A Hotdog Stand In Tamarindo

DSC00456.JPGHe was an ornery boy with matted down flaxen hair, small plump toes, and crooked teeth  inherited from his father. In bunchey wet board shorts and ill-fitting flip flops, he turned his head, straining to take in the odd menu scrawled in loopy letters on the cafe wall. A jagged bone white shark’s tooth suspended on an azure rope had caught his attention from a street vendor the day before, and now hung from his neck. The rope was a perfect match to his eyes.

Having been playing in the wild, white frothy surf of the Pacific, and feeding stray dogs his nutrigrain bar, the boy was decidley hungry. The menu, written mostly in Spanish featured delectables such as Nutella smoothies laden with ripe bananas, and authentic tacos which bore little resemblance to the ones the boy ate at home. Such fare was far too unusual for a child who munched on colorful goldfish crackers and breaded chicken from a box.

His older brother, easily adaptable to change, customs, and a tropical holiday in the little seaside town of Tamarindo, found delight in the food and settled for a smoky dish of shredded pork, plantains, and a velvety smoothie.

Mare, the comely owner of the soda hovered amiably by the table, eager to suggest something plainer and more American for the boy to try. He wasn’t having it. With lips pressed thin, like a string bean, and eyes cast down, the boy shook his head impatiently, pressed his small hands on the table and said,

” I want a hotdog.”

This was Costa Rica. It would be hard pressed to find Oscar Mayer products stuffed in white bread. Even back at the modern, turquoise and ecru decorated  boutique hotel, the chicken tenders were hand dipped in homemade bread crumbs lightly fried in extra virgin olive oil, and served with plantains. Not exactly fare for a French fry and chicken nugget gulping 10 year old. My desire to introduce culture, cuisine, and perhaps a vegetable to the boy would not be quenched.

This trip, although much needed, was fraught with fights, and complaints, and tantrums, and many dramatic eye rolls not only from my poor older son who had to deal with his obstinate brother, but by me as well. I had envisioned scenes much different than what was playing out in front of my weary hazel eyes.

I had planned a trip, the three of us- it was always the three of us- a fortieth birthday present to myself, which in reality was a consolation prize for the fact that I was still single at this age. With wounds still fresh from a broken engagement, I flung myself at adventures such as sky diving, volcano trekking, and food truck sampling. My friends marveled as I took on the new role of free, fearless, nomadic single mother, but the truth was I never felt so scared. Traveling with children is a challenge in itself, but traveling with a child who elder ladies with coral lipstick stained mouths call quite a handful, takes a certain amount of blind bravery. Or stupidity.

But I wanted to be brave. Wanted to prove to myself that I could navigate an airport, a far-flung Costa Rican village, and most importantly the minefield of single parenting. Although I was shaking in my sensible yet still stylish sandals, I wanted to show my children, I can do this.

But like the last five years of my life, our respite was not going as planned. The evening before, balmy and blushed with a vivid pink sunset, begged for a dip in the hotel’s elegantly curved pool. As my children splashed, I attempted to sprawl out on a pale blue lounger, sip some sort of adult beverage out of a glass void of any Marvel heroes, and marvel at the beauty of the lush jungle. With the sound of Howler monkeys laughing in the trees, and the pleasant murmuring of people conversing  in the outdoor restaurant, I began to slip into a place where I felt a warm sense of okayness. I planned this trip. I trapezed through a foreign airport with great aplomb, two children in tow. I schooled myself in knowing how much 100 colones were worth.  I felt that I may not be failing at this solo parenting thing after all.

Then the screaming began. The older one must have made a snarky comment to the younger one, and being as sensitive as he was, he began wailing louder than the hyper monkeys. The two carried on intensely despite my angered hushing through gritted teeth. It took me, red faced like a cranberry and unnerved, pulling them out of the pool by wet flailing limbs before they simmered it down to a manageable roar. As I ushered them past the dining area, back to our room, a lanky blonde in a fitted silk skirt took interest in our scuffle. She sat with her dapper husband, enjoying a cocktail, and remarked in a clipped accent.

“Thank you for such entertainment.”

I was mortified.

At least the sunset had been pretty.

Because of my nervous nature, fear of raising crass men, and deep concern over what other people thought, the ugly pool scene stung like vinegar on a fresh cut. Trying to keep composure when you are filled with rage and humiliation over your own child is a feat not for the faint of heart.

But today had been different. The mood of the previous night had been lifted by the backdrop of the sea, shaved ice as blue as pool water, and a really good day exploring a volcanic sand beach. I had watched my boy push his stubby toes into the glinty  black and gold flecked sand and wait for the waves to kiss his feet. With a pointed finger he would draw snowmen and Santa’s hat, write his name in bold capital letters, then run, attempting to shoo the water away from his creation. Then draw it again a little further up the beach. Each time the surf erased his name he seemed genuinely surprised and crestfallen, but rejoiced quickly in the chance to do it all again.  This both  broke my heart and filled it with a surge of love so strong it scared me. The brevity of life, of innocence, of time being washed away so very quickly was  being metaphorically played out in the bright hot sun before me. It was overwhelming, but perfect.

So as we sat at that little soda, I did not brace myself for a tantrum. I did not squirm, worrying if the raven haired girl seated next to us would deem me a weak mother when I calmly turned and told my son,

“Then we best find a hotdog stand for you young man.”

And we did.



In the 80’s Families did Dinner time; Here’s why I Fail at This

imageThanks to  Netflix’s Stranger Things, my son has discovered Corey Hart. He digs him. People don’t say that anymore do they? But he does. Dig him very much. He even made a cool edit of the show’s most intense moments using the synthetic sounds of I Wear My Sunglasses at Night as background music. I dug it.

I must say my son’s penchant for Corey Hart came as a surprise since he tends to be drawn to louder, faster, hard hitting soul shaking music such as Guns N’ Roses, but I understood the appeal since when I was, well about his age, I too was drawn to the moody song. Ian listening to Cory Hart brings me back to the 8o’s, which apparently is where Ian wants to be.

We are sitting on our crumb covered couch, the accent pillows of course are strewn about the floor. Why the hell did I buy a couch with pale green accent pillows?  Ian is picking the hard frosting off a Pop Tart and he tells me he wishes he grew up in the 80’s.  I’m intrigued. This could be a chance to get into my son’s hard to reach thoughts. Having to always use the backdoor when it comes to trying to hammer out his feelings, I jump on the juicy topic like a Blanche Deveroux on a man.

“Why do you say that?” I ask him. His little feet are tucked between the gap in the cushions, his freckles still prominent from August’s intense sun.

He presses his thin, pink lips together before answering.

“I don’t know, it just seemed like a better time, you know, the music was better and kids could play outside and the neighbors would know you, oh and families would have dinner time. ”


His answer stuns me. Did he really see the times he is growing up in in such a dim light that he would surrender his beloved IPhone, tablet, and constant viewing of some dude name Pewdiepie for life in the 80’s? Did this mean I had to start cooking? The guilt of swinging by Wendy’s on the way home from work starts to work its way into my heart. I start to think about what dinner time was like when I was growing up. It certainly looked quite different from the hurried task of speeding through the drive-thru; or when I have the energy, a quickly thrown together meal which I end up eating standing up as I load the dishwasher. Dinner time growing up had a more important theme in our house when I was a child. My sisters and I would set the table. I can’t remember the last time a table was set in my house. Maybe it was last Thanksgiving. My mother would cook from scratch, and except for Friday pizza night, there would always be a side of fresh vegetables. I haven’t found a vegetable that both of my sons like so our store bought rotisserie chicken is usually sans sides. I remember my parents  making us clean our plates even if it was something we hated.

Although I don’t completly agree with that rule, I wondered what it would be like to make a meal without ending up scrapping most of it off of plastic plates. Oh, and my parents never did plastic plates. It was always real dishes and a cloth napkin for my very fussy father. It was kind of nice. I start to think, maybe I should give that chicken casserole I saw on Pinterst a whirl.But then I remember I can barely manage to boil water without having to take a Xanax, and think, there must be an alternative. Can my family bond without an official bells and whistles dinner time?

That night I attempt to cook pasta. About half way into al dente, I realize in my frenzied culinarian state, my son does not do sauce. This means having to prepare a separate butter and cheese mix for him. Shit! More bowls to clean. I’m already up to my eyeballs in cutting boards, knives, and one wayward can opener. I panic, but I’ve already committed to this. Mommy’s making dinner!

I ask the boys to set the table. They fight.

I put out glassware. My son spills the lemonade and breaks the glass. Shit!

I dole out the hot slippery linguini. The older one bitches that it has too much sauce. He takes a napkin and methodically wipes each linguini strand clean.

I burn the garlic bread, and the boys complain the house smells like farts.

I don’t end up eating the meal at mealtime, because it’s all too stressful. I score a xany, pour  myself half a glass of wine and end up shoveling in a few bites while unloading the dishwasher at 9p.m.  Clearly I’m defeated. I can’t even do one night of family dinner! My mother would be ashamed. I kinda don’t care. But I do wonder if my son is disappointed.

The next night we get sandwiches at QuickChek and eat them on the couch while watching Stranger Things. Ian happily picks off shreds of lettuce with precision as my older son crams smoked turkey in his mouth. We watch Eleven sacrifice herself to kill the Demi-gorgon, and discuss the Duffer brothers nod to E.T. Everyone is satiated and relaxed.  I have nary a dish to clean, nor a pot to soak.

The 80’s rocked, but they can keep their formal dinners. We’ll bond over Corey Hart.


My kids bonded over the Clown Sightings

imageThey bonded once. My boys. Just recently actually, and it stuck with me for a week, allowing me to move buoyantly through my work days, and fold laundry without getting frustrated at the amount of mate free socks. They bonded over clowns.

Normally my two are at each other, bickering like a soon to be divorced couple. The subject of their fights sometimes amuse me, sometimes make me want to pull out mousey brown hair in clumps. Usually it’s the feet. The younger one has a thing for feet, deeming them gross and not worthy of being without a proper covering. The older one gleefully knows this treasure of information and uses it to deploy torture tactics on his pedi phobic brother.

“MOM!! He did it! He put his foot on my knee again!” Ian will scream as if the foot was a large scaly snake complete with fangs, and forked tongue.

David, without fail, will laugh like a madman, watching his brother’s full soft cheeks turn cranberry red, and azure eyes well up with fat goopy tears.

I then of course will scream at both boys, remarking on how ridiculous all this fighting is and then ponder if I had spaced my pregnancies apart better, would they hate each other less. I ponder if they will grow out of it, and then answer my own question when I look back at their track record of getting along; it doesn’t exists. When Ian was an infant David used to run into the room on thick padded feet, yank the binky out of his poor brother’s mouth, and run out, cackling like a shriveled old witch. Ian was no saint either, once going as far as slapping himself sharply on the arm and then insisting the red welt that formed was created by his brother, and certainly not by his own devious hand.

But it happened. They bonded. And over the oddest thing. Our area, along with several others had been inundated with stories of horrific clown sightings. The internet was (and still is) on fire, spinning tales of machete weilding circus creatures, their smirk evil beneath that familiar red nose, terrorizing children. Even the boy’s school bus driver warned them to “go straight home” one drippy Tuesday afternoon.

Now my two heathens were on a mission. Protect the home from clowns using as many homemade weapons they could find. A large walking stick, pale and smooth like a bone became the favorite weapon of choice. They each would hold their sticks close to the body, then in a stealthy move, BOOM, hit the clown in his creamy white temple. Soon they were drawing out stragetic battle plans if they encountered more than one, and researching clown sightings on their Ipones and googling Pennywise. It was heartwarming for a weary mother of two normally ball busting boys to see. There seemed to be a genuine need to protect each other from the clowns, and both boys had some solid ideas on how to rid the town of any potential clownings. I was impressed. And touched of course. As far as I’m concerened Frick and Frack can bond over clowns, as long as they are bonding.

The Wrong Salami

imageIt had been a particulary grueling Wednesday workday, standing for eight hours on my chubby, aching feet and racing about in well worn Sketchers as I filled prescriptions for cranky seniors in wool coats.  I had an hour before I needed to retrieve my children from their dreaded After Care program at school; the one in which they refered to as Hell with teacher aides, consequently adding to my single working mommy guilt, and usually prompting me to arrive bearing various consolation prizes, such as French fries, Wendy’s chocolate frosties, or when really desperate, the latest Marvel figure.

“Hey kids, I wish I only worked part-time and  could pick you up from school everyday so that you wouldn’t have to sit for two hours in a cafeteria making sock puppets, eating stale goldfish, and getting yelled at for not participating in elbow tag by wide bottomed day care workers in ill fitting yoga pants, but look! Ant-Man!!

The past month had been a bit prickly with money, being after Christmas I had a stack of bills from Amazon, Kohl’s, and JC Penney. My  hours at the pharmacy had been cut and I had resorted to paying the electric bill with a credit card.  It was only early January, but already I  was patiently awaiting for the trickle of tax refund documents in the mail to begin. If I could make it to February we’d be home free, and possibly go back to buying the good Q-tips and two-ply toilet paper again.

All day at work I had been missing my children. As I counted out suboxone for barren eyed junkies and labeled packs of birth control for 17 year olds in Northface jackets, my periphial thoughts revolved around my sons.  Their impossibly smooth foreheads. The length of their lashes. Their constantly smelly feet.

I was driving home that evening with The Edge of Seventeen blaring in my winter filthy car and a bag of hot French fries in the passenger seat when it dawned on me. The school would be serving breakfast for lunch tomorrow. Crap! This posed a huge problem for my older son, who not only found the concept of eating pancakes at 12:17  completly absurd, but also vehemently insisted the school’s sausage patties tasted like farts.  Without even a lone slice of luncheon meat in the fridge this left me with little choice. A trip to ShopRite was happening.

Remember the first episode of The Walking Dead where Rick Grimes gets trapped in a tank surrounded by walkers? ShopRite is worse. And the walkers have grocery carts. And coupons. It’s the Apolypse with Can-Can specials. The plan was simple. Run in, grab salami, run the hell out.

The processed luncheon meat gods must have been with me as I discovered much to my delight, there was a section of pre sliced cold cuts sitting conveniently by the pickled olives. Not having to stand at the deli counter with an angry mob of  ticket wavers put me a grand mood and I decided to spring for some provolone cheese too. My son would be thrilled. Mommy guilt would be averted. It was a win win.

Or so I thought.

I sped out of the parking lot, not having to give the finger once, and headed over to after care pickup to retrieve my little heathens. After an explosion of Mommy! Mommy! We missed you, the hugs tapered off and the conversation took a serious turn.

“Mommy, they are serving breakfast for lunch tomorrow and I hate that,” he said in a pissy tone.

I assured him I had it covered, and would be making him a delicious salami sandwich on white bread with the crusts cut off – A side of Doritos and part skim chocolate pudding on the side. The boy was happy. Until we got home and he asked for a slice.

In my quest to sprint out of that clogged grocery store playing a Musak version of Sweet Child O’ Mine I had inadvertently grabbed the hard salami. As an Italian, and lover of antipasto, I was shocked I committed such a faux pas. Surely I grabbed the Genoa. No? Where was that tangy familiar bite? That garlicy aroma? Instead I had a hunk of course sausage and a cranky son on my hands. Wails ensued.

As my son carried on as if he was on fire, I began to unravel. The strain of the day had finally caught up with me, and my feelings of failure became too overwhelming. I was a single working mother wracked with guilt, everyday wondering if I was good enough. I retreated upstairs, undressed for bed, and let the hot tears spill down my cheeks, smearing my inky black mascara. Pretty soon I was sobbing louder than my child. It had nothing to do with the salami.

There I was, in oversized pajama bottoms, a stretched out turquoise bra, my face a mess. A soft knock at the door. My two children entered, one holding a spoon, the other holding a towering mass of ice cream, whipped topping and sprinkles. There was even a cherry. They made this for me? I started smiling, then laughing. Then hugs ensued. Then more laughing.

It had nothing to do with the ice cream.