Archive for June, 2008

A gift from the DMV

June 22, 2008

Dmvlogo_round Last year the DMV gave me a little present. I know, it’s rare to have warm and fuzzy feelings towards the DMV, but, at least for now, I do.

In California, while teens can get their driver’s licenses as soon as they turn 16, they have to jump through a few hoops first. They have to pass an online or classroom course and take several very expensive hours of professional private driving lessons. They also have to spend at least six months driving and log at least 50 hours behind the wheel with an adult (read: parent) riding shotgun.

And that was the gift.

Back when my now-16-year-old son was a baby, we were inseparable. I wore him in a snuggly on my front, a backpack on my shoulders. I pushed him in the stroller. Basically, except when I was at work and he was with the babysitter, he and I were together.

By the time he didn’t want to come with me wherever I went, when he wasn’t eager to ride along in the grocery cart, to push the buttons on the ATM, to stand on the stool “helping” me make dinner, I had two

other kids in tow, so, when I noticed at all, I was mostly happy that he had moved towards independence. When he turned teen and it would feel like I’d go days without seeing him for more than a couple of minutes, I did realize how much I missed the guy that I’d gotten so used to spending so much time with. I started insisting that he showed up for dinner on a regular basis and only have one sleepover on most weekends, but figured the days of constant companionship were gone forever.

And then he got his driving permit. Suddenly, he wanted to know my every move. Was I running errands, dropping books at the library, buying milk, stopping at the bank? Super, he’d drop everything to come with me. Taking the younger kids to ballet, a trek I made several times each week? Just let him get his shoes on. Grocery shopping, Costco? Sounds like fun. He put a notebook in the car and started logging his hours. And 50 hours, while it doesn’t sound like much, when you split it into 15 and 20 minute trips, is a whole lot of together time.

I had a no-radio rule, since I didn’t want to distract him myself from spotting potential hazards and screaming calmly alerting him about the situation. So, after the first 10 hours or so, after he got a little spatial awareness and I wasn’t worried he was going to sideswipe every car we passed, we talked, chatted about all sorts of trivial stuff. Drive time was not a time for heavy discussions, again, too distracting. Instead, it was the light, everyday chat that sometimes gets overlooked in a busy family.

I got really really used to spending all this time with him; a six-month replay of days long past that, looking back, seem to have been so blissful. (OK, maybe I would have occasionally liked to go to the bathroom alone back then, but still, they were special.)

And then, of course, he passed his driving test. On the first try. I dragged out the ride home, had him take me to his favorite taco truck for lunch, was late getting him back to school. Because I knew, that, once again, the together times had ended. And this time, I noticed.

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Embarrassing my kids once again (it’s my job)

June 17, 2008

Tn1So at Friday’s Kung Fu Panda party there were four Pandemonium dancers teaching people the Kung Fu Panda dance. Early in the party they didn’t have a lot of takers and looked a little lonely, so I pointed my nine-year-old boy in their direction and told him to go learn the dance. (A mom standing by was really impressed by how he then marched right out there without complaining; she missed the part where I told him I’d pay him a dollar.)

Eventually, my 13-year-old daughter decided she’d better learn it too; in case it does turn out to be popular, she can’t have little brother best her at it.

Later on, since I actually like line dances, I got out there as well. And folks, this dance is hard! Kudos to the kids who even learned one of the four sections. There’s intricate footwork and complicated hand movements and turns; and it goes fast. Really fast.

I thought I did really well. OK, I was faking the footwork, but I was awesome on the punches (my 30-years-ago karate training kicking in). My 13-year-old didn’t think so. “Mom, you’re so awkward!” she said.)

Once we got home Friday night it got a little crazy. My kids were blasting the song Kung Fu fighting and doing the dance over and over and over, arguing about some of the finer points of the steps. When we went out for ice cream later, the nine-year-old’s feet kept going the entire time, kicking everyone else under the table. And now he’s trying to sell me on hip-hop lessons, he apparently talked to the dancers and found out where they train.

The pandemonium never stops.

See you, in September…

June 13, 2008

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Last night was a last supper; the last family meal, for basically, the whole summer. It wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked; my daughter was late getting home from her friend’s middle school graduation; we’d waited dinner a while and then the rest of us ate a not-quite-warm meal; she slid into her chair, starving, while we were bringing out plates for dessert. But it was such a warm night, we did get to eat outside, and my youngest, for once, didn’t whine about leaves and bugs dropping in his food.

But the kids are scattering. Not all at once; we’ll always have at least one at home. Still, they’re giving me a preview of a nest that’s going to get a little less crowded in the coming years, and I’m not sure I’m going to like it. On Saturday, my youngest boy goes off with a friend for a week; on Monday, I take my daughter to summer

camp; she’ll be there for three weeks. Before she gets back, my oldest
son is off to spend five weeks at Northwestern followed by two weeks
working as teen staff at camp. We won’t all be together again as a
family until late August, just before school starts.

Wow. It’s
going to be strange. Or, perhaps worse, I’ll get used to it, and be
blogging in September about how crowded the house suddenly feels.

Learning new tricks

June 4, 2008

Img_2050It’s
been long time since I tried to do something completely new (I think
the last time was trapeze at Club Med back in 1999). And mostly, that’s
fine, I have no desire to learn a new language, try skydiving, or
switch to snowboarding from skiing; frankly, I’d be happy if I had
enough free time simply to clean my closets.

So when I went to the plant store on Saturday morning—after dropping
one kid at ballet dress rehearsal and before picking up supplies for
the 13th birthday party that evening, folding eight loads of laundry,
or turning the 5-inch stack of fabric squares colored by fourth graders
into the class quilt while I wondered what I was thinking when I
volunteered for that one—I had no intention of venturing into uncharted
territory. I just wanted a couple of tomato plants. Yeah, I know it’s
late to be getting my garden in; spring blew by me this year, but I’m
not willing to let a summer go by without garden tomatoes.

I picked out the tomatoes, and a pack of basil, and a couple of
zucchinis, and one red bell pepper plant because Mischa was with me and
he really likes peppers, and then I detoured past the hoses. I had this
picture in my head of buying a soaker hose that I would simply throw in
the middle of the garden bed and it would magically water my garden for
me, never mind that we tried that last year and it didn’t work.

Then I talked to the store manager; I’m not sure what his name was, but I’m going to call him Bob. He looked like a Bob.

I explained my dilemma—one long garden bed, a husband that likes to
hand water the plants but doesn’t always have time, and a hankering for
summer tomatoes. “Just put in a sprinkler system,” said Bob.

Oh no, I explained. My husband and I had briefly talked about a sprinkler system, but that’d clearly be

too expensive, too complicated, and not worth the trouble for a couple of tomatoes (and basil, and zucchini, and a pepper).

“It’d cost 10 or 15 bucks in parts,” Bob said, “and you can just put it together yourself.” He started pulling strange objects off shelves: a long coil of hose, various clamps, adaptors, sprinkler heads.

“I really don’t think so,” I said. “I’m not exactly handy, I don’t have much time, and there is no way I’m going to convince my husband to help with this project.”

Bob kept grabbing things, mumbling. “You’ll need about three or four 180-degree sprinklers, a 90-degree for the corner, you might want to get a faucet splitter so you can leave a hose hooked up as well, you don’t really need the hole punch, you can just use a nail, but it’s only $2, so you may as well get it.” He dumped the collection in my arms.

I think I looked scared, because he then began reassuring me that I really really could do this, by myself, it was easy. I just had to shove this thing here, this other thing there, jam the hole punch into the hose, push the sprinklers into the holes I’d made, bend the end of the hose and clamp it, and then simply turn on the water—or get a timer to do that for me.

Bob was convincing. Very convincing. I now believed that I could do this, or at least that I had a shot. I scanned the price tags of the gear I was holding and did a quick calculation—definitely under $15, so even if I failed dismally it wasn’t going to be an expensive failure.

Back at home I walked in the front door and out the back without putting down the bag of parts, blowing past my husband as I said, “I’m putting a sprinkler system into the garden.”

He followed me out the door, concerned for my sanity. “I need to do it right now,” I said, “while I still believe I can.”

I started grabbing plastic gizmos and shoving them together, my husband hovering, worrying that the hose, now crossing the path, would trip someone. I couldn’t focus on that, I had to clamp the end of the hose and then jam the hole punch in every three or four feet. He went in the garage and emerged with some strips of metal, which he bent like croquet wickets and pounded into the ground, pinning the hose into the dirt and removing all danger of tripping. A good idea, but not nearly as cool as stuffing sprinkler heads into holes, which I was rushing to do; I had to get back to the ballet studio for pickup in less than an hour.

I finished in plenty of time, turned the water on, and it worked! I was thrilled; that sense of accomplishment, of conquering new territory, is heady. Kids feel it all the time, riding a bike, learning to multiply, climbing a tree; but sometimes it’s hard to find for adults. So I’m darn proud of my sprinkler system, and I’m going to be showing it off to everyone who visits my house this summer.