A FUN AND BUMPY RIDE THROUGH LIFE

Old Minivans Die Hard

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What do you give a grown kid for his birthday?

“It’s your BIRTHDAY on Tuesday!” I texted my youngest son, but not until after his grandmother offhandedly mentioned that she had sent him a card.

Oops. I knew there was something about May 8th that sounded vaguely familiar.

“Do you want a present?” I asked.

I was fully expecting the response I’d gotten for the past dozen years.

“Nah.”

And he always meant it. Leo doesn’t like fuss or fanfare. He doesn’t like stuff. When he played baseball there was always a bat or glove or overpriced personal trainer that sufficed as a present. But we both knew he would have gotten those things birthday or not.

Leo doesn’t like money either. He’d just as soon live in a kibbutz. Or a monastery. Or under the stars in Colorado.

Leo is the only member of the family who’s not born in December or February. So, by the time May rolls around every year, we’ve forgotten how to celebrate. Poor Leo has had to share his birthday with Mother’s Day. With his paternal grandmother’s death day. With baseball tournaments. And final exams.

Leo was never much of a talker. He kept his thoughts to himself and, as third children so often do, learned to fly under the radar. He grew up in the shadow of his brother and sister and built his entire identity around baseball. It was all he did. And all he cared about.

Or so I thought.

Until we spent eight straight hours in the Old Minivan together.

Four years this very weekend ago, the whole family drove 500 miles down to North Carolina for the daughter’s college graduation. In two cars. The plan was that one parent would stay and help pack up the daughter. The other would head home after the graduation party with Leo so he wouldn’t miss his game the next day.  I am way better equipped to drive through the night than sort through the daughter’s personal possessions, so it was Leo and I who took off together at 9:30 pm.

“You better keep me awake,” I said to the least talkative human I had ever raised.

And he did. He talked. And talked. And talked. A lifetime of talk spewed from his heart. And he hasn’t stopped since.

Before that overnight drive home from Chapel Hill, I lived with the assumption that Leo would play four years of Division I baseball, followed by a short stint in the minor leagues before heading off to CitiField. Or Camden Yards. Heck, I would have even become a Yankees’ fan if I had to.

I never let go of that dream. But he did.

I learned in that car ride that Leo wanted more out of life than baseball. That he, gulp, had a creative side. I had long assumed that he and his friends were up to no good all those nights in the eaves of our attic. It never occurred to me that they were making music and shooting videos and writing scripts. And not a bit of it was about baseball.

Somewhere around milepost 315, Leo made another confession.

“I don’t know why I never talked to you before.”

Three months later, Leo went off to college and played his Division I baseball. But, after one semester, he gave it up to explore who he was without a glove on his hand. This Sunday, he graduates from Rutgers University. But, even with a degree in Philosophy and a minor in Creative Writing, he’s still a long way from unearthing his true purpose in life.

For the past four years Leo and I have been each other’s creative crusaders. We share our love for cleverly-crafted words and well-written movie scripts. And sometimes, we even agree on what is genius. We dream of one day sipping cocktails together at the Golden Globes. He knows that I want to write the next Juno. I know that he’s more likely to do it than I. And that, while it will be a far cry from Juno, it will be brilliant.

Leo and I bounce ideas off one another. He reads my stop-and-start again novels. He helps me develop characters. And tells me when he thinks I’m taking the easy way out. I read his screenplays and watch his short films and marvel at the places his young mind goes. And tell him when I think he’s taking the hard way through.

We send each other inspirational texts.

“Bang out a chapter today!”

And motivational quotes from writers like Paulo Coelho:

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.

And memes that live on refrigerator magnets:

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“So, want anything for your birthday?” I texted my last born.

“Write me something!”

“It would be much easier to give you a thousand dollars!” I responded, knowing full well that he didn’t mean that I should write him a blog.

“$1000 has way less worth.”

Today, my youngest child turns 22. On Sunday, he’ll become a full-fledged college graduate. On Monday, his real life begins.

I have no idea where Leo’s life journey will lead. Nor, I’m sure, does he. But somewhere along the way, he’s going to take that step, intentional or not, that will point him down the path he was meant to take.

And in the meantime, as long as it’s legal, no matter where he goes or what he does, I’ll continue to be his biggest fan.

Because there’s something kind of endearing about knowing that your kid, the very kid who was put on this earth to defy, deny and demoralize you, has more faith in you than you have in yourself.

So, back atcha, kid.

My story is written. I just have to put it to paper. But, yours Leo, yours is yet to be lived.

Write me something, Leo. Write me something really good.

Penelope Makes her Appearance

“OMG! You’re going to be a MOMMA?”

It wasn’t an OMG, now what are you going to do? which would surely have been how I’d have responded to my own daughter under the same circumstances. Most probably followed by,  “And, don’t think for a minute that I’m going to help raise your child.”

Instead, it was an OMG, I am SO excited that you’re going to have a BABY!

And I meant every word of it. But, of course, Liza is not my child. So it was oh, so much easier to be charitable about her condition.

Liza is 22-years-old. She’s an adult. She went to college. She graduated cum laude. She majored in Family and Child Studies. She has a good job. She has a supportive family. She has tons of friends. So, there’s no reason on God’s green earth why she shouldn’t have a baby.

Except that she’s 22-years-old.

But, she’s Liza.

When I was 22, the last thing in the world I wanted was a baby. I was way too selfish, way too wild and just plain way too young to take care of another human. As a matter of fact, it took a dozen more years until I was ready, willing and able to set up house and start a family. And we all know how well that turned out for my poor offspring.

I can’t say I’m surprised that Liza was the first of my kids’ friends to have a baby. After all, she’s been reading and commenting on my blog for years. The blog that parentless youth have little interest in. The one that lays it all out there so honestly that my cousin’s twenty-something year-old daughter said, “You are so MEAN!” The blog with the life stories that a different sort of parent would never admit to having endured.

But Liza, in all her youthful wisdom reads between the lines.

“I know you. You’re happy on the inside,” she said after my rant over an impending onslaught of the offspring.

That’s Liza.

Last Wednesday a picture of the just-born Penelope popped onto my phone. Even I, of self-proclaimed baby neutrality, felt a little tightness in my throat and a pitter-patter in my heart.

“Ms. Betsy. Women are incredible. I still can’t believe my body did that!” she gushed.

“Oh, honey. Giving birth was the easy part. You have no idea how incredible you are about to become.”

Because, dear Liza. From this day forward, your life is no longer your own. You will never come first. Ever. Again.

It will be years and years and years before you eat a meal in peace. Or take a shower without keeping one ear open. Or read a full page of an adult book in one sitting.

And even more years before you will sleep through the night. Because after 2 am feedings comes “I want a drink of water.” And after “I want a drink of water,” comes “I had a bad dream.” And after “I had a bad dream,” comes “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” And after “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” comes “I forgot to do my science project!” And after “I forgot to do my science project!” comes “I don’t feel good.” And after “I don’t feel good,” comes sleepovers. And parties. And proms. And driver’s licenses. And kids in and out, slamming the backdoor, all night long. And water bottles filled with vodka. And worse.

You will see that babies turn into toddlers who turn into little kids who turn into big kids who turn into teenagers who turn into young adults who know absolutely everything. Except how to change the toilet paper.

You will learn that your adorable little baby who smiles and coos in public can turn on a dime and scream with fury in private. For hours and hours on end.

You’ll sterilize bottles and bosoms and throw away toys that the dog licks. You’ll record weights and smiles and how much she ate. You’ll use special baby detergents and shampoos and sound machines. At least for the first few weeks.

You’ll teach Penelope the importance of reading. Of learning how to learn. Of how cool it is to be smart. And then worry when she worries too much about her grades.

You’ll teach her tolerance. You’ll instill in her the belief that every person on this planet deserves the same respect. And then you’ll cringe when she falls in with the wrong crowd.

You will feed her breast milk. And organic snacks. And she won’t know what candy tastes like. And then one day, she’ll have that first chicken nugget and won’t eat another vegetable for the next 20 years.

You will take her to playgrounds. And parks. And museums. You will spend time teaching her about your culture. And her father’s. And she’ll still like grilled cheese better than empanadas.

You’ll spend hours and hours and hours watching Penelope play softball or soccer or do backflips at  cheerleading competitions. Or all of the above. You’ll watch her struggle. You’ll watch her fail. You’ll applaud her as she wins awards for Most Improved Player. Or Best Personality. And you’ll assure her that those accolades are so much more important than Most Valuable Player.

You’ll learn that it’s no easier to let your daughter cry it out when she’s a teenager (or younger) when her heart is broken for the first time, than it is to let her cry it out as a baby. When you’re trying desperately to get her to sleep through the night. At a year old. Or two.

You will never, as long as you live, ever make a single life decision without considering how it will affect your daughter.  And then, when there are two or (gulp) three kids to consider, your head will spin in perpetuity.

You will find that just when you think you can’t take another minute of whatever it is that is currently annoying you, because yes, even Penelope will eventually annoy you, that she’ll move into a new phase. You will wake up one morning and realize that you both slept through the night. Or that she didn’t wet the bed. Or that she went a whole day without whining, or rolling her eyes or eating a chicken nugget. Or that she no longer clings to your leg, or insists on wearing the ragged purple tutu or needs to watch the latest Disney movie for the thousand-and-fifteenth time.

And then, just like that, she’ll move into another phase. The phase you think is the final phase. When she goes off to college. Or gets her first apartment.

And you will cry. But you won’t let her see. Because even though you knew one day you’d have to let her go, you didn’t think it would come this soon.

And when she and her siblings are grown and gone and you can finally sit down and catch up on Shameless, you’ll reflect back on all that you’ve done. And you realize that no matter how hard you tried, you did it all wrong.

But then you look at your daughter. You look at her brothers and sisters. You look at the people they’ve become. You shake your head and wonder how you ever got through it. And how they turned out to be such interesting, adventurous and kind human beings. Which is when, for the first time, you realize that you must have done something right.

And that, my dear, Liza, is the most incredible part of all.

Let the Good Times Roll!

There’s always one.

That simple statement. That obvious observation. That epitomizing epiphany that encapsulates and validates the reasons why you feel compelled to spend money you don’t have, consume calories you can’t afford and belt out easy listening-lyrics at piano bars with people you don’t know.

And sometimes it’s a conglomeration of uh-duh’s that confirm what you’ve known all along.

When we turned 40, I gathered a dozen buddies for a Break-from-Babies trip to the Bahamas. At 45, ten of us Made Mischief in Mexico.  At 50 and 55, we were way too busy, way too poor, or way too foolish not to go on an epic excursion. At 60, I said enough is enough, and bullied them back into submission.

Last week, eight of us rallied for a four-day Celebrate Your Sixties sitcom in New Orleans. We all went to Shippensburg State College, a school in the middle of nowhere that once it got rid of us, elevated itself to a university. We all grew up in Pennsylvania and all have our stories of how we ended up at Shippensburg, as well as how, when and why we left. We have long since dispersed and now hail from North Jersey, Atlanta, Nags’ Head, Boston, Denver, Florida and two different towns in Pennsylvania. But, college roots run deep and our friendship has persevered for the last hundred-and-fifty years.

My namesake, Betsy, flew in from Boston. She detoxed every morning on the treadmill, while the rest of us felt that a meandering six-mile trek through town was more than sufficient to count as exercise. As we popped  ibuprofen and Celebrex and multi-vitamins in futile attempts to tame our aching bones, backs, hands and hearts, we collectively marveled how, “at her age,” Betsy’s knees were still fully intact.

“I run because I still can,” she said, knocking on wood.

When I graduated from college, I took a Trailways bus to Arizona to spend the summer with Ann. We went on tons of side excursions, one of which was to Las Vegas. For Christmas the following year, she presented me with a Golden Nugget silver dollar mounted in a shadowbox. You’ll always have one more silver dollar, she said, just as Gregg Allman had. Ann is generous, is always the first to pick up a tab and refuses to let money rule her life.

The morning after a 12-hour stint in back-to-back-to-back bars (including, but not limited to, aforementioned piano bar with my new best friend from Charleston), we got to giggling and gasping over crumpled receipts.

“Who cares?” Ann said, sagely. “It’s only money.”

Jeanne gets a kick out of life. But, and note the but, she doesn’t drink. At least not like the rest of us. I may be overestimating if I say she had three drinks in four days. Jeanne laughs loudly. Talks boldly. And remembers every minute of every minute we forget.

“You sure you don’t want a drink?” we coaxed.

“Nope,” she said, tossing dollar bills into the piano player’s tip basket between American Pie and Brown Eyed Girl. “I really don’t need one. It’s enough for me just to be with you girls.”

Kathy, on the other hand, knows that liquor licks wounds, warms hearts and wins hospitality awards. She had a bottle of Tito’s, a bottle of Maker’s Mark, limes, lemons, ginger ale and buckets of ice waiting poolside when I finally Ubered my way to the hotel. She upgraded her room to a suite so we’d have a place to pre- or post-game. And was never content to sit in one spot for hours on end.

“There’s just so much to do. So much music to hear,” she said, grabbing Sue and whisking her off to the jazz clubs on Frenchmen Street while the rest of us sat and sat and sat some more listening to background music, eating overpriced cheese platters and drinking copious amounts of wine at Bacchanal, an outdoor bar in the Ninth Ward, filled with kids half our age. And younger.

Sue has long been the friend to whom I turn when I need reassurance. No matter how bad, no matter how wrong. She will always find the light. She will never, ever place blame. Find fault. Or wish away what we’ve got. And so, naturally, I glommed (my new favorite Kathy word) onto her as we zig-zagged our way through the Big Easy.

“You think …?” I started.

“Stop. Relax,” she said, in a completely different tone than the ‘relax’ I get from the daughter. “Everyone is fine. Everyone is having a great time. We always do.”

And we were, indeed, having a great time. So much so, that the next morning I said to my cellmate, Ann, “When I think back to last night, I find myself alternately shaking my head with shame and cracking myself up.”

“That’s what makes it a good night,” she responded wisely.

Speaking of which, the daughter, who has lived in New Orleans for four years, was wise enough not to get too deeply involved with us. We met her amazing roommate, Tonia, at dinner one night and her ultra-lovely friend, Kate, for brunch.  Jill, who can procure a free meal for an entire restaurant when one poor soul has been served raw chicken, is the only one of us with a grandchild. At least that we’re aware of. The daughter, mine, not hers, is currently in flux over where to live, what to do and whether life is about to pass her by.

“One thing I’ve found,” Jill said in earnest. “Is that things come at you in the most unexpected ways. Don’t worry about boys or jobs or money. Just let life happen.”

On our last night, after barreling into a fairly subdued restaurant where Kate’s husband was bartending (we identified him from collective memories of wedding pictures on his wife’s iPhone), we hoofed it back to the hotel. Or hobbled, as the case may be. I have aching knees on the best of days, but that was not the best of days. I had awakened to an additional shooting pain down the length of my leg. I thought walking would be the best remedy, but found myself limping along like Tiny Tim. (Not the one who tiptoed through the tulips. The Dickens’ one.) I shooed my friends away, assuring them that I wouldn’t get mugged or fall down, or cry, preferring, as always to play the martyr. Peggy, who suffers from Reynaud’s Disease, which means that among other nasty symptoms,  she is always cold, shivered beside me.

“Go, Margaret,” I said. “Honestly. I am fine. Catch up to everyone else.”

“I will never leave you,” she responded.

And, before we knew it, another adventure had come to an end. We said our good-byes with lumps in our throats and promises to do it again soon. And, we will. Because each and every one of us had a really good reason why we should continue to spend money we don’t have, consume calories we can’t afford and belt out easy-listening lyrics at piano bars with people we don’t know.

Because we still can.

Because it’s only money.

Because it’s enough just being with the girls.

Because there’s so much to do. So much music to hear.

Because we know how to have a great time.

Because we shake our heads with shame and crack ourselves up.

Because we never know what life will throw us.

Because we will never limp home alone.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

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Forever and ever, Amen.

Mayans, Mormons and Margaritas

“Oh, thank God!” Stuart, who we did not yet know as Stuart, effused as Patty and I stepped into line behind him. It was the kind of greeting two 60 year-olds would neither expect, nor deflect, for that matter, coming from a handsome 40-something year-old standing hand-in-hand with a beautiful brunette.

“We were afraid we were going to be the only two doing this!” he said. “I’m Stuart. This is my wife, Jamie.”

In the middle of exchanging niceties, two twenty-somethings flurried breathlessly into line, donned in bikinis and sarongs.

“We had to buy Nicole a swimsuit!” Kelly, who we did not yet know as Kelly, revealed. She spoke in South Californian and sported a huge Native American symbol inked on her left thigh. And ear gauges.

“She missed the bus to the Mayan ruins so I said, ‘Come do this with me!’ So we bought her a swimsuit from one of those Mexican guys for 35 bucks.”

I didn’t even have to look at Patty. We both knew how this story would end.

When we hit the ports on our annual cruises, Patty and I often book the Most Popular! Most Fun! excursions. We go snorkeling, even though I recoil at the mere thought of a fish swimming betwixt and between my legs. But, I’m a good friend and it’s one of Patty’s pleasures, so I acquiesce, though often swim maskless in the Caribbean Sea to avoid magnification of those brightly-colored, slimy-finned creatures. We’ve done our share of tastings and tours and walking around tourist-made towns buying junk we neither want nor need.

But sometimes we shake things up a bit. In St. Kitts, we took a rickety ride on a rickety train through defunct sugar plantations with a bunch of senior citizens. In Tortola we went on a motorboat and swam to shore for Painkillers at the Soggy Bottom Bar. In Grand Cayman we rented bicycles and were deposited on deserted seaside trails with nothing more than a ‘See ya in a few hours!’  In Jamaica, we rode a ricketier than the rickety train ski lift up high over the jungle, over the mongooses, to the top of a mountain which we proceeded to zip-line down. Then rode bobsleds like the Olympians do.

And this year, in Mexico, we went for a Mayan Spiritual Wellness Retreat. There was something so marvelously juxtapositional about the over-the-top over-indulgence of a cruise and “experiencing a holistic day of wellness and spiritual cleanse in Costa Maya” that I simply couldn’t resist.

So, there we were. With Stuart and Jamie, Nicole and Kelly, being stripped of all our worldly possessions and asked to follow a real-life Shaman through earth, fire, wind and water.

“Oh, come on! I have to walk around in a bathing suit?” I protested, side-eyeing the forty-year-old, not to mention the twenty-year-old bodies beside me.

“Absolutely no judgment in this group,” said Stuart, bless his heart.

I am a spiritual healer’s worst nightmare. I wriggle. I giggle. I resist. I recoil. And I have never relaxed in my life. But, I am a follower. And so, I followed.

Right into the room with the purification bath. Looming before me were six deep tubs filled with whatever they fill Mayan baths with. Now, on the best of days, I can’t climb a single stair without shooting pain in my knees. And this, while not the worst of days, was worse than usual as I was nursing an infected, gushing wound on the top of my foot. I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d be able to lower my aching body into this pool of water, if that’s what it was, while keeping one foot out, without landing like a Mayan manatee.

I made it in somehow, some way, without flooding the floor. Patty was next to me on one side, Kelly on the other and we closed our eyes while young Mexican girls poured warm eucalyptus water and healing oils over our bodies and massaged our aching shoulders, craning necks and whirling heads.

I made it out, somehow, some way, without letting my infected foot hit the bath water that may or may not have been pre-infected from the five, or fifteen previous bathers. One-by-one we were led into the Temazcal by a highly-decorated Shaman who was ours for the keeping.

I have never been in a sauna. Nor have I ever wanted to be. I am claustrophobic and not particularly interested in sweating for sweating’s sake. But I was sure in one now. And I was sure sweating. It was a low, round, palm-fronded sweat lodge with a pit of burning rocks in the center and a bench around the edge where we sat in varying degrees of discomfort. Sir Shaman poured water on the rocks, all the while reminding us that Mother Earth controls everything. And we have no control. Especially of the heat.

Jamie was the first to externally panic. I say externally, because I panicked internally the minute I walked in. And when the Shaman wouldn’t release her, my heart pounded harder. But, Stuart held her hand and got her through. She’d been through way worse. After all, she was a Mormon. But, more on that later.

I was determined not to attempt escape. First of all, I knew I’d have to fight the Shaman to the ground and secondly, to get out, we had to duck way down and crawl out of a little low door. I still didn’t know everyone well enough to risk them witnessing me wrestle with my bend-resistant knees. And a Shaman.

Patty hung in there surprisingly well. Nicole actually seemed to enjoy herself. And Stuart, well, he was the man in the group, so he couldn’t very well crap out on us.

We chanted. We shook maracas. We screamed. One at a time. Then in unison.

And then Kelly, the youngest, the bravest, panicked. Really panicked. But the Shaman told her to breathe through it. She re-panicked. And continued to panic. He propped her up by the door, letting her sniff at the outside air like a dog begging to go out. And then, she just up and bolted.

A good half-hour later, our spirits were renounced or relinquished as the case may be, and we were finally released. We met Kelly on the other side who was now completely recovered, thanks to mystical medicinal means offered up by the Mayans.

A cold shower and a clay facial later, we were deposited in yet another bath. This time, a coconut bath. Attendants washed us with herbs and massaged our scalps, all the while wondering why the red-headed lady was dangling her left foot ever-so-slightly above the coconutted water line.

The final ritual was a massage. Covered head-to-toe in what were presumably laundered towels, we were escorted onto brightly-colored hammocks and gently rocked and rolled from above, then elbowed, kneed and kicked from below.

And then, we were done. Renewed. Refreshed. And ready to throw it all to the wind with endless margaritas, pina coladas, guacamole, ceviche, chips and chicken, all delivered proficiently and prolifically by our personal cabana boy to our personal cabana by the beach.

“Five kids?” I gasped when Jamie told us the size of her brood.

“We were Mormons,” Stuart laughed. “Of course we had five kids.”

And, as you might imagine, the conversation progressed from there.

One day, a few years ago, Stuart and Jamie woke up, looked kind of sideways at each other and said, “Hey! Here’s an idea. Let’s question our cult. Leave our religion. Live our lives!” And then, did just that. Ever since, they’ve been caffeinating and cursing, drinking and dancing, showing skin and shedding inhibitions. Just like the rest of us Present Day Saints.

Nicole, the Florida transplant from Rhode Island, courageously went on the cruise alone. She knew she’d meet a slew of other veterinary technicians onboard for continuing education credits at sea and had already Facebook met her roommate, Kelly. But still. And then to be paired up with the likes of us in Costa Maya on an adventure she never signed up for that culminated in hours and hours of circular conversation talking Mormon with the Mormons and marriage with Kelly.

Kelly, the 23 year-old with the thigh-sized tattoo and the finger-sized holes in her ears. Kelly, who I betrothed to my youngest son in a text.

“Will you marry Kelly?” I typed mid-Margarita. Without typos, I might add. “She is SO not your type but I love her so much. She’s such a good and genuine person.”

To which he responded, “Bring her back with you. I shall marry her.”

Nothing that afternoon, and I mean nothing, was taboo.

There’s not much I don’t love about this life I live. But one of the things that brings me the very most joy is when I discover unexpected treasures in unexpected people. When I come across humans who are unfiltered and unafraid to answer off-colored questions. Who aren’t afraid to expose their imperfections and immoralities. Who share their sagas and bare their souls knowing that they’ve found a kindred spirit who will embrace them and celebrate them, despite coming from a completely different world.

Perhaps it was sharing the bizarrest of bizarre experiences. Perhaps it was breathing in the sea air or drinking from the salt-rimmed margaritas, or feeling that Caribbean sun beat down on our backs that kept us one-upping each another with the bizarrieties of our real lives. But, perhaps, we bonded simply because when all was said and drunk, we came to realize that our completely different worlds really aren’t so completely different at all.

Mom, I need your help!!

“You home from your cruise?” my college student son texted, the day I returned from the Caribbean. “I need your help.”

As a seasoned mother, I have, at long last, learned to leave well enough alone. Sure, I’ll send a hand-wave emoji if a month or two has gone by without communication, but as long as a kid is not living under my roof, I’m not going to go looking for trouble.

I don’t ask for their grades. I don’t check on their finances. I don’t visit their apartments. However, I will admit to off-handedly asking if they are on track to graduate. If they are paying their bills. If they remembered to take out the trash before leaving for a week. But, I don’t really care.

Until, of course, it affects me.

And since my kids rarely send out an SOS, I had to assume that the college boy who voluntarily solicited my help was indeed in serious distress. And whether or not they live at home or live away, by pure parental definition, once I’m aware, I’m affected.

A zillion scenarios floated through my mind as I imagined what was yet to come.

“What kind of doctor do I go to if I have oozing sores on my private parts?”

“I got caught cheating on a test and they won’t let me graduate.”

“I borrowed Jordan’s car and totaled it.”

I put the kibosh on my brain before it delved into the resulting deaths and damages of aforementioned crashed car.

I took a yoga breath and typed, “Fire away.”

But quickly deleted it, thinking how inappropriate that response would be if, in fact, the help he needed was somehow the result of an apartment in flames.

Instead, I just sent a string of question marks.

I waited.

And waited.

By then I was convinced that he’d been arrested and had used the one phone call he was allowed. Which he traded for one text. I pictured him being strip searched, cavity checked and thrown into a cell with a street thug.

I waited.

And waited.

And wondered how it is that these kids who constantly, and I mean constantly, have a phone in their hands, can’t give an immediate response when they know their mother is waiting frantically, expecting the worst.

Of course, it never occurred to me that perhaps he was in class and maybe even had his phone in his pocket. Where it belonged.

Half a day later, I got a response to my response.

“We got a new landlord who doesn’t take Venmo.”

Which was a bigger problem than one might imagine.

Because, my  college student son doesn’t have any checks. And, if he did, wouldn’t know how to fill one out.

I paused.

“Can you Venmo the rent to one of your roommates and have them write a check?” I suggested, brilliantly.

“No. They’re as clueless as me.”

Which made me think that in the grand scheme of things, this might be more of an issue than any oozing sores I may have envisioned.

My children have long been bankaphobics. Their grandparents and aunts have been way more accommodating than they needed to be. There were years when Grandpa just flat out gave me the Christmas money to distribute. Years when Nana sat in her kitchen shaking her head over uncashed checks. Years when the aunts threatened to withhold all together.

I was fully prepared to take the blame for this character deficit. I really was. But, I am finally able to have a little more clarity in my hindsight, despite the cataract that is beginning to blur the lines. Perhaps I could have added “the writing and cashing of checks and how to navigate the inside of a bank” to my long litany of parenting duties, but I was busy on baseball bleachers, at cheerleading competitions, microwaving chicken nuggets and cleaning pee puddles from the base of toilets.

I taught my kids to be open-minded. To help others. To seek adventure. To follow their hearts. To be kind people. But I never taught them about Wells Fargo.

And, I really didn’t have to. Because, just in the nick of time, along came online banking. Where you can deposit a check with a click of a camera. Where you can Venmo cash into an account in a matter of seconds. Where you can pay your bills without ever even touching one.

But, alas, there always comes the time when you have to do things the old-fashioned way. And that’s when the hairs on my neck stand up, my insides start shaking and I begin to beat myself up for not raising my children right.

Which was exactly what happened with the overdue rent that could no longer be paid electronically.

The tough parent in me told the soon-to-be college graduate to get off the couch and take a walk to the local bank and ask them, not me, what to do.

But, as usual, the soft parent in me won out.

“Venmo me the money and I’ll write the check.”

“Thanks, Mom. By the way, it’s spring break. I’ll be home tomorrow.”

“Great! Don’t forget your laundry.”

I was still reeling internally about my parenting fail when another son, the one who is living at home, asked me why my Instagram name was Mabel Madinsky.

Touched that any 24-year-old, let alone my own, even knows I have an Instagram account, I admitted I had no idea how Mabel made it to my profile page.

“You’ve been hacked,” he said. “Just change your password. And while you’re at it, you should probably change your Facebook and Twitter passwords. Your email one, too.”

“OK,” I said meekly.

He held out his hand.

I surrendered my phone.

Three minutes later, I was back to Betsy and password protected across the board.

My son knew I was out of my element. That I was simply trying to survive in a world I would never fully understand or be able to navigate efficiently.

My son didn’t didn’t berate me. He didn’t make me figure it out myself. He didn’t even roll his eyes.

Because he knows as well as I do, in this ever-changing world, we’re all going to just have to help each other out.

Which is precisely why I didn’t berate my non-check writing soon-to-be college graduate. And I didn’t make him figure it out himself.

But, the rolling of the eyes.

Well, that’s a different story altogether.

Stupid Fun

“So, how was the cruise?” my friend, Susan, asked at church on Sunday, shortly after I had completed prayers for redemption.

“Stupid. It was just stupid,” I said. “It was one big gluttonous overindulgence.”

“But you had fun?”

Of course I had fun. Stupid fun.

I love gluttony probably thrice as much as the other 2,849 other passengers onboard. I love eating six pieces of bread per meal and being served chocolate bonbons after dessert to top off the chocolate mousse cake. I love being encouraged to order two appetizers rather than choosing between truffled risotto and shrimp cocktail. I love eating filet mignon every night with extra béarnaise sauce and feeling only the mildest guilt because, after all, I had my FitBit on. I love traveling with someone whose only judgment of my alcohol consumption is that I don’t start the day with a Mimosa.

In real life, I rarely have a 23,000 calorie-per-day feeding frenzy, rather am constantly conscious of what I consume. In real life, I may talk a good game, but the unlimited drink package I’m most interested in starts and ends with Diet Coke. In real life, I am an excessive exerciser, so rigid that I keep detailed records of my daily weight and workouts.

Not, of course, that any of it makes much of a difference. The amount of damage I do on an annual week-long cruise takes the other 51 weeks to undo.

But, while gluttonous consumption certainly plays its part in enhancing conversation, it’s mixology of a different sort that leaves me ever-yearning for the next adventure with my high school gal pal, Patty.

It’s the mixology of people. The mixing and mingling of unrelated strangers. Of different backgrounds. Different views. Different reasons for being where we were and with whom. The joy of learning a little something from everyone we meet. And, in turn, leaving better, if not bigger, people than we were when we boarded the ship.

The ships on which we sequester ourselves are the size of small cities, filled with thousands of people we can’t escape. The drooling man with the bandaided forehead. The proud Philadelphia couple in their Super Bowl shirts. The stalker from two doors down. The man with the NRA baseball cap.

They’re the ones we laughed about. But not the ones with whom we laughed.

Those were our Canadian friends, Gail and Linda, free-spirits who we met as we sailed into the sunset on our very first night. Beverly and Jim, celebrating their 33rd cruise for their 33rd anniversary. Dale and Pat, two girls at least 15 years our senior, who joined us on a pub crawl in Key West, one with a cane, one with a hangover. Glen, the golf pro and Nora, the nurse who assured me I would not die from my infected foot. Mitch, onboard for an onboard wedding, who would have befriended Patty in a heartbeat. In the biblical sense. Had we only allowed it.

Those were Kristy and Mike, long-time office mates, turned life-long mates. Jennifer and Russ, fun-loving friends who we met much too late. Beth and John, classmates from high school (two towns away from where we grew up), who went off, married other people, dumped those spouses, reconnected on Facebook and lived happily ever after.

Those were the Mormons, Jamie and Stuart; the vet tech, Nicole; and Kelly, my future daughter-in-law with whom we bonded over hot coals, cold drinks, stingrays and spiritual healing. But that, my friends, is another story for another day.

Those were Liz and Jeff who we hated at first sight and then, two martinis in, loved for life. They were the beautiful couple; she with the asymmetrical hair, he with the Robert Graham shirts. They exuded wealth and worldliness and everything else I pretend to disdain. But, alas, we all have our stories, we all have our scars and we all have our skeletons. And we all have the capacity to share our true selves with other true souls. And it’s oh, so much easier over multiple cocktails over multiple nights.

Those were Catherine and David, dry and witty and clearly the smartest people on the ship. The ones who took their jobs and shoved them. Into a BBQ pit. They built an empire out of a hobby through Adrenaline Barbecue Company and now have both the meat and the means to leave their boys with Grandma and spend a week swapping stories and sipping bourbons with the likes of us.

And those were Linda and John. The kindest people on the face of the sea. Of course, they did visit the onboard priest every morning, undoubtedly praying for our sorry souls and for the strength to make it through yet another dinner with us. Because, while it may come as somewhat of a surprise, when Patty and I entered the dining room, everyone knew it. And that’s not easy for people who are more refined at their worst than we will ever be at our best. We met their four daughters and six-and-a-half grandchildren vicariously, learning as much about each other’s families as we dared to admit. John is the cook. Linda, the excel sheet maker. John keeps up with technology. Linda still has a dumb phone. They have their marriage down pat and their priorities in the right place. But, despite the perfection they project, they still welcomed the imperfections of the two crazy girls who were way too old to be acting as crazy as they were.

Those were the people who we serendipitously met who will pop into our hearts and minds a zillion times over the course of the rest of our lives. I’ll think of Dave when I break down and buy my spouse a new Weber grill for Father’s Day and Catherine next time I’m in Chapel Hill. I’ll think of Linda and John when my first grandchild is born and of Liz and Jeff next time I’m slumped in a doorway. I’ll think of Jamie and Stuart when Mitt Romney gets elected and of Gail and Linda when my son hands me a book on Buddhism. I’ll think of Beth and John the next time I pass through Bucks County and of Nora when my foot finally heals. I’ll think of Nicole when my dog gets sick and of Kelly when Leo walks down the aisle with a flat-chested bride.

As surely as the tides continue to turn, our lives, too, will evolve in a multitude of different directions.  And as they do, I will hold all those gluttonous partners-in-crime in my heart, forever thankful that random strangers can become fast friends.

If only for a week of stupid fun at sea.

Why Getting Old Doesn’t Scare Me

When I turned 30, my beau, still half-a-year away from asking for my eternal devotion, threw me a surprise party.

I chose to ignore the many clues leading up to the party; the first being that aforementioned beau was not late, not on time, but early in picking me up for our annual trip to Pat Malley’s Pocono house. Every year, Pat and I celebrated our February birthdays together, filling her family’s vacation house with friends and lovers, copious cases of beer and round-the-clock games of Hearts.

The second clue was when Karen Shea arrived at my door (an hour early) holding a gift-wrapped package and screamed, “Surprise!” As she looked around at my empty apartment, she self-corrected with, “Surprise! I’m going to a baby shower down the street and decided to stop by and say hello!” I pretended not to notice that the gift was in an earring-sized box.

When my beau insisted we get on the road way ahead of schedule, I chose not to mention that we wouldn’t be able to get into the Pocono house if we arrived too early. And when we stopped at a Wawa five miles from home for some desperately needed chocolate milk and he slapped his forehead with his palm, I knew he had accidentally-on-purpose forgotten his wallet in my apartment. And I knew that when we went back, that I should offer to run in and get it.

“Surprise!”

The biggest surprise of all was how he and my sister, Nancy, were able to fill the apartment with seventy people, several kegs of beer and a table full of food, all within a 30-minute window.

When I turned 40, my spouse of nine years threw me a surprise party. I knew something was brewing. Too many whispers, too many phone calls and a babysitter booked three weeks in advance. I was working at CNBC; my kids were two, four and six-years old and my household was in the midst of what would become a three-month-long lice infestation. I was no longer that carefree 30 year-old who could welcome a cast of characters into my house without worrying if the bathroom was clean, if my bed was made or if ten people ended up sleeping on the living room floor. My 40 year-old self was an anxious mess living in perpetual pandemonium, having no idea how much harder it would get. I begged my friend Laura to tell me what was planned. She knew about every nit I picked, every bottle of poison I poured on the daughter’s head. Yet she wouldn’t budge.

“Just throw me a bone,” I pleaded. “Tell me the party’s not going to be at my house!”

“If there is a party, and I’m not saying there is,” she said. “It won’t be at your house.”

And so, I allowed myself to be led into Vitales’ Restaurant on my 40th birthday and be swept into the backroom where friends from as far away as Seattle waved xeroxed pictures of me on popsicle sticks that read, “I’m a Betsy Fan.”

When I turned 50, I begged my spouse of nineteen years to allow me to throw my own birthday party. He finally acquiesced, knowing that I had gotten to the point in my parenting career that I was unequivocally incapable of relinquishing control, even for one night.

“For my 60th we’ll rent out a ballroom at the Marriott,” I vowed. “And, by then we’ll be so rich we’ll even pay for all the out-of-town guests’ rooms.”

Surprise!

On the cusp of turning 60, with no party planned, no party desired, perfectly content to just have dinner with my family, dinner with friends, lunch with the yogis, sail away with Patty and rendezvous with college friends in New Orleans, I find myself looking back on my decades past. Or my decadent past. As the decade may be.

I spent my twenties resisting adulthood. I graduated from college. I traveled cross-country on a Trailways bus. I ate unidentifiable foods in Hong Kong. Toasted the New Year in Moscow. Sang Karaoke in Manila. Rode a bicycle in Tours. Slept three-in-a-room in Paris (without a fan). I spent summers sharing a Brigantine beach house, sleeping with way more than three in a room. I fraternized with the help on a Caribbean cruise. Then another. And another. I worked at TV Guide magazine. I celebrated the 1980 Phillies World Series win. I sat next to Harold Carmichael (google him) at a 76ers’ game. I went to weddings. So many weddings. I floated from highfalutin Philadelphia affairs to dark dingy suburban saloons looking for something that, snap, was right there all along. Sitting in a cubicle right down the hall from me at TV Guide magazine.

I spent my thirties creating a family. I banged out babies every two years. I worked at CNBC three days a week, worked at home two days a week and, while doing so, dragged those kiddies to grocery stores, Toddlekins classes, play groups and children’s museums. My college roommates, Sue and Betsy, would bring their respective broods and spend weekends in my tiny Cape Cod house. We’d sit for hours at the playground yakking away, pretending not to see Emmaline bite Jonny or Leo kick Sadie. Then we’d fill them with chicken fingers, or some organic concoction that Betsy brought, blop them three at a time in the bathtub and talk some more. All the while, child-free Ann just shook her head and counted her blessings.

I spent my forties muddling through mess. I became a freelancer. And a PTA president. And a Little League board member. And a soccer mom. And a football mom. And a cheerleading mom. And a Sunday School teacher. My house was in constant chaos. My minivan was in constant motion. My body was in constant pain. I had my hip replaced. Contracted pancreatitis. Had a hysterectomy. Exorcised my gallbladder. I lost my father. And my mother-in-law. I under-worked and over-parented. I under-parented and over-volunteered. We family-vacationed in New Hampshire, Canada, Vermont, Martha’s Vineyard, the Catskills, the seashore. And hung it all up in Jamaica.

I spent my fifties raising teenagers. Worrying about where they’d go to college. How we’d pay for it. And what would happen if, God forbid, they became students rather than athletes. I lost two bosoms to cancer. And lost all the weight I had gained over the years. Well, maybe not all of it. I rode my bicycle again. For miles and miles. I worked on a food truck. I went to Canada, California, New Orleans, Maine and Mississippi. I went to South Carolina and North Carolina. And kept going back long after the daughter graduated. I reunited with high school friends, Madge, Patty and Rachel, in Las Vegas. And then proceeded to go on a cruise with Patty every year after. I started a blog. I wrote two novels that live in my computer. I joined a book club. A writer’s club. And haven’t volunteered in years. Except at church. And that’s just to hedge my bets as I get ever-closer to meeting my maker.

So, here I am, on the cusp of my sixtieth birthday.

I gulp. I cringe. I blush.

But then I smile.

Because hey, with a track record like mine, I can’t imagine that the next decade will be any less decadent or any more scary than any of the others I’ve already conquered.

I just hope the Old Minivan is up to the challenge.

File Feb 07, 4 31 27 PM

Do What You Love and Don’t Worry About the Rest

Find something you love
and you’ll never work a day in your life. 

Perhaps to the detriment of my offspring, and certainly to the chagrin of my wage-earning spouse, that’s been one of my main mantras ever since the kids were knee-high clingers.

“But, Mom. I have to pay the rent. And my loans. And my car. And my phone. And my trips. And my fun. And my…”

“Don’t worry, Daughter. If you find something you have a passion for, you can’t let it go. The money will come.”

I have always known that I would be a writer. My first short story, Pokey the Turtle, was published way back when I was in Mrs. Dreifus’s kindergarten class. It was written on wide-lined mimeographed paper, read aloud to the other five-year-olds, then stashed in my box of memories. Which is precisely where the rest of my novels are.

I’ve worked a lot of odd jobs to pay the rent and the loans and the car and the phone and the trips and the fun. I sold fresh-squeezed lemonade on the streets of North Philadelphia. I cajoled old-folks into buying cemetery property. I took messages for doctors at an answering service, complete with switchboard, headphones and a constant cloud of smoke. I was a pseudo layout artist, a bookkeeper, an ice cream scooper, a newspaper delivery girl, a babysitter and a cold-call roof salesperson, all before becoming a copywriter.

Life as an advertising and marketing copywriter has afforded me the freedom to work at home while raising my brood, pay a few bills and finesse my words so they’ll be perfect by the time they finally plop themselves down onto the pages of my Great American Novel.

Very few of us have the luxury of waiting around for our passions to pay off, so as I tell my kids, sometimes you just have to do something else in the meantime. And hopefully it will be somewhat related, somewhat profitable and somewhat fun.

My latest gig fit the bill.

After months of behind-the-scenes writing, I spend two consecutive weekends tweeting at Be the Best Coaches’ Baseball and Softball Convention in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Anyone who has known me for a minute-and-a-half knows how much of my life has been connected to baseball. And, if you’ve hung out with me a little longer, you also know I was once a big softball star in a small league in a small town. So, for me, taking this job was a no brainer.

I just didn’t expect to be have so much fun.

Softball and baseball coaches, players, managers, consultants, conditioning gurus, mentalists, instructors and inspirationalists came in from California, Colorado, Texas, Georgia, Oklahoma, Delaware, Washington State, Tennessee, Oregon, Kentucky, Alabama, Maryland, Florida, Nevada, both Carolinas and from lots of places in between. Some of them are rich and famous, some aspire to be and some have no interest in doing anything more than what they do, which is simply sharing their love of the game.

As I talked and tweeted at Be the Best, I found myself getting sucked into a world that I was no longer a part of. I listened to dozens of speakers extol the virtues of exit velocity and launch angles, pitch calling and pitching mechanics, conditioning bodies and strengthening minds, infield faults and footwork fundamentals, winning the game one relationship at a time and creating the perfect team culture. I was inundated with tips on offense, defense, hitting, catching, throwing, slapping, bunting and a whole slew of other things I have no need to know about.

I just didn’t expect to be so inspired.

There’s something about being in a room jam-packed with people hanging on every word, taking copious notes, asking questions and getting all fired up. Simply because they love what they do and love being surrounded by people who love it, too.

Some of them coach for a living. Some of them coach for free. Some of them coach from the sidelines. And some of them don’t coach at all. But, with or without a paycheck, with or without a title, they’ve all found a way to fuel their soul, channel their energy and work their passion into their world. 

We can’t all be Patty Gasso bringing softball trophies home to Oklahoma. Again and again. We can’t all be Kai Correa sharing infield insights that go far beyond his years. And far beyond the field. We can’t all be Coach Sheets rallying the room with his heart and his humor. Even though we all want to be.

We can’t all make millions doing what we love to do. But we can all do what we love to do. 

So, I say to my offspring, keep teaching those kids. Keep shooting those photos. Keep writing those screenplays. Do what you love and don’t worry about the rest. 

I’ll bail us all out of debtor’s prison.

With a portion of the proceeds from my Great American Novel. 

Shouldn’t they be grown by now?

“Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you the one who wanted all these kids?” my friend Laura responded when I uttered the words that many a mother has thought, but perhaps opted not to say aloud.

“My greatest fear is that this time next year, I could have all three of my children living at home again.”

I was about to have them descend upon me in full-force for one full month, which meant double doses of Xanax, triple shots of bourbon and quadrupled fears of what the far future could possibly, but improbably, bring.

My friend Laura has witnessed my motherly love through three newborns, three toddlers, three puberties, three teenagers and three adult children. She has heard all the horror stories — because after all, they’re much more interesting — from day one, and cringed internally every time I announced I was knocked up again.

Laura’s plan was to have one child, and only one. Preferably a girl. My plan was to have five children. Preferably with a set of twins. As fate would have it, Laura ended up with none. I, with a mere three.

It’s really not fair to complain about kids to someone who has none. Just as you shouldn’t diss your husband to a swinging single. I, of course, would never do the latter because my ever-loving spouse gives me absolutely nothing to diss. Instead, I double down on the offspring.

I love my kids. Of course I do. They know it, I know it. But, come on, enough is enough.

Shouldn’t they be grown by now?

The irony of saying those same exact words for the past 26 years has definitely not been lost on me.

I have woken up at 3 am too many times. Middle-of-the-night feedings were easy. At least I knew the baby was securely caged in its crib. Now, a middle-of-the-night tinkle means sighing at the sight of wide-open bedroom doors. Wondering where in the world they could possibly be at that hour. With whom. And why.

I have replenished the refrigerator too many times. When they were young, they were perfectly content with a steady diet of chicken nuggets and Kraft macaroni and cheese. Now they, of discerning tastes, require almond milk, unbruised fruit and Boar’s Head-only fresh-sliced turkey.

I have picked up shoes too many times. I have removed coats from couches, suitcases from stairways and sniffed too many half-empty water bottles to make sure I wasn’t pouring vodka into the dog’s bowl.

I have mediated mêlées too many times. I have kicked the Kardashians to the curb so the boys could watch basketball. I have demanded the daughter to be kind to the brother. Begged the brother to say something nice to the sister. I have defended the rights of each and every one of them when the mean father demanded rakers, snow shovelers or ditch diggers.

I have gone to bed too many nights with the house filled with kids clunking up to the attic to record music or shoot movies or do whatever else it is they do up there. I have woken up with wayward friends asleep in the basement, Domino’s boxes on the counter and every light in the house blazing bright.

Enough is enough.

I just want to sit in my chair and binge watch Shameless as a reminder that my crazy life is actually a good kind of crazy.

Alas, they came home. They always do.

And every day I woke ready to do battle. Ready to bellow, “My house. My rules.” Ready to curse and kick and cry.

Instead, the darndest things started happening.

The brothers and sister conversed. Kindly. About real things. They made their own lunches. Bought their own bagels. Washed their own clothes. They filled the car with gas. With their own money. They bought Christmas presents for relatives without being bribed. They watched movies together and invited me to join them.

They texted when they didn’t come home at night. They cleaned their hair out of the bathtub drain. They asked their siblings before taking the car. They solicited advice and took it. Once. They asked if it was OK if friends slept over on New Year’s Eve. They replaced a borrowed bottle of Grey Goose almost before I noticed it was gone. Almost.

Alas, they left. They always do.

I firmly believe I have earned the right to wish my kids grown. Just as I’ve earned the right to wish them gone. And as I found myself snuffling back sniffles when I said goodbye, I realized I have also earned the right to rescind my complaints and curses.

Because, thankfully, I was the one who wanted all these kids.

Just not all three as full-grown, full-time roommates in one house at one time.

After all, enough is enough.

I Always Wanted to be a Fun Mom

Back when the daughter was still brewing in my belly, I ended up at a party in Concord, Massachusetts while visiting my college roommate and namesake, Betsy. The circles in which we ran welcomed any friend at any party in any state at any time. Claire, a high school friend of Betsy’s, was also there and I latched onto the familiar face. Familiar because our partying paths had crossed many a time over the years. A little less familiar now that she had crossed into uncharted waters.  Claire was now swimming in a different sea than Betsy and I, having already given birth to three-quarters of the children that she would eventually put forth.

“It’s the greatest thing in the world!” Claire radiated. “I just get to play with kids all day long!”

Claire is about as real as you can get. This wasn’t an elevator pitch for motherhood. It wasn’t cocky. It wasn’t contrived. It was how she really, truly felt.

At that moment I vowed that I would be just like Claire. I was going to be a fun mom. After all, I thought, I’m a fun person. I like kids. I like adventure. I like challenges. How hard could it possibly be?

The daughter in the belly kicked. Then kicked again. Harder.

I was right. Being a mother wasn’t hard at all. The daughter was a screamer, but I had an ever-loving spouse who held her for hours at a time while I did the dishes or vacuumed the living room or read a book. I went back to work three months after she was born leaving her with Teresa, an 18-year-old I met in the corner grocery store, who knew way more than I ever would about babies.

The daughter slept through the night after three weeks, took three-hour naps and loved to be pushed up and down the hills of Leonia in her blue-flowered Graco baby stroller. She was cute and precocious and brought me lots of positive attention.

It was so much fun that we had another, 22 months later. Max was a jolly baby. All I had to do was plop him in his bouncy chair, give him a kiss on the cheek every now and then and he’d answer with a smile, assuring me that I was a perfect parent. I learned to prop a bottle, ignore a whimper and use a pacifier as a plug.

It was so much fun that we had another, two years later.

Leo was even easier than Max. Knowing that by mere virtue of being the last born, he’d ultimately suffer from parent fatigue, I kept meticulous baby book records and snapped hundreds of pictures. I took a five-month maternity leave knowing it would be my last, and under the guise of continuity, had the spouse drop the older two at pre-school on his way to work. Leo was my buddy, accompanying me to the dentist, sitting through lunches with the girls and sleeping straight through from the beginning of All My Children to the end of General Hospital.

Yup. Mothering sure was fun.

When I returned to work, I went back part-time, giving me three days a week to exercise my brain, two days to dote on my beloved children and the weekend to bond as a family.

When, a couple years later, CNBC moved the Creative Services to California, I tried, but couldn’t justify deserting the family for a cross-country copywriting job. Instead, I became a full-time, stay-at-home mother faced with a flighty future as a freelance writer, an ever-loving spouse who worked ever-endless hours and no more Teresa to help ease the pain.

But, soon I found that Disney characters cavorting on the television set pretty much guaranteed long stretches between demands for juice or Cheerios. I discovered I could write headlines from the playground bench, as long as I tossed in an occasional “Atta Boy!” to show I was still paying attention. And, I learned that talking to a client through a closed bathroom door only made the kids scream louder.

I found that converting a bedroom to a playroom meant a lot less mess to clean up in the living room. I discovered that skipping pages made bedtime stories go faster. And, I learned that my kids would eventually forget that popsicles and grape juice existed if I simply stopped buying those stain-inducing products.

I found that being the PTA president was perceived as a good mom move. I discovered that points were won for running the book fair, picture day and teacher appreciation luncheons. I learned that leaving my kids home with a babysitter while I sat on a committee was a whole lot more fun than battling bedtime.

I found that as I picked up more and more volunteer jobs, I took on less and less paid jobs. I discovered that a color-coded Excel sheet was the perfect way to keep on top of myriad activities. I learned that packing lunches the night before, choosing next-day outfits before going to sleep and banning the existence of anything sticky, sloppy, muddled or messy made for much smoother sailing.

I found that I could be an ultra-organized human being. I discovered that there was value in being over-involved in schools and sports and church and community. I learned that driving a minivan with three rows of seats did wonders for “he’s touching me” control, but was oh, so much quicker to fill with wayward waifs than a four-seater sedan.

As I traveled the bumpy road through motherhood, I found that the Old Minivan got us from Point A to Point B and that stops at Points C through Z were a given. I discovered that I was pretty good at juggling tasks. My kids were clean. My kids were fed. And my kids were never, ever late.

But, what I learned, far too late in the game, was that I was no longer a fun mom.

It’s hard to be fun when you’re worrying more about getting there than you do about being there. When you’re thinking about cleaning up while you’re still making the mess. Planning for bedtime when it’s not even naptime. Or focusing on efficiency instead of embracing spontaneity.

When I see young mothers laughing their way through parenthood, posting This is Us pictures on Facebook and switching to Plan B right before my very eyes, I actually feel a little bit sad. And so, last night I group-texted my kids.

“Can you guys come up with any fun mom moments?”

There was no response.

Really? Nothing? I texted.

Well, if nothing else, I taught them empathy.

Slowly, but surely, they started sending texts reminding me of the day I chased them with a wooden spoon. When I entered the Z100 Minivan Burn Rubber contest in the Pathmark parking lot. And the one and only time I actually suggested pulling out the boots and gloves and hats and scarves and big, bulky coats and extra socks to go sledding down the hill in the backyard.

They recalled how much fun I was when I worked in the canteen at the Little League field and would sneak them free fries (that, unbeknownst to them, I paid for). How I convinced the father that the trip to Jamaica with the Hargraves and Santostefanos and Merrigans and Ruscingnos was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which in fact, turned out to be just that. There was the Nutcracker and the Radio City Christmas Show and a mother-daughter trip to Disney World on which we turned to each other after two hours and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

There was the time I walked the daughter to the piercing pagoda in the local mall and then said, “Just kidding, you’re still too young.” The rare occasions when I’d spring for a mid-day ice cream break. The pumpkin picking trips. And the trillions of times they’d get in the car, subjecting themselves to my original melody, “Seatbelts on so you do not die. Seatbelts on so I do not cry,” especially when Koree was with us because he would never, ever buckle up on his own.

Though I may have had to beg for them, these few and far between memories did, in fact, prove that there were moments in time when I was a fun mother. And that placated me.

But, that mind of mine can never leave well enough alone. I immediately started wondering just how fast and furious those texts would have come had I posed a different question.

“Can you guys come up with any non-fun mom moments?”

But, if I’ve learned one thing through all these years, it’s to never, ever ask a question if you don’t want to hear the answer.