Devoted mom or sinister stalker? You be the judge.

“If you become a crocus in a hidden garden,”
said his mother, “I will be a gardener. And I will find you.”

I call my 8 year old son, Eli, “my little bunny.” Today I tossed out the endearing appellation and he looked at me askew and said, “Why do you call me that?”

I told him it was from one of my favorite children’s books, “The Runaway Bunny,” that I used to read to him when he was a toddler. He had no recollection of the book. “Oh, it was such a sweet book,” I recounted. “It was about this little bunny who wanted to run away from his mother.” Hmmm…in this instant it didn’t seem all that sweet to me. “And no matter how he imagines himself running away, his mother always finds a way to hunt him down and drag him back to their sheltered little bunny hole.” OK, I didn’t actually say that last part. But it’s the truth. Suddenly I am not sure what was wrong with me that I not only read that book to my little boy countless times, but that I dubbed it my favorite and actually took to calling him “my little bunny.” OMG, I’m a monster.

I went back and reread the book. My greatest fears were confirmed. Talk about helicopter moms. Everything was starting to make sense; Eli’s intrepid approach to social situations, his continued vows to not attend  overnight camp, his insistence that he will never (ever) leave home. It was all my fault. The poor boy thinks that if he even ventures a few miles away from the homestead, I will come after him like some kind of vicious Cassowary and forcibly “guide” him back to where he “belongs” and where I’ll be best able to keep my Machiavellian claws dug deep into his stifled spirit.

Oh, how horrific. “If you become a sailboat and sail away from me,”says the fictitious rabbit, “I will become the wind and blow you where I want you to go.” This mother will stop at nothing to get her wayward youngster back. The saddest part of the whole story is that by the end, the poor hare, whose only goal was to get away from his domineering matriarch, gives up entirely, and resigns himself to an Oedipal life with mama rabbit, eating carrots and believing himself incapable of ever venturing into the world on his own.

Eli starts at a new school next week. I think I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He’s excited to meet his teachers and a whole new cadre of potential friends in the neighborhood. I’m petrified.

Letting them “run away,” even if it’s just to a new school, is harder than you’d think. Maybe I’m being too hard on Mama Rabbit.


I got an $80 collection notice yesterday from the Scottsdale Public Library. $80! Are you kidding? It was for four books my adorable imps had checked out like a decade ago. I was fuming.

I waited until they were strapped into my car after school to spring the news on them. “Mom, can we go for frozen yogurt?” Levi, my 11-year-old, asked. “No, I’m so sorry sweetie,” I cooed, “We have some things to take care of at home today.” My statement hung in the air like a luminous storm cloud.

“Um…what things?” he asked. Hah! He took the bait. “Well,” I casually started, “We have some things that aren’t ours at home and we need to return them and apologize for their tardiness.” I then let the silence sink slowly into their realities. They perplexedly swore their innocence with the conviction of serial killers on death row.

Finally I dropped the other shoe. “When is the last time you boys went to the library?” “We haven’t been to the library in months,” Eli, my 7-year-old, proudly announced. “Uh oh,” murmured Levi. “We forgot to return our books didn’t we?” I reticently mumbled affirmatively and explained that they would need to find the books, take them back to the library, and personally apologize for their laziness. Then I addressed the matter of the fine.

“I am going to pay the fine because if I don’t we will be turned over to a collection agency who will stalk us, threaten to ruin our credit and torment us to the brink of insanity. Then, each of you will pay me back for your share of the bill. No one may set foot in a library until the fine is 100% paid. Clear?”

After the requisite agreements to my terms, Levi asked how much the fine was anyway. “$80,” I replied. Then, as you might expect, came the tears, the pleas for mercy, the imploring sob stories about how long it took to save up that much money. But I was the picture of perfect maternal moderateness. I never flinched, never wavered, never even suffered a moment of my usual neurotic self-doubting. I knew this was a lesson that would pay off down the road and I was teaching it with aplomb.

We found the books and the boys hesitantly went into the library to explain their plight to the kindly librarian at the checkout desk. She feigned a stern reproach and then thanked the boys for their honesty and courage. At home, I collected $40 from each of them. I will admit to feeling a great deal of shame upon prying open my little one’s basketball bank and scooping out every last nickel and dime he had to cover his loss. Levi, on the other hand, brought me a wad of crunched up singles, a few fives and a twenty dollar bill he’d been saving since his birthday in September.

Now, if you’ve never had to take money from your children, let me tell you, it is not an enjoyable task. You feel low, dirty and basically like you’re some kind of hopped up addict who needs to steal from her kids in order to score her next fix. It’s ugly, even when you’re doing it for the right reasons. But I pushed through because I knew that in the long run, this was a lesson in responsibility I did not want to be teaching with much higher stakes five years in the future.

All of this would have been a great maternal success story had it not been for one thing. I called this morning to give the collection agent at the library my credit card number. But I’d been empowered to beg for financial mercy myself by a friend whose daughter had lost a library book once. She told me that there was actually wiggle room when it came to library fines.

I pleaded my case to the grandmotherly librarian on the phone. She explained that she couldn’t erase my fine. But she offered me a significantly lower option that I immediately agreed to. Without getting into specifics, and I don’t want to encourage other violators to take advantage of the kind-hearted folk who work at our public libraries, but let’s just say that Andrew Jackson was happy to help me out and foot this bill entirely.

So here’s the question; do I tell the kids I only had to pay a fraction of the fine? Or do I keep their hard-earned allowance money to drive home a lesson that will serve them well in the future? This truly is a conundrum. Keeping the money would be like making a profit off my children. That definitely cannot be right. But giving it back makes the consequence too lackluster and teaches them that there are always ways to squirm out of taking responsibility.

Why is it that the one time I’m actually certain about my convictions, someone does something kind and admirable and I’m right back in the midst of self-doubt, confusion and parental anxiety? Somehow this just doesn’t seem fair.

Please, tell me what to do!

Back to school roller derby

Who will be the next School Supply Roller Derby Queen?

Lace up your skates, moms. It’s time to hit the aisles and go for the gold. If you’re fast and tough, you might actually secure that Justice League lunch box and water bottle your kid’s been pining for all year. Show no mercy. It’s back to school time.

God help me I hate school supply shopping. I hate everything associated with school supply shopping. I hate hordes of people fighting over number 2 pencils, I hate trying to find wide-ruled notebook paper amidst piles and piles of college lined loose leaf. I hate having to buy 4 large glue sticks when they always come 3 to a pack. I hate that despite the fact that every school in the world insists on kids bringing ziploc baggies and disinfectant wipes, they never put that stuff with the school supplies and you have to traipse through the entire store with a million other people to get to the cleaning supply and home storage areas before they run out of the items you need to complete your list.

Argh!!!! It’s awful. It was better this year because I took each boy separately. Trying to navigate two supply lists while maneuvering a shopping cart and corralling two young tykes was nearly impossible last year. At least I wised up a bit.

But the whole process is so utterly angst producing. I’m not even sure why. I love shopping, for almost everything. But this is…just…not fun. I spent over $300 for both boys. That sounds like a lot to me. I mean, that doesn’t even include text books or any real type of learning material.

I saw this one woman, who looked equally distraught, and she said that at her school you can pay extra money and they’ll do your school supply shopping for you. Unfortunately, she had flaked and missed the deadline this year. “Rest assured,” she bemoaned, “that wont happen again.” For a moment I wished our school did that.

But then, in some weird masochistic side of my brain, I heard a voice saying, “but you’d miss such a meaningful mom-son experience if you didn’t go school supply shopping each year.” The fact is, given the choice to abdicate all school related shopping excursions, I probably wouldn’t take it. Because even if I tell myself that instead of the crowded Target aisles, we could go to the water park or the movies or somewhere equally fun and carefree, something else would come up and we’d miss that time together and then it would feel just like every other missed moment I feel guilty and forlorn over.

So, I’ll keep body-checking 12 year-olds to get the last package of yellow highlighters and pushing distracted moms’ carts out of the way to retrieve that one Yoda pencil box that my son simply cannot live without. I will do this year after year after year. Because I’m a mom. And that’s just what we do.

Six word memoir

Who are you really, In six words or less?

Who are you really, In six words or less?

I was listening to NPR today and they promoted an upcoming segment on writing your own memoir — in six words. The minute I heard it I was hooked. Six words to tell the world who you were, what your life meant. Fascinating. Tricky. Impossible. I became obsessed. It’s like that game we used to play as kids; “If your house was burning down, what three things would you save?”

If you only had six words, who would you be? Can you hone a description of yourself to that fine a point? Without cliche? Without limiting all that you are?

I began to work:

So much laundry, need to write.

Write to live. Mother to love.

More than mom. Creator, artist, dreamer.

Watch stars. Play Clue. Want more.

Seeking balance — motherhood and self expression.

I asked a friend what his would be. He said, “I would have done it different.” That made me sad.

I kept working. Then I checked out the NPR transcript since I hadn’t even heard the show. Apparently the idea came from “Smith,” the online magazine. Based on the legend that Hemingway once responded to a challenge to write a complete story in six words with, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” They asked readers to tell their life stories in a single sentence. What resulted was a book,“Not Quite What I Was Planning,” by Smith founding editor, Larry Smith and his memoir editor, Rachel Fershleiser.

Here are a few excerpts from the book:

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton

Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn

Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

Then I went back to work on my own. Clearly being a mother was key to my self description. But so was being an artist, an independent creative being. I netted out with this:

“Deep loving mom, creating art to live.”

What would your six word memoir say?

May the force be with(in) you

Lots of good Jedi's end up on the dark side

My husband, the Pediatrician, is a genius. No, really, he is. After years of insulting him with my favorite line; “do people actually pay you for this kind of advice?”, I am now going to officially eat crow, or my hat, or whatever it is that people eat in the name of contrition.

Our six-year-old son Eli came home today with a “reflection note.” That’s the equivalent of “getting your card turned,” “striking out,” or any other number of euphemisms for “screwing up in class.” He was beside himself. Made Alexander of the no good, horrible, very bad day look like Polyanna.
“I’m never going back to school,” he whined as he climbed into the backseat of my car. “Why don’t you tell me exactly what happened,” I suggested in the most evenly modulated voice I could muster. “Well, Andrew and I were spitting…” he started. “Okay,” I lost my compusure, “Spitting? At someone? At each other? Why would you do something like that?”

“We just wanted to see where the spit would land by our feet. We weren’t spitting at anyone. We didn’t even get a warning,” he lamented. I have to admit I felt better. At least they weren’t being mean to each other or to some other hapless child.

“Okay,” I offered, “Now you know that spitting is wrong and I very much hope you will never do that again.”

“I wont,” he exclaimed, “Even if Andrew says I should.”

“What do you mean ‘Even if Andrew says you should?’” I asked.

“Well,” he explained, “Andrew is my master. I have to do whatever he tells me to do.”

Okay, panic attack number two. “Your master?” I challenged. I was starting to sweat.

I then tried unsuccessfully to explain about Lemmings or Lemurs and cliff jumping activities. Nothing seemed to penetrate. The horror of thinking my youngest son was nothing more than a follower was overwhelming to me. I suddenly envisioned him, hash pipe in his manacled hands, trying to explain to some apathetic arbiter in a dark civil servant’s office that he only sold the drugs to the innocent kindergarteners because his friend told him to do it.

Luckily, we arrived at the restaurant to meet his father in the nick of time. “There’s Daddy!” I announced with relief. We went in and took our seats. Eli was still pouting heartily. “Would you like to tell daddy what happened today?” I prodded. Eli reluctantly shared his shameful tale. My husband, Mark, frowned and offered the requisite disappointed response. “But that’s not really the issue,” I went on. I then prompted Eli to divulge his friend Andrew’s “master” status. “Whatever Andrew tells me to do,” Eli boasted, “I have to do. Because he’s my master.”
Now this was one of those moments where every bit of wisdom I’d been carrying around in my imaginary parent backpack had mysteriously vanished into thin air. I stared at Mark, hoping that both of us were not being struck dumb at the same moment. His eyes landed on me for a moment and then, without missing a beat, he turned to Eli and said, “Wow. That’s really scary.”

Eli took the bait. “What do you mean, daddy?”

“Well,” Mark went on, fully cognizant that the word “master” had weighty Jedi implications that had alluded me altogether. “You can never be sure if a master is really looking out for your best interests. A lot of masters start out fighting with the force but end up crossing over to the dark side. And the masters who’ve gone over to the dark side will act like they’re your friends, but they may really be trying to get you to come to the dark side. I mean, think about it; Darth Vader, Darth Plagueis, Count Dooku, they all started out in the light. But for whatever reason, they crossed over. That’s why you have to listen to your own heart and do what feels right. You can’t follow a master because you never know where that master may lead you.”

Eli thought about this for a long time. I must admit, I was more than a little impressed with my husband’s seamless spontaneity. If this works, I thought, it may be one of the all time most brilliant parenting maneuvers I have ever witnessed.

“Dad,” Eli asked thoughtfully. “Can I still be Andrew’s friend?”

“Of course, sweetheart,” my husband smiled victoriously. “Just remember, young Jedi; if you follow your own inner voice, the force will always be with you.”

School supply shopping is now a full-contact sport

school supplies

Ah...the dreaded back-to-school shopping list

Ah, shopping for school supplies. Is there anything…worse? It is truly one of life’s most horrible experiences. First of all, why do they need so damn much? I mean, honestly, are they really gonna use one pencil a week for the next 36 weeks? That’s a lot of lead. Isn’t that like bad for the environment or something? To add insult to injury, one mom I know told me that she had to individually write her kid’s name on each and every pencil. I thought she was joking. I mean, please. Have we resorted to purchasing pricey designer number 2 pencils nowadays? Who gives a crap if your kid uses the wrong pencil? And the stuff really adds up fast. It was probably wrong to tell my son he could have the Mario Wii game if we netted out at under $100. His subsequent tantrum was rather embarrassing I must admit. After he composed himself he looked at our $160 stash and said, “School costs enough. I think the teachers should just buy all the school supplies themselves and give them to students.”

Of course I used that as a teachable moment to launch into a diatribe about the shattered state of education in the country (and particularly within our own state confines) and shared with him the rather disturbing fact that Nationwide, teachers earn a whopping .88 for every dollar earned by those in “comparable” positions.* This might have gone over my 9-year-old’s head.

But back to the chaos of the school supply aisle. It reminded me of Passover shopping on Devon Avenue at Hungarian when I was a little kid growing up in Chicago. (While this image may only be accessible to a few of you, it is such a perfect analogy that I had to include it.) Only instead of large Jewish women with short, complacent husbands body checking me in the macaroon aisle, here we had hordes of over-privileged children violently grabbing the last few packs of sharpened pencils, staplers and highlighters with absolutely no regard for personal space, safety or courtesy. And their parents were even worse.

One lady literally raced me to the dry-erase pen section after I foolishly pointed out its whereabouts to my dazed son who’d been up and down the aisles three or four times without spotting them. She took the very last package of pens. “Um, excuse me,” I politely announced. “My son was on his way over to get those. I believe you heard me direct him to this section, and then you ran over here before he could get here and took the last package of pens. Don’t you think you’re being a little too competitive?”

“Hey,” she smiled with self-satisfaction, “You snooze, you loose.”

I thought about smacking her upside the head.

But then I decided that her husband was probably a personal injury attorney, (no offense, Barry), and that she’d end up suing me for like 18 million dollars because I somehow managed to puncture her breast implant while attempting to kick her in the teeth. It just…wasn’t worth it.

For a brief psychotic moment I thought about taking both of my children to purchase their school supplies at the same time. But, seeing as I’m organizationally challenged and probably undiagnosed ADHD, the image of myself hopelessly trying to follow two diverse lists, while fighting off insurgent parents and checking off appropriate list items as they landed in my cart was a little too much for me. Instead, I made it a “fun” mommy and me outing for each child individually, complete with a post shopping trip to the local fro yo shop.

While the signature tart, fat free, icy treat (that I insisted in smothering with Heath Bar sprinkles) did help to somewhat lessen the post traumatic stress reaction I was experiencing, truth be told, it barely took the edge off. What I needed was a Ketel One, double Martini, not too dry, just a little dirty if I was to go home and return to the battle field with child number two.

Luckily it was too close to bedtime to play out the second half of this cutthroat educational acquisition competition. We tabled it for the night. But let me tell you, come tomorrow morning, I am gonna be a force to be reckoned with. So if you see me coming down the aisle, accordion folder in hand, please, for the love of God, get the hell out of my way.

*Incidentally, “comparable” positions according to the report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center (EPE) includes reporters, insurance underwriters, and even museum curators to name a few. The report also noted that it is, in fact, teaching quality that matters more than anything else in a child’s education, and astutely added that a child’s likelihood of succeeding in life depends greatly on which state he or she is born into since education varies so erratically from state to state.

What I learned from the daily funnies.

There’s always a window that’s lowered by a millimeter, a woman’s hair is slightly shorter, a man’s polka-dotted tie turns to stripes. It’s really not so hard. So why am I blinded to these seemingly obvious differences?

I am obsessed with hocus-focus. No, that’s not a typo. And I’m not talking about magic, or the dark arts, or any kind of voodoo witch doctor stuff. I’m talking about that comic in the daily newspaper. You know, the one with two identical pictures and you’re supposed to pick out the six differences between them. They’re made for like five-year-old kids, so that parents can say something like, “Here you go, Junior, take a look at these,” and buy themselves a few extra minutes of quiet morning java time.

But here’s the thing; I can’t do them. I’m serious. I’m lucky if I can find 2 or 3 differences. But six seems totally unreasonable. I mean, how are children supposed to figure these out? The weird part is that it’s always the same stuff, and I still can’t figure it out. There’s always a window that’s lowered by a millimeter, a woman’s hair is slightly shorter, a man’s polka-dotted tie turns to stripes. It’s really not so hard. So why am I blinded to these seemingly obvious differences?

I think there is something else going on here. Some kind of psychic rebellion, a repressed emotional resistance to noticing the blatant, the conspicuous, the glaring. Perhaps it’s just a trick being played upon my feeble psyche by Maternus, the omniscient goddess of all things maternal. Maybe she is mocking the fact that I meticulously note every out-of-place ringlet upon each of my children’s tossled tops and can’t help but comment on their faintly stained t-shirts and popsicle blue lips.

As a mother, I admit my compulsion to scrutinize every aspect of my kid’s personas. It’s like I’m unable to keep my eye on the bigger picture; my children’s kind hearts, their graceful spirits, their unending curiosities.

Maybe the message is to stop focusing on the minutia altogether. Because even when you do catch that missing bow-tie or slightly tilted picture frame, you still end up missing a whole bunch of other stuff and losing the game.

Hmmm…that’s a pretty lofty lesson coming from the daily funnies.

Hey Voldemort, watch out for Yoda!

Watch out Voldemort!

What would happen if Luke Skywalker met Harry Potter?

My kids have been fighting like fiends lately. It’s becoming unbearable. Most of the time I try not to get involved, believing some advice I read somewhere about letting them work things out on their own. At my less self-actualized moments, I throw my arms up in despair and ponder why I ever thought that having two children would improve the overall quality of our lives. And on a really bad day, I try to yell down the louder of the two kids. “STOP SCREAMING!” I shriek, never missing for one moment the irony of my poor parenting practice.

But today, I actually had a break thru. The hysteria had climbed to near violence level. I knew I had to insert myself into the fray. Turns out it was all about which pretend game to play. Levi, my 9-year-old, wanted to play Harry Potter. He was all set, wand in hand, ready to cast the first charm. Eli, my six-year-old on the other hand, lightsaber pointed, was prepared to do battle against the Grand Army of cloned human warriors. My intervention seemed about as hopeless as an Palestinian-Israeli conflict resolution.

But I did not despair. Instead, I simply said, “I wonder what would happen if Luke Skywalker met Harry Potter. I mean, do you think they’d be friends? Maybe together they could save the universe.” Then, as swiftly as I appeared, I stealthfully faded back into my office.

After about five minutes of no yelling, crying or hyper-ventilating, I popped my head into the living room to confirm that both children were still alive and well. To my amazement, I saw an astonishing sight. Luke Skywalker, lightsaber aglow, was battling the one who must not be named. Then, in a flash, Professor Dumbledore appeared in deep collusion with a green faced, cloth caped, Yoda. It worked! My kids had merged their two obsessions and were playing heartily.

They continued to play (and I’m not exagerating) for at least two more hours without a single moment of conflict (well, not counting the near destruction of the Galactic Empire.) There was one tense moment when my 6 year old declared that the Immobulus spell his brother kept casting upon him was not really fair because he was constantly being rendered immobile. I had to rule, as the Supreme leader of the Republic, that the Immobulus spell could only be used once an hour. After that, the boys played on happily.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t always opt for using my creativity when dealing with my children’s issues. It seems so much easier. Everyone’s happy. I’m no longer stressed. And the universe is being saved from the dark side. Come on, what could be better than that?