Goodbye, Black Licorice

My dad was a dentist who had the best and weirdest, and what he thought was 

private, candy drawer!!

I knew he had it. He knew I knew he had it. We never spoke of it.

Throughout my young life and into adulthood I would find my father droopy and snoring in his favorite chair, deep in REM sleep, during the night. A halo of light gently hovering over a salt and pepper head; tattered novel or newspaper diagonal on his belly threatening gravity. Crumpled wrappers from sour balls and Swedish licorice drops would be strewn about, hiding in armpit crevices and scattered all over the floor. 

     One of my favorite memories of this mediocre sugar stealth was the time I came home late from a night out during high school. I found my dad in his spot eyes, a flutter, and head topsy turvy. I sat next to him so I could finish the show he was not watching before I got tired and went to bed. He must have sensed my presence and woken up. He turned his head and looked at me and it was so obvious he had a piece of candy in his mouth. He then pretended to continue reading and ever so slightly suck on the licorice or sour ball that was living in his mouth; looking a bit like a squirrel coveting an acorn. 

     Years later when our firstborn was about five years old I found my daughter and my father snuggling together in his chair sharing a piece of candy from the said drawer. I sat down next to them as inconspicuously and gently as I could so as not to scare away the moment and the next thing I knew my dad handed me a Swedish licorice ball and smiled.

     It took 31 years and a kid but he finally shared his bounty! None of us spoke, just chewed, for a long time. (Those things take forever to disintegrate in your mouth!)


     Coming back to the present day, after a year of my primary care doc wondering if I had White Coat Syndrome I was finally diagnosed this summer with high blood pressure. Seeing a hypertension specialist for the first time is like “the marathon” of doctor appointments; this lovely, brilliant doctor asked questions, listened to years of unknown history, took readings, asked more questions, did more tests, and then concluded her detective work with one question, “Jessie, do you by any chance eat black licorice?” 

      Did I eat black licorice!?

      One thing that kept me grounded and tethered to some kind of grief recovery after my dad passed away was the taste and smell of black licorice. It became a routine where once a month I would come home to find a package on my doorstep from Florida. My best friend’s father would mail me a huge bag of black licorice and I would immediately hide it in the freezer. (Don’t ask, I had to eat licorice cold which could probably be its own essay altogether – I digress…) Every night before I would go to sleep I would eat between two and four pieces of this ebony root.  These savory, sticky moments brought me back to his chair, his quirks, his need for privacy, and many times, humor. I missed him so much and licorice gave him back to me just for a little tiny bit every night. 


     So as my eyes flooded with tears on the 2nd floor of the UW Health Preventive Cardiology Clinic I told the doctor that yes, I ate black licorice every night. She let me cry a bit and then with a tender firmness stated, “No more black licorice for you.”

      I received a notice in the mail last week from our synagogue that I had an upcoming yahrzeit for Dr. Avrom Kniaz with a date of Oct. 30th. I understand the Jewish calendar about as much as I do not understand it and though I may attend or think about him on the 30th, the 19th of October will be a day I never forget. I remember where I was sitting, I remember how the air felt on my skin, I remember how my feet felt numb when I tried to get up to walk and I remember also understanding that from that moment on I would have to find a way to keep my memories close.

     With every human connection, there are many knots and braids, so to speak, that can help keep us tied to our memories.  I may not be able to have any more black licorice drops but I have replaced them with sour balls and other hidden freezer treats so we’re all good – unless somehow medical research finds issues with sour balls then I will write another story and get back to you. 


And, may we all find a way back to those we miss; if it has to be through sugar so be it!

If you want to read more like this purchase my new book Puddle Splashing! Available right now at local Madison bookshops:

A Room of One’s Own

Mystery To Me


 Puddle Splashing – Amazon



Puddle Splashing – Live

Copies of PUDDLE SPLASHING are available NOW through Amazon and coming very soon to A Room of One’s Own – please support our local, independent bookstores and reserve a copy for yourself today!!

Keep an eye out and ears open for local launch events, signings and readings!

A special thank you today to David Loeb and David Loeb Photography – taking pictures of me is about as easy and pleasant as trying to collect a family of perturbed squirrels! 

Once again – waterfalls of thank you’s go to:

Jordy Loeb – Husband/Cowboy/Father

Laurie Nagus – Editor

Jasmine Zapata – Motivational M.D. Publishing

Callan Erin – Cover Design –

Pegasaur Moore& Andy Moore – Forward

Georgia Rucker – Dedication Page Design

Book endorsements:

Jen Nails – One Hundred Spaghetti Strings

Samantha Lazar – Reaching Marrakesh

Barrie DolnickSimple Spells for Love

Ann Imig – LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER: What She Said Then, What We’re Saying Now.

Many of my beloved friends and family will find themselves tucked away in my stories…go find yourself 💞

I Love You

Last night we finally got to use our tickets for Mike Birbiglia’s new show, “Old Man and the Pool.” We purchased tickets before the Pandemic hit full throttle and like everything else, it got canceled but luckily postponed.  I have had the title for this piece staring at me and teasing me for months. I have had fractured ideas, messy paragraphs, empty sentences, and paralysis on paper like never before. I Love You needed to be written though I was not sure how.

     Anyone who knows Mike Birbiglia is aware of the brilliant, brave, self-deprecating authenticity in his storytelling. He is a comedian though spins truth and tenderness into a web of tears and laughter leaving his audience cackling and retrospective, as well as wondering if we should all call our primary care physician immediately the next morning. 

     This particular show dabbled deeper into the present state of Birbiglia’s health. The description of his time spent at the YMCA brought me back of course to the memories I had of going to the YMCA with our first international nanny who had to visit her boyfriend who worked at the front desk. I remembered the smell of chlorine that would seep thick and committed to my skin even if I didn’t swim. I remembered the random items in the vending machines that had absolutely no place in a vending machine. I remembered finding my first hernia in the locker room. I remembered sitting on the lone bench in the entrance with bloodshot stingy eyes under the fluorescent blinding lights waiting for one of my nannies to stop sucking face and pick me up. My youngest likes to go to the YMCA with his buddies. He likes to go and it is their idea. Seems Birbiglia and I did not have much of a choice, making the chlorine smell, fluorescent lights, and soup options in the vending machine that much more of a hideous and comical destination.

     The last time we saw Mike Birbiglia in Madison he asked to have the house lights turned up because there was this couple who brought a baby who simply would NOT stop crying. Birbiglia tried a few attempts to subtly and kindly communicate to the caretakers of this baby to maybe make another choice and move the baby out of the concert hall. When the crying would not stop the house lights went up and then a conversation between Birbiglia and the mother became part of the act. She just wanted a night out. The baby ended up being taken out into the hall and Birbiglia seamlessly finished his show. Last night, as Birbiglia talked about the unfortunate cardiac genetics in his family tree and the prescription written for 5 days at the YMCA, someone in the audience had an urgent and serious health emergency. The house lights went up. The person in need and people involved swiftly left their seats and Birbiglia tenderly, calmly, and efficiently continued with his show. 

     I could not believe how ironic and/or coincidental it was that his subject matter so closely partnered with the realistic event that took place.

     I thought about how fast things can change and how fast things can happen.

     I thought about one of the nights when I came home from the YMCA all smelly with chlorine dreadlocks poking at my neck and shoulders. I hated going to the YMCA. I climbed into that grand squishy chair and snuggled into the crook of my dad’s armpit and torso. I breathed in the smell of juniper berries and cigars and said, “I hate the YMCA, why don’t you go with me?” 

“I can’t swim Jessie”

“Bubbe and Zayde didn’t teach you how to swim?”



“They were scared of the water.”

“They were scared of the water so they didn’t let you swim?”

“That’s just how they loved me.

     This conversation will never leave me; it will forever stick to my memory like those noodles stick to the Styrofoam cup in the vending machines at the YMCA. I understand all the irrational and genuine pieces of that puzzle.

     LOVE. Love is why we do or don’t do most things in our life; why we marry, why we don’t; why we have kids, why we don’t; why we choose chocolate ice cream over vanilla; love is our beacon whatever the destination. Waking up in the morning to find my life was changed forever altered my perspective of love. My mom and dad were fantastically messy; I loved them. 

    I agree entirely with Birbiglia but everyone has different love languages. 

    However you need to say it, you simply


I Love You is the last and final installment in this series. Coming soon, the compilation of motherhood, childhood, parenthood – Puddle Splashing – Edited by Laurie Nagus.

Love Poster Cl – Robert Indiana

No Need to Send the Clowns

Remember that time when you were a kid, standing on the toilet, watching your dazzling mother brush her hair that looked exactly like it came out of the mouth of a sunset and you asked her to marry you? 

Well I do, AND she said yes! I couldn’t even believe it because there she was getting ready to perform in a talent show, in front of throngs of impassioned fans, and she had time to accept my proposal.

Putting her brush down next to the sink she turned around, tailcoat swinging below the knees, and declared, 

“Why Jessie, it would be my honor to marry you.” She then reached over to grab her black satin top hat and gave me a deep curtain call curtsy. Next thing I knew I was wearing the hat, eyeballs half hidden, while she tugged and straightened her fishnets. 

Leila, in all her glory, looked like she catapulted directly from Fosse’s loins and into our bathroom. Matte black character shoes climbed up through mile high legs on fishnet tights that connected to a satin black leotard coattail combo that literally topped off with the perfect hat, upper brim slick and smooth. Just for a second imagine what it would be like if Anne Reinking, but really your mom, was getting ready in your bathroom!!

Getting back to reality, this Broadway revue took place at the country club where my dad liked to golf, not anywhere close to 42nd Street!  I remember driving up the slithering curvaceous driveway and felt electricity in the atmosphere before even stepping inside. There was a glow, a pulse that came from within. It felt a little like observing a party thrown by the Great Gatsby, except this green carpeted, kinda stuffy, chandelier oppressive, Henry James scene of a place was no match; or at least not yet! We were all ushered to our seats by Gail, the famous club hostess, who was beloved by all and kept everyone and everything organized in a straight, respectable, well-kept line. The murmurs in the room started as a hushed whisper, and as the lights dimmed and the rent for a wedding or Bar Mitzvah dance floor, ballroom turned razzle dazzle the whispers grew into loud, gossipy delight. When I previously mentioned “Impassioned fans” I was referring to club members who were the polar opposite of my mother; different in culture, background, religion, family and experiences – not to mention, age. My mother was younger; let’s face it, Doc took the path less traveled (at least back then) and this whole scene was an anomaly. With this being said, the crowd could have been callous, aloof or cruel; the women could have been caddy, dishy, unkind.

She killed it.

Red, glowing lights somehow filled the backdrop of this space and “Magic to do” started the show. Pippin transitioned into Cats, that purred and pawed with Chicago, sidling up next to Evita who then back-slapped West Side Story mamboing with class and sass into the finale A Little Night Music. Before my mom began her last song she stopped and looked right at me, waved and said, “Hi Jessie. I love you.” I got to sit in the front row that night; I was a puddle in an armchair. The next moments will forever blend from my true memory to fantasy to movie to dream. “Send in the Clowns” rolled and hummed from my mother like the sweetest, most husky poem. As the phrase goes, “You could hear a pin drop.”  I looked over at my dad whose face was glistening in tear drops and pride. I loved seeing him like that. 

‘…Isn’t it rich, isn’t it queer

Losing my timing this late in my career

And where are the clowns

Quick send in the clowns

Don’t bother they’re here…’

My mother bowed and smiled to the left and right, blew a kiss to the audience and walked off the stage. The lights came up and no one said a word; then, thunderous applause. I turned to find my dad and all I saw were his buddies shaking his hand or hugging him; the women scurried around with daisies and droopy carnations asking Gail to please give the flowers to my mom. Many people came up to me that night saying all sorts of stuff and I remember many wet kisses and shoulder squeezes and fist bumps to the cheeks. The three of us left that night together. I drove home in the backseat feeling warm and lucky.

If you have followed along with all my tales you know that I got into trouble just a little bit growing up and never missed an opportunity to push the limits, the buttons, take air out of a car tire, by accident walk into a hotel room that did NOT belong to my family and mess with just about everything!  In just a short 7 years I got myself into many a pickle.  After treading some rough waters, experimenting with a lie or two and recovering from the pangs of growth I always remember my mom kissing the top of my head, bringing me vanilla ice cream with Rice Krispies sprinkled on top and she would say, “There’s no need to call the clowns in just yet Jessie.”

While my dad and I prodded through life without her he would frequently quote my mother when I would find myself, once again, in the middle of something sticky. 

“Jess, you’ll figure it out; no need to send in the clowns just yet.”

Now while this was not always the most directive and clear statement there was always room for understanding and a redo. 

        Desirée was made a fool by Fredrik. She found the insight and courage to tell him he was the one for her, but it was too late. Looking at her reflection in the mirror of symbolism she accepted the fact that the scene in her life she wanted to rewrite was already written and sent to the press. The clowns had arrived and they were not the desired punchline of her story.

2021 is upon us; we have a chance to rewrite our scripts; we have a chance to do better.  Let’s remember those beautiful lives whose stories ended too soon and be in control of which clowns come to what party. Let’s take care of each other, call our own shots and continue to teach our children and remember for ourselves the meaning of humility, patience, resilience and forgiveness.

When your kid decides to cover your girlfriend’s cat in ponytail holders because she is creative, mainly bored and quite pissed that that damn cat scratched her hand when she was just trying to pet the turd, give her a do-over.

Photo By Author

Don’t Put Your Bananas in the Refrigerator

After almost 19 years of marriage my husband and I decided to participate in a neighborhood rummage sale. Without background information this commencing sentence is really uninspiring, but you know me -I’ve got a back story!! Though we knew each other as very young people my husband and I remet later as adults, dated for five seconds, got married in two and began to grow our family. One early June morning my sweeter and much more adorable version of John Wayne picked me up in a green, rusty and fantastic horse trailer and helped me haul all my things to Madison. Everything I held dear and important came with me; everything. I hated saying goodbye. When my best friend moved to Florida in 7th grade our parents gave us a very specific allotted amount of time to have a weekly long distance phone call; we spent half the call saying goodbye – “You hang up; no you; bye; bye; now you have to hang up; no you………” And so packed in that green trailer were things I could NOT live without; just to be clear, my friend was not in the trailer. She was in Florida. There are boundaries!

Most of those boxes went into the attic immediately after the green trailer was barren and the door slammed shut; then we had three children. Last week we unpacked the boxes.

One box after another proved to be more and more of a potential clue that we were possibly hoarders and so through a quiet understanding and tedious process, as well as an assembly line of children, we were able to empty out 60% of our attic and basement. And when I say we I mean my husband and kids, because somehow I got out of the majority of this purge.  I fought this process tooth and nail. Did I mention?

I hate saying goodbye.

The morning came when it was time to hang clothes on garment racks, place jewellery boxes, lamps, tablecloths and books on tarps and hope other people would enjoy and utilize decades of memories and also, very lovely  – crap.  As old costumes began to line our front lawn I reached deep into the 30 gallon Zip Lock storage bag and pulled out a ruffled, four foot long rainbow of fabric that took my breath abruptly and utterly…away.

My Madison driveway transformed immediately into 1136 East Brown Deer Road, and I was five years old hopping off the school bus returning from a successful day of Kindergarten at Dunwood. Running up the black pavement like no nobody’s business I exploded into my house like Norma Desmond in Scene one, Act one of SunSet Boulevard. 

“Snack me!” Arms awry, flailing in miserable desperation. 

 (I did not talk to my mother that way, just fyi; I am keeping in dramatic effect for character development).

Snack me she did. The kitchen walls filled with sounds of Samba and my mother came around the corner like a Portuguese, Brazilian goddess wearing the headdress of a fruit basket, a bright, red shiny shirt tied at the waist and the rest of her lithe frame was covered in frills of purple, blue, red and green!! She bumped my chair with her bedazzled hip, shimmied past me, grabbed a banana and began to sing,

“I’m Chiquita banana and I’ve come to say

Bananas have to ripen in a certain way

When they are fleck’d with brown and have a golden hue Bananas taste the best and are best for you

You can put them in a salad

You can put them in a pie-aye

Any way you want to eat them

It’s impossible to beat them

But, bananas like the climate of the very, very tropical equator

So you should never put bananas in the refrigerator”

She finished the number with a fruit laden curtsy and proceeded to bring me a sliced banana with a side of peanut butter. We sat next to one another eating bananas and Skippy. I still had my backpack on and my mother, her head was covered in dangling produce and she had peanut butter on the corner of her cheek. 


I looked up at my son who seemed to think I evaporated into another dimension, which I kind of did, and handed me a hanger for the skirt. Before I put the skirt on the hanger though, I told him this story.  After I was done telling him this story I put the skirt on the hanger and walked into the house. About an hour later he came running into the kitchen,

“Mom, someone just left with the skirt.”

You know that feeling in your throat that feels almost like a deep ache and pressure and all the while you try and breathe to stop the ache from getting worse?  You know that crying out loud is the only thing that will make that hurt and pressure go away; like a vacuum sealed pouch cut open. 

“Do you want me to try and get it back?” 

“Someone else gets their turn with that skirt now, and it smells like mothballs so it’s okay.”

I did run to the window to see if I could see who had it and see if I could get one more glimpse.

I could have kept it forever and not let those glorious layers of polyester give another family years of ridiculous memories, or I could buy a new skirt that smells better, and make new memories. Saying goodbye can be such a conundrum; when you have no choice in the matter a goodbye can be the ultimate pain – when you have the choice there can be beauty in courage in new beginnings. 

No one can take Norma Desmond out of the mother or the daughter, AND that was, by far, the best banana and peanut butter after school snack I ever had.


“Mornin’ Doc”

“Good morning Lou.”

Lou places a pewter tin on the table next to Doc; this tin wears the scars, lines and scratches of a thousand meals; a thousand messages of love. 

“You give that back when you and Jessie are through okay? I have a peach cobbler making reservations in that thing as we speak,” she winks.

I was watching this whole exchange from behind the kitchen wall; my left eyeball peeking out like a periscope at sea. Tuesday mornings in the summertime were my favorite days in the whole universe! I waited like a trained, patient blue heeler for that click and turn of the front door lock. When she walked into our house I knew my day would be perfect; my shoulders went down a foot in Lou’s bubble; glaring at the clock I just wanted my dad to go to work so we could be together -just me and Lou.

She knew my routine and also had the eyes in the back of her head mystery, 

 “Jessie, come here now; you can have one bite, but save the rest for when Doc gets home from work. He shouldn’t have to cook after taking care of all those people. Now come here, snuggle in!”

I would bolt from my corner like a victimized mouse with a small gap of victory; except of course I was relieved and elated, excited and safe and into that warm crux between shoulder and chest, that smelled of hickory and cinnamon, I ran!

My dad would FINALLY leave for work and our day rolled out like the perfect pancake batter. (Well for me anyway!) Every room had the t.v. on.  Days of Our Lives, General Hospital and Guiding Light  taught me so much about hardy slaps and manipulation, love and regret, monogamy and cheaters, surprise babies, long hospital illnesses, tears and ohhhhhh,  Marlena and John!!!! I was obsessed!

The sheets would billow, bulge and play like a personal pet cloud and Lou would let me lie beneath the soft bubble of air while the parachute gone rainbow fell most luxuriously over my whole body. This linen fort smelled of sweet rain, felt cold and crisp on my skin; I stayed underneath until I saw her smile sneak through a thin strip of cotton and daylight telling me it was time to get out.

Sometimes Lou would ask me to sit still and watch t.v (giving me specific instructions to give her a full report when she returned) and she would go into my mom’s room, shut the door and come out much later with empty bowls, ringed out washcloths and glasses. Throughout the years as I quickly transitioned from knock kneed and scrappy into overly sentient and sensitive the giggling and parachute diving became long, deep conversations. We talked about boys and why they were dumb, mean, awful girls who made me think they were trustworthy, step-mothers, and teachers who inspired me to attempt writing the Pulitzer prize winning novel or gave me reasons to escape through the windows of school -plummeting to my death. She listened to all of it – listened; never interrupted me or filled the room with words. She was the only person in my life I ever knew who could write a paragraph in her mind, read to me through her eyes, look at me and I would know exactly what she said. She gave me my first bra at the edge of our driveway one morning while I waited for the bus; she tucked it secretly and tightly into my backpack and told me to go directly to the bathroom when I got to school. I had no idea I had boobs! Go figure!  While my eyes watered she and my bubbe would jokingly compete about who made the tightest braid; She made Doc and I the most tender, mouth-watering, fall-off-the-bone, a thousand hours marinated barbecued ribs that my dad and I would suck on until we both resembled the giant in Jack in the Beanstalk after his dinner!

As I grew into my late teens and twenties and moved on to college I was always hyper aware when it was Tuesday. She never missed a day. She never was sick. She was tall, strong, handsome and bold with the most beautiful almond-shaped huge eyes that lifted her fantastic cheeks when she saw me. 

One Tuesday morning during a college break I waited under my sheets until the house was empty and it was just me and Lou. I got out of bed, cried my eyes out in the hickory and cinnamon crux, my home away from home, and sobbed until I was bone dry. I had my first real break up and it hurt deep; pressure throbbed in the center of my chest where ribs and heart meet. 

“Jessie, there is a man who will be tall with curly, dark hair who will loooooove you.” She preached. “Just you wait. Don’t waste your time over empty spaces.”  I was only nineteen at the time. 

The afternoon finally came when I moved out and Lou’s last day collided like two toddlers running straight into one another. I knew it was coming though I was unaware of the cataclysmic knock that would tear all the wind straight out of my soul.

Lou came to our wedding where I married the tall man with dark, curly hair.

I snuck one last time into that soft, safe space, gave her a kiss and allowed her wink to send me off into true adulthood.

We lived opposite lives, in opposite times and spaces; her skin was as chocolate and ebony as mine was translucent and ivory. 

Lou, Louise Brown; her life mattered.

Green Food Coloring in My Step-mom’s Shampoo and Other Tales

Recently I was posed with the question, “If you were to write a book about yourself, what would the title be?” Of all the things in my life that take no thought, which is basically nothing these days, was my answer to this inquiry; the very title to this story. With the immediacy of my response came waterfalls of ridiculous childhood events in which I was the main pain in the ass. Tumbling past, barreling over, elbowing its way through was a particular afternoon where my dream to become a famous ballerina changed dramatically to an aspiring, world renowned chemist who was on the brink of finding a cure for Scarlet Fever’s evil twin. This soon to be raging, viral monster was sure to hit Earth’s center stage before nightfall and I was going to save opening night; plus, my nanny Debbie was on her day off so I did not have much time to accomplish this feat. I had to hurry.

Stan Lee was about to meet his match; and Debbie, who I am sure sedated herself the minute the wheels of her ride left our driveway, was most likely looking in the want ads for employment as far away from childcare as she could possibly get.

I was eleven and I guess the idea was that I could be left alone for a few hours; HA!

The coast was clear. Dad was golfing and the local fire department on notice. I had to begin this experiment with utter clarity and a logistically perfect strategy. First, I would find my test tubes (almost empty jars of things I am sure no one would miss that I would empty completely); second, one to twenty ounces of any liquid on the first floor would go directly into said test tubes; third, one to twenty ounces of every liquid on the second floor would go into said test tubes; fourth, shake test tubes to create perfect consistency and wait for bubbles and smoke. Bubbles and smoke always meant the potion was perfect and ready for an unveiling at an annual CDC convention. After half the day whizzed by my test tubes were neither smoking nor bubbling; HOWEVER, they were the most lovely color of goldenrod. If my invention did not cure the world of Scarlet Fever II it could at least be used on the set of Sesame Street as dye for Big Bird’s feathers if ever they should fade. 

Something was missing though, and it was time for some serious thinking; two ice cream sandwiches and a half a bag of potato chips later I still had nothing. I looked around and observed “my lab” had extreme similarities to the plot and visual story-line of The Cat in the Hat Came Back – wherever I must have gone, so did the mess; instead of a stubborn pink ring gone wild, it was goldenrod goo giving away my every step. 

Either my  arteries froze in gluttonous shock or reality struck hard like Cinderella’s impending midnight doom – I had a half an hour to clean up before my dad got home and if the lab was not exactly the way he left it I would never see my solitary autonomy again! 

As I scooped up the remnants of my snack and began putting things away I found a bottle of blue food coloring tipped every so slightly and resting oh so gently upon a half eaten bag of Bugles. I grabbed it, eyed my test tubes and thought….’This will be cool!’ Soon, all my test tubes were a snappy color of freshly cut Spring grass and onward to the rest of the house I went with Clorox Wipes and a broom!  As if I literally was THE Cat in the Hat I saw my dad’s car coming around the corner onto our street from the upstairs window. I looked down at my experiment and decided that I would hide the potion in a half empty shampoo bottle in the guest room that no one really used. It was a perfect plan; the viral cure would stay hidden until I was ready to share my miracle with the world!

Well……..the next weekend arrived swift and furious like a desert storm. Debbie left on her day off and the woman my father was dating for quite a while decided to stay with us for a few days. Some couples decide it’s best to gently transition a new person into a child’s life, so our house guest chose to take her shower and her intimates into the guest room. This particular Saturday morning my dad and I were peacefully drinking freshly squeezed OJ and eating bagels when all of a sudden the sounds from a 70’s horror film infiltrated every nook and cranny of the house,


I froze. 

My experiment.

Our house guest, my soon-to-be stepmother, came into the kitchen drippy and raging and green; she grabbed her car keys, her huge duffel and skidded down the driveway like Mario Andretti; her tire streaks most likely matching Debbie’s to perfection.

This moment became a metaphor for our future together as “Shampoo Gate” did not stop this woman from marrying my father, and I continued to get in trouble constantly for outcomes that were not meant to happen; well, most of the time. I have been compared to Streisand’s character Judy in What’s Up Doc and/or Dennis the Menace – both of whom were the centerpiece of disaster whether purposeful or not….

Our youngest was blamed years ago for two specific things; one, he threw a ball into our living room window because he “Just wanted to see what would happen.”

 The window shattered of course. 

Second,  after enjoying a game of pouring water from one Dixie cup to another to see how long he could keep it up, the basement rug filled with water from the bottom up drowning our toes with hydration; we were furious.

It was a water line break and no amount of Dixie cup shenanigans could have produced that much water. 

There are a plethora of similar instances – believe you me! But let’s conclude shall we?

Two weeks ago this 12 year old mini me asked if he could make cookies by himself; I spurted, blurted, exclaimed, “NO!” 

“But why?”

I shrugged, plugged in the Kitchen Aid Mixer, kissed the top of his crazy tufty head,  put on a hazmat suit and evacuated the kitchen.

Thank you to the Passionistas Project Group for the inspiration!

Dr. Bernstein and the Double Hernia

Dr. Bernstein and the Double Hernia

     There are two very polarized issues that may come up for parents who are dealing with a “spirited child”- Hypochondria and, no kidding around, the real deal, ‘We are going to the emergency room’ – kind of illness. 

Most of us go through this as parents; it is a right of passage so to speak. We utilize our gut instincts and either breathe through the shenanigans, negotiate and love deeply and/or we take our child and our heart, the heart that would quickly become broken, fragile pieces knotted up within our logic and rational thought, to urgent care.

One Spirit moved me at seven; I was tireless and insatiable, but no dummy. So what did I do? I kept it a secret for as long as possible. 

I was just finishing a great afternoon swimming at the chemically potent and chlorinated YMCA off of Brown Deer Road. I changed out of my suit into my clothes and discovered what seemed to be a squishy lump below my belly on my right side. I pushed on it and pinched it and felt nothing; even as the heat poured thick and slowly over my head to my toes, I finished getting dressed and continued on with life. Believe me, I kept looking down, feeling around and investigating for weeks after the first discovery. Sometimes it was there, sometimes not. At some point I started to have pain and feel really sick and one morning at breakfast my dad saw me fidgeting and prodding and asked me what was wrong. Those of you who know me, know I could never play poker or any kind of game that had a need for secrecy. He knew I was infused within a lie and in less than an hour I came face to face with a specialist who had his hands around my waist and told me to cough. I looked down, then met his gentle stare and said,

“Well, it must have disappeared.”

“Cough please.”

His corner eyeball was an Olympic champion over my corner eyeball so he won the face-off.

“Cough Please.”

It turned out not only did I have one squishy lump I had two and was scheduled to go into surgery the next day. I was so terrified I cried, sobbed and blubbered like a lunatic for the rest of the day.  My dad, who by dinnertime looked a little bit like Charlie Brown after his 50th miss, asked me what would make me feel better. I told him a barbie doll and a prairie skirt. All night long I wailed and howled, 

“Prairie skirt!!” “Barbie!!”


I am not kidding. I will never forget it. I was terrified. 

Still, to this day, I have no idea what I was thinking about in terms of my requests, but when I came out of surgery I woke up all bleary-eyed and offended, yet my dad was right by my side and somehow Rocker Barbie was snuggling up in the crux of my left armpit. I have let the Prairie skirt go; he really had no clue what I was talking about.

The second Spirit moved me around age ten. I was still tireless and insatiable, but knew I would live another day.

WedMD was not around back then, but I had diagnosed myself with chronic stomach aches and headaches and I simply could NOT go to school. I could not, for one solitary second, succumb to the daily obligations put forth in front of me; my head hurt, I was sure I had a fever of a thousand degrees and if I even tried to go to school I’d throw up. This was a serious case and my father had no choice but to keep me home for as long as absolutely necessary. 

After this went on for days and days I woke up one morning before the sun rose to find my father hovering above me like a Holy Spirit in his robe, hair askew. He scowled, “Jessie, let’s go, Dr. Bernstein is waiting for us.”

Wait, what?

We drove in the dark, in silence.

What did I do?

As we slowly drove up into the rapidly glowing, sun-kissed cul de sac I realized my mistake.

My dad looked at me, nodded, and proceeded to leave the car and walk to the front  door of my pediatrician’s home. The door opened and the woman, who I had convinced myself was Glinda, listened to my dad, looked over at the car and then began to walk in my direction. 

I got out of the car and she asked me if I was okay. She checked my temperature and glands. 

I melted quickly in her arms like butter in a hot pan.

School was too much; friendship drama too much; nannies, too much; I missed my mom…it was all too much. 

My pediatrician, aka Glinda, in her satin robe made from a unicorn’s mane (She was Dr. Bernstein, she could have any kind of robe she wanted!!) told me she was always there for me and to try and go back to school. I would have a check-up in two weeks.

I saw my dad wink and nod at Dr. Bernstein. I saw her nod back. Both of them in cahoots in their robes. 

That night as I was getting ready for bed and flicking covers this way and that, making myself a cozy spot like a rotating tired mutt, I saw my dad looking down upon me once again; but this time his hair was tidy. He handed me a pen and showed me how it lit up at the tip. He said I should use it if I needed to write down my thoughts in the middle of the night or if there was ever a blackout and my message was needed for immediate governmental covert Intel. 

I still have this pen next to my bed. 

Whether it is a double hernia about to explode or a mock who knows what – it’s in there and needs to come out one way or the other.

Leg Warmers and Lotsa Time

I do not know why being stuck in my house makes me think I should clean it?!! Why in the world has this concept become such a thing!? 

 “Now that I have this time at home it is time to Spring clean!  I will organize this and throw away that!?” GAAH!

  Yes, let’s give ourselves more things to fuel all the present anxiety boiling inside; we are pacing, nervous wrecks reminding our children to wash their hands and THUMBS, stay away from humankind but still walk the dog, make their beds and ‘You have a Zoom meeting with your math teacher in 15 minutes!’ while at the same time we are shaming and reminding ourselves that our closets are filthy and over full and our desks need to be de-cluttered STAT! 

I am not sure about you but the drawer under my bed frame that I have not opened in, um, a long time, whispers my name now. Like in a horror film while I put my socks on in the morning and rummage around trying to find my left hoop earring I hear, in a hush so soft it sounds like the end of a boiling tea kettle or like a spooky spirit voice in a Percy Jackson movie,

 ‘Jessie, come….come…..I am a mess, you need all that I have and yet disregard the power I contain and will bestow upon you once this drawer’s contents are gone…..clean me, or be banished FOREVER!” Well something like that.

This week that voice won. I succumbed to the pressure and peeked inside.

I did see immediately why the drawer was blocked (and why I have ignored said drawer for months), as the wrinkled up whatever was wedged beautifully between the under-mount slides and the rest of the hardware. I began the tedious task of picking things out one by one until I saw the long lost twins of my childhood – my neon, striped, memory-filled tubes of polyester! 

I put them on right away of course and ran downstairs to find my old vinyl copy of Magic, my favorite Olivia-Newton John album. The crackling and spin of the record took me back to 1136 Brown Deer Road where, during my many years of being a latchkey kid and a rock star wannabe, I sang my absolute heart out everyday after school with my leotard, headband and neon leg warmers. I truly believed I was on stage with this Australian goddess who chose me as her back-up singer. Together we awed the audience and belted out Heart Attack, Make a Move on Me, Xanadu, Deeper Than the Night and so many more. Soon, my living room here in Madison had the old duo back together again drowned out in encore pleas to continue the show. As we slowly made our way to the edge of the stage, where we would sit in casual form holding the microphones close to our lips as if to personally serenade the crowd, we began the tear-jerking finale with I Honestly Love You. Only problem was, Olivia’s voice was gone! She looks over at me with fear and shock and then nods to me – I need to go on; I must finish the show. 

‘I’ve got this,’ I nod back. I take Olivia’s hand in mine and through the mic I belt out, 

‘Maybe I hang around here

A little more than I should

We both know I got somewhere else to go…’

As I stared out at a standing ovation in flame sprinkled blackness I also then looked directly through my windows into the eyes of a couple walking their dogs; and even though they were walking 6 feet apart from one another I was able to catch the look they shared between them that said – That woman may be nuts so just keep walking, just keep walking, pretend the dog sees a squirrel and run…..!

Well that is what happened when I attempted to clean my dresser drawer. 

We are all scared right now and unsure; we need to protect our families and our communities; We need to take care of ourselves.

We cannot answer every email. We cannot join or know how to log into every Zoom meeting. We cannot all home school our children like Anne Sullivan Macy. We are flawed humans trying to love as best we can in a chaotic time.

The lesson for me and for all of us that day was and is, as I channel my impervious and unruffled father, 

“Everything in Moderation Jess.”

My addition to my dad’s words of wisdom is – go find some leg warmers and make a fool out of yourself in front of some freaked out dog walkers – there are a lot of them right now in need of entertainment!

Gazpacho and Le Nozze Di Figaro

Pretentious title, yes? I can already hear my bubbe saying, ‘Oh, look at you with the fancy shmancy.’  

Gazpacho and The Marriage of Figaro – two things I never encountered until age 42. The three of us met late one Spring when my brother and I were taking care of my dad.

My dad and his lovely wife had been dealing with symptoms and emotional repercussions from a diagnosis received almost a year prior. My step mother had been dedicating every day to caring for my dad who, in all his years of parenting me and teaching me to be resilient, competent and strong, was a terrible patient! Do as I say, not as I do became a strong message in his Florida condo as he refused help, denied there were needs for specific safety and health instructions and snuck gin every time he could even though his walker could not be trusted to balance pride, stubbornness and liquored-up loose limbs! His wife needed a break and time with her Midwest roots so my brother and I swooped in, put trust in Spirit Airlines, and took on Naples!

My father did not want or need a babysitter so for the first few hours of our arrival his emotions bounced between and within sarcasm, eye rolling and utter joy; complicated is a mediocre adjective to describe this man.

The next day my brother’s main job was to convince our father that kale would not kill him nor was it green garbage AND make absolutely sure that the PBS live streaming of The Met’s performance of Le Nozze Di Figaro was ready to be recorded at least 10 minutes prior to curtain call. 

“Are you sure it is recorded?”

“Yes dad I am sure.”

“No you’re not.”

“Dad, it is all ready to go.”

“How do you know?”

“Dad, I know.”

“No you don’t……” and things of that nature.

While my patient brother continued to convince our father that he was technologically capable my job was to make Gazpacho. During my visits to Florida after his diagnosis my father always made grocery lists and slid them to me on the sly – as if we were in cahoots over something big. One of my favorite notes he passed me was for more butterscotch candy; he was given specific instructions to lay low on the sugar though he continued to order pounds and pounds of this Brachs delight taking up all the room in almost every cabinet. To the chagrin of medical practitioners everywhere I got him the butterscotch; after going to four different Publix locations I returned with his bounty! On this particular day however, his focus was on a high maintenance vegetable soup.

My dad, while journeying through life alongside the unwanted guest of mortality, had a craving for foods from his past. I had been asked to make numerous items over the course of two years, but this request was my biggest challenge. There were about a trillion recipes for gazpacho and my father wanted it the way his mother made it; pureed just so with perfectly shaped chunks of specific vegetables in order to give it the perfect “crunch” and texture. 

I was sweating over this savory solicitation for quite a while and my thoughts kept being interrupted by, “Jessie, when are you going to go to the store already?!” Finally I emailed my father’s specific requests to my genius, quick-witted cook of a neighbor and she sent me the perfect recipe. 

The rest of the day played out a little bit like this,

“What is all the goddamn chopping?”

“Dad I am slicing the tomatoes.”

“Now what is that noise?”

“I am blending the cucumbers and garlic and lemon juice.”

“How long are you going to keep making that racket?”

“Until the soup is ready.”

“Goddammit, “….

Finally the soup was ready and it was curtain time. My brother, dad and I chewed, swallowed, chomped and slurped our way through the live streaming of this funny, gorgeous and LONG Opera. My brother went to sleep after round one and my dad and I proceeded to watch the recorded production two more times (because my brother was absolutely technologically capable) and we went to bed finally at 3 a.m.

The next morning my dad got up, came into the kitchen, smiled at me and said, “The soup was good. I am going to have some for breakfast.”

The tables began to turn that year; my siblings and I became the adults. Love is complicated; love is deep; love is confusing, phenomenal and fantastic and parenting is 3-4 handfuls of butterscotch.