Taking care of business from a million miles away

A week ago, I was sitting down to dinner in the midst of more than 300 of the most amazing and funny women I had ever met.

But my head wasn’t really with them. It was at home.

For four days in April, every other year, more than 350 women and a few men gather together at the University of Dayton for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. And for more than six years, it was a dream to attend. This time around, I decided to go.

It was a huge sacrifice for everyone involved. I wouldn’t be there for my son’s last concert. The boys would have to get up and take the bus instead of having me drive them to school. Someone would have to cook dinner. There would be no one to remind people to take out the dishes, clean the bathroom, close the refrigerator door and empty out the cat litter box.

I imagined that they probably wouldn’t even notice that I wasn’t there until it was time for dinner to magically appear on the table.

I couldn’t have been more worried or more overjoyed.

Four days with complete control of the television remote, no dishes or laundry, a bed all to myself and no bickering over who got to listen to the iPod. I could go to the bathroom without some form of human or animal coming into the room. I could sit down to dinner without having to pop back up every time my butt hit the chair to get something for someone.

And as I live in South Carolina, it is only a 1,784,329 mile drive which takes roughly nine hours with the occasional pit stops… eight and a half if you wear those astronaut diapers. So, the plan was to leave on Wednesday afternoon and cover half the trip, then drive the rest of the way the next day. After four days of enlightenment, I would leisurely drive home, reveling in the experience and letting the knowledge and tutelage I had received absorb into my brain.

It didn’t take long after I left for my head to return home.

On Wednesday, things were fine. My son had had the courtesy of waiting until the night before to tell me that he had given his good suit pants away to Goodwill and had nothing to wear to his concert, so my husband was spared the last minute trip to KMart – one which I dutifully made at 8 p.m. instead of packing. On Wednesday night though I drove through the darkness and talked to them and my mother on the phone periodically, so I didn’t feel quite so alone.

The boys had refused to let me load all of my favorite songs on to a CD (“Mom, that is SO old school”) and had instead loaded them onto the iPod, which served the dual purpose of entertaining me, and preventing my husband from killing them for arguing over it for one more time. I cranked the tunes, sang at the top of my lungs through Tennessee and Kentucky and arrived Thursday afternoon, safe if not exhausted.

I got to the hotel just in time for the phone report on how the dinner preparations were going. I called later to find that the concert had been good, even if the drive in Dad’s Jeep had been a little cold. I imagined them getting pneumonia from riding with the top down, but I was assured all was well.

It wasn’t until Friday that I began to worry. While I was saying “Yes, I think I will have another glass of wine” to the waitress, the first call came in.

“Honey, where’s the duct tape?”

This is never a good thing.

No amount of distance can overcome the fear of what could possibly need to be fixed with duct tape.

According to my husband, everyone was in their rooms, innocently watching television, when they all heard the sound of glass breaking.

“I went into our bedroom, and there was a hole the size of a softball in the window.”

The duct tape was to hold the glass together until he had a chance to replace it. And he will. But still. The window was broken. I was in Dayton. He couldn’t find the duct tape.

They needed me.

We decided that it was probably a bird that overshot the roses that grow outside of our bedroom windows. With no evidence of a rock or baseball or brick, it was the most logical conclusion. The duct tape was found, the hole was covered and all was well with the world again.

The next day, my son called during lunch to ask me if I knew where any of his high school teachers lived.

This in and of itself is not the oddest question he may have ever asked me, but rightfully so, probably one of the more worrisome. It was all innocent, he protested. According to him, a restricted drivers license needs the signature of a person who works at his school.

“Honey, you don’t have a restricted license.”

No, but his friend was getting one, and they figured if they could get one of their teachers to sign the paperwork, they’d be able to take a quick trip to the DMV, get the license and go for a ride.

Clearly, they had never actually been to the DMV if they felt accomplish something through a “quick trip” there.

“As this is the weekend and the first day of Spring Break, I am pretty sure that showing up on the porch of one of your teachers would not endear them to you or resolve your issue,” I said.

Begrudgingly, he relented, although I’m pretty sure they resorted to the next best thing to Mom – Google. If only Google knew where their new shoes were.

Later that night, another call let me know that things weren’t going well. It was 7 o’clock and Dad was just starting the burgers on the grill. A warning to the boys that they needed to close their windows since they didn’t have screens in had been ignored and two other birds, apparently looking for revenge for their fallen brethren, flew into the house through my older son’s window while their Dad was at work. My son, his brother and his friend chased the two birds around the house in an attempt to catch them and get rid of them, and finally caught one of them with an old T-shirt.

As a mom, several things went through my head at this news:

A) did no one open the doors?

B) where were our four cats during this? and

C) what happened to the other bird?

All of this was relayed by phone. Naturally, I thought about running home and taking care of everything.

My husband said to stay.

“I’ve got this. We can survive without you. I’ve got everything under control.”

So, maybe they didn’t need me.

I went back to talking to my new friends, trading stories of motherhood and drinking more wine. While my head was there and I was enjoying my time, my heart was with my family.

The next day, I drove home quickly. I stopped, as I had planned, at an art museum to be free and artsy once again, but there was no one there to share it with, no one there to talk about it with, no one there to say “Mom, can we go now?”

I should have been happy to have had the time to myself, but all I could think about was getting home.

I drove straight through to get home before everyone went to bed. My arm and shoulder hurt from leaning on them in the car and my legs were cramping from the driving. But I made it home – to hugs and stories and kisses and a plate of dinner.

Instead of a mess of a house, I found a mopped kitchen, laundry thumping away in the dryer and a sink conspicuously clear of dishes.

They wanted me to be happy when I came home. And I was.

They may not have needed me, but they missed me, even through tribulations and an apparent bird invasion. And even though I wasn’t there to handle it for them, they managed… not because I had trained them, or they had learned from me, but because they were smart, capable men who could do for themselves.

I’ll remember that next time I don’t want to do dishes.

© Liz Carey 2014

The last of the Franken Berry

My Erma BomBUST entry… Thank GOD I signed up in December… 😉

Any minute now, my children will realize I have eaten the last of the Franken Berry cereal.

At least, I hope so.

If I were to guess, their reaction would be “No fair! You got the last of the good cereal just because you got up early.”

It is, after all, a little past 10 a.m. on a Sunday.

Most Sundays, I get up late and indulge in a few moments of quiet time… a cup of coffee, a quiet house, some morning news shows and I am a refreshed woman. Add in a bowl of cereal with marshmallows and I am giddy with relaxation. Or maybe it’s the sugar rush… it’s kind of hard to tell.

Those marshmallow cereals are a treat that I hardly ever indulge in. As a child I never got to eat these cereals except during summer vacations. It was a rare treat.

Of course, my life hasn’t changed that much. My sons tend to eat the marshmallowy goodness within hours of its coming home from the store, so I never get any. As teenagers, they consume food like a hoard of locusts on a Kansas prairie.

For one blissful hour and a half each week though, I can grab the box of cereal, fix myself a bowl of indulgence, ignore the housework, and sit without a care in the world.

But now, the box is in the trash, my coffee cup is drained, the cereal bowl is empty and my kids will wake up soon.

I’d like to imagine that there will be moaning, whining and wails of “What? There was a box of Franken Berry left? What the heck? Did you hide it or something?”

And the truth is – I did. Like a little girl, with my secret treasure, I hid it on the top shelf of the cabinet behind the “healthy” stuff like the instant oatmeal and granola bars.

Granted, it was right out there in the open where anyone could see it, but since they are boys and have close to no ability to find something unless I point it out to them, I’m pretty sure I could have placed on their bedroom floors and they would have had a hard time locating it… and that’s WITH me picking up the dirty clothes and assorted trading cards.

Looking at the box though, it occurs to me that they will probably never even notice. After all, it is located in the garbage can, and finding it would require them to not only realize that we HAVE a garbage can, but also to acknowledge that it may be required to be emptied at some point.

Yeah, I pretty sure my secret is safe.

© Liz Carey 2014

Licking the bowl

Right now, my youngest son is in the kitchen making his first solo batch of brownies.

How cool is that?

Remember when it was cool to lick the bowl as a kid, and how much you looked forward to your mom giving you the spoon?

As a mom, I got to the point where I looked forward to being able to give my kids the spoon when I got done making home made brownies or cookies. It was kind of cool to see them get all excited about who got the spoon and who got the bowl.

It made me feel like I was a cool mom. Like I was a doting mom. That I was somehow making up for all those times I was covering stories late at night and coming home late for dinner.

Really, I was just opening a box and hoping I didn’t screw up. But they didn’t know that, did they? No. All they knew was that their cool mom was making them something sweet and within minutes they would be eating warm gooey chocolate, preferably with powdered sugar sprinkled all over it…

So, when Max asked if he could make brownies, I said yes. It was 8 at night, he still had two hours until bedtime, and frankly, I figured he’d get bored half way through and I’d get to finish it, along with licking the bowl.

But no, he persevered. He made his way through all the instructions and worked through until the end. Of course, he forgot the eggs until he decided the dough was really weird, but still. He figured it out, and he kept on stirring.

Now, this comes from the kid who once cooked Pizza Rolls in the microwave for 8 MINUTES because he read the instructions wrong, and was so dead set to prove his brother wrong, he insisted he was doing it correctly, right up until they caught on fire.

Max and I have cooked together before. We make omelets every few Sundays… his favorite is a pizza omelet of his own creation that includes pepperoni, pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and sauteed onions. But when left alone, he typically creates a burnt mess or crispy scrambled eggs. Remembering all of the ingredients – like butter – seems to be a challenge for him.

So when he said he would make brownies, I wasn’t too sure it would turn out well. But I let him try anyway.

And I was pleasantly surprised. He fixed his mistakes. He greased the pan. He even remembered to even the batter out in the pan.

So I got to lick the bowl.

And it wasn’t just the chocolate that made me feel good. It was watching him grow up a little right there in front of me.

It was knowing that he could cook something, that the tide was changing, that he would be able to live on his own and make his way when he left me. His clothes that he washed were in the dryer and not all pink. His room was clean in places and relatively free from fire hazards. His grades were coming up and his smile told me that he was happy with who he was instead of being worried that he didn’t meet other people’s expectations.

He wasn’t my little baby anymore.

And as he towered over me, he smiled and handed me the spoon.

“There you go, Mom,” he said. “But you’re not going to eat it all, … right?”

So maybe not all grown up. But I kinda like it that way.


© Liz Carey 2014

He just got it

It’s hard to believe that 14 years ago, my youngest son was born.

It seems like just a few months ago, he was talking to me in the car about being excited to ride the “roll-up posters” at Kings Island, and how his favorite dinner is “pasghetti.”

On the day he was born, he weighed 7 pounds, 8 ounces and was about 21 inches long. Now, he’s 150 pounds, and towers over my 5 foot 4 inch frame. Where I used to hug him and rock him to sleep, he now holds me when I’m tired of dishes, dirty laundry and dog walking.

And he’s always there to make me laugh.

Max is known for his sense of humor in our house. Whether it’s talking at the dinner table, or just popping off some little quip, he usually has us in stitches by the end of the day.

One day, my husband, Max and I were at dinner. Max, like usual, ordered a grilled cheese and French fries. And like usual, as a parent, my husband felt that he was entitled to a Daddy tax of a few French fries. As he grabbed a fry from Max’s plate, Max protested by pulling away his little cup of ketchup.

Of course, Max pulled it away a little too quickly, and the ketchup slurped out of the cup and spilled all over Max’s new surfing shirt.

Max looked up at his Dad a little scared, worried that he would be in trouble for getting his new shirt dirty.

But his Dad just smiled. Not one to miss a beat, his Dad dragged his French fry up Max’s shirt and through the ketchup, saying “You know what they say, Max…waste not, want not.”

Without skipping a beat, Max looked at his Daddy and said “You know what they say, Dad… I got this shirt from the hamper.”

But he wasn’t always that way.

When he was first born, Max looked like he was angry.

For the first three or four months of his life, Max didn’t smile. His face had a permanent sort of scowl  – furrowed brow, drawn down mouth, piercing eyes. He just looked at the world like he was trying to figure everything out. When people would come up close to him, he would cock his head slightly to the left and stare at people like they were aliens from another planet.

I remember my Mom putting him one of those wind up swings one day. We both thought that he would start to giggle like every other kid did. So we stood there and watched, waiting for a smile to break out on his face and little giggles to bubble out of his mouth.

But no, Max just looked like he was mad that the perspective kept changing.

To be honest, I felt like I was going to be cursed to have a disgruntled teen ager at age two.

I began to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with him. In fact, I remember thinking I needed to take him to the doctor, but wondered what I would say to him.

“Well, doctor, the rest of us smile, and he doesn’t. There isn’t anything wrong with him, is there? It’s not like he could have been born without a funny bone or a sense of humor, right?” “The rest of us are funny… here, let me tell you a joke… see?”

We were concerned that if we didn’t do something our little guy would suffer, and us along with it.

Instead, we waited. And watched. All the while, Max scowled. And watched.

Then one day, he didn’t.

He was sitting in his swing while I did the dishes and his 2-year-old big brother, Mason, was playing with his feet and talking to him. Mason got right up into his face, stuck his tongue out at him and said something to him in that gibberish brothers learn to say to each other.

Max’s face swirled up into a grin. That spread into a smile. And that erupted into a giggle.

From there on, it never stopped.

Since then, he’s done stand up comedy as his talent in his fifth grade talent show, spent hours getting us laughing to the point of crying and coming up with some of the funniest one-liners we’ve ever heard. He’s written stories that have heroes turning paper and words into weapons, some of which were jokes that killed. He’s come up with new words that are part of our family vocabulary.

When the car gets dirty, he calls it a “kid sty.”

When I told him I was upset that neither he nor his brother ever got a “terrific kid” award from their elementary school for good behavior, his response that I should follow the car in front of us that had one of the said bumper stickers on it, until it pulled into a parking lot, at which time he’d be happy to hop out of the car and rip it off their bumper for me.

When I asked him the year before last if he’d like to have a video game playing birthday party with different systems in each room of the house, and each system accompanied by different snacks, candy, pizzas and cokes…. he said that would be pure Nerdvana.

It was like something went off in Max’s head that day and he finally got the joke. Better still, he wanted to tell it to us.

He still scowls when he doesn’t understand things, or when he’s frustrated with the rules that are set down for him that he feels are arbitrary and stupid. But as for the rest of the world… he gets it. And he’s ready to share the laughs with the rest of the world.

Lucky us.

© Liz Carey 2014

Culture shift

So, when you move to the Upstate of South Carolina, one of the first things you learn is that the Confederacy was born and died right next door in Abbeville County.

Jefferson Davis signed the Articles of the Confederacy during a meeting at the Burt-Starke House in the city of Abbeville, county seat of Abbeville County. Five years later, when the War of Northern Aggression (seriously, that’s what some call it STILL) came to a close, Confederate troops ran through Anderson with the Confederate gold, and stopped at the Burt-Starke Mansion to let Davis sign the treaty that ended the Civil War.

The other thing you learn pretty quickly is that there is a big Black population here. When I lived in Cincinnati, it was shocking how few African-Americans were in the area. That area had about a 5 and 10 percent black population, but here it’s closer to 35 percent, if not higher in some areas.

So, I’d been here for about 6 months, and my newest friend was the public information officer for the Anderson County Sheriff’s Office. She invites me out to “choir Practice” on a Wednesday night – which is so named because it’s Karaoke night at the Islander, which she gets to go to while her step mom takes her son to church. So, my friend is recently divorced and was there at choir practice with her then loser boyfriend Steve. And Steve, because I’m a reporter and I’m new, starts telling me all about the area. And since he has lived here forever, he just won’t quit. And I’m looking over to my friend to have her help me, but she’s off singing (if you can call it that) karaoke to “You give love a bad name” which seems appropriate for her ex, but seems to be a bad sign for the relationship if it’s about Steve.

Anyway, I’m trying to pay attention to Steve, which is hard because he’s really boring, when he says “Has anyone told you about the Black Panthers in Abbeville?”

Immediately, my ears pricked up. Having covered Klan rallies in Oxford, Ohio and going through riots in Cincinnati, and almost covering the Klan in Brookville, Indiana, I was immediately interested.

“Oh, yeah,” he says. “They’re all over the place. I’ve seen a bunch of them in Abbeville.”

Now, I had just gotten finished writing a story about this guy that ended up stealing about $3k made during an event that was supposed to go to charity. And my editor was constantly telling me to “go out there and rake some muck.” And I’m thinking “Holy crap! Militant black activists in the cradle and grave of the Confederacy? What the heck?! This is going to be a great story!!!”

So I start pumping Steve for more info and I’m asking him where these black panthers are and what they do and what everyone thinks about them. They live in Abbeville, he says, and everyone pretty much ignores them because what else are you going to do, you don’t see them much, so it’s not like you can shoot them.

To say I was a little shocked at that sentence is an understatement.

And then he says “Oh, yeah, I see them all the time on my way to and from work driving down the Abbeville Highway.”

I was looking at him like a deer hit by a bus and I ask, “Well, how can you tell they’re black panthers?”

And without batting an eye he says “Oh, that’s easy – you can tell cause of their long tails. Otherwise, they’d just be bob cats….”

My chin almost hit my beer glass my jaw fell open so much.

Yup…. Welcome to the rural South, Miss Uppity Northern Reporter…

© Liz Carey 2014

How to Piss Off Your Kids 21st Century Style

Remember when you were a kid and your Mom would ask about your “little friends”? It never failed to make my blood boil when she said that. What the hell, did she want to tick me off with that?

Now that I’m a parent, I really don’t want to intentionally torch my relationship with my sons, most of the time. But there are times when you just want to tweak their little noses. Part of being a parent is pissing off your kids. It’s just a natural part of life. When they’re young and vulnerable, we think they’re cute and we want to hold them and protect them and take care of them. It’s when they turn into adolescents that we realize we want them out of the house as soon as possible and hope they take their smarmy attitude with them.

And that’s good because otherwise, they’d all end up getting jobs delivering pizzas and living in our basements watching science fiction or playing video games until they’re in their 30s. That’s a situation no one wants.

These days, there’s just a plethora of things you can do to really torque off your kids.

1)     Sing and dance in the grocery store. Yeah. If parents weren’t meant to dance in the grocery store they wouldn’t play Jack Johnson. Besides, what else are you going to do to ignore the constant “Hey, Mom, can we get this?” and the ever present “But I promise I’ll pay you back!” that seems to go on ad infinitum with grocery shopping. Dancing next to the taco kits is a sure fired way to send them running to the magazine aisle.

2)     Start using their vocabulary – nothing sucks the coolness out of a word more for a teen than having it come out of your mom’s mouth. Start using words like “Jank,” “Nappy” and “Miz” in everyday conversation and see how quickly it loses its luster. In fact, I suggest you do this with any phrase you detest or have heard to the point of nausea…

3)     Post pictures of them as a baby on Facebook, tag them and make comments about how cute they look in whatever baby outfit they are wearing. Ditto for the cute naked butt pics from infanthood.

4)     Comment on their Facebook status updates. There’s nothing less cool than having your “Mom” say something dorky when you’re trying to impress some chic. “Like” their status? You might as well be hugging them in public. And follow them and/or their friends on Twitter? Be prepared to get the “Mooooom! That is SOOOOOO weird!!!”

5)     Dance in the car. As embarrassing as it is for you to get caught singing at the top of your lungs at a stop light, or seat dancing to the newest P!nk song, it’s mortifying for them. Especially when you’re in the car rider pick-up line.

6)     Like cooler music than them or force them to listen to 80s and 90s dance music. When their friends like your music, better than they like their music? SCORE!! With any luck, you’ll end up having them sing AC/DC or Aerosmith to you as their new “fave old school jam.” Word.

7)     Drag them to the library, museum, cultural exhibit of the day. What better way to jerk your kids around than to make them learn something? Better yet, do a craft that is uber-appealing, but has educational value, like making rock candy… they’ll want to do it so much, but there’s that icky “Science Lesson” component that makes them truly want to hate it… Pure parental torture. Insert evil witch cackle here.

8)     Play with their hair or other features in public. I’m not just talking about mom spit. I mean, just the mere suggestion that you’re going to fix their disheveled hair with your fingertips is enough to get the “Moooooooom” moan and eye roll. Of course they look better when you’re done, but they’ll just mess it all up again when you turn your back. Better to just stand there and do it constantly until they get really ticked and agree to cut their hair in some other style than the Beiber.

9)     Figure out dorky names to call them in public. Some things never change. “Booger Bear” may have been cute when they were five, but once they get past eight, you’re doomed if you use it in public. However, it’s a good tool to use if you want them to stop talking to you and fume for a while. “Can you grab the door for me Booger Bear?” in front of their friends will almost assure that you’ll sit interruption free in front of the television for hours.

10)   Join groups on Facebook discussing with other parents how to tick off their kids. DOUBLE SCORE! Triple points if you post pics of their reactions when you follow a suggestion.


© Liz Carey 2014

The Kitchen God’s Whine

The Kitchen God’s Whine

Exactly what do I have to sacrifice to the kitchen gods in order to get a good can opener?

I’ve already sacrificed the skin on my right arm to the oven gods for good cookies, and the skin on the roof of my mouth for good taste, but now… I’m willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for a good can opener.

And by “good,” of course, I mean, “one that works.”

As I was making shepherd’s pie last night for dinner, I struggled to get the can opener to actually open a can.

I clamped the opener down, turned the enormous handle and after only half a turn discovered it wasn’t cutting the can lid off anymore. Naturally, I started over again, only to have to start over another half a turn later. Clearly, this isn’t how can openers are supposed to work.

I’ve had can openers before that worked. They would glide through the cans of vegetables and soup like they were slicing through butter. But eventually, they would break down and move from the overflowing kitchen utensils drawer to the “oh, yeah, it still works occasionally, so let’s not throw it away” camping box.

Truth be told, I’m pretty sure it’s more important to have a can opener that works out in the wild where your life depends on it, than it is in the kitchen where you could just go to the store and get fresh food instead.

Now that I have kids, can openers are more crucial to my cooking equipment than a slotted spoon or fish spatula. If I can’t open up a can of something, my kids might not eat anything at all. My kids just don’t seem to appreciate home cooked meals. If they had their druthers, it would be baked beans and hot dogs, or cans of ravioli every day.

As I stood there struggling with the can opener, it made me wonder whether Gordon Ramsey ever has to worry about whether or not his can opener works. Then again, I’m pretty sure he never makes shepherd’s pie with cans of tomato soup and green beans.

And I’ll bet he never has to worry about picky child eaters. I’ll bet he never spends time covering only three quarters of HIS shepherd’s pie with mashed potatoes so as not to invoke the “EWWWW” reflex in one of his children, like I do.

I imagine his children probably come to the dinner table saying “Oh Papa, what wonderful creation have you prepared for us tonight? Another dinner of garam masala with basmati rice and mango kulfi for dessert? Marvelous, papa, simply marvelous!”

If he lived in my house, he’d get “Really Dad? Lamb shanks with oven roasted leeks and parsnips again? Can’t we just have canned beans and weenies like Neville’s mom makes? I mean, seriously… ”

But, if he did make them that, I’m pretty sure HIS can opener would work.

© Liz Carey 2014