Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dear Volkswagen, Please Give Me Back My Swagger

Cruising through the parking lot at St. Clare’s preschool is a very intricate and complex daily maneuver. Upon entrance, you must dodge the old ladies exiting eight o’clock mass and floor it past the handicapped parking spaces before their husbands blindly back their Buicks from staggered spots like some symphony of grenades. If you make it past the chapel unscathed, you must then combat with an endless parade of ginormous SUV’s driven by coffee-sipping, cell-phone toting moms who were given special parking passes in September allowing them to abandon their vehicles in the middle of the road wherever and whenever they see fit.

On approach to the Father Hicks center, you must then quickly scan the area for anything resembling a parking space – legal or illegal – in which to shove your car for the two minutes it will take to toss your child into the receiving line. In my tiny little Chevy or Pat’s petite little Passat, the task is not so hard. Making the trip in a big-ass Volkswagen Routan, well that’s a whole other story.

“Ooh, maybe they’ll give us one of those cute little convertibles or even a bug!”

That was me last week, wishfully philosophizing to Pat on our way to the Volkswagen dealership, where a loaner vehicle awaited us in the service department. Let’s get it straight. Despite my enthusiasm about car styles and colors, I was not happy about this at all. After bringing Pat’s car in for service two weeks prior because some light that actually said “STOP DRIVING” lit up on the dash, VW decided to lend us a car while they attempted to identify and correct the problem. Two weeks of sharing one vehicle was not fun and neither was the damage or price tag of engine replacement I was imagining in my head. But after 14 days of scheduling driving time and swapping car seats, the prospect of driving away in someone else’s non-broken sedan was pleasant.

So I waited in the car with the kids while Pat retrieved the keys. He crossed the street, beeping the fob in an attempt to find our new whip in a sea of shiny Jettas and Touaregs. And there it was. Behind the beautiful silver Eos. Right next to that gorgeous red convertible beetle. A gigantic spaceship of a car with the ugly kind of running boards and huge, elongated boxy third row. A Routan – I can hardly type it without gagging – in of all colors, bright neon white.

“Wooooowwwww!!” Erin screamed from the backseat. “Mommy, look at how big that car is!”

Her excitement made it worse. Pat smiled and hopped in the driver’s seat. That made it worse too. Something about seeing your husband behind the wheel of a minivan is a little disturbing.

“Well, we’ve been saying that we need more room,” he smirked.

Yes, but not that much room. Not even the Partridge Family needed that much room. Following Pat home I reassured myself that this was only temporary and I wouldn’t have to drive that behemoth at all. Pat will take it to work and I will kiss every inch of my previously too small Malibu when I get home. But something about EZPass confusion and insurance liability put me behind the wheel of this repulsive car the next day. Excuses, I protested. Pat just didn’t want to drive that wretched vehicle himself.

“Did you get a new car?” the mothers at school asked that morning as I stepped out of the immense box of ugly, fixing my oversized hat, sunglasses and fake mustache. Holy crap, did I just sprain my ankle?

“No, this is not mine,” I shouted sort of loudly. “I would never drive a minivan.”

Dead silence as at least four of five moms in the crowd glanced over at their Town & Countrys.

“Hey mom, check it out, I can dance in here!” Erin broke the awkward silence, having unbuckled herself, running up and down the center of the car, enjoying enough room to kick her legs over her head an even turn a cartwheel. Funny, she never does cartwheels at home.

“Look at our new car!!” she was shouting to her friends.

“It’s not our car!” I shouted back. “And what happened to your brother? I can’t find him in here.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not exactly prissy when it comes to driving the sleekest car in town. I passed my road test on my father’s minivan. Stuffing all of my friends into that thing during senior year is one of my fondest high school memories. And I’m not afraid of big either, I used to be one of those SUV driving moms until the price of gas skyrocketed and we downsized to something more affordable.
There was just something about seeing my family in this bigger-than-life bus that scared me into the realization that I was slowly becoming one of those car-pool driving, Ugg and sweatsuit wearing soccer moms. Nevermind the fact that my coolness factor took a proverbial shot in the foot.

But after one week, I’m already starting to identify some advantages.

All of that extra space made food shopping a breeze. I even carted groceries home for eight of my neighbors.

I found a way to earn some extra cash. Picking up a few passengers on Hylan Boulevard put at least three dollars in my pocket. And next week I’m taking some of those St. Clare’s churchgoers down to AC. A couple of JFK and Newark runs and this baby could turn a serious profit.

Now if I could only sell a little advertising space, the exterior of the Routan might no longer be so hideous.

But the call came yesterday. Our Passat is ready and it’s time for the Routan to go. Something inside of me will miss it. Especially the next time I pull up next to a moving van.

Monday, July 19, 2010

‘Look at me, I’m on the swim team!’

In the spirit of all things summer, Erin has joined the swim team. It’s a rite of passage at the Great Kills Swim Club actually – once you turn three you’re eligible for all of the camaraderie, uniform bathing suits, pizza parties and trophies that go along with belonging to “the team.” And for the past four weeks, I have been enjoying the exercise, 6:30 p.m. bedtimes and ravenous, gobble-up-every-part-of-dinner that goes with her membership. But above all, I have mostly been enjoying the practices.

“Hey Mom! Look at me! I’m swimming! On the swim team!”

In case the neighbors who live across the street from the Swim Club didn’t know that Erin Gorman was on the swim team, they do now.

“Moooommmmmmm!” A series of waves, hip-shaking and ballerina spins. “Isn’t this cool?”

It wouldn’t be so bad if all the other kids were shouting at their moms too. But in a straight-as-an-arrow line of serious three- to eight-year-old swimmers, my little backstroker is the only one jumping for joy.

In her defense, I was the only mother at the pool with a camera. Guess you’re not supposed to snap pictures of practice, even if it is their very first year. But I can’t help but laugh at my little Esther Williams whose bathing suit is way too big in the butt.

“Erin, you can’t talk and swim at the same time,” Coach Kelli warned last week, laughing as she tried desperately to prevent Erin from waving and greeting each cousin and friend who happened to swim by.

“Hi Bri-Bri!” swim, swim, swim. “Hi Liam!” swim, swim, swim. “Hi Juuuliaaaa!” swim. “Look at me, I’m on the swim team too!”

You see, the problem is, there’s nine other cousins on the team and every time she passes one in the swim lane, she takes one hand off of her kickboard to wave and nearly drowns in the process. It’s all very polite, but I never knew I was raising such a socialite. And I didn’t think I was raising such a team player until we had our first meet.

“Really, we have to bring her to the swim meets?” I asked Pat when the first one cropped up on the calendar. I guess when she joined I just thought she’d go to some practices, get some swim lessons and a T-shirt, end of story.

“Of course,” Pat countered, himself a former swim team member. “They have special races just for the kickboarders.”

Races? Really? Ok. So I pack up baby and really excited swimmer at 8:30 a.m. on one of those 100 degree days to go sit poolside and see how this all pans out. The adorableness was beyond words.

“Kick! C’mon Erin, you got this!” Dozens of tweens and teenagers, all of whom had just swam in some serious heats themselves, were peeling off bathing caps and goggles stepping up to poolside to see GKSC’s lineup of three-, four- and five-year-old kickboarders lap it up in the Village Greens pool.

How did all of these kids know my daughter’s name? How are they taking the time to cheer for her and all of the other little tykes out here? Don’t they have to get in the zone for their own swim? Do they really care about all of these little pipsqueaks in the pool? Aren’t they just there to pass some time in between the really important races?

“These are the best years you’ll ever have, Mrs. Gorman,” Coach Jim, the team’s raspy-voiced, oh-so-serious leader said to me as what seemed like the whole pool club cheered on my little girl as she made her way down the length of the pool, legs furiously kicking, head held high in the air, an un-erasable grin splashed across her face.

“Don’t forget your video camera next time,” he said in between big belly laughs, slapping me on the back, probably noticing the tears under my sunglasses. “You’re gonna want to watch this when she’s 19.”

I hugged Jeremiah tighter. 19? No, that’s never going to happen. My kids will never be 19.

And as I jetted to the end of the pool to scoop Erin out of the water and give a million kisses and high-fives, a group of 19-year-olds beat me to it.

“Go Erin! Nice swim!”

I literally could not believe how all of these kids were rallying around my little bathing beauty, making her feel as if she had just qualified for gold. It got me thinking. Does swimming offer that much sportsmanship? Or is it Coach Kelli and Coach Jim (a father/daughter duo) that are turning these kids into such fine athletes and competitors?

Perhaps it’s a little of both.

Even at three-years-old, with her tiny little swimsuit and bright orange kickboard, she is part of this team. And after a whole month of early morning practice, she has the cutest little swim muscles to prove it. I only hope she picks up more than the breaststroke from this upstanding group of team players. Maybe then I can allow her to turn 19.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog

A few nights ago, as I primped Erin for bed – milk, cookies, books, Kenny Rogers – she veered away from our normal twilight chatter and said something odd.

“Doesn’t Uncle Brendy look just like Grandpa?” she asked.

Not a weird question in and of itself. Uncle Brendy does indeed look like Grandpa. Talks and walks like him too. But when she mentioned the fact, I froze. Pat’s father lost his battle with cancer six years ago, long before Erin was born, long before Uncle Brendy really started to resemble him.

My mommy brain started racing. How should I respond? Before I had the chance, she continued.

“Not Pop-Pop,” she said, clarifying that she wasn’t talking about my dad. “Grandpa. You know, the one who’s up in Heaven with Jesus.”

More freezing. But now with goosebumps.

“He does,” I finally answered. “What made you think of that? Did you see a picture?”

What came next I never expected.

“No,” came the reply. “He came into my room the other night like magic with Jesus in a spaceship. He tickled Jeremiah’s belly and kneeled down by my bed and said he loved me. Mommy, he really looks like Uncle Brendy!”

Holy cow.

Of course we talk about Grandpa and the fact that he’s in Heaven. But not so recently and never to such an extent that she should be dreaming of it. I had no idea what to say, so I let my three-year-old take the lead.

She gave more details, describing his blue outfit and fuzzy mustache. When I told Pat the next day, she reiterated the same exact story to him again.

In Pat’s eyes, I could see the comfort. His dad passed and was waked on Father’s Day weekend and his birthday is just a week away. Months and years of illness and hospital visits make this time of year not so easy. We gave our son, Jeremiah, his name, so even though we talk about his dad often, the past five months have been an even bigger daily reminder.

But Erin’s dream or vision or visit or whatever you want to call it, was a little unforeseen blessing at just the right time. As adults, death is hard. To comfort ourselves, we talk about Dad playing pinochle and paddle ball with his brothers in Heaven. We visit psychics and create pictures in our mind of this wonderful oasis where our loved ones move on to spend eternity.

But maybe the innocent mind of a child can view these things better than we can.

Dad was a decorated chief on the fire department, so he had some big-wig friends, but it’s nice to know he’s got even better company up in Heaven, traveling via spaceship with Jesus to visit his relatives. So he’s not playing paddle ball or monster games of pinochle like we imagined, but instead, he is with us, around us.

My faith taught me that. Erin just confirmed it.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

My Dad, My Friend, My Coach

A couple of Sundays ago, when my family gathered for one our usual dinners, Mom, Sis and me were chatting it up over coffee in the dining room when a sudden burst in giggling turned our attention to the commotion inside.

“En garde!” “Hi-yaah!” “Stand back!” “No one can mess with Bobo and Babbette!”
It was my dad, a ripped paper bag on his head, Styrofoam sword in his hand, two grandchildren on his back, a third poking him in the eye with a paper towel battle-axe and a fourth laughing hysterically at the sight of it all from his car seat.

Apparently they were having a sword fight.

“Get off of Pop-Pop,” my sister and I shouted in our best disciplinary voices, pulling children by arms and legs off of our laughing father, knowing full well our attempts at straightening out this chaos would go nowhere. After all, at Pop-Pop and MaMa’s house, anything goes.

“He told us to beat him up,” Erin answered with Vivian and Nicky nodding in agreement. “He’s Bobo the monkey, Nicky’s Babbette and we’re the good guys.”

Great, now there’s monkeys involved.

“Just no real hitting or eye poking,” my sister and I warned, shaking our heads at dad, who was now smirking and preparing himself for round two as we left the room.
“And stop giving them candy and ice cream sodas!” I yelled in one last attempt to make it look like I had some sort of authority in front of my children. “It’s making them nuts.”

I suppose it’s a grandparent’s job to buy fake weapons from the dollar section at Target for their grandchildren to play with. And I suppose it’s protocol to load them up with sugar and cookies before setting them loose on each other in the living room. I just think it’s kind of funny that the Pop-Pop who wears a bag on his head and fences with my children was one of the toughest but most respected dads around.

“Does he make you call him Mr. Jones at home too?”

I was in the sixth grade and the question came from one of the boys in my class. Dad was the boy’s varsity baseball and JV basketball coach at my grammar school and his coaching tactics were less “let’s be friends and work on fundamentals” and more “shut up, listen, or drop and give me 20.”

At one point there was a rumor circulating about how I managed roughly 200 push-ups a day for not making my bed or taking out the garbage on time. Don’t get me wrong, the kids loved him, respected him and counted on him for all kinds of life advice and guidance. But he was like that teacher who you admired from afar: You liked their class, couldn’t wait to hear what they had to teach you, but were still scared crapless by the very sight of them.

“You’re acting like a bunch of 10-year-olds,” he was heard yelling in the gym one time to a group of fifth-graders on his Tyro team who were essentially just acting their age.

“But Mr. Jones, we are 10-years-old,” Matt Bivona answered back. I think that kid is still doing push-ups over on Lisbon Place.

Over the years, he coached it all: From pee-wee girls clinic (he had step down after the first practice because the pure octave of his voice made those little kids cry) to his ten-plus-year-reign in the fifth-grade boys b-ball spot. Baseball, basketball – it never ceased to amaze me how much he actually knew about every sport.

He taught 12-year-olds how to loop the perfect hook shot, showed that one chubby kid that it was OK to shoot a foul shot between your legs and had a special plaque made up at Rab’s to commemorate the time when that tiny little bench warmer shot a half-court buzzer beater in the fourth quarter that swooshed just in time to score a win over our biggest rivals - St. Roch’s.

The chubby kid? He went on to play for Farrell. The tiny guy? I can remember finding Dad crying in the living room when he saw his obituary in the Advance a few years ago. Motorcycle accident I think.

He never forgot any of those kids and they certainly never forgot him. I was in the bank not too long ago when some six-foot-tall man approached and asked in this frighteningly deep voice: “You Mr. Jones’ daughter, right?”

I was afraid to respond.

“Uh-huh,” I said.

“Tell him Chris says hi,” he said. “He was my sixth-grade baseball coach. I learned a lot from him.”

And so did I. Yes, he taught me how to throw a curve ball. Didn’t even think that was possible in softball, but he knew how. He showed me how to fix a toilet. How to screw sheet rock and tape a wall. And of course, he did the ritual dad stuff of running behind my two-wheeler until I went sailing down the street. But it was the other stuff that he didn’t even mean to teach us that I remember most.

Like when I had to dissect a Langston Hughes poem for Mrs. Levy’s freshman English class. He sat with me for hours talking about dreams deferred and raisins in the sun. I still have no idea what that poem means, but I learned a lot about how much Pop knew about poetry. And a lot about his own dreams too.

Or when I started dating in my older teenage years. Every guy who picked me up for a movie had to ring the bell. If they beeped, I didn’t go outside. And he always slipped a $20 bill in my pocket for cab fare home – just in case “Mr. Right” turned out to be all wrong.

In my 20s, when the pressures of work invaded my sanity and I questioned every move I made for an overly critical boss, he supported my skills with a simple statement. “You went with your gut, right?” I can remember him asking. “Then the decision was right. Don’t doubt yourself.”

And seven years ago, when my mother fell ill with a serious infection and came very close to things I cannot even think about, I woke up at 3 a.m. to the vision of the perfect man, husband and father.

“Go back to bed, Jess, she’s OK,” he said as he patted her forehead with a cool washcloth and wrapped himself around her shivering, fevered body. I don’t think he slept for three months when she was in and out of the hospital. And when she finally came home for good, he treated her like a queen.

If he had to, he could knock down an entire house down and rebuild it in a week. Give him a piece of wood and he can turn it into a bouquet of flowers. Have a question about politics, geography or how to splice a home run connection into your junction box (I have no idea what any of that means, I just put a bunch of words together), he can answer it.

But he’s my Dad. And he’s a Superman. (And a Super Pop-Pop, Super Coach, Super Poem Translator and a Super Fencer with a bag on his head.) And he always will be.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

For Sale: One Hot Pink Tutu (Not-So-Gently Worn)

Bursting into Costco last Tuesday morning, on a covert mission for one gallon of milk and a rotisserie chicken, we definitely looked like some weird trio of Dick Tracy comic book villains: Jeremiah, aka Pukeface, was still decked out in his feety frog pajamas at 11 a.m., a little bit of spit-up and just a touch of snot covering his arms and neck; Me? I was like The Shadow, no one knows where I go when I'm completely concealed by my post-pregnancy uniform of all black sweats. And Erin "Tutu" Mahoney, in a pair of sunglasses, some way-too-tight purple leggings and her ubiquitous hot pink tutu - well nobody wants to mess with her.

Our evil powers? The baby could probably puke or poop all over any copper who tried to ruin our mission for giant packages of paper towels and toilet paper. I could evade all line-jumpers with my camouflage attire and cat-like reflexes. And Erin, well she could spin for hours in that tutu, grabbing free samples of yogurt and tiny pieces of pork on toothpicks with some serious ninja-like ballerina moves.

It was definitely a sight. But then again, we look like that wherever we go.

"I'm gonna wear this today, OK Mommy?" That was yesterday when she pulled some random polka-dot socks from the back of the drawer, paired them with a pink halter top and green shorts and completed the look by clipping her hair into a "Snooki." (Yes, I know, I have to stop watching Jersey Shore when she's in the room.)

The tutu, of course, was the piece de resistance. Some silly mistake I made last year, buying this stupid dime-store dress-up Barbie thing for her to spin around and play in which somehow made it into the daily rotation. No outfit is complete without it. When I say she wears it with everything, I mean it. Even pajamas get the tutu treatment before she goes to bed. I can usually pry it away from her once a week in time for laundry day and I've enforced a strict "no tutu at school" rule but other than that, it goes everywhere: The Supermarket, the bank, the playground - even Christmas, Easter and a couple of family parties. I'm starting to get creative with my explanations just to change things up.

"She was drunk when we got dressed this morning," I told some woman at the park last week.

I must remember that not everyone gets my strange sense of humor. I must remember to go to another park.

"She's drunk right now," I told someone else as I ran after her in the frozen food section of Pathmark, trying to prevent her from knocking over cases of pizza bagels with her pirouettes.

Maybe I have to lay off of this drunk thing. Or start going to Stop and Shop.

I think it would be OK if the tutu wasn't completely shredded from an excessive amount of trips in the washing machine. It would probably be even better if there weren't two more tutus that she layered under the first ratty one. (I bought them in the hopes that we could get rid of the first one...didn't work. Yes, I am an enabler, I know.)

But as I was 30 minutes into an argument with her recently over why she shouldn't wear tights and tutus on a hot May day, she had a very real retort.


I honestly did not know what to say. Why shouldn't she wear what makes her feel pretty and comfortable and sort of like a superhero? Don't I do the same thing with my slimming black sweatpants? (I tried to wear them to that wedding, but apparently there's some sort of "rule" about that.)

And if spinning around in a bank or the frozen food aisle makes her happy then why shouldn't she do it? After all, there's only so many years you can logistically get away with stuff like that. I think once you turn eight or nine it's sort of frowned upon.

So I'm putting my own hang-ups aside and celebrating my three-year-old's fashion joie de vivre. You might even see me sashaying through Target or on the school pick-up line next week in something less safe than my comfy sweats. Think they sell tutus in my size?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mama Said There'd Be Days Like This

“Mommmmmmyyyyyyyyy! Look at me. I can do a split!”

One foot up on the coffee table, the other one of the couch, Erin, clad in nothing but a red bikini and socks, was eating black olives and chocolate pudding and trying desperately to get my attention with her latest gymnastic acrobatics. Like the bikini and the olives weren’t enough.

In my arms, Jeremiah wailed. The microwave beeped. The phone rang. The TV blared. I juggled baby and splitting three-year-old while trying to pour and construct a bottle. The whole Gorman world was literally falling apart. In the driveway, Pat was hoisting a refrigerator from a borrowed pick-up truck into the garage. Erin, in her bikini, shook her hips and waved to him from the front door. I think I could actually hear the neighbors whispering about us from across the street.

In my defense, we had just got in the door from Target. What started as a quick trip for one pair of summer sandals for baby turned into an all-day shopping excursion that yielded summer bathing suits for the whole family, a couple of packs of pudding, a can of black olives and a refrigerator, of course. Believe it or not, unpacking all of those wares was actually the hardest part of the day.

“Everything ok over there?” my mother asked when I finally answered that ringing phone. “It sounds a little hectic.”

Hectic. Good word.

“Yes. Hectic,” I said. “Can I give you a call back?”

At 11:45 pm, after baths had been taken and bowls of pudding pried from little fingers, one kid fell asleep (sans bikini) on the couch and the other in his car seat. So I started the nightly ritual of sifting and tidying the mounds of toys and dishes before I passed out myself. As I was chipping flecks of orange Play-doh off of the coffee table, I remembered that I never returned Mom’s call.

Tomorrow, I said. If anyone understands, it’s her. And as I scooped up all 35 pounds of Erin, settling her in bed before ushering little chub-rock into his cradle, I dropped kisses on both of their foreheads and thought about how many times my own mother had done the same thing at the end of an insane day.

After all of the messes and madness, we always ended the marathon days of our childhood with a kiss and I love you. No matter how chaotic things got – when my sister spread peanut butter on the living room table, when I flipped over my tricycle and slid down the driveway on my two front teeth – she never lost her cool. To this day, I cannot recall ever hearing her shout, yell or even threaten. Instead, she was our best playmate, our closest confidante and teacher of those colossal daily life lessons.

And at the end of the day, we always had fun.

She let us jump on the bed. She let us hop in puddles and taught us how to make mud soup when it rained. When she hung the laundry on the clothesline in the backyard and we ran through the sheets and wiped our messy hands all over the towels, she ran with us. We played cops and robbers in the big bed. We enjoyed crazy roller-coaster-esque rides in the Supermarket shopping cart.

She held our hands, closed her eyes and spun us around until we all fell dizzily to the floor. She danced with us in the living room like no one was watching. And we laughed. A lot. In all that she did, she showed me exactly how to be that same wonderful mix of playmate and teacher for my own kids.

As I finally crawled into bed sometime after midnight last night and considered all of my own chaos – the bikini dancing, the crying, the Play-doh and yes, even the pudding – I thought of mom and how effortlessly she always handled all of those disorderly moments in such a completely composed fashion.

Yes, this was a good day. But tomorrow, I will spin and dance and make things even better. For that, I thank mom.

Monday, April 19, 2010

For Jeanine, Because She Holds My Hand

The first time I met Jeanine, she was wearing a bright yellow SuperDance T-shirt, cut-off knee length jean shorts a la "Dirty Dancing" and those pointy-toed patent-leather puffy bow shoes that all the popular girls rocked in 1991.

"This girl is cool," I thought and immediately landed myself a best friend. We were 14 and it was that easy. Nice clothes, cool shoes, same homeroom, let's hang out.

On Sunday, as she sat next to me in St. Clare's church and held my hand while the priest baptized my son, I started reflecting on how many other times Jeremiah's fairy godmother (Erin's words) has held my hand over the past 19 years.

"I love you," she whispered to me on the morning of my wedding, both of us all primped and pretty, mascaraed and hairsprayed, crying like morons right before I walked down the aisle.

"I can't believe I have to go live with a boy now," I answered, turning our tears into giggles, smooshing her makeup back into place with my thumb.

It wasn't the first time we were blubbery, lovey-dovey messes and it certainly wouldn't be the last. Our friendship has survived countless milestones over this two-decade run: weddings, funerals, break-ups and more. Throughout it all, my bond with Jeanine has only gotten stronger.

"She picked on you yesterday, so she can't do it again today," she said to me countless times during freshman year of high school, holding my hair on the bus stop every Tuesday morning, while I emptied my nervous stomach onto Hylan Boulevard in wretched anticipation of being totally embarrassed in Mrs. Gerathy's first period Global Studies class.

"We will definitely be friends forever," she recited to me in poem-form as we stood arm-in-arm in black velvet dresses at each other's sweet sixteen parties, lighting best friend candles, bawling our eyes out over some inside jokes and completely nonsensical 16-year-old stories.

When whatever-his-name-was cheated or dumped or lied, we cried and laughed and then cried again on the phone until 2 a.m. We covered our ears and hid in the bathroom when her mom tried to tell us all about the birds and the bees. We came pretty close to burning her house down when our 15-year-old-selves decided to make pancakes from scratch for the first time without any previous experience. Ever.

We wore white caps and gowns and held hands on line during graduation even though the nuns threatened us with rulers to keep our arms straight at our sides. And in college, we partied and puked and danced and promised to always close down the club - even when we had gray hair and grandchildren.

"Nothing is ever going to be the same," she told me when her mom died ridiculously young 12 years ago, as we both sat Indian-style on her living room floor, sobbing uncontrollably, polishing the cream-colored shoes that her mother would be buried in the next day.

She was right, of course, but every October we hold hands and wear pink and relive some of the happier moments as we walk in a circle at Clove Lakes Park.

"Can you believe we've been friends for this long?" I asked her recently when we connected for one of our marathon phone calls - one of those catch-up ones that covered everything that happened in the previous week or so.

"It's crazy," she replied. "I can't remember a time when you weren't in my life."

In a word, our relationship is intimate. I know why she hates flowers. She knows that from far away, it looks like I have six toes, but I don't. She'll beat up anyone who makes fun of that. Even if she fights like a girl.

When I ask "how's life?" and her "everything's great" has a little squeak at the end, I know for a fact that everything indeed is not great. I also know that if I called her with a problem in a snowstorm, when her house was on fire and all of Staten Island was enduring a massive flood, she would drop everything to come over and make my life right.

We even managed to make ourselves related somewhere along the line - my sister married her brother. We set it up. Mostly so that we could spend holidays together for the rest of our lives.

"So happy you're up here with us," I whispered right after they doused Jeremiah's head and Jeanine helped me pat him dry - both of us naturally tearing up and laughing a bit over little man's outfit. (That seersucker suit and side-cocked pea cap is total proof that the two of us should not be allowed to go shopping together alone.)

"I love you," came her reply as she pulled me in closer and smacked a big one on my left cheek.

"Love you too," I answered, reaching down, grabbing both of her hands tight, my mind racing through all of the laughter, tears and memories that we've shoved into these days, weeks, months and years.

And that's when it hit me: These years that I've spent being best friends with Jeanine were filled with so many wonderful moments. And each one has been so special because she was along for the ride.

Can't wait to see what the next 19 will bring.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hey, Prince Eric, Wipe That Smug Look Off of Your Little Plastic Face

Last week, as Erin played happily and mostly every toy in the house got along with one another, all hell suddenly broke loose in the imaginary world of princesses and dolls.

"Eric was mean to Sleeping Beauty, so she's crying in my backpack," Erin announced very authoritatively, taking me by the hand to witness her favorite blond-haired princess Barbie doll, hands posed over her face, zipped tightly in her Tinkerbell school bag.

"He's in love with Mermaid and he's going to marry her instead," she continued. "That's why Sleeping Beauty is so sad."

I had no idea any such drama was unfolding in my living room. But apparently, it's been brewing for a while.

Let me break it down: At Christmas-time, my mom and dad bought a six-pack of princess dolls which Erin adores. Sleeping Beauty, Mermaid, Jasmine, etc. They all got along famously - playing dress-up, beauty salon and sleepover, you know, all the usual stuff that dolls do - until some additional gifts arrived from Aunt Jeanine.

"It's Prince Eric!" Erin shouted when the plastic-coiffed smug little womanizer arrived, that sly grin of his peering at us through the plastic box.

The next morning, all of the BFF princesses quietly started to bicker.

"Mermaid and Cinderella both want to hold hands with the Prince," Erin said.

There were so many things wrong with that statement, I simply didn't know where to start. I tried to reason a little, asking why the girls no longer played happily together. I got a very real reply.

"Eric picked one princess to kiss and the rest of them are mad," she said.

"Tell me about it," I wanted to respond. "Wait til you're 22 and..." But I bit my tongue. After all, this is my three-year-old innocent daughter we're talking about.

How in the world does she even know anything about kissing and boyfriends? I refuse to let her watch any of those big-kid shows: Hannah Montana, High School Musical, iCarly, etc. Until she's a teen herself, they're off-limits - no matter how much she begs. And I've protected her little eyes and ears from anything risque - we're strictly a happy-slappy, princess/fairy household. Disney movies are the only movies she's ever seen. How could she learn the dramas of dating by watching "Finding Nemo?"

But as my husband and I were hashing out our new found problem the other day - Pat made the revelation: "You know all those Disney movies she watches end with the Prince kissing the Princess, right? And they get married and live happily ever after."

Holy crap, he's right. It all seems harmless, but when everything she sees is focused on marriage and magical, wake-you-out-of-your-sleep kisses, that's what she's going to concentrate on too.

The idea brought me back to a discussion I had with some of my students a few years ago. I was teaching an Intro to Communications class at St. John's and the text devoted a few pages to what they labeled "the Disney effect."

It's a philosophy adopted by many, stating that Disney movies are loaded with gender stereotypes. Women are either portrayed as princesses, queens or homemakers (Cinderella, Snow White - think about it and it starts to make sense) whose main mission in life is to wait around for a prince to come and make their lives complete.

If there's a powerful female in the movie, she's almost always evil (stepmothers, sea queens, etc.) and continually tries to thwart any chances for the princess to reach her main goal of marriage. But in the end, one big magical kiss makes everything OK.

Without even knowing it, I've subjected my daughter to a skewed vision of life. How will she grow up to be a strong, independent woman, when every shred of evidence points to the fact that some prince on a white horse needs to kiss her first?

I know it sounds a little extreme and I'm not one of those crazy, blame-it-all-on-Disney kind of moms, but if the glass slipper fits...

So we've come up with some temporary solutions: Prince Eric is hiding in the trunk of the car for a while, a sort of time-out for all of his philandering. We're weaning Erin off of the books, movies and other princess paraphernalia too, filtering in some non-threatening pals like Care Bears and Dora the Explorer. (She never had any kissing scenes with Boots, right?)

We'll see if any of it works.

But a new player emerged in the saga on Easter Sunday. Mom put Malibu Ken in Erin's Easter basket. He's still in plastic, spending a little time with Eric in the trunk. Once they can learn to behave like gentlemen, we'll let them back in the house.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Thanks Jillian Michaels, For All of the Pain in My Thighs

Apparently, the Kellogg's Special K diet doesn't work when you only eat the little bits of chocolate out of the box of Chocolately Delight cereal. And Slim Fast shakes are not supposed to be consumed as a side dish to your daughter's leftover french fries either - no matter how delicious they might taste together.

These are the lessons I've learned in the past six weeks as I've slowly struggled to shed the lingering 25 pounds that are plaguing my plans to fit into dresses for various weddings, engagement parties and christenings that currently decorate my calendar. Seriously, why does everyone in the family and firehouse have to celebrate such big affairs when I look my absolute worst? The nerve.

You know those ridiculously thin moms who smile and say they just simply can't find the time to eat? Those skinny-minis who claim running after the baby keeps them so active they don't even need to work out? Well, I hate those mothers.

I love food. I always have. And no matter how many tasks I have to squeeze into any given marathon day, I always find time for lunch. And a snack.

My friends and family say I look good, but what else do you say to a new mother?

"Wow, you really packed on the pounds there. Do you plan on taking that off or do you like all of the extra insulation?"

And any shades of slenderness on my part is all smoke and mirrors. It's amazing what you can do with a pair of Spanks.

That's why I started working out again last week.

Mainly because I washed the only pair of jeans that fit me and I couldn't button them. If I don't lose any weight, those jeans will just have to remain dirty until I do lose five pounds. My ego can't take another turn in the dryer. I'm also tired of wearing a girdle with my sweatpants.

So I tried level one of the 30-Day Shred - one of those Biggest Loser DIY workouts I used to zoom through after I had Erin. (Or at least I remember zooming through it.)

Jillian Michaels wasn't so nasty on this DVD before I got pregnant.

Why is she yelling so loud? And why is my heart beating so fast?

I did so many lunges I needed help sitting on the bowl the next day to pee. But I didn't feel svelte and sexy, I was just sore. And I only mourned "ice cream time" even more. (It was every night at nine.)

Time to get serious. Back to kickboxing. Three nights in one week. I must have a death wish. Is it actually possible to break something doing a jumping-jack?

Next up, Weight Watchers. Points. Yes, I can do this.

Off to Pathmark to buy a week's worth of healthy foods.

Wheeling through the produce section I'm confident. Bell Peppers for my salad. Bags of fresh baby spinach and bushels of vine ripe tomatoes - uncooked, they're 0 points!Told you I could romanticize food.

Meats are next. Boneless breasts of chicken - I'll marinate and grill. This actually sounds appealing.

Next aisle.

Entenmann's full line sale. Ooh. Louisiana Crunch Cake. Chocolate Donut Sampler Pack. Abort. Abort. Time to focus, Jess. Think bathing suits, halter tops. Turn away and look at the soap, the mops. Anything to divert attention.

Somehow I survived. And I've made it to day three of this diet. No big weight loss yet, but at least there's no gain. And I've actually found a few tips, tricks and delicious diet foods along the way.

If I could only figure out how to make my thighs stop throbbing, I'd be set.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Build An Easter Bonnet, With All The Frills Upon It? Get Me My Glue Gun

The news arrived sometime last week - typed on a slip of paper in Erin's backpack: "Easter Parade to be held on March 30, creative, fancy hats required."

My inner bedazzler immediately jumped for joy. Before I pulled out of the parking lot, I had four prototypes sketched out in my head. I was channeling Judy Garland, humming Irving Berlin, picturing Erin grandly strutting through the gym arm-in-arm with the likes of Fred Astaire and Peter Lawford.

I could hardly wait to get home and whip out my glue gun.

"Did anyone start making this hat yet?" one mother asked the next day at pick-up time.

"No," someone else countered. "I'm completely dreading this."

"Me too," another mom added. "I guess I'll just pour glitter all over it and try and make it look presentable."

I nodded along.

"Such a pain in the neck," I said.

Fifteen mothers all agreeing over the extracurricular nuances of preschool.

Normally, I'm on the same page as everyone else. The at-home projects, wrapping paper fundraisers and holiday goody-bag patrol can be completely overwhelming. But because I'm a closet crafter, this was an entirely different story.

How could I admit in front of all these people that I had already been to three stores, cleaned Michael's clear out of glitter eggs and was planning a family hat decorating dinner party to celebrate the occasion?

To be clear, I'm no overachiever. It's just that I've had a strange fascination with the arts and craft world since I was a kid. When my friends were riding bikes on the weekend, I was doing needlepoint. Hopscotch and hide-and-seek? Nope. I was making my own friendship bracelets, hooking rugs and trying my hand at a complicated paint-by-number.

My sister predicted that I'd be making tissue-box cozies by the time I was in my thirties. She was close, I suppose.

Last Friday night, I spread all of my craft-store bounty on my mother's dining room table and went to work.

"Love this!" my mother - a fellow crafter - said as she pulled yellow glitter eggs and strings of lime green grosgrain ribbon out of my bags.

For hours we cut, glued, laughed and introduced Erin to our weird and creative world. The house was ensconced in the warm smells of melting glue sticks. The sound of crinkling cellophane filled the room.

"Could it get any better than this?" I thought as my mother and I fastened strips of velcro to a pink straw topper and filled in the gaps with very realistic-looking fake blades of grass.

"She might have the most outrageous hat in the whole parade," my mother commented as we put the finishing touches on a bonnet that now measures more than one foot tall and weighs about three pounds.

"I can't see, mommy," Erin said as we placed this monster on top of her head. "It's really heavy."

Crap. Judy Garland's hat never made her fall over in that movie, right?

So we made some adjustments, took a couple of the heavier items off and added a chin strap to fasten this thing down. Is it wrong to hot glue it to her head on the day of the parade?

It might be a little outrageous, yes, but it sure was a lot of fun.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I Met Up With The Gambler - We Were Both Too Tired To Sleep

When I was about six- or seven-years-old, I formed a strange sort of fascination with all things Kenny Rogers. Don't ask how it happened. But if I had to pinpoint a reason, I guess I could blame my parents - they were fans of his music and they never stopped me when I belted out "Lady" in the shower or decided to sing a rendition of "The Gambler" at a school talent show. (Yeah, it's a painful memory, thanks mom and dad.) Whatever the reason, by the second or third grade, I was a full-fledged Kenny fanatic.

A few weeks ago, when searching my own internal songbook for any sort of lullaby not currently covered by the Wiggles, I somehow returned to my Kenny Rogers roots.

"Sing to me mommy," Erin requested during a particularly difficult bedtime session: Pat was working a 24, baby Jeremiah was unusually fussy and three books, a couple of cookies and some serious hypnotics had done nothing in terms of helping my toddler fall asleep.

She couldn't be serious. I'm the girl that people usually ask to stop singing. I get booed at karaoke. People change seats at church. As Pop puts it, I can't carry a tune in a paper bag.

But she pleaded and I was desperate, so I tried Twinkle, Twinkle. She loved it. I moved on to Itsy, Bitsy. Big hit. I pulled a Peter, Paul and Mary favorite out of my back pocket and she totally rocked out to Puff the Magic Dragon. But there was only one problem: We were one hour into this ritual and she was still wide awake. Command decision: I needed to move away from kid friendly and move on to something completely non-stimulating.

I dug deep: The Eagles, Peaceful, Easy Feeling. Nice. She's dozing. But I only know the refrain. I start humming the rest, she opens her eyes. How 'bout Billy Joel? Piano Man. I sing "the microphone smells like a beer," and she starts to giggle. I realize all of the songs that I truly know by heart are bar music from a variety of jukeboxes - totally inappropriate for bedtime. Damn you Waterside. Damn that Budweiser minor I picked up in college.

And then it came to me.

"On a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere, I met up with the Gambler, we were both too tired to sleep."

She's completely still. Are her eyes closing? Yes!

"So we took turns a-staring, out the window in the darkness, til boredom overtook us and he began to speak..."

I could have stopped, two lines and she was snoring. Jeremiah even liked it. He stared open-mouthed, eyes wide open. I think he was in awe of my lyrical interpretation. But then again, it probably was gas. Either way, I was impressing myself, so I sang some more.

"He said son, I've made a life out of reading people's faces, knowing what their cards were by the way they held their eyes...and if you don't mind my saying, I can see you're out of aces, for a taste of your whiskey, I'll give you some advice."

How could I remember all of these words after 25 years?

"So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow, then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light. And the night got deathly quiet and his face lost all expression, if you're gonna play the game boy, you gotta learn to play it right."

This is like poetry.

"You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em, know when to walk away, know when to run. You never count your money when you're sitting at the table, there'll be time enough for counting when the dealings done."

Could this possibly be my answer to bedtime woes? A couple of verses about dead cowboys and whiskey? I tried it a few more times that week and each night it worked like a charm.

A few nights later, I read the obligatory books - Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty - before Erin turned to me and asked for a little music.

"Can you sing that song about the train again?" she said.

"The Gambler?" I countered.

"Yeah, the one with the cards and the whiskey," she said.

Awesome, I thought, I really hope she doesn't tell her preschool teacher that I sing her songs about beer and whiskey at night.

And so the tradition of Kenny continues. Bedtime might be for stories and cuddling, but in the Gorman house, I take requests.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

All Of That Butt-Wiping Actually Has Some Benefits

At one point, there were 17 dresses in the fitting room. I tried the ruffle thing, experimented with something ruched and silently sobbed over at least a dozen other tricks and tips I picked up while watching "What Not To Wear."

The nerve of my husband's cousin for planning his wedding five weeks after I give birth. Don't you think my body image should have been a factor when they picked the date for this big affair?

But whether I like it or not, the big day is Friday and I doubt the bride will be pleased if I show up in sweatpants. (Seriously, does anyone have any tips for dressing them up?)

So I journeyed in the snow to Woodbridge Mall on Saturday, hitting up every department store in search of whatever style would make me appear least pregnant. Can you imagine the horror if some distant in-law approaches with the question of "so when's this baby due?"

My daughter Erin was delighted by the idea of shopping with Mom. "Fashion show!" she bellowed before I even slipped into dress number one. But the pain, disappointment and utter horror that followed was something that no one saw coming.

"But I'm a size six, really," I told my husband, who was lovingly fetching bigger sizes and styles for me each time I tossed something over the door - all while juggling and feeding baby Gorman in the obligatory men's waiting room.

And there it was: the tell-tale sign of all of that ice cream I ate in month seven - a size 14 silk-satin number that was literally my last shot.

"That's the biggest one," Pat said, as kindly as he could.

The tears immediately started streaming. Before I could even slip this horrible sized-all-wrong frock over one boob, my arm fat was flying, the after-baby pouch was clearly visible and the zipper didn't make it over my back cleavage. Believe me, my three-year-old tried.

"How could women's clothing be sized so unevenly?" I protested, blaming the baby fat on anyone else but myself.

"Jess, you just had a baby," Pat countered. "Who cares about a dress, look at the miracle you just brought into this world."

How could he be so insensitive? Doesn't he know there's only so much control-top pantyhose can do for my self-esteem?

So I basically gave up.

"I'll stay home," I said, literally giving in to all of those stupid ready-to-wear designers who obviously have never had children. Or never had to go to a wedding one month after having a C-section. Ever.

But on the way out of the store, Erin gravitated toward a rack full of purple chiffon.

"Don't touch," I scolded, eyeing the BCBG hangtags and remembering her chocolate-cookie fingers. "Those are really expensive dresses."

And then I felt it as I tugged it out of her hand: Beautiful, soft, silky satin - for 50 percent off.

"Get this one," Erin said, spinning through the rack, arms wide open, her chubby fingers touching every magical thread. Back to the fitting room, maybe this could actually work.

And it did. Somewhere, in the otherwise skinny world of fashion, someone actually designed a somewhat fashionable dress - with sleeves! It was flowy, forgiving and even a little Kardashian-esque. (Super chic, but still big enough for girls with junk in their trunks.)

Finally, I felt confident enough to give Erin her fashion show. I ducked out of the dressing room, gave a little twirl and her face lit up.

"Mommy, you're beeeeautiful!" she shouted.

Now the tears really started flowing, but it was only because I felt so good. I'm the one who wipes her butt, so she has to love me, but she looked at me the same way she looked at Cinderella when we took her to Disney World last year.

"Purple makes you pretty," she said.

And I sobbed even harder as I changed back into my frumpy sweats. It simply amazed me how a toddler could see beyond my flabby exterior and make me feel so genuinely gorgeous.

If only Lord & Taylor had an Erin in every department, the fashion world would be a much happier place.

Goodbye Breastpump, Hello Guilt

Dear Breastpump,

I regret to inform you that after only one month of a very contentious relationship, (four weeks, four days and a couple of hours, actually) I no longer need your services.

It's nothing personal, really, I just feel as though we've grown apart and I honestly cannot be attached to you five or six times a day.

So many people have tried to convince me otherwise, lecturing incessantly on the benefits that a year or more of nursing provides, but I feel like I have to simply go with my gut on this one.

For the record, I know that breast milk is nature's most perfect food, I am completely aware of the bonding that occurs between mom and baby during the process and I've been fully schooled on the allergy and asthma prevention that nursing provides. But all of the pain, infection and general life consumption tell me it's time to part ways. I know I sound like a monster, but seriously, that cannot be what these things were made for.

My daughter said it perfectly the other day when she cried out in defiance over losing her best friend to the Medela Pump In Style: "I need my mommy back," she sobbed, when I put off playing, baths and lunch for what seemed like the hundredth time that week. "You were so much nicer before the baby made you use that machine."

Yes, I am consumed with guilt and worry every second that this little newborn munchkin is getting all the nutrition he needs. But I'm firm believer that God fortified Similac with iron for a reason. And the time I've regained with my daughter is priceless.

So I'm calling it quits and will stuff you back in the closet until we bring another possible Gorman into this world. (But don't get your hopes up.) Until then, I will not think of you at all. Eventually the guilt will subside, but in the meantime I'm cooking up some spicy food and having a cocktail.

No dumping necessary.


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

When God Created Mothers, He Made Me Extra Leaky

Back in 1974, veteran humorist Erma Bombeck penned and published a touching Mother's Day tribute about the very moment when God created mothers.

"She has to be completely washable, but not plastic," the Lord tells an angel in Bombeck's column. "(She should) have 180 movable parts... all replaceable; run on black coffee and leftovers; have a lap that disappears when she stands up; a kiss that can cure anything from a broken leg to a disappointed love affair; and six pairs of hands.”

According to Bombeck - a devout Catholic and mother of three herself - the Lord said mothers also need three pairs of eyes, the talent to feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger and a tough-as-nails exterior that can endure almost anything.

It's been four weeks since we brought our newborn son home from the hospital, and during that time, as I've tried to balance my attention between an infant's needs and the natural adjustment period of my three-year-old daughter, I've thought a lot about Bombeck's words.

Have I felt the need to be completely washable? Absolutely. Especially at 3 a.m. this morning when this baby regurgitated Similac down my neck and projectile pooped on my pajamas at the very same time.

Have I been looking for those five other pairs of hands? Every minute of every day.

How about the black coffee and leftovers? I take mine with sugar and cream, but that's basically the only difference.

When it comes to kissing boo-boos and balancing a family, Erma really knew how difficult "doing it all" could be. I suppose that's why in Bombeck's vision, sometime during the creation process, God's angel finds a flaw: A leak coming from the model mother's eye, dripping down her cheek and staining her face.

“There’s a leak,” the angel pronounces. “I told You You were trying to push too much into this model.”

But it wasn't a leak, it was a tear, God responded, respresenting all of the joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride a mother experiences on a daily basis.

And for the past month, as I've continually cried for no reason - during midnight feedings, at the dinner table and when my husband or my daughter or my son does anything remotely sentimental - I've thought about my own leaks.

Yes, the constant flow of post-pregnancy hormones have made me extra weepy and sleep deprivation is an amazingly emotional experience. But as I sit here, blogging with one hand and burping with the other, I realize that my extra-leaky exterior is also an indication of my super-duper mommy resolve.

In the process of building our family, I've joined a very special club: A sisterhood of women who do it all, rarely complain and juggle all of life's ups and downs with a God-given grace.

How do mothers manage a home, a family and all of the other incredibly important daily details? The coffee helps, but thankfully, we're all waterproof too.