A Jersey Shower

I was five months pregnant with The Kid, and Petey, my mom, and I were driving north.

Unbeknownst to me, every living soul in New Jersey that was related to me in any manner was coming together to throw me a baby shower.

And this wasn’t a sweet, sedate Southern baby shower where one ate tiny little pimento cheese sandwiches, little pieces of cake, nuts, and sweet tea. 

A baby shower in New Jersey, or at least the ones thrown by my Italian relatives, is a very different kind of soiree.

First of all, the attendees are not the mother-to-be, her mother, mother-in-law, her sorority sisters, and a few older ladies from church.

When I say it was every family member, I’m not kidding.  This was every living sibling of my mother, their spouses, male and female, their children, their spouses or SO’s, their children, and anybody else who had a drop of shared DNA.  There were new babies, babies on the way, and a few gleams in various eyes.

The tables were groaning with bowls and platters of potato and macaroni salad, sausage and meatballs to pile on sub rolls, stuffed mushrooms, at least three kinds of pasta, and zucchini and eggplant parmesan.

The cake was neither small nor dainty.  It was a large, showy, whipped cream drenched confection that came from the local Italian bakery.  Even if every single guest was pregnant and eating for themselves and a litter of babies, there would have been more than enough food. 

I was still in the dark, party-wise, and didn’t know what was coming, so mom and Petey took me to the Englishtown mall.  It was January, and I had been disappointed that there was no snow when we arrived.  But at the mall door, I saw what looked like one last lonely mound of snow.  So, I decided to jump into it.

After I leaped into it with both feet, I discovered it was a mound of ice cream—sticky ice cream that splashed my sweet little maternity jeans from the knees down. We went in anyway (we really entered the mall because preparations were going full tilt putting the party together).  And Petey had been tasked with keeping me away.

Downtown Emglishtown, I spent a lot of time here as a child, when my family visited New Jersey.

I’m really glad about this mall visit, because of two memorable encounters I had.

The first was at a Body Shop store.  When I walked in, the salesperson asked if I was expecting.  Normally, this is a very dangerous question to ask, as I have learned to my own shame and embarrassment.  Now I wouldn’t ask a woman if she is with child unless said child is actively exiting her body.

But, she was right and I was thrilled to tell any and everybody that I was growing a human.

She gave me a gift bag of products for the new baby and mother.  Think baby wash and skin cream. 

The second encounter was revelatory.

It was at lunch.  The food court had a real Jersey deli.  I wasn’t able to eat rare roast beef because, pregnent, so I had a Reuben.  It was delicious, but the stellar part of the meal, that thing I’ll never forget, was the pickle.

It was the greatest kosher dill I have ever tasted.  It was crispy and balanced and perfect.  I wish I’d bought a barrel of them to bring home.

But of course, after the baby shower, there was no room in the car for a barrel of pickles.  There was barely room for the three and a half of us.  And we also had a stowaway.

Next week, I’ll share part two; the road home.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Deferred, Now Fulfilled

It’s a photo of me. 

I was about three years old and standing on my bed.  How about the matching curtains and bedspread?  Seeing it now, it looks kinda creepy.

My bed is a trundle bed—so cool for sleepovers.  When I was in junior high my dad stripped off the white paint and refinished it.  It got passed down to The Kid.  We did get new mattresses for it, though.

Some other badass women I admire…

I keep that photo of little debbie on the corkboard on my desk for inspiration. She expected me to be a badass woman, and I try to live up to her expectations.

I was very lucky because when I was a child, my parents always told me that I could be whatever I wanted.

Look at that photo; she’s a pirate in a flannel nightgown.  Hands balled up, tucked, and ready.

That fierce little thing knew she could do anything.

She was the best bee and firefly catcher in the neighborhood, with a mayo jar and lid always close by.  There may have been a measure of sugar and spice, but she was not afraid to mix it up, little boys did not mess with this little girl.

This little girl taught herself to swim by watching a kid at the pool.  She never had any fear of water and often thought she might be part mermaid.

She had a freakish ability to catch.  Footballs thrown from any distance and any speed were plucked out of the air into her little hands. 

Every.single.one.              

This gift turned her into her big brother’s cash cow as he placed bets with kids who hadn’t seen this unexpected, preternatural ability firsthand.

The little girl had tons of plans for the future.  Why not, when her parents frequently told her there were no limits to her possibilities?

This little girl wanted to be a go-go dancer because she loved the boots and liked to dance.

This little girl wanted to be a performer and had plans to be in the Elvis Presley movies her mom loved so much and tour as a singer with the Partridge Family on their Mondrian-painted school bus.    

This little girl loved horses and puppies and wanted to become a veterinarian to make sick animals all better.

This little girl wanted to have a job driving huge construction vehicles because they looked like “giant Tonka trucks”.

As the years passed, the little girl grew up.  The fierceness remained, but the girl began to have small, quick feathers of experiences and lessons that came from all around.  Feathers that by themselves weren’t weighty but multiplied by tens of thousands they acquire the ability to choke the spirit.   

In high school, she learned that there were limits.  Girls couldn’t try out for football, no matter how amazing their reception skills were.  And some colleges were off-limits.

As an adult, the woman learned that many think women weren’t quite a fully formed human and needed to know their place.

Years passed; girls could play football, most colleges admitted women, and all occupations had trailblazing women working in them.

All except for one job.

And although over the years, women got tantalizingly close, there were just too many people who, unlike the woman’s parents, didn’t think that women belonged in that ultimate position, or adjacent to it.

The same year our little girl was born, another little girl was born.  And this little girl remained convinced that she really could do anything.

That little girl grew up to be the very first female Vice President of the United States.  And the other woman, this woman, is so proud and excited that we can tell girls that they can accomplish anything.

And really mean it.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Snuggle Up With A Good Book

Last week I made another visit to the Scrap Exchange, Durham’s Disneyland for crafters and thrift shop junkies.

I struck gold.

In their huge book section, I picked up a green hardcover book that had the telltale color, texture, size, and aroma of an old school library book.  It still had the little pocket pasted onto the inside of the back cover.  And, tucked into that pocket was the original card.

The book originally came from Tom’s River High School.  Coincidentally, Tom’s River is very close to where my mom grew up.  The first time it was checked out, it was due November 20, 1962.  The last time it was returned to the high school library was January 8, 1979.   

The book is Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace.  Her Betsy series was one of the written joys of my life.  I read and reread these books whenever I felt lonely; and for a kid in a military family, it was more often than you might think.

The books go from early readers to Betsy’s marriage and the beginnings of WWI.  Betsy, Tacy, and Tib were my closest friends, and B’s family was my second family, always there for a singalong and an onion sandwich at Sunday night lunch. 

To honor the books that I loved so much, I thought that I’d tell you about my all-time favorite books; the ones that I stayed up late reading and the ones, like Betsy, that I’d pull off the shelf when I needed its comfort.

Seventeenth Summer, by Maureen Daly.  Written in 1942, it’s the story of Angie Morrow, a sixteen-year-old girl living in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin.  I read it in the sixth grade, and it set me up for all kinds of disappointment when I was going through my own 17th summer.

Hey, not all of us can be willowy, self-possessed, blond cheerleaders.  I adore the book and whole mood and energy I get when I read it.

Chesapeake, by James Michener.  I read this in the 9th grade on a two-week class trip to Mexico.  It was my first Michener. I love all of his books, but this multi-generational novel about families on the Eastern shore of Virginia is my flannel pajamas, cozy Michener.

This is my own copy.

The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Son of the Circus, and Hotel New Hampshire, all by John Irving.  In one page of this author’s work, he can make you cry, laugh, and want to throw the book across the room in a fit of rage.

His work is easy to read, but hard to digest.  All of his characters seem like real people, full of quirks, nobility, and faults.  I have never read a book with odder, yet more believable characters. 

John Irving

John Irving will challenge you and your whole world.

Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson.  This is the nonfiction account of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and the serial killer, HH Holmes, who used it as his personal hunting ground.  Larson writes history that reads like fiction.  I read everything he writes, and not only because reading nonfiction makes me feel smart.

During this apocalypse that is our lives, I’ve been reading lots of thrillers; it makes me appreciate that at least I’m not being stalked by a crazed killer, and I love a good twist.  Recently I read, Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris.

It’s astonishing.

So, if I may suggest, Gentle Reader, put down the remote and pick up a book.  You can take a trip without a mask that will change you forever.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Trippin’ With The Kid

Gentle Reader, my child is a human pratfall whose very existence is chock full of frequent, unintentional slapstick.  Every day is a new, embarrassing installment of “looking back, years from now, this’ll be hilarious”.

It’s like I gave birth to both Lucy and Ethel.

And it’s never more on display than when The Kid is on a road trip.

In college, our little scholar snagged an internship at the Ritz-Carlton at Half Moon Bay, California, about thirty miles south of San Francisco.  The child decided to drive.

Across the country. 

Alone.

So, in the days it took to make the trip, I barely moved away from the phone (still only have a landline).

And, one day, THAT phone call came.

The car had blown a tire, in the middle of Texas, in a desert, miles from anything or anybody.  The force of it had also cracked a rear fender.  Luckily, The Kid had the presence of mind to call AAA for assistance before calling home.

My heart broke for The Kid.  And at the sound of my voice, my child, all alone with a damaged car, broke down.  I promised I would stay on the phone until help arrived.  We were only on the phone for a few minutes until the call ended abruptly.

It seems the spot where the poor thing was standing happened to be a fire ant hill.

Eventually, tire was replaced, duct tape was procured for fender, ants were washed off, cortisone applied, and road trip resumed.

Later in the trip, a bungee cord replaced the failing tape.

And until the day the car was sold, the fender was held together with an industrial-strength bungee cord.   

We decided it was time to pony up for a GPS when late one night on another trip, The Kid got so totally turned around in West Virginia that a mountain tunnel was traversed five times in one very confused hour.

After the last trip through, my little Marco Polo got directions—from the very serious Homeland Security agent that stopped the car.

Red flags had been raised when cameras picked up the multiple tunnel trips in the middle of the night.  Travel was resumed after The Kid promised to never use the tunnel again.

Then there was that time when the recent college graduate decided to travel to Ireland—in January.  Why you ask, Gentle Reader would any human travel to Ireland in the chill of January?

Because plane tickets to the Emerald Isle in January are about fourteen dollars apiece; because nobody, even Hibernophiles and native Irishmen want to be there then.

The Ireland portion of the trip went well.  But to get the slashed airfare, one had to fly out of Boston.  So, The Kid had to make the drive home, from Boston, In January. 

Petey was very ill in Duke hospital at the time, each day a new life or death struggle.  And fittingly, a nor’easter was approaching the northern US Atlantic coast bringing feet of snow in its wake. 

So yeah, I was in a very Zen state of mind.

The Kid’s plane touched down with the storm bearing down on Boston.  My child jumped in the car and headed South.

With a storm in the rearview.

Literally, on the drive home it was like an Indiana Jones movie where a lava flow is following close behind our hero.  Only instead of lava, it was a wall of snow chasing my child down I-95.  The Kid pulled in the driveway, along with a snowstorm that dumped a foot of snow on the Triangle.  

The storm had made the trip hanging off that darn bungee cord.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.       

My Massive Motherhood Fails

First, a few things.

I was in labor for 39 ½ hours.

The Kid graduated from a private college without student loans.

And, our child is a kind, compassionate, creative, productive member of society.

I tell you these things, Gentle Reader, not to brag, but so that you may look kindly upon me when I reveal to you what a hash I’ve made of mothering, time and again.

When The Kid was in elementary school, the Matthews Family Band made a day trip to Wrightsville Beach.  At one point, we decided it was time for something cold and refreshing.

Petey and I got sodas, and The Kid chose a snow cone.

That snow cone.

That damned snow cone.

Snow cones have never appealed to me, so I wasn’t familiar with their mechanics and practices.  Which partly, possibly, explains what happened next.

When I saw that it was melting and pooling in the bottom of the paper cone, I took it and ripped a hole in it so the fluid gathered at the bottom would dribble out.

The look on that child’s face would break a heart of stone.  Petey looked shocked and appalled, as well.

The Kid wailed, “Why did you do that?  You ruined it!”

It was at this point that I realized I had made a huge frozen faux pas.

It’s been twenty years, but Petey and The Kid love to talk about it to watch me squirm.  The episode is known as, “The Snow Cone.”

A couple of years earlier, The Kid had a cold with an earache.  My mother, who has multiple gold medals in the worrywart Olympics, kept urging me to take the patient to the doctor.  The Kid didn’t seem to be getting worse, wasn’t running a fever, so I demurred.

Turns out, it was such a bad infection, they at first thought it was flesh-eating bacteria that was working its way toward the brain. 

After a night in the hospital, the docs determined it was only a particularly nasty middle ear infection.  The earache lasted for months.

The last still stings the worst.

The Kid was driving down from college in Vermont for winter break.  We expected the arrival early afternoon.  I’d made plans for us to go out to lunch and do some Christmas shopping.

You should also know, I’m a light sleeper and Petey snores like a malfunctioning freight train, so I sleep with earplugs.

That morning, I was snug in my bed, and half asleep, I heard the dog bark downstairs.  I groggily figured Petey had come in from work, gone into the bathroom, and the dog was trying to hurry him along. 

I rolled over and went back to sleep.

It wasn’t Petey.

Petey woke me later.

“The Kid’s downstairs.”

I assumed he was joking, but our little scholar was home early, to surprise us, but without a house key.  The Kid had actually been home for a couple of hours.  So long, in fact, a trip to the local gas station had been necessary for coffee and the loo. 

My child had been trying and trying to get into the house and I’d slept through it.

As soon as I came downstairs, we went and had multiple keys made.

To this day, just thinking about it makes me feel like the absolute worst mother that ever mothered.

But again, The Kid is a marvelous human who only brings up these horrible, cringe-worthy, guilt-inducing episodes on the occasion of major screw-ups, the desire to tease, or a big favor is being sought.

But I have a trump card.  I just mumble, “Thirty-nine and a half hours.”

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Resolutionist History

Janus is the Roman god of beginnings, endings, doorways, and transitions.  He is also the god of duality, and as such he’s pictured as having two faces, so that he can look forward and backward at the same time.  January is named for him.

Rome is also where we get the custom of making New Year’s Resolutions.  This year around 50% of Americans will make their own vows of self-improvement.

Only 10% will keep them.

I’ve done a deep dive into history and discovered some of the resolutions that have been made throughout the ages.

Gaius Julius Caesar:

December 31, 45 BC-Life is great as dictator.  I really need to get around to meeting with Brutus, Casca, and his brother; they seem especially disgruntled.  But I’m so busy, let me check my schedule…Okay, morning of March 16th, I’ll have ‘em over for Portia’s famous hot cakes and we’ll get everything ironed out.

Catherine of Aragon:

December 31, 1525-I think maybe I’ll fire that new lady-in-waiting, Boleyn.  She’s snooty, she leaves a scandalous amount of her hair uncovered, and I don’t like the way Henry looks at her.

William Shakespeare:

December 31, 1584-I’ve got a good life here in Stratford.  I’ve land, a rich wife, and three kids.

So, I’m leaving it all.  I’m moving to London to act and write, even though my fellow Englishmen think theatre folk live in the cellar of the privy of polite society.

I might even write a couple of poems, too.

Marie Antoinette:

December 31, 1777-I’m going to have my hairdresser create a coiffure with a basket of kittens in it.  We’re going to make an alliance with those charming revolutionaries in the America’s so they may break free from the chains of the British.

And, I’m going gluten-free.  No bread, no cake, I’m not even going to talk about it anymore!

Abraham Lincoln:

December 31, 1864-I need a new look; I’m losing the beard and’ll rock a soul patch.  This whole Civil War thing has completely worn me out.  In 1865, I am not going out after work.  From now on, if Mary and I want to see a show, we’re just gonna stay in, Netflix and chill.

Lizzie Borden:

December 31, 1891-My stepmother is a butthead!  Nothing I do is ever right. I hate her…and my dad is just as bad!  He lets her be mean to me and says nothing.

This year, I have made up my mind.  I am moving out!  I’m getting my own place where I can live in peace and quiet.  I won’t bother anybody, and nobody’ll bother me.

Coco Chanel:

December 31, 1909-As much as I love music, I’ll never make a music hall star.  I can’t sing. 

I’m giving up show business and I’m going to a designer.  I’m going to open a boutique and transform fashion forever.

…I think I’ll start with some perfume, and maybe a little black dress.

 As you can see, even fabulous historical figures didn’t hit the bullseye with every resolution they resolved. 

I have resolved to burp the entire alphabet in one burp for double digits of new years.

And failed.

But, each year I give it another try.  And one of these years, I’ll do it.  And you’ll hear about it, too.  I’m calling a press conference.

My point is to do it and succeed, do it and fail, or think about it and then don’t even mess around with it.

My resolution, which I’ve been working on for about six months now, is to accept and nurture the gift that is my authentic self. 

So, Gentle Reader, in 2021, you do you.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

Ring In The Holidays

I honestly thought it was a promise ring.  It wasn’t my fault though, the man gave me absolutely no direction.

I’d only known Petey three years, but I already knew he was the hedgiest of bet hedgers.  He avoids straight answers and declarative statements the way other people avoid bathing suit shopping and taking the last doughnut at work.

It was Christmastime, and we’d been dating almost a year.  We enjoyed each other’s company, understood each other, and were absolutely okay with that knowledge.

We hung out together almost always when we weren’t at work or school.  We ate a lot of Pizza Inn, Sonic, and walked around the tiny mall often.

There was a Belk’s on one end, a Roses on the other end, and twelve or fifteen smaller shops, including a Jewel Box.  As we glanced in the window and I saw a diamond ring, and said, “Buy me that!” It was a joke, like saying buy me a sparkly pink pony, or asking for a ride to work on the space shuttle.  We kept walking, and never mentioned it again.

These are actual 80s ski togs. You could be buried 100 feet in an avalanche and they’d still see you…

We’d begun thinking that for Christmas, we might go up to the mountains for some skiing. I’d bought him a ski parka for Christmas and had already given it to him.  As we were leaving my folks, he asked if I wanted mine. 

The three-year-old inside me was screaming and jumping up and down all over the place.  I calmly answered, “Sure if you want to give it to me now.”

And there, in my mom’s garage he put his hand in the pocket of his new jacket, pulled out a ring box and handed it to me—without opening it.  But his grin was huge and the sparkle in his eye could have lit the whole place.

I opened it.

It was that ring from the jewelry store at the mall. I was as flabbergasted as a possum presented with a spork.  Not only could I not speak, I also had no idea what the ring was for.  I’d had no inkling that marrying me had even entered his thoughts.

I couldn’t make my mind believe that it was an engagement ring, so without the power of speech to ask, and with nothing forthcoming from Petey, all I could come up with was a promise ring.

For the young and/or uninitiated, a promise ring represents the intention to become engaged sometime in the future of the future.  It was normally a tiny diamond chip surrounded by a collar of sparkly metal to fool the eye.

The ring didn’t fit, so we headed to the mall for it to be sized.

At the mall, we ran into a girl from school who worked at Belk Tyler’s.  I showed her the ring.  She was the one to finally ask the half carat solitaire, four-pronged question.

“What’s it for?”

Good question, Mary!  I looked at Petey.

His infuriating, enigmatic, response? “It’s for whatever she wants it to be for.”  Honestly, it was like I was going steady with the Oracle at Delphi!

I finally lost my patience.  We left Belk’s and walked over to the fountain in the center of the mall.  I sat down and said, “Look, I have a few ideas, but I want you to tell me what this ring is for right now!”

Men!

Still standing, Petey held the ring out to me, and said, “Debbie Ross, will you marry me?”

And we lived happily (mostly) ever after.

Thanks for your time, and from silent Petey, The Kid, and me, have the very happiest of holidays and an uninteresting but joyful 2021.

Contact me at d@bullcity.mom.

The First and Last Christmas

As soon as the geneticist introduced herself, I started to cry.

It was early December, and I was four months pregnant with The Kid.  It was our last childless Christmas, yet it really wasn’t; our new child was there, readying for a late spring debut.

We’d gone in for a routine ultrasound.  This was the second or third time, so Petey and I knew the drill.  I’d lay down on an exam table, the technician would cover my belly with goo and run a wand around it. 

But this time, the vibe was kind of off.  The tech was a bit quiet and didn’t chat about names, nurseries, and unexpected cravings like usual.

And, instead of saying goodbye and leaving while I cleaned up, she stayed, then took us from the sonogram lab to a consulting room when we were ready.

We knew something was up.  Petey was quiet, but I jabbered non-stop, wondering aloud if we were having twins, triplets, or even a basketball team.

When faced with scary situations, it’s what I do.  I become so ridiculously optimistic that it doesn’t verge on magical thinking, it is full-on abracadabra land.

Then the geneticist arrived. 

So, we knew it wasn’t good, and was potentially very bad.  I was nearing the end of my twenties—my eggs weren’t farm fresh.  I assumed whatever crisis we were facing was my fault.

We were informed that the images were troubling because the fetus had a short neck and a tail.  Every embryo has a bit of a vestigial tail, but it should disappear around eight weeks gestation.

We were fifteen weeks in.

She gently explained that this combination could signal Downs Syndrome.  The only way to know for sure was an amniocentesis, which came with its own risks.  It was our choice, but there was no question for me; I would not survive the next six months unless I knew, one way or the other.  If it was Downs, I needed time to mourn our expectations so that we could greet our baby with joy.

We had the procedure the same day and were told the results would take weeks, well beyond Christmas.

All the excitement and pleasure of being pregnant during the holidays instantly drained away.  I was furious at all the happy people I saw.  Didn’t they realize and appreciate what we were going through?  Couldn’t they sense our hollow hearts?

Petey had bought us a gorgeous Christmas tree for this unique holiday.  It remained on the back porch, undecorated, a cruel reminder of the jubilant anticipation which we had before that sonogram.

Petey had to work overnight Christmas Eve, so at his urging, I went to Elizabeth City.  I wanted to bury my face in my mom’s lap and cry until I was empty.

I’d forgotten the four-hour drive to get there, with nothing to keep me company except my terror and sadness.

Back home Christmas night, Petey and I strove to wring every measure of holiday happiness from our situation.  

We held close the fact that we were together and would face what came with love and courage.

Petey’s birthday is January 3rd, and that year he got the best gift ever when we found out everything was okay.  The Kid just had a short neck (like Mom & Dad), and the tail should reabsorb before birth (it did).Later in January, family threw us a baby shower in New Jersey, so we took a road trip.  The shower was terrific, and we loved our presents—all except for our parting gift; Norovirus.

But that’s a whole other story…

Thanks for your time.

Contact debbie at d@bullcity.mom.

Pastry Goddess Part 1

This week my Chatham News & Record column is a conversation with Julie Jengali, a whiz of a pastry chef and finalist on Food Network’s Chopped Sweets. Next week she returns with a holiday dessert recipe and tips to dress up your own holiday confections.

Thanks for your time.