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Saturday
Jun162012

Father of the Bear

Father’s Day brings up memories for me of my childhood in Brooklyn and my father, the lunatic.  My dad was a beat poet, genius and manic freak. He performed white glove inspections, demanded straight backs at the table and personally consumed a plethora of illegal drugs.

It was 1972. Nixon was president, I wore canary yellow painter's paints and The Joy of Sex had just come out.  At 8-years old I was reading superhero comics from the corner store on Church Avenue after saving my dime allowance.  1972 seems to be the year that everything happened; my whole childhood in that one year.  Someday I’ll explain that but for now I digress.

My own kids (20, 8 and 7) love being regaled by tales of the boa constrictor getting away, the monkeys playing tug-of-war with my long hair and the maid vacuuming up the gecko. One tale they love is the funny story of Cecil the bear.  I doubt very much that Cecil would find it funny but then again, she was a bear. 

How did a middle class Jewish family living in a rough area of Brooklyn end up with a bear? Take one nutty dad, add four kids who love animals, one mom incapable of saying no and shake. 

After school we walked into our brick colored, aluminum siding enclosed sun porch. We wandered past the cast-iron three-step-high racks filled with fish tanks that lined the wall. Then through the dark blue carpeted living room with  a yellow half-circle sofa and silver globe lamp shade suspended in the center from an arching metal arm that ran behind the couch.  Usually on the way through the kitchen, with the orange vinyl-benched nook, we would reach into the dark green cactus cookie jar for a snack.  Finally we would make our way down to the basement, Ravi Shankar playing in the background, wood paneled walls, cottage cheese ceilings and orange shag carpeting.

That is how we discovered Cecil. She came to the house in a wooden box with a cage door (much like dog crates today but made of wood).  We didn’t see her arrive. It was like that sometimes. We would wake up or come home from school, and there was someone new living in the house.

Did I mention there were 4 of us kids? Just like the 4 dogs we owned, which my father named He, She, Him and Her. They were the spawn of my father’s bitch’s bitch (his girlfriend’s dog).  Her was the only dog who stayed in the family He, She and Him went to live in the countryHer ended up with my mother (who stayed married to my father girlfriend and all) and she renamed Her Randy.   

The time we discovered Cecil, we went down to the basement and found a wooden box with a cage door on the front and a padlock.  When we peeked in the box there was a ball of fur curled up in the back corner sleeping. 

Cecil was a kinkajou.  Kinkajou bears are nocturnal and more like raccoons than bears but she was in the bear family so we called her a bear.  Being nocturnal Cecil was not that fond of being asked to get up and play during the day. Reluctantly she would submit to being pulled from her box by her long tail and swung about like a pendulum. To 8 year old twin boys this constituted play. 

My father had a propensity for wild parties in the basement with black lights in the ceiling, a four-foot tall concrete bar with a fish tank in the center and loud music.  The bear did nothing to dissuade him from his habits. The parties were at night and Cecil provided much entertainment for the guests pacing around inside her box.

Either someone left the cage unlocked one night or Cecil figured out how to open a padlock (we were always told she had).  The day after one of my father’s memorable soirees he told us that he found Cecil the bear curled up behind the bar with an empty bottle of vodka clenched in all four of her feet with her mouth stuck to it like a drunk on the Bowery.

My father stuck her back in her box and locked the door.  All of this happened early in the morning before his loving children were awake. He left no sign notifying us that Cecil might have had a rough night.  As we were inclined to do with any new pet we got up in the morning and the first thing we did was play with her. We dragged her out of her box by the tail and began to swing her back and forth. 

I’m sure it has been years for all of you since you consumed an entire bottle of vodka but imagine how that poor bear felt being swung upside down.  Poor Cecil did what any of us would do in her situation, she dug into my leg (or my brother’s, neither of us can remember) with all 4 sets of claws took a big bite with some very sharp teeth and when she was dropped ran swiftly back into the dark corner of her box. 

The next day we took Cecil to Sheepshead Bay’s version of the Culver City Star Eco Station.  At least she survived, which is more than can be said for many of our exotic guests.

Even though my father was a complicated person and life with him could be challenging, there was something magical and fantastical about having all of these exotic animals as pets.  It was a life that many children would wish for.  While I have taught my children that flushing a caiman down the toilet is a bad idea, we share a love of animals, a respect for nature and a belief that magic is real. 

My father passed when I was sixteen. He left me with memories, stories and experiences that I can share with my own three children every day and they never tire of hearing them.

Happy Father’s Day!  

 

Monday
May142012

MOMBITION

I always criticized my Candidate Mom for going back to work when my brother and I were in elementary school.

Like most women who came into wifehood and motherhood in the 1950’s and 60’s, my mother traded her life of cooking, cleaning and negotiating fights between my brother and I for a job in politics where she could dress up, collect a paycheck and discover what the boys in the back room were doing every day- taking a lunch.

When I became a mom, I carried each of my babies around in a sling and breast feed them until they were old enough to ask for it. (Not as old as the time magazine cover) I vowed I would not abandon them. My career was on the back burner until some faraway time when my kids were on their way to college.

I had even written to our Bernard Madoff Feeder Fund head about how grateful I was for the investments and how that extra money allowed me to not work and stay home with my children.

I originally came to Los Angeles to find fame and fortune. As a 20 something single girl, I was filled with ambition and fire in hot pursuit of an acting career. I worked at temp jobs during the day, hopefully had an audition or two, went to acting class at night, rehearsed for scenes, worked part time as a massage therapist (women only) and spent any extra hours that I had sending out photos and postcards to casting directors who might like my curly hair and quirky personality. Picture Sarah Jessica Parker in Square Pegs.

I loved what I did and knew this was all for a higher purpose. Like Angelina Jolie, I would fly around the world (wrapped in a silk head scarf) giving starving children renewed hope as they got a hug and a few words of encouragement from my movie star self. A check to the charity would then be handed over as I flew back to my movie set, an indie film about peace finally happening in the Middle East. The film would win the Nobel peace prize and serve as the true inspiration for peace, which occurs the following year.

As my narcissism faded, I found a tiny bit of satisfaction behind the scenes as a producer. I married a great guy who was willing to tame my inner shrew and found the last two eggs available to have my daughter and son.

Three months after my thank you note, Bernie Madoff was arrested and I was on the phone frantically calling my friends desperately looking for a job. The next week, I was working as a Segment Producer for a Discovery Channel show called Extreme Peril.

Picture a girl jumping out of a plane, parachute malfunctions, girl plummets to the earth and survives…boyfriend films it all from the sky screaming at her the entire way down. My days were spent trying to convince traumatized people to re-live their worst nightmares on camera. They were to do it for free since my Executive Producer felt that we were doing them a favor.

I’m no longer a single gal plowing through endless days with no one else to think about but myself. When I’m not on a television project, I have two to four hours to find more freelance work, finish my side production jobs, deal with house chaos and walk the dog, who has been stuck inside the house for two straight days. That is without furlough days, teacher conferences or sick kids.

My one pointed focus is sliced in five. We women know this as Mommy Brain. How do I wrestle with my mommy brain, which works the opposite of my work brain? How can I combine the two and find my MOMBITION?

Can one find it in the park while answering emails on your smart phone? In the supermarket while yelling at the kids to put the Lucky Charms back, or chasing the escaped dog down the block? How and where do I find my Mombition? Can a mom have a successful career and still be child focused? Or do moms have to burn out to break through?

As the constant kid hovering gives way to independence we watch as they take charge of a small part of their lives. Finishing 15 minutes of homework in less then two hours, brushing teeth without punching each other, and reading to themselves gives us a small piece of our pre-kid lives back.

I hate to admit this (especially to my mother) but there is a part of me that likes leaving all of the child rearing and house operations behind and going to work.

At this point in the motherhood journey, my kids are their own mini people with big personalities. They harangue and harass to play computer games (my son), shimmy around in high heels (not my son), and sassy talk back like ICarly and Justin Bieber wannabes (both of them).

While I was fortunate to have been with my babies’ full time, it’s exciting to watch this other part of life reemerging again. There have been 2,920 days of poopy diapers, night feedings, teething, pre-school transitions, kindergarten transitions, and first and second grade transitions. Coupled with nighttime trips to the bathroom without pull-ups, learning to crawl, learning to walk, learning not to hit, sleeping through the night, and eating something other then candy canes…not necessarily in that order.

As I carve the path to this next chapter and find my inner Mombition I need to let go of the clean house (Noooooo), children who won’t need therapy later and seriously limit my screen time! Can I disable Facebook, People and TMZ on my computer?  

At 77 years, my mother (and feisty Grandma) is currently the Senate Majority Leader in the New Jersey State Senate. She is the best mother and grandma around. She is less judgmental, doesn’t worry like I do and was a hover less mother. As we stumble through life, less then perfect, she shows me that there is time for us late bloomers. In finding our Mombition we must figure out a way to balance it all.

Mothering Heights columnist Christine Fugate once said to me everything has its price, everything has its sacrifice. Perhaps a giant mortgage isn’t feasible. If my kids aren’t able to take big vacations, get iPods, or have college savings will they complain to their therapists wondering how we could’ve made such ridiculous choices? I would.

In the end everything does have it’s price. It’s all a gamble. While I plan to be there for my children as much as possible, I bow to my inner Mombition and do a ceremonial dance (when no one else is around) to re-awaken her spark and fire.

 

Thursday
Mar222012

Dark Chocolate take me away!

There are some days that no amount of Trader Joes dark chocolate can keep me sane.

My kids drive me crazy, nutty, into orbit batty. My little contrarians argue with me about everything; the words to songs, the answers to math problems not wearing sandals in the rain and putting on boots in 90 degree weather. Like tough union reps, they negotiate how many vegetables they need to eat in exchange for dessert, roll their eyes at me and find ways to tear the house apart in seconds.

I have always loved logic, organization and order. The endless trail of papers scaled back to a few sheets. Lonely socks that have finally found their mates, and the daily Scientology junk mail properly placed in the recycling bin.

To me living in a constant state of chaos is like an alcoholic trying to stay sober. Being sober = ignoring the mess! Chaos = happy kids. This requires the ability to ignore the inner control freak, a foreign concept to most modern women.

Mommy can you play with me says my son sweetly. Sure honey I say knowing that these moments are fleeting and will be replaced by the grunts and groans of a teenager soon enough.

I try to play with him I really do. We start building Legos until my son takes over and I sit and watch him build Legos. The paper piles, mismatched socks and dried hamburger meat call to me. I try to resist. Some days I do but many days my sobriety is tested. I’ll be right back I tell him and I’m off to just finish folding the last of the laundry and heading to the backyard to pick up the dogs pint sized poops.

The thing about kids is that each of them creates their own unique kind of chaos. The more kids the more chaos.

My daughters’ chaos comes in the form of layers. She was induced at birth and apparently wasn’t quite ready to come out. Since she could walk and talk she has insisted on dressing herself in layers, creating her own portable womb. Imagine seven changes of clothes times 3 equaling 21 shirts, pants or dresses along with various tights, flamenco shoes or go-go boots…on a daily basis. All of this is topped off with headbands, side ponytails, stick-on earrings and all strewn about the house by the end of the day.

My son’s unique chaos comes in the form of never letting anyone in the family get more then a four hour stretch of sleep and never wanting to deviate from his one and only meal of pasta, bacon (we are Jews) and cucumber doused in soy sauce. I hear all of you collective mothers and fathers shouting at the computer put the food on the table, he’ll eat when he is hungry. To all of you I say my son, like a political prisoner, has the ability to go on a hunger strike for days on end.

Then there is the chaos of the two of them together, four mini-feet stomping around the house before sunrise. I greet each day with a Momtra (Michelle Ghilotti  Mandel howtobeawalkingmomtra.wordpress.com) that today I will enjoy motherhood.

But then we start arguing about the words to James Taylor's Walking Man with them claiming that the words are moving in silent deseration (which isn’t even a word BTW). It’s desperation I tell them. No they tell me as if they are lawyers. I begin to argue with them. My husband is shushing me, but I refuse to back down. By the end of it I am beet red and determined to show them that they are small people with small brains and make me wonder if I have built up their self esteem a little too high.

Children can turn a perfectly normal human being (even one that was admired for her calm demeanor) into a sleep deprived, bug eyed, and crazy haired lunatic.

At the end of the day I collapse in a heap of exhaustion and admit defeat. Half finished Legos are sprawled out on the dining room table. Tupperware filled with sand; rocks and dead bugs line the inside of the front door. I do a mental inventory of the day’s patient moments vs. yelling moments. If the house is a disaster then the patient moments win. If the house is clean then the yelling moments have definitely won.

I pick up the ignored pooch and pull up TMZ on the computer to find out which celebrity OD’d, sported a baby bump or was looking for privacy after divorce filings citing irreconcilable differences.

Kim is with Kayne, Jen with Justin, the bachelor was spotted single and Tori is pregnant again! All is well in the world. My husband drags me away from the computer hoping to get to bed before midnight. We have a few short hours until we get up and do it all over again.

Someday the chaos will be gone and my husband and I will look at each other and wonder where the time went. Until then I will continue to B^itch and complain, completely lose it every once in a while and keep my supply of dark chocolate very well stocked!

Saturday
Jan282012

Mini Van Madness!

The light turned yellow and I went for it. Cars were backed up and I ended up sticking out into the middle of the street when the light changed. I was trying to get to work on time (a rarity for me) and the excitement of having my boss not yell at me just got the best of me.

As I was blocking traffic the bright sun was blazing down on me like a spotlight on a crime scene. I got a work call to make me even more distracted and guilty when a bike went whizzing behind my sticking-out-mini-van. WHACK he hit the back of the car with his fist and yelled something at me as he flew off.

I'll call you right back I told my caller. I looked around as if I were a double agent in a spy movie and took off after the biker. He was fast and I was slowed by traffic lights but I kept my eyes on him like Jane Bond in a souped on minivan.

I was determined to teach the guy some manners and throw the book at him...The Hands are not for hitting book that is. I honked, rolled down my window and pulled up next to him. As he was yelling at me about how I put his life in danger by sticking out in the street I told him you don't use your hands on other people's property mister, if you have a problem use your words. Then the guy who was yelling at me because he thought I put his life in danger proceeded to dare me to hit him with my car. Now presumably this was a guy with a family at home and a decent job who took the whole leave your car at home and ride a bike to work thing very seriously...daring me to hit him with my 3000 pound car. 

With complete calm I laid out the consequences for his bad behavior. I am not going to hit you with my car but I am going to call the police on you! At which point he took off down the street. I lost him as the light turned red.

I turned up the road and continued on my way to work with the hope that I had freaked him out. Did he punch the back of my car because I was in a mini van and he figured that a crazy haired exhausted mother would be too caught up with listening to Elmo to do anything about his assault? Probably. Would he have done the same thing to me had I been in a low rider with big tattoos and a bobble head in the back window? I doubt it.

I had to stand up for myself and for moms in mini vans everywhere. Too often we are told that when we bought our mini vans we lost all sense of cool and any kind of edge that we had about ourselves. It's true that when I bought my mini van I surrendered to full mommyhood and vowed not to scream and give the finger to other drivers.

About a year ago I was waiting for a parking spot when the woman who was pulling out almost backed into me. I honked at her (a friendly toot not a lean on your horn angry rant) she proceeded to scream and curse at me. Holding back my desire to rip her head off I told my two kids who were wide eyed in their car seats that this was a classless woman and you don't ever yell at someone like that over a parking spot.  

The biker who took off down the street either forgot about our altercation or hid in the bushes for the rest of the day. We'll never know. While I will be more conscious about sticking out in the middle of the street I imagine the biker man will tell his friends that there was this cool edgy crazy haired mom in a mini van I whacked the back of her car and dude she actually came after me...

Wednesday
Jan112012

Call of the WILD


My husband left with the kids on a trip to NJ yesterday. They went to visit my 76 year old Candidate Mom who is adding yet another chapter to her already fabulous life. She is being sworn in as the Senate Majority leader in the New Jersey State Senate.

Being 76 years old the big boys and girls in the back room have determined that my tough-as-nails, left-of-the-liberals, attack-Chris-Christie-at-every-turn, mother is the right gal for the job.

I stayed in LA.  I’m working on a History Channel show right now and would’ve given my boss a coronary if I asked to leave. Also, we need the fracken money.

After much thought my hubby decided he wanted to take the kids and go. My family would have a b*tch free time without me hovering over everyone telling them what to do. I would get some much needed rest not staying up till midnight cleaning up and making the next days lunches, and my husband would set up some business meetings. It was a win win for everyone.

After their plane left I went into a tailspin having a two-hour manic jag crying while listening to fiddle songs about Jesus on Pandora (I can’t quite explain that one).

I had to face it. My family has become my identity. I live for them, love them with all my cells and can’t believe these tiny people who started from helpless blobs are emerging into real live fantastic people.

When I say they have become my identity I don’t mean it in that pre-feminist, 1950’s housewife kind of way, I mean that my husband and children complete me in a way that I never knew existed and that when my first child was born as I tell her everything in the world just made sense to me.

Some of that is just plain old’ biology. We come into this world to procreate. Our biology gives our brain the motivation to find a mate and keep populating the world.

Being married with children isn’t for everyone, but for me wifehood and parenthood has been very satisfying. As a matter of fact my only regret is that I didn’t start earlier. I’d like to have had a 3rd baby.

I love being a parent. (Except for the sleep deprivation, teething, piles and piles of laundry, too much homework, and constant worrying). I love the chaos, the schlumpy mom look (I have perfected it) and the automatic way mommy strangers, bond over sleep training, breast-feeding, preschools and kindergartens.

Even though my kids are still little (6 & 8) I walk by the park and look at moms with their babies and toddlers and miss that time.  When I was that mom in the park with toddlers I just wanted to be able to sit and read a book with a cup of tea rather then the never ending park games of pouring a bucket of water from the bathroom faucet onto the sand for the 2354th time.

Sigh-The grass is always greener but raising children in one’s life is finite and sacred.  As our children get older it becomes less about physically keeping them safe (although both my kids are constantly falling and bonking their heads) and more about patience, setting boundaries and doling out discipline. These days are filled with eye rolling (my daughter), sneaking Oreo cookies at 5:00am (again my daughter) and sassy talking me with a little too much Disney channel show tude. (Must be a theme here). My son is pretty darn perfect. Except for the tantrums he had every day from age 6 months to…well yesterday.

I know I’m crazy but if I were younger and richer I’d do it, I’d have another baby. Since I’m too old and too broke I’ll just settle for the furry white dog, who is like a baby. I can even carry her around in a doggy sling if my baby cravings get strong enough.

Now onto my staycation where I’ve booked two massages in one weekend. I plan to sleep more and clean less, sit with a cup of tea and a good book and count the minutes until their return