This Is What 12 Smells Like


trampoline watermark

12-year-old’s view of the world.

Yesterday I was sitting at my kitchen table looking at my laptop when my 12yo son came in from playing outside and I was reminded, not for the first time, of the miracle surrounding puberty.

It stinks.

He’d come home from school earlier without much to do. There were no games or practices to get ready for. The school year is winding down so he didn’t have any homework to keep him busy and he hadn’t made any plans with friends to hang out (I have been instructed to no longer use the words “play” or “play date” to describe these events).

But he’s generally pretty good at keeping himself occupied. He’s the kind of kid who can just go outside and kick a soccer ball into a net a million times. Like, he was definitely a giant golden retriever in a previous life who found great joy in endlessly fetching a ball. Over the holidays, when the ground was covered with snow for weeks on end thus preventing said ball kicking, my guy decided to use an indent in our sectional couch as his goal. He’d move the coffee table out of the way before school and just kick the soccer ball into the couch over and over and over again. KA-KUNK. KA-KUNK. The noise didn’t really bother me. I’d stand in the kitchen making a meal or wiping counters and watch him work on his scoring technique. But it drove his older three siblings nuts.

“NICK,” his older brother would scream from his basement lair, “CUT IT OUT.”

His sisters upstairs didn’t care for the repetitive thumping either. One of them stalked down the stairs and grabbed the ball out from under him and returned to her cell while the 12yo just stood and watched the ball disappear upstairs. Then he fished his lacrosse stick out of the mudroom and stood in the back hallway, tossing the rubber ball against the door leading out to the garage. KA-KUNK. KA-KUNK.

When our neighbors relocated to Hong Kong last summer, one of the many wonderful things we acquired temporarily was their trampoline and – for as much as I NEVER wanted a trampoline and have a video of my grown daughters jumping on it in our yard and yelling, “We have a fucking trampoline!” – the thing does keep bored people busy.

So my guy came home from school yesterday and foraged in the pantry to find something to eat other than the raw almonds and Trader Joe’s quinoa and black bean-infused tortilla chips the older children turned their noses up at as they raped and pillaged the pantry all day while the little brother was at school. After nibbling on a handful of turkey jerky – his sadly best option – he made his way outside to jump around.

I sit most days on a chair at the end of my big, pine kitchen table that backs into the curve of a bay window overlooking our backyard. The seat provides the perfect view of the trampoline that takes up the far end of our yard and I love sitting there and watching the kid’s moves.

He ran for a while around the perimeter, taking big, long strides inside the surrounding net and stopped occasionally to throw some punches, a few upper cuts for good measure. He’d hooked his iPhone up to our Spotify account and was pumped up listening to his 12yo jam, songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody” and Billy Joel’s “For the Longest Time” (these also happened to be songs he sang at his end-of-the-year chorus concert). I watched as he continued running in circles and eventually he plopped down on his back to rest, staring up at the leaves dangling from branches high above and singing along to Queen.

After a while I stopped stalking the child and resumed work and didn’t really notice when he appeared standing at my side some time later. At this point, he’d been jumping around for a while under the hot afternoon sun and his face was visibly moist, the ends of his shaggy hair soaked with sweat. But I was so preoccupied by what I was doing I didn’t really pay attention to his presence until my nose sounded the alarm.

“WHOA,” I said, turning to look at his sweet, shiny face. “You stink.”

I mean, it wasn’t like I’d never smelled anything like that before, and I’m not even talking about that homeless person I walked by in the Christopher Street subway station one hot July afternoon in 1990. No, I’ve had close encounters of the super-smelly kind with his older siblings when they were in the early stages of puberty. I could always sense a shift — before obvious things like deepening voices and growing breasts provided the visible evidence of change – by the way they smelled, which is best described as “ripe.” Overnight, I’d go from wanting to bury my face in the tops of their heads to inhale their sweetness to getting a whiff of their hair when they walked by and smelling what could only be described as “hair,” and not in a Gee-Your-Hair-Smells-Terrific kinda way.

My favorite “So You Think Your Kid Stinks?” story was the time I ended up in the ladies room during a middle school basketball game and my daughter and her teammates rushed in to use the facilities before the start of the second half. I remember sitting in the stall as they milled around the sinks thinking, “Holy crap, one of these girls totally stinks. What the hell?”

It was like July 1990 all over again.

After the game, our family trundled through the cold school parking lot and piled back into our car and it wasn’t long after the doors had closed and the heater was switched on full blast that I made a horrible discovery: I had given birth to that smelly kid I’d encountered in the ladies room.

So I wasn’t shocked or anything by my little guy’s strong body odor after his trampoline workout. This is not my first puberty rodeo, you know. It was just a reminder of not only the power of hormones but also the effectiveness of Old Spice when used accordingly.

I told him to run upstairs and jump in the shower before he left to have dinner at his dad’s and reminded him, because it seems sometimes certain people need to be reminded, to avail himself of any and all soaps and shampoos lying around the shower stall. “Go nuts,” I instructed.

He took his sweaty self upstairs and I picked up my cell to text his father. “You’re welcome,” I wrote and added the emoji wearing the surgical mask, which is what I wished I’d been wearing a little earlier.

We joked via texts about our baby’s smelliness for a while but honestly, I hope the odor doesn’t go away any time soon. I hope our child still finds pleasure in marching around a trampoline by himself and lying on his back and staring off into space for weeks and months to come. That stinky smell is the warning sign. It indicates that the end of childhood is nigh. It breaks my heart not only because I’ve so enjoyed this child, my last, but also because he’s it. When he turns the corner and bids childhood “adieu,” I will no longer have a legit child of my own. No one will need me any more to hold their hand to cross a street or cut their steak or kiss their knees when they fall.

And, fuck, I used to complain about having to do all that shit for them but now, man, I’d like to go back and punch myself in the throat (to borrow a phrase) because here I am, 20 years later, missing the shit out of Easter eggs and Nickelodeon and having to shampoo little heads every night. I officially would like to eat all my stupid words.

So, keep on smelling my son, I say. I hope you stink all summer long and well into the next school year. Because as long as you do, I still get to be a mom to a kid. I’ll happily drive you and your little knucklehead buddies to the mall to watch “The Avengers” and put up with all of you running around my backyard later whipping sneakers at each other. Whatever it takes to keep you a kid. Before long you’ll be way more interested in finding out where all the cute girls in your grade are going on a Saturday night and walking around town with a backpack full of Keystone Lights.

Growing up can wait.

I will, however, continue to insist you use the deodorant I bought you last week because, dude, no one needs to smell that bad.

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How many licks to the center of a Tootsie Pop?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

My oldest just graduated from a giant state university located in the South so you know what that means, right? It’s time to make hotel reservations for his sister’s graduation for next year. Exactly. How’d you guess?

She goes to the same school, which was convenient for her brother’s graduation this year because the kids and I could just crash at her apartment as most of her roommates had gone home for the summer. It was close to campus and cheap and worth the three nights I spent sleeping on a pullout couch and keeping shoes on my feet at all times. But when it’s her turn to don a cap and gown next year we are going to have to ante up and find another place to stay.

I had heard from other parents that booking hotel rooms within a 30-mile radius of the campus was a highly-competitive affair. I knew I’d have to get my game on if I was going to score a place to stay that wouldn’t require 45 minutes of driving and keeping my shoes on my feet at all times (I have a thing about walking barefoot in places that skeeve me out).

But I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to do. I never really developed a solid strategy. I didn’t realize, until it was too late, just how cutthroat I needed to be.

Here’s the thing: I can never really seem to rise to these types of occasions. It’s probably why my blog has yet to become the national sensation that I’d always intended it to be and why I’m still single. I just can’t seal the deal.

So I asked around. Sent some emails. Made some calls. Eventually, I made a list of the top 5 places I’d be willing to stay and noted when each would start taking reservations for May 2016.

And then I waited.

Somewhere along the way, I decided I only wanted to stay at a Hilton property so I could use/earn points, which narrowed my list down to 2 hotels. “No problem,” I thought.

I’d been calling the Hampton Inn every few days and the nice Southern person I would get at the other end of the line would tell me they hadn’t yet started taking reservations for next year’s graduation. “Well, do you know when that’s going to be?” I’d ask, and invariably I’d be told, “No, Ma’am,” and to keep checking back.

It seemed like a pretty laid-back affair and lacked any sense of urgency, which I took to mean it was no big deal. Like they’d be giving rooms away like Chinese babies (please see the movie “Juno” for further explanation).

So when I called the hotel again at the beginning of last week, I was pretty freaked out to discover that rooms had gone on sale the day before and were gone, gone, gone.

I tried to convey my sense of dismay, my complete outrage to the amiable person on the other end of the line but couldn’t really come up with any solid reason why that wasn’t fair, other than to lamely whine, “That’s not fair.”

“Okay, no problem,” I thought to myself. I’ll just be more on top of my game to nab rooms at the swankier Hilton Garden Inn. I knew they were opening reservations on Tuesday beginning at 10 a.m. and made appropriate reminders using all caps on my iPhone.

The appointed hour came that day and I quickly dialed the hotel’s main number and was greeted with a busy signal. And then I tried again. And again. Still busy.

After a few more tries, I dragged the future-graduate out of bed and enlisted her in dialing duties as well. We sat side-by-side at our kitchen table and time-after-time dialed the number, hit the speaker button, and were greeted by the busy signal.

About 10 minutes in, the phone on the other end started to ring. We screamed and I tried to calmly switch off the speaker and put the phone up to my ear and listen. It rang, and rang and rang. After about a minute-and-a-half, the phone went dead and a few seconds later, I heard the unmistakable beeping, indicating a dropped call.

My daughter and I stared at each other in disbelief and then went back to dialing.

Eventually, we began to get a little giddy.

“DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?” I shouted at the phone after the 20th busy signal using a terrible British accent . “IT IS I, AMY ELIZABETH BYRNES!”

“I WILL DE-TROY YOU!” yelled my daughter, imitating her 3yo cousin’s now-famous line we oft quote in our house sounding like robots.

Every once in a while, the phone would start to ring and we’d excitedly listen as it droned on and on, only to eventually cut off after a minute and 40 seconds.

We started noticing patterns like that.

“PLEASE,” I moaned, slightly hysterical as the phone rang in my ear, “don’t give me the 1:40.”

And then I heard the click on the other end.

We began to take note of how long we’d been furtively dialing our phones. How many attempts we’d made by certain points.

“I’m closing in on 100!” I reported. “I’m feeling good we’re getting in at 100!”

To which the busy signal said, “Fuck you.”

We confidently predicted success at 111 and then 222 but by 333 we were starting to lose a little faith in having a successful outcome.

“I wish I knew more about statistics or math,” I grumbled to my daughter at one point. “Isn’t this, like, a word problem or something? Isn’t this like trying to figure out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a fucking Tootsie Pop?”

We sat at the table in our pajamas and called and called the hotel for well over an hour and we probably were greeted with the endless ringing over a dozen times. We went from making outrageous threats to the hotel staff – like driving down and going all White Walkers on them and shit – until we decided they could somehow hear us and were afraid to answer our calls. We then switched to pleading with the faceless hotel staff, promising to keep our rooms very clean and telling them I have very nice hair (we had pretty much lost our minds by then).

And then, at 11:27 a.m. – 87 minutes after we’d begun, someone picked up on the other end at my 408th attempt.

“HiHiHi!!” I shouted like a lunatic and started fumbling with my words. “I’d like to make a reservation for graduation next year!”

To which the woman at the other end amiably responded in a friendly Southern drawl, “I’m sorry but we just sold our last room for that weekend.”

Reader, I held it together. I used neither expletives nor raised voice to convey my dismay. I told her we’d been trying for an hour and 27 minutes and pictured her sitting at the front desk of some crappy hotel hundreds of miles away rolling her eyes at me. I asked if they had a waiting list or something, ANYTHING, to make me feel better. Hoping she could throw me some kind of bone for my efforts. But she merely suggested I try calling back between now and next May to see if there were any cancellations.

“It’s not fair,” I said meekly as I hung up the phone and faced my daughter in defeat.

In the end, I reserved two rooms at a Quality Inn about 20 minutes from main campus, just off the Interstate, that could also accommodate any pets I might be thinking about bringing with me that weekend. Their TripAdvisor reviews are less than stellar but it beats staying even further away or sleeping in my car.

I guess I’ll check in sporadically over the next 10 months to see if anything opens up and I am on one waiting list at a place I initially turned my nose up at but now am treating it like it’s the Ritz Carlton or something. Getting in will be like winning the lottery.

Once again, I don’t really have a moral for this story. I don’t really know what I would have done better in retrospect. I guess I was reminded that sometimes, life isn’t fucking fair and that sometimes, they forget to put that gooey center inside the Tootsie Pop.

Amy shares way too much about herself at ‘A’ My Name is Amy. You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter@AMyNameisAmy.

That Time I Missed the Bus (Literally)

keep-calm-and-don-t-miss-the-bus-5I woke up yesterday morning to face a big “to-do” list. We were planning to leave early the next day to drive the seven hours or so south to attend my oldest child’s college graduation and I had shiz that needed to get done.

Did you just read that? My oldest child, my first-born — the one who taught me how hard it was to be a mom and how much I loved it — is about to become a college graduate (god fucking willing).

Where did the time go?

But this is not about that.

I had cookies to make, clothes to pack — especially to ensure that my little guy didn’t show up for the commencement ceremony in his typical sports shorts/soccer jersey combo — and I had to get my ass to the DMV to replace the driver’s license that was stolen out of my walled like a month ago.

There was also the matter of the license plate that recently, and mysteriously, just dropped off the front of the $400 vehicle my teenager drives nowadays and I should probably be happy that that’s the only thing that’s fallen off that beauty.

So I got the kids off to school, did a little solo exercise routine in my family room that included singing and dancing to Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man” (PS: I killed it) and jumped in the shower.

Following my abbreviated beauty routine, it occurred to me that I might need shit out of my daughter’s car to replace the missing plate — say the vehicle registration or insurance card. Or maybe I’d need the plate that remained screwed to the back of the car. So I drove to the high school and, reluctantly, switched cars and drove to the local DMV using the tips of my right toes to press the accelerator as the power seats have long since stopped working and are permanently frozen in place for a driver with legs significantly longer than my own.

So by the time I got to the dreaded DMV with my Ziploc bagged filled with all the “points” required to prove that I was who I was, it was later than I really had wanted to get there and there was a long line of folks filling out various forms along a counter where I squeezed in to do the same.

I don’t know about you, but when I have any doings at the motor vehicle agency I start acting like I’ve committed a crime or joined the service. I want to answer every question asked to me with, “Sir, yes sir!” and a salute. So I start going into my “We’re in the Army now” routine when the phone in my bag starts to ring. I look down and see it’s my mom and look back up to answer the imposing woman behind the counter asking me questions.

Then the phone starts to ring again.

And again.

And I’m really starting to sweat, wondering if my mom wanted to talk about something more than the graduation or then maybe if there had been an accident.

I had to run outside to check the license plate number and add to one of the numerous forms I needed to fill out and when I came back in, saw my younger sister had texted me, “Hey, are you here?”

“What is Betsy doing at the DMV?” I wondered, but scurried back onto the line to finish my business with the lady behind the counter.

The phone, of course, started to buzz again and instead of ignoring, I press that magic iPhone button that lets you send a quick message that you can’t talk right now.

To which my mother responds, “This can’t wait.”

“She’s usually not so aggressive,” I think, and move over to another line.

And then she texts, “We are headed to NY,” and I have one of those experiences generally reserved for dreams, you know, the kind where you show up for a test naked or that you forgot to study?

I forgot that at that moment I was supposed to be at a rest area along the Garden State Parkway to catch a bus into New York City to see a show that my mother bought tickets for months ago. She even asked me last weekend if I’d found out yet what time I needed to be there to get on the bus and I brushed her off, reminding her it was only Saturday at that point. That I just hadn’t gotten that far yet on my calendar.

I think she knew better. She knew whom she was dealing with.

Needless to say — following a mini heart attack — I finished my business at the DMV and started frantically Googling mass transportation options to get me into the city by 2 p.m. (it was close to 11 a.m. at that point and anyone who has had to journey into New York from the Tri-State area knows you need to give yourself a lot of time to get from here to there).

I was all set to jump on  a bus that would get into the city about 15 minutes before curtain time and figured I would just run from Port Authority to the nearby theater district when I made the horrifying discovery that the show — the revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I,” — was playing at Lincoln Center. Fucking Lincoln Center about 20-something blocks north of the bus station.

And then I began to despair. My mother had gone way out of her way to get me that ticket to be a part of that bus trip into the city — along with two of my sisters and some of my mom’s pals — that I couldn’t just not go. Even offering to pay her back didn’t seem right. I had been an asshole, like, how could I have not remembered such a lovely day that awaited me?

So naturally, as I do in these situations, I did the one thing I’ve done quite often over the past few years. I called my gal pal across the street and asked her what she thought I should do. She’s like the Kissenger to my Ford — although much more chic — and always knows just what to do.

“You’ve got a lot on your plate,” she immediately commiserated after I verbally vomited what had happened and my distress. “You’ve got kids moving out and moving home and the long weekend ahead of you. You just forgot,” she consoled.

“You’re going to have to drive,” she instructed. “It shouldn’t be too terrible.”

So that’s what I did. I jumped in my car in my DMV outfit and drove the 90-minute drive into Manhattan’s Upper West Side and easily parked under Lincoln Center with enough time to spare to join the group for a lovely lunch.

And the show was magnificent. I super-love Kelli O’Hara, who plays the role of the intrepid Anna who travels to Siam to be a teacher for the king’s many children. My mom and I had seen her years earlier in the Lincoln Center-revival of “South Pacific,” which was equally wonderful and provided the additional excitement of getting to stand behind Angelica Houston on the ladies room line at intermission.

I sat next to my mom in that darkened theater and kicked myself for even considering for a moment the notion of forfeiting that experience in favor of staying home and walking around Trader Joe’s.

Of course, the ride home sucked. It took a legit hour to get from Lincoln Center to the Lincoln Tunnel entrance. I mean, it’s only about 20 blocks south. And it was rush hour so things didn’t get much better when I hit the New Jersey Turnpike on the other end.

I still don’t know what to blame my absent-mindedness on. Maybe I’ve got a lot on my mind right now or maybe I’m just plain stupid. I’m really open to that. Or maybe I have “brain fog,” one of peri-menopause’s many exciting features that accompany sweating through my underwear and the cute bloat around my midsection.

But whatever the culprit was, I’m glad I didn’t pass on the opportunity to sit next to my mom in a darkened theater under the spell of beautiful music.

You can’t buy that at Trader Joe’s.

Our New Neighbor

mrgrsI was standing in the kitchen talking to my 17yo daughter this weekend when I noticed her looking over my shoulder. This is nothing unusual. Nobody really pays any attention to what I have to say around here unless it’s what I’m making for dinner or that I don’t have $300 lying around to help fund a spring break trip to the Keys.

Anyway, I was probably saying something like, “Do you think you’re going to college next year?” or “If you don’t clean your pigsty of a room you’re not going out tonight” when she shouted, “Look what’s inside that tree!”

She pointed out the window over our kitchen sink to a giant maple tree in our neighbor’s yard, right on the other side of the chain link fence that separates our properties. Its trunk splits into two like a “V” as it reaches up towards the sky and then each half splits again. About 20 feet up, the whole shebang starts bending towards my house so all the limbs, branches, twigs create a canopy over my narrow back yard. It actually used to have a sister tree about 10 feet to its north, also right at the edge of the fence, and the two of them had been the bane of my existence since I moved into this house over a dozen years ago.

It turns out, maple trees generate a variety of little pieces of crap that they drop throughout the year — you know, those helicopter things we used to call “Pinnochio noses” when we were kids that fall in late summer, and bright green blossoms in the spring. And then there are all the leaves. And all of it — the buds, the leaves, the helicopters and all that ensuing pollen — float right into the swimming pool that takes up about half of my backyard.

I really wanted that pool when we were trying to buy the house. I really thought it was going to be so great to have it for the kids to swim and play and invite their friends over and our friends over. But I have learned after taking care of the 30-year-old thing over the last 12 years that swimming pools should be filed under “Things That Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time.”

Like getting married at 24.

Ironically, the tree closest to the pool came crashing into our back yard the night Hurricane Sandy blew through, its giant limbs tearing through the dark green pool cover that had just been pulled on top a month earlier. The power had already gone off when the tree fell but the wind and everything going on outside created such a racket, we never even heard it come down. We eventually noticed the branches, which earlier that day were 40 feet above our yard, lying on the steps outside our back door later that night.

Now, the remaining maple tree is not looking in much better condition than the other one did before it keeled over. A pretty big limb fell off a few years ago, leaving it looking a bit like an amputee, and there’s a big hollow in one of the trunks that indicates that the tree might not be in the best of health.

If this one goes down any time soon, it should probably be filed under “Things I Should Have Taken Care Of.”

Like that weird lump on my finger or the sinking concrete deck around the pool.

So I looked out the window at the tree my daughter was pointing to and inside the hollow was a raccoon, just sitting there staring back at us. It looked almost fake, like someone had put a muppet inside the hole, with its pointy snout and little black mask across its eyes.

And we were like, “Awwwwww.”

And now, for the past two days, we have been absolutely obsessed with the thing. We even named it.

I initially felt strongly that it was a girl and suggested we call her “Rhoda” or “Rhianna.” When those ideas were shot down, I began referring to it as “Bandit” or “Badger” but that ultimately pissed my 12yo son off, as he kept insisting we could not call our raccoon “Badger” since that was, like, the name of another kind of animal altogether.

Okay, whatev.

Then my daughter was like, “It’s definitely a guy,” and suggested we call him “Kenneth” and we all agreed that name fit him perfectly. He is such a Kenneth.

Standard raccoon meme.

Standard raccoon meme.

Lately, I spend most of my days at my kitchen table sitting at a chair tucked into a bay window area that looks right out at Kenneth’s tree about 20 feet away. All day yesterday, while I should have been doing other things, I watched him dozing in his hole and occasionally would see the top of his head moving up and down as he groomed himself. Every once in a while, he’d stop and push his face out of the hole a little to enjoy a rush of cold air going by. A few times, he actually stretched his body out of the hole and basked in the afternoon sun, closing his eyes and luxuriating in its warmth, and then he’d go right back to scratching himself. I decided right then and there that more than anything else, I wanted to come back as a raccoon in my next life. I wouldn’t mind spending my days napping and grooming myself and taking a break to feel the sun on my face or the breeze in my fur.

Sounds perfect to me.

(The above is a terrible video that really doesn’t show anything except how sick my daughter was when she went outside to try to film Kenneth this weekend).

There was a bit of debate as to whether Kenneth had always been living in that hole, watching us going on with our lives while he nipped at the bugs on his belly, but we ultimately decided he must have moved there more recently. Our real neighbor, the man who owns the actual property behind us where Kenneth is living, recently had a whole crew of tree dudes in his yard chopping down most of the trees back there (other than the one that’s eventually going to kerplop into my yard).

“Kenneth was probably living in one of those trees,” my daughter deduced, and that seems like the best explanation to me.

She came home from school yesterday and walked over to where I was sitting, my chair angled to get the best view of Kenneth’s activities, and we both sat and watched him for a while. Every time he stopped his grooming and looked up towards us, so we could see his pointy little ears and the mask, we’d stop mid-conversation and say, “Ohhh.”

As the sun went down and we could no longer see the tree through the window, we speculated over dinner as to what Kenneth was up to. We joked that he had made his way up to my daughter’s bedroom and was in her bed (she doesn’t even like me in her bed, much less a hairy wild animal) or that we would come down in the morning and find him sitting at our kitchen table with a mug of coffee.

Alas, when we did come down to start our day this morning, there was no sign of Kenneth anywhere. He’s not in his hole and we’re beginning to get a little concerned.

“GO LOOK FOR HIM,” my daughter texted from school earlier. “DO SOMETHING.”

But I really don’t think there’s much I can do when it comes to looking for a lost raccoon. It’s not like I can call the police or the SPCA. I can’t imagine, even though he’s really cute, that anyone is going to call to report that they found someone’s raccoon. Even one with a proper name like Kenneth.

So, because I couldn’t stare at our raccoon this morning, I took to looking at my son instead. I told him how handsome he looked wearing the same husky Gap corduroys — the kind where you can cinch in and let out the waist as needed — that he wears about four out of five school days during the week and his standard soccer jersey on top. I followed him into the mudroom as he went to grab his sneakers and he finally said, “Okay. You don’t need to watch me put on my shoes.”

Maybe that’s why I liked watching Kenneth so much. I’ve got fewer people who let me stare at them around here. I miss when they were little and I could marvel at how they could speak and move all on their own and their perfect little bodies. Now when I try to admire them for any length of time, I’m told I’m acting like “a creeper.”

Not to fear, though. I’ve been vigilant today, on the lookout for Kenneth, watching to see if maybe he crops up in a new nest or maybe in the next yard over. It seemed like he had such a good set up though. I’m struggling with why he would leave. Maybe all our staring got to him after a while. Maybe it was all a little unsettling.

And I mean, if worse comes to worse, I could always just go and stare at my cat.

She’s just no Kenneth.

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Even the Best Kids Sometimes Do Bad Things

I was cleaning the bathrooms this morning, you know, wiping up the 10-pounds of hair that accumulates on the floor in a matter of days and the gobs of toothpaste and bits of toast that no one seems able to remove from the sink after they spit, when I came upon the books stacked on the back of the kids’ toilet.

I’ve always been big on scattering reading material around the house in prime locations — near toilets and piled up on the kitchen table — just in case one of the kids has an urge to look at something that’s not moving on a screen. You know, actually read something, even if it’s People or Entertainment Weekly.

Usually when I’m cleaning, I’ll just pick up the stack of books sitting on the toilet tank and wipe under them and then put them back where they were. But today it occurred to me that it’s been the same assortment — joke books, something about insults and comebacks and a novel — for a pretty long time and I was fairly certain no one was looking at any of them while they were in there.

So I started to sift through the books to see what I should get rid of, maybe swap one or two out for something new and interesting, when I came across our old copy of “A Wrinkle in Time” that I discovered had been christened with some vulgar graffiti:

Someone in my house really seems to resent this book's presence in our bathroom.

Someone in my house really seems to resent this book’s presence in our bathroom.

I'm sensing a lot of anger here.

Who else senses a lot of anger here?


If this was 10 years ago, I guarantee you there’d have been a full-on inquisition into whose handiwork graced the cover of the book. But nowadays, there’s pretty much only one suspect, and while I get that middle schoolers experiment with naughty words and rebellious actions, I seriously didn’t think my kid had it in him.

Which only goes to remind me, for probably the umpteenth time since I became a mom 22 years ago, that you can NEVER SAY NEVER.

My kids have done things that have shocked the shit out of me and taught me to NEVER judge someone else’s kid because you just don’t know when it’s going to be your turn to find out that your super-sweet and loving and adorable 12yo would scribble “FUCK YOU SCHOOL” on a book.

Or worse.

I am, however, going to have a little fun later when he gets home from school to see who he’s going to say did the naughty deed. I only hope he tries to pin it on the cat.

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IMG_3857My friend and I trundled into the back of the pickup truck this morning and when the driver closed the door behind us, she turned to me and said, “Well, say good-bye to your life.”

And we started laughing like crazy.

“I almost made it to 50,” she snorted and then we tried to pull it together before the driver got in behind the wheel.

It all started innocently enough. She needed to be at her pediatrician’s office this morning at 10:00 with her son so we bundled up for an early morning snowshoe trek and headed out in her car at 8 a.m. for the woods.

It’s a place I know well and have been visiting a few times a week for the past five or six years. When I was younger, it would be in a pair of shorts and a tank top to run up and down the wooded hills with one or two girlfriends while we panted and shared some of our darkest secrets. We were definitely applying the, “What happens in the woods stays in the woods,” approach to over sharing in those days.

It was running along a trail one day when I stopped short and broke down sobbing, telling my running mate that my marriage was in big trouble. The woods became the place where I ran away from all of my troubles. The leaves and trees swallowed me whole, shielding me from all the scary shit raining down on my head on the outside. It was where I escaped.

After I determined that needing to run through knee pain until the joint went numb was probably not the smartest thing I could be doing for my body, I went to the woods a few times a week with a friend and our two big, goofy dogs and we’d let them off their leashes so they could tear ahead of us on the path and then turn and run back to see what was taking us so long. I swear, my dog would be grinning from ear-to-ear during those long, woodsy walks together.

When Rudy, the finest dog a girl could ask for, moved onto the big wooded trail in the sky, I continued to walk up and down the dirt hills with friends, our conversations shifting over the years from divorce, to work, dating and SATs. And our periods. We’re always talking about our periods.

There’s been very little that’s kept me away from the woods for more than a week or two each year, and that was mostly because of rain or snow. But I found a way around the latter last year when my neighbor and I bought ourselves snowshoes off of Amazon after the first or second snowstorm of the season.

Atlas Elektra 10 Series Snowshoe -

Atlas Elektra 10 Series Snowshoe –

We marched around the trails I had spent years running along in shorts and sneakers and then my pal went all Pocahontas and shifted off the marked trails and we ambled through brush and branches for a bit until we somehow ended up back in the parking lot.

We even started exploring another nearby wooded park, which lacks the steeper hills but makes up for it with windy paths and narrow hollows. But we’re not as familiar with those trails and, frankly, they don’t seem as well marked as those on our usual walk.

At least that’s what we were telling ourselves this morning when, after about an hour and a half of walking around the cold woods we could not find our way back to our car. We kept coming to splits in the trail and trying to determine which icy and snowy path would head us towards the parking lot. We’d start to trudge down the path for about 10 minutes and then see something up ahead on the trail – like an open field or the back of someone’s house – that we knew did not look familiar. That told us we were heading in the wrong direction. So we would turn around and start heading in the opposite direction.

Here’s the terrifying truth: I have absolutely no sense of direction. Like, it’s kind of sad and I think something that should be filed under “Amy’s Many Learning Disabilities.” I can’t tell you how many vacation days were ruined with my ex-husband as he drove through some foreign locale while I sat beside him with a map on my lap trying to be the navigator. My cluelessness combined with his impatience left us silent and fuming.

So, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag and it turns out my snowshoe mate, a very smart girl who put herself through law school and listens to “Crime and Punishment” while driving around, is equally impaired. We stood on a path and studied a PDF of the park map I had pulled up on my iPhone and tried to figure out which “P” represented the parking lot where we parked. I mean, the basics, people. We could not even figure that out.

Eventually we ended up clear on the other side of the woods at the park’s activity center. I’ve been there a million times over the years with my little ones to walk through the reptile house and watch one of the Copperheads slither through its tank or a turtle listlessly flap its arms in a few inches of water. We spent many fall afternoons walking the nature hike, turning logs over in search of salamanders our oldest daughter would snatch up and admire, and where our oldest son had his fifth birthday party and we saw a stick bug up close.

My pal and I decided we officially needed help and slipped off our snowshoes and walked down the stone path to the main building and saw that it did not open until 10 a.m.

That’s when we started yelling for help.

Okay, maybe that was just me.

But while I was yelling, “Hello?” into the darkened reptile house, my pal caught site of movement behind the building and ran over to see if she could get someone’s attention.

And that is how we found ourselves being shut into the back of a county vehicle by a man who initially – I have to be honest – made us a little nervous. I mean, we were relatively smart women who knew that getting into a car with a stranger was not a great idea. But we were cold and pretty hungry and tired of clomping along the seriously icy trails. We were willing, apparently, to take the risk.

It turns out that Ron – that’s our driver/hero’s name – was a very nice man who works for our county park system. He told us we had strayed pretty far from where we had parked and offered to give us a lift. As he drove the windy road back to our car, he told us how challenging this winter had been and how he’s had to wear a face mask lately to clear the snow and ice from trails because of the single-digit weather we’ve been plagued with here in New Jersey.

We climbed out of his cab and thanked him for keeping our parks so beautiful and got into our car and started laughing our butts off and blasted the heater.

So maybe our next purchase off Amazon should be a compass. Or a Sherpa. Do they sell Sherpas on Amazon? Maybe we’ll have to go to Target for that.


The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.


Here are some directions I’m really good at!

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My Prom Date

IMG_1872In the middle of one day last week I was busy working on my laptop when my phone dinged with a text from an unknown number asking how many retweets it would take for me to go to prom.

Since I don’t get asked to prom every day, I texted my 17yo daughter to see if she knew what was going on.

She immediately texted back in the affirmative and told me to come up with the number of retweets I would need to go.

I balked and then she texted, “Boys think ur a milf.”


I texted back her name in all caps and lots of exclamation points and she texted, “It’s a compliment.”

“Just play along,” she added.

So I thought, why not? What harm could it do? Why do I always have to overthink everything?

I tried to come up with what I thought was an impossibly high number of retweets based on my own Twitter account and came up with 25.

In retrospect, I know.

She came home from school later and told me laughing that she had been at lunch and one of her guy friends had joked about asking me to prom and that’s how it transpired. She explained that sometimes when a guy wants to ask a girl who’s out of his league to prom he’ll ask her if she’ll go if his tweet gets a certain number of retweets on Twitter.

“So usually the girl comes up with a crazy number,” she told me, “like, 4,000.”

“I am such an idiot,” I said.

She laughed, “Yeah, when he heard 25 he was like, ‘Wow, your mom doesn’t really value herself.’”

I got another text from that phone number last night with the good news that his tweet hit the 25 retweet mark with a bonus 10 favorites.

My daughter and I were busting up over it and her little brother walked in and we told him that I was going to prom.

Live and learn.

Live and learn.

“That is, like, gross,” he said.

And it really would be if I took any of it seriously. If I didn’t think it was pretty funny but also kind of sweet. It’s a nice compliment at this late stage of my game. The only thing my little guy’s friends will ask in six years when they’re starting to think about prom is why his grandma lives with him.

And now, if nothing else, I know that 25 retweets is peanuts on Twitter.


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How I Learned to Shovel Snow

70538-11805-103536-1-dudley-do-rightI’ve spent most of my life being capable. Adaptable. Resilient.

I’ve never really been one of those damsel-in-distress-types. But sometimes, I’d really like to slip into that role. I’d really like some Dudley Do-Right to come galloping to my rescue and, like, fix my running toilet or figure out how to move my router.

But because I don’t really come off as needy, I’m generally left to fend for myself. The upside to this is that it means that folks assume I am on top of things. The downside is that I’m outside shoveling snow and trying to start generators with all the husbands while the wives sit inside and watch Kelly and Michael.

And when I was married, I didn’t have to worry about things like snow and generators either. I live in a part of the world where people toe a fairly traditional gender line. Most of the dads go to work in offices and the moms stay home with the kids. Men do the manly things like mow lawns and get rid of dead things that show up in and around their yards and women make dinner and mail out Christmas cards (although I recently met a guy who actually took on that job each year when he was married and I am fascinated by that). Before my husband moved out, I never even touched a snow shovel.

Now I get to be in charge of everything. The lawn. The Christmas cards. Dead things. When I was married, I couldn’t even handle the feel of a dead bunny that weighted down the end of the net I was trying to scoop it out of the pool with. It took me about 20 minutes to stop carrying on and lift the thing out of the water and into the waiting plastic Target bag and then even more time to psych myself up to carry the bag to the trash can in the garage.

Now I’m an expert at removing stuff that ends up dead somewhere in my yard. A few years ago, I even helped my neighbor Susan get rid of some weird dead bat that appeared at the base of the pine tree in her front yard. I went to my house and fetched one of the hundreds of plastic sleeves I store under my kitchen sink that my newspaper is delivered in each day – it’s one of those items I feel compelled to hoard, like shopping bags and shoe boxes (you never know) – and marched back to Susan’s to pick up the bat carcass. I slipped my hand inside the blue plastic bag and picked the bat up off the ground and then pulled the bag back over my hand so that its body fell to the bottom of the bag, which I tied off and handed to Susan to throw into one of her trash cans.

“Tell Michael I said, ‘You’re welcome,’” I told her, since I had just done his job for him.

But my two younger kids and I are staying with Michael and Susan over spring break at their new digs in Hong Kong so I guess the Universe has more than repaid me for helping a brother out and getting rid of the dead bat so that he didn’t have to.

But really, I’m okay with being stuck with the dude jobs around here. Number one, it’s a small price to pay for not having to put up with someone’s shenanigans just because they’re good snow shovelers and number two, it puts my life in more of the Free to Be, You and Me alignment that always appealed to me as a kid.

But it’s still a work in progress.

We woke up this morning to discover that the BLIZZARD OF 2015, the storm that was predicted to dump three feet of snow on my yard that had me out yesterday combing the stores for “D” batteries and loading up on water (I have serious Sandy PTSD), was pretty much a dud. I’m a terrible eyeballer of measurements, but it’s safe to say that we didn’t even get one foot of snow, much less three. But it still needs to be managed. We will still need to get out there and clear the driveway and path to the front door like good citizens.

But I’m sitting here in my bed waiting to see when my neighbor Bill starts to shovel. I use him as my snow removal barometer since he seems to be really on top of this kind of thing. I usually look out our front windows after storms to monitor his activity. I mean, he even owns a snow blower, which is a clear signal that he takes his snow removal very seriously. Until I hear that motor, I know I can remain here tucked under my covers and enjoying the lazy morning like all the other mommies.

My girlfriend across the street – you know, Punky’s mom – texted a little while ago to ask if my little guy would help her teenaged son shovel the driveway of some of our neighbors who are well past the shoveling stage of their lives.

I had also mentioned to my son as he put on his boots that he should also shovel the driveway of the elderly couple next door to us and told him that I would be out in a bit so we could get going on our own driveway.

“What,” he squeaked. “I don’t want to have to shovel three driveways.”

“You’re a dude,” I told him. “Get used to it.”

“That’s so sexist,” the little 12-year-old reminded me and I was like, “Poop.”

So, maybe he’ll live more in a world where men send out Christmas cards and make dinners and women go outside and shovel snow.

Which is where this damsel is headed right now.

Let me guess: Your husband’s outside shoveling snow and you’re inside trolling the Internet. Good for you. Why don’t you sign up to get all my posts sent directly to your inbox? Just plug your email into the “receive new post in your inbox.” Oh, p.s., it’s free and something to do while you drink your cocoa in your yoga pants.

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How to Stay Friends for 30 Years

768b919fa22206ad0360afc9e99e9a8eThirty years ago this fall, I moved into a tiny single room in an all-girls dorm at the University of Delaware with another girl I’d never laid eyes on before who lived in a city I’d never even thought much about before at a school I’d never even visited before. And it all clicked.

Long after we’d become good friends – after spending months lying on our bunk beds and talking late into the night – she’d confided that based on my fancy-sounding street address she figured I was some New Jersey princess and given that she hailed from Baltimore, I assumed she lived in the projects. But our preconceived notions were quickly dismissed after we met and bonded our first night at school trying to haul a case of Busch beer, which we had talked someone into buying us, about a mile back to our dorm room concealed in a duffel bag. It turned out that when it came to underage drinking, we were both resourceful and well matched.

It was dumb luck that landed the two of us together and that we happened to get along so well. In 1984, decades before incoming freshmen hand-picked their college roommates on Facebook to coordinate color themes and bedding, you just showed up and hoped for the best.

The first indication that we belonged together was that we both ended up squished together in a dorm room meant for one person after we failed to submit our housing forms in a timely fashion. We were both pretty slovenly and liked to drink beer. I was introduced to George Thorogood and NRBQ and she tolerated my infatuation with Prince and the poster I hung of him on our wall. She brought with her a two-foot-tall red ashtray, one of those industrial type receptacles where you stub the butt out and then press a button to release it into the can. And because our tiny room became the hub for all of our new friends to come and smoke cigarettes and watch General Hospital most weekday afternoons, the can quickly filled up — which excited us to no end.

We both also brought our good friends from high school to college with us and they became our core group of pals at first. Over time, our gang expanded to include another girl in our dorm and a few more who we met through the sorority I rushed sophomore year. We were kind of a mismatched crew. Some of us would never have ended up friends with others were it not for the group as a whole. But beer and boys were a common denominator with a big dose of bossy thrown in. Somehow when we were all together – despite everybody wanting to be in charge – it just worked.

By the time we graduated in the spring of 1988, the eight of us had been through a lot – failed romances, missed periods and more than a few drunken nights. A few days before graduation we gathered in a tiny side room of the sorority house and passed around a bottle of champagne for each of us to sign and vowed to save it to drink when the last of our crew got married. We finally drank it in September 2000, when the final one of our crew got hitched and right before I celebrated my own tenth wedding anniversary.

How could we have known then, as we passed the cheap, fizzy wine around for each of us to sip, what the following ten years would hold? That three of our marriages would collapse and that the union we celebrated that night, dancing under the stars far out on the east end of Long Island, would be so short-lived? That in less than a year the groom would go to work on a bright September morning at the top of the World Trade Center and never come home?

Maybe in the end it’s the loss that all of us in the group has experienced in one form or another that has brought us even closer than those days when we piled on a couch to watch Moonlighting or borrowed each other’s Benetton sweaters for tailgates. Going off and living our lives became the glue that held our friendship together.

We’ve become so much more than the one-dimensional girls who met 30 years ago. All that loss – of spouses, parents and dreams of the perfect lives we thought awaited us – has let us connect with each other in a much more real way. We tease and joke and boss but there’s a softness to it now.

Inherently, we’re still the same girls we were 30 years ago – The Boss and Study Buddy, The Spy, The Nice One, the Senator (aka Honeypot) the fabulous Jet Setter and the GDI (Goddamn Independent). And I’m always good for laughs. We just have a lot more layers now. So much has happened since we signed that bottle of champagne all those years ago.

The eight of us gathered last weekend for a few days of eating, drinking and laughing as we have almost every year over the last decade. It’s an easy friendship, the kind where even though we don’t keep in touch the way we should and only half of the group is on social media, we can pick right up where we left off.

We’ve long since given up on the notion that we’re actually going to do something when we get together. We usually muster a walk along the beach or through a park under the bright autumn leaves, but mostly, we sit around and talk. And while we probably logged about 100 hours of conversation between the eight of us – on the couch over early morning cappuccinos or curled up together on a bed late at night after one-to-many glasses of red wine – I honestly cannot share any of the discussions with you because they were either too honest or too raunchy.

Most every conversation ended with someone turning to me and saying, “Do NOT blog about that.”

I was describing the group to another friend when I got home, and she laughed and said, “Sounds like it’s the family you get to pick.”

And maybe it is and maybe it isn’t, because even though I’m not sure if we would have picked each other 30 years ago – like in what world would you even think a nice conservative Visitation girl from D.C. would pal around with a Jersey Girl with big, permed hair? – somehow it all works.

But, much like family, over time you don’t love people despite their differences but often because of them. So maybe the secret to staying such good friends over 30 years is learning to appreciate people for who they are or maybe, just like ending up in a tiny room with some girl from Baltimore, it’s just dumb luck.

8 friends + 19 kids + 9 weddings + 3 ex-husbands + 2 boyfriends = 30 years of friendship.

Eight friends + 19 kids + 9 weddings + 3 ex-husbands + 2 boyfriends = 30 years of friendship.

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I’m on HuffPo, Yo

Yup, that's my mug along with a roundup of some of my very best qualities on HuffPo Divorce.

Yup, that’s my mug along with a roundup of some of my very best qualities on HuffPo Divorce.

I was going to start this post out by saying that I’ve learned lately that to get what you want in life, sometimes you really need to grow a pair (cahones, man) and take risks. But then my inner-feminist  was like, “Seriously? Do you have to have a weiner to put yourself out there?” Of course, we all know that the answer is, “No.”

There are plenty of timid men and courageous women. Balls have got nothing to do with it.

I do have big boobs though and since there are two of them, maybe we’ll go with that instead.

At any rate, whether it was balls or boobs at work, I got up the nerve a few weeks ago to email Arianna Huffington to tell her I’d love to be part of the HuffPo bevy of bloggers. I stole the idea, because I’ve had about 12 original thoughts in my entire life, from the super-smart and brave Amy (I pretty much love every Amy) over at the blog Using Our Words who did the same thing to get on HuffPo a while ago and wrote about it here. 

I’ve made a concerted effort to try to get myself on other sites besides this one lately and had submitted a few things to Huffington Post but never heard anything back. Seriously, crickets.

And I love Arianna. I’ve listened to an interview she did with Nora Ephron in 2006 at the 92nd Street Y and a book she wrote on, ironically enough, Becoming Fearless and think she’s not only smart and ambitious but a champion of other women as well. I proabably spent two days, on and off, working on the email – I mean, just what do you say to Arianna? – and finally hit the send button with a trembly finger.

And then I waited.

I probably hit the refresh button on my inbox a grillion times over the next few days to find only updates from Twitter and American Express (PS AmEx: can you please stop writing to tell me how much I’ve spent since my last statement?).

And of course, right when I’d forgotten all about it, around 4:00 on a Sunday afternoon, I checked my emails and there, would you believe, was a note from Arianna herself. It was short and sweet but she thanked me for thinking of them and hooked me up with an editor and wished me all the best.

Naturally, I screamed. And then I called my mom.

So what is it like having something posted on Huffington Post? Well, the first piece brought a lot of shout outs and hallelujahs on social media from folks I already knew but not much else happened.

But another essay that went live Friday had very different results. Like, it doubled my highest traffic day ever and also brought with it some of the meanest things ever said about me from someone I haven’t been married to. But it also brought emails, comments and Facebook messages from people from all over who have been down the same road. People who reached out to say, “Yes. Right. Me, too.”

Too legit to quit.

Too legit to quit.

And that’s what writing is really all about. Being heard and connecting. Knowing you’re not alone in all of it. Being a part of something bigger than yourself.

And, really, what better place to do all that than the Huffington Post?


Wait, I forgot to tell you that I also got to write a piece for The Stir at CafeMom this week about my all-time-favorite TV show, The Gilmore Girls. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Get thee to Netflix where all seven seasons are currently available for streaming and see you when you’re done in a few weeks.

An ode ot Rory and Lorelai on The Stir.

An ode ot Rory and Lorelai on The Stir.

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