I Do Not Smell Like Cheese

Zeke turned to me this afternoon
from his position sprawled on the couch
watching Spider-Man cartoons
and asked if I knew what he did 
when he arrived in his classroom
this morning
on the first day
of first grade.

I asked what
and he said he cried
because he was feeling really shy.

I said I was sorry
that he had been so upset
and asked him what happened
when he started crying
he said the teacher came over
and talked to him
and made him feel better.

I asked what she said or did 
to make him feel better
but he didn’t remember. 

He said he only cried 
for twice the amount of time
it takes him to brush his teeth.

He said there’s no one 
he knows sitting at his table
but there is a boy who
speaks another language.

“What language does he speak?”
I asked
Zeke said, 
“A language I’ve never heard before.”

At least at recess Zeke got to play with Jack
his best kindergarten buddy
who is in a different class
and moving to Chicago soon anyway
they played hide and seek and Zeke said
Jack is really good at hiding.

Last night at bedtime
Zeke seemed relaxed
although he said he was nervous and excited
then he told me I smelled like cheese
and I said I had brushed my teeth and 
washed my hands and face
and hadn’t even eaten any cheese recently
he was not convinced
He was clutching his stuffed owl, named Even
I said, “maybe this owl smells like cheese!”

And he became deeply offended 
that I did not
call Even by his name
“Why did you say this owl?” he demanded
“You know his name!”

At which point I realized 
he was more upset than he had let on.

I had to leave the room to make sure
Zoe’s first day outfit was in the washing machine
and when I returned 
and climbed back up into the top bunk
to resume snuggling with Zeke
he began to weep.

He asked me if I could come in the classroom 
with him in the morning
even though he knew he was riding the bus
and I told him no, that wasn’t the plan
and he just cried
and wouldn’t speak
and wouldn’t answer my questions
just burying his face in Even.

Bus Stops and Blood Tests

I feel like about half
of my parenting challenges
are deciding when to
say to my children

Sometimes you have to be
tough and
brave and
stick it out
do hard things
be independent
you can do this
you got this

and when to say

It’s ok
you can take it easy
sit this one out
skip this one
don’t worry about it
rest and
you can snuggle with me

There is
no formula
no equation
no guidebook

that tells me
which way to lean

I just have to
figure it out
over and over again

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
August 2019

Arriving at the EconoLodge

Arriving at the EconoLodge slightly shy of midnight despite our moderately good but not well communicated intentions

we find it tucked familiarly between the Days Inn and the Red Roof Inn, shouting distance from the Holiday Inn and the Country Inn & Suites.

A colony of strangers whose existence intersected on Route 29.

Our final 30 miles was fueled by sugar supplied by Scheetz, in the form of chocolate milk and some soft and gooey chocolate thing suggestively offered in the checkout line.

In the gas station bathroom I walked in on a woman in a hot pink tank top who was taking a selfie in the full-length mirror. When I opened the door, she said, “OH!” and ran out as if she’d heard someone calling her name.

We left our house in disarray, which is unacceptable to me before a trip–even a short one–but I had no choice but to accept it. An intruder would be alarmed by the piles of unfolded laundry blanketing the furniture and the dirty dishes stacked in the sink and the section of uprooted floorboards awaiting the handyman’s return and the three unridden bicycles in the front hall. Or perhaps they would feel right at home.

Maybe an archeologist would be intrigued. Or maybe they would just say, “these people seemed to enjoy take-out tacos.”

The Man Who Stole Our TV

One night I let a man in the house
where I was living with a dozen
other students because he said he was a friend
of someone’s and I didn’t know any differently

Then he stole the TV

Twenty-five years later
I still tend to believe everyone is
telling the truth
about who they are

even though I should know better
by now

And when I find out what’s real
I wonder who I am
and why I never learn
because I know I would
open the door again today
and let anyone
take what they wanted

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
July 2019

Crowded Out

No room left in my brain for
completing a task
even a simple one like
editing an article
or making a salad
or sorting out an insurance claim
(ok that’s never simple)

All my constructive, purposeful thoughts
are crowded out, shoved to the side
or hiding under benches
as the what ifs and the worst case scenarios
jockey for position
shouting above the already deafening decibel level

The what ifs and worst cases are bullies
of the worst kind because they are subtle
not resorting to physical violence, but mostly
trafficking in intimidation
knowing the good thoughts will slink away in fear
with a sour taste in their mouths
because of too many hours and days deprived
of fresh air and healthy food
all that’s left to do is sleep
when they aren’t allowed to exercise or
even move about freely

Meanwhile, the what ifs and worst cases gain strength
feeding on scraps of news, looming unanswered questions
and every hour they wait to find out more

~Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso
July 2019