Friday, July 18, 2014

A Backyard Legacy

Talk around the cul de sac tipped me off. The former mistress of our home and the former mistress of one of the neighboring split levels were both gardeners of merit, with a little competition running between them, friendly or not I cannot say. Decades earlier, they’d each planted a lilac bush, and the plants grew strikingly close to one another along the property line.

Eventually, one met a natural death, leaving the other to reign in solitary splendor each spring. In time, the two women also left this world, and with them went the possibility of knowing with absolute certainty whose lilac remained. Still, I always believed that we’d inherited it. I alone pruned and watered it, and I never tired of inhaling its intoxicating scent, as if appreciation could lay claim to ownership.

One morning, while sipping my coffee, I noticed two landscapers approach the lilac with shovels in hand. When I realized I was about to witness its execution, I quickly confirmed that I was fully dressed before darting outside to stop them.

The landscapers told me they did not speak English, but my animated gesticulating got the point across. They put down their shovels and pointed behind them. As I strode in that direction, I met my neighbor, who was already on her way to investigate the source of the commotion.

Despite our residential proximity, we did not know one another well and this was a curious encounter in which to become better acquainted. I begged her to let the lilac be. She pleaded with me to let it go so there’d be more room for the children to run and play, a cause I understood completely.



And yet, my heart would not budge. In our microwaveable world, the long-lasting lilac is worth its leaves in gold. Though it is, to be sure, a thing of remarkable beauty, it is also the invaluable payday of patience, faith, and determination. I was thoroughly convinced that, more than space for capture the flag and swing sets and soccer nets, our children needed the lesson of that fifty-something-year-old plant, whether they noticed its existence or not.

Sparing no dramatic detail, I shared with my neighbor the story of its provenance. I waxed on about our predecessors, who planted their gardens soon after this suburban development went up in the mid-1950s and tended them until their bodies gave out.

I suggested that perhaps the men with the shovels could transplant the lilac so that it rested solidly on my property. The move would give her children their grassy swath, while I would continue to tend the lilac, assuming it survived the relocation.

Instead, we somehow reached the wonderful compromise of joint ownership, and decided that it would stay put. The landscapers shrugged and walked back to their truck. Ever since, my neighbor and I have carried on with our separate lives, our shared lilac in the background. The matter has never come up again.

When the aromatic bursts of purple arrive each spring, I prefer to visit them at dawn. No one else is outside but the family of deer that passes through in the early morning. I have the flowers all to myself. I cannot help but wonder how G-d ever thought this gem of a plant up and I stand in awe at His kindness to let it thrive on our simple suburban landscape.

I know that it’s always been about more than the lilac itself and what I want it to mean to my sons. I’d venture that when the women of these houses first embedded their respective plants, they weren’t thinking beyond the lifelong enjoyment of their perennial gardens. But later, as time passed, they likely began to consider their own legacies and what would become of their lilacs down the line.

Inevitably, my neighbor and I will also one day pass our keys to their next owners. I hope that those women and their families will hear the chatter around the cul de sac about their predecessors, neighbors who almost lost the solitary lilac at the confluence of their yards. And I pray that in our names, the new mistresses of what were once our homes will allow no harm to come the lilac’s way.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A City Idyll, in the Heart of the Suburbs

There is truth in the t-shirt adage, Once a Jersey girl, always a Jersey girl, though until recently, I would not have conceded it.

My mother and father, who grew up in the Bronx and Brooklyn respectively, fled to the New Jersey suburbs soon after my birth in Manhattan. The lure was typical: home ownership, room to grow, a yard for the children. Most of the families I knew had followed a similar path to our sleepy borough.

My parents brought their marital malaise with them, and I, sensing something, was always just a bit sad. My mother tended her rhubarb and sewed our dresses. My father fixed things around the house and smoked his pipe. To stave off my own brooding, I cooked up precarious adventures that gave them both pause.

After I learned to read, the ever-present stack of library books in my room became my escape hatch. Later on, I began to entwine dreams of Manhattan with the imaginary worlds from those story pages, providing myself with a two-part distraction. We’d often spent Sundays in the city, seeing a Broadway show or going to a museum, but in my adolescence, I suddenly became aware of its magical, limitless, and breathtaking possibilities.

Crossing the George Washington Bridge, I felt my soul lift above my body in expectation. New York had a throbbing pulse I wanted desperately to keep pace with it while we were there. So I fell into the city’s waiting arms with abandon, pledging to flee the suburbs as soon as I could, while befuddling my poor parents, who had made the journey in reverse.

When my best friend and I turned 14, we finally received permission to travel into New York by train, by ourselves. From then on, I came in whenever I could, sometimes with a specific plan and at others, just to tap briefly into the city’s energy. I rarely ventured far from the Public Library, yet I always stayed long enough to believe that the city was where I belonged.

I settled onto the Upper West Side two years after graduating from college, living with a string of roommates in various apartments and later, by myself in a studio. When my husband and I married, we moved into a tiny one-bedroom. We could not stand in the kitchen together if the refrigerator was open, but we had a winding staircase that led to our six feet of rooftop access. If we craned our necks to the side, we could sort of see the river.

We had very little to our names. Still, our Manhattan years were too short-lived. Uprooted by my husband’s residency, we packed our stories and resettled in Queens. I eventually made peace with the move because the F train tethered us to the mainland. Only when work drew us back to the suburbs did I feel like I’d contracted chicken pox a second time. It wasn’t the Garden State’s fault; it was an existence outside the city I dreaded.

Though I commuted in daily, I suffered a withdrawal period nonetheless. It was always too quiet to sleep. Perhaps it was poetic justice for having fought so hard to escape the suburbs in the first place. I missed the corner bodega, too, resenting the drive required to purchase a gallon of milk. But I worried most that I would lose the sense of freedom and wonder the city had instilled in me since my youth.

That was ages ago. We have been back in New Jersey long enough now to know that great stories happen here, too. We’ve embraced our yard, our garden, and our basketball hoop. I’m no longer a commuter, but I’ve also stopped hoarding quarters for the washing machine. Most important, I’ve held onto my fearless city girl voice, while adjusting its volume just slightly for the quieter demands of the suburbs.

Besides, we are thankfully not that far away, because there are days when what I pine for – need, really -- is a good dose of New York. My husband and I even discuss the possibility of retiring there after we’ve finished our carpool tenure, when we might have the time to take advantage of the cultural wonders the city has to offer. Then again, we might stay put. It took us a long while to grow where we were planted, and we aren’t the sort to uproot ourselves easily.

Meanwhile, our sons like Manhattan only in small, specific doses. They love to travel and explore, but ultimately prefer the stillness of the suburbs for the long term. My husband insists that this is not a kind of rebellion on their part, as I first assumed. For them, the city is just another place on the big wide beautiful map of the world. Crossing the George Washington Bridge is no different from crossing any other, and it is surely not an existential exercise on their road to self-discovery.

Or maybe, we have pulled off an amazing feat: raising them in the New Jersey suburbs with a New York state of mind. After all, they know that adventure and magic, if they are willing to look, await them at every corner.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Time Is Theirs

Over the past Memorial Day weekend, we spent a few days with my husband’s cousins near Corning, New York. If you ignore the occasional bear and bat, it is a splendid place and a real breath of fresh air – both literally and figuratively – from the usual pace of our lives.

Since my sons were young, they’ve loved hiking through a creek that runs through an area forest. The water is full of rocks imprinted with fossilized brachiopods. The boys enjoy tracking them down and hauling them up the steep hill back to their cousins’ house.

During this visit’s creek walk, however, the older two stumbled upon a glass Coke bottle from what had been a factory in nearby Elmira. Based on the patent number, they were able to date it to a year between 1939 and 1950.

I must tell you that these two often rib me about my penchant for things old and used. They have sworn that their own homes will feature only modern décor and no antique tchotchkes whatsoever. Fossils, I guess, will be the exception.

When I inquired as to why, then, they’d bothered schlepping the Coke bottle back from the creek, they conceded that sometimes old is cool. The eldest even buttered me up, telling me that he “must have his mother’s eye for these things.” He spent a good hour researching their find, discovering that it wasn’t going to pay for his college education, just a few slices of pizza.

And so, the boys decided to keep the bottle as a souvenir of an adventure all their own.

To be sure, they had the concept of ownership mastered long ago. Their stuff is sacred and they seek full control over their schedules (basketball before chores). Their way is the right way, right or wrong, and they will crawl into their own space when they feel the need to do so.

What they struggle with is the fact that their mother might possibly want to get in on the game, too. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to convince them that it will not diminish my affection for them, nor is it a poor reflection on my mothering, if I occasionally carve out a little me time. Still, they’ve always been less than accommodating -- I’m their Mom -- and I haven’t been forthright in staking my claim.

But over the course of this recent weekend getaway, by some miracle, everyone was on board with the idea of giving me a few hours to relax by myself. My husband and the cousins took all of the children white water rafting. I didn’t even pretend to protest. I just packed lunches and waved goodbye. To any bystander, it would have been clear this was too good to be true.

They left just after 7 a.m., and I followed soon behind, walking 3.5 miles to the nearest coffee place for a latte. I then drove to the store to pick up drink and snack reinforcements that the boys would need for the evening. I raced through the aisles, also grabbing a few summer camp items, like bug spray and bathing suits, to save myself a shopping trip down the line.

After loading the trunk, I turned the key, but the car stubbornly refused to start. I waited a few moments before trying again. I talked sweetly to it, pleading for compliance. Still nothing. I refused to cry. Instead, I took the keys out of the ignition and walked around the parking lot.

At the dollar store, I picked up a few more camp items and some chip clips shaped like mustaches. I have no explanation for the last purchase other than that I was under duress and not thinking clearly. I returned to the car and tried again to no avail.

A few locals kindly offered to haul out their jumper cables when they noticed me growing moss. I declined, determined to get through this myself, as if I could will the car to start.

Eventually, I caved and called AAA, because the day is only so many hours long and I had relaxing to do. I tried to start the car at periodic intervals until Jesse the Mechanic showed up 70 minutes later. He parked in front of me and asked me to give it another shot. Again nothing. Jesse shrugged. I shrugged.

Then he got out of his truck, sat behind the wheel of my van, and turned the key. Voila! We were up and running. After tossing out a few ideas about what could’ve been the cause (and politely suppressing his opinion on my driving abilities), he jotted down my membership number and sent me on my way.

I was zonked from sitting in the hot car for hours, but I was determined to maximize my few remaining moments of time to myself. I managed to color my hair, do a little writing and read one chapter of the new Joyce Carol Oates novel. Not a complete loss, but when everyone returned home and started telling tales about the day, all I could think was that I’d gotten the short end of the stick.

They saw bald eagles and mergansers and a lovely waterfall. Their arms ached from paddling, but they could lay claim to making their way down the river. They even had a water fight during their break for lunch on the riverbank, and had gathered a day’s worth of inside jokes. On the other hand, I did not have to wear a wetsuit, so let’s call that the silver lining.

I had no one to blame but myself. Of course, the car not starting wasn’t my fault, but what business did I have going to the market for the boys on my day off anyway? I can’t say that my family didn’t give me the freedom; it was I who chose to whittle away at it foolishly. The whole experience sent me a clear message: Don’t complain if you don’t have the guts to follow through.

What I really think, though, is that when it comes to being a mother, sharing is more instinctive than claiming territorial ownership of anything, and that includes time and space. With our busy schedules, moments when we are all together as a family are just as rare a commodity as a quiet moment by myself. The boys are already off in various combinations so frequently without me. I’ll have time to be alone when our nest is empty.

That said, a little peace and quiet is still good for a mother’s soul. But frankly, the walk and the coffee that Sunday morning would’ve been enough. I should’ve joined the gang paddling down the river, the wetsuit notwithstanding.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Getting Hooked

I grew up surrounded by women who made magic with two sticks and some wool. It was clear to me that it was a G-d given talent, this ability to craft something from almost nothing with a rhythmic flick of the wrists. It awed me to watch them work, and it didn’t hurt that I often benefitted from the output.

In fact, I still cling (with guilt, with love) to a cable sweater my grandmother knit for me late in her life. Believing she could do anything, I selected an ambitious pattern that was too much for her arthritic hands. Though she agreed to the undertaking out of affection for me, she cursed her enfeebled dexterity, the pattern, and me for not choosing something simpler until the blasted thing was done.

Years earlier, she -- along with her sisters, her friends, her neighbors and occasionally, my mother -- would race ahead at full throttle through skein after skein, a word I prided myself on knowing at a young age. The stitches emerged from their nimble hands and transformed into full garments with such ease that I naively believed the process was a simple one.

The same presumptuousness fueled my attempt to pirouette after watching a ballet segment on PBS as a young girl. Just a simple spin! Anyone can do that, I said to myself before falling promptly to the floor. Yet to knitting I felt genetically entitled. I was convinced that all I’d need was a lesson or two before I could whip up a cardigan in a flash. After all, everyone I knew could do it, even if no one thought to teach me and I foolishly never asked.

This same group of women also crocheted, albeit less often. I preferred the click-clack melody of knitting, but the silent one-hook motion still intrigued me. I particularly loved watching miscellaneous scraps of wool metamorphose into afghans bursting with colors that matched only within granny squares. Alas, I never learned to crochet either.

Eventually, sleep away camp set things right. We’d idle on our bunk porches during free time with the swarming mosquitoes and the humidity. Some girls talked or scribbled letters home. I wrote silly poems. One day, I looked up and noticed a tall girl named Leah and her friends busy on the porch opposite mine. They were crocheting kippot. When I inquired, they told me they made them for their brothers and fathers, sometimes for a boy they thought was cute.

Beyond the realm of yarmulke-making observant Jewish girls, knitting and crocheting did not then enjoy the same hipster chic they do today. They were the avocation most often though not exclusively of women of a certain age, conjuring up images of grandmas in housecoats. Regardless, I was an old soul. If making kippot was my way in to the club, I was game.

Leah patiently showed me the ropes, handing me a teensy tiny metal hook and a spool of cotton thread. I learned what a dugma (pattern) was and how to work a name – in English or in Hebrew -- into a design. She taught me how to fold the crocheted circle into quarters and measure it against my knuckles to determine whether the dimensions were large enough for a man’s head.

Before summer’s end, I’d perfected crocheting kippot, but from the very beginning, it was much more than a craft or a skill. The process soothed me, lifted me out of a rainy-day funk, and offered me the smallest sense of control in a world in which we have absolutely none. More important, it gave me the savvy to make something usable and lovely from the simplest of items and provided me with an internal home base for times when things get rocky.

(That it also put me, decades later, in the category of women who do cool things was quite an added bonus.)

With growing confidence, I moved past the tiny needle and thread to thicker wool and bigger projects: scarves, stuffed animals, hats, and later, afghans. I have since whipped up countless blankets for newborns and newlyweds. I even crocheted a uterus for a friend who had to let her biological one go and a fake beard for my son’s Purim costume.

Sadly, I could never take on sweaters, which involve way too much measuring for my right-sided brain. And though I made the kippot for our entire wedding party twenty years ago, my middle-aged eyes now struggle with the thin thread and tiny needle required to crochet a new kippah for my husband.

I think about that moment when I saw those girls in camp crocheting together on the porch, how it invited conversation. Now, when I crochet in public, I find it has the same effect as walking a puppy in the park. It has inspired commentary, compliments and nostalgia. Mostly, though, it offers a pretty distraction for others when the magazine selection is paltry at the doctor’s office.

Likewise, I still love watching others knit. I enjoy the action like I’m at a play, tapping my feet to the rhythmic sound of their needles. Occasionally, too, I wonder whether I’d have ended up a knitter if Leah had been knitting mittens that summer, though I doubt it. I took a beginner’s class at the local high school a few years ago. I learned to make a scarf out of Fun Fur, but did not fall madly, deeply in love.

So I’ll stick with what I know best and what I enjoy most, and I’ll crochet. One day, the rest of me will catch up to my old soul. I’ll be ready, hook in hand.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Touché

There’s a lone pile of dirty snow on the street in front of our house. I want desperately for it to melt, but each morning it is still there and I fear it might linger until summer. Nevertheless, spring has officially sprung on the calendar and memories of Purim are nearly two weeks old. Stubborn snow mounds or not, Pesach is on its way.

That means it’s time to play games in the kitchen. There’s the scavenger hunt, for starters. I troll the pantry for ingredients, matching them in combinations that would never occur to me any other time of the year. In a round of hide and seek, I camouflage the remaining package of protein beneath the last sheets of puffed pastry from the back of the freezer. Sometimes, a mystery sauce – the final spoons from jars of condiments in the refrigerator door – accompanies it.

This entire kitchen charade at first seems silly, but I believe it is a strategic and meaningful step en route to the holiday. On the one hand, it winks at us; on the other, it reaches a level not far removed from ritual observance. The process itself – of searching, of doing more with less, of figuring out what is essential -- gets everyone, knowingly or unknowingly, into the mood.

It means that ice cream served on the last of the sugar cones can pass for dinner. It isn’t my first choice, but it brings the boys in on the game for the moment, making them mind less that they have to empty their closets and backpacks. At the same time, I get to feel, for a short while, that they are still my little boys, not towering teens whose lives intersect with my own less and less with the passing days.

The truth is that I love every moment of getting ready: the cleaning, the shopping, the list making, even the fretting that it may not get done in time. I’d be exaggerating if I claimed to feel the actual approach of our Exodus from Egypt. But I do powerfully sense something huge hanging in the air, as if our physical and spiritual preparations were the commercials stirring expectations in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

Daydreaming, I imagine that we are there already: the countertops lined, the stove covered with foil like a space ship. A surprisingly pleasing bouquet of Windex and frying onions fills the house. Every surface is as clean as it will ever be, every object in its rightful place. It’s as if my surroundings have taken a hot shower, rendering them refreshingly chometz-free.

In the meantime, though, I’m still assessing what remains and what’s left to be done. I pack the unopened carbs and drop them off at the food pantry. I also make a mental note never to send my husband to Costco on an empty stomach.

As I contrive in the kitchen and sweep through the house, I’m also busy pondering G-d’s Big Plan. Though my relationship with Him generally pivots on awe and gratitude, I find that I’m enormously thankful this time of year for the way He enables me to drag myself out of the mire and move forward in the right direction.

For example, just the other day, I found 7 Devil Dog wrappers (as well as a kippah, basketball shorts, lollipop sticks, a phone charger, orphaned socks, dust bunnies the size of topiaries, and a penny) beneath the basement love seat. The tendency to confront my boys for being slovenly began to brew inside me.

Instead, He let me wander off to the time I happened upon a petrified peanut butter sandwich while cleaning the garage in the weeks before chag. It had been left there on the morning we were leaving for summer vacation and then entirely forgotten. Another year, I discovered pretzels in the towel closet, hidden just in case someone – I won’t say who -- got hungry in the night.

I laughed so hard while remembering that I had to catch my breath. The boys were then so young, and though I was surely frustrated by the discoveries, I found the innocence of their actions delicious; they were, after all, wrought completely without malice.

I also took a moment to laugh at myself – a loud, unbridled guffaw-- redirecting my impatience with my no longer small children who certainly know how to clear up after themselves. Just as I was about to take them to task for the sedimentary build-up beneath the couch, I’m pretty sure I heard Him telling me, in that booming voice I presume He saves for important talks with the likes of me:
Serves you right! You’re the one who chose not to move the couch all year. Don’t get annoyed with the boys for their manners when you should be embarrassed by your housekeeping…
Well, touché!

It will all get done. No sense in arguing our way there. How’s that for liberating?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

My World by a Hair

Though my hair is standard Jewish girl hair – curly, kinky, unruly and black – it is has always been my crowning glory.

It ran long and straight until the fourth grade, when my mother cut it on the eve of a car trip to Florida. She was not going to fight with my knotty locks in hotel rooms along the Interstate. The result was that in all of our vacation photos, I’m the one who looks like a badly drawn Dorothy Hamill.

As it grew back, it began to wind into soft curls, dotted here and there with spots of frizz. But I was short, and never thin. My feet were always too big for the rest of me. Yet my hair, despite its eccentricities, was dark enough, almost blue-black, to make me feel special.

There were bad haircuts – very, very bad cuts – along the way. In high school, I agreed to be a model for my favorite childhood babysitter, who’d become a hair stylist. Unfortunately, it was at a time when extremely short cuts were fashionable. Photographic evidence exists, so I cannot deny what my sons, laughing themselves into hiccups, observed: I looked like a boy.

Marriage led to mixed feelings about hair covering. Hats, at first, were fun, until they became cumbersome, especially on windy days. I moved on to berets and later bandanas and finally a sheitel. I began to wear it most of the time because what I wanted, above all, was to have hair. The sheitel makes me feel prettier in the way high heels make me feel thinner. It isn’t true, but the illusion works wonders on my psyche.

Several years ago, after placing the wig on its Styrofoam head, I noticed a grey streak peeking out along my part. Over time, that rebel strand reproduced until I had a full blown stripe, a solid white line dividing two lanes on an asphalt highway. A few well-meaning friends told me not to fret; after all, they said, I cover it anyway. But my hair was, in my eyes, my best feature. I needed to eye myself in the mirror without flinching.

Nearly in tears, I went straight to the hairdresser. She slathered on stinky globs of dye that made my scalp itch for days. Still, I sat impatiently flipping through magazines while it worked its magic, waiting for it to restore my youth. I thought about those elegant women who look so magnificent in their silver manes. I resolved that one day, I, too, would allow my head to turn completely white – graciously, proudly, without regret. For the time being, though, I wasn’t going down without a fight. I left the salon glad for my decision.

The only problem was that I lacked the patience to sit there for an hour every 3-4 weeks while the color set. I went a few times before I threw in the towel and began dying it myself at home instead. It was, first of all, decidedly less expensive that way. But more to the point, I could vacuum the carpets while my roots drank the elixir of youth.

I found a brand that was a bit more natural – at least it smelled better – and I made a habit of doing it almost regularly. And though I cannot say I felt like a new woman when I rinsed it out, I definitely congratulated myself for having made the effort. Here and there, I’d wonder at what point I’d be ready to go completely grey. The answer was always that I’d cross that bridge when I came to it.

Besides, I only had that stripe to contend with anyway. A full head of beautiful white hair was long off on the horizon.

That is until a few days ago, when my husband and I sat side by side on the couch in our living room, strategizing about the upcoming weekend, during which each of us would need to be in fifteen places at once (well, we wouldn’t, but the boys would). When I bent forward to pick something up off the carpet, he uttered two words he likely wishes he could swallow whole: “Oh no!”

“What?” I asked with a twinge of panic in my voice.

“The back of your head has so much grey.” He offered his response gently, knowing how I’d take the news.

I thought of the famous story from the hagada about Rabbi Elazar. He’s only 18, but transforms overnight to appear as if he’s 70, full white beard and all.

In contrast, my reality crept up on me slowly, like a hunter staking out his prey. Though my story will never make it into the canon of Jewish literature, I relate to the shock Rabbi Elazar must have felt when he discovered that his youthful appearance had been snatched from him in the dead of night.

It is true that I was about a week overdue on my coloring schedule, but I was quite certain that this grey patch was a new arrival. My husband assured me that my hair remains lovely. He said I probably just missed a spot the last time I colored it. Sweet of him, but unlikely. I follow the instructions for full coverage to a tee.

Initially, I thought I should just accept that I’m now just a bit closer to giving in to that glorious silver crown I’ve admired on other women. I also considered reading my newest greys as a sign of wisdom and accomplishment, the trophies of a full, busy, and meaningful life. I try to tell myself not to fret, that it’s on the back of my head beyond my range of vision and that I cover it anyway.

But I know it is there. And I’m not ready to surrender. This weekend, I’m going to hunt that grey down and color it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rolling Back the Angst



When things get me down, so much so that I begin to wonder why I thought I could pull off this parenting gig in the first place, I go to Walmart. No, I’m not a fan of the store, for all the reasons people who don’t like Walmart don’t like Walmart. Yet it has become an inexorable part of my landscape as each of my sons has entered the Wild West of adolescence.

It happens that we live in a small town, so there aren’t many late-night options. Among the only 24-hour establishments are a convenience store, a Rite Aid and a crowded kosher Dunkin Donuts, where you have to squeeze between lounging Rutgers students and their MacBooks. None of these places offers enough space for thoughtful lingering and everything else closes between 9 and10 p.m.

Alas, I find myself in desperate need of a hideout at precisely the hour when there’s nowhere to go.

The excitement, on nights when it happens, starts to bubble a bit earlier. Everyone has come home from school tired and ravenous, with plenty of studying ahead. A younger sibling annoys an older one by asking for the ketchup. Someone’s stewing over a missed free throw. Another’s frustrated, having left his Spanish homework in his locker, and a third can’t believe we’re out of apple cider and whitening toothpaste.

Over these and other matters of all shapes and sizes, the boys might transform from mild-mannered Dr. Jekylls into excitable Mr. Hydes as the evening unfolds. It can be just one testosterone-fueled adolescent volcano, or when I’m really lucky, all three erupt at once. They begin to speak in tongues. Nothing they say makes any sense.

Why are they are so out of sorts? Well, they’re teenage boys, and I’m convinced they themselves would be hard pressed to articulate a reason. It’s easy to get sucked in, to fall into the trap of responding to them when their barbs fly, rather than focusing on how utterly ridiculous – and in the alternate universe of adolescence, normal - they sound.

In the beginning, I fought back, a losing battle if I ever saw one. I had no idea what I was up against. Then, I figured out that I simply needed to get some air in order to be able to hold my tongue long enough for the Hulk-moments to pass.

And so, in search of refuge at 10:35 p.m., I established my Walmart ritual for those nights when the not so tough need to get going. The store, despite its flaws, meets my basic criteria: open ‘til midnight, nearby, sells drinks, relatively clean bathroom.

By the time I arrive, the greeters have all gone home to bed. No one notices me as I troll the aisles, though I wonder, during stretches when I’m there night after night, if someone will assume I’m on staff or charge me rent. Then, for weeks – sometimes months -- at a time, I won’t need to go there at all.

At first, the idea perplexed my family. I didn’t tell them where I was headed, but they found me out by activating the “Find My iPhone” app. I’ve since wandered the aisles so frequently that I can tell you the exact layout of the store.

I know they carry a 2’ toilet paper holder shaped like a standing bear and flip-flips year round. They sell several brands of sriracha, the complete DVD set of Hogan’s Heroes, glow-in-the-dark hunting gloves, and curiously, the widest assortment of air freshener scents I’ve ever whiffed.

I have no more affection for the store than I did before, but I have come to appreciate the $5 CD bin in particular. Through the music of the ‘70s and ‘80s, I stroll down memory lane to my own adolescence, thinking about how I sang my way through whatever possessed me at that age. Once again, Kansas, Bon Jovi, Donna Summer and Linda Ronstadt are helping me through teenage angst -- not mine, but that of my sons.

Once I’ve restored my equilibrium, or the manager announces that the store is closing, I head home. I turn on “You’re No Good” and belt out the lyrics, hoping to G-d no one I know sees me singing down the road. Actually, by that hour, I’m not even sure I care.

By the time I reach the front door, I’ve sung all of the hurt and frustration out of my system, confident that giving everyone breathing room was the best course of action. Whatever was gnawing at the boys – the pressures or hormones that caused them to transform into alien beings that resembled them – has, for now, dissipated, too.

I find them asleep, or lulling in that pleasant state just before it. Sometimes, an awake one will offer a soft I’m sorry, or ask if I’d bought Fruity Pebbles. A sleeping one won’t swat my hand away when I brush the bangs from his brow.

Praising the power of an old song to heal, I remember how good it feels to forgive and forget and head to bed.