Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Things Yelled at Me during Zumba

No bone weary! This is not Sit and Be Fit!

Arms up! Hoooooooooold. Arms up! Hooooooooooooooold. Two more! Ha! I lied! Ten more!

Don't drink the water here it's an old building I can't guarantee there's no rust in the pipes!

Organize your moves! Plan for your arms, people! Your arms shouldn't come at you in surprise!

Uptown Funk You Up! UptownFunkYouUp. I have no idea what Funk You Up means but it doesn't sound good!

I love Neil Young! Oh wait. I mean Annie Lennox. I get those two mixed up. Both such sad people.

Down down down down dow-n. Woohoo. That's ELO for you. What? He says No? Okay. No no no no no-o. Woohoo. No problem, ladies, he says he'll say it once more before we get off the floor! 

I don't hear anyone clapping on Clap! If you don't clap on the Clap you won't get the full effect of the clap!

Arms up! Wait. Is this Silver? If it's Silver, then arms up. Or down. Whatever is fine.

Work, ladies! Don't let the sweat fool you! It's probably a hot flash!

Come on baby let's do the Zumba! Or Conga, whatever. It's a Latin beat! Oh, and for the record, I'm not saying I think all Latin music sounds the same. You gotta be careful, everyone's so sensitive these days.

Are you all hot? I thought so because I look around me and all I see is a bunch of hotties!
Alexandra? I'm going to send Julie back there for you. Julie? Julie, can you go in the back there by Alexandra? We've got some twisty turn moves at the end. So, yah, just go in the back by her. Thanks, Julie.
* * *

Monday, October 5, 2015

Preschooled: A Novel

Dear Anna Lefler,

I am in love with Preschooled.

Without gushing, I can only say that you made me fall in love with Justine. Everything she felt about this world of alpha moms in the preschool world was me, and did I relate? In a way that made me miss having a friend like her when I was going through this shock of the new world I was thrown into when I quit working and started taking my kids to school.

The thing I want most to say to you is THANK YOU for taking this world of momming it seriously. Many think it's just a side note, that we can continue with our lives and kids are over there in the corner of it, but the people we meet and this new world of parenting can swallow you up and leave the most capable of us in full blown doubt of ourselves.
You gave me validation, Ms. Lefler, for all the overwhelming and drowning I felt and still feel. 
I knew your words would be funny, it is, after all, written by you. But to find solace in your book, where I felt understood and where I fit in, well, I did not see that coming. 

Your book is wonderful.
Your book is wonderful, Anna.
Alexandra Rosas

**I am GIVING a copy of Preschooled: A Novel away, just leave a comment to enter. But if you can't wait, you can order your own copy here: Preschooled: A Novel, available at amazon


Saturday, October 3, 2015

Do We Ever Leave The Land of the Uncool

High School: when no one could even get my name right.
In the nicest part of McDonald's, the section where they have the leather chairs and a loveseat, seven teenage girls sit. They're texting each other, instagramming, and squealing with each "like" they get on their posts.

I'm sharing a lunch with my high school son, my middle boy, and we hear everything the teens are saying. I ask him how these girls could have so many friends. He shrugs and says, "People do," and he goes back to his burger. I stop chewing so I can hear them better, because I have always wanted to know, Why do some of us have the secret to social life? Will these girls fall away from how effortless friendship feels right now? Do we lose this sense of feeling at ease with others, do only some of us? Will we all?

"Oh!," one of the girls shrieks. "She just liked my selfie!" The other one grabs her phone to look and asks, "Why do you even like her?" "I'm only stalking her to find out about her boyfriend's friend. She doesn't know I can't stand her." I ask my son if people in his school pretend to like each other a lot. "Some might," he answers again without looking over at them as they leave.
I was never a teen in the midst of giggling girls. I was never among a crowd that numbered in the sevens. I was eighty-nine percent of the time on my own, inside my head. My teen life was spent in the land of the uncool.

Back then, when I met someone new, I would cross my fingers that maybe they would turn into a friend, but instead of smiles back when I initiated conversation, it was knitted brows and pursed lips that came back in reaction to my not knowing when to stop with any topic of discussion. I couldn't help it, I had a head full of trivia and nothing that I loved to do more than share little known facts and historical surprises. Believe me, I had no shortage of things to talk about. And each one, at the ready.

Kids would spend a few minutes with me and then excuse themselves, saying, "I'm going to go talk to Jackie now," I'd smile at them and nod, "yeah, sure, Ok. I'll see you at school Monday!" And they'd give me a tight lipped smile back, no teeth showing, a quick look back but without the energetic, "Yeah! For sure!" that I hoped I'd hear.

Then, when I was 15, during our school's morning announcements, some news came out that could have changed my world. The department store downtown was going to be interviewing for a candidate to win a scholarship to their charm school. Charm School is what I needed! This was it! My big chance to learn how to do everything right. I would learn how to eat in an expensive restaurant if someone ever took me to prom or homecoming. I would learn how to waltz if someone ever asked me to dance at a wedding reception. I would learn how to walk with my shoulders back and how to keep eye contact. I would learn etiquette and how to carry conversation so it would be equal for both parties. I clicked my pen and wrote down the date, Saturday, and the time, 9:00 a.m., at Boston Store.

The Friday night before Interviewing Saturday, I set my clothes out: a pair of brand new sailor pants, a thin as an extension cord white suede belt, a red ribbed sailor top and white suede platform sandals that matched my belt. I snuck a red chiffon neck scarf from my older sister's room to tie around my neck, I planned to have the bow twisted to the side. I bought new blush, "apricot sparkle." It was a cream form, and cost almost a dollar more than powder.

I set my alarm for 6:00 a.m. and tried to get the beauty sleep Seventeen magazine told me I needed so my complexion would not be sallow and my eyes would be bright. On Saturday morning, I arrived at the department store by 8:30 a.m. for the interview. It had taken me two buses to get there. I had only been up to the third floor of the store before, but the offices holding the session were on the 7th floor. I got on the elevator and pushed 7. When the doors opened, I looked out into a hallway that held every beautiful teenage girl in the city. Their tall, long bodies with hair to match, leaned against walls, sat in front of occupied chairs, and rested against window sills. There wasn't a single girl who looked anything like me there. There wasn't a single girl there wearing pants.

When I checked in with another tall woman who had a clipboard, she wrote my name down and gave me a number. She told me I probably wouldn't get seen because of the amount of girls that had answered the call. Still, I wasn't going to go back home after taking two buses to get downtown before 9:00 a.m. I would wait until they told me I had to leave and locked the doors behind me.

At a little before noon, the woman with the clipboard shouted my number. I gathered myself up from the hard floor and with wobbly legs and a pounding heart I followed her to the office where the interviews were happening. There, a woman sat behind a faded wood desk. To me, at that time, I guessed her to be about 50 years old. She had black glasses that sat at the end of her nose that she kept pushing back up to her eyes with her sharp red fingernails.

She asked me to keep standing. Then to turn. Then to walk away and then turn and walk back to her. She asked me to turn sideways, then to lean the side of my body against the cold wall, with one hip jutting out. I did all those things while I watched her write. She made some notes, had me repeat my name and phone number, and then asked me for my pictures.

"I don't have any." I panicked. No one had mentioned pictures.

"Well. Thank you. You can go now."

I stayed, I was ready for the interview part.

"You can go now."
"I'm ready for the interview. I can talk about any question you ask me."
"This was the interview. You can go now."
"Didn't you want me to talk?"

She put her pen down and peered up at me. Then she stared. She asked, "What did you think today was for?"

"An interview," I told her, "for charm school."

"This was the interview and we have other girls to see."

I looked down at my feet, flustered. I had so much information to tell her, from all the books I had read. Then I noticed that the zipper on my pants had been down the entire time. My cheeks burned, both from embarrassment as well as the excess of apricot sparkle. I thought about how I never got anything right and never fit in anywhere. I stood, ready to go, but before I left, I turned around. "When do we find out if we won?"

"We'll let your school know."

I was sure to thank her for her time.

On Monday morning, back at school, girls buzzed about the interviews. "Do you know anyone that went? Who would go? I can't believe anyone would go. You'd have to be beautiful. I heard Antoinette Omdahl went." I stood frozen against my locker. Antoinette Omdahl, the senior went? She was the girl with the most perfect legs, a ballet dancer, a cheerleader, on student council, prom queen. Her teeth looked like they had been put in place by a master. Why didn't I know the interviews were for girls like Antoinette Omdahl? Why did I think I was one to go?

The school morning announcements began, and toward the end, our principal cleared her throat. In her thick Italian accent, she began, "It is my great pleasure to announce that one of our girls was chosen for the Boston Store Charm School scholarship. Antoinette Omdahl is going to be our ambassador with Boston Store."

Antoinette Omdahl. Popular, athletic, always smiling and giggling. The senior who skipped down the hallways, her shiny hair bouncing behind her. Her hair never needed to be tied down when it was humid. Why did I think I belonged somewhere where she was? This was another event that I thought I understood. My life was missed marks and misunderstandings. How did people know not to do things, when I didn't?
The girls at McDonald's begin to squeal again. "Oh.My.God. You guys, look at this-I can't believe she posted this. And that Keith even likes her. Whatever."

I've forgotten about the story of charm school, until today. And how much being cool mattered. I tell my 18-year-old son the story about the charm school interview, my zipper being down, my cheeks ablaze with apricot sparkle. How I waited for the interviewer to ask me for my favorite Louisa May Alcott book, to which I would have answered Jo's Boys. He laughs while eating his french fries and almost spits out his soda. "You're so funny, mom. I wish I could have known you back then."

The last 20 years of my life have been spent as a mother. I have been with my children who accept me as naturally as sunshine and without question. Their hearts so full of love, they listen to me prattle about facts and the books I've read and the things I've learned, and look at me as if I'm the most fascinating person they've ever known.

They make me feel like I just graduated from charm school.
* * *

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Just Two Women in the Kitchen

I stretch my legs out from on top of the red vinyl stool. I'm careful to stay on the right because the seat is split and the foam is coming out from the other side, leaving the plastic to jut up and out, like a blade. I think of how the edge could slice through a tomato like a blade. But I love this chair and I won't let my father take it to the garage because the red sparkles, like it's filled with tiny galaxies.

It is early afternoon and the sun is streaking in through the kitchen windows. More than anything, I love to be here in the kitchen, so close to where my Abuela is happiest. I am inches from her and I don't know how she stops the urge from stepping away so she has space.

When people's skin gets too close to mine, I feel like I lose the air around me. I have to change how I am and pay attention to how I breathe when someone comes close to me. I don't want them thinking how I am too loud or too fast or that they'll hear my voice shake or say something to me and then I'll have to answer them when they are this close.

Soon, my brothers and sisters will be home from school. My grandmother is getting the rice and chicken started and my baby brother and sister are sleeping. I am waiting to start the most important job, the meal can't begin without my work. I gather the slices of tomatoes and strings of onion that my grandmother has set aside and I toss them into the hot oil in the pan. I jump when the wet from the tomato and onion sizzle and spark as they hit the pan. I go back to my grandmother and her cutting board, I know she will have the garlic smashed and ready for me to carry over in a measured tablespoon. I tap the spoon, hard, clanking on the inside of the pan to release the garlic in one plop. Wiping her hands on her apron, my grandmother comes to stand next to me.

“You can go now, mija, the hard part is done.”

“Can I stir?”

“Claro. Si." She lifts me up while I hold her weathered wooden spoon, the rim of the edges now burnt brown, and I hear the rasp of my back and forth scraping against the bottom of the pan.

“It's all brown now, Abuelita. The rice can go in.” Setting me down, my grandmother scoops out the rice from the pot next to us where it has been soaking in water overnight. We wait to hear the gurgle of a hard boil and then she stirs everything together, covering rice with water fold after fold. Leaning down, she checks the stove's flame, being sure to lower it to the precise flicker she needs for a simmer.

I set the table with our purple plates, but I wish they were larger. The ones we have aren't big enough to hold the amount of rice I want. Everything is finished and we have time before the rice is ready and we have to leave to get my brother from school.

My Abuela reaches across the stove and pours a cup of espresso, mixing it with warmed milk from the small pot. She divides it into two separate cups and hands one to me. There is an equal amount in both. I blow across the steam the way she has taught me, until it is cool enough to sip. Then I take the first cautious lick. The warmth spreads down my throat and across my shoulders, I feel it slide down filling the entire of my stomach.

We are two women in the kitchen. One is five, the other seventy-five, but we feel no difference. We have earned this time, to blow and sip, while we are across from each other. There is quiet between us, but it is anything but silence.

“Ponque?” she asks, wanting to know if I want cake.

She laughs when she sees my eyes pop open. I love cake and my grandmother knows this, she has hidden a piece for me, away from my five brothers and sisters. “Si, Abuela, Si!” From behind the sliced rolls in the bread cabinet, she has a torte that is wrapped in re-used wax paper. Placing it in my lap, like she's trusting me with a hummingbird, she hands me the square. I open it and see dense baked apple, the white frosting cracks as my teeth break into it.

My grandmother is small, with thick waves of still dark hair. She is awake when I first come down in the morning and she is awake when I go upstairs for the night. She never tires, she never sits. But in these afternoons, while the others are deep in sleep or away at school, she takes time.

Tomorrow's dinner may be pork sausages with quartered cabbage. The day after that a thick oxtail soup. I know the meals will be different, but they will always begin with me doing the most important work. Laying the foundation for everything that is to come when I toss in the tomatoes, the onions, the garlic.

It's the hardest part, my Abuela tells me, and I do it well.
* * *

Monday, September 28, 2015

11 Ways I Heard My Children Whisper I Am Just like a Sloth

Photoshopping genius credit: Vikki Reich

Son #1: "Once a week, sloths leave their canopy for a bathroom break."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Sloths are from South America."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Sloths will not eat anything without sniffing first to tell if it's rotten. "
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth mother keeps her babies close and concealed from preying eyes."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "Scientists often wonder what the sloth does all day long."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth's soft underbelly creates a cozy bed for offspring to cling to."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth is the world's slowest moving mammal."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth wakes up chilled and will spend the day searching for sun to warm her."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth's main activity is to hang and munch its favorite foods."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth will sleep 9 and a half hours at a time."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

Son #1: "The sloth moves only 80 feet--the length of two school buses--in one day."
Son #2:  Just like mom.

* * *


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