Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy. Smiling. In Control. Or Not?

While sitting on a chairlift last Saturday afternoon, I overheard a ski instructor telling his middle-elementary-age charges, "We're happy. We're smiling. We're in control."

You could tell by the tone of the guy's voice that he'd had a long day.

But I thought, Fantastic. New family motto. 

Who cares if it's ten degrees out? We have appropriate gear, and we, by which I mean the Grape, should be grateful we get to go skiing in the first place.

I chanted the ski school guy's words at the Grape for the rest of the afternoon as he zipped down increasingly steeper slopes with grinning confidence. "We're happy, smiling, and in control."

Control is a good thing, R. and I agreed.

Which reminded me of one terrifying challenge looming: the Drop Off Play Date.

I'm a control freak who tries not to over-parent.

I let my kid climb trees. I let him ride ahead of me on his scooter or bike, because I trust him to stop and wait at intersections. I let him play in suburban friends' backyards with other kids, without an adult out there.

I've taught him to be as street smart as possible.

Not to trust cars to stop for us.

To avoid touching needles, broken glass, shit (human and canine), half eaten candy bars, realistic looking toy assault rifles, and condoms—all items he and his friends have encountered in the otherwise lovely playground across the street.

To respect unknown dogs. 

To give space to the visibly mentally ill and to drunks passed out on benches. Particularly if they have their pants down.

All necessary city skills.

I've also taught him the manners necessary to be a good guest.

He knows to say please and thank you, to flush the toilet, and remove his shoes when asked.  He understands that he is not to jump on furniture, and that he's definitely not to use any rude language.

I still get hives thinking of the Drop Off Play Date. 

The kind where the kid's parents aren't in my social network. (I'd have no problem whatsoever dropping him off with a mom I know.)

There are the two key differences between preschool and kindergarten: you no longer have any vote in selecting your child's friends, and you don't meet the other parents twice a day, every day.

We hosted a Drop Off Play Date last Friday. The Grape and his friend, a child from the kindergarten class, had a blast. 

But I was surprised that the mom, whom I couldn't confidently pick from a crowd, allowed me to pick her kid up in a car, and keep her kid at my house for four hours.

This is evidently what we're doing now.

I invited another new friend of the Grape's to come over, with her mom, whom I also don't know. The mom thanked me for the invite, but said she'd drop the child off for a couple of hours. She wrote, "It's time to let her spread her wings a bit."

These moms don't know me and we have no friends in common.

But am I the weird one?

I could be drunk all day. I could keep a loaded gun by the door. I could leave the kids in front of the TV and go get a massage. I could send them to the playground unsupervised while hosting a tryst.

The playground is, after all, visible from my bedroom window.

It's obvious to me that I don't do any of the above, but why is it obvious to a complete stranger?

Or do normal brains just not go there? Is the fact that we were all admitted to the same private school supposed to suffice? Because I'm pretty sure private school parents can be bad apples just as easily as public school ones.

I get angry with myself for thinking this way. It's paranoid, unattractive.

It does take a village, and at some point, we need to trust the village. Which is a hard thing for a control freak to do.

Even though I understand that the village self polices, to a point. If a child goes home and reports weirdness, I presume that reduces the chances of a repeat visit.

I've asked the Grape if he wants to go on a Drop Off Play Date, and so far, mercifully, he's told me, "When I'm six."

At which point, he probably won't receive any invitations, because he's declined too many.

I keep reminding myself: He is a full year younger than just about everyone else in kindergarten. A year is a huge deal at this age.

Maybe when he's six, I'll be ready to relinquish a little control.

I'll be more like these other moms, gushing, "Thank you so much for taking him off my hands for a few hours!"


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Santa, Report Cards, and the Chinese Nativity Set

The Grape's school provides a detailed report card at the end of each semester. It rivals power point presentations from my distant past, in terms of weight and thickness.

His contained no surprises, though one line item concerning library skills needled me: "Differentiates fiction from non-fiction."

The librarian, quite rightly, marked this as a "developing skill" for the Grape, which I interpret as progressive school speak for a C+.

I love libraries. I get that children need to learn to navigate the library. I just hate the timing of this curriculum point.


Because of Santa, and his magical team of elves, reindeer, and mind-bending transportation logistics, all of whom stand solidly in the non-fiction category in our house.

The Grape likes categories, and like lots of little kids, sees things as black or white. Watch gangs of little kids play. They never incorporate nuanced villains or flawed heroes.  It's good guys versus bad guys. Period.

The Grape came home from the school library and set to work organizing his books into fiction and non-fiction piles. The fiction pile towered high.

He held up one of our family's inter-generational favorites: Santa Claus by Mauri Kunnas.

We read it in Finnish, but it's available in English and other languages. It has gorgeous illustrations and painstakingly detailed explanations about how the whole Santa Enterprises situation works: the post office and translation department, the stables, the airfield, the toy workshops and warehouses, the support staffing, the elf schools, the espionage, elf downtime.

It's all depicted as a culture of generosity, cooperation and friendship.

Kunnas writes with nearly Rowling-esque detail, and I highly recommend the title for any child who loves Christmas and picture books.

"Non-fiction," I proclaimed firmly, with only small pangs of guilt sticking in my gut. No protest from the Grape. He placed the dog-eared copy at the top of the non-fiction heap with visible relief on his face.

I do not know whether there is a God, but I love my kid's faith in Santa.

For every thing of wonder and beauty in this world, there is also tremendous cruelty and suffering on a scale impossible for most of us to comprehend. Santa fits with my philosophy of letting the Grape be little, unaware of the real evil in the world, for a few precious years.

Santa represents the best of childhood: magic, innocence, generosity without agenda. He shows up whether you remember to leave out cookies or not.

Despite what his detractors argue, Santa need not be about capitalist excess. In our house Santa brings gifts few in number, though admittedly high on wow factor. Santa dazzles; relatives provide.

I felt unprepared to fight back when moments later, the Grape declared Frozen to be non-fiction, too. "Because Princess Elsa, the real one with powers, came to my cousin's party."

I asked if he was sure. He said yes, while conceding she did not, in fact, use those powers to transform the premises into an ice castle.

I dropped it.

We have, at best, two years of the Santa magic left. I refuse to do anything that could jeopardize that beautiful, pure childhood wonder. I can deal with the Princess Elsa issue around Valentine's Day.

Just when I thought we were clear of this perturbing question, we reached the stickier wicket of Baby Jesus.

R. and I are not raising the Grape in the church, but we want him to be culturally literate, which in Western civilization, includes Biblical literacy. The stories inspired much of the world's greatest art, architecture, literature, and music.

I love Christmas music, though only after Thanksgiving. Most of it is religious, and it rings through our house for a month. The Grape and I know most of the words. I've never seen this as an issue.

I've also got nothing against Nativity sets; I came close to buying one when we were in Naples. It was gorgeous and fragile, and represented many weeks (months?) of an artist's labor.

It also looked tricky to transport intact while traveling with a two-year-old. Next time, I told myself.

Mistake. Big mistake.

This year, without warning, we found ourselves in receipt of the world's most garishly painted Nativity set, undoubtedly made in a Chinese sweatshop (like most contemporary American holiday decor), and addressed to the Grape.

"A barn!" the Grape proclaimed happily, and set to work arranging the figures. He decided the set needed some color, so he festooned a rainbow lei on the roof.

The angel looked like a vaudeville performer. Or a drag queen who didn't quite bring it.

The latter makes more sense. If I recall correctly, the Bible's angels were all men.

The shepherd was dressed in something resembling a mini-skirt, paired with gladiator sandals.  "He looks like he's going to the Pride Parade," the Grape observed.

All the human figurines had blushing peaches and cream complexions you'd never see on any native resident of the Middle East.

After watching him play with the barn for a while, R. and I explained the characters in the scene, to be met with the inevitable question: "Baby Jesus. Fiction or non-fiction?"

"Fiction based on non-fiction," I said firmly. "Like a legend."

The Grape frowned. "Isn't Christmas Baby Jesus' birthday?"

"Most likely not. It's Jesus' birthday observed. Emperor Constantine picked the date."

"Way too much information," R. hissed at me.

I tried to redirect. "He had a strong willed mother. Kind of like you. The date worked for many reasons, and she wanted a big birthday celebration for Baby Jesus. She really liked Baby Jesus. So yes, Christmas is pretty much Baby Jesus' birthday."

The Grape smelled uncertainty. His eyes narrowed. He picked up one of the wise men. "Which one is Constantine?"

"He came later."

He dropped the myrrh man and held up the (very strangely diapered) Chinese Baby Jesus figurine."Is this the same Jesus they kill at Easter?"


"They killed a baby?"

"No, it's another observed date. Jesus was older then."

"Easter is in April!" the Grape screeched. He counted the months on his fingers.


"Fiction or non-fiction?" the Grape practically howled.

"Fiction based on non-fiction," I repeated, with confidence.

"They killed a baby? A BABY? Why didn't his family protect him?" The Grape was incensed. "Families. Protect. Their. Babies."

At this point, I felt way out of my theological depth and called my mother, who didn't have a good answer, either.

"That's a fascinating question from a five-year-old," she said.

"No kidding. Why do you think I was trying to kick this whole conversation down the road a few years?"

Our household is culturally Christian—a notion I borrowed many years ago from Jewish friends who celebrate many of the holidays and traditions with which they grew up, but don't consider themselves observant.

(I know lots of people in this boat. I've got a whole post ready to go on what that means for us. It's too much to tack on here.)

"Is the Baby Jesus story fiction or non-fiction?" the Grape bellowed, for what felt like the hundredth time.

"Ask the librarian when school starts again," I said. "Ask her whether the Bible is in the fiction or non-fiction section."

My hunch: it's shelved with mythology, a topic covered in later grades. I'll report back.

It was a cop out, but bedtime was approaching and I wanted to get back to the safe territory of dancing sugarplums and flying reindeer.

The Grape put the animals from the Nativity safely into their barn, and told me "the people should go to a hotel."

I snarfed mulled wine.

R. remarked we needed to do better.

We put the Grape to bed and I stayed up late, re-considering when we ought to introduce the concept of Biblical literacy.

I'd wanted to wait until the Grape saw the world in a more nuanced way. For him to be old enough to challenge the idea that groups with differing beliefs are all good or all bad, and to be wary of exclusionary, judgmental spiritual outfits.

To understand that religion and morality are vastly different things, and that one does not necessarily flow from the other—though sometimes they're related, like when the church across the street gives away a grocery store's worth of food to the people lined up outside. Or when my mother spends a day at her church, peeling potatoes for the homeless (true story, many potatoes).

Other times, they are not. Like when we deposit new toys at the police station for Toys for Tots, or buy coats for the school coat drive. We help because it's right, not because our church commands it.

We already point out the good and try to teach him gratitude. But we've been shielding him from the bad and the ambiguous. Maybe that's okay. At least for one more year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

It's Creepy but We've Learned to Love It

This year, I caved. We have one of those creepy and weird  Elf things.

All the Grape's friends have had personal stuffed elves for years. I figured we'd missed the window when we failed to jump on the bandwagon shelf during the preschool years.

But then the Grape stopped buying my assertions that Santa's tiny agents of espionage were:
a) everywhere,
b) all the time, and
c) way too fast for children's eyes.

He told me he "didn't care if Santa's elves could see and hear him or not."

R. and I had to take drastic action to re-assert control over the deteriorating situation.

Our Elf appeared, swinging from a chandelier in the Grape's room, while we visited relatives in Connecticut over Thanksgiving.

"Magic!" the Grape gasped, before declaring the thing scary.

He tearfully demanded it be banished from his room.

I excused myself to the bathroom for a brief moment of near hyper ventilation.

I know dozens, if not hundreds, of little kids. I've heard precisely zero reports of objections to the appearance of an Elf on the Shelf.

Our Elf held its ground, as did R. and I.

I paid fifteen bucks for that thing. Besides, R. and I had high hopes its presence would inspire angelic behavior.

There was no way we were going to allow the Grape to put the kibosh on the game. At least not at the get go.

Then another worry struck.

Is my five-year-old  gullible enough to believe the Elf (from which, in our haste to exit the house in the predawn hours of Thanksgiving, we'd neglected to remove the tags) has powers?

Yes and no.

The Grape absolutely believes in Santa.

As for his silly little stuffed helper: I can't figure out if the Grape believes, wants to believe because his friends do (or pretend to), or whether he wants to hedge his bets, on the time honored theory that Those Who Believe Will Get More.

Whatever the reason, he seems to have faith in a cheaply made-in-China toy that stirs lust in the eyes of Lucy the Cat and Lila the Dog alike.

Due to this sky-high level of four-legged interest, our Elf prefers a little altitude.

If R. and I leave him below six feet, he'll be shredded in seconds, his magic demolished in a drool soaked trail of red felt and white poly-fill.

He'd stand a better chance in the blender than between Lila's teeth.

The other issue with our newest holiday tradition is that R. and I stink at remembering to move the elf.

And whoever started this thing decreed, Thou shalt move thy Elf every night to keep alive its magic.

(For the uninitiated, the story goes that the Elf magically flies home to relay the behavior report and any new wishes to Santa every night. He's supposed to return to clock in for the morning shift before his charge wakes.)

So far we are ten days in.

On the fourth night, I woke in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. yelling, "We need to move the elf!"

R. and I have each nearly broken our necks at least once, whilst jamming downstairs ahead of the Grape, in order to relocate the thing before dawn.

Because of our negligence, the Elf scoots back and forth along the top of the kitchen cabinets a lot.

The Grape thinks it's because he can see the entire downstairs from up there. Whatever you say, kid.

The Grape wants to believe, and despite my past disdain for the Elf on the Shelf phenomenon, I've realized it's all good.

Childhood is short enough. If some of the magic of the holidays comes in the form of a flimsy, mass produced, smirking plaything, we'll take it.

As long as we can keep it out of the dog's jaws.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dinner with the Family: Barolo, Opera, Pasta and Arranged Marriage

Three nights ago, a routine Saturday family dinner party around my brother's table: Opera floating from the speakers, Barolo flowing freely, the children eating fat tubes of ziti off their fingers, and my dad holding forth on which individuals in our acquaintance pool "could benefit from being sent back to the Old Country for arranged marriage."

My sister-in-law, flailing baby on her hip, five heaping plates of food balanced on her right arm (in a move that could secure her employment in almost any restaurant in the world) agreed with Dad, and dared me with her eyes to jump in with some feminist objection.

None here. I was laughing along with everyone else at the sheer joy of discussing such an un-p.c. concept.

Let's be clear: Dad was not talking about fixing up teenagers before they got up to their own ideas regarding romance.

He meant consenting adults.

The kind who have extreme difficulty navigating the dating waters, the type who fall apart emotionally after every date that ends without a marriage proposal, the ones who tell their troubles to virtual strangers at the gym, sobbing and spluttering snot on the elliptical trainer, because they cannot hold in the grief.

The kind who want nothing more in this life than the security of married coupledom, but who seem unable to get there without a little help. The individuals who have spent decades weeping in therapy. Who need to get off the couch and just get on with it. The ones who have exhausted the potential fix ups in their own circles.

The kind who turn forty without ever having sex.

I thought such folks were the stuff of urban legend, but my relatives swiftly set me straight on that point.

What are these souls, the ones the Victorians called spinsters, supposed to do in the age of Internet dating? Because if these women are getting their hearts broken by Match dates, Tinder will shred whatever remains of their dignity to smithereens.

Would it be so bad to bring back the elderly village matchmakers? At least they wouldn't prey on women's hopes for ungodly sums of money, like some personal dating services.

The tradition certainly persisted in post WWII Italy, Greece and Armenia—the countries to which Dad suggested shipping these acquaintances for advice from elderly aunts and uncles.

The matchmaking tradition is also alive and well in some Jewish communities, as well as in India (where I know social class has a lot to do with whether the woman can, or is old enough, to consent).

Probably lots of other places too, but I can only speak to the hill towns of the Southern Mediterranean.

Dad started listing people we knew who had successful arranged marriages. "It's great for some people!" (Someone steered the topic elsewhere before Dad started listing all the "love"matches in our circle that ended in divorce.)

My mother kept pace as Dad warmed to his topic. She pointed out which examples are now dead.

I certainly recall, as late as the 1970s, talk of cousins of various degrees of removal flying home to Italy to find Holy Matrimony. That practice has all but vanished, as the potential old country wife pool have found careers and (rightly) balked at ironing and cooking all day.

I'd be lying if I said it didn't rankle me (a little) that my male second and third cousins set off in search of wives, like conquering knights, bearing new riches from the new world, while the women apparently require shipping and handling. But really, what's the harm, if all parties consent?

We ate our dinner before it became clear whether Dad would offer to broker any trans-Atlantic matchmaking.

The subject was dismissed as he held up a bite of food and asked, "Can this be Thanksgiving? I think these meatballs have turkey in them."

My sister-in-law confirmed the presence of the suspect fowl.

Dad shot a glance at my still splinted dominant hand, and added, sotto voce, "Since Mari can't cook."

Nobody in earshot objected. My brother poured more wine. We clinked glasses and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

A few chairs down, R. sat and wondered how a thirteenth generation Connecticut Yankee managed to drop into this tableau, with its retro solutions to timeless problems. That and whether my dad was serious about the Thanksgiving remark.

It's never been our holiday.

Though I have come to own it since the Grape arrived.

While Dad despises turkey, a meat about which I'm ambivalent, he loves what I've done with the rest of the meal, if I may be so bold as to say so myself. But since I'm a cripple this fall, I'm not whipping up artichokes and oysters and squash with south Asian undertones and three kinds of stuffing and various pies.

This Thanksgiving I can bow my head, and be grateful that neither my sister nor I were mentioned as a candidates for arranged marriage in the Old Country.

Monday, November 17, 2014

All the Grape Wants for Christmas is a Little Sister

This is the second year in a row the Grape (age five) wants to ask Santa for a little sister.

It's always a little sister.

Even last year, I think he intuited that a younger brother could constitute some kind of direct and unwelcome competition.

Last year I told him Santa doesn't traffic in human children.

He seemed okay with that answer.

This year he's not buying it, and he's so insistent, he's making me cry.

"But why?" he wants to know.

I've explained more than once that Mamma's belly is broken. He accepted that response until last week. More than once, I've heard him explain his status as an only child to his friends in these terms.

But I knew he'd eventually do more math.

"But you had me," the Grape said Friday, on the way home from swimming lessons.

"I did, but I had lots of very big problems. The doctors—many doctors—and Mamma agreed that Mamma's belly shouldn't make any more babies."

The pregnancy and its aftermath were so bad, that I knew, from about month five, that I would never go through that again.

I never pictured myself as an only child kind of mother, but if a second meant another ordeal like the first, I was going to be grateful for my one healthy kid and call my family complete.

For years, I was content with my decision, not least because it was based on the advice of multiple doctors.

The Grape folded his arms over his chest. "Get another opinion. That's what you did with your hand."

He paused to think. "And that's when your hand started getting better. Look. You can even drive now."

I turned and gaped at him, smugly strapped in his car seat, clutching a juice box, brimming with confidence.

He yowled at me to watch the road.

He's not wrong. I've got a new hand doctor, who issued a smaller, tighter fitting brace, along with a shot of cortisone. My hand does feel a whole lot better.

A surgery exists today, a procedure that did not exist five or six years ago, that could fix my major medical issue with pregnancy—the one that triggered everything else that went wrong.

Unsurprisingly, one of the handful of doctors doing the procedure is here in Boston.

I'm not going to go into an analysis of my medical records—I know lots of writers do, in painstaking clinical detail. That's fine, but that level of sharing doesn't feel right for me.

My basic conundrum boils down to this: Even if I have the surgery, I am likely out of "time," which is a euphemism used by endocrinologists to mean "good eggs."

In this I'm no different from tens of thousands of women in their early forties.

I'm a terrible sleeper, but I don't lie awake at night wondering why I waited so long.

I waited so long because my mind was made up. No more hellish, dangerous pregnancies. Period.

What keeps me up is that suddenly the entire game changed.

For me, it probably changed too late.

Either way, the Grape isn't getting what he really wants from Santa.

Not this year.

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Invisible Identity Crisis

Many of my mom friends and I found ourselves with kids in school full time for the first time this fall.

Trigger massive identity crises.

Compound with the old trope that a woman turns forty and becomes invisible.

It's true. I'm 41. When I walk around the hood with Julian and/or Lila the Dog, dozens of neighbors say hello, stop to chat.

If I leave the house solo, I might as well be wearing some king of magic invisibility cloak. I can slip past the very same neighbors, totally under the radar.

Once in a while someone will actually do a double take, and say, "Oh! It's you. I didn't recognize you without your entourage."

Female friends of similar age report near identical experiences.

Sometimes, if I'm in a hurry, it's not so bad. But usually it's demoralizing.

Some of my friends experienced a back-to-school season panic along the lines of: "Oh my God, I need to get back into the career I ignored for ten years." MUCH easier said than done.

Others wander around looking shell-shocked by the sudden block of unstructured time during daylight hours, and throw themselves into charities and cooking and re-decorating their homes.

A couple of women I know were smart enough to see the problem coming, and nimble enough to react. They had so called "luxury babies," infants they never originally planned on, but decided they wanted as their little ones grew past preschool age.

There's a plus side of full time kindergarten for me: more time to write, which I'm putting to good use.

And still. I can't help lying awake at night and thinking BIG midlife crisis type thoughts.

Should I have another baby (if that ship hasn't sailed)?

I know I should have contemplated a second kid sooner, but I've spent five years with some version of medically induced PTSD from the hellacious pregnancy and aftermath that produced the Grape.

And honestly, until right before he turned five, I was content. One happy, healthy child is more than many people have, and I am grateful every day. Maybe he was my one good egg. Maybe the fact that I almost died should give me pause (it does).

Or should I get new boobs? Nothing crazy. Tasteful C's.

Or is the fact that I'm contemplating the new baby versus new boobs question in the same breath an indication that what I really should do is have a glass of wine, book a nice beach holiday somewhere, and get a grip?

Do I get points for self awareness? I mean, at least I recognize a midlife crisis when I have one. That should count for something.

Oh, yeah. Happy Halloween, all!

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.)