Posts Tagged ‘ parenting ’

Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom–FREE 6/10-14

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My ebook Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom will be offered for FREE on Amazon from 6/10 to 6/14!  Here is the description:

“Sister Mercedes and the Temple of Doom” is a collection of blog posts from playwright and author Brian C. Petti. From the depiction of the author’s upbringing as a fat, shy Catholic school boy to the vagaries of family life to trying to live hand-to-mouth while on disability, “Sister Mercedes” is a sometimes hysterically funny, sometimes tragic and always human glimpse behind the veil of parenthood, marriage, pop culture and the world in general.

Funny, inspirational and moving. ”Edward Hayes  |  6 reviewers made a similar statement
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Too Much Penis Information

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“Dad!” Conor calls from the other room.

“What?”

“Do you care about Mom’s vagina?”

Confused? Shocked? Revolted? Me too, and he’s my kid.

I struggle with what to say next. “Intimately!” is the best I can come up with.

Some background. First of all, somewhere along the line Conor lost his “shame” gene. Or he never had it. He will walk into any room at any time, naked as the day he was born. He’s 13 and looks like he’s 16. This is not easy for anyone else in the house. Mychal will frequently say something like, “Will you put that thing away, I can’t see the TV!” Mary El and I just try to maintain strict eye-contact with our wayward, nude boy. We don’t want to ask and we ain’t gonna tell.

Mary El is definitely the more affected of us two. She talks a good game, but she’s modest by nature. Plus, as she is want to say, she is surrounded by penis and testicle having BOYS all the time. When Conor was a baby he used to give his Mommy what he called “movie star kisses” that were as long and passionate as a three-year-old can muster. If he tried that today Mary El would have to press charges, then shower continuously for three days. Our little “Naughty Man” is becoming a naughty man!

Thank God I don’t have girls. At the first sign of secondary sexual characteristics, I would have brought them to the nearest convent and asked that they be kept in perpetual prayer in a locked basement until they were in menopause. Forget about being one of those Dads who scare off boyfriends, I’d be one of those Dads who calls the SWAT team if you’re five minutes late bringing my precious angel home. I don’t have any Mafia connections, but I’m half Italian. I can find some. Got it punk? And pull your pants up, you’re going out in public with my girl. Did you give me a dirty look? I didn’t think so…

Yeah, God made the right decision with the boys thing.

But in spite of their differences in modesty, Mary El and Conor have one of those close, almost spooky relationships where they think the same thoughts sometimes and can communicate without speaking. Mychal and I (who share an Italian soul) will be barking at each other about some silliness as we are want to do, and Conor and Mary El will be in quiet hysterics watching us and carrying on a two way conversation of smiles and nods that is basically saying, “Can you believe these two schmoes?”

Mary El is Conor’s go to person for emotional support. He can, and very readily will, say anything to her. Sometimes too much. Sometimes WAAAAYYYY too much. He still thinks the term “Nocturnal Emission” is the funniest thing that has ever been spoken out loud in English. He’ll talk to her about the girls he likes, and how he has “zero game” in his own estimation (just wait…) He coined the phrase “retarded monster” which refers specifically to a class photo a few years back where Conor was standing in the back row next to the girl he liked at the time. There is space for another child between them, and Conor’s shoulders are up around his ears. Now, being a “retarded monster” is any socially uncomfortable thing he ever does. It’s like teen poetry.

Let me say right now that I am not the least bit jealous of this relationship my son and wife share. Here’s a specific example why I’m not, which led to the aforementioned cringe-worthy exchange:

Conor walks into Mary El and says he has to show her something he’s worried about. On his penis.

He didn’t go to me. See why I’m not jealous?

After Mary El forces the frightened, panicked look out of her eyes, she says something along the lines of, “Shouldn’t you go to someone who actually HAS a penis?”

“No, I want to show YOU.”

“I never had to care for my penis. I’ve only had to care about my vagina.”

“Mom, no one cares about your vagina anymore.” (See? He’ll say anything!)

“Yes they do!” Mary El is strangely offended.

“No, they don’t.”

“Your Dad does.” Why, oh why did she have to bring me into this?

“Dad…!”

In the end, the second choice that is me had to weigh in on Conor’s malformed member, much as a hired forensic scientist testifies as an “expert” for the prosecution. “Mr. Petti, what qualifies you to render an opinion in this case?” “Well, I would say my 44 years of Penis-Having speaks for itself.”

So after being forced to defend the “careability” of my wife’s privates, I had to have an up-close-and-personal-encounter with my son’s private. Ain’t fatherhood grand? But I’m not going to get into the intimate details of how this encounter transpired…

Ha! You thought you were going to get off the hook that easy? You’re in for the full Monty, boys and girls, just like I was! Welcome to my world. Ready for it? Are you sure?

He had a pimple.

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Mychal’s hair is just so.

His father guides the car down the steep mountain slope that empties into the little town where his school is. The 5th grade concert starts at 7pm and Lindsey is going to be performing. Mychal made the mistake of telling his older brother about her, and now it’s out there. He touches his pocket where the five dollar bill his father gave him is safely tucked.

“Buy her a drink,” his father teases. “You’ll be all gentlemanly.”

“I will.”

“But if she asks you to buy her food you have to end the relationship.”

“Like the ‘locked car door test’ in A Bronx Tale.”

“Exactly. If she offers to get a drink for you too, she’s a keeper.”

The car continues its descent.

“The guy in that movie says you get three great women in your lifetime.”

“That’s about right.”

Mychal pauses for a moment. “Can Mom be one of them? I don’t mean like to marry her…

His father’s lips spread a close-mouthed smile. “Absolutely. She’s my number one.”

“Dad?”

“Yuh?”

“You know when you get married and there’s the bridesmaids and best man and maid of honor…?”

“Yeah. And the groomsmen, I think they’re called.”

“Is there like a ‘man of honor’?”

“That’s the best man. Him and the maid of honor are equal.”

“But there’s no ‘man of honor’? ‘Cause I’d probably want Conor to be my best man and you to be ‘man of honor’.”

“Parents are separate. They’re in the wedding party, but they’re not bridesmaids or groomsmen. They get to be at the big table. So don’t worry, when you marry this Lindsey girl I’ll be there.”

Dad,” Mychal says with mock incredulity. He gets the joke.

The road straightens, the decline leveling off.

“Ari was wearing his flaming shirt today.”

“And by flaming you mean ‘really, really gay’?”

“No, Dad. It was literally flaming.”

“So it was on fire.”

“No, it had flames on it. Dad.”

The school parking lot. His father pulls the car to the front of the school doors, and hits the curb by mistake.

“It’s supposed to be here, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Why don’t you go inside and check it out and give me the high sign?”

No way. “Can you just come in with me? Then you can go back to the car if you want.”

“Oh, I’m going back to the car. I’m not hanging out at a 5th grade dance.”

“Concert.”

His father backs the car into a parking space and they make their way across the parking lot. The light stanchion is buzzing that lonely parking lot song.

“Can you still hold my hand now that you have a girlfriend?”

Dad. I’m in grade school.” They lock hands.

“Can I have a hug?” Mychal asks.

“Of course.” They’re both stepping up on the curb when they hug, so it’s awkward and discordant.

There’s a bored looking guard at the lobby desk with the word “SECURITY” emblazoned across his chest in yellow against black.

“Is there some kind of concert tonight?” his father asks.

“Yup. Right down the hall.”

“OK kiddo, you’re all set.” His father gives Mychal a quick squeeze, careful not to muss his hair.

“I’ll only be like 45 minutes.”

His father is already moving back toward the door. “I’ll be in the parking lot. Have a good time.” Over his shoulder, his father calls “Thank you!” to the SECURITY-emblazoned man.

And Mychal is off.

A Supposedly Fun Thing I Should Never Do Again

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The other night our lights went out at about 9pm. We scurried around the house lighting candles while the boys complained about not being able to play Modern Warfare. Really it was Conor complaining. We got him X-Box Live after nearly two years of begging and he hasn’t been off the damn thing since. I’m fully confident that if the right-wing militia finally does decide to attack, we are safe as long as Conor has a knife and one in the chamber.

So after Mary El and I agreed that YES the bill HAD been paid, she went back to sleep and I settled in with the boys in the livingroom. Our roommate Jimmy went to scout the surrounding area to see if we were the only ones out and would need to somehow contact the electric company without a phone. Gladly, our misery was shared with our neighbors—everyone around us was out too.

So there we were. Conor, Mychal, a book-light, some candles and my Kindle. I brought up my book list, hoping there would be something age-appropriate. Conor requested “something funny”. Now I suppose I could have taken a candle into the boys’ room and rooted around their bookcase for something that would fit the bill. But the Kindle was right there in my hand. So I decided to read from Tina Fey’s “Bossypants”.

See where I went wrong right there?

Some background: I love Tina Fey. I love her sense of humor, I think she’s hot and she’s on the (very) short list of women my wife has OK’d my sleeping with if the situation arose. A friend of Mary El’s is actually a cameraman on “30 Rock”, so the idea is not that farfetched. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. (By the way, Mary El’s list used to include Christopher Meloni until she found out he was a dick, and currently is inhabited by Jeff Goldblum—yes, that Jeff Goldblum.)

I love that when Tina was named one of Maxim’s least attractive celebrities her reaction was, “If Maxim had enough to drink, Maxim would do me.” I love that in her book she describes a party where the host’s crazy mother is throwing coats down the stairs to get people to leave as “an Irish Goodnight.” I love Liz Lemon’s addiction to food. I just have a thing for cute, funny, wisecracking brunettes—which is what my wife is, come to think.

So “Bossypants” it was. The first part of the book is about Tina’s young-adulthood as a hairy, unattractive perpetual virgin. She describes theater camp, where the gays buzzed around her like moths and she managed to keep her old boyfriend’s new girl from getting cast. She talks about fainting from the nurse hitting her cervix during her first pap smear. The aforementioned party ends when two girls start making out, leaving Tina, who is late for her curfew, yelling “Get the dykes in the car!” at the top of her lungs.

I knew it was funny because Jimmy kept laughing from the other room.

Now my boys are no saints. Their favorite movie is “The Hangover”. At 10 and 12 they curse freely, within the confines of their own home. This is due to bad parenting, I’m sure, but hey, to each his own. We’d rather they not be so repressed that they spend their early 20s trying to figure out what they were being kept from. In ten years, we’ll find out if we were right.

But even I found myself saying out loud, “Why am I reading you this book?” Am I really that irresponsible? I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of our roommate Jimmy. If he weren’t laughing so much, I’d have been less inclined to continue. But when an actor has an audience…

The funny thing is that they liked it. I don’t think I should ever do it again, but they thought it was funny. There’s at least two ways to look at that, of which I’ll give you two. On the one hand, my kids are open minded little creatures who, even though they’re young boys, can empathize with the travails of a hairy Tina Fey. On the other, they were exposed to information they could not possibly process until they’re older and/or get a sex-change operation. At least we’ll be spared that dreaded “Daddy, what’s a pap smear?” discussion. Done and done.

I choose to trust my kids, and not ONLY because that’s the choice that doesn’t make me a God-awful parent. I think they’re smarter than they’re given credit for, though I’ll have to remind myself of that fact the next time one of them forgets to flush the bowl. They know what’s funny.

But I think the book is closed on “Bossypants”.

Cecil Turtle At McDonald’s Parking Lot

What are YOU doing at McDonald's?

In  a nutshell the difference between Conor, my 11-year-old and Mychal, my 9-year-old:

We’re going through through McDonald’s drive-thru at 8pm because it’s Little League season and the two of them need a break from concession stand hot dogs.  Yeah, yeah, we’re lousy parents who feed our precious children greasy garbage–my parents both smoked like chimneys when me and my brother were crawling around on the rug and we somehow made it to adulthood, so lay off. 

Past a row of cars there’s a patch of grass next to the parking lot, where Conor and Mychal spy a rather large turtle.  Before I can say Bugs Bunny in a dress the two of them are out of the car and running across the parking lot to investigate amid my cries of “be careful” and “there are CARS in a parking lot!”  Again, do not judge.  We used to ride  a Big Wheel down a neighbor’s steep driveway that was lined with hedges to the left and go directly into the road like a blind shot out of a cannon.  Except for that one time Joe ended up under some poor guy’s bumper, we never had an incident.

They disappear behind a car as the clerk brings our food.  All the teen workers are looking out the drive-thru window at the turtle as well, and a few have come across the parking lot to investigate the beshelled prehistoric beast, which means either that the average maturity level of a McD’s employee is about 10 or that McD’s employees will defend their establishment at any cost.  I will leave you, dear reader, to decide.

I start to pull over so I can chase the kids away from Cecil Turtle when, to my astonishment, I see Conor and Mychal headed back toward the car.  Conor says “It was a snapping turtle.”  How do you know?  “Because it bit me.”  He shows me a quarter inch blood mark near the bottom of his thumb on the back of his hand.  Story is Conor approached the turtle while Mychal laid back and watched.  Cecil retreated into his shell until just its snout was peeking out.   This universally accepted defensive posture was interpreted by Conor as a friendly invitation to touch his shell.  Conor gently touched the turtle’s hind shell, and the lizard in a tank twisted and extended his neck with his now well known blinding speed and snapped my unsuspecting son on the hand.  Conor seemed strangely unphased by this sequence of events, as if a nipped hand was the price the bold must pay for their bravery.  Mychal said something along the lines of, “I wouldn’t have touched that thing if you paid me in Star Wars figures.”

Hence the difference.  Thus has it been throughout their formative years.  Just after Mychal learned to walk, he was watching Conor taking a running start and hurling himself against the wall.  For all those aghast mothers and fathers out there who wonder how we could allow him to do such a thing…ah, forget it, we’re lousy parents.  Although my parents DID allow us to wail on each other with whiffle bats.  Conor picked himself up, returned to his original position and repeated throwing himself against the wall.  Being a dutiful and loving younger brother, Mychal admired Conor and figured throwing oneself against a wall was de rigueur for childhood activities, and might be an enjoyable experience for him as well.  He took a running start, ran headlong into the wall, and bounced off just as hard.  He didn’t cry.  He just shot Conor a look as if to say, “THIS is what you do for fun?”  From that moment, Mychal has quietly rooted his brother on in his exploits from the safety of the sidelines, as Conor continually flung himself headlong at life.

It’s not that Mychal is timid–he isn’t.  He just quickly developed a healthy sense of restraint that seems to have eluded his elder sibling.  Conor profiles to be somebody who follows his passions unrestrainedly, and frequently pays a deep price.  He will torture himself with the depth of his depression, then exult in the height of his elation.  His high school girlfriends will be dramatic, poetry-writing lunatics with black nail polish and eyeliner who my wife will hate fervently.  He will find a job in some artistic endeavor that will fulfill his soul completely and leave him as penniless as a Dickens hero.  He will live expansively and recklessly, and experience every moment, up and down, of life’s roller-coaster.

Mychal will be selective with his mates, in a search for the perfect blend of pretty and sassy that will be good enough for him.  His mother will love them.  He will keep a level head through the best and worst of times.  He will find a job that pays well, yet affords him time to pursue his many outside interests like singing and acting.  Hi will live moderately, yet extremely comfortably, and he will treasure the time he sets away to enjoy the good things in life.

I don’t know who I envy more. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Father Knows Least

My future poet and artist...or convict.

I’m beginning to think my wife and I have very little to do with how our children are turning out. Oh we nudge them in the direction we’d like them to go, and generally they go along with the important stuff, but they do and say things that are sometimes completely foreign to us. For instance my 11-year old is obsessed with guns. Neither of us have ever held anything more dangerous than a prop. I once played Leon Czolgosz, who managed to kill President McKinley, in a play and I had to fire a blank gun in that. But otherwise we’ve been stridently anti-gun—no toy guns for the kids when they were younger, no hunting innocent animals, no glorification of gun violence during Conor’s early childhood. So why does he play “Modern Warfare” and count kills by the hundreds? Why does he now have a plastic tub filled with an orange-tipped armory that if it were real would cause the next Waco? Why does he record “Guns Of the World” and “Deadliest Warriors” on the DVR and know the difference between an AK-47 and an AK-74?  Where did two liberals go so horribly wrong?

The two boys play a video game called “Bully” for hours on end. In this game, the protagonist is a punky little private school brat who picks fights with passing people in the hallways, steals whatever isn’t nailed down and arms himself with everything from stink-bombs to fire extinguishers. They would never do any of this stuff in real life, but they delight in doing it in fantasy. I suppose there’s something positive in that, but it still gives me a bit of pause. Are they acting out what they wish they could do? Are my Irish-faced darlings actually potential psychotic personalities who are headed for random shooting out of a bell tower? Or are they the kids who say please and thank you in public and can make insightful comments at a Playwrighting Lab? Or are they both?

They also curse like sailors on leave. There’s nothing that fills me with more pride than seeing my freckle-faced nine-year old son who resembles a young, innocent Mickey Mantle, scream “motherf’ing son of a b**ch” at the television screen when he strikes out during a video game. In real little league the kid is quite composed, dare I say sportsmanlike. In the comfort of his own home he turns into Tarantino mixed with George Brett after he had that home run waved off because he used too much pine tar. Mary El and I are no saints, but we watched our tongues in front of the children. Now they know words we’ve never heard of. And sure we can blame the movies or their older stepbrother or the influence of schoolmates, but it seems like they just really, authentically enjoy tossing around words you’d associate with bar trash, high school juniors or the cast of “Jersey Shore”. And again, neither of them would be caught dead saying a bad word in front of a teacher, or to an extended family member. They actually have class, at least publically.

So what to make of this schism between my childrens’ private and public lives? Is it an indication of mental illness or healthy adaptability to their surroundings? Despite all the accoutrements of juvenile delinquency, they are actually quite nice as kids go. They’re likable, kind to people around them, they’re loyal and averse to prejudice in any form, they’re artistic and athletic and feel terrible if they even think they’ve hurt someone’s feelings. They also fight with each other like trapped, starving feral cats, and they’re as stubborn as an old man in a diner who thinks he’s been shortchanged.

We are selectively permissive when it comes to parenting, we know. There is a school of thought that we should not indulge them by allowing fake guns, R rated movies, video games or cursing of any kind. We should have an iron fist about such things and come down on them with fire and brimstone the moment they step out of line. Spare the rod and spoil the child or some nonsense like that. Unfortunately, as far as Mary El and I are concerned, that kind of parenting most likely leads to teenage pregnancy. Sounds like a stretch, but we’re big believers in the theory that the more forbidden the fruit, the more likely a kid is to climb the tree and pick it, even if it’s waaaaay out at the end of the branch. A solid theory, I think, not that it matters at this point since the die has already been cast. But one that causes no small amount of self-doubt and agita.

I have to admit sometimes I wish I had those “Father Knows Best” kids who used terms like “swell” and “golly” and whose idea of a swear would be “gosh darn it!” Instead of playing “Modern Warfare—Black Ops” they’d play hopscotch or kick the can or Red Rover. They’d ask for advice when they needed it, not seek attention by flailing at each other or refusing to go to bed. They’d clean up after themselves and put their clothes away and do their homework as soon as they got back from school. Conor would have one of those silver cowboy guns in a brown holster with a matching white hat and sheriff star instead of an authentic-looking German Luger that would get him suspended with bi-weekly counseling sessions if he ever brought it to school.

Nah, I wouldn’t recognize them. Pass the effing salt, please.

Naked Breakfast

Waking up my 11-year-old son for school is like trying to raise Lazarus from the dead, without possessing Jesus’ legendary powers of persuasion.

As Mary El so eloquently puts it, it’s like giving birth to him over and over again. We try to be as gentle as we can. We rub his back and whisper sweetly into his ear what a good boy he is as he moans and moans. He does have a legitimate problem—he was recently diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which makes his limbs and joints sore especially in the morning. But when trying to wake up Conor the only thing worse than the agony of spurring him into consciousness is the fact that he knows he has a built-in excuse for not getting up. And he’s not afraid to wield it like a drunk with a loaded gun.

We play the always entertaining “covers game”, which consists of trying to subtly pull his blanket off while he tries not quite as subtly to clutch it to his body. The whole time we’re also cajoling, bribing, over-promising– “C’mon sweetie, you have to get into the shower. Mom’s making you a nice breakfast. Yes, there’s bacon. I know it hurts honey, but it’ll feel better in the shower. Yes it will, I promise. C’mon babe, last day before the weekend! Little League starts Monday. It’s supposed to be a beautiful day, you can go out and play for a change. Look, I’ll let you wear my blue golf shirt today! C’mon, take my hands, I’ll help you up.”

 This little song and dance ends with me supporting Conor as he makes his way to the bathroom with tiny baby steps, his blanket wrapped around his shoulders. As we go by Mary El in the kitchen I say, “I got James Brown passing through here!”

If all this sounds like we’re ridiculously coddling our darling boy, consider the ramifications of putting a foot up his ass. First of all, all semblance of cooperation would instantly disappear, leading Conor to buckle up, dig in and steel himself for a long-term battle. Not only is he just stubborn enough to make our lives truly miserable, he also has a medical crutch he can lean on every single day if he chooses to. If life is a give and take, life with Conor is an all out tug-of-war, and you’d better have a strong anchor before you start pulling.

Next step is the shower itself. I get him in and sit on the lid of the can reading a book about the Hall of Fame. Conor is sitting on the floor of the shower with the removable shower head in his lap. I ask if he has shampooed his hair yet—he says no. I read a few more pages, enjoying myself as much as a can given the situation. When I next peer over the top of my book, there is water dripping from the soaked towel to the right of the shower, and there is a sizable puddle underneath. Conor has been unwittingly aiming the shower head outside the shower and is now creating a small lake. And he has still not done his hair. Finally Mary El comes into the bathroom with a breakfast plate filled with bacon, eggs and toast to physically show Conor what he is missing by not getting out of the shower. I am sent to the kitchen due to my inefficiency as a parent while Mary El does whatever magic she does to get our son the hell out of the shower.

He stumbles into the dining room completely naked, even though I had laid out clothes for him. He wants to eat before the food gets cold. I think if I was forced to eat naked I would immediately lose thirty pounds just out of self-disgust. And forget about Mary El, we’ve been together for fourteen years and I still don’t think I’ve seen her completely naked. But somehow our love that dare not speak its name has yielded the boy who would not hide his shame. Thank goodness I was on the opposite end of the table so I could choke down my coffee.

Between the two of us we manage to fully clothe Conor while he sing songs, does a Twilight Zone skit about being a boy whose mother is secretly trying to kill him, and generally acts like the insane 11-year-old he is. He’s as tall as his mother and fills out my shirts better than I do. And, like Mychal, he’s way more handsome than me or Mary El individually. Can’t wait until we hit the teenage years and the phone starts ringing off the hook with girls saying, “Um, is Conor, like, home or something?” Maybe he’ll be able to dress himself by then.

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