Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Memory-Repeater's Daughter

My mother always has a memory or a story to tell... and retell and retell and retell. It's come to the point that each time she tells me, my sisters, Forty-One and Forty-Six, a story, she prefaces it with, Now stop me if I'm repeating myself. Did I tell you about the time when daddy got drunk...


Whenever she's in New York, there's never, ever a story she doesn't retell. She can tell me one in the kitchen, yet when we move into the living room five minutes later, she inevitably begins to tell me the same thing, even if she re-words it somehow in order to make it seem like something fresh and new.

Thirty-Eight Plus One: "MOM!"

Sixty-Six: "Oh, I don't know who I tell what."

Me and Forty-One laugh. Hysterically at times.

Sixty-Six: "Just keep laughing at your old mother. You'll miss me when I drop dead."

More laughter.

A few months ago, I went to Forty-One's, and sat at the kitchen table, our usual spot to wax totally unpoetic about life. Sixty-Six happened to be present, as she likes to fly north for the winter to spend Hannukahmas with her grandkids. So I plopped my ass down and started doodling on a scrap of paper from the ever-present pile o'papers whose purpose, I decided, seems to be for doodle-friendly people. I begin my normal doodle, Slash from Guns N Roses.

Me: (sighing) "I hate everyone."

Forty-One: (bigger sigh) "Me too."

Nota Bene: This is how we usually start our daily conversations.

Sixty-Six, plopping into her spot, coffee mug in one hand, a brand new, undoodled newspaper under her arm, throws her Snappy, which is the name of her cigarette case, onto the doodle pile: "Stop me if I'm repeating myself, now. Did I tell you about your cousin's dog? He has cancer and it started in his toe.

Now thankfully, we can allow her to continue, as this story is not part of her usual repertoire. She tells us about the dog's toe and how it was infected and that the vet discovered cancer. Sad stuff.

A few more doodles, a half-hearted glance at Forty-One's almost-completed Cryptoquote and Word Jumble, a fruitless search in her fridge for something I can pluck out and pop in my mouth, and I'm done with them... for a while. I always find myself back there later, though, sitting in the same seat, doodling on the same paper.

Round Two, two hours later:

Me: "Everyone annoys me.

Forty-One: "Me too."

Sixty-Six: "Oh, you two are annoying. Did I tell you your cousin's dog..."

Us, Eighty: "Stop!"

Sixty-Six: "Oh, I don't know who I tell what.

This goes on all day, the next day, and then the following three days after that. (I had actually warned Sixty-Six before she got to NY that she should save up some new material for when she gets here, that way, there'd be no repetition). So after day six of doodles, word jumbles and me and Forty-One driving Sixty-six to the brink of madness with our banter about how people suck, the conversations tend to get stale really quickly. When I sense that they're both about to kick me out of Forty-One's kitchen, though, I start talking about anything random because even though there's nothing left to rant about, there are times when I'm just not ready to leave.

Me: "Eleven scored three baskets the other night."

Sixty-Six: "Oh, good, good."

Forty-One: "He's so handsome."


Sixty-Six lights up her Doral cigarette, which is like the no-name version of a Camel and a constant source for jokes. They taste and smell worse than any other cigarette but because they're so cheap, she maintains it's worth it. They're like ten bucks a carton but they contain questionable ingredients. That Sixty-Six; she's a thrifty ol' lady with lungs of steel.

Pausing continues. When there's too much silence, the sudden death of the conversation unnerves me because it means we've exhausted all facets of the "why people suck" and "remember when we were little..." stories and I know I'm going to have to leave. But when nobody makes a move to dress or if there's still furious doodling happening, I know we're good. We somehow find our way back to the default conversation that never gets tiresome:

Forty-One: "I'm hungry."

And there it is.

The subject of food invariably leads to what could be hours of sometimes exciting, often times frustrating, conversation. While the excitement of talking about gobs of melted, browning cheese and chili covered with Fritos is still hot, I always manage to quash the entire, exhilirating exchange:

Thirty-Eight Plus One: "Well... all this talk is making me hungry too but I still have to lose seven pounds."

A new cloud of Doral smoke pollutes the air.

Sixty-Six: "Shut up already!"

Forty-One: "Yeah, really! We're sick of hearing it already!"

Sixty-Six: "I'm going back to Florida. Can't you find something new to say?"

I sit there, simultaneously astounded by her nerve and my sudden impulse to eat the refrigerator, and because I'm dietarily challenged, vomit it back up. She gets up and lets the dog, Five, inside, who's been outside barking incessantly.

Sixty-Six: "Oh, did I tell you about your cousin's dog...?"

Eighty: "Yes!!"

By the time I leave there, it's time to get the kids from school. I remind Eleven that he has a game and needs to do homework right away. No hanging out with friends, either.

Eleven: "I know. You told me last night."

We eat dinner at five because his game is at 6:45. At five-thirty I tell him to do his homework.

Eleven: "I KNOW! You told me already."

At six o'clock, he's laying upside down on the couch watching Family Guy.

T.E.P.O.: "Your homework is all done?"

Eleven: "No."

Just like that. He answers without fear of getting in trouble. He answers the question evenly, like I just asked him if he likes peas.

T.E.P.O.: "Do your homework! You have a game tonight!"

Eleven: "I know! How many times do you have to repeat yourself?!"

Who the ef is this kid anyway, talking to me like that? I only repeat myself because apparently, telling him three times isn't sufficiently getting the idea through his skull.

I need a talkative adult around me so I force my mom to come to my house the next day, thinking a change of scenery might spark something interesting to talk about. She sits on the couch and we talk about how annoying children are when it comes to homework. She starts telling me how annoying I was when I was a kid because if I got a ninety on something, I would come home and re-do it because I wasn't happy with the original mark.

T.E.P.O: "I know, Mom! You tell me that every time we talk about my kids or my horribly low self esteem."

Seven hurls herself onto my lap room several times throughout the night and each time, I tell her to shower. Each time she comes back, she's still dry.

T.E.P.O: "You'll smell really bad if you don't. When I was your age, there was a girl that smelled like pee pee and once at a sleepover...

"Seven: "STOP! You always repeat yourself, Mommy."

I know there's an evil giggle burbling inside my mother somewhere deep down; she gets this sick satisfaction when one of the kids does something to me that either me, Forty-One or Forty-Six do, or had done, to her. I think I hear a quiet little "ha-ha" as she passes me to go outside to smoke. So I go outside to sit with her as she puffs her Dorals.

Sixty-Six: "See what happens? No matter how much you kids say you're not like me, you are."

And it's true. I've become the Memory Repeater's Daughter.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Nap Envy

I have nap envy. There have been times that I attempted at least seven naps in one day, back in the day when I was a non-working girl. (Okay, that was only about two months ago, but whatever). Old people nap easily. They can be mid-blink, and it's all over. Kids in college openly nap on their desks. Babies need to nap as soon as they wake up in the morning. It's just the way it is and it's somehow accepted as the norm. No matter who it is, there's always a time of day carved out for their napping. But not for me. Ever.

Here's an example of a typical, stay-at-home day for Thirty-Eight:

1:00 PM - Thirty-Eight: "I'm tired. I think I'll pay these bills and then take a nap."

Forty-Three: "Yeah." (He's an enthusiastic conversationalist.)

I sit down with a stack of bills and turn on my computer. Ooh, I need to check my Facebook and my mail.

Forty-Three: "I thought you were paying bills and then taking a nap?"

Thirty-Eight: "After I pay my bills and check my mail."

Seven: "Mommmmmm! I need a glue stick!"

I go into the closet, open the disaster I call the craft cart, find the glue and as a stack of haphazardly stacked board games begins to fall, I slam the door. Too late. Forty-Three already saw.

Forty-Three: "Uh, don't you think you should do something about that?"

Completely busted, I open the closet, and all kinds of shit topples onto my head. So, like I always do, I curse. ALOT. Seven first yells that she heard me say the "s" word, then decides to yell that she's "still waiting for my glue stick , Mooooommmmmmy!"
Thirty-Eight: "I'm taking a nap after I straighten this shit out."
Seven: "Mommmmmmy!"
Glue stick in hand, I run to find Seven in the basement, making some kind of crafty thing I had not given her the ok to do in the basement.

Thirty-Eight: "Do not let the dog eat that stuff!" I look around. "Seven, it's a disaster down here!"

Seven: "I didn't do it, Mommy."
I start picking up toys and throwing them into bins.

Thirty-Eight: "I'm taking a nap after this, so don't start yelling for me because you need a glass of water. Ask Daddy."

Seven: "I want you."

I clean for twenty minutes, which is about when my eyes start unfocusing. If I have to find the match for one more Polly Pocket shoe or one more Polly Pocket accessory, I decide that poking my eyeballs out with a fork might be less traumatizing. I plod back upstairs, totally intent on going all the way up, to the bedroom.

Thirty-Eight: "What the hell is that noise?"

My son's room is open, and the squealing coming from within are the guinea pigs. Figuring my son, Eleven, had fallen asleep the night before without feeding them, I approach. I feel faint suddenly and realize that Lollypop and Nia are not asking to be fed but are screaming for mercy; they have been frolicking in their ammonia-scented cage for weeks. So, I get out the cleaning supplies and release them for twenty minutes of fresh air. Footsteps approach.

Eleven: "Daddy said you were napping."

Thirty-Eight: "I am. Right after I clean your pets' cage. Remember the pets you said you'd look after?"

Eleven: "One is Seven's. Can we go to Game Stop?"
Thirty-Eight: "No! And how do you even sit in here? It's gross."

Eleven: "I don't smell anything. Please?"

Contemplating whether the ammonia has burned out my son's olfactory senses, I finish up the cage and then vacuum the mess I made with the animal bedding. Then I head to my room feeling guilty about the whole Game Stop thing. Sighing, I tell him to meet me in the car.

Forty-Three: "What're you doing?"

Thirty-Eight: "Going to Game Stop then coming home to nap."

Forty-Three: "Yeah."

Forty-Three lifts the remote and aims it at the TV. His thirst for conversation has been quenched; he's almost reached his fifty-word-a-day limit.

An hour later, I get home, and Eleven sequesters himself in his room. As I search in my closet for comfy pj pants, I remember they're in the basement. I hurry down, hoping nobody sees/hears/cares I am home again and make it safely to the basement. The dryer is full so I start folding. Forty-Three appears at the top of the stairs.

Forty-Three: "Did you pay those bills?"
(Stringing three to five words at a time, often in question form, might be stimulating conversation for him, but to me it's getting annoying).

Thirty-Eight: "I was cleaning the cage. I'll finish after my nap."

A half hour later, I'm carrying an overly-filled laundry basket to my room. I throw it down, half the folded clothes falling out, but I don't care. Before I lie down, I need to run to the bathroom for a quick pee so I can nap in uninterrupted comfort. As I'm washing my hands, I look in the mirror, which is all speckled with toothpaste splatters. If I recall, that happened about two weeks ago when Seven flung her toothbrush out of her mouth in protest of brushing and going to bed. Crazy girl - bed is good.

It's gross so I get the Windex and a rag and start cleaning the mirror. Well, since the mirror is all clean, might as well do the counters. This becomes an annoying chain reaction and an hour later, the toilet sparkles and the scent of Clorox Clean-up has finally eradicated the guinea pig ammonia.
But now I feel gross, as the act of cleaning with all those chemicals makes me feel, ironically, unclean. I traipse back down to find a clean towel in the laundry area, and the puppy, One, (awww) follows me. She hasn't been walked. In days. She cocks her head because she already knows how to play on human guilt. The kids somehow taught her this trick and she's good at it.

Thirty-Eight: "Black Daaaawg wanna go wauwkie?" (you know you all talk that ridiculous way to your pets, too, so shut up.)

She cocks her head again, smiles and starts wiggling furiously. We run up the basement steps and in her excitement, she trips me and I fall on my bad knee.
Seven: (from somewhere in the house, I have no clue) "You said the "F" word!!!!"
I deny this fifteen times in a row as I hobble up the last few stairs to get One's leash. I leave, still in denial of my dirty mouth. We end up going on a forty-minute "drag."

By the time I get home, it's around 8:30. Everyone is laying around, watching TV and I feel like someone beat the piss out of me. Finally - finally - I sit on the couch. My eyes ease down and as I start falling into that sweet, blissful sleepy place, the phone rings. It's my mom, Sixty-Six.

Thirty-Eight: "Mommmmmmy!"

Sixty-Six: "What's wrong with you."

Thirty-Eight: "I'm so freakin' tired, I can't stand it."

Sixty-Six: "Go take a nap then."

If only it were that easy.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Thirty-Eight: Behold...the Gold

Wikipedia says this about the definition of a Jew: "according to the simplest definition used by Jews for self-identification, a person is a Jew by birth, or becomes one through religious conversion." To me, that sounds about right. I'm a Jew; I was born a Jew, I will always be a Jew, but.... that's as far as my Judaism committment goes. (Sorry fellow Jews, especially my relatives who might be reading this...it's just the way it is). I did my time in Hebrew School: three days a week, two hours a day for about, oh, six years. I did not, however, enter into womanhood at age thirteen through the ritual of a Bat Mitzvah. Since I was given the choice of reading/singing from the Torah in front of friends, family, and those who just popped into the synagogue for lack of anything else better to do, I opted to become a woman at sixteen instead by having a splashy Sweet Sixteen party at Mirage in Baldwin, New York. Thinking back, though, I wonder if the Bat Mitzvah would have been less embarrassing. My ridiculous older boyfriend at the time got drunk, jumped on a low-hanging lighting fixture, and swung himself from one end of the disco to the other in front of my father, who, by the way, was also drunk. Totally not good.

So, by Hebrew school graduation, I felt that even though I didn't get Bat Mitzvahed, I was just as good a Jew as any. I mean, come on now... my catholic friends had to go to religion a mere one day a week for an hour. That was nothing compared with building a sukkah on Sukkot or participating in the annual Purim Charoset Bowl and remembering to boo everytime Haman was mentioned. I think booing at the Charoset Bowl was probably the most vocal and particapatory I had ever been in my Hebrew school career.

Okay, I am so not patting myself on the back or anything; I know I am not super-duper-uber-Jew, but I did have a lot of Jewish education. After all, my parents forced me. Unfortunately, not much of their forced schooling stuck with me. When you're a kid, you can't wait to get home from regular school, but then having to go to Hebrew school right after, you know... blows. You get home, relieved to finally toss off your backpack that weighs forty-seven pounds only to remember that you have Hebrew school in a few minutes that requires a completely different yet just as heavy backpack. I remember one time I was so fed up with the idea of coming home from a tough day at school only to have to go to Hebrew that I simply refused. I yelled at my mom and fought with her until she screamed at me to just get back in the house. My huge, maroon backpack (why I had a maroon backpack, I still can't figure out) hanging off of one shoulder, I stormed away from the car to go back in the house, turned around and flipped my own mother the finger. What crazy kid does that? I still can't believe that I not only did that, but that my mom doesn't remember it. That's how much I really didn't like going. I hated it, actually, but I did what was required of someone younger than the age of eighteen and still living under her parents' roof. I had no choice but to just get through all those years. My parents only wanted me to understand my religion and to know what it meant to be Jewish. Thinking back, and as a parent myself who offers her kids, Seven and Eleven, absolutely no religious instruction whatsoever, it was commendable on their part. My kids just want to light a candle on the Menorah because fire is cool. Listen, I might not have gotten any gold stars next to my name on the Synogogue Attendance Chart, but I can still sing the shit out of Israel's National anthem, the Hatikvah, and I know the Four Questions. That alone makes me a Jew in decent standing.

Whatever Judaism I did have got lost in the misery that was my father's death. But nevertheless, whether I'm a practicing Jew or just a "light-the-Menorah-once-a-year-so-my-kids-can-play-with-fire" Jew, I am still one. Not a great one, or even a mediocre one, but still. I often wonder why I sometimes feel the need to be defensive when I think "my people" are being disparaged, or why I have to make it known during December that not everyone is Catholic, (a "Happy Hannnukah"would be much appreciated sometimes, thank you very much. We're not all, "Merry Christmas," folks. Okay, well, um, actually... I do celebrate Christmas since Forty-Three is catholic. But that's not the point!) Besides all that, I really do wonder, what good is calling myself a Jew for anyway? I don't actually do anything Jewish except maybe make a kick-ass briskett, but so what?

I got my answer the other day. Having almost no spare cash these days, I went to the flea market to sell my old gold. Not even thinking, I went up to one booth and asked the man what he could give me for all my gold. He took my baggie full of old bracelets, most of them gifts from my Sweet Sixteen, by the way, and weighed them.

Jewelry Guy: "How much were you looking to get?"

Thirty-Eight: "As much as possible. Those guys," I motioned around the flea market, "offered me in the fours and fives."

Jewelry Guy: "I'll give you $600. You want to buy something from me?"

How did he not know that was a stupid question? I had to let him know, so:

Thirty-Eight: "Now if I could buy something, I wouldn't need to sell anything, right? (I noted in his face a visable trace of concession to my reasoning) "Hannukah is coming and my spoiled child wants a Playstation 3."

"Jewelry Guy: "Hannukah? You're Jewish?"

Thirty-Eight: "Yes, yes I am."

I already knew he was a fellow Jew since, you know, we all look alike. A new, brilliant spark lit up his eyes.

Jewelry Guy: "What is your name?"

I told him my maiden name is Mizrahi and he turned right around and re-weighed my gold.

Jewelry Guy: "$645."

Thirty-Eight: "Hmmm..."

Jewelry Guy, re-weighing: "$650. Best price." He repeated my name over and over again, like a mantra: Mizrahi, Mizrahi, Mizrahi...

By the time I left, I had no more gold, but $660 burning a Playstation 3 sized hole in my pocketbook and my thoughts about the scene that had just occured. Why did I still call myself a Jew, twenty-five years after completing Hebrew School and only coming out memorizing the Four Questions? What good reason did I have? Well, I had six hundred and sixty of them rolled into a wad in my bag, that's why.

Hey, maybe it's not really a good reason on an everyday basis, but for that day it was golden.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Thirty-Eight: Age is NOT just a number... it's painful

Exercise: What the hell is it all for anyway?

I'm thirty-eight years old and tonight I learned that I can no longer safely do anything resembling a cartwheel. I am still sitting here, sort of in shock by my very sudden, age-induced limitation. I mean, for God's sake, just last year I was teaching step aerobics, weight training and cardio-kickboxing classes. Now I can hardly sit down or stand up without almost breaking some bone.

My seven year old daughter recently took up Level One of gymnastics. Yes, it's adorable and, yes, I encouraged her. I only became active in my twenties, after having my first child and gaining an amount of weight equivalent to the size of a couple of kindergarteners. So, knowing how great it feels to challenge your body, and how strong I feel after doing any kind of activity, when Seven asked to join, I of course said that it would be a great idea. She had already missed the Beginners class, though, but they allowed her and a friend to "try out" for the Level One class. They were required to do one somersault, one cartwheel, and a hand-stand. Seven did a nice little roll and a decent enough cartwheel. Her hand-stand, though, was quite impressive. So as it turned out, both girls had suitable enough skills to join Level One and I was happy she had something to do that interested her and would keep her active.

It seems, though, the decent cartwheel she had done that day was a stroke of luck. She really can't do one properly, as it turns out. On top of that, all of the kids actually need to know not only the standard one, but the round-off, as well. Anyway, I discovered this small fact the one day I had gotten to gymnastics a few minutes early for pick-up and I peeked into the gymnasium at the end of the class when Seven didn't know I was watching. Even though she's the cutest thing in a leotard to ever live and breathe, she wasn't doing the proper round-off: cartwheel with legs gracefully fanning through the air, turning the body ever-so-slightly and then snapping the legs together and down. Nothing like that. Poor thing really can't get her tiny legs too far into the air at all. They're sort of all bendy... and stuff. Heartbreaking, I tell you. Anyone who has a child that tries and tries at something and still can't do it, you know what I'm talkin' 'bout. And the worst is that she truly believes she's doing it correctly. Of course, now, that puts me in the ever-so-awkward position of having to make the decision: break the "never-lie-to-your-child"rule or tell her the truth that she really, truly should be in Beginner.

Anyway, tonight as I was eating a few discarded pizza crusts (the idea of any part of a pizza being discarded still boggles my mind) after my delicious, yet miniscule Lean Cuisine meal, Seven comes into the kitchen and starts practicing her round-offs. As I coach her from my kitchen chair, my back hurting as usual, (f.y.i. - my aerobics career ended after I sprained my back and my hip, which of course lead to major sciatica... that's another blog altogether. All done, fitness career!), she wants a demonstration. Suddenly, so does my husband, Forty-Three, who has a sudden interest in my gymnastic ability. Food swallowed only seconds ago, I get up and assume the stance: arms held high in the air, front leg hovering inches off the floor in preparation for the initial step before hurling myself across the floor, (people, you know the position I'm talking about. Remember being on your front lawn when you were about five years old, practicing for the high-school cheerleading squad? We all did it, with those stupid chants, too. S-U-C-C-E-S-S... that's the way we spell success!) Okay, anyway... I do this, no wait, I stupidly do this and as scared, yes, as scared as I am, I do a sort-of cartwheel -legs not any higher/straighter/better than Seven's - and hear something crack in my pitiful wrist as something unattaches, or so it feels, in my back. Then I hobble off to seek the safety of a chair.

"You didn't get your legs up!" Forty-Three thinks it must be fun to remind me of this, especially as he's eating more pizza and throwing more crusts into the box. (I can't even.... who does this?)

"I knoooooow!"

Feeling completely old and broken, I sit at the table, debating if a third crust is okay since I only ate rice cakes, a Special K bar, and a banana. As I mentally scroll through my daily food intake, I ultimately decide, no, I won't eat it. But now I feel doubly defeated somehow. How does someone who's spent twelve years working out at the gym, almost every single damn day, and mind you, someone who's spent a year teaching all kinds of fitness classes, suddenly find herself unable to do a stupid cartwheel or have a third pizza crust? (who doesn't like crust?) Even my mom, Sixty-Six, can't believe it. Our conversations come to mind as I rub my wrist contemplating getting a full body scan to make sure I haven't, in fact, shaken something loose. These conversations with her have repeated themselves too many times to count:

Sixty-Six: "What the hell's wrong with you? You can't even move anymore. Even with my emphysema, I'm fit as can be. Nothing hurts me!"

Swell. My emphysema-stricken mother is suddenly more fit than her aerobically-trained thirty-eight year old daughter.

So, I ask: What the hell is it all for then? I build myself up, stronger than ever, but two, possibly even three herniated disks later, and I can't even do a stupid cartwheel. You would think that after all those years of conditioning my body that I wouldn't be so... fragile. I mean, thirty-eight isn't so old... is it?

Ew. I just used the adjectives old and fragile in the same sentence and I was describing myself.

But... on the flip side. Even though my body aches and I am unable to share the joys of cartwheeling on the lawn with Seven, I still have the uh... knees, (no, not those. They crack all the time), ummm, elbows, (well, not really those, either. I think I have some signs of arthritis in them. They hurt when I bend them.), the uh... uhhhh.... shins of a twenty-year old.

Thirty-eight ain't that bad, now is it?