Category Archives: Mars’ Greatest Hits

If you’re going to read some, read these.

Aches & Pains

The howling starts just an hour after I’ve put the kids to bed. I race upstairs to see what is happening, stop to peek in Veronica’s room, but quickly realize it’s Ivan. He’s awake but sleepy, tossing in his bed, tangled in his quilt. Between gulping sobs he cries, “My ear. Hurts.”

I comfort him for a minute and check his forehead – cool, good – and leave to run the water for a hot washcloth. I ask him to press it to his ear and go to get some ibuprofin. After a half hour, he is still weeping, so I give him a second pill. I offer to tell him a story to help him fall asleep.

“Jack and the Beanstalk.” he says, “No, Pinocchio.”

I try to cobble together the details I know: Gepeto, wishing star, candy store, Lampwick – and add details and flourishes to compensate for what I’ve forgotten. The whimpering subsides. Once Pinocchio has become a real boy, I turn out the lights and soothe Ivan to sleep, and finally drift off next to him.

Two hours later at 12:30 he wakes me with restless kicking and arm waving, which turns to crying. Once he can stop crying long enough to speak, he says through trembling lips,

“I want to go to Dad’s.”

Six words that sink my heart like a stone. As I’m helplessly wiping my son’s tears, I’m also batting away doubts and regrets that swoop into my head like so many birds.

“Oh honey, we can’t go to daddy’s. It’s the middle of the night.”

“But I really want to go! I miss dad!”

Truth be told, I wouldn’t mind taking him to my ex-husband’s house, if it would help. But it won’t help, and it would breach our tacit parenting agreement regarding such things. Almost exactly a year ago, Ivan had the croup, and I called Dave in the middle of night. I was still newly single, and scared shitless by Ivan’s small chest heaving as he gasped for air. The net result was a small bout of hysteria (mine), a passive aggressive stand-off (ours) and an ER bill I’m still paying off (mine again). This time I’ll handle it on my own thanks.

Ivan continues to plead to go to this dad’s, and then to the doctor.

“I know your dad would do the same things I am doing now. There is nothing else he, or a doctor even, can do. It stinks, but it’s true.”

I know that kids show parental preferences, and when they were toddlers and Dave and I were married, we actually joked about it. “Looks like your the favorite!” we’d remark with a grin as we passed off a screaming child, “she wants you!” and then go back to bed. It was cyclical, and I never took their preference for their father that seriously. Because at the time I was the go-to parent, when the dog bit and the bee stung. Times have changed.

I crush a tab of Sudafed and put it in a spoon full of sugar in desperation. “I just want to be in my high bed, that’s why I want to go to dad’s.” he says, still trying. I tell him it wouldn’t help his ear, while I stack pillows behind him in bed so he’s sitting up, to help the fluid drain. I’m calm, and kind, but my heart is heavy. I know it’s not the bed he wants, but  his father’s deep voice, slow cadence. Probably his smell, and the scratch of his cheek. But, I’m the mother. Aren’t I supposed to be the one who he calls out for at night? Shouldn’t I be able to deliver my own baby from pain?

And that, more than a fear of being the lesser parent, is what kills me. I can’t cure it. When my son asks for his father in the middle of the night, I cannot grant his request. And that this circumstance, this life of cold comfort and co-parenting, was my choice. Like everything that results from the divorce, it’s my fault. And while I can acknowledge in the light of day that the failure of our marriage was a group effort, at two in the morning it very clearly registers as mine alone.

After a long hour of efforts to distract and comfort, the decongestant takes effect, and Ivan begins to calm down. I bring him back into my bed, and offer a second story.

“Jack and the Beanstalk?” I ask.

“No, we always do that one.”

“How about Hansel and Gretel? Too scary?”

“No. I like it.” This one I know well. The stepmother shakes them awake while it is still dark. They wake shivering on the forest floor. The pebbles shine like stars in the night sky as they guide the children home. Breadcrumbs, birds. The walls are made of gingerbread and the windows of colored candy glass. Gretel gives Hansel a chicken bone. When the children return, their pockets are stuffed with emeralds and the woodcutter embraces them.

I hold Ivan’s tiny hand until his breathing slows and he is out. Another ear ache, another long night, endured. I lie awake and wish for sleep. I wish for happy endings and stars that lead the way to them. I wish for my children to have a life I cannot give them. I wish for medicine to chase away the ache that rises up from my chest when I feel the full weight of the choices I’ve made. And I fall asleep, telling myself stories.


Games for Boys and Girls

The following are illustrations from Games for Boys and Girls, E.O. Harbin, 1951.* The fifties certainly were a different time!

Game: Cat’s Meow
What You Need
: Chair, pillow, a subserviant boy, a mouthless girl
How to Play: Boy kneels on a pillow and mews plaintively until girl scratches boy’s head, signaling that humiliation is complete.
Everybody wins.

Game: Jawbreaker!
What You Need: Blindfold, brute strength
How to play: Blinfolded boy or girl “The Breaker” tenderly holds the face of “The Jaw”. The Jaw taunts the breaker until, filled with rage, The Breaker twists the Jaw’s head sharply clockwise. The other players yell “Jawbreaker!” and medical help, if necessary, is administered.

Game: Fetal Ball
What You Need: Fifth of whiskey
How to play: Pass around a fifth of whiskey until one of the players starts to cry. All players should hug their knees to signal fear. The player with the highest tolerance for alcohol stands and gently rocks the crying player until he or she tips over. Remaining players continue to pass whiskey until everyone is curled up like a fetal ball.
Game: Huff and Puff
What You Need: Paper bags, paint thinner
How to Play: Do not play.

Game: Sit and Spin and Barf
What You Need: One chair, one blindfold, barf bucket (not pictured).
How to Play: Isolate one player “Sitter” in a chair and ignore them. Choose a player with no empathy to be “The Spinner”. Blindfold  “The Barfer”. The Spinner turns the The Barfer while the other players scream, dance and taunt them. The Sitter calls out “What about me? Hey guys! I think he’s going to be sick!” Game is over when Barfer vomits. Game: Charades, Urban Dictionary Edition
What You Need: Internet connection, a willingness to experiment (optional: Box of Franzia White Zinfandel)
How to Play: I think you get the picture.

* For the record, the above illustrations are taken directly from the book referenced above; the descriptions that follow are conceived entirely by me. Except for the name “Cat’s Meow” which is the name of an actual gamebut, oddly, corresponds to a different illustration in the book.


They look like they like each other. It is late February on Mars, and the atmosphere around here is tense, at best. The children are bored with their Christmas toys, mommy is broke and crabby, and the regular onslaught of snow and bitter cold continues. Worst of all, Ivan and Veronica alternate between fighting and fits of giggly hysteria, both of which drive me crazy.

Time for a playdate.

I do not like arranging for these meetings, because it is too much like real dating in that I tend towards becoming an insecure, anxious mess. So far, Ivan has been stood up twice by Jack, his friend from Montessori school. In both cases, Jack was sick, and in both cases, Ivan was absolutely heartbroken. This week it looks hopeful.

I am nervous because the playdate is here. Jack lives in Arden Hills (which sounds like a women’s perfume) or Falcon Heights (which sounds like a men’s cologne). We live in Frogtown (which if it were a perfume, you would not want to smell) in an “artist’s co-operative.” Our neighbors are the Hmong marketplace, and a crumbing green house with a very suspicious looking trailer parked on the lawn. I find these details delightful, but I worry that Jack’s mother, wreathed in the fragrant aura of the suburbs, will not. I can only hope that Jack returns home to say, “And they have a bike in the living room.” and not, “Ivan’s mom only smokes outside and only when she gets really upset.”

As for Veronica, I tried to make a playdate with her friend from school who, like all of my daughter’s school friends, has a name I can neither spell nor pronounce. It sounded to me like Ellipses, but that can’t be right. Veronica brought home a post-it note with her friend’s phone number, written in her seven-year old scrawl. I left a tentative message,

“Hello, this is Jennifer, Veronica’s mom, and I was calling to see if Ellipses would like to play this weekend. If this is, in fact, Elleepsies mom (and here I change the pronunciation slightly, in hopes I will eventually nail it), which I hope it is (nervous laugh). Okay, then, just call me, Veronica would love to see Ulllisspes.” Following this call, Veronica by turns harassed me and checked my phone for messages until I called and left another message, and finally, another on Saturday morning.

Elipses mom called me back around eleven on the Saturday of the would-be playdate.

“Hi!” Elipses mom brightly said, “Obviously a playdate isn’t going to work out today!!” Obviously? I wonder if she understands the meaning of the word, “Oh? That’s too bad.”

“Yes, well, we volunteer on weekends, so that’s probably not going to work out.” I’m impressed by this information, particularly that she cajoles a seven year old to spend all weekend volunteering.

“Weeknights are a little too hectic, I suppose.” I say, thinking of V’s wriggly little handwriting and hand-wringing.

“No, it will probably have to wait til summer.” Ellipses mom says definitively. “But we both really appreciate the offer!” I am pretty sure I am being snubbed, but can’t fathom why. How can my reputation preceed me at this school? How can anyone snub my adorable girl? I mouth the words ‘fuck off’ into the receiver, “Hmmkay, let’s touch base then.” I hang up and yell to Veronica, “You need to find a different friend at school for your playdate. Ellipses isn’t going to work out!”

I decide to plan a playdate for her and I while Jack is visiting. We will make cookies so the house will smell like vanilla when Jack’s mom comes to pick him up, and he will tell his mom, “Ivan’s mom makes the best cookies!” Volunteer that.

I Saw You

I guess I must have a stalker, or maybe even a gang of stalkers, because the other day I checked the “Missed Connections” ads on craigslist, and half the ads on there were about me!

Roseville Library – m4w – 25

You: baggy wool pants with something sticky on the butt and a filthy white winter coat with no buttons. Me: standing behind you in line when you argued down your sixty cent fine. The way your hair clung to your head after you took off your pink stocking cap stopped me in my tracks. Do you always smell like red wine and pizza in the morning? Call me!

Number 16 University Avenue – m4w – 55

Tuesday afternoon. You were headed east on University with your two adorable children, who you appeared to be screaming at, but no sound was coming out of your mouth, despite gesticulating wildly with your hands. Is there something wrong with your vocal chords? You should get it checked out. And also, you seem like a bad mom.

Shopping at Cosettas – m4w – 41

You spent 40 minutes deciding on a $4.99 bag of pasta. You picked up a wedge of cheese, and put it down again, then picked it up and put it back, like about 100 times. You must have picked up and set down everything in the store. I think your indecision is really cute! Are you even crazier once a person gets to know you? I can’t wait to find out.

Lex and Larp – m4w – 5

Idling at the corner of Lexington and Larpenteur, a projectile hit you in the back of the head. I did it. Love, Ivan.

Shmexy Shmoker – m4w – 49

I saw you standing on a fire escape smoking a cigarette at 11:30 a.m. wearing sweatpants, a kimono, pig-tails, a do-rag and obviously no bra. I was the guy rocking from foot to foot hugging a bottle in a paper bag who asked you if you wanted to party. How come you said no? I think we are soul mates.


Veronica, second grader

My daughter Veronica, second grader, is telling me what she wants to be when she grows up.

“I’m going to be an artist.” I nod knowingly. I think of Patti Smith whose memoir I just finished. “Well,” I tell her, “you’ll have to work very hard.” I check the rearview. She registers all this with an intense look out the window. She is, I think, well on her way. Then she pipes up,

“Jerry is going to be an artist too.” Jerry. I have heard this name before. When I asked her why she was lugging The Invention Of Hugo Cabret (544 pages, 2.7 lbs) around in her backpack. “Jerry and I like to read it.” I smiled and looked away. Veronica is extremely squeamish about romantic relations, a state I wish to preserve until… adulthood, I guess. I tread lightly.

“So tell me more about this Jerry. What does he look like?”

“Well, he’s Jewish.” Pause. “But he doesn’t wear one of those little hats on his head. He just can’t eat certain foods.”

“Like pork?” I offer.

” No. Like kiwis becuase Jews don’t eat kiwis because they aren’t grown around here. So like if we eat kiwi in class, he just has a little.” This sentence is so densely packed with mind-blowing information, I’m not sure where to start.

“Are you sure his parents aren’t locavores?”

She sighs. “No they are Jewish. And he is, like, partially bald.” What?

“Is Jerry an adult?” I ask, startled.

“No mom. He’s a kid. He sits next to me”

“Then why is he partially bald? Do you mean he has very short hair?”

“Yeah his hair is really short.” Despite her concession, I still picture a seven year old with male pattern baldness, maybe a comb-over.

“He and I draw together.” I recall a stack of baby animal drawings she showed me yesterday, and mention them. “Yeah, but Jerry draws  mostly superheroes.”

“Hmm. So did you make him a special valentine?”

“No. I just wrote ‘you’re funny’ because sometimes he is. And I also said ‘you’re cool’. I’m probably going to make a book about baby animals when I grow up.”

I look back at her again, her thin blonde hair parted in the center, glasses, one adult tooth descending slowly from her upper gum. If she and this prematurely balding Jerry kid grow up to be funny and cool artists, and read books and make books about baby animals and superheroes, I think I can live with that. As much as I can stand her growing up at all.