Manners, Manners

Manners are a big deal in my house. We use please and thank you so often that it sometimes sounds like a verbal tick. I grew up in a very quiet, polite home. My husband grew up in a very loud, polite home. His family wasn’t soft spoken (and isn’t) but they were always quick with a thank you. When we had kids we weren’t exactly sure what the “rules” of our house were going to be. We kinda just made it up as we went along. When we heard other parents talk about the things that their kids were allowed and not allowed to do – sometimes we felt horrible for the kids living through that regime, and sometimes we stole their ideas and rules. But not a lot of them. The only thing I really worried about was stranger danger and not-so-stranger danger. Other than that – we were open to most things. And unlike my parents house, our house is not quiet. We yell. We scream. We laugh. We cry. The full spectrum of the emotional rollercoaster is experienced on most days. We’re human afterall. 

When my daughter was born and I went back to work, we carefully picked a nanny we thought would follow our small list of rules. When we discovered that she was letting a 1 year gnaw on a hot dog while swinging in the park and then washing that down with a milk shake from an illegal visit to Mickey Ds – we were horrified. Just because we weren’t helicopter parents didn’t mean we wanted our kid eating that crap. We lived in NYC for goodness sake – the park was on the Upper East Side. Other nannies were bringing blenders to puree fresh smoothies in the park. If you’re wondering how she got caught, I’ll give you one word. Wrappers. My husband found the paraphernalia in our garbage of all places. Not only was she breaking our sad little list of rules, but she was a moron to boot. Suffice it to say, we gave her the boot. I was young back then and didn’t enjoy a verbal conflict like I do now, and my husband for all his tough guy demeanor can never be mean to anyone he pays for a service. So we let her go without addressing the problem. That’s how we rolled back then.

As she got older and then we had our boy, we held fast to only a few of those early family laws. I don’t want to alarm anyone but we never once bought a lock for our kitchen cabinets and our corners were never padded. Anywhere. My kids were allowed to play on the street. They were, and are, allowed to ride their bikes pretty freely. My daughter has navigated the public transit system alone – something a few of our adult friends don’t do. My son often rides a skateboard or scooter on busy roads. Do we worry about that stuff and pray for their safety? Yes we do. It’s like a full time job. Praying and worrying. But do we say they are “not allowed” to do that? Nope.

You know what they aren’t allowed to do? Speak rudely and not be polite. Manners are numero uno, followed by kindness, and just ahead of humor in terms of importance in our house. We don’t ask for something without a please before or after. When someone hands you something – anything – it should be followed by a thank you. In our house, if you are in the downstairs room all the way to the right and someone in the upstairs room all the way to the left sneezes, make sure they hear you say bless you. In fact you usually know if someone in the house is mad at you because you’ve sneezed and it was followed by silence. The horror!

I don’t go around expecting everyone to follow the same rules as our family, and I have no doubt that even with our politeness rules – my kids, my husband and I are are rude sometimes. Perfection – incase you haven’t read my blog before – isn’t what I’m aiming for in life. I’d like to just get through the day and maybe laugh a bit. Those are my goals. And to eat carbs with reckless abandon. But that’s another story.

And although I’d like to go on a tirade about how rude the world outside is, the truth is that most people are polite. For example, this morning on the train into work, in a very very packed car – a woman walked in with her two small kids and a big bag. Instead of looking down or staring out the window, no less than 4 people stood up to give them seats and offered to help with the bag. One man even offered to give a woman who’d gotten up for the other woman his own seat! I mean, come on! This is politeness gone wild. I would have happily given up my seat but I was stuck like a sardine next to an older Asian woman. It’s a well-known fact to those who ride a commuter rail that older Asian women do not give up seats. No sir. I don’t care if they are from China or India or Nepal. It’s not a racist observation. It’s a Continental truth. And since I will eventually become one of those older Asian women, I can say that. Although you can argue that if you are older, you deserve the seat. You’ve earned the seat. Asian or not. Fair enough.

I was just so happy to see that this group of strangers on the train took care of this woman. These were probably also the same people who would help a tourist in need without rolling their eyes, or wave when you let their car go first at an interection. These were good people. 

When the woman finally sat down and situated the kids, one of them sneezed, and there was a symphony of bless yous in the train car. I wasn’t surprised at all. 

Prison Rules

***Spoiler Alert***
If you have a cute, sweet , clean little boy under the age of 10, stop reading. Enjoy the years you have.

A few weeks ago we instituted some new rules in the house for my son.
We’d started noticing an odor.
I know it seems I’m obsessed with smells – and I am – but this wasn’t just my disfunction. Other, more balanced moms were also going through it with their sons.
For some strange reason, 10 year old boys are hygiene averse.
Averse is the wrong word.
Oblivious. Completely clueless.
My son would walk out of a “shower” with dry hair and a dry back.
Do you understand what I’m saying?
He didn’t even turn around!!
You blame yourself.
Maybe I never taught him to shower, you think. Maybe I never introduced him to soap?
My oldest is a girl. At 10 she would take two showers some days. I remember her smelling like vanilla all the time. Did I teach her about showers and not him? And brushing your teeth? With toothpaste?
We took him aside and explained how important cleanliness was. Bought him a “big boy” deodorant.
We tried humiliation as a last resort.
Nothing changed.
So – on the advice of some other moms – this is how we roll now.
All showers happen with the door open and in our bathroom.
The shower must be longer than a minute.
Hair will be checked/smelled after for shampoo use.
Brushing teeth happens only in our bathroom so we can do a brush and mouth check.
Clothing must be worn right side out.
Socks must be changed daily, I don’t care how cool the neon green ones are.
No food of any kind is permitted in the bathroom.
You have two choices – clip your nails or paint them.
Make friends with a Qtip. Good friends.
Lights out at 9.
Here he is heading back to his cell.. er..room last night.

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Best Decision Ever.

Ummm…can we just skip over my explanation of not writing during the last 15 days? Ok. Thanks. More importantly – I couldn’t wait to write this post. 

We got married in a fever, hotter than a pepper sprout. Really we did. Swear on June and Johnny we did.  And when we made that decision it was filled with worry and anxiety. Are we doing the right thing? Yes. Are we too young? Yes. Will we make it? I sure hope so. But once we were married and living our little life in NYC – all that worry went away. We had a great first year of marriage. Lots of traveling for work and for pleasure. Lots of painting the town red. Not a care in the world. If we wanted to eat out at 2 AM, we could. If we wanted to leave at a moment’s notice to hop a plane to a tropical island, we could. But in reality we never did. We were pretty tame. But we were happy.

Right after the holidays we decided that this would be the year we had a baby. Unlike the wedding/marriage/decision to stay together forever thing- this was an easy one. I loved kids. He…didn’t hate kids. It was perfect. We talked it through. We made a 6 month plan. We’d get our finances locked down. We’d figure out if we could stay in the apartment. We’d figure out if we needed to buy a car. We’d take part of the year to really sort it out. But we forgot something important.

I am a fertile myrtle.  My body was made for baby bearing, and I’m not just talking about my hips. Just looking at babies could get me pregnant. And indeed, just thinking of having a baby was all it took. Well, not ALL it took. I’m not magic, but you get the point. I got pregnant quickly. Supersonic preggers. Look Ma, I got skills!

We were so excited. I won’t brag about how easy breezy the first months were. No morning sickness. No nothing. Just happy little butterfly flutters in my belly. We found out what we were having, because, well, you know. I’m nosy. I need to know things.

A girl!! Exactly what we wanted.

After that, instead of a Friday night movie – we’d head to Barnes and Noble and look up baby names. There must be an Irish/Ukrainian/Indian name right? Not so much. We knew the middle name would be Anne, because 1) Indians don’t really have middle names so I was open to anything and 2) My husband’s family has a long line of strong, beautiful women with that middle name. She could have no other middle name.

But there was an Indian first name that I loved. Asha. It means wish. Not just a small, penny-in-a-fountain wish – but a deep, burning, full-of-love wish. Asha Anne? It could work. I began working on my husband, trying to convince him that this was the name for our little one. He wasn’t loving it, but I think I would have talked him into it. Eventually.

2 months into my “Asha” obsession, my husband came home from work with a deeper than usual frown on his face. Then he proceeded to tell me about a woman who’d just started in his group that was making his life miserable. Anyone care to guess what her name was? Anyone? Bueller? No? It was ASHA. What? Come on!  In the words of Vizzini in The Princess Bride – inconceivable!

Long story short, we didn’t go with that name. But we found something even better. There are so many other details about that time that fill my head.

I could tell you about my doctor (I’d never met a Hasidic Jew before and the first time we were introduced he said,” you don’t ask me why I have curls and I won’t ask you why you don’t wear a dot, ok? Loved him). I could talk about the raging postpartum depression I had that lasted for months, and then one day, just turned off like a light. I could talk about how we painted a hallway yellow and called it a baby room (it was beautiful).

I went into labor at 5am. We hopped into a cab and my water broke. The driver didn’t act surprised, #cabsaredirty. I was in labor for a bit and then she was born. I remember my husband clearly saying to me, in the midst of my epidural haze, “we’re a family”. The next few hours, days, weeks, months were a blur.

I’m sure a lot of people assumed she was a “surprise” because we were so young. None of our friends were even married, let alone parents. We lived in a city where it was normal to see a twenty year old strolling around with a baby – because she was the nanny, not the mommy.

But we were unapologetic. She wasn’t Asha, but she was. Because she was a wish. A plan. A purpose.

That was 15 years ago. There’s a ton of words I could use to describe her. She’s funny, smart, beautiful, kind, thoughtful, stubborn, careful, sarcastic, passionate, loyal – I could go on and on.  Every time someone from the outside world tells me how amazing she is, I try not to do what I naturally want to do – which is to say,” I know right?”. I just say thank you and go cry in a corner.

Happiest Birthday to my first-born. Here’s what happens when you blink.  Your baby goes from this…

Kera3

To this…

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The hippie and the banana

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No – That isn’t some tricky baiting title to get you to read this blog….it really is a hippie and a banana.

(the banana wanted to be a trash can, but then the hippie found the banana right next to her dreads in the costume store – where else would you be if you were a banana costume – and the rest is history. Or science. Or psychology.)

Happy Halloween!

As if it mattered

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This is my sons backpack.
It’s got his initials on it – so he knows it’s his.
He and I toiled over the shade of blue, I wanted a lighter sky blue – he loved this darker color.
I paid extra for shipping so he’d have it in time for school.
Inside the backpack is his homework, his books, his snack, his water, his musical instrument, and his jacket. He didn’t want to wear the jacket but I was convinced he’d need it at recess. I felt so good about remembering to give it to him. Yeah me!
Also inside is his itouch. He saved and collected every penny from his birthday and Christmas last year to buy one. He begged and pleaded with my husband and I to take it on the bus. I said ok . My husband said no. Conversations ensued.
An agreement was reached. A deal was made. But then I decided he could take it one last time before the new rules went into effect.
This is where the time goes.
Know where this backpack is? On the kitchen floor.
Know where my son is? On the bus to school.
That’s about right.

Into the woods

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My husband grew up in NYC. He grew up like most city kids – riding the subway, avoiding fights, and generally keeping to himself. But every year, his dad packed him and his sisters up and headed into the wilderness. Literally. The trip took weeks and weeks to plan, coordinate and schedule.

I started dating my husband in late October of 1991.  That year’s trip was in the Spring, so I missed it. But oh the stories! I think I started hearing about the trips almost immediately. They were the stuff of legend.

Here’s a few overall facts about the Kowal Camping Trips:

  • They go to the same place every year (many a story is told of how they discovered the campsite and how all other camp sites are substandard). It’s called Crystal Lake. Go ahead and insert the Friday the 13th jokes.
  • The camping trip is never in the summer. That’s for wimps and yuppies. Kowal camping trips are in the early Spring or late Fall. Cold? Check! Wet? Check!
  • This is no organized site with plug-ins, bathrooms and showers…this is…the opposite. You’ll get to know the forest well.
  • Ponchos and tarps are your friends.
  • Although total time in the woods is less than 42 hours, enough food, booze and magazines should be packed as if you were going away for a week. And even then you’ll wish you had more.
  • The trips began with my husband and his dad (Pappa Joe as he’s referred to now in our house).  They scouted, found and claimed the site. The sister’s were indoctrinated quickly after. I joined a few years in and since then, we’ve had lots of additions and subtractions. Our old photos of these trips are a who’s who of relationships past and present.
  • There has never been a camping trip without rain. Never. Ever. Not once.
  • This year, at ages almost 10 and almost 15, we decided it was time to introduce our kids to camping. We didn’t know how they’d fair or if we’d have to go home in the middle of the night or something – so we decided to do a “test” trip. We knew they could handle it when, on the first night, as my husband and I were trying to figure out the new tent – it started pouring. We couldn’t have been more proud when we looked over and saw the kids huddled together in the dark, in ponchos, sitting on tarp covered equipment – pretending it was normal. It was beautiful. A parenting home-run in our book.

Here’s some shots of camping through the years.  Please note that some of these photos are before digital cameras, filters, edits, etc. Some of these pictures were actually physically developed! They’re “vintage”.

This is one of the early trips…notice the tarp covered tent. This is my husband’s younger sister, Stacy. Stacy has the longest running record of tents that leak. There’s usually a running stream in her tent when she wakes up. No joke.

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This is my sister-in-law Colleen – sitting on cooler with toilet paper in hand. Classic.

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This is the original Kowal gang below.

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This is me and Pappa Joe in the early 90s. It was my birthday on this trip. That night, it poured so badly and I felt so bad for myself (because that’s what you do in your 20s), I threw a tantrum and slept in the car. I know better now. Suck it up! It’s the Kowal way!

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This is my husband and Stacy. Cooking. Which is the only thing that takes your mind off the fact that you’re cold and wet.

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Stacy and I enjoying the lake. Sitting very very very far away from each other enjoying the lake.

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This is Pappa Joe – who always smiles when his two daughters are with him.

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Did I mention it’s all about the fire? Men. Must. Stoke. Fire.  That’s Uncle Roman doing what he did for the entire trip.

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Sorry about the terrible quality of the photo below – but I needed you to see that I am wearing a winter coat, gloves and a scarf. There’s snow in the ground behind us. Just sayin’.

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This is Pappa Joe. I love this photo. It’s quintessential. The vest. The glasses. The perfectly combed hair. This is the man who started it all!

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And here we are continuing the legacy. Hazing our kids into the next generation of camping.

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Yes – that’s my husband showing my kids how to load and use a BB gun. Please don’t send me angry emails about safety. Only empty Poland Spring bottles were hurt. If it makes you feel any better – we recycled them later.

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Nothing made my husband happier than bringing his kids to the spot that held so many happy, funny, wet, cold, hysterical, loving memories.

As you leave the camp site, you always think the same thing – thank god we’re going home, and thank god we came.

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Fruit of my carb addiction

My kids requested grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner.
They really are mine.

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