Monday, August 15, 2016


Peaches, Tree, Native Peach, Orchard

I am eight years old and I am standing on the front lawn of my house in Queens with my little sister who is four.

We are standing under our favorite tree—a peach tree, a glorious, bursting peach tree, laden and heavy with ripe fuzzy fruit.

Lots of times, my sister and I would play together in the middle V of the two main branches of the tree—the shiny green leaves hiding us from all the neighbors.

But today we are both standing under the tree.

And we are both--crying.

Just a few minutes before, an enormous blue car has driven up to our house.

Out of the car came our Cousin Estee Veissman, who was older even than our mother.

We could never figure out exactly how such an old woman could be a cousin, and not an aunt.

She was at LEAST 40.

She has enormous hair. Enormous teeth.  And ENORMOUS—BAZOOMS.

We have never seen anything like those bazooms.

They stand out a few feet in front of her-- each pointing to a different time zone.

They are their own wonders of the world—cantilevered miracles.

Hello Cousin Estee Veissman and Cousin Estee Veissman.

She does not smile at us. She does not say hello to us.

She just stands on the sidewalk, barely out of the car, and stares at the peach tree.

OUR peach tree.

And then Cousin Estee Veissman does something I will never, ever forget.

he reaches into her pocketbook and pulls out something that looks like a little baggie.

She grips that little baggie in both hands, shakes it violently, and—FA-FOOOOOOOM!

That little baggie turns into the most gigantic, yes, enormous, bag we have ever seen.

And then Cousin Estee Veissman does the other something I will never, ever forget.

She starts to pick peaches off our tree. One, two, three, a hundred.

And my little sister and I are standing, watching it all, watching those peaches disappear into that bag.


Finally we can stand it no longer.

We turn and run into the house—Mommy! MOOOOOMMMMMY!!

We gulp out our story. Cousin Estee Veissman. Here. Bazooms. Fafoom. No more peaches.

My mother puts her arms around us.

Is there a hint of a smile there? A smile, definitely.

“It’s okay,” she says.  “Let her take them and enjoy them.”


“She lives in an apartment in Brooklyn, and it’s exciting for her to pick peaches off a real tree.”

Yeah, ALL of them.

“Next year we’ll have lots of peaches, again.”

Yeah, and next year we’ll have a visitor from Brooklyn, again.

My sister and I don’t learn our lesson in generosity that day.

We sit and glare at Cousin Estee Veissman as she eats the dinner of fried chicken, cole slaw and potato salad that my mother bought from Mauzone on Main Street, and that we had every single Sunday evening, like every single other orthodox family in our neighborhood.

Cousin Estee Veissman’s voice is clipped, her eyes sad. Her bazooms remain, defiantly--upbeat.

Later on, I find out that Cousin Estee has schizophrenia. What we now call severe bipolar disorder.  Depression.  That she’s been in an out of hospitals. That nothing works, nothing brings her out of it. It’s been going on for years and years.

Her three children and her husband, who was actually a pretty jolly guy, don’t talk about it. They are very frum, very religious, so these kinds of things back in those days are a shonda, a bit of a disgrace—and not to be mentioned. “Mama is sick,” they would say. And that was that.

The years went by, with many more Mauzone Sunday night dinners, and although the rest of her family often came, she did not.

The last time I saw her was at her son Abner’s wedding.  Abner was FINALLY getting married—at 45--and to an old High School friend of mine!

It was the first time I ever saw her smile. Just a slight lift of the corners of her upper lip—but a smile, definitely.

Abner was finally getting married and Cousin Estee Veissman was finally getting a little naches from him.

She died about a year after the wedding.

Cousin Estee Veissman—I want you to know that I still think about you and about the all the things I didn’t understand when I was 8 years old and childish with selfishness.

I want you to know that I try really hard to be generous now.

I want you to know that the very first week I moved to Maine, our wonderful congregation gave me a gift certificate to a garden center, and I bought a peach tree and I planted it right in front of my new house.

I want you to know that the crows ate every single one of my peaches last year.

They must’ve flown up from Brooklyn.

But most of all, I want you to know that you have a little more naches. Your son Abner and my High School friend finally had a baby boy.

I wish you could see him. 

He has big blue eyes. He smiles a lot.

And you’d especially love his hair. 

It looks exactly like-- peach fuzz.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Water Torture

Image result for indoor water park

If you want to be a good Mommy and Daddy, I mean a really good Mommy and Daddy, who put their children ahead of their serenity, their germophobia, their acrophobia, and their own sense of financial prudence—have I got a place for you.

Great Wolf Lodge Indoor Water Park.

This is what I heard during the entire two-and-a-half hour ride in the car: Hurry up! Drive faster! Ok, as soon as we get there we go right to the waterpark and change into our bathing suits, no stopping at anything and Mommy, you go park the car and shlep the stuff up to our room so we don’t miss one SECOND of our first night there. Hurry up! Drive faster!

This, from my husband, who likes to maximize our vacation time.

Finally, we are there yet. I drop off Daddy and twins at the front door with their beach bag containing a shark bathing suit (boy twin), sparkly leopard ‘boo-kini’ (girl twin) and a wetsuit (husband gets cold).

I slowly load up the suitcases on the smart carts, leave the stuff with the front desk and slowly, slowly go outside to park the car.
Sticking out of the lodge is a giant growth lit up in the night  like an intergalactic rainbow and shaped like a toilet bowl. It houses a four-story slide that they call—wait for it—the toilet bowl. I sigh.

It is 7PM and there are 2 hours left of water play. There will be 12 hours of water play tomorrow, after breakfast. I sigh.

At least the room is nice. I slowly put everyone’s suitcases in the appropriate corners and slowly get into my bathing suit. I get into the elevator and press down. I sigh again.

The second the doors open, the noise hits. There are other people’s children everywhere. They are wearing fluffy wolf ears and dancing the Macarena. There is a giant stuffed wolf dancing too. His name is Wiley and he is some sort of mascot. He teaches everyone the Great Wolf dance: clap clap, stamp stamp, howl. Catchy.

On the way to the actual water park area, I walk through the hallway of hell.

On one side of the hallway of hell, a gift shop is selling Great Wolf Lodge t-shirts for 25 dollars and wolf paw print mugs for 15. There are light up necklaces and sparkly bathing suits and lots of paw-shaped candy. It is packed with other people’s whiny children.

On the other side of the hallway of hell is something that looks like an ice cream parlor. Everything looks like an ice cream cone, from the mirrors to the cute pink chairs. It is in fact, a kid spa called “Scoops,” where your princess can have an ice-cream themed manicure. For 45 dollars. I don’t even look to see how much the pink fluffy robes or the jewel eyed stuffies, or the glittering tiaras would cost the royal purse-bearer.

Onward. Two more shops that suck(er) you in; one to play the Magic Quest game (sword, 20 dollars) that your little prince can shove into one of the colorfully flashing stations around the lodge for an “epic” adventure, and another faux-natural shop that sells 65 dollar walking sticks, though I’m not sure why because the entire lodge is carpeted.

And then there was the Arcade. Noiseland. It was packed with other people’s shrieking children, wacking moles, cursing the Claw, throwing skee-balls, shooting aliens and riding virtual motorbikes through virtual wolfish terrain. And, over the din, the panicked pleading of change-challenged parents. “Ok, just one more game, Justin, I don’t HAVE any more money!”

And then—the hallway of hell ends at double glass doors. I open them and I am awash in the fumes of a chlorinated paradise. There are giant fountains, sprinklers, and slides. Water is gushing everywhere—from the walls, from the floor.

It is cavernous and it is deafening.

There a zillion things to climb on and on top of each one of these zillion things is a giant red bucket that is being filled up by an insidious hose. When the bucket reaches some mysterious level of fullness it tips over—dousing all the other peoples children with a lake’s worth of water whereupon the children scream with glee and shock, even though they have, of course, positioned themselves precisely in place for that very dousing.

One of the other people’s children, a little boy about 3, is hurrying along in front of me, shivering. Suddenly, he stops, spreads his little legs, and pees right on the edge of the kiddie water area. A gentle wave comes and laps it up.

I sigh.

My kids are in the wave pool, waving at me in desperation. “What TOOK you so long? WE want to go on the Sheer Drop Canyon Slide—NOW!”

My husband looks at me guiltily, then with a smidge of self-righteousness. “I told them you would take them. You know I can’t go on those things.”

“Me first!” Charlie decides. Her beautiful new leopard boo-kini is partially obscured by the mandatory (provided) kiddie life-jacket.
I wrestle a huge yellow floatie from the pile and Charlie runs ahead, her little legs hopping up the four-and-a-half flights of freezing stairs. I lumber up behind her, shlepping and resigned.

The lifeguards around the place are, I swear, twelve. They are local Fitchburg, Massachusetts, high school kids and they work tirelessly, trained in the apparently award-winning Great Wolf safety protocol. They pace back and forth along the edge of the water, and as they pace, their heads move in a jerky choreographed motion: head up, head down, to the right, to the left and up again. The head moves independently from the pacing—you can get dizzy just watching. 

Four times a day, a dummy baby, yclept “Timmy” is thrown into one of the pools and these lifeguards have to rescue him within three seconds. You think YOUR job is pressured.

It is our turn. We plop down on the yellow floatie atop the slide awaiting the signal. Charlie is on my lap. “She shouldn’t sit on your lap,” says the twelve year old. I move her off and she climbs back up. I can only see a few feet into the tunnel. I hold Charlie tighter and tell her to grab the grips. “She shouldn’t sit on your lap,” says the twelve year old again. But POOF! We are pushed.

Within a few terrifying seconds, I realize that Charlie should not have sat on my lap.

That is because we have both fallen off the floatie. We are hurtling down, down, twisiting and turning through the pitch-black tunnel at a crazy speed.

I am flat on my back and Charlie is riding flat on her back on top of my belly. Both my arms hold tight around her as we ricochet from one slimy side of the tunnel to another, the water rushing in my ears.

Desperate to slow down, I stick out my right big toe. I am afraid to let go of Charlie in any way—not one scratch is gonna get on that child—and I feel my toe catch each divot between slide sections. 

We are not slowing down in the least, so I focus on saying stupid things to her like “isn’t this fun?” and “wow, isn’t this fun?” and “whee, this is so much fun!” She does not answer. I can only imagine her beautiful, terrified face.

The water is relentless and the turns are getting sharper, faster, and more twisted. Just when I think my arms or most probably my toe will give out, we are PLOP in the water. We come up disoriented and coughing.

WACK! Something hits me in the head—it’s the yellow floatie.

I grab Charlie who is now bobbing right in front of me, and carry her to the steps. We both try to catch our breaths. “Wasn’t that fun?” asks the twelve year old as she heaves the floatie onto the pile.

Of course I have to do the whole thing again, (sigh) this time with Johnny. We don’t fall out until the very end, and Johnny thinks it’s the greatest thing ever.

The hours pass slowly. My one dream—that at least one twin will sit on my lap as we gently float down the lazy river together, sharing secrets, giggling and cuddling—is dashed. “Boring, Mommy,” they say.

My toe has turned every shade of purple.

What else do we do? Everything More slide. More wave pool. More slide. More buckets. We get them Dippin’ Dots and pizza. More slide. More hot tub. We do not get a manicure or a #$&!! expensive sword.

We stay ‘til the very last moment, of course, then shower, change and make it to the lobby for a fluffy-wolf-eared bedtime story and a clap clap stamp stamp howl.

The twins decide to leave their park-pass bracelets on, even though they are suddenly not comfortable, “to show everybody at school tomorrow.”

I volunteer to go and get the car, load it up and meet everyone by the front door.  Sruli buckles the kids and gets into the passenger seat. “Wasn’t that fun?” he asks me.

I turn around. The kids are already asleep. I am exhausted, still moist, still deaf, and my big purple toe is throbbing. We have a two-and-a-half hour drive home.

I put the car in gear and sigh.

Guess where my sister is taking her daughter and all her friends for an all-day splash party in honor of her Bat Mitzvah?

In a mere two months?

We’re invited of course.

Won’t that be fun?