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?"
"Is the food OK?"
"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?"

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.


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.
"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."

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


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."


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.