Friday, May 29, 2009

Kindergarten Graduation, Etc.

One graduation down, three more to go, if you don't count college. Right now, I'd prefer not to count college, if it's all the same to you.

The great thing about graduations, recitals, and other assemblies at Our Fine School is that they run like clockwork. I believe the kindergartners have been practicing for this graduation since last August, approximately five minutes after they started the school year.

The bad thing for shy persons such as myself is the twenty to thirty minutes before the assembly. Inevitably, for some reason or another, the Man and I usually come separately, and I always get there first, so I'm sitting by myself and there's nobody for miles that I know (my friends at Our Fine School are the sort of folks who show up late, including the Man), and everyone around me is socializing like mad. It's like there's a club everyone else was invited to join except me. Admittedly, the club is probably called The Club for People Who Actually Make the Effort to Make Small Talk at School Gatherings and Are in General Friendly and Cheerful, Unlike that Woman Over There with Her Nose in a Book, and I'd hate it and quit after the first meeting. Still, it's sort of insulting not to be asked.

I have a victory to report. For graduation, all the children were given a white tee shirt that says "Our Fine School, Class of 2021," which they were to wear with white shorts. Mrs. B, Will's teacher, started warning us early in the year that it's harder than you think to find white shorts, especially for boys. I was dismissive of this, figuring that you can find anything online, but let me tell you, it took a couple hours of searching. You can find lots of white tennis shorts, and satiny white basketball shorts, but plain old white shorts that aren't part of a ring bearer's suit? Few and far between, my friends, few and far between.

But I found a pair. Cost me $26. Yikes! But still, I wanted to have one costume success story this year, and ladies, what a success story it was.

Most of the kids wore short white tennis shorts of thin cotton that revealed to the world the stark truth that most kindergartners have extraordinarily scrawny legs. Several of the boys wore long, shiny basketball shorts. Many of the girls' mothers apparently gave up on the white shorts and dressed their graduates in white skirts. One mom said to hell with it all and sent her daughter to school in a lovely cotton frock with eyelet lace, frilly socks and white patent leather maryjanes (no Class of 2021 tee shirt, which would have totally ruined the look).

But Mr. Will was wearing a lovely white trouser shorts made from sturdy cotton fabric, casual yet with a certain je ne sais quois. He looked handsome, rugged, fashionable in a devil-may-care way.

And he didn't pick his nose once.

So, yes, I spent most of the graduation ceremony checking out other kids' shorts, wondering if the mother who put her daughter in white leggings was cringing just a little bit, if the dad who gave the thumbs up on the sateen shorts that hit mid-shin was rethinking his decision. What must it be like, I wondered, to send your child to school dressed all wrong? Hmmm ... I suppose it must be awfully embarrassing ...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I Am Trying Not to Bore You to Death

Which is why I just deleted an entire post.

It was long. It was about my friend Cheryl, and why I'm not going to drive her to church.

I began by outlining the many ways I've been a friend to Cheryl, who goes to my old church and has had myriad health problems this past year. I told you about the hospital visits I made, the diabetic baked goods I baked. I made it clear to you that I am a Good Guy when it comes to Cheryl.

I mentioned at length how I will be helping out Cheryl this summer by walking her dog. I did not mention that I think maybe she should find another home for her dog. You might not think I was a Good Guy if I suggested maybe a woman who has difficulty walking should not, at this time in her life, own a dog.

It's important you think I'm a Good Guy. After all, the whole post was leading up to the fact that I'm not going to drive someone--someone I consider a friend, someone who can't drive herself, someone who at the age of 57 has to live in assisted living with the ninety-year-olds--to church.

You have to be a Very Good Guy to get away with that.

The fact is, it's hard to justify not driving someone to church, even if the church in question is not your church. Even if the question might be raised: Why isn't someone from the church that is her church and not your church driving her? (Actually, it was someone from her church who suggested I might drop Cheryl off on my way to church).

My justification for not driving someone who really wants to go to church to church? I will have to leave home forty-five minutes early. Cheryl's church is on the way to my church, it's true, but Cheryl's in a wheelchair. I've taken Cheryl to church before, to the Thursday service, and I can tell you it's quite an affair to wheel someone to your van, push her into the front seat, cram the chair into the back, drive, get there, get the chair out, and pull her back into the chair.

I sound terrible. I sound like a Not Very Good Guy. I don't want to help someone in a wheelchair. I don't want to get up forty-five minutes early on Sunday to do a job surely Jesus would do.

But Jesus didn't have to get Jack and Will and the Man ready for church, did He? If He did, I suspect he might be on my side in this particular instance of selfishness.

I can bake the diabetic baked goods. I can make the visits. I can walk the dog. But getting everyone ready for church forty-five minutes early? Or leaving the Man to get the boys ready while I took the other car to get Cheryl? Honey, there wouldn't be no boys from my family at church if that happened.

So there you have it. I'm not a Good Guy. I am a lazy, selfish guy with a husband and children who are all but helpless (not to mention not particularly motivated when it comes to church-going). All I've got going for me at this time is the sincere desire to make reading this blog worth your time. It's all I have left. And frankly, it might not be enough to save me.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Just Back from the Fourth Grade Play

Which was an hour and a half long. Not that I would ever complain about that. Nope, not me.

Let me say up front that I was not part of the standing ovation after the final curtain, but that my reluctance had nothing to do with the play's running time. I just feel that fourth graders should not get standing ovations, no matter how charming and wonderful they are, and these particular fourth graders are filled with charm and wonder, and their performances were quite delightful (though sixty minutes of delight would have done it for me).

The problem with standing ovations for fourth graders is how do you follow that up? What do you do after the fifth grade play? Throw money?

I've been proposing a moratorium on standing o's for years now. When every performance you go to receives a standing ovation from its audience, what can a standing ovation be worth? It's lost its currency. There should be no standing ovations for five years for anyone. I don't care of Sir Laurence Olivier comes back from the grave to perform Hamlet. If he does it between May 2009 and May 2014, he's out of luck. Then after May 2014, only performances that change every single audience member's life (there can be a quick vote right after the final curtain) should get them. That's it. No more standing ovations for the community theater's production of "Mousetrap." Enough!

And, call me a grinch, but fourth graders should never, ever get a standing ovation. It's not good for their characters.


Am I the only adult who attends these things and spends the whole time wondering which of the girls are mean to the other girls and which of the boys are bullies? Am I the only one who wants to hug the chubby girls and whisper to them that one day they'll be much more interesting than the little skinny princesses dancing around them--in fact, they probably already are?

I was a chubby little girl. I ached in sympathy for the chubby little girls up on stage tonight. I know what's it like not to be able to do a cartwheel. I know what it's like to want so badly to be like those girls who are still tiny, or the ones who are getting tall and stretching out thin. I used to put runs in my shirts by pulling them away from my belly and down toward my knees so that my stomach wouldn't show.

I need to write a book about that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday Report

1. I have stopped folding laundry. I didn't intend to stop folding laundry; in fact, I enjoy folding laundry. But a couple of weeks ago, right before my parents' visit, I quit. There wasn't time, and there hasn't been time since. So we have become one of those families that lives out of a laundry basket. I assume that next we'll stop unloading the dishwasher, so that we become one of those families that is never sure whether the dishes in the half-loaded machine are clean or dirty. Ultimately, we'll become one of those families that eats all our meals (fast food or microwaved, natch) in the car. With the car DVD player playing "The Little Mermaid" on an endless loop.

2. We don't have a car DVD player, by the way. If I recall correctly, Danielle has rented one (or gotten a rental van with one in it) for long trips, and I can see that. But a full time player in the car? No, I can't do it. How would I force the kids to listen to my music if they were watching TV?

3. I've worried in the past--and sometimes in this blog--about Jack's friends. Are they a bad influence? How about three years from now--will they be the kind of kids we want Jack hanging around with? But I've never considered that Jack's friends might be a good influence on him. The other day, though, when I saw Jack clearing his plate from the table without being asked, I realized that he learned that from his friends. Spencer and Aidan and Christof are all plate clearers (Spencer is even a plate scraper and rinser). I've been trying to get Jack to clear his plate for years, but I really think his friends' behavior is what pushed him over the edge.

4. Yet another Very Big Day at Our Fine School yesterday, which provided me with yet another opportunity to send Will to school dressed all wrong.

It was the kindergarten play, and Will was a leopard. I asked him first thing yesterday morning, "Is there anything special you need to wear?" He assured me there wasn't. Got to school to watch the play. The kids come out. The frogs are wearing green tee shirts under their frog costumes, the rabbits are wearing white tee shirts under their costumes, the elephants and rhinos are wearing gray tee shirts, and the leopards are wearing brown tee shirts.

Well, all the leopards except for Will, who, under his leopard spots, is wearing a lovely and very brightly striped red, yellow and orange polo shirt.

We are almost at the end of Very Big Days at Our Fine School. There is school spirit day next week, for which Will needs to wear his tee shirt with the school logo. And then there is kindergarten graduation (please don't get me started on that--Will will have graduated three times before he actually graduates for real in 2021, and we'll have to attend each one and make a big dang deal about it--I mean it, don't get me started). I challenge you to find white shorts for a six-year-old boy who is not in training to be a ring bearer.

Anyway, the good news is, there are only a few more opportunities for me to send Will to school in the wrong clothes. The bad news is, first grade is right around the corner.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Appliance Theory and Practice

If memory serves, almost every sit-com I watched growing up had at least one episode where Dad messes up by giving Mom an appliance--an iron, say, or a new vacuum--on some important gifting occasion. As it turned out, what Mom really wanted was something soft and feminine, like a cashmere sweater or ... well, a cashmere sweater.

I took the message to heart: Women don't want appliances for their birthdays, anniversaries or major religious holidays that involve gift-giving. So I've always felt a little funny about the fact that what I want are appliances. For a long time, me and the Man were pretty broke (I was 38 and pregnant with my second child when we bought our first house), and I vacuumed the floors with my mom's old canister vacuum and ironed clothes with the iron I'd had in college, which was always weeping rusty water onto the Man's white shirts. The thought of a shiny, new appliance was like catnip to me.

We're not so broke anymore, but for some reason it's still hard for us to buy new appliances. I would like a really fabulous German-engineered iron, for instance, but the one I have (not that college number, thank goodness) is perfectly good. My vacuum works, but there's something wrong with the on-off switch, so that we have to plug it into a power strip and turn the power strip on and off. Still, it works.

I seem to have all sorts of appliances that irritate me but work too well to replace. For instance, I've got an oven that's too small. Whenever I roast a chicken, I have to do fancy things with foil in order to a) get the skin brown and crispy without b) letting the roasting fat pop onto the upper heating elements, which will result in c) lots of smoke, causing d) the smoke alarm going off, so that e) the alarm company will call yet again to ask whether or not our house is on fire.

Smaller still? The freezer compartment of my fridge. It's a side by side refrigerator/freezer, and I suppose there's some reason for this sort of design, but for the life of me I can't figure out what it is. Not that we buy a lot of frozen pizza, but if we did, we'd be out of luck, since the freezer compartment is neither wide enough nor its shelves tall enough to accommodate a pizza box. Bulky packages of any size (say, a sixteen-ounce bag of frozen peas) are ruinous to any sort of established order.

As we approach various gifting opportunities throughout the calendar year, I've hinted around that a deep freeze might be an appropriate gifting choice. The Man always nods at the wisdom of this, but I suspect he watched the same sit-coms as I did growing up and can't quite bring himself to buy me an appliance, even a major appliance, as a gift.

Whoops. Let's put that in the past tense. Guess what I got on Mother's Day? Guess who walked out through the mud room to go get the Sunday papers, saw something out of place on her way to open the door, turned around and found--much to her astonishment--a deep freeze!

If your answer is me, you are correct.

Was I disappointed not to find a cashmere sweater there instead? Not on your life, buddy. I felt filled with love and affection for the Man and the little men. I was also pretty shocked, since we don't do big gifts on the smaller occasions--usually for Mother's Day I get a Merchant and Ivory DVD and flowers and a day off from cooking.

So I spent Mother's Day morning emptying out the contents of my crowded freezer and transferring all the bulky stuff, the nonessential frozen stuff, to my new, beautiful deep freeze. Now I'm just waiting for my peas and beans to come to fruition in the garden. Gonna blanch them suckers and freeze 'em. I'm freezing everything, girls. Watch out.

And for my birthday, I'm asking for a new vacuum. Ah, the romance of it all ...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

This Blog is Secret

My parents are good parents. I love and respect them. And I wouldn't tell them about this blog for all the tea in china. That they might discover it on their own is a risk I'll have to take, but they won't hear about it from me.

Ever since I was a kid, I kept huge swaths of my life secret from my parents. Well, not so much secret as just apart. We weren't a family that talked much about personal stuff--feelings, problems, boyfriends and girlfriends--and while I got more adept at revealing myself to my friends over the years, I'm still not always comfortable with my parents in the loop.

There are reasons for this. Both of my parents refer to age-old incidents as though they happened yesterday and are still relevant. I cannot emphasize enough what a huge pain in the keester it is to have your mother bring up your college boyfriend who drained his antifreeze on the driveway (where it ran into the lawn and killed the grass). This happened over twenty years ago. I think it is safe to drop it as a topic of discussion. My mom believes otherwise, and mentions it every six months or so.

My dad is a worrier. If he read one of my posts where I was stressed out or sad or confused, he'd worry it to death. Five years from now he'd be bringing up our bad carpool situation ("So whatever happened to those boys who made you so miserable? Did they ever get straightened out? Do you think it had to do with how they were raised?"), social situations at Our Fine School ("I remember how you felt so insecure about the other mothers there," he'd say. "If I recall correctly, they tended to dress more fashionably than you did and were quite a bit younger.")

I can't live like that. Five years from now, I'll only halfway remember why something got my undies in a bundle, what gave rise to it, why it bothered me so much. But my father will remember. And my mother will bring it up in the middle of a perfectly good conversation ("You'd be surprised how fast antifreeze can kill a lawn, it's really only a matter of minutes"), and I'll roll my eyes like an eleven-year-old and bite my lip to keep from being rude (or not--sometimes I'm perfectly rude with my mom, like Sunday, when we were driving my parents to the airport and she said, "I think your first novel is your best one"--something you never, ever say to a writer--to which I responded, "No, no it's not. You're totally wrong.").

Sometimes I feel badly about not telling my parents about my blog. They'd enjoy it, I think (though my mom would think my first post was my best one). If Jack or Will have a blog when they grow up, I'd want to read it. But the fact is, there are some things you're happy to share with people you've never met but not with your nearest and dearest. Or maybe it's just me. Eternally 14, hiding my diary under my pillow.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tidy Girl

I've heard of people who clean their houses every week from top to bottom. These organized souls have a routine--bathrooms on Monday, living room and dining room on Tuesday, and so on--and they stick to it.

Then there are people like me, who clean their houses once a year, whether they need to or not.

Yeah, okay, I'm exaggerating. I clean bathrooms quarterly and mop my kitchen floor when I just can't stand it anymore, which is at least once very six weeks. But a big, thorough clean? It takes a parental visit to make that happen, and we usually get one a year.

If it makes any difference, when I finally do get around to cleaning, it's a two-week job, so let's revise my cleaning estimate. I spend 2/52nds of the year cleaning my house. The the other 50/52nds I tidy and do laundry. I cook and carpool and recycle and vacuum. I tidy some more.

That's the problem, I think. By the time I get done tidying up--making beds, picking up papers, hanging up coats, wiping down counters--I'm too pooped to do the serious cleaning.

But I have to say it's a joy to have a truly clean house. To walk in my laundry room and find a dryer with a surface free of lint, to amble barefoot through the mudroom and not pick up any mud on the soles of my feet. To look in streak-free mirrors (okay, that's a lie--hard as I try, there are always streaks on my mirrors and windows).

You know what the big drag about having company is? You spend two weeks cleaning for them, and then while they're there, you don't have time to tidy, and so instead of having a clutter-free, dirty house, you have a cluttered clean house.

And that's the rub. My preference is for tidy. In a perfect world, I could have both--tidy and clean. But as Yogi Berra said, "Even if the world were perfect, it wouldn't be." Or put another way, even if the world were perfect, I probably still wouldn't have enough money to hire a household staff. So tidy it is. Streak-free mirrors? Not in this lifetime, girls.