Blood Line

Phone Conversation with Tom, August 2012

August 16, 2012

Tom: I just heard Mitt Romney tell a reporter that if he becomes president, he’s going to cut the National Endowment for the Arts.

Me: Hi!

Tom: THAT IS EVERYTHING I HOLD DEAR!

Me: I know. I can’t even with that.

Tom: AND PBS!!! HE SAID HE WOULD CUT PBS!

Me: Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood shaped who I am.

Tom: I BET MITT ROMNEY’S KIDS WATCHED SESAME STREET GROWING UP.

Me: If they didn’t, I do not want to know them as adults.

Tom: He said he would put more money into coal. COAL!? WHAT YEAR ARE WE LIVING IN?

Me: I’ve been watching the BBC miniseries “Luther”.

Tom: I have no idea what that is.

Me: It’s a psychological crime drama with the guy from The Wire and I was so into it until I got to the 3rd episode last night.

Tom: What happens in the 3rd episode?

Me: I wouldn’t actually know but within the first 5 minutes there was some satan worshipper abducting women and some other awful things I can’t mention but I jumped up from the couch and screamed SHUT IT OFF SHUT IT OFF.

Tom: Why do you watch shows like that? We all know you can’t.

Me: I CAN.

Tom: You can’t.

Me: I know. So then J was like WHAT DO YOU NEED ARE YOU OKAY? And I’m all JUST FIND THE DUMBEST THING YOU CAN FIND TO WASH THOSE SCARY IMAGES OUT OF MY BRAIN.

Tom: What did he find?

Me: A documentary about a British guy who drives his British taxi cab through each of the 50 states of the USA.

Tom: That sounds…ridiculous.

Me: It was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.

Tom: Amazing.

Me: It was perfect! We learned about Maine and lobster fishing! Then I was better.

Tom: GREAT.

Me: I still wonder what happens to the satan worshipper.

Tom: DO NOT GO THERE.

Me: Anyway, so the worst part was in the middle of the night, I had the most terrible nightmare I’ve ever had. It was like all my fears in one dream and I woke up and cried for about a half hour.

Tom: OH NO.

Me: I know. I can’t even tell you about it.

Tom: That’s oka–

Me: SO IT INVOLVED MY SISTER BECAUSE SHE IS THE LAST PERSON I TEXTED BEFORE I FELL ASLEEP AND IT WAS SO SO REAL AND AWFUL. Also a plane crash happened and death and other things I am terrified of.

Tom: Ew.

Me: We were on an iceberg.

Tom: I’m sorry?

Me: It’s a free floating piece of–

Tom: I KNOW WHAT IT IS.

Me: Okay, so my sister and I are on this iceberg and

Tom: Stop.

Me: What?

Tom: This is the scariest dream you ever had? You and Deb on an iceberg?

Me: SHE WAS NOT ALIVE! I WAS CRADLING HER LIFELESS BODY IN MY HANDS SOBBING.

Tom: On an iceberg.

Me: Well, yes.

Tom: How did you get there?

Me: I think the plane crashed us onto the iceberg.

Tom: Because that’s a thing that happens.

Me: IT WAS SO REAL, I CANNOT EVEN TELL YOU.

Tom: No. You cannot have a nightmare involving an iceberg. What is scary about that!? The fluffy seals and penguins dancing around you? STOP IT.

Me: It was really scary.

Tom: You make no sense.

Me: I wonder if I dreamed of icebergs because the air conditioning was turned up so high?

Tom: ARE YOU KIDDING ME WITH THIS RIGHT NOW?

Me: No. But. I’ll let you go.

Tom: Okay. PBS though!!? Who on earth cuts PBS!? He hates artists.

Me: He’s a Republican.

Tom: I wish he was on an iceberg.

Me: I’ll talk to you later.

Tom: Okay.

Me: THANK YOU FOR CALLING MITT ROMNEY’S OFFICE. HAVE A GOOD DAY.

Two Days ‘Til Vacation, Not That I’m Counting

July 12, 2012

On the last day of school in June, my mom would wait with the other moms at the end of the street and around noon we would all tumble out of the bus excitedly because SUMMER VACAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATION!!!

She would give us a hug and then loudly announce to the other moms “ONLY 67 DAYS LEFT TIL SCHOOL STARTS, BUT WHO’S COUNTING?!”

And yes, she kept this up throughout the summer. She even marked the days down on her big wall calendar so that on any given day she would have the correct number.

“53 DAYS TO GO!” my mother would say cheerily to the neighbors.

“Only 42 days til school starts!” she’d happily reassure the mothers she encountered.

She keeps this up despite all of her children being full grown. She just wants parents to know: school will eventually come back around and you can have a break! HOORAY!

Don’t get me wrong, my mother loved us. We delighted her, pretty much all the time. Her goal in life was to be a mother and she completely adored her role.

But: she was also completely honest about what a pain in the ass it could be to have four children hanging out in her house all day every day, usually complaining of boredom. (And trust me, we all could rock the I’M BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORED whine like no other.)

One of the things I like best about the way my mother parented was her honesty about how hard it could be.

It seems to be a very ‘in’ thing now, particularly with blogs I read. Mothers seem to need to admit that life with children isn’t always perfect as it may have once seemed. There’s an insistence to tell it like it is now, that parenting is hard work because I guess long ago, it wasn’t okay to say that? Or show it?

My mom never had that problem.

As someone who very much wants a family one day, I appreciate the honesty. Thanks to my mother, other mothers I know, and countless hours babysitting, you don’t need to convince me that child-rearing is hard work. You also don’t need to convince me that it’s worth it.

My mom’s summer vacation countdown always struck me as funny because it struck everyone else as funny. I understood that she was being silly. I never questioned that she loved me and wanted to spend time with me. It was evident in the way that she genuinely enjoyed being around her children, evident in the way she structured our summers: quite simply, she didn’t.

Two weeks’ worth of swimming lessons were mandatory for each of us.

Cleaning up after yourself and others: DO NOT EVEN TRY TO ESCAPE IT.

Other than that?

Summers are for you to do whatever you please. We never went to camp. We just hung out at home with her, which we all seemed to love to do anyway.

When we could afford it, we’d pile into the minivan for a few days and drive to New Hampshire or Vermont for a few days. But other than that, we didn’t move around all that much.

She drove me to the library anytime I asked and left me alone for hours to read. We ran around the neighborhood with neighbors, took up every invitation we could to swim in someone else’s pool, drove 45 minutes to the ocean after 5pm when parking was free and stayed until the sun went down.

Those are all the things I know to be summer: relaxing, beach, a day trip here or there to someplace new, books, naps, family.

Nothing too strenuous.

No rigid schedules.

In two days, I am heading down to South Carolina for almost an entire WEEK.

This will be my longest vacation in two years.

My boyfriend’s family rents the same house every year and just hangs out.

Awesome for me that they’ve welcomed me along.

Kinda wish I could pack my mom up in a suitcase and take her with me but alas, she’s off with my dad having a vacation of her own.

I wonder if she’s telling the adults she sees how many days are left until school starts up again.

Probably.

I love that.

Family Hug

July 6, 2012

Growing up, my mom would occasionally take note of the fact that all six of us were in the same place at the same time and she would yell FAMILY HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUG and we would all cluster together as tight as we could get.

It was totally awesome and loving and hilarious until I was about 13 and then I thought it was SO STUPID OH MY GOD STOP TOUCHING ME EVERYONE FAMILY IS GROSS but even then, I secretly liked it.

Here’s a photo a family friend took of all of us in 1994. (I am poking out from the middle. My mother’s face is completely hidden but you can see pieces of the most amazing blue floral outfit she was wearing. She ROCKED it.)

Sometimes I’m just like man, there are not nearly enough family hugs in my life right now.

Must remedy immediately.

This One Time I Gave Up On Athletic Pursuits and No One Was Surprised.

July 2, 2012

My cousin Tom came into town last weekend for far too brief a time. (COME BAAAAAAAAAAAAACK.)

Tom has lots of sisters and we were celebrating two of them with a high school graduation and a Sweet 16 party.

My boyfriend is from the South and had never attended a Sweet 16 party before and was very excited and I have to say, Tom’s sister’s party didn’t quite live up to expectations because unfortunately, Tom’s family isn’t quite trashy enough to throw a really elaborate wedding-esque Sweet 16. Nobody wore a ballgown. There wasn’t even a candle ceremony. I mean, thanks for nothing you guys, now my boyfriend thinks I’m a liar.

Tom’s flight was delayed on the way in due to the outrageous thunderstorms happening in NYC the very minute he was due to land and also maybe there was a fire in an air traffic control tower? (I have not verified this.) So Tom’s flight circled for awhile and then landed in the Rochester airport where he stayed for five hours drinking Labatt Blue which is the beer we used to drink in college in Buffalo HOLLA UPSTATE NEW YORK.

We partied until Tom showed up (at 10:30 PM). He ate a huge plate of eggplant parmesan, danced to Beyoncé and then we all packed up and went home.

The next morning, for some reason (my brother, who runs marathons) we decided to go kayaking.

I feel like I’m one of those people who always gets excited by the IDEA of things and then once I actually do them, if I find it difficult, I just give up.

Is that the worst quality in a person!?!?!?

It’s because I want to be the bestest at everything.

Sigh.

Now, I don’t know if you know this about me but I don’t have a lot of upper body strength. This is a thing for most women in general except Madonna so I don’t feel too badly about this.

So my brother Paul, sister Deb, boyfriend Awesome Sauce and Tom and I went kayaking on Saturday morning.

Paul asked if we wanted single kayaks or tandem.

“Ooooooo!” I marveled to my boyfriend. “LET’S GO TANDEM! LET’S KAYAK TOGETHER! IT’S SO ROMANTIC!!!”

My boyfriend thought about it for half a second and very seriously said, “I don’t want to share a kayak with you.”

“DID WE JUST BREAK UP!?” I wondered.

I decided then that Tom and I would share a kayak.

“TOM! LET’S SHARE A KAYAK!”

“OOOO YES!” said Tom. “THAT IS THE BEST EVER!”

My boyfriend thought about this for half a second and very seriously said, “That is not a good idea.”

Now, to be fair, in case my boyfriend sounds heartless, a tandem kayak is apparently a lot harder to control. And since Tom and I do not, um, kayak??? on a regular basis, it probably was not a good idea for both of us to be in the same one.

Still, we protested.

“WE CAN TOTALLY DO IT,” I said, lying.

“WE ARE VERY ATHLETIC,” Tom said, lying.

“I’m not worried about your athletic ability,” my boyfriend said. “I’m worried about your collective attention span.”

Tom and I just looked at each other and silently agreed that he had a point.

We would probably concentrate on rowing together for about half a second and then one of us would probably shout LOOK AT THAT SHINY THING and the other one would say THAT REMINDS ME OF A BROADWAY SHOW and then the boat would tip over and we would drown.

So, you win this time, boyfriend. You win.

Single kayaks for all.

I started off okay. Paul who runs marathons and Deb who kind of has amazing Madonna arms and my boyfriend who is just sort of so strong that it MAKES ME ANGRY took off ahead of me and Tom. So we were kind of split up from the beginning. But whatever, Tom and I had lots to catch up on! Moonrise Kingdom and how great a movie it is! People we know from college! That one thing we’re thinking about doing sometime!!!

My boyfriend was right in that every few minutes we would kind of absently forget we were IN A BOAT ROWING ON THE WATER and our kayaks would just smash into each other because, you know, you have to, sort of, watch where you’re going.

I also want to point out that this entire time I was wearing a Little Bo Peep hat. A straw hat with a damn WHITE RIBBON flowing off the back that my mom had hung on one of the closet doors in the house on a nail, as decoration. (Because that is one of many adorable things my mom does so everyone knows it’s summer. DECORATIVE HATS ON NAILS!!! My mom is really into the seasons.)

So we’re rowing along and talking about things and then I realize that rowing a kayak is kind of…tiring? And no one has suggested we turn around yet and is this going to be a problem because ow my shoulders and my boyfriend says I’m not using my core properly and it’s like I WOULD USE THAT IF I KNEW WHAT IT WAS.

Um. I maybe…gave up? In this moment?

As in, I just sat in my kayak on the water and rested the paddle across my body and just…waited?

I think I was hoping that somehow the kayak would move itself.

And it would occasionally drift a bit, especially when a boat went by. (BECAUSE WE WERE KAYAKING IN A HARBOR AND BOATS WERE ALL AROUND AND NEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR WHEREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEVER YOU ARE!!!) But I really wasn’t going anywhere. Because…you have to PROPEL YOURSELF, which is the point of kayaking, I imagine.

So I would kind of talk myself into it and get a good row going and try to use my core but OH MY MUSCLES WERE BURNING EVERYWHEREEEEEEEE. Then I would stop and rest and blink a few times. Then I would start again.

Tom tried to distract me from my upper arm pain by singing songs.

“LET’S SING TO PASS THE TIME!” he suggested.

(Which makes you think that we were doing something awful because when I need to ‘sing to pass the time’, I am wishing something horrendous will soon be over – riding to the 39th floor in a crowded elevator, for example.) I mean, doesn’t ‘kayak in the harbor’ sound beautiful and relaxing? It does! Until you do it for an hour and then it becomes physically painful and you actually need to PASS THE TIME so it will be OVER SOON AHHHHHHHHHHHH.)

My brother Paul later said that every now and then he would hear something in the distance and think “What the…?” and it was me and Tom, singing a Whitney Houston duet.

I mean, I do what I need to do, you know?

I became irrationally angry with myself about kayaking. I was angry that it wasn’t easy for me. I was angry that my muscles were hurting. I was angry that once again I was the whiny 8 year old who wanted to go home from trick or treating because it was drizzling a little bit of rain and I was cold. (THAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED. WHAT KID GIVES UP FREE CANDY TO GO BACK INSIDE AND WATCH THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW WITH HER DAD? THIS KID!!!)

Ah. I guess there’s part of us that never changes, amirite?

I wanted to like kayaking so much. I figured we had barely gone any distance and yet it FELT SO LONG!!! And no one else seemed tired!? HOW COULD THAT BE? (I wasn’t using my core properly. BUT STILL!)

But I made it back to shore, thanks to Whitney Houston and my sister screaming YOU CAN DO IT LAURA!!!! And here is where I leave you with words of inspiration, like how kayaking changed my life in some way, how a kayak is a metaphor for life because sometimes you row straight and sometimes you row in a circle and…

Whatever.

Actually I pretty much decided when it was over that I suck at everything considering we kayaked barely anywhere and I couldn’t do it without wanting to cry.

A few hours after we got home, I got a text from my brother Paul, who runs marathons.

“I Google mapped our kayaking route! We went nearly 4 miles!”

Four. Miles.

Uh.

I guess I don’t suck at everything.

I just suck at kayaking four miles and you know what?

I AM TOTALLY FINE WITH THAT.

Conversations, East Coast – West Coast

March 12, 2012

Found this in my draft folder, written in January. How this never got published, I’ll never know.

My cousin Tom lives in LA so most of our chatting is done over the phone while he’s in his car sitting in traffic.

My cousin Tom also has a temper because it runs in the family and also because he is a cliché of a redhead.

My cousin Tom has the most intense road rage I’ve ever seen, is what I’m saying.

What this means is basically that our conversation is often punctuated by Tom snapping at drivers I can’t see.

“Right, that’s what I told her so I–WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU!?!!? Anyway, yes, that’s what I told her…”

It’s remarkable how easily Tom can flip the switch from screaming at someone to calmly entering back into our conversation.

While I have driven with Tom in LA on multiple occasions and can attest that most California drivers are, I’m sorry, terrible, I do not really have a proclivity toward road rage. I often just mutter a sarcastic OH GO RIGHT AHEAD and let it go. Most of the time I don’t even notice though because I am usually the bad driver other people are yelling at.

For example:

My Sister: Uh, you do realize you just changed lanes without signaling?
Me: I changed lanes?
My Sister: Um, you kind of just drifted over there.
Me: It wasn’t on purpose.
My Sister: How do you still have a license?

Scene.

Ahem.

Anyway. Tom is the person screaming at people like me.

All on the road are out to get him, to make him late, to crash into his car, to make him suffer. Tom is the innocent victim just gently cruising through life in his little car. The streets of Los Angeles? Full of people in cars who hate him, who can’t wait to make an illegal u-turn or run a red light or keep tapping the brakes just to keep him on his toes.

THE SPEED LIMIT IS 55 WHY ARE YOU GOING SO SLOW!? he demands to know in the middle of asking me how my weekend was.

THAT IS NOT HOW YOU MERGE, ASSHOLE! I’m sorry, no, I made it with rigatoni and it was just as good!

OH GREAT, TRAFFIC FOR NO REASON AT 2 PM OF COURSE WHY DOESN’T EVERYONE JUST DIE!!! Anyway, yeah it was a FANTASTIC brunch!

Trust me when I say that Tom is a super great nice person.

You would just never know it if your only interaction with him was in his car. Or if you happen to be on the phone with him while sitting at your desk in New York when he calls to catch up with you.

Tom and I were having a great conversation recently over the phone (about a fantastic play he saw the other day! and something hilarious that happened in my improv rehearsal!) when someone on the road severely pissed him off and Tom screamed one of the rudest ridiculous phrases I have yet to hear and came back to the conversation so absurdly calm that I couldn’t stop laughing for about five minutes.

Laura: See? Because you rhyme it with the second word, not the first.

Tom: Oh, so you’re rhyming it with WHY DON’T YOU JUST GO AHEAD AND CRASH INTO MY F*CKING CAR YOU CRAZY WHORE!!!!!!!!!!!!

*silence*

Tom: So wait, back to the rhyme.

Laura: …

Tom: Are you there?

Laura: Um, yes. Is everything okay?

Tom: Yeah, we’re talking about rhymes.

Laura: But we probably should be talking about how you just called some lady a whore.

Tom: She can’t drive.

Laura: Well.

Tom: She also can’t hear me. My windows are up.

Laura: Are they?

Tom: …

Tom: No.

February 1st – Do Something Quietly

February 1, 2012

Thanks to GreenInOC’s suggestion, I have decided to ‘do something quietly’ for someone else for the month of February. I’m going to just allow that phrase to breathe and see where it takes me! Of course, I won’t be doing things THAT quietly as I’ve committed to blogging here daily about it, probably just a few sentences about what I did or attempted to do.

I’m going to just look outside myself and see where it takes me day to day. If you want to join, feel free to leave your experiences in the comments! I’ll take suggestions too.

February! A love month to begin with and now I’m just gonna add to it! A sort of daily Valentine.

It begins! With kind of a longer post than I had anticipated! But ah well, here goes.

I pay two monthly student loan payments from my undergraduate degree. (Only 13 years to go, guys! And then it’s gone! And I went to a state school so, man, can’t imagine how long a private school would take me to pay off…)

One loan is in my name and is taken directly out of my checking account and the other is in my parents’ name, as they co-signed that loan, and it is taken out of their account every month. I write them a check and mail it to them to pay them back for that payment. However, when I was unemployed last year, mailing them a monthly check fell further and further down on my list of priorities. In fact, it became something I didn’t budget for at all most months. When I had the extra money for it, I sent it to them. When I didn’t, I didn’t.

My parents never said a word about the missed payments of 2011 and I assure you that it isn’t because they are rolling around in rooms full of money and don’t care the slightest about $134. They do. And they probably felt it every month when that money came due and I didn’t pay them back.

I decided to sit down and figure out exactly what I was able to do last year and so I scanned through my bank statements online and calculated that I paid them for five months last year, leaving seven total payments unpaid.

I grabbed my checkbook.

I wrote seven checks in a row.

I put them in an envelope with a note that said to please cash one every week until there were no more left. I sent my dad an e-mail and thanked him for eating those payments last year for me, how much my unemployed self appreciated that act of kindness and generosity.

While I know that my parents would never ask me for back payments, that the thought never crosses their mind, I am now employed and able to repay. I am almost 29 years old and that is just way too old to be leaning on my parents for anything financial when I don’t have to be. My college education is something I value and something I don’t mind paying for every month. Of course, it would be nice if it was one less thing I had to pay but truth be told, the payments aren’t even that much.

I sat and thought quietly about college and what my experience meant to me.

About all the things I learned.

About all the growing up I did.

About the singing and the dancing and the monologues.

About friendships and romance and late night runs to Wegmans.

About how my parents borrowed a van and packed up boxes and dragged along my little brother and sister and drove eight hours away to Buffalo to help me move into a dorm, to help me settle in, to help me find my own ground, to help and encourage me to study something I loved passionately.

My parents, though they cried while they did it, happily guided me out of their home and into my own life.

I always have a very visceral reaction when parents make comments about saving so their kids can go to college.

My mother has many stories of friends and acquaintances of hers who almost literally bankrupted themselves trying to make college payments for their children, taking on extra jobs to send them to the perfect school. She marvels at this immense burden that parents feel to make college happen for their children. She understands the need, the want to give that to your kids but she was never able to make it happen for us. I think on some level, she feels like she let us down in that regard. On another level, I think she recognizes that she did what she could do and that my siblings and I all would figure it out. And this is what my mother understands intrinsically: that ultimately, it all gets figured out. It just does.

By being honest about the fact that they couldn’t afford to pay for college, my parents helped me grow up. They sat with me at the kitchen table and told me what they could do. We made a list of which schools I really wanted to go to and how much they cost. We talked about which ones had good theater programs. About the location. About the size. About whether I should have a back up plan or double major in something ‘safe’.

We figured out how much of a loan I would need to take out for each school. We weighed the pros and cons. When I realized it would cost me $10,000 more per YEAR to attend the private school I was DYING DYING DYING to go to, I chose the public school, with the smaller program, north instead of south.

It was the best decision I ever made.

I was able to make that decision because of the time they spent with me and the communication we shared and the honest way they told me Look, here’s what we can do, here’s what we can’t, also Welcome to Adulthood! This is what it’s like!

My parents couldn’t afford to pay for my college education.

They could, however, co-sign my student loans.

And because of that, I lived very happily for three and a half years of my life, immersed in creativity and joy and independence.

Paying them back for seven months of unpaid loan payments was one tiny way of saying once again, thank you.

Thank you for what you did for me.

Thank you for what you continue to do for me.

I put a stamp on the envelope full of seven checks and I dropped it in the mail and a tiny piece of me, far back in my chest righted itself. I hadn’t even noticed it was leaning too far to one side.

Until it wasn’t anymore.

The Church Bagel Breakfast

January 27, 2012

Every single Sunday morning of my childhood was spent at church.

I sang in the children’s choir beginning in the 3rd grade and we would sing most Sundays at the 9 am mass which meant my parents would corral four children in the wee hours of the morning, making sure we had some cereal in our tummies and were dressed appropriately, herd us into the minivan and drive to church which was luckily only five minutes away. If we had to sing in the choir, we had to be there at 8:30 which meant my dad would drop me and my sister off early and then save a pew and sit and read the bulletin with his reading glasses perched on his nose and wait for my mother to join him with my two brothers.

Gathering us all together and getting us to church on time was no easy feat as my sister was usually crying about her tights being itchy or how my mother was brushing her hair too hard or how she hates pink today and my mom would snap at her to please stop whining and just get dressed and get in the car. (My Mother 20 Years Later: I THINK YOUR SISTER MAYBE HAD ONE OF THOSE SENSORY ISSUES EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT NOWADAYS? I FEEL KIND OF BAD ABOUT HOW OFTEN I YELLED AT HER BUT HEY THAT’S WHAT THERAPY IS FOR, RIGHT?)

My older brother Paul was already starting, at the age of 10 or so, to think that church was a bunch of garbage and besides, he’d much rather sleep. My parents would often have to wake him up six or twelve times, going into his room the first few and then finally just yelling from the bottom of the stairs PAUL! SERIOUSLY! GET!!! UP!!! before they would hear the bathroom door close and the shower turn on which meant he was actually somewhat alert.

(Paul told me awhile ago that he was pretty certain he was a staunch atheist by the time he hit 8th grade, a position he hasn’t budged from since regardless of the fact that my mom mandated he attend church until the age of 18, which he mostly did except for those few times he slept through it and promised to go later to the parish a few towns over which had late Sunday mass but then he would drive to the Starbucks that had just opened up and kill an hour or so before returning home. Speaking of which, to this day he cannot function early in the morning without approximately 12 cups of coffee so basically what I’m saying is kids don’t change much.)

My brother Jeremy was just a baby around this time so I imagine there were multiple awesome experiences involving putting on all his clothes and shoes for him and strapping him in a car seat and wiping his nose a hundred times and then dealing with him spitting up all over himself or whatever it is that parents deal with.

Interesting to note that anytime I raise a question to my parents of HOW ON EARTH DID YOU DO THAT FOUR CHILDREN THING AND NOT GO INSANE?, they don’t even seem to know or care.

Mostly they think everything that was stressful at the time is hilarious now.

“REMEMBER THAT CRAZY STOMACH VIRUS WE ALL GOT FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS?! OH MAN, GOOD TIMES! KIDS ARE GREAT!”

They just sort of say things like OH SURE IT WAS HARD WORK BUT YOU GUYS WERE SO FUN!

And then my mother usually adds WE SHOULD HAVE HAD ONE MORE! I REALLY THINK FIVE WOULD’VE BEEN GOOD.

But if my mother had had twelve of us, she probably would say the same thing. THIRTEEN! SHOULDA DONE THIRTEEN!

The point of the story is that Sunday mornings for me meant getting in the minivan, singing in the choir which I loved loved loved and then heading down to the church basement for the bagel breakfast.

The bagel breakfast was only offered after the 9 am mass, an activity meant to foster community and gather families together. It mostly worked. Basically adults got to chug lots of coffee and mingle and their kids could smear cream cheese all over their face and just run around screaming and bumping into things because where are crazy loud kids more welcome than at a Catholic church!? Instead of the usual societal attitude of PLEASE SHUT YOUR KID UP AND GET IT AWAY FROM ME, everyone at my church was basically like OH MAN, LOU’S LITTLE GIRL JUST RAN HEADFIRST INTO THAT MARY STATUE AGAIN AND IT SHATTERED AND THEN SHE THREW UP ALL HER CHEERIOS! KIDS ARE THE BEST, RIGHT GUYS!!?!?

My friend L who had a last name that sounded kind of like broccoli was a hyper child and we would hang out and eat bagels and sit on these carpeted steps and talk about which boys we thought were cute. L. Broccoli would often linger too long by the coffee table, either trying to sneak coffee (at the age of 9) or conduct experiments like how many Sweet N Lows she could dump in her orange juice and still drink it. (I believe the record was something like 22.)

My mother loved the bagel breakfast because she could hang out with all her friends and talk and talk and talk plus eat a bialy. My dad was not a particular fan of the bagel breakfast for the exact same reason: my mother would talk and talk and talk and he kind of just wanted to go home and read the paper. He would try to be social but really he was just too shy so he would come hang out with me and L. Broccoli. He would sip his coffee, check his watch a few hundred times and finally say something like WE TOOK TWO CARS SO…YOU TINK YOUR MUTHA WOULD BE MAD AT ME IF WE LEFT?

We usually said no even if the answer was sometimes yes and my siblings and I would pile into the car with my dad and head home. I would sit next to him at the kitchen table and read the comics and then the Dear Abby column which I particularly loved, until my mom walked in the door, sometimes a few minutes later, sometimes over an hour.

“I HAD THE GREATEST TALK WITH ANN MARIE!” she’d say (or FATHER TOM or THAT GUY WE KNOW WHOSE KID HAD LEUKEMIA BUT HE WAS CURED BUT IT MIGHT COME BACK HOW SAD IS THAT!?) and hang her purse on a doorknob. Then she’d kick her heels off, ask for a section of the newspaper and lay down on the couch reading which only lasted a few minutes because then she’d fall asleep, glasses perched on her nose.

I thought of these Sunday mornings recently when I grabbed a bagel from the cafeteria at my job. I’ve had bagels since childhood obviously but for some reason this one triggered the memory and after just one bite, it all came flooding back to me. The shrieks of the kids running around the church basement, the muffled sound of the organ playing from the mass upstairs, my dad wearing a tie and his dress up shoes, hearing my mom’s voice in the sea of people HI! HI! HI!, her loud cackle when someone made her laugh, L. Broccoli dumping Sweet N Lows in her orange juice, the taste of my poppy seed bagel with cream cheese, a strong sense of comfort and belonging.

Maybe I like to eat bagels sometimes because New York bagels are the best ever.

Or maybe I like to eat them because they, like so many things, remind me of home.

Lovely Rita

January 23, 2012

HEY YOU GUYS!!!

It’s my mom’s birthday today!

Let’s all raise a glass (of seltzer because my mom doesn’t really drink) and say HUZZAH RITA!

In 1957, Rita Marie graced the world with her presence. My grandmother confirms that Rita was the happiest, most energetic loveliest child ever from the get go. One of my favorite stories from Rita’s childhood concerns a bunch of company coming over and milling about in the house and little Rita barreling down the stairs determined to make an entrance. She basically struck a pose (with what I imagine to be fierce jazz hands) and screamed, HERE ME AM, FOLKS!!!

In case there was any doubt.

(And no, since you asked, I still have no idea where my flair for the dramatic came from. Ahem.)

One of my more recent favorite Rita stories occurred why, just last week!

We had been throwing the idea around of throwing my father a big surprise party in March. My mom wanted to be able to thank all the people who had been so helpful and generous when my father was sick and in the hospital and then home and unable to walk, etc. so she thought it would be great fun to THROW! A! HUGE! PARTY! And invite the world!

We can just pause right here and observe that just the idea of doing this is what makes my mother incredible. She is so full of gratitude and energy and excitement that she can’t just say HEY THANKS FOR GETTING OUR MAIL! VISITING MY HUSBAND! SENDING A CARD! She freaking decides to throw a party for everybody. HERE YOU AM, FOLKS!!!

Anyway, she finally chose a date and last week she sent out a mass e-mail to me and my siblings with some ideas and questions in a lovely bulleted list.

It’s a surprise!

We rented out the Polish Hall!

How should we decorate it?

Here’s what I’m thinking about the food!

Whose phone # should I put for the RSVP so dad won’t get suspicious of mom fielding a lot of phone calls?

Etc. Etc.

Apparently, after she sent this e-mail, she dashed out to the laundromat. (This is the piece of the puzzle I still don’t understand. I assume the washer and/or dryer broke? Last I checked, my mom never ever ‘ran out to the laundromat’. Maybe she was already performing secret undercover surprise party duties!?)

She returned shortly and my father met her at the door with a sheepish smile.

“UM, I GOTTA TELL YOU SOMETHING,” he said.

He continued:

“YOU SENT DAT INVITATION ABOUT MY PARTY…TO ME.”

And thus it was confirmed that my mom sent out an e-mail about my father’s surprise party to my father.

A fun little detail about this is that this is the second time that Rita has spoiled a surprise party for my dad. She attempted to throw him one for his 60th birthday a few years ago but left the guest list on the desk next to the computer in plain sight.

As you do.

Anyway, my mom was pretty bummed out about giving away the surprise (AGAIN) but my dad reassured her that HE REALLY DOESN’T LIKE SURPRISES ANYWAY, which is true. (My dad and I both prefer ‘know what is going on at all times to the point of intense control freak anal retentiveness’ to SURPRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE! BETCHA DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING!)

We tried to cut my mom a break (both my dad and brother have the same first name so when she pulled up PAUL in her e-mail, it selected her husband instead of her son) but the opportunity to poke fun of her was just too good.

My sister quickly replied all to the e-mail chain: WHY DOESN’T DAD JUST TELL US DIRECTLY WHICH KIND OF DECORATIONS HE’D LIKE?

I picked up the phone and when Rita answered, I asked her if I could please speak to dad for a sec, I had a surprise party for him I wanted to tell him about.

My mom couldn’t stop laughing and finally just was like, “LAURA. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!? I can’t believe I did that. But your father said he loves me anyway.”

And this is why I love my mom.

She was immediately laughing at herself, all CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? and of course we all could because Rita does things like this constantly. And the best part about it is that she easily forgives herself and laughs it off because what else can you do, really? And she is correct that my father (and all of us) love her anyway.

Not even ‘anyway’. We just love her. Period.

So, our surprise party has been amended to ‘party’.

And it doesn’t matter in the slightest because there would be no party without Rita’s enthusiasm, without Rita’s ideas, without Rita.

MOM!!! We love you so much!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

Holiday 2011 Recap

January 4, 2012

When I was little, we had a large loud insane Christmas Eve dinner with my mother’s extended family and though the numbers drop every year for one reason or another, we still do this. We show up and hang out and then my dad says a blessing before the meal, usually adding a silly story or two and then he says some Polish prayers and asks my mom to forgive him for any hurts he has caused her over the past year and then we sort of turn to each other and do the same.

Which, come on! WHO IS BETTER THAN MY DAD? What a tradition!

Anyway. On Christmas Day, we would go to church in the morning and then drive west to spend the day with my grandmother, my father’s mother, in Brooklyn. I have barely any recollection of this and only know it because I asked my sister recently how on earth we spent Christmas Day as small children and she reminded me. My dad’s mother died fourteen years ago which means I have been alive without her for exactly as long as I was alive with her. For many of those years I was a small child so I barely have much of a sense of her at all.

Anyway, this is not about my sweet grandma Agnes. (Though, come on, I kind of totally want to name one of my kids Agnes. POLISH CATHOLICS REPRESENT!) This is more about the fact that the lovely lady died (at almost 90! GET IT!) and it came to be that on Christmas Day, my family just…stayed home.

And it was just us.

And we sort of just sat around. And it was amazing.

So this year we more or less did that and I thought I would describe how it went this year as the years now sort of blend into one another and it’s hard to tell them apart for lo, I am old and also, a child was born in a manger in Bethlehem.

On Christmas morning, I made cinnamon rolls from scratch for the first time ever which took approximately four hours because the dough had to rise for about one thousand years and I did not check that in advance.



We ate breakfast around 11.

We ate cinnamon rolls around 4.

Everyone had one except for my father who apparently hates cinnamon rolls, another thing I didn’t research before making them. I must say this is possibly the one thing that leads me to doubt my father’s perfection. THE MAN HATES CINNAMON ROLLS? Who are you!? What!

Somewhere in between breakfast and cinnamon roll snacking, I went for a run and then we all opened presents which is why in every photo, everyone looks nice and showered except me.

So, there is that.

My family decided to stick to a one-gift-per-person rule this year as we had/have tentative plans to go on vacation together and decided we should save our money for that.

Naturally, my mother blatantly ignored that mandate and so instead of getting a few small gifts, I got a few small gifts and then a ton of gifts from Rita and even though I was like MOM YOU SUCK AND DIDN’T PLAY BY THE RULES, I was simultaneously all THANK GOD MY MOM SUCKS AND PLAYS BY THE RULES!

Also, Rita is adorable. She bought herself this blue lounge outfit or maybe she got it as a gift? It’s VELOUR. I don’t remember but I have NEVER seen my mother wear anything like it so she put it on Christmas morning and my sister and I high fived her and told her she looked like a smokin’ Westchester soccer mom.

At some point, I finally took a shower. (6 pm?!)

Then we decided it was high time to bust out Paul’s scotch for cocktail hour. I like to call it “Just In Case We’re Not WASPY enough!”

Scotch! How quaint! Now let’s put on our sweater vests and head out for some golf!

We…do not play golf.

BACK TO THE ACTION:

How cute is my older brother!? He ran his first marathon this year. No big deal, dudes.

Also: sorry, ladies. He’s taken.

Cheers!

My sister Debbie wears some variation on this outfit every year, pretty much ever since her boyfriend’s parents bought her this ridiculous apron. Which she wears as a dress? To be festive? Regardless, it is the best in the world. I love my brother Jem’s expression in the background like ARE YOU CHECKIN’ THIS OUT?

So, the seven of us sort of just sat around quietly in front of the fireplace and then decided we should order some takeout, as is our custom, Chinese or Indian. This year we chose the latter. Takeout can be tacky but we do eat it on the precious Christmas China which my dad bought while he was in Japan. So yes. On Christmas Day, my family ate Indian food on the Japanese China.

We are a diverse family, you understand.

After dinner, we decided to watch a movie, deciding on Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which I announced would probably be depressing but not THAT depressing, having been the only one in the family who had read the book.

Welp. I was incorrect. It was actually more depressing than I thought.

My dad fell asleep halfway through and for the rest of Christmas vacation, he thought every movie we sat down to watch was about 9/11. Including Moneyball. And some British detective series on PBS.

My sister bought all of us these crazy flannel hunting hats and I vowed before the day was over, we would stand together in front of the fireplace, STAND UNITED AS A FAMILY OF DLUGS and have our picture taken while wearing them, care of my dad’s camera and its rockin’ automatic timer.

And so it was, that the Dlug family had a blissful Christmas Day.

Cinnamon rolls, a roaring fire, beating my dad on Words with Friends, taking a family portrait in fuzzy hats and watching a movie that may or not be as depressing as I thought it might be.

We wish you a merry Christmas (Rita reminds you that Catholics are very much still in the Christmas season! It lasts through the Epiphany! HEY YOU WHY ARE YOU TAKING DOWN YOUR TREE? GO TO CHURCH! I LEAVE MY LIGHTS UP UNTIL FEBRUARY!)

And a happy new YEAAAAAAR!!!

In Case You Were Wondering How We Do Christmas

December 21, 2011

When my parents bought the house I grew up in, when I was four years old, my dad bought some evergreen saplings and planted them all over the property. As a child, we would always drive somewhere to pick out a real Christmas tree, normally enormous, as our family room has incredibly high ceilings and my parents would fight as my dad attempted to wrestle the tree through the door and into the house.

However, seven or eight years ago, my dad realized that the saplings he had planted were now full grown trees and he declared that he would cut down his own tree for Christmas. And thus, when my mother deemed it time to get a tree, he would grab an axe and head out the back door. I can also remind you right now that I grew up on Long Island which often brings to mind lots of traffic and malls and not necessarily some crazy Polish lumberjack going out back to chop down his own tree.

But that’s how it goes on the Dlug cattle ranch.

(We do not live on a cattle ranch.)

Anyway. The first few years, the Christmas trees my dad chopped down were gorgeous. Full and tall and amazing. However, in recent years, the trees have gotten sadder and sadder as all the good ones are gone and my father refuses to be swayed. HE WILL CUT DOWN HIS OWN TREE even though we all kind of quietly are like, “I…think it’s time to give this up, dad…”

A few days ago, I got a text message from my mother that said “Your father will be sending a picture of this year’s Christmas tree IF he can figure out how to send it. It is the most pathetic tree EVER!! The Charlie brown tree is actually better. Unbelievably sad!”

A little while later, the picture showed up in my mailbox and I laughed so hard I stopped breathing for a few seconds.

I texted my mother, “Time to go back to the Christmas tree farm and admit defeat.”

A little while later my mom responded, “Uh. It just fell over because it’s too light to hold the ornaments. We are cleaning up water and broken glass.”

I called my dad the next day and he said YEAH YOUR MOTHA’S NOT TOO HAPPY WIT ME. BUT I TOLD HER, I SAID RITA, CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT BABY JESUS AND NOT ABOUT DA TREE.

Truer words never spoken, you guys.

Behold, the Dlugs, 2011: The True Meaning of Christmas = Jesus/NOT DA TREE

The End.