Past Lives

Although you’d never know it by looking at me in my minivan, the soul of a city girl lurks beneath my suburban life.

Over the course of 16 years in my 20s and 30s, I lived in four of the five boroughs of New York City (sorry, Queens). In seven different apartments. I got my first real job there. I lived my dating life as a single girl there (though Carrie Bradshaw, I was not). I witnessed 9/11 there. I was engaged there. Got married there. Had two children there.

I loved New York. Really, truly loved it. But the time came, after two kids and very limited space, to leave it behind. For the suburbs. My husband swears you can still see claw marks at the entrance to the Jersey-bound Lincoln Tunnel from the day we moved.

It has been four and a half years since the moving van was unloaded at our house. Many days, it’s like we never had that other life of subways and taxis and bodegas and laundromats. I can barely remember it. Until I go back, like I did last Sunday.

We went to visit my sister and her boyfriend in Brooklyn, and our older two kids had a fabulous aunt & uncle date with them at the museum. It was about 60 degrees outside, the sun was shining and the foliage was gorgeous. My husband and I had the baby in the stroller with about 90 free minutes until we had to meet up with everyone for brunch. We walked and walked, stealing glimpses of our former life there. The one that seemed both like a million years ago and like yesterday.

brooklyn

I lived in Brooklyn just as it was about to be cool to do so. But back then, we all wanted to live in Manhattan, and Brooklyn was more of an obligatory step on the budget ladder to get there (I had already done my time in Staten Island and a brief stint in the Bronx). The first place I shared in Brooklyn was on an amazing, tree-lined street near Grand Army Plaza, which was beautiful and majestic and almost European. Even on our tiny budget, we had a real two-bedroom, a modest kitchen, living space and a roof deck with a neck-craning-small-slice-view of Manhattan. When the owners told my roommate and me that they were selling the place and we’d have to move, we were heartbroken. They suggested, that as two (very) young professionals, we try to buy it as an investment.

“BUT HOW CAN WE BUY AN APARTMENT THAT COSTS $120,000? WHO THE HELL HAS THAT KIND OF MONEY?”

Yeah, perspective and time change things, don’t they? Had I known anything at all about anything at all back then, I would have found a way to borrow the down payment. Because I’m pretty sure that apartment is worth well north of a million dollars now. Where the hell was HGTV in 1998?

There were other apartments, too.

The one on the Upper East Side with the person-I-never-met-before-turned-roommate, where we found strange, fly-by-night companies whose sole purpose was to build temporary walls so that you could divide already-small bedrooms into two or three more. Like highly overpriced residential cubicles.

The one in Murray Hill where I lived alone for the first time, up until a certain pug moved in. Where I learned that anything labeled “rent-stabilized” has that designation for a reason. The kitchen window facing a wall in an alley comes to mind, as does the need to use my oven as makeshift clothing storage.

The one on the Upper West Side where my husband and I lived just after we got engaged. It had a tiny kitchen that allowed you to be simultaneously touching all of the appliances at once and a spiral staircase that, two years later, I could no longer navigate at eight months pregnant.

And yet, I miss all of it. Less so now, but intensely for a while after we left. Mostly, I missed this:

  • Walking. More specifically, not needing a car. Of course, I can walk in the suburbs — it’s permitted — but the car is usually the more realistic option. And along with that comes the endless in-and-out-of-the-car seats nonsense that makes me just a little more insane every day. (“Are you buckled in yet? Are you!!??”)
  • Anonymity. In the city, there wasn’t any small talk or chit-chat with strangers. And that was fine by me. I’m not anti-social, but I’m terrible with small talk. It was perfectly acceptable to stand in your building’s lobby and stare straight ahead while waiting for the elevator. I did have some very sweet, older widows who lived on my floor, and it was nice that they stopped to check in on me when I was very pregnant (though there was a certain “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe that I tried not to overblow) — but they stayed largely out of my business. I’ve since had to re-learn social graces like inviting someone in when they knock on my door. The week we moved into our house, several families stopped by with trays of cookies and cakes to welcome us. It was so, so nice, but if I’m being honest, it freaked me out a bit. I just wasn’t used to it. And, in full disclosure, I remember wondering if I’d have to bake every time someone moved into the neighborhood. (Turns out that a bottle of wine says “welcome” just as well.)
  • Quick errands. At times, I miss the corner bodega more than I can express. Like when I just need one easy ingredient to finish a recipe. No problem — I’ll just walk to the corner and…nevermind. Now it’s back in the car, finding parking, going through the whole big grocery store as my children take down most of the inventory and wear me down until I purchase at least 28 additional items — usually in full view of a local teacher or school administrator. Small talk follows. Nothing is quick here.
  • Restaurants with liquor licenses. Now we’re really getting into it: The culture shock of the whole BYOB phenomenon. I know that, in many respects, it’s better that you have to bring your own booze to restaurants. It’s cheaper. You get what you want. There are many upsides. Except when you live in my marriage, where neither of us ever remembers that this is part of going out to dinner in our town. And then what — a dry meal? Let’s not be ridiculous. It’s instead this: “You run, as fast as you fucking can, to that wine store around the corner, before they close — quick!! — and I’ll find an appetizer on the menu* to order for you. Go! Now! Run!” (*Translation: an appetizer of my choosing so that I can enjoy half of it).

 

Perhaps I’m romanticizing my city days. Maybe it wasn’t all so wonderful. And maybe there were some big reasons for our move, after all.

  • Lack of living space. Do me a favor. Take your hand and open it up as far as you can. Look at it closely. That was about the size of my bathroom in my last apartment. For a family of four.
  • The Sunday night parking dance. You could pretty much bet large sums of cash that, after returning from any weekend trip with the kids, the dog and all of our stuff, it would be raining, sleeting or snowing. And so ensued the divide-and-conquer approach to unloading a family from the car into a 13th-floor apartment in 56 easy steps. After circling for parking for approximately 45 minutes to no avail, we gave in an double-parked, where a game of Beat the Parking Ticket began. One of us would stay with the car to ensure we weren’t ticketed, while the other would unload everything/everyone in about nine trips. This, incidentally, was a great substitute for traditional cardio.
  • Being accosted by crazies. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of nutters in suburbia — but they are often disguised in yoga pants. The New York crazies really put it all out there and get up in your face. It’s been awhile since an amateur preacher screamed in my face about the end of days or my sinning ways. Or a one-armed ukulele player spit at my feet for not giving him my half-eaten soup. I don’t miss that so much. If I want crazy, I know plenty of people I can call.
  • Planning for the higher education of a child in utero. Pre-school lotteries and interviews — with college-sized tuition bills to match. No thanks. If I told you what I paid in day care costs for two small children in the city…I can’t even think about it. In fact, I had to tell the day care place that I was pregnant with my second child before most of my relatives knew — so that she could have a spot the next year. For day care. Not Harvard. Not even private kindergarten. Day care. Anyway, I felt like I won the lottery when I was reminded that my property taxes in the suburbs cover the cost of a very good public school system. Now I can keep up my Starbucks habit.

But, still. New York will always be my first geographic love. And it’s true that I like my life in the suburbs for many reasons, but on days like that spectacularly sunny Sunday in Brooklyn, I do mourn the death of my city life. Central Park. The West Village. Delicious food at all hours. The energy and the diversity.

It was my other life, before the one I have now with a minivan and a snow blower and a distinct lack of brunch options. When I knew, without hesitation, which restaurant to recommend in which neighborhood and my innate urban compass could point me to the right subway station exit without thinking twice. And I was wistful as hell about it during that Sunday visit. What had we left behind? Would we ever be able to move back, or was it forever in our past? Would our kids ever know the city the way that we once had?

And then we saw it. A family pulling up to the curb, double parked and exasperated, unloading their three kids, their dog and their piles of bags and belongings from a weekend away — a good 19 minutes away from getting everything into their apartment.

And then I thought about that tiny, tiny bathroom we had. The windows that didn’t really close all the way. That not-so-occasional rat running out in front of you on the street. The navigation of the double stroller through the endless winter. The day care tuition bill.

And I knew that my heart would always belong to both the city and to suburbia. Because a girl can have more than one great love, right?

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So, You’re Considering the Corn Maze

You love fall, right? The crisp air. The produce. Boots. Jeans. All of it.

I do too.

And that’s precisely how people like us end up in corn mazes.

It starts with the innocent trip to the apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Because parental amnesia is a real thing and you fail to remember every year how annoying those outings are in actuality.

Anyway, there you are with baskets of more gourds or apples than you can possibly Pinterest into edible items in four lifetimes. You are thinking about the $100 you will have to pay upon check out and you are cursing about the fact that this place does not have an on-site winery. It is then that your children remind you, just as you think you’re about to pluck the last piece of hay from your sweater, that we haven’t done the corn maze yet.

Oh. Riiiiight. The corn maze.

How bad could it be? After all, I was trapped in one with my in-laws three years ago and lived to tell. So hey, why not? Let’s take a few minutes to go in.

Although, as we approached, this one seemed a little more legit than our previous corn mazes. Super tall stalks of corn. No obvious exit. And a 14 year-old employee working the entrance who snorted, “Good luck” to us.

Well, no matter. I immediately thought of how fortunate we are that my husband has a great sense of direction. This, unfortunately, was immediately followed by my deep regret of leaving him home with the baby on this particular day. He was tasked with painting the baby’s room. Not that the kid, at 15 months old, would get an identity crisis from the purple walls, floral decals and frilly chandelier. But sleeping under his sister’s initials was potentially going to send him into therapy in 20ish years. The room overhaul was a tad overdue.

So, as my husband either painted or ate all of the Entenmann’s in the house while watching football, it was my mom, my two older kids and me to fend for ourselves at the corn maze. Basically, three generations of the directionally challenged. The snarky 14 year-old employee handed us what was probably meant to be a map but looked more like a Spirograph on steroids.

Hm.

I’m pretty sure that entire crops matured and seasons changed during our time in this corn maze. Let me just end the suspense for you and disclose that it took 26 minutes on the clock, but a lifetime in my head. Here are some highlights of our journey.

Minute 1: I love a good fall photo opp. Which filter should I use on Instagram?

Life was simpler then.

Minute 3: Oh, maybe that map thing was for real and served some functionality. Because, holy shit, this is no joke. I hope nobody has to pee.

Minute 6: Isn’t this supposed to be a family-friendly farm experience? Or are we earning a scouting badge of some kind? Is this the farming equivalent of “Get off my lawn,” or perhaps a secret “Survivor” audition?

Minute 10: Time and space seem to be playing tricks with my mind. I feel like we’ve been in here for dayyyyys. I’m questioning my ability to guide everyone through this, in the event we have to spend the night in the corn. I mean, clearly, food won’t be a problem but what about the horror movie factor? Because I don’t think I need to name a certain obvious movie that comes to mind and the fact that I’m waiting to see Malachai at every corner of this maze.

Minute 12: Why do I never wear sensible shoes? Why? And where is everyone else?

Minute 13: Wait! This is why God invented the iPhone! All hail technology!

It appears I should have purchased the iPhone 6 for this outing because my 5 won’t display the layout of a fucking corn maze on Google Maps. At this point, my mother suggests the use of the compass. This helps establish when we are heading west, which is the direction from which we are guessing the music and other sounds of post-corn maze life are emanating. I’m no math genius, but I think there is a 25% chance we are right.

Minute 14: Omg, is that Malachai? Damn you, Stephen King.

Minute 17: Why didn’t I purchase the apple donuts before entering the corn maze? Speaking of donut consumption, I wonder if my husband has started painting yet. I think we all know the answer.

Minute 18: Like any family in crisis, we all begin to turn on each other. First, the sibling bickering escalates (“No, you made the last wrong turn. No, YOU did”). I threaten to withhold all apple donuts, foreverrrrrr, if they don’t stop. Then, I decide to blame my mother for passing on the lack of direction gene. Not in a broader life’s meaning sense, just with maps and such.

Minute 21: An integral turning point. A lovely young couple with a sleeping baby happens upon us. They inform us that, despite our best Apple-led efforts to head west, that’s not going to work. They are holding the Spirograph on steroids map and, more importantly, they seem to be deriving information from it. Bonus. We swallow all remaining pride (aka none) and shamelessly follow them. Until I realize that they could be serial killers and we’ve totally walked right into their evil trap. It’s possible that I’ve been watching too much late-night TV.

Minute 21:30: I follow them anyway, because: desperation.

Minute 23: The maybe-serial-killers with a baby have not revealed their evil plot. Yet. I distract myself from this possibility by imagining, if I survive, all of the Pinterest recipes I will comb through with my plentiful new apple bounty. I decide that I’ll bring a delicious apple crisp to this couple if they spare our lives and get us out of the maze before sunset.

Minute 25: I don’t want to appear melodramatic but we are losing steam. Our morale is down and our can-do attitude is gone. We just want to go back to life as we knew it, BCM (Before Corn Maze).

Minute 26: What is that sound? A bell? Ringing? Why, yes, it is. But what does it mean? The serial killers with the baby lead us to it. Oh, shit, shit, shit. It’s Malachai, isn’t it? This is it. Is he ringing it to signal the end is nigh? No. It’s not him! It’s the We-Found-The-Exit Bell! We are free! I am tempted to kiss the ground but decide to beeline for the homemade donut stand instead. I resist the urge to kick dirt up at the 14 year-old employee as we pass him.

The day is done. We have prevailed. While I hold my debit card with two apple donuts in my mouth and wait quietly to pay my $100 charge for six freshly-picked apples, I look around. I notice how beautiful the farm is. I do love the fall, after all.

I gaze over in the direction of the maze and notice the sun is beginning to set over the land. It is idyllic.

I just hope nobody is still in there.

 

 

 

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August, Can We Still Be Friends?

Welcome, August. I want so much to tell you how good it is to see you, old friend. Because so much magic happens on your watch every year, even though you signal to my brain that we only have this one final month of summer left before school starts in early September.

But, August, each year you seem to get more aggressive in barreling toward fall, toward school, toward tasks and the routine of getting us back to business. And the truth is that I want my old Augusts back, the ones from my childhood where a full month was still a pure 31 days and nights of all that summer vacation brings.

August, I could learn to love you again. If you could just let me finish up what summer means to me.

Because I haven’t yet caught a firefly in a jar for my kids.

I haven’t marveled nearly enough at how late the sun stays out.

I haven’t even bought that pair of flip-flops I wanted.

No, August, I’m not ready for the retail displays of fleece and Uggs and leather boots and jackets.

Not ready for the fall PTO sign ups, the scheduling of which day we’ll do soccer or swimming or ballet.

Certainly not ready to give up ice cream and popsicles and the smell of my grill and the sight of that rainbow of fresh fruit.

Not mentally prepared to abandon sleeveless sundresses for my daughter and me, and easy onesies for the baby. And bare feet for us all. The very thought of socks and closed-toed shoes makes me shudder. Say it isn’t near. Say that I have time to try that other bright pink nail  color on my toes and not the deep dark hues of grays and purples and browns.

You see, August, I still have two (yes, two!) legitimate family summer vacations I haven’t even taken yet. I have packing to do. Twice. I have more sunscreen to buy. I am not thinking about unpacking or vacation ending or looking back on it. Not even a little. The snapshots that I will etch into my memory and put into photo books haven’t even been made yet. This house is still ripe with the anticipation of new destinations and shorelines with friends and family.

August, I don’t want to spend your days filling in my calendar with the school closings for the year. I want to hang damp beach towels and bathing suits on my deck rail and smell the faint chlorine and sunscreen and perhaps the rain left on them.

Surely you understand that there are meats I haven’t yet grilled, sangria recipes I haven’t tested and frozen yogurt combos I’ve been meaning to try. I still feel like putting my coffee over ice is a seasonal novelty. I haven’t had a single lobster roll yet. And we haven’t begun to grow remotely tired of the new deck lights strung overhead as we eat and drink. Our new fire pit barely shows the wear of the s’mores it has created and the late night cocktails it has beckoned with friends and neighbors.

The camp backpacks we were issued have hardly been broken in. And my older two kids have plenty of places on their summer wish lists left to visit. The zoo awaits us, August. So does our annual trip to Daddy’s office, not to mention more mini golf and the boardwalk rides of our beloved Jersey Shore. There are many more waves to jump over and outdoor showers to take after the sand stays between our toes and the taste of salt water sticks to our lips.

August, I’m just getting used to the down time that allows me to give the baby the two naps a day he deserves. This sweet boy has enjoyed a summer not dictated by his next schlep in a car seat to pick up or drop off a sibling somewhere. I imagine that his tiny head can barely even fathom how much time he has to explore his newfound mobility and just play. If you rush us, August, he’s right back in that car seat and we’re just not ready yet. There are blocks to stack and steps to take and mashed fruits to wear.

Yes, I know you have certain obligations to prepare us for school and I have made a few related purchases here and there. You would be remiss if you didn’t present any of this to me. But I feel like you take it just a little further every year. I’m not sure you need to associate yourself with corduroy or Halloween. Don’t you want to be all about shorts and sundresses and deck chairs?

I’m here to tell you, August — as your old friend — that it’s not too late to reclaim all of this as yours. Don’t let April or May take it from you.

I know it’s possible for us to remain good friends and rediscover how things used to be between us. So, come find me while I get ready for two beach vacations. Visit me as I grill at home and listen for the ice cream truck on my street.

And, by all means, join me over the next 31 days on the deck, barefoot and sipping summery evening drinks under the long-lasting sunlight.

 

 

 

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The Five Stages of Escaping Your Kids for the Weekend

I rarely have plans on the weekends anymore. Unless you count kids’ sports and birthday parties and laundry. Then, yes, my weekends are packed.

And yet, as social karma would have it, I had two exciting places to be this past weekend, without kids, at the same time.

I was so excited to be attending the inaugural BlogU conference as a faculty member and meeting all of my blogging friends who live inside my computer. I had known for months that the weekend of June 6-8 was all about getting myself and my laptop to Baltimore. Nothing was getting in my way.

Except my college reunion, apparently. Same weekend. Four states away.

Oh, and my daughter’s dance recital.

Suddenly, the girl who never has fun plans had signed up for more simultaneous fun than she could handle.

No matter, I decided. Yes, the logistics were daunting, but I could make this happen. Even if it meant that I would be attending more on-campus events in a weekend than I did in my entire college career.

And so began the five stages of planning to leave without my kids for the weekend.

 

 

1) Unbridled Enthusiasm: I have real-life adult plans! I’m going away! I’m not packing Goldfish or doing laundry. I am showering two days in a row. My husband will feel the intense, serial pain of the Minivan Frozen Singalong Marathon while I forget that Elsa and Anna ever existed. I will not gaze at my yoga pants for 48 consecutive hours. Oh, it’s on.

 

2) Complications: Hmmm, these logistics are a little tricky with the three kids. Yes, my husband is highly competent and honestly did not flinch when I mentioned something about smoke coming off my heels and getting the fuck out of here for a weekend. Of course he can handle everything. Oh wait, the recital has a dress rehearsal too? And my daughter needs a bun in her hair? And maybe it would be fun if he came with me to the reunion. And there’s gymnastics and that birthday party too. Wait, am I driving from New Jersey to Baltimore to Connecticut to New Jersey? That’s, like, 773 traffic hours.

 

3) Empowerment: I called in my resources. Not just friends to assist, but also my ace in the hole.

“Hi, Mom? Can you help us please?”

It takes a village, they say. Bullshit. It takes NASA-level mission execution. If I could get these logistics to run smoothly, I would immediately be qualified to run a medium-sized nation.

Or, I could be paid to write SAT questions:

You have two cars in your possession, one of which is your mother’s and has no car seats. Your husband and your mother need to be in two separate pick up points, 12 miles apart, within 6 minutes of each other. All three children require legally secure seating. There is a booster, a front-facing convertible seat and a rear-facing infant seat. Two of the three can be installed via seat belts if necessary. 

How would you configure the seating? 

Who drives which car?

**Extra credit: Can your mother find the dress rehearsal location without cursing in front of your daughter?**

 

4) It’s Nottttt Worrrrrrth It: This stage of planning lasted for about six consecutive hours the night before departure. Right about when I realized that my kids were all well accounted for, the groceries were purchased and I even had contingency-super-secret-plan-B-double-backup-plans to get everyone to their respective activities — but I somehow didn’t have clean clothes to wear, gas in my car or a working phone charger. It would just be easier to stay home. Maybe I’ll just skip it all. It’s just a conference and a college reunion. I can go to those things anytime/in 20 years. Plus the couch is so comfortable and who else will polish off this kettle corn if I leave for the weekend?

 

5) Fuck It, I’m Outta Here: Goodbye, yoga pants and van and birthday party and gymnastics and dress rehearsal and laundry and Elsa and Anna. I hope whatever I packed at 1:00am sort of matches in the light of day.

 

And so I did. I did some speed-socializing during the one night I had at BlogU and slept in a dorm without getting written up for any infraction by an RA. I took long car rides and had a glorious solo train stint in there as well. I saw great old friends from college on the second night (again, did not get written up — this is now a personal best for me). I overdosed on nostalgia, realized that Spanx should really be the official sponsor of all reunions, ever, and made it home to grab a few hours of sleep before Sunday morning’s dance recital.

 

Now to unpack and get the house back in order. Give me another week or two.

 

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Magical, Mostly

If the measure of one’s vacation is how many metric tons of French fries and ice cream one consumed, then I pretty much just took the trip of a lifetime.

We spent eight nights at Walt Disney World and, I have to say, I am having serious withdrawal. When I came home and was faced with the pesky reality that my kids still required three meals a day and the inside of my fridge looked like a barren prairie, it was sad to face the music. As for the unpacking, I’m conducting an unofficial scientific experiment on how long one can live out of a suitcase and early indicators show that I can totally go the distance.

While vacation is definitely over, we have the photos and the memories to keep our trip alive.

And the credit card bill.

Just a few recap points:

  • In past trips, we have been known to be climate-challenged. As in, we visited Florida and the high temps were about 54 degrees. This year, we earned our weather. High 80s and sunny. Hot, actually. Nobody in the family was allowed to complain about the heat or I would scream “DO YOU REMEMBER THE POLAR VORTEX?! DO YOU?!”  There was that one Tornado Watch in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. I was less upset about the actual sideways ark-like rainfall than I was about the $872 we shelled out on five Disney rain ponchos.

  • Disney has upped their technology game. Between their newly updated app, the FastPass+ system and the Magic Bands, shit got real. No more messing around with flimsy paper FastPass tickets or room key cards. Or silly American cash. Oh, no. With the mere wave of your wrist near a Mickey-shaped RFID reader, you can easily charge any and all WDW purchases equal to your monthly mortgage payment. I was disappointed that the reach of the technology did not extend to my home arrival experience. Because when I tried to use my Magic Band to buy groceries in New Jersey and open the front door of my house, no dice. I guess that will be in the next upgrade.
  • To counter the fries & ice cream bender I went on, I also took it upon myself to implement my own version of T25 while at WDW. Basically it entailed renting a double stroller, having your baby refuse to sit in it, placing said baby instead in a carrier against your sweaty body and watching your 6 and 4 year-old kids assume the vacation recline position in the stroller. For those keeping track at home, that’s about 90 lbs of kid in the stroller and 20 in the carrier. Extra chocolate syrup on my ice cream? Yes, please. I am a big fan of baby wearing, although it is slightly less appealing in the 4,000% humidity. On the upside, it did afford me the opportunity to take advantage of the 2-for-1 happy hour special at our hotel pool bar without skipping a beat.

 

  • This is a good segue to the presentation of the Lowest Maintenance Traveling Child Award. OMG, I could not have asked for a more cooperative baby on this trip. Although he consistently waived his right to nap and we pushed his bedtime beyond imaginable limits, he was all smiles.

 

  • My mom, stepfather and sister joined us for a few nights, which was great. If you weren’t counting, that’s six extra hands to manage the kids. Score. Plus, I got to torture my sister with my neurotic approach to roller coasters. It’s basically “Yes, let’s go!” until I’m in the seat. And then my unbridled fear of death kicks in and I tell everyone I dragged onto the ride what a bad idea this was. Repeatedly.

My sister (front left) is hating me (front right) at this moment. My husband (back left) has learned from years of experience not to sit with me.

 

  • Can we just address the Frozen insanity for a minute? Thanks to the marketing genius of Disney, families with young kids are now paying for entry to EPCOT (not typically a draw for the younger set) and then hauling ass over to THE NORWAY PAVILION — also known as the place nobody ever used to visit. Now home to Elsa and Anna, the lines to see the newest Disney royalty range from two (on a very lucky day) to seven hours. SEVEN HOURS. Luckily, we caught a glimpse of them exiting Norway to take their union-mandated break, and that was good enough for this family. But you want a Frozen dress for your daughter? Sorry. Not one available at the entire Disney mother ship. But please know that any Let it Go ear worm you may have while at home is kicked into high gear and borders on clinical insanity while at WDW. I was begging my kids to go on It’s a Small World just so I could have a different, awful song on repeat loop in my head.

Is it all Disney Magic? It’s not. Young kids invariably don’t do well on long lines or out in a public restaurant more than once in the span of a week. But I tried — really tried — to refrain from slipping into “WE TOOK YOU TO DISNEY WORLD, ENJOY IT, DAMN IT!! HAVE FUN, NOW! FUN!” mode.

In this spirit, I went into the trip trying to veer toward yes. Instead of defaulting to “no” or “later” or “we can’t,” I made a real effort — within reason — to try to say yes to as much as possible during the trip. I wasn’t always successful but it was a good change for me. In fact, on the last day of vacation, I introduced the concept of Kids’ Choice to my children. As in, let them pick what we do, what to eat, when to (not) go to bed, etc.

Their minds? Blown.

I’m just grateful they didn’t choose the nasty giant Disney World turkey leg as a meal.

In the end, the sunshine and change of scenery were fabulous. I was happy that my biggest decision all week was which ride to FastPass or where to eat lunch. Or which drink to order at happy hour.

Now, once we stop wishing for the minivan to be a monorail and I get the FastPass+ system to work on the school car line, I’ll be OK with my transition back to reality.

Baby steps.

 

 

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Skiing With Kids: Fantasy vs Reality

I decided this would be the winter we’d become a skiing family. Or at least take the preliminary steps to eventually transform us into one.

My husband and I both skied fairly often and fairly well back in the day. It’s something that we miss personally and also want our kids to learn to do. Because, let’s face it: Winter is fucking long {especially this year, as I sit through our second school closure this week} and keeping the kids active is not easy. So, hey, let’s get them on skis and solve all of our cabin fever woes.

{Related: I have been known, from time to time, not to completely think things through.}

In my ambitious state to turn us into a skiing family, I booked an overnight stay at a smallish mountain within an acceptable driving distance. On the ride up, I had visions of charming ski weekends for years to come.

* * * * *

In these glimpses into my family’s fantasy future, it’s every winter Saturday morning and our kids are begging to get on the mountain. In their enthusiasm for our favorite snowy sport, they are up early and fully dressed in their fair isle sweaters.  As usual, they pack the entire car for us so I can prepare thermoses of hot chocolate for the familiar drive up to our beloved destination. Once on the road, we discuss upcoming school projects and then we all agree on the same radio station after gagging in unison at an old school Taylor Swift song from their childhood {Remember her? She was SO annoying. We laugh at the memory.} And of course nobody has to stop for a bathroom break — they are too excited to get on their skis. Once at our home away from home, the children carry their gear with nary a complaint. My husband and I claim our favorite seats outside the lodge — you know, the ones by the fire pit — to watch them skillfully navigate the slopes. They really are getting good, we marvel. We decide to take a few runs ourselves and then spend the rest of the afternoon delighting in the charm of the apres ski lifestyle. We clink glasses and my husband toasts the genius idea I had to pursue this sport as a family back in the winter of 2014. It really has made for some great memories, he reminds me. I can’t help but agree. I am sort of a genius.

* * * * *

“Mommmmm, how much lonnngerrrrr?”

I am jolted from my Future Ski Family fantasy as the highway zips by and my kids grow restless.

I know the bucolic ski trip days in my mind’s eye are pretty far away, but hey, we are taking the first step, I tell myself. We are on our way.

“Mommmmmmm, I have to pee. These socks hurt. Mommmm!”

On our way, indeed. Well, with some caveats.

Rather than go into detail about how the weekend played out, let me provide you with the alternate titles of this blog post:

  • Minivan Jenga: Ski Trip Edition
  • “Theeeeese Booooots Feeeeeeel Baaaaaad,” and Other Cries Heard at Ski School Drop-Off
  • Public Restrooms, Kids & 74 Layers of Clothing:  A Cautionary Tale
  • Cardio Blast: How to Keep a Baby Occupied in a Ski Lodge for Six Hours
  • Why Won’t the Bar Open Before Noon?
  • Five Easy Steps to Filing a Stolen Skis Report
  • The Art of Selecting the Right Hip Flask
  • A Jackass’ Guide to Choosing the Only Ski Day with Rain in 2014

 

OK, I’ll admit, I’m being a little dramatic. Except for the Minivan Jenga, stolen skis and all references to the bar. Never mind that the total number of adults in my family to actually ski equaled zero. The important thing is that my six and four year-old made it through ski school without any major fallout.

 

 

If you ask them, though, that was not the important thing at all. The important thing to them was clearly the fact that our hotel had a TV in the bathroom. If you want to blow my kids’ minds, apparently all you need to do is let them watch Disney Jr. while taking care of business. Somehow this detail escaped me when dreaming up my family’s future winter getaways.

So we’re not a ski family yet. We’re still more of a TV-in-any-location people.

But we’ll get there. Maybe.

 

 

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Tell Chicago I Said Hi

Right now, a few thousand bloggers are fretting about some pretty big questions. Like what to wear. And who to meet “in real life.” And if their business cards should or should not include their Pinterest handles.

Yes, friends, it’s time for BlogHer 2013. Just an intimate gathering of 4,000 souls who like to overshare on the Internet.

I went last year, when it was held in New York, and I had a great time.

This year, it’s in Chicago, and I won’t be going.

I’d love to, but it’s not a great plan with a 6 week-old.

I’ve known for many months that I wouldn’t be able to attend this year, given the timing.

And then a few things happened that made me reconsider.

First, 15 of the funny ladies from the book I was fortunate enough to be a part of are doing a book signing and reading in Chicago to coincide with the conference. How fun is that? I would love to meet all of them. I feel like I already know them. It would be great to have an evening laughing with them and celebrating the success of this great project.

Then, very unexpectedly, I found out that I was one of just 25 bloggers chosen as a 2013 Humor Voice of the Year by BlogHer. How cool is that?

So I started to think about pulling the logistics together for just 24 hours in Chicago.

I booked a hotel room. I started researching flights. I got excited about the possibility of a quick trip to BlogHer. The blog world is both massive and small. It is both anonymous and filled with friendships. And it probably sounds ridiculous to many, but we spend so much time interacting with each other online that the thrill of meeting up in person, just once a year, is really a treat.

I was *this close* to going but, in the end, it was just too much to leave a newborn at home. Could I have made it work? Yes. Was it stressing me out? Yes.

So I’ll be home. Hanging out with a cute 10 pound milk aficianado. And that’s totally OK.

But I have to bust out some I’m Missing BlogHer Coping Mechanisms. This mostly entails removing myself from social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for the next few days, where the constant stream of BlogHer photos and updates would taunt me.

And then I have to block out the insane fact that Friday night’s Voices of the Year ceremony is going to be hosted by Queen Latifah.

Queen Latifah.

QUEEN LATIFAH.

Will she call out all of the honorees? Will Queen Latifah speak my name? And I’ll miss it?

I can’t think about it. I can’t.

But you guys. QUEEN LATIFAH.

Sigh.

So, to my blogging friends, save me a pretend seat at the bar, have a great time and bring me back some good information. Or gossip. Or both. And tell Chicago — and Queen Latifah — I said hello.

Oh wait — you’re not reading this. Because you’ve already redeemed all of your conference drink tickets. Just as I would have done.

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Target Always Wins

You know when you get all boastful and high-horsey about something and then you totally live to regret it? Or how about those times when you completely underestimate your adversary’s capacity for revenge?

Anyone? Bueller?

Well. It happened to me. And, as most well-intentioned-but-poorly-executed things in my life go, it started on Facebook.

Yeah, I recently bragged on Facebook about my medal-worthy performance at Target.

It went like this:

  • I went in to return some items.
  • I completed the return.
  • And then: I walked the fuck out. Without buying another single item.

Yes, that’s right. I left Target in the black.

I KNOW. RIGHT?

{Brief applause break.}

I felt victorious. Invincible. It was clear that my life’s work in the retail sector was done.

But my joy was premature. Naive, even. Because, about a week later, Target had the last laugh.

It happened in the baby aisle, unexpectedly. I wasn’t there to shop for my unborn child. I was just looking for something very specific that I, uh, can’t seem to recall at the moment. Because, hell no, I was not just browsing aimlessly — that would be reckless.

But then, it began — the pull of Target. Before I knew what was happening, I was standing in the middle of the newborn supplies. This seemed harmless enough at first. I mean, it couldn’t hurt to have a quick look. After all, I’m about seven-ish weeks away from delivery and, while I have two children already, there are probably a few key supplies that might need replenishing or updating.

And that’s when things started to get weird. At first it appeared to be a straightforward case of simple Parental Amnesia. I realized that I didn’t even know what I needed. We hadn’t even looked in the attic to see what gear and clothing we still owned. Did I have the essentials? OMG, what are the essentials? I couldn’t remember but my options seemed to be displayed in an enticing array in front of me.

Out of nowhere, there was a sleek red empty Target cart right there in the aisle. It was in mint condition. All wheels intact and functioning. Very clean surfaces. All it was missing was the requisite 46 lb coating of hand sanitizer. Like a zombie, I abandoned the smaller, hand-held shopping basket.

I. Need. To. Buy. Things.

Many. Things.

What was going on? I was supposed to be in control. I was the woman who pulled off the Return-and-Run move just a week earlier. I wasn’t sure what was happ — oooohhhhh, look at those new bouncy seats. So much more compact than the one we had before.

But still, the rational side of my brain, though diminishing by the minute, tried to prevail. It pressed me to ask myself: Where the hell was all of our baby gear at home?

And then, like a bad flashback, I remembered what probably happened to everything: The Fordeville Garage Sale of 2010. The one where we made half-assed family planning decisions in the driveway at 6am, all in the name of profiteering.

“Should we sell the bouncy seat?”

“I don’t know. Do you think we’ll have another kid?”

“No clue. I haven’t even had coffee yet but someone wants to buy any and all baby gear we have. Should we keep it?”

“Uh, well, what are your thoughts on a third child?”

“Don’t know.”

“Me neither. But I hate clutter. Let’s sell what we can and deal with it another day.”

It can be said that, at times, we lack a certain finesse for long-term planning.

Back in the present day at Target, in front of my shiny red cart, I held my hand over my mouth and gasped audibly at the memory reeling back at me, while staring at 637 varieties of pacifiers in front of me.

What is that in my cart? Oh, well, it’s just a Target circular with the words SPRING BABY SALE all over the front.

I knew then that I was in an epic battle. It was Me Versus Target.

Every fiber of my being told me that, with our third child, we really don’t need much. Not like the first two times when we had checklists and tons of baby items. No, no. This time, there were probably about five things we needed to purchase — and would probably do so en route to the hospital.

But it was abundantly clear that Target was fucking with me. Like a Jedi mind trick on steroids.

Target is bigger than me.

Bigger than all of us.

You can’t play Target, people.

Target always wins.

Surely I don’t need most of this stuff. Although, everything has seemingly become smaller, slicker and more efficient in the four years since I was last pregnant. Wow. And, look, there’s the friendliest Target employee I’ve ever met, standing squarely in front of me. She claimed to be there for assistance but it seemed more like she was trying to prevent my escape.

I was overwhelmed with choices. With pre-emptive retail guilt. And, most importantly, with the aroma of the in-store Starbucks near the check-out lines.

And ultimately, that is where I went — with my impeccable cart and my nearly-personalized circular — to clear my head with a mind-crushing dose of caffeine. I needed a safe haven in which to regroup. I clasped my latte and slowly began to feel like myself again.

In the end, I held my ground. Mostly. My cart wasn’t empty when I left by any stretch, but it wasn’t a newborn supply overdose either.

But we all know that this was just one battle in the bigger war. Target is on to me and they won’t rest until they recoup the cash from my previously returned item.

I see their stalky emails. BABY SALE EXTENDED. BABY SALE SUPER DOUBLE EXTENDED. DO NOT EVEN TRY TO DELETE THIS EMAIL OR UNSUBSCRIBE.

I see their mascot dog with the bullseye on TV and wonder if some rabid version of him is outside my door.

It’s on, Target.

And the sad truth is, I’ll be back.

{Tip: Don’t ever sell all of your baby stuff at a garage sale unless you’ve really thought it through first. Or until you’ve had some coffee. Just saying.}

 

 

* * *

In other news, I survived my first published Q&A session as part of my participation in the upcoming production of Listen to Your Mother. As you might expect, my answers are full of deep thoughts and meaningful insights. {You all know better than to believe that, right?}

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Post-Vacation Adjustment Disorder: Know the Signs

 

Ohmygod, guess what? Turns out that it’s totally possible to type while pinned under a pile of laundry that can be seen from space. I didn’t think it was — I figured I’d suffocate down here — but I’m pretty psyched to have found this air pocket.

That’s pretty much how post-vacation adjustment to real life goes.

I’m not complaining. I’m so glad we got away. But I do think that there is a clear and compelling business opportunity to help people slowly acclimate back to reality. It would entail someone unpacking your bags, cleaning the clothes, reintroducing you to the basics of driving and then cooking a few initial starter meals. For an additional fee, the Deluxe Surrender to Reality Package would also include Hazmat removal of the contents of the fridge and putting the kids through a medically-approved sugar detox program. Homework help would be billed on a per-assignment basis.

Yes, my kids are disoriented back at home and totally confused by the concept of structure. And sleep. And protein.

Iioulruiwoarjoejiuyby. Wetow[pei  Uiyualrjpf

{Sorry, I was trapped under the unlaundered socks and briefly lost the oxygen supply to my brain.}

Of course, it’s nice to be back in my own bed. And, hell, I’m lucky that, with this weekend’s snowy temperatures, I barely had to adjust from the Orlando climate we experienced. But still, Disney is a tough place to come down from. I thought I was doing pretty well but then I realized it’s a process and I have to be patient.

It’s important to recognize the signs of Post-Disney Adjustment Disorder:

  • You wait outside your house for the monorail to pick you up.
  • You continue to attempt to use your room key as currency.
  • You call any outings going “off property.”
  • You try to use your Fast Pass to get to the front of the school pick-up line.
  • You are continually disappointed that your meals are not in the shape of a mouse’s head.
  • You look for a “wait time” sign over the grocery store check-out lines.
  • You are shell shocked that nobody has wished you a “magical day.”
  • You look for the nearest Stroller Parking sign.
  • You assume that trash on the floor is going to magically disappear.
  • You steel yourself for the inevitable Rascal scooter running over your foot.

But don’t worry, we’re doing OK. I’m back to SUV road rage and excessive profanity, which are comforting signs. And my kids have finally stopped asking which characters are showing up to breakfast. Probably when they realized that Non-Caffeinated Pregnant Mom was other-worldly enough, and possibly material for a horror movie.

If someone could just send about 784 dryer sheets down to me in the basement — along with a plate of Mickey waffles — I’ll be all set.

 

 

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It’s Vacation — What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

We’re pretty excited about going to Disney World in a few days.

And while I have been using the word vacation, I think it’s widely understood that the presence of children — even in the world’s happiest fucking place — still does not a vacation make.  Let’s call a spade a spade, because you know and I know that this whole trip is more accurately called An Overpriced Change of Scenery.

But still, it will be a world away from laundry, dishes, homework and the like.  So I am totally looking forward to it.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Well, if I’m being honest, I do have a few possibilities on my mind.

1) We could be detained by the Department of Homeland Security. My son has announced his intentions to bring his pirate sword onto the plane. When a simple explanation of “no weapons allowed on commercial aircraft” didn’t suffice, he considered the various ways to smuggle it on board, undetected — ninja-style. I really didn’t feel like getting into a discussion of anti-terrorism and The Patriot Act with him, so if you guys see my picture on the news with a headline like “Family of Four Placed on No-Fly List For Sword Possession,” you’ll know what happened.

2) We could end our non-vomiting streak.  This is always a concern of mine, given that my kids have puked in every state down the Eastern Seaboard in the past two years. After a brief and miraculous respite from the Vacation Travel Gods last year at Disney, I fear we are overdue for some Fordeville public vomiting. After all, it’s what we do best.  The real question is where.  I’m thinking either on the plane, in the buffet line or in a full hotel elevator.  Or maybe on Cinderella.  Because we don’t mess around.

3) We could waste a shit-ton of money.  If the past two years prove to be any indicator, my son will be obsessed with the only thing at Disney that is free — the monorail. This would be great news if we hadn’t already purchased all of our park passes at the cost of a home mortgage.  Now, endless monorail loops will fall under the Setting Money on Fire category.  I keep telling myself he’ll be over it this year.  But, the reality is that he may want to spend several consecutive days — again — just circling the perimeter of the actual money-sucking attractions. Damn it, kid, you will enjoy the rides that cost me some money. Now go check out the New Fantasyland before I ground you.

4) We could set a world record.  Not a good one.  Yeah, Orlando is going to be — in official meteorology terms — unseasonably cool.  As in, 30s and 40s overnight. My unofficial terminology for this temperature range is Fuuuccck, That’s Too Cold For Our Winter Vacation. Damn you, central Florida in March. So fickle, so unpredictable.  You think that gets us off the hook for sunscreen, don’t you?  Bwahahaha. You poor, naive souls. My husband will fall into the same trap, lulled into the comfort of frosty mornings and laughing at me for breaking out the SPF 5 million.  He will forget that we are freaks of nature and apparently lacking any and all melanin cells. And then, at least one of my kids, and probably me, will somehow become the first person on record to sustain an ER-level sunburn in 55-degree weather. While wearing long pants and a fleece.

5)  We could be mistaken for swingers.  At the end of the Disney stint, we’re heading over to visit my aunt and uncle in The Villages.  If you’re not familiar with this place, it’s basically a micro-city for the active 55+ population.  And I do mean active.  Not only do they have music piped into the streets and have a bar on every corner, but they also have the prestigious distinction of having one of the country’s highest STD rates.  And if I wear the wrong shoes on the wrong day, I may inadvertently send a signal to someone cruising in a golf cart that my husband and I are, uh, looking around.  This will be my first trip to The Villages, but something tells me it is begging for a future blog entry. Or a documentary.

 

So, as I pack our shorts and sandals jackets, sneakers and family pack of Dramamine, I’m hoping for the best. I probably won’t blog while I’m away, but you can find out if we’ve been incarcerated or picked up by swingers by following the fun on Facebook and Instagram.

Or, worst case scenario, look for us on CNN.

 

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