Home, sweet home

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McIrish with an axe at work.

This weekend, we went to a furniture/home furnishings store. Those places always make me both happy and sweaty. We didn’t need anything in particular, thank God, but we joked around, saying this is what we’d buy for the house on the water (we don’t own a house on the water, unless you count the big puddle that forms every time it rains).

 

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My great-grandfather immigrated from Hungary.

I wandered through the store, fondling statues of hedgehogs and pretty light fixtures, sitting in leather chairs and imagining my cat shredding it to bits. I’m not good at home décor, really. Most of the cool stuff in our house is something McIrish found or had before we got married. I don’t have a lot. I seize up when it comes to buying things. I love things in stores, but then I think, “Do I need that? Will I love it at home, or will it just sit there?”

 

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My kids!

The best parts of my decorating plan are the photos—the kids, of course, baby pictures to today. The shot of Princess smooching Dearest’s cheek in the flower garden. The day they smooshed chocolate cookie dough on their teeth to look toothless. The two of them in the snow, both in blue snowsuits, their cheeks pink with the cold, their famous eyelashes. There are photos of McIrish and me—us on the ferry to Ellis Island to see where our ancestors landed. A photo taken for our 20th anniversary, sitting on a rock wall he built.

My grandparents at their 50th anniversary surprise party.

My grandparents at their 50th anniversary surprise party.

There are photos of my parents, that gorgeous couple. My grandparents and great-grandparents, including one from 1937, the day my great-grandfather went to Washington DC and became a United States citizen. All my nieces and nephews. My sister on her wedding day. A different set of great-grandparents on their wedding day, standing stiffly, their expressions grim, though they would go on to have a long and happy marriage. McIrish in the line of duty, chopping a ventilation hole in the roof of a burning building.
Take away all the photos, and I think my house would still be cheerful and welcoming. But it would be only a house. The family is what makes it home.

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Cleaning Dearest’s Room

I offered to help clean Dearest Son’s room this weekend because, well, I can’t remember why. When he was little, I’d clean his room (and Princess’s too), then rearrange it and do a “reveal,” and their ickle hearts would soar. It was very gratifying back then.

But Dearest is 17 now, so I gave him a 24-hour warning, which he correctly interpreted as “get rid of everything you don’t want your sainted mother to see.” That would be stuff like decaying food, moldy socks, the mouse that was supposed to get better…

At any rate, I entered the room, which he deemed clean. Granted, I could write my name in dust, but it was kinda sorta not bad. Still, here are some of the things I found as I ordered, pushed, rearranged and lifted.

The book he wrote when he was seven.

All the notes I’ve written him when I’ve gone away for an overnight, saved in a coffee can.

$1.32 in change.

Four branches.

A melted glass bottle.

A TARDIS made of duct tape.

In other words, the usual.

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How Hard Can It Be?

 

van-Gogh-self-portraitLast year, it occurred to me that I don’t have any hobbies. I mean, I read. I watch movies and TV and baseball. I bake less, now that Princess is away and Dearest Son eats like an athlete, sadly. I like to, um…clean. I’m an excellent window-shopper.

So I decided to find something new. McIrish and I were walking past an art shop, and I announced, “I’m going to become a painter.” We went in; a young man asked if he could help us. “I’d like to buy some squishy paints,” I said, “and some canvases.”

“Oil? Acrylic?”

“I don’t care,” I said. “The squishy kind.”

“What kind of brushes would you like?”

“The kind that smear paint around.”

The lad trotted off, and McIrish heaved a martyred sigh. You see, he is quite an accomplished artist, among his many other talents. I find this irritating, that he has so many abilities and I have so few—baby whispering and bed-making notwithstanding.

“I’m going to become a famous painter,” I said to take him down a notch or two.

“It’s not that easy,” he said.

“Really? Well, we didn’t know I was going to be a successful writer, either, right? I’m probably going to make a fortune off this.”

“I could teach you some things if you want,” he said.

“No thanks! I don’t want you to crush my muse.”

We got home and put the art supplies away, and a few months later, I remembered them and began my hobby.

IMG_2873This first painting is—clearly—a lighthouse on a dark night and not a peeled mozzarella stick on a blue background. Note the stormy sea, the ominous sense of impending doom. At first, it was a picture of our cat, but that didn’t turn out so well, so I smeared more paint around, and now it’s doom. Which I’m sure totally came through.

IMG_2872This is a picture of a lovely field (I know, I didn’t have to tell you that, you already understand my artistic voice). I’m sure you can appreciate the gentleness, the controlled naturalism (I just lifted that phrase off the Internet, FYI). In fact, I was cleaning off my brush and accidentally made a smear of red, and voila! Art just happened.

IMG_2875Ah, the sturm und drang of the human soul! Right? It was supposed to be a sunset, but those are harder than they look. So instead, this represents life, death, blood, birth, triumph and uh…other things.

 

IMG_2874This green one is because I was running out of other colors. I’m going to call it “Green Because There Were No Other Colors” and see if I can sell it to MOMA.

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing my new hobby, gang. Let me know if you want to buy one.

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My hero

I fell down at the movie theater last night.

Once again, walking proved to be too challenging for this bi-ped. Mercifully, I was not carrying popcorn at the time.

moviesHey. Don’t laugh. It was dark, the theater had those recliner seats, and there wasn’t a lot of room to get past the folks with their legs sticking out. I tried, and then all of a sudden, I went down in one of those endless, clumsy falls, my brain saying, “Oh, Higgins, you tripped! Whoa, you’re still falling! Oh, crap, the bad ankle! Wow, we’re still going down! Ouch, your poor leg! That’s gonna leave a mark, isn’t it? Hang on, don’t get up, your wrist is stuck, don’t pull it out just yet, you might break it, dummy.”

These days can't be far away...

These days can’t be far away…

At the same time, I was saying out loud, “I’m fine, I’m okay, it’s fine, sorry!” because I’m a nice Catholic girl who thinks everything is her fault. God forbid I said, “Maybe next time you could inconvenience yourself just a teeny bit and pull up your feet…”or “Sorry if I interrupted the previews, by all means, stay put, it’s not like a woman is lying awkwardly at your feet, stuck.”

HOWEVER…there was a person who did care. Dearest Son, who bolted out of his seat and came to my rescue. He helped me up, helped me limp to my chair, asked if I needed ice, took off my boot because my ankle was swelling. He folded up my coat and put it under my knee. He held my hand, even, patted my knee and asked repeatedly if I was okay.

how-that-infamous-bear-attack-scene-in-the-revenant-was-made-and-other-secrets-of-the-movie-revealedI was. I am. The bruising will be ugly later this week. I won’t be able to go to the gym tomorrow, and I’m gimping around today. However, we were watching The Revenant, so it seemed kind of minor, my bumps and bruises. After all, I wasn’t mauled by a grizzly bear, and I wasn’t in the middle of the Rocky Mountains in the middle of winter, eating grass to survive. Even so, my leg hurt the entire time.

DSCN9519But I had my son with me. And he was attentive and sweet and manly and thoughtful, and heck, I found that I didn’t mind at all. After the movie, he put his arm around me and walked me to the car, and he didn’t even mind when I kissed him on the cheek and told him what a good son he was.

And is. Thank you, honey. You’re the best.

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Better New Year’s Resolutions

You ever notice how those new year resolutions always seem on the punitive side? Lose weight, exercise more, stop biting your nails, call your mother more often (sorry, Mom. I love calling you, I promise!).

I’d like to make some resolutions that are a little more realistic, for one, and a little more generous, for two. And so, I give you my resolutions for 2016!

8faa5c033e116aa56c1f8258255c4f6cWear a bra as infrequently as possible. One of the best feelings in life is taking off our bras, am I right? So let’s not wear them so much in the first place! Nothing wrong with a camisole. And the bras we do wear, let’s make sure they’re wicked comfy. The girls deserve it.

Play with puppies more often. There’s a pet store not too far from us that lets you go in and love up the dogs. This should be required therapy for all of us. What makes life better than a puppy, I ask you? Not a thing.

978062077_51efdf4499_bEat dessert and really enjoy it. Every person I know who doesn’t eat dessert, ever, is a total pain in the butt. I’m not telling you to binge eat a Pepperidge Farm coconut cake in one sitting. But go ahead and have a healthy piece and enjoy it. Plus, I’ve tried to eat one cake in a single sitting, and it didn’t work out too well. The sugar jitters took days to fade.

25530076Block out bigger chunks of time to read. It’s good for the soul. We all know that. Turn off the non-reading devices, let the house be quiet, and just read. There’s really nothing better, is there?

Happy New Year, gang! All the best to you and your families with lots of love from me and mine.

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Working for the rich folks

iStock_000008881368_SmallWhen I was in my early twenties, I had a lovely job at a small museum. I did a variety of things from managing the volunteer corps, write copy for the exhibits, handle public relations, set up chairs for special events. I did just about everything except manage the books and curate the shows. I loved my job and my boss and met many people I’m still in touch with, all these years later. The one thing I didn’t love about the job was the poverty-level wages I was paid. Though the job looked great on my resume and was really a lot of fun, I was barely paying my bills.

The museum was in a very posh little town in Connecticut. It’s exactly what you’re picturing when I say the words posh little town in Connecticut. Historic houses, charming shops, expensive restaurants, Volvos and Mercedes everywhere. Sailboats and yacht clubs and a lot of fundraising galas.

I was raised in a middle class family, but both sets of my grandparents struggled a bit. My mom has eight brothers and sisters; though they never lacked for food or clothes, there wasn’t a lot of excess. My father’s mother was a single mom for years before she married my step-grandfather, and she worked fulltime, which was unusual in those days. So while my own childhood was lovely, we cleaned our own house, cooked our own food, raked our own leaves. We were normal, in other words.

iStock_000005629154_SmallBut Essex was different. Money oozed from people’s pores, it seemed. I worked with a lot of extremely wealthy people, and some were very normal, too. In fact, the wealthiest person I ever met is as down-to-earth as could be. But more than that type were the people who were a bit gross about their money. The “jokes” about how poor Vicky had to have 1000-count sheets, and the 600 count that Bill had bought at Bloomingdales were just not good enough for her. The sad fact that a family had three kids in college and was throwing a wedding with 500 guests, so they could only afford a month in Nantucket that summer.

iStock_000019153014_SmallIt was the kind of moneyed affect that you could only have if you were born into it, you know what I mean? A few times, I was referred to as “the help.” Some people were surprised I’d gone to college, and a fairly prestigious college at that. Once in a while, I’d be invited for a drink or lunch at the rich folks’ homes, because I was well liked in our little museum community. But I just couldn’t imagine living in those houses, most of which had a plaque on the door proclaiming the historical significance. One place had a carriage house and a live-in housekeeper. Now that, I could picture—being the housekeeper. I’ve always liked to clean things.

On my lunch hour, I’d walk through the town, ogling the houses (as I still do; it’s a hobby of mine). I’d wonder how on earth people could afford to live in such places. I wondered what my own home would be like someday.

Blond woman walking by the lakeJessica Dunn, the heroine of ANYTHING FOR YOU, grew up as trailer park trash in a town where there’s plenty of money…for some people. Her dream in life is to own her own home in the Village, the tidy, sweet part of town near the lake, just off the town green. Not rent, not live with a boyfriend or husband…be the homeowner. Have a porch with hanging baskets of flowers. A yard where she could plant flowers and rake her own leaves.

My friend has a saying: Happy is the person who knows she has enough. Jess, who grew up so poor, is always worried the other shoe is about to drop. Throughout the course of the book, she’ll learn how much she really does have, and it has nothing to do with finances. It never does, does it? So many of those wealthy people I knew back then were utterly miserable. You just never know.

I hope you’ll love ANYTHING FOR YOU. Let me know, okay? Happy, happy New Year!

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All I wanted for Christmas

12_6_nicholasMy son was a preemie, born 10 weeks early by emergency C-section in the wee hours of the morning. He weighed one pound, ten ounces and, stretched out, was twelve and a half inches long. His skin was bright red, his legs the thickness of my index finger. We could hold him in the palm of our hands. He was born on December 6—the feast of St. Nicholas, who is, of course, the patron saint of children.

Newborn and handWhen I got to hold him after eight days, it was tricky. He was still on a nasogastric tube at that point, still had an IV, monitors for oxygen saturation and heart rate. Just taking him out of the incubator was something of balancing act; the natural act of a mother reaching for her baby complicated by the science that was keeping him alive. Every day, I’d check his chart, see if he got any bigger; even a gain of a few grams was a triumph. His hands were heartbreakingly small.

Meanwhile, we had another child, our nearly three-year-old daughter, at home. We tried to make her life as normal as could be. I baked Christmas cookies, because I didn’t want her to miss that tradition (and because martyrdom runs in my family). We got a tree. McIrish and I went to a department store to do all our shopping in one fell swoop; when I became too tired, he pushed me on the cart, and we threw in  items willy-nilly. A mermaid doll. A clock. Candyland. Preemie-sized outfits that were two times too large for our tiny baby.

I couldn’t sleep on Christmas Eve; moved to the couch around 3 a.m. and called the hospital. Mary Ann, the night nurse, told me she had tucked our son into her sweater and was cuddling him right now, and she held the phone to his head so he could hear my voice. I love you, I told him. We all miss you. Next year, you’ll be home with us.

In the morning, our daughter opened her gifts, and her brother’s, too. She got a dollhouse from Santa; he got an Elmo doll. She had picked out an Oscar the Grouch small enough to fit in his incubator. My brother gave him a baseball mitt.

I remember sobbing on the phone to my sister, who was celebrating her own baby’s first Christmas. The fact that my son was so small and so fragile, was almost unbearable. “Next year will be better,” she said, and I prayed she would be right. I prayed that we wouldn’t be remembering the tiny baby who didn’t make it.

When we went to see him later that day, the nurse informed us that the hospital had had a visitor during the night. Santa had left gifts for all the babies in the neonatal unit. A blanket—knit by Mrs. Claus, the nurse said; a piglet beanie baby, and a teddy bear that would remain bigger than our son for three years. She also handed us a Polaroid photo: Santa Claus, standing by our son’s incubator.

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Dearest Son, now 17, holding a cousin

Our boy is fine now, as you may know. He is completely normal in every way, except in the ways in which he is exceptional. He is extraordinarily kind, charming, wicked funny and alternately extremely lazy or very hard-working. He is also very handsome, with smiling brown eyes and thick, curly dark hair. He teases his sister, is loved by small children and animals, riles up our pets and is quite a slob. We love him with all our hearts, of course.

Thank you, Saint Nick, for watching over our little guy. And thank you, angels at Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Neonatal Unit. You’ll never be forgotten.

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That special holiday hell

pTRU1-15624186enh-z6As you may know from past posts, I’m not a great giver of gifts, especially at Christmas. There was that dog toy shaped like a remote control. I didn’t know it was a dog toy until Dearest Son bit it and it squeaked. One year, when she was about four, the Princess asked for “a brown-skinned moving dolly that’s not a robot and doesn’t have batteries.” She was rightfully afraid of those dolls that talk and walk like li’l Frankensteins, but she nevertheless wanted it to move. She told this to Mall Santa, who cut me a look. “I’ll get right on that,” he told her. Good luck, he mouthed to me. Let’s just say that between Santa and me, it took us about 4,793 hours to find Lily, who still resides in Princess’s room. In fact, let’s consider that Princess’s present for all future Christmases, birthdays and graduations forevermore.

hero_cat_teeI tend to panic and wander while Christmas shopping. I dislike shopping in malls with crowds, but inevitably, because I procrastinate with the best of them, I find myself hypeventilating in line at Hot Topic or Urban Outfitters, buying Dearest his 14th ironic cat t-shirt. I can spend six hours at the mall and end up with one cat t-shirt and one bizarre cooking tool from Williams Sonoma that I hope someone—anyone—will want.

McIrish is incredibly hard to buy for. He tends to shop for himself, which clearly puts him on the Naughty list (and not in the fun way). I chalk this up to his childhood, which was spent in a Dickensian orphanage. Oh, wait, he was raised in the bosom of his family! Either way, he is GREAT at getting himself presents. He doesn’t even pretend. Last year, we were in the IMG_0531New York Public Library gift shop, and he came over and just handed me a stack of books and a calendar. “I would love these for Christmas,” he said merrily.

“You’re getting coal!” I snapped. “Put those down!” (Note: I had the same damn books and the same damn calendar in my arms to buy for him, if he’d give me five damn minutes, for heaven’s sake. We’ve been married for 24 years! I know what he likes!) He wandered off and bought himself a sweater. “You can still wrap it and give it to me for Christmas,” he said, all innocent-like. I snarled and tore the sweater to shreds (in my mind, anyway…in reality, it was under the tree on Christmas morning).

And then there’s my mother. “Don’t get me anything,” she threatens, narrowing her eyes and making her scary face. “I don’t want anything. I mean it. Nothing for the house. No jewelry. No clothes.”

iStock_000018003245_SmallI obey and give a donation to Heifer International in her name. I enjoy telling her there’s a goat named after her, wandering the Andes, providing milk and cheese for a family. And then comes the great betrayal. My sister-in-law does not obey the no-gift edict and presents my mother with a basket full of goodies. Lovely dish towels and earrings and photos and books about Mariano Rivera. And then what does my mother do!?! She comes home and says, “Look at all the lovely presents Jackie gave me! Aren’t these fantastic?” And it’s a knife in the heart, people! It is!

Well. I got that out of my system. Thanks for listening. I’m off to the mall. Pray for me.

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Little sibs

babyIn ANYTHING FOR YOU, both the hero and heroine have significantly younger siblings. Jessica has Davey, seven years younger, and Connor has Savannah, twenty-three years younger, the child of his father and stepmother.

I have a younger sister, and I love her terribly much. However, we Higlets are called “stairstep kids”—our ambitious young parents had three kids in four years. My sister is just 14 months younger than I am. We were one grade apart in school, and my lofty status as her big sister meant…squat. We had the same bedtime. We could walk home alone the same day. She was as tall as I was, so carrying her around was not easy.

Not to take anything away from my sissy, I wanted a baby to play with. I repeatedly asked for another sibling from my parents. I wasn’t fussy, either. I’d take a boy if necessary, so long as he was named Johnny.

Well, my stingy parents failed to come through, so I turned to the big man. Santa. He, too, totally let me down. “I’d like a baby for Christmas,” I told him one year.

“You’ll have to ask your parents,” he said.

As if I hadn’t already tried. Everyone knows Santa is supposed to come through when parents don’t.

My baby never came, but I got lucky on one front—25 younger cousins. Not quite as lucky as Connor and Jess, but I’ve learned to accept my sorry, two-only sibling state. But if my mom wanted to adopt a kid, I wouldn’t say no. Even if I am fifty years old.

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Yet another yoga class

 

This will never happen to my body, but hey.

This will never happen to my body, but hey.

I want to like yoga. I do. It’s just that I hate it. All the indecipherable pose names that all sound like Hakuna Matata to me. The reinforced knowledge that balance and I aren’t friends. The pain, let’s be honest.

So the other day, I ran into a pal at the market, and she raved about her yoga class. “I kind of hate yoga,” I admitted.

“So did I!” she exclaimed. “But this class is different. And they take walk-ins.”

Thus, armed with the Princess who is game for these kind of excursions, I went. And it was different.

  1. The instructor was John, a hot veteran with tattoos. Not that I was looking or anything.
  2. The room was mostly dark, so no one would be able to witness my lack of flexibility.
  3. John talked through the whole class, drowning out the sound of my grunting.
  4. It was not painfully hard.

At the end of the class, John played a song. “This is an emotional song,” he said. “If you cry, that’s okay. Enjoy your tears.”

The Princess and I smirked at each other. Cry, right. We weren’t that into yoga. Please. We’re Yankees. We’re stoic. Plus, the song had significant kettle drumming, and Princess and I share an inside joke about kettle drums makes us wheeze with laughter. There would be no crying.

DSCN4683Thirty seconds later, tears dripping into my hair, I reached for Princess’s hand, grateful that she was home, that she loved her mommy enough to sacrifice an hour, that she still is a remarkably affectionate child at the age of 19. Happy to be a mother to my two wonderful, kind, responsible kids. And a little nostalgic, too, because times with the Princess are rarer now that she’s in college, and I just adore her so much.

“Are you crying?” she whispered.

“Happy tears,” I said. “Very happy.”

So I guess I’ll go back to yoga class! You never know. I might be Hakuna-Matatting with the best of them one of these days.

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