Category Archives: family

Mean Moms

There’s an epidemic of mean moms in the entertainment I’m watching. Reese Witherspoon is hilarious as the take-no-prisoners Madeline in Big Little Lies: it’s Elle Woods, 10 years out of Harvard with her J.D. degree gathering dust in one of the many hundreds of rooms in her swank, NoCal beach house, polarizing principals, pupils and—most of all—the other moms at her daughter’s school. Debate her big heart versus her “meanness” all you like but, spoiler alert, someone is killed and the killer is not a man (although he deserved her wrath, for sure). 31-big-little-lies.w710.h473.2x

I just finished watching the elliptically named “Gypsy,” a Netflix series starring Naomi Watts as a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose cognition and behavior become increasingly suspect. “Boring, boring, boring,” lamented a Newsday reviewer, who complains that even “the city that never sleeps,” the series’ setting, “manages to doze off in the middle of the never-ending torpor that has become her life.” Agreed, but my point is: Watts’ character is attacked by a cadre of sniping and biting mean moms and she bites back.  I also object to her Connecticut home, which somehow has a view of the Tappan Zee Bridge from the backyard.

Gypsy

And who cares?

Then there’s the shelf full of books about mean moms. A same-named tome written by a daughter “overcoming the legacy of hurt. The comic-book like  “Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later” — wow, there’s just so much wrong with this book (including a terrible font) that we will set it aside.

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And apparently, there’s a Jennifer Aniston vehicle called Mean Moms, that’s reported as stuck in development. Just as well, perhaps.

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“The Slightest Thing To Do to a Baby” (and other family phrases)

Families are just a kind of tribe and, as such, have their own languages. Sometimes we say things to each other, quoting something or someone, and the listener will say: “what’s that from?” Meaning it sounds familiar (or familial) but she can’t place its origin. Even explaining this makes me wonder if it would make sense to anyone outside my family (hello, Janet!) Or, conversely, I’ll use a family-understood phrase, only to baffle my non-family audience. Once I said, apropos of I can’t remember, “I’ll be nappin’ like a baby by lunchtime.” And then to the baffled listener I had to say: “That’s not a thing, I guess?” When I told this story to Lily, she laughed, and understood, but also couldn’t place the phrase. Consider this a lexicon to a tribal language. Perhaps you have your own?

  1. “That’s the slightest thing to do to a baby!” Said anytime you object to something someone has done. Origin: unknown.
  2. “Tired as a person.” Said of dogs, usually. Origin: unknown.
  3. “Although not in my garden…” While this sounds specific to horticulture, it can be used as an all-purpose prevarication. Origin: Block Island, circa 2009, because it came up after many hours of playing Apples to Apples.
  4. Loving or hating something “to bitsies, bodies and bones.” Translation: a lot. Origin: unknown.
  5. “Family dance!” Said when one family member makes a ridiculous suggestion of what the family might do together. Origin: Jamaica, circa 2008, when Steve suggested the four of us dance together at a reggae bar. Teenagers were aghast.
  6. “You gotta get the money!” Said when someone needs to wrangle funds that are rightfully theirs. Origin: Brooklyn, circa 2015, when Lily was ripped off by her Air BnB guests.
  7. “Sick as a pig.” Said when you’re sick. Origin: maybe Lily or Oli as a child, misstating “sick as a dog.” Or maybe it’s a British thing, read in a book.
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To me, you are perfect

perfect

The perfect Valentine’s Day card for Miss Lil.

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More on forgiveness

“There was love, an abundance of it; we just had to respect and accept that it was not the love of happily ever after. No, we would not be celebrating our 60th wedding anniversary, or even our sixth, but we would always be celebrating our children and the physical and emotional bond that brought them into being.

As it turns out, the world of moral absolutes is ill-suited to divorce. It isn’t a question of good/bad, success/failure, right/wrong. It is a recognition that what existed is irretrievably broken and that something else must be built in its place.

The decision to end a marriage is not about quitting; it is about letting go of one relationship in exchange for another. The equation isn’t love/not love. Divorce, at its best, is a love reborn — birthed from heartache and rage and despair and ultimately, forgiveness — that creates a different kind of family.”

Such a good essay. I read it, in the cool sunshine of my porch, the church up the street tolling its bells on the hour. Around me, fall is obligingly fall like: clear sky, dry leaves rattling in the breeze, the haze of summer dispelled.

Also, apropos of nothing, her characterizing child-rearing as feelings of love (of course) but also “corrosive boredom.”

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Late blooming

I know “late blooming” mostly refers to an adolescent’s delayed development but this time of year, it puts me in mind of paper whites, which I like to grow during the weeks before Christmas. I started a few pots of them early in December but in our cold and dark house — kept this way because no one is ever home — they seemed delayed in their development: stumpy and gnarled like fetuses, like bulbs (which are flower fetuses, you could say), only loosely rooted in their cold beds of stone and dirt. More like graves than beds, come to think of it.

But then the holidays were truly upon us and I filled the fridge with food and the kids filled the house with messy bags of their stuff and carols filled the air and there were packages wrapped in bright paper and fires in the hearth and Christmas cards stacked on a silver tray and stockings hung with care.

And in response to all this, the paper whites bloomed.

Or maybe it was just because we finally turned the heat up.

paper whites

paper whites

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please, thank you

There’s a secular kind of prayer I make when I fear something in my life is about to be lost. It goes like this: please, please, please, please.

On an everyday basis that thing is my phone and I am asking the Maker (of Apple Products) to reveal it to me as not lost after all. Please, please, please, please, I think. And there it is: my phone, tossed heedlessly into my bag, hidden in the black recesses among sundry other black things: a black wallet, a black notebook, a pair of black tights (whaaaa?). I feel a little spangle of relief; it’s a company-issued phone and I simple can’t tell the tech-support guy I lost another one. On most occasions, I remember to send up a thank you to the Maker that goes something like this: “You have saved me so much inconvenience not to mention groveling on this day and for that I am grateful.”

As a mother of two “children,” now in their twenties, I’ve had far too many occasions to send up that prayer to another Maker, who, although not well known to me, probably doesn’t reside in Cupertino.

 

Please, please, please, please, I would think as I pounded the playground looking for a lost Lily, who was not over by the swings, not underneath the life-sized concrete hippos, and not where I last saw her at the teeter-totters, before I fell into a conversation with another mother, complaining about our kids, in all likelihood. When Lily is found — trolling for food from the sanctimonious mom who always remembers to bring baggies of raisins and Goldfish — I don’t care that Mother Superior gives me a side-eyed look for losing my daughter and having no snacks. I send up a thank you to Whomever for restoring Lily to me, for making this day a perfectly ordinary one. I remember, at least in that moment, to stop wishing that extraordinary things would happen to me (“Hey lady, you look like a novelist! Got a book we can publish?”) and appreciate just how sweet ordinary life can be.

“Thank you,” I think, brushing the Goldfish dust from Lily’s round cheeks. “I will never complain about my children again.”

Fast-forward many years and Oliver, Lily’s younger brother, has offered to drive to Vermont to pick up his sister from college. It is Thanksgiving break and we are too cheap/broke to fly her home. As darkness is falling, some five hours after he should have arrived, Lily calls to say: “No Oliver.” I try his phone, which goes straight to voicemail but I don’t really worry until Lily calls two hours later with the same message: “No Oliver.” I try to go about my ordinary activities, shopping for the holiday, but my brain is scrambled with anxiety, and the grocery store is making me more nuts than usual: the bafflingly numerous choices when it comes to buttermilk, the throngs of shoppers in that supermarket-stupor of torpid movement, the grocery baggers in their grating Santa hats (it’s Thanksgiving people! If you feel you must wear a holiday topper, why not a pilgrim’s hat?). I am blinded by visions of Oliver, all of them catastrophic: car crashed into a tree or car out of gas and he’s walking down the road accosted by a crazy person or forced to sleep in the car, temperature plummeting, his vehicle black by the side of the black roadway, an obstacle the other car can’t see until … and so forth.

Please, please, please, please, I think, praying, in my way, for my ordinary life to resume. And it does, with an annoyed Oliver calling from a gas station up by the Canadian border, having missed his exit, having had his cell phone die, having had to listen to ten (he: “seriously, mom, ten?”) increasingly frantic messages from me. The next day I am still weak with relief over having both my children — and many other people I love — around the table. And even though the turkey is on the dry side and the gravy is on the thin side and the biscuits are a little weird (wrong buttermilk) and the cranberry relish is hated by all, I couldn’t be more grateful when my guests compliment me on the lovely meal.

“Thank you,” I say to them and also to Whomever. “Thank you so much.”

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life

You know what life is NOT like? The Game of Life. God I hated that game. It just made people feel bad. And then everyone died.

not so life-like

not so life-like

This is what 55 looks like

This is what 55 looks like

Me, between gorgeous Lily and movie-star-looking Susie. A good night.

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don’t mention it

Does this happen in your family? In every family?

“Jokes” evolve around the foibles or character quirks of each and every family member. Janet’s a terrible driver. Susie’s a picky eater. Patty is hyper-organized; requested filing cabinets for her 7th or 8th birthday. Diane takes awful photos, just awful, eyes closed in every one.

But then the years go by, as years tend to do, and the quirks fall away. I’m not saying that other, more serious character flaws don’t develop, but these particular issues abate or disappear except — pay attention here — in the minds of the family members.

Today: Janet’s a good driver; Susie has published a dozen cookbooks; Diane looks like this in a photo (not a model but not terrible, am I right?). Patty, whatever, she is the subject of this rant so she’s still organized but also at fault as you soon shall see.

 

Overdue for a Keratin treatment but my eyes are open anyway.

Overdue for a Keratin treatment but my eyes are open anyway.

 

This goes on Facebook, where all good family feuds take place these days, only to be tagged by Patty: That can’t be my sister, her eyes are open.

Then, this morning, Patty uploads a photo of our mother, eyes closed, with the caption: Annette Lilly, pulling a Diane diCostanzo. To which I want to reply: “really, again?” and “why post a photo of anyone with their eyes closed?” and “by the way there’s a space between the di and the Costanzo.”

I had a similar, in person, rant aimed at my sister-in-law (whom I love) and my mother (she of closed eyes; I also love her) who spent a day with me, gently ribbing me about my inability to take a good picture. At once point I rebuked: “how do you think I’m supposed to take a good photo if every time the camera’s put in my face someone reminds me what bad pictures I take?” That didn’t hit the mark so I unleashed a full-on tirade after my mother, jokingly, said in advance of taking my photo: “put your sunglasses on so no one can see that your eyes are closed.”

Oy.

Families.

Spleen emptied but still I wonder: why do the people who know/love you best insist on not letting go of old, hurtful jabs like these? They’re not funny, they’re no longer true, and they make people feel bad. (But not as bad as the spleen emptied by in this letter from someone named Aunt Gladys whom I never met and that’s probably a good thing.)

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unhappy easter

Image

Why do people always look so miserable in family Easter photos? Is it the weak April light? The church clothes? The ham?

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