Saturday, March 31, 2012


“I shall need to sleep three weeks on end to get rested from the rest I’ve had.” –Thomas Mann, German novelist

Have you heard of the book by Adam Mansbach called Go the F**k to Sleep?  It’s the modern parents’ hilarious rant-in-a-book, a bit of humor to get them through those times when the only desire they have in this entire world is to sit alone on the couch with a glass of wine in peace while the sweet little cherubs slumber upstairs. Lately, I’ve been considering writing a letter to Mr. Mansbach. I’d like to suggest another book for the teen years: Get the F**k Up! 
Allow me to explain.
On Friday morning, I approached the closed bedroom door. There is a half sheet of notepaper taped horizontally onto the upper right quadrant which reads, “Good Parking Ass Hole”, underlined twice for emphasis. It’s something Olivia found on her car a few months ago, to which she has taken a bizarre liking. Some stranger put it on her windshield one afternoon last year while she was at the July 4th town celebration. We both thought it was amusing that the composer of this well-placed note wrote his insult as two words instead of with the correct spelling which, in case you were wondering, is asshole. She admitted it was a poor parking job, but doesn’t apologize for it. “Well, there was no place else to park and I had to fit the car into a space that was SO hard to get into!” 

If only I could find that asshole and tell him how much she loved his little message.

I knocked on the door softly, hoping for the word that tells me she is the responsible version of my teenage daughter today. The word is “Yep”, spoken with her awake voice rather than her sleepy one. The tone and strength of the “Yep” is what determines which scene will be before me when I crack open the door. Will I find her still in bed looking at but not actually focusing on me and mumbling, “What? What time is it?” Or will I find her on the floor sitting cross-legged in front of the mirror putting makeup on her already gorgeous face? I always, always, hope beyond hope for the latter.

Not hearing any response, I sighed, no, I pushed air out of my lungs with pursed lips and the pissed-off attitude of a frustrated mother fighting a relentless battle. Cracking open the door to my daughter’s bedroom, it was not the responsible version I found. It was the other one, the one that makes me wonder where it all went wrong. In my humble opinion, it’s very simple: set the alarm, turn the alarm off, stretch, and get the f**k up. Alas, the figure on the bed was motionless. It was 6:37 a.m. on a school day. Considering school would start in less than an hour, and she still wasn’t showered or dressed, her first stop will be the B House office to pick up her late pass and sign up for yet another detention.

Detention at our high school starts out as a half hour for the first three tardies. After that, late students get what is called an ADP. Not sure what the acronym stands for, but I know this particular detention lasts two and a half hours. Third marking period has barely started and my daughter has already racked up three ADPs. In other words, she is CHRONICALLY tardy.

I’ve finally come to realize at this late date, that detention is not enough of a deterrent. How many times as a teacher have I gotten angry about parents who expect the school to parent their children? How many times this year have I done the very same thing?

So when Olivia came downstairs into the kitchen, I handed her the keys to my car. “You’re taking my car to school today.” It’s the consequence I’ve decided upon and one I hope will be effective. She loves her 2011 Subaru Forrester. She does not love my 2008 banged-up Toyota Sienna mini-van (I wasn't the one who banged it up. Let’s leave it at that).  She didn’t dare say a word. She was already an hour late for school. The next consequence will be worse—Ken or I will drive her there and pick her up. She’ll really hate that.

Will my plan work? I can’t predict the outcome. What I know for certain is before long, she’ll have to get up for college classes and community service work and after that, a job in the real world!  There’s no detention for any of those scenarios.
If my mini-van/car service consequences fail to get her out of the house on time, I'm out of ideas.

I just hope I don’t find a note taped to my bedroom door tomorrow morning that reads, “Good Parenting Ass Hole”, underlined twice for emphasis.

Sunday, March 25, 2012



“You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me
You've got troubles, well I've got 'em too
There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you
We stick together and we see it through
You've got a friend in me
You've got a friend in me” --from ‘Toy Story’, Randy Newman

Seth jumps out of his mother’s car before she can park it, and runs over to join Cliff and me. Arm in arm and smiling, they walk together into the building and head down the stairs to their track and field practice. I follow behind, and, watching their progress towards the gym I’m struck by their similar profiles: each one is about five feet tall, stocky with slight bellies and muscular calves. They are both, in typical “mom speak”, adorable. Theirs is a relatively new friendship, slow to start but very promising. All during the practice, they never leave each other’s side, except when it is one or the other’s turn to race. It’s beginning to look like what one might call a “bromance”, a true friendship between a couple of guys.

We first met Seth almost three years ago at Special Olympics bocce ball practice. That first summer the friendship hadn’t really taken hold. It was a matter of timing. Neither of them attended every session, so they didn’t get to know each other well. Last summer, there was a slight shift in the way they interacted. It was enough for the breakthrough: Seth decided Cliff was pretty cool. Besides, Seth had a stubborn insistence on taking his turn last and Cliff didn’t have a problem with that. Seth, in turn, didn’t seem to mind Cliff’s interminably excessive windup before the throw.

When their birthdays came around, they invited each other to celebrate. Now, with the start of Special Olympics track and field, there will be more regularity to the get-togethers, a time they can look forward to every Monday evening. Each practice holds that extra something, beyond the fun of the sport itself. Seth’s friend Cliff will be there; Cliff’s friend Seth will be there.

As practice comes to an end, the two of them walk around the gym to cool down before the coach’s instructions. Vickie, Seth’s mom, and I sit in the stands cheering them on. We watch as they round each corner and I’m reminded of a sepia-toned greeting card, the one where two people stand with their backs to the camera, photographed as they gaze at something off on the distant horizon. It feels a little bit like a Hallmark moment and I can’t stop smiling. I have wished so hard for Cliff to have a very best friend since we moved here fourteen years ago. A friend who likes Cliff for the person he is, without expectation of conversation or a need for anything more than Cliff is capable of giving. It turns out, neither one exactly has a gift for gab. Somehow, though, they “get” each other!

Friendship sometimes rests on a tenuous thread, especially in a world such as Cliff’s and Seth’s, where parents are in control of arranging outings, and work, schedules, prior commitments, and timing is everything. It’s essential for the moms to like each other as well, because our kids aren’t independent. But the desire to belong is a fundamental need of every human being. We’re not meant to be alone, and there is, in friendship, a happiness factor that one can’t get any other way. Cliff and Seth are no different than other people in that respect. It is a need as essential as food, drink, and shelter. There is a poverty of the soul experienced by people living without friendship or camaraderie with another human being. It’s the reason parents like me will go to the ends of the earth, and be relentless in the search for our kids’ place in the world, especially when they may have difficulty trying to find it themselves.

Such beauty there is, everywhere I look—pink chiffon, white crinkly crinoline, sparkles on new snow, a blood-red moon just settling into the orange-pink sky, a blooming cherry tree about to burst its blossoms, cascades of light on a fireworks night in summer, frosted chocolate cupcakes. Now, added to this hopeful list are the images of Cliff and Seth running, walking, strolling breathless around the track, arm-in-arm on a perfect Monday night.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Grandpa Broccoli

“I love broccoli in the morning.  I love broccoli in the night.  I love broccoli every day, every night.  I love broccoli with all my might.” –silly song by Tony Meloni (My Dad)

I didn’t know either of my grandfathers very well.  In fact, my paternal grandfather died the year I was born.  There are only shadowy recollections of my mother’s father: There was the throaty laugh, the ever-present cigar clenched between his widely-spaced two front teeth and the dark dampness of his wine cellar.  He tended to be rather stern and, though he loved us, he wasn’t demonstrative. Certainly he wasn’t the type to sit beside us reading stories or taking us for walks. I don’t recall him being anything like my father, who believes in “hug therapy” and has fooled every little kid who has walked into his house into believing there’s a dog in the next room, with the best imitation of a canine I’ve ever heard. He even owns a Goldilocks and the Three Bears puppet, the flipover kind with Goldilocks on one end, the three bears on the other.  

 My father loves every one of his seventeen grandchildren and has a unique relationship with each one of them.  These days he tires easily, but still insists that the younger ones be allowed to make noise and enjoy the time they spend at his house.  He likes to say, “Look at that! I love to see these kids running around. It’s just wonderful to have them here. I tell you, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

 He is Grandpa to all of them except for the second grandson. To that one and that one only, he is Grandpa Broccoli.

When he was born the day before Dad’s birthday, my father arrived at the hospital concerned and anxious to make things all better for me.  I had said the words Down syndrome on the phone, but when he sat next to my bed, I realized I needed to use the antiquated term, mongoloid, to make him understand.  He kept patting my arm and telling me the baby would be all right.  At the time I took it to mean that he thought the baby would “grow out of it” and that he misunderstood.  In retrospect, I think it was simply an affirmation of his hope and his faith in our family’s ability to make everything all right for this child.

The significance of the closeness grandfather and grandchild share is not lost on my husband and me.  There are friends, but no best friend with whom Cliff can spend the hours, and no cousins his age who take an interest in him when we visit.  But on our trips to New York, when Dad enthusiastically greets him with “It’s Clifford Broccoli!” they both erupt into peals of laughter; perhaps my statement that Cliff has no best friend is not altogether true. Cliff has an appreciation for the ridiculous, and my father has a particularly proficient talent for silliness; even at his age he remembers the words and phrases that make kids laugh.  His imagination for the preposterous appeals to Cliff’s unique sense of humor.  (“I’m getting you broccoli for your birthday!” and “It’s time for Grandpa to get all the broccoli and put it in the toilet bowl!”)

The unique connection they have is unparalleled. As my son has gotten older, my eighty-six- year- old father is the only one of my family who has been able to go with the flow, as it were, of a kid with the sensibilities of a young man and the frustrations inherent in having a disability.  He has great difficulty with communication so that talking to people can sometimes seem like too much work. But Dad’s approach is simple: start singing, tell a silly story, and then segue into easy conversation that requires yes or no answers.  It works every time.

This month marks twenty-seven years of celebrating their birthdays together. Every year is the same: they sit at the dining room table, chairs pushed close together. They grin broadly as we sing “Happy Birthday” to my mother’s accompaniment on the piano. When it’s time to blow out the candles, I’m pretty sure Dad only pretends to blow so that Cliff can get the undiluted thrill of blowing them all out himself.
The silent prayer I often whisper for please just one more year has been answered time after time. But time can be our friend, or not. When the day comes that Cliff is blowing out his candles without his buddy next to him at the dining room table, I know I will have to explain the unexplainable.  But I’ve already decided what to say.  I’ll just tell him he’s been assigned a new guardian angel.