Saying Goodbye. Bang Bang Pop Pop.

Me, Sheppard, Roan, Anson + Smith

Me, Sheppard, Roan, Anson + Smith

I’m not so much a fade-to-black person as I am a cut-and-roll-the-swelling-anthem-and-credits kind of person. Even so, I’ve put off writing this post. This post where I say goodbye.

Smith, Roan, and Sheppard running the F Train to Coney Island

Smith, Roan, and Sheppard running the F Train to Coney Island

Pistols and Popcorn has done everything I needed it to do. I started it at a time where Roan and I had the majority of our time to ourselves. We shared our time with New York, letting her be the third-wheel in our adventures. I would plan things to do with him with writing about them in mind. I feel like it was a way to inject some adult conversation into our very child-centric days. And the way Pistols and Popcorn caught on totally blew my mind. These small entries about hanging with my kid – people care enough to read them?? Who knew?

Smitty, Shepz + Ro with Nathan's Famous.

Smitty, Shepz + Ro with Nathan’s Famous.

Over the years Pistols has helped me make decisions, lent me support, served as a sounding board, and sometimes helped me ride my high horse. Pistols propped me up and kept me wrapped up in my readers’ strength and support during some pretty hard times. It offered up interesting opportunities I never would have come across otherwise. It started friendships with people I have absolutely come to love. Most importantly, this place has served as a record of years of my family’s life.

Ro + Anson. This pose happens more and more often.

Ro + Anson. This pose happens more and more often.

And now it’s just time for me to say goodbye. Things in this life have changed, and I’m constantly grateful for the direction they keep moving in. I’ve been able to begin working with old friends, circling back to old talents. My free time now sends me on these ravenous scavenger hunts for all the right words for my new gig. I couldn’t be happier. I couldn’t be having any more fun. And these writing assignments are all during nap time, so I’m still loyal to the toddler park circuit,  being the mom who lets her kids climb up the down slide without an apology. Fear me.

Spiderman, Smitty, Sheppard, Spiderman, Roan.

Spiderman, Smitty, Sheppard, Spiderman, Roan.

I still have so many stories to tell. The twins, my Smitty + Shep, leave me full-to-the-eyeballs with stories on an hourly basis. But my Roan is getting older, and that is a thing I think about. I can no longer talk about everything he does and says with the abandon I used to, when he was a child. He is older. He deserves some privacy. And it just doesn’t feel right to be telling his stories anymore. And obviously, there is no way for me to talk about this family without including him.

Smitty + Me.

Smitty + Me.

I just see the signs, really. It’s time to say goodbye. The dumb luck part of it is that it’s ending in a Hollywood-happy way. Life is good. I have everything I ever wanted. I have way more than I ever hoped for. We are healthy, this family. We love each other in ridiculous amounts. We are stupid together and fight often and laugh and eat really good food. We have embarrassingly good friends. This is a nice place to leave it.

Thanks for being here. Thanks for your emails, comments and time. Thanks for sharing in this family and our weirdness. Bang pop.

Outwitted. Again.

Right, so we’ve switched to the toddler beds. The ugly plastic Buzz Lightyear ones instead of the sweet cool modern wooden ones because ROAN.

Smitty + Shepz couldn’t have been more excited. It was a party in the extreme the first night. Jumping, singing, jumping, dancing. Jumping. An impromptu rain splashing and puddle jump interlude in the backyard and then more jumping. When they went to sleep, they slept hard and happy. My boys knocked it outta the park on the first night.

This, I chalked up to my awesome job preparing them for the leap. I’d been talking to them about being good listeners, following rules, and most importantly not ever ever no never ever getting out of bed before the owl turns green. This is the owl. He turns the color green at a specified time. I’ve specified 6:45 AM  because sadly, that’s the latest I can push it.

Please work, Mr. Owl.

Please work, Mr. Owl.

We’re still working on obedience but I do know my boys understand the concept.

So. Nap time. First one ever in the Buzz Lightyear Abominations which they love, and I knew it was going to be tough. I was prepared. I sat by the door for about an hour, coming in with swift and heavy-voiced judgment each time one of the boys got out of bed. Each time I handed out a verbal mean-voiced “Get back into bed right now I mean it and stay in bed, stay in bed!” Shep would put his palms to the ceiling and assure me, “I’m trying!” Thassrite. I used my mean voice. Even though he’s trying. Respect that.

Finally they were both asleep, and I congratulated myself on a job well done. Upstairs I got busy doing all the things that need to be done in this superspecial 3-hour time allotment I have, which now I only had 2 hours of. No problem.

With my heart warming up towards the beds now stuffed with delicious toddlers in them, I grabbed my phone to snap a picture. I super-Mom-stealthed my way into their room, which sat there with two empty beds.

Really guys?

I looked around. Zero toddlers. In the closet. Zero toddlers. Roan’s room. Zero toddlers. I mean. COME ON.

Knowing I would have to admit submission and tap out of this round of sleep wars if what I suspected was true, I slowly opened the door to the back yard. The back yard which held two very naughty twin toddlers, riding their tricycles with the smuggest and happiest grins on their faces.

“It’s ok mama” Smith offered.

“I’m trying!” Shep assured me.

Which I now am somewhat dubious about believing the sincerity of.

Truth Hurts, And it is Also Ugly

It’s usually at the very last moment, with a toddler, that you’re willing to make a big change in their life. You’ve finally figured a few things out: what + when they’ll eat, what freaks them out, and what makes them laugh like they’re drunk on breast milk again. And more, ever-so-more, more more more importantly, how to help them go to and stay asleep.

I’ve been lucky with the young twin dudes. We went all-in with sleep training and it paid off in spades. They’ve slept through the night since they were around six months old, and have been taking three-hour naps until…

…they realized they could escape their tiny prison-cribs.

It had to come some day but I wasn’t totally ready to accept this was happening. The final straw was little Mr. Smitty crawling up the stairs during nap time, meowing like a kitten saying, “Smith is in bed! I am a kittty cat!” Really? Subterfuge (albeit not very good) at this age? I guess you’ve earned the right to lose the crib.

I’d skip the toddler bed except that the space we have lends itself to small beds right now. So I started researching and pricing them out and found two little beds I thought would be cute and were really affordable. They were modern and sleek, furniture I’d buy on a bigger scale for myself. I clicked “buy” and was excited to share with Roan what was going down.

Cute. Sleek. Modern. SOLD!

Cute. Sleek. Modern. SOLD!

Roan’s looked at me with a shake of his head and a come-to-Jesus tone, asking, “Mom, who are these beds for? YOU or THEM?”

“Them?”

“Riiiight. So this is a big change for them. It needs to feel positive. They are not going to be excited about these beds. ”

“They’re not? They’re not.”

And Roan, after about an hour of counseling his parents, won the round of design vs. abomination with these two beds ordered, and the other two cancelled:

Plastic, themed out the yin-yang, ridiculous, and OURS.

Plastic, themed out the yin-yang, ridiculous, and OURS.

I only regret that Roan didn’t have Roan advocating for him as a toddler.

 

Less = More

Cheers Big Ears

Cheers Big Ears

I’ve often felt like it was pretty silly when bloggers take the time to apologize and explain to their readers why they’re not posting very often. I mean while I’d love to believe I’m so important that people are putting work, family and social lives on hold while refreshing their browser waiting for stories about my life – it’s probably just not so.

So there is no apology coming from me, but you know – just a nod of the head, a raise of the eyebrows and a happy smile that you’re still checking in. The thing is, the less I post on Pistols + Popcorn, the better my life seems to be going. I definitely don’t have as much time as I once did to record every day. And that’s a happy thing for me. I am a crazy kind of person, one who feels at the top of her game when slightly overwhelmed with things that matter.

That’s probably the reason I enjoy these twins so much. Shepz + Smitty often gang up on me and overwhelm me with all sorts of sensory stimulation. Whining, laughing, singing, smooshing sticky things onto my pants, daring to climb very un-climbable things and most of all demanding all the affection in the world. Which I have for them.

The serious business of eating ice cream.

The serious business of eating ice cream.

This morning after breakfast and kissing Big Bro Ro + Daddy-O good-bye, I took my two boys into the backyard. While I sat on a chair, they ran after each other and played a game of throw the ball into the little house, then throw the ball out of the little house. They did this circuit of play, trade, share, grab, leave, + come back over and over. They really enjoyed being with each other. And I sat on this chair, with the sun on my face and coffee in my hand. And I thought you know – finally. I am in this pocket of time where they’re not so big that they’re getting away from me, and they’re not so small that they need me constantly. It is a really happy time. And that guilt I had with Roan at this age, that I wasn’t a fun enough play companion because I could only last so long in his 2-year-old world – that’s no where with these two. They have each other, all the time. Sometimes that makes things harder, but more and more it’s making their lives much more fun.

Cheeeeze.

Cheeeeze.

So while they sleep during their daily nap, I am allowed to work on my side projects, things that have nothing at all to do with them or their bro or their dad. It’s just my stuff. And I love it. It’s a balance that has been struck, a gift that gets me out of my own head and into  a different space without even having to leave home.

But the side projects leave me less time to record all the small stories. And that’s ok. I’ve realized that not everything has to be recorded or even remembered. Living in the moment has its merits. This past weekend I went to Spa Castle with Roan. I didn’t take any pictures. I’m not going to detail our trip in writing. It was enough to just go with him, and spend hours in bubbling bade pools and hot saunas, talking about nothing. Everything. Life probably doesn’t have to be recorded. It’s enough to just appreciate it, as it comes.

So these entries will be further apart, but will keep coming. It’s a sign that life is good, that it’s being lived.

[Note: I've switched to a new computer with new computer-y stuff that doesn't always make sense to me. In doing so, I've lost the list of people who used to be emailed each time I posted. So. That's not happening anymore. Sorry.]

Much Too Big For This House

There are some things that cannot be described with a text narrative. One of those things is how Smitty + Sheppard react to Alice in Wonderland. Specifically, the scene where Alice gets, in the words of the boys, “much too big, much too big, much too big.”

Facebook Weirdo Claims My Kids. Bah.

My 3 sons. MINE.

My 3 sons. MINE.

I’m a pretty optimistic person, the kind that doesn’t really sweat the “what if’s” in every circumstance. So while I know that my kids’ pics could be seen by bazillions of people, I also know that they probably won’t be, because there is so much information, so many images, so many people out there also adding to the noise of the internet that I stand out very little. I’m cool with that. I don’t want to be famous. I don’t want to worry about public opinion. I write because I’d like my sons to be able to check out their childhoods online. Really, that’s it. If it’s helpful to anyone else, that’s a huge plus. If it’s funny to other people, a big ego boost. But my drive is to do this for my family. It’s our journal.

But my zen approach to this was tested about two weeks ago, when I received this email:

 I thought you might want to know that someone on FB has stolen a bunch of picture of your twins and is passing them off as his adopted twins “Levi and Louis”. I don’t know for what purpose since the profile is mostly private, but you can see the profile here in case you want to report it:
https://www.facebook.com/craig.l.james.98

 

Ruh-Roh.

I thought maybe it was some weird scam or prank or trick, but it wasn’t. Some guy has a Facebook profile, with pictures of Smith and Sheppard in a photo album, posing as his adopted twin boys.

Creeper Creepy McCreepster

Creeper Creepy McCreepster

Immediately I went into combat mode and was going to find him, and….say something really mean! ha. Ok, my combat mode isn’t all that fierce. I did all the things a person can do to try to report it, all with no results. The pictures are still up, and he has not responded to my requests to take them down. Facebook has denied all my attempts to shut his account down. I’ve messaged his friends, with no response.

And you know what?

I figured out it didn’t matter, actually. I mean, it’s creepy as creepy can be. I can’t figure out why he would do it, but then again there’s a lot of stuff on the planet I cannot figure out. So I’ve added it to the things I do not understand. It’s kind of a big list.

A few friends have suggested I try to be more private with my pictures, that I be more careful about what I write. It would probably be a good idea, but that’s not the way I roll. I’m as careful and protective as I can be in this world, without caving to anxiety over the stuff I can’t control. I love sharing my boys with my online friends and family. I learn from telling our stories. And I have just recently started visiting older stories with Roan – ones we had both forgotten. The stories have pictures of us together, growing up and changing. They are here, on my site. On our family’s site. It’s valuable to me, in a way that could never be captured any way else.

I mean, how could I stop posting stuff like this? It’s too much. Must share.

Straw glasses. Classic.

Straw glasses. Classic.

Smitty + Shep in their finest Appaman duds.

Smitty + Shep in their finest Appaman duds.

 

 

We Should Help Now

Today is my birthday, and I’m very clear on what I want. I want to re-write a story, I want to fix it. I want to help a woman I know, who has found herself living in a devastated and destroyed world. Her world cannot be fixed though. That is because her two children are dead, and it was by her hand. They were five years old, and four months old.

Lisette Bamenga

Lisette Bamenga

Lisette Bamenga was a teacher at Roan’s school. This woman has one of those faces, the kind that when you call her up in your mind there’s a big grin, always. She is a teacher who Roan speaks of with a smile, recalling how he got to meet her baby when she brought her by for a visit. Ms. Bamenga was one of his favorites. And it makes no sense to anyone who knows her, how she has ended up as the villain in this story.

This is what I know. Lisette Bamenga didn’t get help at a time when she needed it. If there was a point where she asked for it, or if there was a point where she was denied it, I do not know. And because I do not have the fortitude to tell her story, I point to this well-written article, authored by one of her fellow teachers, Olivia Ramsey, and published in the Huffington Post:

For women who are not predisposed to postpartum depression and psychosis, we can push through, unhappy with the circumstances but knowing that this is what we have to do for our babies and our families. We suffer situational depression and lean on our co-workers, families, and friends to help us through. For Lisette and other women whose mental state is more precarious, the stress of juggling sleep-deprivation, caring for an infant and an older sibling, the demands of a full time job, and holding a marriage together is more than enough to trigger an acute postpartum psychosis. Lisette will never recover from this. She has killed her babies. Her life is over.

We don’t know the details yet about all that happened, or exactly how Lisette found herself in such a deranged state. But we can know with certainty that this country’s parental leave policies did nothing to protect those poor children. We should be ashamed.

When I had the difficult discussion with Roan about these events, the first thing he said was, “I want to help Ms. Bamenga”. His impulse amazed me and inspired me. And finally, last night he talked to me about it again. There’s a group of parents and friends who are constantly fund-raising to help pay for Lisette Bamenga’s defense fund. They will be having a bake sale and yard sale later this month. Roan asked if he could make something for it, and if he could donate some of his toys.

And then he explained to me that I needed to write about it, to ask people to help her. He told me this with the assertion of an adult correcting a child. And he was right. If there is anything good that can come from this tragedy, it’s the awareness and acknowledgment that this woman deserves our help now. It’s late. The damage is done for her family. But she deserves to be defended, and to have the care now that she didn’t have access to when she needed it so critically.

So for my birthday this year, I ask that you join Roan, me, and a handful of people who are trying to help Lisette Bamenga get access to an adequate defense and ultimately the best placement for her after this tragedy. She is a woman who fell critically and desperately ill, and it went unnoticed until it was much too late. Rather than horror, there needs to be sympathy. Rather than a gawking spectacle, there should be a circling of the wagons around a mother who was failed by a flawed system. Most importantly, we should all hold tight to our own children, and be so incredibly grateful that we can do just that.

Please give $5, $10, $100 – really anything you can. Donations will go directly to Lisette Bamenga’s Defense Trust.  I will be creating a card with names of donors to give to Lisette, so she can understand that she is supported and loved. This does help. We should help now. Click here to donate using PayPal/Visa/Amex/MC/Discover.

 

Homemade with Love

"Homeade with Love"

“Homemade with Love”

My friendship with Jennifer Perillo wouldn’t be entirely predictable. She has this inherent elegant quality.  She’s a woman who  always looks like she has a team of people who are dressing her, professionally lighting her, and styling her. As unfair as that is, to boot, she is also a mighty, mighty sorceress in the kitchen. This woman’s “simple” meals would be my highest culinary accomplishments.

But that’s cool you needn’t hate her because she’s also very, very  rad.

Jennifer’s cookbook “Homemade with Love” was just published and let me just laugh along with you when you’re snorting about the fact that I’m going to tell you about me cooking from it. But non-believers (Mom, Dad, all the rest of my family) let me just tell you:

I did it. I cooked from a cookbook. Food. I made food not the heat-up kind. The kind of food that my homie Jennifer Perillo makes so stop laughing. But the good news is I’m not going to even try to do those awesome food shots where the product is lit up gorgeously and everything is in its place. Nope. We Nelson Calls will not press pause where there’s food concerned, and I would likely be lynched by two toddlers if I held them back from their grub.

Apparently the "orange scent" comes from the orange.

Apparently the “orange scent” comes from an orange.

However, I will tell you this: Roan, my 9-year-old son, made Orange-Scented Waffles. All by himself. He’s totally kitchen-curious, partly because that room is somewhat of a mystery in our house. What is it used for? Why do people go in there? Does it do something other than house glasses and take-out menus? But he went in, spent some time, and came out with a plate of waffles. They indeed were Orange-Scented. And easily the most delicious breakfast food I’ve ever eaten. Get this book, turn to page 50, and whip these up some morning. Especially if you have guests. The way my house smelled? Amazing. And if my Roan can do it then so can you.

I was trying to go less ambitious. Tacos – everyone loves tacos and who could actually screw them up? So there’s a recipe for “Twice as Nice Tacos”, which use the leftovers from a roasted chicken recipe. Apparently first I need to create some leftovers. Not that hard usually, as my dishes aren’t exactly clamored over. But I’ve never roasted a chicken, and truthfully wasn’t feeling all that confident about it. I’m scared of cooking meat. I always believe I’m about to poison my family. Still, roast I did.

Again, with the house that smells good. So that’s how people do it! They cook!

And the simple recipe, called “A Simple Roast Chicken” was a revelation. I had no idea that I could make something so very very very easy, that was so very very very delicious. The tacos were not going to happen because there was no left over chicken. It was essentially inhaled by every boy who lives here. Yeh yeh yeh and me. And no one was poisoned (thanks to the instructions about thermometers and chicken thighs.)

Big recommend: buy this book. I know it’s tempting to always get a recipe online (which, by the way Jennifer has an awesome blog. Not just recipes, but stories as well.) but having a real book, that you can flip through, is a satisfying thing. The pictures are gorgeous and dark in the vein of the olden Gourmet Magazine days. There are personal stories that preface some of the dishes. And mostly, my friend Jennifer Perillo has put this thing together with much, much love.

 

Space to Breathe

I realized something yesterday. That at about 2 years, 4 months and 15 days after my twins were born, a thing happened. A cloud passed, light was let in, and warmth radiated a bit more comfortably from the planet. This all happened yesterday.

Sheppard. Chopper. Who's Bad?

Sheppard. Chopper. Who’s Bad?

Yesterday our family decided to fire up a chocolate fountain that was gifted to Anson from a recent photo shoot he worked on for West Elm. We stocked the house with pretzels, potato chips, pound cake, strawberries, whipped cream, shortbread cookies, Peeps, and marshmallows. Then we called in the troops: the neighborhood boys are girls, their parents, and a cat called Chuck Norris. Our maiden voyage with the chocolate fountain yielded somewhat lumpy chocolate results but it was gobbled up nonetheless. After a ridiculous amount of sugar, we all went into our backyard for an hour or so, then moved to the front to play “Kick the Can”.

Sheppard and Smith played with their friend Leela, riding bikes/trikes/scooters/anything with wheels up and down the street. Roan, Sachin, and their dads ran around the block hiding, running everywhere, ambushing the can for bragging rights. I watched my little ones talk to delivery guys, and then try to keep up with the bigger girls.

I watched them.

I stood back and got to see them interact in the world without holding my hand, or being held by me. They were confident and happy, being little adventurer pirates up and down the block. They played and went fast then slow, fell down then shouted, “I’M OK!” triumphantly. And that’s when it smacked me right in the kisser: these boys, all of my three boys are at amazingly fun ages.

Smitty and Shepz no longer have to watch kids play while they squirm in my arms. They don’t have to stay right in front of me, at an arm’s reach. They are brave enough and capable enough to go down the block. They have been told that Superman does not want them to go into the street without an adult so they do not go into the street without an adult. They attack each other and then work it out. And Roan. He proudly has the ability to walk three blocks away from home, crossing two streets, with enough money in his hand to grab some drinks for everyone. On his own. Yesterday he confidently led his two friends on this journey.

They returned somewhat more grown up.

So telling, this picture.

So telling, this picture.

I do love the time in life when a baby needs me for everything. But it is exhausting and it is more than exhausting when there are two. I am ready for these guys to play in this world. Under a careful and watchful eye, mind you. But still – out of reach. I welcome their independence and am so proud of each of my three sons that they yearn for it as well. Their safe feeling in this world, the trust they have for it, is my biggest source of pride. And their ability to navigate it, even in these most basic ways creates a little more breathing space for me. This is a happy time.

My Friend, Ilana

Ilana + Dominic, sitting in a tree....

Ilana + Dominic, sitting in a tree….

I have a friend named Ilana Levine. She’s one of those women we would all hate if she wasn’t so undeniably in-your-face loveable. I mean, it’s almost a dare to try not to like her. There’s really no point in trying though. Beautiful? Check. Smart? Check. Giving? Check. Funny? Double check. Got marriage, mothering and friendship all balanced? Checkity-check-check. Oh yeh, and there’s also this: she enjoys a successful career as a TV, Screen, and Stage actress and is married to Dominic Fumusa, star of “Nurse Jackie“. They have two children who are probably going to be kidnapped by me because I love them so.

I cannot crush on her any more or else I’m going to risk the wrath of a jealous husband. My jealous husband. I don’t think Dominic is feeling too threatened.

It is with my whole heart that I recommend reading an entry Ilana wrote for The People’s Choice Blog, describing the push and pull of balancing what a woman wants to do for herself and her career with the needs and wants of her children. Start here and click over to finish it:

“Hey guys, let’s do a test run.”   “A test run?” my two small children asked, “what do you mean?”  My agent had called to tell me I had been offered the play My Name is Asher Lev, an off Broadway hit in New York City.  “Let’s pretend it’s Tuesday night and it’s six o’clock and Mommy is about to leave for the theater. I will kiss you both and say good bye and what will you do?”

Immediately both kids grabbed hold of my legs and burst into tears, real tears, salt and all. Within seconds it turned into full on sobbing. (And I’m the actress?!)

So this was the test run. The rehearsal. Mommy wasn’t really going to work, that was still two full weeks away. But once D-Day arrived this would be the drill for at least three months.

I looked at my husband who was engrossed in checking scores on ESPN.com, oblivious to the three act Ibsen play that had just unfolded by the front door. “Don’t worry, babe. They’ll be fine. They are always fine when I leave for work.”

Yes, it’s true! Why is that? Many mornings my husband is picked up before dawn and heads to the Nurse Jackie set where he plays Kevin Peyton, Edie Falco’s TV husband. Often the kids and I wake up to a sweet note he has left on the kitchen counter. He uses lots of colored markers, writes each of our names in different colors and says Daddy will see you tonight with lots of XXXs and OOOs.

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