Back to school.

Ahh, it is back to school time again. And not just for the kiddos, this year. For me, too.


You see, five years ago, I gave up teaching for what, in a lot of ways, has been an even harder job as a stay at home mom, albeit with smaller adult to kid ratios. Maybe if you don’t move to an insanely small home in a prohibitively expensive city, and maybe if you don’t lop three quarters of your income and living space away at the same time, you have an easier go of it, I wouldn’t know.

But I spent five years sitting on the economic sidelines. And I had thoroughly convinced myself that I would never be fit for the work force again. I made several awkward attempts at it, but my most recent approach of having a job find me just wasn’t working. “Give it another five years,” another mom urged me. “I think it could happen!”

But now–miracle of miracles!–I have rejoined the gainfully employed! I teach kindergarten! And it’s awesome! And it’s kindergarten! We are going to have so much crazy fun! And the kids are hysterical! I’m beyond excited!

And beyond terrified. What if I forget how to work? My memory of how jobs work is a little fuzzy. I gather that they want me to be there every day, around the same time. And apparently, I am supposed to stay there all day. Does that seem right to you guys? And I am supposed to dress up, not just in the jeans without holes. Yikes. I urgently need to know if skirts with cargo pockets are still a thing, or if I’m totally screwed.

To launch this whole job thing, though, it has taken a really large village. So many wonderful people have come forward, arms linked together, to make this possible for me. It’s a good thing you can’t see me typing, because I am actually crying as I think about everyone who has babysat my kids, cheered me on, lugged my laundry to 8th Avenue, bought me a(nother) glass of wine, texted me that it’s all going to be fine. Even the boys I have abandoned to their fate at the afterschool program rush toward me at pickup, joyfully asking about my day, thoughtfully inquiring if anyone has the same lunchbox that I do. Truly, I am blessed.

So I’m going to ask you guys a favor, too, if that isn’t too cheeky: send me off on this adventure with all your good wishes, okay? I’m going to need them.

***

You may ask yourselves, why has it taken me an entire month to get this first day of school post up? Well, things came up. And work is a damn lot of work. I’m tired.

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Neighborhood Watch.

Late one night, almost two weeks ago now, the air outside the Fun Apartment was thick with helicopters. Siren wails were trailing through the streets. Voices from the street carried up through the windows–not the usual Saturday night revelry.

“What’s going on out there?” I asked the Man of My Dreams. He shrugged and went back to needing glasses to read the laptop screen. It was after bedtime, so we were observing the radio silence protocol. The helicopters continued to flaunt our blackout curtains, however. Finally, my gossipy friend Facebook filled me in. “Explosion in Chelsea?!?! WE live in Chelsea!”

We began to scour the meager media reports. Apparently at 8:30, about the time, I was escorting one of the boys on an after hours bathroom trip to the back of the Fun Apartment, a dumpster exploded on 23rd street two avenues away. I hadn’t heard a thing, but the Mister, up front in the north wing did report having heard a loud noise.

We texted a few “We’re ok mom!” messages and then warily went to bed.

And morning came, a foggy quiet morning with very little new information, but several more inquiries about our wellbeing. Still, it was clear that, after the helicopter chaos of the night before, things seemed to be settling down. I slunk out, ostensibly for bagels, but really just for recon. Mostly, it seemed like a regular Sunday morning, only with 23rd street closed.

And we are a little ways from the scene. We were tempted to think of it as “far away” because it happened 6 blocks and two avenue away. Six blocks, after all, is a long way when you are walking with tired kids and heavy groceries. But six blocks seems a bit closer to home when one thinks in explosion terms. As my sister said, “Just how close does it need to get before you think it’s close?” Still, within the cozy bubble of the Fun Apartment, we felt safe. I guess we didn’t think there was another option.

Later, I brought the boys over to see the site, too. We couldn’t get very close, so they didn’t see much, but they got to ask all their questions and get it out of their systems before they headed for school the next day and heard all sorts of reports filtered through the brains of 7 year olds. And the boys did have a lot of questions, which I answered as patiently and calmly as I could (yes, there are a lot of police officers. No, they probably aren’t draining all the water from the water towers. No we can’t go any closer. Yes, they have handcuffs. No, Encyclopedia Brown probably isn’t here, he is busy in Idaville.) Finally, we got down to the nub of the situation: “If a police officer sees a chicken walking in the street, and he is really hungry, can he shoot the chicken?” That’s when I figured they were probably done processing and we could go to the playground.

I held a small balloon of hope in my heart–a hope that this was garden variety New York craziness, and not well, you know:

That balloon deflated rapidly, as the investigation came to a head very quickly. From three things seemed to happen very quickly. One mass text message later and by Tuesday night, the whole story seemed pretty thoroughly taped up.
It was so thoroughly taped up that I am left wondering if it actually happened. People don’t seem to be talking about it. The free newspaper went back to telling me about the best places to drink beer in the city (although they missed the best one: our window seat.) I walked by the site of the explosion site this weekend and I couldn’t tell with any certainty where exactly the bomb had gone off. And I walked the rest of the way home through a joyous street fair, thinking, “Nice try, hatred and fear. But you lose. Again.”

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List of demands

Once again, we have managed to work our way back east from our annual extended staff retreat. And as in years past, I am struck again by the following truths as we stumble in and dump bags of Midwestern bounty on the kitchen floor:
1. The Fun Apartment doesn’t actually seem that small. One would think that after getting our eyes all stretched out with all that space, the place would look more like a dollhouse when you peer in the window. But it never does. Instead it manages to look cozy. It looks like home. (But opening the refrigerator, that’s a whole other thing. That place really is tiny.)

2. Now that we’re home, even doing our normal stuff feels novel and exciting. Our neighborhood playground feels like wonderland! And the Y still has free babysitting!

3. After several weeks of Midwestern-style liberty, the kind where they can go play in outside by themselves, the boys seem to have grown up a lot in a relatively short span of time. During our visit, there were times when, while we were all still technically on the same property, they were as far as two city blocks away from me. So I am wondering how to use new long leash in a New York way. The other day, I applied it to the rather arcane and ridiculous process known as alternate side parking, during which one has to sit in the car for an hour and a half, in case the police or a streetsweeper come wandering by. But mostly one just sits in the car, going nowhere. You can imagine the non-appeal for kids. But can you also imagine how well walkie talkies work from the fourth floor down to the curb? Really, really well.

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Don’t worry, Mommy’s watching!

But, I have also been slowly realizing over the last few years that these boys are just not that keen on city life. Near-natives of the greatest city on earth? Meh. They’re over it. They want to move to the great white north.

Bite us, Big Apple.

So, the suggestion box has been stuffed to the gills with increasingly urgent requests to relocate. When queried further on this, they offered  the following somewhat surprising and specific elaborations on their dream house:

First son, first request: a dishwasher. (Love you, baby!)

Second son, first request: a pantry. “Oh! I know! A pantry! We could put things in it, like beer, cucumbers, anything!” (Really, what more does one need?)

Other ideas: a cherry orchard, with one tree for us, and one other tree for other people. A lake, but not an outhouse. If no lake, then a pool. And a treehouse that we could live in. After those demands are met maybe they could have their own bedrooms. Or even a bedroom that is not part of another room. Or just a treehouse.

Ah well, we live in hope. And–for now, anyway–in the Fun Apartment.

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Out of here

Today, we are doing something that makes life sustainable here at the Fun Apartment: leaving. We depart by car for a month or so in the Midwest so the boys can add swimming in lakes, climbing into car seats, running in yards, and riding bikes to their skill sets. This will supplement their strong showings from our home base in scooter riding, subway navigation, jaywalking, and Starbucks locating.

I have said before, but it bears repeating–every day, if necessary–my idea of bringing up these yahoos is borrowed from Calvin Trillin: “Despite all evidence to the contrary, you’re being raised in Kansas City.” (Of course, I have never even been to Kansas City, but I feel like this could be extended to include the entire Midwest. Or at least, anywhere but this godforsaken city.)

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Loaded for Bear.

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See ya, suckers!


It is kind of overwhelming to pack for a month, but since the entire Midwest seems to be nothing but laundry facilities, the clothes aren’t really a problem (except that I will look somewhat out of place there, just as I look somewhat out of place here–by nature, I think, I am some sort of hybrid species.)

One boy has really taken to the packing. For two days, his suitcase has been ready–crammed with stuffed animals, pajamas and twenty pairs of underpants. The other kid? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing he likes to be naked.

We’ll be in the car all day tomorrow. And most of the next. But lots of fun awaits us (in addition to the fun I still have to pack from the Fun Apartment.) There will be boat rides! There will be swimming! There will be big yards! There will be camping! There will be assisted living! There will be parades! There will be grandparents! There will be fireworks! There will be big stores! There will be Midwestern craft beer! There will be a trampoline! And, there will be throwing up in the car.

So it is very exciting/an unholy mess around here. And I should probably be doing something about it. Here I go! Clear a path, people! I’m going to turn this chaos strewn closet into something neat and tidy! Any minute now!

Hmm, well, I guess I’ll do it later. Right now, I am going to enjoy my last few predictable minutes, and ignore all the piles. After all, someone has to finish off the box wine and I’m the best qualified. And the morning will be chaos and pancakes.

But during the pancakes, I will be dragging all the old toys out of storage so they can go live in the bedroom of my brand new nephew! Thank god for boys. Or at least, this one boy, not yet a month old, has managed to perform a miracle I never could wrangle: cleaning out our basement storage unit in a single trip! So long, Thomas the Wretched Tank Engine–take your theme song with you!

Sorry, New York. You are out of luck. Make your own fun. We’re busy elsewhere.

But we’ll be back. Save us a spot, ok?

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Busted.

This morning, I wondered vaguely why the kids were so quiet. This was, of course, foreshadowing, because my younger little angel came tiptoeing over, ready to shop his brother. “Mommy, come see what we are doing.”

I approached the bunk bed alcove and saw my older son guiltily stuffing his scissors under his brother’s pillow.

They were doing this, apparently: cutting a large hole in the net that houses our stuffed animal kingdom. It is a vast kingdom, ever wider since the Wild Kratts entered our lives, and now their home has been destroyed.

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Crime Scene. Do Not Enter.

As I gasped and loudly voiced my disapproval, these loving brothers immediately began to throw one another under the bus.

One: He did it.

Two: No, he did it.

One: He did it too. And it was his idea.

Two: I did it only a little. You did it a lot.

One: You did it a lot too.

Not sure what this will mean for their proposed future marriage.

And what to do? I’m more of a “consequence” parent than a “punishment” parent, but what the hell is a logical consequence for this? Is it that they have to strew all their homeless collection of stuffed animals throughout the fun apartment? That may be a logical consequence for them, but it is a cruel punishment for me.

I sent them to their beds (well, I can’t send them to their rooms) to reflect on their crimes, and to give myself a chance to try and parent my way out of this. After a few minutes of asking myself “What the blanking blankity blank were they thinking?” I came to the conclusion that kids just have incredibly poor judgement. And sometimes they just do stupid things for no reason.

I tried to plumb my own memories for similar offenses committed before I could be tried as an adult. And I did dredge one up. It still brings a shudder through me to remember the time I poked a nail in someone’s basketball to see what would happen. And then had to buy them a new basketball. So the Mr. and I sternly sent them to fetch their plastic wallets and extracted enough allowance to order a new home for all the stuffed animals now creating a vagrancy problem at the fun apartment. (I thought it was somewhat lenient of me not to ask them to pay for shipping, but we do have Amazon Prime, so . . . )

I’m not sure they felt the real wrath or have had their judgement improved. But pretty much everything else they have asked for today, from breakfast candy to screen time has been rejected. And we now have a scissors checkout policy.

Although I do agree to paint all of our toenails with glitter, because, really, who says no to that? I don’t know, but it isn’t me.

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Glitter Toes.

Sometimes these consequence things just seem messy to me, instead of the crisp, clean message of reparation they are meant to send. But in some ways, most of our life is like that–muddled but generally well-intentioned.

And I can’t say I blame them for being a little lacking in self-control, when the previous evening had involved a past-bedtime dance party at school. Great fun, but I could almost see the next day’s meltdowns written on their faces. Summer, come ye quickly, but give me strength!

 

 

 

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Anniversary musings

The Man of My Dreams and I recently celebrated our anniversary (Yay, right!?!?) We usually mark the occasion my making the meal we had at our wedding, which (I’m pretty sure) was vegetarian lasagna and red velvet cake. There were roses and wine, as well. And I didn’t cut my finger off making the lasagna this year, so that was another reason to celebrate!


This auspicious event has spawned rather a lot of side conversations about weddings, marriage, and relationships in general. It turns out that these lads have picked up some interesting ideas about how these things work. Here are some actual conversations to give you some insight into their crazy little minds.

Little: I am going to have this kind of cake (i.e. red velvet) at my wedding.

Me: Good choice.

Little: It’s going to be at the beach.

Me: Great! That sounds like fun!

Little: You won’t be there.

Me: Why not?

Little: You’ll be dead.

 

Little: What if you wear a silver dress?

Me: Fine. People usually wear white dresses, but you can wear whatever you want.

Little: Even a golden dress?

Me: Yup. Whatever you want.

Little: I’m going to wear a ninja suit.

 

Big: I know, I can save someone!

Me: Umm. . .  what?

Big: I can save someone from danger! And then they will want to marry me!

Me: . . .

Big: That way I don’t have to ask them. They will just know to marry me.

 

Little: I want to marry my brother.

Big: You can’t marry me. The police will come and take us to jail.

Little: I don’t care. You can wear the dress. I will wear the ninja suit. Do you have a ring?

(I sure would like to be there when my sons get married. To each other. At the beach. Too bad I’ll be dead. . . )

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I’m just avoiding you

I have a new theory of parenting. (For those of you keeping score at home, this brings my sum total of parenting insights to: 2.) I think you are going to like this one, because subscribing to it requires very little effort on your part, and if you are anything like me, then that is exactly the kind of parenting theory you can get behind.

And it starts with nail clippers. Someone gave me a pair of infant nail clippers when I was pregnant and warned me that clipping the new baby’s nails would be the very worst part of my parenting experience (apparently, this person had a child who had not yet hit the dreaded threes, or she probably would have given me a bottle of whiskey instead to prepare me for the path ahead.)

So I took the nail clippers with some trepidation and gave them a place of honor among the baby’s stuff carefully arrayed in the soon-to-be-nursery (that’s right, we had a house then. It had rooms. I miss rooms.) and when the baby finally arrived and it took three of us to bathe, diaper, and dress him, I glimpsed the dreaded clippers and thought “Oh no! Not that, too! I can’t face it! I’m not ready!”

So I just didn’t face it. His nails never got particularly long, he didn’t cover himself in scratches. I figured his toenails would get long enough to resemble some hex from the Half Blood Prince, but they just seemed to never grow very much.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Well, if they get really long, I’ll give it a go, but since everything seems fine right now, I’ll just put these torture clippers away.” And I probably put them right next to the onion goggles.

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“Some have two feet and some have four. Some have six feet and some have more.”

And our second appeared also to have no real need to have anything clipped. Maybe they have some sort of non-nail-growing gene, I shrugged. And probably never thought about it again. Until this weekend, when I watched my older son wander over to my dresser, pick up my nail clippers and trim his own nails.

Avoidance, people. It works. 

I should go back in time and avoid potty training! I’m sure they would have picked it up on their own by now. We should just stop putting so much damn work into this.

Last week, at one of my various school pick-ups, I was eavesdropping on another mom tear out her hair over her kids and their insistence on singing that pop anthem “Shut up and Dance” (With me! Go ahead, sing along at home!) Apparently, use of the phrase “shut up” is verboten in their household and she is driving herself bonkers trying to keep her kids from singing this song. (Based on my own experience, it is impossible to remove this song from one’s head without surgery) But, she has tried to push a kid-friendly version of “Get up and dance” on them to no avail. And as she bemoaned this lack of success, I thought, “I don’t think I would go to the mattresses over this.” Because, once you go there, you have to pitch a tent and live there under your flag. Until the last fallen warrior is carried away.

And eventually, she’ll look back at the Battle of Walk-the-Moon. But I bet next time, she is going to embrace avoidance parenting.

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