Archive for September, 2008

I’m in a Philadelphia

September 29, 2008

J0189302_2 Some people know Philadelphia as a city. To others, it is a metaphysical black hole. Let me explain.

Lately, it seems, I can’t get anything done right, at least the first time. This is happening at work and at home. I’m madly researching an article on deadline and manage to come up with a bit of new information that completely sinks the article. Over. Killed. Dead enough that I have to throw out four days of research and start out with a completely new topic.

I buy a new comforter at Ikea because I think it would make me happy to have a bigger, fluffier, cozier poof on my bed; I take it home and open it, and find out that it has this weird hard zipper running right up the middle. I go to return it, and have to spend an hour at the store complaining my way up the management ladder to get a refund because I opened the package. Duh, that’s how I found out about the weird zipper.

I go into the high school registrar to find out how to get a class reported on the school transcript, thinking I could take 10 minutes in person and deal with it, but now I’m a week and seven people into the process and am close to concluding it can’t be done.

I figure out a brilliant solution to feeding my kids dinner on a day in which they have tight activities schedule and have to eat at three very different and very precise times—I decide to sauté a bunch of vegetables and grate cheese ahead of time so I can do the short order cook thing and quickly produce omelets as needed. The plan works until my husband comes home from what I thought was a dinner meeting, sees the vegetables in the bowl and cheese on the cutting board and eats them, meaning I have to pull all the vegetables out of the refrigerator and start chopping again for another do-over.

Individually, all minor annoyances. But add them to a long list of similar frustrations, and it adds up.

Finally, it dawns on me. I’m in a Philadelphia, or something close, maybe a Trenton? Let me explain. My actor son once performed in a one-act play called “The Philadelphia.” It involves two guys meeting for lunch at a diner; one guy simply orders what he wants, and gets what he orders. But no matter what the other guy orders, the restaurant is out of it or won’t serve it to him.

He complains that this has been going on for a while, and the first guy explains to him that he’s in a Philadelphia: “You see, inside of what we know as reality there are these pockets, these black holes called Philadelphias. If you fall into one, you run up against exactly the kinda shit that’s been happening to you all day…. no matter what you ask for, you can’t get it. You ask for something, they’re not gonna have it. You want to do something, it ain’t gonna get done. You want to go somewhere, you can’t get there from here.”

So that’s my problem, I’m in a Philadelphia. But it will pass, and in the meantime, I’ll try to follow the advice of the play: “Best thing to do is wait it out. Someday the great cosmic train will whisk you out of the city of Brotherly Love and off the someplace happier.”

I’m thinking a Paris would be nice; since that would involve looking completely fashionable no matter what I throw on, long long lunches, and really good wine….

A routine vacation

September 12, 2008

There was at time that I considered vacations as opportunities for adventure—go to a new country, meet new people, have new experiences—new, new, new.

But these days, my favorite vacation of the year, our August trip to the Jersey Shore, is a celebration of routine. A routine that is completely different from the one we have at home, but one we all know by heart. And since it’s such a well-worn groove, it’s easy to settle into; for me, that’s a prescription for instant relaxation.

We aren’t fortunate enough to own a vacation house, but we do the next best thing. We rent the same house every year. And the people we rent it from aren’t big on change, so we can trust that most things will be the same. Oh, the bedspreads were replaced a few years go, and the next year we got a couple of new wine glasses, but the changes are minor and gradual. The outside, bright pink the first year we rented, has faded to salmon. Inside, the upholstery is fading too; it’s still pretty, but not so new looking that I worry about the kids feet on the couch. The white and turquoise dishes are in the same cabinets, the teabags I left last summer still tucked in the back. The kids know exactly where to stack the boogie boards, in what corner of the porch we lean the beach umbrellas. We go to the same spot on the beach every morning with our orange umbrellas; friends and relatives know where to find us, they don’t have to call first. The kids know what color their shower towels are and what color their beach towels are; the only thing left to squabble about is whose turn it is to take a shower first. (That argument has calmed down a lot since the decision that the first person in the shower is the person who does the dishes.)

Every morning I get up early and walk three and a half miles, to the end of the boardwalk and back. That’s my routine; my husband goes out on his bike and gets the papers. We used to have to take turns, now the kids are old enough that we can both be gone, they know we’ll be back nagging them to put on sun lotion soon enough. We always go on the merry-go-round at least once; we get boardwalk ice cream a couple of nights, eat at the Sawmill restaurant whenever I don’t feel like cooking, and get pastries from the best bakery in the world on Sunday mornings. We could try a new restaurant, but we don’t. We actually have to be careful whenever we do something new, because once can make a tradition. Last year we went out one evening to an ice cream parlor where the waiters put on a half-hour show; now it’s on the list as something we have to do every year, along with watching the Wednesday night fireworks, crabbing off the pier, building a major sand castle, and miniature golf.

And then, after two weeks, we pack it all up and leave for another year. It makes it easier to leave, though, because we all know that our summer vacation isn’t disappearing, rather, it’ll be right where we left it when we go looking for it again next year.

Stupid school tricks

September 9, 2008

J04394282_2 Sometimes, the logic of middle school administrators completely escapes me. Here’s the latest example of reasoning that doesn’t work for me.

Problem: The giant, heavy, backpacks carried by middleschoolers.

OK, I agree with that. Backpacks are a huge problem. My 68-pound kid was carrying a 30-plus-pound backpack; last time she crashed her bike her backpack dragged her into upside-down turtle position, and she couldn’t do much more than flail her legs and arms. Parents have been complaining about the backpack problem for years, and it just gets worse. Every teacher wants kids to have a dedicated set of notebooks for that teacher’s class, spiral bound and binders both, along with some books, though, thankfully, the heaviest texts stay home. Then there is the fancy calculator that is required, the colored pencils, highlighters, white board markers, etc etc. “I left that at home because my backpack was too heavy” doesn’t count as a valid excuse for not being prepared.

That’s the problem from my perspective. From the school’s perspective, backpacks are dangerous because they are too big to fit under desks, so students sit them in the aisles and teachers trip over them and get hurt.

Solution: Ban backpacks.

WTF? My kid still has to carry the same pile of stuff, but now she’s not supposed to put it in a backpack. She grabbed my new Land’s End tote bag; tote bags apparently are allowed; the alternative would be to stack all her stuff in her arms, the way I did in middle school. It wasn’t a great idea then; it was exhausting, and the mean kids took great pleasure in “accidentally” bumping people in the hallway, sending a carefully balanced pile flying.

Theoretically, my daughter is supposed to run to her locker between every class and swap out her gear. Of course, the school didn’t actually extend the passing periods to make this possible, and she was just making it to class on time before. And she can’t actually reach her locker; she’s the shortest kid in school so she was assigned a locker in the top tier (that’s another rant). She simply has to carry her stuff on one shoulder instead of two.

But hey, the backpack problem is solved, right, because now none of the kids are carrying backpacks.

Middle school logic.

Hell Week is only the beginning

September 5, 2008

Forms forms forms. The kids and my husband did stacks of forms Sunday night (somehow I squeaked out of this chore this year), but more kept materializing. And the forms had to be handed in to the various school administration before the end of the day today. Then there was that short (read-two hours) meeting of the theatre boosters board. Dinner was late.

Tuesday: First day of school. It started out idyllic, the craziness of the previous day old news. The kids picked out their first day of school clothes the night before, they were up early so we would have time to take our traditional photos, ready for school ahead of schedule. It was a gorgeous sunny morning; the air sparkled. My oldest joined the stream of teens walking and biking down our street towards the high school; my middle child jumped on her bike for the ride to middle school. And my husband and I walked our youngest to elementary school, watching him as he clustered with friends on the playground. We waved to him as he walked into the classroom, then I scurried off to the back-to-school coffee, an hour of catching up with friends while chugging Peet’s coffee and munching Hobee’s coffee cake.

Back at the house, it was easy to concentrate on work, without wondering exactly what kind of mess the sounds I was hearing from the kitchen were going to produce, without thinking I really should get up and haul my youngest away from the television.

The peace was illusury. On and off throughout the morning I’d been exchanging email about a problem at the high school, that is, would there be a French V class this year. My son had it on his schedule, but the school wasn’t funding the class or providing a teacher. Another parent had possibly lined up a private teacher, but there were scheduling problems, and the parents would have to cover the cost. I begged out of a conference call early and went over to the school, where the other parent and I greeted the students in their classroom to tell them the situation, then met with various people on campus trying to sort it out. When I got home, the kids confronted me with the lists of required school supplies, which had to be bought right now. Office depot was packed, and parents were grabbing things off the shelves as soon as restockers put them out. The scramble for the last couple of spiral bound graph paper notebooks (who makes these lists???) got particularly crazy. Dinner was late again.

Wednesday: I faced the calendar. I added in all the back-to-school nights and parent meetings. Then I began crossing things off the calendar; first to go, tonight’s back-to-middle-school dinner. I’d never missed it before, but after a moment’s consideration, I zapped it. Zapped next week’s high school back to school dinner as well. And threw the PTA volunteer forms into the trash. (I have some stuff carrying over from last year, so I’m not completely opting out; still it felt wonderful). But what was this on the calendar? Soccer already? Luckily, my daughter’s shoes from last year fit my son; they still fit her too, maybe they can just trade off and save me a trip to Big 5.

Thursday: Isn’t this week over yet? And how could the high school be having picture day already. I randomly check a picture package selection on the form and scribble another check. Two more picture day forms sit on my desk. Reminder to self: order more checks. More emails and phone calls; high school French may or may not happen; my son adds another class to his schedule just in case, now we’re risking schedule overload. He starts making a list of college application deadlines, the first looks awfully close.

Friday: I’m completely wiped out, and, except for soccer, the afterschool activities haven’t kicked in yet. This one wants to take a diving class, that one is going to add violin lessons to piano and tennis, and though I thought the vote was to stop ballet, ballet is back on the table. And whose bright idea was it to schedule a bunch of long-postponed doctors appointments for next week?

Can I have summer back, please?