Sunday, December 30, 2007

feeling guilty

Iris left about ten days ago to go to California to visit her half-sister, who is in her thirties and about five years older than her mother. (Have I ever mentioned that Iris' dad was in his late 50s when he and Sonia, who was then 18, got bizz-ay? Or that Iris lived with him for the first seven years of her life because Sonia was having some drug issues? Or that he died of brain cancer and that's how she ended up with her mom? I don't think so.)

Sonia accompanied Iris, which is strange to me. I mean, can you imagine that woman in an airport? On an airplane? With the guy in the seat to her right accidentally brushing her elbow with his elbow, and her having to "communicate" with him because he wasn't respecting her "boundaries" and her needing to have her personal space "honored"? Or her getting upset with the flight attendant for not telling her to please buckle her seatbelt? (Have I ever mentioned that once, when our neighbor Pixie asked Sonia if Iris could come out to play, Sonia said, "I'd really appreciate it if you said, 'Please,' and that once, when Pixie's dad said to Sonia, as they were arranging some time for Iris to hang out with them so Sonia could go and say her Hare Krishnas, "Well, okay, just give me a call," she told him, "I'd really appreciate it if you said, 'Please'"? I don't think so.)

So anyway, she's been gone all this time and I have to say, it's kind of nice not having her around. I didn't realize how much stress she has added to my life. Of course, I recognized that Sonia was making things a wee bit crazy for me. But I'm talking about Iris. I used to wonder when she was going to come over on her compost run, or whether she was going to stop over on her way back from the bus stop. And now? Now all I feel is relief.

And guilt.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

that counts, right?

On the last day of school before vacation several eternities ago last week, Ezra came home with a calendar on which I--with his involvement--was supposed to keep track of the exercise he had gotten each day. There were suggested activities for the family for each day that I could circle--a 20-minute walk, a game of baseball, calisthenics (especially fun--who doesn't love a jumping jack?). There was also room to describe any "other exercise" if that game of baseball, for example, never got off the ground.

I really do applaud the school's efforts to get everyone off their fat asses encourage physical activity, end childhood obesity, and facilitate quality family time. And I really did want to fill out the form because I want Ezra to get an A+ in life, and at the very least, get into Harvard to give Ezra a sense of accomplishment.

Yet I found it too frustrating to keep up with. I mean, when your kid is on the move more or less the entire day, and yet none of the activity can be technically characterized as "sport" or "exercise," you feel foolish telling the truth, which would look something like this: Played Power Rangers on playground with his brother (20 minutes)...rapidly punched his father's gut (30 seconds)...jumped to floor from top bunk (10 minutes)...played Secret Agent with his brother throughout three floors of home (25 minutes)...temper tantrum (10 minutes).

I gave up on the form, but not before listing thumb wrestling as Monday's activity. Ezra, Levi, and I had kind of a round robin thing going on the couch for a while there, which was awesome, until finally I had to throw in the towel because my thumb was screaming. And my god, I was so sore the next day. Middle age is hitting me hard.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

a logical mind at work

About a year ago, Ezra went through a phase where all he ever thought about was flying. That boy wanted to fly so badly he could taste it. He was constantly rigging wings and capes and parachutes for himself out of paper napkins, masking tape, pillowcases, cardboard boxes, string, balloons, and anything else that struck his fancy, physics be damned, and then jumping off of various pieces of furniture and asking, "Did you see me that time? Did you see me fly?" (Sometimes, "Yes, I did!" was the right answer and sometimes, as it turned out, it was the worst answer you could possibly give him and the right answer was actually, "That was a great jump off the coffee table, but people can't really fly." Of course, he never let you know ahead of time.)

After hearing about his obsession, my mom sent a couple of homemade capes in the mail (one for Ezra and one for Levi, who wasn't especially interested in flying but had to have everything his brother had and she didn't want to be responsible for bloodshed); essentially, they were big tee-shirts with the fronts cut out of them. Unfortunately, the flying fad died in our household soon after the capes arrived and nobody ever gave them a second thought.

This morning, I found one of the capes at the bottom of my dresser drawer. (No, really, I did just find it there! I swear I've never worn it myself! I have no idea how it ended up there because I thought I had hidden it with the handcuffs and nipple clamps in that other drawer!) When I showed it to the boys, Levi immediately grabbed it and put it on, and then wore it for the rest of the day. (He still has no interest in flying per se; his delusions revolve around being a superhero and getting the bad guys, which sometimes does require flight.)

Tonight, as we climbed the stairs this evening, he announced that he was going to put it on over his pajamas and wear it to bed too.

My first instinct was not to let him. Can I tell you why? Because I immediately thought of E. from The Incredibles and her long list of superheroes who had died all because of their capes. "No capes!" she insists, and while I'll concede that she probably wasn't offering parenting advice, taking care of our kids is hard and we get guidance wherever we find it.

So I had this image of Levi getting sucked into some kind of secret vortex in his bunk bed, but at the same time it had been a long day and I was alone with the kids and things were running unusually smoothly and I just didn't want to mess anything up. And besides, the sane part of me was pretty certain no ill could come of it. So I let him.

But after I put him to bed, I kept having these lingering doubts. My four-year-old sleeping in a cape--I just knew I'd sleep better if he wasn't wearing it. So I figured I could take the cape off before I went to bed. Two possible outcomes: a) he wakes up and starts freaking out about his cape and then takes forever to get back to sleep, guaranteeing a crappy day for all of us tomorrow; or b) he doesn't wake up.

If b, two possible outcomes: 1. he stirs around dawn and rouses himself enough to notice that THE CAPE IS GONE, and is so worked up that he can't get back to sleep, guaranteeing a crappy day for all of us; or 2. he sees the cape hanging next to his bed and gets up to put it back on, which means that he's done sleeping, guaranteeing a crappy day for all of us.

I think I'll just let him sleep in the damn cape.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

found out the hard way

It turns out that even Jewish kids get upset when they ask if Santa is real and their parents tell them the truth. Very upset.

Monday, December 24, 2007

soreness haiku

Yoga again, but
Too many months have gone by.
Pigeon pose, Advil.

(I've been reading hilarious and/or poignant haiku all over the blogosphere, but for some reason, this one inspired me.)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

lowest common denominator

Levi and Lilah were sitting quietly side by side in the car on the way home from school today when all of a sudden, Lilah yelled, "Shut up, Levi!"

"Mommy," Levi said, in that self-righteous, sing-song voice he and Ezra use exclusively for ratting. "Lilah said, 'Shut up.'"

This was my first thought, and I had to catch myself before saying it out loud: But Lilah, he wasn't even talking!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

crap, I think he's onto me

Earlier this evening, as Levi was finishing his dinner of raw cabbage (I'm not kidding, he took one bite of the very delicious quiche I made and then devoured about half a head of chopped cabbage doused in balsamic vinaigrette), Ezra was running around chasing the giant exercise ball that has become the toy du jour.

"Hey, Levi," he said, passing by. "Wanna play Power Rangers when you're done?"

"How about when Levi is done," I said, "you guys can play Power Rangers Take a Bath?"

Ezra scrunched his eyebrows together. "I know what you're doing!" he yelled. "You're trying to get me into the bath!"

Okay, I knew my son was smart, but I had no idea that he was genius enough to see right through such a highly sophisticated and subtle maneuver. Right through it!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

for Christmas, may this woman get a lump of fragrance-free, sugar-free, gluten-free coal

Today is Iris' tenth birthday. I know this because I'm pretty good at remembering dates and also because Iris has been pretty good about reminding me. It seems girls that age can get excited about their birthdays months in advance.

(When I asked how old one of our other neighbors was upon first meeting her, she told me she was eight. And then she added with a laugh, "Well, almost nine."

"Oh," I said. "When's your birthday?"

"May," she said.

The conversation took place in September.)

Stupid Daddy and I talked for weeks about what we might do for Iris. We knew that if we got her a gift, her mom would just make her give it--or something else--away. Back when Iris was still allowed to hang out with us, we thought it would be great to take her to see a movie or go swimming--to share an experience with her that Sonia could not confiscate. But now even that was no longer an option.

Since Iris had told me last week (and I could have guessed anyway) that Sonia wasn't going to be doing anything special to mark the day, I thought I might bake some cupcakes and bring them in to school. But the weekend came and went, and all of a sudden it was last night and there were no cupcakes baked by me. I blew it.

I was relieved, then, to find out from Iris, who came over on her compost run, that her mom had baked a chocolate cake for her to bring in to school today. Relieved but also shocked. Sonia had baked a chocolate cake?

But then Iris went on to describe it. There was indeed chocolate in it, and it was round the way cakes are, but it was by no means a chocolate cake. The primary ingredient was oats. Iris didn't seem too excited about it.

Iris also wanted to know if we could make it to her school's holiday performance this morning. (Neither of us could.)

"At first my mom was going to come," she said. "But then she decided not to."

"That's too bad," I said. "Did she say why?"

"Not really. She just said she wants to wake up and be by herself tomorrow."

If it was the eve of your tenth birthday, how would you feel hearing that from your mother?

Friday, December 14, 2007

some correspondence

Deb and Alex or Alex and Deb,
I hear and choose to accept that the two of you chose not to purchase me a new mattress after your cat urinated on the one I use. I spoke with a man who sells foam mattresses at Foam and Fabric yesterday and he says the stain remover will only help take off the surface of urine and whatever has soaked through is not going to come out with stain remover. Hearing this new information I need you to reconsider and buy a new mat to replace the one I have now please.

a) So is this what "choosing to accept" our decision looks like?
b) Does it make any sense that one liquid (the urine) would soak through while another liquid (the stain remover) would not?
c) If she needs someone else to tell her the mat is soiled, is it really soiled? Cat pee is pretty unmistakable.

We never responded to this one.

A while back I heard you ask the question why is it so important to me not to have toys [meaning the very occasional ball that rolls or gets hucked from our yard and is then forgotten] in the yard [meaning the parking lot behind her house where literally the only thing people ever do is get into and out of their cars] and my answer to that is I have enough to take care of between Iris and I. I really thought about it this morning as I looked out the window to see the blue ball in the yard over here. I believe the wind blew it over and I am not angry or irritated, my point being when the toys are in the yard of the house I live in [meaning the triplex rental that she rents an apartment in] I feel the need to pick it up and for me that tends to bring up a feeling of being overwhelmed. I choose to release it.

Feeling overwhelmed by the sight of a ball; that's some hard core mental illness right there.

We didn't respond to that one either.

Deb and Alex,
A letter to inform you that one of the cats went to the bathroom on my lamp. I have chosen to give it away. I realize that the lamp is still in working condition. I find cat pee not very clean and I don't need to live with that in my house. I will appreciate the consideration of at least a $10 settlement. I mainly am writting this letter because I need to acknowledge and have the incident heard and acknowledged by you. I did not say anything at the time of the occurance simply because I did not believe it bothered me. I choose to let it go. Thank you.

a) Again with the demands--"I will appreciate...."
b) So she "chooses to let it go" assuming we pay her at least $10 (but she'll accept $100 as well, all in tens pleases)?
c) Again, her being upset about the idea of cat pee, rather than being bothered by an actual odor or stain, really shouldn't be our problem.

Dear Sonia,
Sorry about the lamp. I never saw it, but it's difficult to imagine that it couldn't have been cleaned. We encourage you to keep the cats out of your apartment.

I will let you know that it was a lamp with fabric on it. I simply let it go it isn't worth it. I suppose that since you do not sleep on cat pee it is not your concern. Thak you for the advice. I give that back. Iris and I don't need to keep the windows closed out of fear that animals will pee on our things. It is however a great idea that I do not invite them in or that is okay as well. Most people take responsability for the actions of thier pets however possibly you are an exception, of course I do not know you well enough to judge. Thank you for hearing me and acknowledging the occurance. I choose to let it go and release it now.

a) Screens.
b) A wet cloth.
c) Stain remover--for example, the all natural kind we gave her, and which she refused to use, after the first incident.
d) Is she taking the advice or giving it back? Is she letting it go or hanging onto it or releasing it? My god, it's like watching a tennis match with her.

I haven't responded to this one yet. I might not ever. I'm really busy these days taking no responsibility for things.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

the difference between almost 6 and not yet 4 1/2

We have recently implemented a reward system to encourage the boys to stay on task during our nightly hell that difficult stretch in the evenings when a lot needs to happen and their motivation for doing it is nil. Why would they want to change for bed when they can wrestle wildly instead, pretty much guaranteeing that one or both of them will end up injured and in tears because it's late and they're really tired and their coordination and judgment (to the extent that they have any to begin with) are not what they could be?

We see their point, but still.

Now they get a star for everything they need to do--get into pajamas, put their clothing in the washing machine, brush their teeth, etc.--as long as we don't have to ask more than once. When they reach ten stars, they get a mini Kit Kat bar.

I wasn't crazy about rewarding them with candy. It was Stupid Daddy's idea; if he had his way, they'd be force-fed corn syrup and Red #40. Straight. But I couldn't think of anything else that was small and immediate and inexpensive to replace the candy--not until this morning before school, when I observed Ezra reviewing his very meager collection of Pokemon cards.

"What if you guys got Pokemon cards instead of Kit Kats?" I asked him.

"Noooo," he said. "I want Kit Kats."

"The thing about Kit Kats," I said, "is that you eat them and then they're gone. Pokemon cards you can collect, you can trade. You can bring them to the playground to show your friends."

"Yeah!" he said. "I want to do Pokemon cards!"

At that moment, Levi came downstairs, and I told him what Ezra and I had been discussing.

"Noooo," he said. "I want Kit Kats."

"But Levi," Ezra said. "I'm worried you'll be sad, because you eat a Kit Kat and then it's gone."

Levi's eyes grew wide. "YUMMMMMMYYYY!"

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

you can just send a bill at the end of the month

I fear that I have misled people about Iris, painting a picture of a saintly waif in tragic circumstances.

All that stuff I told you about Sonia--I made it up. She is just about the kindest, most loving person I know. Iris' room is overflowing with toys and clothing. When the weather is warm and the windows are open, all I hear from their home is laughter.

Actually, everything I've said is true, but I've neglected to say it all. Iris is indeed a wonderfully upbeat girl with a big heart. But she can also be extremely pushy, possessive, and downright rude. I don't know how many times she's just come right out and asked me for money, or even told me I "need" to give her money--money for her birthday, which is next week, money for Christmas, money just because she happens to be fondling the coins in our change bowl and wants some of it for herself.

If she ever found a toy in some random corner in the house (this when she was still allowed to play over here), she asked if she could keep it. When I told her that she was welcome to play with it but it belonged to one of my kids, she became petulant. "But I found it!" she'd say. "I should get to have it."

She also kind of beats up on me. She and the other neighborhood girls often engaged in an elaborate game of school/house with Ezra and Levi. The girls were always the teachers or moms, and the boys were always the kids. On many occasions, if I appeared on the scene in the midst of their play, Iris would wave her hand dismissively at me and tell everyone, "She's the maid."

And that is in fact how she often treated me, leaving food wrappers and other trash on the floor, when--being almost ten, and given the very rigorous training she's gotten at home--she certainly knew better. I once walked in on the kids in the bathroom and discovered the cat food dish on the vanity. I asked how it got there, and Iris explained that was the only way they could lure Eloise into the room with them. When I told her the cat food dish needed to stay in the pantry, she said, "Well, can you just bring it downstairs for me?"

Part of me is like, Fuck you! when she acts this way. But I manage to have some restraint, and instead I try to set clear limits with her. I do also tell her when her behavior is bugging me. Because while on the one hand I want to give her some leeway given the hell she goes through next door, making excuses for her isn't going to help her in the long run.

See, but then I start to wonder whether I actually expect more of her than any other kid (that's not mine). Even nine-year-olds living in the best of circumstances aren't perfectly behaved and always considerate. Certainly some troubling behavior from Iris is to be expected. I even understand it--or at least I think I do. I figure I must be the safe mother on whom she can act out some of the hostility and rage she feels toward her real mother. And all the hoarding of toys and obsession with money--that makes sense given that her mother is constantly denying her what she wants and methodically taking away what she has.

So why is Iris' bad behavior so loaded?

Part of it, I believe, is that I've grown really attached to her. She isn't just someone else's kid. On some level, I do think of her as mine.

But when I dig down, I realize I have this expectation that she should be nicer, more generous, more grateful, because she is easier to love that way. Her plight becomes so much more compelling. She turns into a fairy tale character, a better story to tell. And I am folded into the tale, the good witch, pure of heart, who looks out for her and keeps her safe. I don't think it's a coincidence that I haven't mentioned any of this here before--here on this blog, where I spin captivating yarns.

So I'm coming clean. People--we are so very complicated.

Monday, December 10, 2007

why, yes, she does have two older brothers; what makes you ask?

Each night of Hannukah this year, we have been attending the candle lighting ceremony at the Jewish Community Center, where Levi and Lilah go to preschool (and where Ezra used to go before he began Christian Academy).

In addition to the actual lighting of the candles (and associated blessings), there is also much wonderful singing, led by this awesome woman named Penny who has a lovely voice and plays a mean acoustic guitar. One of the Hannukah songs that get a lot of play is the "dreidl song," the first verse of which goes:

I have a little dreidl, I made it out of clay
And when it's dry and ready, oh dreidl I shall play

Penny has been encouraging families to come up with their own versions of this first verse. Every night, after leading the group in singing the song the original way, she asks if anyone has made up any new lyrics. She strums the guitar dramatically and sings slowly,

"I have a little dreidl, I made it out of--"

and then waits for somebody to pipe up. Some examples of verses that have been introduced this year include:

I have a little dreidl, I made it out of gum
And when I tried to spin it, it stuck right to my thumb


I have a little dreidl, I made it out of snow
I put it in the oven, where did my dreidl go?

Tonight, Penny provided that same dramatic introduction before turning the song over to the small group of families collected there.

"I have a little dreidl," she began. "I made it out of--"

"PENIS!" Lilah shouted, with glee.

Which wasn't embarrassing at all. Nope, not in the least.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

it was more than enough

Last night, Iris snuck over on her way to deliver the compost and gave us Hannukah presents:

"It was all I had," she said.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

my son, the yid

A few weeks ago, Ezra and I were hanging out after school and I asked him what he had been given for snack that day.

"Crackers," he said. "And cheese."

"What kind of crackers?" (I am quite the conversationalist; you should see me at cocktail parties.)

"Jewish crackers."

"Huh. And why were they Jewish crackers?"

"They had a quarter on them."


For the first night of Hannukah this year, my mom sent Ezra and Levi watches. Today, Ezra brought his in to school for show-and-tell.

"And when I told them that it was for Hannukah," he said, "my teachers knew that I was the only rich kid in the class. So they asked me to explain to everyone what Hannukah is about."

Perhaps he has these notions because every day after school, we swindle some unsuspecting Christians and then go home to count and sort our pile of money at the kitchen table, which is fun except that our enormous hook noses keep banging into each other.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

if a blog entry gets posted in the forest, and no one is reading...

Helllllooooo? Anyone there? November was this magical month in which I saw my daily readership explode into some serious double-digit action. And now that NaBloPoMo is only a cute but nonetheless hard to pronounce name for something that might as well have happened millenia ago, my readership has returned to its regular embarrassment of numbers. Of course, blogging isn't only about attracting more readers. But it's mostly about that.

I guess I wouldn't be taking it so hard if I felt like there was at least one domain in my life where I had some degree of control. But not only can I not boost my readership, I can't seem to get my kids to behave, I can't make Stupid Daddy pass his very important exam, I can't make all those thousands of lost emails reappear in my mail program after last week's unfortunate accident, I can't get my career up and running again. Christ, I can't even get the IRS to help me out with a simple question. No, instead I'm passed along to four different people, half of whom keep cutting me off and keep insisting that they can't help out before I'm able to even articulate the question, and the last of whom literally hangs up on me. And then I throw the phone across the room, but, in contrast to previous throws with previous phones, may they rest in peace, it doesn't break this time. See? I can't even make that happen. No control over a fucking thing.

I'm seriously considering becoming anorexic.

Monday, December 3, 2007

seems like a valid question

I expected not to be saying this for at least another 12 years, but man, my daughter can be a real bitch sometimes. I thought things had hit rock-bottom when I found her diary a few weeks ago. It seems, in retrospect, that at that point, we were maybe halfway there.

Mostly what drives me crazy is her continual wailing on the cats and drawing on her brothers' artwork, despite repeated reprimands and time-outs. Oh, and also the continual wailing on her brothers with absolutely zero provocation. That and the way she throws food off the counter and then laughs maniacally. And her incredibly high-pitched, loud, and much overused scream. And her insistence on doing by herself everything that she can't actually do by herself ("NO, MY HELP!") and her demands for assistance with all the things she really can do on her own.

With the boys, who were a serious helping of pain-in-the-ass from day one, I barely noticed the transition into toddlerhood. But for the first two years of her life, Lilah was the kind of "easy baby" I had previously only heard about. I had really gotten used to that--I had been lulled into a false sense of security--and then wham!, these terrible twos sure did take me by surprise.

Earlier today, when Levi looked away from a drawing that he was working on for a fraction of a second and Lilah, who had apparently been lying in wait, dragged her crayon across it, Ezra leaped to his brother's defense. After the usual round of urgings that I just smack her, he began crying along with his brother and then screamed--at me, at the world--"WHY DO WE EVEN NEED A SISTER?"

It's interesting, though: when Lilah was a breeze 24/7, the boys frequently drove me to tears. And now, during this period when Lilah is so very challenging, Ezra has been an absolute delight unrelentingly hostile and stubborn, and Levi is just as happy-go-lucky as can be vacillates between falling-apart fragile and too cool to bother with the rules of the household or acknowledge that I have a mouth that issues words aimed in his direction--unless I am offering chocolate pudding. So you see, it all evens out in the end.