Monday, September 29, 2008

I Think I Have A Problem. I May Be Having A Problem.

I began to write a little something about the seemingly fun new world I am barreling into headfirst - that parallel universe known as Gymnastics Team, where I play the role of Team Parent #8 - but it is so exhausting and anxiety-inducing an experience at the moment, I've decided to postpone.

Instead, I share this: I think I am addicted to grocery stores.

What other explanation can there be for the fact that I find myself in one every three days?

It's not like I don't plan. Seriously, I'm a planner. I plan meals and make lists and take my lists to the store and purchase the items on the list. There is almost always a loose version of a weekly menu stuck under a magnet on the side of my fridge. I cook things. We eat them. It's all very Zen.

And yet, on Friday night I found myself in Target stocking up on Goldfish crackers and breakfast cereal while Fifth Grader was at practice. This is after committing a heaping sum of cash to what we call "Big Shopping" not more than six days earlier. (...And yes, I know Target is not technically a grocery store - but have you seen their prices?) At any rate, what I really needed was produce, and the grocery store was going to be my next stop. But I ran out of time.

I managed to go the entire weekend without taking my car out of the garage, and that's saying quite a lot. I usually reserve that kind of zany behavior for when there's three feet of snow piled up in front of the garage and I have no choice but to stay home. Somehow I pulled it off. Even in the face of Third Grader wistfully longing out loud for fruit salad, I did not run to the store.

Today? Fruit salad for dessert.

They say the first step is to admit you have a problem, right?

Hello, my name is Tress...

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Gold Star And A Beating

Problem Child has caught and consumed four mice this week. Four that I know of, at least, as that is the total number of sets of back feet and tails I have found lying on the tile floor in the morning. Apparently, front feet are tasty. Back feet and tails are crossing the line of good eats.

I don't know whether to be relieved that she is back on the hunt or totally creeped out that she is finding so many mice. I think both. I'm sure it's the change of seasons that is making them so bountiful - their friends probably told them this was a nice, warm place to bed down in the cold. Roomy. Plenty of mac and cheese boxes in the pantry to chew through. No killer cats to dodge - wait, whose back feet and tail are these? Jerry? Oh, Jerry!

Anyway, gold star for Problem Child.

So then who got the beating, you ask? That would be Fifth Grader. Not an actual beating, people - jeez - though she has reached a new adolescent milestone this week: her first grounding. She's growing up so fast...

Yes, we're having a little trouble respecting authority figures at the moment. Fortunately it is not ALL authority figures, just a few select ones. There have been some changes made to the after school program she attends a few days per week. Changes that are rubbing her the wrong way, whipping up a previously unseen defiant streak inside her and resulting in my standing with the program director for ten minutes at every pick-up time since school began listening to a report of how Fifth Grader wouldn't stop singing at quiet time, Fifth Grader wouldn't line up to go outside, Fifth Grader wouldn't put her snack away when told to do so a bazillion times. I can't say that I am thrilled with the military-school-like structure that is being implemented this year - particularly after five years of this child BEGGING me to be able to go to the after school program more often because it's so much fun - but this is where she must go some days. And my kids? Will not be those kind of kids. No freaking way. So - she is grounded until I get three glowing reports.

To her credit, after bawling hysterically for about twenty minutes, she seems to have taken ownership of the situation. She told me yesterday that she had warned all of her friends not to call her or email her, and - if they know what's good for them - not to have any birthday parties or sleepovers until she has delivered her three good reports.

This of course means that I will actually see her this weekend. Lucky for us, it's going to pour buckets for the next three days. If we score big, we may even lose power. Did I ground myself by mistake? Maybe I need more practice at this.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Two Posts: One Day

You do the math...

It must be column time! Please let me know what you think!

Get A Room, Lady!

So this afternoon I was kicking back at the Y, waiting for the girls to finish up practice. Third Grader was already done, actually, but we had an hour to kill until Fifth Grader was released so we could get Third Grader to her acting class across town. (We call this: Tuesday.)

Gymnastics practices offers parents a choice of seating. Choice one: a set of aluminum bleachers cozied up to a metal railing which separates spectator and gymnast. These are mostly occupied by the parents of very small gymnasts with very short practices - often with toddlers and their coloring paraphernalia in tow. The parents read magazines or knit scarves or chat amongst themselves. The toddlers color the bleachers and put their sticky hands all over everything. Including the occasional stranger's leg.

Choice two: a pair of high top tables set up on the other side of the gym - essentially in the hallway -behind a large picture window. This is where the veteran gymnast parents congregate. Nothing and no one is sticky there. I am happy to say that, with two competing gymnasts in the fam, I qualify for this option.

As I said, there are only two tables, and thus only four chairs. If I can't score a chair, like tonight, I perch on a small staircase located just a hair behind. This is where I was parked tonight when she showed up.

She arrived toward the end of the last practice, with about fifteen minutes to spare. Newbie. Probably just upgraded from Saturday mornings, or her daughter went to a different gym last year. Whatever. She wore lycra pants and perfectly coiffed hair fluffed out over a headband. She leaned over the back of a just vacated chair and searched out her kid through the picture window. Then, apparently, her aerobics class began.

First, she did donkey kicks. Two full sets while hanging over the back of the chair. Then some deep knee bends. A few torso twists. Third Grader sat next to me on the stairs, eating her tomato sandwich, mystified. "Mama, what's she doing?"

"Exercising, I guess."

"Here? In the hallway?" Jane Fonda now had her arms extended and was doing some twirly thing with her wrists. Ten circles forward, ten circles backward.

"Looks like it."

"Wow. That's weird."

Lesson for aerobics woman: When the little girl eating a tomato sandwich on a staircase in the hallway thinks what you're doing is weird? It's probably time to stop.

And don't hog the chair!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wicked Bad Blogger

Instead of writing yet another explanation as to why I have been - well, not here - this week, let me just say - in New England vernacular - I am wicked tired.

"Wicked" is what we say here in New England when no other adjective quite captures the sentiment of exaggeration that we want to get across. It does not mean that I am wicked. In fact, I'm not wicked at all, really...except, maybe a bit when I'm trying to get lost in the hotness that is Jon Hamm on my latest TiVoed "Mad Men" episode, and I discover Fifth Grader secretly watching from the kitchen under the cover of darkness. Mama gets a little testy when this happens. Fifth Grader is too young for admiring hotness.

I digress.

It's been one hell of a week. As a family, we operate on a carefully balanced, Moving At The Speed of Light day-to-day routine that depends MUCH too highly on everyone being well-fed, well-rested, and at least mildly cheery. Any one of these elements goes awry, we have issues. This week, we had a lot of issues.

So I'm sad. I'm sad that I was not able to get to the desk a few times, at least to read and comment on what everyone else has been writing about. I'm sad that I did not have a chance to respond to some new commenters here, because I do like me some comments. I'm sad that I told a certain Stefanie that I was going to add her to my list and then didn't. (It's there now, Stefanie!) I'm sad that I did not have two minutes to write about Open House at the Tornadoes' school. Or about the black bear and the baby fox that I saw in the same day. Or about the totally amazing WWII aircraft display that I took Fifth Grader to see, the one that I described in her homework agenda book as "History Field Trip" to make up for the fact that I basically made her blow off her actual assignment for that night.

Truth be told, I'm sure I did have two minutes, but I spent them sleeping.

I am now off to enjoy the crowning jewel experience of my week: the one hour drive from work to the school to fetch Fifth Grader, followed by the twenty minute commute to deposit her at gymnastics practice; the retrieval, feeding and bathing of Third Grader from her practice; and the return commute to, once again, fetch Fifth Grader.

All to be followed by a wicked stiff drink.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Cheese Stands Alone

I was really looking forward to this weekend.

For one thing, we just finished our first true "back to school" week, complete with three nights of gymnastics in the mix. Everyone made it to practice on time, nobody forgot to do their homework, and - glory be! - the girls were too exhausted to fight with me about bedtimes. All systems go.

Saturday held the promise of late sleeping children followed by Old Home Day in the center of our little village. Old Home Day, for you city folk, is just a little celebration of life in the woods - er, small town - complete with music, food, games for the kiddies, and clowns. Oh, and no adult beverages. How many of you wish you could have gone with us?

Honestly, I wasn't planning to go at first, until I found out that my group of friends here in town were all going. Certainly that would take the sting out of dealing with clowns. Plus, hey, a little wholesome bonding time with the Tornadoes? Always a good thing.

So we arrived about half an hour before the parade stepped off and immediately went in three different directions. Third Grader was abducted by the middle school girls volunteering at the Sand Art table. Fifth Grader went off to find her friend with whom she would be leaving in a few hours for a soccer game and -naturally - a sleepover. I tried unsuccessfully to find my friends and to avoid the clowns. We reunited for the parade, but I can't really compete with candy being thrown in to the street, so really I watched it by myself. Where are my friends? I wondered.

About then, I saw them. In the parade. The whole group of them up there in the back of a tractor full of hay, waving. Alrighty then...

Fifth Grader left with her friend shortly after I stood in line for twenty minutes to get her a burger. Third Grader and I crossed paths a few times, mostly when she needed to dump off her latest balloon animal or game prizes. There wasn't a lot of hanging out with friends as they were being yanked in different directions by the little ones. I ate a semi-edible cheeseburger and watched another mom play the fiddle with the band onstage. The next time Third Grader flew by, I hooked her and said "Time to go."

We went home for a few hours to relax before the evening's fireworks...long enough for Third Grader to finagle herself a sleepover at a friend's house. See how this is lining up? Fifth Grader gone. Third Grader going. The Hope Diamond's got nothing on a free Saturday night.

I called Boyfriend.

Boyfriend is busy. I knew that already, but a free Saturday night! I said something supportive of his previously arranged busy-ness while simultaneously trying to transmit telepathic promises of irresistible enjoyment. Either Boyfriend is not telepathic or I am quite resistible. Either way, no Boyfriend.

Third Grader and I headed back to Old Home Day with sweatshirts and chairs. I set up chairs in the grass while Third Grader disappeared into the fray. I sat in my chair. And that is what I did for the next ninety minutes. I sat in my chair by myself, watching the blues band play, watching the sky darken, watching the couples around me on their blankets and in their chairs, and hated them all a little bit. Yes, there, I said it. I could not have felt more completely alone if I had been sitting beneath a blinking neon arrow that said "NO ONE WANTS THIS WOMAN'S COMPANY TODAY."

Third Grader did make it back to me to watch the fireworks, but then she left with her friend, and I came home. I did what any self-respecting woman with a free night and no date would do: I ran a bath and poured a drink. I lay there in my luxurious bath, drinking my luxurious drink, soaking in my luxurious aloneness. Five minutes later, I went to bed.

They can't all be winning weekends, I guess. On a positive note, I did get to run this morning without guilt, and I've read half the paper already. In a few hours, the Tornadoes will be home to not appreciate me in person. Perhaps we will have dinner out. There are few things that can make me appreciate my alone time like going to a restaurant with the Tornadoes.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tornadoes In a Hurricane...Sort Of...

So here I am on Saturday night, cooped up in my room. According to MSNBC, Hanna is delivering "fits of wind and pelting rain" on her mad journey up the Eastern seaboard tonight, and you are correct, MSNBC. There are fits all right. I think I'm having one right now.

Naturally I'm not alone, and naturally, I'm not in possession of only my own children. It just wouldn't be the weekend if we weren't involved in some sort of child swap. Usually I'm strictly a receiver, the girls taking in one roomie apiece - we stick to the "even number of children" plan in order to lessen my need to pummel anyone for excluding and/or tormenting the odd girl out - but tonight I only have Fifth Grader and Friend. Friend has a little sister who is chummy with Third Grader. So we traded.

Don't think for a second that this equates to peace and quiet around here. Au contraire. Fifth Grader and Friend weren't together for five minutes before they asked if I would take them to the mall. Dear God, have I arrived at the "take us to the mall" stage already? Suddenly I'm very, very sad...Well, taking them to the mall was less likely to completely annoy me than what I had in mind (sneaking off for a little nap while they amused themselves with Fifth Grader's tween magazines - never would have happened. A sleeping me is a Tornado magnet), so off to the mall we went, under the conditions that

A) I did not invite any credit cards along, so don't ask, and
B) After the mall? Tress at computer, wri-ting; Fifth Grader and Friend somewhere else, not both-er-ing.

And they haven't bothered me - EXCEPT for when they had to know exactly where all the flashlights are and exactly where we should all gather if the "fits of wind and pelting rain" knocked the power out. EXCEPT for when they thought it best that I make their dinner right away while we still have power. EXCEPT for when the wind became less fitty and the rain less pelty, and it was time to crank up the dance music that sends a shiver through the surface of my drink. Oh, and EXCEPT for when they emerged from Fifth Grader's bathroom in a cloud of glitter and perfume, their faces obscured by large amounts of Fifth Grader's tween makeup, wearing unintended combinations of Fifth Grader's clothes and in general looking about five years older than they actually are, and asked me if I could take a picture of them.

Um, let me see...NO.

So that's my Saturday night. Hopefully yours is more...well, less of what mine is, I guess.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Deja Vu All Over Again

Remember how I mentioned that the Tornadoes were bubbling over with enthusiasm about going back to school? That was, what, three days ago? Did I mention that, at the dinner table on Tuesday, Third Grader shared her view that school is like "A giant play date!"? To which I responded, "I'm writing that one down."

I'm here to say that this winning attitude made it two full days. Today is day three. Three of one hundred and eighty. And what did Third Grader wish for this morning? The last day of school.

It's the bus ride that kills them. I'm telling you. As much as I love the 7:05 pick-up, as convenient as that is for me and my own schedule, I know that they, like me, are once again in for a hellishly long morning commute. HELLISH. This is basically a patience issue, of course. The Tornadoes - again, like me - have none. Forty-five minutes is a repulsive amount of time to be on your way to somewhere. Anywhere. It's purgatory in a box.

Fortunately for them, they do not come home on the bus. No, they get to hang out with their friends for several hours in the structured joy known as "After School Care" which has the amazing effect of washing away all of their angst. Yes, they generally have returned to their happy, bouncy, regular selves by the time I pick them up - which is a double-edged sword, because driving to pick them up takes me NOT forty-five minutes but one full hour, after which I am usually cranky and pretty much ready to eat the blacktop in the parking lot. And most days? They don't want to leave. Hello, rocketing blood pressure.

So, after a mere two and a half days, all three of us are crawling with exhaustion. There has been no bedtime dispute - they are all too happy to call it a day, and I am right behind them. (Well. Except for that one night that I stayed up to watch The Speech. This is not a political forum, so I will say no more on that - but noontime would have worked out much better for me and my attention span.)

My big plans to sit down and eat dinner together as a family every night? My reinstatement of the "No TV on school nights" rule? On Wednesday, I watched Fifth Grader grimace her way through a thoughtfully prepared turkey dinner, while Third Grader scooped up mashed potatoes with her fingers. On Thursday, Kid Cuisine dinners (for them) and Lean Cuisine pizza (for me) in front of the television.

Eh. We'll go hardcore next week, honest. After I get some sleep.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye

Well, it's time.

Time to send the Tornadoes back to school. To return to our regularly scheduled program of planned chaos. To get back to business.

I could apologize for not breathing any life into this portal since last Wednesday, but I'm not going to. It has simply been too perfect outdoors these past four days - and this after a summer of incessant, cold rain - that there was really no choice to be made. The sun was shining and we were going to bask in it, damn it!

Something about this long overdue taste of summer seemed to bring home the fact that the girls are a grade older now, a fact I have clearly tried to deny all season by continuing to address them by their former grades. I've been asked a few times recently if I was looking forward to the new school year beginning - asked by fellow mothers, mind you, whose own sense of joy was palpable - and truly all I could muster in response was: "meh."

One could say that this is not a "milestone" year for us. We are not entering grades with any special significance to the American Greetings of the world. One could say that. But One would be wrong.

It must have been the Tornadoes' own mounting anticipation over recent weeks (read: school supplies carefully organized; pencils sharpened; backpacks ready and waiting at the front door for ELEVEN DAYS; first, second and third day of school outfits selected) that finally opened my eyes. It is a milestone year. It's another year that they are truly excited to go to school. Excited! How many kids are really excited about going back to school? ...Okay, I was always pretty excited, I admit...but I do remember a great number of my classmates sporting a pronounced lack of enthusiasm, or at least faking disinterest, in pursuit of whatever popularity that won them.

Yes, the Tornadoes are still young, and yes, there are still plenty of future First Days to contend with. Yes yes. But today? A tiny, fingertip pat on my own back for whatever small role I've played in convincing them that school is GOOD. And a bucketful of gratitude for the teachers who do the heavy lifting. They keep them engaged and they don't even get to occasionally take them to the beach.

So. Third Grader and Fifth Grader -there, I said it - let's do this thing.