Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Spring Cleaning

Right now mostly what I'm doing is writing and cleaning. Spring is in the air, and I'm filled with the overwhelming impulse to clean my entire house (except the attic--I mean, please). If you've ever seen my house, you would know that this is an impulse that doesn't hit often, so when it hits, I get going.

Today I bought a microfiber ceiling fan cleaner. I've been spraying it with lavender oil and dusting all the high spots--fans, light fixtures, the tops of cabinets. One of my goals is to make my house smell divine. I don't know what it smells like normally--it's my house, and I can't smell it--but considering that I roast a lot of broccoli and cauliflower, and given that roasted broccoli and cauliflower taste delicious but smell terrible while they're cooking, well, I hate to think what sort of odors have collected in the corners and under the rugs.

Speaking of rugs, my friend Sarah has generously offered to let me use her carpet cleaner. Have you ever used one? It is both incredibly satisfying and really disgusting to see how black the water gets. It's like you live on the edge of a tar pit and no one ever takes off their shoes when they enter the house. 

(An aside: we have no rules about taking off your shoes when you enter the house, but the boys and I kick ours off the minute we come through the door. The Man, so much more civilized, trades out his work shoes for slippers as soon as he's home from work.)

Back to smelly houses--One major roadblock to getting our house to smell springtime fresh is that it's springtime, and therefore we can't open the windows. The Man and Jack have terrible spring allergies, and Will and I suffer some, too. It makes me sad, because I'd like to have the windows open all spring and fall, but I can't. If you have any suggestions for springtime freshness sans open windows, do let me know.


Other bits and pieces: Jack continues to be nominally cheerful. He even pays attention during dinner table discussions, but mostly he's just waiting for opportunities to make very dry, very wry remarks. It's like eating dinner with a Cambridge don who likes to think of himself as a bit of a wit. 

Will's two front teeth seem to be getting bigger all the time. Teeth don't actually grow, do they? Maybe they look so big because of all the gaps around them. We've started calling him "Gappy McGee," he's lost so many teeth lately. The Tooth Fairy is broke from tucking dollar bills under his pillow. 

Travis remains the silliest dog that ever lived. It's nice to know that some things will never change.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Today Has Been Better, In Part Because of This

If you read yesterday's post, you know I had a bad day and maybe, sort of kind of lost it a little bit. I appreciate all your kind comments, by the way. They helped.

As I mentioned, I emailed Vicki, the very nice mom who went to Greensboro with the Battle of the Books team in my place. A few minutes ago, I received this email from her that I wanted to share.

Dear Frances,

Thank you so much for your kind note! When it comes to our kids, the "inner mom lion" comes out! You were not rude to me and I could tell you were trying to get your disappointment under control. As parents we've all had those stressful weeks when our emotions are a little closer to the surface.When we were speaking on Jennifer's cell phone,  I knew it wasn't the time to tell you that we are big fans of yours!

Thank you for helping with the "BOB" team! Haley really enjoyed it and she very much wants to be a writer. I hope that maybe in the future I could impose on you for some advice about writing camps and programs.

Hope everyone at your house is healthy and can enjoy this gorgeous weather!

Thank you for all you do for the school.


I don't know about you, but I teared up when I read this. What a kind and generous note! Thank goodness for the Vickis of this world. I have a lot to learn from them.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So Far I am Having a Bad Day

Well. First of all, we have been sick. I don't know if it's something Jack picked up in Charleston and gave to the rest of us, or if it started a week ago Sunday, when Will had a fever for a couple of days. In any event, this past Sunday, the day after we got back from Charleston, Jack got a fever and an upset stomach and went down for the count.

I hoped against hope that I wouldn't get it, but by Monday night, I knew I was hit. Fever, achiness, that sort of thing. Yesterday, the Man admitted to feeling a little off, but not sick--never sick!

Jack and I were supposed to go to Greensboro today for the Battle of the Books competition. When Jack got sick Sunday, I emailed the BOB team leader, Our Fine Middle School's friendly librarian, and said Jack might not be there, and I might not, either, so she might want to look for a substitute adult to go to the competition with her.

Long story short: I emailed Our Fine Librarian several times to keep her updated on our situation. Her reply emails were curt, but that was to be expected--she gets very stressed out around BOB competition time.

Late yesterday afternoon, Jack started to feel a bit better, and by 10 he said he felt just fine. He really wanted to go the competition, so I emailed Our Fine Librarian to say Jack would be there, and were there any special instructions?

It was late, and my hope was that she'd email back first thing this morning, but she didn't. I texted her around 7:30 to let her know that Jack was definitely coming, and I definitely was not. The truth is, Dear Reader, I feel lousy. I have a fever. I probably shouldn't even be writing this, except that I need to get it out of my system.

I dropped Jack off at school ten minutes early, 7:50,  in case the BOB team was leaving early for the battle. Jack called me twenty minutes later to say he couldn't find Our Fine Librarian or the team; did I think they'd left already?

Sigh. Really? I called Our Fine Librarian's cell, and a woman named Vicki, the parent volunteer who turned out was taking my place, answered. "Oh, Frances!" she exclaimed when I identified myself. "How are you feeling?"

Vicki is sweet, sweet, sweet. I don't really know her, but there are always cupcakes or brownies in one corner or another of Our Fine Middle School because Vicki is always bringing them. And we talked once a couple of years ago, right before her daughter was about to start middle school. Vicki was worried about the transition, and I told her about Jack, and we chatted, and she was lovely.

This did not stop me from yelling at her on the phone when she told me that they had left Our Fine School at 7:30 this morning, although I did apologize profusely to her immediately afterwards. "I'm not angry at you, and I'm sorry you're in the line of fire," I told her. "But I've been volunteering for this club for three years, and I can't believe no one had the courtesy to tell me the bus was leaving at 7:30!"

I was making Vicki nervous, and I was sorry about that. "Didn't you get the letter?" she asked. "It said 7:30 in the letter."

Reader, I cannot honestly say I didn't get the letter. A few weeks ago, Our Fine Librarian handed me a sheet of paper and said, "Here are the directions to Greensboro." I took the sheet of paper, folded it, put it my purse, and promptly lost it. Maybe the letter was with the directions. I don't know.

So, you're wondering what happened after I got off the phone? Well, please keep in mind that I am sick. My brain really isn't functioning all that well. So I got off the phone and let loose a five-minute string of bold profanities. The good thing about rarely using curse words is that they're quite satisfying when you do.  Then I screamed at the Man, who took it, well, like a man. And then he offered to pick up Jack at school and drive him to Greensboro.

So Jack made it to the competition, and is there now, probably not contributing all that much, because he's a slack seventh grader who didn't keep up with the reading all that well. I called and left a message on Our Fine Librarian's cell phone to let her know he was on his way. It was a polite message imparted in an extremely impolite tone.

So now here I am, at my kitchen table, really wanting to take a nap, but feeling bad about yelling at Vicki (I emailed her a contrite apology, if you're wondering), and also wondering why I'm so upset. Mostly, I think, it's the fever. Because really, this is a) not that big of a deal; and b) most likely my fault.

Except for this: I feel like I spent a lot of time this week trying to keep Our Fine Librarian posted on our situation. I know she gets stressed, and I definitely wanted her to have a back-up adult in case I couldn't go. But you know what? She never emailed and said, "Don't worry, Vicki's going to come if you can't make it." She never even emailed to say, "Wow, I'm sorry you're sick." And obviously, it would have been nice if she'd emailed or called to say, "In case you've forgotten, if Jack's coming, he needs to be at school at 7:30."

But she didn't. She's stressed. She probably assumed Jack wasn't coming. I shouldn't be mad at her, especially because I've known her for three years and I know she's not thoughtful in that way, though she is thoughtful in other ways.

I don't know why I'm so upset. I think it's just a lot of little things happening at once--nothing bad, but just lots of little stressful things adding up. Driving home from dropping the boys off at school this morning, I thought, 'I have a bad head right now,' and it turns out I was right.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Greetings from Charleston, SC!

 (This actually isn't a picture of Charleston; it's a street in my neighborhood.)

I'm sitting here in our lovely Holiday Inn Express hotel suite, thinking how much more I enjoy traveling with my family than by myself. Jack is on his computer, the Man and Will are on a bed watching basketball on TV, I'm writing this blog post, and it's all very nice. If I were by myself, I'd be in my jams already (it's only 8:30) and in bed, reading, trying not to feel lonely.

I've been doing a little mental spring cleaning this week, just to freshen up my mind. I've started making a list in my journal called "Things That Are Working for Me/Things that Aren't Working for Me."  Essentially, things that are working for me are things that make me feel happy and enthusiastic when I think of them, and the things that aren't working for me are things that make me feel lifeless and dull, or anxious and fearful.

You'll be happy to hear that at the top of my list of things that are working is my marriage. And my children are high on that list, too, although I take them off the list three or four times a day. Still, when I think of Will when he's at his best, which is actually a fair amount of time, or Jack when he's being funny (which is more frequently these days), I do feel expansive and joyful.

Making quilts is working for me, as is regular exercise. Travis is definitely working for me.

Not working? Christmas as we practice it, my children's diets, my family's inconsistent church attendance, a volunteer job I hold at Jack's school. My attic: definitely not working. The general level of clean in my house (pretty dang low): not working for me at all.

Occasionally I'm surprised at what I discover doing this exercise. It was interesting, for instance, to realize the volunteer work I've been doing with Jack's book club  at school for the last three years is actually not working for me. I love books, the kids are nice, and I get along well with the teacher who leads the group. But the weekly meetings disrupt  my writing time every Monday morning. I had no idea this was bothering me until I started making my list.

Equally surprising? That I really like exercising on a regular basis. I feel better, I sleep better, and my calves are more shapely.

So what will I do about the things that aren't working for me? I'm not sure. Talk to the Man about more regular church attendance and coming up with an attic plan. See if there's any money for hiring a cleaning team to come in and bring my house up to code. Stop volunteering for the book club in the fall. Nothing too radical, but hopefully it will leave my mind clean and fresh and sparkly. I'll keep you updated!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spring Break

The boys' spring break is next week. Spring break is always early at Our Fine School, because it corresponds with the spring breaks of our local universities. At least I assume that's why Spring Break comes so early. Maybe it's just that the administration of Our Fine School thinks a gray, gloomy rainy week in March--which describes every spring break of Jack and Will's school career so far--is character building.

Our plan is to spend the second half of next week in Charleston, South Carolina. In third grade, the kids study U.S. geography and state capitols, and each third grader is given a state of his or her own to study and do a big project on. Will's is South Carolina, so off we go.

Jack is not enthusiastic about this trip. He claims to have no interest in Civil War history or the history of slavery (we're going to tour a plantation while we're there), and he is particularly uninterested in spending time with his family. That, in fact, would be his area of least interest--family interaction. He's asked a couple of times if he can stay home, a question that has elicited great whoops of laughter from his father and me.

The thing is, I remember my middle school spring breaks (though I'm old enough to have attended a junior high as opposed to a middle school). We lived on an Army post in Germany, and in my seventh grade year I went to Amsterdam on a bus tour with my friend Nancy Tye and her mother. For some reason, on the way to Holland Nancy decided I was beneath contempt and ignored me for the whole trip. Fortunately, I'd brought along Rich Man, Poor Man and was suitably occupied during our travels.

The next year, my family traveled to Berlin, the city of my birth. We stayed on the American post, in officers' guest quarters, and I remember one night  overhearing my brothers (one older, one younger) complaining to my mother about what a horrible, moody person I was. I think of this conversation often these days, especially when I'm pondering sending Jack to military school.

In ninth grade, we went to Paris. Oh, how I loved Paris! I was going to study French, I decided, and move to Paris the second I graduated from high school. The only problem with Paris? My parents and brothers were there, too. And there was that night when we got off the Metro one stop too early and found ourselves on Pigalle Place, the notorious red light district. Right about then, something disagreed with my stomach and I very badly needed to go to the bathroom. I was, as they say, pure out of luck.

So yes, spring break spent with one's family during the early teen years. I remember it well, and I remember really not enjoying it all that much, even in two of the world's greatest cities. (Amsterdam is a great city, too, but I wasn't there with my parents, which made it less trying, even with my best friend pretending I didn't exist.)

All this to say, I sympathize with Jack. I'm going to think of ways to let him be more independent on the trip. He doesn't have to sit with us on the boat ride around Ft. Sumter, for instance; he can lag behind on the plantation tour. But go he must, as must we all. Thirty years from now, when he has an adolescent son, he'll need to have this trip to Charleston to look back on so he'll understand his own child's misery and be compassionate, and not think too seriously about selling the kid to the gypsies.