Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Day of the Flying Popcorn

 

See, Kid #2 (age 10), having seen a lunch box on the counter, tossed it into his backpack without knowing there already was a lunch box in there. Kid #2 had just boarded the bus — to sit with the other five masked passengers  — and headed to elementary school, which meant I needed to reunite the absconded lunch box with the correct kid, who happened to be Kid #3 (age 5), who was having a fit on the floor because he couldn't get his mask on without help. 

Kid #3 also had ripped his school-supplied name tag off his backpack, and I was frantically trying to find it.

Chuck had lazed in bed an extra hour because he hadn't slept well. As I'd raced around the house making breakfasts, making school lunches, making coffee, corralling school papers, yelling at the kids for leaving their socks lying around, scrambling for clean masks, listening to work emails ping my phone, and feeding the dog, I'd been cursing him — and everyone else — under my breath. 

Kid #1 (age 13), who is remote, part-time learning for middle school, stumbled downstairs and asked where the dog was.

"Oh no," I said. The dog was still outside. 

When I opened the door, there she was on the stoop, with poop smeared into her neck. 

"CHUCK!" I screamed. "I could use some damn help."

Kid #3 stopped his meltdown and calmly said, "Don't say damn, it's a bad word."

Chuck stumbled downstairs and sniffed the air. "It smells."

"The dog rolled in poop. You're welcome to give her a bath," I said. 

"I have a Zoom call," he said — without an ounce of regret, I might add. 

"I guess I'll just do it," I said. "I guess I'll just do EVERYTHING."

That's when I threw the popcorn across the room.

Chuck, Kid #1 and Kid #3 watched the bag hit the window and fall to the ground. 

"I'll do it after my call," Chuck said quickly.

"I'll help," Kid #1 said. 

"I'm sorry," I said. "I'm not having a very good morning."

No one moved to pick up the popcorn.

I finally got Kid #3 into the car. When I sat down in the driver's seat, I sat in a pool of water. Lovely. It had rained the night before and we'd forgotten to close the sunroof. The entire front row of the car, and now my ass, was drenched. 

I dropped Kid #3 off at school, covering my wet ass — which probably looked like I'd peed my pants — as best I could while handing my kid off to the teacher. I explained I'd be back in 20 with his lunch. 

I drove to Kid #2's school and picked up the lunch — while covering my ass — then drove it back to Kid #3's school and left it at the front desk. 

It was 9 a.m.

That left a glorious 5 hours to change my pants, get some work done and maybe, just maybe, sit down and drink my coffee.

Then, at 10:30 a.m. my phone rang. It was the nurse at Kid #2's school.

"He's looking a little green," she said. "He would like to come home."

"Can you get Kid #2 at school?" I asked Chuck.

"Didn't he just get there?"

"He's sick to his stomach."

"I have a Teams call," he said.

"Really?" I asked.

"Really!" he said.

I got back into the car, forgetting about the damp seat and once again enjoying wet ass, and drove to the school. Kid #2 was sitting outside on a bench, looking white as a sheet.

"He thinks he's bus sick?" the nurse said.

"It happens," I said. Back into the car we went.

As we started to drive home, I joked with him, "You had to take two lunches today, huh? Two sandwiches!"

"Don't mention food," he begged.

"Two bags of chips! Two apples!"

"Open the door!" he cried.

But it was too late. He projectile vomited against the car door, his lap and feet.

"I don't think I can take the bus anymore," he moaned.

When we pulled into the driveway, the dog was waiting on the steps, poop and all.

"I feel better," he said. "Should I go back to school?"

"Absolutely not. Go inside and get some clean clothes on. Then please bring me the dog shampoo and dish soap."

I got the hose and called the dog over. I soaked her, scrubbing her neck clean. Chuck rapped on the window and gave me a "what are you doing I said I'd do that" gesture. I shrugged. I opened the car and sprayed down what I could, dousing the door with soap. A long, satisfying trail of soapy water ran down the driveway, catching fallen leaves on its way. The dog shook herself then found a spot in the sun and sat down. 

I turned off the hose. I was soaking wet, from head to toe. I went inside to change. Again. 

When I went back downstairs, the bag of popcorn was still on the floor. 

It still is today.




 




Friday, August 7, 2020

We got power! And this time, no fleas

It's been awhile since we've had a hurricane hit Connecticut. When Hurricane Isaias blasted us this week, I immediately thought of this blog and a) how much I miss it and b) how I'm so grateful I have this record of our past life in Mulletville Lite. 

Take 2011, when Hurricane Irene hit and we lost power for weeks. We were in the middle of a flea infestation, which halted my vacuuming and laundry-doing efforts. The kids had double ear infections. 

But what I didn't write about — as I was deep in the throes of electricity-less misery — was how every morning, our neighbors would walk over so we could cook breakfast on camping equipment in our driveway. We'd walk the neighborhood and survey the lack of progress on downed trees, pour some more whiskey into our coffee, then set up lawn chairs and watch the kids play tag in the yard. 

When the work crews closed the main road and diverted traffic through our small neighborhood, we gathered a supply of traffic cones (file this under "things you didn't know your neighbors had in their basement") and turned the street into a one-lane road. Drunk on whiskey, we were giddy at how it slowed people down.  

For our quiet little street, that was a lot of excitement. And remember kids, there was no TV or YouTube...

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy knocked out power so the town postponed Halloween a week then we got a nor-easter. The neighborhood folks and I took the kids trick-or-treating, blizzard and all. We changed Junior's knight costume into a downhill skier costume, and I sweat through my winter coat as I carried a rotund 40-pound Everette up and down the streets, knocking on people's doors, asking for candy. People looked at us like, What the hell are you doing here? Halloween is OVER.

They were right.

Now here we are on the other side of the state. Last year, we moved closer to New Haven and gave up our cozy neighborhood setting for a house on a hill that overlooks a neighborhood. When Hurricane Isaias knocked out our power a few days ago, I missed my old neighbors, with all the fervor and want of a lovesick teen staring at a poster of a boy band crush. (My God, do teenagers even still hang posters on their walls? Do they even still have boy bands?) 

But my neighbors texted me pictures of sternos. And told me stories of cutting their spouse's hair in nightgowns on the porch, with clippers hooked up to a generator, wearing earmuffs to muffle the sound. And our new neighbors walked our yard with us, ooohing and ahhing over downed trees. They wouldn't drink whiskey at 8am, but we did share bags of ice and extra coolers.

Here's some gratuitous tree carnage:

 

It's enough to make you forget about COVID-19. Oh right, that

Here's hoping that if you lost power, you'll get it back today. But more importantly, that if you're aimlessly walking a neighborhood, looking for people to drink whiskey with while you gawk at tree limbs, you'll come find us.  

Bonus points if you have a spare road cone and wear it on your head like a party hat.

 

Monday, May 18, 2020

Make laundry fun — and punishable


I don't know why there's so much effing laundry. Yes, there are five of us, but we aren't going anywhere.

Part of me feels smug like, Yah, we are so on it we get dressed just because. The other part of me is muttering under my breath WHY THE HELL IS EVERYONE WEARING SO MANY CLOTHES DURING A PANDEMIC?

Today, as I carefully balanced another load on top of this leaning tower, Junior walked in and asked if he had any clean underwear. I pointed to a wad midway down and told him to get it if he dared. He reached in and gingerly retrieved his briefs while I begged him not to knock it over.

"If you knock it over..." I said — then I had a brilliant idea.

Jenga! With laundry!

Laundry Jenga.

Yes.

The premise is the same: you reach in and grab what you want — all the while trying not to knock down the tower. The person who knocks it over has to put all the laundry away. If you try to flee the scene of the crime, you have to wear Chuck's dirty socks around your neck like a necklace and sleep with his smelly socks under your pillowcase.

Why didn't I think of this sooner?

Shakespeare may have written three of his famous tragedies during turbulent times (blah, blah, blah) but did he create Laundry Jenga? The answer is no. 

I did. And I want royalties.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

In this new normal, I have never parented so fucking hard



Only one day left until the weekend — which more and more feels like a safe island refuge between tsunami-ravaged weekdays. 

On weekend mornings, in our house of three school-aged kids, there is rare quiet.

The kids can sleep as late as they want. They can play video games and stare at their devices for as long as they want. They can do whatever the hell they feel like doing. I don't care. Chuck doesn't care. Simply, we don't have the brain cells left to care.

The first few weeks of Covid-19 were so strange, but so liberating. There were no after-school clubs or baseball practices or lunches to pack or soccer clinics or band concerts. We have three sons, age 5, 9 and 12, and we had been living on a hamster wheel of "We just have to..." for years.

"We just have to cram down sandwiches in the car on the way to practice so we can get home and do homework."

"We just have to drop off Kid #1 here then drive here to get Kid #2 then get back home so Kid #3 can get to the doctor's."

Then BAM, Coronication, and all the have-tos were gone.

We were, simply, home, and the possibilities of what we could accomplish seemed endless. I bought paint and crafts and books. Bins for organizing Legos. New ingredients to try new recipes. If Shakespeare wrote during the plague, I would too! Chuck was working from home, too, so I wasn't trying to accomplish my own work plus the kids' sports, homework and meals by myself. In those first few weeks, we did virtual yoga and baked cookies. We had game night.

It seemed strangely peaceful and ideal. We were finally off the hamster wheel.

But now, months into this new normal of work and school and laundry and dishes and bills and isolation and life, I find myself, like most other parents, utterly burnt out.

I scoffed this week at Teacher Appreciation gestures because just once, I'd like for someone — anyone — to acknowledge what parents are going through right now. Parents have become teachers, on top of everything else. We have lost childcare, grandparents, and babysitters. We navigate business meetings and deadlines alongside math homework and reading logs. We worry we won't be able to feed our family.

We are one big amalgamation of everything we were and are and don't yet understand. There aren't enough hours in the day — and there isn't any help.





Every morning, Chuck and I look at the day ahead and strategize like fucking crazy people.

"I have a Zoom at noon and something due at 3. Or was it due Tuesday? What's today?"

"Wednesday, I think. Kid #1 has an assignment due at 4 and a virtual classroom at 9."

"Can you help at 9? I have a Zoom at 10 and 2 and a call at 1."

"Kid #2 has a live stream Google class at 2 and didn't finish his work from yesterday. What's the login for Koala classroom again?"

"Ok, you take the 2 and I'll change my Zoom to a phone call. Or was it a Teams meeting?"

"Can you finish your work and jump on his virtual class? Don't forget he has art class too, and then independent reading."

"Yes, but then I need an hour to prepare for my Teams meeting. Or was it Whatsapp?"

"Hold on, my boss is calling."

"KIDS! QUIET! Dad's on a work call!"

"My laptop is frozen!"

"QUIET! His mic is on!"

"I can't get into Google classroom!"



There are passwords and logins and technical problems. Kids can't sit for hours staring at computer screens. They need help. They need someone to decipher assignments and answer questions. It doesn't matter if you have your own shit to do. You're supposed to be 100% on board for your child's education, right?

And don't forget to get them outside for fresh air, sunshine, and exercise. Oh, and to make a sign to let their teachers know they miss them. And put those hearts and thank you signs in the windows. Oh, and upload a new video so their friends can see them. Make them nutritional meals. Try to learn to cut their hair and teach them French. Don't forget to make them turn off the TV. Oh, and schedule a video call with the dentist so he can be sure they're still brushing their teeth.

Then, there are the emotions. Don't forget to console your kids when they miss their friends and have nightmares because you accidentally left the evening news on. Try to keep their spirits up, even though your own are fragile and annihilated. Try not to let them hear you bickering with your spouse, even though you've been together for a zillion hours a day and just need a minute to yourself.




Try to be everything you can be every second of the day, every day of the week. Oh, and by the way, it may be this way until January 2021.  

I keep thinking about my co-worker. She tried to attend a mandatory Zoom meeting this morning from a commuter parking lot. She'd been driving her toddler around for hours and finally got her daughter to fall asleep. Her daughter, of course, woke up just as she turned off the engine. 

"I'm sorry," she said, shouting over her screaming toddler. "I have to go."

I keep thinking about her car ride home. The inconsolable child. Driving around. Praying for peace. Dreading the work that would be waiting at home. Knowing the next day would be more of the same.

Like so many of us, moving but going nowhere — and the real shitter is, gas is so fucking cheap.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The best places to hide your booze when you're trying to parent a middle schooler

Anywhere, ok? Just stash that shit wherever you can.

But seriously.

We've been living in our new town for just about four months and let me tell you, this transitioning business is dicey. Cam, our four year old, has settled in nicely with his new friends at school, but I saw that coming. I wish all friendships could be as easy as Hey, I like blue dinosaurs and pick my nose too, wanna be my best friend? 



Everett, our eight year old, has settled in too, though the first few weeks of school were rocky. He missed his best friend. He didn't know who to sit with at lunch. He played alone at recess.



Thankfully that's all evening out.

Junior, in middle school (that gut-wrenching, unforgiving cesspool of hormones, popularity, acne and homework), is the one struggling. He, too, misses his best friend and hates lunchtime and the cafeteria.



"I don't matter to anyone," he told me and Chuck last night. There were tears. "I don't know who to sit with. No would notice if I never came back."

He thought he was in tight with a group, but suddenly he didn't have a seat, and no one seemed to care. My heart broke.

I know how he feels. I'm pretty sure everyone knows how he feels.

I moved in middle school and remember all too well standing by the entrance of the cafeteria, wondering who the hell to sit with. I felt invisible. Ditto for transferring from one college to the next. And for starting new jobs and meeting new parents at birthday parties and play dates.

Even now, as a freelancer, I'm that transient person who is sometimes on-site, sometimes included in staff meetings or parties. I joke to Chuck that if I didn't show up for a few weeks, no one would notice. And it's true. I did show up one morning to find the office empty. They'd planned a staff retreat and forgotten to tell me.



D'oh.

Juxtaposed against — and exacerbating — the sting of unfamiliarity is the cushy, soul-affirming goodness of being known. I didn't realize how much I've been missing it until a few weeks ago, when I went back to our old house, which we finally have on the market.

While I was there, my neighbor stopped in and hugged me. Really hugged me. She asked about my kids and family. Another neighbor stopped by to tease me about my summer wreathe still on the front door. It was easy and fabulous and so different than the shallow and sometimes strained conversations I have with the mothers at Cam's preschool, who, like Junior said, might not notice if I never came back.

It's going to work out, I know. Junior needs to build history with his new classmates. I need to build history here too. Make memories and share experiences. Join clubs and play sports. All of that takes time, patience, vodka.

So much vodka. Maybe Jello shots too (for me, not for Junior, hello).



I can't help but marvel over how our children's struggles mirror our own and how they look to us, as we are floundering — like desperate fish on the shore — alongside them, for guidance. I want to yell, "Hell if I know!" but I can't, I'm supposed to know shit.

It's all part of the human experience, but damn if it doesn't hurt. And damn if I haven't been having reoccurring dreams of my own middle school traumas, especially now that Junior has discovered Axe body spray. If I close my eyes, I'm back in the gymnasium, slow dancing with my sweaty crush who dumped me two dances later for a girl who would go to second base.


Oh, how I cried.

I wouldn't do middle school again for a billion dollars. I tell Junior that. Chuck tells him that too. Even as Junior is crying and hugging us and he no longer fits in our arms because he's taller than us, we tell him, we promise, it'll get better.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Oh baby, can't we give it one more try? Or, does anyone want to buy a house in Connecticut? I didn't think so



We haven’t sold our old house in Mulletville Lite yet. Two months ago, when we moved out, we ran out of room in the damn moving truck, so we took only what we absolutely needed.

Life in our new house was glorious those first few weeks, when all we had was what we absolutely needed.

If we could have left all the other shit at the old house, we would have. But if we ever hope to sell it, it has to be empty. Obviously. So for the last two months, whenever we have a spare moment, Chuck and I flip a coin to see who gets to make the hour-long pilgrimage back to Mulletville Lite to pack up the car and drive more stuff to our new house.

Every time, it seems, it’s me. And every time I go back, I walk into our old house and am dumbfounded by the amount of stuff that’s still there.

I blame the children.

No, really.

Before they arrived, Chuck and I enjoyed a minimalist lifestyle. When we drank all our booze we recycled the bottles, so they never accumulated. When we finished eating cereal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we recycled the boxes, so they never accumulated. There was no pre-, during- and post-pregnancy weight gain, so I owned maybe 1 pair of skinny jeans instead of 50. Ditto for Chuck. We slept in one bed, owned 1 blanket, and on Christmas gave each other 1 gift, which we recycled after we finished drinking it.

Then, bam, fucking kids. We SWORE we would never be “those parents” who let unlimited toys and useless crap into our home, but it happened. Grandparents snuck it in. Birthday parties happened. We loosened our stance.


Soon there were wooden trains, wooden train tracks, plastic trains, plastic train tracks, trucks, cars, bath toys, dress up clothes, teepees, marbles, Nerf guns and pellets, baseballs, remote control toys, robots, stuffed animals, figurines, Hot Wheels tracks, sparkly glue, video game consoles and controllers, kites, silly putty, bicycles, sleds, scooters, board games, books, stickers, coloring books, markers, soccer balls, bouncy balls, crayons, paint sets, easels, chalk, LEGOs, blocks, bubbles, lanterns, spy sets.


I’m not only disgusted by the amount of stuff my children have, I’m disgusted by the amount of time I’ve spent organizing and keeping track of it. I’ve probably lost 5 years of my life reuniting LEGO pieces with their sets, or sorting piles of cars and trucks, or chasing marbles down flights of stairs. Now, packing it up, I’m disgusted by the amount of broken plastic shit and useless junk I’m sending to landfills.

It’s not all the children’s fault, of course. Yes, they spent hours on the Island of Sodor and building LEGO sets, but we should have been more firm. And Chuck and I are just as guilty of accumulating stuff we don’t need. Candles, blankets, camping gear, picture frames. You name it, it’s in the basement. It needs to get the hell out of there — so what can’t go to Goodwill or animal shelters or local charities gets schelpped into the car and to our new house.

I won’t lie, though. I like going back to Mulletville Lite. It is kind of like having good break-up sex.

I get to stand in the kitchen, close my eyes and just remember what it was like to live there. I get to spend time in the neighborhood. There’s comfort in seeing the neighbor leaf blowing his leaves, in hearing the neighbor’s kids on their trampoline, in smelling the damp leaves through the windows. For those glorious few moments it’s just me and the old house.

Then I get to leave and be all kissy kissy with my new house.


I know it’s ending soon — we have to sell before our bank account is empty of its last few cents — but for now, I’m relishing these pilgrimages. Even though it’s a 3+ hour commitment. Even though during one ride, a mango-scented diffuser spilled all over the car, and I wanted to gauge my nostrils out.

Even though after stuffing the car full of the toy closet, I started laughing maniacally as I sped down I-91 at 11:30 at night because I felt like a whacked out Santa Claus, the beat-up car filled to the brim with toys, in the middle of October.

“It’s all toys they don’t even know they have!” I told Chuck when I climbed into bed after midnight that night. “Half of the toys are still in the box!”

Then I got an idea. An awful idea. I had a wonderful, awful idea.

“Why don’t we just wrap all the toys up again and give them to the kids for Christmas?” I said.

“Mmmmhmmm,” Chuck mumbled. Even though he was half-asleep, his hand wandered over.

“No more junk this year!” I said. “This is the year we’re the parents we said we wanted to be! This is the year we tell everyone, ‘No more gifts!’”

His hand kept wandering, as if to prove my point. I guess it really is never too late to try.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The things we shout out during sex when we are super stressed and preoccupied



Well, I can't believe it, but Chuck and I actually moved from Mulletville Lite — along with Junior, age 12, Everett, age 8, and Cam, age four. Plus one very old cat and one very grumpy dog.

That's where I've been the last month or so: packing, tripping over boxes, packing more, wondering how in the eff we accumulated so much shit, crying, leaping for joy, and unpacking.

I've also been Googling the snot out of moving topics, like:

Should we really have moved our family? Really?

Will my kids hate me for making them change schools?

When will I know I've made the right decision about ripping my children from everything they know and love?

Can we change our minds and move back?

When will it stop feeling like I'm in someone else's home?

Etc. Etc.

Making the decision to move from my childhood home and leave the neighborhood we had all grown to love was gut wrenching, but I had watched Chuck's health deteriorate the last few years from his long commute. Come Saturday, the man was laid out on the couch from driving 3+ hours a day from Mulletville Lite to New Haven.

When the new asshat governor was voted in and he started pushing for tolls and an increase in the gas tax, well, that was the icing on the cake.

Might as well hand over Chuck's paycheck, and his butt cheeks, to the state of Connecticut.



We'd been looking for a house for two years, but this spring, we really put the search on hyperdrive. We interviewed in other states (me, New Hampshire — too cold — and Chuck, Texas — too far away). We dragged the kids to open houses every Sunday. We chummied up to every realtor in the state, joining every MLS list we could.

During the day, Chuck and I texted each other potential homes with all the fervor and intent of lusty hornballs sharing porn. We scoured realtor.com and trulia.com and zillow.com with shameless abandon. It took MONTHS, and I worried I would shout out "Two car attached garage" during sex instead of "Yes! Yes!"

Thankfully we were so busy looking at houses, we weren't having much sex.

Then, this June, we found it: a house we could afford that was 15 minutes from Chuck's work. More than that, it was a house we could love. We went to see it three times. We brought our parents, then the kids. We put in an offer and bam, it was done.

So that's it. Two months later — exactly one week before school started — we fucking moved. And for the first month, I walked around our new house like, Where the hell are we? I expected someone to come home and ask us what we were doing in their house.

But we are growing into it, little by little.

It's an OLD house, with light switches in weird places and a shitload of cobwebs. For the longest time, if I had to find a switch in the dark, I put on kitchen gloves before I searched along a wall for the switch. I vacuumed up all kinds of leggy creatures. The attic looked like something out of Harry Potter. One night, while I was reading in bed, I watched a spider slowly slink down from the ceiling and land on my page. I contemplated having the kids sleep with earplugs, just in case a spider wandered...


...I can't even say it!

The windows are old, too. Some don't close at the top, which means all kinds of winged things sneak in. I have met every known species of moth. I'm sure, come winter, I'll have Swiss cheese for sweaters because, try as I might, I haven't been able to catch all the bastards. I'm sure, too, we are going to need those holey sweaters when the plastic wrap over the drafty windows stops working. But hey, we have Chuck, and his ass is intact!

So that's where I've been. Settling in. Trying to navigate new roads, enjoying the fact that Chuck is actually home for dinner and bedtime, and unpacking. Dear God, so much unpacking.


I can't lie though. Moving is hard. If you have kids, you have to help them adjust alongside yourself. We've experienced a rainbow of emotions, collectively and in our own spaces. I've thrown back a lot of vodka.

I try not to think about our old house too much. Like how the neighbors would text me if they noticed I left the side door open. I miss them so much my heart hurts. Or how I knew every creak of the stairs, the smell of every approaching season, the scuff marks on every wall, and the way the afternoon light filled the dining room. I watched my neighbors' children grow and vice versa. That house saw new babies come home, nine years of holidays and birthdays, new pets, old pets, snowstorms, hurricanes, flea infestations, Chuck's hemorrhoids...I could go on and on.

That house is part of me. (Like, duh.)

For fun, I went back in time on this blog and reread the post I wrote, nine years ago, about moving into that house. This is it:

Mulletville Lite is rampant with memories. I quiz myself: Would it be better to live somewhere totally new? Or is it preferable to go back to something I know? Does that make me small-minded? Will moving to Mulletville Lite mean my life is a record stuck on the same track of “remembers whens”? What about adventure? Exploration? The unknown?  

It looks like I'm finally going to get some answers to my questions. 

The Day of the Flying Popcorn

  See, Kid #2 (age 10), having seen a lunch box on the counter, tossed it into his backpack without knowing there already was a lunch box i...