30 September 2011

A Sporting Attitude

I went to see Three play soccer last night. I was secretly praying it would be cancelled due to inclement weather (lately, the only kind we have ), but the rain slowed to a drizzle, leaving the fields playable. I drove over for the second half, which is the maximum amount of time I can commit to any game. I joined the more dedicated parents on the sideline, watching the mist drift and swirl above the field as my boy's team got its ass solidly kicked. But Three had a grand time, playing with athleticism and whimsy. They lost by many points, but he assisted on their one goal, which prompted much whooping and hollering.

Three's best friends are on his team, which makes the experience bearable. They all have a similar attitude. They know the team may never win a game this season, so they just want to score. They talked about how exciting it would be if each of them got a goal; how they would tear off their shirts and run around the field screaming. This (d)evolved into wearing sports bras under their jerseys, in homage to Brandi Chastain. By the end of the car ride they had decided that scoring wasn't guaranteed, so they would just wear the bras during the last game, and rip off their shirts at the end. I agreed to lend Three a sports bra, in his choice of white or black, but he was concerned it wouldn't fit.

"Mom, I don't have boobs."

"Trust me, your thirteen year-old boy chest will fit in my bra just fine." We are similarly endowed.

I'm all for the silly bra hijinks, because most of our team sports experiences with Three have been excruciating. He's a talented athlete, but he's often been crippled by anxiety. This would manifest itself as phantom injuries which would prevent him from practicing, or participating fully in games. We fought a lot about practice, especially during football season. But once we realized the underlying cause, we eased up. Unfortunately, his reputation as a slacker was firmly established at that point.

One night he came back from football practice and told me his head coach had mocked him to one of his teammates. The coach was driving the boy home after practice and in the course of conversation, he derided Three's work ethic, and laughed about all the excuses he made to avoid practice.

Now, to be fair, the Captain and I spent years having the same discussion. But finally, something clicked, and we decided we weren't going to force Three to play anymore. He had to want to do it  in order to be successful, so we left it up to him. In short, we realized he was playing YOUTH SPORTS. He wasn't a catcher for the MLB, or a lineman for the NFL, and he certainly had not been drafted by the NBA. He wasn't violating any contract, or losing wages, if he missed practice or a hit.

Through the years, the Captain and I had lost sight of this distinction. We'd become heavily involved in the township recreation leagues. The Captain was Three's coach for most of his baseball and basketball teams. We were huge supporters of the football program. I was the team mom, and the Captain attended board meetings regularly to plan fundraisers. We weren't just parents; we were part of the team.

When I found out what the head coach had said, I told Three I would talk to him. I explained how the coach might draw that conclusion based on Three's behavior, but that it was absolutely wrong of him to share his thoughts with Three's teammate. Then I explained my "Fuck You" rule. If Three really wanted to stick it to his coach, he should show up, play hard, and prove him wrong. I didn't want the coach screwing with Three's self-confidence. He managed that well enough on his own.

The Captain decided I should be the one to talk to the coach, because he was afraid he might physically harm him.  So, the next night at practice, I asked the coach to meet me at the equipment shed. Three told him he wasn't going to miss any more practice, and the coach said he wanted him to be an important member of the team. I sent Three to the field, and I asked the coach to wait. Then I ended our relationship. I let him know how I felt about his behavior, and I never spoke to him again.

Small town sports are microcosms of our society. They bring out the best and worst behavior in athletes and parents. Mostly parents. There are stars, crazy egos and power trips. I was never happier than in that moment with the coach, when everything fell back into perspective. I no longer push my boys to play. I savor the sight of them having fun, even if I have to stand in the mud to witness it. Life is hard. Sports shouldn't be.

26 September 2011

The Meandering Tale of the Missing Megan

I opened the email on my smartphone the other day, and there was a message from my friend Deborah, a.k.a. Witchy Betty. She told me the Bettyverse was worried, because no one had heard from me in over a week.

I was shocked. And touched. I felt very Sally Field-ish, knowing that people like me, they really like me, enough to notice my absence. So, in a nutshell, this was my week:

Last Saturday, we had soccer, and threw a birthday party for Five at a cool gym with giant inflatables. Later in the day, Mom moved in for a week-long visit, while Pappou was traveling.

Tuesday the kids had a minimum day, just to torture me, and we had Back to School night at Four's school. I'm a little nervous about the amount of work he's being asked  to complete, mostly because I think homework breeds school hatred.

Wednesday, took Mom for a haircut, then went to see my doctor about my extreme exhaustion, heart fluttering, and general aches and pains. Silently threatened her life when she uttered the word "perimenopause," then gave a few vials of blood to rule out Lyme disease, thyroiditis, and arthritis. Called to make a date with the podiatrist about my self-diagnosed plantar fascitis. You know, the reason I can't go on the treadmill.

Thursday, took Three to the orthodontist, so they could tell me his teeth had moved. Because he hadn't worn his retainer. They offered to take new impressions and cast new retainers, all for the bargain price of $550. We went home, and I told Three to shove those suckers back in his mouth, no matter how much it hurt.

Went to One's Back to School night. He is a "Fifth Year Senior," which gives him an opportunity to navigate school on his own, sans a personal aide, for the first time ever. He's taking really cool electives, in mainstream classes, in preparation for attending county college next year.

Friday, Mom woke up in pain, unable to move her shoulder or neck. We made an appointment with the chiropractor for 12:15. I went to school at 9:30 to collect Three for his sit-down with the pediatrician, to investigate the knee pain he'd had since Saturday's soccer game. We can now go see an orthopedist if we choose. I gave him more ibuprofen. Left the chiropractor with Mom at 2:00, in time to go get children at rainy bus stops, and deposit them at home.

Raced to pick up rental linens for father-in-law's surprise 70th birthday party. Drove to charming lake community club house to set up, walked into teen dance party. Drove to Costco instead to get the hors d'oeuvres, a case of bottled Coke from Mexico, and flowers.

Saturday, loaded the van with supplies, and met with the oil company rep about installing a new boiler. Realized She-Who-Cannot-Be-Trained (Cobie), was not in the house or the yard. Sent the Captain and assorted boys to look for her. Went to charming lake community club house again, met sister-in-law. Moved a lot of  chairs and tables, draped them with the rental linens, and decorated them with old 45's and Gerbera daisies in the Coke bottle vases.

Got a call from the Captain, informing me Cobie had been impounded for the weekend by our town Animal Control officer. Yes, the girl dog is unregistered. Hell, I never registered Leo, and we've had him for four years. I was busy. I forgot. On the upside, this development eliminated my need for a party-time dogsitter.

Went home to shower and change, then returned to community club with Two and his helpful girlfriend. Set up hors d'oeuvres, greeted guests, and yelled "Surprise!" to stunned F.I.L. Danced with Mother, Brother, Sons, and Husband. Had fun, cleaned up, passed out.

Sunday, Four gently woke me at 7:00. Managed to stay in bed until 7:40, despite his repetition of the phrase, "Come on, it's time to get up now." The poor Captain awoke with a migraine, and Five crankily rose an hour later. Spent much time soothing him, and eating carbs. Felt like I'd been run over by a truck. Took Five to Toys 'r Us to buy Legos with his birthday money. Drove to Mom's apartment to help her find her cell phone, before loading her up to come spend another five days with us.  Bonus! Yelled at teenagers to  finish the god-blessed homework that I didn't know about until 5:00 on Sunday.

Ate Sunday dinner. Hopefully expressed the proper amount of love to Janet, who helped Three create a chart on the computer, and then pulled all the remaining chicken off the carcasses, so we can make pot pie tomorrow. Put little people to bed, then actually watched television! Yelled at teenagers to go to sleep. Kissed the still-suffering Captain goodnight.

Wrote this post, even though I'm certain I've already published some other boring version of it half a dozen times. Will now go empty and load the dishwasher for the third time today.

I missed you guys.

15 September 2011

A Dog, A Van, and an Irritating Man

She-Who-Cannot-Be-Trained, (Cobie) locked me out of the van. She must know I want to give her away.

I spend two and a half hours each morning getting boys out of bed and ready for school. It sounds like a marathon, but it's more like a prolonged sprint. Two and Three get up at 6:00 in order to catch buses at 6:55 and 7:05. Four rises at 6:30, because his van arrives at 7:30. I wake Five after returning from Three's bus stop, so he can have Lego building time before we get his bus at 8:15.  One rolls out of bed after Four leaves, and finally, departs at 8:35. Then I make the coffee and sit my ass down.

I take Cobie in the van for all the bus runs. It gets her out of Leo's hair (literally), and it burns off some of her early morning energy. Yesterday, she jumped in, we drove to Four's stop, and I left her and the keys on the front seat while I got him off to school. When I opened the door, she tried to make a break for it, no doubt having spied a chase-worthy chipmunk. I partially shut the door, but it got stuck in that weird door limbo, so I shut it all the way, and pulled again.



I knew my spare keys were in Chicago with the Captain. I started walking home anyway, because I still had one kid to get out the door. The bus stop isn't far from my house, but the walk back is all uphill. I was in my daily uniform of black velour pants and the t-shirt I slept in, both of which got clingy right quick in the morning humidity. About 100 yards from the driveway I made a promise to reacquaint my ill-equipped cardiovascular system with the elliptical. As soon as I fix the inexplicable, lingering foot pain I've been nursing for weeks. Panting, I hurried inside to make sure One was ready to go, threw his lunchbox in his backpack, and called the police.

The police are out of the door-jimmying business. Unless you have a baby locked in the car. A human baby. I called my Kia dealer, hoping they could unlock the door remotely. No dice. I hitched a ride on One's bus back down to the scene, called Kia roadside assistance, and checked on Cobie. She was asleep. I played a few rounds of Word Warp on my phone, and texted the Captain. I figured I'd give him a chuckle.

The Captain never locks his keys in the car, because he always removes them from the ignition, exits the vehicle, and locks it with the clicker. He locks the car every time he parks it. He locks it in our driveway, even if it's broad daylight, and we're outside. He likes routine, and this incident (and all the other times I've locked the keys in the car, especially that time outside Starbucks the night before we were driving to Florida) will now further validate his OCD approach.

When the Captain called me back, he remembered that our dealer told us we could use our cellphones to unlock the car. He clicked the remote next to the phone, and I held my phone near my door, while his colleague in Chicago laughed and laughed in the background. It didn't work.

I played more Word Warp.

The locksmith called me, fifteen minutes after his scheduled arrival, to say he'd been given the wrong town and contact number. I think he just heard wrong, and was covering his ass. I was snippy.

"Hold on," he said, "don't get upset. We're not going to fight. I'm on my way."

There is nothing that makes me angrier than some man telling me to calm down. When Two tells me to relax after he's irritated me by (a) not listening when I am speaking to him, or (b) sighing in exasperation when he actually does, or (c) basically not doing any of the things I told him to, I want to punch him. So if I don't even know you, dude, don't tell me to fucking moderate my tone of voice.

Eventually, "Roadside Assistance" arrived. He was some young guy in a Honda with a Slim Jim. He tried to make excuses, while I glared and filled out his form, which informed me, in CAPITAL LETTERS, that the assistants work on tips. I signed, and thanked him verbally, not monetarily. One hour and forty-five minutes after Cobie stood on my automatic door lock, I arrived back home.

This morning, I took the keys out of the van.

13 September 2011

Five's Mis-Conception

We have reached the end of the line. Today is Five's birthday. Yes, the boy who is so special he earned his own blog column, is eight years old.

The Captain and I are still unsure how he came to be.

Obviously, we understand the mechanics of how children are created. We managed, with very little effort I might add, to bring four of them into the world before Five arrived. One and Two were the only ones we scheduled. And Two happened easily enough that we realized we probably hadn't needed to try so hard. Not that the Captain was complaining.

After Two joined us, I went on birth control, but it made me fat and crazy, so I stopped. Hence, Three. Then the Captain and I finally figured out that if we stopped being so sexy and paid attention, my body would give actual biological signals that would help prevent pregnancy! That method worked for three years.

Then one December night, the Captain and I were addressing Christmas cards, he was drinking wine, we were full of the holiday spirit, I lost track of when I last received a biological signal, and...Four! For weeks, the Captain spent nights re-imagining our future, wondering why he hadn't listened when his doctor suggested that perhaps medical intervention might be the only way to stop his super-sperm.

But Four was adorable, and after a few months, the Captain grew to like him. Our world, inside and outside our home, was changing. We were busy, time passed, and the Captain forgot to have that surgery. But we remained diligent about obeying the signals.

Which is why we don't know how Five got here.

We can both swear that there were no mind altering substances involved in his conception. I mean, the sex is always mind blowing, but not so much that we lose the ability to count, or read a calendar. We blame it on L.R.R.P.S., or Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Sperm. They must have traveled far, set up camp, and waited for one of my lazy, old eggs to drop. Trust me, after thirty-eight years in my ovaries, those gals weren't putting on make-up and running down to see who was knocking on the door. They were semi-retired at that point, sitting around in their flannels and fuzzy slippers, gossipping with their BFUYS (Best Friends Until You're Shed). We figure one of them finally went out to get the paper, and a L.R.R.P.S must have pounced.

The Captain was the fourth person to find out I was pregnant. My friend Janet had the unfortunate timing to call right after I'd done the pregnancy test, so she got the news first. She was speechless. Then my mother called, and I shared my genuine fear that the Captain might drive off a bridge when I told him. But he didn't. He called his doctor instead and scheduled the surgery.

Five was born two and a half weeks early, on September 13, 2003. I knew he wasn't going to cook all the way to the end of his recommended gestation, but I prayed to make it past the 11th. It was only two years after the attacks, and we were all still very raw. The delivery was fairly easy, because he was small. He had some minor bilirubin issues, so one day the pediatrician was reading his blood results, and he told me his blood type was B+.

"Really?" I asked, perplexed. "Huh. I'm O+."

"Well, someone is B+," he answered. "Do you want to ask your husband, or is that going to be an uncomfortable phone call?"

Turns out, that's the Captain's blood type. He confirmed it when I called him.

"But if it hadn't been," he added, "that would have explained a lot."

Five. We don't know how we got him, but we wouldn't give him back.

P.S.: If you read this earlier, it had a different title. I changed it after realizing that the next time some person googles the word "conception," I'm going to be number three on the browser list. This happens all the time--usually when someone in Indonesia or Russia does a search for "penis," or, my favorite from the other day, "hot woman diaries."  So, sorry if this popped up as a new post in your blogroll. It's not. I'm not that prolific.

09 September 2011

The New Normal

The Captain went to work today, despite the fact that there is "a credible, unconfirmed threat" that someone will try and blow up New York City.

Five had his first emotional meltdown of the school year, triggered by the fact that Four had a delayed opening at his flood-prone private school. In Five's illogical world, this meant he should also have a two hour delay.

I have a Flexeril hangover. Yesterday it felt like someone slept on my head and compressed my spine, so it seemed smart to take a muscle relaxant at bedtime. Except bedtime is after midnight. So I'm still loopy.

In other words, everything is normal. Or new-normal, as I call it.

Ten years ago, I was bouncing a three week-old baby when New York City was attacked. I'd just gotten the older boys off to school, when the Captain's sister called. She'd heard that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, and she wanted to know if the Captain was okay. I assured her he was at least forty blocks from World Trade, which in my mind guaranteed his safety. But I called him to check.

At the time, he worked in Herald Square, which is a few blocks away from the Empire State Building. It didn't even occur to me to be frightened for him, to consider the notion that someone might attack another landmark. My mother called after the Pentagon was struck, and I told her it must be a mistake, perhaps a pilot error. My brain still did not accept that it was deliberate. It had no template to follow, no imprint of terrorism, from which to draw this conclusion.

Because I was caring for an infant, I was not even watching the television when the Towers fell. My sister Erin called from Arizona to check on the Captain, and to ask about our friends June and Janet. She knew they were bankers, so she was worried they were downtown. She is the one who told me the Towers were gone. I made her repeat the words.

"What do you mean, gone?"

"Gone! Gone! They've collapsed!"

That's when my world paradigm shifted. But at the same time, I became defiant about maintaining some sense of normalcy. While I waited for my children's buses, I thought Fuck the terrorists. They're not going to stop my kids from going to school. They're not going to change the way I live.

And in most ways they have not. We have our normal routines, full of work, school, and family. Laundry must get washed, homework must get done, and  in-between there are sports, plays, and friends. Our lives are busy. This is the way my brain course-corrects for the fact that when I see a jet in the sky, I remember September 11, 2001. Every time. When I hear the whir of helicopter blades out my kitchen window, I think there is a tragedy unfolding. I do not consider it might be heavy traffic on Route 80.

The brain is a supple and forgiving instrument. It helps me suffocate my new world fears under a pile of daily minutia. It provides a dose of selective amnesia, forcing me to live in the here and now. Without it, I could not kiss my husband good-bye in the morning, and send him off to face a "credible threat."

I don't know that we will ever fully recover from that day ten years ago. The Captain flies to Chicago next week, which automatically prompts some anxiety. I am grateful for my new-normal life, but I wonder if it will ever feel just normal again.

06 September 2011

And So It Begins

The pack is back in school.

We had a rather smooth run for the first day, considering the rain, and the fact that Four's van went to pick him up at our old house. He is bused to a private school, and despite the fact that I've called my district every year for the past three years to tell them we've moved, every September the bus goes to the wrong house. When I'm done smiling in the silence, I'm going to call them again and wait on the line,  listening as they type the new address into their records.

I am always excited at the start of the new school year. I imagine all the projects I will complete in the six hours I am alone each day. I devise new operating systems, which will miraculously correct all the mistakes we had running the family during the previous year. These usually focus on getting everyone to do their homework without me screaming. I peruse new cookbooks, and plan the crock pot meals I will make while the kiddies are busy learning. I debate whether I should get on the elliptical before or after I write.

I am hopeful.

Usually, by the end of the week I'm exhausted, the house is in complete disarray, the tables are buried under a mound of forms, and I'm already negotiating with two of the kids to get them back to school the next week.

Just for today, though, I am ignoring reality. I'm drinking my coffee and avoiding the messy kitchen, because when I finish this post, I'm going to hit the Documents button on my laptop, and go back to the book. Julie's daily draw card said  Believe in yourself, for you have the ability to materialize your dreams! I took it as a sign, helping me prioritize. I am the only person who can finish the manuscript. My remaining projects can be completed with help from others, but not the book. So, that's what I'm going to focus on this week.

I am hopeful.

And it's not because I hate the elliptical.

Are you working on something? Do you wish you were?

01 September 2011

Above the Flood Zone

We are fine.

My town is not.

Our first two homes were in town, by the river. The Rockaway River is fed by a series of brooks as it travels through my town on it's way to joining the Passaic River. It's a long, but not wide, river, and it floods our downtown after every major storm.

We were living in a small ranch house downtown when Floyd came through in 1999. It rained for three days, and the river surrounded our house, leaving two feet of standing water inside. We had to gut it and rebuild. But we loved the neighborhood, enough to move across the street to a larger house, with a big basement to catch the water. Which it did more than once. After Five was born we left the flood zone, and moved to a mountain. I've never been happier. It was exhausting living in a hotel with three small children while we rebuilt our house, and I never want to do that again.

It rained rather spectacularly Saturday night, and at one point we were under a tornado watch. However, the heaviest downfall occurred overnight, so we only heard it. One stayed up all night watching the Weather Channel, because severe weather is his thing. I think it has something to do with being born during The Storm of The Century.

When the Captain and I awoke on Sunday, we drove down off the mountain, in search of a paper. Because it was only raining lightly at that point, we thought the damage would be minimal. We were wrong. We couldn't get to town. The river had jumped its banks by our sports fields, and crossed the road. We couldn't get to the highway.

We tried another way out, and found that the river had washed across that road as well. We watched as a tow truck pulled a minivan from the murky mess. We turned around, thinking we could get out the back way through our neighboring town. A swollen creek had closed that road. We doubled back, drove through our old lake community, through the lagoon water running across that road, and tried one last route. Flooded.

Frankly, we were shocked. We had never seen it this badly flooded. We went home, grateful for our safety. We soon found out that the destruction of our town was a scene repeated throughout all of New Jersey. The Passaic River covered entire towns. The Rahway river flooded my brother's basement. Dams broke, and highways caved.  Then a large tree fell on some power lines and we lost our electricity, along with 700,000 other people.

It wasn't that bad. We played board games with the kids, and then Rummikub by lantern light. We kept the refrigerator shut, except to pack it with ice. The little people actually read books! Our greatest concern was my mother, who uses an oxygen converter that runs on electricity. But we had packed in lots of tanks, and we set our alarms to wake up that first night and check the air levels. We figured if something happened, we could take her to the hospital. Except, this is what the hospital looked like.
She made it through just fine, although it did make us consider purchasing a generator. All told, we were without power for three days. Too long to save most of our food, according to the experts. So, today, I threw everything out.

It's a small sacrifice, compared to our neighbors downtown. It will take months, if not longer, for some towns to recover. I lived through the rebuilding once, and my heart goes out to those who must do it again.