A quick comment on today…

The bus rumbles and squeaks to a stop in front of me, and the doors (as usual) do their arthritically slow attempt to open…clank, clank, clank.  I lean in to say hello to The Bus Ladies and am greeted by a broadly smiling face that says: “What did you give this boy for breakfast???  He sang all the way to school and was smiling from ear to ear all the way!  It was contagious!  Everyone was happier than usual!  What was THAT about???”

“Oh, that was just ’cause Dada was here to wake him up this morning!”

From the back of the bus, the shuffling of J’s feet and a loud DADA!!!!!!! followed by a giggle…

What a lucky, lucky bunch of people we are!

Balance is re-established…

From Tuesday to last night, things were off-kilter enough that -to the outside world- it would have seemed we were functioning normally, but we knew better.  While J has learned to take change in a less dramatic way, he feels when things are out of their usual rhythm.  Smart and perceptive, J accepted Dada’s absence with greater aplomb than he would have in the past, but that didn’t mean he didn’t miss Dada.

Long after the lights in his room had been turned off, I could hear him happily giggling and singing with anticipation.  Our conversation on the way home from the bus yesterday afternoon was all about how Dada would be the one waking him up for school.  In all honesty, I did not take the exuberant peal of joyful laughter and the spontaneous “let’s hold hands and SKIP all the way home!” personally.  If I had, I would have cried then and there.  The fact of the matter is that I, too, was very excited about Dada returning from his trip.

Because he got home long after the kids had finally petered out and succumbed to sleep, Dada didn’t see anyone other than me until this morning.  As usual, he crawled out of bed and made his way to the kitchen, quietly, to have some orange juice.  A few minutes later, I heard him make his way back up, saw the light in the hallway turn on and, lo and behold, J welcomed him with open arms and a bright smile.

The sounds of the house are the ones I’ve come to expect.  The look of the house (a pair of shoes lazily resting by the door, keys jumbled on top of a shelf, a hat dangling on a hook) has returned to “a family lives here,” as opposed to “a family is waiting for someone to return so they can go back their usual lives.”  J, who loves me and puts up with me kindly, was so happy this morning as he ate his breakfast that he hummed all the way through it, smiling up at Dada every time he saw him out of the corner of his eye.

I am happy.  I am not being facetious.  I really am happy.  I am happy that we can function as a reduced troop, but even better when we’re full-force.  I love being all present, and accounted for.  I love that shaving cream smell now clings to a towel I’d just put out yesterday.  I love that the bed looks like two people slept in it rather than like I slept in it and migrated to Dada’s side because I missed him.  I like that, at midnight, Dada said “how about a grilled ham and cheese sandwich?” and we both marched down to the kitchen, made a snack and then sat in bed, chatting away while we ate.  I am happy that I can do all that is required of me when I am alone, but that I have someone to do it with the rest of the time.

J was very affectionate this morning before he left for school.  I think he might have suspected I was upset about the “Dada’s back!” joy he was displaying so openly.  As I helped him with his jacket, I leaned in and whispered “oh, I am SO happy that Dada is home!”  J smiled back with a knowing look in his eyes.

Over coffee, Dada was telling me how happy J was while waiting for the bus.  I said “of course!  He didn’t have to walk down the hill in the dark.  He didn’t have to sing while waiting.  You are the natural companion for that activity.  He considers it J and Dada time.”  I explained that, while it was not at all problematic walking and waiting with him so very early and so very dark in the morning, I lack whatever quality makes the wait special with Dada.  “It’s like playing golf,’ I said, ‘if I go with you, it sort of takes away from the experience.  You’d rather do it with your brother.  There is a rhythm, a texture, a quality that is unattainable when I’m there.”

So we are back to our prime condition.  All the relationships are in their normal course.  Dada is mornings and I am afternoons, together we are evenings.  TGG and Dada have their viewing of Walking Dead scheduled for this evening.  J and I will work on our puzzle.  I will sleep with my foot resting on Dada’s leg, and he will alternate between taking my blankets and piling his and mine on top of me.

Life is good.  As George Sand wrote: life in common among people who love each other is the ideal of happiness.  Indeed.

At 5:30 a.m., Michigan J. Frog was up and about…and ready for school…

The sloshy-nosed, sorry-looking kid that crawled into bed last night (seemingly so philosophical about the BUS and BACKPACK being removed from the PECS board) woke up before I did this morning.  In the place of that Vicks-infused creature there was a being that could only be described as a cross between Gene Kelly, Tommy Tune, Bob Fosse and Hugh Jackman performing the role of Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz.  The level of “I’m healthy enough to go to school” exuberance was off the charts.  If you don’t remember who Michigan J. Frog is, you might want to You Tube that cartoon…that’ll give you an idea of what I was up against when I dragged my sorry self out of bed.

In the face of such enthusiasm, I had to ask myself (as I trudged back home in what was not any lighter than fifteen minutes earlier when we climbed down) if I am that tedious and boring.  (Don’t answer, please.  If ever there was a rhetorical question uttered it was that one.  Seriously, please refrain…)  It seems that J would rather brave a walk to the corner in the cold, dark morning than spend the whole day here with me.  If memory serves correctly, I only liked staying at home “sick” when everyone else was gone, so this might be yet another sign of so-called normal adolescent behavior on J’s part.  I am only hoping that he does feel better and we don’t have to go through the same rigmarole tonight.


Nearly nine P.M. and, from down the hallway, I can hear J laughing and giggling at only he knows what.  Previous to his bath, he regaled us with a whispered-whistled ditty that seems to be his own original composition.  Not only does it sound original, it is obviously a “happy” song.  He was putting his laundry away and I was in the bathroom filling the tub when I first heard it.

Now…I was watching Ghost Hunters while having tea this afternoon and, somehow, I ended up leaving the same channel on until I came upstairs.  The whisper-whistle gave me a start.  I didn’t know where it was coming from and, my brain addled by a show on -of all channels- SyFy wrapped around my brain and made me turn around, eyes so wide open I thought they were going to bug out…

Serves me right that it was J with his little song and his merry giggle.

Now it’s time to get ready for tomorrow morning and another trek down the hill.  After worrying about his sloshy/stuffy nose and his slightly elevated temperature last night, J was perfectly fine at school all day.  The only problem he had is the frustration he feels when he wants to put his sandals on the table while he switches to boots.  At home and at school we’re modeling that footwear goes on the floor, but J just wants them on the table.  There is collective frustration, but I’m hoping to find some way to get him to comply with the “no shoes on the table rule.”

I am tired.  J feels better and I feel worse.  There was tickling in my throat last night that kept waking me up.  I had no tickling in my throat during the day.  Dada won’t be back until midnight tomorrow.  That puts the full-blown symptoms of the cold that I seem to be harboring (on the down-low for now, of course) kicking into full swing by…oh…11:59 tomorrow night?

Yes.  That’s about what I figure!

The sloshy nose gallops again…


Because Dada is traveling, J’s cold has returned.  Well, no, that’s not the actual reason why it decided to make a comeback.  Let’s say that Dada being away is the feather that decorates this whole thing and makes it extra special.  I think the cold decided to come back because it’s been colder than it had been last week (when J started getting better,) it was misty-snowy/snowy-misty and cloudy all day, and J marched home sans chapeaux from the bus.

I admit that, as we were slowly making our way up the hill, I could hear my great-aunts clicking their tongues and saying “Ave María, nena…don’t you know that if your head gets cold you catch a cold????  How many times do we have to tell you not to go out in the sereno?”

Let me take a moment to explain sereno because it is a concept that has long stumped many a person who meets me, hears a reference to it and then receives a shrug and a “you know…sereno?”  Sereno is a mysterious substance that is a combination of cold air that isn’t really cold and wet air that isn’t wet enough to be substantial and…well…felt.  It’s not mist.  No, please, don’t confuse it with mist.  In fact, it’s a lot more mystical than that and it is such an elusive substance-that-isn’t-a-substance that my great-aunts (who were warned about it by their aunt who was warned about it by her aunts and so on possibly all the way back to the time when our family converted from being Jews to being Catholic so they didn’t have to leave Spain in 1492) would simply say “vas a coger sereno” (you’re going to catch sereno) as if some sort of horrible fate awaited out there.  Sereno could happen at any time of the year: the hottest evening in summer, the middle of a drought, during a hurricane if you happened to step out of the confines of a tightly secured space…

I have spent YEARS not believing in sereno and thumbing my nose at it.  This task was easier and more rewarding when I didn’t have children who, for some inexplicable reason, would be sick for no apparent reason after being “exposed.”  I have tried to rationalize it, but I’ve discovered that the sereno effect usually grabs hold of whomever is exposed to it when a) all the cold medicine is expired, b) the doctor is out of town, c) urgent care closed for the night two minutes ago, d) it’s a long weekend or one of those weeks with a holiday in the middle of it when everyone leaves and you can’t reach them, or e) the routine has been re-established after a brief alteration and you really don’t want to deal with a sudden jarring of your peace and quiet.  Thanks, I’ll take “e” for the win!!!!

J’s nose is not the most delicate feature on his face.  It is a sturdy nose.  It is far from elegant, but it is a good-looking nose that adds character and some humor to his handsome face.  J’s nose is also not properly trained to blow mucus out and requires highly-trained mom to retrieve whatever is in the farthest depths of his sinuses so that he can breathe.  J with a stuffy nose, with sinus congestion of the kind that gives a mere mortal a headache, turns into a 200-plus pound version of Jennifer Beals doing her thing to Maniac in Flashdance.  I have tried to explain that windmill-arms and quick-as-lightning stomping isn’t conducive to me doing the job properly, but we all know that J is not interested in those details.  Menial they may be to him, but I still have to try to persuade him to stay put and let me decongest his nose.

The thermometer has been taken out of its case, and it says that he has a bit of temperature, but not enough to warrant running.  He is tired, and so am I.  He is congested, but that has been, on and off, the case for the past week.  It’s just a cold, I know, and I really shouldn’t worry about a little nasal congestion.  The thing is that I know he hates missing school when he thinks he’s fine.  The other thing is that he has a lot of gas because he’s breathing through his mouth.  The third thing is that he won’t turn off the fans (which we’ve TRIED, trust me…I don’t know what else to do to convince him that it’s not helpful in the least.)  The fourth thing is…he feels miserable and it shows.  Miserable J, especially when it’s because of something that I could have possibly prevented by insisting that he put his hats on walking home this afternoon, is something that crushes me.

So…I had TGG take down the PECS for BACKPACK and BUS, and searched for the phone number for the bus driver (and didn’t find it, thank you…I could have SWORN I had it programmed into the phone, but NO!)  I left a voice message for the teacher.  I applied a thick layer of Vicks to every body part that might benefit from it (don’t ask…that’s another Puerto Rican thing…Vicks…on the soles of the feet, on the bridge of the nose, on the chest, on the neck, on the back…) and gave him medication to help the congestion go away.  J looked at me like I am the worst vile betrayer known to mankind, and I tucked him in and told him I’d do my best to send him to school tomorrow…

Dada called shortly after this, and I poked my head into J’s room so he could hear Dada’s voice and say GOOD NIGHT.  (For the record, he sounded like a goose.  Even Dada told him that: “poor J!  You sound like a goose, baby boy!”)  J sniffled loudly and hoarsely said BYE, dismissing the caller and the person holding the phone.  I took the phone into TGG’s room and put Dada on speakerphone.  “What happened?  He seemed fine this morning!”  TGG didn’t miss a beat from his Minecraft game and said “yeah, you’re right.  He was all happy and feeling better.”  I said I thought he was better when he got home from school, and right about the time we were going to make dinner his nose started to sound like what a lava lamp looks like.

It was then that, in unison and without a single shred of sarcasm in their voices, Dada and TGG said “SERENO!!!!”  And somewhere up in the cushiest clouds up in Heaven, my great-aunts (and their coffee klatch of generation upon generation of aunts) started laughing…


The meal that wouldn’t go away…

We had turkey on Friday…and on Saturday…and again yesterday.  For some reason, a fourteen-pound bird (give or take a few ounces) has managed to stretch out until today; leftover turkey sandwiches were lunch.  There’s still turkey left in the fridge.  We haven’t been skimping, mind you…the turkey just seems to be multiplying when we’re not looking.

The same cannot be said about the stuffing, the gravy, the mashed potatoes, the cranberry sauce, the home-made rolls or the blanched asparagus.  Only the chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting is also flatly refusing to disappear.  Tonight we’re having beef stew.  I don’t think any single person in this household could enthusiastically nibble on another morsel of turkey.  Of course, I could be wrong…Dada has been known (being one of five sons) to make a sandwich out of anything that is left in the fridge; it’s a survival thing.  I have done all I could to make the turkey interesting after that first oooh-aaah impression, and after that second instance in which one simply MUST HAVE a leftover-turkey sandwich.  By the time we re-created Thanksgiving dinner on Saturday evening (with the same gusto that Civil War re-enactors apply to their exertions on the field,) TGG was asking if there wasn’t anything else and J was pushing the turkey around as if thinking “didn’t I eat you last night and why are you back on my plate???”  The only one with stars in his eyes was Dada, but that’s because -again- being one of five sons, he gets enthused about any meal that doesn’t involve competitive serving.

Last night’s enchiladas got a warmer welcome, but that’s because no one can not not be enthused about anything that has green chile on it, inside it and around it.  The turkey was an ingredient, the green chile was the featured player.  J, who loves the smell of chile but doesn’t enjoy the taste or texture, looked at his turkey quesadilla as if thinking “again?  What are you?  A zombie?  A vampire?  How many times do I have to get rid of you before you actually go away!!??”  The look of relief on his face when he saw me take out stew meat from the freezer was priceless…

This is the thing about Thanksgiving: the concept is lovely, the meal is fantastic, but the repercussions of the hyperbolic poultry are too long-lasting to be enjoyed all the way through.  While you’re putting away the leftover turkey after your done with THE meal, you want to keep picking at it and nibbling while making yummy sounds.  The next day you might hum happily while you’re building your sandwich; that evening, you’re still a little excited about a small portion of the components gathered on your plate, but by the third day -while your mother is trying to figure out how to disguise the leftovers in a way that makes them appealing- you are aware that that’s NOT a girl-bunny, it’s really just Bugs Bunny wearing the creepy girl costume.  It makes me wonder how we managed when we used to roast a twenty-three pound bird, and I guess it’s just that the tryptophan sort of erases your memory…it’s Thanksgiving, you know you ate turkey for a whole week, but the details are fuzzy…

The chocolate cake is another problem.  I swear to you I’ve had cake…four times?  So has Dada.  (Don’t judge us…it’s good cake.  Made-from-scratch cake.  Yes, that sound you hear is my hips creaking as they widen…)  The cake seems to not have diminished in size at all.  And we haven’t skimped.  We’ve served generous slices of cake.  So has TGG.  J hasn’t been interested.  (He’s in a no-cake kick.  He’s also in a no-ice cream kick.  And the mac and cheese -after a six or seven month respite- are back on the menu.)  Still, there is the cake…still half of it left.  And it wasn’t a large cake either…two layers of 8″ rounds.  That’s it.  No more.  No matter how much you eat, its shadowy hulk is discernible through the plastic dome of the cake-carrier thing.  I don’t know if it’s like one of those lizards that starts regenerating a tail after you chop it off, but even J has slowed down to look at the shadow.

Dada travels tomorrow and is back on Thursday.  These are the days when I don’t cook as much as I usually do, and I don’t eat as much as I usually would.  It has been documented on previous occasions that I don’t quite know what to do when the man is not around.  The days just don’t seem full enough, not that I don’t have things to do or that J and TGG don’t occupy my time fully.  I just seem to get done with the business of moving around the house doing stuff earlier than I would when Dada is here.  I don’t really watch TV (unless it is while folding clothes) or have anyone to talk to…well, I can talk to J, but he thinks I’m a nuisance and listens very politely for a while and then shoos me out of the room with a smile on his face.

The only thing left for me to do from Tuesday to Thursday night is clean the house and finish fine-tuning the Christmas details.  This weekend we have to work on our wrapping paper because J has started to -quite boldly- reorganize the coats every time he opens the coat closet.  That is: he’s gone by color, by owner, by texture…all while standing on his toes and humming so I don’t hear the rummaging sounds.  We can tell he’s starting to think of Twelve Days because yesterday, when we went to the store for some last-minute household items, he made us drive our shopping cart past all his favorite sections, and he slowed down, smiling broadly and demonstrating how good he was being about not asking for anything.  The three adults exchanged looks and smiled at each other, and TGG announced -as I used to when he was little and acted in such an obsequious manner- “that egg wants to be salted,” an expression often used where we come from.

J is ripe for Twelve Days, and he’s also curious about the contents of that coat closet like he hasn’t been in a long time.  Maybe I should just hang a picture of leftover turkey in there?  Maybe that will distract him until next Monday, when I can start wrapping things????

On a day of intermittent, and scarce, snow…

We rolled out of bed late.  It was one of those mornings when the clouds seem to lay so low that they envelop you, and they whisper in your ear to stay in bed and linger.  So we lingered…

By the time we left the house, bundled for the weather and with books for the library, we were a happy band of people.  J, as usual, insisted on music as soon as we started the car.  TGG leaned back and watched trees roll by through his window, happy to not be at work on this cloudy and cold day.  Dada, his hat firmly planted on his head, smiled like one who hasn’t had three consecutive days without work lingering in the back of his mind in a while.  I was just happy to be out of the house and keeping such company.

I have to admit that when students are gone, the dynamics of town alter significantly.  The streets were empty thanks to a combination of the weeklong school holiday and the weather.  We wandered about freely, and decided (quite on-the-spot) to drive through to the cemetery.  I always tell Dada that for one who doesn’t ever want to be constricted in a box in a hole in the ground, I sure like the feeling of peace that permeates a graveyard.  The truth is that I wanted to see what the cold weather and the demise of autumn have done to the trees.  I was not disappointed.  It is a well-known fact in this household that I love naked trees even more than I love fully-clothed ones, and it was a nudist colony out there.  J didn’t want to get out of the car because of the cold (there is that bench he loves to sit on,) but he didn’t mind lingering while I took pictures.

And then we came home…

The rest of the afternoon could be compared to spools of thread comfortably settled in their niches.  The cats curled up on our bed; J curled up on the couch; TGG curled up in front of his video game; Dada curled up with his laptop (I believe he was in a campaign somewhere in the Mediterranean, but I wasn’t really paying attention…he has won World War II so many times now that I can hardly keep track.)  I walked around lazily observing every being in this household.  I curled up between Dada and the cats, and I nearly fell asleep watching the snow flutter past the window.

The truth is that November does this to me.  I slip into pensiveness.  I don’t know if it is so much that I’m looking back on the year that has unspooled and lays jumbled behind me, or if I simply start November thinking of Jo March’s birthday (because Louisa May Alcott -and her father- were born on November 29th and she assigned this birthday month to Jo.)  November is the month when I think too much.  November is the month of reluctant melancholia preceding the hopeful joy of December.  Bach isn’t helping matters, by the way, and I’ve decided to steer clear from my initial musical background and switch to Vivaldi instead.

The month is hardly over.  We still have almost a whole week and other occupations to keep us busy before we surrender to December and the end of year chaos.  There have been hints of a discussion regarding Dada’s few days off the week of Christmas.  Most of these have involved pajamas, light meals, movies, jigsaw puzzles and the same kind of laziness that has invaded the premises with the colder weather.  The looks given to the fresh supply of Christmas trees on offer outside the store were longer than they had been so far.  We have floated the idea of a Christmas card, and suggestions are being offered (though not yet in earnest.)  Christmas is around the corner, but we seem to be walking towards the corner a little more slowly than others.

This is true of all of us, but not in the same degree for J.  That young man takes longer to hang his jackets in the coat closet than he should.  He is trying, without putting any obvious effort into it, to discover which of the boxes full of as-yet-unwrapped presents, belongs to him.  I know this is one of the reasons why he keeps either taking out the vacuum cleaner (which is not needed at the time) and putting it away (when I still need it.)  Yesterday I hinted strongly at putting a bell on the door, and I heard a sudden click and a shuffle of J-feet towards the garage.  He doesn’t really have to “dig” for anything as I don’t overdo the concealment of packages, so I’ve announced -quite clearly- that I have finished shopping and will not shop for anything else if the things in the closet are discovered, identified and appropriated.  Coal, I’ve said, is what people will get…and THIS is mining country, by the way.  Not hard to come by coal!  Proof that the threat has worked is that J hung his coat with his back turned to the closet when we got home earlier this afternoon.  I am thinking the first weekend in December is the perfect time to work on wrapping paper as a craft project.

At the library we found a Christmas crafts book and J is excited about the projects in it.  Since Dada has to travel this week (from Tuesday to Thursday,) the evenings will feel a little longer and we will have to occupy ourselves with projects.  Tomorrow, book in hand, J and I will spelunk in the crafts-materials closet and locate all the things we will be needing.  There is a certain appeal in pipe cleaners that J cannot resist, and I don’t think I need to explain that anything having to do with stamping paper with a potato into which a design has been carved is enough to keep him occupied for at least an hour.

Tomorrow morning, however, comes the best news in the whole wide world: the BUS and BACKPACK PECS get to go on the board for a whole solid week.  After a week of sinus congestion, vaporizers, cold medicine, thermometers randomly inserted into ears, lessons on how to blow one’s nose…J will be over the moon with joy…

Let’s see how we fare walking down to the corner at 6:15 in the morning while Dada is gone, and slipping and sliding if it snows.


Postcards from Tryptophania…

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Let it be known, far and wide, that on this 23rd day of November…a Friday…Chester the XXIX has met his doom.  He was placed in the roaster, at 325 ℉, at precisely one o’clock in the afternoon and his “ready-button” popped at 4:30.  This operation being conducted with great precision and forward thinking, all other items intended for Thanksgiving Dinner consumption were timed to perfection and we sat down to dinner at the agreed-upon time.

The mess in the kitchen is not only self-renewing (or seems to be,) but it is also spectacular.  While the rest of the human population of the household is currently fighting off waves of much-desired tryptophan-induced laziness by cleaning the mess I left in my wake (art isn’t easy…,) I am sitting up here happily playing “not my job” while I finish the wine left in my glass.

Call me a coward if you will, but I have one more mess to make and I am gearing up for it: chocolate cream-cheese frosting for my husband’s last-minute
“best chocolate cake ever” recipe extracted from a cookbook he often looks at and seldom uses.  Because this is a house where we are avid subscribers to “food porn,” finding a recipe usually takes a great deal of effort, a lot of backtracking and the use of post-it flags.  There are books that look like they are wearing Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat…or whatever it’s called.

J thoroughly enjoyed his dinner.  The turkey, of course, because it’s poultry and it was juicy, but mostly the home-made rolls because they were plump and warm, and we hadn’t made a successful batch in a few years.  (High-altitude baking…a hit or miss thing…oh how glad we are that we are a lot lower now!)

We are expecting the possibility of snow tonight.  I am hoping it is mild because I owe the library one book that is due tomorrow, and I have yet another that I managed to read between going to bed last night and stealing chunks of time here and there today.  I am not looking forward to snow except for the opportunity it will provide to test the famous coco-mats I ordered to prevent us from slipping and sliding our way down the hill.  I am hoping that they work as promised, but if they don’t at least they didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

There you have it.  Another Thanksgiving is done and we forge ahead into the holiday season.  Dada travels next week (which is a tremendous source of stress for me,) and J goes back -hopefully completely freed from his cold- to school on Monday.  We did this a day later than the rest of the world, but we did it with a great deal of joy and, modesty joyfully tossed aside with a great deal of enthusiasm, quite tastily.  The cats will enjoy their bit of turkey as much as we enjoyed our discreetly portioned amounts (we cannot eat so much that leftovers are not left over,) and we got to spend the day together and happy, barely stepping on each others’ toes.

Of course, it is nearly seven P.M., and J wants to do laundry and there is a double-boiler waiting for me to melt chocolate…the day is far from over.  The gratitude is never in short supply (even if it can be a little grudging at times.)

On to Saturday…