Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I Love My Hairy Monkey

Leslie wanted to know how I did it. How I could possibly look my
husband in the eye, tell him some horribly insulting thing and still
stay married.

"For instance," she said, "if I were to say to My
Man, 'Your teeth are so small, they look like corn nuggets,' he would
divorce me. But that's something you say to your husband all the time."

I also tell him he has more forehead than face. And, in my more loving moods, I call him my "hairy monkey."

say these things because they are true, because they make me laugh and
because, if I didn't say them – or if I didn't feel as though I had the
space in my marriage to say them – I would lose my mind.

inner workings of other people's relationships will always be shrouded
in mystery. But I honestly can't understand how couples who don'tengage in marital mockery stay together.

So asked one of them.

and Jean not only seem to always be doting on one another (seriously,
it's kinda nauseating), but they draw their swords whenever someone
makes a move to rib the other.

"We've learned that, in public, we
present a united front," Chris explained. "We've done the thing where
you dig at each other in public; it can lead to real ugliness and hurt
feelings, and you don't always know when the other is joking. Plus,
when there is an audience there is always the temptation to play to the

Of course there is! What is marriage, if not a
lifelong contract for your own traveling variety show? I can't tell you
how jealous I was when Brill and Eric figured out a way to parlay their
ball-and-chain bon mots into a weekly podcast (
www.brillandericwatchtv.com). Why didn't we think of that?

Chris assured me that however lovey-dovey their public life was, their private one has a healthy dose of teasing.

have to be able to laugh at your spouse. That's what marriage is for.
They're supposed to point out when you're being an idiot," Chris said.

almost believed him, until he included the qualifier: "But we never do
it in a mean-spirited away. And we're always allowed with each other
and say 'Too mean.' "

Too mean?

When we began dating,
Hubby said, "You know, you could carve both your breasts out of your
butt and still have a butt left over." That, I believe, would qualify
as "too mean" in the Chris-and-Jean household.

me, the insult was both jaw-dropping, and – I'm sorry to say – true.
But it was also an opening salvo to what would become a lifelong battle
of wits.

It's not that we never say nice things to each other.
Hubby has lovely green eyes, and I always compliment his cooking and
parenting skills. He tells me I'm beautiful – even with my
proportionately enormous rear.

But we save some of our kinder
compliments for behind closed doors. (Not for nothing, Kevin once
correctly noted that I only called Hubby "Sweetie" when I am mad at
him.) Instead, we speak in a language of rapid-fire ridicule – some of
which I'd share, if this weren't a family newspaper.

attributes our divergent attitudes to the ways our different
relationships started: "We didn't have the Hepburn-Tracy thing you guys
had when you first started dating."

That's an awfully politic way
of putting it, but I think he does have a point. At the end of the day,
couples who mock each other publicly either 1) not-so-secretly hate
each other, or 2) love nothing more than to make the other person laugh.

still don't know what to make of couples that don't exchange witty
rejoinders; I'm just glad I'm not in one of them. Because, really, when
I tell Hubby that his son looks just like him – except cute – I can
count on that cracking him up.

And nothing brightens my day more than making Hubby smile – and show off those little corn nuggets.

"Sesame Street" Is On The Wrong Side Of Town

Mom asked me if I had heard the news. Of course I had heard the
news. I was just hoping that she hadn't heard the news, because I
really didn't want to talk about it.

In case you haven't
heard: Season One and Two of "Sesame Street," which aired in the early
70s, is now available on DVD – except, it's been deemed unacceptable
for preschool children. That's right: Adults only Muppets.

the censors had second thoughts about exposing toddlers to
misanthropes, over-eaters with weird junky-like tendencies, closeted
couples and 7-foot-tall talking birds who hallucinate about hairy,
earless elephants. Go figure.

Today's "Sesame Street," of which
I'm a regular viewer, stands in sharp contrast to the dingy, chaotic
(and infinitely more interesting) 'hood of my youth. I'm fairly strict
about TV viewing in my home, and so Zev only sees the new, improved
show about once a month. As for the "Seasame Street" I grew up on,
he'll have to wait until he's old enough to watch it on YouTube.

But I didn't really want to get into this with Mom.

yet, there I was. Aghast at the "Adults Only" rating on the old
episodes, Mom wanted to know my opinion. And she was not going to stop
asking until I gave it to her.

"They don't want kids to watch it because Cookie Monster eats cookies? How stupid is that?" Mom asked.

Pretty stupid, I guess. But that's not really what she wanted to know.

discomfort grandparents face in the light of that censors' sticker has
nothing to do with nostalgia or their loyalty to children's
programming. It's about them. And all the ways they profoundly mess us

Because, let's face it, it's not just that our parents
exposed us to one guy who ate cookies all day and another who lived in
a trashcan. It's that these guys – monsters by their own admission –
were called upon to babysit the vast majority of us in those glorious
latchkey times. And now, with our minds molded and personality
(disorders) permanently cemented, our parents are left wondering, "What
was I thinking?"

By some miracle, we have lived long enough to
have survived schoolyard taunts, teenage driving, teenage drinking,
college, early careers and – for some of us – parts of parenthood. And
now, our own parents are looking at the stressed-out, Prozac-popping,
ideologically confused lot of us, and they're trying to figure out what
they did wrong.

I went back to work too soon…. Not soon enough… I didn't pay enough attention to that detail…. I harped on this one….

kick in the gut of review-mirror parenting is a joy I have yet to
experience, but I can only image how many sleepless nights it will

So when some faceless censor tells Mom that today's
parents should know better than to hand over their kids to furry role
models with bad habits (Cookie Monster smokes – and then eats – a pipe
in one regular segment), I'm sure it has to sting a bit.

microwaving our food in melty Tupperware was probably not the best
move. Ditto, handing us Easy-Bake ovens (Ovens! As toys!). And maybe
some of our "children's shows" could have been saved for later years.
(Bambi's mom dies. That was the only thing I remember about my first
movie. Man, that was harsh.)

But if it's any consolation to Mom
and the other grandparents out there, I'm sure all that pales in
comparison to the myriad ways in which we are certainly messing up our
own children.

The evidence is already starting to mount: When
Aqua Dots were pulled off the shelf last month, we learned we were
lacing our kids with date rape drugs in their tainted toys. Take that,
razor-blades-in-our-apples generation!

Our kids are fatter and
more socially awkward than yours were. They are also more entitled and
less critical. Oh, and their parents spend countless hours (and
newspaper column inches) describing all of their current and predicted
shortcomings. So, really, it'll be a wonder if any of them make it to
adulthood without being virtually arrested for carpet bombing Second
Life cities or joining Chinese Lead Paint cults.

But, to answer
your question, Mom. Yes, I heard the news. And, yes, it makes sense to
me to keep Zev and his pals off the pre-Elmo "Seasame Street." But, no,
you weren't a bad mom. You done great. See? I made it. With nary a
single Easy Bake oven burn scar to show for it.

This column was brought to you today by the letters "O," and "K."

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Dress For My Man. My 2-Year-Old Man


I left the house the other
morning in a Thumper thermal under a Hello Kitty T-shirt, shoes bearing
embroidered monkeys and boy shorts covered in pink French poodles that
poked ever-so-slightly out of the top of my jeans. I was – as I realized
way too late – ridiculous-looking.

Ten years ago, when everyone
was dressing like children, with barrettes and Mary Janes, my duds would
have been adorably en vogue. But in this era of elegant circle dresses
and skinny jeans, I looked like an oversized Muppet who had lost her
way. A big doll that had somehow stumbled out of a kid’s playroom
and staggered into the street.

Of course, that’s exactly
what I am.

We women always dress for our
men (or our women, depending on our orientation – but you get the
idea). If the person we’re trying to impress mentions a passing fancy
for purple, we’ll raid a Prince reject sample sale just to supplement
our wardrobe. Tell us we look good in animal prints, and we’ll start
hunting our own pelts.

Unfortunately, the “man”
I’ve been trying to wow with my wardrobe thinks the height of haute
couture is not soiling your Elmo underpants. Consciously and not, I
have built up a wardrobe of cartoon-festooned clothes meant to impress
my toddler.

I have always had a soft spot
for whimsical T’s, but I kept it in check. A newsroom isn’t the
most formal setting in the world, so I could pair a Giant Robot T-shirt
with some wool pants and heels and give the bosses the illusion that
I’m both professional and “quirky,” or whatever.

Once Zev came along – and
I traded office life for Mommy and Me classes – the wool pants got
tossed aside, I kicked off the high heels and expanded my T-shirt collection
to include unicorns, Disney characters and an embarrassing number of

Zev now thinks he is my own
personal Rachel Zoe – vetoing sartorial choices and making bizarre
demands on my wardrobe. Some mornings, when he wakes up on the wrong
side of the crib, he’ll even throw a fit if I’m not wearing the
“right” nightshirt.

“Where is your pink Hello
Kitty shirt?” he sobs, refusing to get out of bed.

“It’s OK, Zev. The sun
still comes out no matter what I’m wearing,” I say – but mentally
I make a note to myself to do the laundry and start the day right tomorrow.

I still have enough adult clothes
in my closet to pull together a kinda grownup ensemble, whenever the
occasion demands it. But I fear “real” clothing is a dying breed,
getting increasingly gobbled up by monkeys. In fact, when I run through
my most recent purchases in my head, I can’t come up with anything
that isn’t emblazoned with simians, dwarves, fairies or robots.

If this continues, I’m going
to end up wearing pediatric nurse smocks with rainbow leggings and clown

I’ve started to notice that
the other moms at Zev’s preschool always look much more primped than
I do. And when I meet Keren for a play date with our sons, she sometimes
wears a dress. I have a dress, too. It’s covered in bright yellow
embroidered flowers. I bought it this summer for Zev’s birthday party.

As I drove to a play date in
my Thumper-Hello-Kitty-Monkey-Poodle ensemble, I started to get a little
down on myself. I never let my husband swallow up my identity; why am
I letting my son?

I got out of the car and carried
a sleeping Zev to Maayan’s front door. She opened it – wearing jeans,
sneakers and a T-shirt bearing the image of Grumpy.

“How are you?” she asked.

“Much, much better,” I
said. “Thank you.”

In Vegas, And All In (The Family)


Mom has tried her best to make
us all feel like a family. We’re a blended mishmash of adults –
children who each lost one parent at too young an age and watched with
tempered happiness as our remaining parent remarried. So it hasn’t
always been an easy fit.

For several years, Mom and
her husband have encouraged all of their children to sit respectfully
at each other’s tables, gathering for religious holidays and all five
of our babies’ birthdays. She has set us up on evenings out together,
encouraged us to seek advice from one another, facilitated the trading
of hand-me-downs. And over time, I have to say, we have gotten to feel
much closer.

Still, when faced with yet
another Thanksgiving crammed into Mom’s dining room with my 16-person
“family,” I contemplated mainlining tryptophan and sleeping through
the whole ordeal.

Thanksgiving was difficult
enough before Mom remarried. For a few years, the traditional turkey
side dishes included tongue. There never seemed to be enough room at
the table, and Mom usually spent more time thinking about the centerpieces
than the actual food.

Last year we got out of Thanksgiving
by spending it with Zev’s best friend, Aidan, and his parents at a
restaurant. No mess. No fuss. No marshmallow yams. This year, we one-upped
ourselves and headed to Vegas.

The plan was simple: Gather
Zev, Aidan and his parents, Mark and Keren, stick the whole lot of us
in a rented minivan and drive out to the desert for turkey and white

We would liberate ourselves
of so-so food and weird family dynamics and spend the weekend showing
Zev all the bizarre sights of Vegas with his best friend in tow. I started
looking forward to the road trip – however difficult I knew it would
be. And I was especially excited to spend Thanksgiving gobbling turkey
without having to do a lick of work. Best of all, we’d be in a small,
controlled group. Just six of us, able to have a conversation and attend
to our kids.

A few weeks before the trip,
Keren told us that she was bringing her nanny. And then that another
couple and their toddler would be joining us at the restaurant for dinner.
OK. Well, that’s a bit bigger than we had initially discussed, but
it’s still great. Hubby made the reservations for 10 people.

If you’ve ever balanced raw
eggs on the tip of a toothpick while trying to suppress a sneeze, then
you have some idea of what eating at a fancy restaurant with three toddlers
is like. At all times, at least one of the boys (usually mine) was being
ushered out into the artificial daylight of the “outdoor” shopping
area to prevent complete meltdowns. I had to spend all my parental capital
before the meal arrived just to ensure that Zev’s dinner didn’t
consist entirely of walnut bread and olive oil. If there were conversations
going on, I didn’t catch any of them.

At 10 p.m., with Zev still
undecided about whether to eat his fistful of turkey or throw it at
Aidan, I called Mom to check in.

“Thanksgiving was nice. It’s
over, though. Everyone left,” she said, sounding relaxed. She told
me some of the highlights and ran down the list of people who came –
a list that was suspiciously short.

“Wait,” I said, “Where
were Galit and Bruce and the twins? And where were Lilac’s parents?”

It seems we weren’t the only
people who thought it best to avoid the madness of the holiday by heading
out of town. Mom told me that the bulk of her usual dinner guests all
fled north this year.

All of us, she said, were in

“Wait,” I said. “They’re
all here?”

I could hear her try not to
laugh over the phone.

I thought only Hubby and I
would think to seek sanctuary in one of the most dizzying places on
Earth. That only we would consider the open-all-night, anything-goes
madhouse that is Las Vegas a suitable place to get a little peace and

Instead, the majority of our
blended clan concocted the identical plan, scheming to avoid being in
the exact same place … by being in the exact same place.

No wonder Mom laughed: It must
run in the family.

Happy Holidays. Here's A Big Box Of Nothing.

Before my birthday one year, my grandmother sent me a brown paper
package containing a present and a note. I can't remember what was in
the package, but I remember the note quite well. In it, she told me
that this would be the last birthday gift I would ever get from her.

was a teenager, too old to be getting birthday presents, she explained.
Besides, she had so many grandkids (and was starting to have
great-grandkids) that it was just no longer reasonable for all of us to
expect lovely brown paper packages each time the Earth spun around the

That's it. Store's closed.

She worded it quite
sensibly, and I didn't take it personally. But I do remember thinking
that I was being penalized for the fact that I had so many cousins –
something that was really beyond my control. Why not just scale down
our presents – scarves instead of sweaters – rather than do away with
them altogether? I didn't get it.

Now I do.

Every year,
through the miracles of births and marriages and new friendships, our
holiday shopping list grows and grows and grows. We're blessed to have
so many people in our lives – particularly so many young children.
Unfortunately, our bank account isn't similarly blessed.

and I wandered into a kids' boutique recently and found some
ridiculously adorable clothes – Harley-Davidson wear for 6-month-old
Louey. A Baby Phat outfit for Zev's little cousin, Natalie. Princess
gear for Noa and Mia. Trucks for Aidan and Jonah (and Zev, of course).
Stuff for the twins and for the other cousins. Plus there are the three
babies who hatched in the last three months – they should probably get
some Hanukkah and Christmas presents. Ah! And I can't forget Will and
Olivia (though I'm at a loss for what to get a 14-year-old boy).

there are the birthdays: My sister's birthday is coming up. As are
Jeff's and Brill's and Hubby's and Yvette's. Sylvia will be turning 1

I walked around the store, arms laden with absolutely
perfect – and perfectly expensive – presents and started to do the
math. I was never good at accounting, but I'm fairly certain you don't
want minus signs in front of your numbers.

I noticed a
toddler-sized Guess outfit. And a dress that was selling for more than
I paid for my shoes. When I spotted a baby-size fur coat that I'm not
entirely sure was faux, I put down everything I had been holding.

"This is not going to happen," I said to myself. I walked out of the store.

have never had a problem with the commercialization of the holiday
season. I'm a Jewish girl from Southern California, so Christmas never
meant much more to me than candy canes with my Hanukkah gelt and
pictures – just pictures, mind you – of snow.

I have always
loved giving (and getting) holiday presents, and prided myself on
finding just the right doodad for every person on my list. But that was
back when my list was much, much smaller.

A few days after my
nonshopping excursion, I talked to a friend who does PR for a major
gaming manufacturer. He said people were buying as many electronics
this year as they ever did before – except everything has been scaled
down: Blenders instead of plasma screen TVs, DVDs instead of DVD

"Scarves instead of sweaters," I thought to myself.

the economy of scaling down doesn't mean much when you're buying in
bulk: Seven $10 presents are still more expensive than one $50. I
thought about baking my holiday presents (that's something my PR friend
has been doing for years – with much success). But I don't bake, and
getting something that came from my oven would be a treat for no one. I
also don't sew, knit, draw or paint.

So this year, to celebrate
the holidays, all the adults in my life can expect the only other thing
I can offer: nothing. Yes, friends and family, your kids will be
getting lovely presents, but you … well, aren't we getting too old for
this whole gift exchange thing?

That's it. Store's closed.

Happy holidays.