Legos in the Time of Cholera

Today’s post comes from Walter Reed National Naval Medical Center…our home away from home.  I, who am so directionally impaired that I still use my iphone to get to most of Arlington’s grocery stores, can find my way to this hospital with my eyes closed. For the record, I highly discourage eyes-closed driving in general. However, I now have an uncharacteristic homing instinct for the medical facility due to our frequent trips here.

On Monday, our appointment again turned into the seemingly inevitable:  IV fluids and admission to the pediatric floor. Jake and I have developed our own coping mechanisms: his involve Cartoon Network and MarioKart, while mine involve chocolate chip cookies and ebooks with steamy characters named “Daemon” who shoot light out of their fingertips.

While these binge-based strategies help while away the hours and keep us from killing each other, we are both more sullen than usual because WE WERE JUST HERE one week ago when Jake had a bad stomach bug.  On the one hand, I remember the nurses names and where they hide the styrofoam cups, but on the other hand, my back has only just recovered from five grueling nights on the torture device that doubles as a visitor mattress that doubles as a chair.

As recently as two weeks ago, everything was going smoothly. Plans for a fun weekend at the beach were well-formed and progressing easily. On Saturday, we drove to my parent’s beach house, ate a delicious chile dinner, played a rousing game of Apples to Apples and went fishing off the Indian Bay jetty. Then, sometime around midnight, I was awakened by loud retching sounds coming from the kids’ bedroom. I rushed into a minefield of vomit. The bed, floor, other bed, curtain, nightstand, pillows, lamp, wall, and possibly ceiling fan were all spattered with exorcist-grade puke. My poor 10 year old was spewing last night’s chile like a supercharged AK-47 from “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare”.  I ducked for cover and called for back-up. As usual, back-up inexplicably snored through the unholy racket, so I was forced to lob pillows at his head.

It was a bad night for everyone.

The next morning, a couple hours after Danny passed out on the living room couch with his face in a bowl of ice chips, a rumpled Jake appeared and squintily announced his stomach hurt, and proceeded to hurl several times. Then, both boys started with diarrhea. From then on, things went downhill. Plans became loose and unformed. Horrible noises and smells were unleashed upon the world. And we cut short our beach vacay, knowing that a GI bug for Jake often means a hospital visit due to his kidney transplant.

And that’s how Jake and I ended up celebrating Memorial Day in the ER. On the plus side, it was not a popular destination choice that weekend, so it was easy to find a parking place.

A few hours and needle sticks and hours later, labs showed he was severely dehydrated with his creatinine at an all time high of 3.1. Once again we found ourselves making the trip from the ER to the pediatric ward.

Unfortunately, this last hospitalization was a long one, as Jake’s diarrhea just wouldn’t quit. We were in the hospital for 7, long, poop-filled days, one of which was Jake’s 13th birthday. We both discovered that there is only so much binge-watching of Teen Titans and Adventure Time a person can do without starting to hallucinate portals to worlds populated by talking vegetables. Jake kept the crazy at bay through Lego Therapy:  the choosing, purchasing, and building of various Lego sets. By the end of the week, he had several Star Wars spaceships lined up on the windowsill and neither one of us was dreaming in animation anymore. Much.

While Jake was constructing his way to sanity, I found my own in short walks around the military base, lattes from the downstairs coffee shop, and a borrowed laptop from the Red Cross Center.  

For those of you unfamiliar with Walter Reed, it is a huge, gated military compound that seems to be almost self-sustaining. It would definitely be a good place to ride out the zombie apocalypse. The medical facility sprawls over several acres and has 9 labyrinthine buildings with every medical specialization you can imagine (i.e. Apheresis )  Every building, zone, and even many hallways have names that inspire confidence and patriotism: “President Zone.” “America Boulevard.” ” Eagle Building.”  “Warrior Hall.” I often find myself humming “Proud to Be An American” under my breath as I walk by the “Vision Center of Excellence”, or the “Convenience Store of Freedom”. Okay, I made that last one up…but I walk by the VCE every time I check out the movies in the “Redbox of on “Main Street” in “Independence Alley”.

One day I even bravely set out to find the Fitness Center, which suprisingly lacks a superlative prepositional phrase (May I suggest the “Fitness Center of Robustness?”) I soon found out why, as it is comprised of a single room behind the Security Office (which also, disturbingly, lacks a glowing descriptive phrase) next to the boiler room in the basement of an old office building. The gym equipment looks like it is circa 1980 and hasn’t been cleaned since…ever. I imagine that there is a gleaming “Gym of Fabulousness” somewhere that only people who don’t make fun of the base’s patriotic nomenclature get golden keys to. The whole time I was on the treadmill, I gripped my keys between my knuckles the way I learned in self-defense class ( pointy sides out, ladies!) and dialed “91..” on my phone, just in case.

Dangerously close to the pediatric ward (Eagle Building) is the NEX, or Navy Exchange, where you can buy flip-flops, bedspreads, giant bags of pop chips, or pretty much anything you want. Be careful if you visit this shopping mecca, because you just might find yourself walking out with 4 pairs of shoes (20% off, and TAX FREE, hello, BARGAIN!).

Walter Reed is also where combat veterans recently returned from overseas come to heal and rehabilitate. It is common to see large, muscular men missing an appendage or two scootering or meandering around on space-age prosthetic limbs.  Most of these men look like romantic protagonists in  science fiction/fantasy novels, with their titanium extremeties and chiseled jaws. I smile at them and hope they understand that I’m too chicken to say what I want to say, (Thank you for your service and sacrifice to our country! OMG you are so HAWT! Can I touch your titanium? Do you even understand how amazingly miraculous you are? Can I take your picture and pretend I know you?) It’s probably good that I’m chicken, or some wounded warrior’s wife would probably take a gleaming prosthesis and beat me over the head with it.  In all seriousness,  I treasure the privilege of sharing a medical care facility with these rock stars. The both humble and inspire me and I am full of admiration and awe.

And so, today, as we while away yet another day in the hospital (hopefully our last for a while!) I remember to be grateful. I am grateful for this place, with its competent, efficient staff, clean, modern facilities and unapologetic patriotism. I am grateful for the amazing sacrifices of those veterans I see around me and their commitment to our country. I am grateful for my husband, my parents, and my children, for whacked out cartoons with weird metaphysical references and talking inanimate objects, for this laptop, for books about hot aliens who fight zombies, and for Legos. Our life is a roller coaster-one that right now involves way too much poop- but I plan to squeeze out (sorry…hehe) as much joy and fun, and yes, poop jokes, as I can out of it.

 

 

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How To Maximize Your Efficiency as a Working Mom (Or, Why My Children Really Need to Floss. Really.)

As I mentioned in my earlier posts, I have a job. This primarily gets me out of doing unpleasant chores at home, such as cleaning the toilet, rearranging the kitchen silverware drawer, and taking care of the children. I’ve discovered it provides a convenient excuse for not doing other things as well- returning phone calls from the dentist’s office, going to the dentist, exercising, grocery shopping, paying fees for forgotten dentist appointments, etc… The problem is that all of the things I don’t have time to do anymore still need to eventually get done. You can only dodge the dentist for so long, especially if your kids think candy is an important part of the food pyramid.  And so, inexorably, I am now cramming all of my to-do list into my three free precious hours each afternoon. 

 

My last class is dismissed at 12:20, and the bus drops the little angels off on my street at 3:53. Plenty of time, as my husband points out, to exercise, do the grocery shopping, run an errand or two, clean up the kitchen, start dinner, and then meet the bus with a big smile on my face. 

 

This sounds reasonable. In fact, he is helpful enough to suggest that I bring my lunch and gym clothes with me when I leave for work in the morning, so I can eat and work out without coming home first. He is full of good ideas, my husband. 

 

So, on Monday morning, I lock the door behind me, burdened like a sherpa with the following items.  

 1. My daughter’s zebra striped backpack: Yes, I know she should carry her own backpack. Don’t judge me. You have no idea the raving lunatic my daughter can morph into before leaving the house in the morning. It is a Herculean victory simply to get her to wear pants each day.

 2. My school bag:  weighing approximately 50 pounds, this contains 7-8 textbooks, various dry erase markers I have pilfered from my daughter’s collection, 4 granola bars, and 1-2 pieces of (slowly rotting) fruit 

 3. My gym bag: which is very light, because as I will discover later, I have forgotten my sports bra.  And my hair clip. And my sneakers.

 4. My lunch: a yogurt. Healthy, and easy to eat on the go! If you have a spoon. 

 5. My purse: the contents of which are a continual mystery to me. For example, on an average day it might contain an Altoids tin full of pennies, an open pack of fruit snacks melded to the lining and encrusted with goldfish crumbs, a punch card for a dry cleaning establishment in North Carolina, a mostly empty stainless steel coffee mug, and a sock. 

 6. A Target bag: Perhaps I neglected to mention that there is a Super-Target across the street from my new workplace. The giant red bulls-eye is a homing beacon that draws me in almost every day on my way home. All under one wonderful roof, I can get groceries, socks, school supplies, shampoo, novelty toothbrushes, new ear buds, a big screen TV, a Frappucino, and a sense of purpose.  Most days, whatever I get is, according to my children/husband/dog, the wrong size/kind/color/flavor/brand and must be exchanged, thus necessitating another trip to Target. And so the vicious (and expensive) cycle continues. 

 

And so at 8:25 AM the car is loaded for the day’s activities. At 8:35, I drop my children and the zebra backpack off at school (five minutes before the school is technically open, but who’s counting?) At 8:42 I arrive at school and begin my morning of conjugating verbs, sharing cultural tidbits, and helping my Saudi Arabian students learn to navigate our inexplicable society (that’s a whole other blog entry!)

 

12:25: I am out the door before the bell stops ringing. On my way to the car, I stop to ask the academic director a quick question. 

 

12:52: I am out the door for real this time. I don’t even stop to punch out. Let them think I worked for 28 hours straight. What a dedicated employee. 

 

12:58: I ride the gleaming elevator to the 3rd floor of Target.The glass doors glide open with a faint, familiar snick as I grab a cherry red cart, and get shopping. List? Who needs a list? 

 

2:05: The cold air of the parking garage snaps me right out of my shopping trance. I feel slightly disoriented as I unload the sea of plastic bags into my half full trunk. Why did I get eight packages of turkey bacon? Perhaps the 6 new throw pillows were an extravagance. But the dog keeps eating them. And everything is 5% off with my Red Card! Like I always tell my husband, you have to spend money to save money. 

 

2:10: Regrets quashed, I peel out of the parking garage determined to make the most of the next hour and 40 minutes. My stomach grumbles, so I decide to eat and drive. Unfortunately, I have forgotten a spoon. God I’m hungry. 

 

2:13: Stopped at a red light, a woman in the car next to me is staring at me with a look of- disgust? Or is it admiration? ..as I slurp a big glob of raspberry Chobani off my finger.   I want to roll the window down and tell her I used hand sanitizer first. And that it was either my finger or a pencil from the glove compartment. I think I made the right decision. 

 

2:20: Changing in the locker room of 24 hour fitness, I decide I will improvise. No hair band, no problem! I can tie my hair back with this handy trouser sock! And, I can totally ride the stationary bike in clogs. If I arrange the deep V neck of my t-shirt just right, you can only see the edges of my (non-sports) bra. I realize I will have to be careful not to lean over, or bounce up and down, or basically move.

 

2:25: I decide to go home and run on the basement treadmill instead. 

 

2:26: I make a U-turn and head to the library to pick up Jake, because “it’s COLD and he has a TON of homework.” This provides a perfect opportunity for me to return the overdue books that I hope are still in the car somewhere, pay my fine, and get the children some new library books. 

 

2:58: I stagger into the house with 7 Target bags of groceries on each arm, as Jake disappears into the basement to play the X-box.  I should yell at him and make him start his homework, but I just don’t have time right now. In a flurry of plastic bags, packages of turkey bacon and toiletries, I put away the refrigerated items and rush to get my work out clothes on. 

 

3:08:  On my way down to the basement, I realize I should really start the dishwasher, since it takes 195 minutes to run. Plus, I need to defrost the chicken for dinner. 

 

3:32: I get on the treadmill. 

 

3:49: I get off the treadmill. I have run for 17 minutes, and gone 1.5 miles. 

 

3:52: As I close the front door behind me, I can see the flashing yellow lights of the school bus at the end of the street. Great. I add another 1/4 mile to my total distance as I sprint to the bus stop. 

 

3:54: My daughter tearfully reprimands me as we walk home from the bus stop (you were LATE! He wouldn’t let me get OFF THE BUS! etc.) I think about how I need to  pick Danny up at 4:45 from chess club, get him ready for basketball, finish dinner and help everyone with their homework. 

 

After I get home and fix everyone a nice turkey bacon snack, I realize that making the most of my afternoons is going to take some practice. The dentist may have to wait a few months before I get the hang of it all. 

 

The Glass (or Mini-Van) is Half-Full (of Trash)

The exciting conclusion to the Saga of The Missing Minivan!!

On a cold, overcast sunday in early January, I get home from work and am looking forward to an afternoon of pricing new minivans (Salsa Red Pearl, Rear Seat Entertainment Center, 38,400 MSRP!)  when the phone rings.

Danny: Hello?

Phone guy: -unintelligible-

Danny: Okay. Just so you know, she doesn’t want to change the phone service. Somebody called about that yesterday and she got really mad.

Phone guy: -unintelligible, yet indignant-

Danny: Well…okay. Here she is.

Me: Hello?

Officer Smith: Hello ma’am. I’m calling from the Arlington County police department to tell you we recovered your car.

Me:

Officer Smith: Hello?

Me: Uhh…that’s….great. What condition is it in?

Officer Smith: I have no idea. It’s at an impound lot in PG County. It was found abandoned in an industrial park in District Heights, Maryland.

Me: Do I have to pick it up?

Officer Smith: Excuse me?

Me: Uh….I mean, do I have to pick it up now? I just put my slippers on.

Officer Smith: No ma’am…you have to bring proof of ownership to the PG county police station and get a release form. Then, you bring that to the impound lot and get your car.

Me: That sounds like a fun way to spend the afternoon.

Officer Smith: Ma’am, you want your car back, don’t you?

At this point, there is a long pause. I think about the gleaming, pearly salsa-red lines of a new minivan as I float down I-495, listening to my favorite Pandora station as the children quietly bask in their own individual rear-seat entertainment cocoons. The bisque leather interior and floor mats are spotless, the windows are clean and free of impound lot stickers and the sun is shining.

Me: (Heavy sigh). I guess so.

And that is how I end up spending my 40th birthday- not throwing back margaritas with girlfriends and dancing to Pink (OK, that wasn’t going to happen anyway, but a girl can dream) -but on a 7-hour-long Minivan Recovery Quest that takes me across state lines into the heart of PG county and back again,

I begin my JRR Tolkien-style journey at home, where I leave my house in Arlington provisioned with a bottle of water, a credit card, and my heavy traveling gloves. I walk to the Falls Church metro station, where I wait for 20 freezing minutes in the Great Wind Tunnel to be whisked away into the subterranean heart of Washington DC. After navigating the labyrinthine bowels of Metro Center, I disembark at majestic Union Station and again brave the frigid temperatures in a brutal 4 minute walk to the Dirksen Building where I meet my traveling companion, Eric “Aragorn” Bader. We complete the next leg of the journey by Jeep, crossing into Mary-land and arriving at JD Towing in the waning hours of the afternoon.  As we approach our van, we are filled with trepidation: The remnants of a smoke-filled, fast-food fueled night of crime, violence and mayhem surely await us. We shudder to think of the congealed cheese, mummified french fries, drug paraphernalia, and bloodstains that surely mar the formerly pristine interior.  What unspeakable horrors (or acts of passion?) have been committed in our fold-down third row seat?

As we approach the van, we cheer to find it unscathed-from the outside. Then we open the door.

Trash litters the car from one end to the other. Random objects, such as articles of clothing (is that underwear?!!!) are scattered over the upholstery and the floor mats. The smell, a combination of feet, dog sweat, and decomposing food, is overpowering.

My partner and I high-five each other in the time-honored gesture of victory.

“Just the way we left it!” We crow to each other. Right down to the rotting banana in the backseat cupholder.  I am giddy with relief and a smug sense of satisfaction. I KNEW It. I knew  that fundamentally, people don’t suck. I KNEW that Arlington car thieves would be polite and respectful of the property they stole. I am almost surprised not to find a thank you note on the dashboard:

Dear Car Owner, 

Thank you for the use of your van. It is a sweet ride. We figured since you left the keys in the glove box that you wouldn’t mind if we took it for a spin. Sorry for the inconvenience.” 

Sincerely, 

Car Thieves

The gas tank may be empty, but my heart is full. Who knows why the car thieves were so polite? Maybe they had an attack of conscience. Maybe they figured the van had seen enough abuse. But for whatever reason, they left the registration in the glove box, a $200 pair of sunglasses on the seat, and the car keys on the console.

The sun grows low on the horizon over gutted car skeletons and barbed wire, as we race to the county police station to get the form to release our van. One hour and twenty minutes later, we arrive back at the impound lot with just 15 minutes to spare before the office and gates are locked for the night. At 4:27 PM on January 8th, a mere six hours before the anniversary of the hour of my birth, we make our triumphant departure from JR Towing.

As I crawl through rush hour traffic back through DC and into VA, I reacquaint myself with my second home. The coffee stain on the floor mat. The gum wrappers forever trapped between the drivers seat and the console. Maybe it’s just the seat warmer, but I feel a toasty sense of well being come over me as I relax into the familiar surroundings.  On the minus side, there are the hundreds of dollars of recovery fees,  the inconvenience of not having a second car for 8 days, and the possibility that our van was used to transport a dead body. But, on the plus side, we got the van back with all of our belongings intact. They also left the bass turned all the way up and the radio tuned to 93.9, a radio station which plays DC’s Best Mix of sR&B and Hip-Hop. Thanks for broadening our musical horizon, courteous urban felons! And so, as the quote goes,

Alls well that ends well: still the fine’s the crown;Whate’er the course, the end is the renown.” –

While it’s possible that William Shakespeare never owned a minivan, he certainly understood this basic truth: “If your minivan gets jacked, and you get it back unharmed, you should crank that shit up and dance in the drivers’ seat all the way home.”  

And, much to my children’s chagrin, I do.

Bader Family Christmas Letter

It is a sad fact that a small percentage of the Christmas cards we send out do not reach their destinations. Some languish in postal purgatory. Some come back marked “Return to Sender,” because you crazy kids keep moving. Some fall behind the china hutch and are discovered months later and furtively buried in the recycling pile (WHAAAT? You didn’t get our letter? Damn the Postal Service!)  If you were one of those unfortunate souls who did not receive our letter this year, this is for you.

January 3, 2014

Dear Family, Friends, and Car Thieves,

Let us be the first to wish you a very happy MLK Day. Most bible scholars agree that the actual Nativity happened in June. Did you send your holiday cards too early? Our cards finally arrived here yesterday after an Incredible Journey through the postal system, which included a detour at our previous Cape Cod address. Our Sandwich friends will surely see this as a sign that we are destined to return!

In perhaps another sign that the Baders are not meant for the big city, our new Toyota Sienna inexplicably disappeared from the driveway recently. Although a minivan would not seem a typical target for hardened criminals, it boasts a killer moonroof and can comfortably seat up to 8 crackheads. The stellar Arlington, VA police force assure us that “It may turn up eventually….or not.” Thank you for all your kind Facebook inquiries – the Jeep is safe and sound with nary a scratch.

Otherwise, we’ve made a fairly smooth transition from the Cape to DC. Last summer, after the movers unloaded the shattered remnants of our dining room set from their truck (“who do I tip?”), we paused to reflect on another fantastic year on the Cape: volleyball, movie nights, back yard ice rinks and the best U10 baseball team to ever complete a winless all star season. Great memories, but we’re slowly acclimating to the hustle, bustle, and oppressive traffic of America’s 4th least desirable large city (look out Detroit, Baltimore and Memphis… we’re coming for you!) While we enjoy the restaurants, cultural opportunities and friendly neighbors, we are not fans of the area’s high housing prices, crowded schools and car thieves.

As a Fellow on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Eric is enjoying the rare opportunity to see the American legislative process in all its dysfunctional glory. When things are not going well on the hill, he critiques Senatorial wardrobe on C-Span (“Cowboy boots and a smoking jacket!? No wonder we have a 5 percent approval rating”), fills the copier with paper (Senatorial paper), and makes coffee.  When Congress is actually working, he helps write speeches, manages accounts, crunches numbers, AND makes the coffee. When he’s not working or mired in Beltway road rage, Eric cheers for Danny at the hockey rink, picks out delicious calorie bombs at the Heidleberg bakery with Anna, or shoots up town with Jake on the X-box.

Kristi made her much anticipated return to the workforce this Fall, teaching English as a second language to fully veiled Saudi Arabian women at the Language Company here in Virginia. She must be doing an exceptional job, as her students continue to bring in Middle Eastern delicacies to show their appreciation, such as a fistful of small dehydrated objects, which were either dried limes or shrunken heads. Either way, they were delicious. Although the job is part-time, (“party-time” as her students call it), Kristi is finding it challenging to balance home and work. She occasionally makes mistakes such as accidentally sending holiday cards to the wrong state or perhaps leaving the car keys in the car.  Oh, and she also started a blog: https://jomofunny.wordpress.com. If you post a nice comment she may put some more stuff on there for your reading pleasure. Or maybe she’ll just read another vampire romance novel. Time will tell.

Jake is already tired of fast-paced city life, as he tells us loudly and often.  He walks 1.2 miles to school, sits in class alongside his 975 classmates, and toils for hours on homework at night. But, we are very proud to report he made the 7th grade honor roll!  He also started tennis lessons this Fall and took up the drums. What an inspired musical choice for the whole family, here in our poorly-insulated house with 1600 square feet of living space!

Danny has become quite the Renaissance man this year. He made the honor roll and was chosen to babysit the class hamster, Hampton, over winter break. He is taking guitar lessons (you should hear his soulful rendition of the “Mission Impossible” theme) and has become an enthusiastic member of the Tuckahoe Elementary Chess Club. He is the starting center for the NOVA Icedogs, and can usually be found at the ice rink, the basketball court, the lacrosse, or the baseball diamond on any given weekend. Before leaving the Cape, Dan had a great a great spring playing for Coach Ned’s Sandwich lacrosse team and Coach Ken’s U9 All-Star baseball team.

Anna has adjusted well to the big city too. Which is to say, there have only been a few dozen temper tantrums, less than ten outright refusals to wear clothes, and only one morning spent hiding under the bedspread from the stresses of first grade. But, it turns out you can buy wine in Virginia supermarkets! We have discovered that easy access to alcohol is the key to getting through soccer practice if your crying daughter won’t turn loose of your pant leg to kick the ball. In a fit of optimism, we also signed Anna up for her cousin John’s softball team. Thank goodness her assistant coach, Danny, was able to coax her out of the dugout, and she ended up having a great time as Coach John’s “designated fielder.” Anna has become a great reader, enjoying the antics of Junie B., Frog and Toad, and those crazy Jewel fairies.

Lastly, we’re happy to report that Bingo has adjusted well to Northern Virginia. He enjoys barking loudly and frequently at any dogs or people that stray within a 30 foot radius of our house, except apparently car thieves. He is currently obsessed with eating the hamster before we send him back to school after the break. God speed, Hampton.

The best part of living in Arlington is our proximity to loved ones – Kristi’s parents, many beloved cousins and our Coast Guard friends. However, it is bittersweet as we reflect on the good friends left behind on Cape Cod as well as those in far flung places like Hawaii, Colorado, and Alaska. We hope that 2014 finds many of those friends visiting us  at our new home, where we boast a lovely and cozy guest room/basement/rec room/drum studio! We promise you will have a great time visiting the amazing sights of the nation’s capital! As long as you remember to lock your car.

Love,

Kristi, Eric, Jake, Danny and Anna

Then and Now: How working has made my life easier

THEN:  September 2013

My 9 year old, Danny, is my inspiration. The other day, after listening to his older brother throw a conniption fit about having to do some chore or other (think “tortured hyena”) , he noted, “Jake, you whine too much. Just one man’s opinion.”

The 9 year old view is piercing in its clarity- as well as merciless and often hilarious. He states the truth unflinchingly whether you want to hear it or not.

Sometimes his truth differs from mine, like when he says “What do you do around here, mom? We do chores all day long while you sit at the computer.”

But you never doubt his sincerity.

And even when he’s wrong, he makes me think. Here I am in Arlington, with all the kids in school all day for the first time. What on earth do I do with myself? Besides chores (which apparently I don’t get credit for anyway)?  My identity as a wife and mother suddenly seems inadequate compared to all the other playground moms. Here is a snapshot of the difference between my Cape Cod and Arlington experiences:

Me: “Do you work?”

Cape Cod Mom: (blank stare) “That would really interfere with my beach time.”

Me: “Do you work?”

Arlington Mom: “Yes, I am a lawyer and practice some optometry on the side. In my spare time I am vice president of a production company.”

As a woman who went to a feminist college, I should be rejoicing in my sisters’ success, but I can’t help but feel a bit crestfallen at how educated and successful everyone is. I was used to being one of the smarter mom on the playground. Now I am the slacker mom. While these moms are planning business trips to California and going to board meetings, I might pull a few weeds in the front yard or do a load of laundry- and that’s on a good day.

I inevitably leave these playdates feeling like I need to get a job. But as soon as I walk into my house and see the piles of framed photos stacked against the walls, the shelves from Pottery Barn still in the packages, and the carcass of a new entertainment center scattered across the floor (lacking the hardware, sadly), I think, “No. Way.”

I am pretty sure that makes me either lazy or cowardly. Especially since all those home projects are not getting done anytime soon, unless I can nag my husband into doing them. (When it comes to husband-nagging, I am truly an artist. It’s an important and undervalued skill that unfortunately one cannot put on a resume. Why do any job if you can talk a man into doing it for you? Especially if it’s unpleasant and involves power tools. )

I am horrified to read my last few sentences. What happened to young feminist from my college days who wanted to rule the world? That girl has been replaced by one who would much rather sit on the couch eating frozen yogurt reading paranormal romance novels.  Because, let’s face it, that’s just more fun than ruling the world. That’s my truth…just one mom’s opinion.

 

NOW: January 2014

Fast forward a couple of months, and much has changed in the Bader household. The entertainment center sits neatly assembled in the corner, a testament to my husband’s handyman skills and saint-like patience. The pottery barn shelves adorn our wall, showcasing wedding photographs. Oh, and I have a job.

Why did I get a job? Why wasn’t the home and hearth fulfilling enough?  You see, I wanted to challenge myself, to use my brain and expensive education to better the world and contribute to the public sphere, and in doing so, neatly avoid all the chores at home.

Okay, so it was mostly the last part.

The basement storage area is a sea of half opened boxes and half empty plastic containers, none of which have matching lids- despite the fact that I have a stack of 12 lids teetering in the corner. Toys, books, household goods at one point were vaguely divided into groups but after a few months these piles have slowly coalesced into one big mess, a sea of belongings with no discernible organization or purpose. I avert my eyes each time I walk into the laundry room, which is not often.

Then there’s the garage. There are several piles of things to give away that successfully migrated from the basement, but are in limbo there, never having made it to the Goodwill or Salvation Army.  A TV..a table…a coffeemaker…a homeless person could be quite comfortable there. Then there are the piles of the kids’ toys, dusty,  and unassembled (the soccer goal). All of this is blanketed by a thick layer of dead leaves, which drift in from the driveway on a daily basis.  All in all, the scene is practically post-apocalyptic.

And there is the yard..at first I made a token effort at weeding, but it turns out weeding really sucks. Every time I do yard work (once every 6 months or so) I am surprised at how unpleasant it is. The front yard doesn’t look too bad- the shovels, skateboards, and other random objects (a plastic bag…a clementine peel..etc.) hide a lot of it. The back yard, on the other hand, is another post-apocalyptic scene: its centerpiece is a rusting, broken down playset which I guess we thought we would fix up when we decided to rent the house.  (What? It could happen!) Next to it is a basketball hoop laying on its side. The small garden area in the back bears the evidence of my husband’s short-lived gardening efforts..various lawn tools scattered around the remnants of herbs and vegetables which were immediately devoured by rabbits.

So many thankless and unpleasant tasks faced me at home. But now that I have a job, I have an excuse not to do them. And I am out of the house so I don’t have to look at the messes. It’s really win-win.

In addition, the pressure of being a stay-at -home mom seemed to worsen, not improve, with all of my kids in school all day. The grocery shopping alone was exhausting..no matter how often I went to the store, I couldn’t keep up with my children’s demands for fruit, yogurt, goldfish crackers, popcorn, etc.  Then it dawned on me that no matter how much I buy, they will eat it all. It was a losing battle. And since I was home all day, I had no excuse not to go to the store.

Any time anyone in the family needed anything- dry cleaning, school supplies, dog food. I felt obligated to get it ASAP because, really, what else did I have to do? If Danny forgot his homework, I had to drop everything and run up to the school. If Jake didn’t want to walk home from school, I had to pick him up. If Anna decided she didn’t like any of her underwear, I had to immediately buy new underwear.  I felt like everyone’s personal assistant. And I hated it.

Now, if someone needs something, I simply say, “I’m sorry. I have to work. You’ll have to get your own dry cleaning/remember your own homework/walk home from school/wear the 16 pairs of underwear you already have.” I know it’s not fair. I know you don’t want to. I’m sorry. That’s how it is.”

It’s awesome. I should have gotten a job a long time ago.

Boys are from Mars, Girls are from the planet that never stops talking

My daughter, who is now in first grade, likes to tell me things. This is a big change from the past 12 years, during which I have had to bribe, blackmail, and badger each precious monosyllable from my older sons. Just yesterday, I had this conversation with my 7th grader after school.

Me: How was your day?

Jake: Normal.

Me: Normal..good? Normal-bad?

Jake: Just normal.

Me: Okay..how was..gym?

Jake: Good.

Me: What did you do?

Jake: Stuff.

And so on.

One might conclude from this exchange that Jake is entering that turd-like phase of adolescence when children basically do their best to thwart their parents at every turn in order to punish them for committing the crime of bringing them into existence. But we have been having similar conversations since he was 4 and I was picking him up from preschool. He is, like many, a man of few words.

Which is why I am so excited to pick my daughter up from the bus stop every day. She answers every single one of my questions in a satisfactory, descriptive way. She even offers unasked for tidbits, such as this one from yesterday:

Anna: Today we learned Give is an oddball.

Me (thinking hard): Okay…is ‘Give’ one of your classmates?

Ann: No, silly! it doesn’t follow the rules so it’s an oddball.

Me (triumphantly): OH! You mean the word “give!”

Anna: Yes, it’s not pronounced with a long “I” even though it has a silent E!

Me: That’s right! You’re so smart! And talkative! I love you!

After that conversation I felt strangely elated, yet relieved, like I had just dodged a bullet, and an incident from last year popped into my mind.  Anna was sitting in her car seat, happily looking out the window, when she asked me, “Mommy, do you remember when we went to that place where they had the green bench? And that girl was there with brown hair? And we played on that big thing?”

And, I unfortunately replied, “Um..no. Can you tell me more about it? Which girl? What did we do there?”

She went on:  “The GIRL with BROWN HAIR. And we PLAYED. The BENCH was GREEN. Remember?”

My stupid response: “Sorry, I don’t know what you mean.”

She was poleaxed. “MOMMY! HOW CAN YOU NOT REMEMBER! WE PLAYED ON THAT THING! AND SAT ON THE BENCH! WITH THE GIRL!”

Desperately, I explained, “Look, I have no idea what you’re talking about! I’m sorry but I just don’t know!”

Things went downhill from there. Her loud and tearful accusations about how I never remember ANYTHING and HOW COULD I NOT KNOW what she was TALKING ABOUT were accompanied by some surprisingly powerful angry kicks at the back of my seat to punish me for my willful refusal to REMEMBER.

With this memory came the uncomfortable epiphany that all the details my daughter lovingly and generously bestow on me have a price.  I shudder to think what might happen if she tells me something and I don’t understand it, or asks me if I remember something and I can’t.  The back of my driver’s seat still bears the scuff marks from her Mary Janes. She’s bigger and stronger now and wears tennis shoes.  Yikes.

So, I have accepted the fact that I am required to both decipher all of the tidbits she shares AND file them away meticulously in my head for recall at any moment. Or at least provide a convincing appearance of doing so.

I go to the bus stop again today at 3:55 PM armed with my newfound understanding, and I am prepared when she hops off the bus, runs over to me and launches into a detailed description of gym class. Apparently, they played that game where they had to pretend to be magic beans and stay inside a circle and if they got knocked out of the circle then they had to go to jail… “remember that game?” she asks me expectantly.

Showtime.

“YES!” I say loudly. (I don’t)

“You LOVE that game! “ I guess. Shot in the dark, but she sounded enthusiastic.

She huffs back at me, “No, mommy, GRACE loves that game. I only like it when we get to pick teams, and today the teacher ASSIGNED the teams, and I had to be with JAMES.”

She looks at me expectantly. Okay, I can’t mess this one up. I study her face. She looks…indignant.

“Oh…NO!?” I say tentatively.

“I know, right?” she says. “I was so upset I didn’t even PLAY until Carolina said she would stay right by me the whole time.”

Okay. This might be important. Time to go out a limb.

“Umm…remind me about why you don’t like James?” I said mildly.

Her eyes get wide and her eyebrows go up. Uh-oh. “Mom! I LIKE James, it’s just when he’s playing with Trevor, he gets really rough, and I don’t like it..”

“And Trevor was on your team too!” I finish triumphantly.  Mother of the Year!

When she stops and puts a hand on her hip I know I have grossly miscalculated.

“MOM!” she scoffs. “Trevor isn’t even in the same CLASS!” She looks at me in disgust.

Damn, flew too close to the sun on that one.

I try an experiment.

I say nothing.

There is a short pause, presumably while she reflects on my incompetence, and then she resumes her monologue:

“..so CJ was on my team, and he’s really rough and I was afraid that James would be rough too, but he wasn’t so it was ok. But then, Carolina had to go to jail, and she was upset, but then Abigail went and set her free so she was happy again…”

And so, I realize as we slowly make our way up the street to our house, that my job is really very simple. I am required to listen.

I can do that.