HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY 2011

by Kate on May 7, 2011

DSCN0346I have to write about my mother on Mother’s Day. This is the second year she hasn’t been around for the event. Last year I wrote an appreciation of her in Cooking Light magazine and I got a lot of wonderful comments on the piece. But there are parts of my mother that just wouldn’t fly in a national magazine. For instance, I couldn’t have said what her oft-repeated quote about this Hallmark holiday was, and it went like this: “ I hate fucking Mother’s Day. And P.S. don’t buy me anything. I don’t want any more stuff!” Really, seriously, that was my mom verbatim.

Natalie Roth Meyers was not a women of tepid opinion. She screamed at the television set often. When people spoke grammatically incorrectly she was personally offended. If a sports announcer said something stupid she went into a tirade that would have made David Mamet swoon. In college some preppy guy commented on my propensity to use four letter words and said : “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” And to this I replied: “Where do you think I learned it, asshole?”

So my mother’s virulent anti-Mother’s Day stance frees me from the sentimentality that I’m sure a lot of people who have lost their mothers would feel on such a day. I still think about my mom on Mother’s Day and every other day. I’m thankful that she was a woman of huge heart and brilliant mind, but the missing doesn’t go away. The tears that come also have joy. There is joy that my mom was funny and fiery and did not suffer fools. As a kid I was sometimes embarrassed by her directness, her in-your-face willingness to call things as she saw them. I see now as an adult that by doing this, she gave me permission to do the same. To stand up, to say my piece, to ask for what I needed and if a bit of colorful language here and there served to strengthen a point, well then my all means.

If I had one more day with my mom it would be spent holding and loving and laughing, listening to great music and having something yummy brought in —probably Mineo’s pizza and Diet Coke with lots of ice— so we wouldn’t have to spend time cooking or cleaning up. There might be some poetry included and if luck was with us a Steelers game would be on. My brother Muzz tells me she’s here with me and in many ways I know that to be true. I hear her voice in my head. I know when she’d approve and not approve. I know she’d laugh at me losing my patience at the exact same things she had lost her patience over. Take shopping. I used to walk into a store with my mother and within seconds want to join the Witness Protection Program. It would always begin the same way. We’d enter and some sweet sales girl would walk up to us all cheery and chirpy and ask if she could help us with anything and my mother would immediately answer in a direct attack.” If you want me to spend my money in this store you are going to have to turn the music down,” she’d say. As if tasered, the young employee would back away mumbling. I feel my mom’s anger every time I make the mistake of walking my girls into the dimly-lit, music-blaring Hollister in our nearby mall. I don’t attack, though, I usually just turn around, and tell the girls I’ll wait outside, praying that they won’t need me to come in and pay for something.

My oldest daughter, Annie, has her learner’s permit this year. After one particularly fraught ride into town she told me the thing that makes her most nervous when she drives is how I hold onto the car handle above my right shoulder for dear life. I laughed hard when she offered that up because my mother did the exact same thing. I don’t know if my mom was ever was comfortable with my driving and I’m afraid that my daughter and I may share the same fate. I realize now that it had little to do with my road skills and everything to do with the powerlessness you feel over your children in the world and how acutely that hits you when they are behind the wheel of a large automobile.

Last week I had a bit of a crying time thinking about my mom and a friend stopped by mid-cry. She is a very sweet, very well-meaning friend who was very serious about explaining to me that she communicated with people who are no longer living. (You have to remember, I live in Boulder, Co.) So on this day my friend who speaks to the dead mentioned that my mother was talking to her and started telling me what my mother was “saying.” I know my friend was trying to cheer me up and I didn’t get mad at her when she proceeded to say all these sweet things that a mother would say.

Secretly though, I couldn’t wait to call my fiancée and tell him what I didn’t have the heart to tell my friend, and that is that my mother would NEVER have said those things. She didn’t talk that way. She was not a person to speak in vapid pleasantries or spew out stuff that you’d see in needlepoint somewhere. My mother found subtlety difficult and though she was often incredibly kind and loving to me, there was no syrup to it. So I’m thinking that what my mother would have said was this: “If I can communicate with the living , why the FUCK would I be talking to YOU when I could just speak with my daughter directly?!”

And yes, my mother would have told me she loved me and she was proud of me and she also would have insisted that I stop being sad and just go and enjoy my life. She would have used the line she always used when I needed a kick in the ass: “Enough of your self pity, Max.” I dreaded that line because it was always true. Nobody wants to hear words like that, which is why mothers have to say them. As the mom of two teenagers, I now know how hard that is to do, and I love her even more for it.

So today, in my mom’s honor, there will be no tears and no self-pity, Max. I’m thinking a good dose of Nina Simone, a glass of red, some meatloaf, a glob of mashed potatoes and a few choice words: “Happy Fucking Mother’s Day.”

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MY DARLING, MY COLONOSCOPY

by Kate on April 20, 2011

Colon.300x300I have always said that I feel lucky with every birthday I get. With number 50 my luck was enhanced by an extra gift: a colonoscopy. It took me seven months to get around to scheduling my suggested screening so by the time I had booked it and filled out the forms, it was winter. I read and re-read all the information about what you’re supposed to do and not do the few days leading up to the procedure and had picked up my prescription for the foul-tasting colon cleanser stuff that you have to drink the night before. But before embarking on my prep, I was worried about a storm prediction that was supposed to leave us with a foot of snow. Should I cancel? I didn’t want to do that because I was psyched to get it over with, but I imagined the horror of drinking the river of disgusting liquid goo all night and then not actually being able to get to the Medical Center.

In an effort to figure out my best move, I dialed up the very new and glitzy Colonoscopy’s R Us place and explained my worry. “We have never had a day where the docs couldn’t get here and we feel that if the docs can get here then you should be able to get here, too,” the woman at the desk told me, completely unsympathetic to my dilemma. “Well,” I said, “Maybe the docs don’t drive the same car as me. Do you think the Docs could pick me up in their Lexus (Lexii?) ?” I swear I said it in a fun-loving way, but she did not see the humor so I reckoned that she probably wasn’t the right person to chat with about how badly written and confusing the instructions actually were. Instead, I hung up and called in the girlfriend troops with heavy duty 4-wheel machines and put them on warning that I might need back up and began to drink the vile liquid.

I followed the perscription instructions to the letter—one cup every ten minutes until you drink the first half of the zillion-gallon jug. The liquid loomed like an evil trough. Seriously, it was a small tributary of the Allegheny River as far as I was concerned. I’m not a big fluid kind of gal —don’t drink volumes of things I LIKE, so this was very, very hard. But I swallowed like a good soldier, and then—-nothing. I’m talking zero action. I waited an hour and begn to drink the remainder of the batch. My stomach looked like it was six months with child. It felt like there was no more room in my body, but I keep forcing it down. On the fourth go round, my body revolted and the clear liquid re-routed up and out, but obviously not from the intended orifice. I waved the white flag and waited for three more hours until the noxious liquid had had it’s way with me. Lovely, lovely time. A shit fiesta.

I woke up the next morning to a world of white—about seven inches of snow had fallen, but not enough to stop my friend Liz’s minivan and I arrived right on time. The nurse was a guy and when he asked me how I was feeling I told him that the human Drano made me puke. He said that a lot of people report feeling nauseated. “Not nauseated,” I replied, hoping he would show a little compassion. “I’m talking puke. Full on puke.” Instead, of commiserating, he stood speechless—a deer in the headlights in scrubs— and took me to a room where, before he left, he pulled some floor-to-ceiling curtains around me and told me to disrobe and put on a hospital gown. Another nurse, a female, came in for a drug discussion. I asked to be heavily sedated but not knocked out.

I don’t remember much about the procedure itself. I tried to look at the screen so I could see what the doc was seeing but it started to ebb and flow in my vision like a weird video game. I remember twice saying “Ouch” rather loudly because I felt pain. And then it was over. They gave me a clean bill of health, for which I was extremely grateful, and said come back in ten years. I asked the doc why it hurt even with the drugs and he said there were “a couple of sharp turns.” I didn’t say anything in response, but I was thinking: ‘Really? You’re gonna blame it on my colon? As a kind of colonoscopy diploma or parting gift they gave me two stapled sheets of paper summarizing the day’s activity with two pictures: one of my rectum and one of the top of my colon. I wanted to mention to them that the former is a photo no one needs to have, but instead I waited for my friend Jaimi to pick me up—a knight in shining white Honda Pilot— and escort me home.

I had told everyone I knew that I was taking the day off. No work, no emails, no texts, no chores in the mommy department, no cooking. It was ten in the morning when we pulled into my driveway and I was still pleasantly drugged and looking forward to an entire day of NOTHING. I was so happy to be under my comforter with no to-do lists in my head and no work on the docket that when my fiancee called he suggested that I make the colonoscopy a semi-annual event. It was way better than a day off because it was a day off with no expectation. I just need to figure out how to work that into my real life.

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OUR OWN COACH K

by Kate on March 31, 2011

coachkand emjpeg_3My daughter Emmy’s Gold Crown Basketball coach is a guy named Ernie Kois. He’s in his early forties, works full time and he and his wife Liz have four girls: Morgan, Maddie, Olivia and Lilly. during Ernie holds practice two nights a week for an hour and a half each (he often drives many of the girls home) during basketball season and then spends most of his Saturdays or Sundays driving to games (they’re usually 40 minutes away and played as doubleheaders with a one hour break). I’ve never seen Ernie yell at a kid or a ref. I’ve only seen him give the girls positive feedback and signs of encouragement. I’m a pretty competitive person when it comes to sports and I played for a city championship girls’ high school basketball team in Pittsburgh. We were very good and even though it was a zillion years ago, I find it difficult to sit in the stands sometimes and watch these girls dribble with their heads down or miss layups or their inability to leave the ground on a jump shot. I try to take deep, deep breathes when the sweet ones, with not an aggressive bone in their bodies, neglect to rebound or take an open shot. I have to admit it makes me a little crazy. But I just squirm silently and cheer loudly for the good stuff and keep the rest to myself because as a mom, it’s important to pretend you’ve evolved even when you’re painfully aware of your deeper nature. Also because I know these girls are doing their best.

But Ernie, he just encourages and sees the good. I call him Coach K because there was this one play before the half of a game in Highlands Ranch where our team had the ball with like four seconds on the clock and I think it was his daughter Olivia who passed the ball the length of the court (Olivia weighs like 60 pounds with her ski boots on) that was caught by Allie Scheifele who tossed up a three that hit nothing but net right at the halftime buzzer. It was a Duke play (I immediately thought of Christian Laettner) only more miraculous in my mind based on the size of our players and their probability at pulling it off. (A high scoring game for us is somewhere in the twenties). From then on, I have called him Coach K, because a) I think he deserves the same respect and b) in my heart, he so earned that play as a reward for all he does.

At one point after the burrito buffet at our End-Of-The-Year team party, Ernie was downstairs with all the girls, playing “Just Dance” on the Wii with assitant coach Megan (another one of those angels we parents run into if we’re lucky) and the girls were cracking up. It was a sight, watching him try to imitate dance moves, having fun, not worried about the ridiculousness of a middle-aged guy doing teenage dance moves. Later when Ernie adressed both kids and parents and gave each girl a certificate for her season, he talked about them one by one with much praise for the unique things they brought to the team and the court. He cried as least three times. Once when he talked about how honored he was to spend the time with them and be their coach, once when he talked about the values he hoped they were learning together and once when he talked about Taylor Collins and how much he loved having her on the team and how sad he was she was moving to Ohio. There may have been a fourth time but I don’t remember it specifically. I felt then, and I feel now, that I’m so lucky Emmy gets to have a coach like that. He nominated my daughter for a Student Athlete Award (see above) unbeknownst to us—it was about sportsmanship and game and academics— and when he called to tell us she had won he was as excited as if it had been his own kid.

I am very close with my girls and I often try to point out, in a real world way, why I think certain attributes are important. My daughters have a mother who is a crier—they tell me about something sad they learned in history class and I weep, I hear a brutal news story on the radio and I weep. I tell them about some reporting I’m working on about someone doing really good work in the world and I weep. So I was thrilled to have Ernie in my camp. “Coach ernie really cried a lot.” Emmy observed. “I know Em,” I say, “I think it’s really cool when men are able to feel things so deeply and not afraid to show their emotions.” I thought back to my own dad who was an amazingly wonderful guy and in his 71 years I remember him crying only three times. Once when his own father, who had been invalid for many years, passed away. Once when we were watching “Brian’s Song” for the first time, and once when he said goodbye to my aunt while he was dying from cancer.

I know I am happy that my daughter has already been exposed to the sight of grown men— wonderful, responsible, successful, grown men— crying and that she understands there’s nothing weak about it. I know she understands because one time we were talking about a girlfriend of mine who is a sweet soul, but has not had the best of luck with men and Em said: “Mom, so-and-so deserves an Ernie Kois.” This is a secretly joyous mother moment in which I speak matter of factly and continue to drive the van. “You’re right, Em, ” I say. “ And so do you. All good women deserve an Ernie Kois.”

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THE BIEBS FOR HER, THE BOSS FOR ME

by Kate on January 14, 2011

Dec. 21, 2010, Our Audience with J.B.

Dec. 21, 2010, Our Audience with J.B.

The night I took my daughter Annie to her first Justin Bieber concert, I thought a lot about another time, another place.

I never did get to meet Bruce Springsteen. I still love his music. I still remember the day in 1974 when my oldest brother was babysitting and took me to a party in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh where our friend Bush was living. It was a college party, a heady thing for a high school kid, but what I remember most was the moment I heard this one song coming from these massive speakers. It just seemed to take me in. I stopped noticing anything else around me. This guy was singing to a girl named Sandy about a boardwalk somewhere and love. His voice was raspy and urgent and it hit me in a few places. I could feel the longing and the soulfulness and the poetry in his words. It was a perfect time in my life for teenage salvation and from that moment on, and for a very long time, my heart sought refuge in the music of Bruce.

I saw Springsteen within a year of that. It was at the Syria Mosque (now torn down), also in Oakland. I remember what I was wearing ( a pink buttoned down shirt and jeans and white converse sneakers) and that my cousin Judy and I had tickets in the second row. I felt a part of each moment, each syllable. My cousin and I screamed, and stood mesmerized—swapping one emotional pitch for another as if conducted. I remember feeling, at the core of my being that this was one of the most important nights of my life and mostly, that I didn’t want it to end.

I have seen Bruce a couple of dozen times since then in college gyms, and concert halls, small arenas, and giant stadiums. I’ve watched him in Pittsburgh, Hartford, New York City, La Trobe, Pa., the Meadowlands, Saratoga, NY, Denver Co,, Burlington, Vermont—multiple times in many of these spots. My favorite night was in 1979. It should be mentioned that that was the year of Darkness on the Edge of Town, and that summer I was a waitress at the Jersey Shore. I remember an almost two-week stretch of rain where all I did was wake up and head out to our garage, a freestanding structure in our backyard where my mom insisted we keep the stereo— to listen to Bruce. I’d listen for hours and then go to work, hoisting large trays of seafood and serving sun-burned vacationers.

That fall, I headed off to Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. I was not thrilled with the idea of college, but I didn’t have any better ideas. I felt very out of place at Trinity—I was a public school kid with a foul mouth, surrounded by a well-mannered boarding school crowd. I was feeling whatever the opposite of in a groove is, and so when I heard Bruce was playing in Burlington, Vermont, I bought myself a bus ticket with my waitressing money. I called a friend who I knew at the University and asked if I could crash on her floor. Beyond her ‘yes,’ response, I just hoped that somehow I’d score a ticket. I did almost immediately upon arrival—a second row seat, I bought from the boyfriend of her roommate. A karmic lotto win if ever there was one.

The night was beyond anything I could have imagined. I was alone, although, of course, I felt like I was not alone because I was with Bruce and he sang for me (at least that’s how it felt and I’m pretty sure I had large company in those feelings). There was a moment when he held up his two fists at me and sang: ” Show a little faith.” I say he did this at me because I was standing on top of my chair in the second row and there was no one in between his eyes and mine. I held up my two fists back at him in response, and he went on to finish the line, “there’s magic in the night.”

There was magic. More than three hours of it. And I was revved and inspired and feeling truly charged to the possibility of something, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what that something was. I had been transported somewhere, that’s all I can say. I was also partially deaf from being so close to the speakers and my ears rang for days. I remember smiling for a long, long time and reading Pride and Prejudice on the bus ride home. Even at the time, I knew it was an adventure I would hold onto forever.

Three decades, two children, one divorce, one engagement—myriad celebrations and sadnesses and just basically, a real wonderful, real imperfect life later, I don’t care about meeting Bruce Springsteen. I’ve spent a good part of my life interviewing celebrities and maybe that’s helped me to realize that I don’t want anything more than what I have or have already been given by the music. When I get married for the second (and last) time this September, my fiance, Scott, and I have already mutually agreed about the first song we will dance to as husband and wife. It’s about love and friendship and hanging in for the long haul and it’s called “If I should Fall Behind.” It was written by Bruce Springsteen. But I won’t be thinking about Bruce. I’ll be thinking about a love of my own and the sweet, Canadian guy across from me who’ll be holding my hand and singing along.

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THE ROAD TO BIEBER

by Kate on December 21, 2010

roadtobieber1The road to Bieber.
37,000 feet.
Three girls. Three women. Ages 50, 15, 13.
One iPod, one iTouch one lMacBook.
One on a journey as a mom.
One as a fan.
One as a sister.
I read Oliver Sacks. I can hear past their headphones and Kanye West is toasting the douchebags.
I may be one of them. But it’s all in the name of love and Bieber.
Destinations: Atlanta, Chatanooga Nashville and Birmingham.
Purpose: Bieber Live.
It’s my gift to Annie for her upcoming 16th birthday..
And yes, she is spoiled and yes I am crazy and Yes the world is strange and yes I have earplugs.
Em and Scott have a date for bowling and barbecue.
But we, my oldest child and I, will—on the anniversary of my jazz-loving momma’s passing—be screaming two meaningful syllables: BEE-BER.
As my dear, and also departed friend, Bertha Waller would say: Lord Have Mercy.

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FIRST ANNUAL TURKEY CUP 2010

by Kate on December 1, 2010

149596_10150095659921018_778651017_7223815_7791283_nThree brothers, 10 grandchildren and a 71 year-old uncle on the soccer field equals a
perfect Thanksgiving. Move over Turkey Bowl. It’s Turkey Cup, the next generation.
There is truly nothing more beautiful to me than watching my nephews Luke, Daniel, Eli Aaron and cousin Jake Roth in motion on the turf, except maybe watching my nieces, Sophie, Abby, Sonya and Cary and my daughters Annie and Emmy right there with them. My father would have been beaming on the sideline and my mother would have been bragging to all her friends on the phone. I, of the hamstring impaired, kvelled on the sideline. One of the great sentences of the weekend came from my sister-in-law Michelle, or was it Ann (too cold and old to remember which), who said: “I wonder what the Kennedys are doing today?”

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