Thursday, July 24, 2014

Diamonds in the Rough

On account of our in-flux housing situation my fivesome has spent the better part of the summer hanging out in Texas with my in-laws. 

I've spent time in Texas before, but never like "surprise, you'll be here for six weeks!" time, and so I've had to do quite a bit of improvising.

You know what's not all that easy when you have three kids under six?  IMPROVISING.

Back in LA I clung to my weekly schedule like a life raft. Some weeks it seemed that a strict adherence to schedule was truly the only thing that allowed me to maintain the smallest shred of sanity.

I ran a tight ship, people, and it worked for us.

But now I find myself in a small and for the most part unfamiliar Texas town where our first three days were pretty much devoted to the not-so-fun activities of:

"Let's make Nana's china dolls fight each other!


"Why are these goldfish in the fountain when they could be having so much more fun in the living room!?!"

So I've been working like a madwoman to fill the dyas for my energetic offspring. I've been running all over town assaulting librarians, nature center employees, and theater ticket takers demanding fliers detailing their summer program offerings. We've hit up olde-Westy towns, we've seen the singing zoologist perform, we've hit up the splash pad, and we've thrown at least six birthday parties for my eldest's favorite stuffed animal.

And it's been fun, and sometimes terribly, horribly un-fun, and sometimes both at the same time.

Take last night's attempt at a "living room campout". 

My boys had been begging for a campout, so we decided to do a trial run by letting them sleep in sleeping bags in the living room.

We set up a comforter tent, told ghost stories and roasted marshmallows on the stovetop.  WHAT FUN!

Until they decided that the blanket over the coffee table wasn't REALLY a tent and that we needed OUR tent. I attempted to explain in my best calm mommy voice that OUR tent was, in fact, on a moving truck probably somewhere near Ohio and was not available.

In response there was a lot of crying and carrying on accompanied by light inter-brother fisticuffs. It wasn't long before I found myself shrieking at the kids to "Get under the coffee table and be quiet already!!!!!" 

Things quickly went downhill, 

"This table tent is too small!" 

"He's touching me!"

"I don't have my toys!"

"Now I have my toys and he's grabbing them!"

By 9pm the super fun campout was in an irredeemable state of disarray. The kids had abandoned the tent. Brother #1 had relocated to the loveseat and Brother #2 had taken up residence on top of the coffee table with a pillow over his head.

I was laying down on the couch, my role at the campout having devolved to simply letting out an angry "SHHHHHH" anytime a camper made a sound of any kind.

Eventually my big guy started snoring and my four-year-old, in spite of his best efforts to "STAY UP FOREVER!" was getting noticeably drowsy as he continued to roll a truck back and forth from his perch atop the coffee table.

As I sat watching him, the motion of the truck got slower and slower when he finally looked at me, his eyes blinking heavily, and reached out his hand to hold mine.

We laid there like that  -- our hands linked in the gap between the coffee table and the couch: My four-year-old, who won't give me kisses anymore no matter how I beg, who resists any cuddles that are not artfully disguised as wrestling moves, and who hops out of bed in the morning before I get a chance to lay down with him and tell him how much I love him. He somehow, on the unlikely night of the disastrous indoor campout, hit some magic moment before falling asleep where holding his Mom's hand and just looking at each other seemed like the perfect thing to do. 

After about three minutes he let go, let out a big yawn and said in a small voice, 

"Love you, Mom."

Then he rolled over and fell asleep.

A perfect moment in a summer full of chaos. 

Which, in my experience, is just how these things go.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Perspective Lost

When my father was a young man he had surgery to remove a large growth from one of his lungs. Because the medical technology of the time was neither all that medical nor all that technical, part of his recovery required him to abstain from water for the better part of several days.

When visitors would come to see him during this period my father recalls being overcome by a single obsessive thought: 

"Why aren't they drinking water???? These people - who are PERMITTED to drink water - why would they just sit there SQUANDERING the gift of water drinking?!? WHY???"

Eventually, when the sight of people abstaining from water became too difficult for him, Dad began refusing visitors altogether.

It's the kind of perspective problem I've been facing this month as I try to move my family cross-country.

We're in the process of leaving Los Angeles, where we've lived since before the kids were born, and relocating to the suburbs of NYC.

Packing and selling one house, finding another home 3,500 miles away, figuring out what to do with the kids in the meantime, hiring movers, saying goodbye to beloved friends, researching school districts, keeping up with the laundry while trying to discourage the kids from adding their Sharpie art to freshly painted walls - - - it's all been pretty overwhelming. 

Then things went from "pretty overwhelming" to "altogether terrifying" when, on the eve of piling the children into an airplane to head Eastward, we learned that our intended house in NY had failed inspection and fallen through. 

I'd planned everything so carefully. We'd chosen the NY house during Spring Break so that we'd be ready to close just as school wrapped up in LA. The Los Angeles house was already on the market and empty of furniture. A moving truck with all our belongings inside was rapidly progressing Eastward on what I could now only think of as "the move to nowhere".  The five of us were already committed in every way to our leap off the West Coast cliff but now it appeared that our East Coast soft landing was crumbling beneath us.

I panicked.

Friends and family urged me not to lose perspective. "This too shall pass!" they offered helpfully. "You don't find the perfect house - it finds you!" they said. But I found it difficult to hear them through the fog of despair I felt now that my children and I were destined for a life on the road as traveling vaudevillians.

I gave into the fear.

Unable to face the realities of my situation I indulged in ill-advised snacking binges. I hid from my troubles by becoming over invested in the basest of reality television offerings (Would Tori forgive Dean? WHY DID I CARE?) I tearfully pined over the house we'd lost. I angrily rejected my husband's suggestions of alternate plans. Then, more sobbing.

I lost my perspective entirely. Because you know what I've discovered? Keeping one's perspective when things are going in the crapper - - -  is next to impossible. 

Just like water is all you think about when you can't have it, finding a house for your family when you've just sold your only other one is a subject one is LIKELY TO OBSESS OVER.

To be fair, at present, things are kind of looking up. We have a lead on a new house. We went ahead and left Los Angeles and are hanging for the summer in my husband's Texan hometown in hopes of making our way East this August. 

The kids are having the time of their lives. They're visiting with family and learning to touch nature from their fearless Texas cousins. The new house we have an offer in on has a bigger yard and you might even say (in a VERY small voice) that things may be working out for the best.

And I mean I'd love to tell you that this has all taught me a valuable lesson about how worrying is a total waste of time and that next time I'm just going to keep on sailing through the hard times with a positive attitude - sure that it will all lead to a greater destiny somewhere down the road!

But I mean, it hasn't. What is has taught me is the simpler lesson of, 

"Don't attempt to buy a house with water easement issues."

In closing PLEASE send good vibes that our new house that we've put the offer on comes through.

If it does not next week's blog will likely feature a "Host SFD and Her Family for a Month!" contest. ALL APPLICATIONS WILL BE CONSIDERED! 

Stay tuned…..

Thursday, June 26, 2014

'NOW I SEE YOU' Book Giveaway!

It's giveaway week at Short Fat Dictator!

On Tuesday my friend and fellow blogger at A MOM AMOK released her memoir "Now I See You". 

When a friend comes out with a book your mind kind of goes like this (and when I say "your mind" please note that I probably mean "my crazy mind"):

[Book is Announced] My friend wrote a book! How exciting! OMG I can't wait to read my friend's book! When can I get a copy of her book?

[Book Arrives] Oh look! The copy of her book has arrived! Wow! I can't believe I'm about to read the book she wrote!

[About to open the book] Ooooooohh noooo! What if my friend's book is TERRIBLE?

I am thrilled to report that Nicole's book is NOT terrible. Instead it is terrible's opposite! It is page-turnery and laugh-out-loud funny -- which is especially notable when you consider it is a memoir about going blind.

Nicole was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa at the age of 19. 'Now I See You' follows her, post-diagnosis, as she navigates life as a college student, then as a young working woman, and eventually as a mother for whom the reality of "LIGHTS OUT" looms large in the who-knows-how-distant future.

Nicole took time out of her busy book tour schedule to answer a few questions about the book for ShortFatDictator:


SHORT FAT DICTATOR: Well (SPOILER ALERT!) it turns out you are going blind. What made you want to write about your diagnosis of retinitis pigmentosa? (Wow, my spell check doesn't like that diagnosis, either.)

NICOLE C. KEAR: I think that my desire to write about the diagnosis was pretty much born the day I got it, at nineteen. Not in a clear sense (I definitely didn’t keep a notes-for-my-future-memoir journal, which, in retrospect, would’ve come in handy) but in a vague, deeply-buried way. I think I wrote the book for the same reason most people write about sad, crappy things that happen in their lives – to try and wrest some purpose from it, so it doesn’t feel so sad and crappy anymore. It TOTALLY worked, incidentally. I highly recommend the idea.

SFD: Raising three kids = hard. Raising three kids while going blind = LIKE, SO MUCH HARDER. Why did you have to write a book that makes me feel bad about complaining about my own petty problems???

NCK: Yep, that’s my consolation prize and I’m loving it . . . especially since I haven’t been able to enjoy it for the past nine years, when I was keeping my vision loss a secret. I wish I was so secure and modest and such a deeply good person that I could say it doesn’t make my day when someone says, “I just don’t know how you do it! It’s amazing!” but that would be a lie. I LOVE that comment! I mean, I pretend to be very modest and wave their admiration away, but really I’m just eating it up, doing an internal “Keep it coming” gesture.

SFD: Nicole, you have a terrible potty mouth. I mean, in the best possible way. The "voice" of this book feels totally authentic, but a "funny" book about going blind couldn't have been an easy sell. Did you struggle with how to approach this story?

NCK: I really didn’t struggle with the approach at all; I knew the only way I could write this story was if it was as funny as it was heart-wrenching. I knew the humor had to be not just sporadic and tension-relieving; I wanted it to be integral, a foundational part of the story, because it’s integral to me, as a person. I’m not saying I laugh my way through life, but it’s basically the only weapon I ever to use to combat anything. I’m a one trick pony in that regard.

I remember when my son was born, I read this memoir Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton, about his experience losing his vision because of the same retinal disease, and it was so hilarious and so moving, my mind was blown; his book gave me permission to do what I’d always wanted to do but wasn’t sure was possible in a book about blindness, be really funny. My struggle, actually, wasn’t in bringing the humor in, but in opening up, emotionally. The first few drafts were hilarious but not terribly honest or vulnerable, so I had to keep forcing myself to add that in, and to trust that it wouldn’t be unbearably depressing, like, Milton-level bleak, as was my fear.

SFD: The concept in the book of the approaching "LIGHTS OUT" moment resonates so strongly with people. What is on your "bucket list" of must-sees? What are some unusual things that people have told you are on their must-see bucket lists?

NCK: My bucket list has changed a lot. The main thing on there now is just my kids; I want to see everything I can, including but not limited to the high school graduations and the school plays and the weddings and just them, in everyday boring situations, as they age. I’d also like to go to India; my son and I want to see the Taj Mahal. Once I start that game, there’s no stopping it; I want to see all sorts of places around the world, which I’ve only gotten a tiny glimpse of. Trouble is, having three kids pretty much obliterates your travel fund (not if you all buy ten copies of my book and tell everyone you know, though! Then I can go to India!)

People’s bucket lists tend to include the same kinds of items; travel destinations, mainly. Sometimes people put really practical things on there – like “pay off my mortgage” (seriously, that’s a common one) -- and that depresses the crap out of me.

SFD: The scenes with your family in the book are laugh-out-loud funny. Like, "I read this book on an airplane and my seatmate thought I was insane"- LOL- funny. The passages featuring your larger than life Italian family are especially hilarious and your grandmother "Nonny" is a STAH! Can you just write something else in your Nonny's voice so that I can laugh some more? 

NCK: The thing that’s cracking me up about Nonny lately is that NOTHING about book publicity impresses her. I have an essay in the New York Times today and I brought the paper to her and showed her the page with my byline and she gave me this patronizing look and said, “Oh dat’s very nice. Don’t worry. Everyting’s gonna work out one day for you.” And I replied, “It’s working out RIGHT NOW! That’s exactly what I’m trying to tell you!” and she nodded, fully humoring me, and said, “Oh, how nice. I know.”

I could win the freaking Pulitzer and she’d have the same response.  


You can read an excerpt of the book here:

Nicole's publisher, St. Martin's, has given me two copies of 'Now I See You' to giveaway to my readers. If you want a free copy of 'Now I See You' (SPOILER ALERT: YOU DO!) all you have to do is answer the question either here on the blog or on my the FB page at

Let's say you discovered you were losing your sight - sure, there would be a whole host of downsides but - - - what is ONE THING you be most grateful for never having to see again?

ANSWER AND WIN!!!! The winners will be announced on Wednesday, July 2 and the very next days free books shall speed toward them!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Father's Day

For Father's Day this week I'm sharing a piece from my aunt's blog. It is about her father, my grandfather and I love it. Go read her anytime at

June 2014 ~ Father's Day Memories of my Father

Probably  the most unappreciated job in our culture is “father”. He is the butt of jokes calling him clueless. He shows up in TV commercials as the one asking the stupid question or behaving like a dimwit.  A man’s home may be his castle but he’s regrettably portrayed as more court jester than  knight in shining armor. In our family the role of a husband had been defined  by my grandmother O’Donohue whose infamous line was “It’s not a fit night out for man or beast. Let your Father go.”

But in truth and in life, a Father is most often that knight. He struggles to make money he almost never sees as it flies out to cover family bills. He carries you when your ankle is sprained, comforts you when bad dreams terrify and confronts your mean teacher/coach/boss. He refinances his house to pay for your education and foregoes the new car to pay for your wedding. He is your life-long safety net and most trusted advisor. And when he’s gone there is a void no one can ever, ever fill.

My own Father was the original alpha male. A child of the depression his first job (while still in fifth grade) was  as a look-out for a floating crap game. He never did finish high school when he married he had to supplement the income from his Hell’s Kitchen diner by pushing a hot dog wagon down by the NY docks. One sweltering day, when the fleet was in, he realized that families in line who couldn’t afford his Orange Crush were parched so he began going up the line giving out small cups of water. Free. Now here comes an anomaly . . . a good deed that wasn’t punished. The iconic Parks Commissioner Robert Moses rode by and noticed this kind act and had an aide contact Dad to offer him concessions in some of the city parks. Soon, with umbrellered carts all over the metropolitan area, he’d built such a fine reputation that in 1941 he was offered the Tiffany of concessions . . . the state owned historic Bear Mountain Inn up in the Hudson Valley, which he managed magnificently for the next 25 years.

But think about taking over a country hotel in September ’41.  Three months later war was declared and with it came gasoline rationing, food rationing and ruination. Then Dad saw an item in the Daily News that the major league ball clubs would no longer be able to travel south to Florida for spring training so he found the Dodger office in Brooklyn and offered them a deal . . . come north instead. But the  boss, Branch Rickey, thought it wouldn’t work because the weather would confine the team indoors.

So Dad then drove the few miles from the Inn to West Point where he assured the Commandant that his  cadets were about to be perceived as draft dodgers and the Academy needed some good publicity like giving over their huge indoor Field House to the Brooklyn Dodgers. With that deal done the Dodgers trained at Bear Mountain for the next four years. The football Giants came too and the Knicks and the Golden Glovers and they stayed on into the sixties. 

Along the way my Father was considered such a friend to West Point that he was made an honorary graduate and to this day an award in his name is given out at graduation. (An honor that proved more enduring than his solid gold pass to Ebbetts  Field.) Providentially his connection to West Point gave him the chance to recommend an old friend (who’d been coaching high school football) for a job with the Army team. His old friend was Vince Lombardi who later got to know the NY Giants as they trained at Bear Mountain. And the rest, as they say, is history. 
Still in the game of modern fatherhood my Dad would have struck out.  He never read any of his six children a bedtime story or helped with homework. He never came to our school events although Dad was once blackmailed into attending my brother John’s high school graduation because he was valedictorian.  And later proclaimed it was the best speech given since the Gettysburg Address. And he should know!

Dad took care of us all . . . Mother, her mother, his mother and was a soft touch for all who knew him. His motto was “Never resist a generous impulse” which has infused his children and their children with their remarkable generosity. In his later years he was a millionaire and knew three presidents and dozens of celebrities.  He had friends in high places and not so high places and treated them all the same. And his faith demanded that no priest or nun ever got a dinner check and that the many groups of disadvantaged children who visited the park were guaranteed free drinks and ice cream.

He believed that to run a business there was only one rule . . . you had to be good to your customers and be good to your employees. His was one of the first corporations to offer profit sharing to employees who knew they could always come to him for help and advice. As the biggest venue in the area, the Inn specialized in huge banquets which made for a crushing work load for the employees. So at the end of every big event, when he knew his staff was bone weary, Dad would take off his tie and jacket, roll up his sleeves and  help mop the floors. I heard that when a union representative attempted to organize his employees the poor fellow was lucky to get out alive.

While he demanded that each of his children got a college education and insisted that the boys get advanced degrees from Ivy League universities, Dad brilliantly educated himself with books. And since he came to learning later in life he brought an unusual perspective. One night as he was immersed in the Greek classics he shouted to Mother, “That Socrates was one smart son of a bitch”. 

As a Father he was our gallant protector and bountiful provider. And he did the most important thing a man can do for his children . . . he loved their Mother. Not that they were a perfect couple. My Father was, to say the least, mercurial, and Mother’s patience was stretched.  But she often had occasion to look at him lovingly and say a line I used a lot in my own marriage.  “I’m so glad I didn’t murder him yesterday.”