Saturday, June 14, 2014

Car Crashes and Train Wrecks

Jack Peter turned 8 on May 14.  We'd cancelled his turning-7 birthday party last year because he'd gotten himself kicked off of the school bus.  That parenting decision was maligned by a number of our friends as WAY TOO HARSH.  This was revealed casually throughout Jack Peter's 8th year.  On Jack Peter's actual birthday we did a little family/close friends dinner.  After eating we went around the table saying something we love about Jack Peter.  I would have been a hot squirmy mess listening to all of that schmaltz.  Jack Peter smiled regally, nodding in agreement.  When we got to the last person Jack Peter said, "I want to tell you all something great about me...."  I can't remember what it was, but it's good to know that kid doesn't have any confidence issues.

I don't think any sort of disciplining we've done has been "WAY TOO HARSH"  Let's hope this is the 3rd and last conduct referral this year.  I texted the image to Jen.  If you can't read it, it says "sitting under the desk not following instructions"  She texted back.  "That's progress.  He wasn't on top of the desk exposing himself!"  Friends are great at helping me get perspective.  Speaking of WAY TOO HARSH...a conduct referral for sitting under the desk 5 days before the end of school??

Speaking of confidence issues, In early May, I was a part of the complete decimation of a little boy's confidence.  I already harped on my recent craft show in Rittenhouse Square, but I forgot about the WORST PART.  I was setting up my booth early Friday morning.  As we set up, the locals walk around.  I was putting up shelves, and I could feel eyes on my back.  I could hear whispering, so I turned around to see a mom holding her almost-two son.  As I faced them his eyes widened in HORROR.  The mom was continuing the banter.  Apparently, they'd left the house that day in search of Anna from Frozen.  I was wearing 2 braids, and I have light blue streaks going through my platinum blond hair.  From the back, it was clear that they'd reached their destination.  The mom was so thrilled that their mission had been a success.  She was gushing about their having found Anna.  When I turned to face them, it was clear to the kid that I am not Anna, but his mom, for fun, was insisting that I was.  I'll never forget the horror in that kid's eyes.  He was being lied to flagrantly, and HE KNEW IT.  What a blow.  Not-even-two, and discovering that it's all a SHAM!!!!!

Jack Peter's birthday party had a Minecraft/karate theme.  Everyone who wanted to, wore gees.  I put together 50 varying-sized cardboard boxes on the stage at the park, and they built things, kicked them over, put each other in boxes, kicked out of them, dumped them all off the stage, threw them back on the stage, etc.  I had the optimistic notion that I was going to break down all of the boxes and bring them back to my studio for packing and shipping.  They were TRASHED. We did the obligatory piñata. Who's idea was it to blindfold kids and give them a weapon to flail at a moving object, a moving object holding candy, so while the blindfolded kid is hacking away, anxious toddlers are running towards the weapon in hopes that the candy is coming out?  Did the Mexicans steal that idea from Auschwitz?  Jack Peter has a future in party planning.  The box idea was his, and he'd asked for a punching bag piñata.  Belting a piñata with boxing gloves makes the process so much less stressful for the parents!  Unfortunately, I'd started the punching bag piñata a week before the party, and it was a damp week, so I didn't get as many layers on it because it kept not drying.  It withstood 3 punches.  Even the candies were anti-climatic.  JP picked Werther's candies to go inside it.  They're good, but they are such grandmother candies.

The cake was uneventful except that in my drunken magnanimity, I let every kid pick out the exact piece he or she wanted.  It looked like the boundaries of the Middle East by the end of it.  Brandon, our baker friend, wasn't impressed by my carving prowess.

On the day of the big party we decided to go house-hunting.  Moving wasn't on the list this summer, but Johnny (Tim's brother, and the realtor in the group) had somehow promised one of the four bottom units at our glamorous place (that Tim designed and built) to two people.  One of the people is a couple in their early 30's.  The male half of the couple has been gravely ill for a year.  He's gone through chemo.  He doesn't seem to be improving.  I try and bring food over periodically.  Having watched the effects of Dick's illness on my mom, my sympathy for Alexis, the female half of the couple is strong.  They currently live in one of the units, but they keep thinking they'll have to move out because they only have one income.  Our friends, Ashley and Kurt were the other couple.  She's pregnant, and their first child is testing high for lead.  They need to get out of their old Fishtown house.  Rather than say, "no" to either of them, Johnny suggested (in a heated phone conversation with Tim about TAKING RESPONSIBILITY) that WE move out.  I said, "Let's go!"  We saw 2 places the morning of the party.  One was small and smelled like dog, and the big kids dumped Toby out of the hammock they had in the foyer.  The other was bigger and smelled like the oil tank that had been leaking for the past 3 years.  Despite the stench and the beeping batteries in the smoke alarms in the house, the kids chose the second house.

The house is currently 11 minutes from the kids' school (although a 2-year-long traffic diversion is supposed to ruin that)  The plan is to fix it up, move there for two years while we build our dream house in Northern Liberties, and then we'll flip it.  It was $174,000, so it's got nowhere to go but up, right?  So now on top of his 2 full-time jobs: teaching and running an architecture firm, Tim has taken  managing what he hopes will be a month-long renovation project.

I'm just excited for a change and a massive PURGE.  I mentioned how stressful it is to own nice stuff in my last blog.  Our current place at Thin Flats is so nice...WAS so nice.  It deserves better.  Our car was so nice when we bought it a year ago....

yes, that's a melted crayon, a wretched thermos filled with dried kale smoothie, and a festering sleepy time vanilla tea thermos inside a sticky coffee cup....that's where the ADULTS sit...

Speaking of cars.  My dad visited last weekend.  He turned 80 on June 6.  Our MIT niece, Brittney, turned 20 on June 2.  We all descended on Nanny's house for a Gemini birthday bash.  Brittney is a vegan; my dad is obsessed with longevity; and Johnnie kills it at the grill with the veggies.  All my dad could say on the ride home was, "Jesus, I embarrassed myself deah (dear) I gwoa-jd (gorged) myself!  Those VEGETABLES!!!!!"  We hung around for quite a while because Johnnie time is about 2 hours later than Patrick time which is about 1.5 hours past Tim/Carol time.  The kids don't care.  When they're at nanny's all rules are off.  They get to watch crap TV and eat pretzels.  My dad was happy.  He had a new audience.  He's either a complete hermit or a comedian.  Patrick and his high school friend, Tommy, were mesmerized by Peter's accent and his stories.

Peter went to both Princeton and Hahvahd Lo-wah (Harvard Law) with Ralph Nader.  Somehow he was regaling Pat and Tommy with stories of Ralph.  Ralph and Peter had almost gotten expelled from Harvard because they copied and shared the exams from the previous year with a posse from their class.  Ralph was off trying to import serapes from Mexico when it all went down.  The climax of Peter's story involves Ralph loping across campus in a serape with the dean and 5 horn-rimmed-glasses/Brooks-Brother-suit-bedecked classmates anxiously awaiting his arrival to clear them of malfeasance.  That story went down well, so Peter went into Ralph Nader's bio a little more deeply.  He started talking about Ralph's book on Cah Crashes.  (Car Crashes)  Pat and Tommy were rapt, so Peter kept going.  Things unravelled when Peter said he came across a terrible Cah Crash on Route 95.  Pat asked incredulously, "WHO WERE YOU WITH????"  Confused, Peter said he was alone in his car.  For the entire story, Pat and Tommy had been hearing the words COCK RASH instead of CAR CRASH.  (Was Pat picturing my dad's passenger dropping his drawers in the front seat on 95????")

The story has a bad ending.  In general my dad feels pretty good about how he's looking and feeling at 80.  He prides himself on his ability to play on words.  His not hearing "cock rash" and his temporary bafflement by Tommy's and Pat's confusion was a huge blow to his ego.  I'm sure he's still pissed about it, and here I was trying to make his 80th special!  How do I feel when my conspicuously absent dad shows up for McDonald family functions talking about jock itch?  I spent a lot of my life trying to heed all of my dad's decrees, but now I have to balance his with the equally forceful decrees of my kids.  "Deah, when you're interviewing with a woman, put your hair up.  When you're interviewing with a man, wear it down."  (It's worked for me all my life.  Craft shows are populated by women...ponytail it is.  When my dad is here, down it goes.)  BUT, despite my fathers constant caveat that long dresses make tall women look like curtains, the one maxi dress I own is my daughters' FAVORITE look.  Risking hearing my dad bellow something negative about "MU MU'S," I wore my hair down for him and the maxi dress for the girls-democratic as always.  It was great to have him; I wish he'd come down and gwoaj himself more often.

The end of the school year is such chaos in general-gemini birthdays aside.  I have constant shame that I'm not the recess mom, the PTA mom, the kindergarten aid mom.  Of course, when my half-hearted pledge to chaperone the kindergarten field trip to the aquarium was accepted I WAS THRILLED!!!!  It actually wasn't so bad.  They gave us 5 kids and let us do what we wanted.  My life is managing 3, so 5 for 3 hours wasn't a huge push.  I also know the aquarium pretty well, so my hideous lack of orientation didn't factor in.  My phone did die, so meeting the 1:00 deadline at the bus was challenging in the dark.  Towards the end of our stay, I lead everyone to the outdoors penguins, so I could see who had a watch and could ask them the time.  Whiling away 35 minutes with 5 exhausted kindergarteners in 90 degee weather in front of lackadaisical penguins should be an Olympic sport.  Thankfully the penguin with the ankle tag number 6195 swam up to us, looked meaningfully into our 12 eyes, and took a cloudy white penguin dump in the water right in front of us.  I put on penguin voice and introduced myself as 6195, but you can just call me 5 because I feel we are so close.  I didn't expect to hit this level of intimacy so soon, but so it is....I don't normally poop RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU ALL!!!!!!  I'm not sure what I had for breakfast.  I feel so ashamed!!!!! For the next 30 minutes and for the 45 on the bus the boys in the group demanded, "DO NUMBER 5!!!!!!"  So now I'm Steel's mom, the one who talks about penguins pooping for the next 8 years.  I also let them horse around on the escalators.  Steel fell and got a massive, band-aid requiring gash on her shin.  I also committed the Green Woods Charter School sin of messing up the waters of two students.  Sharing is NOT ALLOWED with food at Green Woods.  I gave Gia's pristine water to Ryan, leaving her with Ryan's backwashed-cracker-filled-semi-clear one.  I've probable gotten myself out of chaperoning field trips for the foreseeable future.

Speaking of bad parenting decisions, I made an epic one after Toby's ballet recital.  This ballet thing is no joke.  There were Saturday rehearsals.  The 3-page single spaced instructions for recital day scared the crap out of me, but we made it through, and 13 McDonald-family-Toby supporters filled a whole row at the theater.  It was actually one of the most moving 2 hours I've had in a while.  Jacquetta, the head of the ballet school had chosen a Maya Angelou poem, "Phenomenal Woman" to be a theme for a couple of the older kids' dances.  When Maya died, Jacquetta carried the theme throughout the show.  Each dance started with a Maya Angelou quote delivered a by solemn little dancer.  Living Arts Dance is one of the few things we do in Philly that is truly diverse.  With my WASPy New England sensibilities, I was honestly wondering how it was going to come together.  Over half of the older girls are either overweight or obese.  The recital still brings tears to my eyes.  By far the most amazing dancer was a girl who is carrying at least 40 extra pounds.  She was astonishing.  Each of the dancers appeared to have a McDonald-size posse there supporting her.  Jacquetta MC'ed with poise and love and tears.  It was life-affirming and perfect.

A super-amazing bonus to the already amazing recital was the introduction of the sock bun to our lives.  Each of us has a sock buried into our hair in these photos.  It takes 20 seconds to do, lasts all day, and only works with dirty hair.  I honestly couldn't have dreamt a more perfect hairdo for all of us.

A bunch of us went out for food after the recital, and we had a few margaritas.  The recital was perfect.  The after party became a train wreck.  Toasts and tell-alls abounded.  The kids were almost asleep in the booth when we left the restaurant.  Somehow Tim had doused Steel with water.  She was LIVID.  In my drunken attempt to appease her, I asked some outdoors diners whether I could take their pint of water.  They obliged.  I gave it to Steel and told her to douse her dad with it.  Of course it shattered on the pavement, and Steel's hysteria rose exponentially.  Who the hell gives a 6 year old a glass pint of water off of a random person's table to pitch at her dad?

The same person who decided to make egg cups without measuring.....

Monday, June 2, 2014

Limping Along

My kids are on a never-ending campaign to render me fetal and broken, so they can play on the computers, phones and iPad indefinitely.  Last month on weekends we were letting them wake up and play on whatever electronic we'd left out.  It was giving us a little lie-in but it started spilling into the weeks.  That extra hour that one spends in and out of slumber in the early morning was lost for them.  They were tearing upstairs to play something the second an iota of consciousness arrived. The sleep deprivation alone was causing mayhem, so I hid the electronics.

I awakened to Steel's hysterical footsteps above me as she searched for a half hour.  Jack Peter had given up after 5 minutes and was sitting on the couch reading.  Clearly he doesn't have her persistence or her addictive personality.  By the time I came up to talk about it, Steel was in a ball, weeping on the couch with massive black circles under her eyes.  It was like looking into the future at her as a heroin addict.  Some of you might say that limiting the screen time is creating this, but I just can't deal with the insanity over it, and those games are so stupid.

Steel didn't take the "NO MORE MORNING SCREEN TIME" directive well, but by the end of the day she asked if she could delete her favorite game from my phone.   I didn't know how to, so Jack Peter helped her.  It's as if she realized that she can't handle it, so she had to get rid of it.  It made me think of my amazing little Grandma who quit a 3-pack-a-day habit cold-turkey because she'd woken herself up coughing at 65.  Grandma Girley lived to be 94.

In general, Steel and I have been having a rough time.  A week ago there was the black bean soup war.  She'd somehow pushed me to the point of, "If you don't eat it now, you're having it for breakfast.  If you don't eat it for breakfast, it'll be in your lunch...."  It wasn't so much about eating as it was about her acting like a spoiled teenaged c-nt.  I wanted to write her a letter,

Dear Steel,  you are displaying personality traits that will:
a. get you nowhere in life
b. make no one like you  
I am not going to back down on my attempts to nip these traits in the bud because I've seen people allowed to behave in this way, and they have crappy lives and feel like victims.  You are a strong, ridiculously smart, beautiful, powerful and sweet human being.  Rely on these to get what you want. Love, Mom

Instead, I took away all of her clothes except her school uniforms and told her she had to eat the soup and stop acting insane.  Rightly, she responded that I was acting insane.  We were having conversations about when I give all of the clothes to Toby 2 years from now when they fit her.
Steel, "I won't let her wear them!"
Mom, "Toby will put them on whether you let her or not!"
Steel, "NO, I'LL BE 8!"
(I was flummoxed by that for some reason.  Is 8 going to be the peak of her power?)

Meanwhile Toby is screaming at the top of her lungs that I am mean and I need to STOP.  Toby has, and hopefully will always, have JP's and Steel's backs.  Her ire is focussed; her loyalty profound.  She'll hit us.  (As she did at school when her favorite boy told her to save his seat.  Her second favorite boy sat in it, wouldn't leave when she told him #1 was returning, so she clocked #2.  At school she'll land at the "sit by yourself" table.  At home she'll get away with it because we are still pissed at her sibling.)

Tim was gone a fair bit in the spring.  At least one or both girls had flailing-legs, kicking-on-floor, screaming "I hate you mommy!" and "I WANT DADDY!" full-blown tantrums on every day of his absence.  As they bickered over the elliptical-machine-now-clothes-hanger in our bedroom, I considered rolling over in bed and saying, " on the electronics all you want, eat chocolate-covered pretzels and drink the flat ginger ale left over from last night's cocktails for breakfast.  Screw bathing and brushing your teeth!"  It wouldn't end up any easier, though.  They'd either start fighting about something and someone would get maimed or one of them would be so engrossed in the electronic, they'd piss on themselves and the couch, and there I'd be with the Fabreze and the Oxy Clean.  While forcing them to bathe in the big tub with their swim goggles to make it fun, I treated myself to whipped cream on my coffee and ignored the tattling screams for "Mommy!" and the flooding water sounds for 2 solid hours.

Tim and I went to Belgium and he to Germany.  It was a long way to go for 5 days, but I had fun because I didn't have to do anything but drink beer, look at ceramics, and eat waffles with one of my favorite friends, Irish Stephen.  Tim had to present a paper, get an award, and be fabulous.  We returned to a tight ship.  Susie, my mom, had been in charge.  Friends had helped make things go smoothly, and my 3-page, single-spaced list of helpful hints had been sufficient.
 Stephen wrapping up his new purchase.  Clearly the woman who owned the shop wasn't doing it well enough.
I preferred the one with the chrysanthemum.

Susie gushed, "They were wonderful! PERFECT ANGELS!!!!"  Nothing confirms my suspicion that I'm a terrible parent more that the words, "They are great UNTIL YOU WALK IN THE DOOR."  Both of the girls' Mason and Pearson hairbrushes had gone AWOL, and we were a library book short but that was the extent of the damage.  Why do my girls each have a hairbrush worth $100?  Because if they don't, my husband will take MY $100 hairbrush to brush their syrupy, toothpasty snarled locks, and mine will be the lost one.  One of my fancy boarding school friends was gifted a Mason and Pearson hairbrush by her dad when he returned from a business trip to England, and since then I've noticed them in posh people's houses and coveted them.  Is the stress over losing them worth having them?  I don't know.  Our inability to take care of anything is who we are as a couple, and we've accepted it about ourselves and each other.  Does this mean we shouldn't have anything nice?

I had another craft fair in May.  To start, the subtext of every conversation for 3 days being, "I'm here to sell pottery." sickens me.  I always despise selling pottery, but this one was more outstanding in its beastliness.  It was in Rittenhouse Square, a nice neighborhood in Philly.  I've noticed that nice neighborhoods all have eccentric crazies who linger around.  We, the crafts people, are sitting ducks for these rambling lunatics.  Then there was haggling.  I'm actually pretty nice about giving a free pot to someone who buys a few or taking a price down if it's a sweetheart who is agonizing over cost, but when someone asks me to lower a price, it's so gauling.  I always wonder what they do for a living and how they value their time to undervalue mine so brazenly.   I've also identified a new species of craft show attendee.  They come into the booth overflowing with praise.  They look at multiple things and hem and haw.  Finally they ask me if I have something I obviously don't, a 34 oz butter bell in pinks and browns?  a coffee cup that will also work as a fly swatter?  When I say, "no, I don't have that,"  They look at me and nod with a triumphant, slightly disdainful and faux apologetic look muttering "Oh...." as they walk out.  All of this theater is to say that I clearly don't have my finger on the pulse of the ceramic needs of society.  I end up making money at these things, but it's like pulling teeth, and is it worth all the work, the schlepping and the pressure it puts on Tim, the kids, my mom, and his mom????

Bringing the bikes to Rochester was Tim's genius.  The kids spent hours buzzing around on them.  Their complete exhaustion helped them sleep through the 40 degree nights in the RV with only summer blankets and sleepy suits.  Turning on the RV heat was out of the question.  Sunflower Rose threatens to completely implode if we run the heat for over 20 minutes.

We had another RV trip in Sunflower Rose this time to Rochester NY .  It is not a tight ship.  I don't have the personality type for an RV.  My friend Mia was one of those people who always had whatever you needed.  We called her "Prepared Mia."  She would use all of the pockets in her backpack and remember what she'd put in each.  Watching her pack for her round-the-world trip with her then fiancé was as shocking as watching someone do a Rubik's cube proficiently.  All of her clothes were in these tight coils, and she could see and access anything.  I'm sure she had some sort of ingenious dirty/clean system worked out.  Maybe I'm like that when I pack a kiln, but otherwise I'm not.  I can't even manage my 3 purse pockets.  In the RV, I just don't have the drive to use all of those filthy little stowing compartments, so everything that the kids don't throw on the floor ends up there as the thing pitches and sways like a boat in a gail.  8 miles to the gallon, non-functioning wipers, and having to scream "are you buckled?" to miserable, bored kids every 12 minutes doesn't help either.  We've taken a really fun trip in it that all 3 kids will remember, and now we can sell it...

I'm trying to smile to avoid feathering lipstick and attempting an unwrinkled forehead for the photograph.  The result is a little intense, don't you think?  Can you believe I birthed that face with that TINY nose?????

I'm celebrating the decision to sell Sunflower Rose by vowing (again) to get healthy and write more.  This morning I went for a 1.5 hour long walk along the Skuykill river.  I wore knee socks, clogs, a Susie skirt and a cute top.  I had a talk with my good leg.  I told it that it was in charge and the slacker leg would have to keep up. I focussed on good posture and my "smiling is the new botox" mantra.  I flounced along happily for 2 hours, and my hips were fine.  Stretching my limbs afterwards in my skirt was the only time I coveted a spandex something to cover my ass.  Last week I'd donned workout clothes and real sneakers for the trek.  I ended up limping by the end of it, and throughout the walk I was comparing my barely-walking self to the perky joggers flying by.  I saw Richard running in agony.  I asked him what he was doing, and he responded, "Trying unsuccessfully to stave off middle age."  Perhaps my limp is shoe-related and perhaps it is because an 80-year-old woman stole my right leg and gave one of hers, but I feel like such a poser if I actually wear athletic clothing.  

I got a good little workout, but I did it on the sly.  I did the same when I was attempting to become a full-time potter.  I worked at a law firm and started chipping away at my work schedule one day at a time until I was down to zero hours at the firm and 60 at my studio.  I've always seen that as a weird character flaw.  I'm so afraid of failure that I sneak around when I go for what I want.  I'm going to embrace my furtive attempts at success; it's not going to change.

As I approached a picturesque bridge on my flouncy walk, I squinted at the canvasses of 6 older women in a Monday morning oil painting class.  One of them was clearly experienced.  Her bridge was really coming along.  She was going through all of the measuring motions. with her one eye closed holding up a vertical.  I've always been too lazy to be any good at rendering.  I was wondering how she was going to treat the graffiti on the top wall of the bridge.  I imagined she was probably going to ignore it and do a really boring picturesque painting, but I was fantasizing that she'd customize it with Graffitied "Menopause sucks!" or "FUCK FIBER." I'm sure if I'd said something to her she'd have thought I was one of those weird, posh-neighborhood crazies who corner people and say absurd things.
 Now that the bikes are such a big part of our lives, Steel could not bear another minute of Princess bike torture.  Thank God for spray paint and duct tape.  Toby's too-boyish bike got an upgrade as well.  JP started the gold trend.  He's such an amazing cross between Elvis and Evil Knievel