Sunday, October 30, 2011

One Banana, Two Banana...

My first bicycle was a bright green two-wheeler with a white banana seat. And a really tall neon-orange flag attached to the back. The purpose of the flag was presumably so people manipulating four-wheeled forms of transport could see a bicycle on the other side of a brick wall. I can't vouch for whether this prevented great bodily injury (GBI, in legal-speak) in the suburbs of America, but I am guessing bike riders on either side of the Berlin Wall were safe from wayward Volkswagon Beetles. Ideally, neon green Bugs with peace signs (which Berliners hopefully did not confuse with the less-peaceful and more-corporate Mercedes logos) and daisy decals affixed.

As cool as my bicycle was, it caused me both significant physical and psychological pain. I believe this was the very mode of transport that I can blame for my (so far) only broken bone. Back in the day, my older brother and I rode all over the Cape Cod town where we summered, because, back in the day, there was no Jerry Springer Show to clue parents in to how depraved most of America is. My brother and I were careening full-speed down a hill, feet off the pedals, after a morning at the beach, my 9-year-old brother's 10-speeder careening significantly faster than a 7-year-old's banana-seated bike. I hit a bump and wiped out on the hill, ending up on the side of the road. I had no helmet (of course, it was the 1970s), but, thankfully, was equipped with an 8-foot-high plastic flagpole capable of impaling me. My brother continued along, not concerned that his sister was rolled up in a fetal position in the middle of the road. This brother went on to become a doctor, a helper of the frail and infirm, but that is another issue entirely. I forlornly got up and pushed my bicycle down the hill and through the town until I got home. Eventually my parents noticed that I winced every time I moved, and took me to the Cape Cod Hospital ER, where it was determined I had broken my clavicle. My chunky grade-school shoulders were jammed into a flexible brace and I was given a sling for good measure. The positive upshot of this was my best friend Michelle brought me my first ever stuffed animal, a Snoopy, to cheer me up. I didn't know what to do with a stuffed animal, so I later gave it a name, Stevie (after Stevie Nicks), made a paper sign to put around its neck, and put it high up in my bookcase.

In addition to suffering GBI, another downside to having a bicycle with a banana seat is I always seemed to be the butt of a certain joke that, to this day, I don't get. Boys would invariably ask "Do you have a bike? What color is it?" Or something of that ilk. When I would answer "green," they would break into peals of laughter. I am guessing that neither these boys nor their older brothers knew what was funny about this. And I can only imagine what became of these young comedians. 

Monday, October 17, 2011

School Supplier

In elementary school, I brought a bagged lunch to school. This lunch always contained a tuna sandwich, with an apple as a snack. It is important to note that the apple was dropped into the bag on top of the sandwich, rendering the main course a squished, fishy disaster that I deposited in the trash can each day, still encased in its plastic sandwich bag. This ruse went on for quite some time until the teacher ratted me out to my mother at a parent conference. I literally have not eaten canned tuna since 1975. Sorry, Charlie.

Aside from the occasional mutant tuna-on-white, I don't think I brought anything else to school. I do not recall any adult helping me with homework. I did not need to seek my mother's notarized signature to prove that I had spent 63 minutes reading Chapters 6-9 of Lord of the Flies. I do not remember my mother sweating it out in the morning, veins bulging in her forehead, with checklists of items for each of my brothers and me to bring to school. In fact, I did not even own a backpack until college. So what went wrong in the last quarter of the 20th century that turned parents into virtual dispensaries of advice and items to enhance their child's learning?
I have not been privy to any public education curriculum discussions, but I have a theory that my generation’s parents’ laissez-faire attitude toward parenting is somehow to blame for the obligatory over-involvement of school-age kids’ parents. Since my children started pre-school, hardly a day has gone by when I was not required to furnish them with various non-essential items in order to further their education. Schools invariably have the semesters divided into "themes," so a "Nature Module" may call for the child to come up with a leaf specimen before going back to school at 7:30 am the next day. Nothing instills a love of nature in a child more than his mother yelling at him to hurry up and just choose a leaf because it is 9 PM and dark out. And the themes are often conceptualized in “education speak,” meaning those of us who actually completed the education system are not able to understand what the hell our kids are actually doing. A call for donations for the  “Manipulative Station” left me wondering why such anti-social skills were being taught to my three year old. A flyer similarly seeking items for the “Exploration Station” gave me pause as to whether I had signed a permission slip to allow my child to sail off into uncharted waters.

Another source of added parental stress are the infamous school field trips. Back in the day, I swear we went on about one field trip every few years. I vaguely recall being hoarded onto a school bus, probably without my parents’ knowledge, and going off to a farm to see animals. It may have been on one of these very field trips that a zebra bit my thumb and, to this day, I have an aversion to animal prints. I doubt the trip's chaperones even completed an "Ouchy Report" on the incident for my permanent file. 

Nowadays, it seems as if kids, especially preschoolers, spend no time whatsoever in the classroom learning to manipulate and explore. For my son’s entire preschool career, I was in a suspended state of acute anxiety due to the fact that I was never certain if, when I dropped him off on my way to work, I would be chastised for neglecting to bring a slew of additional items to enhance his special experience. All field trips required a certain t-shirt, that was invariably either in the laundry (yes, field trips could even be scheduled on consecutive days… sigh…), or lost in a pile of other small, brightly colored cotton fabrics. It wasn’t until my son had finished pre-school that I was told, confidentially, that the school had a stash of extra t-shirts just in case. Well, now you tell me. Other requirements were posted about 8 hours prior to the field trip, on a nondescript sign on the classroom door. Now, if you have ever been inside a preschool classroom, you will know that the walls are covered in brightly colored artwork and pictures. In order for a flyer to be noticed, it would need to be a flashing neon safety hazard in the doorway that parents would literally bump into and take notice. It seems as if schools think that just because a two year old doesn’t check his email on a daily basis, that the parent would not be amenable to receiving electronic messages outlining the next day’s requirements. Some days it might be to bring a bagged lunch and a drink. Other times it would be to bring two drinks, but no lunch. Special shoes might be needed. Maybe a specific amount of money. Trust me, if cash does not grown on trees, neither do water shoes, sunscreen, or extra carseats.

Now, it goes without saying that many parents of preschoolers hold down jobs, and that is why our children are in preschool for enough hours of the week to be traveling 50 miles to go to a Science Museum inferior to the one 10 minutes away that is affiliated with the local major research university. So I do not think I am the only working mom who considered hiring a full-time personal assistant to run the errands required to furnish my children with all the stuff they need to bring to school. But, unfortunately, the only thing more expensive than private preschool in a major U.S. metropolitan city is a private personal assistant in a major U.S. metropolitan city. So, that means endless lunchtime runs to Target to replace broken thermoses, buy water bottles, or hunt down glitter glue sticks for the class birthday card for the student teacher. 

But all the effort and stress is forgotten at the dinner table, when I ask my precious ones what they enjoyed most about the day's field trip. The answer is always delivered with the same blank stare and shrug, "Nothing." 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Half-Empty Glasses

My mother tells me that as long as she can remember, I never left an empty cup of anything. While no cups were runnething over, our house was littered with my unfinished mugs of tea, cans of soda, cups of water. (Of course, I never left a crumb on any breakfast, lunch, or dinner plate, but that is another issue altogether.) When my mother asked if I were done and ready to load the cup in the dishwasher, I usually declined, insisting I had at least one more sip to go. But by that point, the tea would be cold, soda warm, water lukewarm. My mother, of course, knew every time I said I wasn't done that I was indeed finished, I just didn't know it. A power struggle over spittley soda was not a battle she apparently wanted to wage.

My husband, who is not my mother, is a drink-drainer. Since he did not birth me, he has limited interest in whether prematurely loading my glass in the dishwasher will emotionally wound me. He sees a briefly idle steaming hot mug of coffee, filled to the top and recently poured and that baby is gone. Dumped, rinsed, and loaded. 

My inability to finish liquid forms of sustenance amped up a notch in the 1980s, when corporations started bottling and charging for water. This was also around the time when the "eight glasses of water a day" mantra was being pushed by the--I am guessing--bottled water industry. I already was neurotic about refreshment, and now we are going to add money into the mix? I remember I spent $45 on a leather harness with a shoulder strap so I could lug around bottled water and never have a parched moment again. While this seemed like a cutting-edge idea at the time, I quickly found that re-filling and reusing a bottle of water had its drawbacks. First of all, lipstick/gloss/balm residue quickly accumulates on the sipping apparatus of a water bottle, certainly negating any health benefits of imbibing the water. And, second of all, ugh. Just ugh all around. The water was heavy, drippy, plasticky, refilled from unsanitary sources, and, I cannot stress enough how icky the aforementioned lipstick/gloss/balm residue issue was. Just ugh, ugh, ugh. The $45 harness was cute though. But a little awkward in shape to try to repurpose. I wonder whatever happened to that harness...

Given my squeamishness with drink closure, and my overall cheapness, you can perhaps imagine what life is like for me now that I am living surrounded by travel mugs, sports drinks, screw-top sangria bottles, and quarts of open-but-only-used-a-tablespoon of chicken stock. I feel like I should take all the containers, line them up, and put on one of those musical shows where people play Xylophone-like music on the tops of drinking glasses.

My car is filled with half-drunk bottles of water, mostly leftover from my children's sports events. The cute eight-ounce bottles of water, sold for 17 cents a piece at Trader Joe's (and with an additional five cent fee tacked on each mini bottle) do not quite sustain my kids for an entire soccer match. However, the 23.6 bottles with the "sports top" prove time and time again to be just too damned much water. But since I am a sucker for a "sports top" for a "sports event," I buy the latter bottles, even though every time there is more than half left, even on the hottest days. Ideally, I would have my children share a bottle, but flashbacks to the grime of my lip grease on the bottle spout haunt me and I just can't knowingly traumatize my kids. So, instead, my kids will someday have nightmares about the half-empty Poland Springs bottles rolling around in the SUV, springing leaks when they are stepped on, and boiling in the Los Angeles heat. Like my mother before me, I, too, pick my battles.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Name Tag

My daughter takes a dance class. Modern Dance. Sort of Mummenschanzy, but more princessy. Her teacher is named Karen, which happens to be my name. I am unclear as to whether she is supposed to be called "Ballerina Karen," "Dance Teacher Karen," or, the dreaded "Miss Karen." Apparently children's instructors in non-traditional teaching settings (such as "Toddler Tots" and "Kinder Musik") have not come to a consensus on what to be called by their students and families, because the use of "Miss"--or on those rare occasions that an "enrichment" program is led by a male, "Mister"--appears to be the awkward default. No, we are not in the South, so "Miss Daisy" or for those of you reared on 1980s TV, "Miss Ellie," doesn't seem quite right to a Northerner like me. Maybe they are trying to put the "South" in South-ern California. Personally, if adult females feel the need to conceal the fact that they have first names to children, I would hope they would opt for the Gloria Steinemesque "Ms." But that's just me.

Fortunately the name of my daughter's dance teacher was fairly easy to commit to memory, given that I have a working familiarity with the name. And of the parents (moms, duh) of the other three girls in the class, one is a dear friend whose name I long ago committed to memory. The other two moms similarly knew each other, so I didn't waste limited brain resources on learning their names, because, like my friend and me, the pair seemed to have signed up for the class together, perhaps hoping for a little one-on-one adult friend time while the children are left to pirouette.

In the second week of dance class, mom supervision had dwindled from four to three, because the nameless moms apparently live near each other and one of them took both girls to class. No problem, the three of us had a lovely 55 minutes of chat about parenting, travel and art. The fact that I had not encoded Mom #3's name into my brain (please, do not ask me to remember which region of the brain stores information) did not weigh on me heavily because at least this week my mom-name-identification average had improved from .500 to .667, since there was one fewer mom in the mix.

The next week, however, Mom #3 again brought both girls, establishing a carpooling pattern that worked for them, but left me in the lurch socially. As it became clear that I might not eyeball Mom #4 until the dance recital, the horror dawned on me that I knew details of Mom #3's family life, health history, and finances, but did not know her name. It was too late and too much information had been shared for a casual, "Uhhh, what did you say your name was?" And this intelligent and thoughtful woman, with whom I enjoyed sharing 55 minutes of sophisticated Mom Talk, added insult to injury by mentioning that she was going to enroll her daughter in the class for the entire year. Damn, I was going to enroll MY daughter in the class for the entire year. Another 30 or so weeks of anxiously scanning the recesses of my brain to see if her name comes to mind? Thirty weeks of hoping she shows up after class with a "Hello, My Name Is.." nametag on, as if she just came from an office-supply convention? Thirty weeks of hoping she starts to refer to herself in the third person, NBA-style? Its going to be a long year.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sleeping Around

I bed hop.

Although it may be a more typical life path to settle down once one has children, for me, bedroom monogamy ended with the birth of my first child.

At the time my son was born, we lived in a place with two bedrooms. However, since my husband and I only needed one bedroom, and no out-of-town guests ever visited us, we had one official "bed" in the place, and a horrifically uncomfortable Ikea sleep sofa in the room our future realtor would identify as the second bedroom. There was no apparent need for a bed in my son's room because everyone knows babies quietly sleep in cribs in nurseries far away from the bedroom of their parents.

Sure, for the first six months of my baby's life, he snoozed within a two-foot radius of our bed. Not so much because I was a follower of "AP" (Attachment Parenting... sigh), but because I was too perpetually exhausted to leave the bed for any reason having to do with my baby or otherwise. I am practical, if nothing else.

However, once he hit the six-month mark, it occurred to my husband and me that at some point this kid was supposed to sleep in the pristine, six-month-old crib with the organic, gender-neutral sheet set that the baby's mommy obsessed for months over buying. So one night, I took my son in my arms and walked to "his room" and sort of plopped him in the crib. He looked so little and was flailing around. And since I had heard all the horror stories about providing a baby with actual bedding to keep him warm, my poor son was sweating it out in footed pajamas in August in Los Angeles. I just couldn't leave him alone like that. The combination of perspiration and loneliness would scar him for life.

Since he didn't seem entirely euphoric in his crib, I thought I would sit on the Ikea couch, still in its sofa-mode, until he fell asleep. Perhaps you can imagine how tiring it might be for an exhausted person to watch another being attempt to sleep. So I grabbed a throw pillow and lay down on the wood floor next to the crib. This way, he wouldn't see me and be distracted, but if he cried I wouldn't have to haul my butt across the entire house. Good call, because my son would wake at 9:18 p.m. every night in an inconsolable state, and seconds counted when soothing him. It just would not do if  I were several hundred feet away and had to be aroused from sleep, orient myself, make my way to the nursery in the dark, and attempted to bend over the crib rail without rupturing an internal organ. So the nightly ritual of camping on hardwood floors continued.

When my second child was born, we moved for a year to a four-story Brownstone in Brooklyn that, despite being more than 4,000 square feet of living space, only seemed to have one large bedroom with a sliding door in between. Since we were only going to be there for a short time and it is an enormous pain in the ass to acquire and move furniture into a quirky four-story Brownstone in Brooklyn, we cleverly devised a bedroom plan that involved various futons, mattresses and a crib left over from the house's owners. FYI: Cheap futons are uncomfortably lumpy. And, to this day, my daughter has never seen the inside of a crib. At least it will give her something to write about for her college essays.

When we moved into our current home, with defined bedrooms with doors and everything, I was so out of practice at staying put in a designated bed that it seemed natural to switch it up every night. What is the point of having a home with multiple bedroom options if I am not going to sample them all? We have never purchased a mattress smaller than a queen size. I can only imagine what my children's playmates report back to their parents after visiting my children. But since my daughter was the world's most dedicated nurser, she needed a bed with plenty of room for boobs attached to a 5'5" person. When my son had nightmares, believe me when I say I was not going to re-live the trauma of sleeping on the hardwood floor again. The adult bedroom has a TV, so those nights when my son falls asleep watching a baseball game, it is easier to leave him in the bed than to lug gangly, 10-year-old dead weight across the house. The beauty of a house full of large, comfortable beds is that one can get an equally good or bad night's sleep in any room in the house. While it may be true that as we make our beds, we are supposed to lie in them; but in our house, no one makes their beds. So we are free to lie in any bed we want.