“Honey, the basement is flooded…again.”
Fewer phrases can quicken a homeowner’s pulse than the dreaded flooded basement. There’s the mopping, the tearing up of carpet, the obligatory swearing, and worst of all, the call to the plumber.
After administering what can only be described as a colonoscopy of our main sewer line, the plumber’s diagnosis was grim. “There’s a tree root in the pipes. We are going to have to dig up your driveway to get to it and repair it.” I asked the inevitable question, “How much?” The plumber took the next 20 minutes to measure, pace, smoke a cigarette, consult an magic eight ball and then checked his calculations on an abacus.
“It comes to $4975,” he said while avoiding making eye contact with me (which makes sense, since my eye was doing that twitching thing it tends to do under duress). Now, the way I see it, when the plumber tells you the broken pipe is in fact under the driveway, necessitating the digging up of said driveway to the tune of $5000, you have two choices: kill the plumber and bury him in a shallow grave, or, laugh hysterically. I chose the latter (which ironically still seemed to scare him).
Between fits of laughter, a near-piddling, and the start of my Grey Goose and cranberry IV drip, I called my husband to break the news to him. “Well, if it has to be done, it has to be done.” My husband’s coolness under pressure is, surprisingly, one of his most annoying qualities.
“They are going to dig up the driveway!” I bellowed.
“Are you worried about the landscaping? It can all be fixed,” he tried to pacify me.
“Landscaping?! That’s the least of my worries. What if they dig up an old Indian burial ground? Which, of course, will most decidedly end with a poltergeist issue. Or worse, what if they find a pet ‘semetary’?! Do you know how many fish I have flushed in four years? That’s probably what’s causing all the plumbing issues. That’s all I need: a dozen zombie goldfish sloshing up the stairs to seek revenge on my lackluster fishbowl cleanings!”
“Zombie goldfish?” he asked.
“Yes! And remember that shaggy-looking beta that always stared at me with his one good eye?”
“You mean Daisy?” he said.
“Yeah, that’s him! You know he’s going to lead the zombie goldfish attack or become a poltergeist.”
“I don’t even know what a ‘poltergeist’ is,” my husband’s patience was wearing thin.
“Do you know that 18% of marriages fail because one spouse lacks a working knowledge of horror movies of the 1980s?” My husband is a numbers guy so I think my clever use of statistics will sway him.
“I have to go now, honey. Do not annoy the plumbers while they are working.”
Ten minutes later I’m down by the driveway asking the plumbers what I feel to be very valid questions. “Can’t this procedure be done laparoscopically? You know, a small incision, robotic arms, ultrasound? Come on, I have cable and high-speed internet! We are living in a rapidly advancing world!” Needless to say, that guy did not appreciate my vision of the future of plumbing.
Frankendriveway is healing well, no worse for wear other than a giant, concrete scar. And happily, no ancient burial grounds were uncovered.
I love hanging out in our front yard, watching my daughter play. Sometimes she rides her scooter rescuing invisible animals along the way and other times she runs as fast as she can to the mailbox and back. But one thing is always the same: she doesn’t go into our front yard unless my husband or I is there to watch her.
When I was a kid, it was different.
I grew up on Maxon Lane—a suburban neighborhood that I’m sure was just like any other neighborhood at the time. Houses in shades of brown, freshly planted trees, and kids. Lots of kids.
When we first moved to Maxon Lane, I was five and my only objective was to find kids to play with. I was scanning the neighborhood for kids before the moving truck was unpacked. I noticed two kids across the street and the three us aligned and continued on our mission to find more kids. Maxon Lane was a newly developed community so everyone was new to the neighborhood. Without discussion, me and the two kids I just met decided to go door to door asking one, simple question, “Do you have any kids?” It was easy: if they didn’t have kids, we made a note to never go to that house again and if they did have kids, the parents shoved the kids outside to play with us. Our group got larger and larger as we worked our way down the street.
I don’t know what I would do now if I saw a group of roughly fifteen kids, ages four to thirteen meandering around my neighborhood, but back when I was a kid, it was simply normal. And not a single parent in sight.
Our horde made it to the end of the street where the next phase of the neighborhood was still under construction. Us little kids watched as the big kids hurled rocks through the windows of the unfinished houses. I threw a couple of rocks myself, but I only managed to hit the kid standing behind me.
And just like that, friendships were forged. No one had to ask if we were friends, we simply were. From that day on, everyone just played. We never had to go knock on someone’s door because if they were home and not in trouble, then they were outside and playing. All you had to do to find where the kids were was to listen for the hollering and look for the driveway full of bikes.
We played after school until we all got called in for dinner and on the weekends we were outside as soon as we finished our bowls of Lucky Charms. We played baseball and football; we played army and had make believe ‘wars’ until lunchtime. We flew kites, rode skateboards, and we fought. We argued and screamed and yelled about who was up to bat and who got to use the wagon first to careen down the street. No parent came out and mediated. We fought it out. Mostly with words but sometimes punches were thrown and someone cried, but everyone would be playing together again by the end of the day.
We played like that for years, up until some of the kids became ‘cool’ and realized some of the other kids weren’t. Some remained friends and some went on to make different friends. It wasn’t traumatic, simply the way time manipulates youth with something called maturity.
I looked up Maxon Lane the other day on Google Maps. I didn’t even recognize it. But it still made me smile.
While looking at the new dinosaur exhibit at our local amusement park, my daughter could not contain her excitement.
“Mommy, these dinosaurs lived millions of years ago, like way back in the 1970s!”
This, my friends is why some species eat their young.
I’d like to say that this is the only time my daughter has unwittingly taken a shot at my age, but it isn’t. One morning when I was brushing my daughter’s hair I felt a bit nostalgic for the 80s so I pulled all her hair into a side ponytail just to see what she thought of it.
Her eyes got big and her mouth contorted in horror as she said, “Oh my gosh, Mommy, now I look like someone from the 1960s!”
Exactly how old does my daughter think I am?! I’m not old—my formative years were in the 80s, my hell-raising years were in the 90s—hell, I was a kid when grunge was cool. That’s not old. But as hard as I try, my daughter still seems to believe that I must come from a time that predates the wheel and Doritos.
One day as we sat at the table coloring pictures, my daughter put down her crayon and asked me, “What colors were around when you were a kid?”
“Honey, trees have always been green and the sky has always been blue, no matter how old you think I am,” I said and kept coloring diligently on my Dora the Explorer picture.
“No, what color crayons did they have when you were a kid?” she asked with absolute curiosity.
I looked at her and thought for a moment. My Crayola box had just about all the same colors as hers—I clearly remember burnt sienna and cadet blue—but I know my daughter will never believe that answer. So I quickly came up with a better answer for her.
“Well, way back when I was a kid, before we had those new-fangled iPads and such, our crayons boxes had just one color—black,” I said in my best toothless, old woman voice.
My daughter was enthralled. “Just black?”
“If I wanted to color the sky, I colored it black. If I wanted to color the ocean, I colored it black,” I said and glanced at my daughter.
“Until one day, a new color crayon was invented. Everyone rushed to the toy store to buy the new color,” I said and coughed because imitating a toothless old woman is hard on the throat.
“What color was it?” she asked with barely contained excitement.
“Gray,” I told her, trying not to laugh.
“Did you buy it?” she asked with wide eyes.
“I sure did, cost me four chickens and donkey. But you know what I discovered?” I said and waited for her to respond.
“What?” she gasped.
“Gray is just another name for really light black,” I said.
“Did you ever get your donkey back?” my daughter asked with concern.
“No, but I could color one heck of a picture of him with that new gray crayon!” I said and started laughing. My daughter processed the story for a moment longer, then began laughing hysterically.
Then I realized, I don’t care how old my daughter thinks I am. There’s no better sound in the world than my daughter laughing so hard she has work to catch her breath as she says, “Mommy, you’re so funny!”
Funny and old—I’ll take it.
The summer before I started kindergarten, my mother bought me a cowgirl outfit. A real cowgirl outfit—cowgirl hat, leather skirt and vest, boots with spurs, and two six-shooters slung low on my hips. The best part? Every bit of that wild west ensemble was red—not bright red but deep, menacing red like a sunset before a storm. That outfit made me feel like the sheriff of a dusty lawless town and I moseyed around in it all summer long with my spurs clanging and my fingers itching to draw those six-shooters.
My mother somehow managed to convince me to leave the cowgirl outfit at home when kindergarten started. I’m pretty sure she used a subtle threat to ban Sesame Street during breakfast and even cowgirls have priorities so I hung up my spurs and headed to school.
I loved school, even without spurs, and I wore my red hat and boots everyday when I got home. Life was good. And then my teacher made my life even better.
“Remember, next week is Halloween. We are having a party and you can wear your costumes!” she said excitedly.
My five-year-old mind reeled. A kindergarten Halloween party could mean just one thing—my red cowgirl outfit was going to school!
The day of the party arrived and I was all decked out in my cowgirl finest. I even dusted off my boots. My mom frisked me before taking me to school, insisting that I leave the spurs and the six-shooters at home. I shook off the small defeat and reveled in the glory of wearing an entirely red cowgirl outfit to school.
I got to school and the first thing on my to-do list was painting. I doubled up on the smocks that day, not wanting to risk getting paint on my leather vest or skirt. I immersed myself in Impressionism until the curly-headed blonde girl at the easel next to me interrupted my artistic flow.
“What are you dressed as?” she asked with a nasally laugh.
“I’m a cowgirl,” I said proudly and thought maybe this girl could stand to watch a Clint Eastwood movie or two.
“That isn’t what cowgirls wear,” she said as she waved a paintbrush in my general direction.
My ears felt hot and I was sure my face had to be the same color as my boots. Did this curly-headed little girl wearing her pajamas and carrying a pacifier really just dare to question my cowgirl outfit? Before I could stop myself, I shoved my paintbrush into the pink paint and then swiped the brush back and forth over the girl’s face.
I got my paint privileges revoked that day and was relegated to playing with trucks for the rest of the week. It was totally worth it.
Later, it was story time and we all gathered on the rug. After an hour of playing with trucks, I was ready to listen to a good book. I smoothed out my cowgirl skirt and waited politely. I glanced to my right and there was the curly-headed girl, a little worse for wear because of the painting episode. I smiled, secure in the knowledge that nothing bad can happen within the sanctity of the story rug.
But then something bad happened.
The curly-headed girl leaned over to me and whispered, “Real cowgirls don’t wear red.”
I felt myself heat up again and my fists clenched involuntarily. No one disparages my red cowgirl outfit twice in one day. I hauled back my arm and let my fist land right between her shoulder blades. She let out a pained breath and then said, “You hit me! I might die now!”
Being five and not knowing the telltale signs of imminent death, I watched for obvious things like bleeding from the eyes and uncontrollable diarrhea. Nothing.
The curly-headed girl was just fine and learned a very valuable lesson that day: real cowgirls do wear red.
I usually have the market cornered on crazy in my house. I’m the nut and my husband is the calm, rational one who doesn’t talk to inanimate objects at all. He will simply never understand why I talk to basil as I chop it and I will never understand why he doesn’t talk to the toilet while he unclogs it.
But there are rare, glorious times when my husband’s kind of crazy surfaces and gives my everyday crazy a run for its money. I relish these special times when the vein on my husband’s forehead pops out and people give him that look that seems to say, Maybe if we walk by quickly and don’t make eye contact, the crazy person won’t talk to us. It’s a look I know well.
The current cause of my husband’s insanity? We are building a house. No small task, as we have learned but we made it much less stressful by finding an amazing builder—an incredibly nice guy who builds beautiful homes. When we met to discuss the house, we met at his home where our daughter had a ball playing with his kids. His wife is just as nice and every time I talk to her I have to fight the urge to say, “Please be my best friend!” (Through lots of inward reflection and costly therapy I have learned that this particular statement is creepy and off-putting, but one day she will be my best friend.)
For me, knowing that the building of our house is in meticulous hands is all I need. Call me when the house is done.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy for my husband. Although he knows that our builder is constructing the perfect house, my husband has a difficult time not being in control. That’s when the vein on his forehead makes its appearance. It’s like he has been stricken with some kind of house mania, and I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to have him medicated before it’s all over.
He goes to the house site everyday and agonizes over something.
“I used some leftovers pieces of 2x4s, rusted nails, and a Big Gulp cup someone left behind to measure out where our bed should go in the master bedroom. Good thing I have the dimensions of a king size bed committed to memory.”
“I counted how many footsteps it was across the living room today. We are definitely going to need a bigger TV. Tomorrow I’m going to map out how to get by all the windows without the neighbors seeing me in my underwear.”
“I’ve been thinking a lot about home security. How do you feel about a moat, honey?”
My husband also has a list about fourteen pages long of all the things he wants in the new house.
“I want a theater screen and a pool with a waterfall and an indoor habitat for spider monkeys. Maybe eventually get one of those transporters like on Star Trek, you know, once the technology is perfected.”
He constantly asks me to come up with things I want in the new house.
“What about a crystal chandelier? How about a vodka tasting room? Or maybe we could build you a room to dedicate to your banjo lessons?”
“There is one thing I want,” I said.
He almost jumped out of his seat with excitement, “What is it?”
“I want to be able to plug in my hair dryer and flat iron into the same outlet,” I said plainly.
“An outlet? That’s it?” he said with a disappointed sigh. “So no banjo room? Well, that will leave more room for the monkeys,” he said and slipped back into the grip of house mania.
I can’t really blame him for the mania, though. It may technically just be wood, concrete, and steel, but it is so much more to us. It’s not just a house and it’s so much more than a home. I know that when my husband sees this new house, he sees an extension of his family—the three of us moving across the country away from every bit of family we have. Making a go of it in a new state by ourselves. We have made friends here, but it still ends up just the three of us most of the time (you’d be amazed how fast the party and dinner invitations stop rolling in once you’ve had to cancel a few times because you don’t have a babysitter).
No, more often than not, it’s the three of us at our holiday dinner table—or at the hospital cafeteria, depending on my husband’s schedule. Our wedding anniversaries are always nice and quaint—me, my husband, and our daughter. But always being together has made us a solid team—we’re inseparable. The three of us are the reason my husband agonizes over the new house—because he’s not just building us a house. He’s building us a place to feel safe and happy and loved. He’s building us a dream.
I still may have him medicated though.
I’m thinking about buying stock in Panera. Who is the genius behind this place? It’s bread and free wifi—how could life get any better than that? I love spending the morning at Panera. I get my favorite cinnamon crunch bagel with hazel nut cream cheese, find a cozy table, set up my computer, and pretend to write. I never get any actual writing done because my brain ends up on overload listening to all the great conversations going on around me.
If I go to Panera on Tuesdays there’s a group of little old ladies who like to argue about who’s the sexiest widower at their assisted living community. Currently they’re all hung up on a man named Bob and judging by the way they giggle, Bob is something else. If I go on Wednesdays, there’s a few old men who have some serious prostate troubles they discuss in depth. Obviously, I prefer Tuesdays but I keep going back on Wednesdays to see if any of those men are named Bob.
On one particular Wednesday morning, as I was waiting to see if I could catch a glimpse of the now legendary Bob, my attention was drawn to two loud-talking women at the table next to mine. One of the women looked to be about eight months pregnant and extremely tired and the other woman was doling out some priceless advice.
“You don’t need antibiotics! No, instead of antibiotics just get some yogurt and put it directly into your vagina,” the woman said with all the authority that comes with putting the words yogurt and vagina into the same sentence.
The pregnant woman seemed intrigued, as was the entire morning crowd at Panera.
“Of course I prefer to use garlic. It has the same bacteria-killing qualities and all you have to do is get a clove of garlic and insert it into your vagina,” she said and took a sip of her coffee.
I have never in my life heard anyone so comfortable with the word vagina. I, myself, avoid use of that word at all costs, substituting cute, anatomically confusing words such as hooha and business. But to just toss around the word vagina, this was a new earmark of boldness. I thought to myself, This woman is a pioneer with her fearless talk of vaginas!
I sat there quietly chanting, “Vagina, vagina, vagina,” trying to channel the power of the vagina that this woman had been able to harness. But as much as I respected her use of the anatomically correct word, I couldn’t get over the fact that she just said she puts garlic and yogurt into her vagina.
I imagined this woman standing in the kitchen, pondering what to cook for dinner. Her husband walks in and suggests spaghetti. “Spaghetti? No, we’re out of garlic—it’s the 15th of the month, you know that’s my “Garlic in the Vagina Day,” she says with irritation. Because, let’s face it, a garlic clove in your vagina has got to be irritating.
Now I have no idea whether or not garlic and yogurt can heal an ailing vagina, but it did get me thinking about how I have spent my life just wasting precious, vaginal space. What else could we be putting into our vaginas? I looked excitedly around the table—a bagel, my phone, Chapstick. On second thought, maybe I’m not cut out for the daring world of vagina innovations.
No, I think I’ll leave the vaginal trailblazing up to women who fully embrace the subtle and symbiotic relationship between garlic and vaginas.
An IKEA store has just opened near me. All of my friends are so excited. Everyone’s eyes gleam at the thought of an airport-sized store filled completely with unassembled Swedish furniture. They’re new to the world of IKEA and don’t know what headaches await them in that Swedish wonderland.
But I do. I lived twenty minutes away from IKEA in my formative decorating years and have a colorful history with build-it-yourself Scandinavian tables and chairs.
Don’t get me wrong, I have a strong appreciation for any store that gives each product its own first name so it feels like an old friend. Like IKEA’s fabulous bookshelves, simply named Billy. We love Billy in our house. We have a Billy bookshelf in every room of our house. Billy is a stand-up piece of furniture—he’ll hold your books, knick-knacks, and any other crap you throw on him. Billy is a friend for life.
But not everything at IKEA is as solid as good old Billy. Sometimes you get suckered into a Bernhard. Oh Bernhard, you broke my heart. Back when I was single, I was searching for a bar stool and Bernhard caught my attention right away—with his hard, plastic back rest—he was all I ever wanted in a bar stool. I took him home the same day (maybe it was a bit sudden, but I felt like I could trust him). “Don’t worry, Bernhard, we’ll be drinking margaritas in no time,” I said as I spread out the parts and read the instructions. Well, I tried to read the instructions, but they weren’t exactly words as much as they were hieroglyphics that seemed to delineate how to build a ship. A ship? I just want a bar stool to kick back in—why does this look like I’m building a aircraft carrier?
After three hours of work and a fair bit of profanity, Bernhard and I were no longer on speaking terms. He wobbled unsteadily despite the fact that I was the one doing all the drinking that day. He ended up in a corner of my apartment and whenever someone would attempt to sit on him, I would caution them by saying, “Oh, that’s from IKEA and I put it together by myself and there were a lot of left over parts. Sit at your own risk.” No one ever did. I almost felt bad for poor Bernhard.
But getting stuck with a wobbly Bernhard isn’t the only headache you’ll find at IKEA. I can’t wait for all my friends who have never stepped foot into an IKEA to get their first glimpse at that deceiving Swedish maze that will trap them for hours upon hours. There’s no such thing as a quick trip to IKEA. Oh sure, there’s little “short cut” signs all over the place, but those only lead you even further astray to picture frames you didn’t need, a set of Tibetan prayer flags, a steaming plate of Swedish meatballs, and an oversized cup of glögg. And all you really wanted was a coffee table for the living room.
If you make it through the Scandinavian labyrinth, eventually you will find your way to the warehouse portion of the IKEA experience. This is where you now get the distinct pleasure of searching desperately for the item you so dutifully wrote down with the handy golf pencils IKEA so graciously provides. Once you locate your item and risk your life getting it off the shelf you will be plagued with thoughts like, “That coffee table is in this little box?” The answer to that is simple: it’s in many, many pieces. But don’t worry, you will be provided with a tiny wrench that I’m pretty sure is the same size Santa’s elves use. It’s the only tool you’ll need!
Well, until you get so mad you go get the hammer.
Barbie. I try really hard to hate her, always looking at me with those perfectly painted blue eyes and that molded plastic smile—I just know she’s judging my non-coordinated outfit and my fully jointed limbs. But then I see her deformed little feet and I just can’t be angry at her. Especially when Mattel makes so many adorable little pairs of shoes for her misshapen feet.
Yes, that old broad takes a lot of flak, but I played with Barbie as a kid and still managed not to develop an addiction to blue eye shadow so I feel confident in letting my daughter play with her now. Just like me, my daughter’s eyes go wide when she sees a new Barbie in a pink, frilly gown with a ring shoved strategically right through her hand. Magic, simply magic.
You can imagine the wave of excitement that ran through our house the day my daughter got invited to her friend’s Barbie-themed birthday party. There was Barbie’s face right there on the invitation, beckoning my daughter to eat cake and be fabulous. My daughter was breathless with anticipation as she read the invitation and I said a quick prayer of thanks that the party wasn’t being held at Chuck E. Cheese.
“Mommy, what does this part say?” she asked while shoving the invitation in my face.
“Come dressed as your favorite Barbie,” I read aloud.
“Come dressed as your favorite Barbie?!” my daughter and I repeated in unison.
Panic quickly replaced the excitement that had just pulsed through our veins as we thought about what Barbies my daughter owned that were viable options to pattern a child after for this party. I’m pretty sure that all of my daughter’s Barbies once had a fantastically engineered identity complete with lavish, theme-appropriate attire, but they fade quickly in my daughter’s hands and each Barbie ends up with a new identity, like:
Head Injury Barbie: this Barbie is what happens when played with by the daughter of a doctor. This Barbie was a thrill-seeker who scaled to the top of the Dream House then, thanks to a slippery stiletto, plummeted three floors to the carpet below. She has undergone many groundbreaking surgeries and has recovered quite well, the only lingering after-effects are her propensity toward not wearing pants and using skirts as hats. A real triumph of the plastic spirit, but I can’t send my daughter to a party with no pants and a skirt hat.
Barbie Who Only Wears Clothes Made Out of Kleenex: this Barbie has shunned popular fashion trends in favor of a more simplistic style—tissue. She can go from day to evening in a single Kleenex, but the wardrobe malfunctions abound with this flimsy material, especially in the presence of water. Luckily, this Barbie isn’t shy and makes no excuses when a tissue dress drops to her ankles at a tea party. Barbie can take that chance, but not my daughter.
Brothel Barbie: It’s the oldest profession in the world and this Barbie looks the part. She’s wearing a skirt that barely covers her tushy, Ariel’s seashell bikini top, and seven-inch platform heels that lace all the way up to her knees. Of course, my daughter put this outfit together based solely on the bright colors, but there are still rumors floating around as to how this Barbie really affords all those fake furs and a Corvette. Clearly, I’m not letting my daughter dress like this for any party. Ever.
Bad Hair Day Barbie: This poor Barbie never had a chance—her hair became a matted clump of blondness ten minutes after leaving the sanctity of her box. Her hair sticks straight up and no brush can tame it and no rubber band can confine it. Because of her obvious hair woes, she never gets the really cool outfits and usually ends up wearing a mud-stained dress and a pair of Ken’s old pants. It’s not fair, but if life were to magically become fair, it wouldn’t be in the Dream House. I can’t even imagine the amounts of hairspray I would need to use to get my daughter’s hair to do that. Nope, not this one either.
After rejecting each Barbie my daughter owns as a possible costume inspiration, my daughter opened her closet, rummaged through a few things, then emerged with the perfect party outfit—a tattered blue tutu, an orange tee shirt with a heart on it, hot pink tights, and an assortment of plastic jewelry. It was certainly fabulous, but I secretly wondered if it was fabulous enough for a Barbie party.
I dropped my daughter off at the party and saw a dozen seven-year-old girls, all wearing old skirts, flashy tee shirts, and cheap, plastic jewelry in honor of their favorite 11.5 inch doll—Barbie. Those girls giggled and danced, never giving a second thought to what they were wearing, just happy to be surrounded by the color pink and celebrating their friend’s birthday.
It’s no wonder I can’t hate Barbie.
Back-to-school is that special time when moms everywhere experience the extreme opposite of emotions all in one morning: Thank goodness the kids are back in school—I’m so sick of applying sunscreen to children as they run by! and Summer flew by too quickly! I miss my baby!
I’m pretty sure only moms understand the bipolar experience that the start of the school year brings. I know my husband is immune to any tugging of the heart strings that come from our daughter starting a new grade and he certainly can’t understand the utter joy that comes with knowing that after three long months of entertaining a six-year-old, I will finally have time to start doing laundry again.
After two days of wandering the house not knowing what to do with myself, I finally started getting back into my pre-summer routine. Then I made the mistake of checking my email. There it was—an email from my daughter’s teacher informing me of the dreaded “Back to School night.” No, no, no my inner spoiled child wants to scream. I did my time in school. I suffered the slings and arrows that ill-behaved children hurled at me. Why must I be dragged back for this yearly ritual? Why can’t I just get school information the old fashioned way—in random sound bites and fragment sentences from my daughter?
I quickly come to the realization that there is no escaping Back to School Night—it’s part of my contractually obligated duties as a parent, just like providing a vegetable with every meal and picking dirty socks off the bathroom floor.
The night of the information-filled extravaganza arrives and I walk into the school with a fake smile and a choreographed saunter. Every parent there crowds the seats in the back of the room so I strategically pick a seat in the front row thinking there may be some extra credit for my obvious bravery. I glance around the room and nod at a few parents, a gesture that clearly says, “Yeah, I’m that mom.”
I get comfortable and prepare to listen to everything I ever wanted to know about first grade but then I have a moment of panic—what if my short attention span kicks in? I have been known to lose concentration mid-sentence and start cleaning out a closet instead. No, I won’t let that happen to me tonight. I sit up straight in my chair. But now I’m sitting too straight and my boobs are sticking out. That can’t look good here a back to school night. I try slouching a little so that people will think I am relaxed and cool. No, that makes me look like I’m sitting on the toilet. I finally contort my body into a completely unnatural state that I think implies, “I’m totally listening to you,” when I realize the meeting started almost ten minutes ago.
I concentrate even harder but then I catch a glimpse of the woman sitting next to me. She is nodding her head at some important information I have missed. She keeps nodding. Wow, I think, she really is a good listener! I can’t take my eyes off of this incredible nodding woman. Wait, is she really listening or just nodding? I decide to time her. I glance at the clock on the wall and start. That woman nodded for six minutes solid. I have to get to the bottom of this.
“Excuse me,” I whisper. “Are you just nodding aimlessly?” Sitting in the front row has apparently given me a new boldness.
She gives me a quick smile and keeps nodding her head.
I don’t know if she was answering my question or if her head was set to automatic bobble mode, but I think she might be a genius. As for me, another fifteen minutes of the meeting have gone by and I still know nothing about the esoteric world of first grade.
Using every bit of concentration I have, I focus on the teacher speaking long enough to hear her begin a speech about misbehavior. Oh, please don’t let her be talking about me, I think. Fortunately, she is speaking about the children. That was a close one. As she talks about locking kids in closets, or whatever it is they do with ill-behaved children these days, I hear a bit of pandemonium break out in the back of the room (I have a six-year-old at home—I know what pandemonium sounds like).
It’s a group of children some parents have brought to the meeting and have let play in the back of the room, but the playing is clearly getting a little loud and out of hand. The teacher speaking about discipline glances to the back of the room, obviously fighting all of her tingling teacher senses beckoning her to the back of the room to dole out some punishments, but she gets ahold of herself, visibly grits her teeth, and soldiers on. I’m on the edge of my seat now because the irony of the situation is more than I can take. I search the room to see if the offending parents will go claim their hooligans, but no one moves. It’s like in yoga class when someone’s phone rings and everyone just smiles nervously like it’s not theirs. Not one parent budges and the meeting continues.
I heard something about lunch money and a quick dissertation on the evils of decorative pencils and then it was over. I felt a bit defeated knowing another school year would pass without me knowing all the secret handshakes or which papers had to be signed and which ones required just initials.
Next year, it’s my husband’s turn for back to school night.
There seems to be an unwritten rule in our house that all pet responsibilities are mine. Let’s take dog poop, for example. My husband and daughter see the dog poop, they step over the dog poop, but somehow they can never manage to pick up the dog poop.
It’s the same way with all of our pets. First, there is our Wonder Mutt, a 50lb German shepherd/sheltie/mutt/oh-my-gosh-what-is-it who is simultaneously the most lovable and the dumbest dog in the world. In short, I love her. Well, we all love her, I’m just the one who who gets the honor of cleaning up after her every time she throws up behind the chair. My husband and daughter love petting her and throwing the ball for her and taking her for walks, but that poor dog would certainly go hungry everyday if it weren’t for me. Of course, my husband did feed her once back in 2010 which he still brags about to this day.
The next group of pets are the kind with too many legs that my daughter adopts via our backyard. It all started with caterpillars; my daughter was so excited to see those caterpillars turn into butterflies. She even made me show the caterpillars a time-lapse video on Youtube just to make sure the little guys were ready for the big change. My daughter watched half of the video then went outside to play. I sat there for the rest of it, trying my best to reassure the caterpillars that it couldn’t possibly be that gross in real life and saying encouraging things like, “A cocoon is just like a little vacation; I’d make one myself if I could.” I fed those butterflies orange slices and sugar water in an eye dropper until they were ready to fly away. My husband and daughter watched as I let the butterflies go, it was very beautiful until the dog jumped up and ate one and another hit the windshield of a passing car. Funny, none of that was in the video.
Our insect pets have also included, but are not limited to: an old Tupperware container of roly-polies that my daughter shoved in a drawer and I found a month later, a few lady bugs that were literally played with to death, and a dead beetle of some sort that my daughter insisted was just sleeping (that one “ran away” when my daughter wasn’t looking shortly after his arrival in my kitchen. My daughter said, “See, I told you he was just sleeping!”).
Then we have fish; lots of fish. Usually goldfish or sometimes bettas—we stick with the ultra-flushable varieties. It’s always the same story with fish: my daughter insists she needs a fish and that she will take care of it, then it’s all on me. I actually like the fish but I have had some bad experiences with them. Once, I was poised over the toilet and ready to flush my daughter’s fish, Sally, when the darn thing started swimming again. I could have sworn it was dead. The next time it died, I waited an extra day just to make sure. It wasn’t moving this time and I’m almost positive it didn’t have a pulse, so I finally felt at ease about her burial.
There was also the time my daughter’s fish, Rhoda Flower Haas (she was very into formal names at the time) died and my daughter didn’t notice for close to four weeks. When she finally noticed, she insisted that she needed another fish. I drew a hard line. “No, if you don’t notice a pet has been dead for four weeks you lose all rights to obtain another a pet of that same species.” My hard line lasted for almost two months, then we got a new fish, simply named Clucky.
I don’t mind being the caretaker for all these creatures and I guess I can’t really blame my husband and daughter for their inability to feed and care for the pets since neither one of them has mastered obtaining food for themselves yet.