Archive for July, 2006

Vacation Countdown

July 27, 2006

Img_0395I stopped the newspapers. I printed out pages and pages of instructions for the housesitter. I Fedex’ed two boxes of sheets, blankets, and beach towels so they’ll get to our beach rental ahead of us. I did piles of laundry. I got a pedicure (hey, I had to, it’s sandals season). In between all this I took Nadya to the doctor for a sinus infection.
    I still have to buy Mischa new sneakers since his fell apart last week, pick up more kitty litter since we’re just about out, and return one more book to the library. (I took a big stack of books today; I thought I was done. I forgot one.) I still have to go to the bank, figure out something to bring to eat on the airplane, and pay the bills before we leave. Oh, and do my packing, and help the three kids pack (dad’s on his own). And make sure we’ve got the right medicines and first aid stuff and enough sun lotion, which probably means a trip to the drugstore. And strip-search my wallet to make sure I have the medical cards and the east coast frequent shopper cards and not the local library cards. And oh yeah, get Nadya to the orthodontist because she cracked her retainer. And clean out a few drawers so the housesitters have a place to put their things. And clean out the refrigerator so I don’t have scary science experiments waiting when I get home. And change the sheets. And throw Mischa an abbreviated family birthday party so I don’t have to figure out where to pack his presents. And tie-dye with the kids tomorrow evening because I have tie-dye stuff left from last week and I need to use it up because it won’t last and I can’t bear to throw it out.
    I already found someone to cover for me at work while I’m gone, by promising that absolutely nothing will come up and nobody will ask him anything. Which means I have to close an article that’s currently in the production cycle in two days. Should be doable, but the art needs to be changed, so I worked late today fussing with that. I had firm goals on three other projects that would have been good to hit this week as well, but this morning I did triage; I cleaned all the “really ought to do” piles off my desk and just left the “really really have to do” piles, accepting that I’m not going to be able to accomplish the impossible. This means, of course, that when I get back from vacation I’m going to be seriously behind and scrambling, but that’s nothing new.
    This is the point in the vacation prep where I start wondering whether the absolute exhaustion that builds up before vacation—the exhaustion that means that I end up sleeping away the first few days of vacation or stumbling around in a daze, which irritates my husband because I don’t seem to be having a lot of fun and I am shirking my end of kid-duty—is simply counterproductive, and I’d be more rested if I never took a vacation at all. I do get over this feeling eventually (and this is why I like to go away for at least three weeks, less often doesn’t seem worth it, unless, of course, it’s a cruise and I’m being waited on hand and foot). About two weeks in I’ll feel calm and rested and will have forgotten this madness. But right now, with a long to do list sitting in front of me and only 48 hours of prep time left in which to do it, I wonder. (I also wonder why we’re taking a 7 a.m. flight on Saturday morning, considering my husband and I will both probably be working late on Friday.)
    It probably didn’t help that I was hanging out on Forest Ave. last night from 2 to 2:30 a.m. enjoying the cool night air and looking at the stars—well, actually, I was leaning on a tree trying to stay awake and looking at blazing movie lights, while my teen and his friends pretended to be party guests for a feature movie being filmed in Palo Alto. It was my idea that they sign on as extras, I figured it’d be a great experience, but silly me, I thought people filmed movies during the day. Apparently people film movies at night, from 9 pm to 2 a.m., but of course, like any creative business, things usually take longer than you think. Hypothetically, I didn’t really mind the 2 a.m. run, figured it was like getting up to feed a baby, and I’d done plenty of that. What I’d forgotten was that the day after you get up to feed a baby you’re operating one cylinder short, or whatever that expression is, probably if I’d gotten more sleep I’d remember, but anyway, being tired makes the vacation prep list just that much more daunting.
    Anyway, now I can cross one more thing off my list, anyway—blog one more time before I go. See ya’ll in three weeks. 

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A nice place to visit

July 17, 2006

Onlychild_1For the past week I’ve been visiting an alternate universe—that of the single-child family.
    Usually I’m living in a family of five—mom, dad, and three children. Things are never dull, but never exactly peaceful either. Life has its ups and downs, usually all at the same time. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
    But there are lots of places I wouldn’t want to live, but sure do like visiting. And when I packed my two older children off to summer camp last week, I sent myself flying into only-child-land.
    Just like on a real vacation, I find I’m a different person here. I’m a lot more relaxed, a little freer with the purse strings. I notice the sights (easier to do when you’re not tracking three kids), talk to strangers (because I’m not overwhelmed trying to keep track of three simultaneous conversations in front of me). Take this weekend.
    Saturday Mischa and I went to the Menlo Park street fair. We thought we’d stay an hour and go home for lunch. We stayed nearly three, since it was easier to buy lunch for the two of us (we shared a $5 order of nachos) than to go home and make it. We walked through the entire thing—when I stopped to look at the art and then decided to move on, I didn’t have to spend 15 minutes collecting my brood; the distance seemed so much shorter than last year. We tasted everything in the gourmet food area and I didn’t feel guilty about not buying anything; with three kids in tow I’m likely to avoid that scene, having all three of them reaching for toothpicks and nuts and bits of bread just seems too greedy, too “descent of the locusts”.
    We had discussed ahead of time that I’d pay for Mischa to make a wax hand in the children’s area; he made one a few years ago, and a ray of sun, unexpectedly striking his bookcase last winter, melted it. He was prepared for that to be the only splurge. But when I got into the children’s area and saw the rock climbing wall, and Mischa looking at it wistfully (but not saying a word), I offered to treat him to that, too. $5 for rock climbing, $5 for the hand, and I was out $10 for half a day of entertainment; I could afford to be generous. The prices seemed, for once, reasonable. Usually, with three kids in tow, I think these things are outrageous, because I don’t see that $5 sign and think $5, I immediately do the mental math; rock climbing, $15; wax hand, $15, yikes,  that’s $30!
    Instead of being completely exhausted from keeping track of kids for three hours, at 2 pm I still had plenty of energy. Mischa and I decided to go to the Klutz store to check out potential birthday presents, since his birthday is coming up soon, and I don’t have a clue what to get him. So easy to make the decision, just the two of us, nobody else in the car to complain that the Klutz store is boring or say they need to get home and call a friend. On the way over we talked about all sorts of things; I could follow his leaps from one subject to another, they suddenly made sense. Usually Mischa’s dramatic subject changes seem to come out of nowhere; without siblings interrupting, I could tell there actually was a pattern. At the store Mischa tried out all sorts of juggling equipment; the guy at the register smiled encouragingly. One kid doing that is cute, three is chaos.
    Apres Klutz, Mischa poked around quietly in his room, something he’d never do with siblings at home, he’d be too afraid he’d miss something. I dozed for half an hour on the couch. (Even parents of only children need down time). Then I got out the tie-dye kit I bought a year ago; I’d been fearing it as a major mess, but tie-dying now seemed like a perfectly reasonable project. Mischa dyed a T-shirt and a bandana, I dyed two camis. We ran out of white things before we ran out of dye; we capped the dye and will likely get back to it later in the week.
    My DH came home, having spent the day seeing a movie and getting his hair cut, and the three of us went to Sundance Steak House, Mischa’s pick, since he won a $25 gift certificate at a baseball game. (We didn’t have the heart to tell him $25 wouldn’t even pay the bar tab.) Proud to be the only kid in the place, he was happy to dawdle over dinner; after all, he had the attention of both parents and several waiters. And three desserts to taste, on the house, to make up for a mixup earlier in the meal. Not too shabby.
    Home a little after eight, Mischa lay on my bed while I folded laundry, then cuddled up next to me and watched the end of a movie. His “I love you mommy” was the perfect end to a perfect day. He wouldn’t dare say that in front of his sibs, too corny.
    Sunday my DH took Mischa to a Giants game. Usually him taking one child means I have two left at home, and I hardly notice the difference. Today it meant I had most of the day to myself. I went to a 12:00 movie, took a long walk in the Baylands, wrote in my journal, and sat in the backyard and read the Sunday papers. After dinner Mischa and I walked to Cold Stone for ice cream; with three kids at home I would likely have done the math and pulled ice cream out of the freezer instead. On the way back we stopped to talk to a woman with a two-year-old girl drowning in strawberry ice cream, a neighbor with a house under renovation, and a pregnant cat, the latter sparking a review of the facts of life. (When this subject comes up in the presence of the know-it-all older kids, they inevitably groan.)
    My visit to this foreign country will end on Saturday. And I’ll be happy to get back "home", I miss my big guys, and check the mailbox daily for letters (between the two of them they’ve written one, just one. To me, that is, I have a feeling my teen’s friends are getting lots of mail.) But it has sure been a nice trip.

Working Moms’ Summer

July 13, 2006

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    Summer is hard for working moms. Oh, not for the reasons we tell you—that summer childcare eats up our entire take-home pay, that scheduling summer camps and activities to fill up our nine-to-five-plus days takes familiarity with Excel and many, many late nights. That’s true, but we budget all year for the summer financial hit; we’ve got file drawers full of camp brochures and our on-line calendars programmed to remind us of registration deadlines. By June we’ve paid the bills, we’ve printed out the spreadsheets and plastered them on our kitchen walls, and we’re way past all that.
    So that’s not why it’s hard.
    It’s hard because in the summer we constantly run into SAHMs. We see them hopping into their SUV’s with their tennis rackets. We see them riding their bikes with kids along side or onboard. We see them picking up coffee as they head off to walk the Stanford Dish, wearing their sunglasses and sun visors. And we see them sitting by the country club pool drinking ice tea looking amazingly cool in their casual yet fashionable coverups as we rush, sweating, from the parking lot to the day camp pickup knowing we are seriously late. Yes, we’re grateful the camp takes the children of non-members, it’s a good camp, but we wish it had a back door.
    And when we see them, they smile cheerfully and ask us, “How’s your summer going?” And we can’t answer. We can’t be honest, and say, “Summer is hell and I’ve never been so tired in my life.” We can’t lie and say, ‘Oh, great, it’s just so relaxing.” And we really don’t want to punt and ask them about their summers; we just don’t want to hear it. So we mumble about being late, which we usually are, and move past quickly.
    Sure, intellectually, we know their lives have their own challenges. We know that they are sitting by the pool because they don’t trust the teenage lifeguard and they’re afraid the swim teacher might drown their kids; that keeping bored kids happy on long summer days can be draining. We know that their lives aren’t always ice-tea-by-the pool, and that when their kids were younger getting through the day felt like running a marathon. We know that in our heads, but deep in our hearts, we are sure that their lives are easier.
    In the winter, we don’t mind so much . We wave to them at school dropoff as we go off to work and they go off to, well, whatever it is they go off to. We know they aren’t watching soap operas and eating bonbons all day; we know they are volunteering in the classroom and running the PTA auction and doing all the other things that keep our communities running. And when we see them drinking coffee at Starbucks they’ve got their day planners and their computers and are figuring out how to bump the school fundraising numbers up 10 percent this year, and we can honestly wish them well. Meanwhile we dress up like grown-ups and go off to our reasonably interesting jobs, which we mostly like, and collect our paychecks that help pay the mortgage, which we really like. And if we’re lucky, we take the occasional business trip and order room service and, sometimes, even get to lie by a pool for an hour or two and drink ice tea.
    In the spring, we don’t mind. We’re giddy with the warm weather and the flowers blooming and take the long way back from lunch so we can walk past the nicest gardens. We’ve got an endorphin buzz from the return of the sun, and an adrenaline buzz from trying to fit in all the spring sports and school activities without getting behind at work.
    But in the summer, we mind. We mind a lot. Years of school vacations conditioned us—summer is not a time for work. Summer is the time for hanging out with friends, the time for the pool, the beach, the tennis courts. We take a few weeks off, but it’s not enough. We get pedicures so at least our feet look rested, splash on a bottle tan so we don’t look like ghosts, occasionally spritz our hair with surf-spray for that just-got-out-of-the-ocean look, and dump on sunlotion for the beachy smell. And on those rare days that we’re early for the camp pickup and have a moment to sit outside, we fool ourselves into thinking we actually are having a summer.
    Until, that is, a well-rested SAHM with a real tan and no bags under her eyes asks us how it’s going, not realizing she’s entering dangerous territory. For one day, we may blow; we may tell the truth, and it won’t be pretty.
    So in the interest of keeping down the carnage of the Mommy Wars, treat your local working moms with care this summer.
    (And now I press the post button, knowing that I may be about to become cannon fodder…)

The Number One Bar

July 10, 2006

BarMuggy. Sweaty hot. Rain threatens, but never comes. The sun set hours ago, but the air is still sticky. New Jersey in the summer; god I’d missed it.
    The airport car service drops me at my mother’s house a little after 9 p.m. I’m not quite ready for dinner; I tell her I’ll go out and grab a slice of pizza when I get hungry. New Jersey pizza, paper thin, with pools of olive oil and stretchy mozzarella sliding off the bed of marinara. It’s going to taste so good. Mom and I sit in the living room, drink a beer (Molson, I wish she’d buy Rolling Rock), and talk until about 10:30. Then she goes up to bed, and I walk off to get my pizza, only about five blocks away.
    The pizza parlor is still open—it’s a Saturday night after all. But the glass display cases are empty. Sold out, and no more in the oven. I stand in the parking lot for a minute. I am really really hungry now, for New Jersey food, and have no idea how I am going to get it.
    I turn back the way I had come; half a block back, a more formal Italian restaurant is still open. I stick my head in, ask to see a menu—but the kitchen is closed. Three Jersey boys—late 30s, maybe (it is pretty dark), mostly bald, mostly overweight—stand outside the restaurant smoking.
    “Whatsa mattah?”
    “Oh, the kitchen is closed. And I’m dying for pizza.”
    “I’ll take you out for pizza,” offers the biggest, baldest guy, clearly the leader of the group.
    “Right. Seriously though, I do need to get some food. Do you know of anything open around here?”
    “The Number One Bar.”
    “Huh?” I thought I knew all the businesses in this commercial strip.
    “Down there, next to Quick Chek. Or you could get a sub a Quick Chek.”
    “Puhleeze. So the Number One has food?”
    “Yeah, burgers, cheesesteaks, whatevah.”
    Cheesesteaks come second to pizza on my east coast food craving list. I am almost sold.
    “But how bad is it going to be. I mean, is everyone going to be wasted and I’ll feel creepy?”
    “Nah, you’ll be fine.”
    Somehow, I trust this guy. He is oh so familiar to me, I grew up with him, talked to him between sets in countless seaside bars (I’m starting to sound like a Springsteen song). Yeah, he did the come-on bit at the beginning of the conversation, but that was just to be polite; if he hadn’t, by Jersey standards he would have been insulting me, calling me an old lady.
    So I cross the street and walk the block to the Number One Bar. I can’t believe I’ve never spotted it before; it clearly has been here for at least 40 years.
    First thing I notice—no smoke. (I find out later New Jersey just banned smoking in bars.) One room, basically, though I can see a grill in back. An oval bar, stools around it. One pool table with barely enough room for a pool cue to have a clear shot. One dart table. A juke box. And about thirty people, enough to fill the place without making it impossibly crowded. I find a seat at the bar, trying not to feel awkward; this is a place where everyone knows each other’s name; everyone that is, except me. I am being studiously ignored, in a way that makes me self-conscious. Ignored, that is, except by a scruffy guy a few stools past mine; he gives me a smile and a slow wink. Somehow, that relaxes me and I don’t feel quite so much in the spotlight.
    I order my cheesesteak (to go, I’m not that comfortable) and check out the surroundings. Knots of guys, 30s and 40s, mostly, groups of threes and fours, rarely more or less. Only two women besides me; one, late 40s perhaps, sits at the far end of the bar finishing up a burger. (No one else is eating) The other is probably the youngest person in the place, 20-something, very pregnant, playing darts with two guys and losing badly. Another guy walks in, wearing a Rescue Squad shirt (New Jersey is big on volunteer ambulance crews). One of the groups quickly sweeps him into their blue-collared midst.
    I try to figure out the scene.  This is definitely not a pickup bar; the guys aren’t on the prowl, they are there to get out of the house and hang out with their friends. The women are anomalies; I surmise that the older the woman eating at the bar is a mom of grown kids, she no longer bothers making dinner most nights. The younger woman, I imagine, recently married one of the Number One Bar regulars and has gotten used to hanging out with his friends. But her bar days are going to end as soon as she has the baby—before she gets much better at darts. And the guys? Most of the men have probably known each other forever. They went to high school together, now they play softball together in the spring. Some are single, most are probably married. And the married ones helped put their kids to bed (at least I hoped they did) before they came here tonight, leaving their wives at home. Do the wives resent it, I wonder? Probably not, they are most likely too tired to care.
   But then I start thinking, shouldn’t there be a Number One Bar for women? A place where a mom could go out after a rough day, leaving dad home with the sleeping children, and unwind surrounded by her friends? Where she might not see the same people every time she goes, but there is always be someone to talk to, someone who has known her forever?
    And then the bartender hands me a bag with my cheesesteak. I pay him, climb off the stool, smile at the scruffy guy with the slow wink, and go back out into the sticky New Jersey night.

Ooh-ooh Growin’ Up

July 3, 2006

Img_0344On the last night of my recent business trip to New York I had about two hours free. I spent the time in Times Square, shopping for kid presents. I needed things that would say, “Yes yes I was thinking of you yes I know I was gone but look you get a present so next time I go you’ll remember it’s not all bad.” Before I left, I asked the two younger ones, age seven and just-turned-eleven, for gift suggestions. (My oldest was out of town himself, so missed the chance for input.)
    Now, until this moment, I had considered these two my “little guys.” I had my “big boy” and my “little guys” (one boy, one girl). The big boy goes to PG-13 movies, eats out a lot, plays rock music with his friends, and it’s been years since he’s been interested in the snow domes or beanie babies I used to bring him from business trips. (This of course makes shopping for him a lot more difficult.) The little guys spend a lot more time with mom, find grocery shopping interesting as long as they can get free cookies, like G and PG movies, and are sometimes mistaken for twins. With three kids and two parents, this division of the kids into two sets makes life a lot easier; one takes the big boy, one takes the little guys, and everyone gets where they want to go.
    Anyway, I asked the little guys to suggest presents. Mischa collects towers, but he already has a souvenir model of every major New York landmark. Nadya collects teaspoons; she’s got New York covered as well. So Mischa asked for a new stuffed animal, something really really soft and cuddly. And Nadya asked for a purse.
    “A purse?” Yes, like her friend Rose. Actually, as she described it, it seemed like something that you would call a handbag. The purse she envisioned had handles, and hard sides, and would sit nicely on the table when she opened it up to take out her lip gloss. Lip gloss? I was still having trouble visualizing my little girl carrying a handbag, and now she was talking about lip gloss?
    But I didn’t get into any of that. “OK,” I said, “I’ll see what I can find.”
    Which brings me back to Times Square at 9 p.m. Earlier in the week, I had seen a street vendor in the area with a table heaped with designer knockoff handbags. At least I think that’s what they were; I’m clueless when it comes designer clothes, but can’t imagine a Times Square street vendor would be selling non-knockoffs. The handbags were reasonably small, striped in candy colors, and, while intended for adults, not entirely inappropriate for an 11-year-old. But that night I had been walking with colleagues, not exactly the time to go designer-knock-off shopping. Now, however, I didn’t remember exactly which Times Square feeder street he had been working.
    I stumbled across the "Spamalot" theater, so I snuck in before intermission to buy a T-shirt for my teen. Three blocks away, I found the handbags. The price was right, the light blue and purple stripes were just her color, and I knew she would be thrilled.
    And then I elbowed through the crowd into the giant Times Square Toys R Us to pick out the perfect stuffed animal for my one last little guy. For a long time I wandered the store carrying two animals, telling myself I was having trouble deciding which one to buy. That wasn’t it, however, it just took a while to get used to the idea that I only needed to buy one.
    Back home the next day the Spamalot shirt was a hit, as was the fuzzy green dragon from Toys R Us. And my daughter, not a little girl any more, but not really a big girl yet, well, she loved the purse. It was absolutely perfect (a home run for mom). She put in three of her recent birthday presents—a lip gloss, a wallet, and a Jamba Juice gift card (the Palo Alto tweens version of a credit card)—and sashayed down the sidewalk out of childhood, and into the tween years.