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Where Did the Stork Go?

I was preparing lunch for the kids when I heard agonizing moans and grunts coming from the other room. I dashed to the toy room and found my four-year old lying on her back, knees up, legs spread, holding her belly and her three-year old friend kneeling between her legs, saying in a gentle, assuring voice, “I can see the baby, it’s coming, just one more push…”

*Record scratch* Huh?!?

What the HELL happened to the stork?

Once upon a time, little children were told that a friendly stork delivered babies to the doorstep of young parents in a basket. This popular and widespread belief among children was no different than their complete trust in our vivid tales of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. And it was easy for children to blindly play along with the story of the stork. I mean, they believed a portly man slid down a chimney once a year to give them presents, and that a large bunny (maybe suffering some horrible hare hormonal-imbalance?) broke into their house and hid colorful eggs. So a large bird delivering newborn siblings made perfect sense, and it kept their innocence in check just a little bit longer.

However, sometime around the end of the 20th century, parents were told it was no longer acceptable to give toddlers cutesy names for their genitalia. As the mandate spread throughout the land in TV, movies, and popular publications, parents removed “Mr. Winkie” and “Miss Pee-Pee” from their vocabularies and coached their wee ones to pronounce “vagina” and “penis” with accuracy and precise enunciation.

And when our inquisitive toddlers asked us what a vagina is for, THE WORLD RESPONDED: “That’s where babies come from!”

Thus ended the legend of the stork.

But, wait!

My husband and I are old school. When our daughters were forming their first words, we did not pull out the genitalia flashcards with detailed diagrams and the bold, block letters, VAGINA and PENIS. We use cutesy names for their lady parts.

So, the question remains: How did my four-year old know that a baby was coming out of her vagina?

In my humble opinion, it was that damn decree that insisted parents use anatomically correct verbiage. It started a domino effect. FIRST, we gave permission for babies to speak like adults. THEN we gave permission for media and entertainment to discuss vaginas and penises without censure. AND THEN the inter-webs became popular and vaginas and penises were popping up everywhere!

Today, it seems that nothing is secret; nothing is private. We are a world obsessed with “reality.” My four-year old didn’t need me to tell her that a baby came from her vagina. She was educated by the “real” world.

Innocence lost.

Parents can keep their creepy elf on the shelf that spies on children and diminishes any notion of privacy. Or, the renewed St. Patrick’s Eve shenanigans I have heard of in recent years where a leprechaun leaves a mess in the home and gold coins for the children.

I miss the naiveté of children.

I mourn the stork.

Originally posted in Huffington Post on November 30, 2015 as Where Did the Stork Go?

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‘Is Mommy Okay?’

“Is Mommy okay?”

The words always came out as a whisper. Maybe I didn’t want to wake my little brother, maybe because it was late in the night and that is just what people do, or maybe I was scared of the answer.

A few minutes before I nervously asked my question, I had been awakened by the sound of a low moan. Most children would conjure up ghosts in their closets or a monster under their bed, but I knew exactly what it was; I tiptoed past my sleeping brother,and hurried to my parents’ room.

I lightly placed my hand on their door and slowly pushed it open, the fear rising in my chest. I would not step into their room. I had been warned in the past that I was not to go near her when this happened. I stood glued to my spot at their doorway, paralyzed. I watched their silhouettes, straining to make out my mother’s face. My father was standing at the ready beside their bed, waiting and watching. The low moan was now accompanied by a terrifying sound, a harsh gasp. My mother was violently thrashing around and stomping her feet.

She couldn’t breathe. A muscle spasm shut off the entry to her lungs.

My mother is a polio survivor. When several parents in her small community on the edge of the Catskills lost their elementary school aged sons and daughters to the Polio Epidemic of the early ‘50s, my mother survived.

Unlike the temporary conditions of a cold or a flu, the disastrous paralytic effects on the body from polio are forever. The virus is permanently in her system.

“Polio was a plague. One day you had a headache and an hour later you were paralyzed. How far the virus crept up your spine determined whether you could walk afterward or even breathe. Parents waited fearfully every summer to see if it would strike. One case turned up and then another. The count began to climb. The city closed the swimming pools and we all stayed home, cooped indoors, shunning other children. Summer seemed like winter then.” Richard Rhodes, A Hole in the World

My mother has paralysis of the upper left of her body: neck, throat, chest, diaphragm, shoulder, and arm. She gags when phlegm or saliva gets lodged on the “wrong” side of her throat. She gets winded easily because her left lung is atrophied slightly shifting the organs near her lung. She is diligent about staying healthy and avoiding sickness because a chest cold or a stomach flu could strangle her.

And, I worry she won’t start breathing again.

Now, imagine if medical researcher, Jonas Salk, the man credited for the vaccine that brought a halt to the polio epidemic, created it a few years earlier and my mother’s parents had the option of having her vaccinated?

I enjoy researching. I am an introvert — researching is in my nature. When it comes to decisions, nothing is spontaneous. My stance on social, religious, and political issues is developed after hours, days, years of reading nonpartisan facts and unbiased figures.

But, my advocacy for vaccines is pure passion.

I could throw statistics at you and quote publications and organizations, like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration:

“The United States has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in history. In the majority of cases, vaccines cause no side effects, however they can occur, as with any medication — but most are mild. Very rarely, people experience more serious side effects, like allergic reactions.”

The truth is I could not in good conscience let my children “survive” a debilitating virus when I knew I could have prevented it.

And I am not just talking about polio.

There was a man that was a member of our church growing up that was nuts. He was certifiably nuts, a result of contracting mumps as an adult. His wife did her best to care for him and keep him from hurting himself and others, but it became too much as they got older and he was eventually institutionalized.

Anti-vaxxers point out how measles was a storyline in ‘60s and ‘70s TV shows, like The Brady Bunch and The Flintstones, with comical dialogue and a laugh track. What the fictional episodes did not tell you about were the less than humorous permanent effects on the body: hearing loss and brain damage. Sure, brain damage only occurs in 1 out of a 1,000 children, it’s no big deal, but hearing loss affects 1 out of 10 — that’s a big deal.

Heck, if it hadn’t been for tuberculosis — referred to as the Forgotten Plague which, by the beginning of the 19th century, killed one in seven of all people who had ever lived in the U.S. — my husband’s parents would have never met. The Adirondack Cottage Sanitarium in Saranac Lake founded the first nursing program specifically targeted for the care of TB patients — and where my husband’s mother, a nurse, and his father, a cook, found true love amongst the death and disease.

Luckily, there are vaccines that prevent these viruses, and many others, from destroying our children. Vaccines that keep our families safe and intact. So no parent has to worry about whether their child will die, or worse, be permanently disabled by a preventable disease.

And no scared little girl will wonder if Mommy will start breathing again.

Originally posted in Huffington Post on 10/06/2015 as ‘Is Mommy Okay?’

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Mom’s Day Off: An Unscripted Daycation

My children are ALWAYS with me — ALWAYS.

Not since a year ago, when my father was flown to a hospital in Central New York for emergency surgery, have I been away from my hubby and children for any more than a couple hours.

Even when my hard-working hubby is home, I’m the one they sit on, sleep upon and hang off of like monkeys clinging to their mama. So, when I saw an opportunity to get away for a WHOLE day — I jumped at the chance to shake the cubs from my fur.

Confession time. I am a movie geek — nay — movie snob.

I do not like big budget, explosive Michael Bay movies. I think chick flicks are insipid and formulaic. And, if it weren’t for the children in my life and the geniuses of Pixar, I would never touch anything attached to Disney.

There is no specific movie genre that I swoon for — horror, action, comedy, thriller, sci fi, satire — if the dialogue is well written, the actors act believably, and I am enraptured in the story, then it gets a thumbs up from me.

Thanks to the influence of my talented screenwriting and film directing brother, and my busy mommy schedule, I have been captivated by Short Films the last few years. A short film is any film not long enough to be considered a feature film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as “an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits”

And, one Short Film maker, fellow New Englander Mark Battle (Victim, The Janitor) of Sweven Films, and winner of the Best Short Drama at the 2014 SNOB Film Festival for The Convict, has gained my fandom with his beautiful imagery and the rawness of his films. So, when I spotted a posting from Sweven Films that he needed extras for his latest short, Here Lies Joe, I didn’t just jump, I did a Triple Lindy from the high dive, to be in the movie.

But, all it took was an email. I had the job. I was going to be in a Mark Battle film!

What about my children?

I called in a favor from a friend.

The next morning, the day of the shoot, I packed up the kids and drove them to the home of my friend. It took some Houdini-like maneuvers to escape their chain-like grasps. Ignoring their cries, I made a run for the minivan. As I sped away, I threw a Judd Nelson fist to the air, and sang to myself, “don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t you forget about me!”

I have been a background actor in a few films. It is exciting — and easy, as long as you are punctual, reliable, and possess the ability to take direction well. Plus, you get all the experience of being in a film without any of the heavy lifting, like memorizing lines or, you know, acting.

Call time — the time at which the actors and crew members must be at the location and ready to work — was 9AM and I got there at quarter of. I immediately went to work, helping where I could, setting up, and getting to know the actors and crew.

As we readied for the shooting to begin, it hit me. I wasn’t an extra — I was THE extra.  

I wasn’t standing in the background, or pretending to be passing by, or part of a mob — I was an essential character in the scene. I had make-up. I had close-ups. I had to ACT.

Not since my winning dramatic monologue in the 1987 French Festival pageant in Upstate NY, had I actually performed for an audience. Sure, this scene was not shot in front of a live audience — but when you are the number one fan of Mark Battle and HE is the one holding the camera — it IS kinda like being the only one on stage.

I was nervous, but Mark’s direction was reassuring and helped boost my confidence. 

The shooting wrapped at 5PM. I helped clean up the set. Said my goodbyes to the cast and crew and as I was departing — *fan girl squeal* — Mark Battle gave me a hug and thanked me for my participation.

I walked away from the set smiling and proud of myself. I stepped into the blinding summer sun and made my way to my minivan. As I settled in behind the steering wheel and turned on my phone to check my messages, it suddenly struck me — *gulp* — not ONCE had I thought about my kids!

How could this be? How could I have not considered the welfare of my children for eight hours? I am the good mom. I am the mom that other moms seek out for advice. I am not Joan Crawford — I care about my children.

Despite my lack of attention, the kids were all right.

As I drove them from my friend’s house that evening, my youngest asked, “Are you a movie star now, mommy?”

We settled into our dinnertime routines at home and I came to the realization that even the best mom can take a vacation from parenting once in a while. It’s not like my kids were home alone.

Originally posted in Huffington Post on August 11, 2015 as Mom’s Day Off: An Unscripted Daycation

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10 Reasons to Be Thankful for Little Boobs

I have big boobs.

I have had big boobs since I was a kid. I filled my first C-cup when I was 12-years old, and they continued to grow. Today at 45, I fill an H-cup.

I wish they were smaller.

Like the curly hair versus straight hair conundrum, women with large breasts wish they had smaller breasts, and women with smaller breasts wish they had larger breasts. But unlike the little boob problems, there are some serious disadvantages of having large boobies.

1.Financial: Yup. Unless you are a B-cup, or smaller, the well-endowed shell out more money for their bras. We are talking up to $100 more! So, there is a financial disadvantage to having big boobs.

2. Health: Aside from the complaints of chronic pain in our neck, shoulders, and back, would you believe that women of larger breasts get jilted in breast cancer detection? 3-D mammography, all the rage at your local imaging clinic, has the potential to significantly increase the cancer detection rate in mammography screening of women. Wonderful, right? Not if you are bigger than a DD-cup, then your only option is the lesser 2D mammogram screening. So, there is a health disadvantage of having big boobs.

And, 8 more reasons why is better to be of little boobs:

3. MUST wear a bra…always. Those maxi dresses are so damn cute? Too bad we will never…EVER…be able to wear one.

4. NO cardio. We prefer yoga or strength training. Really any physical activity that requires us to wear three layers of spandex to batten down the boobies is avoided.

5. Hand-wash ONLY. When we find THAT bra…the one that lifts your breasts out of our belly-button and places them just below your chin. The one that probably cost a week’s worth of groceries. With the gentlest soaps, we bathe them with the same care as with our first-born.

6. Weight-lifting. Found a shelf or counter that is boob level? We find joy in setting our immense mammary monsters upon the counter – similar to weightlessness when you are in a pool. Don’t judge. You would do the same if you were carrying an extra 20 pounds on your chest.

7. The Collector. When we do remove our bras, like for the five minutes each day we luckily fit in a shower, it is like opening a keepsake box. Each lego, binky, half-eaten toast we pull from the crevice of our bosom has us harking back memories of how and when that item was first lost.

8. Sweat. Yeah, yeah, all ladies complain about boob sweat on a hot day…but what our little boobed friends miss out on is the chafing, rashing, baking-a-bread yeast growth caused in the sweat of a large-breasted woman. Yay, fun!

9. High-waisted jeans. What the HELL! Really?! Big boobied ladies don’t especially care for that moment when our jeans button gets locked in our underwire and we are momentarily STUCK in a bowing position. Flat-chested designers of high-waisted jeans need to be throat-punched.

10. The Impaling. Stabbed by an unsheathed underwire while lecturing to a class, teaching CPR, or bible reading at the pulpit? No one is more capable of hiding their face of pain, and reacting in grace and dignity, then us big boobied gals. Blood may be be dripping from the flesh beneath our armpits, but we will finish with finesse.

So, my small boobied friends, rejoice in the little God gave you upon your chest and be thankful.

Originally posted in Huffington Post on June 25, 2016: 10 Reasons to Be Thankful for Little Boobs