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The Future of America

Posted by mwallach on July 5, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
Like many college students, I changed my major a number of times. Always within the same genre, they were more like minor corrections rather than drastic career changes. It was not as if I was a biology major only to decide that art history was really my calling. Some people aspire to a certain profession because that is what their parents did, although my inspiration came from an otherwise unconventional source. Parents are often afraid of the influence television has over their children, and for good reason. But I wanted to be a criminal psychologist who worked for the FBI because Jodi Foster’s Clarice Starling in “Silence of the Lambs” was insanely cool and practically genius. Once I started sleeping again after seeing that movie, and it took a while, I decided that was what I wanted to do. Let’s just say, however, it did not last long.

Of course, declaring myself a biology major would have been doubly ironic since I only showed up to bio three times that entire semester – on the first day of class, the day of the midterm and the day of the final. Anything I needed to learn, I learned in the library, since that was where the professor’s old tests were stored. The questions on exams I needed to take came directly from previous ones and I aced the course. It was nicknamed “Bio for Poets” simply because it was a requirement for all students, regardless of one’s major or interest. There were plenty of students who attended class regularly, despite attendance never being taken and the questions to all exams located in the library. Frankly, I did not understand those students and they did not understand me.

Needless to say, before changing my major (again) I was sure Clarice did not need to know bio in depth. My strategy for doing well in this class was going to suit my needs just fine. I turned out to be right, specifically because I finally changed my major one last time to history, deciding to pursue a career in education. It turned out I had no interest in psychology and after a very brief introspection realized I would not make a good psychologist.

Simple basic facts and personality quirks will forever prevent me from being a therapist. To begin, I talk too much to listen to other people’s problems professionally. In addition, I tend to interrupt people with a one-liner or a good joke. When something funny or sarcastic strikes me, I have to let it out. That habit is sometimes a problem when I am on the air, let alone if I had been a therapist. While there is a time and place for everything, I still struggle to believe that there is a wrong time or place for humor.

Finally, the #1 reason I could never be a therapist is because for better or for worse, I am brutally honest. Put that all together, and it’s a disaster waiting to happen . I have even imagined a nightmarish therapy session in which a patient says, “Doctor, voices in my head are telling me to jump out that window” and my only response is, “Well, thank G-d we are on the bottom floor.” Lucky for all the patients I may have had, education beckoned and the rest is history.

I often wonder what will inspire my children to pick their career paths in life. One of my daughters wants to cure cancer because she has three friends who have lost parents to that dreadful disease. From his fascination with rockets and NASA, one of my sons wants to be the first rabbi-astronaut. And while it is still very early, my youngest seems to have an affinity for medicine. She is often found walking around with her toy stethoscope or my husband’s real one, insisting on listening to people’s heads, hands or feet, instead of their heart.

Though they are not commonly confused, her inspiration is a new television show called “Doc McStuffins” about a girl who fixes the various ailments from which her dolls and stuffed animals seem to suffer. It is all very cute, until you try and take her stethoscope away. I am not trying to squash her creativity – I just don’t want her sleeping with it at night. So after she is done diagnosing me with itchy-itis (no clue what that is because I am not a teddy bear) or announcing that “The doc is IN!” it is time for her to go to bed.

My other son has also expressed some interest in medicine. Unlike a good friend of mine who has told her only son that he has no choice but to become a good Jewish doctor, I have set no such expectations upon my children. This son of mine, however, has also donned the coveted stethoscope. Most recently, he has asked me if he could listen to my heart and even knew where it was.

“No problem,” I said, as I proceeded to properly position the flat metal surface so he could hear the beating of my heart. Unfortunately, he did not really understand what he was hearing. As a result, he decided my heart was not there. I reassured him that it was, in fact, exactly where it was supposed ot be but he insisted it was not. He then changed his diagnosis. “Well, if it is there,” he said, “it is definitely not working.” (Insert death stare here.)

Luckily I know that his medical training, and his bedside manner, have years to go before he’s ready to actually see patients. By that time, he’ll have amassed a wealth of medical knowledge, including the names of each bone in the body. That information would have come in very handy last weekend when he struggled to explain what part of his foot hurt.

“Mommy,” he said, his face filled with pain, “my foot really hurts.” Knowing just by looking at him that he was in serious discomfort, I asked him where it hurt. “Here,” he said as he pointed. “In my foot hip.” Without smiling or laughing, I asked for confirmation of the pain’s origin. “In my foot hip!” he said again, frustrated by the need to repeat himself. I smiled. “That’s your ankle,” I explained, which brought a smile to his face. “Oh,” he said, with a tinge of embarrassment. “So, that’s what it’s called.”

Suffice it to say, I think he’ll need to go to bio class everyday.
MLW

 
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A Good Time Had by Most

Posted by mwallach on June 8, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
As time goes by, it becomes harder and harder to recall the details of moments past. One of the first memories I can remember with great clarity, however, is my 3rd birthday party. Old pictures help bring me back to the green shirt I was wearing, blowing out the candles and opening gifts. I even remember making beaded necklaces out of colorful uncooked macaroni which we strung on laces. My hair was cute back then, tight little curls all over my head. The events of that day still make me smile.

What I do not remember, however, is when making children’s birthday parties became a multi-million dollar industry. When did that happen and why didn’t I think of that? Gone are the days of sack races in the backyard or renting a video with some friends. Birthday parties are now major events, with stores and businesses popping up specifically designed to host and cater all of your party needs. No one wants to ignore a child’s big day – heaven forbid – but when you have to start using the word “budget” about a party for your three-year-old, it may be an indicator that you’ve gone too far.

When our twins’ birthday was rapidly approaching, I decided not to make them a party. We would celebrate in school with their classes and have plenty of cake. As for inviting over 40 small children (2 children, 2 classes), it was out of the question. I don’t need to be stressed about anyone’s birthday including my own.

We opted instead to take our children to their first Broadway play. It was sure to be a memorable event and also signified that they were growing up, as this is not something done with little kids. In addition, we planned on taking them to Manhattan on the train, which adds to the experience. With our discounted theater tickets, a ride on the LIRR that cost $.75 each and a walk on 42nd street, this was going to be my best idea ever. And besides, seeing “Mary Poppins” is always an incredible experience. We told them what to expect, explained some of the rules of going to a play and headed off on our adventure.

One of the beautiful things about going to a Disney production of anything is that at the end of the day, it is still Disney. There are plenty of children around and they are expected to be there. No one is looking at you askance for bringing your child to the theater, akin to sitting with a toddler in business class. Booster seats available and smiling faces at the door, this isn’t “Macbeth.” We hit the bathrooms right before the curtain went up and then quickly made it to our seats. The lights dimmed and the magic of Broadway began.

I clearly remember going to my first Broadway play – “Annie.” I was determined to ensure this night was as memorable for them as that experience had been for me. I tucked away their ticket stubs and grabbed extra copies of the Playbill to serve as mementos. I taught them terms like orchestra pit and intermission. Most importantly, we reviewed the decorum necessary for a play. It had already been discussed numerous times in anticipation of the event, but it was worth going over one last time.

Everything was going well. They sat in their seats beautifully and stopped asking, “Is it over yet?” after each musical number. About half way through the first act, the audible voice of a young child a couple of rows away could be heard throughout an otherwise silent theater. He had a question and because this was Disney, no one shushed him or asked the mother to take the boy outside. But the audible voice of a young child carries in an otherwise quiet room acoustically designed to make sound and voices travel to each corner of the space. So when my son let out the biggest yawn on the planet, complete with the outstretching of arms as if he had awoken from the deepest sleep of his life, it could be heard by everyone around us – and then some.

I tried to quiet him quickly, but it was too late. I’d be surprised if the actors had not heard that yawn on stage as well. And it was not a short yawn either – it was long, loud and animated. Slightly humiliated, “It’s still Disney,” I thought to myself. People would understand and if not, yawning is not actually something that can be controlled. It just happens although it need not always be accompanied by hand motions. It could have happened less dramatically, but it did not. I quickly explained that he needed to keep quiet. “But it was just a yawn!” he responded, also quite audibly. “Yes,” I said. “But it needs to be a quieter yawn.”

Not to be outdone by her brother, my daughter also had her moment in the sun, though ironically enough, she was completely silent when it took place. It took them a few minutes to realize that clapping after each song was an expected and appropriate audience member response. I encouraged them to clap along with the rest of the crowd both as a sign of appreciation and because it is what Broadway culture dictates. Instead of clapping, however, my daughter kept throwing her arms up in the sky and waving them radically as if she was drowning. The theater is filled with people keeping their hands in front of them and clapping gracefully on their laps and she is throwing her hands in the air and gesticulating wildly.

“What in the world are you doing?” I asked her, concern and annoyance in my voice. “The silent cheer!” she said. Then I remembered: her teacher had taught the entire class a silent cheer so that when something exciting happened in the classroom, they could show their excitement without screaming or disrupting the building. The wave their arms in the air instead of cheering noisily. My daughter loved what was going on during the play and the silent cheer was her way of expressing that. I did not think the people behind us were going to find that explanation funny nor acceptable if I turned around and explained, so instead I put an end to it.

“You cannot do the silent cheer at a play!” I said. “There are people sitting behind you and they don’t think it is funny!” Perplexed, she said, “Then what should I do?” “Clap!” I responded. She looked at me as though I was crazy, but I was afraid to see what others thought of us. “Don’t worry,” I said to myself. “It’s Disney.”

Suffice it to say that after intermission was over, there was no one sitting behind us. There was no one next to us either. Seems they all found made alternate arrangements as quickly as they could, not that I blame them. My kids, however, had a great time and took part in the standing ovation at the end like Broadway pros. On the whole, they did great and I hope that night stays in their minds forever. As for the people around us, I hope they forget us as quickly as possible.
MLW

 
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Bye, Bye Baby

Posted by mwallach on June 4, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
Under the heading of “Parenthood,” there are few things funnier than toilet training. That is not to say that there are not other funny things about being parents, as most of my material comes straight from my experience as a mom. All I can tell you, however, is that this time around, it has been pretty funny around here.

Yes: our toddler who transitioned from a crib to a bed a few weeks ago reached a second major milestone as she went from diapers to “big girl underwear.” I am not sure how it works in other families when the youngest child is toilet trained, ridding the family of diapers forever. As part of the celebration, I considered making a big party, having a cake in the shape of a Pampers box and then dramatically cancelling my account with diapers.com. Those plans were nixed, although people have wished me a mazal tov when told about we were finishing that stage in our life. In the interest of sanity, I decided to keep a low profile and just throw out my diaper bag. That was just as liberating as “accidentally” leaving my cell phone at home.

In our humble opinion, there are a few key rules for successful toilet training. The first is to keep your child totally naked for at least a day. So besides all of the usual commotion in our lives, we had a toddler streaking throughout the house. Every time I turned around, there went that little tush. To say that toilet training her was a group effort is an understatement. By the very fact that we all live together, we were all involved.

Everyone of us on a constant state of alert, we had been relentlessly asking her if she needed to go to the bathroom. Any of our other children who were either playing with her, watching TV with her or even getting her a snack were under strict instructions to constantly ask and remind. The fact is that it behooved all of us to keep the accidents down to a minimum. In addition, we were confident she would be the easiest to train. As the youngest of six, she is very mature and incredibly articulate. She also thinks she is much older than she actually is and probably wondered why we had not done this yet. So did we.

Almost as unconsciously as breathing, we continually and unknowingly asked her if she needed to go to the bathroom. “I think we are going to give her a complex,” my husband said. He had a point, I thought. Nevertheless, we persisted, sometimes taking her to the bathroom just to allow her to develop the habit. Shabbat morning as I was preparing lunch, one of my older daughters hurried our toddler into the bathroom. They emerged a couple of minutes later and my little one ran into the kitchen. “Mommy!” she screamed. “I did it!” Filled with enthusiasm, I cheered. “Great!” I exclaimed. “What did you do?” Without missing a beat, she said, “Nothing.” I held back my giggle as she held my stare and walked out of the room.

Another key to toilet training is “house arrest.” There is no leaving the house for an extended amount of time – and I mean longer than it takes to drive around the block – until toilet training is basically complete. Accidents will happen so prepare wisely for your first outing by choosing a safe destination. The last thing you need is to derail the progress by getting stuck in a place where there are no acceptable facilities or where there is an automatic toilet. Nothing freaks out a toddler still learning to use the bathroom like a toilet that flushes on its own. (Frankly, it takes me by surprise, too, but that’s for another column.) Not only is it loud but it is also completely nerve-wracking, especially when the child is not yet done. In addition, kids like the gratification of flushing their own toilet.

Such was the case in Target – our first post-training destination. Immediately after arrival, we hurried to the bathroom. My eldest stayed with her in the stall as she sat on the toilet. Without warning, the automatic flush went off. Instead of playing it cool and assuaging my toddler’s concerns that she was not about to be sucked right into the bowl by the power of that flush, my eldest screamed. As a result, my toddler jumped off the seat and began to wail. As they exited the stall, my eldest looked at me and said, “I think she’s afraid of the automatic toilet.” Completely aware as to what had occurred and totally annoyed, I looked at her and asked, “Now, WHY do you think that is?”

One of the other funny things about toilet training is that the child is fascinated by the images on his/her underwear. That excitement begets a need to check one’s underwear often and show as many people as possible which characters are being worn at that time. A whole bunch of skirt lifting and innocent mooning occurs in an effort to display the underwear and share the milestone. While no harm is intended, it should still be discouraged. That’s another toilet training tenet to live by.

How children do not develop a sense of performance anxiety as a result of toilet training simply boggles my mind. In an effort to monitor, regulate and train, an adult often stands over the child and waits semi-patiently until business has been completed. “Are you done?” asks the adult, peering from above, arms crossed. And while the adult is well-intentioned, there is still that underlying pressure placed on the child to perform on command, except in the case of my daughter. Like many other aspects of our lives, she is in control.

After informing me that she had to go to the bathroom and needed to take care of both bodily functions, we hurried off to the bathroom. She had finished the first and I waited for her to get to the second. “Are you done?” I asked her after waiting a while. She answered that she was, leaving me with an incredulous look on my face “But I thought you had to do more than pee?” I asked incredulously. Looking at me matter-of-factly, she simply responded, “I changed my mind.”

And with that snarky answer, training has officially come to an end and my baby is a teenager.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Stndard June ’12

 
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Every Man for Himself

Posted by mwallach on May 25, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
My brother has an expression. “It’s bad for the Jews,” he says, referring to anything ranging from Iran’s increasing nuclear capability to Mel Gibson to an outfit I may wear that he does not like. His famous words, however, were the first that came to mind after the news hit last Wednesday, spreading like wild fire across the country. And while the fate of the Jewish people may not be at risk, I will always remember where I was when I heard that Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips would no longer be pareve.

To make a long story very short, all kosher foods can be classified as meat, dairy or pareve, the latter being a Switzerland-like status. Something that is pareve (with few exception) can be eaten with anything that is dairy or anything that is meat. Standard rules apply – items which are dairy cannot be eaten with something that is meat and vice versa. Pareve is for items fitting in the grey area, including fruits, vegetables and in this case, Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips. They can be baked inside cookies which are intended to take center stage for either a dairy or a meat meal. They can also be a late night snack if you’ve barbequed and have a chocolate craving. Their versatility, because they are pareve, is endless.

While there are plenty of other competing brands available that make pareve chocolate chips, the issue is that the ones from Trader Joe’s are excellent. They taste like chocolate – because they are actually made with real ingredients (including cacao) as opposed to its competitors, which taste like plastic. Actually, by putting those ersatz chocolate chips in the same category, I might actually have just insulted plastic since some of them do not even remotely resemble chocolate except in color. I’ve had scratch-n’sniff stickers that smell more like chocolate than some of the brands to which I am referring.

From coast to coast, pandemonium ensued across the country as word continued to spread. People raced to their nearest Trader Joe’s in search of the last bags of pareve chocolate chips, clearing shelves as they went. If you think I am exaggerating , then you have not been tracking this on Facebook nor have you signed the on-line petition, begging Trader Joe’s to change it’s mind. A die hard devotee of these chips, I was determined to be the last man standing. Immediately after work, I rushed over to our nearest branch.

An Orthodox woman was standing in front of the shelf of what was soon to be a rare commodity when I arrived. She had three bags in her basket and one in her hand. “Have you taken all you need?” I asked her. She said she had. “Great,” I said, and proceeded to clear the shelf, removing all of its contents – close to thirty bags worth – and placing them in my basket. I headed to the cashier. Luckily, she was right behind me and after conferring with someone on the phone, realized she had one extra bag.

“Do you want this one, too?” she asked me. “Are you kidding?” I responded, quickly taking it off of her hands. “Do you really need all of these?” she asked. I incredulously stared at her before responding. “Do you know what is left for us after these chips go dairy?” I said. “Nothing.” Bags in tow, I hurried out the door before she could change her mind. It was every man for himself.

My cousin in Los Angeles was in similar attack mode as those of us on the east coast. Unfortunately, by the time she reached her local Trader Joe’s, they were all out. She proceeded to call four or five more in her area to no avail. Finally, in a complete panic, she called me.

“What am I going to do?” she asked. “I’ve asked a bunch of people to pick me up some if they find but no one will do it.” I could not believe her. “Of course they won’t get you some,” I said. “It’s a jungle out there!” As much as I love her, I said, even I would not get her some if I indeed found extra. “I am more likely to give you a lung than some chocolate chips,” I said. She knew exactly where I was coming from and would have done the same thing. Still, she needed to begin stockpiling and had no clue as to how to start amassing bags of chocolate chips. “Your problem is that you keep calling stores in heavily Jewish areas,” I said. “You need to call Nevada.”

I explained that if she called stores with a lower Jewish clientele, she may be more likely to find someone who not only still had stock, but was willing to ship her cases. After dubbing me a genius, she hung up the phone. Only a short time later did she tell me about her new friend in a Trader Joe’s in Nevada – who sent four cases her way. With 48 bags to a case, that’s a lot of potential cookies. However, with an expiration date of two years, there was no doubt in our minds she would have none left before the date hit. After pulling the same stunt with a store also located in another state sparsely populated with Jews, she had six cases and a bunch of single bags. Two cases were for her sisters – the rest were for her. She is a better sharer than I am.

The biggest challenge that she faced, of which we briefly spoke, is that she was a team of one. Her husband would not get involved in the hysteria nor would he entertain her panic. I, on the other hand, am a team of two. My better half (and he really is) not only made it his business to stop by two Trader Joe’s on his way home from a board meeting – one in Brooklyn and the other in Queens – but he also enlisted some people who work in his office to try their nearest branches as well. Claiming cases even before they were unloaded, our team effort resulted in six cases and over twenty bags. While some stores were holding customers to a limit of ten each and rumor had it that our local Trader Joe’s went through 50 cases in about five minutes, I now have enough to sell on Ebay and retire.

That, however, is not part of the plan. In fact, I have informed members of my family that if (heaven forbid) we are ever robbed, everything except the kids and the chocolate chips are fair game. In addition I have coined a new word (a ’la Seinfeld): chipsworthy. It is an adjective and represents how much you may like a person because you are willing to use a bag of your precious chocolate chips for them. For example: “That chipsworthy couple is coming over for lunch – I am definitely making them brownies.” Feel free to adopt it into your daily vernacular. Do not, however, ask me for a bag of chips.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard May 2012

 
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Happy Holidays

Posted by mwallach on May 18, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
At the start of my weekly radio show, I make mention of national holidays taking place that day. You would be surprised to hear about some of the organizations that have applied for and been granted national days of celebration. A few weeks ago, it was National Paranormal Day. I suggested that listeners go hunt ghosts, if they could find one. Another time it was National Hug an Australian Day. Limited on the number of Australians I know, I contacted a close friend of mine overseas whose husband is from Perth. I told her she needed to go hug her husband. She told me I’d better give her a really good reason why.

Sometimes I include those holidays occurring the day after as well if they are that interesting. For example, while last Thursday was National Lupus Day, I made sure to mention on the air that the next day was National Eat Whatever You Want Day. In the habit of celebrating that to the fullest even when it is not sanctioned, I was happy to be granted the official green light. Of course, however, I made sure to remind listeners that Mother’s Day was on Sunday, as it is one of my favorite days of the year. While my friend refuses to celebrate any day orchestrated or divined by card companies, I like the sentiment. Each year I look forward to the gifts my children make in school. While I openly joke that Mother’s Day is one day of the year while Father’s Day are the other 364, I planned to milk this one to the fullest.

The same way I am in charge of buying all the Father’s Day cards for my family, my husband is responsible for those needed for Mother’s Day. We take special pride in trying to match the appropriate card with the child. When my son’s card included a button I was supposed to wear all day that read, “Please put me in timeout,” I laughed. I decided not to wear it though – am saving it for a rainy day. It was the card he made by himself in school that cracked me up. It said, “You are the best mom I’ve ever had.” That’s good, I thought. In comparison to all of the other mothers he has had in his life, of which there have been none, I rank the highest.

Despite enjoying all of the celebrations and time with family, it was still a Sunday and errands needed to be run. Always practical, I had returns to make at the mall and I was not going to lose the chance to accomplish. Three kids in tow and my bag of returns in the trunk, we headed to the mall despite what we expected to be a crazy Mother’s Day crowd.

With many more parking spaces available than I had expected, we were pleasantly surprised and hopeful that the stores would not be as busy as anticipated. Unfortunately, when I got out of the car, my eldest noticed that my skirt was dirty. It seemed I had sat in something which left a stain of sorts in a rather inopportune spot. While I would otherwise have no qualms about wearing the skirt regardless, the stain was really in a bad place. Having to return items to a clothing store anyway, I figured I would just get another skirt there and change in the dressing room. It would not be the first time I had done that and, I predicted, it certainly would not be the last.

The last time I needed to buy a new article of clothing and change on the spot, I had spilled a full cup of coffee on my shirt en route to a medical consult. Wanting to put my best foot forward, wearing a stained and discolored shirt was imprudent. Therefore, I found a shirt on sale, changed into it and went to pay. The woman behind the register did not even blink when I told her I literally needed to pay for the shirt on my back. She said it happened all the time. When I handed her my stained shirt to toss out, she did not see it as out of the ordinary either. Seems it was just another day at the Gap.

The gentleman who helped me on Sunday, however, was not as accustomed to such behavior. I came out of the dressing room, a pile of garments slung over my arm, and proceeded to the register. My eldest left to check out another shop nearby while I paid for my items. The gentleman and I exchanged pleasantries as I dropped my pile on the counter. “I am wearing the skirt I need to pay for,” I said, showing him the tags still attached to my side. “I got the skirt I had been wearing very dirty,” I continued, “and am going to buy this one I’m wearing instead.” First he looked confused, then he looked at me funny. I offered to explain my plan again, but he said he got it.

“I have to take the sensor off the skirt, though” he said, although I had thought about that when I was trying it on. “There’s no metal sensor on it,” I responded, expecting it to be just like sensors used by other stores that need to be taken off by a strange vice-grip kind of apparatus. He then explained that the sensor was in the label and needed to be deactivated by swiping it across the sensor pad on the counter. The tags were not a problem, he explained, because they could simply be removed. The sensor was more challenging, but he had an idea. While I offered to take the skirt off and wear the dirty one until the transaction had been processed, he was confident his ideas would work.

“All I need you to do,” he explained, “is roll across the sensor pad.” I asked him if he was serious. He said he was and told me to come behind the counter. “Just scoot on top of the counter,” he said, “and roll back and forth across the pad so the sensor in the label hits the pad.” All of a sudden, I became very wary. “Are you sure you don’t want me to just go and take the skirt off?” I asked, but he said it was fine. So, I did what I was told.

I walked behind the counter and propped myself up on top of the pad. As if I was completing some kind of crazy yoga or pilates move, I extended my legs and rolled back and forth across the pad in a semi-recumbent position until he was satisfied that the sensor had been desensitized. “That should do it,” he said. I jumped down, looked around and returned to the other side of the register. Not one person noticed or commented about what I had done. Despite the business of the store, no one looked at me funny or wondered aloud why I had rolled across the counter. Besides getting a new skirt, the irony of no one noticing was the best part.

I finished with my purchase as my eldest returned. “You just missed it!” I exclaimed. “I just rolled across the counter to shut the sensor off on my new skirt!” She stopped in her tracks and rolled her eyes. “I missed nothing,” she said. “Thank G-d I was not here.” I smiled. I got a new skirt, did all of my returns and fulfilled my parental duty to embarrass my kids. Happy Mother’s Day to me.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard May ’12

 
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Dude, Where’s My Car?

Posted by mwallach on May 11, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Months in the making, I was finally able to complete a half marathon last Sunday, along with thousands of other runners participating in the Long Island Marathon. After logging plenty of hours and miles, running 13.1 miles went a lot faster and more easily than I expected. My joints did not hurt and I felt great, even somewhat emotional, as I crossed the finish line and reached my goal.

A number of local bands performed live as we ran by, one group played Bruce Springstein’s “Glory Days” which made many of us smile to ourselves. Some runners had messages printed on their clothes. One runner had “I’m sexy and I know it” written boldly between his shoulder blades, while a woman near me had “I RUN TO REIGN” emblazoned on her back. Those who ran in support of a particular charity wore shirts in recognition of that, while the otherwise dizzying sea of brightly colored shirts changed as if part of the landscape we continued to pass.

With more than enough thoughts and ideas whizzing through head at any given time, listening to music as I run is unnecessary. Regardless, I ran for about a mile near a man who sang every song on his playlist out loud. While we did not share the same taste in music, I was pretty impressed at his ability to run and sing at the same time. Then there was the woman who sang Fun’s “We Are Young” like her life depended on it as we ran under an overpass, her voice resonating and bouncing off the cavernous walls. To add to the moment, she gesticulated wildly with her hands, like there were hand motions to the song that only she knew. More power to you, I thought. Whatever gets you through the night – or in this case, through the run.

Onlookers and supports cheered and held up posters along the route. One woman held a sign that read, “Pain is Weakness Leaving the Body” while another read, “And You Thought this Would be FUN?” That made me smile, as did the two which read, “Water Now – Beer Later” and “One Mile to Tequila.” Toddlers sitting atop shoulders and young children standing along the side cheered their parents on. The most excited of the spectators was a dog who howled as his owner ran by. “Hi, baby!” cried a woman near me, waving excitedly at the dog as she ran by. I laughed, thinking that this was almost as good as the guy who was running in a double breasted suit and hat. Not kidding.

Immediately after finishing, I called my husband and we spoke briefly, after confidently telling him I really felt fine and that the race had gone well. I then texted a couple of friends and spoke to one on the phone. We discussed running a half marathon together. “People reassured me throughout my training that if I ran 10 miles, I could run 13,” I told him, and I said it was true. “You know what isn’t true?” I said. “It’s not true that if you run 13.1 miles after being able to run 10, that you will be able to find your car when it is all over.”

The Long Island Marathon does not start and finish in the same location. I parked near the start, not realizing that was an incredibly foolish move. I also did not realize that there would be no signage directing runners to various parking areas once they completed the course. In addition, I had not predicted that every Nassau County Parks and Recreation staff member that I’d ask for directions would either not be able to help me or would send me in the wrong direction. Had I known any of this before the event, I would certainly have handled things differently.

Not only does the race start and finish in different areas, but on opposite sides of the highway as well. The race begins near Nassau Coliseum and ends in Eisenhower Park. Here’s something else I did not know before this run: there are 930 acres of lush grounds in that park, all of which I seemed to cover as I searched for my car. And just to clarify: the problem was not that I did not know where I had parked my car. I knew it was at Nassau Community College (NCC). The problem, however, was finding NCC from where I was.

Like a living, breathing Seinfeld episode, I walked and walked and walked, enjoying the irony that after completing this run, the greatest challenge was just getting back to my vehicle. I even posted it on Facebook as I continued on, always inviting others to enjoy the craziness that is my life. I even called my husband and asked him to find me on a map and tell me where to go. He offered to come and pick me up. I told him that was ridiculous – but so was walking for an eternity after running 13.1 miles.

I was not the only one in this boat. A number of runners asked me for directions (more irony), though I could not help them and certainly did not know the way. They went one way, I went another. I finally found someone driving through the park in an official Nassau County vehicle. “How do I get to Nassau Community College?” I asked him. “You’re going in the right direction,” he said, and pointed straight ahead. “See that?” he asked, motioning to the traffic light in the distance. “That’s Hempstead Turnpike.” I must have looked confused, so he tried another approach. “You know where the ‘Hooters’ is on Hempstead Turnpike?” he asked me. That was a good one, I thought. “Do I know where the HOOTERS is on Hempstead Turnpike?” I replied incredulously. “Um, no.” I wondered if he had another landmark to give me, but instead just told me to get there and make a left, and I finally did.

After proceeding down Hempstead Turnpike for about ten minutes, with no one else from the race heading in the same direction, I knew something was wrong. The next person I asked for directions looked aghast when I said I needed to walk to NCC. “That is really far,” she said, then added, “and in the other direction. “ Promising she was not crazy, she offered me a ride to the college which I politely declined. I decided that all of the walking must count as a good post-run stretch, so off I went.

Forty minutes later I arrived at my car, having walked a total of 90 minutes from beginning to end. Who could have predicted that running 13.1 miles would have been the least challenging part of my morning. Actually, I should have known that would happen because this is just par for my course. For me, it was just another walk in the park.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard May ’12

 
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Schooled By My Daughter

Posted by mwallach on May 6, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
Originally called “Bring Your Daughters to Work” Day the initiative began as a chance for girls to visit places of work held by their parents in an effort to introduce them to different careers and opportunities. The day was then renamed “Bring Your Children to Work” Day as it seemed, for the first time in history, boys were being left out of something and it hurt their feelings. (I do not remember men needing their own Equal Rights Amendment, but I digress.) Regardless, my eldest daughter sat beside me in the car as we headed into Manhattan and she accompanied me to work.

Once your eldest child has reached the legal age for sitting in the front seat, there are numerous realizations one has a parent. To begin with, you are getting old. Forget that she no longer has to sit in a rear facing car seat – now she’s riding shotgun. In addition, her being in the front seat reminds you that it is only a matter of time before she is behind the wheel as well. Most importantly, however, beyond all else this moment signifies when – for the first time – she tries to control the radio. It’s all over after that point.

Luckily, my children and I share the same taste in music, which is something I strategically planned for since their births. There was no Raffi played in my car or CDs titled “Kids Favorite Road Trip Songs.” Instead, I started them on the classics – Billy Joel, Green Day and Foo Fighters. Every once in a while, if a Michael Buble tune comes on the radio and they sing along, I know they must have been sitting on hold at my husband’s office. Luckily, on our way into Manhattan, I was confident that relinquishing radio control to my daughter would not invite lite music into my car. Even if she has a thing for swing, it’s better than other stuff to which we could be listening.

Playing with the different XM stations, she turned to the one she listens to the most. Between songs, the DJ made a shout out to parents taking their children to work in celebration of the day. He invited anyone taking advantage of the opportunity to call the station and play a quiz show. Only parents on their way into work with their child were eligible and my daughter, ever the adventurous one, desperately wanted to call. Despite my objections, we were quickly on the air.

Smart cookie that she is, when they asked her how old we were, she proudly gave her exact teen age but told them I was “in my thirties.” They took our names and explained how the game was played. We would be asked a series of questions – the contestant who was first to answer three correctly, won. Our names were our buzzers. As soon as one of us knew an answer, we had to shout our name into the speaker phone. While the prize being played for was good old-fashioned bragging rights, it was enough for us. We were pumped and ready to go.

Before I knew it, she was up 2-0, both questions involving boy bands. Filled with pity, I was then thrown a bone. “Here’s one for you, Mom,” said the announcer. “What is ‘fax’ short for?” I shouted my own name, and appreciating the chance to get on the board, gave them the correct answer. The score was 2-1. The next question was not only about television, but about a pre-teen show on the Disney network. “Selena Gomez,” said the voice, “is the star of what television show?” We both knew the answer, but somehow, I managed to use my “buzzer” before she did. “The Wizards of Waverly Place!” I screamed, only to add, “And I am not even embarrassed that I knew the answer to that question!” Everyone laughed, except for my daughter, because now the game was tied. With one question left, it was sudden death. Either way, one of us would win and one would lose on the next question asked unless somehow, neither one of us knew it. That was not the case.

“What is the name of Carly’s best friend on the show ‘iCarly’?” he asked. He had barely finished the question when she had already buzzed in. “SAM!” she screamed and with that, the bragging rights were all hers.

The game was over. She had won and smiled from ear to ear. Not knowing the answer to that last question did not bother me in the least bit. In fact, I was actually quite pleased. This was a question worth losing over. “Believe me when I tell you,” I said to the DJ, “that I am happier losing than admitting I knew any ‘iCarly’ trivia.” He laughed. “Okay, Mom,” he said, as if to make me feel better, “I’ll give you one just for you.” Then he began.

“What is Ross and Monica’s last name?” he asked me. Had I not been driving, I would have rolled my eyes at the question, almost insulted by its simplicity. “Geller,” I answered without needing to think about it at all. “And please,” I added, sarcastically, “do not insult me – do not waste my time.” We laughed, he thanked us for playing and we hung up.

As if beating me on the radio was not enough, my daughter needed to take a victory lap. “I also knew their last name was ‘Geller’,” she said, as I shot her a look, though I was silently proud. Good for her, I thought, happy we had both started our day on such a high note. If going to work could always be this much fun, I would take her with me every day.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard

Personal Note to Readers Regarding Last Week’s Column: I am truly touched by all of your emails, texts and phone calls. Feedback of any kind is always welcomed and appreciated – especially those that are supportive and heartfelt. After reading about my experience, one person asked me what I thought G-d was trying to tell me. I said I was not sure, but promised I was listening. A special shout out, however, goes to my friend and neighbor, Sharon Kagan, who found the perfect Hallmark card for the occasion. Who knew there really was a card out there for almost getting run over by a car? Life is good.

 
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Our Perfect #6

Posted by mwallach on May 1, 2012 in My Kids, New To You

Dear That’s Life,
It seemed when she was born, she was the perfect #6. Amenable to everything, never talked back and simply happy being held, I took her where ever I went. She was the cutest accessory known to mankind. Even after schlepping through the Magic Kingdom when she was about a year old and had missed her nap, she happily posed for pictures and never cried. In a home of larger-than-life personalities, it was both incredible and nerve wracking to have a child who seemed quiet, easy to please and went with the flow. Needless to say, we misjudged her.

Two and a half years later, she is still the perfect #6, but for different reasons. She is feisty, stands up for herself and has incredible comedic timing. She is adored by all. If she is upset, we are told – if she is angry, she lets us know. Even before she really had words to use, she yelled at me son. She said nothing in particular, but he must have been annoying her and in response, she began screaming at him in an accusatory and angry tone. Her yelling prompted my husband to ask me what had happened. Slightly stunned, I knew we were now moving into a new stage in our lives. “Um,” I responded, “I think she just yelled at him, even though she does not talk.” And so a new chapter began.

She has also perfected the art of throwing her siblings under the bus. Around Purim, I found her eating laffy taffy in the kitchen at around 7:15am. Horrified, I stopped what I was doing to address the issue. “What are you doing?” I said, although what she was doing was readily apparent. Even before she could answer, however, I was already on to my next question. “And where did you get that?” I asked. Like a trained professional and without missing a beat, she pointed to her older sister and said, “She gave it to me.” And as I was just about to pounce on my daughter for giving candy to her toddler sister even before she brushed her teeth, my preteen screamed, “NO, I DID NOT!” and was completely confused as to how she had just been wrongly implicated in this mess. I looked back at my #6 and realized very quickly that our almost perfect, otherwise innocent and borderline angelic child had been replaced by a teenager in a toddler’s body.

As it was time to transition her out of a crib, we moved her into a bed last night. At first she wanted to know where her crib was, but then became incredibly excited when she realized the toddler bed we had bought with her on Sunday was, in fact, for her. Having successfully transitioned five other children from cribs to beds made no difference for this exercise. I was suddenly a first time parent, negotiating and begging my small child to stay in her room. Eventually she would realize that lying on the floor is not nearly as comfortable as her bed and there she would finally fall asleep. I was not worried about that. It was the antics that preceded her eventual unconsciousness which I found exhausting.

Serving as watchdog, I camped outside of her room to ensure that she stayed inside. That is always the first step in transitioning: making the child understand he/she may not leave the room. Once we got passed that, and she stopped checking to see if I was still sitting in the hall, I felt we were off to a good start. I should have realized very quickly that no matter what I thought, I was not actually the one in charge.

Standing on the other side of her closed bedroom door, she began to call for me and ask me questions. “Maaaaaa,” she called, in a sing-songy voice. “Have you seen my keys?”

I buried my head in my hands. “Go to bed,” I responded. “We are not talking about your keys now.” “Okay,” she said, though I knew she was still standing at her door and had not yet returned to her bed. Again, the goal for the first night is just to get the child to stay in his/her room and she was actually still inside, but I knew regardless that somehow, I was losing.

“Maaaaaaa,” she called again, confident I was still in the hall. “Where is my ELMO?” I sighed. “We are not discussing this now,” I said to her though a closed door. “Back to your bed.” Not satisfied with that answer, I could hear a barely audible “Oh, come on” coming from her room. I would have laughed had it been said by someone else’s child or someone else’s house. Since it came from mine, however, I was less than amused.

There was one more final attempt from behind the closed door. “Maaaaaaa,” she called from beyond. “I get a sticker in the morning?” At least this was on topic, I thought to myself. “Yes,” I said. “If you stay in your room and sleep in your bed all night, you’ll get a sticker in the morning.”

Suffice it to say, the night was pretty successful. She stayed in her bed all night after a little more drama and we all slept. She awoke this morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, all excited to tell her morot (teachers) about her accomplishment. Fortunately, she did not remember about the sticker because I only realized this morning that I did not have any. Clearly, I will rectify that before I get home after work, lest I incur the wrath of the toddler teen.

Just wait until this weekend when we begin toilet training. I am sure she’ll be rolling her eyes and asking to borrow the car by Monday.
MLW

 
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“Cuz It’s Not My Time”

Posted by mwallach on April 29, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Never lacking material, my column was basically done before this morning’s events, most of which were covered on the local news. Whether I write about my children or the general wackiness of my life, I have been blessed with both a good sense of humor and numerous anecdotes worth sharing. It is safe to say, therefore, that I would have done just fine printing this week’s column the way it had already been written, instead of deleting it all and sharing this instead.

I have always been a true believer that everything happens for a reason. Good or bad, it was meant to be. That is exactly what I told my friend when I paid her a visit before her job interview. She was completely prepared and was feeling very positive when I wished her ‘good luck’. I told her that if she was meant to get the job, she would. If it did not work out, it was because there was something else in store. Although it might not be readily apparent, G-d works in mysterious ways and one day, everything would make sense.

The irony was that my morning was quite busy and visiting her was not exactly time I had to spare. When something is important, however, the effort is made. About ten minutes later, I understood exactly why I was meant to stop and see her, even if it had not been the most convenient time – because had I not been there and, instead, arrived at my next destination earlier, I might not have been writing this at all.

My next stop was to get my nails done. With plenty of open parking spaces, I parked close to the store but not right next to a van in the same area. Fortuitously, I left one spot vacant between us. Wallet in hand, I got out of my car and stood in that open parking space, ready to close my door. Even before I could do that, however, an out-of-control SUV slammed into the van, jumped the sidewalk and crashed through the nail salon’s storefront. Shattered glass flew everywhere. I dropped my wallet on the ground and stood, shocked.

“Someone call 911!” I heard someone shout. Like waking from a trance, I grabbed my phone and dialed. I explained what had occurred, where we were, and that the extent of damage and injuries was unknown. I was assured help was on the way. After the call was over, someone yelled that the driver was having a seizure. With numerous bystanders around, we needed to help her. “Does someone have something to break the windows?” a gentleman asked and the answer was ‘yes.’

The next time someone makes fun of the Swiss Army knife I carry, I will tell them how its glass breaker tool was used to smash a car window to rescue a driver in trouble. It worked perfectly. We were able to unlock the car doors and I climbed into the back seat. As the driver continued to seize and thrash, I asked someone to go through her purse and find out her name. I talked to her, asked her if she knew where she was, and told her she would be okay. She couldn’t respond or meet my gaze and I repeated myself over and over until the seizure stopped.

The police and ambulances arrived quickly. I was still in the car when they got there. With blood coming from her mouth and glass everywhere, the driver finally looked at me and asked, “What happened?” “You’ve been in an accident,” I said, “but you are going to be okay.” Then I climbed out of the car, saw the scene and my wallet spilled all over the ground. I began to shake. Only then did I realize the story could have had a very different ending. I called my husband and started to cry.

Business owners and shoppers quickly filled the area. One restaurateur whose shop was just a few feet away recognized me. She asked if I was okay – but I was not. “I was standing right there,” I said, pointing to the spot. “If I had been here 30 seconds earlier, I would have been hit.” Over and over, I found myself repeating the same thing. Had I been on the sidewalk, or parked right next to the van, or been closer to the nail salon door, the driver might not have been the only one rushed to the hospital. Instead, I had not a scratch. Going to see my friend before her interview saved my life. And as I shared this with the restaurant owner standing beside me, she looked at me and said, “G-d loves you, G-d loves you, G-d loves you,” as my tears steadily increased.

My husband got there just a few minutes later, while a sea of emergency responders continued working. I was sitting on the ground and he helped me up and hugged me tight. “I could have been right there,” I said, pointing again to the rubble. “But you aren’t,” he said, smiling. “You are right here.” Finally, with the driver on her way to the hospital, and the car removed from the storefront, it was time to go.

I reached into my pocket for my phone and texted my friend, reaching her right before her interview. “You literally saved my life,” I typed, adding that I would explain later. “Now you know what you’re going to write about this week,” said my husband with a smile, but I shook my head. “My column was basically done,” I said, “and to be honest – this is crazy I could have done without.”

There is never a bad time, however, for someone to say that G-d loves you. And while I appreciated hearing it, a Hallmark card would have done just fine. I am sure there’s one for that, too.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Apr’ 2012

 
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When You Wish Upon A Star

Posted by mwallach on April 23, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
It had been too long since something crazy happened that I thought I was losing my touch. I worried crazy was no longer followed me everywhere and this column was going to fall apart. Two weeks had elapsed since I wrote and nary a nutty thing had happened, which to some was insane in and of itself. My karma kicked in, however, and with only one day left to go before returning from vacation, the following occurred.

We took the break in the school calendar to get away for a couple of days. Some days it seemed as if the entire eastern seaboard had converged upon the same small area of the United States as we had, known informally as Disney World. The 47 square miles which make up the sum total of Disney’s property in Orlando shrinks when packed to the gills with exhausted parents, kids wearing Mickey ears and families wearing identical gitchy shirts. (Yes: that was us and we looked great.) Despite Disney’s enormity, it’s uber-utopian philosophy requires a contrived perfection from every inch of the area. Nothing less is acceptable. If a leaf falls, I am convinced it only fell because it was designed and instructed to fall just so.

As such, the annual HGTV Flower and Garden Festival at Epcot turns the already impressive park into a lush and intricately manicured garden, complete with topiaries, rare varieties of flowers and hedges shaped like Mickey. The park is infused with the sweet smell of flowers in bloom, as smiling faces pose for pictures in front of the masterfully detailed flora. Absolutely perfect, each detail is carefully laid out. Every flower appears to bloom in unison with the next and it is beautiful. With not a single cloud in the sky, it seemed like nothing could go wrong – and then we arrived.

The reality of any family activity is that everyone may not be able to do participate in every part. Especially in a theme park, where height is major factor in determining one’s eligibility, someone is bound to be left out of the equation at some point – especially when a toddler is involved. My husband and I, therefore, took shifts as one went ahead and the other stayed behind with our daughter. Lucky for him: even merry-go-rounds are too much for me. So when our kids wanted to go on yet another ride that defied gravity and cause me to be tossed around like trash, I was just as happy to sit it out.

Pushing our stroller to a nearby bench, I unbuckled my toddler and let her stretch her legs as I checked my email. Engrossed in something I was reading, she was happy looking at the nearby bed of golden marigolds located right next to us that, like their flower cousins throughout the park, were perfectly planted and in bloom. Appreciating the quiet moment and still focused on my email, I thoughtlessly thanked my toddler when she brought me one of the marigolds. “Thank you,” I said to her, not realizing that there was something seriously wrong with this picture. A minute later, it happened again. She handed me another flower. This time, barely a second had passed when it occurred to me there was an issue.

“The flowers are not for picking,” I said, breaking away from the email only to see that she was not standing where I had expected. I stood up and turned around. It seemed that she had climbed into the flower bed. I looked at her and she beamed, holding two full marigold plants she had yanked from the earth, one in each hand. I gasped.

Leaping into the bed beside her, I scooped her out of the way and desperately tried to replant the poor flowers. Then, like thieves leaving the scene of a crime, I strapped her back into the stroller and made a run for it. When the Disney flower police would return to the area, bent on determining who disrupted their perfect world, I wanted to be as far away as possible. Of course, that might happen to a normal person. Epcot is certainly large enough to get lost in a crowd, never to be seen again. I, however, do not lead a normal life.

During warmer months, I alternate between wearing sunglasses and regular glasses without bothering to use a case. One pair stays on my eyes while the other rests across my head. It looks ridiculous, I agree, but it usually works fine – until, of course, I need to scoop my daughter out of a flower bed in Epcot, inadvertently and unknowingly dropping a pair from my head behind a row of flowers. At that point the only thing that still worked the way I expected was the overwhelming sense of panic that takes over my body at moments such as these. It kicked in just fine. I wondered why I did not use a glasses case as I quickly become a complete mess.

About twenty minutes after the flower vandalism is when I realized my glasses were gone. Retracing my steps, I asked the bathroom attendant, the guy who sold me a bottle of water and people I had passed along the way if they had seen a pair of glasses. Each person had informed me that the visitor’s center collected all lost items in Epcot although it took a couple of hours for things to be retrieved. Not only did I not have that kind of time because the sun was setting and the sunglasses on my face would soon become an actual hindrance to my vision, but there was something more pressing: my husband was coming off the ride. I had to find them before he found me.

After looking high and low, I finally remembered about being in the flower bed. Ever try and find something as small as a pair of glasses in a place as massive as Epcot? Me neither. But much to my surprise, there they were – stuck behind a bunch of marigolds, semi-submerged in dirt. I screamed, breathed a deep sigh of relief and unabashedly broke out into a victory dance for all the world to see.

The family sitting about two feet away from my Elaine Benes imitation (see: Seinfeld) began to smile and laugh. Not caring, I continued. “I found them!” I exclaimed, holding the glasses above my head in victory. Something about the expression on their faces, however, made it seem like they knew exactly how I felt. They were not laughing at me, but with me.

“It’s like leaving your camcorder on the Buzz Lightyear ride,” said the father, “only to return hours later and find it exactly where you left it – under the seat you had been sitting in!” I could not believe it. “That happened to you today?” I said, and he nodded. “Wow!” I exclaimed, adding, “Like a needle in a haystack, what are the chances of THAT happening?” Like a true believer, however, he smiled and said, “It’s Disney – dreams really do come true.”

Here’s hoping you, too, had a magical day.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Apr’ 2011

 
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And NOW They Listen?!

Posted by mwallach on April 14, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,
In the 1890s, Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov conducted an experiment. Using dogs, he repeatedly presented the animals with two stimuli which, because of their proximity to each other, were eventually seen by his subjects as one. The ringing of the bell and the presentation of food were initially presented apart, with first a bell being rung and then a little while after food appearing, causing the animals to salivate. However, by shortening the time span in which the two items were offered to the animals, they were eventually seen as one unit. Ultimately, when Pavlov rang the bell the dogs began to salivate even without the presentation of food because the two stimuli had been inextricably linked as one.

This became known as classical conditioning and is exactly what I think of each time our doorbell rings. No matter how many times I tell my children not to run to the door when they hear the bell, they high tail it to the front of the house, as if Ed McMahon himself was waiting on the other side, ready to hand me my Publisher’s Clearinghouse check.

The battle between me and my kids and their love for answering the door had gone on long enough. The most important reason for this steadfast rule is that they were opening the door for our guests before an adult could confirm that the person on the outside was actually welcome inside. I had never found a complete stranger in my kitchen, but it was not beyond the realm of possibility. In addition, with the string of robberies and forced entries in our neighborhood a little while back, this seemed like a prudent measure. As such, we taught our children that only an adult was permitted to answer the door. We have never enjoyed great success with this rule, with the audible scampering of small feet right after the doorbell rings heard throughout the house. That, however, all changed this week – when I got locked in the garage.

It was only after the door closed behind me that I realized I had not unlocked it. While it has happened before to all of us here, on this occasion the situation was different because I was the only adult home. My three youngest children were in the house as well, but only the toddler was on the main floor. I banged repeatedly on the door and called her name, but to no avail. I finally deciding that their inability to follow our rule not to answer the front door when they hear the bell might actually be a blessing. With that, I opened the garage and walked around to the front. I simultaneously rang the bell with one hand without stopping while banging on the door with the other, but had no success. It seemed someone was finally listening to the rule. Lucky me.

Sanitation workers arrived outside my home on their usual run and children waiting for the school bus gathered on my corner as my histrionics continued. I was causing a scene. I sheepishly waved at them and wished them a good morning. I could not believe the irony, trying to decide if I should ultimately be relieved that they were abiding by our rule. Unfortunately, the silver lining of this latest saga in my life would not be apparent until after it was over. For now. I just wanted to go inside.

Finally, I heard a voice inside my home approach the door. While I had hoped it was not my toddler, I was not that fortunate. “Mommy,” she bellowed in the general direction of our upstairs, loud enough to wake the dead, “somebody [is] ringing the doorbell!” Rolling my eyes, I gently knocked on the door, called her name and told her it was me.

Slipping back the curtain on the side of the door, she peeked out and I waved. “Hi, Mommy,” she said, grinning ear to ear. “Hi,” I replied, asking her to quickly get one of her siblings to let me in. “Okay,” she said quickly, excited about her mission. I was home free – or at least I thought. Less than a minute later, she returned, but without someone capable of opening the door. Instead she had something to show me.

“Look, Mommy!” she said beaming. “I have a new brush.” She held the Hello Kitty brush up the window and smiled, while my chin fell to my chest. “I know, sweetheart,” I said. “But could you get someone to open the door for me instead?” Again, appreciating her mission, she gave me a swift, “Okay!” and closed the shade, leaving me alone on the steps, my morning audience growing. She returned a minute later.

Sliding back the curtain, she had something else in hand. “Look, Mommy!” she said. “I have new clips!” and showed me the matching Hello Kitty clips that had come with the brush. “That’s great, sweetheart,” I said, completely defeated. “But could you please get someone to open the door?” She smiled. “I do it,” she replied and began to play with the knob, with no success. Finally, I had an idea.

“Could you open the garage door?” I asked her. On a few occasions, she had been able to open that door and I figured it was worth a shot. My continual banging on the front door and bell ringing had not ceased nor was it effective, so this was plan B, and she was game. “Okay,” she said in her hurried voice, at which point I bolted from the front of my house and headed back to the garage. I was afraid she was going to open it, not see me there and allow the door to close.

I called her name as soon as I got to the door. All of a sudden, there was a slight turn of the handle. She had done it. I quickly seized my chance and pulled the door towards me. It swung open and my little girl was standing right before me. “Hi, Mommy!” she said and I gave her a big high-five. “Nice job!” I told her and we both smiled. I was filled with a complete sense of relief. Of course, it then took no time at all for my other two kids who had been upstairs and ignored every call for help to join us in the kitchen.

“Hi, Ma,” said my son, looking as innocent as ever. “Who was at the door?”
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Arpil ’12

 
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I Should Stick My Finger Where???

Posted by mwallach on March 30, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere, New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,

While this might be strange, I took several pictures of my cup of iced coffee last week and sent it to friends. It was not a particularly exciting cup nor was it supersized or keg like. It was just a cup of iced coffee like many I have had before, but this one was completely different: it represented the start of spring.

Some people look forward to spring for the budding of trees or the blossoming of tulips. Others cannot wait to shed their sweatshirts in exchange for short sleeves, placing their boots in the back of the closet and pulling out their sandals. Despite being a lover of all things winter, I still welcome spring and the wonderful changes in nature that come with it – as well as my beloved iced coffee. Something about drinking iced coffee in December does not compute, so I wait for the weather to change and the earth to warm before placing ice cubes in my coffee. With temperatures already reaching the 70s last week, I donned my short sleeves and drank my iced coffee with a sense of joy.

Even Dunkin Donuts appreciated the change in the weather. A coupon included in last weekend’s newspaper inserts treated readers to a free iced coffee courtesy of their local franchise. Even though this week had not been as warm as the last, I gleefully drank my free drink, sipping it slowly through the orange straw. Something about having a drink at their cost made my iced coffee taste even better.

That being said, I still drink plenty of hot coffee. Like my mother, I prefer my hot foods hot and my cold foods cold. While my husband refuses to burn his mouth on the soup I may be serving, I certainly believe that steam rising from a bowl is an essential element to my enjoying the dish. Cold soups are equally as delicious, as long as they are actually served cold. Like anything else I order, I just want and expect it to come the way it was requested.

I was disappointed, therefore, when the hot coffee I ordered before driving home from New Jersey last weekend was indisputably freezing. They had not misunderstood the order, as it came in an insulated hot cup sans straw. The receipt confirmed what I had thought. It was clearly meant to be a hot cup of coffee but somehow, there was nothing hot about the drink. My daughter had waited inside for our order to be filled and brought out the drinks when it was readily apparent that I was due a new cup of coffee.

I walked inside and got the attention of someone behind the register. “I’m sorry,” I said to the two young employees, “but I ordered a hot coffee and this one is cold.” The young man watched as I took the cover off of the cup and proceeded to stick my fingers in the actual coffee. “See?” I said. “It is really very cold.” While my little demonstration seemed completely normal to me, he could not believe his eyes and stared at me as though I was crazy. Having received that look before, I thought nothing of it – then offered for him to do the same.

“Stick your finger in,” I said to him, holding out my coffee so he could take part in my little exercise. “What???” he exclaimed, and I repeated my request. Looking at me warily, he declined, as I imagine he was slightly grossed out by my suggestion but I had to prove my point. I promised him I had not had any to drink and that I had no intention of drinking it so he should feel comfortable proceeding, but he adamantly declined. Instead, he continued to look at me as if I was nuts.

“At least feel the outside of the cup,” I said, handing the cup over to the gentleman. “It is not warm at all.” He took the cup from me and instantly realized I was correct. “You’re right,” he said, and added, “That’s bad.” Even though he agreed with me, I still was not satisfied. And because I am me, I became determined to get this guy to do what, in his opinion, had been unthinkable and gross.

“Now stick your finger in the coffee,” I said, trying again. “See just how cold it is.” And lo and behold, either without thinking or because he was intrigued, this total stranger stuck two of his fingers in my cold cup of coffee. I had won.

“That’s really not good,” he said. “You need another cup of coffee.” And as he began to quickly prepare my new cup of coffee, I smiled to myself. Returning to the car, my daughter asked if I had been given the cup for free, to which I responded that this new one had simply replaced the cold coffee. She was surprised I had not been further compensated in some way.

When I shared the story with a friend, he responded that I had been given more than just a cup of coffee – I had been given something to write about this week. “You got a complete stranger to dunk his fingers in your coffee!” he exclaimed, which he though was hysterical. In all honesty, however, the entire episode had not been that big of a deal. The whole incident barely stood out in my mind – and why should it? It was just another day in the life of MLW.
`
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard March ’12

 
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TMI – Part II

Posted by mwallach on March 23, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Several weeks ago I wrote a column about activities people preformed in public that are better off kept private. Not included were public displays of affection, of which I am generally a fan, until it is no longer socially acceptable. It seemed I had generally covered a range of topics that many agreed were better off done within the privacy of one’s home. I did not realize or appreciate, however, that additional examples would show themselves in unexpected ways or that others who read the column would have more to contribute. My mistake.

This contribution came from my cousin who was innocently waiting to board a flight. When the following situation occurred, he and I were texting details of his travel plans. The gentleman behind him was on the phone and while my cousin was not eavesdropping, it is hard not to hear the conversations of those around you when in a confined space. Literally a captive audience, he could hear every word the gentleman said as they stood on line.

Personally, I am a big believer that if someone is going to have an audible conversation in a public area, then everyone is invited to take part. Especially in the supermarket or on the train, if you are speaking so loudly that all who surround you are almost actively part of the dialogue, then all are entitled to comment. The same is true on the flipside – if I am inconsiderate enough to have an extended conversation as I am surrounded by innocent bystanders who would rather enjoy silence than the sound of my voice, feel free to jump in. I deserve it. My cousin, however, was at a complete loss when the gentleman’s conversation took a sharp turn for the completely uncomfortable and there was no where he could hide.

“The pictures you sent me last night were really sexy,” said the gentleman to the person with whom he was speaking on the phone. Loud enough for him to hear, my cousin basically stopped in his tracks. As we were still texting, he immediately shared with me what he had heard. I asked him what he did in response, to which he wrote that he turned around and gave the guy a good, hard stare. While I would have handled it differently, I commented that he should look on the bright side: at least the guy was not talking to him.

There has to be a point when someone realizes he has gone too far. There is a time and place for everything. Just because it works for you or is convenient does not mean it is appropriate – which leads to me to my newest coffee shop related adventure.

I am beginning to believe that if you really treat someone else’s place of business as your own, you may want to put up a shingle or start paying rent. Once you have crossed that line between customer and squatter, you can never go back. And if you don’t know whether you are getting close to that point, use the following anecdote as a barometer.

Minding my own business recently in a Starbucks outside of the Five Towns, I was working quietly when I noticed a gentleman setting up shop. Various official looking forms and paperwork quickly filled the space around him. A nice looking couple walked in and exchanged pleasantries with the gentleman at the table. Earbuds in and focused on my work, I did not hear their conversation but noticed a number of things going on. Together they reviewed some of the literature the man had unpacked while he typed on his laptop. Numerous forms were placed in front of the couple and as their conversation continued, I realized they were buying life insurance.

As they continued their meeting, I became increasingly curious as to what was going on when I noticed the woman walk towards the restroom, a brown paper bag in her hand. I wondered briefly what she was doing with the bag until it became immediately apparent that she was collecting a urine sample. Momentarily shocked, I stared in disbelief. It is one thing to meet someone for coffee at a Starbucks or to work on a project of sorts – but it is completely different to collect a person’s bodily fluids in a public setting.

My husband happened to walk in and join me at the table at about the same time the woman returned from the bathroom. “Check out what is happening at the other table,” I said through my gritted teeth, while motioning with my head in their general direction. “They’re buying life insurance.” Curious, my husband asked me how I was so sure. “She just brought back her urine specimen!” I said, adding, “And look!” We surreptitiously turned our heads only to see that now, the woman had a disposable thermometer in her mouth. We could not believe our own eyes – it was just unbelievable.

If that story sound like something you would do, take a long hard look in the mirror. Like the insurance agent who clearly crossed the line long ago, when your name is stenciled on to the front door, you may want to ask yourself if there is something wrong with this picture. And as for the gentleman on the plane, if you have said something along those lines in public, then I have two words: Anthony Weiner.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard ’12

 
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Revealing

Posted by mwallach on March 16, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,

It is a fact that more than once I have started this column with the words, “Even for me: this is a good one.” While I might have believed that the last time I wrote it, I do not know why I tend to doubt the insanity of my own life. Each time something else occurs that tops the event before, I remind myself that this is why I have a column.

There are some pieces of clothing you buy knowing they will be a staple in your closet for years, with the versatility to be worn on a number of occasions. Such was the case with a dress I bought a few months ago that I adore. Its only downside is the zipper. It is quite small and somewhat fragile in comparison to the weight of the fabric. I understand it is intended to seemingly disappear, leaving an almost seamless back. Regardless, it is not strong enough and even early on, did not function perfectly.

Nevertheless, I wear the dress to death and it was my choice for a bat mitzvah I had last weekend. And like it had happened in the past, zipping it closed was a problem. (Note to all cynics: yes, it fit just fine.) Having asked my eldest to zip me up, she informed me that she could not get it to close about two inches below my neck. Already running late and eager to get in the car, I told her it was fine. As long as the clasp at the collar was closed, we would try again when we arrived at the party. I rationalized I was tall enough anyway that it ultimately would not matter if the dress did not close completely. With three of my children joining me and the rest of the family staying home, the four of us headed to Brighton Beach.

We arrived about a half an hour late but luckily found the perfect parking spot. Car in park, I hurried the kids out of the car only to remember the zipper on my dress. It needed to be tried once more. Turning my back, I asked my eldest if she could please finish zippering me up. She took one look and said, “Um, NO – no I cannot.” Perplexed, I asked her why. “Because the zipper is up THERE and it is open until THERE!” she said, pointing to my neck and the lower part of my back respectively. It seemed the zipper had finally split completely, leaving my entire back exposed, rendering it impossible for me to get out of the car.

While many women are comfortable with low cut, open back dresses, I am not. Besides which, this was not that kind of dress. It was meant to be closed. A wardrobe malfunction worse than I had ever experienced, I was now in a bit of a mess. I quickly asked my daughter to check the trunk and see if my husband had perhaps stowed a jacket or sweater. “You are going to wear his EMT jacket to a bat mitzvah?” she asked. At that point I would, I said, because I was in Brooklyn and could not get out of the car without having the world see more of me than I had ever intended. Unfortunately, I had no such luck – there was no jacket – and I was back to square one. At my insistence, the kids went inside to the celebration while I assessed the situation.

There seemed, at that point, to be two options. I could either go buy a new dress or drive all the way back to Woodmere. Either way, I still had to return to the bat mitzvah. Not only had I responded that I would be there and wanted to partake in the festivities, but my kids were there and needed to get home. I called my husband for advice. Once he stopped laughing, he agreed that those were indeed my only choices. “Why don’t you go into Flatbush and just get something in that store you like?” he said, only for me to point out the obvious. “How am I supposed to even get out of the car and get into a store?” I asked. “Good point,” he said, only to make some kind of crack about how my wide open dress would definitely attract attention in the heart of Flatbush on a busy Sunday morning. “I think you should come home,” he said, and I agreed. After texting my daughter as to the plan, I headed back on the Belt Parkway and returned home.

To complete my paranoia, I pulled into my driveway and walked into garage backwards in an effort to avoid glances from people on the street, lest someone get a glimpse of my unintentional exposure. The wardrobe change took just around five minutes – the beauty of having a closet filled with black dresses – and I headed back to the car. Hitting very little traffic, I arrived in Brooklyn with plenty of time left at the celebration. Unfortunately, the only thing that was missing was my parking space. It was gone and there was not a space to be found. I finally pulled up to a “No Parking” zone filled with parked cars, except for one available space. While debating whether or not to take it, a police officer approached my car.

“Officer, why are all of these cars parked in a ‘No Parking’ zone?” I asked, only to add, “And can I park here, too?” Checking the dashboards of the cars around me, he explained that they had special permits allowing them to park in that area while I, unfortunately, did not. In no mood to take “no” for an answer, I said, “But, Officer: I am already an hour and 45 minutes late to this bat mitzvah and you have to hear what just happened to me.”

In explicit detail, I proceeded to explain the entire saga of my dress. When I was done, he was in no mood to fight either. “Okay,” he said, “I won’t give you a ticket if you park here – but I cannot promise no one else will either.” Weighing my options, I asked him how much the ticket would cost should I get one. “Probably around $100,” he said. In light of everything, it was a chance I was willing to take. I parked the car and went inside.

As if this was not crazy enough, after I finally sat down at a table with a much needed plate of food, I noticed the same officer had come into hall. It seemed he and two other officers were invited to the party by the grandfather of the bat mitzvah girl. “Only me,” I thought to myself, laughing at my karma. Speaking later to the girl’s father, he asked if they were going to make it into the column this week. “Are you kidding?” I said, laughing. “You have no idea just how much it is about you.” We said our good-byes, went back to the car and true to the officer’s word, there was no ticket. And this, again, is why I write a column.

So, what did you do last Sunday?

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard March ’12

 
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You Need a Lifestyle Change

Posted by mwallach on March 13, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
I have been recently warned by a number of physicians that I have to change my lifestyle. I find that advice particularly humorous in light of certain factors. I workout at least six days a week and am at an acceptable weight for my height and age. I eat no meat, opt for whole grains when I can, drink no soda or caffeinated beverages and have no problems with my cholesterol. It seems, however, that this is not good enough.

While I joke both in public and in private that sleep is for other people, the limited number of hours that I log on an average night is apparently not enough. I enjoy waking up in the morning during hours that some people still consider night time, though some medical professionals think I am doing myself in. My efficiency does not impress them nor does my insistence that it really is good for me to be this active. They tell me I will not be able to keep this up forever, that it will take its toll and my migraines will not cure themselves. Believing that smart people surround themselves with smarter people, I decided to heed their advice and committed to getting at about 7 hours of sleep and shutting off my blackberry at night which, before this, rarely happened.

It did not work, however. I tried – I really did – but I have not been tired enough to sleep the entire seven hours without waking up. It is a disjointed night, during which I get very little REM and often wonder if this is really the best use of my time. While some do not have that internal drive that makes them ‘go,’ mine makes me go fast and that’s the way I like it. I have, therefore, returned to my previous habits. If I sleep for five hours and wake up once, then that is a good night for me. I still have my Friday nights during which I will fall asleep on the couch for hours before I make my way upstairs – a ritual that annoys my husband but which rejuvenates me better than anything else. Between everything, this works for me. Either way, it is my life and I like it this way.

So when my kids came down for breakfast this morning, it did not phase them for a minute that I was barbequing. No one said anything, nor asked why I was marinating chicken before sunrise or why the neighborhood already smelled like July 4th. Though it was not a Friday, when cooking chicken in the morning in preparation for Shabbat was something they see every week, this behavior appeared completely acceptable as well. They saw what I was doing and went about their business. Even when they came outside to check out what was on the grill, nary a comment was made. This is our normal – because I may be crazy.

Having posted the picture on Facebook of my grill in action at an hour while many were still sporting their bunny slippers, the comments came flooding in from people who do not live with me and for whom, this behavior is loco. At this point, even I thought I had a problem. I had run six miles, made six lunches, put three kids on the bus and was grilling chicken – all before 7:36am. One person applauded my energy while I silently questioned if there was something pathologically wrong. This cannot be normal, I thought, wondering if the doctors were right – was all of this going to catch up with me?

Stumbling into the kitchen bleary eyed, my husband sat down at our kitchen counter. “What smells like it’s burning?” he said. Grimacing, I told him nothing was burning. “I’m barbequing,” I explained. Without comment or question, he went on and asked me something about the kids. “Wait a minute,” I said, perplexed. “You’re not going to ask me why I’m grilling chicken at 7:45 in the morning?” I was beginning to wonder if anyone in my house was going to think I had finally lost it. “With you??” he said, incredulously. “This makes perfect sense.”

Following me out to the grill, my husband took a look at the chicken I was grilling. “Kids!” he bellowed in a sing-songy voice. “Breakfast!” I could not help but laugh hysterically.

Seems my lifestyle suits us just fine.
MLW

 
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Sweet Dreams?

Posted by mwallach on March 9, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere

Dear That’s Life,
Before I even begin this article, I want you to know that I am completely fine. Thank G-d, my health scare last week was just that – a scare. I appreciate the care and concern from all those who knew and want to personally thank the medical professionals involved in my case.

All that being said, amidst a variety of medications, I was given high doses of steroids as part of my treatment. Having never been on steroids before, I was unprepared for some of the side effects. I lost my voice for a number of days, sounding more like I had a sore throat than anything else. I also had no sense of taste, as if a film or coating had blanketed the inside of my mouth. One morning I started eating a banana, only to make a face when it was completely bland. After opening a second banana, I bit into it but this one also lacked flavor. About to throw that one out as well, my husband stopped me. “Why do you keep throwing out these bananas?” he asked. “They’re bland,” I said, annoyance in my voice. “They taste like nothing.” Quicker than I am, he figured out the problem. “It’s not the bananas,” he said, sarcastically. “It’s you.” And so began the week of being able to taste nothing.

The strangest side effect of the medication, however, was what it did to my sleeping patterns. To put it lightly, there were no patterns – all I did was sleep. Within a matter of days I seemed to catch up on all the sleep I had been missing for months. And if I was not asleep, I was in a fog, moving slower than usual, struggling sometimes to find the right word. When I awoke, it was as if I had slept for days, but was not well rested. My next thought was wondering when I could go back to sleep, needing to schedule naps throughout the day. And with complete certainty I knew that within approximately 20 minutes of taking my steroids, I would be rendered useless. Assuming the fetal position beneath my blanket, I dozed off to Never-Neverland, where the next of the crazy side effects appeared.

Having never in my life either smoked nor done any illicit drugs, the following experience was completely foreign. I dreamt wild, outlandish and vivid dreams every night while taking steroids. I would awake at any point and remember each dream clearly, as if it had just taken place or was real as the hand in front of my face. There seemed to be nothing imaginary about any one of them. Rather, they were so alive that I specifically remember repeatedly asking someone who showed up in one of them if this was all just a bad dream. Even after I was awake, I was unsure that what I had dreamt had not actually occurred. I am confident at least one psychologist will read into my dreams, claiming they unlocked some inner demons with which I have struggled for years. Instead, I will add my own personal psychological assessment of each episode – let’s see who is right.

There was the dream in which I climbed down a manhole on the Belt Parkway so I could drop off a package of money and documents in order to obtain answers to an exam. I have a vivid memory of setting up a white sawhorse with bright orange stripes while dodging oncoming traffic. Unable to clearly discern what was fact or fiction, I actually woke up and thought I had done some of this. Of course the crazy part of the dream was that there was someone waiting for me in the tunnel beneath the Belt Parkway. I was not alone. I do not know who that person was, but he asked me what I was doing there. I explained I was there to drop the bags and the money in order to get the answer key. It seemed to be a logical explanation. He was satisfied with my answer and so ended the Belt Parkway dream. (Assessment – I am still remorseful about cheating on a quiz in second grade for which I got caught.)

There was the dream when my husband yelled at me for wearing very high heels. In general, I like being tall but what I like more is being even taller. The higher the heel the better and while I will not wear a pair of shoes that hurt my feet, I will wear a pair that propel me to a stratosphere in which the air is thin. In my dream, however, my husband and I are standing in the garage, walking out to my car – and I am actually wearing stilts. “Why must you make me feel so short?” he yelled as I tried to manage on my footgear sans the dexterity of a circus performer. Only days later did I ask him if this had actually occurred. “Nope,” he said, reminding me that it still does not bother him when I wear high heels. (Assessment – I actually do feel badly about it.)

Of course, there is always the dream when you show up somewhere without wearing any clothes. I have had that dream even without steroids. Yet, I had never dreamt I arrived at work in the pajamas I actually worn to bed that night, only to continue working instead of going home to change. In this dream, I produced an entire radio program while wearing plaid flannel pants and no one told me I looked funny. Everyone including the host and other team members associated with the show were there and wore appropriate clothing while I, on the other hand, did not. I awoke in the same outfit I had seen myself wearing in the dream. (Assessment – I need a vacation.)

Then there was the time I dreamt there were helicopters flying overhead while news coverage of our area claimed that drugs, guns and grenades had been found in our sleepy town of Woodmere. I woke up and thought I actually heard the sound of choppers. Lo and behold, that was the only one that was real. Even I could not have made that one up.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard March 2011

 
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Flying Solo

Posted by mwallach on March 7, 2012 in Uncategorized

Dear That’s Life,

I can count on one hand the number of times I have been on a trip by myself since I am married, whether by car or by plane. For one night, maybe two, I have left my family to attend an event or celebration of some sort. Plenty of people choose to take a vacation every once in a while with friends, whether a “girls-only trip” or a “guys-only adventure”, leaving spouses and children behind. I have never done that, preferring to travel with my husband should we be able to steal a couple of days away without our kids. Needing to relax, unplug and recharge, I am desperate to find a way for he and I to get some seriously needed and earned R&R in the very near future. Until then, my husband surprised me with some alone time, even if it just for a couple of hours. While one might not think his gesture is such a big deal, that is only because you are not sitting next to him and our six kids in coach while I enjoy grander accommodations, all by myself in business.

Having hurt my back the other day, the advent of a flight no matter how short, left me quite uneasy. Proactive as I am, I did everything I could to dull the pain not exacerbate the injury, including teaching with an ice pack pressed against my lower back and even getting into bed for a while, just to rest. We were not cancelling our trip – that was not even up for discussion. When the upgrade presented itself, however, he graciously and heroically gave it to me. He argued that being able to stretch out into a more comfortable position instead of wedging myself into coach was certainly going to help the healing process. And while I was feeling truly guilty about sitting alone, I would have done the same for him and been just as insistent.

The flight had already been delayed and our kids were antsy by the time we boarded. Even before take-off, the melodious sounds of my children settling in could be heard from the front of the plane. I guiltily sat in my oversized seat as my toddler’s booming voice soared throughout the cabin as she fought with my husband about sitting in her seatbelt. It took no time at all for the guilt to set in as I quickly posted on Facebook as to my husband’s generosity. It was only a matter of time before the comments came flooding in and I knew that by the time I landed, the peanut gallery would have all chimed in.

Even after takeoff, certain easily recognizable voices could still be heard. As if sitting in confession, I felt the need to admit to my fellow passengers that I was the mother to the children in the back who could audibly be heard by everyone on board. Of course, the next logical move was to explain why I was sitting with them and why my husband was alone with our crew. It took no time, however, for their faces to turn to smiles and remark, “Your husband must really love you.” I nodded in affirmation – because even before this current display of affection, there was never a doubt in my mind that he did.

I went back to check on them a bunch of times, only for my husband to return me to my seat where a flight attendant had fashioned a makeshift ice pack for my back. Like the pied piper, however, I was quickly followed by my son, who sat himself down on my lap and played video games on my computer. Bothering no one, marveled both by the size of the seat and the abundance of legroom, he did not make a peep the entire time he spent with me. The lovely woman seated beside me tried to engage him in conversation numerous times but he kept to himself, as I had warned him this section was not for children. Once someone noticed he was there, I told him, the jig was up. Little did I know, however, that the whistle blower would be my husband himself.

Up to the front of the plane he came, his hands resting softly on his hips, as he came to take our son back to his seat. Though I assured him it was no trouble and everything was under control, he reminded me that while we may not have paid for this upgrade, everyone else has and they did not intend on being joined by a pre-schooler. Valid point aside, hearts broke as my son began to cry. He walked back to coach and his sobs could still be heard as he took his seat. Of course it was all dramatic and upsetting, but the reality was that there he was sitting only four rows behind me. On short flights like this one, the only thing that truly separates business from coach is a gossamer-like curtain and a free drink.

After landing, I quickly pulled up Facebook to check out all of the comments I was confident were going to be posted. One person wanted to know what kind of dog house my husband was trying to get out of by giving me the seat. Another person wondered just how many points – brownie or frequent flyer – this act of kindness was costing him, while someone else simply remarked that if there was ever a sign of one’s love, it is the giving up of a seat upgrade to a spouse while the other parent sat alone with the kids in coach.

It is so easy to be cynical in this day and age. Publicly and privately, I thank my husband for taking good care of me, even when I am a pain in the neck. And to the flight attendants who knew my children by name by the time we landed, and to the pilots who allowed my children to press and inordinate amount of buttons once we had landed, I appreciated it all. Seems that there was more going on during that flight than I had realized and that yes: it takes a village and a Delta flight crew to raise a child.
MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard March 2011

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Private Pratices

Posted by mwallach on February 27, 2012 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere, New Yorkers

Dear That’s Life,

I am one of those who spreads her stuff across multiple tables in local coffee shops, treating someone else’s place of business like my own personal office. Currently occupying a number of chairs with my bags and coat, it might look to a normal passerby as if I am here for the night. Like many, I settle into various establishments in the area, laptop in hand and papers under my arm, ready to work for hours or until my assignment is done. The difference is, however, that while the location serves as my imaginary interim office and I may meet people there for an occasional meeting, at least I know it is still a public space.

One has to wonder about people who treat public facilities as their own. In the past couple of weeks, I have witnessed individuals on more than one occasion entering public restrooms complete with reading material tucked under the arms. The person makes no attempt to hide the newspaper he is bringing in with him to the facility. Rather, I imagine it is an unconscious act. He does not even realize he is doing it or that it is at all peculiar. Instead, it seems completely natural and acceptable, although it really is not. Frankly, I find it baffling. These establishments do want customers to make themselves comfortable, encouraging them to stop and stay a while. I do not believe, however, they intend for customers to be THAT comfortable. Save it for the privacy of your own home.

On the other hand, I may be wrong. This might be completely normal and I could be the only one who thinks it is weird. If it wasn’t, how else could someone explain my two recent instances of using public bathrooms where reading material was provided in the stalls themselves? Yes – on different occasions in unrelated locations, I closed the door behind me only to notice that there was something there for me read, deliberately left for users of that facility. One pamphlet I picked up asked if my drug habit was getting in the way of my personal relationships and if it had started to bother my friends. Not only was there reading material in the stall, which was already odd, but it also accused me of being a drug addict.

In another situation, there was actually a magazine rack filled with various current issues of some popular publications, as if encouraging users to settle in and get comfortable. Again, I must be the one with the issue, although I can only imagine the tribes of germs that have built themselves homes on those glossy covers. Maybe when I put it that way, someone else may agree that this is a bad idea.

I also find it curious how people on the train speak on their cell phones at full volume, as if they were enjoying leisurely conversations in their own kitchens. With complete disregard for fellow travelers, lengthy discussions, sometimes private in nature, are conducted for every commuter to hear. I have decided, therefore, that if the person does not care how many people hear what he/she has to say, then it should not bother that person either if I decide to join in the conversation. Fact is, if it was meant to be private, it would not be held in public. If one chooses to speak openly and loudly on one’s cell phone while surrounded by a captive audience, that person is basically asking for trouble from people like me. Rarely do these individuals even notice that I have become an active participant in their chat. It is only the people around them who are also annoyed by their inconsiderate behavior who appreciate my sense of humor.

Admittedly, I have been known to forget myself in public as well. I have been asked by my children never to play air guitar outside of our home again, though I still do not understand why it is a big deal. Even if I am listening to music at the gym and become inspired, I have been banned from said behavior, as it seems to be inappropriate in public. Despite being disappointed, I respect their wishes except while I am on the subway, where I rationalize that I am no crazier than anyone else and that no one notices what I am doing. Up until recently, I thought that was true.

With about twenty minutes left to a movie, I took out my ipad, intent on finishing a film I had been watching. I was enjoying the flick and simply wanted to see how it ended. Little did I know the ending would be emotional. Standing on the subway platform at West 4thstreet, unaware of my surroundings, tears began to stream down my face.

Tissues in hand, I wiped my cheeks as quickly as I could, though the tears turned to sobs. I even found myself whimpering. Unbeknownst to me, a gentleman nearby began staring at my unexplainable outpouring of emotion. As soon as he caught my eye and I realized what was going on, I woke from my reverie. I was immediately aware that I was crying in public, even making those sad little sounds children make when they cry. As if in my own logical defense, I looked at the man. “What???” I exclaimed, to an already stunned stranger. “It’s a really sad movie!”

Thank G-d he wasn’t the guy standing next to me last week when I was playing air guitar.

MLW
As seen in the South Shore Standard Feb 2011

 
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“Unleash Tim Tebow”

Posted by mwallach on February 17, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life,

While she is an incredibly talented singer, I have declared my car to be an “Adele-Free Zone.” Completely overplayed and poorly remixed, it took very little time for my tolerance level to register as FULL from all of the air time she receives. That is not to say she isn’t talented – she certainly is. I, however, have just had enough. The same way I cannot listen to The Eagle’s “Hotel California” anymore, I can no longer listen to Adele.

I could not have predicted, however, that I would ever need to declare my automobile a “Whitney-Free Zone” as well. There was no way to have known I would have ever been listening to her again in the first place. When I stopped teasing my hair and wearing headbands with huge bows, I figured my Whitney listening days were over. Clearly I was wrong.

Whitney Houston’s untimely passing is tragic simply because it is another life cut short due to drug abuse. A bright star in the music industry with a voice clearly gifted to her by the heavens, her death forces us to remember all of those who suffer from addiction and to where that sickness may lead. Her tumultuous marriage and her well-documented struggles publicly chronicled her downfall. We seemed to watch Whitney fall before our eyes. Many commented that her death was not a shock – they had been waiting to receive news such as this for many years. And yet, it still hit like a ton of bricks, as we were still taken by surprised that at 48, Whitney was no longer.

That being said, I was supersaturated by her music even before she died. I was all done in the 80s. Now it seems cruel, however, that once I hear her voice or the first few notes of “How Will I Know,” I immediately change the station. To the contrary, I have listened to more Michael Jackson since his death than I did while he was alive, raising the volume each time his songs come on. I’ve engaged in numerous “What is your favorite MJ song?” conversations with friends, determined to have many agree that “P.Y.T.” was his greatest hit, even topping “Billy Jean”. I enjoy singing his songs at the top of my lungs along with my daughter, whose MJ knowledge is more extensive than expected, thanks to “GLEE”. When Whitney’s songs come on the radio, however, I do not sing along. Very quickly, thanks to local radio stations, I am sick of her music.

Luckily, amidst all the gloom and gray, among the songs which remind us of tragedy, my children have become addicted – for lack of a better word – to ESPN’s song about Tim Tebow. The Denver Broncos quarterback famous for taking a knee and praying after every touchdown has become a national phenomenon with his religious passion and steadfast beliefs. “Tebowing” is a verb. Students on Long Island were even suspended for tebowing in a busy hallway because it caused some injuries. He is a hero.

Entitled “Unleash Tim Tebow,” the song takes sound bites about and by Tebow, strings them together, forming an anthem of sorts to this iconic figure. In the past, our family has obsessed over various songs made popular on the radio, memorizing the lyrics, singing them like we were the Von Trapps. (example –“Red Solo Cup”) More like a rap, the Tebow song may be popular with our children for its melodic appeal or because it is a song about a football player and they think that’s funny. For me, however, it is all about what Tebow represents and the message he teaches his adoring fans of all ages: everything you have is a gift from G-d. We sing it with all of our hearts.

An article in Saturday’s New York Times (the same day Houston died) highlighted the work of one man, who happens to be a rabbi, which centers on helping addicts and those with dependency problems. His theory is that alcohol and drug addiction are caused by a detachment from G-d. The addict uses those vices to fill a void which was created because the individual does not have a spiritual connection. Turning to drugs and alcohol is a last ditch effort by the person to replace that which is missing. Regardless of the religion of choice, he teaches that the cure or remedy for addiction is a deeper connection to faith, no matter how disconnected it might be at that moment.

So what if Tebow and I are both devoutly religious but believe in different G-ds? It does not matter. In a world where people are constantly looking for the upgraded model of phones, cars and sometimes spouses, or when the values we once stood for seem to now be irrelevant, it is refreshing and inspiring for a superstar like Tebow to take a moment after each achievement and give thanks. Considering other names and faces who have captured our attention and magazine covers with their 72 hour marriages or 72 karat rings, he is a breath of fresh air. We are going to hear about the details of Whitney’s death for months to come so as far as I am concerned, my kids can “Unleash Tim Tebow” as often as they want.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Feb 2011

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Time to impact: five…four…

Posted by mwallach on February 12, 2012 in My Kids

Dear That’s Life

I thought it would be a disaster, as if an asteroid was travelling at break neck speed on its way to earth. Exact time of impact known, I braced myself for the hit and prepared for the worst. The house was well stocked with necessities and as the clocked ticked down, I held my breath. Having fifteen third grade boys over for the Super Bowl can send just about anyone running to battle stations – and that’s exactly where we were.

Allowing my son to host a bunch of boys for the big game was my husband’s idea. My son eagerly jumped on the bandwagon, getting ahead of himself regarding the plan of action. He came by it honestly, as my husband’s planning took on a life of its own. While I usually do not play the role of adult in this relationship, it became my job to step in and settle them both down. No additional televisions were going to be set up in various locations around our home for convenient viewing, I was not making commemorative t-shirts for the occasion and Dan Marino was not being invited. That’s where I drew the line.

The irony of our hosting a Super Bowl party is that we are not big football fans. If the subject does come up, we can be found wearing Miami Dolphins t-shirts and jerseys. Although there is no chance of them making it to the Super Bowl anytime soon, my son and husband are hoping the rumors of Peyton Manning going to Miami are true. (Personally, I am just waiting for pitchers and catchers to report for spring training.) Regardless, our excitement about this year’s game was more about being New Yorkers than anything else and so planned a party.

We have made plenty of birthday parties and have had numerous people for holiday meals. However, there was something about the impending influx of these boys that made me anxious, as if the biggest game of the year was not enough to keep them occupied. Afraid that only I was excited to watch Madonna’s half-time show, I needed a plan to keep the boys entertained before play resumed.

If Martha Stewart had showed up to our home that evening, I wonder if she would have been proud or quietly disappointed. After making about a hundred cake pops, the idea was to dip them in melted chocolate and sprinkle them in various toppings. Martha would have been proud. When the pops activity was over, we had large white cookies for the boys to decorate in the spirit of the big game with different color icing and other toppings. Good idea? Yes, but Martha would have raised an eyebrow because the cookies were not homemade.

As the boys arrived, many in Giants gear, one of my daughters came downstairs – in a dress. I asked her about her wardrobe choice and she said, in all seriousness, that she was ready for the “Super BALL.” She thought she was Cinderella. Clearly, there was a misunderstanding.
By the time Madonna and her Egyptian minions took the field, the game was exciting and the activities were going well, though I was still waiting for the asteroid’s arrival. I was not inviting trouble, but was surprised that nothing had yet gone. My lamps were in one piece, the game was not a blow-out and the boys were all smiling. They even posed for pictures, despite having three Patriot fans in the pack, and began a football game of their own in my basement. The night was going perfectly and I was becoming convinced that we might avert all disasters. Everything was fine – until the Giants won. Who could have predicted THAT would have been the problem? Enter asteroid.

My first year in sleep away camp, I was really excited about the camp-wide singing competition where boys campus and girls campus competed against each other. We practiced for days, dressed up and even wore make-up. The same age as my son who was currently hosting friends, I remember how devastated I was when girls campus lost the sing-off that year. I cried and cried. Not only was I extremely disappointed, but I was also terrified that my older brother who was a member of boys’ campus was going to rub it in my face. It was an awful night. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Therefore, I knew exactly how one of the boys felt when the Giants won. A diehard Pats fan, he was crushed when Brady’s hail-Mary was incomplete, when his beloved Patriots imploded during the last minute of the game and when his team – the one favored to win it all – walked off the field stunned. Crying and wailing, he was almost inconsolable. His mother had luckily joined us for the last quarter and served as a source comfort. “I don’t like football anymore!” he said, crying into his mother’s shoulder. His pain and disappointment were real and I knew exactly where he was coming from. And with all of my planning, this was one scenario I did not see coming.

When you’re eight years old, it is not just a game. Luckily for this boy, he is a Patriots fan. Chances are good they will be back in the Super Bowl before he knows it. I did not ask him, however, if he was a Mets fan. There was no need to rub salt in the wound.

MLW
As Seen in the South Shore Standard Feb ’12

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