Monday, July 29, 2013

This Is Where Friends Would Come In Handy

Husband informed me this morning, as he was walking out the door, that he would be having dinner out tonight and so would be home late.  "Okay," I said.  On the outside.

An hour or so later, Eighth Grader to-be asked if she could sleep over a friend's house tonight.  "Okay," I said.  On the outside.

We all went our separate ways for the day - Eighth Grader to sports practice, me to work, Sophomore to-be not yet out of bed - and that completely filled up all of the space and time otherwise available for restless contemplation of what I am doing with my life.  Until sports practice ended, at which time I retrieved Eighth Grader and brought her home to get ready for her fun night out.  Sophomore to-be was up by then, sort of.  She was vertical.  Yet unkempt.  In other words, she appeared to have no plans brewing.  Yay!  Time with Sophomore to-be!  She scowled at me when I asked if she had done the few chores I left for her to do, and I took this as confirmation that all was right with the world.

I went outside to tidy up my car while I waited for Eighth Grader to-be to finish getting ready.  What should I offer to do tonight? I wondered.  Dinner?  Shopping?  Shopping is always a winner.  I felt happy.  I went inside.  I went inside and almost ran smack into Sophomore to-be in the kitchen:  dressed, made up, wallet in hand.  "So-and-so is picking me up in a minute."

I did not feel happy anymore.

"I thought we could go shopping," I offered.  She nibbled the bait.  "Until when?"  Uh, wow.  "Never mind," I said on the outside.  On the inside, I threw up a little.

I may have then said some other things on the outside.  I stopped short of reminding my firstborn that I labored for twelve stressful hours to bring her into this world, because surely that is always top of mind for a teenager, making it unnecessary to point out the obvious fact that Mom wanting your attention always trumps everything and everyone else.  Wait, I think I did say all that.  It didn't resonate, apparently, as a girl in a piece of crap car pulled out of my driveway with my daughter in the passenger seat.

Honest to God, it was just this morning that I was thinking about all the marvelous things I want to do with my time once these kids grow up and get out of here.  I was dressing for work and imagining what it will be like to not have to do that someday.  Everyone will have a college education and my food bill will be slashed to almost nothing.  I can go anywhere, anytime, with anyone I want.  Now here I am with a perfectly free evening on my hands, out of the blue.  Know what I feel like doing?  Lying in the fetal position while stuffing potato chips in my face and watching Friends.  Because those are probably the only ones available on short notice.  Ladies and gentleman, in case you wanted to know, I invented pathetic.

I suppose I will take the other one to her friend's house and then go drive around in circles.  Maybe bring my journal with me.  Stop and get myself a giant hot fudge sundae and use my journal as a portable table for eating my giant hot fudge sundae.  Or I can go roam around a bookstore like I used to love to do, back when I didn't completely hate myself for not being committed enough to my writing.  I think they sell coffee and pastries at the bookstore.  That will work nicely to wash down the sundae.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

I Can't Make This Stuff Up

Someone brought a dog to church yesterday.  I'm still shaking my head.

There was a baptism being held of a biggish baby boy - you know, a baby, but not exactly a newborn - and the proud parents had assembled enough supportive family to fill three pews at the front of the church.  There were two sets of grandparents, although the Grandmas sat separately from the Grandpas; a Godmother, clearly a sibling of the baby's mother, dressed appropriately for the occasion in a dress that barely cleared her rear end; a pair of preschool-aged twin boys, brothers to said baby, busily playing on their iPads; a cute little girl, sitting with Grandma, who I'm guessing belonged to Miss Hot Godmother; and in pew number three, Lucky the Labrador.  The woman who brought Lucky looked to be a sibling of one of the baby's parents, but as the adults of this family did not so much as look at each other throughout the entire baptismal experience, it's hard to say who was connected to whom.  And to be clear, Lucky was not a dog with a job to do.  He was just big, yellow shaggy animal trying to get comfortable on the floor inside pew number three.

Religion is not a subject I talk about with ease.  Case in point, I've never before mentioned here that I regularly attend church.  I struggle with faith as I imagine most people do.  After fitfully exploring other denominations in my twenties and thirties, I returned to the one I was raised in and I am doing the best I can to help the Tornadoes form a foundation in it.  I believe it's important for them to have, so that when they get done flopping around in the narcissistic, spiritually bereft cesspool of American youth, they will have a reference point for figuring out what's next.  Also, I find that I like the practice of my faith, much in the way I like working out and writing:  I like having done it.  Not so much having 4:00 Mass looming ahead of me on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon.  But around 5:15, I feel pretty good.

So I'm not perfect, and I try not to judge.  But this family, with the biggish baby boy?  Oh, Lordy.  As it turned out, Lucky was the best behaved of the bunch.  I really tried not to stare, as I'm sure most everyone else tried not to, either (except for a couple of old ladies who were just not having it.  They stared with every ounce of their nun-raised indignation, dear things).  I tried not to stare when the twin boys paraded up with their family to the baptismal font with their iPads in hand; when one of them, grown bored with his baby brother's ceremony after ninety seconds, parked his butt on the steps of the altar and played his game for the crowd; when Lucky was walked outside to do his business just as the collection basket approached his owner.  I tried to avert my eyes when Bored Twin began beating on the pew with the cardboard box from his brother's candle.  It was a little harder to not see him dodging his mother with a smirk on his face as she tried to grab the front of his shirt.  Then he ran down the center aisle and out the door with this mother in pursuit, so, you know.  We all got back to business.

Lucky returned in time for Communion, but the concept seemed to baffle the entire family.  I'm not sure any of them had ever actually been to church before.  Which is fine, but begs the question:  why are you here now?  After some fidgeting and individual contemplation (like I said, zero interaction the entire time), a few of them chose to belatedly participate.  Namely, Hot Godmother and her offspring.  They cut the line in different places.  Hot Godmother did not wish to wait the extra second for her morsel of bread to be placed in her hand and instead snatched it from the woman's approaching fingers.  Her daughter, upon not finding this filling enough, returned to her seat and produced a large, noisy bag of snacks which kept us all occupied for the remainder of the service.

I think those old ladies would have liked to offer their congratulations to the parents afterwards.  Unfortunately, the whole hot mess practically ran to their cars.  Their three separate cars.  Parked very far away from each other.  What else can I say?  I'm guessing there was no after party for that baby boy.  On a positive note, I can now check "seeing a dog in church" off my list.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

They Shall Remain Nameless If They Know What's Good For Them

I noticed that I haven't talked about the Tornadoes in a while.  That must have been nice for you, but it's over now. 

So, Seventh Grader.  Seventh Grader gets annoyed with me for not identifying her and her sister, Freshman, by name.  Why don't I just use their names?  she asks me.  Why did I even bother giving them names if I just think of them by label?  Well, Seventh Grader, because sometimes those labels save your life.  I don't mean in the way you think I mean.  That is, I'm not referring to how by thinly shielding their true identities on a public forum I might protect them from bad guys.  I'm talking about when, say, Seventh Grader decides to act like a whiny little puke, I have a way of reminding myself:  "Ah.  Seventh grade.  Where whiny little pukes are made."  And then I don't kill her.   

This is working out doubly well for Seventh Grader in particular, actually, because she bears a label which has already been broken in by her sister.  It has really only been whatever common sense God gave me plus a fine selection of parenting books on dealing with teenagers that stood between life and death for Freshman on many a day.  She's much more subdued now, a new level of maturity having emerged with her advancement to high school.  I hold out great hope that it continues to get better as time goes on.  But as Seventh Grader, and especially as Eighth Grader?  Freshman was among the whiniest, pukiest, most self-centered, stubbornest, most resistant to parenting, biggest slave-to-whiny-puke-conformity whiny pukes that ever whined or puked. 

Excuse me.  I think I blacked out for a minute.  Anyway, rough times, but they produced a bounty of experience that is serving to cushion the blow as Seventh Grader, perhaps involuntarily, acts out the same annoying crap for me.  Case in point:  the wildly vacillating adolescent identity crisis that encompasses homework completion.  Some days, Seventh Grader is the same Five Year Plan big dreamer about her future that she has oddly always been.  She's going Ivy League, she's building skyscrapers and then leaping them in a single bound.  Other days, she is a hot mess of At Least I'm Passing, Just Leave Me Alone!  Excessive television and/or Internet usage seems to be a trigger. 

Yesterday was a hot mess day.  I should have seen it coming.  Too many DVR'ed episodes of Glee.  Too many excited phone conversations.  The first three times I asked about homework I got an immediate "Yep!"  which means, of course, "Nope!"  The next two times I asked, she could barely pull herself up from the electronic haze to comprehend the question.  Before you point out that I shouldn't have to ask five times, just shut up.  I wasn't going to ask her at all, since she assured me over the weekend that if I just gave her some space to take responsibility for her work, she would do a much better job.  Another few hours went by after dinner and she remained simultaneously glued to her phone and the TV.  When it came time to shoo her up to bed, I couldn't resist but ask one more time. 

"Are you SURE you actually did your homework today?"

Blink. Blink.

"Because I can't help feeling like maybe you didn't do it."


"This is your chance to come clean.  Homework?  Did it?  Or was that all a story?"

Tears.  Heavy, instant, dramatic tears.  The whole, nearly verbatim outburst I heard two years ago from Freshman about how she can't do anything right, all I care about is school, it's all stupid, it's none of my business, and I think she threw in something about something else being stupid.  Maybe me.  Sigh.  My blood pressure didn't even blip.  "Go to bed," I told her.  And this morning she was back to being Wonder Girl. 

As little fun as I'm having with Middle School Motherosity, I do recall how very much more it sucked to be the child in this scenario.  Middle school blows chunks.  Always has.  Fortunately, if you pass, you get to leave and never go back.  Until your kids go.  My advice:  use the labels.  They help.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Keep out! Unless, you know, you don't feel like it.

Our house borders a pond and a dam that belong to the town we live in.  The pond is perfect for canoeing and kayaking, and the dam makes an attractive base for fishing or taking photographs or whatever one does on a dam.  It's a beautiful setup and was a big selling feature for us when we bought the house. 

While the pond and the dam are town property, the land leading up to said public outlets is not.  That's ours.  Occasionally, this becomes a point of debate between us and certain neighbors.  The words "town access" get bantered about.  Yes, we say, the Town can have access, if needed, to maintain the dam.  But it's our property.  No, they say, it's Town Access.  We live here, so that's us.  We'll be sending our kids down your way to muck around and possibly get injured while we're not watching them.  Then they usually walk away. 

Husband likes for me to believe that he has a tough streak, and he may, but if I were to pinpoint its location I'd have to place it in the flibbertygibber region.  This is a murky region, from which wildly fluctuating tolerance levels for trespassers originate:  friendly neighbor's kids want to take their canoe out?  He'll help them carry it.  Renters next door bring their barbecue party across the line, beers in hand, to let the kids pick up snails and throw rocks in the pond?  Husband will not formally protest or directly address the offenders.  But he does a fine job of looking out the window and sputtering obscenities.  If it goes on long enough, or if I make moves toward going out the door to put a stop to things, he will eventually spring into action.  By "spring into action" I mean he goes outside and shakes everybody's hand, asks the kids their names, and makes small talk about the unseasonable weather or whatnot.  Eventually the trespassers go home, no doubt believing that that neighbor guy they met at the park next door was really nice. 

The dam is broken at the moment, a situation that Husband brought to the town's attention and which they greatly appreciate him doing.  In response, they've asked permission to descend upon our pretty piece of land with heavy equipment and giant bags of material and lots of sweaty workers to fix what is broken.  As soon as the first excavator truck showed up, an alarm went off in my head. 

"This is going to confuse matters even more," I said to Husband.  "People are really going to believe it's town property when they see this mess."

Husband agreed.

"We have to put a sign up," I said.  "I'll get one tomorrow."

I read all of the signs at the hardware store, knowing that Husband would want me to get the kindest one possible.  I settled on one that said "Private Property" followed by a short list of unallowable behaviors.  As I left the store with my sign and wooden stake, I knew I had just kissed $2.18 goodbye for nothing.

The sign sat in the garage for two days.  In the evenings, after the sweaty workers left, strangers pulled up to our yard, traipsed across it, ducked beneath the yellow tape the town had put up to keep people off the broken dam and walked out on it to see what was being done.  I guess if they can't comprehend yellow tape, they aren't likely to comply with a sign.  But still, dude. 

It was another day before Husband relented to putting up the sign.  First he had to ask the sweaty workers for their opinions, which were favorable.  Wouldn't want the sweaty workers to not approve.  Then he asked if we could maybe cross out some of the unallowable behaviors first.  Um, no. 

After some discussion, we decided that eventually we'll go have a sign specially made that he can live with.  Something that gets the point across but won't endanger the chances of anyone liking him.  Something like "Private Property - our apologies" or "Private Property - coffee and doughnuts inside".  Meanwhile, we will weigh what kind of common sense the renters next door possess as they have complimented Husband for planting the nice row of arborvitae in the park. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Speaking of When the Cat Dies

The cat has not died.  No worries.  She continues to systematically destroy every nice thing that we own, and to inspire an ever-mounting sense of regret in Husband that he did not put his foot down when we merged our homes together about her tagging along. 

He could have simply said there would be no room for her, since he was bringing enough furniture with him to take up all available space and eliminate any possibility of us buying new things together that would be ours.  (He may have even said this, come to think of it.  But who brings all of their entire life of furnishings into a second marriage?)   He could have accidentally left the door open and she could have slipped off into the woods before the car left the driveway, making both Husband and some lucky coyote happy.

But here she is, and of course there is room for her.  In fact, it turns out all of the rooms are for her.  In the absence of mice to hunt, as was her assigned vocation pre-merger, she has gained a good five pounds and spends many hours a day sprawled out across the house, flaunting her fuller figure.  When her current nap concludes, she jumps off the couch or bed with a prominent "thunk" that shakes the lighting fixtures, leaving behind a noticeable ring of cat hair on said furniture, stops to dig out a few new shreds of wood from whatever door jamb or chair leg she comes across on her way to selecting her next resting place and then promptly begins her next nap. And that is the sum of the cat's life. 

Husband has tried to curb her appetite for shredding wood by bubble-wrapping and plastic-wrapping cabinet corners and stairway rails and the legs of many objects.  This is a pretty effective deterrent, but makes me feel weird, like he may think any one of us could be a danger to the furnishings.  And when I explain the purpose of the wrapping to visitors, they usually respond with "I was wondering what that was for," which means, "that is all kinds of OCD weirdness right there."  Somewhere between Husband's OCD and my own condition (I call it "normal"), we find our bliss.  Unless the cat has climbed into my lap and dropped 14 pounds of dead, furry weight onto me until she's good and ready to withdraw, which is a surefire way to kill a blissful mood. 

Oh, cat.  By my count, you are the fourth cat I have ever had.  And you will be the last.  I am so done with pets, and I can't help but feel the teensiest compulsion to hurry things along this time so I can finally get some new things.  Cruel, you say?  Oh, I'm not going to hurt her.  Or stop feeding her, or anything else along those lines.  Tomorrow I'll probably pour her a saucer of coffee from my own mug as usual, and she'll thank me by shedding a second animal's worth of fur on my bed while I'm away all day, maybe slicing a few fresh stripes in the bathroom doorway.  We'll go on this way until, like all previous cats, she comes down with some bizarre cat ailment and slinks away to die, or doesn't slink away and forces me to take the less desirable route of removing her misery for her.  That's how it is with cats.  Whether we like it or not. 

If only all of the nice furniture stores around here would stop going out of business, I'd have a lot more patience.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Powers of Observation

I just finished reading a collection of essays by E.B. White and ended up feeling like a complete loser by the time I was done. Like a loser who has done nothing and seen nothing and been nowhere. Not that this was a high adventure collection; mostly it was observational stuff about New York, Maine, Florida. Birds and woodland creatures. A dachshund. He threw in a few misspent youth stories, just to underscore some perilous experiences that hadn’t already occurred to me that I’ve missed out on by playing it safe for most of my adult life. I’m totally sure that’s why he included them. But mostly he didn’t directly write about himself. He wrote about the people and commonplace things around him, and he did this wryly and with specificity, and well enough that he was able to make a very successful full time living at it. I hate him a little bit. And I love him.

I’ve moved on to Thoreau now, whom I’ve learned E.B. White deeply admired and emulated to a certain degree. Where I believe he branched away from Thoreau was on the topic of humanity; Thoreau did not value humanity as highly as the world of nature, I’ve heard it said, and White found this wrongheaded. I like a man with a strong opinion. Hopefully I will find the inner wherewithal to draw my own conclusions after reading him myself, but chances are I will then double check them on Google.

When I say I played it safe, what I mean is I’ve lived my life in the complete opposite way than I intended to when I was 17 and planning my future. Literary career? Nope. Finance. Loft apartment in NYC, furnished in all white and chrome? Try a garrison on a cul de sac in small town New England, thirty miles from where those dreams were dreamed, and no nice things until the cat dies. Glamorous cocaine habit? (Remember, it was the 80s when I thought this all up. Cocaine habits seemed very glamorous at the time.) Reality: never touched the stuff, not interested, score one for coming to my senses. A stream of wealthy men acting as my personal patron of the arts with no strings attached? Journals brimming with exotic travel, exotic meals, exotic missteps, and astounding revelations? How about Motherosity and marriage, an unstamped passport, and last night I tried a new recipe from Cooking Light that turned out pretty well; next time I’ll use black olives instead of green ones.

I don’t know how these diversions in the road happen, but they seem to happen to a lot of people. Sometimes mine feels tragic, but fortunately most of the time I appreciate where I’ve ended up. E. B. White seemed to enjoy life without a lot of exotica, and found things to write about to boot, right? He would have made a terrific blogger. Maybe it’s time to see things differently. Maybe it’s time to see things, period. So here goes.

This morning I attended a meeting in a room with poor lighting and walls painted orange. They served breakfast, which I passed on, but I enjoyed the fragrant aroma of Tabasco sauce and ketchup on nearby eggs throughout the meeting. A woman in her fifties seated three chairs down from me sported several unfortunate streaks of blue and green and pink dye in the undertow of her hair which gave the effect of mold on faded blonde. She was a skincare specialist, she told us. This information merely enhanced the folly of the mold colors. I don’t remember what the actual meeting was about; however, it ended on time, which I respected, but at an hour that required me to park 97 rows from the building at work, which I will not enjoy later. And now, look at that, it’s later. Time to go and observe some things elsewhere.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Things Are Going Just As I Always Pictured Them

I think it's terrific how, as teenagers, we were encouraged to think we were the architects of our future.  That's right, little Christina (I knew about ninety Christinas in my era), just work hard and dream big, and you can write your own ticket!  The world is your oyster - well, yours and your husband Mike's (also ninety Michaels, they all seemed to be named Michael).    Whatever you want to be, you can be!  See the world!  Have the career of your dreams!  The sky is the limit!  It was all about jobs and fulfilling ambitions and that Thoreauvian Suck-The-Marrow-Out-Of-Life crap they made into a movie.

I admit, I bought into it.  I saw that movie more than once.  I even bought the movie.  For inspiration.  And to share with my own kids once they became teenagers.  Oh wait, kids?  I don't recall anyone mentioning kids during all of that dreamy brainwashing.  Motherosity?  Nope, didn't come up.  Not once.  Why would it?  We were supposed to be circling the globe, conquering new worlds, marvelling at how beautiful we all were.  Kids were what our parents had, those old farts.  We were better than that.

 So obviously, given all that fastidious planning and drive early on in life, I've just had yet another stellar weekend.  First, I spent a very restful Friday night sitting on the bleachers at Boondocks High, spectating for a middle school cheer competition.  There were a lot of kids there.  Not sure where they all came from.  On all sides of me were seated my fellow beautiful world conquerors, dressed in various sports jerseys and sucking on straws stuck into 80 ounce plastic cups, cups surely filled with the marrow of life.  I wasn't sure how I got there, really, until I remembered that one of those kids down there was mine.  Her team did well and placed second.  I was proud of them, but not so noticeably as some of the female Tom Bradys seated nearby me were disappointed in the results for their own kids' teams.

Saturday morning brought more cheer.  More kids.  More parents.  More bleachers.  Seventh Grader's team took second again!  Naturally.   With all this victory in the air, you'd think it was just another day in my amazing life, and you'd be right.  Because then I did what all those of my generation do after yet another (yawn!) inevitable win: I went grocery shopping.  And then! I engaged in a battle of Actions Reap Consequences with Seventh Grader, who was grounded, despite her athletic victories, for numerous homework violations. Fighting with teenagers over completing book projects on time was totally in my master plan for the future, so you know. As was having my head chewed off by Freshman, who had been busy all weekend with volunteer activities for her own cheer team and was clearly exhausted but this did not stop her from expecting to do whatever she wanted to do on Saturday night. I said no, you can't go out, and I paid the price. The price being whatever peace and quiet I thought I had coming for the remainder of the night. All in the plan. 

Sunday Funday: Freshman fight hangover, meet birthday party for four year old nephew. Apparently, my sister has a bunch of kids too. Not in my manual for the future, either, but by this time I know that a few chapters seem to have been skipped on the syllabus. Superheroes and balloons and many, many children, plus cake. Cake was certainly in the plan all along, but not necessarily with animal superheroes on it. Then again, everyone's entitled to a few "this never happened" memories, so maybe some crazy exotic night of imbibing with the beautiful people would have resulted in superhero cake being consumed in the original architecture. But we'll never know now, will we? Because I'm so damn tired from this weekend full of kids that I missed my alarm this morning, and was almost late for my glamorous job. In an office, with a computer and a water cooler. And a Keurig. Keurigs I did not see coming.