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Doing Good

12 Feb

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When the world seems to be falling apart, it is comforting to see the people you love trying to put it back together. One of those people is my son.

He’s a quiet kid. He’s shy and unassuming and once you are lucky enough to get to know him, he’s hilarious and kind and genuine. He still needs to work on the regular teenage stuff like being nicer to his brothers or answering me in a more patient tone. But all in all, he’s a truly fine human being and I am honored to have the privilege of being his mom.

In the fall, my son participated in a Midnight Run. Together with his friends and our synagogue he collected necessary every day items we might take for granted: soap, pillows, a warm jacket. On a cold November night, my son and husband drove into New York City and handed out jackets to the homeless. They helped people find the right size coat, the color they preferred, and ultimately the jacket that would keep them the warmest. They handed out jackets until there were no more jackets to hand out. But there were still people who were cold.

A few weeks later, I saw a segment on the news about a company in Michigan called The Empowerment Plan that was making jackets that converted to sleeping bags. The labor hired to sew these jackets is sourced exclusively from homeless shelters. These women are trained and given skills that will hopefully allow them to find full time employment. It was an incredible story to behold. I told my son about the jackets and he began an online fundraiser via Crowdrise to raise $5240 (the cost of 50 jackets plus shipping to NY), so he could continue to help keep our city’s homeless a little warmer.

With the help of many friends and family, more than $6000 was raised allowing for the purchase of nearly 60 coats. And on a cold January night, our family and my parents loaded the jackets into two trucks and drove to Hebrew Union College in The Village to distribute the coats to those patronizing their soup kitchen.

As we unloaded the coats onto a table and started demonstrating them for the people there, a small crowd began to gather. A very tall man was the first person to take a coat, explaining how happy he was because he has not been able to find a warm jacket that fits him in years.

We met a man named Matteo who sleeps in his van and was grateful to now have some semblance of a bed. He marveled at the utility of the jacket and how it was an item fashioned for those in need with respect for those in need in mind. He thanked my son and began to cry.

When a woman named Fatima saw the jacket, she broke into a wide smile and laughter, confiding that this was something she could really use. Her joy was palpable. She took a jacket and returned 15 minutes later just to talk to my son.

“You did this? How did you do this?”

My son explained his fundraiser. Fatima began to cry.

“I can’t believe you did this. You’re only 16. Do you know what you’ve done?”

And then she asked him for a hug. And they embraced.

When the shift was over only 5 jackets remained which we donated to the soup kitchen. Several hours later, after eating dinner at a local restaurant, we started walking back to our car. On the way, we passed Hebrew Union College. Outside was a man in a lawnchair, laughing with his friends, and wearing one of the jackets we gave him earlier that night.

Things have certainly come full circle. To have begun the Midnight Run program in our synagogue and to have ended this coat drive in the basement of a seminary was a beautiful living brush stroke of tikkun olam: repairing the world.

And the world is indeed in need of repair.While the country’s delicate seams have been mercilessly ripped apart, small acts of kindness, like this one, are the thread we all need to sew us back together. Because regardless of where we live or what we own, people are people are people. And yes, you do things for other people. You do it because it is the right thing to do. You do it because you can. You do it because you can make someone’s life better, even if it is just in the smallest way, like a giving a stranger a fresh bar of soap. But you also do it because it makes you feel better too. And it feels good to do good. It does.

My son may not always be the type who sits on my lap to hug me, or who holds my hand while I’m driving and rests his head on it, or who comes into my room to hug and kiss me as a study break. But I hope he is. I will never be too old to accept any of those expressions of love.

Soon my son will be going off to college. When he leaves the home in which he has grown up, I wonder if he is ready for what the world will throw at him. But mostly I want to know that he is a good person. That I am sending my best work, a really good human being, into the world. That he will love and be loved. That he will be kind. That he will help those who need it. And that he will be good. And he is.

My son is already repairing this world, doing great things, and giving back. He’s going to make his mark on this world. In fact, he already has.

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Gratitude

26 Nov

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Possibly one of my top ten favorite words and something I try to keep in mind when confronted with things I’d prefer not to think about because things could always be worse:

G R A T I T U D E

Perspective is so important and today, like every day, I am so grateful for

  1. My children
  2. My husband
  3. My parents
  4. My brother
  5. My extended family
  6. My friends
  7. Good health
  8. James Taylor
  9. Licorice
  10. Music
  11. Warm chocolate chip cookies
  12. When Harry Met Sally
  13. Medicine and science
  14. Taxi
  15. The NYT crossword puzzle
  16. Laughter
  17. Words
  18. Not turkey — I could skip that
  19. Meatballs
  20. My pizza oven
  21. My grandparents. They were the best.
  22. A well told story
  23. Games of all kinds
  24. Good coffee
  25. The University of Michigan
  26. Shehecheyanu
  27. The gym (not while I’m there, only when I’m leaving)
  28. Frizz Ease
  29. Blow outs
  30. Public School
  31. Kindness
  32. Sunshine
  33. Pickles
  34. Bloody Marys
  35. The ocean
  36. My Kindle
  37. WordPress
  38. My GPS even though she sometimes sucks
  39. The freedoms granted to me in the Bill of Rights
  40. Love

Thank you so very much for reading and for your encouragement. I am grateful for you all.

Shehecheyanu.

The Night Before

10 Sep

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The Night Before it was beautiful.

It was September. It was the 10th. It was my brother’s birthday. We went to dinner at an Italian restaurant on Third Avenue. I ordered Penne Pomodoro after learning that the Spaghetti Bolognese I really wanted was made with veal and pork. We sat at a table for 9 people that included my parents, my husband, my cousin, my aunt, my uncle, my brother. My husband and I were only a family of 3 at the time and we toted our toddler son everywhere. It was a non-event. And yet, it was monumental because it was The Night Before the world changed.

We stood on the sidewalk of Third Avenue, looking up at the sky. It was painted with pinks and purples, and tones of burnt orange. It was still warm outside even though it was mid-September in New York. We all remarked on the perfection of the evening.

And then it was gone.

We remember the most meaningless details of time because they precede those that are the most horrific. That birthday dinner is etched in my mind, its details engrained, the seating chart and round table at the back right corner, still vivid. That small stretch of time we all looked up at the sky. We record moments of normalcy because they ground us, because we yearn to get them back, because we wish to just exist in a time when things are so routine we remember choosing Penne Pomodoro over Spaghetti Bolognese in what might otherwise be another tiny decision to forget over a lifetime of countless tiny decisions. And we want that night, that moment, that simplicity back.

The next day the sky was cloudless, clear, blue, until it turned thick and acrid from jet fuel, airplane debris, and the unthinkable spontaneous combustion of two buildings that graced New York City’s skyline for my entire life, their contents, and the lives of nearly 3000 people and their families. It went on like this for days, the smoke downtown visible from the park in the East 70s where I pushed my son on a swing. He had no idea how his life had changed slightly after 8 am just days before. He had no idea he was about to inherit a world I had never contemplated. His sky was still blue.

Perhaps our children are better for not knowing The Night Before, what they are missing, what simplicity might have graced their days. My sons sleep soundly in the world they inhabit, not aware of What Might Be and What Might Have Been. I wish it was different. But it is not. The best I can hope for are meaningless moments, simplicity, and a lifetime of clear, beautiful skies.

The Luxury of Watching Our Kids Dream

27 Aug

 

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My son is curled up beside me. He cannot sleep. This is the second or third night in a row. Always the same. He cannot sleep. He nestles in next to me, his head fitting perfectly in the spot between my neck and my chest, his legs wound around mine so many times I wonder if they are boneless. Within minutes, his breath deepens and slows. He is asleep.

I wonder how much longer it will be that I can provide this instant consolation for him. How much longer that he will let me. How much more time do I have of the luxury of watching him dream.

My friends have children going off to college. They are decorating dorm rooms, setting up proper desks, buying school supplies and filling meal cards, all the while trying to forget that their kids are leaving the nest and learning to fly on their own. It is hopeful and heartbreaking and wondrous and devastating all at the same time. I have watched these kids grow up; they are not even mine and still, I am struggling with the passage of even their time. Because soon, it will be my kids. I know that that is years away for me but I also know the way time works and that I have seemingly months. It is like trying to reverse the mileage on your car but there is no such magical gear and it is inevitably impossible. And at the same time, it is Life. And it is good.

He grabs a lock of my hair and rolls to the right. He is content. And so am I. And again, I watch him dream. Because I still can.

My Mother’s Party

22 Apr

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I was born in the middle of a winter storm.

I look at pictures of my mother, pregnant with me, holding me, standing with me then, now, throughout the years, and always she smiles. Most times, when you take a picture of someone, you tell them to smile. You say “cheese.” You pose. You capture a tiny choreographed moment in a lifetime that is hopefully a good memory.

I look at these pictures of my mother. Someone may have told her to pose. Someone may have said smile. Someone might have said “say cheese.”

My mother did not need any of this sort of prompting. These pictures of my mother are real.

I look at my mother from the point of view of a child, a teenager, an adult, as a mother of children myself, then, now, throughout the years. And always, she smiles. Her moments are not choreographed. She is a person who sees and does and is the best. And she smiles. Always.

I know very well what it is like to be a mother. I know what it is to lose your patience and your temper and at times, your heart. I do not know this from watching my own mother. She never displayed it though it is hard to imagine my brother and I did not, at times, compel her to feel it. I also know what it is to fiercely love your children, to know a boundless, intense adoration. This, I learned from my mother.

You may all know what it is like to have my mother as a friend, an aunt, a cousin. Can you just imagine what it is like to be her daughter. It is a gift beyond measure.

In the middle of that storm I was born in, I imagine my mother smiled. I imagine she still saw the sun beyond the snowy sky, just waiting to shine. I imagine she took it all with the same grain of sand she manages to take all the storms she has weathered in her life.

She tells me how it was a cold winter and she used to swaddle me in so many layers she could not see my face, just so she could take me for a walk outside. This is the perfect analogy for how my mother lives her life. She layers herself and those she loves with enough protection and she goes outside for a walk. She does not let a little cold or a snowstorm stop her. She goes outside.

Almost 15 years ago I gave birth to my beautiful son, Charlie. I think it was the happiest day of my mother’s life. And, only one year later, she retired from her full time teaching position to be a full time grandma, a role she has taken on with joy and dedication. My mother traveled into the city every Wednesday night, at a minimum, to see her beloved Charlie, who was just a baby. But he knew. He knew her. He knew her presence. And he loved her.

And three years later, she completed her grandson trifecta with my boys, Ben and Eli. I don’t know if my sons realize how good they have it. How fortunate they are to not only live around the corner from my mother but also to live inside her heart.

She turns every day, every moment spent with them, into an adventure. She does not ever babysit. She babyacts. She finds books, movies, travels, parks, attractions, shows, and events which will spark the varying interests of each different boy and she gleefully spends her retirement money and time on making their very dreams come true. She is incredible.

My mother is a living, beating heart, that pumps love and life through all of us. She is the sunshine that warms us. She is the clear sky we all look to. She is love.

I am so very happy to see my mother to 70. I am so blessed and lucky to see her age, to have her here, to see her with my children, to spend time with me. Each line in her face was earned by years of these smiles, these natural postures, these moments of genuine love and bliss.

Mom, It is, by all accounts, a joy and an honor to be your daughter, to receive your love day in and day out, to be by your side.

Happy birthday, Mom.

I love you then, now, throughout the years, always.

An Open Letter To My Son

19 Mar

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My Sweet Son,

I know there are things you are anxious to try: things that your friends might be doing; things that are wrong. Please wait.

You may not realize it but you are still a child. You have your whole life ahead of you to do grown-up things. I know you may think you’re ready for these things. You are not. You only get one childhood. You should live it as a child.

I wonder if you also know how dangerous some seemingly innocuous things might be. Perhaps even lethal. There are multiple reasons why some activities have minimum legal age limits. One good reason is because your mind and body are not mature enough to handle them. You should respect that. And while we’re on the subject, you should respect girls too. Listen to what they say and remember to be kind always.

It is ok to say “no.” Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are lesser than they because you won’t try something stupid. If you say no and that person gives you a hard time, you should lose them as a friend because they are not your “friend.” A true friend would never do that.

I know you are bound to make mistakes in life and it is my job to let you fail and make them. It is the only way you can learn. But you are too young to make some mistakes you may be contemplating. You are too young to pay the price of such errors. You are too young to learn these lessons. Trust me. I am your mom.

Most important, if you do make some wrong decisions, or if your friends do, your father and I will always be here. We respect honesty and will always have your best interests at heart. If for any reason you feel you or a friend is in jeopardy, please call us at once, even if you are unsure. I am more concerned about the safety of you or a friend than lecturing you on a rule you may have broken. I promise.

I’m not going to tell you about the innocent days of my youth when none of this existed and everyone just rode their bikes around until they left for college. That did not happen. There were plenty of ways for kids to get into trouble, just like there are now. And I’m not going to tell you about the car accidents, hospital admissions, and deaths of people I knew who made such decisions. They speak for themselves.

I’m just going to tell you that I get it. That I’ve been there.

Life is full of crossroads. No matter which ones you may reach, I am always here to guide you and to love you, even if you make wrong turns along the way. But please, do not make those turns just yet.

Love always,
Mom

The Soundtrack of My Life

30 Jan

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My father is singing Cat Stevens’ Moonshadow to me. I am 3 or 4 or 5 years old. I wonder about the limbless body singing until all the parts of him are gone and he is seemingly nonchalant, perhaps even grateful to be without eyes and a tongue. My father continues to sing the same song to me like a lullaby.

I am in a full body cast in a hospital. I am 6 years old. My mother is sitting, surrounded by sick children, with her ukelele, playing and singing Puff the Magic Dragon. I am proud and yet jealous. I do not want to share her with the rest of these patients. I want her to sing and wrap her oversized heart around only me.

I am in my Mustang convertible while Carole King’s Tapestry cassette plays on a loop. I am 17 years old. I am weeping. My boyfriend is going to college and every single song was written for me. I Feel the Earth Move, So Far Away, Home Again, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, Where You Lead, Beautiful. My boyfriend makes several stops to say goodbye to friends while I wait for him in the passenger seat, disconsolate. He gets back in the car and gives me an inscribed locket I will wear until the picture inside is all rubbed out and he breaks my heart years later.

I am lost. I am 18 years old and without a sense of direction. I am listening to Van Morrison’s Moondance album. I am driving my car from Connecticut to New York and it is midnight. I finally find a commercial area where it feels safe enough to get out of the car and make a phone call. I call my father from a  pay phone. I beg him to rescue me. He tells me to find my way home and that it will be good for me. I get back in my car and blast “Caravan.” I circle who knows how much of the tri-state area before I pull into my parents’ driveway sometime after 2 am. I have found my way home.

I am standing amongst piles of boxes in my apartment in Brooklyn waiting for movers. I am 23 years old. The only thing not yet packed is my stereo. I am listening to Nanci Griffith CDs for hours as the movers have forgotten me. By the time they pick me up, I am distraught, fearing NYC condo regulations will forbid me from the late move and I will be temporarily homeless. Two men load up the packaged belongings comprising my life and offer me a ride uptown. I sit in the front seat of the movers’ truck as we drive up the FDR to my new home on East 81st. I lean my head against the window, listening to Nanci Griffith on my walkman, equally terrified and excited about this move. I dislike change even though this is a good one. My parents are waiting for me and it is all ok.

I am getting married. I am dancing with my husband to Ben Taylor’s version of The Beatles’ I Will. We are alone on the dance floor, moving in choreographed rhythm thanks to Ernesto of Arthur Murray’s East 86th Street studio. I can see him counting beats in his head as he leads me. We later break loose to The Emotions’ Best of My Love. We don’t yet know that both songs will feature prominently at the bar mitzvah of our first son.

I am in my apartment on East 75th Street. I am nearing the end of my 20s. I am pregnant with my first child. I am working from home for the day, listening to Counting Crows’ This Desert Life. My belly tightens and my son kicks and flutters every time this album plays. He has good taste. I know I will love him.

I am rocking in a glider in the bedroom of my baby boy. He is sleeping on my chest and I think I might never move. I sing him every song I know and love. It goes like this every night. Sweet Baby James, The Way You Look Tonight, Annie’s Song, An American Tune. I sing him Moonshadow and deposit him back into his crib. He tucks his legs beneath him, looks briefly at me, and goes back to sleep.

I am at the obstetrician’s office. I am alone. I am 7 weeks pregnant. My husband is traveling for business. For days I have had a premonition that my doctor will tell me he cannot find a heartbeat. The doctor squeezes jelly over my belly and after several minutes of searching, says “Lisa, I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” I am even sorrier. Sorry to be right. Sorry to lose a baby I already loved. Sorry. I listen to Eva Cassidy’s cover of Fields of Gold over and over, weeping until I tell myself I have punished myself enough and I turn it off.

I am again rocking in a glider but I am in a new room in a new house beside two new babies to love. I sing them the same songs I sang to my first baby. I sing them Moonshadow. I put them into the same crib so they know each other’s presence.

It is my son’s 10th birthday. I am listening to the Circle Game. I cannot believe I am at the second verse. I do not know where the time has gone. I know I will be at the third verse in six short years. I am dragging my feet to slow the circles down, Joni Mitchell.

It is my birthday. 10,000 Maniacs’ These are the Days is playing on my desktop. We have just returned from dinner with my family and I am making my husband and sons dance with me in the kitchen. I will do this every year as long as they will. I turn up the music as high as it will go and watch my family in the reflection of the windows in my kitchen. They indulge me because it’s my birthday but I hope there is enough time in the song for them to feel how much music can lift you, how it can intoxicate you, how its joy is utterly contagious, how necessary it is to be in love with music: to let it infuse your heart, your mind, your soul. To let it literally play the soundtrack to your life.

The Greatest Show on Earth

20 Jan

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I never liked the circus.

Even as a child, the format of three rings with three simultaneous acts made no sense to me. What was I supposed to be focusing on and regardless, all three acts were not entertaining. At all. I didn’t buy into the costumes, the acrobatics, the parades. I finally just started to beg my parents not to bring me anymore.

When I got around to having my own kids, I felt obliged to take them to the circus as a rite of passage. It was as awful as I remembered and my kids were not sold on it either. Thank goodness for good taste.

Last weekend I walked my own tightrope as my oldest son was in an emergency room in Massachusetts and my mother was in an emergency room in New York. I have been in this position so many times yet each time it happens it is a shock and I yearn for the luxury of a monotonous existence.

When my oldest son was a baby, he let us know he was ready for a bed by launching himself out of his crib. The next morning he was seemingly fine with the exception of a slight alteration to his usual routine: he danced to The Wiggles but he used only one arm. I could not fathom that he might have seriously injured himself. He was such a champ that we did not even know he had fractured his clavicle until a follow-up x-ray revealed a healing bone. On Sunday, this same son broke his clavicle in two.

Inhale.

When my oldest son was 4 years old, I went to Mexico with my family and my parents. While walking back to the room with my mom to call my aunt, my mother began to have a heart attack. We did not know what it was at the time, and it did not unfold in the typical way in which it is often depicted: a man with left arm pain grabbing at his chest and directing someone to call 911. Rather, it was as if she had a sudden and severe reaction to something she ate, vomiting until it was over. And then she was fine. Until we learned she wasn’t. On Sunday, my mom called me in the morning to tell me she did not know what came over her but she couldn’t stop vomiting. But once you have a history of something kind of terrible, you cannot just crawl back into bed and assume that you have a virus. Thankfully, after an EKG and blood work, she learned she had a virus.

Exhale.

On Sunday, as if not to be left out of the disastrous emerging trend, another son of mine injured his hand and wrist simply while walking in the hall of our home. Nuts. But no broken bones; just a sprain. You try leaving an orthopedist’s office with two wounded boys and not being  looked at suspiciously. I joked with the woman at the front desk, asking if she was going to contact CPS. She just eyed me and went back to questioning my children.

Repeat.

When I was pregnant with my twins, the sonogram technician advised that I was going to be having two more sons. Broken bones was in my future; it was a given. Although you never expect it when you get that call, when you see that dangling arm, when you hear that primal scream that alerts you that something is very wrong, you always know that these things are possible, that they happen all the time and you are not going to be excluded from this club. After all, if I got through this life with 3 sons and no broken bones, I would worry that I was somehow failing my boys.

Aren’t we all performing some kind of high wire act? Teetering between news–both dreadful and wonderful, striking the great balance of life and making careful–extra careful–to keep our balance and not succumb to a mere slip of the foot.  The more we love our people, the more we’re going to be walking that tightrope. Because we care. Because we are lucky.

Maybe the circus is our introduction to life. Maybe by throwing so many things at us at one time, we are learning how to focus, how to zero in on what makes us the happiest, and to filter out all those tricks we see right through. Life is both the Worst Show on Earth and the Greatest Show on Earth and I wouldn’t want to live it any other way.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY BROTHER!

10 Sep

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I wanted a sister like nobody’s business but my parents, people that they were, wouldn’t let me choose.

My brother was born, premature and ailing, on September 10th, not that I recall anything about it, being a baby myself at the time.

My first memory in life was my birthday three months after he arrived. My mother gave me a big, wrapped box and inside I found a tiny piano. Each key, when pressed, played a familiar Disney song.

“This is a birthday present from your little brother, Jonathan.” He was still in the hospital at the time. We didn’t really know each other that well yet.

But, I remember–very clearly–saying and thinking “that’s so nice of him! He is so nice!”

Not much has changed since then. He thrived, physically, exceeding all of his doctors’ expectations, and eventually came home where I would torment him, and dress him up as that sister I never had, and call him Joan, and smother him. He grew up to lead a tiny Black Jack ring in our basement, ruin my car in a series of mishaps after I entrusted it to him freshman year of college, and learn all the words to every James Taylor song against his will because I was the first one with a driver’s license and he had no choice as my hostage I mean passenger. But he always remained the “nice” generous person I thought him to be when I was that little girl with the tiny piano. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that my birthday gift was never that piano. It was him.

Thirteen years ago, we went out to dinner to celebrate my brother’s birthday with our family at a restaurant on the Upper East Side. It was a gorgeous night in New York City. The sky was streaked salmon and orange and yellow. I can still see myself standing on the sidewalk on Third Avenue, staring up at that sky and admiring it.

The next day the world changed. Thankfully, my brother still hasn’t.

Happy birthday to my soulful, sweet, handsome, devoted, kind, hilarious and all around perfect baby brother. Thank goodness you came just as you are. Who needs a sister when I have you.

xo,

Lisa

Deductions

17 Apr

My brother and I took my mom out for lunch for her birthday. Somewhere between blowing out the candle and asking for the check, my brother excused himself to use the bathroom.  My mom whirled around, seizing the opportunity made available by his convenient need to empty his bladder:

“Lisa, we have to find him a wife. He’s getting KILLED on taxes. No dependents.”

I can’t tell you why he’s still single. He is downright adorable. He’s sweet, kind, charming. He’s hilarious too. We laugh at all the same things (some of which are terrible, leading to uncomfortable public situations). We still have that connection we did as children: we will zero in on the same thing and laugh uncontrollably — typically the kind that produces no sound but does cause endless tears, heaving shoulders, and sore abs. For a period of time after that, we can no longer look at each other without breaking into hysterics. Often this can last anywhere from 1 week to 3 decades.  We are ageless.

More important, I have finally forgiven him for not being a girl. I desperately wanted a sister. He seems to bear no scars for all the times I dressed him in a raincoat, put his hair in pigtails, and called him “Joan.”

“You’re threatening his masculinity!” My mother would shout. That didn’t stop me. If he wanted to play with me and my friends, he was going to be the little sister. Or the dog. That worked too.

He also doesn’t seem to hold against me the countless times I told him things tasted like watermelon because I knew he would eat them.

“Here! Try this chicken gizzard. It tastes just like watermelon! It’s delicious.” And then I would hold my breath and wait. He did not disappoint, reaction-wise, although the chicken gizzard was the last time he took that bait.

He was a great brother, still is. I don’t know many who could have survived having me for a sister. We hail from a colorful family of strong personalities and thankfully, he is one of them. If he was just some dopey wallflower, for instance, he never would have let my mom and me create the now defunct “pleasemarrymyson.com” in 2010. Although he was definitely mortified.

Perhaps he’s single because I was just too much to handle. Or perhaps he’s single because he’s looking for someone like his sister to laugh with until tears roll down his cheeks and his stomach aches. Who isn’t?

Regardless, my mom has entrusted me with this mission.

“So, Mom, you’re saying you want him to get married just so he can give less money to the government?”

“Yes. That’s what I’m saying.”

And then we laughed. ‘Til we cried. Because she’s pretty funny too.

**If you don’t hear from me within a week, call the cops because my brother killed me for publishing this post.