Thursday, October 13, 2016

Death, parenting, playdates and the usual miscommunications

I woke up yesterday to a message from an old friend, Maria, telling me her ex had died.  I had always loved that guy.  His name was Tim Cloonan.  His eyes went down at the corners, and he designed and built base guitars in a space next to mine.  He'd come in daily for his mail, and we'd chat for a short while because both of us were alone all day being craftspeople, and we had similar gripes with UPS.  Maria had bought a wedding gift for him and his new wife from me.  I hadn't seen him in a while, but I still felt close to him.  Upon hearing of his death, I thought, "Oh geez.  This is going to be on Facebook."  I wanted to tell our old nanny.  She knew him through us and because her boyfriend, also a guitar maker, worked with him.  I texted him the news because he tends to be less fragile than she.  

I rode my bike to work.  I got sadder and sadder as the ride went on.  When I arrived at my studio, I got a call from a guy who did not know Tim chastising me for texting and not having called about the death.  How quickly my grief turned to rage.  I was shaking.  I could not believe that someone was lecturing me on etiquette on a day that they knew I'd lost a friend.  He was understanding and contrite.  He had projected his anger at someone in his life who'd texted rather than called onto me.  He apologized.  He asked that I not mention his phone call when I eventually talked to his roommate.  I know it's not traditional, but I love hearing things via text.  I can process the news on my my own or with my husband.  I don't have to speak or be evaluated on my response.  Clearly I'll think twice before I do it again, though.

At the end of the day, I called the nanny's boyfriend because the contrite friend told me he was suffering and needed to speak to someone on the phone.  During the entire phone call he discussed the inadequacies of texting.  I came away from the conversation so sad that I couldn't just spend the day visualizing Tim Cloonan's beautiful face and lovely voice.  Instead I was processing how much it hurt that someone needed to make me wrong when my intentions were to be kind.

I'm not used to death.  Last blog I was marveling at being with family in Montana and seeing little snippets of traits that have manifested in my children.  I lost an Aunt last November.  My aunt was a Kinder.  I know Karen would have been my friend had we been contemporaries, and that's not just because she was a Sagittarius.  My senior year in college, I'd brought a friend to visit with Aunt Karen and my Uncle Carl.  It was great.  She lived her life on Nantucket.  She was a kindergarten teacher and then she was a librarian.  She sent the coolest books to my kids.  She and Carl were both into the environment and healthy food way before it was chic.  

After Karen's death, her daughter, Katherine came to visit me in Philly because her daughter was spending a weekend at Swarthmore trying to decide between it and Tufts.  Katherine is my first cousin, but I know Tim's first and second cousins better than I know her.  First of all, she's 6'2".  She has Kinder hands which means they are like slim flippers.  She walked in the door, and Steel said immediately, "CAN I DO YOUR NAILS????"  Katherine gleefully obliged even though she's raised her family on a farm in Vermont without any access to the vile chemicals one finds in nail polish.  During her manicure, Katherine and I discussed "Kinder genes."  Her mom could not negotiate opening things.  The well-designed cardboard boxes for vegan spelt crackers would be tragically torn apart with no hope for the little tab-tucking closures.  This was my experience with my dad; his cardboard tearing usually involved a stream of expletives to brighten up every new box of Raisin Bran.  I, too, open the half and half on both sides of the carton.  I consistently render "zip seal" packaging useless on the carrots and craisins by using scissors to open the other side.  It's nice to know that it's genetic.  Every time Steel slams her 54 pound body against a door that says "pull;" she looks at me and says, "Yep! I'm a Kinder!!!!"  The beat goes on; rest in Peace, Karen.

My kids aren't used to death or anything bad, really.  I always wonder if my kids aren't going to turn out as well as my niece and nephew or my godchildren because, unlike those kids, my kids don't really have true hardships.  Last spring we were listening to "Where the Red Fern Grows" in the minivan on the way to school.  We carpool with another family.  Their dad is violent, bi-polar and was in jail for assaulting a police officer.  The boy was listening to the audio and said, "I remember this!  I saw the movie!!!"  I asked him if he cried like crazy, and he said, "NO!"  I was ribbing him that he thinks he'll never cry in a movie, but on his first date with a girl he'll be blubbering at the movie theater.  He responded, "I won't ever cry at a movie.  I know it's not real life."  Shit...I guess when you've had something in real life to cry about you can make that distinction.  Our lovely California nieces have had to confront their dad's prostate cancer.  He caught it early and had successful surgery, but still, I'm sure it's been hard for them.  When Tim and his brothers had to go get theirs checked, he told me that I should do mine as well "even though I'm not technically related to Mike."  I'm not sure Tim is going to live down not knowing that women don't have prostate glands.  His is fine, though :)

On a lighter note, this year Toby and I have a little hang out time while Steel does gymnastics on Mondays and Wednesdays.  JP opts to stay at home by himself.  Usually I hide all access to the internet although 2 weeks ago, Steel and I had our first bet.  It was $5 on whether or not JP was going to be on the computer when we returned.  She bet, "no;"  I won.  She cried for an HOUR about the $5!  That was my first clue that the only way to motivate my children is money.  I had a cognizant flash before we left that Toby needed to pee.  I didn't follow through with it, so as soon as we'd dropped Steel off, parked the car, and started our fun walk in Chestnut Hill, Toby started to wiggle.  She needed to pee PRONTO.  We ducked into the co-op grocery store, and while she peed, I told her not to flush, as I was going after her.  This is our little pattern.  Maybe the mutual desire to pee is the thing that makes having kids when you're older not so bad.  Successfully finding nits in kids' hair while trying to avoid admitting that I'm far-sighted is the thing that makes me wish I were a young mom.  

I'm on my swampy butt in front of my potter's wheel lately. My muscles don't roll with sitting, and when it's hot, my skin objects as well.  I got up from my pee with Toby at the co op, and told her that I have a painful zit on my ass.  She looked at it and said, "It's white!!!"  At her request, I squeezed it.  She lamented that she didn't have one to squeeze.  I told her she was tempting the fates.  She'd have big pimples on her face if she didn't watch it.  She responded calmly, "At least I'll get to pop them!"  One of my ex-roommates used to collect her boyfriend's belly button lint in a cute, little, lidded box.  Now the girls have started scab collection, so why should I be surprised by relishing a good zit explosion?   Speaking of explosions.  Toby told us last year that when she gets let out of school for recess she likes to be first in line, and she runs as fast as she can to the log.  She told us she farts the whole time she's running.  I love thinking about that.  She still says cute things like, "deaf in the eyes" to describe blind people.  She brings home hilarious, phonetically-written schoolwork.  I'm so glad her teacher is privy to the fact that our cat poops in the garden.
We are starting to enter the realm of our kids' dictating their own social lives.  The, "I get along with the parents, so let's all hang out." days are numbered.  I just learned that Jack Peter doesn't actually like the kid that would come over on Fridays because his mom and I got along.  The kid covered all of our toilet seats with Vaseline.  Maybe my relationship with the mom isn't all that important.  
We are dealing with parents we don't know.  I had a HIDEOUS miscommunication based on a playdate the girls had.  We realized at soccer on a Saturday morning that another family who lives right around the corner has 2 girls the same ages from the same school.  I hastily invited their girls over to diffuse the fallout from an aborted Toby playdate with her BFF.  It turned out to be a fabulous 4 hours where the girls ravaged my make up, their own closets, and I was left to garden.  At one point they all decided they needed fake nails.  I often let Toby and Steel go to the 2-block-away CVS, so when they'd gathered a posse of 4, of course, I let them go.  They all returned, and noxious glue and plastic prevailed for the rest of the afternoon.  The only part of the visit that gave me pause was when I was preparing for a date night, and there was a knock on my door.  I was naked.  One would assume that, as a naked person with non-family members in the house, I would not respond to the knock with, "Yeah?!"  Steel's friend came in looking for a bobby pin.  I didn't want to make her feel weird about my being naked, so I told her where they were and left her to forage while I dressed.

2 weeks later, Steel is begging to go to the neighbor girls' house after soccer.  It's not ideal because Toby has plans, so I leave Steel to negotiate.  Steel comes back and tells me that her friend's mom is angry that I let them all go to CVS!  Now I have to run home and write an email explaining that it never occurred to me that letting them go to CVS would be a problem.  I was wrong and had no right to let them go on their own and was so sorry. AND by the way, I had inadvertently put their older daughter in the position of seeing my saggy-boobed, pre-menopausal self without clothes on...
The crazy footnote to the story is that these two sisters were the ones approached by a crazy person in the winter.  The girls screamed and ran home.  The parents posted this information on a listserv, and it was a great segue into a conversation about strangers in our house.  Those two girls maintain rockstar status for how they reacted to the situation.  This fact did cross my mind as I OK'd the trip to CVS.  What should have gone through my head was, "these parents have PTSD from this hideous experience IN OUR NEIGHBORHOOD!"  What actually went through my addled brain was, "Oh! I know they let their girls out of their sight sometimes as well..."

That same day I had another frantic e-mail with Jack Peter's amazing new teacher.  She'd contacted me about his 3 homework referrals in the first 2 weeks of school.  I guess I'm not a helicopter parent, because I had no idea he wasn't getting his shit done.  I'd responded with my usual, wordy, life-explaining e-mail which evoked her response of, "This is the funniest e-mail I've ever gotten from a parent."  We back and forth-ed about JP and his strengths and weaknesses.  

I have no idea how the school chooses which teacher for which kid.  I obsess over which one they are going to get and read so much into these decisions.  No one knows how these decisions are made.  It's just another example of how much precious and limited pre-menopausal brain space I give to things that have no resolution.  I read a book about menopause over the summer.  Its premise was that stopping bleeding is not the anomaly in the life of a woman.  She only spends 40-ish years bleeding.  During that time she gets an influx of nurturing hormones that make her happy to prepare different lunches for every kid, do laundry with every free moment, and be loving, focussed, non-confrontational and hospitable.  It's the rest of the time that defines who she really is, when she's a spoiled, needy pre-pubescent child or a post-menopausal woman who no longer wants to dedicate every waking moment to someone other that herself.  We've been duped to think that we have gone crazy when we stop taking care of everyone when in fact, we are back to being selfish and sane.  Maybe I just liked the title, "the madwoman in the volvo"

Back to JP's teacher, an inquiry by me about some dumb, online reading comprehension program that other 5th grade teachers are assigning lead his thoughtful, smart, funny, methodical teacher to believe that I wasn't happy with her decisions.  She actually told me that if I wanted another teacher, she'd arrange it although she'd miss Jack Peter very much.  I haven't been that misunderstood in a long time.  She'd mentioned something in one of her e-mails about putting JP in the corner with a dunce hat on or giving him some kind of Hester Prynn-esque scarlet letter "A."  She thought later that I didn't know she was kidding.  I'm actually happy about the whole thing.  We trick or treat at her house.   I think I'll wear a dunce cap for Halloween, and then when Christmas comes I'll make her a cup AND a belt buckle with enormous scarlet "A's" on them.  I'll write something about how she gets an "A," so it'll seem fine to JP, but hopefully it will crack her up.  I'll take any excuse to make an adulterous-looking belt buckle.

Back to playdates.  Steel and I were driving home from a play date.  I'd arrived at the play date looking pretty put-together.  I like to look pretty on Sunday mornings because then people might think I've been to church.  Now that I don't know the parents piety is a good thing to convey.  I'd returned to pick her up looking like I'd been through a spin cycle and hurried her into the mini van cocoon.  On our way home, we passed a CVS with an upturned shopping cart on the berm below the store.  Steel wanted it.  I told her that nothing would come from our owning a CVS shopping cart except that people would then know we were the kind of people who steal CVS shopping carts.  Steel responded that Fern Duffy told her that "When people are drunk, they run funny, and they almost always have a shopping cart."  I love 8-year-old world views.

We went to Kohl's to start our back-to-school shopping.  I was focussed on $5.99 leggings, hip uniform khaki/leggings (kheggings?) and on-sale bathing suits for $9.00 that might work for next year.  We survive on hand me downs, but the hand-me-down bathing suits tend to make that creaking sound of dead elastic, sag in the bums and are see-through.  I'd actually hidden a bathing suit that I thought Steel might like.  Sneaking into Kohl's and digging out a hidden bathing suit tickled her to no end.   I was contemplating the 7/8 versus the 10's; Steel will be 9.  Why do kid's sizes leap 20% of their lives?  It's as if I had to decide between my current height 5'9" and 80% of my height which would be 4'6", and my weight of 148 lb and the next size down being 118 lb.

Steel grabbed herself a padded bra to try on.  I had to witness her trying it on, admiring it, putting her shirt over it, thinking it looked stupid, then putting it on via stepping into it, admiring it and attempting to again put her shirt over it.  I told her she's 9, and she's not getting a padded bra. "When you actually have to wear a bra, you'll look back fondly on these days."  During the ride home, she lamented that because she's built like me she won't have big boobs.  It reminded me of her giving my boobs a sound effect.  She had been talking about her friend's mom who had just had her 7th child.  She said "A's mom's boobs are like this."  She made an appreciative sound as she gestured out in front of her chest.  "Mom, your boobs are kind of like this!"  She made a swooshing sound and gestured with her hands to indicate two ski jumps starting at her neck and hurtling downwards at great speed.  Who knew my boobs came with a downward swoosh sound effect?  Boobs have a lot of currency in my brother's family.  His step son has a new girlfriend.  The old one was ADORABLE!  She looked a lot like my niece which means a 12-year-old, elf-like, could-be-a-strawberry-shortcake character.  The new girlfriend looks like she's 30.  She's pretty, but the truly remarkable thing is that she's tall and slim and has massive, gravity-defying, round boobs that she's not afraid to emphasize.  My brother refers to her as, "the upgrade."

my niece who does, indeed, look like a character out of Strawberry Shortcake.  Even with her tongue out she's cute.

Steel and I returned home and were gloating about the amount of clothing we'd gotten at Kohl's.  It seems that they pay you to shop at Kohl's with all of their weird discounts and coupons.  I said, "How do they sell ALL OF THIS for $87???"  Theo, our 16-year-old French Canadian responded, "slavery."  Of course I know this to be true.  It caught me, though.  I will drive to 3 different grocery stores to make sure that the pork I'm buying was humanely raised, and yet I'll buy clothes that were sewn together by kids my kids' ages working 16-hour days.  My mother in law said, "The kids who have those jobs are probably so much better off than the ones who don't!"  Living with a Republican has its perks.  Carol was with us for much of the summer while her house was getting re-built.  Honestly having her for the summer was like being in a parenting spa.  She would do ALL of our laundry on Thursdays.  Poor Theo had been threatened by his parents that they'd be PISSED if he didn't do his own laundry while staying at our house.  He'd see the neat, folded piles on his bed and panic.  Most days at work around 4:30 I'd get a text saying, "What should I do to get dinner started?" or "I'm at the store, give me a list of what to get!"  It was kind of annoying that she'd never let us pay for the groceries.  In general, the kids behaved better with her around, but sometimes having her witness the chaos was ever-so-slightly embarrassing.  Those "drawbacks" are nothing compared to the benefits of having her around.  We miss her.

So Theo stayed with us for 6 weeks this summer.  He's the son of one of Tim's best friends.  He came to work on Tim's new project.  I'm quite  sure he won't be having kids anytime soon, if at all, after his summer with us.  The girls TORTURED him constantly.  Steel definitely had a crush.  She would scream dramatically and run downstairs saying, "MOM! I just saw something DISGUSTING!!!"  "WHAT?????"  "Theo WITH HIS SHIRT OFF!!!!!"  Because he's French, he'd get misty-eyed about his favorite Aunt who would give them foie gras.  One night he made dinner for us.  It was a lovely Risotto.  He was sad because the parmesan that  my mother in law had bought was pasteurized.  We started to call him "Prince Pondi-theo (after Prince Pondicherry from Charlie and the Chocolate factory)

 It was great to have him.  We went on a couple mountain bike rides together.  Apparently the seat on his bike kept collapsing down, so maybe he literally won't be fathering children after staying with us.  I am SO GLAD he's a heavy sleeper.  He was in JP's room most of the summer.  At one point he left for a couple weeks, so JP went back in there.  I came in late one night after a date night.  Normally Tim is the one who has to sneak in an peek at the kids before he can sleep.  I was tipsily looking at the body of what I thought to be my son.  I could not figure out why he looked SO BIG!!!!  Imagine if poor Theo had awakened to my teetering self looming above and staring at him.
(Wouldn't it be just disgusting to see Theo with his shirt off???)

We had the first 2 days off last week because of the Jewish New Year.  Tim took the kids one of the days because he was going to Washington state for the rest of the week.  They had to go from work site to work site with him; they stopped by the office/my studio.  The kids hadn't eaten in 4 hours.  There is no "bag of snacks" when dad is in charge.  I split the second holiday with another dad.  He took them to a park to run around with all of the other kids in our hood.  A mom had organized this, and I let him know.  I will say nothing sexist or offensive about what makes social things happen in kids' worlds, but suffice it to say that a penis is rarely involved.  After the running around part, I had them for lunch and the rest of the afternoon.  I don't allow screen time, so there was complaining, hair dying and baking.  The girls were talking through one of their cupcakes.  His name was "Paul."  Who names a cupcake, "Paul???"  Then again, Toby (whose name really should be SLOW-by because she's so damned slow) has been talking about a new kid named Larry.  Who names a first grader LARRY?

JP got a blue dye job.  It went really blue because we'd bleached it before the summer for him to look like an authentic Danish Tycho Brahe for his project.  Theo was instrumental in the creation of the Tycho mustache.  Putting that thing on different people was en entire evening of hilarity.  I think I look like a pretty great 70's country singer trying to break into the rock world.  Theo looked like a slave owner.  I'm officially the GreenWoodsCharter School hair-dye mom.  I'm proud of my work.

The one thing I regret is not speaking French all summer with Theo.  I'm still getting a lot of guff from the kids about practicing piano.  They just don't want to do it.  I told them that as long as they don't have a foreign language at school, they will be playing piano.  Steel insists that she wants private French lessons.  When Tim was gone, I lost it.  All of the "leaving stuff on the floor," "griping about piano," etc. worked my last nerve.  There's been another "problem" lingering in the air.  We started a "paying kids for their good grades" thing when JP was having troubles at school.  Then Steel comes along.  She loves school.  She had to give a presentation and was gleefully saying, "I get to get up on the PODIUM!"  (At her age I would have been TERRIFIED by that prospect.)  In 2nd grade kids get graded for way too many things.  I think she got an a+ in nose-picking.  Now each of those A's is worth $2.  We owed Steel somewhere around $80 for her final report card.  We owed all of them a chunk of change, and I'd not paid up all summer long.

In disciplining desperation, I wrote the totals that we owe each kid in 3 columns in a blue notebook.  I told them I'd pay them what I owe them by Halloween.  Since then, I've been docking them.  Steel will take the tags off of those new kheggings and THROW THE TAGS ON THE FLOOR.  I charge $.25 for everything I find on the floor or for every object that does not get back to where it should go.  A pair of socks and shoes together is $1 total.  I'm not messing around.  Hitting is $1.  Lying is $2.  Complaining has varying costs based on my irritation level.  It's WORKING!  First of all, JP is much tidier and complains less, so he's losing less money, but that's good because he made less money as he only got graded for things that actually matter.  The girls are whining, fighting slobs, so they are losing money hand over fist.  It's perfect...

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