2014 Family Update

IMG_4434Happy New Year!

2014 marked an unprecedented time when Matthew (now 8) and Sabrina, (now 6), and I (now 41), were all on the same page: Each of the three of us lost teeth. Not to complain, but the tooth fairy played favorites, reimbursing the kids up to 5 dollars per tooth and leaving me with only a fair amount of pain and a renewed enthusiasm for flossing.

For his part, Ivan held on to all of his teeth. Also, he continued to work full time as a corporate lawyer while maintaining his part-time gig as a personal shopper for himself. This year’s acquisitions were very fedora focused but he assures me that his collection of 25 or so (completely different!) fur felt fedoras is now complete. In 2015, from the look of our most recent Amex bill, I anticipate a trend toward cow hide.

Sabrina, without even one fedora, has pretty much everything.  She has her own room. She has long hair.  She has one grandmother who buys her endless quantities of make up, jewelry, and all things Frozen, and another grandmother who supplies her with countless “Chapter Books” which she reads with a fair amount of genuine enthusiasm tinged with just a touch of “Did you know I can read chapter books?” attitude.

Despite the extensive spoiling she has suffered at the hands of her parents and grandparents Sabrina has still managed to develop a keen appreciation for the value of money as illustrated by the very first use of her allowance when she paid her brother to stop annoying her.

Life is good for 8 year old Matthew, too. He’s doing well in school. His best friend lives in our building. He scored a couple goals in soccer this season and he has become a fearless and accomplished skier. Getting Matthew to acknowledge any of this is a little tricky, however, because he thinks I lost his pencil sharpener and I won’t let him get a turtle.

Matthew still plans to become a construction worker when he grows up but has recently expressed an interest in becoming President of the United States so that he never has to wait in traffic.

I had a good year, too. When I wasn’t visiting the dentist, I was doing other things like going to French class and trying to increase my blog following to over 10 people. In October, I briefly shook hands with Brad Pitt at the movie premiere of Fury. I enjoyed the night, as did Ivan. Perhaps the only disappointment of the evening involved our brief encounter with one of the movie’s producers, who was wearing a fedora. No matter that he was particularly unfriendly, like he didn’t really want to be chatting with some randoms from New Jersey, but his fedora was fashioned from wool felt. In case you didn’t know, wool is a step below rabbit which is a step below nutria. That hat had no business being on the red carpet.

In short, we have left 2014 alive, well, and with our unfounded sense of superiority/inferiority intact.

Wishing you all the best!

Much love,
Molly 🙂

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Elsa’s Chilly Reception

IMG_3732It’s Halloween in 2014.  For girls in my neighborhood this is known as “Dress up like Elsa Day.”

According to this report published on CBS8.com, “Frozen” Halloween costumes were the “hottest” this year.  According to this info pic published on the Huffington Post, my home state of New Jersey led the Frozen charge.  Having just gotten back from my children’s Halloween parade I can confirm the accuracy of these reports.  The classes were marching at 50% Frozen this year (as was I, having forgotten to wear a proper winter coat).

Amid this flurry of Frozen exuberance, I have also noticed a related, countervailing trend.  No one who is not a girl under age 9 can say “Elsa” without an obligatory eyeroll and a weary sigh.

When, we wonder, are they going to Let it Go?  

To cope with this Frozen Fatigue, social media has generated a solution in the form of a drinking game. Each time you see a little blonde in frosted blue tonight, Drink!

As someone who tried unsuccessfully to give her daughter an Elsa doll for her sixth birthday last June, I understand some of the Elsa hate.  After hours of fruitless searching, handfuls of my own (dyed) blonde hair were on the floor as I clicked on and purchased: the Elsa juice glass, the Elsa dinner plate, and the Elsa silverware set (i.e. all the Frozen merchandise available at the time).

As a result, I spent more money on Frozen stuff than I would have if the doll had been available.   Worse still, I only managed to fuel my daughter’s desire for the real Elsa doll which, not surprisingly, remained out of stock.  I was reminded of this fact at each Frozen themed mealtime when my daughter (who admittedly did love the Frozen tableware) wondered why Disney managed to make enough Elsa juice glasses but ran out of Elsa dolls.

I wasn’t ready to explain the chilling truth.  We were being manipulated!

In the months that followed, I continued to be compelled by the perception that Frozen items were “scarce” despite their obvious ubiquity.  I purchased Frozen napkins, Frozen stickers, and the Frozen movie in many different formats.  Then finally, finally I bought the Elsa doll herself when she suddenly was made available (and in great abundance) everywhere.

Still not convinced that there could ever be enough Elsa to go around, I secured a deluxe Elsa Halloween costume for my daughter in August, by hiring a friend to make one.

Now of course it is clear that my worry was unfounded.  The girl who was once so “hard to get” is available at all times and for all people.  We have all the Elsa we could possibly want.  So why do we resent her?  Why don’t we want our girls to want to be Elsa?

The anti-Elsa movement is probably inspired by contempt for the Disney franchise itself, contempt which is understandable.  As described above, the Disney corporation is more adept at creating demand for its product than meeting that demand.  Plus, thanks to its so-called “FAST PLAY” DVDs, countless years of the average parent’s life have been sucked away in the vain attempt to get to the feature presentation without watching 30 minutes of previews.

No, I don’t love Disney.  But I do appreciate Elsa.  Of the available cartoon role models, she is a pretty awesome one.  She is cold and misunderstood, yes.  And she almost kills her sister and everybody when she loses her temper etc.  But unlike the other princesses, Elsa is independent, loving, and willing to change.  And, as has been harped upon repeatedly, Elsa is not focused on finding her Prince.

I think there is a little more to the Elsa hate though.  This comes from reluctance in adults to see our kids wanting to be like everyone else.  We want them to be exceptional students, exceptional athletes, and “exceptional,” period.  We want them to be the kid who came up with the creative costume that made all the adults say, “Wow! How original!”

I support the impulse to be unique.  But when kids want to fit in by being “Elsa” who is the closest a cartoon can get to being a modern, liberated woman (with frozen powers!).  I like that too.

It kind of gives me chills.

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When It Pays To Be Damaged

IMG_3529A few months ago someone crashed into the front bumper of my parked car.  My car was situated perfectly between the lines of the parking space.  (In other words, I was not culpable and I was not “asking for it.”)

Much to my surprise, the woman who caused the damage made the effort to find me.  She accepted responsibility for the accident and called her insurance company immediately.  Much to my greater surprise, her insurance company agreed to pay for the repair and sent me a check almost immediately.

The check lay on my desk for weeks as I continued to drive the damaged car.  It still drove perfectly and didn’t look that damaged. I was in no rush to get the car fixed because that would mean I would be without the car for a few days.

When I finally did schedule the appointment with the body shop, I presented the insurance check to my husband for his endorsement.  Looking up from his Blackberry for a moment, he looked at the check and asked, “Why don’t we just keep the money?”

He said this like it was the mandate of common sense.

We owned the car. We had sustained a loss. We had been compensated for the loss. We would be in our rights to do whatever we wanted with the money.

 

Furthermore, there really was nothing fundamentally wrong with the car.  It didn’t look perfect but it was still a basically beautiful vehicle.  And who was I to insist that it look perfect on the outside when, at any given moment, the inside would be encrusted with a paste of cheez-its and gummy worm smegma?

Considering all of this, I acknowledged that there were any number of better uses for the money.  We could save it, donate it to charity, or use it to purchase a decent handbag and real leather shoes…

But I wanted to fix the car. Putting the money to any other use just seemed wrong.

But why? Why did I feel so compelled to get the car fixed?

It wasn’t just because, as a NJ resident, I have a familial attachment to my car. (And I do.  Only for family would I ever invest the time necessary to learn to park properly.)

It wasn’t because I felt an obligation to the insurance company, either.  Their payment to us was not contingent on our promise to fix the car. (While I almost failed Contracts in law school,  I did learn that the point of monetizing damages was to dodge the trouble associated with demanding specific performance.)

Nope.  I think it has to do with something a little more subtle.

As a former prosecutor and as someone who occasionally watches the news, I have spent a lot of time lamenting how so many problems can never be addressed adequately.  Often when somebody has been badly hurt, there is no way to make that person whole. There is no way to restore them to the place they were before the incident happened.

But when the body belongs to an auto, and it’s only the bumper at stake, that just isn’t the case.  This repair was possible, even if it wasn’t necessary.  So of course I was compelled to get the car fixed.  One doesn’t get too many opportunities to make things right.  It would be wrong to pass up such a chance.

So friends, that’s what hit me this morning, when I picked up my gleaming, “good as new,” beloved car today at the auto body shop.  I am happy to report that nothing else did.

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Ukuleles Beware!

IMG_3429Once when I was ten years old or so, my mom tried to teach me how to play the ukulele.  She had trouble getting the ukelele to play in tune.  So she smashed it to the ground.

* * *

That’s how I used to tell the story.  I punctuated it with a “Wait till you get a load of this…” exaggerated elbow jab and an incredulous “So you think your mom was crazy?”

Now that I have children, and as I stand among the various smithereens I have made or felt like making,  I remember the story a little differently.

* * *

Once when I was ten years old or so, I found a ukulele that belonged to my mother.  I thought it was cool and it looked easy enough (after all my mom could do it) and so I asked her if she would teach me.

She said, “Sure.”

This, I understood to mean that she would teach me as soon as possible.  And as soon as possible meant basically right that second.

She managed to put me off for a couple of hours because I think she might have been doing something. (But what really could she have been doing?  I was ten and could basically take care of myself.  My brother was twelve.  My sister was three.  My mother was in some graduate school thing but it seemed a lot less stressful than the fifth grade.)

I kept asking.

I wanted to know exactly when we were going to do the ukulele. And I wanted to know when!  And as long as we were talking about when, why is it that it couldn’t be right now?

So she took me to the living room.  We sat at the piano for a couple minutes while she tried to tune the 4 strings of the ukulele.    The first three strings didn’t give her much of a problem.  I watched, bouncing beside her waiting “patiently” for the forever it seemed to be taking her.

The last string, the A string, was a little more obstinate.  I don’t have the best pitch so forgive my approximation here, but the string was supposed to sound like a “Ping!”  (The A above Middle C, I think.)  To get this pitch in her ear she would strike the “A” on the piano.  She would hear the Ping!   While this note was still ringing in the air, she’d pluck the A string on the ukulele.

“Pang.” It was closer to A flat.

So she twisted the little knob on the ukulele, hit the A on the piano, “Ping!” and plucked the A string again.

“Pang.” Now it was closer to B flat

This Pinging and Panging went back and forth a couple of times.  I could see that we were headed down a pretty frustrating road so I tried to say, “Maybe we should do it tomorrow?”

My mom, having just “panged” one more time, made it clear that this would not be happening.  In fact, she said something like,

“You wanted to do it today.  Right now. Today. So we are doing it now or we are never doing it.  And if I can’t get it tuned on this next try, that’s it.  We’re finished with the ukulele.”

There was one more “Ping!” and one more “Pang.”  Then there were about 15 pieces of ukulele on the floor.

Looking back now, having spawned an even more impatient version of myself who just can’t understand why we can’t simultaneously construct a Lego alien village, while operating a kid’s wood working lathe that was advertised as “completely safe” for 7 year olds but turned out to be an actual lathe that could grind off a finger as easily as a dowel, while making Jello, chocolate muffins, and banana bread—I see this story differently.  Her reaction seems pretty normal now.

While I never learned to play the ukulele, she did sign me up for cello lessons.  Amazingly, we all survived that.  Including the cello.

 

 

 

 

 

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You Get What You Get

IMG_3364Twelve weeks ago I sent in a coupon to get an ice cream making attachment for my Kitchen Aid professional stand alone mixer.   I sent in for the ice cream making attachment because even though for the last 4 months my stand alone mixer has done nothing but stand alone near some unread cookbooks,  I figured that the ice cream making attachment would be just the thing to get me going on my plan to cook more with my kids.

Also it was free.  It was supposed to arrive in 6-8 weeks.

A couple days ago I received a spatula in the mail.  It was enclosed within a small, white bubble-wrapped envelope with the note stating in essence, “Please accept this gift. The item you requested is out of stock.”

It was a sturdy spatula.  The tag attached to this “pie server for professional results”  boasted of its stainless steel construction,  its “one year hassle-free warranty”  as well as its “limited lifetime warranty.”  The tag did not elaborate on the difference between the two warranties nor did it articulate what hassles could be expected with the second warranty that would not be associated with the first.

This got me to thinking about how, if ever, a spatula could malfunction.  What would need to happen for me to redeem the warranty?  Could I say I was dissatisfied with the spatula because of the way it did not make ice cream?

Probably.  I bet the company would give me no hassle at all.

I bet they would give me another spatula.

In short, words often don’t work the they way we’d like them to. Requests are ignored.  Guarantees promise nothing other than to make you feel like you have a guarantee.  There is a lot of writing without a lot of meaning.  You kind of wonder whether anyone wants to listen.

All the more reason to use fewer words and to bake more pies.

 

 

 

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Faring Well With Summer

IMG_2948My mom tells me that my blog posts are too long.

She is right.

With my opening post of the school year I’ll be brief.

The summer is over. I did not manage, as I had hoped, to encourage my children to read, to cultivate better manners, to improve on their math skills, expose them to music.  My plans were left by the wayside along with a stack of Kumon workbooks “accidentally” misplaced about 3 hours after their purchase.

This is what we did do:  We visited a lot of family relatives. We went to a lot of amusement parks. We consumed a lot of artificial food additives. We watched a lot of T.V.  We had a lot of fun.

This approach, though like totally un-academic, was not without its lessons. For example, one night I tried to tell my son it was too late to watch another SpongeBob show before bed and he quickly retorted “No, It’s only 7:02. We’ll be done by 7:24. Episodes are 22 minutes.” Another time my daughter, while drinking a Snapple, announced, “This is made with the best stuff on earth! You know what that is? Sugar!”

For my part, I learned to appreciate the moment.  Even when some of the moments, like every moment involved in getting my kids into and out of the car,  seemed to take forever.

And it’s over.  Summer washed over us like a big, drenching wave and has now retreated back to the ocean.   I know I am supposed to get back to thinking about the future, about what comes next, and about how I am going to survive homework season.

But it’s difficult.  My laundry still smells like sunscreen.

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Toughness in the Ring

IMG_2064The other day I noticed my engagement ring was broken. There was a crack in the band where it must have been soldered together. Until this split, I hadn’t noticed the seam.  I hadn’t known there was a weak point, in this piece of jewelry, the acquisition of which (I am embarrassed to admit) had been such a focus of my early adulthood.

Notably, the ring did not break apart.  The fracture is hardly noticeable as I wear the ring jeweled side out.  The broken spot rests against the inside of my palm, near the base of the finger.  I can conceal the imperfection completely by making a fist.  Or by writing.  The way I grip a pencil also hides the problem: I write with my fingers balled up against my palm.  The pen sticks through my fist like an arrow would pierce fruit

I write just fine like that.  Happily.  Neatly.

This is how I learned, never getting instruction concerning the “proper way” to do things until I was an adult myself and was charged with the task of teaching my young children how to hold a pencil.  You’re supposed to hold the pen with a pincer, thumb and index finger meeting gently at the tip of the pen with its shaft resting easily on the middle finger’s top joint.  The fingers should form a relaxed and open cavity around the palm. (like those hands in the Escher drawing.)

Writing is supposed to come more easily this way.  Less cramped.  More relaxed.

But that posture does not come naturally to me.  I am accustomed to squeezing that pencil for dear life.   Still, I can imitate that easy grip for a time but always, as soon as I forget that I am trying to relax, will revert back to my closed fist.

I don’t mind.  This is how I am comfortable.

In the past few days, ever since I noticed the fracture, I open my hand every so often and wonder,

When did this happen?  How did this happen?

From lifting weights probably.  Creeping middle age has sent me to the gym with a little more desperation recently. Even though my weights seem so light in comparison to those around me (I am like the only one lifting the 8 pounders!)  I imagine that I am holding on to those little dumbbells with more ferocity than most.

The disruption in the metal is so slight.  It seems like I could just push the two disjointed ends back together again, so they would form the loop they once made when the ring was forged.

I really should just take it to the jeweler. Best to call in an expert for these things.

IMG_2062

****

The old guy who made the ring always remembers me.  In the beginning, when my husband and I went to his shop to look at rings, I remember how the jeweler reacted when I showed him the styles I liked.  He looked up, squinting at me sideways and asked,  “You like that one?” I couldn’t tell if he was surprised, disgusted, or maybe just a little hard of hearing.

My memory is confounded by my stress and embarrassment surrounding this event–which in many ways was the culmination of a dream come true but not quite in the way my teenage self had imagined it.  I had thought I would be proposed to by surprise, whisked away to France, you know, something involving a trail of rose petals.  But then I fell in love with someone who was much more the “trail of laundry” type and who wasn’t much of a planner. Given that he still asks me where we keep the toilet paper I am not surprised that he needed a little push in the “let’s get married department.”  It’s not that he didn’t want to.  It’s just that he just never would have gotten around to doing it.

So, back then, after 3 1/2 years of dating, armed with a diamond I had inherited from a great-great grandmother on my father’s side, we went to this jeweler together.  As it turned out, a woman from my husband’s hometown happened to be there, too, getting her watch fixed.  There was no concealing the object of our visit.  She was a smart woman and, even if I had tried to hide it, she would have recognized the nature of strong-armed proposal playing out in front of her.

Did I mention that I brought my own diamond?

This accidental witness didn’t just provide a reminder that it is always possible to feel even more embarrassed.  She offered valuable counsel as well.  My eventual husband was worried that it might not be appropriate for him to use my great-great grandma’s diamond.  His hometown friend reassured him.

“No, it’s okay.  It’s big enough.”

It was big enough.  And despite all his initial foot-dragging, my eventual husband took that inherited diamond and worked with the jeweler to design a very nice ring.

Surprisingly, or perhaps fittingly?, when my eventual husband presented this ring and officially proposed (in his bedroom, next to an artful display of scattered underwear) the ring was too small.

Nevertheless, it was gorgeous.  I was so happy.  I threw caution to the wind and shoved that sparkly token of takenhood on my finger.  After calling my parents and friends to tell them the official “news,”  I spent the rest of the evening trying to remove the ring and eventually, with the aid of dental floss, a bag of frozen peas and then some soap and hot water, I was able to do so.

The next day I returned to the jeweler to have the ring re-sized.  The jeweler looked at me with that sideways glance, and said, unbelieving, “It’s too small?”  He didn’t add what he must have been thinking, “How is this possible?  Didn’t we take care of this ahead of time?”

I just nodded yes.  And there wasn’t any doubt now.  As I handed back the ring, the jeweler could see my swollen and injured ring finger which prompted him to say, “Next time.  Windex.  You shouldn’t have taken this off yourself.”

The ring was made bigger, no problem.   I have worn it pretty much every day since, though I often remove it just to make sure I can take it off easily.   When the time came to order wedding bands, I was sure to get the correct size

After I got married I would stop in to the jeweler’s from time to time, to get my watch fixed or a necklace repaired.  He always asks me to take off my engagement ring so he can clean it.

“What do you do to this?” he asks with that characteristic sideways glance.  As he takes my cherished, but usually sunscreen encrusted ring from me, I say “I just wear it, I guess.”

In a matter of seconds he shoots some pressurized water at it, cleans it up, and hands it back to me with the admonition, “Take care.”

***

I am hard on stuff.  This truth is all the more apparent, now that I have managed to break my engagement ring from just wearing it while I go about my life.

As I look at the ring now, in its fanciness and its filigreed edges and its diamond that is definitely big enough, I still love it.  Even though it is broken, my affection for the ring and for that time in my life when I was so excited to be a bride, has not diminished.

But I do have a new appreciation for my wedding band, my fancy ring’s companion there on my ring finger.  It is a plain band.  Small and thin.  It is not a choice many people would have made.  On the surface it does not match with its glitzier counterpart.

The two do go together, though, as the one that was wrong at first with the other that has always been the right size.  Like a first and second draft. (The second draft typed here at the keyboard with open palms.)

IMG_2065I note that I have worn the wedding band for almost as long as the engagement ring. So it has been subjected to as much stress as the other one.

And yet despite its plainness and unimpressiveness (or maybe because of that?), my wedding band is still a smooth, unbroken circle.  It is not quite as shiny as it was on our wedding day but it is just as strong as it ever was.

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