Friday, September 30, 2011

So Cool it Burns

Recently, my husband Tim and I were talking about our stroller, and strollers in general, and he had a brainstorm. 

“Why don’t they have really cool strollers?  Like, for tough guys.  I’m thinking leather with studs.”

“Well, that’s probably not practical,” I answered.  “You wouldn’t want to take your nice leather stroller out in the rain.”

But my response fell on the deaf ears of a man whose imagination had been ignited. 

“Come to think of it,” Tim said, “why not invent a stroller that shoots fire?”

I raised my eyebrows.  “Tell me more,” I said.

“Like, if you could push a button on the handle console and have it shoot fire.  I bet there’s a market for that.”

“Where would it shoot fire from?” I asked.

Tim thought about that one for a couple seconds.  “Probably the sides.  That would be safest.”

Indeed.  Safety first, I always say, when it comes to fire-shooting, leather strollers with metal studs.  Expect our prototype in Spring 2012.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Oh, sure. I'm the crazy one.

 Spotting a dachshund.
It’s 90 degrees out today and so humid that you could bottle the air. On the phone this afternoon, I told my mom that I had taken Charlie for a run in the jogging stroller, and before I even finished my sentence, she said, “You’re nuts.” I made sure she knew that I’d coated the baby in three tubes of zinc-based, non-toxic sunscreen, and that I’d run down the shadiest streets I could find, into the breeze when possible so that Charlie could feel the wind in his curls. “Oh, good,” she responded. “You’re nuts.”

It wasn’t the first time I’d heard that message today, either. In the middle of our jog, my friend Erin slowed to a stop in her air-conditioned car and rolled down the window. We trotted up to the driver’s side and I said, “Hey, Erin!” She smiled and said, “You’re nuts.” About three blocks later, a guy at a stop sign shook his head at me and made the “crazy” sign (i.e., point at head, trace a small circle in the air). Very slowly, he mouthed the words, “Yoooou’re nuuuts.”

Then, off in the distance, I spotted a woman coming toward us with her stroller. At last! A compatriot! “This’ll be great!” I thought. “We’ll have a nice bonding moment. Maybe one of us will say, ‘Nice day for a run,’ and the other will laugh a little.” I trudged along, buoyed by the anticipation of a few steps of companionship.

And then, we were upon them and I made several realizations all at once. One: The lady wasn’t running. Two: In her cushy stroller, the lady was pushing a small, froufy dog. Three: Clipped onto the sunshade and directed at the dog were two small, battery-powered fans.

As Charlie kicked his legs and cooed, the dog stared at us and let out one quick yip. “Yeah, yeah,” I said under my breath. “I’m nuts.”

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Holy Pain

I woke up this morning with a terrible crick in my neck that no amount of stretching could touch.  As I poured my first cup of coffee and tried to shake it out, I had an instantaneous flashback to 1989, to the first time I recall feeling the equivalent of a hatchet wound in my cervical spine—a memory I haven’t considered in decades.  I saw myself at age 12, lying on the floor of my bedroom in a dress.  My parents were having some kind of open house or party or something – an opportunity for other grown-ups to walk through our house, peering into our rooms while eating delicious hors d’ouvres.  And there I was for several hours arranged on the floor, moving only enough to keep all my limbs from falling asleep, my head arced at a strange angle, conspicuously reading the Bible.

Why, you may ask, did I choose that particular pastime?  Was I working on an assignment for my religion teacher at our parochial elementary school?  Had I exhausted our family library except for the Good Book?  Was I looking up a clue for a crossword puzzle?  None of the above.  I’ll tell you what I was doing: The night before, I had woken up out of a deep sleep to the revelation that reading the Bible would be a very interesting, very unique, and probably very impressive thing for a young girl to be doing when a group of adults wandered by.       

I don’t recall why I decided to sprawl across the floor, but I am certain that it was a conscious decision.  Probably I didn’t want to risk people thinking I was reading a Sweet Valley High book, and the floor seemed most likely to showcase my King James edition.  I chose my outfit carefully with a mind to non-wrinkling comfort and settled on a cotton dress, as similar to the wardrobe of a character out of an L. M. Montgomery book as possible.    

I daydreamed as I dressed, imagining how things would go.

“Hello, Meg,” a grown-up would say, and I would turn my angelic smile upward. 

“What are you reading, dear?” the guest would ask, and I would say oh-so-serenely, “The Bible.”  Then I would turn my attention back to the passage at hand, likely a parable. 

The adult would raise his or her eyebrows and say one of the following: 1.) “A noble pursuit!” 2.) “She puts me to shame!” 3.) “What an interesting, unique, impressive young girl!” 

Word would spread quietly through the party that Mary and Terry’s daughter Meg was a serious, pious, near-perfect child who exhibited uncanny similarities to Julie Andrews as Maria Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. 

“Someone should write a book about her,” someone would say.

“A book?  Someone should write a series about her!  And then someone else should turn the series into a Broadway musical, a movie, and a successful TV comedy/drama, airing immediately after Doogie Howser!”

I couldn’t wait.  I found a spot where the sun shone down on my open Bible and experimented with a accessories.  To underline with a pencil, highlight with a highlighter, or neither?  Maybe a pencil would be just the right touch, while a highlighter would be over the top.  Ultimately, I decided to have the pencil handy in case the spirit moved me or the audience seemed to demand it.

And finally the guests arrived!  I could hear them making small talk downstairs, so I made sure I was ready.  Dress spread artistically across the floor?  Check.  Legs crossed daintily at the ankle?  Check.  Holy look on face?  Check.  Bring on the adults!

I waited and waited and waited some more.  Oh, it’s not that people didn’t walk by—they did, and they did say hello to me.  It’s just that no one—not one curious person—inquired after my reading material.  An hour in, I had a terrible crick in my neck and I’d read the same passage 15 times.  Then the foot traffic dried up, and my ray of sun dissipated.  “Don’t give up,” I told myself and stuck it out for another hour. 

I don’t know exactly how long I stayed there, but it was long enough to write a poem in the margin of Mark’s Gospel about a girl who heard the call of God but succumbed tragically to consumption before she could attain martyrdom.

My Bible-In ended in the least picturesque of ways.  My older sister Mary Claire strode into the room, stepping over me on her way to toss her bag onto her bed.  Then she turned around and left with just as much authority, pausing only to glance at my torso.

“Get off my side of the room,” she said. 

By the time I had peeled myself off the floor, I knew that my elbows would retain the imprint of the rug for a week at least.  And my neck … oh, my neck!  It smarted like you wouldn’t believe.   So much for piety being my avenue to stardom.

This morning, sipping my coffee and tipping my head from side to side, I mourned a missed opportunity.  Then I packed my Bible in the diaper bag in case Charlie and I found ourselves with a moment to read in the park.  The kid’s got a future in novels, series, film, and TV.  All he needs is an interesting, unique, impressive hook … 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Get out your tap shoes, Frances! Julian Marsh is doing a show!

That's me in the teal hat on the risers behind the leads.
Don't I look happy?
Last Thursday, I picked up a copy of Artvoice, Buffalo’s independent newsweekly, and casually paged to the audition notices. Theatre hiring interns, show choir needs gospel singers, Christian production company seeks people who look like Jesus … wait, what’s this? The Kavinoky Theatre seeks strong tappers and singers for their fall production of 42nd Street? My heart fluttered, I started humming, and I began to salivate out of control while experiencing spontaneous IBS. It was that old familiar, extremely unpleasant, violently-ill feeling: The stage was calling!

I rushed home to call for an audition appointment, and left an eloquent message in my most theatrical voice (deep, throaty, irresistible). I got a call back not an hour later and found myself blithely telling the caller that yes, I was a tapper, and yes, I couldn’t wait to learn a combination! It was only after I’d hung up the phone that I realized the enormity of the exaggeration I’d just made.

Some backstory: As a child, I believed that I was the next Cyd Charisse. I taught myself the basic ballet positions from a book I got out of the school library. After watching Singin’ in the Rain, I nearly dislocated my shoulder attempting to swing my body gracefully around the maple tree in our front yard. In my aspirations toward Broadway greatness, I secretly considered myself a triple threat. The hitch was that by the time I reached high school I had exactly two years of formal dance lessons under my belt, both in beginner-level ballet.

With the announcement that the 1993 Orchard Park High School musical would be 42nd Street came the tandem announcement that Mr. Jack “Sir” Greenan, the legendary OPHS choreographer, would be holding free beginner tap classes in the auditorium for anyone who wanted to strap on Teletones and learn their time steps. “Bliss!” my heart cried. “Rapture!” my feet answered. “ Be careful to tastefully accessorize your leotard!” cautioned my brain.

Every day of Sir’s tap clinic, I’d struggle with fa-laps and chugs and the rest of the mysterious, complicated language of tap. Every evening, my sister Mary Claire and I would retreat to the basement for intense, sweaty practice that was, I am certain, music to absolutely nobody’s ears. And by the time auditions came around, I was ready. I executed my military time step and my Buffalo steps with enough aplomb to earn a slot as a general, all-purpose, background tapper. I, the top-secret successor to Debbie Reynolds, had pulled it off! My mom made me some fantastic tap shorts and a matching sailor collar, and the rest is glorious, back-row-second-from-the-left history.

And aside from a brief and beautiful detour through Mr. Joel Seger’s wonderful world of tap in 2006-2007 (at CCS Dance in Massachusetts, where I took ballet and tap with some hilarious, funny, fantastic women), that pretty much brings us to the present. A several-week tap clinic in 1993 and a handful of performances of 42nd Street formed the basis for my telephone claim to be a strong tapper. No one ever said I wasn’t confident.

At 5:30pm this past Tuesday, I drove up to the Mullen Sisters School of Dance in Snyder, NY with my tap shoes in my bag and my spirits high. I strode into the studio and handed my headshot to the Kavinoky’s choreographer, who smiled and asked me point-blank, “So, what’s your tap history?” I mumbled something about having tapped in high school, but not much for the past five years or so. I will point out, dear reader, that my statement was technically true.

Minutes later, the other auditioners and I were lined up in front of full-length mirrors learning the show’s opening combination. Within three steps, I was mind-boggling, dizzyingly out of my element. Wing time steps? Traveling what, now? I felt the fleeting desire to simply walk out the studio’s open front and never look back, but I was checked by my dad’s voice in the back of my head saying something like, “Quitter? I didn’t raise you to be a quitter.” (Though I’m pretty sure that philosophy was intended to apply to baseball games and math tests, not foolhardy musical auditions at age 34.)

I stuck it out, thinking it was bound to get better. It got worse. When I was called to perform the combination for the auditors, I mostly just smiled really big and made noise with my feet. On my way out the door, the choreographer’s “Thank you” had a note of pity in it. The accompanist hid his face in the music to avoid my eye. Someone said, “We have your contact information, so we’ll be in touch,” which means, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you,” which means, “PLEASE don’t call us.”

I retreated to the lobby and unbuckled my tap shoes. Considering that I was a patent failure, I was strangely happy. For a half hour, I had worked hard, sweating and straining over a really fun, if too difficult dance. And for that half hour, I had felt a little like a character in a musical. You know … the musical where the underdog tries out for a show and at first, no one sees her potential. Then something amazing happens and our heroine is plucked from obscurity to become a star!

I’ve got the obscurity part down. Now I'm just waiting for my big break.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Three Little Words

One morning when my husband Tim was leaving for work, we went through our standard “goodbye” script: “Bye.  I love you.  Have a good day.”  I happened to be holding our 9-month-old at the time, and I said, “Okay, now tell Charlie you love him.” 

Tim rubbed Charlie’s funny, cowlicky hair and laughed a little.  “He knows, don’t you buddy?” he said. 

“No, tell him,” I insisted.  “If you can’t get in the habit of saying ‘I love you’ to your baby, how are you ever going to be able to say it to your 15-year-old?” 

“Does your dad tell you he loves you?” Tim asked.  Zing.  He got me there.  “And do you know he loves you?”  Zing x2.  If there’s one thing I’m completely certain of in this life, it’s that my dad loves my siblings and me with an unswerving, unceasing, almost pathological devotion.

But I kept at it.  “Come on.  Look at this guy!  He’s waiting to hear that you love him.”  Sure enough, Charlie was gazing at Tim with his enormous eyes wide open and a wide, toothless grin.  Finally, Tim rolled his eyes and raised the tone of his voice to sound like an old British lady and said, “I looooove you, Chaaawlie!”  And he was out the door. 

I don’t know why I’m so intent on establishing a verbal confirmation of love between my son and my husband.  Sure, if you tell my dad you love him, you’re likely to get a response like, “Okay.” But everything I can ever remember him doing indicates how he feels about his brood. Why else would a man learn the rules of women’s lacrosse just because his quasi-athletic (and that’s generous) daughter had joined the team, and then make a fanatical study of passing and running strategy, attending every single game, home and away?  Why would a guy rent a U-Haul and drive the six hours from Buffalo to Manhattan—a big-city area he instinctively mistrusts—in order to load up his 24-year-old daughter’s 32 boxes of books and move her to Rochester on the very next day?  Why else would he call that same daughter whenever he had business in Rochester and treat her to a Portobello mushroom sandwich from his favorite sandwich vendor in the park across from the theatre where she worked?  I can think of no reason, other than paternal love, why a lifelong baseball fan might agree to leave a Phillies game after the seventh inning stretch just because his pregnant daughter was feeling a little peaked, thereby missing the one homer in the otherwise scoreless game.  And I certainly can’t credit anything but love for the Mother’s Day card I got in the mail during the first week of Charlie’s life … in September, four months after the card was purchased.

Given my history, I should be content to come home after a run to find Tim and Charlie crawling around on the living room floor, saying “AAAAAAA!” at the top of their lungs.  It should be enough for me to listen to Tim reading Charlie Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, using his “Australian” voice (which sounds a little like a South African Crocodile Hunter eating a lollipop) for the purple cat.  I definitely know what Tim’s really saying when he tells Charlie, “You have the world’s biggest head!”, his voice oozing with pride. 

All the same, I’ll keep pressuring Tim to spell out his affection for his son.  And sure, I can foresee a day when Tim’s not the only one resisting the mushy talk.  (Me: “Charlie, tell your dad you love him.”  Charlie: “Mom, I’m 35.  We’ve been over this.”) There’s just something internal that compels me to do it.  After all, I’ve got a mom to emulate. 

Happy 35th Father’s Day, Pops.  Happy 1st Father’s Day, Tim.  You’re both … well, you’re okay.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

This Is All I Am

A few weeks ago, I read a interview with Laura Miller, a hip, young (childless) gal living in New York, who maintains a blog on tumblr called Too Big for Stroller. She posts surreptitiously-snapped pictures of children who she deems to be … well, too big for their strollers, along with funny (if snarky) comments.

The idea is that kids who are spilling out of their MacLarens should be walking, and that their gangly legs hanging over the restraining bars are illustrative of the epidemic of the overindulgent American parent. I don’t disagree with the basic premise. Seeing an 8-year-old in a stroller would probably make me elbow my husband and ask him why he didn’t bring my adult size umbroller. I can be as snide as the next guy.

But this part of the Salon interview rubbed me the wrong way (the italics are mine):

"I wrote a caption at one that said: 'When I have a kid, it will be strapped to me as an infant, and then walking, no middle ground.' You know, a joke. And someone commented: 'I said the same exact thing and I really meant it. But then my two-year-old started walking and she never walks in the same direction twice. The stroller is necessary.' The blog is all kidding around. I do think that at some point I will have a kid and I will push a stroller but there's still this impractical or immature side of me that thinks there's something fundamentally un-cool about strollers. I mean, you could be the world's best businesswoman, but when you're pushing a stroller it just screams: 'I'm a parent, this is all I am.' I get why strollers are around, I don't hate them, they're appropriate for babies and toddlers. I just think it's funny when kids who are way too big for them are in them."

Maybe I'm hypersensitive thanks to my current stay-at-home-mom status, but implicit in that italicized sentence I read the following equations:

Businesswoman > Parent
World’s best businesswoman + parent = 0

Ms. Miller seems to say that being a parent is far below all life's other accomplishments and, what's more, that becoming a parent nullifies all the things that once made a person interesting.  If I were to take her judgment personally, I’d have to add an equation along the lines of “Meg = Pathetic Nobody.” (But that's bonkers.  I mean, have you met me?)

This past weekend, my mom and I were talking about my unplanned (though likely temporary) transition out of the traditional workplace and she asked me, "Do you ever feel unfulfilled?  Like you're missing out on something?"  I said immediately, "Absolutely not."  She replied, "No, I never did either."  And that makes perfect sense to me.  In the 20-ish years that my mom stayed home with my four siblings and me, she was a seamstress, Girl Scout leader, musician, teacher, mentor, chef, nurse, gardener, artisan and about 40 other job titles. My dad, in addition to working a full-time job, was a coach, handyman, tutor, outdoorsman, athlete, groundskeeper and – again – dozens of other job titles. A statement as ridiculous as "I'm a parent, this is all I am" would never have crossed their minds.  Those are the models I'm working with as I forge ahead in this parenting project, and they're complex,  multi-faceted examples that can't be reduced by the mode of transportation I choose for my child.

So go ahead, childless hipster bloggers, and judge me as you will.  In the meantime, I'll push my stroller, write, cook, bake, clean, read, sing, run, sew and do all the other things I can think of to make myself a better, more well-rounded mom.  And if you ask me what I do, I'll be happy to smile and say, "I'm a parent.  This is all I am."

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Coincidence or Karma?

As a general rule, Catholics don’t believe in reincarnation.  Recently, however, something happened that shook me to the core and sent me running to Google to do some serious research on Hinduism.  What, you ask, was so momentous?  Take a gander at this:


For those of you who were not raised on pre-1960 movie musicals, the implications of this video may not be obvious.  But for anyone who ever saw Yankee Doodle Dandy or The Seven Little Foys, the parallel will be glaring.  Feast your eyes on the first 45 seconds of this little gem:


Theological arguments notwithstanding, I think we can all agree that there may be a chance that my son Charlie is the reincarnation of James Cagney! A formal observation period commences now, during which I will take special note of any tendencies toward playing gangster roles in black and white movies. A report of my findings will be forthcoming, though depending on my conclusions, it may not be completed in this lifetime.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Three Wishes

Disclaimer: These are actually not white pants
before Memorial Day.  They're light blue.
Last week, in the middle of one of the coldest, snowiest springs in recent history, the sun cracked Buffalo’s icy dome and warmed us past the point of 60 degrees.  Elmwood Avenue teemed with people itching to kick off their boots and come out of hibernation. Hippie kids gathered for some pre-season devil sticking on Bidwell Parkway.  A few bold women exposed their pasty shoulders in tank tops as they sipped iced lattes outside of Caffe Aroma.  When Charlie and I went out to run errands, the warmth and the positive energy went right to my head and I had to check an urge to rip into a mother/baby rendition of “Seize the Day” from Newsies.

It was weather that merited a celebration, so with fresh air in our lungs and the sun on our backs, Charlie and I headed for the park for his first encounter with the baby swings.  They were a smash hit.  And when the magic of swinging one foot in either direction had worn off, there were kids to watch—big kids who ran, fell, slid down slides, and did all kinds of other things that are fascinating to a seven-month-old.  All in all, the perfect pint-sized adventure for a spring afternoon. 

When we finally pointed the stroller homeward, I mused, “Nothing could spoil this day, my beautiful infant son!  Unless, of course, we almost get run over by three thoughtless drivers who fail to heed age-old traffic laws that grant pedestrians the right of way.” Charlie and I looked at each other and grinned, and the twinkle in his eye said, “Come on, Mom, what are the chances?”

Alas, dear reader, I’ll let you surmise what came to pass.  If you surmised that we were nearly hit by three thoughtless drivers, you are spot-on correct.  One was a middle-aged lady who gave us a frantic two-handed wave and mouthed, “I’m so sorry!” about six times, so she gets a pass.  The other two, though, were stupid jerks.  First, a middle-aged man laid on his horn as he sped through a stop sign.  Then a teenage boy glared at me as he careened around a corner and discovered us in the middle of the crosswalk. 

For several blocks, I fumed.  I mumbled audibly about bad drivers and the punishments they deserve.  Then I took a few deep breaths and sought solace in a daydream that I have had for a decade.  In this daydream, I stumble upon a shabby-looking lamp.  “Hm,” I say, and I rub the lamp, releasing a modestly clad version of Barbara Eden, who agrees to grant me three wishes.  “World peace,” I demand, and she makes it happen.  “Lots of money,” and my bank account bulges.  “And the power to telepathically insert my voice into the minds of bad drivers.”  She requests more information.  I oblige.

“I would like the power,” I tell the genie, “when I see a bad driver do something dangerous or just really annoying, to have my voice pop into the driver’s brain, such that he does not know who is speaking, but he knows that it is not himself.”

The genie looks pensive.  “What kinds of things would you say?” she asks.

“Oh, you know,” I reply, “stuff like, ‘Blinkers, my friend, are not merely a courtesy of the road.’  Or, ‘You WILL quit tailgating immediately!’ Or ‘I’m sure you’ve been informed that it’s illegal to stop in the middle of the crosswalk.’  That kind of thing.”

“And these drivers – they just, like, hear this voice, in their head, out of the blue?” probes the genie.

“Yep,” I say.  “Like a friendly but instructional experience of schizophrenia, only eerier.  It’s intended to frighten without causing an accident.  If the drivers happen to glance in my direction, maybe I’ll wink and give them the old crazy eyes, but otherwise it’s totally anonymous.  Oh, and I don’t get to keep talking to them after they’re out of range – this is a one-and-out set up.”

The genie gets me to promise not to use my Driver’s Ed Telepathy in a situation where it could result in a car accident, and has me sign some papers that release her from liability.  And then – ta da!  I am transformed into an anti-bad driving avenger!  I am a force for good in a chaotic world!  I am the mysterious voice that sends dozens of road hogs into years of expensive therapy!  Plus, the world is peaceful and I’m filthy rich.

Around this point in the daydream, Charlie and I arrived at home.  I went to unbuckle him and discovered that he had fallen sound asleep, cheeks rosy from the fresh air, mouth slightly open.   I managed to extract him without waking him, and he snuggled his solid little noggin under my chin.  Peace?  Check.  Fabulous wealth?  In a manner of speaking.  What's that thing they say about two out of three?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Greatest City on Earth

Right around the time my husband Tim and I decided to make the move back home to Buffalo from Philadelphia, someone sent us this promotional video produced by the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau.  It highlights several points of Buffalo pride—unspoiled architecture including houses by Frank Lloyd Wright, the extensive Olmsted park system, proximity to the majestic Falls, a strong sense of community, low cost of living—and it features some really gorgeous images of the area.  People who know stuff about Buffalo say insightful things about the city, its history and its potential.

We tried to be inspired and excited that someone was getting the word out about the diamond-in-the-rough that was calling us home, but we just couldn’t.  We got stuck on the title.  Buffalo, NY: This Place Matters.  It’s like making a video about your parents for their anniversary, showcasing their love and devotion to each other over decades of happy togetherness, and then calling it Mom and Dad: They Stayed Married.  New York City wouldn’t call its video This Place Matters, because … duh.  New York City knows that it matters, and it would probably challenge you to a knife-fight behind the bar if it heard you say otherwise. 

How would we rework the title?  Well, we thought about that.  We came up with Buffalo, NY: Where a Three-Bedroom House On A 1/2-Acre Lot Costs Less than a Studio in Brooklyn.  Or perhaps Buffalo, NY: Seriously, the People Are Sooooo Nice.  Or maybe Buffalo, NY: The Snow’s Only Part of It.  Or how about just Buffalo, NY: Experience it for Yourself?  Because some Philadelphians shuddered when we told them we were moving to Buffalo, but most of them have never been here.  They’ve seen the city on the news when there’s a heavy snowfall, and that’s about it.   But there’s so much more!  And that’s the real point of the video—that the experience of Buffalo is inviting, comfortable and warm, even when the weather’s not. 

My cousin Laura and her family moved here just a couple months before Tim, Charlie and I did (Take that, recent census reports about people leaving Western New York! We count for 7 on the plus side.), and we’re always comparing notes about cool stuff we’re rediscovering.   We’re Zoo members and Laura’s training as a docent at the Darwin Martin House.  As the weather warms up, we’re eagerly anticipating the Elmwood-Bidwell Farmers’ Market, which will be on the parkway directly across from our front door.  Tim and I went to Trimania a couple weeks ago and got to meet a whole bunch of people who do really neat things (French Press stationers, portrait photographer KC Kratt, some bellydancers). We’re starting to look around at houses and I drool over some of the stuff in the Elmwood Village area.  Interiors with original stained glass and beautiful woodwork are everywhere, and I’m convinced that if we buy around here, I’ll get to have a party befitting of my 100-plus-year-old house.

So come visit us, friends from other places, because Buffalo more than matters.  Come experience this marvelous dreamland of a city!  (Is that overstating my case?)  We’ll take you to all kinds of great places and show you how great life in a small city can be.  And come to think of it, at least our promo video doesn't look like this.  (Warning: They swear in this video, so you might not want to watch it if you took my last post to heart.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Reason #3: I know what I’m going to say when Charlie encounters foul language.

My sister Mary Claire and I were about 9 and 7 when we had our first brush with profanity.  We were on the school bus, just doors from our stop, when a mean-looking girl barred the center aisle.  She was probably a perfectly normal child in a Catholic school uniform, but in my imagination, she wears a leather jacket and has a cigarette dangling from her lip.*  She has a lumpy scar on her right cheek, a faint German accent and greasy, unwashed hair.  She smells of B.O. and she is 10.

Standing in the aisle, the German stared down her nose at my sister and, as if she’d had years of practice, said, “Bitch.”

Mary Claire and I were rooted to the floor.  My stomach lurched and I wondered what circumstances would give a pass to a second-grader for wetting her pants. Then, as quickly as she had materialized, the German was gone, and Mary Claire and I rocketed off the bus and up our driveway.
I don’t know who had enough bravery to broach the topic with my mom.  Probably Mary Claire.  With a strong tendency toward brooding in silence, I typically left most of the up-front communication responsibilities to my older sister.  In any case, somehow my mother learned that we had heard – nay, we had been called – a bad word.
Here’s the part I remember with utmost clarity.  My mom put one arm around each of us and reiterated that “bitch” was not a word we used in our family.  We nodded solemnly.  “It’s not a nice thing to call someone, and it shows that the girl on the bus has a small mind and a small vocabulary.”  This was new.  My mother went on: “When people swear, often it means that they don’t know any better words to use.  For example, would you rather that word went around school that you were a bitch, or that you were a dirty pig who never bathed?”

A dirty pig who never bathed?  The horrors!  Mary Claire and I confirmed that the pig thing was much, much worse. 
My mom summed up, “So when people use swear words, we know that it’s not only impolite, it also shows that they’re not very creative.”

I took that lesson to heart.  In about fourth grade, I made waves during recess for calling a bully a snot-sucking bottom feeder.  In eighth grade, I got in huge trouble when a note I had written to my friend Roberta was intercepted, disclosing—with pictorial representation—that I thought one of our teachers was a crusty-skinned, crooked-fingered fish-woman whose face was made of Play-doh.  Throughout my professional life, though I never dared say them aloud, I found tremendous satisfaction in cooking up colorful epithets for imaginary use against workplace nemeses.  When I left one job, I was sent an exit interview survey to fill out, in which I finally got to refer to a coworker as a toxic weasel who had destabilized the department by digging a network of fetid tunnels into its foundation.

Thanks to my mother, I now know that not using swear words isn’t a restriction.  It’s liberation!  Think of all the things you can call that large-pored Norma Desmond in your yoga class who always takes the good spot in the corner.  Or your fleshy, girlish male co-worker whose midlife crisis tattoos make you vomit a little bit in your mouth.  Or how about the washed-up beauty queen with the visible underwear lines and 1992 bangs who stole your parking spot?  Just try it!  Once you get on a roll, there’s no end to the nasty things you can come up with, all far more insulting than “bitch.”

That mom of mine.  She really set a good example.

* I am renowned in my family for my Swiss cheese memory.  Mostly, I remember pieces of things and then fill in the holes according to what Anne of Green Gables or Nancy Drew would have done.  It makes for a colorful set of remembrances, but I often tell a story and then hear, “Meg, that’s not what happened at all.  It was your arm that was eaten off by the bear, not your leg.”  Point being, you can trust the major points in my stories to be true to the spirit of the occasion, but if you think the details should have gone another way, they probably did.  I bet Mary Claire tells this story a lot differently.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Reason # 2: I will have no problem being a curmudgeon about terrible choices masquerading as fantastic opportunities.

I’m sharing this video for a couple reasons.  One, because it is, indeed, Fryee-day, Fryee-day, and everyone I know is, in fact, looking forward to the weekend.   Two, it’s one of the most marvelous, horrible, embarrassing, hilarious videos I’ve ever seen.  (Thank you, Dan, for posting it on Conor’s Facebook wall.)

I don’t think there’s a rhyme in the entire song, and while I know of some very accomplished musicians who don’t rely on rhyme (see Ben Folds’ “Cigarette,” or a bunch of Radiohead songs), it seems like you should have to achieve some level of artfulness with intonation and melody before you’re allowed to strip away the basics. 

Just for emphasis, this is the bridge:

Yesterday was Thursday, today it is Friday. 
We, we, we so excited, we so excited.
We gonna have a ball today. 
Tomorrow is Saturday, and Sunday comes afterwards.

There’s a lot of commentary I could add, but I don’t think it’s necessary.  I’ll meet you over by whatever long German word it is that means “the enormously satisfying feeling you get from experiencing something that is phenomenally bad.” 

I get a kind of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feeling when I see stuff like this.  When I was a kid, I loved to sing. I participated in all kinds of plays and show choirs and performance groups, and when directors said things like, “This group is the most talented cast we have ever had!” I ate it up.  If someone had approached me with a recording contract and told me that I could have the next teen hit, I’d have sold one of my sisters to get that deal. 

But then I’d have taken the sheet music for “Friday” home, where my mom would have plunked it out on the piano and pronounced it drivel, and my dad would have asked about the credentials of the music company, going on for 45 minutes about the implications of a contract, especially at the age of 13.  I’d have been crushed, of course, because I had been forced to miss out on such a golden opportunity, such a once-in-a-lifetime chance!  Millions of dollars!  The cover of People!

But Rebecca Black didn’t live in my house.  I’m not saying that she has rotten parents; they’re probably very nice people, who got really excited over their daughter’s opportunity.  I’m just saying that Rebecca Black is all over Facebook, YouTube and Twitter trying to decide whether to sit in the front seat or the back seat, and whoever should have seen it coming didn’t. 

I'll take away three points from all this: First, I am eternally grateful that I was born to parents who could tell the difference between shit and shinola.  Second, I'm praying to the Lord above to let me be such a parent.  And third, someone did allow Rebecca Black to record “Friday,” so the damage is done and I might as well enjoy it.  We we we so excited.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reasons I Was Made to Be A Mother, In No Particular Order

Me on the left, blissfully unaware of
the pressures of "bathing suit season."
Reason #1: I never liked my stomach in the first place. 

There have only been two summers when I could have been described as “bikini-ready,” and during each of those, I was either training for or ramping down from a marathon.  In other words, for me to come close to measuring up to magazine standards of beach preparedness, I have to be running more than 30 miles a week.  Unfortunately, since I am also kind of lazy, the tally will likely remain at or close to two.  And I really don’t mind.

I used to.  There were whole decades during which I was fixated on attaining the ever-elusive “flat tummy” that Fitness Magazine promises in at least 2/3 of its issues, especially in the lead-up to summertime.  Having grown up in a tank suit kind of family, I held fast to my childhood beliefs that bikinis were kind of racy and only intended for people of star status (you know – like Susan, the self-assured, fast-talking Californian half of Hayley Mills’ role in the original The Parent Trap). I didn’t permit myself to sport a two-piece suit until I was 23, and even then it was a fairly conservative tankini, usually worn draped under some kind of elaborate wrap item.

But now that my husband and I have this perfect little son, and our first summer as a family approaches, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I never had a gorgeous, flat belly.  Why?  Because I have nothing to miss.  I don’t own 15 cute bikinis that will languish in the back of a drawer, taunting me with their tortoiseshell hardware and snazzy prints.  I don’t resent my stretch marks, even though they make me look like the survivor of a tiger mauling.  They’ll look just fine under my serviceable Speedo and a breezy cotton cover-up.  When I do examine them from time to time, I won’t curse them for altering my physique, because they exist on a part of my body that has only been tan once in almost 34 years.  If they mellow out over the years, fine.  If not, big deal.  

I know it sounds kind of girl power-y or hippie-dippy, but I’m proud of my post-pregnancy stomach.  It’s the oddly fascinating, kind of surreal result of bringing a whole new person into the world.  It’s evidence that nature is powerful and miraculous and awe-inspiring, and I’m a tiny part of it.  It’s like erosion or a volcanic eruption or plate tectonics—on a very small scale.  And after all, gazing at the Grand Canyon, nobody says, “That looks horrible.  I hope they can get it to go back its pre-glacier landscape in time for bathing suit season.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Overheard: Big, Fat Baby

We have a standard bedtime routine for Baby-o that includes a couple books and then a few songs with the lights out.  When I’m the singer, I often perform my rendition of  “Maybe” from Annie, I occasionally throw in a ditty from Pete’s Dragon and I always bring the house down with “Feed the Birds” from Mary Poppins.  When my husband, Tim, is the singer, the tunes are more frequently peaceful bluegrass numbers or some of the Grateful Dead’s less jam-based songs.  From the kitchen, I can often hear Tim crooning, “Go to sleep you little baby …” and I know that the Honey-boy is on his way to Dreamland. 

Then, there are the nights when Tim lulls Baby to bed with a childhood classic.  Except he doesn’t really know any of the childhood classics.  Or, more accurately, he knows a lot of the first lines, and then he gets creative. 

Last night, I heard this:

London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down.
(So far, so good.)
London Bridge is falling down, big fat Baby.
(Hm.  A personal touch.  Our baby is, indeed, big and fat.)

See the people on the bridge, on the bridge, on the bridge.
See the people on the bridge, big fat Baby.
(Intriguing.  I had never really considered the people, probably tourists, on the bridge.  What will become of them?)

They should probably get off, prob’ly should, get right off.
They should probably get off, big fat Baby.
(Not a cautionary tale, really.  Just an observation.  As if Tim and Baby were sitting at the top of the London Eye watching London Bridge begin to give way, saying to each other, “Hey, those people should probably head for the Tower.”)

Now the bridge is in the lake, in the lake, in the lake.
Now the bridge is in the lake, big fat Baby.
(I’m so relieved.  This can’t be a true story, because London Bridge doesn’t span a lake.  Whew!)

With that, Tim came out of Baby’s bedroom, closing the door gently.  “He fell asleep in my arms,” he reported.

Monday, March 14, 2011

If the yoga pants fit …

Overall overload.
I’m a chronic re-wearer. Once I find something that I feel good in, I wear it until it has holes in it and almost all of its original dye color is washed away. My whole family knows it. My siblings still tease me about my collegiate addiction to overalls. Those bibbed pants did serious yeoman’s work, over tee shirts, button-downs, sweaters; to class, parties, movies, dates. I honestly believed that you could dress them up, if you matched your socks to your shirt and blew your hair dry.

When I became a functioning member of the work force, my re-wearing tendencies cooled slightly. I intuited that, for a public relations professional, wearing the same sweater every day for three weeks would be frowned-upon. I guess I backslid on the weekends, relying on the same rotation of shirts and jeans, but I knew enough to twist the Rubik’s cube of my limited wardrobe at least once before every outing.

Here’s the thing: Now that I’m staying at home with the boy-o, the re-wearing censor is dead. Every day – unless they’re in the wash – I wear Lululemon yoga pants, a white J. Crew “perfect fit” tee shirt, and a Beyond Yoga wrap that my sister Anne gave me. Every day. I go to the Lexington Co-op in them. I show up at the library in them. I take Baby to Itsy Bitsy yoga at East Meets West in them. (Here, you might say, “Well, there you’re appropriately dressed, at least.” Not really. It’s yoga for the babies. The parents could wear snowsuits and still not break a sweat.) I even have multiples of one particular Bravado nursing bra that I rotate according to the laundry cycle. The only things that vary are my socks, and if I could find a perfect pair, I’d probably buy seven pairs and add them to my repertoire.

I’d been told that this could happen: That, once you stay home with a child, you rely more and more on what used to be work-out apparel. That you “try less” because your audience is usually limited to one small, fashion-indiscriminate person. And I suppose I knew that, with my history, I might find myself going back to the same comfortable clothes day in and day out. But what I didn’t expect was the total lack of self-consciousness I have about my uniform. Seriously, who cares? Does the cashier at Wegman’s mind that the last time I pushed my cart through the aisles I was wearing the same thing? Nope. Does the hipster chick who hollers out the orders at Spot Coffee even notice that the lady who ordered a decaf Americano had the same thing on yesterday? Uh-uh.

Because you know what they notice? The sweet-faced little blue-eyed baby with the long, long lashes who’s strapped on to the front of me. At 33 years of age, I have found the ultimate diversion from my re-wearing habit. Even my siblings, who can usually be counted on to taunt me for my fashion don’ts are oblivious, as long as I have my sonny boy in tow. It’s so liberating! So freeing! My fear that I’m being lazy with my appearance has evaporated. Poof! And just this one beautiful child is bound to buy me, oh, five years of yoga panted bliss. All I have to do now is figure out how long I have until this yoga wrap wears out and then make sure that I always have an infant until then.

Now that’s what I call family planning.