Monday, December 5, 2011

Day of Rest

I love Sunday evenings. I find that those last few precious hours of the wekend set the tone for my whole week. Get it right and I retain a modicum of calm organization through Wednesday at least. Get it wrong, and my life goes to hell in a handbasket by 6am Monday morning.

This week does not look good.

Sunday started out pretty well. Realigned my disgruntled chakras at yoga. Got kids out biking and running for familial fresh air and exercise. Planned menu for the week, got groceries, and tidied bills and paperwork into a neat pile (thereby continuing the self-delusion that I am On Top Of It).

The evening continued in a similar vein -- boys persuaded into shower/hairwash/nail clipping routine with only their usual degree of recalcitrance. Older son made dinner. Wrangled boys into bed at a reasonable hour.

How did it all go so wrong?

I was contemplating a leisurely bath and glass of wine, when Mr. Berman noticed that one of our cats was missing. Worse still, we realized that we had not set eyes on her since Saturday morning. Wracked with guilt, I tried not to panic. I persuaded myself that since she was a stray we had taken in, she was used to the mean streets of New York, where god knows there is plenty of vermin for her to go at if she gets peckish.

Mr Berman reacted more productively. He wandered outside at regular intervals, calling her name, each time coming back looking more concerned. I decided to skip the bath in a show of solidarity, but forged ahead with the glass of wine. One needs sustenance in times of stress, I find.

As midnight approached, there was still no sign of the cat. Mr Berman was in a tailspin of guilt by this juncture. He pointed out, in an accusatory fashion, that since she is My cat, she responds best to My voice, so would I get My ass out of the door to help look for her please. Reluctantly, I dragged on some flip flops, and headed off into the night.

I walked around 3 square blocks in my pyjamas, calling her name and muttering angrily. My personal safety did cross my mind at one point, but I looked way too crazy for anyone to mess with.

As I neared home, I passed our neighbors' house, and called the cat's name one last time. In response, I heard a plaintive mew. I tried it again -- and again, she answered back. I'd found her...but where the hell was she?

I tore into the house, and grabbed Mr Berman. We tiptoed into our neighbors' yard, and realized that the mewing was coming from their basement, where it appeared the cat had been stuck for 2 days without food or water. We would have to ring the bell and wake them up.

At this point, I should mention that my neighbors are a lovely family, new to the neighborhood. They are most likely not used to having crazy, barely-dressed, foul-mouthed people ringing their bell at midnight. They are most certainly not used to living next door to us.

They were incredibly gracious, and showed us into their partially-renovated basement. The cat was stuck in a 2-foot high crawl space under the kitchen, so Mrs Neighbor fetched a can of tuna with which to tempt her out. 

The cat was not tempted. 

There was nothing for it -- I had to crawl in after her. It involved a fair amount of wriggling through dirt, and I ended up hanging ass-first out of the crawl space, calling "Here kitty kitty" through gritted teeth.

The cat crawled over to sniff at the tuna. I made a grab for her but missed, hurling the entire can of tuna all over Mrs Neighbor in the process. The cat followed with a yowl, embedding all 10 claws firmly into Mrs Neighbor's back. Mrs Neighbor, quite understandably, started to scream. After a mad chase around the basement, we caught the terrified animal, apologized profusely, and slunk back home, leaving Mrs Neighbor to pick the tuna out of her hair while Mr Neighbor cleaned the blood off her back.

We are awash in shame.

And this was Sunday evening. My lovely, peaceful, organized Sunday evening.

Roll on Monday. I'm ready.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Costco

Every month, we make an excursion to Costco. There is initially great excitement at the prospect (we don't get out much), and everyone eagerly piles into the car. The kids look forward to the sample tasting. Mr Berman mentally eyes the electronics and prepares to make his case for an extra 50" flatscreen TV. I contemplate which new kitchen appliances I will buy and barely use.

What we always forget is that Saturday afternoon at Costco is hell. Thousands of tortured souls who could not resist temptation, forced to spend an eternity consumed with anguish and futile dreams of escape. We remember this as soon as turn into the parking lot. The conversation is always the same.

"Looks crowded."
"Yup."
"Should have come early, right when it opens."
"Yup."
"Or midweek, after work."
"Yup."

We drive around for 15 minutes, and if we are lucky, eventually find a space without fisticuffs. Parking space sabotage is common. People cut you with steely resolve, and would run over their own children in order to secure a spot. I have a strong moral compass when it comes to parking etiquette, and these outrages have me practically frothing at the mouth. By the time I stagger out of the car, I am exhausted by the strong language and hand signs I have been forced to distribute.

It only gets worse.

The place is impossibly crowded, which enforces a sedate shuffle. I am not sedate, nor do I shuffle. I prize energy, efficiency, speed. But these virtues count for nothing in Costco. So I shuffle around with the crowd, as energetically, efficiently, and speedily as I can, practically grinding my teeth to powder in the process.

Here is our shopping list:
Supersize cheddar
Supersize yogurt
Supersize pretzels
Supersize cheerios
Supersize houmous
Supersize rice
Supersize peas
It continues, in the same vein, for 3 pages.

In addition to food, we also review this month's special offer items. Of particular interest: supersize stretch pants, $11.99. Could come in handy. I place 3 pairs in the cart.

My favorite part is the discount wine store, which we visit after check out. At this point in the proceedings, I am invariably losing the will to live, and it is all I can do to prevent myself from ripping the cork out with my teeth and downing the nearest bottle.

So why do we put ourselves through this?

It's not to save money. Any savings on food are rendered neutral by the ready availability of electronics, kitchen appliances, and supersize stretch pants.

We do it, quite simply, to save time.

A few hours of Costco torture once a month gives us precious extra time with the boys each weekend. We can stroll through the greenmarket without worrying whether we have enough cat litter. Spend a little extra time in the library without dashing off to stock up on loo roll. We could even, god forbid, sit down en famille for a civilized breakfast, thanks to our supersize pack of frozen croissants.

Counterintuitive as it might seem, that precious commodity time is now available at your local Costco store.

See you in the dairy aisle.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Packed lunch

Yesterday was my son's first day at middle school.

Of course, I had forgotten to register for the "My Lunch Money" program online until the night before. I took care of it at 11:47pm, but discovered to my dismay that payments take 24 hours to appear in the school's system.

What the hell would I give him to eat on his first day? We are in the middle of an everlasting kitchen renovation during which we are subsisting on deliveries and take out, and the chances of me finding healthful sustenance amidst the dust and mess were slim.

I rustled around in the laundry hamper (where I am storing comestibles during the renovation), and retrieved a packet of Cheetos and a Capri Sun.

This would not do. While my son would be perfectly happy with this for lunch, his new school offers a very healthful menu with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I cannot send him into this environment with Cheetos. While I don't think Cheetos, if taken in moderation, would be bad for him, they sure as hell would be bad for me.

I would look like a Bad Parent.

I reviewed the label on the Capri Sun. I was encouraged by the fact that it contains 30% less sugar. Than what? Cotton candy? It didn't say. But it fooled me for a second, so it will fool the Judgers. I popped it into the lunch box.

I located the peanut butter under a pile of bills, alongside a suspicious-looking loaf of bread. I selected the two most promising slices, cut the worst of the mold off, and made a somewhat presentable sandwich.

What the hell could I do for fruit and veg? There was a forgotten green pepper in the fridge, but no amount of fancy knifework would ever make it edible. I grubbed about in the back of the vegetable drawer, and emerged triumphant with a remarkably well-preserved pear. I sliced it lovingly into an environmentally-friendly, non-BPA, reusable plastic container, being careful to leave the little 'organic' sticker on. Chew on that, Judgers!

While I was in the refrigerator, I noticed a lone yogurt, which was a little past its sell-by date. But not by much. I reminded myself that yogurt is meant to go off, sort of. I scratched off the sell-by date with my nail, added it to the lunch box, and zipped it all shut.

It was done. My reputation as a Not-All-That-Bad Parent was safe. My son's stomach, maybe less so. There is always Pepto Bismol.

I wonder if it counts as a vegetable?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kids N Action

Today, I found myself in an indoor amusement park.

That alone would be bad enough. But my time in this neon hell coincided with the very window of time in which I was expected to review a considerable volume of work and provide meaningful feedback to my colleagues.

How, you might ask, did I get myself into this?

Guilt.

I am on vacation this week. However, we are in the throes of kitchen renovation, so rather than expanding my kids' experience by trekking through the rainforests of West Africa or visiting monasteries in Tibet, I have been dragging them around Home Depot, Lowes, and shady tile warehouses in the industrial nether regions of Brooklyn. This, coupled with the fact that there are projects at work that I cannot just walk away from, means that downtime with my kids has been somewhat challenged.

During this afternoon's home-improvement excursion, we passed Kids N Action, and my youngest asked, very nicely, if we might go in. Considering that I had recently plied them with a 2-pound cinnamon bun apiece to keep them quiet in Ikea, I should have known better. But I caved. 

Kids N Action, I discovered, is a glatt kosher version of Chuck E Cheese. There were play tunnels, a ball pit, go carts, and -- la pièce de no-parental-resistance -- an indoor roller coaster. A cacophonic whirl of sensory overstimulation, the place might aptly be renamed Parents N Purgatory.

There was not, unfortunately, a bar. 

I managed to find a seat in the cafe, and opened up my laptop. Before switching on, I glanced over to check on the boys, and realized that they were already on their fifth roller coaster ride, which considering the cinnamon buns they had recently put away, could only end badly. Feeling faintly guilty that I had unleashed my over-sugared kids on the other inhabitants of this brightly-colored plastic jungle, I dutifully ignored my gut, and started reviewing work. 

Two cups of bad coffee later, I eventually sent feedback, which may or may not have been meaningful. I had one of my heads coming on, and could not wait to get home and take 3 Excedrin (migraine-strength) with a glass of wine. I extracted my kids from the ball pit, with considerable difficulty.

"Mummy, this place is FANTASTIC!"
"Mmm-hmm."
"I mean, I can't believe we've never been here before!"
"Mmm-hmm."
"Do you like it mummy?"

Silence, as I wondered how to answer.

My youngest answered for me.

"I bet you do mummy, because you have fun when you see us having fun, right?"

There it is, in a nutshell. The reason places like Parents N Purgatory exist. We have fun when we see them having fun. No matter how miserable we are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teleconfession

I had an 8am call yesterday morning, to present work to an extended client team in the US and EU.

This is way earlier than should be legal. While I truly don't mind getting up early -- like it, even -- the fact that I am expected to be cogent, compelling, and persuasive before my second cup of tea is terrifying. I decided to take the call from home, which would give me a little longer to rally my rambling thoughts.

What should be pointed out here is that my summer mornings are a harried whirl of multi-tasking activity. There are soccer boots to be found, water bottles to be filled, lunches to be packed, breakfasts to be made, sunscreen to be applied, screen-time rules to be laid down, arguments to be had...god forbid I have time for a shower.

So of course, this morning I was in my usual state of disarray.

I hopped out of the shower and onto the call, wearing nothing but a towel. I started off in decent fashion, pretty authoritative I thought, for 8am. And then it occurred to me. What if my clients and colleagues could see me right now?

The authoritative note slipped out of my voice, and I clutched my towel a little tighter.

I am thankful beyond expression that videoconferencing has not taken off in a big way in the business environment. While I love Skype and will happily chat away to my parents in my pyjamas, having to be well-groomed and ironed at any time of the day or night for business calls would be way beyond my capabilities.

This morning's call went smoothly. Nobody guessed I was looking for something clean to wear as we discussed the ideas, or was groping under the bed for my shoe as we decided on next steps. Everyone left the call happy, and I left it dressed.

Videoconferencing would put an end to this kind of multi-tasking. Which would be a shame. Because I went to work clean. And I smelt great.

Odorconferencing. Now that I could cope with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Presentation skills

My son recently had to give a speech at his graduation. He was the salutatorian (I had to look it up), and so was asked to inspire his fellow graduates and their families with erudite, pithy, and amusing words of wisdom.

He is 10. And while I am a firm believer in allowing kids to do their own work and make their own mistakes, I couldn't let the lad fail in front of 500 people. So I became, for two brief weeks, a stage mom.

We brainstormed ideas for his speech. ("You need one idea. No rambling nonsense. If you tell them more than one thing, you've told them too much.")

He wrote it, and I reviewed it. Ruthlessly. ("Where's the structure? It's all about structure. Repetition and structure.")

And then we rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed again.

I had the poor fellow recite it in the kitchen. ("Slow down.") On the stairs looking down at a family audience of 3 people and 2 cats. ("Slower.")  With his notes. ("Pause between each sentence.") Without his notes. ("You need to know this inside and out so you can think on your feet.")

I was unbearable. Because I do this a lot. And I know that you had better be prepared, because things don't always go according to plan.

Just yesterday, we had a presentation at work. There were 30 people squeezed into a conference room that bulges at the seams with 20. My jacket was tight. It was hot. I was thirsty. I stood up to present, and realized to my horror that I was quite unable to draw a breath. I gasped. I spluttered a sentence. I sipped some water. I took a shallow breath, in order not to burst the buttons on my jacket, and spluttered some more. It was the most uncomfortable presentation experience of my life.

Afterwards, a colleague mentioned that she liked the way I took my time, and drew deep, thoughtful breaths between each point. I disabused her of this notion, and explained that I was in fact hyperventilating, and had almost died for want of a paper bag to breathe into.

"Oh," she replied. "I thought you were doing it for emotional effect."

At least they didn't see the whites of my eyes.

On graduation day, my son was spiffy and smart in his new suit and shiny shoes. He climbed up to the podium, where he had to stand on a stool so he could see over the top. He looked around calmly (just like mummy told him to), smiled (ditto), and took a deep breath (ditto, although he was in no danger of losing his buttons). Then he began...

He did a lovely, lovely job. I commented that he looked so comfortable up there, as if he presented to 500 people on a regular basis.

"Were you nervous?"
"Yes. My trousers were shaking."

Bless his heart.

I was so proud. Because even with shaking trousers, he didn't let us see the whites of his eyes.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Toiletries

I am in Boston for a pitch. Once again, my powers of packing appropriately for the task at hand have failed me.

I cannot claim exhaustion, having packed this morning at a leisurely pace. So how exactly I find myself standing here in my hotel room at midnight with no toothbrush, toothpaste, eye make up remover, or clean undergarments is entirely beyond me.

I called the concierge, who assured me in a smiley voice that the hotel can furnish me with complimentary oral hygiene products; fifty-seven minutes later, hope is fading fast that these will in fact materialize.

Decide to take eye make up removal into my own hands using hotel shower gel, with disastrous results. My eyes, surrounded by indelible black smudges, appear to be bleeding.

Wipe my teeth clean on a towel and get into bed.

Lie awake, concerned.

Quite how I will deal with the undergarment situation tomorrow morning remains to be seen. Maybe I can do something creative with the disposable shower cap.

Transparent plastic knickers.

I shudder myself to sleep.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Off the rails

Last week I did not see much of my family. We were hosting a meeting for Indigenus, our global agency network. They are a warm and wonderful group of people, who love to Go Out. So go out we did, night after night after night.

I warned the boys I would be "working late" every night, so it would be best to pretend mummy is traveling. Mr Berman obligingly agreed to manage the morning bus routine, as long as I promised not to wake everyone up by stumbling round the house singing Disco Inferno at 2am.

Although it was just a week, I missed them terribly.

Every morning, they were ushered into my bedroom for an audience, before they went out for the bus. My husband would issue instructions as they trooped up the stairs."Don't speak to mummy or make any noise. Hug her very gently. And for god's sake don't smell her breath."

They tiptoed in. I opened an eye and managed a hug. They were reverent and respectful, as if I was an ailing monarch lying in state, as opposed to a toxic sponge.

"If nothing else," I pointed out to Mr Berman, 'I am providing a lesson in how one suffers if one overdoes things."

He rolled his eyes.

While he was kind enough to relieve me of my parental responsibilities for a week, it's not a long-term strategy for success. Mr Berman was totally over having to feign sympathy and bring me endless glasses of water by the week's end.

Our lives are now back to normal (if there really is such a thing), and I realize what a positive influence the boys have on my life.

Let's face it, if I didn't have to behave like a grown up, I totally wouldn't. But as I discovered morning after morning after morning, (wo)man cannot live by Alka Seltzer alone. It was those quiet, reverential little hugs that kept me going.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Face your fears

I have always tried to raise brave young men.

You cut your knee honey? You’ll live. Spilt your milk? Get over it. Afraid you’ll fail? Failure lies in not trying.

I want them to have perspective on their woes, and courage in the face of adversity. 

Of course, this requires me to lead by example. If I want them to face their fears, I have to face mine. Which is how I found myself in a mask and flippers, hyperventilating my way through a dark underground river in Mexico a few weeks ago.

My husband had already faced his fears on the trip. God bless him, he rappelled off an 85-foot platform in the rainforest. This is the man who cannot stand on a ladder without having a turn. He has many great strengths, but a head for heights is not one of them.

So when the boys thought it would be fun to swim through a cave, along a mile-long underground river, I felt forced to acquiesce.

I should point out here that I am not OK with fish. I have worked hard to overcome this phobia, and have made great strides. Bright tropical water with colorful Finding Nemo-type fish 10 feet below me I can do. Brown murky water with brown murky fish 10 inches from my face I cannot.

However, I was determined to set a good example. I snapped on my mask, donned my flippers, and kicked off in a nonchalant fashion. Fifty feet in, I put my head underwater, and immediately came back up, choking in horror. I was surrounded by catfish. And thousands upon thousands of teeny tiny black sprats. 

I clutched Mr Berman’s arm.
"I can't do it."
"Just keep moving"
"There are fish. They're all over me."
"Of course there are fish. It's a bloody river."

I paddled on in a panicky fashion, looking for a suitable exit point. Eventually I spotted a pinpoint of light in the distance, so I dragged myself onto the rocky bank, divested myself of flippers, and started to scale a trail leading upwards, checking my bathing suit obsessively for tiny black sprats.

I emerged, blinking, into the light, and forged a path towards what I hoped would be the cave exit. After a few hundred yards, a sharp piece of gravel embedded itself in my foot. I swore heartily, and stepped back into the only footwear I had available.

I waddled on in my mask and flippers, groping about in my bikini bottoms, in what I knew would become a lifelong search for leftover sprats. A group of passing travelers stared at me in disbelief. I smiled faintly and waved (with the hand that wasn't down my bikini), only to trip over a flipper. 

I staggered to my feet shouting "Backwards! I forgot to walk backwards! You should always walk backwards in flippers!" The passing travelers moved on quickly.

Heeding my own advice, I walked the remaining half mile backwards, bleeding profusely from my left knee, swearing loudly as I fumbled for sprats.

"Where the hell have you been?" yelled Mr Berman. 'We were worried."

"I faced my fears and I don't like them." I yelled back. "That's why they're called fears. I want a margarita."

Not exactly the lesson I had intended to impart, but a valuable one, nevertheless.

When courage fails, there is always tequila.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Car sick

We took a family vacation in Mexico last week. As part of the trip, we were planning to drive around to various points of interest in the Yucatan. The last time we attempted this kind of excursion in Costa Rica, there was -- naturally -- a considerable amount of drama.

We were starting to make our way back to the airport, which involved a long and winding road downhill from the Arenal volcano area. The kids were playing DS in the back seat, looking up at the scenery and grunting appreciatively whenever I pointed something out.

“Look guys! Coati mundis!”
“Hrmp.”
“Wow! The volcano is smoking!”
“Hrmp.”
“Up there! Quick! A toucan!”
“Hrmp.”

This went on for some time, until suddenly, there was an extra loud “Hrmp” from the back seat.

“Is everything OK?”
“Mummy, my tummy hurts…”

Mr Berman and I looked at each other in panic. For my youngest son Ted, this is code for “I am going to vomit, just about now…”

There was no time to react. There never is. A hose of spew came roaring from the back seat. The jaws of satan couldn’t have done a better job. We were covered.

I turned around in horror. Ted was ashen, swaying, and sobbing. “I’m going to be sick agai….nrpaaarrrrrgghhhh.”

I blinked away the carrots.

“Pull over! Pull over!”
“I can’t pull over!”
“What?”
“There is no ‘over’! It’s a (insert expletive) precipice!”

We careened around the corner, and spotted a little town in the distance. When we reached its lone store, we screeched to a halt. Mr Berman tore inside.

“Agua por favor – mucho agua!”

So far, so good. But his Spanglish was about to be put to the test.

“Kitchen rollio?”

Blank stares from the locals.

“Papier de cucina? Por vomitio?”

After much miming, Mr Berman stomped back to the car and we commenced clean up operations.

“The car still stinks. Can you go see if they have any Pine Sol?”

Cursing heartily, Mr Berman braced himself and headed back into the store. Several minutes later he emerged, sweating profusely, clutching a bottle of el bleachio. Apparently, his Spanglish had failed him, so he had been forced to mime out the scene to the entire town, who were gathering in the store to see what the commotion was about.

Of course, by this point, we were late, so late, for our flight. We drove like bats out of hellio, retching all the way from the smell. When we eventually got to the airport, we discovered that Ted’s passport had expired, so we would be unable to re-enter the US. But that’s another story.

I have learned that "relaxing" and "family vacation" just don't belong in the same sentence. You work your ass off all year to pay for adventure, and you get it, in bloody spades.

So I steeled myself for Mexico. This time, I packed my own kitchen rollio.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To run or not to run?

I recently received the email that tells me I am in the NY marathon this year.

I should be delighted.

It takes 9 races and a volunteer event to qualify -- that's a lot of ghastly Sunday mornings.

But I am conflicted. Am I really going to manage it this year?

I decided to bow out last year -- not exactly gracefully -- in the middle of a 19-mile training run. I was trotting down the boardwalk at Coney Island, and had an unexpected epiphany, in the shape of a taco.

I was passing the stand that does lovely soft corn tortillas with homemade hot sauce, fresh lime, and cotija cheese.

"Screw this." I thought. "Gel packs are the work of Satan. I want a taco."

I sat and munched the taco. I watched the waves. I thought for a bit. I had twisted my ankle and missed the first 4 weeks of training. I had a lot going on at work. I just wasn't ready. Sometimes, quitting is the smart thing to do.

"I'm knackered, I want a bath, and I want to see my boys." 

So I got the bus home. And that was that.

What with one thing and another (work, boys, sleep, life, breathing), it has become harder to keep running marathons of late. I know I need to. Without that big, scary goal, there is no way I will get out of bed at 5:30 am to get 8 miles in. Who the hell would?

So...2011.

To run, or not to run?

That is the question.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Karate smackdown

Last Sunday, I got up at 6am and drove my son 30 miles to watch him fight another child in front of approximately 400 people.

It was his first karate tournament.

And mine.

We were, of course, late, my GPS losing its mind somewhere in the middle of Long Island. We arrived at a gallop, sweating and swearing as usual, and found ourselves in a scene straight from Dante. There were 8 combat rings. Masses of competitors. And hundreds of parents lining the hall, seated on bleachers, hollering up a storm.

I pointed my tiny little baby (OK, OK, quite tough 8-year old) in the direction of his ring, and climbed on shaky legs to the top of the bleachers.

I managed to remain tolerably calm, until the first punch was thrown.

It took every ounce of self-control I possess not to throw myself into the ring, grab the other kid by the pants and hurl him to the mat in an unexpected Mama B Smackdown.

Instead I took a breath.

My son goes to a great karate school, run by wonderful people, who place a real emphasis on encouraging positive character development. He has to complete homework assignments about confidence, perseverence, self-control. He is fit and strong. He is not afraid. And, best of all, he gets to do really cool-looking karate moves that he practices day after day.

So I sat on my hands. Shut my mouth. And tried really, really hard not to pee my pants.

He did rather well. As he proudly clutched his trophy, he explained his strategy for success. He noticed that the other kid didn't have on a face guard, just a head guard, so he aimed straight for the nose.

"Marvellous!" I heard myself saying. "Smart move! Next time, make sure you follow through with an axe kick to the chest."

This is his sport, and he loves it. 

And while I haven't quite got the hollering bit down yet, I will be there on the bleachers, cheering him on.

P.S. For karate classes in Brooklyn, check out urbandojo.com

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The comeback

It's been a rough month.

Two rounds of antibiotics, Mr B in San Francisco, early meetings, Mr B in England, long workdays, Mr B working weekends, cold weather...all fine excuses for not getting my ass out of the house for any form of exercise whatsoever.

I was inspired back into action by an impossibly kind and wildly optimistic doctor. As she checked me over, she smiled. "You have a great heart rate. Nice and slow. Are you an athlete?"

I almost kissed her.

There is no way I can pass as an athlete. I am a tired and harried 40-something who runs when she can. But if my heart has dreams of athletic glory, I'm not going to let it down.

So I gave myself a pep talk. Do you want to be someone who does things, or someone who talks about doing things? What kind of 50 do you want to be? And my balls-to-the-wall favorite, Just Do It.

Then I dug out my running tights and laid out my sneakers, so that I could spring straight into them Monday morning.

While I didn't exactly spring, I did manage to crawl in the general direction of my gear. It took me five minutes to get my running tights on -- I was literally rolling around on the floor. Good god, I've only had a month off. Loser tights just can't handle it.

Eventually I staggered to my feet, sweating and swearing, encased in lycra like an overstuffed bratwurst.

And I went out the door.

That's all you have to do. Get out the door.

Because once you're out, you're glad you run. Even when it's freezing. Even when you cut it short. Even when you suck.

Sure enough, yesterday was freezing. I cut it short. And I most certainly sucked. But 2 miles is better than no miles, for a wannabee athletic heart.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Comedy of Errors

My oldest son recently asked if he could go to see some Shakespeare.

Given that the boys usually request a trip to Chuck E Cheese's when in need of cultural stimulation, I leapt on his suggestion. And I was delighted at potentially having a fellow fan in the family. Mr Berman gallantly comes to Shakespeare with me, but would really rather be blowing up zombies on his Playstation 3 of a Saturday night.

So I whipped out my credit card with trembling hands, and went shopping.

Both BAM and the Lincoln Center have great seasons this year. My son chose Romeo and Juliet (because he'd heard of it). I parried with Macbeth (much more exciting). Then I decided he'd be better off with a comedy appetizer, so The Comedy of Errors was added to the shopping cart. At this point I was giddy with enthusiasm, so threw in As You Like It as well. When I checked out, sticker shock rapidly brought me to my senses.

My son had better bloody enjoy this.

Last night was our opening night, with Edward Hall's Propeller Company and their all-male production of The Comedy of Errors.

The first scene was rocky. There's not nearly enough action for a 10-year old. My son shifted in his seat and picked his nose. But when the two sets of long-lost twins hit the stage in this farcical tale of mistaken identity, he perked up considerably. Particularly when we got to the scene with the Lady of Ill Repute, in this instance played by a bloke with plastic knockers and 6 inch heels. Now I was shifting in my seat.

As the "Lady" mimed out bawdy shenanigans, my son hissed "Mummy, what IS she doing?". Everyone -- including the actors -- turned and looked in our direction. I suddenly felt very irresponsible.

Things only got worse.

At one point, a naked man burst across the stage with a lit firework up his arse. My son looked at me in shock. I had not prepared him for this. The man ran off, screaming.

"Mummy, does he explode?"
"No. It's only a sparkler. But that doesn't mean you can do it to your brother."

On the way home my son was quiet, thoughful even. Then,

"I like The Comedy of Errors", he said casually. 

I almost wept.

You see, he is growing up so fast. His trousers are all half-mast (I haven't had time to buy him new ones since he was 6). He is moving on to middle school. And he's not going to want to hang out with me for very much longer.

I had been feeling a little melancholy about this. But now I realize that although we may not snuggle up every night for a Thomas the Tank Engine story, we might share a night out at the theater once in a while.

We've traded Thomas for the bard. I'll take it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Black rat

A black rat crossed my path on the subway stairs yesterday.

It was of substantial size and menacing demeanor, but what freaked me out the most, apart from the fact that I nearly trod on it, was the fact that it reminded me of a mouse.

Strange thing to say I suppose -- of course rats resemble mice. But rats I can deal with. Naturally, I would experience fear and alarm if I found one in my kitchen. But I would be able to think clearly and form a plan. Mice, on the other hand, drive dark and clammy fear into the depths of my soul. I cannot think, I cannot function, I cannot breathe.

After my close encounter with the rat, all I have been able to think about is the mouse we had in the bedroom a few years back.

It made its first appearance in the dead of night. I was awoken by Mr Berman, stumbling around with the light on.

"What the hell is going on?"
"Nothing. It's nothing. Go back to sleep."
"It's not nothing. What is it?"
"It's a... cockroach-type thing."
"What kind of cockroach-type thing."
"Erm...one with a tail."
"It's a MOUSE?"

For the next 5 minutes, I stood on the bed screaming until Mr Berman manhandled me into the guest room and told me in no uncertain terms to keep the hysterics to a minimum while he dealt with it.

I did not sleep a wink.

The next morning, I was forced to ask our babysitter to help me retrieve clean knickers from the bedroom. Just as I was reaching into the drawer, I saw a dark shape run behind the dresser. I literally leapt onto the light fixture. When our babysitter eventually managed to get me down, my hair was standing on end, I had goosebumps on every inch of my body, and was sweating like a woman possessed.

I didn't sleep a wink that night either. Nor the next. Nor the one after that.

Because we could not find the mouse. Until I could discover evidence of its demise, or its continued existence, I was a tormented soul. I spent all day at work researching humane traps, peanut butter bait, and peppermint oil deterrents. When I arrived home, I would feverishly search for droppings, then throw the boys in the car and drive around the block until Mr Berman got home from work.

Eventually we found it, by smell. It had crawled into Mr Berman's gym bag, and expired in his sneaker.

We were recently recounting this episode when Mr Berman surprised me -- nay, horrified me -- with a confession. He had hidden the full story, knowing it would send me straight into an asylum.

He had been half-woken up by the cat jumping on the bed, and something crawling into the palm of his hand. He squeezed his hand together, and realized the "something" felt unpleasantly greasy. At this point, he sat bolt upright, flicked on the light, and saw a mouse, in his palm, apparently squeezed to death.

At this point, Mr Berman panicked. In his defense, he is not at his best when roused from a deep slumber. And he was more than a little unnerved by his greasy palm and the contents therein.

So while he considered what to do about the situation, he put the mouse down -- ON THE BED -- and went to wash his hands. When he returned, the mouse had come to its senses and was staggering across the bed in my direction. It was mere inches from my face, but it saw Mr Berman and fortuitously performed an unexpectedly athletic leap onto the floor.

This is the point at which I woke up.

What if I had woken 5 seconds earlier? What if the mouse had chosen my hand to crawl into? Or my nostril, god forbid. I swear the shock would have killed me.
So you can see why I was distressed by the rat.

I have started to obsess again over its smaller cousin. Am I going to lose all ability to function until every rodent is expunged from New York City? This could mean a long stay in Bellevue.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Med rage

It was a strange and not very restful weekend.

Saturday evening, another ugly cold kicked in. I woke up in the night streaming from every facial orifice -- even my eyes. My eyes! God help me.

Naturally, I woke Mr Berman to tell him how miserable I was. Not sure whether he said "poor sod" or "sod off"; suspect the latter. He did manage to mumble that I should add pillows, which I did, for a fitful night's sleep.

Sunday morning, he'd had quite enough of my whining, and strongly urged me to take an Aleve 12-Hour Cold and Flu. In a moment of weakness, I agreed.

I should know better.

The last time I took it was 5 years ago, minutes before a pitch. I spent the next two hours bouncing off the walls, in what the clients mistakenly believed to be a frenzied display of enthusiasm. I have never felt so out of control in my life. I nearly swallowed my own teeth.

So it was with some trepidation that I gulped down my meds yesterday morning. Within 15 minutes, I knew it was a mistake. My legs shook, my hands shook, my heart shook, for close on 12 hours. Ozzy Osbourne at 80 will be in better shape than I was.

What took me by surprise was the rage.

Mr Berman had headed out for groceries with unexpected eagerness, leaving me to my jitters. As is usually the case, he called me several times from the store to make sure he was buying the right kind of rice/bread/endive. But every time the phone rang, I jumped like I'd been shot.

"I can't find Belgian endives."
"What about curly endive?"
"They don't have that either."
"I bet they have fricking iceberg. Philistines."

I have never been quite so angry about endives, Belgian or otherwise, in my life.

The day continued in much the same vein. I stomped about, scowled in a menacing fashion, and silently fumed about iceberg lettuce, erasers, raincoats, whatever. The boys thought it hysterical, and followed Mr Berman's lead in calling me an Old Bag.

As I pointed out repeatedly in an unsuccessful quest for sympathy, it wasn't me, it was my meds. My pharmacological version of the Twinkie defense.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bear attack

I have been hanging by the phone, waiting for my son to call.

He is away from home for the first time, at an outdoor adventure center in the Poconos. I had the usual low-grade anxiety such an event might occasion (Will he clean his teeth? Wake up in the night? Change his socks?) but there was no real fear involved.

Until I spoke to Thaddeus.

Thaddeus is a colleague of mine. I mentioned my son's trip to him. He looked at me, shock in his eyes, hesitated for a moment, and then started laughing.

Fear was now very much involved.

Thaddeus began his tale.

"I went on one of those trips. Bears attacked the camp. Went for a pee in the woods, turned around and there's a bear, staring me straight in the eye. We all had to run for it. Tore my pants in the panic. Berman, there are TONS of black bears upstate."

My stomach acid lurched into immediate overdrive. But Thaddeus wasn't finished.

"Best thing was, all the girls were so frightened, they were allowed to sleep in the guys tents that night..."

At this point I almost vomited. My son is 10. If the bears don't get him, the girls will.

Since this worrisome download, I have been sitting by the phone waiting for a call. Preferably from my son, but most likely from the police or the principal.

Eventually it rang.

"Hello mummy."
"Hello love! I was hoping it was you! Are you alive? I mean, having fun?"
"Yeah."
"Is the food OK?"
"Yeah."
"Are staying within sight of a teacher, a parent chaperone, and an armed forest ranger at all times?"
"Er, yeah."
"And you're definitely still alive?"
"Yeah."

I let it go.

There will be bears. There will be girls. There will be many other things to turn my hair white and put holes in my stomach lining. I may not be ready for them. But he will be.

Still, there will be no peeing in the forest. Ever. That's just asking for it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wine shop

I am fond of wine. Almost every situation life hurls at me can be improved by a sip or two of the right varietal.

There are two wine stores in my Brooklyn neighborhood. One tends to the upscale. They host regular tastings, and I never cease to be entertained and infuriated in equal parts by the pretentious nonsense that comes out of the manager's mouth. The other is a liquor store. The only tastings here happen on the street right outside. The cabernet vies for shelf space with Mystique (a fruity aperitif), lottery tickets, and a telling selection of miniatures, but the owner is knowledgeable and down-to-earth, and has a surprisingly good range of wine.

I usually dash into one of these establishments on the weekend with children in tow. For me, this is just part of getting the weekly essentials, along with toilet paper and tea bags. The boys know not to partake of the tastings in the first store, and not to block the lottery line in the second.

But we sometimes get Looks. Not from the staff. They know us all by name (make of this what you will). No, the Looks are from other members of the clientele. How someone buying a quarter bottle of Jack for immediate street-side consumption has the gall to look at me askance for allowing my kids within sniffing distance of wine amazes me. But Look they do.

So I was doubly delighted to happen upon a wine store near work on 20th Street in Manhattan just recently. It has a fine collection across multiple price points (from "God I need a drink, it won't touch the sides so I don't want to spend more than $15", to "I work damn hard and I damn well deserve this").

But fine as the wine is, there is something even finer. A play area. In a wine store. For kids. It has blocks, and balls, and books, to keep little ones occupied while parents shop. Brilliant.

The message to parents is "Come in! Linger! Do not be ashamed that you cannot do this shit sober! None of us can!"

That's my kind of message.

But what I like even more is the message to kids. "Come in! Play! Mummy needs to pick up wine. And that doesn't make her a reprobate! In Europe they drink wine every day! It does not automatically mean that you will end your days slamming back quarter bottles of Jack street side! Wine is fine, in moderation!"

They don't do pretentious nonsense or lottery tickets I'm afraid. But they do deliver.

http://nymag.com/listings/stores/moore-brothers/

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cat pee

I am no longer distressed by the fact that I tear through life in a state of partial undress smelling of dirty laundry. But when one of my children suffers similar indignity, I am forced to question our perpetually dramatic life.

This morning, as usual, there was panic. My youngest went running out for the bus without his backpack, so Mr Berman, in hot pursuit, picked it up.

"It's wet...ugh...it stinks...Jesus (insert colorful expletive) Christ, the (repeat expletive) cat peed all over the (repeat expletive) backpack!"

Mr Berman dropped the backpack rather quickly.

I sprang into panic management mode.

"Find new backpack. Hurry. Homework out of backpack. Into new backpack. You don't have time to smell your hand. Go. Go. GO."

Mr Berman ran gagging out of the house with the replacement backpack, leaving me with the antibac wipes. I gingerly mopped the floor, and soon forgot the incident.

Until this afternoon, when I received a plaintive phone message from my son.

"Mummy, I need to tell you something. When I got to school, all my homework was wet. And my books. They were wet too. The teacher made me throw it all away. She made me wash my hands. Everything smells."

The shame is overwhelming.

We are the family that sends our children to school awash in cat urine.

There is, however, an upside.

We now have an original excuse that I can reprise as necessary. "The dog ate my homework" is so overused.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Special offer

I recently decided that my family needed a morning motivator. The early hours of every day are a highly charged affair in my household, with drama, panic, and bad language in abundance, all before most sensible people are awake.

Understanding the power of a special offer, I decided to motivate the kids to get downstairs faster with the promise of pancakes. Naturally, they leapt out of bed with alacrity the next morning, and sat eagerly awaiting their cooked breakfast at 6:30 am. What I had failed to think through was that I would have to be compos mentis enough to operate the stove at this ungodly hour. I shambled through however, and everyone left the house well fed, fully dressed, and on good terms.

Of course, the kids requested that the special offer be extended. We now renegotiate the terms every night. I have been whipping up boiled eggs, fried eggs, oatmeal with syrup and fixings, waffles with fruit and cream -- anything that will get them up on time with a smile on their face. If I brushed my hair, I could almost pass for Martha Stewart.

This sounds like a lot of effort. But it takes me less time to crack an egg and slam a couple of slices of bread into the toaster, than it does to persuade them out of bed, adjudicate breakfast disputes, and run around screaming like my ass is on fire.

I am secretly hoping that breakfast will eventually come full circle. I will be able to present Cheerios as the special offer of the day, and it will have the kids excited.

Novelty and nostalgia, all in one easy, get-it-while-you-can bowl.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Turbo shovel

On Saturday, my youngest announced that he needed to build a Turbo Shovel this weekend. Naturally, I assumed this would just involve Lego and imagination. But no, this was a real school project, which required a working prototype by Monday. There was even talk of a patent application.

I do not have the skill set for this kind of assignment.

My brother inherited every practical gene our family had to offer. He can build anything, fix anything, mend anything. He is amazing. In a post-apocalyptic world, he's the kind of guy you'd want to keep around. Me, you should just eat as soon as is decently possible.

Unfortunately, my brother resides in England, so was not on hand for prototype consultation. The future of the Turbo Shovel lay in my inept hands.

My son drew an incredibly detailed sketch of what he wanted to make. He sent me into the basement to find a shovel, a wooden pole, and some yarn. This I could do. Next, he asked me to make a metal hinge. This I could not do. I clearly should not be at the helm of a blowtorch.

We thought for a while.

"How about bending an old lightsaber?"
"No way."
"A Hot Wheels ramp?"
Icy glare.
"Pantyhose?"
"That is SO wrong."

After a lengthy exploration of the robot-bits box and the recycling bin, we made a surprisingly serviceable hinge from two toilet rolls and magic tape, which gave me new hope for my post-apocalypse survival.

My son then patiently told me how to attach the shovel and the pole to the hinge, and how to tie on the yarn. It was done. We welcomed the Turbo Shovel to the world.

Our young inventor picked it up, and demonstrated how he would dig it into the snow and pull the yarn -- and hey presto, snow would be effortlessly tossed up and over his shoulder.

I was amazed. Somehow, the practical gene had skipped a generation. Sure, it was made of yarn, toilet rolls, and magic tape, but the Turbo Shovel was a great idea.

I was glad to have been part of its genesis. I didn't have the skill set. But I did have good direction. Sometimes, that's all you need to get the job done.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fruit smoothie

My 10-year old son picked up the sliver of banana and held it at arm's length.

"You want me to eat all this?"
"Yes. There is about one-sixtieth of a portion of fruit there, but it's better than nothing."
"I don't want it."
"Just eat it."
"No."

This conversation, with the insertion of various seasonal fruits, is part of my family's cozy breakfast ritual every morning.

While my younger son will eat pretty much any fruit or veg, my older one is much less obliging in this department. When he was 3, he went grey from poor nutrition. Strawberry Starburst was his side dish of choice.

It wasn't like this when I was little. I didn't know kids who didn't like fruit and veg. Really I didn't. We had parents who grew up on rations, and who made you feel like an ingrate if so much as a pea was left on your plate. Today however, we have raised a generation of children who are encouraged to have opinions, which may be a good thing in many ways, but is an absolute bugger to manage at the breakfast table.

I considered forcing the banana issue. But this is the son who has, on more than one occasion, vomited up food he does not like all over the table. I was not equipped to deal with anything quite so theatrical this morning. Instead, I reached for the blender.

I dropped in one banana, a handful of blueberries, a questionable-looking pear, a good slug of milk, and a splash of strawberry syrup. Whizzed it up. He drank the lot.

The smoothie ploy wins every time. And while I am delighted that it prevents my son from turning an alarming shade of grey, I cannot help but be conflicted about the message I am sending.

You can get people to swallow anything. As long as you whizz it up the right way.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Frostbite

I think I'm going to lose 3 toes.

It was a bit of a morning. Mr Berman had to leave at 5:00 am to catch a flight to San Francisco. He brought me a cup of tea, bless his heart, but it was all downhill from there.

I managed to hoist myself into a sitting position, and switched on the laptop to get a head start. Time ran away with me -- suddenly, it was 6:45 am, the kids were still asleep, and we had 30 minutes to get up and out to the bus stop.

The boys were not exactly fired up and ready to go. I did manage to get us all dressed before 7:00 am, which I consider to be something of an achievement. I shoveled vitamins down their throats in lieu of more adequate sustenance. I yelled "Come ON guys" a lot.

We left the house in a scramble, I as usual, dressed in my floor-length padded down coat, to cover the offensive array of articles I had managed to grab from the dirty laundry. I did not have time to find socks, and grabbed the nearest footwear in my size.

Flip flops.

Initially, I did not realize that it was sub-arctic -- my attention was distracted when the door fell off its hinges as I closed it. I simply could not shut the damn thing. I wrestled with it and swore heartily for a minute, then had to make a split-second decision -- miss the bus and wait in for handyman, or catch the bus and return to burgled house and murdered cats. I chose the latter, and went haring off after the boys, flip flops and floor-length padded down coat flapping in the icy breeze.

As we reached the bus stop, I realized that I could not feel my feet. I mentioned this, and the boys looked down, horrified, at my flip flops.

"You're wearing flip flops."
"I know."
"That's silly."
"I know."
"It's really cold today."
"Bloody hell. I KNOW."

The bus came, and I hobbled home. Half an hour later, 3 toes on my right foot are still white. I remember with growing concern that Scott of the Antarctic perished from a combination of starvation, exhaustion, and extreme cold. While god knows I'm no danger of starving, I panic that the other two combined are very likely to cause my demise.

Mentally fast-forward to the emotional eulogy at my funeral.

"Tragic as her untimely expiration from exhaustion and frostbite may be, at least she didn't shame her sons by wearing slippers to the bus stop."

Amen.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Lying down

I'm getting bedsores.

Have been trying to get some rest in order to get over a bad cold. But instead, I have been sitting up in bed for several hours, trying to stay on top of things. I did this on Monday too. Foolish, I know.

My arse is killing me.

Lying down now.

Just remembered something else I need to take care of. Must send comments on copy.

Done. Lying down again.

Damn. Forgot to reschedule the 12 meetings I should be in right now.

Taken care of. Lying down again.

Now the kids are coming in the front door. Is it 3:00 pm already?

They want to lie down with me. So do the cats. Multi-Species Fight Club ensues. Someone stands on my hair, cat's claw gets stuck in my arm, suddenly there is a knee in my eye.

I use reprehensible language.

Send kids down to the kitchen to eat cake. This will bite me in the ass later when they come back upstairs for Sugared-Up Fight Club.

Where's my mum? I need tucking in with a nice cup of tea and a hot water bottle.

I guess I have to accept what she knew all along.

Lying down is no longer an option.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Science project

Both of my boys had to turn in a science project this morning. This year, instead of the usual experiment report, they had to do a research-based paper, and be prepared to give an oral presentation.

They are not defending their theses, I must point out. They are 8 and 10. Which means that although I am a firm believer in kids doing their own work, deciding how much effort to put in, and making their own mistakes, someone has to be there to unblock the glue tubes, help with the formatting, and drive to the store to buy all the essentials that they should have put on the shopping list 2 weeks ago.

Of course, that someone was me.

On Saturday, my 10-year old (Natural Disasters) remembered that models, diagrams, and illustrations while optional, are encouraged.

"I want to make a tsunami."
"Why did you not mention this sooner? "
"I want to make it out of modeling clay."
"We do not have the supplies."
"I want it to be 3-feet high."

At this point, I suggested he change his project to heart attacks, because I was pretty sure I was having one. He'd have a live model.

Of course, this exchange inspired my 8-year old (Global Warming).

"I want to make a factory."
"Can you do a nice picture instead?"
"I want it to have 3 chimneys."
"How about a diagram?"
"I want it to pump real CO2 into the atmosphere."

I pointed out that, while not poisonous, COtton wool would make an acceptable substitute for CO2. So they made their models. My initially churlish response to these last-minute additions did not discourage them, and it was wonderful to see them pour heart, soul, and lots of glue into their work.

On Sunday, my 8-year old remembered that rather than a research paper, he could present his work on a board.

"So which do you want to do?"
"I want to do both."
"Choose one."
"I want to do both."
"Honey, Mummy is so stressed she can taste her own bile."
"I still want to do both."

He did both. I expected him to get bored halfway through, leaving me to paste and stick as his proxy. But he worked on it for hours. I just checked his spelling, helped him arrange the board, and discouraged the more violent illustrations. He positioned the board on the dining room table, arranged the model and the research paper, and said "Look mummy. Can you believe I did all that myself?"

I am never excited to hear it is science project time. But when you let them run with it, it pushes kids a little further, makes them try a little harder. It allows them to amaze themselves, when they try.

I have, against all odds, decided that I like science projects. We all need to amaze ourselves once in a while.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The climb

Why, oh why, did I think it a good idea to climb 66 flights of the Rockefeller Center yesterday? Yes, it was to raise money for MS, a very worthy cause. But I did this last year, and remembered the ghastly experience in agonizing detail, so I should have known to bow out gracefully this time.

But, as is often the case, the train had left the station. I had strong-armed colleagues, appointed a team captain, and told everyone and their mother I was doing it, so do it I must.

I set my alarm for 5:45 am. Turned it off. Woke up in a panic at 6:17 am. Thought for a minute about not showing up. I could stay home and snuggle with my kids. Or at least argue with them about what's for breakfast. Decided it wasn't honorable to bail. Drove like a maniac. Met my bleary-eyed colleagues at 7:10 am -- way earlier than should be legal.

The group was in higher spirits than they had any right to be. Bets were laid. Jokes were made. And lots of photos were taken. For god's sake -- had they no mercy? I am way past the age where I can face a camera before noon, and certainly never without lipstick. I hadn't even had a cup of tea to brace me.

The siren (unnecessarily loud) went off at 7:30 am and up we climbed. And you know what? We all made it. And we enjoyed it. (Actually, make that "enjoyed" it. I enjoy a good sleep, a good wine, a good laugh. A good climb? It's just not the same kind of "enjoy".)

The athletes in the group ripped up the stairs with startling ease. The chap who hadn't worked out since college (lifts drinks I gather, but that's about it) made it up alive. I climbed and swore, climbed and swore, emerging into the sunlight after 20 minutes with a limp fist pump.

All fine achievements. But they pale in comparison with the achievements of people we passed along the way. The lady with MS climbing one slow step at a time on her walking frame. Very young kids climbing to support parents affected by the disease. Firefighters climbing with all of their gear -- yes, all of it.

It was humbling to be in their company. And I was so, so proud of my colleagues for getting out of bed to join them.

You know, something just occurred to me. They have 2 water stops on the way up. Next year, I will ask them to serve mimosas. Climb and sip, climb and sip. It will be so much more civilized.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Military precision

I am facing a weekend that quite frankly, terrifies me.

On Saturday, I have about half-a-day's work to catch up on. At 8:00 am, I am running a 4-mile race with Will and a group of colleagues (in a tornado, the weather advisory tells me). At 11:00 am, Ted has karate. At 3:15 pm, both boys have swimming. At 7:00 pm, I will be in bed.

On Sunday, Mr. Berman has to go to work. At 7:30 am, I am racing up 66 flights of the Rockefeller Center with a group of colleagues to raise money for MS. At 12:00 pm, both boys have to complete PhD-level science projects that are complex and draining (at least for me). At 7:00 pm, we are meeting out-of-town friends for dinner.

Somewhere along the way, I have to fit in groceries and laundry. God forbid I find time to breathe.

To get through it, I need to pause, and rewind 8 years.

To a time when I had a 6-month old. A 2-year old starting preschool. A new job. And serious sleep-deprivation.

Of course, the preschool was not in our neighborhood. That would have been too easy. It was a subway ride and a half-mile walk away. I had also sworn off strollers. (Hate them, particularly double ones, they make kids lazy, no kid should be in them once they turn 2.)

So the walk took a while. Then back to the subway, and onto work.

This is when we developed military precision as a family. We had to. I taped a list of tasks to the refrigerator, which had to be accomplished before we left the house in the morning. It ran to about 30 lines. Here is a sampling:

5:32 Feed baby
5:58 Find somewhat clean clothes in bottom of laundry hamper
6:07 Shower
6:21 Get dressed
6:32 Get kids dressed
6:43 Make sure husband is dressed
6:52 Brush teeth (all)
7:01 Make beds
7:15 Feed baby again
7:29 Change diaper
7:34 Feed toddler
7:39 Feed cat
7:40 Feed self
7:40:30 Clear table
7:43 Brush hair (all)
7:47 Argue toddler into coat
7:51 Get toddler out of coat for potty
8:03 Argue toddler back into coat
8:11 Pack cheerios for preschool voyage...

The list went on.

But it saved my life. Without it, there was a real danger I would turn up at work wearing nothing but my knickers on my head.

So now, I fast-forward back to the present. And I realize I've come a long way.

I do not need a list on the refrigerator. I am no longer sleep-deprived. I am not in danger of wearing my knickers as headgear.

So this weekend starts to look manageable. As long as I break it down into minute-by-minute parcels of time, we'll be OK.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chocolate milk

My 8-year old is an adventurous eater. He eats tofu for breakfast (I like tofu as much as the next liberal-minded, vegetarian, organic granola-eating hippie, but for breakfast?) He noshes down on Indian, Thai, Sushi. And he practically drinks Frank's Red Hot Sauce.

But he won't drink milk.

I worry about his bones. So I decided to splash a little chocolate syrup in his milk.

Being a liberal-minded, vegetarian, organic granola-eating hippie, I struggled with it. Sugar is The Enemy. Obesity a Growing Epidemic.

But bones are important. So we splashed on.

Then my 10-year old began demanding chocolate syrup in his milk. What next -- Froot Loops?

I let it slide. And still, we splashed on.

So far, their teeth have not fallen out (apart from the usual tooth-fairy business one would expect from young men of their age). Their nails look good. And I trust their bones are growing stronger.

Because for once, I didn't let perfect get in the way of pretty damn good. We need to remember that sometimes.

Be good with being pretty damn good. Splash on.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Bridal Galleria

I am staying with dear old friends, and have been reminded about an incident that occurred about 13 years ago. I am not sure what the moral is, I am only sure that there must be one. If something washes you anew in shame more than a decade later, there is something to be learned.

It was my final fitting for my bridal gown, and I needed to pick a suitably-glamorous-but-not-too-beauty-queen tiara and veil. My friend Kate was coming with me, to restrain any extreme diamanté impulses I might have.

Unfortunately, we had both been Out the night before. Out, as in a dozen or so greyhounds apiece (the fashionable drink du jour), which left us on fairly shaky feet that Saturday morning, as we shambled towards the Bridal Galleria.

As we came within view of their dark, mirrored windows, I realized that there was no way on god's earth I could keep down the egg sandwich I had optimistically forced myself to ingest an hour earlier. Sure enough, most of the egg sandwich, a whole lot of vodka, and more grapefruit juice than I ever hope to see again in my life made their sudden reappearance. Kate, bless her heart, gamely held my hair back, and encouraged me to aim forward towards the windows, rather than downward towards my open-toed shoes.

After this bilious ordeal, we brushed ourselves off and headed into the store. We were shown into its hushed recesses, and my gown was brought out, reverently wrapped in crisp layers of white tissue. I was forced to make a quick detour to the bathroom at this point (the egg sandwich was not coming quietly), but Kate was able to zip me in, and the attendant then began to attach a variety of headpieces for me to choose from. I chose rather more quickly than I am led to believe brides usually do ("That one will do. Get. it. off. my. head. NOW.")

The staff were very understanding and unfailingly polite, even though I must have smelt like a sewer. I put it down to the fact that they were used to dealing with fainting, tizzicky brides, albeit caused by high emotions rather than high jinks.

However, as we were leaving the store, Kate nudged me urgently in the ribs.

"Look at the windows."
"Can't. look. at. anything."
"Look at the bloody windows."

I looked up, and realized with horror that they were not made of dark, mirrored glass. They were made of one-way glass. I hadn't been able to see the store's inhabitants, but they had sure as hell been able to see me, depositing the remnants of my night out all over their nice, shiny windows.

So, what's the moral?

I can think of two:

1. Choose your mixer carefully. Grapefruit does not sit easily on the stomach.

2. Always, always, be kind and respectful to your clients. Even when they vomit on your windows. Until death do you part.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Paranoid

I love to ski. I didn't learn until my twenties, so I go about it with the zeal of a born-again convert.

This explains why, at 5:45 am this morning, I was rousing my boys for a 15-hour odyssey from Brooklyn to Aspen, via Newark, Kansas City, and Denver.

Yes, we could have flown a little more directly. But Mr Berman was not able to join us, and I felt guilty spending more than was strictly necessary on a vacation without him.

So I found myself at Denver airport this afternoon, embarking on what I had convinced myself was an easy, breezy 150-mile jaunt through the mountains. Turns out my memory had failed me, and it was a 200-mile twisty, turny, plunge-to-your-death-in-a-blizzard kind of drive; just the kind of thing you need to ease you into a relaxing vacation.

Apparently they have had a lot of snow this year. So I was persuaded to upgrade to a larger SUV, the size of a school bus, which would 'sit me higher above the road'. I have driven this route many times, but was never seated quite high enough to appreciate that at any given moment, I was in danger of driving off a precipice. It did not improve my enjoyment.

The kids had a fine old time, playing Zombie Smash in the back seat, and exploring the decibel capacity of the rental-bus stereo. With no intention of irony, they played Black Sabbath's 'Paranoid' repeatedly, as I white-knuckled my way through the foothills of the Rockies.

There was a particularly interesting spell near Vail, when a fast, hard blizzard moved in, just as a truck driver decided not to let me pass. Icy glares were exchanged on icier roads. He'd evidently been watching reruns of Duel.

I water-planed across the road near Snowmass, towards a ravine in the dark. I asked my kids 5 minutes later -- as soon as I managed to unclench my teeth -- whether they had noticed anything. They had. Apparently I had used words that are not OK.

But we are here. I managed to prise my hands off the steering wheel, since when they have been firmly clutching a glass of cab. The boys were fabulous company, and I am looking forward to wrestling them into their ski gear at 6:30 am tomorrow. May need another glass of cab at that point; not sure tea will hit the spot.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Virtual facelift

I just saw a picture of John Galliano. Love him, love him, love him. Creative visionary. Fashion god. True maverick.

But what the hell happened to his face? Man, he's had some serious work done. He's looking very tight and toned, and I'm not just talking Botox and Restylane.

Mind you, I can hardly scoff. While I'm not willing to go under the knife, I did embrace the skills of our in-house retoucher recently. I needed a new bio pic, and was feeling old and tired, so Dan took 20 lbs and 20 years off me with a few deft keystrokes. And he gave me American teeth.

It was an action shot, very Sex-In-The-City, and I thought I looked rather dashing. Until I showed my youngest.

"What's wrong with your face?"
"Nothing. The nice man at work just smoothed it out. I look gorgeous."
"You look weird."

Surgeon's knife or retoucher's mouse, it's all the same. You can look your age. Or get work done and still look your age, just in a more strangulated way.

Kids don't lie. At least not about facelifts.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Passenger Berman

I had to send an email. I had been trying to get to it since I staggered out of bed at 6:01am, but with a 6:45 am hotel checkout, a 7:00 am meeting time, and the laws of physics working against me, it just didn't happen.

So I found myself at LAX at 4:10 pm typing like the clappers at Wolfgang Puck's pizza emporium (don't drink the Chardonnay -- ghastly) when Winnie and Barbara, my trusty colleagues, realized we should have boarded 10 minutes ago.

"Go! Go!! GO!!! GO!!!!" I roared in panic. "Delay them! Hold the plane!! Don't let them leave without me!!!" (Increasingly feel like my life is an extended series of exclamation marks.)

For the second time this week, I delayed a plane and 327 other passengers. I ran, swearing lustily, up to the gate, trailing coats, bags, and computer cables, just as the attendant made his final announcement.

"Passenger Berman. Passenger Berman. This is your final boarding call. Please make your way IMMEDIATELY to Gate 78. Passenger Berman. This is your final chance for boarding. We all want to go now, you selfish old cow."

I will be flying again on Saturday. With my children. Had better school them in the art of No-Shame Flying, and Delaying Flights for Hysterical Mothers, fast.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Longevity granola

I just discovered that The California Health and Longevity Institute is located in my hotel.

They offer an alluring array of health and wellness services, and claim they can restore my life balance.

Ironic, given that we have been working 15-hour days since our arrival. And 'balanced' is the last word I would use to describe myself.

Since I am unlikely to have the time to dip so much as a toe into their mineral-salted waters, I opted instead for the Longevity Granola at breakfast this morning. Not sure toasted flax seeds can fix all that ails me, but decided to give it a whirl.

I don't know if it's the granola, but I'm certainly feeling old.

Wonder if they do 'life balance' to go?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Suitcase

I am normally an adept packer. I plan each outfit, decant toiletries into travel-size pots, and always, always travel light.

But this is ridiculous.

I opened my suitcase this morning in LA. This is what I found:

4 sweaters
1 silver skirt
1 navy blue velvet skirt
1 Diane Von Furstenberg dress
1 thermal rollneck
1 pair of goggles

This is what happens when you pack late at night when you are grumpy and tired. A thermal rollneck? For southern California? What was I thinking?

Attempted to fashion the goggles into a bra, with little success.

Wondering if the clients would think me strange if I wore a Four Seasons bathrobe to the meeting.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Early flight

Any day that starts at 4:30 am is sure to be a bad one.

I am now at the airport, busy delaying my 6:30 am flight to LA. After standing on line for 30 minutes, I am told I have missed baggage check by 5.

"But I've been on line for 30 minutes."
"You missed baggage check by 5."
"But I've been on line for 30 minutes."
"You missed baggage check by 5."

This exchange continues for some time, until the check-in agent breaks the impasse by disappearing through a door into the bowels of the airport for 10 minutes. Upon her return, she announces that she will check my bag, but can't guarantee anything. If this is intended to be reassuring, it doesn't work. My bag is on its way to Los Cabos, and I am facing the prospect of 4 days in LA with the clothes I am wearing and a floor-length padded down coat. I look like a walking comforter. This is a common sight on the streets of NY in February; in LA, not so much.

Decide that breakfast may improve my outlook, but my options are limited. Fried offal masquerading as a breakfast patty, or a donut sweet enough to trigger instant-onset diabetes. This is not the breakfast of champions. No wonder the nation's in a mess. Eventually locate a yogurt, also over-sugared. My teeth melt. Mentally compose furious letter of complaint to Danon ("Dear Sirs, Yogurt is supposed to be sour. Health haters. I look forward to your timely reply. Sincerely...") but know I won't have time to send it until I retire.

Cannot find anything that deserves to be called tea. Settle for Liptons. I discover the lid is leaking when it pours scalding liquid down the sleeve of my coat. Hurl it into the nearest waste bin in a fit of temper.

But thank god -- thank god -- duty free is open. I may not be able to find healthful sustenance, but I can buy as much liquor and tobacco as I can carry. Shelve my sarcasm when I realize that a liter of brandy would come in pretty bloody handy right now. Decide instead to buy face cream (mine is, as I mentioned, on its way to Los Cabos). Pick up my usual over-priced brand, and read the box in horror: Multi-Activ Night Creme counteracts early signs of aging in one's thirties. I didn't know it, but my skin is now beyond redemption. Ladies of my advanced years, it turns out, are better served by the Extra-Firming Night Creme. Crushed, but buy it anyway. Lard would likely be just as much use at this point, but not ready to go there yet.

So now, I am loitering behind a magazine stand near Gate 2, waiting until they call my name over the loudspeaker. I am gaming the system -- on account of my checking a bag, they cannot leave without me, or without opening the baggage hold and unloading my property. I calculate that this delay will give my bag just enough time to make the flight. When they call my name a third time, I will sprint to the gate, whip out my accent, and look apologetic.

Getting chest pains. I'm not cut out for subterfuge. Face cream no help in this situation. Wish I'd bought the brandy. I just want the world to sod off.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lowering my standards

I love to cook.

The first birthday cake I made for my eldest son was an overachiever's delight. My husband and I labored late into the night, lovingly crafting Spongebob out of homemade madeira (don't skimp on the butter), and fondant icing. So lifelike, it felt wrong to cut him, especially when he bled strawberry jam and a couple of the smaller guests almost passed out.

Over the years, I've made Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine, various Teletubbies, a soccer field, and the entire cast of Star Wars. And while I loved the result, getting there was always stressful. Particularly because in addition to making a cake for a party at home, I would also deliver 24 beautifully-crafted, home-made cupcakes to school for the class celebration.

My work partner Dave pointed out, every year, that I should just buy the cupcakes.

"I can't. I just can't."
"But you'll be cooking 'til midnight."
"They have to have homemade cakes."
"Why?"
"I always did."

I was desperately hanging on to my childhood notions of "what makes a good mum". My mum was an amazing cook, who created meringue swans afloat on seas of blue jelly (jello, I believe, is the U.S. translation). She scooped out orange halves to make dessert-filled baskets and boats. Her crowning glory was a field of mushrooms, made of green jelly and meringue, with lightly sprinkled chocolate flakes lying in a wispy circle under each fungi, representing the spores that fall through the night. Spores. She remembered the spores.

It's quite clear I get my kitchen overachiever gene from my mum.

You might say times have changed. But my mum worked too. Although, by her own admission, not like I do. And, most critically, my mum is able to get by on 4 hours sleep a night. I most certainly am not.

It came to a head when my son's birthday fell during a particularly busy spell at work. Whisking butter and sugar together at 1:00 am would have sent me over the edge. Something had to give.

I went to the fanciest cupcake shop I could find, and dropped $60 on 2 dozen sunflower-bedecked concoctions. My son's class loved them. Scoffed them down in 5 seconds flat.

The world did not end.

So after years of turning out butterfly cupcakes (the key word is butter, NEVER margarine), I made my peace with the fact that I am not my mum. And I am not a bad mother if I buy cupcakes. I am a sane one. A mother for the 21st century.

I called to confess to my mum that I had bought cupcakes.

"Well, that makes sense," she said.
"I feel like a bad mother. You always made everything."
"You've got more on your plate. I don't know how you do it."

The guilt melted away. I have since lowered my standards even further, and these days buy not only the cupcakes, but the big party cake too. Let's face it, when you're feeding kids something sugary, it barely touches the sides. Why waste the effort?

I also gave up on the fancy cupcake shop. This year, I bought the biggest cake I've ever seen. At Costco. I didn't handwhisk butter into it. But I paid my $17.95 in a really, really loving way.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Know your audience

I hate Valentine's Day. When you have spent almost 20 years trying to be kind to each other every day, lacy hearts, crowded restaurants, and overpriced flowers just seem so trite.

But this year, I received an email from the Wildlife Conservation Society, inviting me to name a cockroach at the Bronx Zoo in honor of my loved one. Brilliant marketing. I could not resist.

I sent off my $10 and named a cockroach in my husband's honor. Drummond.

This could go either way. Many people might not appreciate the humor or the thought that went into this truly original gift.

But Mr Berman is mad for bugs. Bumble bees are his favorite. Dung beetles a close second. And I have never seen him happier than when New Jersey's 17-year cicadas emerged en masse. These bugs spend most of their lives underground as nymphs, the whole billion-strong brood emerging once every 17 years as adults, to reproduce and die.

We drove out to Princeton to see the phenomenon. The pavements were awash with their crunchy carcases. The air throbbed with their noise. And Mr Berman was literally covered in them. He carefully collected 2 deceased specimens, a male and a female, to send to his uncle in the UK (also a bug man). This is how much Mr Berman loves bugs -- he can tell the sexes apart. He tried to show me the details, but I was too busy vomiting all over myself to look.

So when the Bronx Zoo emailed a special certificate, notifying him that Drummond the cockroach had been named in his honor, he was thrilled. He asked if we could drive up to meet his namesake this weekend. I had to point out, kindly, that Drummond wouldn't be wearing a t-shirt with his name on it. And to the best of my knowledge, he had not been trained to wave at his sponsor. He would just be writhing around in his tank, along with the 57,999 other Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches that live at the Bronx Zoo.

Although disappointed at this, Mr Berman remains delighted with his gift. You see, I knew my audience. Mr Berman doesn't care much for diamonds, but a cockroach is forever.

If you love someone who loves bugs, give 'em a bug.
http://www.bronxzoo.com/name-a-roach/

Friday, February 11, 2011

Wholewheat everything

Every Friday is Bagel Friday at The CementBloc. Eating myself into a carb coma by 10:00 am has become a sacred ritual that marks the end of my week.

This morning, the kitchen at work was overflowing as usual with bagels the size of my ass -- at least, the size of my ass now, after I've been eating these super-size beauties for close on 8 years.

But there was no wholewheat everything.

I was so looking forward to scooping out the doughy inside -- not to save calories, rather to pack in more scallion cream cheese. Nibbling the toasty oniony bits on the outside. Wondering if I really could finish the whole thing, finding I could...and then wondering if a 3rd half would be overdoing it.

There was a bialy in the basket -- that was a novelty. But bialys are what I have on Sunday with the kids.

My distress isn't really about bagels. Or bialys. It's about finding comfort and safety in routine. One little island of the expected in the middle of a life that is anything but.

I used to loathe routine. New, unexpected, spur of the moment is way more appealing. I scoffed at people who vacationed in the same place every year. Balked at the notion of spaghetti every Thursday. But when my boys came along, I realized that we need a little routine. It makes life simpler, and saner.
  • Brush your teeth before you come downstairs, otherwise we will be running back up 3 flights to retrieve your toothbrush when we should be at the bus stop
  • Study for tests ahead of time. Remembering on Sunday at 7:00 pm that you have a statewide science test the next morning is not going to put mummy in a good mood
  • Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are "hairwash" nights. This gives me time to recover from the ordeal and steel my nerves for the next time

I hate the fact that I have embraced routine. It sounds so...dull.

I prefer ritual. It sounds more considered, foundational, spiritual even.

Hey, that means my weekly carb coma might actually be some kind of spiritual trance. Leave me alone people, I'm busy transcending.

I always knew Bagel Friday served a higher purpose.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The new walk of shame

We were late for school this morning.

It's Ted's birthday. There were gifts to be opened, games to be played, plans to be made. Which left me 7 minutes to get them dressed, fed, and driven to school.

As I pulled up to the entrance, Will announced that I would need to sign them in, as they were more than 10 minutes late.

"I can't."
"Why?"
"I'm wearing pyjamas."

Silence.

Then, "What do you have on your feet?"
"Boots."
"That's OK then. You can sign us in. As long as you're not wearing slippers."

Which explains why, at 8:15 am, I was wandering the halls of PS 193 in pyjamas, a ski jacket, gardening gloves, and snow boots. You'll notice that my kids were not alarmed by this -- this is what they expect from me. As long as the slippers stay home. Slippers cross the line.

I still haven't brushed my teeth.