February 24, 2011

Calling All Parents: First Ever Brooklyn Baby Expo!

Karen Connell, the blogger who runs, A Child Grows in Brooklyn is organizing the first-ever Brooklyn Baby Expo on Sunday, March 13th from 11AM to 4PM in the penthouses of the Toren (150 Myrtle Avenue just off Flatbush). The Expo will showcase  top resources and products for Brooklyn parents and provide a space where they can interact with other parents and children, exhibitors and experts. It will also give people a chance to look inside the Toren, a win-win for the real estate folks as well as the exhibitors (and the parents who attend).

Click on read more to see what you can expect at the Brooklyn Baby Expo:

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December 22, 2010

Last Year’s Charlie Brown Xmas Tree

We’re an interfaith family (New York Reform Jew and California Presbyterian) and we usually celebrate Christmas in California and Hanukah in Brooklyn. When we don’t go to California it’s always that Shakespearean question: to get or not to get a Christmas tree. Last year we got one. This year, we’re not going to bother. Here’s a Smartmom from last year about our Charlie Brown Xmas tree.

Smartmom bought her Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree from the
Vermont tree farmers who set up in front of the Park Slope Food Co-op
 every year. It was $20, which is a lot to pay for what was more like a
branch. But the gangly tree caught her eye and seemed lovable in its 
own — slightly pathetic — way.

As Smartmom walked home, she knew her little tree was a far cry from
the huge, tree that Hepcat’s mom always sets up in her humongous
California living room and decorates with a lifetime’s collection of
vintage ornaments. The fragrance of pine and hot apple cider permeates
the house as a fire roars.

Christmas with Hepcat’s family is a Jewish girl’s fantasy, and
 Smartmom loves that her inter-faith children have such holiday’s in
their memory banks of childhood.

Smartmom knows she could never match that level of Christmasness:
she’s Jewish, for Buddha’s sake, and any attempt at Christmas is
fraught with inexperience and ambivalence. But this year, the family is
spending Christmas in Brooklyn.

This has happened three times before in
 her children’s lifetimes. Turns out, Teen Spirit is thrilled because 
all of his friends will be home from college and he’s excited to hang out 
with them. The Oh So Feisty One has mixed feelings about not being in
 California, but she, too, is glad to be near her friends.

Walking up Seventh Avenue with her tiny tree conveniently tucked 
under her arm, Smartmom remembered 2007 when they bought a huge
 Christmas tree and it was like Rockefeller Center in the apartment
 because the Oh So Feisty One kept bringing friends in and out to see it.

Now Smartmom worried that OSFO and Teen Spirit would feel cheated by
this year’s tiny tree. But she tried not to worry about it. She was 
already stressing about how to make this as nice a Christmas as the 
one’s they spend in California. O the pressure, o the guilt, o the need
to meet everyone’s expectations at this time of year.

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December 22, 2010

The Gift of Good Values

Here’s a Smartmom piece from December 2004 when my kids were younger and the whole present thing was so fraught with longing and disappointment:

The gift-giving time of the year sometimes brings out the worst in OSFO and Teen Spirit. The trouble is: they get way too excited about getting presents, their expectations run sky high, and disappointment is sure to ensue.

Then there’s the fact that they celebrate both Hanukah and Christmas. That is, they do Hanukah with Smartmom’s relatives in New York and Christmas with Hepcat’s family in California. This means that OSFO and Teen Spirit tear through gift wrap on numerous occasions during the holiday season.

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October 31, 2010

Urgent Orthopedic Care for OSFO

Hepcat and I were at a dinner party last night when OSFO called to say that she’d fallen and couldn’t walk. The details of the accident are TOP SECRET AND WILL NOT BE REVEALED BY ME.

We rushed home and she was already elevating her foot and icing it with a bag of frozen peas.

Ice and elevate. That’s my girl.

This morning she still couldn’t walk on it and we went to The Orthopedic Urgent Care Center at the Hospital for Joint Diseases, which is essentially a 24-hour emergency room for orthopedic issues.

301 East 17th Street just east of Second Avenue. Write that down. This place, which I’ve been to twice before, is really good to know about.

The service was fairly quick and very helpful. We  met with a very nice nurse and doctor and her foot was x-rayed. The doctor told us that, luckily, nothing was broken but that she should wear an air cast and use crutches (both of which were supplied to us at the hospital). He told her to ice and elevate and explained everything very thoroughly and carefully.

We were out of there in less than two hours and she was well cared for. Good deal. OSFO is limping about and practicing with her crutches. She should be feeling better in about two weeks, when she can take the air cast off.

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October 30, 2010

More Halloween Memories

2cbw9280_1This post was written in October 2005

In 2005 my daughter took it upon herself to decorate our building, an 8-unit limestone, with handmade Halloween decorations.

The first week of October, she made numerous drawings — wonderful ghouls, howling dogs, witches, and devils — and taped them on the walls of  the public hallway.

Earlier in the the week at Little Things, we found a soft Dracula candy holder she couldn’t live without. I picked up some candy corn and Halloween signs at Save-on-Fifth. And the Food Coop had some of the most beautifully patterned gourds I have ever seen.

Ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching.  (that’s the sound of an old fashioned cash register).

Last night, everything came together: we made a make-shift table out of grocery boxes and used a sparkly silver fabric as a tablecloth. We put it in the hallway by our front door and filled Dracula with candy corn and M&Ms, and little plastic pumpkins.

Voila. I think we’re done. For now.

The sweet sweetness of the candy corn is already getting to me. The chaps for my daughter’s cowgirl costume are at the dry cleaners getting hemmed. My son hasn’t even mentioned his pirate costume (I guess at 14 you don’t need to involve your parents anymore). We’ve got a heinously busy weekend planned.

Take a deep breath and get ready for Halloween.

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October 30, 2010

Halloween Memories

This was written the day after Halloween 2005 when OSFO was 8 and Teen Spirit was 14.

Halloween morning 2005, the kids popped out of bed early, ready for their breakfast candy. “Stop stealing from the trick or treat bowl. That’s for later,” Hepcat bellowed. Even Teen Spirit, who is historically difficult to rouse in the morning, was up and ready for high school in record time, his pockets stuffed with Hershey’s kisses.

The Oh So Feisty One packed her cowgirl chaps in her pink backpack. “Just in case my teacher lets us put on our costumes.” This was unlikely because her school prohibits any recognition of Halloween in sensitivity to the children whose religious beliefs prevent them from participating.

Smartmom tried to get some work done Monday but by 2 p.m, she surrendered to the reality that Monday afternoon and evening were for one thing and one thing only: Halloween.

First crisis of the day was the case of the missing cowboy hat: OSFO searched the apartment high and low. Smartmom finally unearthed it underneath Teen Spirit’s bed.

Second crisis: Teen Spirit needed a shirt for his impromptu pirate costume. “You can wear this black shirt of Dad’s.” Smartmom told him. “No he can’t,” Hepcat screamed from the living room. “That’s my special shirt.”

“it’s alright, mom,” Teen Spirit told Smartmom ever-attentive to Hepcat’s moods.

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September 9, 2010

The First Day of School

OSFO, in new black jeggings and a striped shirt, left the apartment at 7:50, eager to get to school on time.  Her aubergine colored JanSport backpack was filled with notebooks, pens, pencils, folders (38 of them) and supplies for the classroom — everything on the 8th grade list. She almost forget her summer homework, answers to questions about the books she was required to read. Smartmom called down the hall and OSFO retrieved them and left the apartment, again.

Smartmom ran over to the window, opened it and screamed out to Third Street:

“Faster, walk faster,” she said. “You’re not to be late on your first day of school.”

OSFO’s response will not be printed here.

At 8:30 Smartmom walked over to PS 321 to catch Ducky’s first day of first grade. First grade. The little red headed girl was so eager to meet her teacher and see her new classroom that she didn’t even want to play on the jungle gym in the playground. She did, however, give her kindergarten teacher a big hug and Diaper Diva is said to have shed a tear. Post hug, Ducky hurried her parents to the new classroom on the second floor…

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August 22, 2010

Smartmom Moves On

The first in a three-part series about the end of a six-year run as Brooklyn’s official smart mom.

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August 2, 2010

Crazy Lady and Smartmom Want Teen Spirit’s Bedroom

The kid is off to college and the imaginations run wild. Crazy Lady and Smartmom have designs on Teen Spirit’s bedroom…

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July 18, 2010

Smartmom’s Summer Vacation

Is it Smartmom’s fault that her daughter is wasting the summer? Yeah, but a trip to Yogo Monster makes it all OK…

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July 11, 2010

Another Fourth, Another BBQ For Smartmom

When Smartmom was a young mom, she fantasized about a house with a backyard. She believed that her children would be happier and healthier if they had outdoor space in which to run wild, a garden lush with homegrown vegetables and a playroom big enough for all their toys and even a ping-pong table.

Smartmom thought about this last night at her apartment building’s annual Fourth of July barbecue.

As usual, Mr. Kravitz set up a makeshift table with boards from the basement placed artfully on top of three garbage pails covered by an orange plastic table cloth.

Mr. Kravitz fired up the grill while neighbors brought wine, beer, and platters of meats, vegetables, and salads downstairs as if on cue and the serving table was filled with a potluck feast.

It was a hot night and Mr. Kravitz’s face was turning deep red as he turned an assortment of grilled lamb burgers, Hebrew National hot dogs, turkey burgers and corn.

By 7 pm, the front yard was jammed with an enthusiastic group of adults and children from the building and nearby buildings busily eating, drinking and talking.

Smartmom has been to so many of these barbecues. Not only has she lost count, they all blur together. The children sort of blur together, too.

In her mind’s eye, she can see a young Teen Spirit and his best friend who moved away standing by the Weber carefully wrapping Graham cracker sandwiches of marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate in Reynolds Wrap and tossing them into the fire.

In her mind’s eye, she can see the Oh So Feisty One and her best friend standing at the Weber carefully wrapping Graham cracker sandwiches of marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate in Reynolds Wrap and tossing them into the fire.

Last night, she watched the latest generation of young children standing at the Weber carefully wrapping Graham cracker sandwiches of marshmallows and Hershey’s chocolate in Reynolds Wrap and tossing them into the fire.

She imagined it as a black and white movie — faces and hands dissolving together — symbolizing the passage of time and the continuation of childhood traditions and skills.

During the barbecue, Teen Spirit and a friend stopped by. He looked tall and handsome in a red-and-white-striped shirt and his grandfather’s wing tip shoes.

“Hey, do you want something to eat?” Smartmom asked hopefully.

“No, thanks. We just came from a barbecue and are on our way to another,” Teen Spirit said.

They disappeared into the apartment building. He has a busy and complex social schedule that takes him to other parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan. In August, he will leave for college.

Smartmom felt a pang. She never gave her son a house with a backyard. This cement front yard was his yard, his childhood yard.

This is where he played Ninja Turtles, Pokemon, “Star Wars” and other imaginary superhero games. This is where he had stoop sales and birthday parties. This is where he swam in a green plastic pool on hot summer days. This is where learned to roast marshmallows and make ’Smores.

This patch of sidewalk on Third Street is the mise en scene of many of his childhood memories.

Smartmom watched as one of the current 5-year-olds bit into a ’Smore with joy. Later he, adorably, walked around offering mini marshmallows to the adults. Later still, she watched as went to the roof of the building next door to watch the fireworks with his parents.

This is his yard, his childhood yard. This is where he rides his little bicycle, his scooter, plays his imaginary games.

This is where his childhood will live forever.

The Oh So Feisty One was upstairs. She’s reached an age where she doesn’t want to participate in social activities that involve her parents and their friends. She chose to stay inside in the air-conditioned apartment to communicate with her friends on Facebook.

Smartmom thought back to the days when she was envious of those with lush backyards and large houses. With one child on his way to college, Smartmom has no desire to leave Third Street and her apartment — and she doesn’t need a backyard right now.

Besides, she’s got her perfect front yard on Third Street filled with a lifetime of memories.

Who could ask for anything more?

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July 4, 2010

Smartmom Opens the Bible – The High School Bible, That Is

The Oh So Feisty One came home from school the other day with “The Bible,”

No, not that bible.

OSFO came home with a doorstop of a book called Directory of the New York City Public High Schools 2010–2011, which is the so-called Bible of the high school admissions process that awaits OSFO and her family next fall.

The poor girl was bent over from the weight of that thing in her backpack. But her cheeks were flushed and she seemed to be in a great mood.

“We got the book today,” she told Smartmom excitedly as she came in the front door.

With the book in hand, OSFO seemed willing to face the fact that she’s a hop, skip and a jump away from high school. While she be willing to face it, Smartmom is having a harder time.

High school. Can you believe?

That’s a major milestone in life, and Smartmom can hardly fathom that her girl is actually that old.

Where did the time go? Is this the little girl I carried? Sunrise? Sunset?

It would be easy to get all misty eyed and sentimental about the whole thing. But there’s no time for that because Smartmom needs all her energy and her wits about her to deal with what is sure to be an incredibly difficult, “only in New York City” kind of process.

Indeed, much of OSFO’s eighth-grade year will be spent touring schools, auditioning, studying for tests, preparing portfolios, filling out applications, and waiting to hear what school she’ll be going to.

As “The Bible” says: “Eighth grade is an exciting time. As a student and applicant in New York, you have more high school options available to you than if you lived in any other city in the world!”

Smartmom read those words and sighed. Deeply. While it’s great that there are so many high school choices, she sometimes wishes there was just a good, zoned high school that her daughter could go to in the neighborhood. Isn’t that the way it is in most of America?

Only in New York is the high school application process more complicated, more laborious and even more stressful than getting into college. Joyce Szuflita, who runs NYC School Help, a service for Brooklyn parents, said at a recent high school workshop for parents at OSFO’s school:

“After this, getting your kids into college will seem EASY.”

Smartmom knows how true that is. She’s been through the process once already with Teen Spirit and she still has mild post-traumatic-stress.

Not to mention her post-traumatic stress from the middle school application process she went through just three years ago with OSFO. In case you’ve forgotten, OSFO was magically disappeared from the Department of Education computer and never received an admissions letter. As far as the city was concerned she didn’t exist.

That was pretty dispiriting, but OSFO managed to get into a great middle school and, well, the rest is history.

Buddha knows, she’s glad that OSFO is excited about this major transition in her life and she’s been studying “The Bible” carefully and learning about all the high schools that are out there.

And there’s so much to read about: Edward R. Murrow, Midwood, Brooklyn Tech, Brooklyn Latin, Bard 1, Bard 2, Frank Sinatra, Frank McCourt, Laguardia, Beacon, Telecommunications to name just a few …

Smartmom, Hepcat and OSFO are going to be looking at a lot of high schools next year. Because it’s so competitive, students are required to select 12 schools to which they’d be willing to go. That’s pretty tough if your kid gets her heart set on one or two schools. But as Szuflita said at the workshop, “You need to be comfortable with every school on your list because you never know. And you don’t want any surprises.”

Wise words. But it’s not easy to visit 12 schools, let alone pick 12 schools that OSFO would want to go to.

Well, they did it once for Teen Spirit, and now it’s OSFO’s turn to make some important choices in her life. For now, they’ve got The Bible and they’ve got all summer to read it.

It sure to be pretty dog-eared by next fall. But that’s okay. They’re going to get through this together and Smartmom can hardly wait to begin. Not.

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May 24, 2010

Broken Ankle Teaches Smartmom a Lesson

It was a rainy Monday morning, and Smartmom and Diaper Diva were moving some of Smartmom’s things into Manhattan Granny’s basement storage room (a little house cleaning). Wearing rubber rain boots, Smartmom walked on a wet rubber ramp, when — splat — she violently twisted her ankle and it was as if her foot folded beneath her. Smartmom found herself on her back screaming: “I think I broke something. I think I broke something.”

“Did she break something valuable?” Manhattan Granny apparently said to Diaper Diva (they were in the storage room).

“No, I think she means she broke herself,” her twin sister said.

The pain was excruciating, but somehow Smartmom was able to go upstairs to her mother’s apartment. Within a half hour, her foot had swollen to the size of a Nerf football, and Smartmom and Manhattan Granny went crosstown to have it X-rayed.

“It’s not fractured,” the radiologist told her. “You can go now.”

“But what do I do?” Smartmom asked plaintively.

“We can’t help you. You’ll have to call your primary care physician.”

Smartmom was smarting. She wanted to cry. Buddha knows, she was relieved that it wasn’t broken or fractured, but clearly there was something wrong with it and she was in need of some advice.

Standing on the corner of 84th Street and Lexington Avenue in the cold rain with a throbbing foot, Smartmom called her doctor, who told her to “go home.”

“If you can’t walk tomorrow, call an orthopedic doctor,” she added.

That seemed exceedingly unhelpful at that moment. Actually, it was exasperating. Finally, the doctor gave Smartmom the number of a nearby orthopedic practice — “The only one who will take your insurance,” she grumbled. Manhattan Granny and Smartmom went into a restaurant, ordered some pizza and dialed the number.

“We can’t see you until later in the week,” the receptionist told Smartmom.

“What should I do in the meantime?” she said tearfully, her foot still radiating pain.

“I can’t tell you anything until the doctor examines you,” the receptionist said coldly.

Tears filled her eyes. She tried not to sob into her pizza. But she felt helpless. Her foot was becoming black and blue …

“Excuse me,” a beautiful Indian woman walked over to their table holding a small, white business card.

“I’m sorry to eavesdrop, but it was awful what you just went through on the phone,” she said.

The woman’s kindness made Smartmom weep with gratitude.

“Why don’t you go around the corner to see the doctor I work for? He’s a physiatrist, and he’s wonderful. Tell them Samantha sent you.”

Smartmom did just as good fairy Samantha told her to do. She and her mother walked around the corner and Dr. Loren Fishman, an elfish man in a red bow tie and round glasses, was able to see her almost immediately.

Immediately. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

When Smartmom told Dr. Fishman what happened he measured the good ankle and the sprained ankle and concluded that, indeed, Smartmom’s ankle was very, very swollen.

Fishman, the author of “Yoga for Osteoporosis,” and many other books and papers, told her to keep her foot elevated and iced. He said the best thing she could do was lie on her back and put her leg up against the wall.

Smartmom and Manhattan Granny were both enchanted by Dr. Fishman. They spent close to an hour with the good doctor (Manhattan Granny told him about all of her foot problems). He told Smartmom to come back in a few days for physical therapy “to preserve your range of motion.” And he gave her prescriptions for an anti-inflammatory and an air cast.

Back in Brooklyn, Smartmom managed to hobble up the three flights of stairs to her apartment. With Hepcat in California, she was on her own until her children came home. They were clearly flummoxed when they found her lying on the floor with her left leg up on the wall.

“Did you break it?” she asked.

“No, I sprained it,” Smartmom said.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m elevating it,”

“What?”

“Never mind …”

They were even more startled when she started to cry in pain and frustration. Nothing like tears to get your kids to really notice. After the waterworks, they were really helpful bringing her ice packs, Advil, books, and food. At dinnertime, the Oh So Feisty One ordered Moo Shoo Pork from Szechuan Delight and even went downstairs to get it from the deliveryman.

Smartmom should sprain her ankle more often.

In the days that followed, Smartmom learned to slow down, to delegate, to not move around at the pace she is accustomed to.

The Buddhists would say she was being mindful, taking things slow and paying attention.

In her effort to heal, Smartmom was learning to ask others for help and to take things one step at a time.

Not a bad thing, all things considered.

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May 2, 2010

Getting Ready to Leave Gap Year University

Smartmom is relieved that Teen Spirit will not be attending Gap Year University next year. And it’s not because he had a bad experience at GYU. Not at all: it was a great year and his coursework in the school of life included work at a warehouse in Red Hook, babysitting for a local boy, a road trip to the SXSW music festival in Austin and New Orleans and (starting soon) more work at a warehouse in Red Hook.

Indeed, the year has been full of new experiences and adventure.

Teen Spirit even decided to become a vegetarian at GYU: “Too much fried food and ribs on his road trip” motivated him to adopt a more healthy and vegetable-filled diet. He left a note on the refrigerator when he got back: “Dear Family: I have decided to become a vegetarian. Keep that in mind.”

There were other milestones at GYU: Teen Spirit got his first passport, his first bank account and is learning to drive. He even applied for a job with the Census Bureau and had to register for Selective Service as a result.

At GYU, Teen Spirit concentrated on his songwriting and piano playing and he worked hard recording an album full of new songs. He also had time to rehearse and perform with his band Bad Teeth and perform at places like the Silent Barn, Shea Stadium, The Tank and Vox Pop.

All things considered, GYU was everything Smartmom hoped it would be for Teen Spirit: a chance to do something other than school as a way to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

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April 18, 2010

Smartmom is Suspicious of OSFO But She’s Only Meeting A Friend

A recent Saturday morning at 7:30, Smartmom woke to the sound of someone walking up and down the hallway.

“It’s a burglar,” Smartmom said aloud to her sleeping husband. “Omigod. Someone has broken into the apartment and he’s walking up and down the hall.”

Smartmom was too tired to get out of bed, even if burglars were, theoretically, making off with the family’s iBooks and cameras.

But instead of jumping up, she shook Hepcat awake.

“There’s a burglar in the house,” she said.

“Maybe it’s Teen Spirit,” Hepcat said.

“Teen Spirt,” Smartmom screamed. “Is that you?”

No answer. It was pretty unlikely anyway as he’d come home close to 3 am, and unless he wasn’t feeling well there was little chance he’d be up and around so early in the morning.

“Maybe it’s the Oh So Feisty One,” Hepcat said sleepily.

“OSFO!” Smartmom yelled. “OSFO!”

No answer and then:

“Yeah?” OSFO sounded irritable.

“Are you awake?” Smartmom said.

“Yup. I’m going out.”

OSFO was awake? That was a shock. She rarely gets up so early on a weekend morning. And almost never goes out at that time.

The adrenaline kicked in, and Smartmom was out of bed faster than a speeding mother. She stood in front of the bathroom door and listened to the sounds of OSFO blow-drying her hair.

“You’re going out?” “Yeah I’m meeting up with Kate. She just got back from her vacation.

Smartmom was smarting. Suspicion pulsed through her veins. Why would OSFO meeting up with Kate at 7:30 in morning? And why was she getting so dolled up?

When OSFO came out of the bathroom, Smartmom could smell the grapefruity body mist she’d bought her for her birthday.

It all seemed VERY STRANGE. What was her daughter up to?

“Are you really meeting up with Kate?” Smartmom asked firmly.

“Yes!” OSFO sounded simultaneously annoyed and insulted that Smartmom didn’t believe her.

“Really?” Smartmom tried again. To that OSFO slammed her bedroom door.

Smartmom didn’t know what to do. Was her daughter telling the truth or pulling a fast one? In a quandary, she went back to bed and told Hepcat.

“Huh? Meeting up with Kate? Now?” Hepcat sounded hazy. Clearly, he sounded suspicious, too, but not enough to get up and put his foot down. Then Smartmom heard OSFO walk to the front door.

“See you later. Bye,” OSFO said. Slam.

Smartmom ran to the front window. If OSFO is really going to Kate’s house, she’d walk towards Sixth Avenue. If she’s lying, and is on her way to an illicit rendezvous in Prospect Park or elsewhere, she’ll walk the other way. If that was the case, Smartmom decided she’d follow her little girl.

Smartmom, ready to be a maternal James Bond, waited for OSFO to walk through the front gate of their apartment building’s yard. She waited. And waited. And waited.

Then she heard the girls talking. She couldn’t see them from the window but she could tell that they were sitting on the front stoop.

OSFO really was meeting up with Kate. But what were they doing? Maybe they were plotting some illicit activity.

Smartmom ran to the intercom in the kitchen and pressed the listen button, which enables her to eavesdrop on conversations in the front yard.

“How was your vacation?” she heard OSFO say to Kate.

“Great,” Kate told her.

Smartmom felt very Harriet the Spy as she listened to their mumbled conversation, which was, truth be told, pretty boring.

Relieved, Smartmom got back into bed tired from her morning stint as a maternal detective. Then the front door opened.

“Hello,” she heard a low voice say.

Omigod, thought Smartmom. It’s another burglar or maybe OSFO. But why is she disguising her voice?

“Someone’s here,” Smartmom said to sleepy Hepcat, who just rolled over feigning sleep.

“Who’s there?” Smartmom shouted out.

“It’s me,” Diaper Diva responded. “I used my key to get in. I have to pick up my computer that I left here yesterday. I brought coffee.”

So, it was Diaper Diva. Not a burglar or OSFO disguising her voice at 8 am. A cup of coffee sounded great.

“Do you know what OSFO and Kate are doing downstairs?” Diaper Diva asked Smartmom.

Smartmom braced for the latest in adolescent girl misbehavior.

“They’re playing with their American Girl dolls. They’ve got about 8 of them lined up. They’re brushing and cutting their hair. Putting them in clothing.”

Smartmom was shocked. OSFO hadn’t played with her American Girl dolls in years. They still lived on a high shelf in her bedroom posing in their finery, but they weren’t high on the list of preferred activities for OSFO and her 13-year-old friends.

Smartmom ran to the window, pulled up the screen and saw for herself. OSFO and Kate were running a make-shift beauty salon for their American Girl dolls in the front yard.

There was Felicity, Josephina, Molly, Kim and all the others. Smartmom remembered how much those dolls used to mean to OSFO. She thought back to their many pilgrimages to the Manhattan store. Ah, how young OSFO was then (Smartmom was not younger). Ah, how OSFO (and Smartmom) loved playing with those dolls.

Smartmom didn’t know what to think. At this age, girls straddle childhood and adulthood. One minute you think they’re lost to social networking, Sephora and seventh-grade socializing, the next minute they’re clinging to their childhood imagination and brushing the hair of a beloved doll.

The whole thing gave Smartmom a bittersweet feeling. Maybe the demands of adolescence were sometimes just too much and it was a relief to return to playing with dolls.

What a complicated time of life. Even that early in the morning.

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April 11, 2010

The Sisterhood of the Stationary Coffee

Smartmom and her sister Diaper Diva love talking to each other about their kids. Whenever they get together for coffee on Seventh Avenue, at ConnMuffCo or Sweet Melissa, it’s a non-stop debriefing session about the latest, breaking news on Teen Spirit, the Oh So Feisty One and Ducky.

Without a doubt, it’s what they talk about more than anything else.

More than their husbands. And they talk about them plenty.

More than their parents. And they talk about them plenty.

More than their friends. And they talk about them plenty.

More than their careers. And they talk about that plenty.

So what do they talk about when they talk about their kids? In a word: everything. No detail is too small, no subject is too big. They both seem to be intensely interested in each other’s children. And that’s a good thing because otherwise they’d be bored to death.

Over skim lattes, Diaper Diva fills in Smartmom on the minutiae of 5-year-old Ducky’s day. What time she woke up, how she jumped into her parent’s bed for a big snuggle, the cereal she ate for breakfast, what she’ll have for lunch.

Diaper Diva tells Smartmom how Ducky insisted on wearing her red tutu to school and her multi-colored Mary Jane sneakers; that “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel” is her current favorite video, that “The Magic Schoolbus” is her favorite book series, and Magenta is still her most cherished stuffed animal.

Lately, they’ve been talking about how to get Ducky to stop sucking her thumb. Smartmom was a thumb-sucker until she was 10-years-old, so she knows how hard it is to quit. When she was in fifth grade, her mother offered her $10 to stop sucking and that’s when she finally “joined the unhooked generation.”

“Ducky says, ‘My thumb is so delicious,’ ” DD tells Smartmom.

“I remember how good it tasted,” Smartmom says sticking her thumb in her mouth for old time’s sake.

“But I want her to stop,” Diaper Diva tells Smartmom.

“Don’t worry, she’ll stop eventually. I did,” says Smartmom pulling her thumb out of her mouth.

In an informal way, they both get equal kid-talk time. When Diaper Diva finishes with Ducky’s morning, Smartmom starts on OSFO.

“Her alarm went off at 5:30 am, but she didn’t wake up until 7. And then it was rush, rush, rush to get her hair, makeup and outfit together in time to leave by 8,” Smartmom tells Diaper Diva before launching into Teen Spirit’s late-night shenanigans.

“Teen Spirit came in late and stayed up even later watching ‘Breaking Bad’ on Hulu,” she tells her.

DD knows the size of Teen Spirit’s skinny jeans and the lyrics to many of his songs. She knows about his propensity for sleeping late into the day, his college applications and his road trip to Austin, Texas.

Diaper Diva knows the names and faces of OSFO’s friends and all the latest gossip. She knows the brand of OSFO’s favorite eyeliner, her shoe size and that she still likes playing with her American Girl dolls.

Needless to say, she knows about other things, too. Smartmom can brag a blue streak and not worry about sounding cocky around her sister. She told her in excruciating detail about the performance of Teen Spirit’s band Bad Teeth at Vox Pop last October. “He was really great,” she told Diaper Diva. “And I’m not saying that because I’m his mother. “He’s REALLY talented.”

Diaper Diva believed her.

And it’s not just the good stuff that Smartmom tells her sister. She also shares her worries, her insecurities, her deep dark fears. She can say things she would never say to anyone else for fear of judgment or even Child Protective Services. Diaper Diva knows all the really dumb things Smartmom has done and all the near misses (like the time Teen Spirit nearly drowned in the bathtub).

She knows things Smartmom would NEVER EVER write about in her column so just forget it.

Likewise, Smartmom knows about all the times Diaper Diva loses her temper or spends too much money on Ducky or yells too loud or lets her get away with murder. She knows her proudest parenting moments and the stuff she’s embarrassed about.

The sisters like to think that their conversations are judgement-free. But the truth is, they do occasionally act mean and judgemental. They are sisters after all. Smartmom really had a fit when Diaper Diva told her she should have NEVER let OSFO dye her hair blue.

“But she wanted blue,” Smartmom said.

“You don’t have to do everything that she wants,” Diaper Diva spit out.

Ouch.

Oh yeah? Well, Smartmom hates it when Ducky gets time-outs when she’s over.

“I hate to hear her cry in her room,” Smartmom told DD.

Diaper Diva thinks Smartmom should build new closets in Teen Spirit and OSFO’s rooms.

“They have nowhere to put their clothing. It’s such a mess,” she told Smartmom.

It can get ugly — and someone sometimes storms off. It’s pretty embarrassing to be left sitting alone at Sweet Melissa just as the waiter brings DD’s oatmeal.

“Can you wrap that up?” Smartmom tells the waiter with studied nonchalance. “She had to go.”

The sisters usually make up within an hour or so because they know it’s futile to stay mad at each other for too long. Besides, there’s always something new to talk about — and who else are they going to tell?

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April 4, 2010

Teen Spirit Learns the Lessons of the Road

Smartmom was happy to learn that Gap Year University has a “study-abroad” component.

Teen Spirit didn’t exactly go to Europe or South America. He went on a road trip to Texas, which is, in a way, a foreign country.

There were no teachers on this trip. No itineraries. No syllabus of appropriate literature. It was, you could say, an independent project. Life was the teacher, and whatever happened on the way would surely be a life lesson of sorts.

On a rainy Saturday morning in March, Teen Spirit set off with three other friends in a Toyota.

“A Toyota,” Smartmom thought. “Oh, great.”

After days of preparation, Smartmom was stressing. She helped Teen Spirit make a list of what to take. How much money would he need? What was the weather down in Texas? Did he need a sleeping bag? A raincoat? An umbrella, for Buddha’s sake?

About the driving, Smartmom had moments of panic imagining a car accident on the Interstate (the Toyota, remember?). She reminded herself that the driver, a suburban girl, is confident and has many miles under her belt. But she still couldn’t quell the fear that something might go wrong.

And where would they stay? What if they happened upon some weird Bates Motel-type of place or decided to camp out in some scuzzy campground?

It was all possible, but Teen Spirit and his friends were on their own, and there was no way she or any of the parents could micromanage this trip. That was the point.

Smartmom thought back to the trip she took when she was 16. She and two friends biked from North Carolina to the Appalachian Folk Life Festival in West Virginia. Her father almost didn’t let Smartmom go.

“It’s dangerous in the South,” he told Smartmom. “You’ve seen ‘Deliverance.’ ”

Thankfully, after much pleading, he let her go. Smartmom still can’t believe it. It really was a potentially dangerous trip: three 16-year-old girls alone on a bike trip, staying at campgrounds and weird motels. At one place, the woman at the desk asked if they were runaways.

But it was the adventure of a lifetime, which built self-confidence and many memories. Smartmom is grateful to this day that the late great Groovy Grandpa said yes.

That’s why Smartmom was open to Teen Spirit’s request to go down to Austin in a car. She knew it would be a great adventure and something he’d remember for the rest of his life.

The night Teen Spirit left, it was raining in Park Slope and Smartmom had a panic attack while watching “The Crucible” at the Old Stone House.

“What if they’ve been in a car accident? What if they’re dead by the side of some road?” she thought during the play’s witch trial scene. Her heart ached for her son. She should never have let him go away.

As soon as she got out of the show, Smartmom called Teen Spirit. Her panic melted away when she heard his voice on the phone.

“We’re in Kentucky,” he said cheerfully. “We’ll be stopping for the night in an hour or so.”

Smartmom tried not to think too much about Teen Spirit in the coming days. She did feel a pang when she came across his skinny jeans with the huge holes in the backside lying in the hallway.

During the first week of Teen Spirit’s trip, Hepcat got a text message from his boy. He called Smartmom excitedly.

“He wrote: ‘Been to Sun Records, On my way to Graceland. Life is good.’ ” Hepcat told Smartmom.

“He didn’t text me,” she told him.

Still, she was delighted with his message. Life really is good when you’re 18 and on the road. A few days later, Smartmom called Teen Spirit’s cellphone.

“We’re in Austin,” he told her. “And we’re not going to that music festival in Monterrey, Mexico. There’s a drug war and it doesn’t sound like a good idea.”

Smartmom was relieved beyond words. The group planned to go to MtyMx a music festival on the heels of SXSW, organized by Todd P, an all-ages event organizer in Brooklyn. They were going to take a six-hour bus ride from Austin to Monterrey, Mexico. But in Austin, they’d heard reports about drug cartels and the violence.

Smartmom felt relief. She was awed by the fact that Teen Spirit and his group had made the decision to avoid what was a potentially dangerous situation.

A few days later when Teen Spirit got back from his trip, Smartmom was away at a writers conference in Delaware.

“The Prodigal Son returned at three in the morning,” Hepcat told Smartmom the next morning.

Smartmom was happy. Her son was back from his trip of a lifetime, yet another feature of his year at Gap Year University. They had trusted him and he rewarded their trust with good decision-making and a really good experience.

Now the big question: How many credits did he get?

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March 21, 2010

Smartmom is “Crazy Lady”

Smartmom has a brand new name: Crazy Lady. She gave it to herself because, lately, much of the time she really does feel crazy.

She feels crazy every time the Oh So Feisty One leaves her rock-heavy backpack in the foyer. How many times has Smartmom asked her not to do that? How many times has Smartmom stubbed her toe on that textbook-stuffed thing?

She also feels crazy when OSFO leaves a trail of towels in the hallway after a shower. For Buddha’s sake, how many towels does one girl need? And why can’t she pick them up?

But it’s not just OSFO. Teen Spirit makes her feel crazy every time he forgets his keys and buzzes at 2 am when she and Hepcat are in a deep sleep. Talk about murderously crazy.

And Hepcat makes her feel crazy, too! It’s like she’s speaking in tongues when she asks him to walk his dinner plate to the sink or load the dishwasher.

She might as well be Linda Blair in “The Exorcist” when she suggests that he make the bed or not leave his dirty clothes on the floor next to the hamper, but actually put them in the hamper.

Crazy.

And when she asks him to shop for dinner at the Coop or just to pick up milk and Tropicana at Met Food, it’s like she’s one of the Oompa Loompas in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

Crazy Lady. The name fits because Smartmom feels crazy most of the time. And she’s starting to act that way, too. She’s been known to rant to herself when she does the dishes — and when Hepcat asks her what she’s saying she just pretends that she’s singing along to something on WNYC.

La La La.

Lately, her eye has been ticking and she’s even been stealing sips of the Sailor Jerry’s rum she keeps in the cabinet.

And it’s all because nobody listens to her or takes her needs seriously. She’s sick and tired of the adolescent rolled eyes, the exasperated stares, the walking away from her when she’s in the middle of a sentence; the not being paid attention to.

Don’t they get it? If something doesn’t change soon, she’s going to be Really Crazy Lady.

Unfortunately, the more she yells, the crazier she feels — and the more they ignore her. It’s like she’s a lunatic babbling on the subway and Hepcat and the kids are those passengers who don’t even look up from their iPods.

And if she doesn’t say anything, they just keep on keeping on with their annoying, crazy-making habits. What’s a smart mom to do?

And that’s when Smartmom had a great idea: She would treat Crazy Lady as just another persona. That way it would be Crazy Lady, not Smartmom, who was nagging her family all the time.

Crazy Lady would be the invisible and irascible houseguest who never leaves. She’d hover over the apartment like a ghostly super-ego making sure that everyone was doing his share.

With Crazy Lady around, Smartmom can go back to being the mild-mannered, loving wife and mother she wants to be. Crazy Lady could be the bad cop.

So the other day, Smartmom told Hepcat that Crazy Lady found his dirty laundry next to the hamper and nearly stashed it in the garbage. “The woman is a little crazy,” Smartmom whispered.

Hepcat looked nervous and quickly put his dirties in the hamper.

Later, she told OSFO that the sight of wet towels in the hallway nearly caused Crazy Lady to seizure. “And that’s not a pretty sight,” she added. OSFO immediately picked up most of her wet towels and put them on the rack to dry.

When she told Teen Spirit that if he wakes up Crazy Lady in the middle of the night, she might pummel him with a coat hanger, he searched his room for his long lost keys and vowed never to forget them.

So far so good.

It really is great to have Crazy Lady around and she doesn’t take up any extra room. Crazy Lady will be a good influence on the household because she’s just scary enough to keep everyone on their toes. Already, she seems to have had the desired effect.

And it’s nice to have super cool Smartmom back, too. Hopefully, she can go back to baking cookies and being everyone’s best friend.

Yeah, right.

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February 28, 2010

Smartmom’s Girl Has Her Own Olympic Moment

From this week’s Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom, like many around the world, has been watching the Olympics from her new couch. Ice skating, snowboarding, alpine skiing — it’s been an adrenaline filled week in Vancouver and in Smartmom’s Third Street living room.

Smartmom is especially intrigued by the parents of the champions. What must it be like to sit in the stands and watch your child put to the ultimate test? Imagine the clenched teeth, the heartburn, the headaches. It must be close to unbearable.

Then again, think of the jumping-up-and-down pride and excitement when your child is up there on the podium. Think of the tears as you watch your child holding a gold, silver or bronze (yes, even bronze) medal, singing along to the national anthem.

Talk about motherly pride.

But Smartmom knows what it’s like sitting in the stands while her beloved child is put to the test.

Sure, the Oh So Feisty One’s piano recital last month at the Prospect Park Residence on Grand Army Plaza isn’t Vancouver, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of stress and agita. The morning of the recital, OSFO was still practicing her piece, trying to get through the whole thing without a mistake. But success was elusive.

Smartmom kept telling OSFO to play it again and again on the electronic keyboard in the dining room. And she did. Valiantly, OSFO struggled to get through some of the trickier measures. But it was like she was a alpine skier on a particularly slippery slope at Cyprus Mountain, OSFO just wasn’t able to deliver the goods.

Again, again, Smartmom said. And OSFO practiced until it came time to get dressed and go to the recital. Stoically, OSFO left without once getting through the piece without an error.

Smartmom put the morning’s practice out of her mind as she and Hepcat found seats at the recital. The annual Valentine’s Day recital is a treat for the elderly residents of this Park Slope assisted living facility and a chance for the parents of the studio’s young pianists and flutists to hear their children perform. Needless to say, Smartmom was stressing. Would OSFO pull it off? Would she be able to get through the entire piece without a mistake? Would she even make it through the piece? These questions were pulsating in Smartmom’s brain as she listened to the many young performers.

OSFO was number 15 on the program and Smartmom waited nervously as adorable 4- and 5-year-olds played their simple Suzuki pieces and took deep bows when they were done.

Smartmom felt for the young flutists, who are just learning to get a sound out of that difficult instrument.

She was impressed to hear children that she’s heard many times before now playing complex pieces with technical skill and feeling. Sure, there were plenty of wrong notes and errant squawks on the flute, but it was all in good fun, and the children seemed to survive their performances with their egos intact.

Then it was OSFO’s turn.

Smartmom was proud of her girl. Despite the fact that she had had such a difficult dress rehearsal, she looked cool, calm and collected when she got up to play. In fact, she looked especially beautiful in a black sweater, tight grey jeans and a neat ponytail.

As she began to play, Smartmom crossed her fingers (inwardly) and willed her daughter to somehow get through the piece without a hitch. At the start, she played beautifully, her fingers moving confidently up and down the keyboard.

Smartmom relaxed as she listened to her daughter’s effortless musicality.

And then she got to the difficult part of the piece and things did not go well. OSFO’s fingers attempted to play a major chord but dissonance came out instead. She tried again. But again there was disharmony where harmony was required.

Smartmom squirmed in her seat. She pressed her teeth together and clenched her stomach as her daughter struggled on the makeshift stage to find her way back into the piece. For 10 seconds, maybe it was only eight, OSFO fingers did not move as she mentally navigated the rest of the piece.

Smartmom felt for her girl with every inch of her maternal being. But then, just when Smartmom thought all was lost, OSFO’s fingers remembered what to do and Smartmom listened as OSFO made it to the conclusion of the piece, played the final chord with certainty and beauty and rose to take a deep bow.

Smartmom clapped louder than any other person in the room so proud was she of her girl. She clapped as loud as the parent of Shaun White after his gold medal snowboarding stunt. She clapped as loud as the mother of Lindsey Vonn or Apolo Ohno’s father after their gold medal races.

Yes, OSFO had struggled. Yes, she had made a mistake. Yes, she had been paralyzed in silence for what felt like the longest eight, maybe six, seconds in the world.

But OSFO ultimately triumphed because she didn’t give up, she ploughed through, and made it to the end. Just like the champions in Vancouver, who have to pick themselves up from a fall and keep skating, skiing, snowboarding until they are through.

When the recital was over both Smartmom and Hepcat couldn’t wait to congratulate their girl.

“We’re so proud of you,” Hepcat said. “You didn’t give up and to us, and that’s the best thing of all.”

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February 21, 2010

Smartmom Recalls the Best & Worst Valentine’s Day

This is from this week’s Smartmom in the Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom spent Valentine’s Day 1991 in Lenox Hill Hospital five months pregnant with Teen Spirit, suffering from symptoms of pre-term labor. She stayed in the hospital for a month so that her baby wouldn’t be born four months early.

His due date was June 12.

By Valentine’s Day, Smartmom had already been in the hospital two weeks since the night she hemorrhaged in their East Village apartment and raced over to the hospital terrified that her baby was no longer alive.

When she got to the prenatal ward, a sonogram revealed, thankfully, that the baby’s heart was still beating; she was told that she was having early contractions. If the baby was born, he would never survive: his lungs were too small. She was given massive doses of Terbutaline, a drug that relaxes the uterus, in order to stabilize the contractions.

Smartmom was under strict orders to remain calm. “Don’t laugh or cry,” her obstetrician told her in his thick Romanian accent. “Anything can cause contractions.” She wasn’t allowed to get out of bed and had to use a bedpan. It was pretty awful. But staying calm was hardest of all.

CALM? How can you be calm in a situation like that?

Read more

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February 14, 2010

Valentine’s Day 1991

I just found this photo of me on Jamie Livingston’s Photo of the Day website from February 14, 1991.

Here I am pregnant, in a bed at  Lenox Hill Hospital with pre-term labor. I had to stay there for a month so that my son, Henry, wouldn’t be born 4 months early.

His due date was June 12th.

I remember spending Valentine’s Day at the hospital. Hugh, who managed to stay strong throughout this ordeal, made me a beautiful valentine’s card that made me cry. And I guess he gave me a box of chocolates. Or someone did.

That was one of the most stressful times of my life. I thought Henry might not survive. I was under doctor’s orders to be calm and told not to laugh or cry. I wasn’t allowed to get out of bed, to stand. It was pretty awful. But staying calm was hardest of all.

CALM? How can you be calm in a situation like that?

I had so much love and support from Hugh, my family and friends. My parents, who divorced years before and were rarely in the same room together, were there day after day, side by side (able for the first time to overlook their own differences in the face of this emergency).

My sister, my cousins, my aunts, my friends, including one who figured out how to wash my hair while lying in bed, all rallied round. They brought food, books, magazines. Jamie gave me cassette tapes of his favorite ethnic music, another friend brought  Creme Brulee from a French Bistro, still another gave me an adorable stuffed dog that sat on top of the hospital TV like a mascot.

My twin sister gave blood for me (just in case). At first she was told that she was too thin to give blood. While she was disappointed about not being able to give blood, she was THRILLED to be too thin. As I recall, they told her to go out and have a big meal and then come back.

She did end up giving blood for me and I was grateful.

The room was often full of people. It was actually kind of festive and fun (sort of). I got so many flowers from a Upper West Side flower shop called Surroundings, it was a lush garden on my windowsill, which had a diagonal view of Park Avenue.

I remember wanting to connect with the baby(I had just learned that the baby was a he) but I was afraid because I thought he might die.

A wise person told me: attach to the baby inside of you. If something does happen, you will deal with the loss then.

And so I did. I soared at the art of positive even magical thinking. And you know what, it worked.

Henry was born on his due date. The nurse screamed out “He’s cute.” Indeed, he was the most adorable– and beloved — baby in the world.

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February 14, 2010

Smartmom: Valentine’s Jitters

From this week’s Brooklyn Paper:

In the days before Valentine’s Day, Smartmom was simply trying to decide what to do.

Face it, it’s been years since she and Hepcat went out for romantic dinner. They both know it’s one of the worst restaurant nights of the year as local restaurants are usually overcrowded and chaotic.

Still, it is a symbolic day. A day to exchange cards and gifts. A day to be all lovey-dovey.

But Smartmom and Hepcat are a tad cynical about the whole “holiday,” which seems so pre-determined and un-spontaneous. And sometimes things can go terribly wrong.

Who can forget the year that Hepcat lovingly refers to as the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre or when my wife tried to kill me with bed sheets.”

That was when Smartmom bought new white sheets from Ikea, but forgot to wash them before use.

The next morning, Hepcat woke up with hives and could barely breathe. They rushed to Methodist Hospital and spent much of the day waiting for his welts to go down.

Then there are the years that Hepcat forgot to buy Smartmom a gift. Sometimes he has the best of intentions, but he just doesn’t get to the store on time.

The Clay Pot closes at 7 pm — everyone knows that!

Then there was the time he ordered a special watch for Smartmom with her picture on the face.

But somehow (in this case, luckily) it got lost in the mail.

Then there was the year that Smartmom booked a room at the Brooklyn Marriott for some Valentine’s fun and frolic. The plan was to meet at the cocktail lounge and then go upstairs (insert suggestive ellipses here). But the night of marital bliss didn’t happen because Hepcat came down with a nasty cold; given his drippiness, all Smartmom was getting that Valentine’s Day was a rain-check and dozens of dirty Kleenexes. Smartmom held out hope that Hepcat would recuperate in time for the secluded rendezvous — but then she remembered that they had a couple’s therapy appointment that night. Smartmom cancelled the room at the Marriott and headed for her shrink, so that Valentine’s evening, they sat in that cozy brownstone office discussing why they weren’t at the Marriott having sex.

Which isn’t to say that Smartmom and Hepcat haven’t had a few fantastic Valentine’s days.

Smartmom will never forget the night a few years after Teen Spirit was born when Hepcat staged a wonderful surprise. He wouldn’t tell Smartmom where they were going, but when they got to Varick Street near Van Dam Street in Gaphattan, he made her close her eyes. When she opened them, they were in front of the tiny Van Dam Cinema (it’s no longer there). On the marquee, it said, “ ‘L’Atalante’ by Jean Vigo.”

“L’Atalante” happens to be one of Smartmom’s favorite movies (and is considered by many critics to be one of the best films of all time).

Made in 1932, the film is about Jules, the captain of a canal barge, and his new wife, Juliette. The newlyweds embark on a trip from Le Havre and Paris, a makeshift honeymoon that is also a cargo delivery.

Tensions arise in all directions and Juliette runs off in Paris, having grown disenchanted with barge life. Without Juliette, Jules plunges into a deep depression and scours Paris looking for his bride. Eventually, they are reunited.

The film, which is lyrical and poetic, passionate and tortured, is perfect metaphor for the ups and downs of marriage.

That special night, Smartmom and Hepcat were the only ones in the movie theater and Smartmom thought it was the most romantic thing ever for a few reasons:

1. It was ooh la la romantic to watch a poetic French masterpiece on Valentine’s Day.

2. It was fun being the only people in the movie theater.

3. It was thoughtful — and loving — of Hepcat to remember that “L’Atalante” is Smartmom’s favorite movie.

After they film, they browsed in the now-defunct Spring Street Books and later had dinner at the Odeon in Tribeca. Manhattan Granny was watching Baby Teen Spirit and it was, as Smartmom remembers, a perfect Valentine’s Day.

So how to top that?

Smartmom could rent “L’Atalante” at Video Forum and stage a repeat of that night.

Nah. Been there, arthoused that.

Well, she could rent “Touch of Evil” or “The Third Man,” which are two of Hepcat’s favorite movies. And they could watch one or both sitting on the new couch in their redecorated living room.

Smartmom could prepare Hepcat’s favorite dish (she’d have to call Hepcat’s mom for her tamale pie recipe) and eat by candlelight in their dining room.

Smartmom is liking the sounds of that (minus the tamale pie, which Smartmom would gladly replace with one of her own specialties — if she had one).

All in all, it might just be a nice way to celebrate the day of love with the man she loves.

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February 7, 2010

Smartmom Loves her TV Families

Here it is. The Smartmom column from this week’s Brooklyn Paper.

It’s winter and Smartmom and Hepcat often find themselves in their newly re-decorated living room watching television. Why not? They’ve got an incredibly comfortable new couch, a new rug and a new console, which holds their slick flat-screen TV.

Heck, they’re like any other modern family watching TV shows about, er, families.

People know their television families better than their own: True, TV families aren’t a bit like real life as they’re usually richer, better looking and equipped with better comeback lines. But something connects us. Maybe it’s watching the mistakes, the melodrama, the way they screw things up that helps us reflect on our own complicated and muddled lives. It can only make us feel better about ourselves.

Smartmom and Hepcat’s favorite new show is “Modern Family,” a half-hour mockumentary on ABC, which follows Claire, a neurotic suburban mom of three, married to Phil, her appealingly immature husband. Interviewed in the first episode, he says: “I’m the cool dad, that’s my thang. I’m hip, I surf the Web, I text. LOL: Laugh out loud. OMG: Oh my God. WTF: Why the face?”

Smartmom can relate. At one time, she though LOL meant “lots of love.” Needless to say, the Oh So Feisty One got a big kick out of that. And she’s tried to be hip and cool with her kids and that usually backfires big time. Teen Spirit doesn’t want advice from his mom. And OSFO could care less what her mom thinks about anything.

It’s just a phase, Smartmom tells herself again and again.

On “Modern Family,” Claire’s daughter Haley, is a 15-year-old version of OSFO. She rolls her eyes profusely and looks like she’s on death row every time she has to interact with her parents.

Claire and Phil get tongue-tied when it comes time to reprimanding their children. That’s another problem Hepcat and Smartmom used to have. But really, what’s so hard about telling OSFO that she’s grounded? She’s already slammed her door midway through Smartmom’s sentence.

And Teen Spirit is 18. Smartmom and Hepcat still haven figured out what the new rules are anyway.

Is he supposed to come home at night?

Claire’s brother Mitchell is gay and he and his male partner, Cameron, have just adopted a Vietnamese baby. They’re a strangely mismatched set: Mitchell is the nervous Nelly while Cameron, born to be a dad, is comfortable in his own skin. He’s also unselfconscious about his considerable girth.

“Apparently your body does a nesting, very maternal, primal thing where it retains nutrients.” Cameron tells the off-camera interviewer. “Some sort of molecular physiology thing; that’s science. You can’t fight it.”

Smartmom knows all about that phenomenon. Marriage and children have added too many pounds to her delicate frame, and it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with those orange flavored Milanos. It’s science. You can’t fight it.

Smartmom and Hepcat are also obsessed with “Big Love,” an HBO series about a Mormon family in Utah that practices polygamy. The show, which is downright addictive, is about Bill Hendrickson, his three wives and seven children. While the premise is unfathomably sexist, it is fascinating they way the women share their hubby with their sister wives.

Hepcat is pretty sure he’d never want to be a polygamist.

“One wife is enough,” he told Smartmom.

Indeed, Hendrickson has his hands full with three feisty — and strong-minded — women (which is supposed to make up for the sexism of their lifestyle).

That said, what if the show was reversed and a woman had three husbands? Now that might be fun.

Sunday nights are also packed full of TV families. There’s “Desperate Housewives,” which Smartmom adores for its over the top silly, funny melodrama. She loves glamorous Gabby, who is blatantly clueless about raising her two overweight daughters. She makes every mistake in the book, but deep down she has a heart of gold (hmm … sounds familiar).

And then there’s ABC’s “Brothers and Sisters,” which presents the kind of large family that could only exist on TV. They have plenty of money, gorgeous homes and drama a-go-go that keeps the writing staff busy (divorce, political careers, cancer, miscarriages, affairs, gay parenting). And holding it all together is the uber nurturing matriarch played by Sally “You Like Me” Fields. Despite the fact that the character’s “selfless mother” bit makes Smartmom gag, Fields is an appealing actress.

So why does Smartmom love and endure Claire and Phil and Mitchell and Cameron and Bill, Barb, Nikki, and Margene and Gabby and Carlos and the whole Walker gang?

Well, it’s fun to sit on the new couch and watch how fictional families live. Maybe it makes her feel a little bit better about her life, warts and all. And sometimes, Hepcat and Smartmom even hold hands.

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February 3, 2010

Parent’s Anniversary

I always post this piece on February 3rd. It was originally published on February 3, 2005 on my old blog, Third Street (which was the original OTBKB).

Today is the anniversary of Smartmom’s parents. February 3rd. The date is etched in her mind. She and her sister would go to the same gift shop year after year to buy their anniversary gift. West Town House smelled of bath soap and sachet. It was just a block and a half from their Riverside Drive apartment. They’d browse for an hour or more. With only a few dollars folded in their small hands, they’d find something to buy: maybe stone paper weight or a letter opener, which the owner would gift wrap in green paper and a black ribbon bow.

Smartom’s parents aren’t married anymore. They’ve been separated since 1976. But February 3rd still stops her short. And while they’ve been separated for longer than they were together, February 3rd means only one thing: the beginning of something that later came to an end.

Groovy Grandma showed OSFO her wedding album a few weeks ago. A large, white, leather-bound book, the black and white photographs present Smartmom’s parents on their ceremonial day. In a simple and elegant, calf-length gown, Groovy Grandma looks like Audrey Hepburn; her hair is close-cropped like Hepburn’s too.

Groovy Grandpa, with no trace of the beard that would later define him, looks pleased with himself and his bride. Their parents gather around them – mythical parents, they are all dead now. They look happy for this union, for this coming together.

Later, OSFO said, “Grandma doesn’t look like herself,” Maybe she didn’t recognize her 78-year old grandmother as a beautiful young bride. Maybe she was surprised to see her grandparents together; she never seen them that way. It probably seemed strange; a little out of whack.

The separation came as a surprise, dramatic as it was. The rupture was sudden: suitcases packed; black garbage bags, filled with men’s clothing, tossed. All traces of him were banished from the apartment; an anguished wife’s ill-fated attempt at an exorcism.

Smartmom was only seventeen, a senior in high school, on the cusp of going away. It was awful to see her family bi-furcated. She was in the throes of first love, first sex, deciding her future. Now this?

Like an ostrich, Smartmom buried her head in her own sandy concerns while her mother grieved and her father sublet a studio on the other side of town.

And when her first love decided he didn’t love her after all, she bifurcated too. “Don’t leave me,” she cried pathetically for days. “It’s gonna take a miracle to make me love someone new cause I’m crazy for you.” Smartmom played that Laura Nyro song over and over on the phonograph in the living room.

But he left anyway.

February 3rd is just another day. But for someone whose family doesn’t exist anymore, Smartmom will always honor the beginning of something that later came to an end.

Photo of a wedding bouquet by Rebecca Shepherd Floral Design and Adornments

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January 31, 2010

Smartmom Craves Another Baby but Teen Spirit Suffices

From this week’s Smartmom in the Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom and Hepcat drove out to Ditmas Park last Saturday night to hear Bad Teeth, Teen Spirit’s band, at Vox Pop.

Teen Spirit doesn’t usually allow Smartmom and Hepcat to come to his shows. When he plays at edgy loft music spaces like Shea Stadium in Bushwick, they don’t get the “you are cordially invited” treatment from their boy.

But they were welcome to attend the Vox Pop show because Smartmom frequents the cafe/bookstore/performance space on Cortelyou Road and she even knows the manager, Debi Ryan. In a way, Teen Spirit knew he was stuck. He had to invite good old mom and dad.

Smartmom enjoyed Mother Courage, a band that has an appealing folk/punk vibe with literate and achingly melodic songs. Sitting behind her, Smartmom noticed a man in his late 30s. He was holding a baby, an unbelievably cute 17-month-old. Smartmom couldn’t help but wonder what he and the baby were doing out at a music club so late at night, but then she heard the baby’s dad explain to a friend that “she’s been sleeping all day.”

At one point, the man whispered to Smartmom, “You’re a mom, right?”

“Yeah,” she said. She guessed it was pretty obvious.

“I need to go to the bathroom,” he said. “Would you mind holding my baby? She’s getting sleepy and she really needs a woman.”

“Sure,” Smartmom said. She was glad to donate her womanlyness to this small child.

Smartmom took the baby, and she immediately melted into her arms. It had been years since Smartmom held a baby. None of her friends have babies anymore. They’re all too old, and their kids are old, too.

Ducky, her 5-year-old niece, was probably the last baby that Smartmom got to snuggle in her arms. Before that, it was the Oh So Feisty One, who got too big to hold about 10 years ago, and Teen Spirit, who hasn’t been a baby since 1994.

But holding a baby is like riding a bicycle: you never forget how to do it. Smartmom rocked Baby Vox the way she used to hold her own kids. Standing, she moved side to side, from one foot to another. This is Smartmom’s patented baby-holding stance, and one that babies seem to love.

Smartmom covered the baby’s ears with her hands because Large Lady played really loud noise/punk. It had been years since any of them had been babies, and now they were big and loud rock ’n’ rollers. In comparison, the baby in her arms was warm and quiet with jet black hair, pale skin and a doughy, attentive face. Smartmom breathed in and out the succulent smell of baby. Big kids don’t smell nearly as good.

Smartmom held the baby through three loud punk/noise songs. She wondered what was taking Baby Vox’s dad so long and at one point, she started to fantasize that he would never return and she’d get to keep the baby.

At 51, Smartmom could be a baby mama again. She could spend her days wheeling the baby up and down Seventh Avenue, but this time not in a cheap umbrella stroller, but in a fancy Bugaboo. Smartmom would take Baby Vox to Music for Aardvarks and get to sing the “Hello” song once again.

Smartmom could tell that Hepcat was smitten with Baby Vox, too. She imagined that the baby could sleep in their bed until Teen Spirit moves out to go to college. Then they could turn Teen Spirit’s room into the baby’s room.

Smartmom fantasized about forming another baby group like the one she had when OSFO was 1. She’d invite other moms over to her apartment every Thursday morning and they’d have a gabathon while the kids ran wild.

In the midst of her baby fantasy, Baby Vox’s dad finally returned from the bathroom. But he had another request to make of Smartmom. He put two fingers to his mouth pantomiming a cigarette asked if she’d mind holding the baby while he went out for a smoke.

“Sure,” she said. “Not a problem at all.”

The baby seemed incredibly comfortable with Smartmom. Unfortunately, Baby Vox’s dad was standing in front of the café so delicately removing the baby from the café was out of the question. Actually it was a terrible — no, a disgusting idea. Besides Baby Vox’s mother was probably just having dinner with friends, taking the night off, seeing “Avatar” or something. Then again, maybe her parents were divorced and this was dad’s weekend.

Smartmom didn’t have a clue.

When Baby Vox spotted her dad smoking through the front door glass she waved at him enthusiastically. Smartmom was jealous. She could tell that Baby Vox was incredibly attached to her nice daddy. It would be downright mean to take her away from him.

Baby Vox’s dad finally came back. Cigarette and bathroom break over, he wanted Baby Vox back in his arms again. But first, he thanked Smartmom profusely. He reached for Baby Vox and Smartmom surrendered the small child to her father. In an instant, he put on her pink down jacket and told Baby Vox to say goodbye to her “new friend.”

Smartmom’s arms felt barren, cold. She was sad without that luscious-smelling infant against her chest.

Before she could even grieve the absence of Baby Vox, Bad Teeth was on stage, launching into their haunting opening song, “Raised by Wolves” (a Smartmom reference? Let’s hope not!). The crowd went wild. Teen Spirit, on vocals and guitar, and the band delivered a high-energy set featuring their hard driving, raw, well written and unapologetically catchy songs.

Smartmom moved front and center to watch her son in his true element: on stage, delivering powerful music to a crowd of throbbing fans. She was in awe. Pride swelled through her.

Where does he get all that energy? Where does he get all that talent?

Hepcat ran around Vox Pop taking pictures of his boy and his band. Smartmom didn’t care that she was the oldest person in the room. She didn’t care that it was obvious that she was someone’s mom.

She sang along at the top of her lungs as her son led the crowd in a sing-along:

We are all worthless, but at least we’re not alone.

Who needs the smell of sweet baby’s breath when you have a talented son like Teen Spirit?

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January 24, 2010

Smartmom’s New Year’s Resolutions

From this week’s Smartmom in the Brooklyn Paper:

Smartmom spent New Year’s Eve with Best & Oldest, but has been a bit tardy with her resolutions, those pesky promises we make to ourselves this time of year. Here’s her list:

• Broccoli: Smartmom plans to serve her brood healthier fare. This year, there’s going to be less Szechuan Delight and more salads, veggies and healthy soups. Smartmom needs to model good eating habits for her family, and it all starts in the family kitchen. Sure, they’re Food Co-op members, but sometimes Smartmom gets lazy and shops at Key Food, where she buys easy-to-prepare foods like pasta, Amy’s pizza and rotisserie chicken. So this year, it’s heart-healthy, low sodium, low fat and no General Tso’s.

• Public Service: Smartmom wants to always remember what a charmed life she and her friends lead in Park Slope. In these times, she wants to stay connected to the realities of the rest of the world and give what she can (in money, in time) to help those near and far who are suffering.

• Sit ups: Smartmom vows to get at least 30 minutes a day of exercise. That means running, walking, hitting the elliptical machine, doing sit ups, push ups, pilates or something else — anything just as long as it’s exercise. Think of the endorphins. Think of the abs. Smartmom is already off to a good start. In November, she joined Crunch Fitness and signed on with a great trainer named Claire Moore, who’s working Smartmom hard with an emphasis on abdominal muscles and upper arms.

This year, Smartmom also wants Hepcat to use that expensive Bianchi bicycle he bought five years ago that was Kryptonite locked for much of those five years because they couldn’t find the key. Duh. Last month, Smartmom carried the bike to the locksmith and had him break the lock. Now, it’s waiting in the basement for Hepcat to take a ride.

• Calm: Smartmom knows that meditation makes her feel happier and calmer. So why did she stop doing it? No good reason except laziness. Now Smartmom plans to get back on track with her Om by meditating at least three times a week. She’s going to get her meditation pillow out of storage, find that Tibetan singing bowl she bought on Bleecker Street and set her watch. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. Twenty minutes and she’ll be brand new.

• Pages: Smartmom wants to read as much in the coming year as she did in the last when she consumed books by Henry James, Edith Wharton, George Eliot, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, and Flaubert. Now she’s moved on to contemporary Canadian authors like Carol Shields and Margaret Atwood. Having a good book makes her look forward to long subway and bus rides and stealing away to bed early so that she can read before going to sleep. It makes her life feel rich and exciting. It makes her brain work good and hard.

• Nieces: Smartmom wants to shower attention on her adorable niece, Ducky. Since the fall, they’ve been spending more one-on-one time together, and it’s been great fun. Smartmom finds that it’s better to be with Ducky alone. When Ducky is with her mom, the Diaper Diva, she tends to cling like a peach. But when she’s alone with Smartmom, she cuddles and talks and plays with Smartmom.

• Homework: Smartmom will insist that the Oh So Feisty One does her homework earlier in the evening. She is sick and tired of her waiting until after dinner to get out her books. Then she gets sleepy and asks Smartmom to wake her up at 5:30 in the morning so she can finish. Smartmom only recognizes one 5:30 per day and it’s definitely not the one in the friggin’ morning!

• Girls’ getaway: Smartmom wants to spend a few days alone with OSFO so that they can bond. OSFO has been very adolescent of late and she doesn’t confide in her mom the way she used to. That’s why Smartmom wants to take her someplace far away from Internet and cellphones, where they can reconnect and maybe even rediscover each other.

• Writer’s ‘Block’: This summer, Smartmom will definitely return to Block Island, where she has a room of her own to write. This will be her fourth year in a row at the Sea Breeze, which is a pretty wonderful place to get those fingers typing, those words flowing, those books written.

• Deadlines: Smartmom promises to get her columns to the very patient Dumb Editor on time, every time, this year. Who said New Year’s resolutions are meant to be broken?

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January 17, 2010

Have An Affair Or Not: Here’s Smartmom’s Take

From this week’s Smartmom in the Brooklyn Paper:

A few days ago, these plaintive words appeared on Park Slope Parents, that invaluable list-serve for parenting and, er, marital advice:

“I wanted to ask fellow Park Slope Parents how you deal with a spouse cheating. My husband has a real desire to act out on it, and I have caught him browsing the Craigslist ads. He has not actually met with anyone, but I feel that if he continues browsing the ads, it will happen. It very upsetting to me, and I also realize the reality of things that it’s hard to be with the same sexual partner all your life. How do you deal with this? Besides getting a divorce? Any advice would be so helpful.”

Obviously this woman is very upset. Why else would she write to a bunch of virtual strangers about something so personal?

Smartmom pored over the plethora of responses, which expressed many points of view. One person wrote that viewing the Craigslist listings does not mean that he plans to cheat.

“I’ve been married for seven years, have never cheated on my wife, would never consider cheating, but have browsed plenty of Craigslist sections. It’s fantasy fodder.”

It’s tough not to notice that he’s been married seven years …

Another person suggested that the wife should send her husband to strip clubs to get his ya-yas out. “Send him with the understanding this is an outlet for visual stimulation, not permission to go home with anyone,” she wrote.

Smartmom thinks strip clubs are sexist and just plain silly (and they didn’t help Tiger Woods from straying).

Another married woman, who has had affairs mostly with women, said it was OK as long as the affair-haver is honest about it.

“It was amazing. My husband, somehow was fine and I found myself feeling more head over heels in love with him than I had in a long time,” the bisexual adulteress posted. “I felt so trusted, loved and blessed that he would let me have this — and the blast of sexual energy from being with someone ‘new’ just recharged our marriage.”

Smartmom was intrigued — and annoyed by the overly effusive tone of this post. Sure she knows that there are loads of people out there who engage in some form of polyamory, the practice of having more than one intimate relationship at a time, with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. But clearly, it’s not for everyone.

If your partner trusts you to go out and fool around a bit because the love is there, then maybe this could work. But if your partner feels the slightest bit of betrayal then the whole thing is a bust.

And why would you want to hurt your spouse that way? “Do no harm” should be the mantra of marriage.

Still another person wrote: “Cheating is almost always more about narcissism, escapism and immaturity than any purely sexual need. For the most part, people who are self-assured and happy with themselves, their lives, their achievements, etc. don’t cheat.”

Smartmom isn’t sure that it’s all together true. All kinds of people have affairs — even self-assured and happy ones. Tiger Woods? David Letterman? Bill Clinton? These are men at the top of their games, for Buddha’s sake.

By the same token: having low self-esteem or being unhappy doesn’t necessarily mark you as an adulterer. For instance, Smartmom has issues with self-esteem, but that doesn’t mean she’s “hiking the Appalachian Trail.” Not yet anyway.

But if it is the mid-life miasma that’s the problem, there are a lot of other things you can do to elevate your mood that might be a tad more constructive like therapy, making a change in your career or creative life, going on a trip, making new friends.

Being married does not mean that you’ll never feel sexual stirrings for another person. Who hasn’t had a teeny, tiny crush on someone he or she met at a dinner party or people they look forward to seeing at school drop off? But having an affair is another order of magnitude.

Managing an affair is a time consuming — and a morally compromising activity. More often than not, it involves lying about where you are and not being where you’re supposed to be.

And what happens if you fall in love? That will almost certainly wreak havoc on your family and hurt your beloved (and your children). You can’t always control the trajectory of what goes on between two people. And this is where the hurt, betrayal and rejection comes in.

OK. But isn’t it possible to be just a little bit unfaithful? What about a frenzy of kisses at a Christmas party or a quick romp while on a trip?

If it’s a one-time thing, Smartmom says, why not? While that might sound flip, the truth is, it doesn’t need to break up a marriage. But if you find yourself doing it again and again, you really need to look at what’s missing in your relationship — and your life. So find a good therapist. In therapy, you can take an incisive look at what’s really going on.

What about doing it the French way? Many married couples there have lovers on the side, and it seems to work out just fine. One former president even had his mistress at his state funeral!

While that sounds tres sophisticated and fun, Smartmom knows she’s not capable of being quite so French.

Truth is, Smartmom is the jealous type. She goes a little bit crazy when Hepcat visits his ex-girlfriend from sophomore year in college to fix her computer.

As for being unfaithful herself, Smartmom knows with certainty that an affair would be very unwise. When she falls in love, she falls big. She’s not capable of Clinton-esque compartmentalization. Plus, she’s a lousy liar. She’d probably become obsessed and stalk the guy or at least Google him until her fingers fall off.

Worst of all, an affair might force Smartmom to question her marriage. While Smartmom loves to analyze and test her marriage, she doesn’t really want to challenge it in such an obvious way. She’s worked good and hard to get along with Hepcat, and they even have a new couch. Who wants to pine for someone other than person with whom she shares her bed?

Truthfully, Smartmom is too much of a pragmatist for an affair. Sure, at the beginning it might be hot and sexy — and a seemingly great panacea for a mid-life crisis. But inevitably, the sparks stop flying and eventually it will be just like her marriage — no better or worse.

Pretty soon, you’ll be discussing hemorrhoids and colonoscopies with your paramour, and it won’t be quite so romantic after all.

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December 27, 2009

Smartmom’s Charlie Brown Xmas Tree

Smartmom_big8 Smartmom bought her Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree from the
Vermont tree farmers who set up in front of the Park Slope Food Co-op
every year. It was $20, which is a lot to pay for what was more like a
branch. But the gangly tree caught her eye and seemed lovable in its
own — slightly pathetic — way.

As Smartmom walked home, she knew her little tree was a far cry from
the huge, tree that Hepcat’s mom always sets up in her humongous
California living room and decorates with a lifetime’s collection of
vintage ornaments. The fragrance of pine and hot apple cider permeates
the house as a fire roars.

Christmas with Hepcat’s family is a Jewish girl’s fantasy, and
Smartmom loves that her inter-faith children have such holiday’s in
their memory banks of childhood.

Smartmom knows she could never match that level of Christmasness:
she’s Jewish, for Buddha’s sake, and any attempt at Christmas is
fraught with inexperience and ambivalence. But this year, the family is
spending Christmas in Brooklyn. This has happened three times before in
her children’s lifetimes. Turns out, Teen Spirit is thrilled because
all his friends will be home from college and he’s excited to hang out
with them. The Oh So Feisty One has mixed feelings about not being in
California, but she, too, is glad to be near her friends.

Walking up Seventh Avenue with her tiny tree conveniently tucked
under her arm, Smartmom remembered 2007 when they bought a huge
Christmas tree and it was like Rockefeller Center in the apartment
because the Oh So Feisty One kept bringing friends in and out of the
apartment to see it.Smartmom worried that OSFO and Teen Spirit would feel cheated by
this year’s tiny tree. But she tried not to worry about it. She was
already stressing about how to make this as nice a Christmas as the
one’s they spend in California. O the pressure, o the guilt, o the need
to meet everyone’s expectations at this time of year.

When Smartmom got home with her tree, Hepcat rolled his eyes (it
sure looked that way to Smartmom). He wondered how they were going to
get the tiny tree to stand up in the metal tree holder intended for a
much larger tree.

“Don’t worry I’ll figure it out,” Hepcat said sounding alternately
annoyed and excited at a challenge that required a trip into the metal
tool box. When he got his saw out, Smartmom knew things were getting
complicated.

“Don’t worry. I just need to saw off a few branches,” he said.

“But there won’t be much tree left!” she told him.

“Calm down,” he said.

When he went out to Tarzian Hardware for more supplies, Smartmom
realized that this project was becoming a real production. It might
have been easier just to get a bigger tree.

Smartmom waited anxiously for Hepcat to return. Why did holidays
feel like a referendum on her capabilities as a mother and a wife?
Would this little tree be enough for Christmas?

Finally, Hepcat returned, and Smartmom watched as her handy (i.e.
non-Jewish) husband, a genius at solving random engineering problems,
made it possible for her tiny tree to stand. Smartmom gave him a big
kiss as relief pulsed through her.

Smartmom found all their ornaments in a mildewed bag in the
basement. It was like a reunion with old friends. Sadly, she had to
throw out quite a few that were growing mold on them.

Later, Diaper Diva and Ducky came over to join in on the tiny tree
trimming. Smartmom even made hot chocolate. The tree was exactly as
tall as 5-year-old Ducky, and she had a great time decorating.

When Teen Spirit woke up (it was 2 pm), he came into the room and stared at the sweet little tree.

“I know, I know. It’s a Charlie Brown tree,” Smartmom said in anticipation of a snarky remark.

“I like it. I really do. I just think we should put a huge ornament on it so it’ll droop,” he said.

Teen Spirit felt moved to download some of his favorite Christmas
songs: “Blue Christmas” by Elvis Presley, “Fairytale Christmas” by the
Pogues and “Merry Christmas, Baby” by Otis Redding.

Smartmom sat on her new couch
and observed the scene, which was like something out of a Frank Capra
Christmas movie. Her interfaith family was having an idyllically good
time decorating their tiny tree. Ducky was busy cutting out a paper
star and coloring it with red and green crayons. Diaper Diva was
alternately napping and supervising Ducky. Teen Spirit, inspired by his
Christmas playlist, decided that he was going to write a Christmas song
and was fiddling with various chords, melodies and lyrics. Hepcat found
tiny battery-operated lights that fit perfectly on the tiny tree.

And OSFO she took one look at the scene and made a bee-line for a friend’s house.

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December 13, 2009

Smartmom Chaperones a Marriott Sleepover

Smartmom_big8
Here from this week's Brooklyn Paper, it's Smartmom:

It was Luvbud’s 12th birthday and Luvbud’s Mom wanted to do
something really special for her: a night at a hotel with four of her
best friends.

So Luvbud Mom booked two rooms at the Brooklyn Marriott and told Luvbud to invite her BFFs.

But there was one problem: Luvbud’s Mom had to stay home to care for
her mother, who isn’t well. She called Smartmom with the bad news.

“I can chaperone the girls,” Smartmom told her.

“Are you sure? ” she asked.

“No problem. I don’t mind spending a night in a hotel with five 12-year-old girls,” Smartmom said.

When the Oh So Feisty One got wind of the plan she was none too happy.

“Why can’t Luvbud’s mom do it. That would be SO much better,” OSFO told her.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Smartmom said. “But it’s me or no party.”

On Saturday, Smartmom and the girls walked to the subway in the
rain. Smartmom made sure to stay about a block ahead of the girls
because she knew that OSFO wouldn’t want her hovering too close.

In fact, OSFO doesn’t like Smartmom hovering too close most of the time.

The allergy kicked in right around her 12th birthday last March and
it hasn’t let up at all. Sometimes she actually looks ill when Smartmom
enters her room.

Back to Saturday: Smartmom checked into the hotel as the girl swooned at the sight of the hotel’s pretty lobby Christmas tree.

“I’m two doors down from you girls,” Smartmom told OSFO and her friends.

“And the pool is open 24 hours,” she added.

“Yay. We can go swimming at midnight,” one of the girls said.

When the girls entered their room, they squealed with delight
and immediately started jumping on their beds. OSFO quickly ushered
Smartmom out of the room and made it clear that Smartmom wasn’t
welcome.

Smartmom did check in every half hour or so to see what they were up
to. She told them they should go swimming, but they were too busy
trying on each other’s clothes and putting on makeup in the bathroom.

Smartmom had lots to do in her private hotel room. She brought her
laptop fully intending to write her column or read a book. Instead she
found herself feeling very, very relaxed and sleepy on the ultra
comfortable mattress with its soft, soft, cotton sheets.

Smartmom woke up to a hard knock on the door. It was OSFO and the girls dressed in their bikinis.

“The pool was closed,” OSFO told her, clearly annoyed. “It’s not open 24 hours like you said.”

“Really? That’s what the woman at the front desk told me — unless I
misunderstood,” Smartmom said, sailing through a sea of unhappy faces.
“My bad. But you can go swimming in the morning. The pool opens at 9
am,” she added, restoring the levity.

About an hour later, Smartmom knocked on their door to see if the
girls were ready for dinner, but there was no answer. She banged some
more. Still no answer. She did experience a moment of panic. Had they
been asphyxiated by makeup or poisoned by nail polish remover?

She managed to stay calm and went downstairs to the Archives Restaurant to see if they were there.

Sure enough, the BFFs were eating dinner in the crowded restaurant.
Looking like 12 going on 23, they were all beautifully dressed up in
skirts or dresses and they were drinking …

“They’re virgin Strawberry Daiquiris,” one of the girls told Smartmom.

“We were having Shirley Temples, but then we ordered these,” another girl said.

Smartmom had to laugh. It occurred to her that this could be
construed as pre-alcoholic behavior, but she flicked the thought out of
her mind like an annoying mosquito. The girls were having fun.

As planned, Smartmom met Hepcat in the lobby for dinner. They sat
and ate their dinner at the bar — far away from the girls. He had a
Virgin Guinness while Smartmom had a Virgin Chardonnay. When the girls
were finished with dinner, OSFO came over to Hepcat.

“Can I borrow your camera,” she asked, all sugar no spice.

“Ummm, it’s the new camera,” he said nervously. “Do you know how to use it?”

“Of course I do,” OSFO said, taking the camera.

After dinner, Smartmom and Hepcat watched “White Christmas” in the
hotel room as he waited nervously for the return of his camera. Around
midnight, Smartmom knocked on the door.

“Yes?” OSFO said through a small crack.

“Can I have the camera?” she said.

“One minute,” OSFO said, shutting the door.

OSFO returned a minute later with the camera. She handed it over.

“And don’t look at the pictures,” she said, shutting the door again.

“I think she should see the pictures,” Smartmom heard another friend say through the door.

“Omigod. They took 315 photographs,” Hepcat exclaimed checking his
camera to make sure it was still in good working condition (which it
was). “And they’re really good,” he added. “Did you know they ordered
from room service?”

“They did?” Smartmom gasped.

Sure enough there was a photo of a waiter carrying a tray. There
were three other trays visible in the picture. Luvbud’s Mom would not
be happy.

“They sure made a mess of that room,” he said. “And they jumped on the bed.”

Indeed, the photographs were fantastic: a perfect lens into the
crazy, fun, exuberant world of Luvbud’s 12th birthday party at the
Marriott.

Smartmom may not have been a fly on the wall, but Hepcat’s camera
was able to capture better than thousands of words what it was like on
that magical night.

A birthday/slumber party at the Marriott: Expensive, trust me.

A night of fun with your BFFs (and OSFO’s mother, father and SLR camera): priceless.

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December 6, 2009

Divan Intervention and The Family Adjusts To The New Couch

Smartmom_big8
The delivery of the new couch was scheduled for Saturday afternoon. In the morning, Hepcat moved the 18-year-old green leather couch against
the window to make room for the new arrival. He was adamant about
hanging onto the old couch until they were absolutely sure they wanted
to keep the new one.

Then he went to the Metropolitan Museum with his mother who was visiting from Northern California.

At 2:50, the buzzer buzzed. Smartmom went downstairs and welcomed the Room & Board delivery crew.

“I’m going to have to perform miracles to get that thing upstairs,” one of them said.

He walked up to the third floor and took note of the narrow stairwell. He sighed and gave her an incredulous look.

“The couch is 92 inches. I’m not sure it’s going to make it round
this bend,” he said pointing to the ceiling height at one part of the
stairwell.

“See what you can do,” Smartmom told him. But she was stressing. After all that she’d been through to get this damn couch, what if they couldn’t get it up the stairs?

Now that would be ironic.

In less than five minutes, two men carried the couch up two flights
of stairs, got it through the apartment door, through the dining room
and into the living room. These guys were good.

And then came the moment of truth. They unwrapped the couch and
placed it in its spot in the living room. Smartmom gasped inwardly.

It looked HUGE at first: like an elephant in a mouse hole. Maybe
they’d made a mistake; maybe it was the wrong couch for the wrong
space. Smartmom tried to stay calm.

“Here’s something for the miracle,” she said and handed the men a generous tip.

Once they were gone, Smartmom really looked at the couch and within
seconds she made a realization: Not only did she love her new couch,
she felt relief pulse through her and even the stirrings of pleasure
and excitement.

Smartmom had a new couch and after all was said and done it felt good; really good.

“I hate it,” Teen Spirit said (as expected).

“You’ll get used to it,” Smartmom told him.

The buzzer buzzed again. It was Diaper Diva, who works as a film and TV set decorator, and her daughter Ducky.

“I love it,” Diaper Diva said as she walked into the room. Smartmom
was relieved: she lives for Diaper Diva’s aesthetic approval. Ducky
made a beeline for the couch, which looked like a really fun thing to
climb on.

Diaper Diva, always game for redecoration, started to move the
furniture around. Ducky sat on the green leather couch as Diaper Diva
moved it across the living room on its side. The 5-year old squealed.

When Hepcat got home, he approached the new couch like it was a
dangerous animal. He moved around it and withheld comment. At one
point, he placed his hand on the old couch; a touch point, an old
friend.

She wasn’t sure what he was thinking, but he didn’t look upset or
sad. Smartmom could tell that he was going to adjust. Eventually.

Later that night, Smartmom was eager to find a new home for the old
couch. The day before, she’d put an ad on Craigslist, but an
18-year-old green leather couch from Ikea isn’t exactly a hot item.

She decided to invoke divine (or divan) intervention, and texted
Pastor Daniel Meeter of Old First Dutch Reformed Church to ask if he
wanted the extra couch.

“I already have an Ikea couch,” he responded. “What, no sale? Put it on the curb.”

Then she e-mailed her friend, Unitarian Minister Tom Martinez of the All Souls Bethlehem Church in Kensington.

“We want it, but it’s a question of room,” he wrote. “I’m all over it if I get the green light from the congregation.

Smartmom was thrilled. She immediately texted Rev. Meeter.

“I’m giving it to the Unitarians,” she wrote.

“The Unitarians?!” Meeter texted back. “They’ll put it on their altar to sit and discuss whether there might be a God!”

On Sunday after services, Martinez called to say that he “would gladly accept and pick up the couch.”

So on Monday morning, the minister came to Third Street. He and
Hepcat carried the 88-inch couch down two flights of stairs. A former
high school football player, Martinez was able to gracefully balance a
couch walking backwards down steep stairs. Impressive.

The two men loaded the couch onto the rented U-Haul pick up truck, and Martinez was on his way.

Smartmom and Hepcat watched from their stoop while he drove up Third Street with 18-years worth of memories.

Indeed, that couch has witnessed so much of their lives. Smartmom
breastfed Teen Spirit on it; they’d entertained many friends and family
on it; they’d drank wine, watched movies, read the Sunday Times and the
Friday Brooklyn Paper; ate dinner; listened to Teen Spirit’s songs;
talked on the phone; and argued, laughed, kissed, read and slept on it.

When the Oh So Feisty One was less than a year, she jumped off the
couch, fell on the floor and cut her lip. It was a toddler’s
trampoline, a bed to many of Teen Spirit’s friends, the place where
Hepcat’s mom sleeps when she visits

Smartmom napped on that couch when she was pregnant with OSFO. She
cried on it when she talked to her therapist after learning that her
father was dying of cancer.

Now it was on its way to Kensington, to a new life in an intimate
house church. Sure, that was a far cry from life on Third Street, but
change was good.

Even a couch

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