On My 10th Birthday I Wore Leather Pants

I did. I swear. They were red faux leather. They were my ‘Red, it’s my 10th birthday party, I am the birthday girl faux leather pants!’

On the morning of my 10th birthday I woke up on fire! (I mean I had red leather pants, of course I was on fire!) My dad was the master of ceremonies and the house felt festive; soon I would have a large gaggle of friends over for games, movies, pizza and cake. My chest was bursting! Double digits – I couldn’t wait to be ten and rock my new threads!

Soon the driveway filled up and the good times began to roll. 

There was lots of running around my house in a circle; I am sure I ran the fastest!

There was a movie in my basement; I am sure it was the best movie anyone had ever seen.

There was pizza; I am sure it was the best pizza Ferrante’s ever made ever.

Then there was cake; the sweetest, prettiest and yummiest of confection.

I made my wish and blew out the flames hovering gloriously over the numbers one and zero. Immediately thereafter I told my father I wanted the biggest piece with the “J” on it. My dad took a deep breath, looked at me and quietly said, in his I have had just about enough, voice – “Your guests will get cake first and then it is your turn.”

The abrupt lack of wind deflated my sails quite a bit, and the sweat that began to drip from my hot head ran slowly down my back and created a tiny puddle in the seat of my waterproof pants. I had a game of statue maker going on with myself as I sat in paralysis watching all my buddies shove fantastic pieces of high fructose corn syrup in their faces shrieking with glee as the vanilla ice cream only perfected the masterpiece on their plates. When it was my turn my dad slid a big piece of cake with the letter J on my plate, kissed my head and gave me a wink. He had the best wink in the world by the way, and I will always be convinced the 007 character was based off of my father. 

We parents have to tread a delicate line between building the courage and confidence we want to see in our children and what happens when we have gone too far with the endearments. We want our kids to be proud and sure of themselves, bold and brilliant, but we do not want them to poof up like a pompous peacock. 

I learned two very important things on my 10th birthday; one, never spill Hawaiian punch on your red, faux leather pants because it may take a week to get them off; two, no one likes a braggart!

Next week I am turning 45. For some reason the memory of my 10th birthday keeps popping up. Is it because I am a little freaked out to be in my mid 40’s? Is it because I will always miss that wink? It definitely has to do with both of those things, but I have decided that what I really need to do is buy some leather red pants.  

Please Step Away from the Wallpaper…

I had just re-entered my house after being away half the summer at camp. Coming home from camp felt a little like that scene with Tom Hanks after he gets rescued off that island while he waits in some sort of a conference room for his wife; he can’t eat the food because it is so foreign and offensive and as he contemplates the roast beef he stares wildly at the television as if that is also a foreign object never seen before. The only differences between this scene and my homecoming is that he is clean both in body and dress and picky in his culinary choices – I would eat an entire pantry of food in one gulp and I would wear the same jeans and t-shirt as long as I could to preserve the scent of the North Woods.  I do understand, however, Tom’s (we’re on a first name basis) shock and awe and feeling of misplacement. 

That is what I could have said – but I didn’t.

You may be reading this and think, ‘Wait, Tom Hanks was close to death, lost his wife and suffering from PTSD’ – that is true. Instead of losing my whole life and having to start over I was returning from the happiest place on Earth; this only enhances the next segment of this story – drama, drama, drama! My dad gave me three days to cry and slobber all over myself when I got home and then after 72 hours I either had to scrape myself out of gloom and doom or I was grounded. Such drama.

After this particular summer before my freshman year of high school, I came back to my house to find my room had been completely redone. My carpet was some kind of salmon hue, there were two white wicker chairs (as if I was going to be drinking mint juleps while doing my homework), my bedspread had flowers on it and my oak desk was now cream with a touch of  marblesque. Though the most monumental change, the change that cracked my brain in half, the change that caused me to lose my utter adolescent mind was the wallpaper. My rainbow wallpaper was gone and in its place was just a wall repainted in some sort of grey, blue.

I remember screaming and crying and shouting and throwing myself on my bed while bubbling, scorching tears ran out of my eyes onto my stupid bedspread. My dad walked into the doorway of my room, “What the hell is going on Jessie?!” I gathered up the strength I had left to raise my head and look at him – standing behind him was my step mother, crying as well.

I knew why she was crying – I understood right away that I hurt her feelings. She was the only human being who would ever think that I would have liked white wicker furniture and I knew she was the one who changed everything. The thing is –  that wallpaper was one of the last memories I had of my mother. I have so few – they come and they go, but this one sticks.

Come with me for a moment – it is a beautiful one. 

It was the weekend before I was going to start Kindergarten. My mom said I could pick out my own outfits and that I was a big girl and that it was time for a big girl room. She asked me if I trusted her (I remember her asking me this, I really do!) and of course I said yes. From downstairs I could hear her singing with the soundtrack of The Fantasticks. I could hear her belt out her favorite song Try To Remember  (which she knew by heart because at one time she played the lead, Luisa) so I went upstairs to listen and see what she was up to. One never knew what my mom was up to – it could have been just about anything, honestly. 

I saw her standing on a small ladder and stretching her long thin body up to the ceiling with a wallpaper roller. Her strawberry blonde, wavy hair was tied back with a red durag and I could still smell her White Shoulders perfume through the tarnish and glue. Walking into my bedroom was like walking into the inside of a rainbow. Stripes and colors swallowed and surrounded me and I remember thinking my heart might explode and make a mess of the paper – I was so happy! I loved that paper, I loved her wavy hair in a durag and I loved the sound of her voice – smokey and sweet. 

Back to the drama.

I lived and floated in between guilt and anger for a long time after that. Did I need to carry on as if I was a cast member of My So Called Life?  I never knew how to explain what I really felt and my step mom just didn’t talk to me for a while. We finally trudged our way past wallpaper gate and moved on to high school gate, into college gate and eventually divorce gate. 

Now that I am a mother, take care of mothers and teach mothers I think about The Stepparent and his or her role a lot. If we think being a biological parent is difficult,  imagine what it would be like to parent a child who thinks their step parent had something to do with global warming or algebra or even the reason why her father is wearing weird sweaters all of a sudden – all of it is complicated.

My mother asked me if I trusted her. She needed to know that first before she changed what I already knew to be normal and comforting. No matter who we are, birth mom, the “Cool Stepmom,” Cruella De Vil, etc. children need to trust you before you change their wallpaper; they just do,  so ask them first!!

Worthy or Not Worthy, That is the Question…

Oh Elaine – always up to something; causing a raucous, the catalyst for conflict and catastrophe; such shenanigans! 

My dad introduced me to comedy. He loved Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Gilda Radner, everything SNL and then some! One night when I was in high school, my dad yelled,

 “Jess, get down here, you have to watch this right now!” 

That was the beginning of our love affair with Seinfeld, Larry David and the whole gang! Some of my favorite memories were of us eating very stale black licorice drops and laughing our heads straight off! He especially loved Elaine’s character and always said she was, “Such a nudnik.”  My dad thought everything was funny or absolutely not funny – there was no grey area in the funny department with him. There were a few things I remember that he did not find funny at all.

 I was kicked out of a Montessori preschool.

The classroom was on ground level and I guess I decided I was going to leave through the window. Though there was no real threat of imminent physical danger because there were soft lilies and organic parsley close by to catch my fall,  after my third attempt to escape my father was called in and we were asked to leave and given clear guidelines that I wasn’t allowed back. My dad was not laughing.

In kindergarten I threw a fork from a doll house at a peer of mine that barely missed his cornea, leaving a slight scar on his right temple. My parents had to leave work to get me and my dad was not laughing.

In first grade I got caught stealing Twinkies out of a girl’s lunch and once again my father had to leave his dental practice to scoop up his daughter. NOT laughing. 

Years later when I was visiting him in Florida my dad was watching me chase my youngest child while he continuously tried to catch a very perturbed Great Egret.  Once I finally grabbed a handful of shorts and body parts I turned to see AND hear my father laughing so hard he could barely breathe. Tears were streaming down his face; he was hunched over in his favorite leather chair holding his gut and cackling like a hyena. 

“I wish I could have taken a picture of that! You better watch out with that one – he may decide to climb out of a window some day.” He winked and then scooped up his grandson.

Just recently I was sitting on the couch enjoying one of my favorite Seinfeld episodes, The Sponge. After all this time and so many reruns I still love watching Elaine hem and haw and drive herself crazy over whether or not her boyfriend of choice is sponge worthy; it always cracks me up!During the commercials I scrolled through all the pictures I took from the first day of school on my phone and started to think about my dad and about what it is that makes something really funny and about all the reasons why we, as parents, choose to post some pictures and not others. Why do we click and post for one smile and not the other? There are so many moments worthy of pausing time, even for just a second. 

 The pictures I took of my kids did not even closely resemble all of the personality and perseverance it took to get those three lined up on our front porch before the bells rang. I looked deeply into the photo, into my children’s eyes, and realized the hour before that picture was taken was the true gift – or punishment – depends on your perspective! The sweat, the grit, the angst, the nerves and frustration that child number three put only Hershey kisses in his lunch or the madness of our new puppy potentially destroying the only copy I had of a receipt needed to retain a chrome book – those are the moments worthy of our attention and memories because we would not get through the whole alphabet without starting at letter A. 

When I was four years old my dad probably thought his future parenting goals were going to be paying my bail or retracting me out of a juvenile detention center and when I was thirty-four he thought my Montessori getaway was the funniest thing in the world.

It’s hard not to panic when our kids struggle and face fears. Watching our children make mistakes and pay the price is one of the hardest jobs a parent has to do; but, Maybe what makes something so funny and all around WORTH IT are all those things that happen between ‘I love you’ and ‘You’re grounded!’