Sheryl and Sons

Sheryl and Sons
I told you they were big.

Monday, December 24, 2012

I Love You

     I've told all the stories that I can tell.  Oh, I've still got a stack that are too sad, or too embarrassing, or that have the word "naked" in them, but basically, I'm done telling my stories of raising teenaged boys.
     I used to wonder why no one was writing stories about raising older, adult children, and now I know.  On a practical matter, my sons are just not around.  I don't have the same access to their stories.  All the news I get is secondhand.  And the subject matter is mostly off limits---I cannot post on the internet their stories about a prickly boss or a bad breakup.  Even though I still feel as strongly as ever about the funny, poignant moments of motherhood, the stories about my adult children do not belong to me.  The belong to my children, and they are the ones who get to decide whether to tell them or not.
     So I think I'm done, at least I'm done telling their stories.  I'm not done writing, and I hope in the new year that I will find new things to write about. . .work, friendships, aging, and marriage.  I hope you will still visit this space and find out what happens next.
    I'd like to thank my sons for being the best sports of all time.  I know it hasn't been easy for you, but writing these stories and hearing readers' responses to them has been one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done.  I don't think I ever understood how much I was loved by my own parents until I became a parent myself.  I hope that one day, when you are fathers, you will read these stories again and understand how overwhelmingly and thoroughly I love you.  How deeply and wholly and completely and utterly I love you.  Every minute of every day, no matter how furious or frustrated or frantic I get, I will always, always love you.

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Rebuttal

     I've been writing my side of the story for just about a year now, and I decided it was only fair to give my sons a chance to have their say.  It can't be easy having your mother write about you every week, telling every Karen, Linda and Sue the personal stories of your childhood.  
     About ten days ago, I encouraged each of the boys to write anything they wanted to get off their chests, and I promised to post it it here in this space.  This is from Rob:

     So I’ve been trying to figure out what to tell you people… clearly there’s not much about my family or me that you already don’t know so I’ll keep it brief.
     Two questions I’ll address right off the bat. Are the stories true? From her perspective… yes. Are the stories embarrassing? From MY perspective… oh yeah.
     Ok Ok. They’re really not that bad. You probably could tell that they have been written over many years. Hopefully by now this makes sense. Just to clarify, I am 23 years old. I would understand if you were initially confused. One out of sequence occasion happened in late January, early February 2012. One week I was a college sophomore throwing a rager at my new apartment. That very next week I was learning to drive with mommy in the passenger’s seat.
     Rest assured loyal Sheryl readers, I am not that big of a putz.
     My “little” brother Jesse and I are the blog subjects, and mom has graciously allowed her subjects to share their thoughts with the conclusion of this project. We feel the love every day in real life, and it’s great that you have been able to see this through her stories. As kids, we really never could relate to her perspective. When I told some kid that she would talk crap about him being rude, it didn’t click that it affected her as well. Now that I understand how she saw things, I’m just really glad we weren’t that horrible of children. Because good or bad, she was going to write about it. Glad the narrative has been positive.
     I am 6’3 on a good day, Jesse about 6’5. The blog is titled Looking Up, but I believe we look up to our mom more so. Though she writes about us much of the time, she actually reveals her own character through her stories of our growing up. Her literary voice is genuine and caring- exactly how she really is, and her mothering has been every bit as loving as her stories would detail. 

Monday, December 10, 2012


     On Tuesday, I poisoned myself with my own cooking.  I woke up in the middle of the night all shivery and clammy with a knot in my stomach, and set up camp on the notoriously cold and impossibly hard tile of the bathroom floor.
     I reviewed my lunch and dinner choices to try and find the culprit, and in doing so, realized it could have been any one of about a dozen different dishes.
     I'm not a great cook, but I don't usually make myself vomit.  When I did an inventory of my refrigerator, I found a smorgasbord of leftovers--salmon from Friday, black beans and sausage from Thursday, chicken stir fry from Wednesday, and a pork tenderloin from a date I could no longer remember.  The lunchmeat was two weeks old, and on the counter was its sandwich companion, a loaf of moldy bread.
     This is new territory for me.  With my two big boys and their friends, food never hung around for long.  But no more.  With one boy at college, and the other in his own apartment, my big eaters have abandoned me and left me with leftovers.
     Last week when I got on the scale I had to admit that the only one eating the potato chips was me.  Same with the fudge stripe cookies.  I can no longer use the boys as an excuse.  There are no boys.
     This is terrible news.
     I've come face to face with my demons.  I used to bake a banana bread knowing that I could eat one piece, and within forty-eight hours it would no longer tempt me.  No more.  Now it remains on my counter, day after day, calling my name, threatening to go to waste when children are starving somewhere in the world.
     I know this is a common problem when the kids leave home--mothers need to figure out how to shop and cook for a reduced audience. For Jewish mothers long accustomed to equating lots of food with lots of love, it's the final insult.
     I'm just sick about it.

Monday, December 3, 2012

No Doubt

     My kids have a lot of self-confidence.  They get that from me.
     My husband has always marveled at it.  I know it's not something most people say out loud, but I think I am terrific. Joel has what is probably a normal amount of self doubt, but he should know by now that I wouldn't have married him if he wasn't pretty great.
     My sons are fairly confident in just about all situations, and it is not because they were the best students or the hardest workers. I have told my children since birth that they are wonderful, and evidently they believe me.
     My husband teases us and calls this phenomenon "Confidence for No Apparent Reason."
     You can laugh at us, but it works.  Go through life thinking that everyone loves you, and see how far it gets you.
     Pretty far.
     I got my self-confidence from my parents.  I've written about my mother, who thinks that everyone loves her, but that is because everyone actually does love her.  My mother told me the following story of her trip back to Florida after Thanksgiving:
     She was in the security line at the airport, putting all her things in a bin, and a TSA agent reminded her to take off her shoes before she went through the scanner.  My mother told the woman that she was old enough now to keep her shoes on, and the TSA woman was surprised and complimented my mother for looking so young.  My mother asked the woman if she'd had a nice Thanksgiving, and they exchanged pleasantries.
     My mother walked through the scanner, and the TSA agent held out her arms to pat my mother down.  My mother saw the woman with her arms outstretched, and walked over to her with her own arms outstretched.  My mother gave the woman a big hug and said "Happy Thanksgiving!"
     My mother assumed that the TSA agent at O'Hare airport on Thanksgiving weekend wanted to give her a hug.
    Even I am speechless.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Nachas Part II

     Last week, just before his younger brother sang his way into the hearts of dozens (see post from last week!) my older son was quietly making nachas of his own.
     Rob and his friend G came to volunteer at Friedman Place, where I've worked as a fundraiser since April. Friedman Place is a residence for 81 adults who are blind or visually impaired.
     Rob and G had created a program for residents called Sports Night, something we had never tried before.  They structured it like a talk radio show-- two guys dishing on sports, with the participants asking questions.  They had notes and stats on the Bulls without Derrick,  the Bears lousy offensive line, and the NHL lockout.  They also prepared long lists of trivia questions to try and get everyone involved.
     Rob asked me a lot of questions about Friedman Place residents.  He wanted to know if they had always been blind, and how they "watched" sports.  He wanted them to have fun, and he asked what sports might be particularly interesting to them.  I answered what I could.  There was a lot I didn't know.
     Rob and G scheduled their event on the evening of our Board of Directors meeting which I would be attending, and my boss generously invited them to join the board for dinner in advance of Sports Night.
     G was running late, so when Rob arrived I gave him a quick tour. I showed him our aviary in the lobby where the birds sing to our residents and guests, and our library with braille books. One of our residents brought us into the computer room and showed us how the talking computer program tells him all the scores from the ESPN website.
    I was surprised that Rob so readily agreed to dinner with the board members.  I thought he might find it intimidating but he was happy for the free meal. I knew the board members would be friendly to Rob, but I also knew they'd be curious.  For the last 23 years, I've spent most of my time working on being a good mother.  If someone wants to know if I do good work, meeting my son is a pretty good test.
     Lucky for me, Rob is wonderful. He is smart and well-spoken. He is kind and helpful.  He looks you in the eye and is genuinely interested in what you have to say.  If you look in the dictionary under "Fine Young Man" you would see his picture.  Did I mention that he is handsome?
     I graciously accepted many rave reviews from the board members and my colleagues.  This was different than when my son hit a home run or sang a song.  I don't take any credit for their talents.  But these compliments were because Rob was a mensch, and I take lots of the credit for that.
     After dinner, the boys shared their sports insights with a group of blind adults.  One person wanted to talk about bowling.  Another reminisced about Kiki Cuyler who played for the Cubs in the 1920's.  Two people fell asleep.
     It was a huge success.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Nachas in the Bank

     It was my husband Joel's birthday last week.  I bought him a new coat which he sorely needed, but the poor guy has been under a lot of stress lately, and I felt that a more light-hearted gift was in order.
     Our younger son Jesse is a music major at college, and had two end of semester performances scheduled on Friday. I decided to buy my husband a plane ticket to see him.
     There is no medicine that cures what ails you like watching your child shine.  I remember Little League games when my son hit a home run and the other parents would congratulate me, as if I had anything at all to do with the bat in his hands.  It was awhile before I understood that I received their good wishes for being the lucky beneficiary of so much pleasure.
     Buying Joel a plane ticket to watch Jesse perform as the lead singer of a 15-piece swing band was the foolproof birthday gift.  My husband coined the ideal term to describe it: Nachas in the Bank.
     Nachas is the Yiddish word which most closely translates to pride, and is usually used when talking about the accomplishments of children.  But unlike pride, which is sometimes tinged by its cousin conceit, nachas is pure.  Nachas is pride plus love, in equal measures. Nachas is this.  (Click to watch video. Enjoy!)

Monday, November 12, 2012


     Today my son left.  In a good way.
     If life is lived in three acts, childhood, adulthood and old age, Rob has just finished Act I. He graduated college in May and got the job he wanted most.  He had been living in his boyhood room for the last six months with home run baseballs hit out of Roemer Park, the Harry Potter series, and a Chicago Bulls comforter.  He's been saving his money and preparing to pounce on an apartment in the city when his friends found jobs.
     I have loved having him here.  I loved that after a hard day figuring out what work was, he came home sweet home for a hot dinner at my table.  I made sure there was always milk in the refrigerator, toilet paper in the bathroom, and clean underwear in the basket.  I thought he might stay till spring, but his friends said the word, and in two weeks he was gone.
     Rob arranged the move.  He reserved a 26-foot moving truck and shopped for a 60-inch flat screen TV. I digested that my assistance was generally not needed.  I was glad to make a minimal contribution by washing the found-at-last-minute mattress pad, and donning my rubber gloves to scrub some mold off a dresser taken from the basement.
     I'm not weepy.  I'm not.  He's living in Chicago, only about ten miles away.  His office is not far from our house, so I suspect we'll still see a lot of him after work (if I've made dinner) or in the morning (if he needs clean socks from Joel's drawer.)  He is a child who does not need a lot of distance from us, and for that I'm grateful.
     But it has occurred to me that when my younger son comes home from college, the nest will not be full. It will never be full in that same way again.  Rob lives somewhere else now.
     It's as it should be. By all accounts, my mothering has been a huge success.  But the bitter part of the bittersweet moment is not that he's in Act II.
     It's that I'm in Act III.

Monday, November 5, 2012


     I'm having an illicit love affair with my son's Halloween candy.  Each morning when he leaves for school, I enter his room and find the blue pillowcase hiding under his desk.  I delight in the Tootsie Rolls I know he doesn't like, and hope against hope that I will find a Baby Ruth that has been left behind.  Today I sniff out a small box of Junior Mints which I open right away, and steal a Snickers to bolster me for my conversation with his math teacher.
     When I was a child, I hid my Halloween candy because I knew my mother was eating it.  I counted it every night and made notes in my diary:
     M & M's (plain)---5, (peanut)----4
     Reese's Peanut Butter Cups----4
     Hershey Bars----1
     Dum Dums----14
     My mother was never interested in Dum Dums.  She was eating all my Hershey Bars, and there was no one to make her stop.
     My mom grew up in a junk food-free household.  My immigrant grandparents did not take food for granted, and brought those sensibilities to the grocery store.  My mother recalls that when she came home from school for lunch, my grandma would sometimes serve lamb chops.  No Fluffer Nutter sandwiches for her.  My grandma baked pies and cakes for special occasions, but on a regular basis, my mother had no access to the sugary treats she craved.
     When she became a mother, she decided to have an open pantry policy.  She allowed us to eat whatever treats we wanted with the idea that if they were always available, we would not crave them the way she did.  Of course there was no scientific basis for this theory, and it turned out to be completely false. My childhood breakfast was two Hostess cupcakes and a cup of hot chocolate.  Things have not improved.
     My doctor is in the same building as a Fannie May candy store that sells "seconds."  I buy Pixies for a fraction of the regular price.  Shopping there is like going to a liquor store at eight in the morning.  There is no pretending when you are buying deformed Pixies that you are bringing them to your boss's house for dinner.
     When I was six or seven, I came home from school and my house smelled perfect.  My mother had obviously baked brownies, and the house had the warm chocolate aroma that made me forget all about my hard day in first grade.  I called out to my mother to let her know I was home, and checked the kitchen counter for the brownies.
     I couldn't find them anywhere, so assuming they were still in the oven, I asked my mother when they would be ready.
     "What brownies?" she asked.
     "The brownies that are baking," I replied.
     "There are no brownies," she said.
     "But I smell them!" I cried.  "I smell brownies!"
     "There are no brownies," said my mother without looking me in the eye.
     I found some Ho-Ho's in the cabinet and poured myself a glass of milk, but I was bewildered.  Maybe Mrs. Valenti next door was baking brownies.  Could the smell sneak all the way over here like that?  That seemed so cruel it was probably against the law.
     Years later I asked my mother about the brownies--if she remembered that day.  She confirmed my long held suspicion that she of course had baked brownies.  Then she had eaten the whole pan.
     I have become my mother and I have the thighs to prove it.  I have a silver filling in every tooth in my mouth.  Since I have inherited this disability, I have no confidence I will ever be cured.  I have nightmares about being an obese, toothless old woman, but hope that I'll still be able to gum an occasional Marshmallow Peep.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Contacts Counsel

     Perhaps there's nothing quite so unfair as being the younger brother.  The older one gets all the good stuff first.  So it came as no surprise that as soon as Rob got contact lenses, Jesse wanted them too.
     Jesse was only ten-years-old at the time, and I told him he had to ask our eye doctor himself.  I made an appointment for us to get his eyes checked, and after the usual tests, Dr. V sat down to talk to us.
     Jesse got right to the point. "I want contact lenses like my brother," he told her.
     "There are a lot of reasons to wait till you are older," she said.  "You have to be very careful about your hygiene when you are putting your fingers in your eyes."
     "I'm much cleaner than my brother," Jesse assured her.
     "You also have to be very responsible," said Dr. V, because you have to take the lenses out every night and soak them in a special solution."
     Jesse nodded his head and reached into the pocket of his blue jeans.  He pulled out a three-inch square of paper which he unfolded and unfolded into a 8 1/2 x 11" certificate.
     "I was Student of the Month last month at my school," he told her.  "Here, look, it says that I showed great responsibility."
     Dr. V studied the certificate and tried to suppress her smile. "Well," she said to Jesse, "I've never  had a patient bring in evidence before."  She shot me a look that said I see you've got your hands full.
"I'll have to do another test on your eyes to see if they can adjust to the lenses," she said.  "I'm not sure you will be able to get contacts now, but I am sure, quite sure in fact, that one day you will be an excellent lawyer."

Monday, October 22, 2012

Haircut Hearsay

Text message from Rob: Im about to get a haircut.
My response: Good luck!
Rob: I have a hat just in case.

     Rob left home a month ago to begin his freshman year at college. I'm guessing that his curly hair, which he likes to wear very short, is starting to look brillo pad-ish.  Perhaps it looks scary when he wakes up too late to shower before his early morning class.  Perhaps a cute girl is involved.
     I love this text.  It tells me that Rob has made a new home--he's not waiting to return to Wilmette to get this done. It means he's taking care of himself, paying attention to how he looks.  And best of all, it means that even though it's near the end of the month, he still has $20.
     Mothers of boys don't get much information, so when I receive a ditty like this, I can't help but extrapolate all the hidden meanings.  Over the years, with two tight-lipped sons, I've gotten pretty good at it.
     I imagine the possibilities:
     At the lunch table in the dorm cafeteria, Rob asks if anyone knows of a barber.
     No, scratch that--none of the freshmen know a barber.
     How about this:
     At a fraternity party, he asks one of the older boys where to get a haircut.
     No, boys would never talk about that at a party.  
     I know:
     Some of the freshmen (prompted by the girls) take a bus to the mall.  Rob wants to look at some new Nikes, and while he's walking around he sees one of those mall hair salons. His roommate elbows him and says, "You should get a haircut."  He walks in and a young woman in her 20's with purple streaked hair says that she can take him.  He realizes that he's never had a haircut from a stranger before, but she's kind of cute and he's embarrassed to back out.  So he texts me.  If it's a really bad idea, he knows I will text back GET OUT OF THE CHAIR NOW.
     This is what we mothers of boys do.  Boys don't confide much, so we have learned, from years of experience, how to take a fact or two and embellish the details.
     I really ought to start writing fiction.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Ad Here

     Since I started writing this blog, several friends have asked if I would be interested in gathering my stories into a book.  Why yes, as a matter of fact I would!  I'd be very interested!  Very, very interested!
     My friend C told me about a woman whose blog is attracting the interest of a publisher because of the large number of followers and advertisers.  Her blog is about raising young children, and she has found advertisers for baby equipment, diapers and baby food.
     I'd never considered advertisers.  Looking Up is about raising teenaged boys, so I started a list of possible advertisers that might want to reach veteran mothers like us.  How about:
Auto Body Shops
     Show me a teenaged boy who hasn't banged up the family car and I'll show you a boy who was grounded and had his keys taken away.  The only boys I know who haven't had a car accident are the boys who haven't been driving.
Bail Bondsmen
     Hopefully you'll never need it, but wouldn't it be good to have a phone number?
Axe Body Spray
     I admit I hate the way this stuff smells.  But imagine what it's covering up.
Expensive Sports Academies
      This is what I said when my son was taking private baseball lessons: "If he wanted to learn piano, I'd give him piano lessons!  How is this different?"
     It's different.  Baseball is a team sport.  Dueling pianos doesn't count.  But try telling that to a parent whose son is desperately hoping to make the Freshman A squad.
Apartment Rental Agents
     Happy to have your college grad back at home?  Happy about the additional cooking, cleaning and laundry?
Cleaning Services
     Surely this needs no explanation.
     I don't think the list looks too promising. My best chance of reaching more readers is asking you to become a member of the blog and tell your friends.  Just take one minute to share this link while you are waiting for your driver's side mirror to be re-attached.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Just us Girl

     The men in my house have hit the road. For the first time in a long time, I've got five glorious days all by myself.  Aside from nocookingnocleaningnolaundry, I am looking forward to luxuriating in some real old fashioned girly behavior.  But after spending 23 years in a house full of boys, I'm not really sure what to do.
     I begin with the obvious, a mani/pedi, followed by assorted other beauty services.  I eat expensive salad for lunch and dark chocolate for dinner, and feel I've had a fairly successful first day.
     I love to fall asleep with the television on, so my first night alone I get under the covers and get nice and cozy watching The Daily Show followed by The Colbert Report.  I look forward to knowing that before Stephen introduces his guest, I will be fast asleep.
     When I wake up, the television is blaring Latin music and crowds of people are dancing.  At first I think I am watching a Columbian flash mob, but then some women start giving testimonials about their weight loss, and I know I am watching an infomercial.  It only takes me another minute or two to understand that the product they are selling is Zumba Fitness.  Zumba is a dance workout that is all the rage, and for four small payments of $19.95, "cheaper than one visit to a personal trainer," I can order the set of DVDs and lose all that weight too.
     I imagine that this is the time of night when most people will try anything--when they are fuzzy with sleep and worrying about the things that can't possible be fixed at 2:00 in the morning, i.e. I can't take back the comment I made to my boss about the stain on her sweater (not a stain) but I can get off my fat ass and do something about my fat ass.
     Even in the wee hours of the morning, with all my defenses down, I know I won't lose a single pound. I run three miles every single morning, and my weight stubbornly remains the same. I am no longer thin, but work hard to maintain what I fondly refer to as my NFW, my Normal Fat Weight.
     I love running in the spring and summer, but the first October frost reminds me that soon I will be running in layers of unattractive clothing, and it will be dark, and the cold air will hurt my chest and make my nose run, and ultimately I will spend many icy mornings indoors on the treadmill watching Dancing With The Stars episodes on the DVR.
     Those Zumba gals sure look like they are having a ball.  Then the announcer lowers the price to only three payments of $19.95, throws in the cute weighted batons, and tells me that if I order in the next 20 minutes, I get the expedited shipping for free!
     In the darkness of my quiet bedroom, with no one to wake, I pick up the phone.  It occurs to me that I would never do this if my husband were here, but without him I've become Sheryl the Shuteye Shopper.  I place my order.
     Who knows what other great buys I'll find in the middle of the night? With three more nights alone, I'm going to leave the credit card on my night stand.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Tall Tale

     In a recent photo of the Solomon family, I notice that my husband is the shortest man in the picture.  Next to his brother Art, my husband looks tiny.
     My husband is 6'4". This is the warped reality of being the "little brother" in his family.
     When we first moved to Wilmette many years ago, we attended our village's July 4th festivities. There were games and food at Gilson Park, and my four-year-old son was enthralled when he saw, for the first time, a man walking on stilts.
     "Mommy, who is that?" he asked with great wonder.
     "Honey, that's Uncle Sam!" I told him.
     He turned to me and very seriously said, "Mommy, Uncle Sam is even bigger than Uncle Art!"
     My sons have mostly enjoyed inheriting this height, although when they were young, strangers always assumed they were older than their ages.  At eighteen months, one son was scolded by a woman in a restaurant when he bumped her and did not apologize.  I had to explain that he didn't actually talk yet.  At two and a half he needed to potty train quickly because the next sized diapers were Depends.
     Now that the boys are fully grown (please God, it's enough!) I've noticed that being big has some downsides, although complaining about them puts you the the same category as lottery winners who lament the higher tax bracket.  It's not a group that gets a lot of sympathy.
     The Solomons have trouble sitting in a car, airplane or movie theater.  It's a treasure hunt to find clothes and shoes. I always knew my sons would be big when they were grown men, but I was surprised to have a Bar Mitzvah boy in a size 44 suit.
     I am resigned to being the shortest in my family, but like all people my size, I have just one nagging question.
     How is the weather up there?

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Secret to Being A Good Mother

     My husband is planning a trip with my oldest son to Las Vegas, and I can't help but recall the first time we took him there.
     He was four months old.
     In my defense, I had nothing to do with planning this trip.  While plane tickets were being purchased and hotel reservations were made, I was busy giving birth.  My husband arranged for us to spend our baby's first Christmas in Sin City.  We're Jewish but still.
     Air travel from Chicago in the month of December was predictably awful. It was below zero, snow was blowing, and runways were icy.  Upon boarding the plane, we were told that they had to de-ice before taking off.  Then we waited.  We waited so long that they had to de-ice again.  Then we waited some more.  The crew was changed, they added passengers from a cancelled flight, and de-iced again.  We were prisoners on the plane for nine hours and still faced a four hour flight.
     All of this activity may have distracted you from remembering that I was traveling with a four-month old baby.  It did not, however, distract me.
     I was facing thirteen hours in an enclosed public space with an infant.
     In their defense, the flight attendants were as nice as they could be.  They offered blankets, magazines, and peanuts galore.  However, when they came around with the drink cart, baby formula was not one of the choices.
     In those days, thirteen hours translated into at least four feedings and five diaper changes.  My husband, who was in charge of carrying the luggage, had told me many times with a smirk on his face that they did, in fact, sell baby formula and diapers in Las Vegas.
     Luckily, I had ignored him completely.
     The baby and I could have stayed on that airplane for three days.  I was prepared.  I pointed this out to my husband many times over the thirteen hours, and many, many times since.
     That experience taught me the simple secret of being a good mother, and I am glad to share it with you: Think of Everything.

Monday, September 17, 2012

My Teachable Moment

     I was all about the Teachable Moment.  I read in one of my parenting books that I should find opportunities in our daily lives to point out good and bad examples of behavior.  When the boys were young, I used every opening to offer my valuable advice.  
     "See that man chewing with his mouth open?  Yuck!  I'm glad I'm eating with my handsome son who chews with his mouth closed!"
     "I saw Justin didn't wear a jacket to school today.  I bet he was really cold at recess!  I'm so glad you were smart enough to dress warmly!"
     "That was a great home run that Tommy hit today!  I think he's seeing the ball so much better since he got a haircut!"
     I thought I was so clever.  By pointing out other people's behavior, I was secretly indoctrinating my children.  It seemed far better than constantly repeating, "Close your mouth when you chew. Wear a jacket. Get a haircut."
     I thought the boys were unaware of my sneaky tactics, until one day when we drove our neighbor  home from Hebrew school.  When the boy opened the door to get out, my son leaned over and whispered to him, "Make sure you say, 'Thank you' or my mom will talk about you behind your back."

Monday, September 10, 2012

Wait Til Next Year

     The first thing I thought when I woke up and looked outside was that I wanted to spend the day at Wrigley Field.  It was a Friday in late September of 2007, about 75 perfect degrees, and the wind was blowing out.  My beloved baseball team, the Chicago Cubs, was leading the division by one game over the Milwaukee Brewers.  The game started at 1:20, my children were at school, and I could get on the el train and take it right to Clark and Addison.  I had a cute top that was low cut and had a nice ruffle around the bust, and if I wore it I would certainly be able to scalp a single ticket in front of the park.
     There was only one thing holding me back.  That night was Kol Nidre.  It was my job to prepare our big meal before the fast—matzo ball soup, brisket, potatoes, kishke—the meal that was supposed to provide my family enough physical and emotional sustenance to get through the Yom Kippur fast.  If I went to the ballgame, my family would instead be eating Lou Malnati’s Pizza.
     I weighed the options.  I have a 6’4 husband and two equally large sons.  The only thing they are religious about is food.  They were not happy to be going to Temple.  My younger son did not understand why he couldn’t go out with his friends afterwards.  If we ate pizza, it would set a terrible example.  It would show that I didn’t think the holiday was very special either. (No disrespect to Lou Malnati.)
     On the other hand, my gang would understand.  They would love that I went to Wrigley instead of preparing for the holiday.  Forever after, my boys would tell the story that on the night of Kol Nidre, the beginning of the holiest of holy days, their mother served them takeout because she spent the day at the ballpark watching her beloved Cubbies.  My boys would love this story, and it would become my legacy.
     I know what you are thinking: Yom Kippur comes every year.  How often are the Cubs leading their division?  Go to the game!
     Everyone loves the tough old broad who says to hell with all that.  I wish I were that broad, but I’m not.
     I am a Cubs fan down to my bones, but in the marrow of my bones I’m a Jewish mother.  I had to cook for my guys.  You should know that I’m not a good cook.  In fact, I’m terrible.  But I do it, and it’s one of the ways that I show my family that I love them.  Over the summer my younger son was at camp, and I told him I was sending him some of my homemade chocolate chip cookies.  He wrote back that he’d rather have Pringles potato chips.  I thought about it, but in the end I told him it was too bad.  It wasn’t about him.  I was his mother, and I missed him, and there was no way for me to show my love in a can of Pringles.
     And so, I stayed home.  I watched the game on television while I prepared our holiday meal.  It was not without regret.  Alfonso Soriano hit a home run the very first pitch of the ballgame.  The Cubs scored four runs in the first inning.  But when my family came home for dinner, and I watched them load up their plates with my mediocre preparations, I was glad that I’d remembered who I was.  Yom Kippur was no time to fool around.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Which is Which

     My son was asked to the Turnabout Dance when he was a freshman in high school.  A girl from his English class had asked him, and when he found out that all he had to do was get dressed and show up, he said yes.
     On the night of the dance, all the couples in the group went to someone's house to take pictures.  Freshman year they were all pretty awkward.  When we arrived, the girls were on one side of the room and the boys were on the other.  My son was carrying a box containing a white rose corsage for his date, and I saw him looking around for her.
     He grabbed my arm and forcefully pulled me into the hallway.
     "What's the matter?" I asked.
     "I'm not sure which one she is," he said.
     My instinct was to laugh out loud, but he was frantic, so I restrained myself.
     "What do you mean?"
     "I don't know which one she is, Mom.  She's got an identical twin sister, and they are both here."
     I began to understand.  The girls were beautiful. But in dresses, high heels and make up, they didn't look anything like they did in English class.  It's hard enough to tell identical twins apart, but my son had lost all his markers.
     "Well," I said, hoping to devise a plan, "are they dressed alike?"
     "No. I don't know if my one is in the blue dress or the black dress."
     "What's your date's name?"  I asked.
     "Brittany," he said.  "Her sister is Brianna." (The names have been changed to protect the humiliated.)
     "Wait here, " I said.
     I walked back into the living room, hoping for a clue.  I approached a group of mothers and introduced myself.  Luckily, the twins' mother was in the group.
     "They are such beautiful girls!" I exclaimed.  "Which is which?"
     "Brittany is in the blue dress, Brianna is in the black."
     I wanted to ask if she was sure, but I decided not to.
     I repeated under my breath, "Brittany in blue, Brianna in black.  Brittany in blue, Brianna in black."  I'd forgotten which was my son's date.
     I pushed through the crowd and found my son in the hallway. He looked panicked, but I gave him a thumbs up.
     I said, "Brittany in blue, Brianna in black."
     He asked, "Are you sure?"
     I said, "I asked their mom."
     He looked mortified but I assured him it was fine.  "Get in there and give the girl the corsage."
     He smiled.  "Thanks, Mom."
     I watched him walk towards the girl in the blue dress, and I saw her face when she saw him.  Brittany in Blue.  Bingo.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Dance With Me

     After my ten-year-old son Jesse and his new friend G finish their cookies, they dash into Jesse's room to play.  As I'm cleaning up the kitchen, they come running back, and Jesse is waving an old photograph.
     "Mom, you are not going to believe this!" says Jesse.  "G went to camp with me!"
     Jesse shows me the photograph of his JCC camp group that he asked me to frame many years ago and has been sitting on his desk.  He points to a small boy with curly hair.
     "That's G! Can you believe it?"
     "I only went to that camp for one year," says G.  "I can't believe you were there!"
     "I went for a few summers," says Jesse.  "I liked it there, mostly.  The only thing I couldn't stand was that stupid end of camp dance show!"
     "I remember that," says G.
     "Oh my God, Mom, do you remember that one year?  I was maybe, I don't know, five?  And we had these costumes--black shorts, no shirt, and a white sash.  We were supposed to be warriors or something."
     "I remember!" says G.  "That was the year I was there!"
     "Oh my God, that was the most embarrassing day of my life!  Do you remember that show?"
     "No, I don't remember."
     "Oh my God!"  Jesse wails, and I cringe because I know what's coming.  That WAS the most embarrassing day of his short life, and we have the whole thing filmed on our video camera.
     "We started out with the whole group dancing together, " Jesse demonstrates by taking two exaggerated step-together-steps to the right, then back to the left, "and then we paired off with our partners.  But my partner didn't show up!  I was this little kid, and everyone was dancing with his partner, and I was standing there all by myself in front of all these people.  I didn't know what to do.  So I started crying in the middle of the stage! The counselor had to come on stage and carry me off.  It was horrible!"
     "I don't remember that!" says G, and pauses thoughtfully.  "I think we went on vacation the last day, and I missed the show."
     It only takes a split second for the boys to realize what this means.
     Jesse takes a run at G and wrestles him to the ground.
     "YOU!"  he screams.
     But then the boys start laughing--ten-year-old boy laughing.  The are rolling on the ground, holding their stomachs, and kicking their legs in the air.  They are laughing so hard they can't stop.
     "YOU!" Jesse keeps screaming, over and over.  "YOU WERE MY PARTNER!"

Monday, August 20, 2012

Let It Be

     It was late on a Sunday in the coldest January on record, and we were driving home from St. Louis where our 16-year-old son Jesse had played in a volleyball tournament.  We had his teammate D in the car with us, and it was my turn to drive.  I cranked up the radio to stay awake.
     The driver gets to pick the tunes, so I clicked on my favorite Lite Rock choice.  Most of the songs were from the 70's and 80's, so I knew most of the words.  It wasn't long before I was absentmindedly singing.
     "Mom," Jesse said, "it's bad enough that we have to listen to this music, but do you have to sing along?"
     "Sorry," I said, and tried to refrain.
     I was not insulted.  I was not being reprimanded for my lack of talent.  My son is a singer, and he and I sing in the car all the time, often finding nice harmonies.  But not in front of his friends.  I had dipped my toe into the vast category of things I do that my son finds wildly humiliating.
     I started thinking about how universal this is, and I had a funny thought.
     "When Paul McCartney was driving his kids around, and Let it Be came on the radio and he started to sing along, do you think his kids were embarrassed?" I asked.
     My husband laughed.
     My son rolled his eyes and said, "Are you seriously comparing yourself to Paul McCartney?"
      D asked, "Who is Paul McCartney?"

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Birthday Cards

     Back in the day, I was very high maintenance about my birthday.  I used to count down the days, expect all my loved ones to fawn over me, and give hints about possible exotic presents.
     Then I became a mother, and suddenly the world stopped revolving around me.  Expectations were appropriately lowered.
     Last week, in preparation for my birthday, the conversations went like this:
     "Mom, I'm playing basketball Thursday night."
     "It's my birthday."
     "Shoot.  Are we doing something?"
     "Yes, we're all going out to dinner. "
     "Can I come after basketball?"
     "What will you smell like?"
     "I'll wear deodorant."
     Well Happy Birthday to me.
     Then I came home from work with flowers and the remainder of a cake.  My son asked, "Where did that come from?"
     "They had a party for me at work."
     You get the idea.
     When the boys were little, they always made me a homemade card.  They were crayon colored, with construction paper hearts and too much glue.  They were sometimes accompanied by a dry mound of clay or a water colored self portrait, but the card was always the best part.
     As they got older, I begged them to continue the tradition, and lucky for me, they have.  A card on my bulletin board reads, "This is good for five times everyday for a week I say you are skinny."  The one in my top drawer reads, "There is $16 in this envelope.  $15 is for charity.  The other one is for you!  Go get a Slurpee or something!"
     These days most cards are made on the computer the minute before they are given.  Sometimes they are funny, often they are sweet, occasionally they are thoughtful. They are sometimes signed, "Your Favorite Son."  But they all express what I hope is honest gratitude for being a great mom.
      They are more precious to me than any bauble or decorated cake. I've kept every single one.  They are my annual review for the best job I've ever had.

Monday, August 6, 2012


     When Joel and I were newlyweds, we spent many glorious weekends in South Haven, Michigan.  We enjoyed lazy afternoons at the beach, picked more blueberries than we could eat, and planned our meals around Sherman's ice cream.  Then we had our son Robby, and we imagined the memories we could make if we had a  cottage of our very own. The property seemed cheap, we were adventurous, and it was my husband's dream.  Sold.
     We loved our little house on Saddle Lake, just east of South Haven.  It was a very easy two and a half hour drive from our home on the north side of Chicago.  We drove up every Friday afternoon from May through October while our sweet son napped blissfully in his car seat.
     The first couple summers were idyllic.  We bought an old power boat from the previous homeowners and puttered around our lake.  We invited our friends and family to join us most weekends.  We read good books in the hammock, ate raspberries from our back yard and spent long afternoons making sandcastles with our happy boy.
     We were not the perfect summer cottage owners.  My husband was shockingly un-handy (sorry, Honey.) We had to pay for every small repair on our charming (old) house, which seemed to occur almost weekly.   Our baby's "equipment" needs were constantly changing and we were always shlepping things from house to house.  A favorite snugly was often left behind.  There were tears (usually mine.)
     Then we moved from the city to Wilmette, a northern suburb along Lake Michigan.   Our drive to the cottage increased by half an hour.  And then Jesse was born, and rather than napping in the car he  preferred loud shrieking. The shopping/cooking/cleaning when we entertained friends at the cottage started to make us crabby.  My husband and I were both working, we had two little kids, two houses, and no time.
     One Friday afternoon as I was frantically packing up the family for our "relaxing" weekend, I told five-year-old Robby to pick a toy to bring to the beach.  He innocently asked, "Are we going to the beach that's a few minutes away or a few hours away?"
     The next week we put the cottage up for sale.

Monday, July 30, 2012

My Three Sons

     I have a photo of Jesse and his two best friends sitting on the swing on my front porch.  I think they are four years old. All three fit together on one seat.  They are happy, adorable little boys.  Their perfect baby teeth, like little white Chicklets, smile at me.
     This morning they are in my car, on my very last day of driving carpool to high school. They are an aromatic group--they smell of Axe body spray, peanut butter toast and gym shoes.  Graduation is this weekend.
     I love these  boys, and they know I love them, so I decide to say what's on my mind.  My voice will crack but it doesn't matter, because although they would never think of it, I think they love me too.
     "Today is my last day of driving carpool," I begin.  "My last day ever."
     My voice cracks a little on the "ever," and my son Jesse, sitting in the passenger seat beside me, looks right at me.
     "Are you going to cry?  Jesus, Mom."
     But it's just S and J in the car, boys I've known since they were toddlers.  They live on our block, and I think I've seen them most of the days of their lives.
     It's too late to be embarrassed in front of them.  These boys have seen me in my sweaty gym clothes at 7:00 in the morning, and in my red fluffy bathrobe at midnight.  I've picked them up at school when they were sick, and I've put many bandages on their knees and elbows. They know exactly what I have in my refrigerator, and probably these days what I have in my liquor cabinet.  If I'm going to cry, it's going to be okay.
     S, always a sweetheart, says, "We should have done something special!"
     The boys laugh.
     "It is special," I venture, my voice cracking now.  "It's special to be driving the three of you.  I've known you since. . ." I trail off.  I realize I can't say anymore.
     My son can see how emotional I am, and he speaks quietly to me.
     "Oh Mom," says Jesse.
     And then, without a pause, "Oh Mom," says S.
     And then, "Oh Mom!" says J.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Soufflé

     My son has graduated college and started his first real job.  Watching him adjust to adulthood reminds me of my own start.  Forgive me for the indulgence--I'll be back to boys next week.

     In the summer of 1981, I left home in pursuit of adulthood.  My father and I drove from our suburban Chicago sub-division to a third floor walk up studio in a not yet gentrified neighborhood of Washington, D.C.  When we pulled up, some Hari-Krishnas were singing outside the building next door.  My father, who for nearly 800 miles had seemed quite supportive, glanced at them and said, "Let's not tell your mother."
     I had found a job with a philanthropist who was renowned for his generosity but paid me nearly nothing.  My job was to review grant proposals from liberal organizations seeking support, and throw big fundraisers for candidates my boss supported.  Most nights I made dinner out of the brie and chablis we served.
     I was quite determined to be happy, which felt within my reach.  I spent most of my free time cultivating new friends.  I wrote little notes in advance of calling them, so I always sounded clever delivering the latest news, or inviting them to something wonderful.  Sometimes these potential friends were busy--going to visit their parents in Philadelphia--or sometimes I left a message, which went unreturned.  Some weekends I did not speak to another human being from the time I left work on Friday until I returned Monday morning.
     None of this information was recounted in my weekly phone calls home.  I did not want my loved ones to worry, as they surely would have, but more than that, I wanted them to think my life was wonderful, because they would have been insulted to find out I'd left them for anything less.
     I made sure to tell them I'd recently attended a performance at the Kennedy Center and sat in the President's box.  They were particularly impressed that the box had a private bathroom, and noted that I'd likely sat on the same toilet as Nancy Reagan.  I told them about Ted Kennedy's birthday party, and about the staff meeting I attended at my boss' home in Bermuda, and about the housekeeper who had once baked pies for President Roosevelt.  These stories were repeated at my father's water cooler and my mother's beauty shop to acquaintances who thought my parents had been crazy to let me go.
     I worked with a woman named Mary Beth who implied through her every word and deed that I knew nothing about fashion.  She accompanied me on business trips and pointed out the stylish women who wore spectator pumps that matched their periwinkle Nipon suits.  She referred me to someone to wax my legs.  She tried to gently help me through a variety of bad decisions regarding pants that made my butt look big and men who thought my butt looked just right.
    I thought that I might increase my circle of friends if I threw a party.  Not a keg of beer on the porch party, but a Washington young singles party--a brunch.  I would invite a variety of international friends who would be ever so interested in one another, and I would make my mother's famous blintz soufflé, which was quite simply love on a plate.  I would serve orange juice with champagne, and pots and pots of coffee, and my new acquaintances would pull my favorite Saul Bellow books off my shelves and we would discover how very much we had in common after all.
    These new acquaintances were working in congressional offices, or writing articles for left wing magazines, or were the sons of someone we had never heard of back in Chicago but who were quite important "inside the beltway."  They had gone to Harvard and Yale and Georgetown, and couldn't fathom why on earth I'd gone to the University of Illinois.  I was concerned that they were not easy to impress, so the night before the brunch I made sure I had everything ready.  This involved cleaning my tiny apartment and borrowing enough plates and forks.
     My mother was not a great cook, so the fact that she had mastered the blintz soufflé gave me courage.  The secret was that the blintzes (crepe pancakes wrapped around ricotta cheese) were store bought.  All I needed to do was arrange them in a Pyrex dish and cover them with an egg and sour cream mixture that when baked came out all puffy and lovely.
     I unfortunately woke up late the next morning, and just as I was getting started in the kitchen, the first guest arrived.  I quickly put the blintzes in the Pyrex and poured the mixture on top, briefly noting that the recipe called for the blintzes to be defrosted first, which I had neglected to do.  I didn't get too alarmed, but figured it would take a few extra minutes in the oven.
     The doorbell kept ringing and I buzzed up my friends who thought my apartment "had the most wonderful light," or "was in such an interesting neighborhood."  I introduced them all to each other noting that this one was a genius at direct mail, and that one was writing a fascinating article about world peace.  I was the perfect Washington hostess.
     Everyone was drinking quite a bit of champagne on empty stomachs.  After fifty minutes I went to retrieve my soufflé from the oven, anticipating the oohs and aahs of my friends.  I opened the oven, looking for the gorgeous casserole my mother regularly served, and was aghast to find pathetic lumpy blintzes in a sour cream soup.  The frozen blintzes had behaved like solid ice cubes and had rebuffed the overtures of the egg mixture, refusing to gel.
     I put the mess back in the oven and start to panic.  The only other food I had in my apartment was a box of macaroni and cheese and a couple of frozen dinners.  Guests began drifting into the kitchen asking if they could help.  I shooed everyone out and put my face in an oven mitt so that no one would see me cry.
     There would be no blintz soufflé.  But the lukewarm blintzes still had possibilities.  No one was expecting them to be all puffy and perfectly browned.  I removed the Pyrex from the oven, fished out the blintzes and rinsed them in the sink.  I arranged them on a plate and warmed them in the microwave. After covering them with strawberries, I presented them to a roomful of tipsy young adults who had never prepared anything more complicated than a Pop Tart.  They all exclaimed that they had no idea I could cook.
     I moved out of Washington soon after, in the hottest part of the summer.  My neighborhood liquor store, which had flourished under the business I had provided to them thanks to my party-throwing boss, delivered a magnum of champagne.
     I uncorked the champagne back home for the ones who loved me best, and we drank a toast to my return.  They expressed appropriate concern that a liquor store would miss me so.  I had never been so happy to be me.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Oh Say Can I Sing?

     Each year on Senior Night, the proud parents of the graduating high school seniors are introduced with their sons before the final home volleyball game of the season.  It's a special night for the parents who have been filling the bleachers for four years, and for the senior boys whose only reason for attending school all spring has been so that they could play.
     My son Jesse is a team captain.  He is kind of a big deal.  In addition to being a volleyball player, he is also a singer, and will be studying jazz vocals in college.  He has often been asked to perform the national anthem before the varsity volleyball games.  It's a double header for me; first a singing performance followed by three games of volleyball.
     While I am not nearly as talented as my son, I also was a singer in high school.  Sometimes when we are in the car or home together, Jesse and I sing.  He has a beautiful deep bass voice, and he finds rich harmonies to my melody.  I love to sing with him, and before he leaves for college, I thought we could perform the national anthem together on Senior Night in front of all his teammates and their parents.
     I was pretty sure the coach would love this idea.  This is my second child to play varsity volleyball, so the coach and I have known each other for many years.  Being the captain's mother comes with its own three-ring-binder, and although it's not a lot of work, even if I were a terrible singer (which I'm not!) she knows that the parents would still give me a hearty and generous round of applause.
     The problem was not the coach.  It was my son.
     "Are you insane?" he asked me when I first mentioned the idea.  "Do you have any idea how much trash talking the other team would do if I sang the national anthem with my MOM?"
     I thought he was overreacting, and so I asked my older son Rob his opinion.  He is a very laid back guy, and takes everything in stride.  Rob thinks just about everything is a good idea.
     "Are you insane?" he asked me.  "That is the worst idea you have ever had."
     For weeks afterward, I hovered outside the bathroom while Jesse sang in the shower, and I sang with him.  Usually he just ignored me, but finally he yelled, "Stop auditioning!"
     If this were a Lifetime movie (the part of the lovable and quirky mother played by Julia Roberts and the part of the cool, handsome singing son played by a young John Mayer) then Jesse would see that it doesn't matter what the other kids say, and on Senior Night he would give a heartfelt speech about the people that really matter, and call me down to the microphone to sing a sweet, teary national anthem in perfect harmony.
     But this was not a movie--it was my real life.  So instead, the high school Swing Choir led the national anthem and they were pretty good.  I stood along with all the other fans.  Jesse would not make eye contact with me.
     But when it was time to be introduced, he took my hand and led me out onto the floor.  The announcer said our names, and that Jesse was captain, and then he announced the college Jesse would be attending in the fall.  My son bent down so I could kiss him, and handed me a single white carnation, and suddenly I was crying as if they'd announced our names at the Grammys.