The Boy In The Band


Before heading out the Memorial Day parade senior year.

I live in a town where kids have to take band, orchestra or chorus in 5th and 6th grades.

Like a lot of boys, my son chose the trumpet or saxophone. He got the trombone. (“It was my third choice,” he said, “and I only put it down because that was the only other instrument I could think of.”)

Although it was bigger than he was, he (and we) eventually got used to its sound, which is a bit like a goose with flatulence. There were memorable moments: the time he played a piece on Smart Music (a computer practice program) 50 times before submitting a 70. The night I marched around the kitchen holding sheet music to prepare him for his first parade and tripped over the dishwasher door. The concert where we cringed every time he moved his slide, afraid he’d hit the kid in front of him.

After two years, he had the option of continuing to play the trombone, shifting to another music elective or study hall. This is where I turned into my fiercest Tiger Mom, urging (well, pleading) him to stay in band. As a parent, I love band. It represents Mom, apple pie, Chevrolet, the American way. Just listening to a John Phillip Sousa march puts a kick in my step.

Though sports often polarize parents and bring out the worst in us, band unites. We’re relaxed watching concerts and parades, knowing if our kid fakes it or screws up, no one will notice or care. No one grouses that certain kids get to do solos, introduce songs or give the conductor roses. We’re awed rather than suspect of kids in Honor Band and Jazz Ensemble, the band’s version of the Travel Team.

Band is democratic and mostly based on skill and merit. There’s a place for every kid, whether it’s holding the high school banner, tinkling the triangle or banging the bass drum. Everyone wears the same dorky outfits without complaint. Everyone sweats and tries to stay in step during the Memorial Day parade. Band says: “We’re all in this together.”

There’s not a lot you can criticize about band, except concerts usually fall at the busiest times of the year (Christmas and the end of school). There’s also the slight agitation that comes with eating dinner at 9:30 p.m., and watching parents slip out after chorus or orchestra performances. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who thinks, “You’re kidding right? I listened to your kid sing and now you’re leaving? Oh no you don’t!”

For the most part though, band is all good.

It teaches focus, discipline, commitment, multi-tasking, cooperation, marching in step and endurance. It also teaches humility, patience and perseverance because you don’t get better without practice. And some kids are so incredibly talented. I still remember the drum solo by a 6th grader in an Hawaiian shirt playing “Wipeout.”

Here are my other reasons for loving band:

  1. The band director is smart, sincere and genuine. It’s hard to even imagine kids acting up in his class.
  2. It’s an easy way to get a good grade. Show up, do your work and practice. Done.
  3. It teaches important life lessons. Alone, you and your instrument don’t sound like much. Together, you create beautiful music and bring joy to people.
  4. Everyone looks great in a uniform.
  5. Kids listen, follow directions, take turns and work collaboratively. Makes me wish I had a conductor’s baton when I taught CCD.
  6. Playing trombone comes in handy at college tailgate parties. Everyone loves a good fight song at half time.
  7. Playing trombone may help you get into a college. Every school has a band. It’s doubtful they’ll need you, but you never know.
  8. Band sheds light on human growth. While waiting for the concert to begin, parents scan the crowd and notice some 6th grade girls are taller than the teacher. Some 8th grade boys are 6′ 3″ and have their learner’s permit. Some 7th grade boys have adorable little feet while others have hooves bigger than my husband.
  9. Women love musicians.
  10. Playing trombone could come in handy if you want to join a garage band in your 50s.

My son played through high school, marching in town parades and concerts. He hasn’t picked up the trombone since high school and that’s OK. There’s a new sound in the house. My 16-year-old daughter plays percussion and loves to bang on her snare drum in her bedroom. Three more years of forgotten stick bags, music folders and uniforms that must be dropped off in the front office. I can’t wait.


The middle school band during the Memorial Day parade.



Wooden Salad Bowl

IMG_1694 (1).jpg

You never know which bridal gifts will stick it out through the marriage. Here are a few that did, including my tattered copy of the The Doubleday Cookbook.

<a href="">Willy-nilly</a>

I recently read an article about bridal gifts encouraging people to use the registry because engaged couples put so much time and thought into them.

I get it. I was once a bride. But I often leave gift buying to the last minute. And the last time I went shower shopping, I refused to buy a kitchen garbage can or dish rack. There’s a reason they were still kicking around – no one else wanted to give them either.

I decided to skip the registry, buying a wooden salad bowl and a picture frame for a portrait I had taken of the engaged couple with the groom’s family. I’ve reached the age where I can’t help myself. I’ve become one of those insufferable matrons who thinks they know what’s best.

I’m blessed that my family and friends humor and still love me, though I suspect there’s eye rolling behind my back. No one likes a know-it-all. Still, women over 50 want to share their wisdom with others. Unsuspecting brides, new mothers, college students and young co-workers are often our targets.

It goes something like this: “You don’t realize it yet, but everyone needs a wooden salad bowl. They’re not only great for salad, but for nuts, popcorn, chips, gourds and  ornaments. One day, you’ll thank me for giving you this bowl instead of that ridiculous garbage can.”

I forget who gave me my wooden salad bowl as a shower gift nearly 34 years ago, but that woman knew her stuff. I still have the bowl. I’ve received compliments about it at dinner parties, with one friend remarking: “I’ve always wanted a bowl like this.” (Bed, Bath and Beyond, $50.)

In honor of the bowl and my need to share willy-nilly, here’s a list of other shower/wedding gifts that I still love. (Feel free to eye roll as needed):

  • The Doubleday Cookbook: So what if it’s missing its cover, binding and is split into five pieces? Sometimes food websites are confusing and you need a cooking bible to clear things up.
  • Silver-plated cordial cups: I got six from a former co-worker and still polish  them for special occasions. Perfect for an after-dinner drink.
  • Pewter tea kettle: Pretty, decorative, useful, classy. Still on my kitchen shelf.
  • Pewter salad servers: Given to me by one of my oldest friends, they’re solid, funky and a conversation piece. They’re also great for pounding meat.
  • Oven-safe casserole with lid: From holding the Thanksgiving stuffing to the  corned beef for my St. Patrick’s Day party, it’s a workhorse.
  • Linens: My mother is horrified when I tell her that I still have sheets from when I first got married – (“You must not wash them very often,” she says) –  but I do. They’re threadbare, but hold sentimental value. One of the top sheets is on my bed right now. No, it doesn’t match the fitted sheet.
  • Plastic champagne glasses: I know, this sounds like a completely useless gift and I’ve never used them, but they’re on my shelf just in case. They were included in a picnic basket that I received as a shower gift. You’d think I would have sipped champagne on the beach by now, but I haven’t. Bucket list.
  • Hand-thrown salad bowls: Crafted by my husband’s Aunt Joyce, they’re pretty, practical and perfect for holding nuts, candy or dips.
  •  Hippo piggy bank: Given to us by my husband’s great aunt, it’s whimsical, decorative and just plain fun.
  • Christmas ornaments: A fantastic and unexpected gift from one of our ushers. We still hang them on our tree and they remind us of our first Christmas together.
  • 8-piece dinner set: Instead of registering for fine china, I opted for a nice set of everyday dishes. I still use them.
  • Champagne glasses: Their fluted-design makes them impossible to clean, but they’re still great for special occasions like Thanksgiving and anniversaries.

When you’re at your shower or opening wedding gifts, you never know what will stand the test of time. Like a lot of things in life, including marriage itself, their true value reveals itself with the passage of time.

Surprised by any enduring shower/wedding gifts? Let me hear about them.


Taxi Driver

IMG_1554 (1).jpg

Slowing down gives you a chance to notice little things that are just a blur when you’re rushing around.

Did you ever notice that adults act like kids the minute they’re without cars?

The Curmudgeon attended a conference in New York City on Friday and opted to take the train from New Haven, CT.  I dropped him off at the station at 6 a.m. and set him loose. I didn’t hear from him for the rest of the day. I later learned he dined with two business associates in Tribeca before a few nightcaps in an Irish pub.

It sounded fun, or at least more enjoyable than spending three hours assembling IKEA furniture with my kids in a stuffy room as his birthday surprise. We survived, but not without cursing and wrestling over the power drill. I’d like to say it was a great family bonding experience, but it wasn’t. It was just something that needed to be done, like flossing or getting the furnace cleaned.

The Curmudgeon seemed to have a kick in his step and the adrenaline rush that occurs when a suburbanite ventures out of his sleepy environs and is thrust into the harried pace of city life. I was happy for him, because he’s always been a little leery of New York (“Too crowded, too dirty, too busy, too expensive.”)

And then the call came.

“I’m getting the noon train at Grand Central and it’s getting into New Haven at 2:08,” he announced. “Can you please pick me up?”

Of course. But first, I wanted to eat lunch and watch an episode of “The League,” my latest Netflix find. I ended up leaving 5 minutes later than I planned, but figured I’d arrive within a few minutes of the train. I foolishly failed to account for I-95 traffic on a Saturday.

The next call came at 2:08. “Where the *&^$ are you?” The Curmudgeon demanded. “I told you the train was getting in at 2:08. I’m exhausted and I’m starving. We’re stopping at the deli on the way home so I can get something to eat.”

“I left a few minutes late and there’s traffic,” I said. “Entertain yourself for a few minutes. Read the newspaper or check your phone. Or just wait. I’ll be there.”

In the interest of full disclosure, it was his birthday so I should have left earlier. My bad. But I-Phones and their various clones have turned kids (and the occasional adult) into tyrants. If you’re one minute late, you can expect a call or text asking where you are. If you don’t answer your phone, you may even get the dreaded Find My I-Phone ping.


Don’t get me wrong. I’m as attached to my phone as the next person. But they’ve come at a price. Instead of giving us more time and freedom, they’ve made us more demanding and fixated on time.

They’ve eliminated the notion of a grace period, a cooling of heels or just chilling out. It’s no wonder everyone’s stressed out and pressed for time. We’re on the clock all day every day.

When I didn’t return a text from an acquaintance for almost two hours, he wrote: “Is everything OK with you? Why aren’t you responding?”

I barely know this person and I appreciate his concern for my welfare, but I was in a place where cellphones must be silenced. And to be honest, I was a tiny bit miffed that a stranger wanted to know my whereabouts on a Saturday afternoon.

That text makes me long for the days of the pink phone message slips where you wrote in a caller’s name, the reason for the call and whether or not it was urgent. If it was an important call, you made a point to call the person right back. If not, you might wait a few hours or call the next day and no one blinked.

My kids are the worst. I pick up my daughter nearly every day after school and I’ve never forgotten her. Yet every evening when I’m five minutes away,  the call comes in. Before she can speak, I say: “Be there in 5 minutes” or “Pulling into the lot right now.”

My son is no better. When I pick him up for school breaks, it goes something like this: “Pick me up at noon.” An hour later, the call comes in. “You know, make it 12:10. I’ve got a paper to drop off. I’ll get my stuff and we’ll leave at 12:20.”

“But after 90 minutes in the car, I was hoping to stretch my legs and grab one of those great chopped salads,” I’ll say. “OK, I guess you can do that. But I want to get back by 3 because I’m working at 4.”

And let us not forgot the tag team call. When I’m talking to someone and don’t put her on hold when my son calls, he calls my daughter to tell me that he’s trying to reach me. I can’t imagine doing that with my parents, who believed in the great divide between kids and adults. If you approached my mother while she was on the phone, she’d wave you away like she was swatting flies.

I think a little waiting is good. It allows time to breathe, pause, reflect, exist. It gives time to look at the sky, sit on a  bench or ponder your navel. Waiting makes you appreciate the ride and more importantly, the person behind the wheel.




Small Victories


USTA Nationals in 2011 in Tucson, AZ.

This is going to be a pretty lonely weekend. The Curmudgeon is away. My sister is away. One of my best friends is away.

Come to think about it, half the people I know are away competing in USTA Districts. I used to be away the first weekend in August, but I stopped playing competitive tennis. I could blame it on arthritis, but that’s not entirely true. The fact is I took it way too seriously, and something that began as fun began feeling like work. I guess you could say I psyched myself out.

Tennis became a lifeline and social support system for me when my kids were young. As one of the few stay-at-home moms in my old neighborhood, I desperately missed adult interaction. After a friend suggested tennis, I drove to the nearest indoor tennis facility and signed up for weekly clinics.

I looked forward to those 90-minute breaks from parenting, smacking the ball to release frustration, break a sweat and shift my focus. And being a goal-oriented, super-competitive person, I was intrigued when the head pro Charles mentioned Districts. To get there, you had to finish first or second in the league. Charles urged us to “play like a lion” to make Districts. I wanted to be a lion.

It was fun. I made a lot of friends. And though I often had “Mommy brain,” I learned that I could still focus and keep my composure during matches. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless. When you’re home with kids, knowing you can still concentrate for two hours feels like a major accomplishment.

I played USTA for 12 years. But something happened along the way. As my intensity grew, so did my anxiety. I became so focused on the outcome of matches that I stopped enjoying them. I walked around with a sense of dread and a pit in my stomach before matches. I forgot that it’s a game. I try to remind my family and friends who are playing in Districts to remember that this weekend, but I know they won’t.

It’s been impossible not to hear the word “Districts” around here for the past month. There are videos advising teams what to do.  There have been clinics, drills, matches, strategy sessions and pep talks. There have been discussions on uniforms, line-ups, hotel accommodations and post-match entertainment.

I haven’t seen my sister, who’s captain of her team, without an ice pack on her right arm all summer. There’s been a run on Tiger Balm, Icy Hot, knee and elbow braces and cortisone shots. And this is before the first serve has been struck at indoor courts across the country.

The Curmudgeon, who is playing singles today for his team, announced last night:  “There will be no drinking of alcohol!” as part of his pre-game prep. (I guess he thinks he’s playing in the U.S. Open.) We spent an hour last night discussing whether he should eat lunch before the match, and if so, what to eat. We’ve discussed bed times, whether he should warm up and what to do between matches.

As he left, I told him to remember to have fun, to which he replied, “You know that’s impossible.” And I do. As much as we try to remember it’s a game, something inside us shifts when we’re keeping score, our rating’s on the line, our team is counting on us and spectators (jerks) are rooting against us.

I didn’t like it when parents would root against me when I played high school tennis, but I deplore it as an adult. I once stopped a match when one of my opponent’s shots hit me in the head and her fans erupted in laughter. I didn’t mind getting hit, but their reaction struck a nerve (court rage?). “You think that’s funny?” I asked, sounding a little like Joe Pesci’s character in “Goodfellas.”

I think kids are much better suited for competition because most don’t take it too seriously. Kids want to win, but they don’t bring adult baggage like pride, ego, fear of humiliation and failure into the mix. I don’t know what age that seeps into our psyches, but it’s there. Just ask any golfer teeing off on the first hole.

I’m not necessarily happy with my decision to stop playing competitively right now, but I’m content. My stomach is calm, my palms are dry and I’m not worried about proving myself. For me, that’s a major victory.




Are You My Mother?


My dog Cali recreates (sort of) the front cover image of P.D. Eastman’s children’s book “Are You My Mother?”

My maternal grandmother had a Yorkshire terrier named Kerry, and she’d give him a dollop of ice cream every night in her kitchen in Bayside, N.Y.

My mother joked about it, chuckling at her mom’s ritual. I’ll admit we were all a little surprised because she wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type. She was a good grandma, but strict and sometimes humorless. Kerry softened her, revealing a hidden tenderness and vulnerability.

It’s interesting to see how people treat their dogs (or other pets) because I think it reveals their true nature. You can’t always indulge your kids or you’ll end up with mouthy, ungrateful brats. You can’t always share your deepest thoughts with people because they’ll get bored or label you an egocentric energy sucker.

IMG_0746 (1).jpg

Nine pounds of fury: Eli the Maltese.

But dogs? They’re different. They listen and don’t judge. They’re always up for a hike and don’t whine about the heat or hills. They don’t like it when you’re upset, but will hang out until you’re feeling better. They’ll make you feel like the best parent in the world when they look for reassurance in the vet’s waiting room.

My extended family’s got lots of dogs and everyone thinks each other’s dog is the most spoiled. One of my sisters has an Instagram account devoted to her dog Susie (or Susan) with #hashtags in her dog’s voice. Another sister has a Maltese who enjoys being cradled and rocked like a baby. I provided pet therapy for my sister J’s Portuguese water dog while she was in Paris.

But the winner is my mother’s 7-year-old yellow Lab Maggie. When I note that Maggie is slightly spoiled and neurotic, Mom replies, “Isn’t it nice to know that humans aren’t the only ones with problems? Even dogs have issues.”


Maggie by Mom’s side after a dip.

Maggie is a terrific animal, providing loyal and loving companionship to Mom since my father’s death eight years ago. But she’s got lots of quirks that only a mother could love.

+ She won’t leave the car unless Mom lays a blanket on the garage floor so her paws don’t touch the cement.

+ She will only enter the car from the rear door on the driver’s side.

+ She will not enter a car unless she’s the first dog in the vehicle. If my sister’s dog Lia hops into the car, Maggie will wait until Lia is removed before entering.

+ Maggie won’t enter any house or car except my mother’s. When Mom dropped by my house last month, Maggie refused to enter and panted in the car. My 19-year-old son coaxed her into the house through the back door, but not before she shattered a planter holding my favorite cactus.

+ Once in a strange house, Maggie remains on the kitchen area rug like she’s in a lifeboat surrounded by shark-infested waters.

+ Maggie does laps every day in Mom’s pool to shed her winter weight.

+ Maggie sleeps on Mom’s living room couch. No big deal, but Mom spent the past 20 years questioning why I let my dog on the furniture.

+ Maggie will only take her thyroid pills if Mom asks her if she wants a “La La.” When I ask her to explain, she says, “A lollipop. I put a little peanut butter on my finger with the pill and she licks it off. She thinks it’s a lollipop.”

+ She won’t go up the stairs inside a house, but has no problem using stairs outside.

+ She loves going to the vet.

+ She won’t eat her kibble unless Parmesan cheese is sprinkled on top.

+ She gets a Quarterpounder with cheese (no onions) every year for her June 28th birthday. I guess I’m not really surprised by my mother’s choice of fast-food restaurants. We had McDonald’s every Thursday night when she and my father would dine out with friends. (My parents were smart: they went out twice a week. My father insisted on it, saying it was the only way they could talk with seven girls under one roof.)

I could go on about Maggie’s foibles, but you get the idea. Besides, it’s time for Cali’s LaLa.


Maggie gets the “red carpet treatment” for car rides.