Firsts and Lasts

It was the first day of school. Maybe you noticed. Personally, I did not need facebook to show off all the pictures of my friends’ kids to remind me that it was coming. I was counting the days. After all, two months is a looooong time to spend with companions whose ability to reason is sporadic, and whose moods are dependent upon their hunger levels, last night’s bedtime, and when they last pooped.

So when that school bell rang, I was ready. And it wasn’t just one lad in a tie and a button shirt this year. It was TWO.

That’s right, it’s PreK. All day PreK! Every day PreK! Universal, free for everybody PreK! Socialist PreK! Bloody Red Communist Agenda PreK, even! And my kid is going to it! I could kiss the mayor!

Because not only was I ready to place these children in the hands of trained professionals, they were ready to go, too. At least the little guy was. When he heard that his first two days would be half-days, the expression on his face could not have said “bullcookies” more clearly. He was inconsolable. That kid wants to eat school lunch in the worst way. So, off they went.

Whatever. Bye Mommy.

Whatever. Bye Mommy.

And just like that, I worked myself out of a job.

Huh. That was quick. And took freaking forever.

I have definitely overshared on my occasional ambivalence toward being a stay at home mom. But I have also loved this time. I guess now that it’s pretty much done, I can weigh in for all those other parents who fought the Mommy Wars–and not the ones over who is going to put on their shoes Right. Now. Or I am leaving without them. I mean the agony of deciding whether to stay home with their kids or go back to work.

If you chose to stay at home with your kids, you made the right choice.

If you chose to go back to work, you made the right choice, too.

And now I am going to kick back and eat some bon bons and cover myself in glitter, because that’s what I was totally promised four years ago when I signed up for this gig.


Filed under Not cool

Dark days

I had one of those days. The “they might come to take my kids away, and I wouldn’t be sorry. In fact, I would be willing to drop them off” days.  The “I turned forty but the kids ate what career I had and I still don’t seem to be getting paid, but I’m working all the damn time” days. 

I gave myself a time out. In the hallway. There may have been wine involved.

Later, when the man of my dreams showed up to rescue me, he did it with flowers and whiskey. Swoon.

Is this a cry for help? I don’t think so, but I could do without those kind of days. 

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Grandma Makes Her Move

It was bound to happen sooner or later. But when I was least expecting it, when my back was turned, I was unseated as the family member with the smallest home.  Over the course of mere hours — HOURS — Grandma swooped in to claim my title. After we packed what seemed to me to an almost obscene amount of throw pillows and pretend flowers, she is now cozily ensconced in an assisted living facility.

It was not without some family drama, but Now That’s All Over. I have to say, I could use some assistance in our living. That place looked pretty good to me. After all, we are totally cool with small spaces, and I wouldn’t mind the cafeteria with full meals cooked by someone else. There’s a library with large-print books, all of which seem to be shouting at you from a great distance away. And there’s bingo. I love bingo.

The boys were also very into the exciting new home for great grandma, because it has this terrifically thrilling feature: showers with benches.  

The Shower Scene.

The Shower Scene.

When I called yesterday to check in on how she’s digging her new digs, Grandma regaled me with tales from the day’s field trip. It sounded awesome, and everyone got ice cream cones. But apparently, it takes a really long time to load the bus.

Y’know, Grandma doesn’t even need all the assistance. Nobody has to help her get dressed or change channels for her. She just needs someone to pop in a few times a day and remind her of things. Really, who among us couldn’t use that? Oh, and the food — she can’t really see so preparing a meal that isn’t ice cream can be kind of tricky. This woman is 98, people — almost 99 — and she just needs reminders and somebody to cook for her. That’s pretty great. I only hope I’m still upright when I’m 98. Maybe they will have a room right next to Grandma. . . .

Hey, the door's always open!

Hey, the door’s always open!

Until then, we’d better stay here, because something tells me that the assisted living facility might notice all four of us racing around the place in wheelchairs and throwing tantrums when somebody else yells “Bingo!”(Me, probably.)

But a girl can dream.

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Loco-motion sickness

We are on the Fun Apartment’s annual staff retreat out here in the Midwest and my eyes are getting all stretched out from looking at all these giant spaces of, well, space.

In addition to space, we are also seeing a lot of the technicolor yawn. Yep, that’s right. These boys are not used to riding in cars, so when we peel off for great white North, there seems to be nothing but cookies tossed in the back seat. In addition to needing to be strapped in and out every ten minutes, they also vomit rather spectacularly at regular intervals. Yum.

This is not a new problem, however. I even cleaned vomit out of the infant car seat. And each time it happens we get a little smarter about it.

Because we have a system for dealing with the blown chunks. It involves a lot of bags. In fact, we are even ready to officially endorse the bags of this large regional chain over those of this large regional chain.

Another secret weapon is this.

Trader Joe's really does have everything.

Trader Joe’s really does have everything.

By some members of our household it is know as the puke box. I like to think of it as “Cookies in. Cookies Out.” But by whatever name, it is essential to our travel supplies. If one lines it with the aforementioned bags, it is entirely sealable and reusable.

On Day One, there were no fewer than four upchucks. Three were fairly manageable, and confined themselves to the curvy borderlands of New Jersey. But the last one, in the flatness of Ohio? That one surprised us. We were caught unawares, and so was the gas station where we stopped to spray everyone down and change into the backup huking clothes. They were caught so unaware that their bathrooms were out of order. The man of my dreams stood there with puke in his upturned hands and a look of horror on his face. The nice people there suggested that he try the Dairy Queen next door. Off he went, with the cookie-tosser in tow, while I proceeded to mop up the evidence. Back they came, carrying a bag of Dilly Bars. “The bathroom door had a code,” the man of my dreams explained sheepishly.

So guess what we had for dinner. In the car.

But now after that promising beginning, the vomiting team seems to have dry heaves. Do people need time to get used to riding in cars? Or is it just an auspicious start to an awesome summer vacation?

Probably, they are just waiting for me to relax on a nice, busy stretch of Chicago traffic jam. Seriously, I think there are still people trying to get home from the Chicago World Fair of 1893. Maybe they are feeling sick after riding the first Ferris Wheel.

P.S. My brother in law insists that “selling Buicks” is another vomiting synonym. I would be happy to learn more of these, if you have any to share.

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Yesterday we lost one of the Fun Apartment’s most celebrated residents. My beloved cat has died of what my older son calls “kidnap failure.” My heart is heavy.

Gollum was eighteen years old. As a kitten, he was runty, scruffy, with his his face sort of squashed. He looked like a fruit bat. But he was my fruit bat.

He moved with me from the mean streets of Minneapolis to Brooklyn. In the moving van, he paced across the dashboard, eventually choosing to drape himself across the steering column. And in Brooklyn, we joined a crowd of other midwesterners and their cats. We called ourselves “Little Milwaukee.” I think in a way we were taking care of the cats as practice for adulthood, like those seventh grade health classes where you get a bag of flour and pretend it’s a baby. (To be fair, some of the others might actually have been proper adults. But I wasn’t.)

Gollum was more like a puppy than a cat. He greeted all visitors at the door. He had no manners, and knew how to assert himself. His relentless sense of playfulness was the stuff of legend. My sainted roommate was home more than I was and Gollum’s gleeful harassment drove her completely bonkers. Also, his neutering at an early age seemed to have no effect on his sexuality. Visitors knew not to wear long sleeve shirts if they wanted their forearms unmolested. And he did with such enthusiasm that those who were not chosen for a thorough forearm humping somehow felt slighted.

And let’s get something straight: This cat was a genius. A really stupid genius. He could solve amazingly complex toy-acqusition problems, but he could never remember that my roommate’s cat did not want to have sex with him. Her life with him was one long series of obscene proposals. His brain was on a short loop.

Happily, the Man of My Dreams was compatible with Gollum, or this whole Fun Apartmenty thing probably wouldn’t have happened. And, when the inevitable kids came, he took that on the chin as well. When you are pregnant, people talk in uncomfortable, hushed tones about what happens if your cat and your baby are not compatible. Happily, we didn’t face that situation. If we had, I know I probably would have made the right decision, but I would have thought long and hard about who was already potty-trained and who wasn’t. Initially terrified of our oldest son–a pixie-like newborn pinioned in his carseat, Gollum eventually assured me that he was totally cool with all the sitting on the couch we were doing, even if it involved the little guy. By the time our second son showed up, Gollum eagerly leapt to the old nursing spot on the couch, purring impatiently.

And he even came to love the Fun Apartment. It coincided with his later years and he has thoroughly carved out his turf. He made it clear that the spot underneath the head of our bed was totally off limits for storage. He was sociable enough and met the challenge of two pestering, curious boys with agreeable resignation. The older boy had just taught himself to pick up the cat. He came to me in the kitchen, grinning with triumph, with Gollum draped over his arm like a rope.

Gollum was also terribly serious about bedtime. When he thought it was time for me to retire, he was fairly insistent. He would lay on my chest purring each night. There are worse ways to fall asleep, people.

I think in some ways, this cat was me: enthusiastic, guileless and a little bit dim. And now, without him, I won’t know to go to bed. I won’t know how to let go of the day, petting his sleek, seal-like head. I hardly feel like myself without him.

But I still have to move through the day. There are all the usual minor miracles to perform. I was talking with a friend who had recently lost someone (a person, not a cat, but grief is grief) and we discussed how, despite the blackened insides, we have to carry the rainbows and spread the glitter. My boys were sad, but I can’t realistically expect a four and a six year old to be sad through playdates, potluck suppers, and preschool graduations. So I grieve in tiny moments to myself, before I pick up the rainbow again. (Also, if you are going to cry in the shower stall at the Y, you should use the accessibility stall with the bench in it.)

And, when I open the apartment door, I allow myself to pretend that Gollum’s just about to greet us.

I’ll let the ghost walk a little longer. I need the company.


(Unprecedented! The Mister, who shuns all social media, except for lurking on my accounts, has also remarked on the lovableness and loss of our little panther.)

And to think, I had been drafting a post about how not much has been going on around here. My literary friends will recognize the  foreshadowing.

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A Guest Obituary

The Fun Apartment has just lost some of its fun-ness. About two pounds of handsome, black, furry fun. At age 18, our cat Gollum has reached the end of his life.

(This, by the way, is a post not from Laura but a guest post from the ‘Man of Her Dreams’.) I met Gollum shortly after meeting Laura, back when he was still quite young and frisky. Many of Laura’s friends thought of him as having a devilish streak. But I knew he was a sweetheart of a cat – albeit one very willing to engage others with his teeth and claws. From the get-go, Gollum and I got along. Good thing too. Who knows where we’d be today if I hadn’t earned his approval. In my experience, he rarely made for much of a ruckus unless provoked.

Like at the vet’s office. Laura recalled his first visit to the vet. Getting him neutered. She dropped him off in the morning to get picked up later on. When she called in midday to make sure all was well, the receptionist repeated his name: “Gollum? Gollum? Oh yes, the feisty one!” When Laura went to retrieve him, a first nurse and then a second nurse couldn’t get him out of his cage. Giving up, they invited Laura to the back to try. On the way toward the back, she heard a cat yowling like nothing before. When he saw her, he gave her a little meow as if to say, “O, thank god – let’s get out of here.”

That was Minneapolis. From there, he gamely made the trek to New York with Laura in the cab of a U-haul. Four years later, we took him in cat carrier on a Septa train bound for Philadelphia. Back in those quieter days of ours, Gollum was the center of our lives. And then life changed dramatically for all of us with the arrival of Big. The news struck Gollum the moment we returned from the hospital. I’m not sure if it was the sight or the smells, but it took him mere seconds to realize there was a new creature in the house – tiny like him. Gollum tore upstairs like a banshee, cautiously coming back down only hours later to start sniffing around. After that, he didn’t make too much fuss. As Laura would say, he was a beta cat – one who acceded readily enough to second place. And then third. It was mere months after Little was born that he drove back with us to New York where he has been an integral part of the Fun Apartment. And he earned new admiration from us with how he withstood a good deal of grief from a couple of toddlers.

Perhaps right after Big arrived, it seemed as if Gollum had instantly lost weight. And as our boys grew ever larger, he seemed ever lighter. By the end, he felt lighter than air. But it wasn’t just relative. In point of fact, he had thinned down considerably. He had been eating less. And drinking more and more. Although we had been pretty well oblivious, these were symptoms of his kidneys failing. And then in the last week or so, it went from General-Signs-of-Aging to Something-is-Really-Wrong. Bad enough that Laura opted to subject him to a vet for a first time in a dozen years.

Toward the end, Gollum had faded some on several fronts – not just the thinning out. Or that he had lost his strength and liveliness. In these last four years here at the Fun Apartment, he would hunker down underneath our bed for large swaths of the day. There, he could safely stay out of reach of our other little fellows romping about. But he would reliably come out at certain times. Like any good pet, he would come out to greet us when we got home. For much of our days here, if he hadn’t raced me to the bathroom in the morning, then he’d come trotting over at the sound of the tub faucet squeaking on. Jumping into the tub with the tap now running, he would slurp down as much fresh water as he could get. But his favorite part of the day was at night. Even before the kids came along and definitely afterwards, he relished the time that Laura would settle in for bedtime reading. With the boys sound asleep, Gollum would have us to himself. He would stand on her lap, or maybe between us, alternately stepping and ‘kneading’ with each paw. We thought of it as his ‘tucking us in.’ Purring away, he would demand some attention, and we would gladly give it. Especially when I think of the mere fur and bones he had wasted down to, I marvel at how such a little creature could be such a huge repository for love. He is sorely missed.

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No news is good news

I hope you all haven’t been waiting with bated breath for a new post because, well unless you can hold your breath for something like four weeks, you’d be dead and I can’t have that on my conscience.

But here’s the reason for the wait, unless you are still feeling lightheaded from oxygen deprivation: there has not been an overwhelming amount of craziness to write about. The Fun Apartment hasn’t felt like the walls were closing in. The kids don’t seem to be spinning uncontrollably toward any developmental abysses. The man of my dreams still can’t manage to put his shoes away, but as we have recently celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary (YAY!) that is sort of an old song. The cat is looking a bit bony, but it might just be all the shedding.

So, a lull. Domestic bliss. I shall relax into it.

But of course, I shall have to hurry up and relax because, as my soon-to-be 2nd grader reliably informs me, it’s all going to go cuckoo bananas pear-shaped in 10 days time. Summer, my friends, comes for us all, at least it did last year. And summer has very few outside routines.

Is that a good thing, yeah, sorta. I have always liked to give the lads lots of unscheduled time. That way, they can get bored and find themselves something to do, which I have found is a skill one often needs later in life.

But without routines, a lot of things seem to slip through the cracks. That’s when I look at el meltdowno and think “wait, did I feed you any lunch? Oops, here have some . . . uh, let me see . . . peanut butter on a cheese stick?”

Maybe I’m the one who has trouble with transitions.

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Filed under Mistakes I have made, Not cool