This cautionary tale has a lesson: Before embarking on a bike ride, make sure you have taken the right key for your bike chain.
It was a beautiful Thursday afternoon in late April. The kind of afternoon in early spring when every tree is a different color of flowering buds, each branch has that blessed tinge of the lightest green. On that day in April, I wish I could freeze time then and there and live and linger in that feeling of potential that early spring gives. I wished to go no further.
There was nothing pressing on our family schedule for the evening: no plays, baseball games, concerts or meetings. And, our family of five was down two people: hubby in Detroit and my daughter on her way to a youth weekend retreat.
If you have a family, you know that the absence of even one member changes the dynamic of the household, and can inspire you to make a change in an otherwise humdrum weeknight.
Tonight, it would be just me and the boys!
I said “boys, let’s do something different. Let’s bike to the library, get out some books. Then I’ll grill for dinner, and THEN, let’s go to the Canal
for some yogurt for dessert!”
And who could argue with that plan? Not even my boys!
So off we went to the Brighton Memorial Library.
We locked our bikes and spent about 30 minutes reading and selecting some books.
Then, the tale of a wonderful evening took a dark turn.
My eldest son presented me with the key. It wouldn’t fit.
“You told me you had the right key.”
“Yeah, that’s the key, I took it out of the keybox.”
“Did you actually check if it worked?”
Obviously, he did not.
So, we walked home from the library leaving our locked bikes behind to locate the lost key.
Now, during the de-cluttering and staging of our home, somehow the key in question went AWOL.
Now, we had three bikes securely locked at the library and no key.
The grill remained unlit. Our bellies remained unfed.
Armed with a hedge clipper, I loaded the boys into the Traverse and headed back to the library.
Funny thing about a good bike chain. Underneath that rubber coating is a network of woven and twisted wires that don’t snap but merely bend when you try to clip them.
I called the good people at the Park Avenue Bike shop to explain my predicament and see if they had a lock cutting service.
“Are you far from home? Are you in a remote rural area?” asked Park Ave Bike Man.
“No, I’m at the Brighton Library. And I have a car.”
Folks, here is a bit of helpful information: Park Ave Bike is many things to many local bikers, but they do not have a lock clipping service for stranded, keyless bikers.
He then suggested I get some bolt cutters.
So, with the sky darkening, and are bellies growling even louder, we headed to our nearest big box hardware store.
A patient but doubtful man wearing an orange apron helped me select bolt cutters for the job.
“You may have to work at this for a while. This is not a one-person job. You may have to attach pipes to the end of each handle for best leverage at some point to break that lock.”
So, at this point, I am a starving mamma wielding a bolt cutter on the check out line of Home Depot. All I wanted that evening was a cup of soft serve yogurt on the Erie Canal.
At this point, my boys and I were beginning to feel like we were caught in a scene from our favorite comedy. I was taking on the role of Claire Dunphy.
We get back to the library and it is now nearly dark. I start chomping away at the bike lock. Next to me are some more unattended bikes. They don’t even have a chain on them.
A man exits the library and gives us a weird look. He takes out his cell phone.
The librarian comes out and also gives us a funny look.
At this point my eldest son shouts “THERE IS NOTHING TO SEE HERE, FOLKS. WE ARE NOT BIKE THIEVES. THESE ARE OUR BIKES WE ARE STEALING.”
Now, if I was going to steal a bike, I wouldn’t do it at the Brighton Library. The police station for the town is attached to the same building.
Finally, after a few chomps – without the aid of pipes – the bikes are free. The boys and I give a triumphant yelp and there are high fives all around.
We didn’t grill that night. Nor did we make it to the Erie Canal for a yogurt treat. I think I ordered in a pizza.
And the next day, I went back to Park Ave. Bike and bought a new bike lock.
With five extra keys.
You know that piece of furniture in your kitchen, the one with the round or sometimes square flat surface? How many times do you eat at it with all family members present and accounted for?
I’ll fess up: Now that my family is in transition, it’s boiled down to the weekends.
In American culture, the days where families gather at the table to eat dinner on a nightly basis are going the way of Saturday mail delivery.
Eating on the fly, wherever and whenever, has become the norm, right? We eat walking, driving, or even standing up at elevated tables because we didn’t get a table with seats at the mall food court.
We can go on and on in school about nutrition, but often our kids are rushed through their meals at their lunch period, that’s if they HAVE a lunch period. My high school daughter eats lunch in class nearly every day. She can’t fit in lunch because of her electives.
The proof in the pudding (a food substance I would highly implore be eaten at a table) is a conversation I had with a bunch of my 7th Grade Hebrew school students as we prepared to study the Birkat Hamazon. This is a long Hebrew blessing known as Grace after meals, but it actually translates to: the blessing of nourishment.
I think that hundreds of years ago, those wise rabbis who constructed this prayer were onto something: eating together and then SINGING together at a table gives us nourishment that goes way beyond the physical.
Before we got into the nitty-gritty of the Hebrew vocabulary of the prayer, I asked a general question that can be asked to any kid regardless of their faith:
How often do you eat together as a family?
The general response was, “not much.”
“Everyone has sports so people eat at different times whenever.”
“My mom doesn’t make dinner so i just grab something from the fridge and eat it in my room.”
“My dad works late so we eat without him lots of the time.”
I listened to these honest yet sad confessions just one week after hearing a recent report on National Public Radio of the demise of family time around the table.
On a positive side, because of Jewish camping, some of my students were quite familiar with the Birkat Hamazon. And in the summer, they do sit and eat meals with others and then sing this prayer together, complete with all the campy hand motions. Thank you camp!
And even if we ARE around the table, we often bring some kind of electronic device with us to further distract ourselves from the people in our lives who really count.
As Passover and Easter approach, who will be around your table?
Now that December is here, this post about wrapping things up in my little spot in the Brighton Community Garden is way overdue. But I must write this final post as a conclusion to the unforgettable experience it has been digging, weeding, watering and reaping alongside my fellow Brighton neighbors.
My neighbors and I have shared watering and weeding responsibilities through a hot dry summer. Our tomato patches bursting with more than one family could possibly consume, we’ve traded beefsteaks for exotic varieties such as the green-striped zebra or tiny yellow jelly bean.
Sue Gardiner-Smith, the manager of the garden, made sure that we kept up with our commitments to clear the common paths of weeds and not let our own plots get too overgrown (that meant taming my wild pumpkin vines!) In return, she gave me carte blanche to take as much Swiss Chard as I could cut from her never-ending crop of the green leafy stuff.
My garden experience ended on Veteran’s Day. The kids had the day off. First, we paid a visit to the brand new Veteran’s Memorial sculpture, just next door to the garden:
Then, we got to work. We pulled out the last of the vegetation, blackened and dead as a result of a hard killing frost that descended over Rochester a night or two before:
We pulled up the fencing and the poles ( the boys had to have a stick fight with them atop the compost heap, of course):
Harvested our last pumpkins and carrots, and finally, chopped down the remains of that sunflower that grew to be about 10 feet tall.
Putting this garden to bed would be the first of many lasts for me in Rochester.
Like clearing out this garden, I’m literally pulling up my roots again. Rochester may not be my hometown, but it is for my kids.
When I cleared the last weeds with my kids, I knew I would never garden here again.
I would not be putting down my $25 deposit to renew my lease on this 10’x10′ piece of land that gave me so much delight. Next spring, this plot will be cared by someone else.
Next spring, I’ll be well on my way to finding our next home, and hopefully our next garden somewhere in Michigan.
With absolute awkwardness, I got in the canoe, rented from Algonquin Outfitters in Huntsville, at the front. I don’t remember canoes being so wobbly, probably because I hadn’t been in one in at least 20 years.
“Are you sure that this canoe isn’t extra narrow?” I called back to my teen son.
My son climbed into the canoe with ease. The one who earned his golden oar after canoeing for five summers straight at camp. I let him take the back.
It was the last morning together with the boys. It had been a blessing in disguise that we couldn’t drop them off for Session II of the summer at Camp Ramah in Canada as early as we planned. That way, we had this one more adventure before we dropped them off for a whole month at camp.
On the first half of our trip, we divided the boys per canoe: My husband and younger son, 8 in one, and myself and my 13-year-old in another. That worked well. My husband and my teen took control, telling the less experienced rowers (my youngest and I) which side to paddle, and actually how to paddle.
Before that morning’s canoe ride with my 13-year-old son, I did not know there was such a thing as a C stroke or a J stroke. To me, it was all one thing, put your oar on the left side or the right, put it deep in the water, and pull back. I also did not know that, several times a week at camp, my son would wake up extra early to go canoeing with a small group of campers. Imagine that, a teen getting up extra early, when at home on vacation, I can barely get him out of bed by 10.
He said at camp he also played his guitar in a canoe.
He also told me one of his most spiritual moments at camp was when he and his other campers brought their prayer books and conducted morning services on the canoe.
Prayer books. On a canoe?
Clearly, the campers knew there were times for tipping the canoe, and other times, carrying precious cargo, times to keep the canoe perfectly balanced.
We rowed along a calm lake that had many inlets and narrow passages, so much that it seemed to have a current like a river. We passed quaint houses with well cared for and decorated docks.
We passed under a freight train bridge where a man working on the rails shouted greetings (and advice) to us from above. (You’ll just have to use your imagination here. I didn’t photograph him. Taking pictures, managing an oar,and trying not to tip over proved to be very challenging!)
“Great day for a canoe ride, Ay? You should steer a little away from the side, Ay? I say, Ay, I think you’re headed for a rock, steer clear, Ay?”
Was my ineptitude that apparent? All those “ays.” I definitely knew I was in Canada.
Things were going well until, exploring the second half of the lake, my older son insisted we switch. My son wanted to take his little brother under his wing and show him the ropes of rowing. He offered the argument that his edah (Hebrew for group) of campers never socialized with my son’s age group on waterfront activities and this would be his only chance to have some brother bonding on a boat.
Begrudgingly, (but I knew it was a bad idea) we agreed.
First, they got stuck going around a curve in a bramble of branches.
My older son overestimated my younger’s experience with the oar. In his mind, he had to be an expert by now. After all, little brother had been canoeing for an entire hour with dad. It was a lesson in brother bonding, and resisting the urge to throw little brother overboard.
Now that I was in the canoe with my husband, I wasn’t doing much better. Apparently, sitting in the front of the canoe, I pull my oar out of the water way too fast and was splashing my husband at every stroke. He was clearly the one in charge in this canoe, the backseat rower.
“Stop splashing me, please! “
“Three more strokes on your left, please!”
When I was in the canoe with my son, his main suggestion to me:
“Mom, just sit there and let me do the rowing. We’ll be better off that way.”
I did do some rowing, at my insistence. I needed the workout. Was it my fault I didnt’ spend five summers learning how to canoe as a child? Also, my son didn’t complain that I was getting him was wet when I oared in his canoe! Getting wet was half the fun, just as long as we didn’t tip. Actually, in the heat, I wouldn’t have minded getting tipped, except I had a new camera on board.
Finally, at a private cottage dock with a little white dog barking at us the whole time, we regrouped and switched back to our original rowing arrangements.
Rowing taught us several things. For one, when you are in a boat with someone, squabbling just makes you go around in circles. To get anywhere, you both have to paddle in perfect harmony.
I’ve been waiting for just the right time to blog about this made-up word that runs in my husband’s family. I was almost embarassed about the existence of this word but since WordPress is asking, I’m telling.
Now, kfajgi (pronounced ke-fag-ee) is a word that may have either Italian, Slavic or Yiddish origins. Let me show you how my mother and sister-in-laws use this word.
Kfajgi is used in terms of food: mostly pasta, sometimes lettuce.
For example, if you drain a pot of spaghetti and you let it sit in the colander for too long, it becomes kfajgi.
Or, if you leave lettuce in your lettuce crisper too long, and it is beyond use in a salad, getting soggy, it is kfajgi.
Perhaps, if seeing this, my mother-in-law can elaborate. Thanks for the inspiration, mom!
And how could I not visit Coney Island?
After all, it’s en route in our Island hopping tour – between Staten Island and Long Island.
My family plunked down its roots in Coney Island, on 21st Street. This is where my great-grandparents on my grandmother’s side lived. My grandmother with her three sisters and one brother.
This is the subway train stop that takes you to the boardwalk. The very spot where my grandmother and her sisters would stand and offer visitors and beachgoers a clean place to shower and change after beachgoing at their apartment – all for a quarter.
This is the famed Coney Island boardwalk. On this spot – or around here somewhere – my grandmother met my grandfather and told him to go home and grow up. They were married for 67 years. This is also the Boardwalk and the beach where my brother and my cousins and I ate chicken salad sandwiches with grapes and then had to WAIT on the beach blanket for 30 minutes before we can go jumping in the waves. It was a cruel ritual that we endured each summer.
This is the Cyclone. My grandmother rode it, as well as my mother. Skipped a generation with me. Now, this week, my husband and son got a chance to ride its rickety hills.
Me? I agreed to ride the Wonder Wheel with the family.
My husband, two boys and my parents crammed into one of the moving cars that shoots out into nothing over the beach.
This is the sign that tells the rider just how old the Wonder Wheel is, and that there has never been an accident in all the Wonder Wheel’s 89 years. This is the view up top of Nathan’s Famous Franks below:
And after a few hours, hot hungry and tired, we left the boardwalk to find our car which was parked by the Luna Park apartment projects. These were the apartments where several branches of the extended family lived for several decades.
I took a walk on the grounds. I looked up at the terraces where my cousins and I played tag.
The buildings were under a much-needed renovation. As I walked along memory lane, I noticed that the playgrounds of my childhood had been upgraded. Old school monkey bars and jungle gyms have been changed to the plastic, safer playgrounds of today.
But wait – some were JUST the same. The same concrete play structures were still there that I played on. So, for one more time , I climbed on them, with my youngest son:
As I write this, the curse of the Philadelphia International Airport has struck my family once again. I last saw my husband through half-asleep eyes as he kissed me goodbye at 4 a.m. last Sunday. A conference out in California was taking him away during our February “vacation.” My vacation home with the three children. He is now stuck in Philadelphia. I’ve shoveled nine inches of snow off our driveway. I really don’t know when he will be home.
I am sure that the curse of delayed or canceled flights due to the weather is not reserved just for those in the Philadelphia airport. No, with this winter, and this winter vacation coming to a close at the same time another snowstorm rattles our air traffic patterns, our story is not unique.
So this blog post is dedicated to all of you out there who have been stuck at an airport with children.
I really think that going away to get a few days of sunshine over February break is just not worth it in our age of “Welcome to the Hellish Skies.” Indeed, we did a few years ago make an attempt at a Florida getaway. But due to storms, we instead had a 13-hour destination vacation to the Philadelphia International Airport!
My son, an avid New York Mets fan, was dressed head to toe in Orange and Blue Mets paraphernalia. He cowered the whole time in his jacket, hood pulled up all the way. He actually believed that because he loved the Mets and hated the Phillies, someone in the airport of the City of Brotherly Love was going to kill him.
Our efforts to escape the cold of Rochester for just one week had failed. We missed our connecting flight from Philadelphia to West Palm Beach. Every flight to southern Florida was booked and overbooked for the next three days.
As we looked at the flight board, we slowly came to the harsh realization that the palm trees of our vacation dreams had been yanked out by the roots. We could stay in the airport as standby refugees, or head back to cold icy Rochester. We were not going anywhere.
But then I had an epiphany. I realized, Hey! We are still on vacation! Vacation can be a state of mind, even if you did not make it to the Sunshine State.
So here are my hard-earned tips of what to do you if you are on a 13-hour standby hoping in vain to get your flight to paradise:
- Immediately go to the “customer service” line and demand you get a pillow. Take two or three and don’t feel guilty. The airline has ruined your original vacation destination and they owe it to you to make you as comfortable as possible.
- Forget the food court. You are on vacation and deserve the best of airport dining. In our case, it was Applebees. Any frugalities of ordering from a restaurant menu with children- like sharing – should be lifted. We were on vacation. Kids, if you want a beverage other than water, go for it! That naturally blue-colored smoothie? Go for it!
- As far as the adults in your party, order an alcoholic beverage. You are going to need it.
- After your meal, order dessert. Those desserts that stare at you all throughout your meal from those triangular placards placed strategically on the table. Remember, this may be your only vacation meal!
- After your meal, don’t bother checking on your flight status. You know you are not boarding any time soon, if you board at all.
- Find out if the airport you are stranded in has a Sharper Image or a Brookstones. Loiter there for an hour or so. Spend most of this time on one of their massage chairs. Ignore looks from salesperson.
- Is the hot stuffy airport getting to your children? Do what my kids did and let them pretend that the bathroom is their own personal water park. Cool off by dunking your child’s head in the sink. Just like dunking into the pool at grandma and grandpa’s condo. How refreshing!
- Around 10:00 p.m., entire sections of the airport should be clear enough to let your kids run completely wild. Make sure you pack a jumprope and maybe some in-line skates in addition to some healthy and sugary snacks.
- At 11 p.m or later, if you are still waiting on standby in a nearly empty airport, abandon the rule about indoor voices. And the no running rule. And the no climbing and jumping on furniture rule. Moms, that glass of wine at Applebees must have worn off by now. Use the extra space to do a little yoga stretching to relieve the stress.
Airport authorities, if you cannot tolerate the wildness of unruly children, who have spent over 10 hours cooped up in your airport, you should have done more to get good, hardworking parents to their original vacation destinations. Airlines, you should have done the decent thing and not have overbooked your flights. So go ahead kids and parents, make all the outdoor voices, and screams, and wild laughter you can conjure up. This is family time!
YOU ARE ON VACATION, REMEMBER?
In comparison to last year’s Bat Mitzvah extravaganza party, this year’s birthday celebration was quite low-key: T-shirt decorating, Pizza & other munchies, cookie cake and – watching Eclipse.
I think I found my cure for the winter blues and the remedy is inviting over 11 girls aged 13 -14 and add pizza and Shirley Temples for extra joy. How can anyone be down amidst the constant chatter and giggling? I was happy that my daughter let me be around her friends, who showered my daughter with hugs and presents accompanied by cards that were no shorter than novellas. The cards, written in every conceivable color of Sharpie, were filled with private jokes and all the ways my daughter is a good friend. Those cards I know will be treasured just as much as the gifts.
Then, it was time for cake and movies. This was a very important agenda with a limited timeframe. With all the girls refusing to leave until they saw every second of Eclipse, a vote needed to be taken as to when to eat cake.
Who wanted to eat cake now?
Who wanted to take a short intermission in the movie to eat cake?
Eating cake while watching Eclipse on the family room couch was not an option.
My daughter piped in: “Hey, how about: we watch the movie,and the first time Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off, we eat cake!”
Friends: “No, then we will want to watch the whole thing.”
So, cake came out, candles were lit, a wish was made. Within 10 minutes, the cookie cake was completely snarfed down. Then, all lights went out. It was time for Eclipse.
Again, I was so glad my daughter let me watch this movie with her friends. The comments made were even more entertaining than the movie itself.
As overheard in the darkness:
“I can really learn how to kiss by watching this movie!”
“He’s sooooooo cute!”
“No. He’s sooooo cute!”
“Even as a wolf, he is cute!”
“The wolves look so fuzzy and cuddly!”
“Bella, you need to wind up with Edward, because then Jacob will be mine!”
And on and on and lots of giggles and screams to go right along with it.
Then, at some point of the movie (and I couldn’t hear a word of dialogue because of all the giggles and nonstop chatter), Bella and Edward are on a mountain. Bella is in a coat and wearing a hat. Then, Jacob shows up – shirtless – and a pair of shorts.
So, being the Jewish mother, I ask, “So why is Bella all bundled up and Jacob is walking around without his shirt for a change?” Because, I had fallen behind (no, I had become sick of) reading Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and didn’t understand the complexities of man/wolf biology.
The replies were instantaneous:
“Because Jacob is a werewolf and his blood is warm!”
“His blood is hot, his blood is boiling hot!”
“His chest is so hot.”
“His chest is so hot you can bake cookies on it!”
“If someone baked cookies on Taylor Lautner’s chest, I would certainly eat them!”
Oh. Well, now it is all completely logical to me.
A woman I know from a playgroup from many years back asked me the other day if I missed the days when my kids were really little.
And I thought: No, I don’t miss the diaper bags, the diapers, the stroller shlepping. I do miss picking up little people and swinging them around, but teaching preschool cures my fix for that. No, I love the ages my kids are in right now and I wouldn’t change a thing.
So, girls, when are you coming over next?
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I guess I love this picture because it is so in the moment. It is not the ideal photo of what you would think of as the perfect family outing to the Statue of Liberty. It is perfect, though , because it captures the reality of the chaos of daily life with three kids:
A few posts ago, some readers may have mistakenly thought I was down on myself for not being gainfully employed in my originally intended career path. But, if I had been working full-time the other day, I would not have been home to see my youngest off the bus and would have missed this exchange with him:
Toby bounded off the bus about a week or so before Thanksgiving, a look of shock combined with shades of amusement on his face. His red backpack, nearly as big as he, was quickly thrust into my arms as he stomped into the house.
“Mom! You will not believe this. Sarah — this girl on my bus — said she has a crush on ME!”
“Really,” I responded, as I got out the Ovaltine and milk and searched in the cabinet for some cookies. “Well, Toby, I have to say, she has good taste, whoever this Sarah is.” Of COURSE some little girl would have a crush on my Toby. I mean, what grade school girl, or any woman in the future for that matter, could resist those grey-blue eyes, the lashes, the dimples. This is the only reason he gets away with half the trouble he gets into at home.
He continued. “Mom, how can she have a crush on me? I mean, there are far better looking boys on my bus.”
Again, I think, who does this boy think he is talking to? I’m his mom! In my unbiased opinions about my son, could he even think that I could imagine a boy in the second grade cuter than him? On the 10 bus? Or any schoolbus toting small children home that afternoon? Impossible!
He stirs his chocolate milk, still looking confused and pensive. He concludes with, “I just can’t believe she has a crush on me. I mean, she’s only FIVE, and I’m SEVEN. SEVEN! Hello? I’m two whole years older than her! Mom, isn’t that a little — strange?”
To this, I have nothing to say. I sip my afternoon coffee and just take this all in. You just can’t make this up. You just have to be there when that school bus opens its doors at the end of the day to hear what your kids will come up with next.