Monday, February 27, 2012

Winter Break

Three guys at Five Guys.
            Last week my boys were home for February school vacation. I was looking forward to a week without homework and school bus schedules almost as much as they were (there is surely a post in my future about how twitchy fourth grade homework makes me). I had to work Sunday and Monday (did you know President’s Day weekend is the biggest shopping weekend of the year other after black Friday?). So the minute I got out of work on Monday I met the boys at Five Guys Burgers and Fries for some high calorie fun.
We're taking the band on the road next vacation!
            Tuesday morning I had the luxury of sleeping in to the delicious hour of 6:45—yes that’s sleeping in around here. The boys entertained themselves beautifully. They did art projects, played Rockband, and just goofed off. Then, shortly after lunch time someone threw a switch on my little angels. They began to bicker and argue about everything. There were insults and accusations. There was huffing, puffing, whining, moaning and groaning. I did my best to separate them for short spells in hopes of cooling off their vitriol. But it only seemed to rev them up.
Let's take out ALL the art supplies!
We only had plans for one outing all week and that wasn’t until Friday. Clearly hanging out at home wasn’t going to work for the whole week. Fortunately, a coworker posted pictures of his kids at the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston that afternoon. It hadn’t occurred to me to take the kids to a zoo. Normally during February vacation, we’re buried in snow—or worse.  Last year we spent February break trying to exorcise the stomach plague from our house.
The next morning we took off for the zoo. We saw zebras and bongos and lions. Most importantly, we saw gorillas—Owen’s favorite. The weather was unseasonably warm and sunny. After a few hours in the fresh air the kids were spent. James even fell asleep on the ride home. Our outing soothed some of the tension between the boys.
Thursday wasn’t as exciting—there was a trip to the dentist and an oil change for my car. But we discovered the new Honda dealer in town has a diner and a big screen tv in the waiting area. There are worse ways to kill time than on a big comfy leather sofa watching Despicable Me.
Dan took Friday off and we all headed into Boston to the Museum of Science. One of the great things about being a kid is how exciting mundane things are. The boys were excited to ride the train into town. They were in awe when I told them I rode the same train every day before they were born. “You’re so lucky!” they said.
Mom? What does "gangsta" mean?
We’re in a golden age as a family. I can carry a bag that is only slightly larger than it would be if I were alone. I don’t need to have diapers, wipes, a change of pants for them and a change of shirt for me. They understand that they need to stick close when we’re in the city. At the same time, we haven’t reached the surly teen years. Of course, they do come out with the occasional smart-aleck remark or eye-roll. But we still have a couple of years before full-blown teen angst.
Despite the vacation week crowds, Owen and James were enthralled. They were saying, “Whoa! That’s so cool!” before we even got into the building. The learned about geckos, mathematics, lightning, dinosaurs, evolution, energy, and nanotechnology. They played, explored, and were filled with wonder. Once again, they were exhausted within a few hours. We couldn’t take in half of what the museum had to offer so we bought a membership and promised to return.
Too tired to cook dinner, we ordered fish and chips for supper and watched a movie together. I was thrilled to end a day out with the family feeling tired, but relaxed and happy. There are so many that end with me frazzled and worn out.
The perfect end to an awesome Friday.
So this morning I was ready to get back to work. I did everything I could to get the kids ready to go back to school. Lunches were packed the night before, laundry was sorted and clothes laid out. Alas, when Owen came downstairs he informed me that James was moaning in his bed and wouldn’t get up. When I checked on him he informed me that his brain and his tummy hurt. So my youngest got a little extension to his vacation today. I must admit, I’d rather miss a day of work, than a day of vacation. I’m sure my boss and my bank account wouldn’t agree.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Date Night Gone Wrong

The following is an excerpt from my work in progress, Lost and Found. This scene takes place during Michaela and Adam’s first date. They’ve had a lovely dinner and a stroll by the waterfront. Romance is in the air, until they sit down on a park bench.

The night was getting cooler. I wished I had brought a jacket to slip around Michaela’s shoulders. I wasn’t ready to leave but she was shivering beneath her light sweater. I put my arm over her shoulder, “Are you cold?”
            “A little,” she said.
            “Do you want to get going?” I asked.
            “Not really,” she said as she snuggled closer.
            I barely heard the approaching footsteps when Michaela gasped.  A man in a black hooded sweatshirt snatched her purse from behind. The strap was wound around her arm. When he grabbed the purse she was lifted halfway off the bench. Before I realized what was happening, she was on the other side of the bench, still hanging onto the purse. She stomped on his foot with the heel of her sandal and he let go of the bag. He howled in pain and grabbed at his foot.
            “Fucking cunt! I’m gonna kill you.”
            I reached out to grab him but she kicked him in the face. He fell backwards into my arms. She was standing ready for another attack when I pushed him to the ground and held his hands behind his back. I didn’t have to work too hard to hold him there. He was already dazed from Michaela’s kick.
            “You’ve got him?” she asked.
            “Yeah, you really clocked him. He isn’t going anywhere.”
            “I’ll call the police,” she said reaching into the bag for her phone.
            “Where did you learn to do that?” I asked. I was impressed at how well she handled herself and not a little embarrassed at how little she needed my help.
            “Peter and I took a mixed martial arts class together before the kids were born. I can’t believe I remembered what to do.” 
            The thief started to stir.
            “I’m gonna get that bitch,” he muttered.
            “Mind your manners or I’ll hand you over to her,” I said.
He struggled harder.
“And, I’ll make sure it gets around that you got your ass handed to you by a girl.”
He didn’t say another word.

This week’s Write on Edge prompt was to stir up some conflict, using the following quote as inspiration.

    “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence.”
    Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Another Dinner Conversation at Our House

            I place the last platter on the table and sit down. My family starts digging into mashed potatoes, peas and crock pot roast chicken. It’s one of their favorite meals so there isn’t much talking at first. While I’m pouring gravy onto my chicken I ask the kids if they did anything interesting at school today.
            “We had a lock-out drill,” my nine-year-old son Owen tells me.
            “Oh?” I ask. I steady my hand as I pour the gravy, trying to pretend it doesn’t bother me that my babies need to participate in lock-down drills. It would be nice if the ugly, violent side of the world never touched them. But in the end, we’re all touched by it one way or another. I’m glad the school tries to prepare them.
            “What do you do during a lock-out drill?” my husband asks. 
            “You get down low and wait for an announcement,” Owen says matter-of-factly. “And if you hear the fire alarm you don’t go outside.”
            “Yes. Because sometimes the bad person pulls the fire alarm to get people to come out of the building. If we’re supposed to leave there will be an announcement. Can I have the gravy Mom?”
            He’s lucky there is any left I was so distracted while I was pouring it.
“What’s Hitler,” Owen asked as I passed him the gravy.
            “Not what, who.” I correct him. “Adolph Hitler was a person. He was the leader of Germany during World War II,” I said. “He ordered the deaths of anyone who wasn’t what he considered perfect—Jewish people, disabled people…”
            “No. For the most part they weren’t rounded up unless they were…”
            “Yes. Gay or disabled, or helping someone who was being rounded up.”
            “What’s gay?” James asks.
            “You know how I love daddy and he’s a man? It’s when someone loves someone who’s the same gender—like when a woman loves a woman or a man loves a man.”
            “Oh yeah! Like Piper’s moms.”
            “But two dads couldn’t have kids. You need a mom for that.”
            “There I ways,” I tell them. “Two men could adopt a child.”
            “What’s adopt?” James asks.
            “It’s when someone brings a child into their family when the child’s parents couldn’t raise a baby themselves.”
            “Mom, look at my volcano!” James says as he pours gravy over a mountain of mashed potatoes. “Oh no! The people have to run away.” He pushes the peas aside as if they’re people running from the flow of lava. Our conversation eases into something simpler—imaginary natural disasters.
            “May I be excused please?” Owen asks. His plate is empty. I never saw him eat. I’ve only managed a few forkfuls myself.
            “Sure Sweetie,” I tell him.
            “What’s for dessert?” he asks.
            “Bourbon… I mean… ice cream.”

Mama’s Losin’ It
            Today I’m linking up with Mama Kat’s Writing workshop. Today’s prompt was to capture what it’s like to spend a day or a moment talking with your kids. My kids provide me with great fodder inspiration for this kind of writing assignment.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Novocaine Tongue

            She pulled into the left lane and turned the radio up. The pure rock and roll sound of guitar and harmonica and drums resonated in her chest. She was angry at him for exposing her scars and angrier at herself for letting him know she cared. She hadn’t said a word. Her mouth and mind seemed anesthetized.
            This wouldn’t do. She was going to have to get better at talking about her past. There were dirtier secrets in the world than hers. She’d have to learn to be a better liar if she was going to make it in politics. 

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog

            This story was linked up with Lance’s 100 Word Song prompt over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. This week’s prompt was “Hotel Illness” by The Black Crowes. The three other stories I've linked up with the 100 Word Song prompt have all been inspired strictly by the lyrics songs. But this week's song sounded like the perfect song to have playing while driving a little too fast.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Comfort Zone? What's that?

            For a lot of folks, stepping out of their comfort zone is a huge accomplishment. For me, it’s been a daily event for the last nine and a half years—ever since the nurse asked me if I wanted to have my newborn son circumcised (and that’s ALL I’m going to say about that very personal decision). Being the mother of boys I find myself answering questions about, or trying to find solutions for things about which I have no first hand knowledge every day. It can be challenging. But I can’t imagine my life without these loud, Lego-loving, Star Wars-obsessed, fart-joke telling little men of mine.
Owen's first place car
            One of by children’s favorite things on earth is being a Cub Scout. Cub Scouts are the very cradle of all things boyish. The day my son brought a flier home from school with a picture of a scout holding a bow and arrow he was hooked. Now both of my boys are enthusiastic Cub Scouts and I have become a reluctant Den Leader.
James' first place car
            The highlight of the scouting year has to be the Pinewood Derby. At our annual holiday party, our pack gives each boy a kit to create his own car to race for the Derby. It’s essentially a block of wood and four wheels that the scout (with some guidance) turns into a race car. We also encourage parents and other adults to race. It’s a lot of fun and their entrance fees usually pay for the kids’ trophies. The parents may race their kid’s car or they can create their own. I promised my boys this year that I would build a car for the race. And then I forgot about it.
            I had a day off on Thursday and was very proud of myself as I ticked off things on my to-do list. I was on my second mile on the treadmill at the gym when I realized I still had to get the car started and finished—that day. It needed to be officially weighed and registered on Friday night.  So right after I showered I took out my kit and wondered how I was going to turn this thing into a car.

            Now, I like to think of myself as being handy. I can assemble just about anything from Ikea and I can hang pictures and shelves that don’t come crashing down. But this meant cutting and I haven’t picked up a saw since eighth grade wood shop. I took a deep breath and jumped in. After some time and some very colorful language I had this…
...and I still had all my fingers!

            All I had left to do was paint it and put the wheels on it. The paint may have been a little sticky, but otherwise it was ready just in time to be weighed and registered. The boys were pretty impressed with my woodworking skills but I think they thought my paint job was a little too… girly. And that’s just fine with me. I guess being girly in a boyish world is starting to become my comfort zone.

Word up!

Alas, I didn't come in first like my kids. I tied for 4th. But I did it in style.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Fiction Friday: A BLT with a side of Wisdom

            Karen’s mother Peggy was frying bacon in her cast iron skillet. A year ago the smell of bacon would have pulled Karen into the kitchen. But since she started working at the diner, bacon smelled like greasy customers and bad tips.
            “I can hear you rattling around in your room at night,” Peggy said. “Why can’t you sleep?”
            “I have to get out of that diner Mum. I’m trying to save up enough money to take the secretary course at Miss Fairchild’s but it’s taking so long.”
            “You’ve never complained about the diner before,” she said as she slid a plate in front of Karen.
It was a simple sandwich—toasted white bread, bacon, iceberg lettuce, mayonnaise and a supermarket tomato that tasted like cardboard. But Karen knew it was her mother’s way of showing she cared. Peggy didn’t hug or  kiss. She didn’t say, “I love you.” But she always fed the people she loved.
            “I just want a job where I don’t sweat all day.”
“Like mine you mean? There’s nothing wrong with an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”
“I know that Mum. But wouldn’t you work a better job if you could? I want to be able to wear nice clothes. I hate listening to guys talk about me.”
            “Is someone bothering you?”
            “Not bothering exactly. There’s this boy—from the college. He’s nicer than most of them and he’s been coming around a lot lately. He keeps asking for my number. He doesn’t believe me that we don’t have a phone.”
            “Willie will talk to him if he’s hassling you. You don’t have to take it.”
            “He isn’t hassling me. He just wants to go out with me. But I don’t have time for a guy. All I want to do is make something of myself.”
            “That’s my girl. Don’t give that college boy the time of day. That smooth talker probably thinks you’ll spread your legs because you have to work for a living.”
            “You listen to me! Those college boys make look pretty and talk nice, but their pecker is just as dangerous as any truck driver’s. You get knocked up and you can kiss being a secretary goodbye.”
            “Eat your sandwich will you? It’s bad enough you aren’t sleeping. Don’t stop eating too.”
            Karen took a bite. It was easier to swallow than her mother’s advice.

This week we showed you a picture of a delicious BLT and then asked you to write, in 400 words or less, a post inspired by it. Did you stick with the sandwich? Did you make it the main focus of your post? Did you just see bacon? Link up your take on this delicious picture. You can read more about my character Karen here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

100 Word Song: Cecelia

            Cecelia’s high clear voice reached him from the other room. She always sang when she had something on her mind. Every note was something she needed to say, but couldn’t. It was as if she wanted him to guess how she felt by the song she chose.
            When they first met, he could see a light in her eyes. But Cecelia’s eyes looked darker these days. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him anymore. She just loved him differently. More friend, than lover. It was ending. He wish she’d just say it. He wish she’d stop singing and start talking.

My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog
            This was written as a part of The 100 Word Song prompt over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. The challenge is to write a 100 word story based on a song. This week’s song was “See a Little Light” by Bob Mould.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

RemembeRED: Caro Mio Ben

            I’ve been involved in theatre since the sixth grade. So I mark milestones by what show I was doing when they happen. My oldest niece was born just before Alice in Wonderland; I played Mary in Run for Your Wife when we were planning our wedding; I got pregnant when I was playing the Mayor of Munchkinland in The Wizard of Oz (don’t bother—I’ve already heard all the short jokes); and my Grandfather died while I was co-directing a production of Oklahoma!.
            “Mum and Dad are fine,” was the message my sister left. “But give me a call when you get the chance.” If Mum and Dad were fine, who wasn’t fine?
            Papa had been working in the yard, came into the house, sat down, and stopped breathing. And just like that his sweet tenor voice and kind brown eyes were gone. I sat on my piano bench, caught between disbelief and heartbreak.
            I wanted to do something. What could I do to help? My parents were on a plane back from their vacation in Italy. My grandmother was surrounded by her children. I would only be in the way. My husband held me as I cried and he would have held on for as long as I needed. But I didn’t want to stand there and cry.
            I had scheduled a pronunciation workshop to teach life-long Bostonians to sound like midwestern farmers and cowboys that night. I was late and I needed to go.
             The stage manager grabbed me when I walked in. “What’s wrong?” she said.
            Before I had kids, I was never late. “If I’m late,” I used to say, “Something awful has happened.”
            “My grandfather died,” I whispered.
            “Go home!”
            “No. This is where I need to be right now.”
            So I spent the next couple of hours drumming the “R” into the actors words.
“Say Bartlett Farm.”
“Bahtlett Fahm.”
“No, Bartlett Farm.”
“Barltett Fahm.”
“That’s better but the R needs to be in both words, Bartlett Farm.”
“Bahtlett Farm. Shoot! Sorry Vickie. Bartlett Farm.”
And on it went for the next two hours. Turning “Will Pahkah” into “Will Parker” and “cahn’t” into “can’t”. When it was over I thanked my actors. More than sympathy, more than a shoulder to cry on, I needed to immerse myself in something. It wasn’t the first time I learned that theatre is cheaper than therapy. And I’m sure it won’t be the last. 

Write on Edge: RemembeREDThis week's RemembeRED prompt for Write on Edge was to write a memoir piece in which dialects or colloquialisms feature prominently. I was really excited by this prompt since I'm from the Boston area and we have such a distinctive (and often BADLY imitated) accent. I was surprised how difficult I found coming up with a moment to use. This particular memory came to me just last night.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Man

            This week I’m linking up with the One Hundred Word Song meme with Lance over at My Blog Can Beat Up Your Blog. Each week we’re asked to write a story inspired by a particular song. This week’s song was “Idioteque” by Radiohead. The story must be 100 words long—no more, no less. Take some time to see what some great writers have done with this by clicking here.

The Man

            He was barely coherent when I dragged him into the shelter. No one noticed the old man living in the park for days. He was just another set of eyes to avoid. I gave him water, which he drank too fast.
            “Careful buddy. You’re gonna burst,” I said.
            “I’ve seen too much,” he sputtered.
            “I know. I’m gonna help you.”
            “ I’ve seen too much.”
            “Me too buddy. It’s gonna be alright.
            A mobile phone rang from a pocket somewhere. He gripped my hand and stared at me. His eyes were lucid when he said, “Take the money and run!”

Saturday, February 4, 2012


            “Hey Hank, that blond in the corner has been lookin’ at you all night,” Mickey said. Henry looked past the couples dancing to the latest Smokey Robinson song. He saw the delicately pretty blond Mickey was talking about.
            “You’re imagining things,” Henry replied, swallowing the last of his beer.
            “No. I keep trying to catch her eye, but she’s stuck on you. I’d be all over her in a second if she was lookin’ at me.”
            “I’m not interested. You want another beer?”
            “Not interested? You’re crazy. Wait. Are you still stuck on that waitress? I’m telling you. I’ve never seen even look at one of the guys. I bet she’s a dyke.”
            “Not wanting to go out with one of us doesn’t mean she’s a dyke.”
            “What’s it mean?”
            “It means we’re assholes.”
            “Ease up buddy. Hey look at that. Blondie’s on her way over. I’ll go get us another beer so you can be alone.”
            “Mickey…” Henry said as his fraternity brother walked away.
            “Hi,” she said in a breathy voice. “My name’s Joni.”
            “I’m Henry. I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”
            “I just transferred from Vassar.”
            “Vassar, huh? You must be pretty smart.”
            She frowned and fiddled with the gold cross at her throat.
            “If I were really smart, I’d still be there.”
            “I’m not so sure about that. I think it’s smart to get out of an all-girl’s school.”
            Joni giggled, showing expensive white teeth.
            “You have a beautiful smile,” Henry said. He knew exactly how to act with this willowy girl. He always said the wrong things with Karen. Being with her was a visit to a foreign country. The culture fascinated him, but he didn’t speak the language. Joni could have belonged to the same country club as Henry’s family. She could have sung in the choir at his Episcopal church. Joni was a visit home, a warm sweater, a comfortable pair of shoes.
            He saw Mickey coming his way with the beer and signaled to him to back off.
            “Would you like to dance?” he asked.
            “Sure,” she said.
            In his mind, Joni’s tiny waist and slim hips became Karen’s curvaceous body. Her pale carefully upswept hair became Karen’s wild black curls. Joni was thrilled to be in the arms of one of the most popular boys on campus. She never imagined he was dancing with someone else.

            This piece is inspired by a prompt from Write on Edge. We were asked to write a piece in which a character reacts to a piece of music. I wanted to write about the beginnings of Karen and Henry’s relationship which began in 1965, so checked out the top 100 hits of that year. There were so many songs by great artists that year: The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, James Brown, Marvin Gaye. But one song jumped out at me, "The Tracks of my Tears" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. You can read more about Karen here

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Confession

            As I looked over my blog posts for the last few weeks, I realized that everything I’ve posted lately was written in response to a prompt of one kind or another. So today’s post is not only unprompted, but it also delves into the murky waters of religion and politics. I normally avoid both topics—not just on my blog, but in real life.
I don’t avoid politics because I’m apathetic. On the contrary I care very deeply for and have strong opinions about our country. I avoid it because we’ve come to a place in our society where there is very little room for true discourse. Political discussions quickly become shouting matches where we look for someone to blame, instead of looking for solutions or (God forbid!) compromises. Name calling has become the norm. If we teach our children not to call each other "stupid", shouldn’t we teach our leaders not to call each other "unpatriotic" when they disagree?
As for religion, I believe that faith is a personal and private thing and I don’t wear it on my sleeve. That doesn’t mean it isn’t in my heart. I’ve always liked this verse from the Gospel According to Matthew, “When you pray, go into a room by yourself, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is there in the secret place; and your Father who sees what is secret will reward you.” Don’t get me wrong, if shouting your beliefs from the rooftops (or the gridiron) is your thing, go for it. To me, there is great strength in quiet faith.
            Last week, my son James had his first Sacrament of Reconciliation. That’s the new term for what we used to call Confession in the Catholic Church. The name change is an important one. It doesn’t simply make something unpleasant seem more palatable. It’s about putting emphasis on the important part of the ritual—reconciling. In reconciliation we not only admit to our transgressions, we atone for them and promise to do better. We make amends with God and ourselves. I know for some, the idea of sending a seven-year-old to confess his “sins” may seem over the top. But as I’ve worked with James, and his older brother before him (our church uses a home school program in combination with bi-weekly classes), I’ve come to believe that learning to apologize for the things we do wrong and work to make them right is a valuable thing to learn at an early age.
            Think how different the world would be if public figures were willing to admit their mistakes and try to fix them. Personally, I would respect a person for coming forward and saying, “I made a huge mistake. I’ve hurt people I love. I’m really sorry I did it and I’m going to make it up to them and try to not do it again.” How much energy gets wasted in the workplace when someone tries to cover up his or her mistakes instead of just owning up to it, apologizing, and straightening it out? People make mistakes—some bigger than others and some more public than others. Just as we all make mistakes, we are all capable of making things right.
            When Owen made his first reconciliation two years ago he asked me when I had last gone. I admitted that I hadn’t been since high school. I’m not one to make my kids do something I’m not willing to do myself. Besides, there had been something that weighed heavily on my conscience at the time. I had long since been forgiven by the person that I hurt, but it still gripped my heart. So I recited my Act of Contrition and confessed. The priest’s words were not accusatory, but comforting. He assured me that God had forgiven me and it was time to forgive myself. I felt lighter having received Reconciliation. Maybe it was the changes that have been made to the sacrament over the years, or maybe it was the first time I felt I needed absolution, but whatever the reason I walked away feeling better. We’ve all heard the old adage, “Confession is good for the soul.” Funny thing about old adages, sometimes they’re true.