Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Playdough and Elmo

Our son turned 12 yesterday and all I’ve been thinking about is where has the time gone?

I’ve been busy being busy -- that's where it's gone.

Life these past 12 years -- the years since I became a parent and embarked on a professional writing career -- have been an endless blur of taking on new responsibilities and the stress that comes along with them. 

How I wish I could go back and talk to my younger self during those first early years of motherhood and say -- enjoy enjoy enjoy every single fucking minute.  Hold squeeze giggle play tag make silly faces moo like a cow and run in the surf in your JEANS -- scream hello MOON! And goodnight SUN! sing sing sing at the top of your lungs regardless of what song it is or if you can even carry a tune -- stop to look at ants -- let the laundry pile up -- eat cake for breakfast -- make rocket ships to the moon out of cardboard boxes -- hang onto to every broken toy and ripped book -- let Barney play without cringing -- in fact learn all the fucking words to the Barney song and sing it at the top of your lungs -- snuggle -- tickle and stay in bed or play hide and seek -- even if it means being late to school -- even if it means missing a day of school -- put down your cell phone -- get your face out of the computer -- stop thinking about work the minute you walk through the front door -- shake off whatever happened during the day and STOP.  

Stop and look into their eyes.  Stop and listen to whatever the fuck your kid wants to say -- even if you’ve heard the story 20,000 times before.  Fiercely guard your weekend time with your family and DO NOT WORK if you can help it -- love love love LOVE the fact that you are a parent -- CAN be a parent and GET to live with these little scamps that smell like toothpaste and grass and mud and sweat and playdough and chocolate and pee.  Selfishly prioritize your every waking moment with your children and  above all else -- on their 12th birthday -- call them BABY even if they groan, then MAKE them let you hug them tight -- so tight they can’t breathe -- then give them a piece of cake and make them watch Elmo with you.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How Long Does It Really Take To Bake A Cake?

As a FT working (outside of the house) mom, I often lament not having more time to do things like bake a cake with my kids. About a month ago I promised we would all make a cake. Not just any cake, but Miss Aggie’s -- my childhood best friend’s mother’s -- homemade carrot cake. I could have easily bought a mix, but no, I chose to make a cake that requires two full cups of freshly grated carrots, among other various sifted, chopped, strained and labor-intensive ingredients, topped off with her out of this world cream cheese frosting.

I tend to dream large.

For a month the kids waited, but as deadlines piled up and weekends came and went, ingredients bought with good intentions sat unused. My dear ones smiled weakly every time I made the same lame, cheerful excuse: “It’s okay, we’ll make the cake next weekend!”

I give them an A+ for optimism. They never gave up on me.

I finally got a break last weekend and you might think the story ends there…


I suspect Julia Child never made a gluten free, low glycemic, coconut sugar (I made some substitutions), cake from scratch with a 4-year old sous chef and a broken electric mixer.

My 4-year old (not unlike most preschoolers), is quite independent. When she insisted on cracking the eggs for the cake I thought nothing of it. We own chickens and she’s become a bit of an egg expert -- collecting fresh eggs every morning, helping to crack and scramble them… why wouldn’t I trust her with this one simple task?

So, I left her to crack the FOUR eggs the recipe called for -- reminding her to be careful and pick out any shells while I busied myself sifting flour and chopping of nuts.

Eggs cracked, my daughter started buzzing around my legs and under my arms, doing her: “Mama can I help you?” dance. Sure, of course, I replied. Hold this. Do that. Don’t drink the vanilla. It’s yucky. Be careful. Don’t fall off your chair. Wait, why are you standing a chair? Where’s your step stool? I love you, Mama. I love you, Bubba. Mama, can I do it. Let me do it! LET ME! She was determined to do everything and her demands jangled my nerves. But we were doing this. 
And I was happy. Meanwhile, my son watched TV -- his contribution to our joint family effort.

Finally, the moment had arrived; ingredients were assembled and ready to be mixed. I got out the hand mixer but couldn’t locate one of the blades. Deep breath. No worries. It’s here, I said. 10 minutes later it wasn’t anywhere to be found. Not in any of the drawers, cupboards or baskets. No worries, I told my little one, we have an old hand mixer. What’s that, she asked? Well it’s from the olden days -- when people didn’t use as much electricity. She scrunched her nose. I knew she was struggling to understand what was happening.

Valiantly, we tried to use my mom’s old mixer (Why I’ve kept this ancient artifact I’ve had since college is a story for another time about my inability to part with sentimental items.) We worked in vain to stir the batter, but it was too thick and the blades kept getting stuck.  I thought it was because we had used the gluten free flour, so I started my search for the missing electric mixer blade.

Moments later, success! I found it! But when we turned it on, the blades gyrated and then soon ground to a halt. There would be no magical mixing. Our electric mixer was broken. I remembered it had acted funky the last time I used it -- the motor must have burnt out. By this point, my daughter was covered in flour and butter and singing and quickly losing interest.

I rallied. Cheerfully said, we’ll use a wooden spoon, just like the REALLY olden days! She narrowed her eyes and gave me a stern stare. And I knew she was too young to know history and too stubborn to ask what I was talking about.

She quickly switched the subject and asked if I wanted to play hide and seek.

I was losing her. Fast.

I refused to give up. We can do this, I promised. I stirred the shit out of that batter with a wooden spoon and felt just like Laura Ingles. It took a while, but finally I got the batter to a nice, albeit thick, consistency. Proud of my effort, we moved on. My daughter delighted in helping me grease the pans and dust them with flour. Finally, we poured the batter and popped the cakes in the oven. This was really happening. I AM one of those mothers, I told myself. Whatever those mothers I put on pedestals do, I was doing it too.

Happily, we started cleaning up. That’s when I noticed TWO eggs on the counter. Two errant eggs, looking very similar to the ones I had put out earlier to be cracked by my four-year-old sous chef and used in the cake.

“Did you put four eggs in the bowl,” I asked Bubba?

“Yes,” she replied.

“Are you sure," I asked gently.  “Four or two?”


I asked again. Showing her four fingers then two. “Four or two,” I said slowly.

She studied my hands, looked to my face, then back to my hands again I saw the wheels turning.  She put something together, set her little jaw in defiance and glared -- “Two!”

“Two? You put two eggs in the bowl,” I said, not trying to sound critical.

“Mama I said two!!!”  She screamed, angry red faced, as if this was somehow my fault now.

I downplayed it and explained lightly with a smile -- “So, that’s why the cake was so hard to mix. There wasn’t enough liquid.”

She was hopping up and down on her chair -- ignoring me. Her way of saying, fuck you. It's not my fault.

Breathe. No worries. It’s a just a cake I told myself. I’ll take it out of the oven and add the eggs. Bubba didn’t want me to. It became an argument, but I skillfully negotiated -- if the recipe called for four eggs, it wouldn’t be tasty enough with only two.

At this point I had bigger problems on my mind. I seriously began to wonder if my daughter could count, which I know she can, but for some reason I started questioning her preschool experience and rapidly fell down the, we suck as parents wormhole. Meanwhile, the cake had been cooking for 7 minutes.

I was committed to following this promise through to the end, so out of the oven popped the cakes. Quick cut to -- carrot cake redux -- I scooped out the warm batter and added in the missing eggs, remixed the batter, washed the pans, re-greased and dusted them with flour and returned the cakes to the oven.

By the time we pulled the finished cakes from the oven, it was dinnertime and then bath, book and bedtime. Somebody was tired and experienced much disappointment when I broke the news we would have to wait to frost the cake until the morning.

The next day we did. If stirring cake batter with a wooden spoon was hard, you can only imagine what it was like to mix cream cheese and butter.

The cake came out beautifully and everyone remarked how delicious it was and how beautifully it was decorated.

Bubba had picked flowers from our yard. She beamed with delight as she squashed them on the plate. I plucked off a few ants and re-arranged them around the cake when she wasn’t looking and then I took a lot of pictures. So that whenever I feel like I’m failing as a mother, I’ll remember my four-year old and our four-egg cake...

.... and smile.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Letting Go. A Mother's Snotty, Tearful Acceptance

Sometimes when my life is a blur and I can’t imagine adding another thing to my overly ambitious “to do” list.  When my husband’s been out of town and I’ve been on deadline, barely sleeping, sitting way too much, fingers arthritic from typing, typing, typing, when my back is in spasms (from sitting way too much) and my brain exhausted from thinking up story ideas, one after another and another, when my kids look like ragamuffins and their rooms are in a state of post apocalyptic hurricane destruction, when dirty dishes are piled up in the sink, and baskets of laundry sit unattended, when toys, books, papers are scattered everywhere and our refrigerator smells like there’s a dead rat rotting in some forgotten, moldy take-out container, when the thought of changing a single roll of toilet paper feels like the proverbial straw that just might break this camel’s back... 

On days like these, when my work output is actually pretty good, but my self-esteem has plummeted because I feel like the biggest loser/failure of a mother/functioning/coherent adult, the last thing I need on days like these is to add more guilt to my already overwhelming massive sense of guilt about neglecting the needs of my family.

But sometimes life brings you unexpected gifts that completely jolt you into a hyper real sense of knowing -- knowing that despite the rotten smelly refrigerator and unfinished “to do” list, you are a mother and a good one at that.

Today’s gift came in the form of a thunderbolt that struck at the most unexpected time in the most unexpected place.  I was doing nothing particularly memorable -- just parking my car in the parking lot at Veggie Grill waiting to go buy my son a surprise tofu chicken nugget lunch -- his favorite -- when it hit me that my 11-year-old boy was having his first sleepover tonight.  He’s had friends stay over at our house, but this is the first time he was staying someplace else -- without us.

The thought of him brushing his teeth in somebody else’s bathroom, peeing in their toilet, his spindly legs climbing into someone else’s bed and putting his shaggy head to sleep on someone else’s pillow -- these mundane images triggered the most unexpected deep, primal, guttural responses I’ve ever had.  I became a mess -- flooded with waves of powerful emotions -- image upon image of my son’s childhood bubbling up, sweeping me into a sea of jumbled memories -- giggles and blown out diapers, onesies covered in spaghetti sauce, cardboard boxes turned into spaceships to take a trip to the moon and the following hysteria that followed when it was realized cardboard boxes aren’t spaceships and the trip would be an imaginary one, remembering how we always had to save a place at the table for Audie, an imaginary friend with green hair and orange skin and purple eyes who came with us everywhere for two + years.  Memories of so many firsts: First days at schools, first fevered nights, projectile vomiting flus, nursery rhymes and splinters, first words and first fears, sticky cotton candied baby fingers, wiggly toes in his footie jammies, the sound of Moos and cock-a-doodle-doos, when pre-verbal animal sounds were the only form of conversation we had.  On and on the memories of the last eleven years with my son came tumbling out in random, nonsensical order.

I was a crying, snotty mess.  

I told myself to stop.  I was being silly.  To get my shit together.  It’s not like I’m shipping my son off to college, I said.  It’s a sleepover -- a simple, normal, coming of age/right of passage everyday occurrence that children and parents everywhere go through. 

But I couldn’t stop.  No matter how rational I tried to be, because when I start crying I cry until I’m wrung dry. 

And today that took about twenty minutes.  I let myself indulge and when I was finally done, I felt a release that I haven’t felt since my performance days as a dancer -- a transcendent spiritual transformation.  Like I had released all the pain and guilt and sorrow of unrequited motherhood and I was on the other side of something -- something profound and significant.  As bittersweet and painful as it was to relive all those memories it was equally joyful.

It felt like I'd been baptised.  Like my heart had burst and left me with a deeper sense of connection to myself -- the self I’ve known ever since I can remember knowing anything that required words to describe it. 

I had let go -- survived this new growing pain and I felt better.  Still feel better because the feeling has stayed with me all day. 

I have so much love for this little man who is on his way in the world -- well, a few houses down the street -- but still making strides towards independence. 

Why am I sharing this?  I guess because if you’re like me -- always-busy working -- it’s easy to blow through life’s transitions and rites of passages. 

My son made a transition today I will never forget.  A part of me let a piece of him go and as silly as it may seem it’s a big deal to me. 

He’s growing up. 

Me too.

UPDATE:  10:17pm.  The phone rang and it was our boy.  He wanted to say goodnight and tell us he loved us.  He kissed and hugged the phone and all is well in the world…

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Leading Child-Led Lives

As if my already complicated life isn’t complicated enough we’ve added backyard chickens to the mix. When our 10-year-old son begged us to take home Blackie and Pecker -- chickens he had hatched from eggs at The Realm Creative Academy-- my first thought was: No. Absolutely not. We live in an urban/suburban community. If we don’t have time to walk a dog, we certainly don’t have time to care for chickens. But he was adamant and my husband and I found ourselves, (as we are wont to do with both of our children - no judgements please) giving in. It’s just two chickens we said after perusing enthusiastic blogs on the net.  How hard can it be? And won’t it be fun to have fresh eggs? We have an organic garden so we’re already sold on the benefits of producing our own food. Cut to 2 ½ mos. later and I'm now obsessed with our chickens. Obsessed with their health and happiness -- along with my children's and cat's of course. These creatures are so much smarter and more sociable than I expected. I honestly had no idea they would be so much fun.

Every morning the kids and I go out to feed them hand picked clover, grass and wormies from our compost. I’ve read up on various life hacks to help me figure out ways to stave off their boredom (something I didn’t know was a problem but apparently is with these curious creatures). I now cram chunks of cabbage and greens into whiffle balls and homemade hanging baskets jerry-rigged from whisks, zip tied and suspended from the wire ceiling.  I’ve also studied ways to keep their coop clean while expending the least amount of effort -- and hopefully today’s trip to the hardware store to buy some vinyl flooring, a stall rake and a wet vac will be the ticket to making this job easier.

I marvel at how my husband and I have become "these" people we used to read about and sometimes mock, sometimes marvel at. Part of a growing movement called Urban Homesteading. Our evolution to living a more alternative lifestyle wasn't something that we sat down and actually mapped out, it just sort of happened. 

We're two transplanted NY'ers raising children in California who decided to try growing our own vegetables to get our kids to hopefully become more interested in eating them. We started composting when our son became terrified about the effects of global warming on the environment. And by looking for ways to help alleviate his fears we stumbled upon something that not only helps us reduce our waste and grow bigger vegetables but in a small way helps heal the land.  We became homeschoolers not out of a desire to be hippies but as a result of feeling like we were losing our beautiful boy -- whose painful struggle to fit in the traditional education system given his learning disabilities -- was crushing his spirit and belief in his awe-inspiring capabilities. (Thank God I have a husband who was willing to take this on). And now we've embarked on this latest venture -- raising backyard chickens -- because we gave into this beautiful child's tears that melted our resolve NOT to take on such an ambitious responsibility. 

It's only recently occurred to me that we are living child-led lives, because in truth our children have dictated our choices.

And as I watch my kids growing up in this work-in-progress household -- as I try not to scold my 3-year-old daughter for picking and eating under ripe vegetable and cheer her when she miraculously finds the ripe ones -- as my son digs worms from the compost to dump in the garden or give to the chickies as snacks -- as his curious mind devours every new experience and turns it into a learning adventure -- I wonder what new adventures lie ahead for us all. 

I guess we'll just have to ask the kids.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Making Time For Friends While Still Leaning In And Buying Diapers

This would be Sandra Stone with Sara Hook and me in high school at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts backstage getting ready to perform in one of the most punishingly cruel, maniacally demanding pieces I've ever done in my life.  

For those of you who don’t know I was a professional Modern Dancer before becoming a writer.

If you haven’t read my previous blog about this piece  http://andthencamehenry.blogspot.com/2012/03/what-i-learned-from-dance.html it was one of those seminal, life changing moments.

The music for the dance was the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th
I chose to share this recording because it gives context to what I’m feeling and is closest in timing to Mahler's original vision - which for me is the only way to experience it.

I’m writing about dance again because I just spent the week with Sandy and her family (they just left this morning) and I already miss her in a way that has caught me off guard.  Leveled me actually.  Made me examine the nature of friendships and the impact they have on our lives.  My life to be exact.

What’s weird is that I haven’t seen Sandy in YEARS - we connect from time to time on FB - but it’s not like I think about her everyday, yet being with her this week has brought up such powerful emotions.  

Maybe it’s because we were in boarding school together at such a young age - that certainly accounts for developing close bonds.  I also think that when you dance with someone - perform on stage - you form an even deeper connection because you learn to depend on each other in this incredibly primal way that transcends everyday life.

So there’s that.

But there’s also the fact that I allowed myself to take walks with her this week.  I made time for our two families to sit down and actually have dinner... together.  

I.  Took.  The.  Time.  To.  Be.  With.  Her.

And it was worth it. 

Hanging out with Sandy has gotten me thinking why I don’t prioritize making time to see friends on a regular basis.  Because it's not like I don't have friends and it's not like I don't want to see them.

It’s pretty obvious that when we’re younger we simply have more free time and as we get older we get caught up in life's responsibilities - the day-to-day minutia.  My go to excuse is frequently, I can't do XXX right now, I'm on deadline."  Then there's the mundane, seemingly important bullshit, "We’re out of diapers.  Did you pick up the dry cleaning?” Yes, we adults have more responsibilities to our families, to our work - but there is something to be said about having a responsibility to yourself and this underrated notion of hanging out - whether it be taking walks with a friend or listening to music or just having a good laugh.  I’m lucky that my husband has become my best friend, but even he and I don’t hang out nearly enough. 

Take away from this week.

Make time for friends while still leaning in and buying diapers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Ode To An Older Parent And Tribute To The Veteran In My Life

Growing up I was acutely aware (from as far back as I can remember) that I had a much OLDER dad. Even though he looked young - he was still overweight, not in great physical shape, worked hard traveling for business and hardly ever home.

I remember always comparing him to my friend's fathers who were much younger, seemingly athletic and home.

I dreaded the day I would lose him - but knew it was inevitable and when it happened I was devastated.

Even so, knowing what I knew then - what I know know - I'd take my geriatric, diabetic, overweight, Members Only jacket wearing, New York born and bred, former Jew converted to Unitarian Universalism, lefty liberal father over any one of my friend's younger, tanned, tennis playing, golf shoe wearing, Floridian Republican dads any day.

I'm grateful I had a father who was of another era.  Who possessed an incredible sense of humor.  Who turned my sisters and me onto Mel Brooks, Sid Ceasar, Allan Sherman, Ernie Kovacs - when none of my friends even knew who they were.

To think that I was raised by a man who during WWII photograhed Roosevelt, Stalin, & Churchill at the Big 3 Yalta conference.  Who dined with King Farouk and sang for fun around the piano with Edie Cantor.


As a young Jewish man, the war was highly personal for my father.  But by the time my sisters and I came along he almost never discussed it.  I didn't really understand until I was older what it meant for him being Jewish to be one of the first Americans let into a liberated camp (I think it was Birkenhauer).   I can't imagine what horrors he saw. That's probably why his photo albums from the war are filled with landscapes of Egypt - portraits of children and camels - soldiers playfully partying.  He only kept a few pics from Yalta and a blurry, disturbing photo of a bloated, mutilated Mussolini after he had been hanged and cut down by the mob - plus a couple of artifacts tucked in his dresser drawer - an electric razor he traded a German POW for and a handmade picture frame made out of old coins from an Italian POW.  But that's it.  The war was not something my father chose to define himself by.  As a child I never understood his choice to enlist.  The sense of duty he must have felt as both an American and Jewish man...

To me he was just my dad.

A man who may have come from a different era, but was never out of step with the times.  And even though he gave up his dream of being a professional photographer (he'd been courted by Life Magazine) once he returned to civilian life - my father continued to take photos - to be an artist.  His sense of composition and lighting was superb.  He was still taking photographs up until the time he got sick.

The negatives of my father's photographs from WWII are stored in the Library of Congress anonymously - because photographers from that time were not given credit for their work. But my family knows they are there.   And we're proud.

In honor of Veteran's Day - I honor the veteran who means the most to me.

Arthur Lionel Benjamin - home movie edited by Julia Benjamin Salleres

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Time Out For Thanks

These days are a blur. Between work. Kids. Work. Sleep. Eating. Kids. Work. Scooping litter. Sorting recycling. Watering the garden. Work. Kids. Kids. Husband...

Ah, the husband. The last on the list.

Not fair I know, but as the other adult in my life I assume he'll understand. He knows the hectic schedule I'm keeping these days. And as anyone who works in the entertainment industry (in any capacity) knows, once you hit production it's non-stop adrenaline pumping make your deadines no matter what.

It's fun. It's exciting. I love it.

But when you're in the thick of production it rarely leaves little time for anything else...

This is difficult to explain to a just beginning to understand language 18-month old. Somewhat more possible to explain to an 8 going on 9-year old - and extremely possible to explain to the man who is my soulmate.

The person who understands everything about me and has for 20 years.

I know it's unfair he gets shifted to last on my priority list.

He doesn't deserve it.

In fact, he's in the kitchen now making a gourmet dinner at my request.

Not much of a post I know.

I just felt compelled to say thanks to the dear man who is the glue that holds our family together.

And now back to downloading scripts into iannotate on my iPad - so I can travel paperless on my trip to cover production on set in Vancouver tomorrow.