Monday, February 28, 2011

What In The Name of G-D, Are You Watching?

Should I be concerned that my 40-something boyfriend watches the television show "I, Carly." It's bad enough that I have to be exposed to the show when his 12 year old son is spending the weekend with us, but the other day I came out of my office and saw him watching the show alone. I stood there, hiding behind the banister, waiting for him to change the channel. He didn't. He watched for approximately ten minutes before he changed it, and for me, that was ten minutes too long.

I'm sorry but it's kind of creepy to see a 40-something male watching a bunch of Tweens. I don't even know how old they are but suffice it to say, they can't buy beer. Of course I judged him, and in that moment he became a little less attractive to me. What kind of man watches "I, Carly" alone?! Wait, am I being naive?

I would've preferred to see him watching porn. You know, something age appropriate. I know this sounds harsh and everyone has their guilty pleasures but c'mon.

I'm not without my own guilty pleasures ("The Biggest Loser", "SVU") but at least these shows are about adults, doing adult things. And more times than not, I watch these shows when I'm alone, so as to keep the shame and embarrassment to myself, like you're supposed to.

I didn't want anyone to know that my boyfriend watched bad acting, juvenile and idiotic story lines, and a show that uses a laugh track. This dirty little secret couldn't get out. What would my highly educated friends and family think?

Last night we had dinner with my brother, who's also in his 40's, with two boys, ages 12 and 9. I have no idea how we got on the subject but it was slowly revealed, so matter of fact, devoid of shame or embarrassment, that my brother sometimes watched "I, Carly" as well, with the kids AND without. Now my brother is creepy.

In some perverse way, my boyfriend is a little less creepy now that I know he's not alone. But if he starts watching "Drake and Josh", we're going to have a problem.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Jersey DMV Rocks... Hard!

I had to give up my New York state drivers license yesterday. I dreaded letting go. It wasn’t so much letting go of New York, as it was the acquisition of a New Jersey license. Jersey? Please.

It was impressed upon me, from a very early age that Jersey was, well, not New York, and therefore inferior. It’s the upper lip curl, or the one eyebrow raise, followed by the evil eye, that happens when New Yorkers hear anything to do with New Jersey. However, no reason was ever given, at least not to me. When I told my parents that my boyfriend wasn’t Jewish and lived in New Jersey, they replied, “Really? Jersey?” I could see the disappointment in their eyes.

It was one of those things that I never questioned, because, I was either living in Los Angeles or in New York. That is until a year ago when I moved to the Garden State. I moved in with my man because he didn’t want to be away from his kids. I’m so sure. What’s the big deal? There just kids. In a few years their not going to want to have anything to do with you anyway. Besides, that’s why there’s Facebook and Skype. I couldn’t understand why he was being so selfish.

Maybe people only see the New Jersey Turnpike with it’s smoke stacks looming over Newark, or they think of Snooki three sheets to the wind, punching someone in the face. I don’t know, but I can tell you that after my experience at the DMV, yesterday, I am liking this hated state more and more.

It was one of those days where I accomplished a weeks worth of work all before noon. It started with a court appearance at 8:30 in the morning because Ponch and John said I failed to yield. I say, you’re just power hungry douces with guns, who weren’t breastfed as babies.

That being said (or thought) in order to get the two points off my license I had to plead my case in court. I drove to Neptune City (I’m not making it up) where the courthouse building is also the library and locksmith. I’m sure there’s a connection but it’s lost on me at the moment.

I checked in at the only office window on the floor and asked the nice lady behind the glass, what courtroom I was to go to. She looked at me with a, “You’re not from round here are ya?” expression and I forced a smile. “There’s only one courtroom.” And with that, I turned on my heels and sat down in the only courtroom in the Neptune City Courthouse.

My name was the second to be called, and the judge asked me if I wanted to speak to the prosecutor. Sure, I’ll talk to anyone. In the span of eight minutes, I plead down to a no points charge, (unsafe driving) which will haunt me till my dying day because I am the safest driver out there. Ask anybody. I paid the outrageously absurd (redundant) $441 (Jersey needs the money) and I was back in my car.

Next stop the Eatontown DMV. I’ve lived in three other states, needed three different licenses, and in each DMV I’ve finished entire novels while standing in line. And in each one, I’d leave with a temporary license with the new one mailed to me within 7-10 days.

Not here. It took 20 minutes for me to fill out the necessary paperwork, take a picture, which I have to say is pretty good, and leave with my new New Jersey license in hand. It was incredible. I’m not sure why I was so impressed but for this experience alone, people should give the Garden State a break.

I did lie about my height. I know, people usually lie about their weight. I gave myself an extra inch which, given all the Pilates that I do, is not completely unreasonable. And really who’s measuring me out there on the streets?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Let the Kid Write It

I had no idea that I would be reliving some of the ugly and embarrassing events of my childhood through my boyfriend’s kids. And how is that possible? We’re not even related!

This past weekend my boyfriend’s twelve year old son (one day I’ll make up a name) asked me to proofread a paper that he wrote. I read through it, made basic grammar corrections, and suggested deleting a few words to tighten it up, you know, trim the fat. He agreed with all but one, and just as I was about to push it, reminding him of who the writer in the room was, I gave myself a time out. Now for the ugly and embarrassing part of the show.

This scene played out thirty years ago. My father often helped me with my homework, especially when it came to writing papers, and anything about World War II. He was so damn smart and could write brilliantly on the fly. I, could not.

Sometimes, my father’s idea of helping me was to write for me. He’d compose in his head and then dictate parts of the essay, book report or college application that was due, while reading the New York Times, sitting on the edge of my bed (the man was that good) and I’d hurriedly write it down verbatim.

We were both culpable. He didn’t want me to hand something in to my teachers and have them think that his child was an idiot. I was impatient, and a wee lazy, so if he wanted to help, then that meant the sooner I could put on my long scotch tape nails and lip-sync to Cher’s, Dark Lady. And not just the song, but the entire album.

Dark Lady laughed and danced and lit the candles one by one
Danced to her gypsy music till her brew was done
Dark Lady played back magic till the clock struck on the twelve
She told me more about me than I knew myself

And that dear readers is more about me than you needed to know.

I’m no expert. I’m just the girlfriend mom, but doing your child’s work for them isn’t going to teach them much. I’ll tell you what it didn’t teach me; to think for myself, process, bad first drafts, rewriting, patience, confidence, and not to wait until the last minute to finish an assignment because Daddy isn’t always going to be there to rescue me!

This is why I kept quiet and let my boyfriend’s son write in his own words.

He called me the next day, wanting to know if I could input a few more corrections, and then send the document back to him. He originally typed the paper on my computer so he only had a printout.

When he said that there were more corrections, I got a pit in my stomach.What did I miss? Who read it and found more errors? Was it his mom? Great, now she thinks that I’m a writer who can’t spell? It’s not fair. I wanted to be the hero. I wanted to be the one that got him an A+ on his paper. Crap. Now everyone will know that I’m a fraud. Again.

I panicked and went to that icky place. I suck. I can’t even correct a twelve year old’s paper where the biggest word in it is ammunition. I started questioning every suggestion and correction I made. Maybe I was wrong about capitalizing Captain. I’m the person who quit teaching English as a second language in Prague. I had no right helping this child with his paper. Who put me in charge? Where’s your dad? Where’s my dad?

But I did help him and once I took my pureed thoughts out of the blender, I gingerly asked my boyfriend’s son, “So, who read the story and found the corrections?” I held my breath and scrunched up my, overdue for Botox injections, forehead.

“Charley.” “Who?” “Charley?” “You mean your friend Charley?” My boyfriend’s son was cute as he proceeded to tell me that, although he knew that Charley wasn’t a professional, he did find a couple of mistakes.

I hardly know where to begin. First of all, the fact that his friend read his paper and gave him ‘notes’ is adorable and hilarious! Secondly, that he acknowledged that, “Charley isn’t a professional like you”, was quite astute for a twelve year old. He didn’t actually say the ‘like you’ part, but it’s obvious that’s what the subtext was.

The two corrections turned out to be typos. With my reputation in tact, I now wait to see what his teacher thinks. Clearly, it’ll be a direct reflection on me... and my dad.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Manners Police is in town ... And I’m the sheriff

Are kids lazy or ignorant? And by the way, neither is acceptable to this Girlfriend Mom. Elbows on the dinner table, watching TV while eating, not clearing dishes, slouching over their food... not okay. And as a Pilates instructor, slouching is like giving me the finger.

We’ve got napkin issues in our home. Plain and simple. It appears that father and son dislike the idea of a napkin in their lap. Or they forget. Or they don’t care. Or they don’t know that it falls under the heading, Table Manners. As a result, I dread eating with them because I know they’ll be naked laps (that sounds dirty) and barely used, crumpled napkins on the table.

Putting aside the fact that we live in a civilized society, and play by its rules (most of the time) what about the fact that, as your dining partner, I don’t want to see dirty hands, and food scraps on the table, next to my food, and it’s selfish for anyone to think otherwise.

It’s not only the placement (or there lack of) of said napkin, but they don’t even use it to it’s full potential. If it’s a paper napkin they won’t open the folded square into it’s larger square capacity. It’s wasteful. Of course there’s the other side of this coin, illustrated by my grandfather who used to reuse his paper napkins. “You think we had the luxury of an endless supply of napkins during the depression?” Waste not want not kid, he’d say as he ate his leftover bagel from the previous morning, which had petrified over night.

Am I the only one who practices obvious table etiquette? We had dinner at home last night and I gently made my boyfriend aware of his napkin coordinates. To which he replied, “It’s a paper napkin. What’s the big deal.” He was making a distinction between paper and cloth. Cloth, paper, metal, rubber... if it calls itself a napkin, it belongs in your lap. Period.

Maybe my boyfriend wasn’t taught basic table manners (the Portuguese may do things differently) and it’s not for me to judge. We’ve all been failed, in one way or another, by our parents and their childrearing acumen, or there lack of. And I don’t know what goes on in my boyfriend’s son’s mother’s house (could there be more possessives in that sentence) so it would be unfair to point the finger solely at him.

However, I don’t remember sitting down and being schooled on napkin arrangement but somewhere in my illustrious career, I picked it up. And now I live it. And now I want my boyfriend and his son to live it.

Now when we’re at the table, I eye my boyfriend’s son gently and mouth, ‘napkin.’ He sees me and although he looks confused by this wacky ritual that his father’s girlfriend is asking him to partake in, he does it. The napkin doesn’t always stay in its place throughout the entire meal but he’s still grasping the concept that, when you’re hands are dirty and you’re in need of a napkin, it’s right there in your lap, where you can wipe in private so no on has to see the greeby short rib sauce on your snausage like fingers.

I’m no Emily Post and I have far from impeccable manners 24/7 but I have an awareness of what is socially acceptable and what is not. Sure I’ve belched at the family dinner table when I was a kid, unintentionally of course (although the seltzer didn’t help) but when my father glared at me and then at my mother saying, “I blame this on you,” I knew it was rude.

I’m strict when it comes to my boyfriend’s kids. Maybe because I wished that my parents were stricter with me. (Kids raising kids remember) There was an acute imbalance between parent as disciplinarian and child as parent in my family. I used to punish myself because my parents were downright lackadaisical. “Trust me Dad, I shouldn’t have done it. I’ll be in my room, not watching TV and not talking on the phone.” It’s probably not best to parent as if it were a do over from your own childhood, but since my boyfriend’s kids aren’t mine, DO-OVER!

Where was I? Oh, yes, table manners. Isn’t this what separates us from the animals. If kids don’t learn from an early age, they’re going to grow up into some of the people I see eating in restaurants, and it’s utterly disgusting. Hey animals, how about some compassion for the customers next to you, who are losing their appetites because you’re eating like a caveman. Huh? What about that?

Which brings me to the improper way to cut one’s meat.

Holy crap! You wouldn’t believe what I’ve seen in my, wait for it, illustrious career. Women, men, rich, poor, sophisticated, unsophisticated, world travelled, only travelled as far as the grocery store, eating like barbarians. And I’m embarrassed to say that some of these barbarians are family and friends. Again, am I missing something? What is so difficult about holding one’s utensils in a way that doesn’t resemble sawing off one’s limb.

Several years ago, I lived in Prague teaching English as a foreign language. After two weeks I realized that English was just as foreign to me as it was to the Czechs, so I quit. However, I did spend time traveling with a woman who also quit the program.

The first time we had dinner together, I thought I was going to be sick. This woman was well read, had seen the world, spoke several languages, but for some unknown reason, no one taught her how to hold a fork and knife. I have little tolerance for those who put on worldly airs and pseudo sophistications and then eat like a rabid dog.

She fisted the fork in her left hand, and stabbed the animal flesh with its prongs like a pitchfork, while her right hand held the knife and sawed in a backward and forward motion. She tore into her Myslivecká hovezi pecene na houbach (hunters beef steak with mushrooms) like a Hyena tears into a Wildebeest. Gore, saw, exhale, repeat. It was like killing that poor hunters beef all over again. I swear I thought I heard a growl as I reached for the pepper shaker in front of her.

It was as if she’d never seen food before. Or she’d been stranded on a deserted island, eating only coconuts and sand. I looked away, vomited slightly in my mouth, and left her lapping up the grease from her fingers, at the corner of Ventúrska and Prepoštská Streets in Bratislava Central Square in Slovakia.

And then yesterday at Starbuck’s my faith was restored. A mother came in with her two sons, and walked over to a table in front of me that only had two chairs. The younger son immediately sat down. The older boy, who couldn’t have been more than ten years old, started to pull a chair over from a neighboring table. “Here mom, let me get this for you.” I almost fell off my chair. Alas a child with manners.

I looked up from my tall half caf, and told the mother that that was the sweetest thing I’d ever seen. She thanked me and turned to her son, “Jack, you’re so chivalrous.” All right lady, let’s not get carried away, because from where I’m sitting, Jack’s got a naked lap.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Girlfriend Mom

My boyfriendʼs twelve year old son asked me to put his hair in a ponytail last night. He thought it was hysterical that he looked like a girl, as he modeled it for the five friends he was talking to on ooVoo. For those not in the loop, itʼs like Skype. For those not in that loop either, itʼs video chatting. I didnʼt think anything of his request. I was just flattered that he saw me as someone who knew how to make a ponytail. My mother used to pull my ponytails so tight I got headaches and an unnecessary face-lift. Not so unnecessary now, Iʼll tell ya.

Iʼm calling myself, The Girlfriend Mom, because my boyfriend and I live together but weʼre not married (hence boyfriend) so stepmom doesnʼt apply. However, I do step mommy things, I suppose, like his sonʼs laundry. Sidebar: I have to say that sometimes, when Iʼm folding his tiny pair of jeans, it feels weird, dare I say ʻunnaturalʼ. Iʼm convinced that it has to do with what I associate being a ʻmomʼ with (which sometimes I find unattractive) and laundry seems to be on the list.

I help him with his homework and I consistently nag him about the television volume. I swear, itʼs like living with the deaf (or my grandparents) How can you NOT hear that?! Well, this just smells of ʻmomʼ (girlfriend or step) doesnʼt it. I feel myself getting uglier by the minute.

So Iʼm not just a girlfriend, whoʼs boyfriend happens to have kids. There are expectations of me, some being easy and ʻnaturalʼ to pull off, like making up his bed, pouring him ice tea when heʼs parched, teaching him how to apply Orajel to a sore, or eating at Chiliʼs for a less than nutritious meal. Other times the expectations feel as ʻunnaturalʼ to me, as doing fractions, or wearing make-up to the grocery store. (Wearing make-up anywhere really) and like folding his tiny fruit of the loom tidy whiteyʼs.

I say ʻmomʼ things, but I canʼt be sure of my modus operandi. Sometimes itʼs because I think Iʼm supposed to say them, but how the hell do I know what to say. Other times, I think itʼs imbedded in my DNA. My boyfriendʼs son got a laptop over the weekend and he took it into our bedroom, which is one and a half flights up from where we were in the kitchen. Oh, no you donʼt. I watch "Dateline" and "Primetime Live." I told him to get where we could see and hear what he was doing. It was a knee jerk reaction. Iʼve watched enough Lifetime Movies to know what can happen if youʼre not paying attention. My request sounded like it came right out of, "Mother, May I Sleep with Danger."

I want my boyfriend to know (and Iʼm not sure if he truly can) what itʼs like to go from not wanting children and not sure that I even like children, to bringing a 12 and 17 year old into my life. Theyʼre his flesh and blood. He was there at the beginning. Heʼs watched them grow and journeyed with them. Iʼd imagine with each passing year, a parent adjusts to the plethora of changes, and then eventually, if youʼre lucky, you canʼt imagine your life without them. Me? It felt like two minutes in the microwave and BEEP. Instant kids. Ready! (no) Set! (no) Go! (no, wait!)

I used to hear stories about a great aunt of mine who was a lesbian. She used to be a dancer (loved her immediately) and she had been with her girlfriend since WWII. I think they invented Lesbianism. They traveled the world, had several homes, and no children. Their life was exotic to a kid from Yonkers and it had a profound affect on me. The effect in this case being the possibility of a fulfilling life without children... not the girl on girl part. Although... My point is, I got the message that I had choices, and it was okay not to want what others wanted.

Iʼm not sure I can directly attribute my ambivalence towards kids to my Great Lesbian Aunt (that sounds like a superhero) Iʼm sure that my own parents made a contribution, unbeknownst to them Iʼm sure. By the time my parents were 24 years old, they had two kids under the age of 2. My mother wanted to have children, at least thatʼs what she tells me, but she wasnʼt your typical mother. Personally, I think she was in way over her head. Kids raising kids people! She rarely made breakfast and by the time I was twelve, I was babysitting, taking the train into the city alone and doing my own laundry. (What is it with laundry?)

I can spend another lifetime researching and analyzing why I feel the way I do, or how can I feel the way I do, but I donʼt have that kind of time, and Iʼm not sure that it matters. What matters to me now is being honest about my feelings and not judging them. They are what they are, and since feelings change from one moment to the next, I think itʼs unwise to give them too much power.

Instead, Iʼve decided to forge a relationship with my boyfriendʼs kids, based on who I am now, and who they are, as individuals, with all of our unique personalities. Weʼre not going to be defined by shouldʼs, supposed toʼs or societal constraints. And I have to say, so far, so good.

“Can you PLEASE turn that television down?!”

Teaching... Performing... It’s all The Same

I always wanted to be a dancer, and for a while I fancied myself one. When I was in high school, I’d take the train into the Big Apple for dance class. Steps on Broadway was the the place to be. Jane Krakowski (30 Rock, Ally McBeal) was in a couple of my classes. She stuck with dance. I did not. Nuff said.

I walked the streets (not those streets) with my feet turned out, which really hurts, (especially when you’re not actually a dancer) in tattered leg warmers, daydreaming of jazz hands and Bob Fosse. So when I recently got the opportunity to teach Pilates to ‘actual’ ballet dancers, at a local dance academy, I leapt at the chance.

Full disclosure. I have never formally taught kids anything, let alone Pilates. I’ve changed poopy diapers, played endless games of Candy Land with my nephews, but I had no idea what to expect and no idea how to act. I’m a teacher, yes, but what does that mean in this context? I’m used to being in the company of adults; dialoguing, joking, letting the curse words fly freely from my lips. The only thing I knew for sure was not to drop the f’ bomb... if I could help it.

I laughed at the immediacy in which I was hired. No body asked me if I had any experience with this particular population. And I didn’t offer. I was too excited about pretending to be a dancer again.

My first class was before the holidays. I scheduled a short press conference with myself beforehand to calm my nerves, remind myself that I was the adult (I forget sometimes) and that I had mad skills and lots of head knowledge. But most importantly, “Don’t talk too much and don’t confuse the class with a stand up act.” Being in front of a captivated audience, no matter how small (physically or in quantity) can turn into a freak show, me being the freak. I start ad libbing like I’m opening for Jackie Mason in the Borscht Belt. I realize that this reference will go over some heads. No matter, just keep reading.

There were six 10 year old girls, each one, the size of my thigh. I put my professional hat on and plunged into the repertoire. I brought a cheat sheet with me and we were flowing from one movement to the next, like the graceful giseles that we were. I was in control, and things were running smoothly, that is until the Lilliputians started talking to each other, and to me. “I like your toe-sox.” “What should we call you?” “Carey is always injured.” “Can we do rocking swan?” Why were they talking? There’s no crying in baseball, and there’s no talking in Pilates! I was being heckled, and it flustered me.

I didn’t know what they should call me. What’s wrong with my name? Then I remembered my dance teacher, Miss Pike, when I was seven years old. “You can call me Miss Dani.” It is a sign of respect after all. I should have my adult clients call me Miss Dani as well. With all of the gas that’s passed and un-manicured toes that I have to touch, I’m not so sure that they do respect me.

I pulled it together as my last class of the night walked in. These girls were 13 and 14 years old and all ‘tude (attitude). Crap. About halfway through the routine, I realized that they hadn’t cracked a smile, made a comment about my socks or showed any signs of life. As we say in the biz (showbiz that is) They were phoning it in! I could’ve sworn they were making faces behind my back, and it felt a little too familiar.

Flashback: The summer before eighth grade. I returned from camp only to find that I’d been ousted from the popular click, by its fierce leader, Betsy Carlson. Apparently, she frowned upon my leaving our kingdom (the swim club) for an entire summer. She never bothered to tell me that I wasn’t her best friend anymore, so when I ran up to her to tell her how much I missed her, she and her new recruit snapped on their Speedo swim caps and turned on their heels. I can still hear them giggling as they glanced over their shoulders at me. But I digress.

I couldn’t hold her in any longer. My inner comedian was rising up to the surface. These dancers weren’t giving me shit. Their taut, age spotted free faces were serious and focused, and I took it personally. They didn’t like me, nor the class, and they somehow figured out that I wasn’t an actual dancer! That I was never a dancer! I was a fraud! I went into overdrive, trying to be funny, and elicit some kind of reaction. Oh, dear, can someone please get me off the stage.

As embarrassing as it was, I wish that I could remember some of my banter. If it should happen again, and I’m pretty confident that it will, I’m going to write it all down so I can share it with you.

I was convinced that I could fix my paranoid (read: neurotic) delusions, and break them. If I didn’t, then I would’ve failed. Failed? At what, teaching them Pilates, or making them laugh? I’m pretty sure my job wasn’t to crack wise with a bunch of duck walking Sugar Plums. However, you’d never know it from the way I was acting. I spoke faster. I made faces. C’mon girls, give me a break. Is anyone’s last name Carlson?

The class ended (finally) and when I got into my car, I assessed the damage. Even after my early self think talking, I allowed myself to be intimidated by a bunch of scrawny thirteen year olds in smelly leotards and tight, headache inducing, hair buns. Clearly I have some work to do in dealing with children.

More About Dani:
Dani is a Virgo, writer, Pilates Instructor, Kindle lover, sleep enthusiast, world traveler and ‘girlfriend mother’ to her boyfriend’s two kids. Whatever the hell that means.