Thursday, January 27, 2011


“Mom,” my eight-year old son said as he came sliding across the hardwood kitchen floor Tom Cruise style, “Let’s celebrate Martin Luther King Day by ordering Chinese food.”
          For the uninitiated, let me fill you in. From the time Jack was in preschool he thought we were an African-American family. In fact, Martin Luther King Day 2006 he declared his ever-lasting devotion to Martin Luther King.
          “That’s fantastic Jack,” I said at the time. “Tell me what you know about him.”
          “Well, if it weren’t for him, we Piccirillo’s would still be riding the back of the bus,” he replied matter-of-factly as he handed me the crayon drawing he did in school of our family. He gave Jim a 1970’s Soul Train Don Cornelius afro and raw umber skin. He gave me brick red everything, no neck, and one eye. He made my daughter an odd combination of me and Jim which is to say that he gave her three eyes and plaid skin. Jim was thrilled that Jack gave him hair. In fact, he was thrilled that Jack made him look cool. And let’s face it, you can’t get much cooler than Don Cornelius.
          I still have that drawing and all the others that came after. So precious are the memories of those years, and the purity of his belief in the goodness of mankind, that I dreaded there might come a day when his world would no longer be color blind. So when he announced this year that he wanted to celebrate Martin Luther King Day with Chinese food my heart soared with delight. Chinese food! Yes!
          “Why Chinese food?” I curiously queried.
          “Well, my friends who don’t celebrate Christmas eat Chinese food on Christmas Day so I thought that since you don’t give gifts for Martin Luther King Day, or eat turkey, or watch the ball drop at midnight in the middle of New York City, let’s celebrate like my friends who don’t celebrate Christmas do—let’s eat Chinese!”
          As he slid back out of the kitchen the same Tom Cruise way he slid in, I wondered where this little boy came from and wished, as I never wished before, that I could stop time. As a mother we all get swept up in the moments that don’t matter but are powerful enough to continually consume us—getting the kids’ dressed for school, out the door, into school on time, laundry, dinner, scheduling playdates, hosting playdates, avoiding playdates, food shopping, cleaning, supervising homework, bath time, bedtime, oh…and working—that when the moments that matter come along, like this one, they hit us in the heart like a ton of bricks.
          When I was 8 months pregnant with Jack I was shopping at Burlington Coat Factory on Route 17 in Paramus. While browsing the claustrophobic baby section an older woman who worked there approached me. I heard her before I saw her. She was about 4’10”and impeccably dressed. Around her neck were strings of silver chains with circular beads that sounded like wind chimes when they brushed against each other. My immediate thought was that her face looked like an ancient gypsy from a Grimm fairytale.
She took the liberty of rubbing my belly and said, “You’re having a boy,” her slight eastern-European accent confirmed her gypsy status in my mind.
          “Really?” I replied. “I think it’s a girl.”
          “No. I tell you it’s a boy. I know this because a terrible war is coming. This war will last many generations and there will be a need for many men. Your son will be called for this war. Your friends’ sons will be called for this war. I tell you truth.”
          I dropped everything in my hands and ran from the store. A month later when I delivered my baby and the doctor said, “It’s a boy!” my initial thrill was replaced with the haunting words of this woman.
          And now, as I watch my sweet, sweet boy slide out of my kitchen I know, the way only a mother can, that this time with him on earth is brief. I don’t know what will take him from me, but eventually someone or something will. And so I savor this moment.
          “So mom,” he yelled from the living room. “Chinese food for Martin Luther King Day?”
          “Yes, absolutely yes. Chinese food for Martin Luther King Day.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Motherhood: It's not a job, it's an adventure!

Confession: every morning as I drive the kids to school I pretend I’m a special ops pilot assigned the dangerous mission of dropping fresh bodies into enemy territory. I call this mission: Boots on Ground. Laywoman’s terms: Kids in School Before Late Bell. I play this game not because I harbor any unfulfilled military desires, but because if I succumb to the daily monotony of my life I’d drive my car straight into the red-brick wall of CVS.
          Mornings are awful. My son, Jack, and I, can get out of bed, brush our teeth, wash our face, dress, and be out the door in exactly 12 minutes. We know because we’ve timed it. However, my husband Jim and my daughter Katie are considerably slower. Mornings with them are like being on an acid trip. And I don’t mean a good one. Katie can spend the better part of her day staring at the toothpaste on her toothbrush while Jim stares at his towel as if it’s going to perform the Dance of the Seven Veils for him. And that’s just their first morning task. Times that by the ten others they must perform before they leave the house.
          Breakfast is an exercise in keeping my blood pressure down. While my friend Randi makes her three sons a hardy homemade breakfast every morning, I subscribe to the belief that a little fire in your belly is a good motivator. Jack subscribes to this philosophy, but Katie and Jim have to have their cereal every morning. Katie stares at the little “O’s” of her Cheerios and Jim makes sure he chews 25 times before swallowing each spoonful.  Chew 23 of spoonful #4 is usually when I snap. Jim says hinges open on the top of my head and monsters fly out of my skull. If he only really knew!
         Which brings me to this non-sequitor. I bought Jack a pair of rain boots on-sale at Target for $4.99, but it wasn’t until he put them on one cold, rainy morning that I realized they weren’t a size 5 as the tag read. Some comedian in Target rubber-banded the wrong sizes together. One boot was a size 3 (two sizes too small) and the other was a size 8 (three sizes too big). I didn’t notice this when I purchased them because I was in complete “maniac mode” trying to get out of the store and get the kids from school before they were remanded to the Main Office.
          So here Jack stood before me looking at the uneven feet of his new boots. Our eyes locked in a power-play stare-down. “Just put them on!” I hissed. Obediently, he put them on and didn't say a word. He looked like Quasimodo dragging his size 8 boot and backpack out the front door.  Then over my shoulder I yelled, “KATIE! NOW!!!!” Katie Morticia Adams-ed her way onto the porch. I pulled her coat on, shoved her feet into her boots, and pushed her out the door. She screamed for her umbrella. “MY HAIR!”
          “Don’t worry about your hair!” I yelled. “Just Run, Forrest, Run!” She shoved something into her pocket. As I ran out behind her it felt like my coat was caught. It was Jim holding onto my elbow.
          “What?” I screamed annoyed.
          “I want to give you a kiss good-bye,” he said tenderly.
          “Kiss my…” the final word trailing behind me as I broke free.
          As I burned rubber out of the driveway the clock in the car said we had 4 minutes until the late bell. No problem. I can get across town in 2 minutes!
          As my car squealed around the corner of Fort Lee Road, I illegally pulled up to the fire hydrant five hundred feet from where the third, fourth and fifth grade parents are instructed to drop off children and ordered, “Run, Jack! Run! YOU CAN DO THIS!” He dutifully jumped from the car, but as he hit his stride the size 8 boot flipped off and flew through the air before landing splash into a rogue puddle. I popped my head out of the car window and yelled, “Leave it Jack! Go! Run Buddy, run!!!!” And he did--the toe of his sock flapping from the weight of the water. Meanwhile, Katie casually stepped out of the car and strolled as if she was making her entrance into a garden party with the Queen. That's when I noticed something was off and thought, as she sauntered away from the car,“What the hell is that on her head?"  I groaned when I realized what it was, "Oh, Dear God!” She had somehow managed to smuggle a blue shower cap out of the house and was now wearing it upon her head so her hair wouldn't get wet. I reached down to the floor of the mini-van, grabbed an empty snack-sized Doritos bag and began to breathe into it hoping to ease the pain that was shooting from my arm to my chest.
          When my breathing returned to normal, and my pulse slowed down, I climbed out of the car and waded through the steady stream of rain to retrieve the boot that by now had been sufficiently run over by just about every third, fourth, and fifth grade parent.
Boot on Ground, kids in school, heart-attack avoided. Mission accomplished. 

Thursday, January 6, 2011


While other people shed tears of longing and regret on New Year’s Eve I cry tears of pure joy. The drop of the Waterford Ball in Times Square at precisely twelve o’clock midnight signals the official end of the fanatical holiday season for me. 62 days. 62 days of madness from Halloween to New Year. Those haunting nightmares of not getting the kids’ costumes on time, not being prepared for the 30 guests, give or take a dozen, that come every year to my house for Thanksgiving, or waiting too long to go shopping and not being able to find that one gift that my son and 100,000 other kids want, and trying to avoid a coronary while cooking the feast of the seven fishes by thinking, “If Jesus fed 5,000 on two fishes, surely I can feed 50 on seven?” All this is behind me now. Can I get an “Alleluia?”
The truth is that while other people are shouting “Happy New Year” it’s all I can do to refrain myself from screaming, “All right! EVERYBODY OUT! We’ll see you all on Memorial Day. Have a great year! Take your coat, take your germs. Goodbye!”
The problem this year was that when everyone finally did leave I realized that they left more than just good memories behind. The sewer had overflowed (again) into our basement. In my book, this is not a fortuitous start to the New Year. Although it is said to be good luck to step in it, I don’t know about swimming in it. The second I opened the basement door to retrieve the mop I knew what had happened. Some things need no second opinion. Trust me, sewer overflow is one of those things.
I did what any woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown she’s been withholding for 62 days would do. I called for my husband.
“What?” I heard from the living room where he laid prostrate on the couch watching post New Year’s Eve celebrations on the Spanish channel.
“The sewer overflowed into the basement. Happy New Year!”
Que? Como?” was his reply from over the din of Feliz Ano Nuevo. (This white boy secretly longs to be a steamy Latino and loves to kid around by using the Spanish he learned from Dora the Explorer. I never wanted to burst his bubble by telling him that “vamanos” is not a dirty word that inspires anything when whispered into someone’s ear, especially if that someone is carrying a 50 pound basket of laundry.)
“It seems that everyone’s lower intestines dropped with the ball.”
“Donde esta? Donde esta?”
“Doo-doo donde in the basement.”
Unamused by speaking Spanglish, I realized that I had had it. I had just spent the last 62 days standing with the masses in line at Party City for costumes; trick-or-treating in the bitter cold; spending an hour of Halloween scrubbing my daughter’s hand after she crushed a stink bug that flew into her bag making me understand why they call them “stink bugs”; examining candy to make sure no crazy person tampered with it; pumpkin picking in Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell; getting up in the dark to cook for Thanksgiving; cleaning up after Thanksgiving; shopping for Christmas; pulling everything down from the attic to decorate for Christmas; decorating for Christmas; suffering through a fist fight between the person in line in front of me and the person behind me at Wal-Mart on the night before the night before Christmas Eve; being unable to suppress my sarcasm while being interrogated by the cops about said fight when they asked me what caused the fight and I replied, “The celebration of the birth of our Lord”; wrapping all the gifts; getting everyone dressed and out the door for the Children’s Christmas Eve Mass; spending the first ten minutes of Christmas Eve Mass outside the church with my son in a headlock scrubbing his forehead raw with my nails because he thought it would be funny to tattoo a penguin with a Santa hat onto his forehead in the car; cooking for Christmas Eve; cleaning up at four in the morning after everyone left on Christmas Eve; telling Santa that I’d handle the heavy stuff; getting up at seven with the kids on Christmas day; cleaning up Christmas morning; preparing for New Year’s Eve, cooking for New Year’s Eve, cleaning up after New Year’s Eve, and trying to fit in three jobs.
For $500 the plumber arrived to temporarily fix the problem with the sewer line. He suggested that since we live on the bottom of a hill we should tell the uphill neighbors to refrain from flushing so much. Gee, now should I offer them a plate of homemade cookies when I tell them that? No, that will just make them ultimately have to flush. The plumber added, “If the back-up was only 15 feet to the north it would be the town’s problem.”
He turned to leave my house and the grotesque mess that he had just made in my house. When I mentioned how his wife would feel if someone left her floors, toilets, and tubs such a mess with sewerage he replied, “Come on! Women love to clean!” God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, a woman’s work is never done.  
And so as I dip my big toe into the dirty waters of 2011 all I can think of is flushing neighbors and only 10 months of rest before the holiday rush starts again.
Happy New Year! By the way, Jim says, Feliz Ano Nuevo!