School of Dad


“The sense of someone missing is stronger than the sense of someone there.” – Paul Theroux, The Mosquito Coast


By accident, the memory of the movie suddenly dug up an urge to read the book. It took my shitty library two full weeks to locate a copy and whether it was the lack of copies available or just fate’s way of telling me I’m getting old, only a large print type was located for me. Large print – it’s like reading a poster in book form. Three times the normal weight, too.


Nonetheless, the book is brilliant. The story’s fascinating and the writing – is like savoring a goblet of Saintsbury Pinot Noir. And it may have been fate or pure coincidence,  but it arrived the week of Father’s Day.


As I read the journey, memory and feelings of a thirteen-year old Charlie-boy towards his genius-but-mad-father, I saw a refracted reflection. Not of me and my dad – because as much as I’d like to recount that my father was a bit touched, it was more like O.C.D. that rivaled famous Jewish comedians. There wasn’t a hint of genius in my dad’s babbling whatsoever. Besides, his O.C.D. issues became rather comedic after he survived a stroke. Like watching a mute Gilbert Gottfried.


Yes – I’m awful.


Anyway, the refracted reflection I saw, was through the eyes of either of my sons – towards their dad. The words processed at face value: the relation, the misunderstanding, the sense of responsibility and the sense of abandonment. The embarrassment. The awe. Not that those feelings, even combined, are exclusive to them. But – I know – they’re dealing with double standards.


My husband’s a tough cookie. Kind of chewy – distasteful even. But he’s their dad. Their memory of him will go down regardless of how anyone else wants it to remain. It’s their rite of passage. How children eventually relate to the world. The School of Dad: all individualized courses.


In the end – it’s got nothing to do with mom. That’s why kids survive divorce and death and democrats.


By the way, my own dad taught me that.


So that's my DNA?
So that’s my DNA?

Exponentially Yours


“Exponentially,” is a term Man vs. Food’s Adam Richman uses to describe how spicy something becomes when a slop chef uses hot oil for Buffalo wings. Never mind that the word is a mathematical term, I can picture dudes across America saying, “this chicken is exponentially hot,” instead of just fanning their tongues yelling, “Gimme some water, gimme some water!”


The sissies.


Anyway, things are exponentially busy. Could be the drop sunshine amongst the buckets of rain, lately. At least the busy-ness is all good – for now.  I’m holding a spot on the floor for the other shoe, which is expected sometime in August. In the meantime, I keep my poker face on – the same look I have when things suck.


It’s hypocritical, actually. I tell my kids not to use the term “suck” and use it constantly. I say the supermarket music sucks; the number 7 train really sucks; the weather is starting to suck – but if those guys even try to say that homework sucks, I make them do pages of penmanship. Yeah, guess I suck.


But I told them if they win a national spelling bee, they can curse to their hearts content.


“Yay!” Shouted Zuki like it’s in the bag. I’m not trying to undermine him but really, it’s like Britney Spears auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. No lie, he still asks me, “Mommy – do you have any G-U-M-B?


“Zuki, for the hundreth time, there is no “b” at the end of gum.”


“But there’s a “b” at the end of dumb and that’s the way I want to spell it.”


Dumb Gumb. If there is such a thing, I can think of a few people who’ve been chewing it.


He might just become one of those annoying people who needs to “ax” a question. Or misuse words like, “Literally, she was getting on my nerves.”


Literally? Was she climbing up your back?


But that’s American English. It’s probably just as bad as Chinese Spanish. Or my husband’s Japanese. Whatever. The next generation will simply attach a letter “b” to the end of a word and change the English language, exponentially.

better humen bean is
better humen bean is

The Secret Ingredient


Intention. It’s the heart of every act – the secret ingredient. Know what it is and you can’t go wrong; fool yourself and you’ll get what you really asked for anyway. For instance, my husband and I didn’t marry for love – we were too morbid for that. I married him because he offended me with his crude sense of humor. Plus, we both listened to hellish music and loved beer.


Twelve years later, we sound like a couple of truck drivers as we drag ourselves out of bed at five in the morning to do suicide jumps, complaining about the horrible workout music – all to keep our guts from reaching whale status. Modern day honeymooners. Bang-zoom-to the effin’ moon.


I have to say, until I had children, figuring out other people’s intention was not my forte. It could be as plain as the mole on their face and I would hold out for some noble, underlying motive. I was once that idiot who would scrounge around my pocketbook forever for a pan-handler asking if I had any spare change. My husband, on the other hand would say, “Yeah, I have plenty,” and walk away.


Children, with their innocence and their inexperienced lying, especially my guys – always make it clear – get the object of their desire. At all costs. Everybody’s expendable – most of all…siblings. Besides, what could be more noble than a straight line to having your needs met, right? And just because they’ve learned how to look like they’re suffering from an excruciating broken heart, doesn’t mean I have to fall for it. At least not every time.


They don’t fool me. Maybe one day they will – but not today. I know what their intentions are and to be fair, I do a daily check on my own. When I’m scrounging for cash (because you know I ain’t gonna ask my husband for spare change) just to get a lousy haircut, I do remind myself. Why we’re on a low budget; why I deal with haggard hens who’s sole purpose is to be a nuisance; why I’m mutating into the obatarian I vowed I’d never be – because I didn’t want to get a dog.

Obatarian, by Katsuhiko Hotta


The Headset Mic


I said, “Madonna.” The group of second graders said nothing. He said, “Britney Spears” and they laughed and nodded. Word association when it came to the headset mic. He’s their teacher so I guess he was more in tuned to current icons. Sorry, Madonna – here’s the radar and there’s you, way the f*ck over there. Whatever. I’m just happy that Hannah Montana is at zombie status.


But I should update my celebrity catalog. I find myself saying things like, “You know the actor who played the douche bag in that movie with the fat guy from Super Bad?” I can’t remember actors names. But it’s really not my fault – celebrities have such unmemorable names these days. So do bands. Not like “Triangle Sweat.” That’s the name of my new band. Thanks Kim.


Along with time, money and putting on their clothes correctly, my boys still have no concept of age. Then again, their father acts his shoe size, why shouldn’t they? Well – Samu is still wearing pre-school sizes, so he’s good.


Zuki asked me my age the other day, and when I answered he said, “You’re older than Grammy?”


“No Zuki, you count the tens – sixty is more than forty.”




You see why I think he might be going to summer school this year?


And then this morning, while walking Samu to school, we saw his classmate/Cub Scout buddy across the street. The kid was with a teenage-ish girl who I wasn’t sure was his aunt or cousin. So I asked Samu, because he can be nosy like that.


“I think that’s his grandmother.” He said.


Seriously. The girl was wearing faded capris and a teeny t-shirt, she looked like a broomstick with a ponytail.


“Samu – that is NOT his grandmother.”


“Well, she’s not his mother so, she must be his grandmother.”


……let’s hope he stays away from genetic engineering.

“I’m wearing a tie, so now I’m OLD!”

Mommy and Goliath


Last year, around this time, I was wigging out about the impeding summer break. Fretting over two whole months of maintaining reading levels while keeping my two monkeys busy enough that they wouldn’t choke the crap out of each other. This year? I’m counting down the last days of school – down to the millisecond – and I have no summer plans. I am done with planning.



This summer is going to be Summerish. Hot and lazy. Fun and spontaneous. Since Samu’s school is anti-field trips, we’re going to go on one every day. It’s going to be ridiculous – like his school. Ugh.


The Department of Education. Sometimes I wonder how we put our children in their hands.



Even McDonald’s is organized to reach the same standards for all their…whatever you call them (it’s not a restaurant. Restaurants serve food). But the DOE? Oi, vey. How does a department that’s obsessed with Common Core allow two public schools, separated by a mere four blocks, to have drastically different learning environments?


With “Common Core” a kid is ensured the same math curriculum should he move from Pennsylvania to Idaho. But if his family moves across the boulevard, he goes from a dozen field trips to one; two gym teachers to none and art, music, book fairs, evening concerts, baseball outings to – a crippling stomach virus. The education system isn’t concerned with consistency, content, instruction or even children. All they want is nickels and dimes and million dollar bills.


If I weren’t on the PTA, I’d be as blind to it as most parents are. It’s enough to make me wish I had taken the blue pill. Like glancing into the backdoor kitchen of your favorite Chinese restaurant on Mott street and seeing how your food looks before they smother it in black bean sauce. I’ll just have tea, thank you.


In dealing with the education hierarchies, I’ve learned, there’s never a simple yes or no answer. And if an answer makes sense, then it has to be put in writing so that it doesn’t – because it has to cover everybody’s ass from a lawsuit. Like an anti-depressant commercial, Lexapro can alleviate your anxiety because it might kill you, maim you, make you attractive to idiots and purple in the nose but sign the consent form before you forget why you’re taking it and it won’t be our problem.


Of all administrations, the DOE epitomizes a giant of giants – Goliath himself with armor that hasn’t been washed in months and no underpants to speak of. If you don’t get your shot right between the eyes and drop the giant on his face, you’re bound to be a slave for the rest of your kid’s educational life.


Take it from me, if you got issues, talk to other parents before you approach the administration.


With that said, I proudly announce that Samu – our very own monkey of a troll (or troll of a monkey) – passed. The Gifted and Talented test and the audition to the School of American Ballet. I know right? When just today his teacher spoke to me how instead of practicing his penmanship, he was drawing Angry Pigs.


For this summer, I may not have a plan – but if these boys keep up their antics by the time they’re ten, I’m sending them to camp. In Israel.


Samu's spare time, arranging "Angry Pigs" and photographing them
Samu’s spare time, arranging “Angry Pigs” and photographing them



Birds And The Bees These Days


Shortly after discovering I was to be a mom of two boys, my first thought was, at least I won’t have to give them the menstruation talk. While there a number of other pitfalls I’m not looking forward to: teenage boys, idiot girlfriends, man-buffoonery – it still seemed better than female rivalry, wardrobe battles and the subtle confidence undermining games that my mother went through with me.


My mom never really taught me about “the birds and the bees.” Heck, she won’t even tell me how to pick fresh fish. I learned about the facts of life at nine, when my best friend, Jen, put a naked Ken on top of a naked Barbie and said, “this is what parents do.”


But even without Jen’s figurine demonstration, growing up in the 70’s – sex was pretty much everywhere. It wasn’t about birds or bees at all. It was about cigarettes and tampons and 42nd Street. Instead of “The Talk,” my mom took me to see Midnight Cowboy because to her, it was a coming of age story.


“This is what happens when a potato tries to make it in the city. Don’t be a potato.” She’d say.


By “potato” she meant “bumpkin.” A country bumpkin, which oddly enough, my father would label her as being. After all, she grew up surrounded by fields and he was from downtown Tokyo where they’d roll a house on logs to move away from the burning one next door.


My mother’s own childhood complaints were about having nothing but sweet potatoes and barley to eat and his retort was, “at least you had something to eat.”


When it came to war, starvation and American soldiers – my parents would tell me everything. Boys and love and where babies come from, on the other hand, they’d make a run for it and leave me to speculate from the Motown and Engelbert Humperdink records they’d play.


Considering my boys are subjected to my husband’s taste in music: Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Manson and Metallica – I can’t really send them down that road. They became curious why Beyonce was prancing around in high heels and a leotard, singing about a ring and I groaned, Birds and the Bees these days. I prayed to be spared the “talk” for at least another five years.


But this is the world of flash advertisement. When they saw a banner on my computer that said, “Support Same Sex Marriage,” they asked what it meant.


So I explained, “It’s when a man marries a man or a woman marries a woman.”


And Samu said, “So, I can marry Ping and he could be my brother!”


Yes, it’s mixed up but the funny thing is, there are times I feel like my husband is more like my baby and my sons are like my partners when it comes to mature conversation. Besides, my husband’s family is so big and intertwined, they’re still trying to figure out everybody’s relationship to everybody – so I just simplified it with, “Same sex marriage is when gay people get married.”


Samu furrowed his brows. “But isn’t gay like…a pink shirt.”


Thanks, Daddy.


Deep breath. Then I asked them, “You know how you feel nervous and shy around Kate or Ninelle?” They both nodded – which I took as a sign that they’re currently heterosexual. Then I continued, “Well, for some boys, they have that feeling about another boy.”


They both quietly thought about those feelings for a minute. Maybe they understood – maybe they were thinking about Legos. Who knows. They’re boys. When I thought I was in the clear, Samu asked me a tough one.


“Why did it say “support gay marriage”?”


“Because some people are against it. They think marriage should only be between a man and a woman.”


In unison, they asked “Why?”


They may as well have said, “Checkmate.”


Either I go on a rampage about religious hypocrisy or I create a ripple in the waters of sex education. Seeing that the only figurines available for demonstration were Mario, Ninja turtles and Sponge Bob, I just made a run for it. Hey, it worked for my parents.


Today, it's birds. Tomorrow - chicks.
Today, it’s birds. Tomorrow – chicks.

Third Grade’s A Charm


Despite the fact that I had a HUGE fight with Zuki this morning, I’m writing this post to praise the progress he’s made in the third grade. If I don’t, he’s going to drive me insane with his scatter-brain. I’ve considered getting the boy a pair of blinders but he’s usually distracted by something else going on in front of him – like his little brother reading, me sorting out old receipts plastered to the bottom of my bag, even crumbs on the table – they all bellow for attention, don’t they?


Obviously, he gets it from me. I’m supposed to be filing our taxes. I tried to log in three times and f*cked up the password, so here I am blogging, until the twenty-minute lockout is over.


But back to this guy:


My FACE is a science experiment!



His first graded “Science Project.” Originally, he wanted to make a miniature version of Da Vinci’s giant crossbow. The science teacher said no – it’s a weapon. I should’ve figured. Although his “testable question” was more along the lines of engineering, they couldn’t get past the politics.

Seriously, how deadly is a crossbow made by an eight-year old gonna be? Not to mention, the kids weren’t allowed to bring in the actual project itself – they had to present it on a tri-fold board with pictures of it. What the hell? With two weeks of planning wasted – he went with something easy: torturing avocado pits. The variable was adding salt and sugar to the water and the result was kind of gross. Naturally, that pleased Zuki to no end.

And look, he got an 86. I swear, I did nothing but complain about how gross his “salted” avocado pit was – he really did it on his own.

May his report card look like this one day



On a final note (now that he’s forgiven for wasting the entire morning fooling around naked), I promised I would post his “Writer Of The Month” publishing. I happened to see it because his teachers met with me privately regarding his “promotion in doubt”. Yes, again – but it wasn’t as grim as I thought. Maybe I’m just used to it now. It occurred to me that I might see these notices every year – or maybe – Third Grade’s a charm. Just in case, I’m going to see what Amazon has for blinders.





Russo Does Rocky: The Family Trip to Philadelphia

Review on some places to go, things to do and places to eat on a short family trip to Philadelphia.


What better way to spend President’s Day weekend but to leave the house a mess, do absolutely no food shopping and take the bus for a family trip to Philadelphia? Of course my husband’s biggest gripe was, “We’re gonna miss the new Walking Dead episode!” Once he checked and double checked that it would be recorded, he came off the ledge.


Usually, when I think Philadelphia, I automatically picture Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington in that order. Then I remember a time I planned an excursion – when I was about twenty – and my dad said, “What are you going to see in Philadelphia – the Riberty Bell?”


It occurred to me that my family spends a lot of time vacationing in Pennsylvania.


In comparison, it’s cheaper than a stay-cation in New York, where your average pub bill is about sixty bucks for two appetizers and two rounds of parental medication (kids get bar water because if it’s good enough for the dogs, then it’s good enough for midgets).


In Philly, it was twenty-four dollars for two rounds of craft beer, a basket of fries and also two hot chocolates (‘cuz I don’t trust tap water in other states) at McGillins Olde Ale House. On Yelp, the review said the place was not kid friendly but they must’ve been talking about kids who don’t eat real food. Accompanied by parents who drink soda – at a pub. No, it was very kid friendly. And the food was so good we went back the next day to watch Zuki polish off an entire Philly Cheese Steak sandwich by himself. With a bag of chips. And french fries.


He wasn’t as enthusiastic with the pulled pork sandwich at DiNics but I was all over it. Ever since my husband and I saw the place featured on Man vs. Food, we vowed we’d go there to try it. As soon as we got off the bus, we went to Reading Terminal Market and got lucky. The line wasn’t bad, the price was half of what we thought it would be (we were thinking Katz’s prices) and once we got it, we practically inhaled it. No foreplay, no nothing – just straight to business – and my God! It was The Best sandwich I ever ate in – my – entire – life.


If I’m ever on Death Row – and I happen to be in Pennsylvania – DiNic’s pulled pork with provolone and broccoli rabe is my last meal. With a beer, of course. That should buy me an extra six hours unless they have an express line for corrections officers.


We putzed around the streets of Philadelphia for an hour. It was friggin’ cold and the boys were pains-in-the-asses. All they wanted to do was go to the hotel – yet, they had no concept of time, let alone “check in time.” To kill the last hour before check in, we went to the Apple Store on Walnut street. The boys could put their greasy fingerprints on the store’s display iPads all they wanted while my husband and I fantasized about buying a new laptop. Oh, look! It’s only sixteen-hundred dollars…


At least the whole trip was pretty cheap: $197 for four round trip bus tickets and one night at Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia. I booked it through GotoBus but if you’re like my mom and skeptical about the odds of their buses crashing because the bus fare is so cheap, you can go with Megabus, they’re way more expensive. I don’t know how that improves the odds, but I do think it might have something to do with the departure location. On GotoBus, we left from Chinatown NYC and ended up in Chinatown PHL, which of course had Samu asking, “Why are there so many Chinese people around here!”


He’s Turrets Kid.


Finally, the highlight of our trip was running up the “Rocky” stairs, which are actually the stairs leading to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. You’d think with the Insanity workout killing us, it would’ve taken us less than forty-eight seconds to climb them. Even then, Zuki reached the top first and I don’t know what Turrets Kid was doing but luckily I wrapped up his face with my scarf so we couldn’t understand his complaints.



Gonna Fly Now!
Gonna Fly Now!



Almost there Turrets Kid!
Almost there Turrets Kid!



Room with a view
Room with a view



Hot Chocolate, round two!
Hot Chocolate, round two!




Where Ever We Go, Amigo


In my last post about my “Odd Couple,” Cheryl of Geek Girl commented that although my boys are opposites, I wouldn’t have it any other way. She’s right. No matter how unlike each other they are, they are best friends. Like my sister and I – like my mother and her brother. In my heart, I hope Zuki and Samu will always forgive each other no matter how idiotic the stunt is. Hey, if my mother and I forgave our younger siblings for up and dying, then really – what could be so bad other than denying the survivor the chance to have the last word.

Word. There, I said it.

Likewise, I constantly teach my boys to respect their friends. As a second generation American, I haven’t much family here – but friends – are my backbone. From experience I know that friends are the only people not obligated to respect you back. But if you earn their trust, you can bet you’ll never feel alone.

On the day off from school, we visited good friends who defected to Westchester. Okay, they just moved – but we never got over it. The older boys have known each other since they were babies and the younger siblings were just mere ideas. We still connect, the parents the kids and the gab in between – that’s a rarity and I cherish it.

All that said, my boys crossed the line during our last get together. They outcast the little sister (who’s the same age as Samu) by claiming their group for boys only. Things eventually got smoothed over, but I let them have it when we got home.

“Never, ever, ever cast out a friend or make him or her feel left out. Would you like it if someone did that to you?”

They hung their heads in shame. Samu said, “That would hurt my feelings.”


I told them if I ever caught them excluding their friends again, I’d make them sing the theme song for “Beaches” (a.k.a. The Wind Beneath My Wings). First of all, they’re afraid of Bette Midler and I understand, she looks like a drag queen. Second, the cheesy keyboard part is just too dated for them. They’d rather move like Jagger.

While I hope their own musical preferences improve, it’s not as pertinent as their keeping their word about respecting friends.

May they always be this happy together.

Brothers, The Odd Couple


Some years ago, I trudged through “The Shack.” The writing was…”meh,” and the whole time, I pictured the main character – a father who lost his little daughter to a serial killer – as “Larry The Cable Guy” simply because his name was “Mack.” So that made it hard to take the book seriously. Still, I came away with something: that parents can’t have favorites – not even God.

Neither of my boys have had the slyness to ask me which of them is my favorite. I find that amazing because I remember constantly asking my mother whether I was her favorite and she would just ignore the question altogether, which is an answer on its own. The boys have, however, each accused me of loving the other more when I served what seemed like an uneven portion of ice cream or uncharacteristically paid a compliment to one for not screwing something up.

Truth is, if they were similar, I probably would compare them. How could you not? Fuji apples taste better than Gala apples but they don’t compare to Texas watermelon because it’s a known fact that apples go better with wine while watermelon is strictly for vodka. And I’m Sorry, oranges just don’t do it for me – even in Screwdrivers.

So after Samu and Zuki’s “Open House,” where parents get to meet the teacher and see the classroom, listen to the curriculum and look into their desk – this is what I discovered: I gave birth to the Odd Couple.

Felix Unger

Neat, huh? Almost, O.C.D-ish. Definitely not something I’d expect from a First Grader or either of my sons for that matter. But it is Samu’s desk. And just to make sure it was him and not the teacher, I checked out his classmates desks. They were slightly worse – than Zuki’s, which looked like this:

Oscar Madison

Can these two knuckleheads grow up together, without driving each other crazy?