Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are you there Mom? It's me, Andrea.

A wave of nostalgia hit me while I was in Barnes & Noble helping Ava pick out some books. As we browsed the shelves in the young adult section, there it was. The cover looks different now, updated, sleek font on a stark white background replacing the old "seventies" style pen and ink drawing of a sad girl looking over her shoulder, yellow black and purple. The outward appearance tweaked to appeal to kids of Ava's generation, but the contents inside unchanged.  Judy Blume's coming of age books that revealed the secrets no kid wants to tell got me through the "tween" years that Ava is just embarking on.  "Are you there, God? It's me, Margaret", "Blubber", "Then again, maybe I won't".  I can visualize all the cover art and remember the feelings I had when reading the worn paperbacks over and over again. After swimming in the pond near a friend's house, laying in my bed at night turning the printed pages, smelling the ink. Wishing I were not so chubby, that I had better hair, that I fit in, uncomfortable in my own skin.

I've been having lots of flashbacks, lately. I went to parent night at Morse Pond School (the middle school for 5th and 6th graders) last week.  I was awkward in fourth grade but it all came to a head in fifth, my first year at Morse Pond.  Mixed in with all the other former fourth graders from the three elementary schools across town, in a classroom with no real friends, cast aside by the group of popular girls.  I was on the fringe.  My "friend" (let's call her Jane) was in the popular clique.  During the years between the ages when we were four to ten years old, our mothers created "play dates" for us on Saturdays. Most of the time I went to her house, her mother thinking I would keep her out of trouble.  Instead, "Jane" bullied me into submission and tortured me to be silent and go along with her mischief. Once we arrived at Morse Pond, "Jane" knew that associating with me would mean her social death, so she ditched me.  And she was mean.  And I was fat and so totally uncool. I especially hated recess, the playground. A social free for all. That's when it's apparent that you have no one to hang out with. Could it have really been that bad? I must have had a few friends. It's hard to remember when you have spent most of your life blocking it out.

I look at Ava every day and I am thankful for her that she is beautiful, athletic, graceful.  She has friends and likes recess.  After lunch, she plays soccer and kickball.  No one ever wanted me to be on their team.  The boys would audibly groan when they got stuck with me. Most of the girls didn't care about winning. But I am also happy that Ava doesn't seem to hang out with those kids who intentionally exclude others.  I know who they are.  I observe them. I see them when I volunteer at school, while they walk down the hall. I am watching when they think no one is looking.  I hope Ava stays away from them and continues to be the oblivious, happy, kind child I know she is. But these are my issues, I hope they will never be hers.

Ava reads as much as I did. She brings books everywhere, reads them in the car.  Back then, my favorite time to read was after a summer day spent on the beach, laying on my bed, my clean, wet hair making a damp spot on my pillow. Ava does this, too.  I like to think she has all and only the best parts of me.  I wonder what she will think of "Margaret" and Judy Blume.  Ava is more open with me than I was as a child at her age with Val. There are times I can sense when she doesn't want me to go to far, to push.  I pull back and create some space for her privacy and secretly cross my fingers that she will confide in me when she needs to. For Val, it was like pulling teeth to get me to divulge any embarrassing and sad details from my daily life at school.  My fifth grade self could never believe that she may have ever felt that way. To rehash the days events made it even more painful, burying it deep and trying to forget, praying I would wake up the next morning to be a different person with cooler clothes was a better solution in my eleven year old mind. I'm sure Val knew this. But how can a mother make it all better?  At least when I got off the bus everyday, I could count on her being there. I could count on the square Tupperware container filled with chocolate chip cookies or some fresh brownies still in the pan.  I could count on that one moment when I didn't have to worry if I was good enough, cool enough, or that I was wearing hand-me-downs instead of a new pair of Levi's cords and an Izod shirt.   Perhaps the chocolate chip cookies and tall glass of milk added to my baby fat.  That would probably be a concern for parents now, the ones that don't see the importance or what the whole thing represented to me. I still believe that a homemade cookie after school and the few uninterrupted minutes shared before homework, Girl Scouts, dance lessons, soccer practice, etc. can make everything all better at least for that moment. I think Ava does, too.


Sunday, May 11, 2014

See Me

I'm actually a list person. I make lists mostly of things I need to do.  Sometimes I number the entries and list them in order of importance, especially if I feel that I have limited time  to accomplish the tasks (which is most of the time). I triage what takes precedence like paying that pesky electric bill before the lights get turned off and baking cookies for a school party tomorrow that my daughter just now told me about.

Val has always had a list. She writes them on small white scratch pads, the kind you purchase in a pack of six at the grocery store. Hers are very neat and are made of up of just a few one word entries like "manure" and "dust". They are written in her meticulous handwriting, using a fine point Bic pen in either black or blue. I write mine on any scrap that is lying around. I often resort to using one of the kids' dull pencils.  There are cross outs and descriptions with my entries.  Sometimes, I can't read my own handwriting.

Every Saturday morning and some days after school, there was a list by the phone for each one of us kids.  (Although Ethan's always had b.s chores like, "rest" and "eat".  Every Saturday he had a hockey game or practice not to mention he was completely unreliable when it came to real jobs like vacuuming. But he got what was coming when he became a teenager and his job was to de-tick the dog every night after our beloved "Spock" spent the day running through the woods in the backyard.) There were separate lists for each of us each labeled with the first letter of our name. For instance, mine began with an underlined capital "A" , below that she wrote things like "pick raspberries" and "sweep porch".  Sometimes she needed to elaborate or show us how to do a new task. To indicate this, Val added "-see me" after the entry.  The dreaded "see me".  This meant we had to endure a lecture of sorts.  Something as benign as "bathroom- see me" became a dissertation on wiping the toothpaste out of the sink and a demonstration of the proper way to hang a  wet towel after bathing. We hated "see me".  It always meant dragging out the process of doing chores and possibly missing the Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Hour.

I don't add that loaded phrase to my to-do list. I don't want anyone to interrupt me while I'm paying the bills or writing a blog entry but I do make a separate entry for Rob, labeled with his name, underlined.  Instead, I insist on explaining every entry before he begins which I am sure is annoying in its own way.  He puts up with it.  Probably because he can now record his favorite show to watch later instead of missing it and I must admit that I am quite generous for allowing him to fold the laundry while watching the Red Sox game.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Assessment

I finally raked off the flower beds on the side of the house where I drive in and park the car. These are the ones that I see everyday, so they needed to be addressed first so that the thought of not getting to it wouldn't drive me crazy. Tonight, Stella and I were able to inventory and assess the rest of the yard on the other side of the house.
I put on some sweat pants, an old inside out sweatshirt and rubber boots. After pouring myself a generous glass of red wine and dumping a handful of Cape Cod Potato Chips (Sea Salt and Black Pepper) into a bowl, and setting it on the deck, we set out to survey the little patch of land at 33 Hampden Road, me with glass in hand and Stella with her favorite "baby" a stuffed hedgehog, encrusted in drool.
Lots of raking is left to do along the white picket fence with the paint peeling off (another project, yet to be addressed) and the grass needs some major TLC.  The compost area demands a complete overhaul.  I don't know what has been digging underneath, (perhaps the culprit is Stella?  I wouldn't be surprised.), and there are old toys, broken wiffle balls and a variety of candy wrappers and popsicle sticks that have revealed themselves before the hostas and other greenery flourish and hide them again. (Thanks, kids!) Well, Hallelujah!  The day lillies seem to have popped up overnight!  Daffodils against the front of the house are just about ready to bloom, which can only mean that I need to get my @$$ in gear and get ready to amend, plant, water and mulch until I can't stand up again.
I checked my gardening diary.  (How else am I going to remember what happened, what I did, last year?  I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night!)  On April 7, 2013 Rob had already rototilled the vegetable garden plot and I planted Ava's lettuce seedlings (a project from a Girl Scout meeting a few weeks before).  By April 13, I was planting radishes and spinach.  O.K. I guess based on my progress from last year, I shouldn't panic, yet but I still feel like there is so much to do before Mother Nature decides it's time for the lettuce come up!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Ready for Spring

The first thing to do is, rake.  I wanted to pull all the dead leaves off the sprouting crocuses and already blooming snowdrops that were peeking through, desperately looking for some sun but I knew I had to wait a bit longer. March is such a tease around here.  And wouldn't you know it.  Snow and hurricane force winds arrived on March 26th.  They even cancelled school the night before in anticipation of this one.  It's a good thing I held off I thought, as the kids and I hunkered down for what we all hoped was the last snow day of the year.  Even though Ava and Declan are still in elementary school and excited about a day off from school, even they are sick of the snow. Ready for baseball and dreaming of jumping off the raft at Megansett beach....well at least it will melt quickly at this time of year.
So, when I finally got out there to rake, I wasn't at all crabby about it, which can be my nature at times. (It's shocking that I can have that attitude, I know, but there you have it.) I was actually excited!  Excited to get going, get planting.  Suddenly, there are so many things to do.  Rototilling the small patch for the vegetable garden, turning the compost, preparing the seeds and I'm already behind.  I've got to get some pansies for the steps by the mind drifts to thoughts of summertime when I'll suddenly stop and wonder,
"Where did Spring go?"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Odd Things in Freezers

My freezer is a jumbled mess.  Half opened bags of frozen fruit, a random assortment of leftovers once thought worthy to occupy space to be eaten later at some point ( I don't know when and they inevitably get thrown out by me, the person who froze them in the first place during a mad purging spree.), 2 hotdogs in a ziploc bag and other essentials such as coffee and ice cubes for cocktails, it's all in there.  I also have trash in my freezer.  This idea I stole from my mother, Val.  Meat wrappers that would otherwise end up all over the yard before trash day, chewed to bits by neighborhood dogs and raccoons are now safely hidden away and smell free while cluttering up the freezer and camouflaging the ice cream.  But all this seems normal to me.

Other people have their own ideas of "normal" freezer etiquette.  My father allows his friends to put anything they see fit into his own freezer located in my parent's barn.  "It's a good thing you haven't gone into the freezer."  he said to me one day in an off handed kind of way. I was puzzled that he would bring such a thing up and why would I need to open the freezer in the barn?  "Billy's mink is in there."  

Obviously, he wanted me to ask why Billy's mink was in his possession. To humor him, I bit. It seems during the winter months, minks are illegal to hunt, only muskrats are fair game.  Billy did not want to get caught with the contraband that accidentally ended up in his trap but it was far to prized a pelt to cast aside. My father being a good friend and always up for a bit of mischief and minor crimes, assisted him by offering space in the freezer at 540 Old Meeting House Road until early spring when the minks are legally up for grabs, again. I have no doubt that the frozen stiff animal lay aside exposed ice cubes and popsicles that will be offered to my children in the warmer months.  Gross.

Believe it or not, frozen animals stashed in home freezers for purposes rather than eating, is not new to me.  In college, I had a dorm mate who kept her cadaver feral cat in the common room freezer between study sessions in which she had to identify various muscle, ligaments, etc on its skinned corpse.  But I still don't understand why she was studying what looked to me to be a common house cat. She graduated with a degree in physical therapy.  For humans.

To be honest, I have experienced bizarre items for human consumption in Val's well kept freezer.  Back when we only had one freezer in the house, a brick red Frigidaire to match the stove and dishwasher, there seemed to be lots of items brought home by my father and stashed away neatly by Val.  Along with the Hood harlequin ice cream ( my sister Karyn and I always requested only chocolate as this was the first flavor to go and she always responded that the store didn't have any.  I swear to this day, that she did this because my younger brother, the "Crowned Prince" never liked chocolate anything.  Well, he didn't really like ice cream either, being undiagnosed lactose intolerant so the vanilla and strawberry would sit and crystallize until someone gave in and ate it or it got thrown out.) there were often stuffed quahogs and the occasional blue fish filet which may seem exotic to families who live elsewhere in the country however are normal meal ingredients here on Cape Cod. But by far the worst to topple out and land on my foot had to have been the headless eels.  Their black bodies were coiled up and tied securely in a clear baggie. My father fished them by plunging 5 pronged spears through the winter ice.  I don't know what was more traumatic, seeing the frozen snake like creature ( I admit to being afraid of snakes.) or knowing at some point that Val would be chopping it into 2 inch pieces, breading and frying it up for dinner to be served along side mashed potatoes and green beans. Even now, I can envision my father devouring this meal holding the breaded fish as corn on the cob and cleaning the spiny bone of all the flaky white flesh with his teeth as all three of us children ( and I think Val did, too although she hid it well) looked on in disgust.

When I think about it, a freezer is like any other "closet" in a house, revealing clues about lifestyle and personal stories. Just as a pair of muddy boots tells of toiling in the garden or a little black dress holds memories of cocktail parties, weddings and New Year's Eve toasts. There's probably fodder for a therapy session in my messy freezer: my life is chaotic and I feel often that it's out of control. But I'm not going to focus on that right now.  Instead I'll choose to savor the homemade mint ice cream I made for my son (his favorite flavor) and unearth those few hot dogs for dinner tonight.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Confessions of Poor Parenting at Christmas Time Post # 1

 The Following is a true story of my own issues with the infamous "Elf"....

Since the arrival of” The Elf On The Shelf” in stores across the country, it has become a Christmas “must have” for parents in the know.  Every year since my oldest was in preschool, I heard parents talk about the joy it brought to the children and the harmony it restored in their homes.  I was always guilt ridden that I had again not had the foresight to purchase an elf for my own family in time for the holidays.  But this year, it would be different….
The Eyes Have It
I’m a horrible parent.  I know I have said this before but this time it’s doubly true.  You see, I bought an “Elf On The Shelf” for my children to celebrate the Christmas season.
What I thought was going to be a fun holiday tradition for years to come, one that my own children would wax nostalgic about and want to pass down to their own children, turned out to be, well, disastrous.  I even imagined that my two children may fight over who would actually got to keep “Frosty” (that’s what they named the elf) for their own.  Maybe I would have to put it in my will.  No, instead, my two terrified cherubs decided that Frosty needed to go back to the North Pole after the first day and stay there.
I should have known that my seven year old daughter might have an issue with the elf with the funny, sideways looking eyes but she seemed interested and excited enough when she woke up this morning to find a special new book on the breakfast table.  Once she began to read the story, then looked up to find the elf in the chandelier over the table, she appeared to be hooked, her imagination ignited.  Then my son woke up and stumbled down the stairs.  A look of excitement colored his face and he was instantly intrigued by the story as well.  Ahhhh, while the Christmas memories were created before my very eyes, I couldn’t have been more proud of my own performance insisting that I had no idea how the elf and the book had arrived, could it have been Santa?  The children’s father was happy to play along, too.  My husband, I think, looked forward to all the interesting places he would place the elf once it arrived back each morning after its nightly trip to report to Santa.
Once Ava read the story and had fun thinking of names for the elf, she went about her morning the usual way but was afraid to play in her room while I took a shower before bringing the kids to get the bus.  I found this odd, but mostly I became frustrated.  Ava normally was afraid of going up to her room when it was dark out (a fear that she inherited from her grandmother who used to pay her own sister to turn on the light in her room when they went up to bed for the night)  not in broad daylight with the sun streaming in the windows.  Instead of trying to figure out why, I demanded she go and play in her room as I was going to be in the bathroom adjacent and there was “nothing to be afraid of! “
I swear my mother intuition is sometimes just shut off.  Thursday is my regular day to volunteer in Ava’s classroom.  I sat at the desk collating the huge stack of copies I had just completed.  As Ava and her class mates got ready to go to lunch, she stepped out of line to come over and kiss me.  This wasn’t odd; she often showed me affection while I am helping.  But today, she whispered, “That elf is awfully mysterious.”  I just nodded and gave her a hug.  After all, that was the intention:  Mysterious Elf arrives in Home to tell Santa about Naughty or Nice Children, report at 11:00.  I was actually thrilled she still “believed” enough to think the whole thing was true.
In the afternoon, I got the kids from the bus and we chatted on the walk home about where Frosty may be next and if he had moved while I was out.  We arrived home to find him in the same place, up in the chandelier above the dinner table.  That’s when the whining began.
“Mommy, he is creeping me out!” Ava said
“Why honey, he is just a friendly elf?” I responded
“I don’t like his eyes, I don’t want him to come back!”  Ava was serious as she hid her face in her hands.
I thought I could talk some sense into her.  This was supposed to be a fun, new tradition to last the whole month long, to make my children actually behave for fear that Santa would really find out.  I had heard from other parents that they wished they could have the elf out all year long, that’s how drastic the behavior changes (for the better) had been in their own homes.  Now, it appeared that all bets were off.  I could feel the angelic attitudes already slipping through my fingers.  Fighting and bickering all December long, here we go.
We sat together on the couch and I asked her exactly what she was afraid of.  I thought at one point that we actually came to an agreement, a compromise that would get us over the hump, to get her used to having Frosty in the house.  We began to set up some rules.  We said them out loud so that elf could hear: No showing up in Ava’s room, no going into the bathroom, no hiding in the laundry basket or in drawers.  In fact, just stay up high where no one can accidentally touch you, Frosty.  Are we clear?
“I’m still afraid of his eyes.”  Ava said
“What if he wore sunglasses?”  I asked
Ava laughed.  I thought about fashioning a pair of Barbie’s sunglasses for Frosty just like the elf in Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer who had to shield his eyes from the glare of Rudolph’s nose.  I could do that tonight, after Ava went to bed.
“No.”  She said and she buried her head into my shoulder as we sat on the couch.  She couldn’t bear to look into Frosty’s eyes even by accident.
“Could you please tell him not to come back?”
“Yes.” I said reluctantly.  “Can we maybe invite him back next year?”
“Maybe.  If he knows the rules.”
I remembered as I was washing the dinner dishes while the kids were happily watching TV (in another room away from the elf) that I used to be afraid of what I called, “The Eyes”.  I hadn’t thought about it in such a long time, it must have been buried in my subconscious.
In our “old” house, where we lived until just before I turned five, there was a trap door to the attic located in the ceiling of my room, just above my bed.  For some reason, the ceiling was painted except for this door, leaving the knotty wood exposed.  It looked like a bunch of creepy eyes from my preschooler perspective and I was perpetually scared of them night after night.  As much as my mother tried to comfort me and get me to go to sleep, some nights, I just screamed, “The Eyes!” and she would have to console me until I fell asleep.
So, I guess I understand the “creepy eye” thing even though I was hoping to be a Christmas hero.  And the Elf on a Shelf is now the elf in a box under the bed, hidden far from view, until maybe next year.  That is, if he agrees to follow the rules and wear sunglasses.

Monday, December 17, 2012

That's the Spirit!

I want to enjoy the Christmas season, I truly do. The problem is in the stress of buying gifts, wrapping gifts, decorating the house, fulfilling obligations like helping my daughter to participate in the "All Kids Craft Fair" by practically making all her crafts while she is at school, dance, basketball, etc., attending various "fun" events and battling the worst cold I have had since the turn of the century. The anxiety over attempting to fit all this in within a few weeks because I neglected, yet again, to begin the shopping process early in November, is a product of my own making. One would think that I would buy myself some time by eliminating the holiday baking: excessive amounts of all different types of cookies all hand make by me and lovingly packaged for only the most deserving friends and relatives. No, actually this insanity is what keeps me from jumping off a cliff into the abyss of holiday madness. Except for one children want to help me.
If you only watch one minute of t.v during the month of December, you are guaranteed to see an ad featuring a loving mother helping her cute elementary school age children create Christmas cookies and various other holiday treats all while an emotionally charged yet mellow pop song plays in the background. These advertisements serve up a walloping portion of guilt especially during this time of year when all I want to do is banish my own kids to the playroom in the basement so that I can enjoy some peace and quiet by myself in the solace of my own kitchen. Just call me, "Mother of the Year". I kept them at bay as long as I could. Claiming that I had to mix the dough myself so that I could "focus" on the ingredients. But those kids know what just about every holiday in my kitchen means...cookie cutters. "I want to do the Santa carrying the bag one!" Ava yelled over Declan's request to use his new "Ninjabread Men" cookie cutters, courtesy of my sister-in-law out in California. (She'll get hers when Maggie and Nate are old enough to insist on helping out in the kitchen about 2 years from now!) Just what I wanted to give to my friends and neighbors, Christmas Ninja Dude Cookies performing various martial arts moves. How festive.
My guilt gets the best of me and I succumb to the constant requests. There are only so many times I can endure the question, "Mo-om! When do we get to help?!" "O.K. You can both help but one at a time. Whenever you work together, you fight and I can't handle that today. I will call you when it's your turn." "I want to go first!" "He always gets to go first, I never do!" and so on, etc., etc. "Enough! I said I would call you and you won't complain about who goes first!!!!"
Let's just say, that I managed to survive, but just barely. Merry Christmas.