Sheryl and Sons

Sheryl and Sons
I told you they were big.

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Our nanny Michelle had come with gorgeous references, having spent several years with a family who had moved out of town.  She had come to the United States from Jamaica, and her lilting speech and huge grin cheered us all.  She had a 5-year-old son of her own, and she loved my kids.  She was shockingly dependable, even showing up with a fever one day, knowing I had a big meeting.

One June morning, when Jesse had just turned one year old, Michelle took the bus to our house and arrived at 7:00 a.m. as usual.  I took my shower and got dressed, but when I left to drop Rob at pre-school and go to work, I couldn’t find her.  She knew that I never left without saying goodbye to Jesse, but I imagined she had taken him for a walk around the block on the beautiful spring morning.  When I drove to the park and playground but didn't see her, I thought she was in a neighbor’s back yard.

My husband was taking the afternoon off to play golf, and had decided to work at home in the morning, so I asked him to call me when Michelle returned with Jesse.  I dropped Rob at school and expected a message when I arrived at work, but there was no word.  Jesse always went down for a nap at 9:30 every morning, and when they had not returned home by 10:00 I knew something was wrong.  I told my husband to call the police.

           Driving home, I tried to imagine where they could be.  Even though I was anxious, I still thought there was going to be a reasonable explanation. I knew in my heart that Michelle loved my boy, and she would not hurt him.  I also knew, from my experience with babysitters, that there was still a small chance that she had just done something stupid.

          There was a police car in my driveway when I pulled up.  After checking the house, the police informed us that the nanny had not taken anything with her. She had left her purse and the stroller. She had not taken the diaper bag, so she had no bottles, no baby food, and no diapers.  The police thought that an experienced nanny caring for a one year old baby would never do that on purpose, and that there were two possibilities:  either they had been hit by a car and were lying in a hospital, or someone forced them into a car and they had been abducted.

          The police delivered this unbelievable news in quick calm sentences.  It was like a physical assault that I never saw coming.  They called the hospitals, but no one matching their descriptions had been brought in.  They called Michelle's house and found that her phone had been disconnected.  They checked her son’s school, and her boy was there.  The police asked me if I thought she would leave town without her son, and I said no.

         The police left our house to go search for our son, and told us to stay home and call them if we heard anything.  We didn't want to call our families because we didn't want to alarm everyone, so my husband and I sat in our house alone.  I couldn’t think of anything to do but pray, and that’s what I did.  I had already made many promises to God when Jesse was born with a heart condition.  But then he was fine, and I had forgotten my promises, and now I spoke to God with my hat in my hand, and I was ashamed.

          This was my fault.  My son relied on me to keep him safe, and I had failed. This would not have happened if I had been home with him.  I felt incredibly foolish for going back to work after he was born.  I had failed at the only job I had ever wanted.

          My husband and I sat in our living room, staring out our front window.  We hardly spoke.  We each replayed the policeman's words in our heads, not wanting to say out loud the horror that we each imagined.  Hours passed. Finally, my husband, who had been calm and reasonable all day, began to cry.  He said to me, “He’s gone.”

          This, I finally understood, was the meaning of despair.  I had no words of comfort.

          At 3:00 the phone rang.

          Michelle’s first words to me were, "I can’t believe you sent the police after me!”

          I said, “I thought you were dead.”

          An unfamiliar white car pulled up in front of our house.  Michelle got out of the back seat with Jesse, who was not in a car seat, and came to my front door.  I was sobbing when I took my child from her.  He was hungry, and his diaper was full.  He slept for 14 hours.  But he was fine.

          I will never know what happened that day, because Jesse wasn’t talking.  Michelle's sister had contacted her and told her she was in trouble.  Michelle said she had been at the park, which we all knew was a lie.  The police said that she had not broken any laws, and so they drove away.

          Over the years I've tried to imagine what happened that day.  I think that Michelle's friends in the white car pulled up in front of my house while Michelle was in the front yard with Jesse.  She didn't want to come back into the house to get anything because she didn't want to answer any questions.  She assumed we'd go to work and no one would ever know.   I have no idea if this was the first time.

          But it was the last.  I was never the same mother after this.  I was never the same at all.

Monday, April 23, 2012

What to Wear?

I'm 52 years old.  In the world of fashion, it is an awkward in-between age.  It reminds me of when I was 13 and was too old for the Girls department but couldn't fill out the sweaters in Juniors.  At least then I had something to look forward to.

As I imagine my 52-year-old self in all the cutest summer ensembles, I know that I am not their target market, but how far from the bullseye am I?  I look at what the mannequin is wearing, and try to judge how old she is supposed to be.  Without crow's feet, gray hair or a sagging bustline, it's hard to tell.  But I stare at each mannequin as if I am in a museum studying a great work of art, all the while thinking to myself, "Is that outfit too young for me?"

I can't seem to find anyone who knows the 50ish fashion rules.  My friends are mostly in denial.  My husband, who bless his heart, still thinks I look like a blushing bride, tells me I'm being silly.  My mother has a vested interest in my continuing youth and has taken to telling people I'm my father's daughter from his first marriage.

Sometimes it is obvious.  I appreciate a store called Forever 21 because they make it very clear.  Stores should have ratings, like movies, so we would know.  There's nothing more frustrating than going into a fitting room with an armful of clothes and realizing that the pants are much too low cut and the scoop necks are much too scoopy.  I can't imagine under what circumstances I would intentionally show my belly button.

But even stores that I would assume are looking for the likes of me are confusing.  Do 50-year old women wear shorts?  In public?  I think I still look fine in them, as fine as I ever looked, anyway.  My varicose veins are worse each year, but with a little Jergens "tan in a tube" I think they are less noticeable.  Of course my eyesight has deteriorated and I think that helps.

These are the rare moments when I wish I had a daughter.  My fantasy daughter would not let me walk out of the house in a bad outfit.  She would come shopping with me and find the perfect age appropriate choices.  She would bluntly say, "You look like a hooker," or "Those pants make your butt look huge," and I would be grateful for the feedback.

Wouldn't I?

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Day at the Beach

Every once in awhile I am reminded that I am the only one in my family without a penis.  When my sons were young, I never thought much about it.  Now that they are teenagers and have developed more than a passing interest in women's anatomy, it has become totally embarrassing for them to imagine that I could have those parts too.

On a visit to Miami Beach during winter break, my sons found a friendly volleyball game and then we headed down to the ocean to set up our blanket in the sand.  The boys went immediately into the water. I tried to read my book, but I couldn't do it.  I don't know how old your children have to be before you feel you don't have to watch them in the water--my boys were 20 and 16 and I couldn't help myself.  Will I still watch them when they are 24 and 20?  34 and 30? Seriously.

Soon my husband was in the ocean with them, and they were calling for me to join them.  I am a terrible swimmer.  I hate to get my hair wet. But my teenaged boys wanted to play with me. The water was cold but after a minute I didn't notice.

We had brought dry clothes to change into for dinner, but there was no place to change. We fashioned a tented changing area with a big sheet, and my husband and sons each took no more than a minute pulling their wet bathing suits off and pulling their shorts on.

I went last, and the three of them held the sheet over me while I lay on a blanket.  The wind was blowing strong and the sheet was whipping around me.  I was wearing a one-piece bathing suit, and I pulled down the shoulder straps and put on my bra and shirt without too much trouble.  The boys were already telling me to hurry, but my wet suit was sticking to me and I couldn't get in a position where leverage and gravity would help me wiggle out of it.

I was pulling and grunting and it was not coming off, and I started to laugh, a crazy uncontrollable laugh, and my boys were saying, "Mom what is wrong with you?"  But I couldn't stop laughing and I couldn't get the bathing suit off.  I told the boys I had to stand up, and we needed to change positions.

My husband was trying to be supportive and asked, "Anything I can do?" but I needed him to hold down his end of the sheet or else the entire Miami Beach would see my butt.  I wondered for a moment if that would be worse than my sons getting an eyeful.  I quickly decided that everyone in south Florida would consider it a fun day at the beach but my children would be scarred for life.

With that in mind, I got serious. The boys were yelling, "Pull, pull!" which reminded me of when they were born and everyone was yelling,"Push, push!" I knew it must have been more difficult to deliver a baby, but right then I couldn't imagine anything harder than getting that damn suit off.  They counted to three and I  pulled as hard as I could and the bathing suit made a loud sucking noise but miraculously pulled down over my hips. As quickly as I could I pulled on my underwear and shorts.  I told the boys I was ready and they were visibly relieved.

I represent of all of womankind to my sons.  Because they have no other frame of reference, they think that whatever I do is what all women do.   I know that I have created a disturbing and inaccurate representation of our ability to change out of a wet bathing suit.  I apologize.  But seriously, under the circumstances, I don't think you could have done any better.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Best One

The words are in my mouth, and I want to say them, but now is not the time.  I look meaningfully at my husband, and I think he knows.

We say our thank yous and goodbyes and walk to the car.  Even though we are alone outside on this cold night, I decide to wait.  I need complete privacy.  I take my husband's arm, as if I am nervous about slipping on the ice, but really I just want to be close to him.

He opens the car door for me, and I get in, and he comes around the other side.  Once we are safely locked inside our car, and the motor is running, I let the words out.

"He was the best one!"

"You think so?" my husband asks, but he is smiling.

"Yes," I say.  And  because I've been, throughout our marriage, painfully and sometimes brutally honest about the merits and demerits of our children, my husband knows that this is true.

We are leaving the Winter Voice Recital at our son's high school.  We have just discovered our son can sing.  I mean really sing.

He has been participating in various high school choral groups for three years, but this year he started delving much deeper into music, and he asked to take private lessons with a vocal jazz teacher.

In order to take lessons with this teacher, he also needed to take lessons with another teacher.  When I first heard this, I thought it was crazy.  But this teacher was very good, and very selective, and my son was suddenly very serious about singing.  This came as a surprise, because he had always been very serious about volleyball.  He played on the varsity, and was captain of the team.  When I realized all the money we'd spent on club and travel sports throughout his life, singing lessons seemed like a small and reasonable request.

While I had heard my son sing many times as part of a group, tonight he performed an entire song alone.  I admit I had been nervous. I didn't know what to expect.  I have seen him spike the final point into the net.  I have seen him miss a game winning serve.

He picked up the microphone and cued his accompanist.  "One, two, a one two three four."

And then he opened his mouth to sing.  And just as he had grown this year into bigger shoes and longer pants, it was clear that he had also grown as a performer.  His voice was rich and strong.  He smiled, moved to the music, and engaged the audience.  He seemed relaxed, and confident, and happy.

I understood that something profound had changed for him, and therefore had changed for me.  I was now the mother of a jazz vocalist.

The best one.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lunchroom Lesson

The hottest ticket in town for the mothers at Romona Elementary school was a volunteer spot in the school cafeteria.  Every day they needed five mothers to help serve food and sell treats at the snack bar.  You would think we would have been deterred by the apron, gloves and hairnet, but this was not the case.  Nabbing a spot to spy on our children at school was the equivalent of tickets to a Springsteen concert.

When my son started first grade, I was anxious to see him in his new setting. The mothers of girls seemed to have insider information as to what was going on over there, but we mothers of boys knew nothing.  Because I was new to the school and not a PTA insider, I could not get a spot on the Cafeteria Calendar until well into November.

By that point in the semester, most parents had a general sense of how things were going.  While my son's teacher said that he was doing well, I needed to see for myself.  I wanted to see which friends he sat with and who he played with at recess.

Finally my day arrived, and I donned my uniform and found my place.  There was a bit of jockeying for position amongst the mothers, as there were two lines, and each mother wanted to make sure she served lunch to her child's class.  Finally, the first graders started coming through the line, and I spotted my boy.  He was smiling his beautiful smile, and said a loud hello to me so his classmates would know I was his mom.  The children were adorable and exceptionally polite, and I could see why this was such a popular assignment.

As soon as the children were done coming through the line, the volunteers were invited to take a lunch and join their children in the lunch room.  I quickly searched up and down the tables looking for my son.  I saw where most of the first graders were sitting, and I found a table of boys from his class, but my son was not among them.  I searched each and every table in the cafeteria, until finally I saw my son at the very last table, closest to the door, sitting all alone.

I approached my son cautiously, unsure of what I might say.  He looked up at me and smiled.

"How's your lunch?" I asked.

"Good!" he said.  "Are you going to eat your potatoes?" he asked, eyeing my tray.

"No," I said, "I got them for you."

We ate for a minute in silence.

"I saw Drew sitting at the other table with some boys from your class," I ventured. "I'm sure he would make room for you if you asked him."

"Why?" my son asked.

"Well," I said thoughtfully, "Wouldn't you like to eat lunch with the other boys?"

My son looked at me and cocked his head sideways, trying to understand what I was talking about.

"Mom," my son said in the voice one might use to explain something to a small child. "This is the best table---I am the first one out for recess!"