Archives for July 2011

You Just Can’t Make This Stuff Up…

If you’ve seen the movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, you will remember that Toula’s father, Mr. Portokalos, believes that Windex is a remedy for everything. If you have a cut on your arm, he tells you, “Put some Windex on it.” When Toula wakes up on her wedding day with a huge zit on her chin her father tells her, “Put Windex on it.” My own father, who is not Greek, but Italian (and therefore named Anthony, not Nicky), believes that anyone who has the slightest indication of a physical ailment must be having a heart attack. The older you are the greater the risk, and therefore if you are over the age of 40, before allowing you to apply a Band-Aid to a minor scrape, my father must first check your blood-pressure, or perhaps call 911 and take your blood pressure while the ambulance is en route to your house.

I was over my parents’ house the other night when my mom (over the age of 40) came into the kitchen with a disgusted look on her face and said matter-of-factly, “I feel like I’m gonna throw up.” This of course, immediately sent my father into Heart Attack Alert Mode and he began his health evaluation process of my mother [The text in brackets represents the nonverbal expressions my mother – also Italian – conveyed with her body language. Italians are good at communicating nonverbally.]:

Dad: Do you have a pain in your chest?

Mom: No [you idiot]. I feel like I’m gonna throw up.

Dad: Nausea is a symptom of a heart attack. Do you have a pain in your arm?

Mom (making toast): No, don’t be ridiculous! I don’t have a pain in my arm. I have acita [that’s Italian for “heartburn”] and I feel sick. That’s all.

Dad (on his way out of the room): Let me get my blood-pressure machine. I better check your blood pressure. This could be the early signs of a heart attack.
(Mom puts bread in the toaster, rolls her eyes at me, and throws her arms up in the air, as she waits for my father to come back with his machine.)

Dad: Are you sure you don’t have a pain in your chest?

Mom: Noooo! I just have kind of an ache in my back between my shoulder blades.

Dad: That could be a heart attack or your gall bladder. Maybe I should drive you to the emergency room.

Mom: Oh God, NO! [Have you lost your mind AGAIN?] I’m gonna eat my toast and drink some ginger tea. I’ll be FINE. Jeez.

Dad: Sit down in the chair. When was the last time you went to the doctor or had your blood pressure checked?

Me (in a slight panic because Mom might throw up, but trying to be helpful): My dentist takes my blood pressure every time I go for a cleaning. Does yours?

Mom: No [silly daughter]. He never does that for me.

Dad: Joyce, sit in the chair. I’m gonna take your blood pressure. My doctor said this was one of the best blood-pressure machines on the market. It’s very accurate.

Mom (sitting in a chair): OK, Tony [I’ll humor you.] (She rolls her eyes and stifles her amusement between facial expressions that look like she just ate a moldy lemon).

(Dad proceeds to put the blood-pressure cuff around Mom’s arm. He presses some buttons and waits while the machine calculates if my mother is on the verge of heart failure.)

Mom: OOOOOOWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dad: What?!

Mom: That stupid thing is KILLING MY ARM!!! That’s WAY too tight! You must be doing something wrong!

Dad: Well, it’s supposed to squeeze your arm to get a reading.

Mom: It’s supposed to hurt like that?! That’s worse than the pain in my back.

Dad: See how good this machine is? It’s already making you forget you are sick. (We all wait in silence while the machine delivers some numbers.) I knew it! Your blood pressure is 147 over 102! I’m taking you to the hospital right now.

Mom (ripping the Velcro cuff off of her arm): That’s ridiculous. That machine must be broken. My blood pressure is HIGH because you were squeezing the shit out of my arm!

Dad: Joyce, your blood pressure was always like 90 over 60. This is way too high for you.

Me (trying to be helpful again): No kidding, Mom. That can’t be good.

Mom (clearly amused by our concern): Alright. Take it again. I’m sure it’s the machine. Maybe it needs new batteries. Tony? Put new batteries in it first and try it again.

Dad: These are new batteries. I just charged them.

Mom: Put new batteries in it.
(Dad goes to his office to get new batteries.)

Dad: OK. Try it again. (He wraps the cuff around Mom’s arm while she is attempting to eat toast and knocks the toast out of her hand.)

Mom: Jeez! Can I eat my toast?

Dad: Do you want to eat toast if you’re having a heart attack? (The machine pumps up Mom’s arm. She winces in pain.) See?! Your blood pressure is even higher this time! I’m calling 911.

Mom: No you’re not. I’m fine. I’m starting to feel better already. The toast is helping.

Dad: Fine. But if you die, don’t say I told you so.

Mom (looking at me): If I die, Karla, you’ll get a lot of money.

Me: Stop! I don’t want your money. I want you to live for a very long time so I can take care of you in your old age. Or hire nurses to do it. I don’t think I want to feed you or change your diapers when you’re 90.

Mom: Good idea. (She has finished her toast and is sipping her ginger tea.) This is disgusting. Taste it.
(Mom shoves the mug in my direction. I taste the tea, acutely aware that I am now getting her germs, hoping that she’s just having a heart attack and isn’t afflicted with a fatal disease. If it’s the latter, I hope I don’t contract it tonight. That would really mess up my plans to go out with my friends.)

Me: It doesn’t taste that bad.

Mom (sticking out her tongue): I’ll just go lay down on the couch. I’ll be alright.

Dad: Oh no. Don’t lie on the couch. If you die there it will be a lot harder for me to pick you up and put your body on a stretcher.

Mom: Why do I need a stretcher if I’m dead? Just drag me out into the backyard. You can bury me in the woods.

Dad: The heck with that. I’ll put you in my compost pile. You can feed the vegetables next year.

Mom: Last week at 1:30 in the morning YOU were convinced YOU were having a heart attack. Remember Tony? You were knocking on my bedroom door asking me if I could take YOU to the emergency room. This week, I’m the one dying… probably because I ate those meatballs you cooked the other night. I haven’t felt right since, you know.

I feel I must interject here. Even though my parents have been divorced for years, they have shared a house for the last six, (I know – just add that to the criteria that make up my high-maintenance life) and they truly care about each other’s well being. I’ve witnessed this dozens of times. They could be fighting over who’s turn it is to feed the cat, or who left dirty dishes in the sink, but the moment one of them might be suffering a heart attack, they put their differences aside. My dad will try to evaluate the urgency of my mother’s condition when she isn’t feeling well, and when my father is having heart palpitations at 1:30 in the morning, Mom will tell him, “Eat some Tums and go back to sleep. If you’re still alive in the morning, I’ll take you to the doctor.” Either way, it all works out.

The Missing Mom Gene

My friends’ children have outfits for every occasion – red, white, and blue jumpers for patriotic holidays; special birthday shirts with cupcakes and a big number so friends will know how old they are; Easter shirts with bunny ears; St. Patrick’s Day shirts with shamrocks; customized Christmas shirts with reindeer and snowflakes; beautiful suits and dresses for more formal occasions like church and the first day of school. The girls even have color-coordinated hair bows to adorn their ponytails for every outfit. As I was browsing through photos of these beautiful children on Facebook, seeing them all decked out in their latest holiday colors, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Am I missing yet another mom gene?”

With the exception of the personalized Easter bunny shirt that I made at one of my crafty friend’s houses, my daughter has none of this attire. Observing my five-year-old in her multicolored, sparkly spandex dance shorts coupled with a t-shirt boldly displaying a pattern of brightly hued ice cream cones (we’re going to Wal-Mart later), I also wondered… as adults, is it our tendency to do the OPPOSITE of what our own parents did for us?

My Childhood Wardrobe (And Other Festive Items)

My mom was just like my friends. Growing up, I had an outfit for every occasion. I even remember my bathing suit that looked like the American flag. I remember special first-day-of-school clothes. I remember Christmas sweaters and green jumpers and red shoes, and I was happy to wear most of it –because my mom was so excited about buying it for me. But, then… I became a teenager and realized that this clothing coordination frenzy was not cool. Even worse, this “representing every holiday” fetish carried over into the décor of our entire house.

Mom had Easter decorations, Halloween decorations, Valentine’s Day decorations, Arbor Day decorations, Ides of March décor, and the list goes on. Every holiday, I’d watch as she hauled everything out of the basement (or attic, or wherever she kept it) and decorate the house. Then a couple weeks later, she would dust everything, take it down, wrap it up in plastic and start all over again for the next season or holiday. To quote Stiffler, from the movie American Pie, “Dude! That seems like an awful lot of work!” Granted, our house always looked festive and welcoming and cozy, but I knew in my heart that aside from the major holidays – Christmas, and… um… Christmas – I didn’t want any part in the whole “decoration-wardrobe-preparation-production”. (As if my life isn’t high-maintenance enough!)

Style Aversions

Dutch Colonial House

A house almost identical to my childhood home.

As an adult, my aversion to holiday décor grew stronger. When it was time to live on my own, find my own style, I easily found it – minimalistic. And I’m not just talking about holiday decorations here. In addition to the ever-changing festive décor, my parent’s home itself was Dutch colonial. (It was literally a big, red barn, but my parents insisted it was an actual design preference.) “Dutch colonial” means our house was like something out of our country’s early colonial days. We had a faux red brick floor in the family room, a floor-to-ceiling real brick fireplace, chunky wooden furniture, even real saloon doors between our kitchen and dining room. If that’s your style, you might as well go all out, and my parents did just that. Looking back, it really was a well-designed, tastefully decorated house. It was their dream home. It just wasn’t mine.

I believe that being a graphic designer also has its influence on my décor preferences. I like clean lines. I like warm, earthy colors, or the colors of the ocean (there’s that water sign influence again). In fact, from the moment I knew I was going to give birth to a girl, I got the vision for the perfect little girl’s room – large blocks of blue, green and turquoise on the walls, white trim and black furniture! There was no way MY kid was going to become a “pink explosion” as one of my friends liked to call it. Not my kid. (I can assure you, five years later, plenty of pink has found its way into my daughter’s wardrobe and room. She even had a princess party this year where she became the complete embodiment of a pink explosion, in everything from her poufy princess dress to her princess castle cake.)

My Pink Explosion

Antonia in her custom-made tutu, complements of my friend Jill.

Hope for the Grandkids

That supports my theory even more though, doesn’t it? Now my own kid wants to wear pink every day and DO THE OPPOSITE of the “sans pink” environment and wardrobe I worked so hard to create for her, because I was doing the opposite of MY mother! Evidently, it’s a vicious cycle. But, this gives me hope after all. Maybe I’m NOT missing another mom gene. Maybe it’s just the circle of life between parents and kids. If that’s the case, I’ll look forward to celebrating Thanksgiving at my daughter’s Dutch colonial home, complete with ceramic turkey as the centerpiece on her 18th century dining room table. Her kids and I will have a lot in common.

A Day At The Pool Is No Picnic

If you read The Bikini Quandary, then you know I love being in the water. The beach is my preference, but since I live in Atlanta and the closest oceanfront respite is about five hours away, I often have to settle for my subdivision pool. It’s a nice pool that I’m very happy to have, especially on ninety-something-degree days with nearly 100 percent humidity, as is typical weather for summertime in the ATL. (They don’t call it HOT-lanta for nothin’.) But, the pool isn’t always as relaxing as the beach…

On this particular Friday afternoon, I decided to take my daughter to the pool so she could swim and I could take a break from my everyday stresses…perhaps float around on my new lime green raft. I arrived at the pool with floaties, toys, snacks and beverages in tow, to find three other moms from my neighborhood already in the pool with their children. “Oh good,” I thought. “Antonia has friends to play with and I’ll have some adult conversation.”

My mom friends were gathered on the steps across the pool, half submerged in the water, chatting happily while their kids splashed about. They waved me over as I started down the opposite set of stairs into the pool. Immediately, as if I was some sort of honing device for creatures under the age of eight, all the children in the pool bee-lined toward me in a splashing, noisy frenzy. I assumed they were coming to welcome my daughter. Instead, like hornets swarming around their disturbed nest, they assaulted me with screams. “Watch me! Watch me!” one little boy yelled at me. He held his breath, went underwater, then emerged all too quickly and waited for my response. “Wow. That’s great.” I said, half-heartedly. “Can you stay under longer?”

Another kid was yelling, “Miss Karla! Miss Karla! Can I play with Antonia’s water shooter?”

“Noooo! I just got it!” Antonia shouted back.

“Everybody has to share,” I reminded them as I tried to make my way toward the other moms. Didn’t they see I was being assaulted? Could they stop talking for one second and call off their children? Not a chance. They kept talking as if they didn’t hear the commotion coming from my side of the pool. I ventured into the water trying to make my way across the shallow end. The swarm followed me.

When I finally got there, the moms were in the middle of a discussion. I stood by waiting patiently for some kind of acknowledgement to join the conversation. After a few minutes, one of my friends said in a voice loud enough to drown out the screaming kids, “Oh my gosh! We had the BEST swim lesson the other day! That lifeguard taught Julia how to swim in the deep water! Can you believe it? We are going to keep coming to lessons so by next year she can be on the swim team. Don’t you want Antonia to be on the swim team? They practice Monday through Thursday for an HOUR each day! An HOUR! Isn’t that great? She can come here and swim and have something to do for an HOUR every morning next summer.” She looked at me, waiting for a response.

Umm… OK. I hadn’t thought about the swim team yet, since my daughter can’t even swim with out floaties, and next summer is a YEAR away, but…sure. Anything is possible. “Wow. That’s great,” I said smiling.

“I’m gonna give you the lifeguard’s number. You HAVE to call him and get lessons for Antonia. He is so good and very reasonable. So, you gonna call him? It’s a half hour lesson, ‘cuz, ya know, they can’t last an hour with their attention spans, but, I mean, a half hour is perfect and Julia was swimming in the DEEP end after the first lesson! I’m giving you his number. You HAVE to call him.”

“OK,” I said again. Between the assault from the kids and the barrage from this over-enthusiastic mom, I felt my stomach knotting up with anxiety. I thought I was coming to the pool to relax. Deep breaths. Maybe if I go under water I can drown out all their voices.

Not missing a beat, the moms resumed their conversation about I don’t know what as I swam back toward the kids across the pool, cursing myself for not packing beer in the cooler. Which was the lesser of the two evils? The kids or the moms? I decided to try the kids again. Maybe they would leave me alone if I didn’t make eye contact.

“Mom! Mama!” Antonia yelled in my face. “Look what I can do… HEY! THAT’S MINE!!!!” she shouted at another kid who was playing with her Nemo floatie.

“I know,” the other kid said sheepishly. “Can I use it?”

“Oh sure,” Antonia told her happily, bobbing up and down.

“Hey! Antonia’s Mom! Hey! Why don’t you get back in the water?” another little boy asked me, as I was sitting on the steps, willing myself to become invisible.

“I don’t want to,” I told him. You can go away now.

“Can’t you swim?” he asked me, spraying water in my face.

“I can swim,” I told him.

“In the deep water, too?”

“Yes, even in the deep water. I can swim around this whole pool if I want to. I can even go off the diving board.”

“So, why don’t you?” he pestered.

“I don’t want to,” I said taking a swig of my water, imagining it was an ice-cold Bud Light Lime.

Nine children. NINE. I counted. All trying to impress me with their aquatic skills; all fighting over my daughter’s toys; all yelling at decibels that should be reserved for jet engines during takeoff, and fans at a Georgia Tech vs. UGA football game.

“Is that your raft?” a little girl asked me, pointing over to the lounge chair. My new lime green raft! I had forgotten all about it. The little girl looked at me with anticipation.

“Do you want to use it?” I offered.

She clapped her hands and squealed. I picked up the new raft that I had just filled with air prior to coming to the pool – the lime green raft that I had envisioned myself serenely floating around on this afternoon. Instead, the biggest girl in the pool gave the little kids turns riding on it. They were having a blast, and they were not yelling in my face anymore. I sat on the steps watching and wishing I were at the beach.

After a couple hours, and a few more, “Please don’t squirt me in the face,” reprimands to a little boy who was about as much fun as a mosquito, I decided it was time to go. The other moms screamed to their kids to get out of the water. (That explains why their kids talk so loud.) I gave Antonia the 10-minute warning and began collecting her toys. As I was packing up the diving rings I heard, “Mama! Watch this!” I turned around to see my daughter, who couldn’t swim without floaties, SWIMMING ALL BY HERSELF WITHOUT FLOATIES!!

“Oh my gosh, Antonia! You’re doing it!” I exclaimed with genuine enthusiasm. I was so proud of her! When nobody was looking, and she was in the pool all by herself, she decided she was going to swim. I got back into the water. “Do it again!” I encouraged her. “You’re swimming! Show me again!” I almost started to cry I was so overcome with emotion. I felt my irritation melting away. As the other kids and moms packed up to leave, my daughter and I stayed in the pool and practiced swimming without floaties.

After a half hour of Antonia jumping into the pool and swimming across to me, with her face in the water, arms and legs moving like a frog, we got out. I hugged her tight. I was so proud! She had been working on this for the past three summers, and today, amidst all the chaos, it came together.

“This was a fun day at the pool, wasn’t it, Mama?” she asked, looking up at me with her big, brown eyes.

“Yes, Antonia,” I told her. “The best.”