Friday, Jul 12th

greenmansionsAugust 15th. Each summer as a middle and high schooler, I would wake up on the 15th and feel a sinking pit in my stomach. After an entire summer of blissful oblivion, this was the day I would face the reality that I had actual homework to do. From the years 1982-1987, I had still not selected – much less read – my school’s summer reading assignment come August 15th.

I’m a procrastinator. I learned that word in 6th grade when my teacher – Paul Solomon, actually, who just retired this year – used that word to describe me in front of the class. I felt the sting of it and then the acceptance: hey, somebody understood me! There was a word to describe my condition. I liked to wait for the very last minute. I still do. Why else would I wait all summer to write an article about waiting all summer?

It’s not that I didn’t like to read. I loved to read. I became an English teacher, for goodness sakes. And if a future English teacher didn’t want to do her summer reading, imagine what the rest of the kids must have felt like.

Ugh, the drudgery. Having to pick a book from a Xeroxed list. Just the fact that these books were on a list created by teachers made them incredibly and irrevocably unattractive. I may have liked that S.E. Hinton title before, may have even wanted to read Rumblefish before, with the tough-looking pool-playing, leather-jacket wearing guys on the cover, but not now. Now that Rumblefish was officially on a summer reading list, it was officially off of mine.

Plus, it was so hot outside. Who could focus on Carson McCuller’s The Member of the Wedding when it was a humid 96 degrees and my friend Dana had invited me to Atlantic Beach for the day? I’d rather be in the cool waves than in the hot South with Frankie Aadams, that was for sure.

Also, the teachers at my school did something extra sadistic to us by ranking the books by level of difficulty. This was a cruel and unusual torture for a good girl like me who basically wanted to impress her teachers without having to work all that hard to do so. So I studied the list carefully, trying to psyche it out to fit my particular needs, but there was very little room for flexibility, since the list only contained about 6 titles. Not to mention, the ranking system was flawed, definitely. I mean, the books ranged from 1 (easy with illustrations) to 3 (challenging in the way of Russian tomes). It was like a rollercoaster, this list, either going straight up, up, up in a frightening slope or zoom, zoom, zoom down in a fast, breezy downhill. There was hardly any plateau at all for a student like me, who craved safe, steady mediocrity.

One year, I remember selecting Green Mansions, listed by those demented teachers as a solid level 2. The book sticks out in my mind because of the all-green cover and because I couldn’t understand a word of it. Honestly. I read the first page about 6 times before starting to cry. Next, I panicked. I thought I might have lost the ability to read over the summer. Was this what 9th grade was going to be like? Were the teachers using the summer reading list to vet the real students from the fakers? On the first day of school, was I going to be exposed as a fraud and sent back to junior high because of Green Mansions?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about this novel: “Green Mansions: A Romance of the Tropical Forest (1904) is an exotic romance by William Henry Hudson about a traveler to the Guyana jungle of southeastern Venezuela and his encounter with a forest dwelling girl named Rima.” The main characters, besides the aforementioned Rima, are Abel, Nuflo, Cla-Cla, and Kao-Ko.

I’m sure it’s a classic, but I’ve gotta say, you couldn’t pay me enough to read that book even now. I demanded that my mom take me right back to B. Dalton so that I could humble myself with a level 1 book. It probably had colorful fish on the cover and used rhyming couplets to explain the plot, but anything was better than trying to navigate Ytaiao mountain with Kao-Ko.

And now I’ve got to complain about B. Dalton, may she rest in peace, the only bookstore in town when I was young. By August 15th, the summer reading titles had all but disappeared from the local libraries, so my mom and I had no choice but to purchase a copy from B. Dalton. But, each August, B. Dalton had been picked clean by middle and high school students who all clutched the same perverse book list in their sweaty fists. There was nothing left for a late-comer like me, so, invariably, as part of the summer reading dance that I did with my mom, we would have to mosey on up to the information desk in the bookstore and sashay and parlay our needs to the salesperson. This is in a pre-computer era, mind you, so the salesperson would then take out some kind of huge index and look up the ISBN for my lame level 1 book and then handwrite out a carbon copy paper with my name and address and the ISBN. The book would then be delivered not to me, but to the store in 7-10 days, at which time my mom would drive me over to B. Dalton and we would pay.

I began reading that stupid novel in the bookstore parking lot, because, of course, school started the very next day.

Hey, as a procrastinator, at least I would have the plot fresh in my mind when I wrote my back-to-school essay about it.

I hope you’ve done your summer reading, everyone! And if not, I know just the word for you.

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. She recently published her first novel, Lauren Takes Leave.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

waterskiiersMy 10-year-old son, Andrew, attended sleep away camp this summer for the first time. He returns this Sunday, Aug 12th, and, by all accounts, he had a blast. Right from the start, every letter was positive, every phone call upbeat, every image of him on the camp website full of smiles.

“I love how they always have their arms around each other in the group shots,” my mom commented.

“I know, so cute,” I agreed. He was growing up right before my eyes.

The first time Brett and I talked to him, we noticed that Andrew’s voice was raspy. “Are you sick?” I asked. “You sound like you have laryngitis.”

“Nah, I’m fine,” he said, clearly sounding hoarse. “We had a color chase last night and we screamed a lot. The greenie meanies were after us!”

“Well, maybe you should just rest your voice today,” Brett added from the other cordless phone. We stood next to each other in the kitchen, each armed with our own telephone, so we could all talk together.

“Maybe gargle with salt water,” I suggested. “Or go to the health center for a cough drop.”

“Yeah, yeah, okay, okay,” he said. He definitely wasn’t going to do anything about his voice. This kid was humoring us, we knew, and we were babying him, we knew. But we have roles to fill in life and we fill them: the worried parent, the happy-go-lucky-camper.

On visiting day, Andrew looked great. His voice was still a bit scratchy, but that was to be expected because they had just had a song competition and a sleep out and a sneak out and because he had just dropped from the sky on the ropes course. There are apparently many things to yell about in the middle of Pennsylvania.

With about 10 days left at camp, I got a call from the camp nurse. Andrew had a fever of 101.4 and had spent the night in the health center. “Can I talk to him?” I asked.

“Sure!” she said.

“Hi, Mom,” he said. “I had a headache two days ago and yesterday it got worse and so I came here and they told me I had a fever and they gave me medicine and I had to stay.”

“Oh, poor you!” I said.

“No, it’s really fun! I watched five movies. One of them was Austin Powers!”

Austin Powers?

Now, personally I think Austin Powers is hysterical. But I quickly tried to remember if it is an appropriate movie for kids or not. Which one has Fat Bastard and Mini Me? In which one does he lose his Mojo? When do we meet Goldmember?

Oh, what the heck, I decided. The camp probably knows which DVDs to show to feverish 10 year olds.

My child was sick in bed, and I couldn’t see him, I couldn’t hug him, I couldn’t kiss his forehead or give him Jell-O. I took a deep breath. Instead of being too motherly or overprotective, I responded to the news of Austin Powers with “Yeah, baby!”

“I got to go to campfire last night and we had another fake out for the camp Olympics!”

“That’s great! I hope you sat far away from everyone else!”

“And we eat Pop Tarts in the health center!” he said.

“Good for you!” I answered. “Now, can I speak to the nurse?”

The nurse told me that they hoped Andrew would be out at lunchtime since he hadn’t had a fever since yesterday, but that, should it go back up over 100, he’d have to stay another day.

When I debriefed with Brett later that day – both of us former campers -- he and I came to the same worried conclusion. “There’s only nine days left in camp,” Brett said.

“I know.”

“And they’ve already had two fake outs,” he added.

“I know!” I said.

“Call the camp back and ask them if Andrew will be well enough to watch the Olympic break out,” he said. “The kid has been waiting all summer for it and he can’t miss it.”

“I know!”

Now, hoping that your child gets well is good parenting. Hoping that your child gets well so he can see fireworks explode as a helicopter lands on a raft in the middle of the camp’s lake or whatever is perhaps lacking in paternal maturity.

But we wanted it for him so badly.

Plus, Andrew had been training for this moment for the past six weeks. He was in peak camp spirit mode. He just had to make it to the Olympics.

Also, we’d been watching the real Olympics on television. We know that athletes battle injury, some competing with broken bones, others taped up to basically keep their ankles and rotator cuffs attached. Athletes do not back down when the going got tough.

It was sunny Saturday. A perfect day for a camp to begin their Olympics. I called back and asked to speak to the camp nurse just one more time.

We were his loving, doting parents. We’d be damned if a little thing like a highly contagious virus would keep our firstborn child from his first Olympic games.

Lucky for me, the nurse seemed to understand my concerns without me actually having to beg with the words “please let my son out of the infirmary for break out.”

“I know that you know that certain fun events might be happening here at camp today,” she said, in a stage-whisper of a co-conspirer. “And I promise you that we will make sure that Andrew and the other children here will not miss out on anything, if today were to be an important day at camp.”

“I love this camp!” my mom responded when I told her the news. Unfortunately, Andrew’s fever did not abate. The call came at lunchtime

saying that an antibiotic was given to clear up his sinus infection.

“Can I speak to him?” I asked. I was really milking this phone call thing at the health center. I passed the phone around to my mom, Zoe, and Brett.

“I think you are going to be mad,” he said. “I watched the fifth Harry Potter movie.”

“Oh no,” I said.

“I know that Serius Black dies.”

“Oh, no!” I said. Things were worse than I thought. “But will you still read the rest of the books with me?”

“Yeah,” he said. “And, guess what? The Olympics broke out! Professional water skiiers came and I got to watch from a golf cart with the other kids from the health center. I’m on the white team!”

“That’s awesome!” I said, thinking it sounded very much like the spectacle in London.

“Oh, and Mom, I started my medicine and I feel normal again. I get to go back to my bunk tonight.”

“Hooray!” I cheered. Andrew would return to the Olympic village in time for the all-inspiring rope burn competition.

Now, Go White!

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. She recently published her first novel, Lauren Takes Leave.

 

 

campletter3If you’ve ever received one (or many) of these, then you know: letters from camp really are a treat. Whether they make you laugh or cry (or, sometimes, both), they are filled with humor, from the bad grammar, inventive spelling, and pure honesty to the beauty of the randomness of a one-sided conversation with your child. I have collected some of this summer’s best from my friends, and would like to share them with you. You can see the visuals of some, while others will be re-written below. Feel free to write in with some favorites from your own children.

Some highlights:

“Right now it’s rest hour and I’m on the toilet. Sorry, gotta go.”

“Dear family, I am forced to write home but I have nothing to say.”

“Dear family, have you seen the camp fashion show pix? Don’t I look hot? Sorry about the language. I’m going to need more privileges to fit in at home.”

“Dear peeps, I figured out that my flashlight went missing. Got another one?”

“’Sup! What’s chillin my homies? I’m hangin with my dawgs.”

“Camp Rox! At dinner we stood on the tables. My counselor asked if a cupcake smelled weird and then when I campletter2smelled it he smashed it into my face. It was awesome!”

“Dear Mom, have you been getting my letters? If you haven’t, I broke my toe. Love, Jenny.”

“Just out of curiosity, what if I came home for second session? We could go to Europe or something?”

“How come I have Lisa’s fan and water bottle and you forgot to pack my toothbrush. Can you bring one up on visiting day? It’s getting kind of gross not brushing my teeth.”

Complete Letters:

Dear D,S,E,

Hi. Not much new. One question (respond in letter) is it okay if I stepped in a piece of gum and its stuck to my shoe. I tried to get it off on a rock and a bit may have gotten on my hand. I washed my hands after but can I get something bad from that (AIDS, Parkinsons Disease, Cholera, etc…). Respond in letter ASAP. See you in less than 3 weeks.

Love,campletter1
Kenny

P.S. It is still on my shoe.

Dear Mom and Dad,

EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY! This is my emergency letter because I have health problums. I have rashes on my chest, thys, neck, butt, arms, and shoulders. What should I do?

Love,
Lisa

Dear Mom,

I’m really homesick. I cry every day. I cry all the time. I am crying now. I can’t speak. I think I should go to the nurse. I am finishing this letter 3 days late. I went to the nurse because I couldn’t speak. The nurse gave me a strep test. I didn’t have it. She said to take Motrin (pills) for 2 days. Then after take 1/3 of salt water RH, then at GZ then at GNT. I’m good now.”

Love,
Jessie

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. She recently published her first novel, Lauren Takes Leave.

 

glassIn a recent article for The Awl , author Amy Sohn explains “The 40-year-old Reversion,” in which she talks about partying regularly with her Park Slope mommy friends, who semi-jokingly refer to themselves as hookers, sluts and drug addicts. I call my friends neat freaks, tennis junkies, and uber-readers, so I guess we hang out with a slightly different crowd. Then Sohn goes on to explain her – which, to be clear, is also my – generation of moms. To warn you, the language she uses is strong and I found her description shocking. In fact, my very own mother, upon proofreading this article for me, didn’t even want me to print Sohn’s words, worried that readers would confuse Sohn with me. But it’s important that you get just a taste of her point of view in order for me to then tear into it a bit. Sohn writes:

“We’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.”

Now back to me.

I read the article and then skimmed through the 450 or so comments following the piece, in which Ms. Sohn and her friends were oft called selfish a-holes. As much as I was disgusted by the behavior of the people described in the article, I also had to admit that I recognized some of the acts and actions she listed from witnessing them in my own mommy world. Yes, occasionally, moms go out and have a fun Girls’ Night. The ones I know do not aim to get wasted every Thursday, but they do plan time away from home to socialize with girlfriends. But while Sohn goes for shock value in her recounting of these people, I would like to re-frame her understanding with a little bit of compassion.

Do we enjoy parties? Yes. Do we do it because we have regressed to our 20-year-old selves? No. We do it for precisely the opposite reason: because we know, by looking in the mirror at our wrinkled or Botoxed faces, how very far we really are from 20. We are not regressing and acting like kids. We are coping by acting out as adults.

We are adults who bury our mothers when they die of breast cancer in their 60’s. We bury our fathers who die quietly in their sleep. Sometimes, we bury our young husbands, and, incredibly, while somehow remaining erect, we bury our children. We bury a friend, who leaves behind small children that we promise to help raise. We console each other with hugs and tears and food and then pound it out at the gym and pedal fast at Soul Cycle to manage our stress and tame our grief.

And, occasionally, we spin down a pole on a party bus while slurping down Jell-O shots.

We are very much 40.

Our husbands look for work. We look for work. We sell off possessions while looking for work, and consider moving to a state that offers better lifestyle deals – lower taxes, cheaper property, better quality of life - than New York. We move to those states or we don’t.

We sing karaoke very loudly and off key while drinking Pinot Grigio from a pitcher.

We are not regressing.

We are very much 40.

We consider divorce. Our husbands come out of the closet. We definitely divorce. We get new breasts, and tuck in our tummies, and search for lumps. We manage our children’s homework and their ADHD and their demanding soccer coach. We take charge of family gatherings and dread Thanksgiving.

We attend a sex-toy party and look on in wonder and horror at all the things we don’t know while downing shots of some type of nameless alcoholic concoction that tastes vaguely like Children’s Tylenol.

We own it all and let it be a part of us: the good, the bad, the very real realities and the nights of drunken mayhem.

I am not trying to make excuses for bad behavior. Sohn mentions illegal acts and very large lapses of judgment that I think represent a fraction of the whole. I am merely trying to put occasionally outlandish nights in context by looking at them from my own, 42-year-old perspective. I remember being 20. 20-year-olds may party because they think they are immortal. I believe that 40-year-olds go clubbing and have a damned good time every once in a while because we know all too clearly just how human we are.

And so, I’d like to raise an imaginary glass and toast us moms. We have a lot of crap to deal with, quite frankly, and we need to bond together in a special kind of support group, not unlike AA. To the triathletes and cancer fighters, the boozers and the dancers, the PTA moms and dog-walkers, whether you are a karaoke-singer, pot-smoker, or pill-popper, whether you live for dermatological injections or despise those who do, Cheers. Whether you work in an office, from home, or not at all, Cheers. Whether or not you like your in-laws or even your husband, Cheers. If you are a mom, then you endure what we all do: the love, the heartache, the guilt, the worry, the stress. If you are a wife, then you know that sometimes you look forward to a drink with your husband and sometimes you crave one without him.

To all of you 40-year-old moms out there, good luck to you, and Cheers.

gerstenblattColumnist and blogger Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia. She recently published her first novel, Lauren Takes Leave.

 

 

gonegirlReading shouldn’t be a seasonal activity. But for many of us, with busy schedules and little time for pleasure reading, summer becomes that boom time, that let-me-just-sit-on-the-beach-with-a-great-book-and-disappear-for-a-while special occasion. So, whether you read year-round or read more (or only) in the summertime or while on vacation, here is a list of hot new (and new-ish) releases to keep you occupied through Labor Day.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

This is a psychological thriller tracing the collapse of a marriage from both the husband and wife’s point of view. When the book begins, Amy Dunne has gone missing and, very quickly, her husband Nick becomes suspected of foul play. The first half of the novel unfolds through Nick’s point of view in the present time and through Amy’s old diary entries. I won’t tell you about the second half of the novel. You’ll just have to read and discover the truth for yourself. Hoda Kotb and I both really enjoyed it!

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilsonfamilyfangresize

This one’s a little odd, but in a good way. It’s humorous fiction about a husband and wife team of performance artists, who involve their children in all of their work. Caleb and Camille Fang’s disregard for their children’s feelings as they continuously include them in these performances over the years is more than slightly amoral, but it provides an interesting commentary about the lines that blur between art and life. Ultimately, Wilson presents an entertaining tale of what it means to be an artist, questioning all-consuming self-obsession and the role of pain and suffering needed to achieve greatness in the arts. Recommended for people with dysfunctional families, a sense of humor, and/or a creative bent.

What Alice Forgot by Laine Moriarty

whataliceforgotAs Amazon.com says, “this is an engaging novel for anyone who’s ever asked herself, ‘How did I get here?’ Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time.” A satisfying read.

Gold by Chris Cleave

From the author of Little Bee comes this (rightly-timed) tale of Olympic success, dreams deferred, and the competitive nature of friendship mixed when mixed with a longstanding rivalry. The book begins at The 2004 Olympics and follows cycling athletes Kate and Zoe to the present time. To quote the Amazon blurb: “Now at thirty-two, the women are facing their last and biggest race: the 2012 Olympics. Each wants desperately to win gold, and each has more than a medal to lose.” I have read the first 10% of this book and like the alternating points of view and the engaging drama. I’d like to give it a gold medal, but at this point in the race, I cannot yet call it a winner.

therookThe Rook by Dan O’Malley

This seems to be one of the hot new reads on everyone’s radar, but I haven’t read it yet and probably never will. Part mystery, part supernatural thriller, and part humor, The Rook weaves an interesting tale, though I find its plot confusing, to say the least. "’The body you are wearing used to be mine.’ So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her. She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.” It sounds like something that might be made into an HBO series, right? Let me know what you think of it.

Lauren Takes Leave by Julie Gerstenblattlaurentakesleave

I couldn’t resist putting my own title on the list. This humorous tale centers on Lauren Worthing, a suburban wife, mom, and teacher who uses jury duty as an alibi to cover the trail of a weeklong escape from her responsibilities. Each day, the stakes rise as she and her kooky friends push their deceit further. As my favorite line from the book’s blurb explains: “Before the week is over, Lauren and her friends have moved far away from the chick-lit stereotypes they've become and closer to the lying, cheating, stealing bad-asses they didn't know they'd ever want to be.” (I wrote that, too.) Lauren Takes Leave is meant to be a fun beach read, while also providing social satire, showing what can happen when upper middle class people facing middle age grow bored and complacent.

One Last Thing Before I Go by Jonathan Tropper

tropperThis title will not be released until August 21, but I want you all to pre-order it (and read my novel in the meantime, why don’t you?!). I love all of New Rochelle-based writer Jonathan Tropper’s novels, including This is Where I Leave You, Plan B, and The Book of Joe. Tropper recently made headlines when he sold his screenplay of This is Where I Leave You for $1 million. Here is the cover copy for his latest:

“You don’t have to look very hard at Drew Silver to see that mistakes have been made. His fleeting fame as the drummer for a one-hit wonder rock band is nearly a decade behind him. He lives in the Versailles, an apartment building filled almost exclusively with divorced men like him, and makes a living playing in wedding bands. His ex-wife, Denise, is about to marry a guy Silver can’t quite bring himself to hate. And his Princeton-bound teenage daughter Casey has just confided in him that she’s pregnant—because Silver is the one she cares least about letting down. So when he learns that his heart requires emergency, lifesaving surgery, Silver makes the radical decision to refuse the operation, choosing instead to use what little time he has left to repair his relationship with Casey, become a better man, and live in the moment, even if that moment isn't destined to last very long. As his exasperated family looks on, Silver grapples with the ultimate question of whether or not his own life is worth saving. With the wedding looming and both Silver and Casey in crisis, this broken family struggles to come together, only to risk damaging each other even more. One Last Thing Before I Go is Jonathan Tropper at his funny, insightful, heartbreaking best.”

Happy reading, everyone! Feel free to share other great titles below.

gerstenblattColumnist, blogger and author Julie Gerstenblatt writes with humor and candor about her life in Scarsdale, her friends and family, and the particular demands of motherhood and wifedom in modern-day suburbia.