Home Semi-Sweet Home

Damn. Damn. Damn. I’m nearly a half of a century old..when will I get use to this?  Depression is setting in, and there isn’t enough chocolate in the universe to reverse thrusters.  I am a simmering stew of dread.  Vacation is over.  We’re home.

A couple of blogs ago I wrote about our seashore tradition, a multi-generational , century-plus old trek to the Jersey shore, Sea Isle to be exact.  As it is written, we pulled into town singing, “Sea Isle City Here We Come”, windows down, everyone taking in big gulps of the marshy air. Excitement vibrating our old minivan, the van we did not plan to take, did not service or gas up, because, once again we weren’t going to take it. We are never taking the van on trips , until we start loading the Jeep, and realize our  boys will never last sitting in each others laps all the way to the shore, resulting in a miserable journey of complaining and bloodshed.  I would prefer sharing my seat with a fire extinguisher in my lap for the engine fire that I am sure we are headed for, then listen to them bitch and moan.  Every vacation in recent years starts with this packing, unpacking and repacking ritual, until we pull away in Ol’ Bessie, fingers crossed she’ll get us there one more time.  She did, there and back, God Bless the old silver girl.

We had the usual wonderful week.  The weather was grand, long days on the beach surrounded by family, the kind you enjoy being around. Lots of laughter and silliness. A shared lifetime of memories.  A new baby to  squeeze. Cheeks Chura, you send me, World’s Most Kissable Baby.  I promised myself I would not miss a sunrise, and I didn’t. No small feat, due to the fact I was introduced to a fabulous invention, a Margarita in a bag!  Simply freeze, take to beach, squeeze into a plastic cup and suck with straw!  The shore is the only place you can get away with drinking before noon, without raised eyebrows and someone suggesting counseling to you.  I stumbled to the sunrise each morning and watched in awe, clearly a rookie , as the morning soldiers were jogging by me, ears plugged with music, focused straight ahead.  I sat, mouth agape watching the sky turn gorgeous shades of orange as God woke up the shore.  A daily diet of whatever we felt like eating, whenever we felt like eating it.  Lots of delicious shore tomatoes and melons along with way to much pizza, hoagies and fries. Burp.  Gatherings at the various homes of family, more drinks and laughter, and  a night on the town with a great live band and *gasp* dancing. I haven’t danced with Joe in years, I love music, but these two left feet dance best at home, alone.  Home is where I am a most fabulous dancer, in the kitchen, while chopping vegetables. Not in public, surrounded by young hipsters. Nonetheless, the spirit was moved, and we danced like it was 1984, two crazy college kids in love again.  Sigh.  I told myself it was one of the best years ever and I would be grateful for it, not sad.  I’m sad.

My post vacation  mental state is nothing new.  When I was a child I would cry leaving Sea Isle, turned completely around in my seat in the back of the Chevy Impala, watching the morning sun bounce off the ocean one last time.  It looked exactly as it did the week before when we entered, except now it was the saddest sight  ever.  Fast forward several decades, and I’m still crying, only on the inside. I still watch the ocean disappear, stealing glances in the side mirror.  I chat up the kids , feigning cheeriness.  “Such a great week!” “See you next year!”  Yeah right, come Monday I will be returning to work, fully shell shocked, ticking off  the “I can’t believes” and the “this time last weeks” in my mind. ” I can’t believe I am at this traffic light when this time last week I was on the beach, sucking a delicious cocktail from a bag”.  “I can’t believe I am listening to this surgeon complain when this time last week, I was twinkle-toes Tessie with a live horn section blasting in my ears”

Ugh.  I was really going to try for gratitude this year.  Oh, well.sea isle sunrise

Formerly Informed, Or, You’ve Got the Wrong Girl, Finally.

Today, like nearly every other day in the past 15 years, found me in the middle of a conversation that starts something like this..”Hey Tess!  What did you think of that rat bastard, (insert any polarizing figure in the news) and that horrible thing he/she said? That crazy Senator? President? Communist Dictator? Did you see that? Whew- wee, what a mess, the world’s a freaking mess. Right Tess? Right?”  ZZZzzzzzzzz…huh? What?  Oh, I’m sorry but you have mistaken me for someone that has an opinion. You’ve got the wrong girl, finally.

I can’t really blame the questioner, I brought it all on myself. Years and years of reading  newspapers, magazines, watching the news nightly placed me in the company of like minded folks.  We were informed to say the least. My father taught me at a young age to beware the bias of the printed word, to read the news from the ” left” and the “right” and know that the truth lies somewhere in between. I started every day armed with information, good and bad, but mostly bad. Death tolls rolled off my tongue, a grim reaper of sorts who became more than slightly annoyed with the folks who had no clue..”I didn’t know there was a plane crash/ an earthquake/ Saadam was captured..” etc. How do you people live your lives I thought..and oh my God, these people vote. Idiots.

The advent of  24 hour cable news was like sticking the needle in the vein.  I was done. The nightly news was a dim memory, like that silly little joint we passed around in the dorm room..child’s play now. CNN, MSNBC and FOX all day, all night. I fell asleep to the 2nd showings of O’Reilly, Hannity and Greta every single night..after watching the first showings. Joe would implore me to turn it off, “how can you stand the shouting?” ..he hated it..and would stalk off to watch Food Network, leaving me alone in the bedroom with my little meth news lab.. I’m pretty sure this broke every rule of “How to keep your marriage fresh and sexy”.but I didn’t care, shush it , Al Sharpton and O’Reilly were getting ready to slug it out. My people would need me in the morning for updates, talking points, a little lunch table quid pro quo. Sometimes I even took notes on the more complicated subjects, wouldn’t want to fall from my soapbox in disgrace, had to be sharp. Ask Tess..she’ll know.

I was becoming an angry, middle aged woman who I didn’t want to hang out with anymore.

So, cold turkey it was. A shockingly painless withdrawal as I simply replaced the bad news with good news. Beautiful words, photography, art and poetry became my news of the day. I’m no Snow White, don’t get me wrong. I have already revealed some of my many shortcomings in prior blog entries, but being a rabid news fanatic, I am proud to report, is no longer one of them. I was pushing my grocery cart through the flipping store the other day and overheard two women, looked to be pushing 80 years old, complaining loudly….”isn’t it just awful..you can’t trust anyone anymore’..”I don’t trust anyone”.  How sad.  Thanks ladies for the reminder. I am choosing trust and the belief that there are more good folksImage than bad out there….shut off the damn news and you just might find a few .

Me, Myself and I

They’re gone. They’ve all left. I’m alone, so very, very alone….can I hear an “AMEN” my brothers and sisters? Alleluia, Alleluia. This little prelude to joy started four days ago when Joe nonchalantly dropped the “I’m thinking of taking the boys on a guys trip to the beach this weekend” bomb. My heart leaping from a chest, my trachea clogged, I played it cool, clearing my throat..”oh, really?, without me? I’m not invited?” .  He saw right through me,  grinning at this woman he has been married to for 24 years, together for 30 years, parenting with for nearly 15 years..and said “nope, just us men”.  I don’t know if I have ever loved him more than at that precise moment. 

If you have been following along on this little blog, you may have picked up on the fact that my boy’s summer vacation is not exactly a vacation for me. I hear other mothers heralding the start of summer, no more school worries, lazy days by the pool, multiple fabulous trips with the family..how wonderful for them. I am in the other group, the ones who slog off to work every single day, hoping their hormonely  confused teen and preteen sons don’t kill each other or burn the house down cooking their ramen noodles. Don’t forget to let the dogs out and in, remember to shut the refrigerator door…etc. You get the not so perfect picture. It’s right about this time every year that I rue the fact that I didn’t pursue a teaching career, Facebook is full of my teacher friends sharing their summer adventures, and lamenting every sunset that brings them closer to their jobs…boo hoo.  But, then I remember that I would probably have lost my teaching job by now, because surely I would have slapped a kid or a parent by now..so choosing nursing was best. We always win the battle with a belligerent patient at work..it’s called general anesthesia, works wonders. So, the summer belches along, highs and lows marking the timeline. This weekend , the needle is most definitely hitting the “ding!ding!ding!” on the  Tessie Mood Meter, for I have been gloriously abandoned.   

Listening to the men pack this morning from my supine position under the comforter was interesting. I tried very hard to not supervise, but I knew not one of them would bring a toothbrush or a bar of soap if I didn’t croak out the reminder. I implored Joe to feed them at regular intervals ,as their bowl of Cheerios wouldn’t last until 7pm tonight, and the mood swings would destroy their fun, and truthfully, I was fearing a “I’ll turn this bus around and head home ” in the car moment if moods went south..thus destroying, *gasp*, the me, myself and I weekend I have planned. I did run a hairbrush out to the van before they pulled away as one last dedicated act of motherhood, and saw it unceremoniously tossed in the back, “here guys, Mom thinks you’re going to brush your hair, hahaha!”. I’m sure I will be picking that brush up Monday, right where it landed. Honestly guys, I would never utter this aloud, but I don’t really care if you even wipe yourselves this weekend, scratch and burp away, good on ya!  Momma just punched out.

Oh, where to begin? This uninterrupted blogging was a lovely start. There’s also something about using the powder room bathroom with the door open that is very liberating too, if not confusing for my Labs..with the “what in the hell are you doing in our water bowl?”  looks on their faces. MY music blasting from the ipod, dancing and singing in the living room, Feeding MYSELF whatever and whenever I want. A long walk.  A long bubble bath, a cliche that never fails,  with a book. Kicking the dogs off the “good” couch, turning the cushions over to the guest side, and sprawling there…the possibilities are vast. 

Oh, and the best part of all of a ME weekend?  The moment when they return, and I see a glimpse of the  little boys in them that they once were..the unrestrained smiles, fleeting as they are now, when they first see me.  It is an expression that can’t be faked, and I know it well. It is the same expression I use to see every day at school pick-up or when i arrived home from work, two little boys rushing the front door, so happy to see me, arms outstretched, me lifting them off the ground for huge hugs. Oh, crap, I miss them already. Image

A Seashore Tradition

My marking of time has never been January to January like normal humans, but rather by my families annual trek to the Jersey Shore, Sea Isle City to be exact. One hundred and fourteen years ago my Irish great- grandparents boarded trains in Philadelphia with their children, lockers full of food and booze, and headed south escaping the dirt and heat of the city. Next week , I will grab my kids, food and booze and head north from Baltimore to meet my extended family, all descendants of those Irish Greats, dozens of us, still carrying the Sea Isle torch. This is my 48th summer of attendance, my father’s 76th, we aren’t playing when we say tradition. 

Sea Isle Eve was bigger than Christmas in my home, my brother, sister and I  so excited we couldn’t sleep, knowing my Dad would be in before sunrise to waken us ..”have to beat the traffic, get on the road! An early 1970’s style of vacation packing would ensue, rope holding our suitcases to the roof of a Chevy Impala, bathing suits, check, flipflops, check. Not much else, check.  Dad would toss his unsecured children in the back seat, Mom riding shotgun, and we would leave our dark neighborhood, my friends still asleep..I always felt like the Von Trappes sneaking out of Austria. Oh, the adventure. We bounced around in the backseat, taking turns sleeping in the rear window dash, or on the floor,(seatbelts?) stopping for me to throw up, at least once. Who cared, our enthusiasm was bigger than motion sickness, though I’m sure my poor Mom has a different story to tell, cleaning up vomit probably not her idea of a good vacation time. Once over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, we were home free, passing the landmarks that are still there, very little has changed on that stretch of Rt. 40 in fifty years. I am still pointing out the same ones that my Dad enthusiastically did..the GIANT cowboy! The GIANT rocking chair! My kids are probably rolling their eyes at me in their safely secured backseats at this point, but, I don’t care, it’s tradition. show the proper respect to the cowboy, or risk a deduction of your arcade money.

Arriving in Sea Isle was like entering the Emerald City.  We would hit the little bridge,that led into town, belting out “Sea Isle City, Here we come!” to the tune of California, here we come..and at the top of the bridge…THE OCEAN…sparkling in the morning light. No words to describe that feeling in a child who three hours before, (seemed much longer) was leaving her little street of row homes in the dark. The excitement of seeing cousins only seen in Sea Isle, the freedom about to bestowed..joy. Our parents enjoyed the camaraderie with their generation as much as their kids, consequently we didn’t see much of them. We ran the town, barefoot, cleaned only by saltwater, feral. We stayed in a seaside motel, our extended family occupying all the units,  no A/C, sandy, vinyl furniture that stuck to your sweaty skin, heaven. We swam all day, played outside in the dark, catching the frogs that lived around the motel, won fabulous arcade prizes, like giant, blow-up bottles of scotch..aah.. politically incorrect 1970, you were funny. 

Sea Isle has changed, just a little. All the crazy, fun Greats have passed on, but their spirits are everywhere, their memories will be evoked during our week, as always. We have a wide range of accommodations to choose from, A/C and furniture we don’t stick to. The town’s main drag is still only two lanes, cozy and easy for my kids to navigate. The torch is being passed, does my heart good to see them run the town , like we did, like my father did, like his mother did. Happy New Year to our clan!Image

Oh, goody. Only seven more weeks of summer


look mom musclesOh, goody. Only seven more weeks of summer vacation left for the kids. Shoot me now.  Seriously, just shoot me.  I’m working on a new record this year, I was just accused of child neglect by my 12 year old, just 3 weeks in to the annual summer debacle. usually the wheels fly off around week 5. Apparently, my kids made an emergency call to their beloved Grannie Frannie today, while I was at work, to report that they were being starved to death by their heartless parents.  Their cry for help was immediately answered by their 100% Italian grandmother, who put the pedal to the metal and showered them with food, love and concern, Con artists. Oh boy, it’s going to be a long summer.  i can’t believe she fell for it, the Mom I grew up with would have said “have a bowl of cereal” as she left for work-which is exactly what I said when I left for work.  She’s gone soft. I’m digging in, going old school this summer.

See, I have never figured out how to operate in this new world of parenting we live in, even though I have been it for 14 years.  I have spent the majority of those years shaking my head at what I perceive as competitive parenting, a new sport pitting parents against each other in the race to form the perfect child as fast as possible. Children don’t play, they have “activities”, these activities need to be varied, exposing them to a vast array of the cultures and arts, preferably starting twenty seconds after conception.  Parents immerse themselves in every aspect of their child’s life, planning and plotting every move, arranging “play dates”  and  jockeying for their kid’s position in the “who’s who” of pre-k. Miss your child’s baseball game?  Oh, hell no.

Summer has become an exercise of structured, enrichment activities, followed by devastating lows and lulls, during which kids have no idea what the heck to do. I  personally think that the child labor laws need to be revisited. I remember when I was about 13 years old and hanging outside with my friends on a sticky summer day (no one stayed inside..there was nothing to do in there) and my Dad called out to me..”Hey! I got you a job! You start tonight!” Pleased as punch with himself, not a detectable trace of sadness that his   baby girl would not be skipping rope with her friends that summer.  My first job. Two hours later, I was standing over a huge sink, washing dishes in a seafood restaurant, the sink was positioned directly over huge pots where the crabs were steamed…it was a hot, miserable, disgusting job. The boys who steamed the crabs would occasionally throw a live crab in my dishwater when I wasn’t watching, just  to add terror to the whole experience. Sometime after midnight, I would drag my exhausted, very smelly, somewhat stunned self to the owner who would be counting the register,..a 300 lb  -plus man, he sat on a little stool with a cigar in his mouth..I’ll never forget him. He would stop counting the largest stack of bills I had ever seen just long enough to growl at me..”You wanna get paid? Did you do a good job?”  I would nod ‘yes’ and he would peel off  twenty under the table dollars. Jackpot. I was hooked. It was a fine enrichment activity, one I would love to arrange for my children, except now it’s called child abuse.  Puhleeze..time to put these strong boys to work..who’s hiring?

Small Steps To A Giant Leap?

Hey, if you’re the type who thinks nothing of jumping into the underwater cage to get an up close shot of the Great White Shark barreling towards you with his jaws open, or  are signing up for tight-roping lessons this week, because that Wolenda Grand Canyon thing just looked so do-able to you, then you might want to close your laptop now, cause my little adventure today might be just what you need to skip the sleeping pill tonight. 

It has come to my attention recently how little I know about the natural world, and have been determined to put myself in it, or as close to it as possible without being eaten by a bear. Last month I climbed up on the beautiful BullWinkle, a big, brown horse (sorry horsey people, the only horse name I know is a Clydesdale, and only because of the beer commercials.), something I hadn’t done since I was thrown on the back of a horse at my summer day camp, and “Sunshine”  headed straight into Baltimore City traffic. I was 12 years old and terrified..it took me 36 years to climb back up. No one should wait 36 years to do something they want to do, how stupid of me. Riding on BullWinkle on a beautiful trail in West Virginia with deer grazing gently nearby was joyous, I had to fight to play it cool, because I was bursting at the seams the entire ride. It was a nice, slow pace, but in my mind I was Lady Godiva, only with my clothes on. There’s always next time. 

So today’s adventure brought me and the family to a lake and a waiting Kayak instructor. A patient, wonderful teacher who screams outdoors.  A man, who when camping, tells his wife to go back to sleep while bears circle their tent at night..no biggie. Once again, I felt the joy rising in my throat, but played it cool. This man guides people through the Florida Everglades, has been feet away from gators and grizzlies..but I showed my hand when I squealed with glee when he said we would be passing a beaver lodge on our paddle.  I am not afraid of the water, I can swim, but my fear of tipping over and not being able to climb back in my kayak has kept me on the shores of lakes and bays for years, watching people glide by me. I dreamed of being them. How stupid. Today I put my stupid ass in that kayak. I imagined the astronauts stepping outside the spacecraft with those tethers holding them to the Mother Ship. You’re laughing at me, I know..but it’s true, I felt that brave and alive paddling my own kayak on that beautiful lake today. If you fall out, the instructor said,which you won’t, but if you do, you just swim to shore.  Oh, yeah, the shore..it’s right there, how stupid of me, it’s always been there. Image