading Ipads or Kindles, past the lake slide so big I was even afraid of it, to the concession stand.

The line was long and winding, even though it was well past lunchtime. I wished I’d changed to shorts; I was still wearing a sweater, dressed for an air-conditioned car my husband likes to keep at freezing temps, with the boys bundled in their blankets in the backseat.

I got my ticket for the hot dog so that I could then stand on another line – in front of a wafting hot grill.

By the time I had Daddy’s order, it was 40 minutes later. I tried to remember the short cut through the main lodge to the Forest, navigating walkways, past a family arguing about what to do next, either the bumper boats, rock climbing wall or fishing, oblivious to the all-too-tame chipmunks flitting at their feet, snatching crumbs to hoard into the numerous lawn holes.

I made it to the Forest.

They weren’t there.

I whipped out the too-precious cell phone. “Where are you?”

“We’re at the bumper cars.”

I tried those once; they’re much more fun after a cocktail.

By the time I got back to our room, I managed to unpack my underwear before the crew came in – only fifteen minutes after my hotdog escapade.

“They want to go swimming now,” Daddy said.

“Where are our suits? Where? Where?” The boys chanted. Every year, they have to go through every activity the first afternoon.

I fished out their suits, ushered them all out the door.

Quiet. Finally. I gazed back out at the lake.  We return to this resort year after year, because it offers us all what we want; the boys and Daddy like to be busy every second, zigzagging from one exciting activity to another. I like to sit. Read a real bound book, made from actual paper. Sometimes I like to just stare at the lake. Like from our porch. Though my coffee was long since cold.

I finally was able to get unpacked one layer of clothing before my cell rang again.

I heard splashing in the background. “Ryan now is hungry,” my husband screams over the din.

This is an issue, as he has food allergies and can’t just go to the concession stand.

Before I could an suggest they come back to get the snacks themselves, Daddy announced, “They’re already on line at the frog.”

I know this frog. Once you’re on line, squeezed up the steps to slide down its mammoth tongue, there’s no turning back.

I traipsed over to the pool with Ryan’s safe snacks.

Ryan was already getting on line to slide down the frog tongue again.

“He doesn’t look too starving,” I said.

“Well, he said he was starving,” my husband countered.

“You all look well fed to me.” I handed him a Goldfish bag.

I traipsed back to the room, marveling at the chipmunks stopped in the middle of the path to devour dropped junk food. One was so absorbed in his potato chip, I had to step over him.

Exactly fifteen minutes after my Goldfish delivery, all my boys, big and small, showed up back at the cabin.

“What are you doing here?”

“They got cold.”

Now it was getting on to dinner, so my leisurely unpacking became as frenzied as my packing, to still allow time for showering and change out of air-conditioned-car clothes.

Then dinner became another race against time because there was a ventriloquist performance that couldn’t be missed. All my “boys,” big and small, young and older (Daddy) were eager for a seat up close to the stage, especially Kenny who wants to be a magician. They wanted to get there early. I wanted to enjoy my last bit of wine. Enjoy fully, the fact that I was not serving, but being served.

I wasn’t as anxious to see a puppet with a hinged mouth, so I told them to go ahead, I’d catch up. My present “activity” was fully relishing the fact that I’d just finished a meal I hadn’t had to cook myself.

After I’d savored my last sip of wine, I took the long way to the nightclub, down a meandering lakeside path. I was able to steel that small moment I’d anticipated in the simplicity of a cup of coffee and leisurely unpacking. 

This stolen moment was far better. It would turn out to be my only one, as the evening sky was serene, and I had no clue yet of the storm on our horizon. One that would turn the rest of the vacation into one of angst as everyone would be on their cell phones, leaning into them at pool sides and on line at the concession stand, trying to gauge whether or not to cut their vacations short.

But at that moment, walking out onto a dock, I turned off my ringer. I sat down to drop my feet in the water. Night, a wave of the deepest lavender, was cresting over the last of a crimson sun. I stayed until the scalloped outline of darkened trees had unfolded into its lake shadow.

When I turned my phone back on, there were numerous messages. My husband was wondering what had “happened” to me. Another to let me know their exactly location, down by the stage, to the right, by the emergency exit. I was touched then, by how my family was missing me. That I wasn’t finally there just to unpack and traipse.

Then there was just one more message. One a bit panicked. From my mother. “Have you heard about this hurricane??”

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