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…

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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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The Big Apple

Despite a rocky start – we had a great weekend. My son’s team won their first soccer game of the season (8-1) and the weather was beautiful.  We had promised to take one of my daughter’s friends to NYC – her very first visit, and Saturday was the day.

They had a blast – and I had a blast watching them have a blast.

Although they let me take a ton of pictures during the day – the only ones I’m permitted to show are the following:

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We started our day here. Now, you’re probably thinking that you’ve never seen this in the top NYC destinations list…well it should be. This is Glaser’s Bake Shop. On the upper east side of Manhattan – called Old Yorkville. Over a 100 years old, owned by the same family that started it and still going strong.  It’s an important focal point in our tour of the city, it’s also an important focal point in my family’s life. My husband and most of his family (including me!) worked at Glaser’s at one point or another. Herb, one of the two brothers that now runs it, is one of my husband’s dearest friends. A father figure that has been in his life for decades. He’s also my daughter’s Godfather. This is also where our little family got it’s start.  Our very first apartment in NYC was on the third floor of the bakery building.  We were married while living there – we had our baby there, who’s now 8 feet tall and showing her pal all the sites of her old neighborhood.  We wouldn’t know what to do without Uncle Herbie.

So that was stop one. We loaded up on Herb’s famous black and white cookies and off we went.

And since our sweet tooth was raging after Glaser’s – we headed right to Dylan’s Candy Bar (check!). The only place where I’ll let my kids eat from a chocolate fountain. Which, generally, I think are really gross. I imagine buckets of cheap, melted chocolate being used over and over again. Yuck. But the last time we were here, I spoke to the woman who ran the fountain – and she said they throw out the unused “liquid” and if they see anyone’s finger/hand/hair/body part touch the chocolate – it’s over. They shut it down. Is this true? I dunno. But I liked her attempt. So I was ok with the girls partaking. I passed on it. Communal dipping fountains are just not my thing. No matter what the nice lady says.

We hopped on a subway (check!) and headed downtown.

We landed right in the middle of a street fair.

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From there we walked to Washington Square Park (check!) and then to Union Square (check!)- who needs America’s Got Talent, these performers were much better.

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The girls – “ummm…do you smell that….”

Me – “incense! That’s incense! Let’s keep walking…”

Then my daughter’s pal said,”I’ve never been in a taxi.”

We fixed that. We made her flag the cabbie down (stealing it from an angry young hipster to boot!).

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(that’s a slurpie in their hands, and per Mayor Bloomberg, it’s a small)

We ended the day in Times Square (check!). By then the girls were tired, hungry and worn-out.  Success!  I took some touristy shots – but they liked their selfie the best.

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These two beauties are even prettier on the inside.

Comedy of Errors without the Comedy

It was a simple plan.

Friday night my son had soccer practice at 6:30. I was going to drop him off, watch a bit of practice and leave.

My daughter and a friend had to go to a dance at 7:00. And by had to I mean they would have LITERALLY died without going to this dance.

My husband planned to get home from work by 6:30, join me at the soccer field so I could take off and he could take him home.

We were meeting some friends for dinner at 7:30.

We can do this. We’ve done this before, like, a million times. I’ll drop off the boy. My husband will pick him up, buy him dinner, bring him to a friend’s for a sleepover, and go straight to the restaurant. I will drop off the girls  (another mom was doing pick-up) and meet at the restaurant. All’s well.

Then here’s what happened.

When I got to the soccer field I couldn’t find our team. I know that sounds insane – but it’s a sea of 9 year boys running around a football field. And they don’t wear their uniforms for practice – thanks for asking. It also turned out that they moved from our usual spot to the back field. Anyhoo, we didn’t get there till 6:45.

At 6:50 my husband called to say there is terrible traffic. He’s not making it to the field by 7:15.

No worries, I say. I’ll stay at the field and take him back, you (I’m looking at you husband), take the girls to the dance.

Small caveat that I had to fill him in on. On the way to the dance, you have to stop by another kid’s house and pick him up too.

Another small caveat I had to fill him in on. The dance was in the next town over.

As every wife and mother out there knows, there are certain details of how we get our day done which are on a “Need to Know” basis.

“Why didn’t I know that this dance wasn’t in our town?” he asks.

“What? Who are we picking up? Where?” he shouts.

Need to know baby. As in up until now, you didn’t need to know.

I’ll spare you the “spirited” discussion and “colorful” language that flowed like water from both of us. Did I mention that we never remembered to call our friends and say we’d be late?

We did make it to dinner – at 7:45. Not bad for a total breakdown of plans and routine.

Thankfully our dinner companions laughed off the lateness when we told them our tale of woe. You see, they have grown kids, and I’m sure they were thinking,” you think it’s bad now…wait until next year.”

But they didn’t tell us that. It’s on a “Need to Know” basis.

 

 

 

This is what keeps me going

Last night my daughter came home from school and plopped on the couch.

She’s still getting back into the swing of high school hours. As am I.

She smiled big and said,” guess what happened today?”

Here’s why I love these moments: a) it means she’s going to share something with me…actually TELL me something – verbally!  And b) it’s probably something positive since bad news is delivered via text (it’s written in the 14-year-old code of behavior).

Back to her story. She found $20 on the stairs at school yesterday morning. So, she tells me matter-of-factly, she took the money to the office and gave it to the receptionist. The nice lady told her to stop by at the end of the day – if no one had claimed the money – it was hers. At this point in the story, she whipped out the bill and smiled big.

“That was so nice of you to bring it to the office” I said, to which she replied,” it could have been someone’s lunch money and I really felt bad for them.”

Small story, I know. But it made me feel so good.

Let me tell you a secret. When I look at my daughter, here’s the face I still see….

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and this one

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This will help you understand why I wanted to cry and sob tears of joy when she told me this story. And it wasn’t that I was so shocked by her wanting to give the money back or do the right thing – that’s pretty normal for her. It was that she knew how easy it could have been to shove the money in her pocket and never say a word – and she didn’t.

I told her she was a true humanitarian. She didn’t need to see proof of suffering to do the right thing – she did it because there was only one right thing to do.

Then she rolled her eyes and went up to her room.

The end.

 

Confession

I share this story because this is why I have a blog. I debated whether to come clean for quite a bit this morning, and decided not to edit myself.

My daughter’s first day of school is tomorrow, but she’s in this peer leader program and had to go in today to welcome the incoming Freshman.  Because we live in a different town then her high school, bus service was not available today and I had to drop her off at 7am.

On my way back I noticed a ton of buses from our school district all over our neighborhood. Hmm…I thought. School starts tomorrow, why are buses running today? As I turned onto our street I noticed a bunch of middle schoolers at the corner.  They usually get picked up an hour before my son gets picked up.

My stomach turned a bit. Beads of sweat started to form. No. Today is Tuesday. School starts tomorrow. Right? Why didn’t I bring my phone with me? No biggie. I know I’m right.

I got home and ran into the kitchen – yep, the calendar says school starts on the 28th. Wednesday. Tomorrow. I grabbed my phone and checked the date. Gulp. Everyone in the neighborhood was right. Today was Wednesday.

I ran upstairs like a lunatic and woke my son up.

“School starts today!! Today! Today! Wake up! Brush your teeth!”

My husband casually walked in my son’s room, I shouted some obscenities, and he walked out.

I frantically pulled the tags off all the clothes and ran downstairs.  We’d ordered his backpack in July and I’d stuffed it in a closet. Somewhere. I remember feeling so organized when it came in the mail. Like one of those people who buys Christmas presents in the summer. Found it!

That relief was quickly gone when I realized the bag was empty.  I never bought the supplies.

Why? Because it was 5 silly little things that I thought I’d pick up at the last-minute.

I grabbed my wallet and headed to CVS.

I love CVS. I owe CVS a debt of gratitude and appreciation.

I grabbed Expo markers, red/green/blue/yellow plastic (not laminated) folders, composition books, pencils, zippered pencil-case – and milk for cereal. I would have grabbed Xanax if it was OTC.

By the time I got home we had 15 minutes.

I made him eat while I labeled and packed everything.

5 minutes to go.

I doused his hair with water and out the door he went.

Like we’d planned it all along.

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Excuse me while I go throw up.

 

 

 

 

 

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