Thursday, October 16, 2014

Adventures in Busing

The wackiest thing about kindergarten so far? The school bus. Hands down.

The Grape LOVES riding the bus, so much so that his angst about starting a new school almost evaporated when he heard there would be a yellow school bus involved. This is unsurprising. I think the Grape's first full sentence might have been, "This is bus," in reference to this toy (for which I still have a back up or two stashed in the closet under the stairs):

I'd heard buzz over the summer that the bus takes a few weeks to shake out its glitches. But we were eager. So the morning of the first full day of school, we arrived at the bus stop and waited with eight other kids and moms. The appointed moment passed. No bus. Across town in Beacon Hill, the school day started. No bus.

The kids had a blast racing up and down the block and pelting acorns at passing cars on Columbus Avenue—evidently a time honored bus stop tradition, with which I am not going to interfere, because I'd like to be friends with these women.

One of the moms offered to drive the whole gang. She piled nine kids and all their lunches and backpacks into her SUV.

Me (crouching to his level and invoking calm but cheerful tone): This nice mommy (whom I very vaguely know from the dog park) is going to drive you all to school, and then this nice sixth grade girl is going to walk you to your classroom, okay?

Grape: Okay.

I'll say this about the Grape. He can be a major fusspot, but he's a great traveler, and I guess the school commute falls under the umbrella of travel.

So off he went in the clown car of kids.

I walked him to and from school for a few days. The following Monday, the Grape begged to try again. The bus showed up. The system worked.

As we moms smiled and waved at the bus bumping away, I started to think it's sort of strange to send a five-year-old off on the roads with some random public employee.

Especially one who freely admitted to getting lost on the day of the clown car episode.

"I think his name is Warner. Or maybe Werner," one of the moms said.

"Is that his first or last name?" someone asked.

Shrugs all around.

"I like that he wears a bow tie," someone else said.

And that was it. He may not know the city too well, but he brings it, fashion-wise, so we are going with it.

As the week wore on, the morning party grew to a dozen and then maybe fifteen kids. The Grape loves it.

Every afternoon, I take Lila the Dog and stake out the bus, which spews the kids out outside Charlie's. Or what used to be, and perhaps will be again, Charlie's. All went smoothly for weeks. One afternoon, the troop of kids marches off.

No Grape.

Heart misses beat.

Lila and I climb onto bus to find the Grape and his little School Bus Girlfriend trying to reassemble the Grape's belongings into his empty backpack.

He has unpacked his lunch box all over the seat, taken the lids off three pieces of tupperware,  lost his jacket under the seat, lost his drink bottle and library book entirely, and (apparently) attempted to hang up at least a dozen crumpled drawings for display. He is, for some unknowable reason, in the process of removing his shoes.

Also School Bus Girlfriend is making a huge mess with graham crackers, which I decide to ignore.

Meanwhile Lila (eighty pounds of dog), crazed with the excitement of actually boarding the bus, tries her best to stand on her head, jump on the seats, hoover up the graham cracker detritus, and generally turn herself inside out, while I hold her leash in the hand with the cast and try to reassemble the Grape's belongings with my left hand.

This is one of those procedures, like having blood drawn, that may only take a couple of minutes, but feels as if it lags on forever.

I finally manage to usher my kid and his dog and maybe eighty percent of his stuff off the bus.

I apologize profusely to the driver, who looks really put upon, but says nothing, because Werner/Warner is a man of few words. The Grape says he doesn't speak English, but I'm not sure that's correct.

I make a mental note to double Werner/Warner's holiday tip.

The next day, the schedule changes without notice. Lila and I see the flashing lights on Columbus from the southwest corridor, a full fifteen minutes early. We set a sprint record down Holyoke Street and greet a sobbing Grape.

His original School Bus Girlfriend, apparently enraged by a rival, has clocked him hard enough to leave a bruise. To the Grape's great credit, he didn't whack her back, but I suspect this is only because he's smart enough to know that she is way taller and must have twenty-plus pounds on him.

Sobbing Grape and I wait with a few kids spewed out with nobody to greet them, because, you know, nobody told us the schedule had changed. Lila and I were close because of dumb luck.

After handing off his friends, I call the school and freak out, which I immediately regret, because like every other mom, I live in terror of what they decide to write in the Permanent Record.

Head of School calls me back and assures me they are dealing with this matter and explaining to all the little savages (my word, not hers) that the school rules regarding treatment of classmates apply on the bus. As if it never occurred to anyone to mention that before.

Nobody complains about the lack of warning on the schedule change, because the kids get home fifteen minutes earlier, which is nice.

The next afternoon, the bus tracker app (yes, there's an app for that) shows the bus at one of the remote lots at Logan Airport.

Not encouraging.

Someone calls the school and informs us the bus broke down and the children have been packed onto a back up bus, which arrives promptly, but "smells like the men's room at Penn Station," according to one of the second grade boys.

In good news, the Grape and School Bus Girlfriend have made up. Or out. Evidently she tried (a second time) to French kiss him, and did succeed this time, in getting her tongue past his loose tooth.

Tuesday morning, our devoted Werner/Warner encounters a road closure somewhere between the South End and Beacon Hill. The bus makes a detour.  He ends up crossing the river and driving the children around Cambridge. By some accounts, they drive in circles behind MIT, but at least one girl claims they traveled as far afield as the Harvard Yard.

The children report that two of the older girls navigated Werner/Warner back to Beacon Hill, where they disembarked thirty to forty-five minutes late for school, depending on whose account you believe.

That night at dinner, I once again ask the Grape if he wants me to start walking him to and from school.

He looks at me as if I've lost my mind. "I love the bus, Mamma."

(Side note: If anyone knows the right amount to tip the bus driver at the holidays, send me a message. I'm thinking a nice bottle of scotch is not the way to go.)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Parenting Advice from Strangers/Childless: Like Sex Advice from Celibate Clergy?

Years ago when I was pregnant, my mother tried to teach me to respond to complete strangers who offered unsolicited advice with, "I have an OB. I don't need any advice. Thank you."

She said that statement had a nicer ring than my go to, which at the time was, "Fuck yourself."

On one occasion I got creative, and told an unusually intrusive and obnoxious stranger in a pedicure chair what she should stick in her privates. Mom wasn't proud, but she laughed. That tale is here.

I foolishly thought the advice from random busy bodies would stop once we emerged from the pregnancy/new infant stage. Wrong.

A close friend of mine (incidentally one of the best moms I know, the kind who glows with happiness while four kids climb all over her, and makes running a big household look easy) lets her early and middle elementary aged children climb trees.

Not the outside of the Hancock Tower.

Trees.

She's given up on counting the number of strangers, some nearly apoplectic, who come running up to alert her that her children are, indeed, up in trees, and who refuse to accept that as their mother, she's okay with this. She smiles sagely, thanks them for their concern, and watches her little monkeys climb higher.

Back in the dark ages, my mom let us run and play, not only in trees, but in the woods.

One day, when I was five and my brother was two, we took it upon ourselves to walk a path through the woods behind our house to visit neighbors who had just moved in. We rang the doorbell, introduced ourselves, and asked for a snack. My mom had no idea where we'd gone until we reported that Mrs. S was nice, and she gave us cookies and made us lemonade.

Her reaction: dial up Mrs. S on the old school rotary phone and apologize for the intrusion.

Back then, we passed for precocious. These days, my mom would probably end up on the nightly news. The village has gotten mighty paranoid.

I think every mother I know has started to walk away from a tantrum throwing toddler—the tried and true "I'm leaving now. Bye."—which in my experience has about a fifty to sixty per cent success rate in eliciting the desired behavior. Most of the time passersby smile knowingly.

Not always. The girlfriend who allows the tree climbing once walked fifty feet ahead of her screaming four-year-old on the sidewalk in the middle of the day and got a screaming lecture from a middle aged man that she was giving her child "permanent abandonment issues."

That time, she couldn't resist. She told him something along the lines of, "If you want to give me parenting advice, I'm going to give you some weight loss tips." (Apparently he was quite fat.)

A childless friend suggested the other day, that maybe the Grape needs more boundaries. (The Grape had picked up my phone without asking.) I snapped back that this friend has no business telling me how to raise my child.

I'm happy to discuss most subjects and most of my beliefs with friends, but I don't take mothering advice from the childless.

I view it on par with getting advice on improving one's sex life from a celibate priest.

That said, I get that it takes a village. I am grateful every day to be blessed with dozens of great women friends who have fallen down the Mommyland rabbit hole with me. I'm grateful for the moms at the playground, because we all keep an eye on each other's kids.

I'm grateful I have a mom I can call for advice when I'm out of ideas.

I'm grateful to live in a city where the emergency services show up in under two minutes when I call 911 because my baby is seizing.

But, for better or worse, I've started to view my day-to-day village as more of a sorority.

Nothing makes my blood boil like some previously unknown person holding forth on his or her "parenting philosophy" without invitation.

Pro tip to new-ish parent at park: Lecturing the moms who have known each other and each other's kids for years, about how you, a complete stranger, think we're disciplining our kids wrong does not get you and your kid invited to indoor play dates with wine and treats during the dead of winter.

I can see you believe you're being helpful. You're not. You're being a sanctimonious twit.

And by the way, while you're telling me how important it is never to raise one's voice, your kid is whacking someone in the face with a stick.

I don't have all the answers. Like my mom friends, I do the best I can. I know the Grape and I are lucky. Still, some days with a five-year-old are frustrating. Other moments are filled with such joy and wonder I want to freeze them forever.

Kind of like the above mentioned pedicure/colonoscopy incident.

And to prove I'm actually not all cranky this morning, I offer this moment from August:
video


I wish I could freeze that afternoon forever. Even though a stranger told me not to let him sit on the rocks (while I was four feet away).





Saturday, September 13, 2014

Needs Improvement

"We need to talk," R. said to me upon his arrival home from work last night.

Never good words.

He swallowed hard, heaved a put upon sigh. "We need to figure out a way to get through the morning shuffle without behaving like we belong on the Jerry Springer show."

I nodded.

"I'm embarrassed to see the neighbors," he said. "Maybe we should go around and apologize."

I shook my head doubtfully. "An apology includes an implicit suggestion that it won't happen again."

I think at this point he walked upstairs to change.

"We could send everyone booze at the holidays," I yelled upstairs hopefully. "Or something from Harry and  David."

"If you can't get this under control, we are going to have to move to the suburbs."

Of course his complaint has merit.

First, I'd like to take this moment to apologize publicly to any mothers with whom I worked in an office during my single days.

I had no idea. I am so sorry for ever rolling my eyes or wondering what the big deal was with getting a five-year-old dressed, fed, teeth brushed, shoes on, and out the door at some appointed time. Or wondering why you showed up with wet hair or looking hung over, when you weren't going out and tying one on after work.

The Grape is just like his mom in three ways: he has what one might politely call a Latin temperament, he slumps in the afternoon and gets a maddening second wind at bedtime, and he likes to lounge in the mornings.

In his perfect world, he'd play with Legos for an hour, take another forty-five minutes to an hour to eat, and then get on with the day.

In my perfect world, I'd let him do that, and spend the time reading and sucking down coffee. In a perfect world, he'd go to bed before 7:30.

In the real world, I can put him in bed by then, but he won't fall asleep before nine anyway.

In the real world, we also need to leave for the school bus stop by 7:45 a.m.

(Aside: Why is school so damned early? Because the issue isn't going to school. The Grape LOVES school. The issue is the start time.)

Every morning this week, I dragged the Grape's reluctant, bawling, sobbing, begging, protesting form down from the top bunk by 7:15, my chest heavy with mom guilt because my kid wasn't sleeping enough. I couldn't bring myself to rouse him earlier, but a half hour pushes our luck in terms of leaving the house with any semblance of order or calm.

Every morning this week, I pleaded, begged, bribed, cajoled, threatened and ultimately yelled like an escapee from a lunatic asylum, about every step. Take off pajamas. Put on clothes. Eat. Eat. Eat. Please, for the love of God, eat one bite of Cheerios. Good. Now eat another. Please. Please. You will lose your Legos and/or play dates for the week if you don't eat another bite right now. I mean it. Right now. Brush teeth. Brush hair. Repeat threats in shriller voice. Find shoes. Put on shoes.

The Grape yells right back. I'll say this for him, the kid has a will of steel and he can give as good as he gets.

Thursday and Friday mornings were extra special.

We left the house at a jog at 7:48, the Grape wailing in such a way that might provoke a new neighbor to call the police, and screaming that I was hurting his arm by pulling him along, me in tears because I was "that mom" who sends her child to school on an empty stomach, and Lila the Dog straining on her leash, doing her canine best to pretend not to know us.

This needs improvement.



Monday, September 8, 2014

Five

I've taken to telling my close girlfriends that I almost wish I could've frozen the Grape at age 4 1/2.

Because while he's a happy five-year-old, his Mamma is feeling the first stirrings of alarm.

Over the past few weeks, he's started his slow but steady march away from me.

Which I understand is healthy, for him at least.

He wakes up in the morning and no longer wants to clamber into bed next to me. Please note that this doesn't mean R. and I get to sleep more. The Grape always announces—loud and clear—that he's awake before proceeding to play quietly with Legos in his room. At which point, I'm up for the day.

Then there's this whole Kindergarten business. It's sweet and play based, but somehow still feels like "real" school. He still wants to hug and kiss me goodbye, but some of his classmates already shrug their moms away in embarrassment, and I know we're within ten years of the phase when the fact of having parents at all will be a source of tremendous mortification. (I.e. "Can you drop me off a block away from the movie theater?")

Here he is, getting on the school bus for the first time ever. Note that he's visibly worried that the bus might leave him behind while Mamma fumbles, thumb less, with the camera:


Yes, thumb less. I crashed a bike on a rocky downhill slope on Block Island. Among various injuries which consisted mainly of losing much of the skin on my left side extremities,  I tore the ligament in my thumb. Of course the right thumb. Of course I'm right handed.

The thumb is NOT an over-rated appendage. Among the things I can't do: wield a knife or a pen. Typing is awkward. Personal grooming a challenge.

I didn't fully appreciate the magnitude of the problem until the end of the trip, when we stopped taking every meal in restaurants or from sandwich counters.

I have a surgical consult scheduled this week. Good times.

But I digress.

The Grape announced, out of nowhere, on the eve of his fifth birthday, "Mamma, I'm growing up."

As if to underscore his point, a bunk bed arrived two weeks later.

While R. dismantled the crib-turned-toddler bed, the Grape informed me, "Now that I have a big boy bed, a baby sister will grow in your belly."

"That's not exactly how it works," I said. (Though I know where he got this idea: from a Berenstain Bears book, circa 1983, he found lying around my mom's house.)

"You never know," the Grape shrugged.

I felt pangs of guilt over my lonely only, because he often asks for a little sister. Always a sister. As if he's processed that a child of the same sex would constitute unwelcome competition. Of course he has no idea how much any infant would constitute a reduction in services as far as the Grape is concerned. This is a kid who still prefers that his mother help him put on his pants.

I don't want another one. I had a horrendous pregnancy, and wouldn't repeat the experience for anything, even if I weren't too old. Which I think I am.

Perhaps more importantly, I'm content.

I don't have that baby twinge for another newborn experienced by so many of my friends. A newborn takes a family back to start, and I love that with one, we're fairly nimble; we can once again undertake last minute trips, such as the aforementioned mini-break to Block Island (so worth it despite my unfortunate injury).

We can go somewhere for the day without paying the consequences of the blown off nap. With the Grape in school, I can work without paying for child care.

But there's no escaping the fact that he is indeed growing up. Which makes me wonder how much longer I should keep writing about him. I feel like ridiculous baby and toddler incidents (such as Bye, bye vacation, hello trip or Winter wonderland or Baking with a toddler )are fair game. For the most part, those posts are about me and my naive expectations of how things should run. The goofy challenges of parenting small children, such as taking forty-five minutes to exit the house, are in many ways universal.

Now that the Grape is making memories he is likely to remember, is it fair to use him as material?







Saturday, July 26, 2014

I Got Tagged in the Writing Process Chain Letter (I Mean Blog Hop)

I don't write about writing often, since I don't find the nuts and bolts of my work day very interesting. Short version: Butt in chair, hands on keyboard, eyes on clock so as not to be late for school pick up. But when the enchanting Laura Kenyon tagged me in this summer's writing process blog hop, I couldn't say no. 

Laura created the lighthearted and witty series Desperately Ever After. Her novels drop in on a group of well known fairy tale princesses—after their honeymoons are over—and shows the reader that it’s not all sunshine and roses after the first kiss. I’m delighted and honored that Laura thought of me for this interview.


What am I working on?

I’m working on a third novel, tentatively titled DO NO HARM.
DO NO HARM follows three women whose lives intersect, due to their connection to a massive pharmaceutical trial in Malawi. Stella is married to George, the celebrated humanitarian and infectious disease specialist who runs the trial. She puts her impressive career on hold to support her husband’s. In writing Stella, I was interested in exploring the question of whether a family can survive two hyper-ambitious personalities, or will one always need to yield? The second woman, Melody, is young doctor from a poor family in Boston. The more she accomplishes, the more she disconnects from her roots. Melody works for George, and her plot explores the line between aid and exploitation. The third voice is a teenager named Princess, a village girl George and Melody hire to work in their clinic. Princess dreams of education and escape, but her father, a powerful and conservative clergyman, has other plans for her. Princess’s story line looks at stereotypes and expectations, and the steep personal costs of unorthodox ambitions.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Hard question!
I struggle with the idea of genre, though I suppose all my work could be classified as contemporary women’s fiction. I write mostly about young to middle aged professional women who find themselves in wacky situations.

My first novel, THE HAZARDS OF HUNTING WHILE HEARTBROKEN, fits the chick lit category, albeit with an unusual twist at the end.

I call my second book, THE K STREET AFFAIR, as a political suspense novel, but it’s also an adventure caper, in that my heroine—like James Bond, for example, or some of the earlier John Grisham heroes— stays alive much longer under her circumstances than a similarly situated lawyer in real life would expect to survive. THE K STREET AFFAIR delves into political corruption and the idea that multinational corporations are eclipsing governments as the power brokers of the world.

But unlike most thriller protagonists, Lena has to contend with friendships and family relationships, which tilts the novel back into women’s fiction territory. I knew when I wrote THE K STREET AFFAIR that I was writing a really quirky novel. While I think that makes it a more interesting read than THE HAZARDS, I never shopped the manuscript to traditional publishers, because the novel didn’t fit any genre pigeon hole. Looking back, I admit that was a big mistake—especially every time a reader tells me she or he would love to see the movie.

Maybe the third time will be the charm, because DO NO HARM fits the contemporary women’s fiction, or book club, genre. It’s also a much more “literary” project than my first two books, which could both be classified as “commercial fiction.”

See? Hard question.

Why Do I Write What I Write?
I write about characters, places, situations, and questions that interest me. My books differ wildly from each other, because I think I suffer from some bizarre form of attention deficit disorder. I love to lose myself completely in the world of a group of characters for a year or two, and then move on to another world.

That said, both THE HAZARDS and K STREET ended on notes that left the door open for sequels, without demanding them. It might be fun to revisit those characters and story lines in the future.

How does my writing process work?
In my perfect rhythm, I’d work for three or four hours in the morning, then take a break for a few hours to eat, exercise, rest, go outdoors, etc., and then work another three or four hours from afternoon into early evening.

But that’s not how my life works, because I have a little kid whose routine conflicts directly with my natural working rhythm. For now, I write while he’s at school. I’m much more of a morning person than a night owl, so if I need to find extra hours, I am more likely to get up early than to try to create anything after his bedtime.

I like to work in large (at least an hour, preferably more) chunks of time. I work at my desk at a window in a small office in our apartment, an alcove gated off and accessible only to me and the more agile of our two cats. I don’t write with music playing, and I envy the legions of mom writers who can pen brilliant scenes in their minivans, or at Starbucks, or at Chuck E. Cheese.

I don’t write from an outline, but I create a chapter by chapter summary in a separate document as I work. I write a messy, over sized draft from start to finish, then go back and revise, then solicit opinions from beta readers, then revise again, before showing my editor the more polished draft.

Now it’s my turn to point you towards two other writers. I chose them because I know their processes differ wildly from mine. 

You may not know the name Richard Fifield yet, but look for his debut novel, The Flood Girls, soon.  If I had to bet, I'd say that one day in the not too distant future, he'll be every bit as much a household name as that Franzen fellow. 

Wendy Walker is one of those supermom writers who writes novels in her minivan. Her books, Four Wives and Social Lives, examine the fallout of the sexual divisions of society we create when one partner earns and the other stays home. Wendy encouraged me to keep writing years ago, when all I had was a messy first draft of a first novel and no knowledge of the publishing industry whatsoever.




Monday, July 14, 2014

When I Was a Kid, We Didn't Have AC. We Had Pizza Hut.

Sometimes I wonder if the Grape has it too easy.

Last week the temperature and humidity soared in Boston, and as the Grape and I trudged home from camp through the mid-afternoon soup, under a blazing sun, he said, "I can't wait to get home to the air conditioning."

I agreed. I love the summer, and the beach, but I don't have much use for temperatures above ninety. In my humble opinion, the only sensible place to be in such adverse conditions is under water, preferably with a snorkel.

"When your uncle and I were kids, we didn't have air conditioning," I told the Grape, as I tried to ignore the sweat streaming down my neck and legs.

The Grape gave me a look that said he wasn't buying such nonsense.

"It's true," I insisted, but he sensed a "walked uphill both ways, and fought off bears with my lunchbox" type tale coming on, and he lost interest.

I grew up  in Rhode Island, near the shore, which (in fairness) meant the ocean moderated the climate quite a bit. Even so, for a few long weeks every summer, the temperature would climb to the nineties and higher, the humidity would keep pace, and we would swelter.

We were lucky: My mother took us to the beach a lot. Occasionally we'd hit the grocery store on the way home and linger in the ice cream aisle.

But we'd inevitably pack it up by five o'clock, at which point our house felt like an oven set to broil and the yard buzzed thick with mosquitoes, who feasted on the Mediterranean blood coursing through my kid brother's veins and mine, while leaving our Finnish mother unmolested.

My brother and I normally picked the latter poison, and then tossed all night, sweating and itching. Or I did. My brother could sleep through anything.

On especially miserable evenings, my father would pile us into our massive blue Buick and the whole family would head for the blissful oasis of Pizza Hut.

Back then, Pizza Hut was a sit down restaurant, with red and white checkered table cloths and waitresses rendered preternaturally cheerful, probably because Pizza Hut had the coldest AC in all of North Kingstown, Rhode Island,  if not the entirety of Washington County.

And if memory serves, the parental allure was enhanced but the fact that they served pitchers of beer. Or it might have been Pepsi, or Tab. By then, my folks were too overheated to care.

We would milk that AC for all it was worth. We'd eat three courses at Pizza Hut before reluctantly paying the bill and stepping out into the steamy parking lot. One especially hot night, my dad ordered a small pizza for the four of us, and after we'd demolished that, he ordered another one, just to extend our sojourn in the cold.

I can't explain why my parents resisted the installment of air conditioning for so many years. It wasn't due to concern for the planet. Back in the 1970s and 80s, global warming hadn't crossed their radar.

I think their resistance was partially due to the expense, since AC isn't exactly easy on the electric bill.

But for my mother at least, I suspect the reluctance to chill us out was about more than the utility bills. She likely objected on the dual grounds of perceived pretentiousness and tackiness. An AC could be construed as pretentious and showy, since not very many people we knew had them, and because the hot season, while brutal, was also brief.

AC could also be considered tacky, because the window units would  look silly sticking out of the over sized glass windows of our 70s deck house (visual aid: it looks exactly like the Brady Bunch house from the outside).

Concerns about cost, ostentatiousness and tackiness were finally brushed aside during a lengthy heat wave in the summer of 1981. Or maybe it was 1982. Anyway, my parents caved, or wilted, rather, and my dad emerged from Benny's with a glorious, enormous window unit contraption.

Most people would assume my parents installed the house's sole air conditioner in the master bedroom.

Wrong.

There was a study off the master bedroom, with a window largely obscured from public view by an enormous evergreen tree. That's where the AC went, and we pushed and shoved to get closer to it as it roared to life and clattered like a broken luggage carousel. You could probably hear that old window unit next door, but we didn't care.

The whole family would huddle in the study during the hours after dinner and before bedtime. My brother and I never slept in the blissful cool, though my parents might have once or twice, behind our backs.  I have no proof, just a hunch, based on the circumstantial evidence that the study featured a pullout sofa.

As far as I know, the only family member to get a cool night's sleep on a regular basis back in those days was the dog. He was a medium-sized, fine-boned black mutt with expressive ears and a big white splotch on his chest, and he was no dummy. He grinned as the door shut behind him at night, closing him in the mysterious bubble of loud Arctic chill.

The year after the air conditioner arrived, my dad brought home the world's tiniest television for the study, which represented, in my view and my brother's, a massive, previously unimaginable upgrade.  We spent hours fiddling with its rabbit ears. Nintendo followed a few years later. We had two games: Mario and Duck Hunt.

At some stage, my mother installed a turbo charged ceiling fan in the master bedroom. If memory serves, its arrival loosely coincided with that of my little sister.

My parents didn't air condition the whole house for another decade, by which time I was off at college, where my roommate and I put towels over the air vents to prevent the temperature in our room from dropping below sixty in September. Some might say, be careful what you wish for, but I didn't mind.

So the Grape might have it easy, but I suppose it doesn't really matter. My parents lived their earliest years without plumbing in post-War Europe. I'm grateful they didn't impose the same on us, to make some silly point about the kids being too soft.




Monday, June 30, 2014

Fretful

"Congratulations," an older acquaintance told me on the birth of the Grape. "Now you can worry until you die."

I smiled and nodded, and silently reassured myself that I wasn't going to turn into one of those hyper-vigilant, exceedingly annoying helicopter types.

After all, R. and I didn't chart feedings and diaper changes in those early days. The Grape slept in a separate room from the get-go. We never even purchased a baby monitor, since we had a smallish apartment, and while the Grape had digestive issues requiring surgery as an infant, his lungs were in top form from day one.

We're still pretty permissive parents. The Grape skis, and he skis fast. He rides his bike and scooter all over Boston, as do most of his little friends. We never call our babysitters "just to check on things."

So I was completely caught off guard when R. and his dad took the Grape camping in western Massachusetts this weekend, and instead of reveling in the silence and solitude, I spent most of Saturday fretting.

This makes no sense.

R. is an extremely capable dad. I've traveled solo on a few occasions, and I've never worried about how the boys were faring without me back in Boston.

But Saturday, while I took Lila the Dog for an extra long walk, worked half a day, watched a little World Cup, and had a lovely dinner with a girlfriend, I worried about silly things. Really silly things.

Were they checking for ticks? Would the Grape wake up at two in the morning in a panic? Were there poisonous snakes in the woods of New England? And if so, were was the nearest anti-venom? Why on earth did they need to choose a campsite with zero cell service? Did R. know the location of the nearest ER?

And while I squandered my precious alone time on idiotic concerns, I fully understood I was being ridiculous. R. didn't lose sleep when I took the Grape to Finland for two weeks without him. Even though Finland definitely has plenty of poisonous snakes, and we spend days on end in the woods while there. On the plus side, you'd be hard pressed to find a spot with less than five bars of cell service.

As I lay awake Saturday night, I decided that my worries about the first ever Dad and Lad to the Second Power Outing were about a false, completely imagined sense of loss of control.

I was being as silly as those people who fear flying, because they don't like the idea of someone else piloting the aircraft, even though they understand that they're much likelier to die in their own cars.

Bad things happen everywhere. Like all major metropolitan areas, Boston has its share of horrible vehicle versus pedestrian crashes. So I watch my kid on his bike or scooter like a hawk, and I teach him to look both ways, even on one-way streets, and never, ever to play chicken with speeding cabs. I teach him to watch out for broken glass, to give unknown dogs space, and never to touch junk he finds in parks, because you never know when the trash in question could be a used needle. (I've found two in the park across the street during our almost four-year tenure in this apartment.)

It doesn't take a genius to grasp that his little life is more imperiled while commuting to school than while roasting weenies with his father and grandfather in attendance. And yet, I didn't sleep well Saturday night.

While I catch myself holding my breath every time we negotiate a busy intersection, I don't fret about the school schlep when it's not happening, because it's such a familiar part of our routine. And because my physical presence gives me that entirely false sense of control.

The Grape had a great time on his camping adventure. He slept all night in the tent and roasted marshmallows and explored the woods. He's already asking when they can go again.

Maybe I won't fret as much next time. Maybe.