Friday, September 28, 2012

Man Up

Because we are not of the Jewish faith wherein a 13-year-old boy is ushered into adulthood with a Bar Mitzvah; nor living in a remote village in Africa where the same boy might be sent into the jungle to kill a tiger and return a man; because we are a not-very-religious family living a not-very-ritualistic life in Las Vegas, we had no ceremonial rite of passage to offer Hollywood when he became a teenager, last June.  In fact, it wasn't something Balthazar and I even thought about.

What we did think about, and talk about at length, was the angst that Hollywood was suddenly exhibiting, and the volatility of his disposition, how he would laugh and cry, and yell, and scream all within the same hour, over virtually nothing.

"Man up," Balthazar would tell him, and he complained of the stuffed toys Hollywood still had on his bed, as well as the cell phone bills he was racking up; I complained of the action figures and young boy's toys he refused to give up, so that there was no feasible way to organize his bedroom; and the long hours he spent video chatting his friends from within the chaos, his bedroom door firmly shutting us out.  We had these complaints and concerns, but we didn't see it clearly--the big picture: the identity crisis our son was having.

It wasn't until I caught a glance of his book shelf, one day, where several Dr. Suess books were interspersed with various young adult reads, that it occurred to me that Hollywood was struggling with this transition from boy to man, and why wouldn't he be?  There was no line, no marker, to indicate where his childhood self should stop and his adult self should start.

So, of course, he was confused and frightened, and uncertain of how to express this anxiety he was feeling. With the tears of child? Or the angry shouts of a man?

So we created our own sort of ceremony, although it wasn't so ceremonial as it was affirming.

First we emptied Hollywood's room of every single item within. 

Then we painted it in mature and masculine shades of blue. We bought furnishings to match.

We removed the word "boy" from our vocabulary, replacing it with son, and teen, and young man 

Then Hollywood spent a week sorting through his things, deciding what he wanted to bring back into his new young man's room--and suddenly he had no problem relinquishing his action figures, and his stuffed toys, the paraphernalia of his boyhood. 

He was ready.

That was almost two months ago. Since then his angst has subsided, and his little boy tears have long since been wiped away.

He holds his head a little higher. His shoulders back a little farther back.   

He was so ready.  


Monday, September 24, 2012

Chicken Mama

"Jump, Mama! Jump!" said The Storm, this afternoon, while I stood looking over the edge of a rocky cliff into the lake below, where she was treading water alongside Balthazar.

"Gimme a second," I said, and I braced myself to make the leap that I'd been watching my children make over and over again for almost an hour, while I took shot after shot.


"The water's nice," Sunshine said, slapping at it in a futile attempt to splash me, twelve feet up.

"C'mon, Mom! It's a rush!" said Hollywood, climbing up the cragged side of the cliff to take another go at it.

"Just a second," I said, stepping a little closer to the edge. Then I stepped back again.

"She won't do it," said Balthazar.

"Don't say that." Sunshine came to my defense.

"It's just not her thing," he said.  He was right. He'd seen me stand for thirty minutes on the edge of a similar cliff in Mexico, years earlier, trying to convince myself to just jump.  I never could.

"You'll regret it if you don't," said Hollywood, standing beside me now.

I didn't so much regret not jumping in Mexico, but I was disappointed in myself.  Then I got over it. A fear of heights isn't a big deal in the scheme of things--I've braved enough else to make up for it.   

"You go first," I said to Hollywood.

"That's what you said last time."

I'd been at it for about fifteen minutes already, approaching the edge, then backing off again, making room for someone else to jump.

"I'll hold your hand," he said.

"Just go," I said.

"Face your fears," he said, before he made another wild leap into the air.

This went on for almost an hour, while the kids spouted years of my own psychology back at me. Then encouragement turned to pleading: "Do it for me. It'll be cool to tell my friends that my mom cliff jumps."  Pleading turned to bribery: "I'll make my bed every day."  The Storm even got stern with me: "You're not leaving here until you jump, Missy." She looked reproachful with her hands on her hips.

Here's the thing: It didn't mean that much to me. Sure, the water looked refreshing and I wanted to join in on the family fun, but I didn't really feel a pressing need to conquer this fear of heights.  It  was just a part of me--I'd accepted it.

"But you're the mom. You're not afraid of anything," said Sunshine, to lend a more complicated spin to the situation, and to explain the thoughtful glances The Storm kept stealing my way.

"Count to ten," I said, and I rallied my courage while The Coop rhymed off numbers in unison.

"... eight, nine, ten."

"I can't," I said, stepping back again.

While they went on to leap, and splash, and laugh some more, occasionally calling out to me, I knew I had to get up my nerve. Not so much for me, but for them, whom I'd coaxed over, around, and directly on the back of fear a thousand times through the years. And for The Storm and the insecurity that I could see seeding in the confusion on her nine-year-old brow, for her chicken Mama. 

But try as I might, I could not muster the courage to fling myself over the edge of that damn cliff.  I just couldn't.  And a real sense of self-disappointment--one that smacked of maternal failure--began to set in.

Another full hour later, the sun fell toward dinner time and the homework hour. It was time to go.

"You sure you don't want to jump?" said Hollywood, toweling off.

"I'm sure," I said, while the rest of them climbed out one-by-one.

I watched from my perch as Sunshine pulled herself over the cliff's edge and made her way to our gear. Then, Balthazar yanked himself over and while he did, from the corner of my eye, I saw The Storm slip on the jagged rocks.  I heard her cry and saw her splash backward into the water below.  I rushed to the edge to watch for her to emerge.  She wasn't hurt, but the fear in her eyes as they met mine, was enough to have me leap from the cliff without a single thought in my head, but to comfort my baby.

I guess that's what it means to be a Mama. Chicken or otherwise.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Little Italy

If you take two seconds to consider the history of Vegas, it won't surprise you to know that the San Gennaro Feast--celebrated for 86 years in Little Italy, New York, to commemorate San Gennaro, the Patron Saint of Naples--has also migrated here.  Originally a religious festival, in Sin City it's all about food and fun.

Yesterday, Hollywood spent his day pretending he was Italiano, for a Vegas Kids TV episode. His accent is just terrible enough (sometimes he sounded more Indian than Italian) to be hilarious.

Anyway, here are some picks of the Vegas Kids TV kids goofing around in between scenes, including a shot with the up-and coming C-Boys Stars and WillB. Lots of fun!

These are a bunch of really talented kids and when they're big and famous--like tomorrow--you can say you saw them here first.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Blogging, Belching and Blueberry Pancakes

"Don't write that stuff," said Balthazar, when he read my last post, "A Mighty Battle."

"What stuff?"

"Personal stuff," he said,"I don't think she (The Storm) would like it."

"Get the hell out of my breathing corner," I wanted to say--but I didn't, of course, because I've chosen a public forum for my breathing corner, where everyone else is welcome, so my good husband and his genuine concern for our children, certainly, has every right to be here.

"What should I write?" I said, instead. Although, when I did, I felt my insides fold a little around the already dim writer's light inside of me--because all day long I write what other people tell me to write, and here, in the early mornings or late at night, when everyone else is sleeping and when I have time, I write what I want to write, about the things that matter to me: Mother, Wife, ...and Writer.

"Write about cookie recipes and stuff. The good things about us."

"Hm," I said, so that he would know I was considering what he said.

But..., but I am Mother, Wife, and Writer, and this third piece of me, well, it has me inclined to honesty.

"But it is good stuff," I said to Balthazar, after a few minutes.  "It's a triumph.  Sure, she had some difficulties, but she overcame them. You can't have triumph without adversity. The good and the bad come hand-in-hand."

"She wasn't on the bench all season," he said.

Well, none of us are, but neither are we always on our game, and I don't believe we do ourselves any favors to pretend we are. At least here, in my little breathing corner called Haphazard Truths, I want to keep it real.

Still, there are a few issues. First there is the matter of those two small titles that always fall before Writer, and the obligations they entail.  Then, there is the integral contradiction within the concept of my public private breathing corner.

A conversation with an old friend, earlier this week, wherein he said, after admitting he reads my blog, "I almost feel I know too much," has given me further pause, and caused me to recall my communication with another writer, whom I very much admire, who referred to blogging as "burping on the page for a mass audience."  ...And so, right here, right now, Confidence just took the upper hand, and my wrists are bent back--which, incidently, is opposite of the position they need to be in for me to type at the keyboard or even push a pen.

But, I haven't cried mercy, just yet. I have some thinking to do, thinking about privacy and family and writing, and how this might or might not all work out. Perhaps my Haphazard Truths belong in a handwritten blue ink and in a drawer in my bedside stand. Perhaps I should share less, edit more. Perhaps I should cry mercy. Perhaps I should cry Writer, like Joan Didion and a hundred other Mother/Writers before me.  Perhaps I haven't the heart. Perhaps I haven't the right. Perhaps I haven't the talent.... (See how she does that? How she slips away? Confidence, she is an elusive bitch!)

In the meantime, to appease Balthazar, the love of my life; and because it is Sunday morning and Sunday mornings should be reserved for long, lazy and delicious times of family, and big breakfasts, and late-morning sunshine streaming in the windows; and because it is nothing short of a crime that I sullied yours with all my ugly page-burping (although, that mighty burps tends to follow majestic feasts reminds me again that the good and the bad are highly co-dependent); because of all this I offer you my favorite recipe of all time, my Blueberry Pancake recipe:

1 and 1/2 c white flour
1/2 c wheat flour
2 and 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
1 and 1/2 c milk
1/4 cup butter or margarine
clean, fresh blueberries
vegetable oil
cream cheese (optional)

1. Mix flours with baking powder.

2. Add eggs, milk and butter.

3. Whisk until smooth.

4. Add blueberries.

5. Heat a tsp of vegetable oil in pan at medium high.

Balthazar's grandmother made a habit of throwing away the first pancake she made of each batch because, she said, "The first one never turns out well. The pan isn't hot enough yet."  Our generation values each and every pancake too much to waste any, so I like to set my pan at medium high, waiting a good several (maybe 10) minutes for the pan to get nice and hot, before I turn the stove down to medium for cooking. While I'm waiting, the yeast in the baking powder gets a chance to start working, so the pancakes are flufflier.

5.  Reduce heat to medium. Spoon batter into pan in shapes and sizes to your liking.

6. Flip when you begin to see little air bubbles popping up in the pancake.

7. Serve hot with syrup.

8. Or for my famous Ruby Cakes, pile two or three cakes on top of one another, each separated by a thick layer of cream cheese.

9. Top with syrup.

10.  Enjoy! (Burp into your napkin, if necessary.)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Mighty Battle

Last spring, on the soccer field, The Storm struggled with confidence.  It was a dreadful season that she spent mostly on the sidelines while her teammates went on to earn her medals that she cherished, because she's nine and they're shiny medallions on necklaces of ribbon. But it was complicated for her. I could see it in her eyes.

Feeling something bigger than soccer threatening our little girl, Balthazar and I grew frustrated. With the game. With the coach. With each other. With The Storm. 

"Why aren't you even trying?" we'd ask in the car after another full weekend of tournament games that we'd spent watching other people's daughters race around the field, while The Storm sat watching from the bench.

Occasionally, when we'd hear the coach call out her name, we'd perk up in our lawn chairs, fold our hands as if in prayer to hold near our faces while The Storm took her jog across the field into position, looking so tiny in her uniform with her shoulders curled in around her chest.  Still, we hoped, we hoped with every ounce of our parental beings that this would be the game when she would rise, let loose, show the world what we knew was inside of her and her sized two and half cleats.  Even though her posture told us otherwise.

Then the coach would call her out again.

Confidence. She and I have battled more times than I care to count.  On the page, in the mirror, in my own backyard--you name the arena, she and I have had a go-round there.  Some years she wins. Others, I own that bitch.  But, I can't exactly tell you how I win, when I do. Sometimes I get lucky. Sometimes, I'm just stronger or smarter; I've slept a better night or eaten a better breakfast; sometimes I'm just so damn desperate that I have no choice but to take her down.

"You're one of the best players on your team," I kept encouraging The Storm. But the minutes on the bench were adding up to an entire season and The Storm was losing faith in herself as quickly as her coach and her teammates were.

She would be asked to leave. Other girls, her bench friends, had already moved on.

And this is where it gets complicated because this is The Storm were talking about, and she values her friendships above all else. Plus, she is excruciatingly socially aware and if she were asked to leave her team of friends, she and Confidence would simply take it off the field to the schoolyard, and the classroom, the pool and the park, maybe even to middle and high school where her adversary's younger meaner cousin, Low Self-Esteem, might bully the crap out of her.

I've lost years to this nasty piece of work.... So, how could I let her get her claws into baby so early?

Ten minutes, maybe two, before the coach would come to me to talk, I went to him. I asked him for the summer and he, the father of his own soccer players, consented.  I hired private coaching for her, not so much to improve her skills as to make her believe she'd improved her skills. I took her out as often as I could, all the time staring down her confidence issues from the sidelines. Like a mother bear.

And slowly, ever so slowly, over the course of the summer I saw her shoulders settle back into place.

On Saturday, at the first game of the first tournament of the season--in sized three and half cleats now--The Storm played the best game of her short little life. And she played it the way only her parents ever knew she could.

"Perfection," said the coach after the game.

"Perfection," we agreed.

Take that you bitch!