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


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


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."
"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.

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."
"I'm wearing pyjamas."


Then, "What do you have on your feet?"
"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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The dilemma

It's 5:42 pm.

Do I stick it out here at the office, and plough through my backlog? I'd be out of here by 10, all caught up, breathing a little easier, ready to take on tomorrow.

Or do I head home, hug my boys, pour a big fat glass of wine (for me, not them), put them in their jammies, tuck them into bed -- and then sit up in bed til 2:00 am trying to catch up, only to get up at 6:00 am and start all over?

That's my dilemma, and this is my blog.

It's about the need -- and the desire -- to work and work well. And the desire to have a life, a really good one, one I'll be glad and proud I lived.

Welcome to the journey.

P.S. The boys and wine won.