Baby Steps

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My daughter and I have a love-hate relationship. She loves to interrogate me at length about my past, her favorite subjects being my most embarrassing moments and the opposite sex. She lectures me on being an overprotective parent and tests how high she can raise my anxiety before I detonate.  She feels I should be honest and thrilled to share my most private thoughts with a 16 year-old who promises not to utter a word of what I confess on Twitter, Instagram or to her best friend, Madeline. She, on the other hand, hates reciprocating. If I dare ask about her day at school, she stares at me vacantly, retreats to her room with a bag of Goldfish and slams the door.

When she announced one day after school that she had big news, my first reaction was shock that she was initiating a conversation with me. At last, I thought! An A in Algebra, a perfect score on the dreaded SAT, perhaps she was being inducted into the National Honor Society.

“Yeah, so I’m having a baby,” she muttered as she walked by me, checking her text messages. “Do we have any food in this house?”

“What?” I shrieked, glaring at her tummy. “How did this happen?”

“I don’t know why you’re freaking out,” she said. “It’s my life that’s totally screwed.” She grabbed a bag of Oreos from the pantry and headed towards her room.

Panic overcame me as I raced after her. “What are we going to do?” I cried to the locked door. My daughter could not even remember to charge her cell phone, much less take care of a baby.

“Please open the door!” I yelled, trying to make myself heard over Lana Del Rey. “We need to talk.”

She shoved a piece of paper under the door.

“Child Development Assignment,” I read with teary eyes. “Students will learn proper parenting skills by adopting a computerized baby for a three day period. Student will learn the proper care of newborns and infants, including their physical, mental, emotional and social development.”

I wiped my nose on my sleeve and whispered a prayer of thanks.

She brought home her 10- pound bundle of toy the next weekend. “Isn’t she cute, Mom?” she gushed. “I named her Evi. She has her own car seat, diaper bag and milk bottle.” She smiled down at the infant, proud as any new mother and rocked her in her arms. “Want to hold her?”

“Uhm, sure,” I answered and she gingerly placed my new granddaughter in my arms.   I peeked at the plastic face. “What a…doll!”

“Can you hold her while I go to the bathroom? Just be careful with her!” she warned eyeing me suspiciously.   “Support her head. She’s very delicate.”

I forced myself not to roll my eyes at her instructions. Babies are actually stronger than we think. I recalled the time my older daughter fell off her changing table and hit her head on the corner of the bedroom wall, leaving an egg shaped hole in the sheetrock. She was unharmed, never brought an illegitimate baby home, computerized or not, ended up graduating high school with honors, and was currently a freshman in college.

Evi whimpered and I reflexively began to jiggle her in my arms. I unwrapped the pink blanket and peered into the tiny face. A shiver ran through me as I was met with a vacant stare. The whimper turned into a wail. I was clearly having a difficult time bonding with the new addition to our family.

I examined the screaming infant. She was hairless with perfect toes, clearly taking after the other side of the family, and odorless. I smiled as I recalled my sweet babies born with full Elvis sets of hair and adult sized eyebrows, smelling faintly of pee-pee perfume. I bet this baby made perfect poop pellets. No explosive diarrhea for little Evi.

“Mom! Do something!” my daughter screamed from the bathroom, shocking me back into the present. “If she cries too long I get an F!”

“Me do something? You do something!” I cried in frustration as my daughter burst from the bathroom holding her iPhone. “And you better hope there’s an app on that phone for how to be a good mother!”

She snatched the baby from me juggling her phone and the milk bottle. It occurred to me that as accepting as society was becoming, the only thing deterring a teen today from an unwanted pregnancy was the inconvenience of holding a baby and texting at the same time. When I was younger, there was no practicing motherhood with maybe babies. Sheer terror discouraged me from coming home pregnant, never mind the fact that I had never had a boyfriend. In fact, death from parental wrath would have been my first choice of punishment. It was more merciful than banishment to a remote village in Greece where I would be forced to lie that I was a widow, wear black for the rest of my life and raise my baby in shame.

My daughter held the bottle to Evi’s lips and instantly the crying was replaced with small sucking sounds of contentment. “See, she just needed a bottle,” she explained, suddenly an expert on motherhood. “It’s easy. Next I’ll burp her.”

See how easy it is doing that on two hours of sleep wearing cabbage leaves in your bra, I thought, as I retreated to my room. You wouldn’t be feeling so perky if little Evi had been pulled out of your body with an angry pair of forceps after 12 hours of labor. See how many Instagram selfies you shoot when your stomach takes on the consistency of an underinflated waterbed.

That night her friend Madeline came over to see her precious “niece”. The girls took great pains to feed and bathe Evi and change her perfect little diapers. They took her to the park and for ice cream and posed her for a thousand photos in each of her outfits. Auntie Madeline even offered to sleep over to help with the nightly feedings. The three fell asleep watching movies, one big happy family. It was all fun and games until 3 AM when the girls were exhausted and baby Evi wanted to play. I put a pillow over my ears to block out the crying, which by now was not only coming from the baby, and willed myself to go to sleep.

The next morning my daughter stumbled down the stairs wearing saggy sweatpants and a baggy, wrinkled t-shirt, her hair frizzed into a massive mane around her face. She squinted at me from behind a pair of crooked glasses, dark circles rimming crescents under her eyes. She had aged 10 years overnight. She looked manic, menopausal, murderous. She looked… like me. I could hear Madeline snoring from the couch upstairs.

“Rough night?” I asked.

“I literally hate my life,” my daughter moaned. “Babies suck.” She rested her head on my shoulder. “I did everything for her, fed her, burped her, changed her diaper but she just kept crying. I can’t go anywhere this weekend. I don’t get why anyone would even want a baby. What do you get in return?”

I pulled her to me and rocked her gently in my arms. “Poor baby,” I crooned. “It gets better.”

We did not dare go to church that Sunday. Neither of us wanted the whole congregation to think one of us had just given birth. I could imagine the scandalous whispering in the pew. “I noticed the mom had packed on a few pounds, but I just thought it was middle age spread… Isn’t that the girl who’s always on her phone? She seemed like such a nice girl. It must be the mother’s fault…”

Instead we stayed in and watched old home movies, laughing until we cried.  My daughter made fun of my perm and shoulder pads, while I grew melancholy watching her take her first steps across the TV screen and stumble right into my arms.  We took turns holding Evi one last time.

“Motherhood sure is tough,” my daughter decided as the movie ended and she looked down at the peaceful baby in her arms, “but I almost hate to see her go.”

The shrill ring of her phone broke the mood and I watched her face light up as she recognized her big sister’s voice.

She glanced at me. “Yes, she’s sitting down. Why?”

I waited expectantly through the pregnant pause that followed.

“You have big news?” she asked.   “What is it?”

Adrenaline took over and I bolted from the room.

No news is good news. The life I was born to lead in a secluded Greek village high up in the mountains was long overdue. I would catch the first flight out. I could play a convincing role of a grieving mother.

And black, after all, is so slimming.

baby

 

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Splits Happen

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Friday night arrives and I sit with the others in the sacred section of bleachers beside the band and directly in front of the 50- yard line.  We are a formidable bunch with our matching royal blue t-shirts and dark sunglasses, cameras posed for that perfect action shot, camcorders whirring in anticipation.  The girls march past us, buns bobbing, and I search hopefully for my daughter, then exhale when I spot her once again sitting alone in the stands, looking down at her jazz shoes that have yet to dance on the field.  Another failed try-out and once again she would not be performing at half-time.

I mutter under my breath, “What a bunch of bull…”

“Splits!” cries the booster president beside me as she clicks furiously at her camera.  “This is my favorite part!  Aren’t they amazing?”

I nod in agreement.  I had not missed one performance.  The Pacesetters are award winning, their toes practically grazing their ears as they high kick in sync to “Living on a Prayer”, then leap and land in a line of perfect splits.

Splits happen, it seems, just not to my daughter.   And that is how I find myself after years of reminding her to sit like a lady, cross her ankles, keep her legs together, encouraging her to do just the opposite.

I try reasoning with her the next day.  “It’s all in your head.  If you set your mind to it, you can do anything,” I lie, knowing full well if there were a hundred dollar bill in the parking lot, my hamstrings would shrivel into knots before letting me pick it up.

There is only one game left, I remind her and I have yet to capture one photo of my daughter on the field.  I suggest hot baths and stretches.  She rolls her eyes dramatically and taps out something on her phone.  Pilates or yoga will increase her flexibility, I counter, just to have her record me at an unflattering angle so she can send her friends video vines of my double chin.   I promise her fresh baked chocolate chip cookies if she will only practice, a bribe that never failed to produce when she was younger.  But now she is older with a smartphone and a mom she thinks is anything but.

“I can’t do it!  I’ll tear a ligament!” she cries and storms off into the kitchen.  “And I’ll make my own freaking cookies!”   She picks up the can of PAM for emphasis and sprays a cloud of cooking oil all over the pan and most of the floor.

“That’s it!  Give me your phone,” I order, grabbing it from her hand and placing it out of reach high on a shelf.

“I’m waiting for a call.  Give it back!” she roars, a demon in a pair of black practice hot shorts far smaller than any lingerie I wore on my honeymoon.

I take a deep breath and speak slowly, as if addressing a rabid dog.  “Practice your splits and you get the phone back.”

She stares me down, fury flashing across her face.  Planting her hands defiantly on her tiny hips, she slowly slides one foot in front of the other and with agonizing precision, proceeds to lower her body until she stops abruptly 12 inches from the floor.  Then a split personality possesses her and she begins to cry.

I feel instantly guilty at her unexpected show of weakness.  After all, the only thing I stretch these days is the truth.  “Look, that’s better,” I cheer.  “You’re almost there.  Just try to hold it one more minute.”

The shrill ring of her phone pierces her concentration and she jumps up.   We dash across the Pam coated kitchen tile, skidding into each other, leap for the phone and with a horrible tearing sound and a scream, land in a tangled mess on the floor.

“Mom, look!” she cries, waving her cell phone in the air like a pom -pom.  “I’m doing the splits!  I’m doing the splits!”  She rubs her legs in disbelief.  “But I definitely heard something tear.  I hope I’m ok.”

“That would be my pants,” I guess as I clutched my lower back and struggle to get up from the slippery floor.

Friday night arrives and I lie in my bed propped up with a pile of pillows, a heating pad set on high against my back.  My daughter stops by my room on her way out, hair sleeked back in a bun, wearing her blue and white game uniform and a broad smile.

“I’m really sorry you won’t be able to see me dance,” she says as she hands me a plate of freshly baked cookies.  “The doctor said if you would do your stretches, your back would get better.”  She pauses.  “You know the pain is all in your head.  You could get out of bed if you set your mind to it.”

I roll my eyes at her, wave her away and reach for the Advil on my nightstand.  My back is killing me.  And suddenly, I have a splitting headache.

Spin Cycle

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I survived my last birthday, and even learned to live with the pile of unwelcome gifts from Mother Nature, including roots that give Fifty Shades of Gray new meaning. Some of Her presents, after all, were as subtle as sweat in the middle of winter, and as tiny as the cluster of smile lines barely visible to the farsighted eye.  She even sent me a greeting card in the mail under the guise of an AARP membership, which fluttered to the bottom of the trash with the other junk mail.

She also blessed me with saddlebags full of cellulite and a healthy dose of absent-mindedness which I promptly forgot all about.  But surely this is one of the more glaring gifts of aging I thought: agreeing to do something that just months ago in my cautious youth I would have had the good sense to refuse.

“How’d you like to teach the spinning class tomorrow?” the manager of Bally fitness dared me on the way to Zumba last night.  “I just lost my instructor and I’ve seen you take the class,” he eyed me warily.  “Unless it would be too much for you…”

“Sure!” my 20-something mind answered, flattered.  “I’ve been taking the class for years,” I bragged, so much for being older and wiser.

“Are you crazy?” my 50-nothing body argued back.  “You weigh more than you ever did nine months pregnant and will have to wear spandex.  In a mirrored room!”

Somehow, the next day, armed with an iPod of 80’s hits and a sense of false bravado, I sucked in my stomach and entered the Spinning room, smiling confidently at the class already seated on the 14 spin cycles facing the mirrored wall.

“Where’s Veronica?” a blonde in a pumped up jog bra whined through bee stung lips, giving me the once over.  “Seriously!”

I plugged in my iPod and climbed onto my bike facing the class, trying to ignore the fact that my spandexed bottom was on display from every conceivable angle.  “I Will Survive” bellowed from the speakers and I began to pedal as if what was left of my life depended on it.  A bored young man glanced at his watch.  I turned up the volume and pedaled faster.  The blonde rolled her eyes.  It was then that I remembered another advantage of growing older: you just don’t care what people think anymore, unless they think you’re old.

“She’s old enough to be my mother,” the fit young man hissed, then smirked as he witnessed my confidence exhale like the air in a balloon.

“I’ll show you mother!” I muttered, and made it my personal goal to wipe that snarly smirk off the man’s face.  This was war, and it would not end until the blonde’s sweat was pooled in a puddle at her feet and her boyfriend begged for mercy.

Faster and faster I pedaled, cuing the class through standing climbs, jumps and switchbacks.  I was a vision in the mirror, a crazed woman with a halo of hair frizzing around my face, one lone gray hair standing defiantly like a diamond studded exclamation point at the top of my head.  My varicose vein pulsed to the beat of the music.

“Old enough to be your mother,” I mumbled under my breath.  “What a load of bull… “

“Sprint!” I demanded.  “Faster!”

It was then I noticed an older gentleman at the back of the class.  He met my gaze and smiled, fanning himself with his hand.  If I could have caught my breath at this point in the workout, I would have breathed a sigh of relief.  At last I had some positive feedback.  “Take a Chance on Me” by ABBA came on and to my surprise, he pointed to his chest, then gestured to me, clearly moved by the words.  I felt my face flush, and looked away.

It had been several years since my divorce, and I had devoted myself to my children, which gave me little time to meet new men, to date.  I glanced back at him.  He looked me in the eye from across the room and pantomimed his hand holding a drink, bringing it to his lips, suggestively.  I glanced away, embarrassed at the attention.  I was a professional.  It would be inappropriate for me to meet with a student out of class.  Still his desire was unmistakable.  I took the class through a grueling series of jumps, trying to clear my mind.

I had always pictured myself with someone closer to my age, but if I squinted, he almost resembled the Dos Equis man, the distinguished bearded model on all the beer commercials.  I don’t date men from the gym often, but when I do, it’s…

“Dose of your own medicine, that’s what you need,” I thought, looking at the fit young man and the blonde in the front row.  Good things come those who wait and I’ve waited a long time for this, for a second chance at life.  I might be old, but I’m not dead, and I’m not going to let this opportunity race by me.

I began the cool down, and looked back at my admirer.  He winked at me this time, tugged at his shirt collar, and raised his hand to his mouth in a drinking motion.  Then he hugged the handlebars of his bike as the last song came to an end, a man spent and satisfied, soon to be hungering for more.

“Yes!”  I cried, smiling triumphantly as I hopped off my bike.  I will meet you after class for a drink.  I will ride off into the sunset with you.  I will be yours forever, my knight in shining Under Armor.

I started for the door.

“That was a killer class!” announced the fit man, his mouth hanging open in surprise.  I stopped long enough to gloat as the blonde beside him swiped at the rivulets of black mascara crying down from beneath her Botoxed brow.  “That old dude’s barely moving.”

“They’re just jealous,” I thought as I hurried to the locker room, wanting to freshen up before happy hour with my new friend.

Fifteen minutes later, I floated out of the locker room in a cloud of Cavalli and waited expectantly for my date to show up.  I would never quit my job, I thought, even though he probably is a retired millionaire and will want to travel the world with me.  I will always remember my humble beginnings, my first class.  Deep in thought, I almost didn’t hear the wail of the ambulance outside.

“Where have you been?” my manager demanded, rushing up to me.

“I was just getting changed.  I had the best class!  Everyone loved me.  Well, some more than others, obviously.”  I glanced around for my date.  If he stood me up, he was a dead man.
“You’re fired!” my manager barked at me.  “Didn’t you see that poor old man in your class?  He collapsed!  This blonde told me he was trying to get your attention.  Didn’t you notice?  We had to call an ambulance!”

“That’s impossible!” my 20 -something mind argued.  “Things like this don’t happen.”  I clutched my mouth as the paramedics wheeled my ashen admirer out of the Spin room.  He winced when he saw me, and weakly pointed his middle finger at me, a last defiant gesture.

“The nerve of him!” my 50-nothing body protested.  “If he thinks I’m going to nurse him back to health, he’s got another thing coming.”

I turned my spandexed bottom to him and strode out of the gym.  Dating was like riding a bike.  All I had to do was hop back on and it would all come back to me.  And thankfully by tomorrow, my aging mind would let me forget my broken heart.