Memory Keepers

My kids, like most, have memories like a steel trap.

Remember that time you promised us ice cream and then we didn’t get any?
You mean the time your brother was running 104 temperature and we were trying to get him to the hospital, that time???
I dunno, maybe. But you still owe us an ice cream!

But the memories they keep, the ones that get caught in their young traps? They tend to be highly selective.

For instance, they don’t remember the seven hundred and sixty-two times I asked them to get their socks on, They only remember when I screamed at them to get their f**king socks on right this goddamn minute.

See? Selective memories.

Your kids have them too. They won’t remember all the mushy- gushy kisses, they’ll remember–and tell everyone who will listen– about the time you accidentally elbowed them on your way to the toilet to barf.

They won’t remember all the times you told them you loved them, but you can be damn sure they’ll remember the one time you threatened to sell them on eBay.

They won’t remember the mom magic that helps you keep track of who likes hard-boiled eggs and who likes scrambled, who likes their pasta with pesto and who prefers it with butter, who likes their carrots peeled and who doesn’t. What will they remember? The one time you put cucumber in the lunch box of the kid who doesn’t like cucumber as if you were trying.to.poison.him.

They won’t remember all the times you stayed up all night, not to get lucky, but to obsessively check their foreheads. They’ll remember the one time you were out to dinner and they threw up on the babysitter.

Remember that time, Mom? The time when you were out and I got sick all over the babysitter? Remember??

They won’t remember the 683, 909 calm and rational explanations, but they’ll remember the one time you lost your shit and threw a cup across the room.

They won’t remember the times you got up early to make scrambled eggs for breakfast on a school day. They’ll only remember the time you bought the bread with the seeds. You know. The one they hate.

No remembrance of time past, the hours spent pushing swings, spotting their little bodies climbing up the slide, zooming cars around on the floor. Nope. They will remember all the times they were so bored, Mom! 

They won’t remember the 10,000 meals you cooked, the ones they gobbled up. What will they remember? The ones they hated.

Out of 5,493 loads of laundry, the only one they’ll remember is the one when you shrank their hoodie in the dryer.

They won’t remember the times you pretended to be interested in play by play Pokemon or Minecraft stories. They’ll remember the time you shushed them because they were about to announce who was eliminated on Master Chef.

They won’t remember the scenery on the way to the National Park, or the $3,498 you spent on admissions. They’ll remember the way the ketchup at Burger King squirted on the table.

They won’t remember the 7,930 toys you bought them over the course of a lifetime, the 15,000 bits of Lego, the Barbie shoes you glued back together. They’ll fixate on the Barbie Dream House they never got.

Oh wait, that was me…

They won’t remember the blood, the sweat, or the tears. But the yelling, the screaming, the swears? It’s the stuff of legend. The stuff of therapy, of memoir, of blogs.

It’s all good. I may not remember why I opened the fridge, or what I came into the room to get, but all this stuff? Stored for life..or at least until I have grandkids on my side.

 

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You Don’t Have To Be Cool To Rule My World

prince-800-468x351In the dark of a sweat-soaked night, poured into a pair of jeans with zips at the ankles, a half shirt riding my midriff, I stood. With other uncoupled girls, backs against the cool tile wall, I listened as the unmistakable guitar notes of Purple Rain echoed through the cafeteria.

As a young teen, Purple Rain was a song for fetishes. It was the song you fantasized to, the one where the boy you had been following between locker clangs and lunch tray thumps all semester strode over to ask you to dance. That long, guitar strum anthem was four and half minutes in which to bury your nose in the scent of boy crush. Ten if they played the album version.

Prince, like the smell of Drakkar Noir and Aqua Net, the stickiness of bubble gum lip gloss and the snap of grape Bubblicious, was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence. His music was there, new and adult. For many of us Darling Nikki was the musical equivalent of Judy Blume’s book, Forever. A song which you knew was down and dirty without knowing how you knew. That song sounded like lust. It sounded illicit and secret and thrilling and as teens, our parents had no clue we were grinding to those notes until Tipper Gore came along and ruined everything.

Prince’s music was accessible enough to land in the Top 40, but edgy enough to make you squirm. For a young teen, his music was dirty. It was sexy. It was raw and lust and moan and grind. It was music to make out in a dark corner of the cafeteria to. It was boy straining at the crotch of his jeans music. Music that made your pulse throb with longing.

For a long time Prince found the perfect balance between commercial and cool. Androgynous, high-pitched and unabashedly sexual, he was the 80s answer to the 70s Bowie. Flamboyant enough to appeal to the fringes and talented enough to wrap the mainstream around his little finger. Prince was the man who made singing about a sorbet colored hat sound cool, the one who got away with singing about condoms on Casey Kasem’s radio show.

As adults my husband and I still listen to Purple Rain from time to time. We still know all the words to When Doves Cry. I can still do the finger gestures to I Would Die 4U as if I were dancing in a circle in a high school cafeteria, watching the boy I crushed on out of the corner of my eye, praying he noticed enough to ask me to dance.

For me, Prince will always be the music playing at the moment you understand what the adults are talking about behind their hands. The moment you realize the throbbing and the pulsing and flutters mean something. When the Drakkar Noir mixes just a little too well with the scent of flesh and male and the hum of your very self sings as high some of his notes.

It was the perfect soundtrack for the long walk from childhood to adolescence, a low thrumming baseline of lust which made you sing and wonder and feel those notes down below your belt.

Standing here now at forty-five, at the crossroads of yet another turn of life, his death has brought me full circle. But I will never be able to hear the opening strains of Purple Rain without feeling like a girl on the cusp of something new, something exciting, something they tell you is wrong but is oh, so right.

Toy Story

car boyAs my boys get older and their interests shift from matchbox cars vroomed on the carpet to computer games that make my head spin, it seemed only natural we’d start to clear and cull the clutter of toys which have defined our lives for the better part of twelve years.

Digging through the crates of cars and bins of bulldozers, sorting the Playmobil knights and pirates, stacking the Thomas track to pack should have been cathartic. All the space we will reclaim! All the weight to shed! And it was. For a little while. Until we got to the bottom of all the cars and trucks and things that go.

Dumping out the Matchbox cars I realized, with the beginnings of a lump in my throat, there was a story behind almost every one. This one was a Matchbox match of the black VW Golf we had in NYC, fondly dubbed, The Daddy Car. That one was the Mini-Cooper my husband had to go back to the beach for after it had been accidentally left behind in the sand. The big blue monster truck? We bought that one to placate a cranky toddler right before a long car trip. There’s the clutch of construction vehicles which came to the playground every day for three years, forklifts and front loaders traded between hot little hands, now scarred and chipped with playground digging. There were race cars and emergency vehicles that populated the road rug we kept under the bed. And at the very bottom of the box, dusted with lint were Lightning McQueen and friends.

One of our favorite pictures, taken when we were still a family of three, shows us tanned and relaxed in the Florida sunshine, a chunky toddler smiling a goofy grin to the camera. In his sweaty hand, he clutches a toy Chick Hicks. We collected those collectible cars and each new acquisition slept under a pillow, was carted around in pockets and fists. Those cars were the bread and butter of his play for years.

My younger son’s taste was more eclectic. Frying pans and toy kitchens, and lest we forget the empty Listerine bottle phase. But his passion was construction vehicles. The knowledge I acquired with boy child number one was put to the test with boy child two. Backhoes, front loaders, rollers, pavers, scrapers and forklifts. We had  a bag of yellow, plastic diggers that came to the beach and another bag of yellow, plastic diggers for the park. His eyes lit up like Christmas every time we passed a construction site. We spent hours watching buckets full of dirt and rock rise into the Cypriot sun. We even once went to a  trade show where we were entertained by backhoes strutting their outriggers to Lady Gaga. Go figure.

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Toy stories.

The Toy Story trilogy, for all its cute adventure and syrupy sentimentality is, at its heart, about the inevitable passage of time. By packing those well-loved toys in a box labeled for the attic, kids take the final step over the threshold of adolescence and close the door on childhood. And while I sympathize with Woody, well-loved cowboy, playmate, and friend, the character I identify with most is the oft unseen mother.

You see, the mother isn’t just packing up a box of toys to be donated or even a box of memories. She’s packing up all the magic she witnessed over the years; the undiluted imagination, the possibility, the joy that zooming a bunch of cars on the carpet or digging in dirt brought to her children.

My older son takes his bike into the Danish woods with friends and cycles around now. Maybe they’re making the same sounds he used to make when he was a toddler pushing a tiny bulldozer around the sandpit while he flies over dirt minds and careens around trees. I hope so. My younger son spends hours upon hours making intricate models of World War II aircraft and micro-mini Star Wars fleet out of Lego. Nerf weaponry has replaced the construction vehicles. Computer games have replaced the wooden Thomas track.

And I am left with the phantom limb syndrome of all those toys and the memories they evoke.

f79d635f2e3f60140fb20047093dbdf7In the end, the memories remain even if the toys don’t. I packed up three giant baggies full of matchbox cars to deliver to the school after school program. The Duplo and the giant mobile crane that took up precious square footage in an apartment with limited storage. But in a box to travel to wherever we go next went things I couldn’t quite part with:

The Daddy car and ‘Man’, the action figure we spent weeks looking for, only to find  in the inner workings of our printer the day we were packing to move to Cyprus, long after his absence had been forgotten. Randy, the driver of Unit 2. The pirate ship and a small selection of backhoes and forklifts and site-dumpers. And of course, Lightening McQueen and his car-patriots.

They will stay with us, like the snapshots I have of those two smiling boys, to infinity and beyond.

 

Little Ditty about Jack and Diane

tastee freezI hope Jack and Diane rang in the New Year by sucking on chili dogs out behind the Tastee Freez.

I, on the other hand, celebrated by belting out the solid gold hits of my youth with friends.

I should add that I can’t sing. Let me clarify: I can’t sing well. But I”m loud. And enthusiastic. And apparently the am I making a fool out of myself? switch is now permanently set to the I don’t give a fuck settingEven if it means enduring the eye-rolling of a couple of mortified teenagers who were witness to the whole thing; especially then.

Oh, all you Jackies. All you Dianes. I keep trying to tell you how boring grown-up life can be sometimes, but you refuse to listen. You just keep draping yourselves in a cloak of teenage stubbornness already thread worn from being passed down from generation to generation.

Right now you’re still the Dianes from the song; debutantes in backseats, sitting there on Jackie’s lap, his hand between your knees. The thrill of living’s still right there, palpable in the thrum of a heartbeat or the whisper of a breath along your neck.

The thrill of living. I’m not that old. I remember the way those thrills trilled up my spine and exploded like tiny supernovas in my chest.

We used to sit on a crumbling concrete curb by the small, grassy circle at the end of the Dianeneighborhood and listen to Jack and Diane. A gaggle of neighborhood kids and a boom-box, a scratchy cassette tape spitting out tinny top-forty fare. I was never really a Diane, not the Diane of the song certainly, it took me until my late twenties to find my Jackie.

I also didn’t have the guts to sing out loud back then. Or play air-guitar. Or dance on a chair. Yet I seem to be doing more and more of that lately. Strange days indeed.

Quite simply put, I don’t give a rat’s ass anymore. Just like all those inspirational quotes that clog up my social media feed advise me to, I sing like no one is listening. I dance like no one’s watching. And I seem to be singing and dancing far more than I ever thought I would at this stage of the game. This is the glorious gift my 40s have bestowed upon me.

This was going to be a quirky little miss sunshine piece about my hope for those embarrassed Dianes, that I wished someday they found a group of friends to sing Sweet Caroline with; friends that recognize the art of enjoying themselves elevates itself above being or seeming cool. But as these pieces often do, it morphed into something else: the stunningly simple realization that life doesn’t stop as you get older.

The thrill of living? It’s not gone. A lot of times it’s hidden under mountains of paperwork and never-ending lists of chores. But it’s not gone.

Hold on to sixteen as long as you can. Do I wish I could have held on to the ass I had when I was sixteen? What do you think? Sometimes I think about the heart plummet of a first kiss, the backseats of all those cars. Sure, hold on to sixteen as long as you can–sixteen was good.

But 45 is pretty damn good too.

At sixteen you can’t think beyond the thump of your heart in your ears. You can’t see beyond the next moment, the next kiss, the next breath. But at 45 you can. You can see far enough to understand they’re not limitless. They’re not endless. You start to feel them again. Maybe not as intensely as the first ones, but with the intensity of never knowing when they’re going to be your last.

A little ditty about Jack and Diane. Jackie’s never gonna be a football star. And Diane probably got knocked up in the backseat of Jackie’s car. He’s probably selling life insurance now, spent too much time down by the Tastee Freez and is now pre-diabetic. Maybe Diane never lost all the baby weight. Maybe they went their separate ways when those changes came around real soon made them women and men…

Life goes on, but the thrill of living? The thrill of living is far from gone. I’d say it’s just getting started again.

So hold on to 16, sure. But hold on to 45 too. And 60. Wherever you are.

jack and diane 2All you sweet Dianes out there cringing while your parents and their friends bang their heads to Bohemian Rhapsody or shake their hips to Grease Lightning—it may look goofy to you, it may be embarrassing, because right now you probably can’t imagine anything more mortifying than exposing any of your own inadequacies, real or imagined, to the world. But the thrill of living? The real thrill of living is getting past all of that and learning to enjoy life. To flip your switch permanently to I don’t give a fuck setting.

Jack and Diane must have figured that out by now, just like I have. They’d be near fifty now. Surely they’ve learned that when life hands you a new year and a group of friends to sing with, let it rock. Let it roll. Hell, you can even let the Bible Belt save your soul if you must. I don’t have time to judge, I’m too busy playing air guitar.