Monday, January 31, 2011

In the dark

The other day our power went out. It was out for over 26 hours but felt like a lifetime. Of course this happened after it had gotten dark, so we had to scramble for flashlights and candles. Luckily my children are obsessed with playing with flashlights and we literally have ten, maybe more, of varying sizes. The next morning, despite the fact that the power had been off for more than 12 hours and I had become obsessed with having it restored, I continued to enter rooms and attempt to turn the light on. I would make a terrible lab rat because I just couldn't learn. Over and over again I would flip a switch, curse its inability to provide the desired outcome, turn it off and fumble around in the dark room (because my children were off playing with all the flashlights).

This power outage caused me to realize two things. First, I would not have lasted a day on Laura Ingalls's Little House on the Prairie. This was abundantly clear when I got tears in my eyes because I realized I couldn't make coffee. No matter how much Pa counseled me I would have been a miserable failure and the Ingalls family probably would have folded.

The second thing I discovered was the sheer panic I felt when I realized all the food in my refrigerator and freezer was going bad and would need to be thrown out. Thinking about the effort it would take to replace it all brought a second round of tears to my eyes.

The last time we had a power outage of this duration it was just me, my husband, and an infant. My husband ate what I ate so our food shopping was pretty simple and straightforward. Nowadays it resembles more of a sophisticated mission involving regular stops at at least three stores. I had reached a point where none of these stores had to be visited on the same day, or even the same weekend because I had a good supply of specialty items. Now with everything spoiling simultaneously it would take a lot of shopping to replenish everything.

When I was growing up we had more than one major grocery store nearby, but all the grocery stores carried more or less than same things. It wasn't like you had to go to Safeway for some items and QFC for others. They carried national brands, regional brands and store brands. That was it.

Nowadays I have a household of people who insist on a certain kind of ravioli only carried at Whole Foods and only when Whole Foods deems it something to keep in stock. Then I have other family members who must have only the Trader Joe's apple sauce squirters, cinnamon rolls, crackers, tortillas, frozen pizza, hummus, sour cream, egg substitute, five different kinds of cheese and so on. Then finally in order to get the national brand items such as yogurt drinks I must visit a good old-fashioned grocery store. I would mention the milk man who brings our milk and butter as well as the stuff we get at the Farmers Market, but that would just be piling on. When it comes down to it, a ridiculous amount of time is spent running around to all these establishments. Especially when you consider how seldom I cook, and the fact that my daughter only eats pasta. But we couldn't even make that after the great food spoilage of 2011 since the pasta must be tossed with butter and cheese.

I am not blaming my family for their very specific tastes. Okay, I am. But only if I am willing to blame myself as well since there are several items on those lists that are for me. After several hours of shopping we are safely restocked and can resume our normal lives and eating habits. Now that I think about it, maybe we would do okay on the prairie since clearly I can forage and gather with the best of them. Just make sure that Pa teaches me how to make coffee using a flashlight.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Small Town

Yesterday my son was home from school. He was not sick. In fact, he was the picture of perfect health and didn't stop moving or talking the entire day. Why was he home? Because he had the poor timing to throw up at a birthday party the day before. At 4:30pm. That was attended by every child in his class. And many of their parents. I was a victim of public-sickdom.

I am not sure how it is done in your big city schools, but in our little town word travels fast, and when a child publicly vomits, twice, your reputation as a parent is on the line. Sure, you could send him in the next morning since he never had a fever and after the initial *incident* immediately resumed normal activity, including eating his body weight in dinner. But our town is too small to risk it. My children would be getting their diplomas and I would still be whispered about as *that mom who sent her son to school with the stomach flu and all our children got it because of her*. I am not a strong enough person to stand up to that.

Don't get me wrong. I love our small town. At only 2 miles square it is a mini-Mayberry that also has the advantage of being 10 miles outside of DC. One minute you are in Mayberry, the next minute you are at the White House. It's a win-win. In Mayberry you are always running into people you know. You go to the Starbucks and see familiar faces. Same with the grocery store, the pharmacy, the library, the community center, one of the 10 places for pizza or at the 7-11 when you are buying slurpees after a soccer game. It's great to have such a close-knit community that is so warm and friendly. It's one of the main reasons we moved here.

Except when you are looking for a little anonymity. Sometimes you just want to go to the Rite Aid, get your Nyquil and come home. Especially when you have a terrible cold and haven't managed to shower for two days and used your only available energy to steer the car to the store. You are about to pay for your cold medicine and retreat back to the safety of your bed, but then you see her. The room parent for your child's class. Smiling. Friendly. Wanting to chat you up and thank you for all the help you have provided the class this year. Politely overlooking your haggard appearance and smell. And you have to stop and talk and smile and nod, all the while feeling like you are talking from inside a bubble. Because this is Mayberry. And everyone is friendly.

Or then there are the times you have exactly 10 minutes to get in and out of the grocery store with 10 critical items that your family needs or there will be a mutiny. And if you don't get out in ten minutes then you will be late to pick up your daughter from parasailing lessons. Again. So you go into the store and *of course* you run into three people you know, two of which you haven't seen in months and want to catch up and talk about your great new hair cut, and one who recently had a baby so not to stop and chat would be rude. And so instead of getting the ten critical things you get two and are still late to get your daughter.

And then there is the gym. When I am running on the treadmill it is a spectacle to say the least. Not only am I bright red and dripping sweat, I am out of breath and physically *can't* chat. I probably need to find a gym two towns over, where I don't know anyone. Or maybe wear a disguise.

But these are small prices to pay for living in such a wonderful community where we literally have a *town hall* and it located next to the *community center*. A town where your children are one day crawling around in the sand box with a bunch of other toddlers at the playground and before you know it are getting ready for prom with those same girls and boys. And you know the parents who will be driving.

So no, you can't get away with anything around here, including sending your child to school if he is seen vomiting less than 12 hours earlier. But I am okay with that because I know the parents who helped me find his coat and get him to the car so I could take him home and the woman at the front desk who knows us from the cooking camp my kids took last summer who held the door for us and the moms who were coming in to pick up their children from basketball practice as we were going out who told him to *feel better soon*.

Friday, January 21, 2011

(please don't) Wake me up before you go-go

When it comes to sleep, I am all about quality over quantity. I am completely content to get only six or seven hours as long as it is *completely* uninterrupted. In fact, these days as I enter old age it is rare that I sleep past 6am and haven't used an alarm in years. Before kids I didn't really understand the value of quality versus quantity because there was so much time to make it up. Bad night of sleep - no big deal, just sleep later in the morning and take a nap in the day. Go to bed at 7pm. Whatever. It's not like I slept until noon, but then again, I could've if I wanted to. During that time it was all about the opportunities for sleep. Once I had kids my biggest preoccupation was with reclaiming those opportunities. When I would get to sleep again and for how long.

Eventually the time came when I no longer had to get up several times a night to feed someone. Rarely do we get little ghost-like apparitions appearing at our bedside at 2am because of a bad dream. So in a cruel twist of fate I developed insomnia. Now that I have the opportunity to sleep I often times do not have the ability. So the hours that I am asleep are of the utmost importance. I revere them and will defend them fiercely. Perhaps too fiercely. Some people are mean drunks. I am a mean sleeper.

During the daytime, waking hours, I am a relatively calm, mostly sane woman. This is not the case if I am awoken during the night. I am literally a raving lunatic. Even my husband is shocked, stunned, and somewhat amused when he inadvertently disturbs my slumber and incurs my wrath. I am a crazed shrieking banshee spewing forth a vindictive diatribe about my need for sleep. It is ugly. In his infinite wisdom my husband shields my children from ever witnessing this behavior. If they are in the unfortunate situation where they need a parent during the night my loving spouse makes sure they come to his side of the bed.

One of the low points in my Mr. Hyde-like sleep persona we refer to as *the alarm clock incident*. For a period of time I was sleeping well. I was able to fall asleep, stay asleep and wake up around 7am. It so happened that my husband was very busy with work and often needed to go into the office early. He had a lot on his mind. He would set the alarm each night for 6am the next morning but due to his stress he would wake up before then, go downstairs to the office and work on the computer. But forget to turn off the alarm. For several days in a row.

The first and second time it happened I woke with a start, crawled across the bed and flailed around in the pitch dark trying to make the clock stop beeping at me. Again, I was not rationale so when I was unable to locate the off button I tried things like banging it against the night stand and finally had to turn on the light to find the off button, by which time I was wide awake. Being the supportive wife I sweetly mentioned to him that perhaps when he woke up early he could turn off the alarm before heading downstairs. He apologized profusely and yet the next morning the same thing happened. Complete with the flailing and banging and me being wide awake when I could have slept another hour.

On day three I completely lost it. It was like a scene out of the Incredible Hulk, where Bruce Banner becomes really really really angry and cannot be held responsible for the actions of his alter ego. I even may have actually turned green. This time when the alarm went off I did my usual flailing in the dark, but at this point I got mad and ripped the cord out of the wall. Unfortunately this was one of those clocks with a back up battery, so this had no effect of the the beeping. I banged it against the wall. Still beeping. Now I was so enraged I think my head started to spin around. I took the beeping clock and marched downstairs to find my husband. There was my loving spouse hard at work in the office. He looked up and saw me, gave me a big smile and a hearty *good morning honey*. I responded by hurling the beeping clock at his head, turned around and went back upstairs and promptly fell back asleep. My husband is now very careful to always turn off the alarm.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Sign me up

I have come to realize that I have a problem and need to get help. The truth is it has spiraled beyond mere problem, and is now a full blown addiction. It has taken over my personal life and strained my marriage and taken a toll on my family. Hello, my name is Shawna and I am a volunteer.

I realized I have a problem when my husband gently suggested I dial it back a bit, a friend slipped me an article on volunteering run amok from the NYT, and another friend gave me a sticky note pad that read: Stop me before I volunteer again. This was all in the same week.

I don't remember when it began but I wasn't always like this. In fact, in my early 20s I don't recall doing my own work, let alone someone else's if I could help it. Some might claim my current problem is a way I justify my non-working, stay at home status, but I was like this when I was working in the corporate world. Crappy project that no one else would touch with a ten-foot pole? Sign me up! Mind-numbing research that needs doing? I'm your gal. Boring meeting that will take years off your life? Sure, I will attend on your behalf and take meticulous notes.

Nowadays my addiction is concentrated on my children's schools. On any given week you will find me working in someone's classroom, baking some sort of baked goods for some function, and providing administrative services or other project management for something else, sometimes simultaneously. Do you have a fundraiser that you need a sucker to run? Give me a call. Need chairs set up for a meeting? Name tags made with adorable clip art? I'm on it. So I decided I needed to embark upon a 12 step program.

Step 1 - I admit that I am powerless over my addiction and my life has become unmanageable. I literally can't say no. Just ask me. I am fine ignoring the email soliciting help for this or that, but the point blank request - no way. And god help me if my children ask me to do something for one of their classes, sports teams or strangers who need a dozen cookies. And yes, my life has become unmanageable. Today I spent over two hours driving into DC to procure supplies for our Brownie troop. The Brownie troop I volunteered to lead and have spent a bazillion hours jumping through bureaucratic hoops to get started. Two hours. For vests. And badges. That could have been ordered via fax. Totally unmanageable.

Step 2 - I have come to believe that a Power greater than myself can restore me to sanity. I call this power - bottle of wine.

Obviously I have a long ways to go in the healing process. My first act will be to find a self-help support group. And if I can't find one I will form one, and be the president, bake some cookies for our meetings and hold a fundraiser. Come to think of it, they will also need someone to secure a meeting space, set up chairs and make name tags. With adorable clip art. I am sure I will be just fine.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

I am just like spiderman (kind of)

I have a confession to make. I have a super-power. This isn't something I share with just anyone because either they don't believe me or are completely unimpressed. My super power is the ability to find things. All kinds of things - my things, your things, big things, small things. Anything. Anywhere. And not unlike when Peter Parker is bit by the radioactive spider on the field trip I also had a cataclysmic event.

Shortly after I became engaged to my now-husband we went to stay at a B&B in Vermont. Or Maine. Or one of those states north of Massachusetts. The point is it was February and there was a ridiculous amount of snow. One morning we came out the front door to go on a walk and the storm door snapped shut and banged my hand with the engagement ring on it. The engagement ring was actually my husband's grandmother's who had recently passed. We hadn't thought to have the prongs checked and hadn't gotten around to getting it insured. So when I looked down at my smacked hand I discovered the diamond was gone. I panicked and immediately dropped to my hands and knees in the snow and ice on the front porch and steps. It was a mission of critical importance that I find that diamond. I hadn't even joined the family and already I was the one who lost the diamond from Grandma Russell's ring. Failure was not an option. I crawled around frantically looking for about fifteen minutes and then I found it. Yes, I found a diamond in a bunch of snow and ice. A super-power was born.

When I first realized my ability had risen from mere *gift* to actual *super-power* my husband was skeptical. He attributed it to my extraordinary powers of observation and memory. Okay, so I have those as well, but this ability to finds things rises above simply remembering the last place he had his sunglasses was his golf bag. Especially when 9 times out of 10, if the sunglasses are missing they are in the golf bag. Any amateur can figure that out. The unfortunate consequence of the super-power is now my husband doesn't even bother looking for things. Neither do my children. They just ask me and save themselves the time and energy.

My most recent miraculous find was when my son lost his highly prized shark tooth necklace. He didn't remember the last time he had it so couldn't specify if it was somewhere in the house or otherwise. But my spidey-sense told me it must have fallen off at the soccer field at school the evening before. I went over to the freezing cold soccer field the next morning, more than fifteen hours after we were there. I walked the not-recently-mowed field for about twenty minutes when I was about to admit defeat and head home (mostly because school was starting and I would look like the creepy woman pacing around the soccer field). And there it was - the shark tooth necklace. And my son hasn't touched the thing or given it a second thought since then. If I hadn't found it he would still be whining about it to this day.

But not unlike Peter Parker, my super-power can be both a blessing and a curse. My confidence in my ability to locate things has caused me to develop a severe OCD-like tendency when it comes to things that go missing. I simply cannot accept that an item is gone. I will devote countless hours to locating things that no one else cares about, and technically neither should I. When my children were younger they had a set of assorted small plastic animals. In putting them away one day I realized one of the turtles was missing and was last seen when my kids were playing outside in the yard two days earlier. I spent an hour looking for that tiny dirt colored turtle, and when I finally found him (because of course I did) he had been run over by the lawn mower at some point and was missing a flipper plus he was a bit chewed up. But I didn't care because I had found him and all was right with the world. Another time at the beach I literally tore the house apart looking for the last piece of the puzzle. I wasn't even doing the puzzle.

So if you find yourself missing something and have no idea where to look feel free to give me a call. I am happy to contribute my super-power to your worthy cause. On second thought, don't. I will probably be busy finding my husband's sunglasses.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why don't you get a job?

The other day I was at the doctor's office. I was a new patient to this particular doctor, so I was sitting in the waiting room completing the mounds of new patient forms. I am rather adept at completing forms and was whizzing right along when - wham! I hit the form version of a brick-wall. The question that always stops me short. Occupation.

I left the corporate world more than six years ago and I still don't have an answer to this question. I am not sure which is worse - the question with a blank to fill in, or the question with a list of multiple choice answers to choose from. Inevitably I feel that whatever I end up using to answer the question is woefully inadequate and downright pathetic.

Let's review some of my past answers. Retired. I did in fact retire from the workforce if by retire you stop working and are not actively looking for work. But alas, *retired* invokes a vision of relaxing time spent traveling, visiting museums, knitting, reading, playing mahjong. Last I checked I do none of these things.

My next potential answer: unemployed. Ouch - for six years? While technically true, this one makes it sound like I am looking for a new job and am such a loser I haven't found one.

Student? Only if you count tennis class or the time I spend volunteering in my children's classrooms.

Then I move on to the ones that are a bit closer to home, yet still don't nail it. Homemaker? That may be setting expectations a bit too high. When I think of a Homemaker I envision someone who bakes yummy treats for their family, cleans the house and folds the laundry more than when their children and husband start yelling that they are out of pajamas, socks and underwear. Nope, not a homemaker.

Stay-at-home mom could be it. When I first stopped working that seemed the obvious answer. As my children got older I began to realize this was also a misnomer, and now that they are in school I realize it is an outright lie. Ride-in-the-van mom is more accurate. I only wish I could stay at home for more than the fifteen minutes it takes to drop off the groceries and run to my next errand, appointment, volunteer commitment, bar. The longest period of time I spend at home is when I am asleep. This may also explain why I don't have time to bake, clean and do other things that would qualify me as a *homemaker*.

And finally I occasionally resort to the absurd answers, but even those are lacking. CEO of the household doesn't fit because a CEO needs to generate income or they get canned. I don't generate income unless you count the things I sell for fundraisers. I would also prefer not to be at the head of things in the event that the stockholders become disenchanted.

So at the end of the day I am left with no accurate answer and either just pick something at random or leave it blank and try to tell myself it doesn't really matter. Besides, I have to finish these forms, see the doctor and get out of here. I have a van to drive around.

Monday, January 3, 2011

So I got that goin for me, which is nice.

January is a special month because it marks the anniversary of when I started dating my husband. This year we will have been together for 19 years, almost half our lives. I enjoy a close relationship with my mother-in-law, but that wasn't always the case. For the first 16 years of our time together, she lived a few thousand miles away. As a result, even though my husband and I had been together for quite awhile, I had only met her a few times prior to our wedding.

The Thanksgiving after we first got married we were invited down to her house in Alexander City, Alabama. I was nervous because we hadn't spent much time together. That Thanksgiving the weather was beautiful, sunny and 60 degrees. The Thanksgiving meal went well and I even cooked a few dishes without incident. The day after, my father-in-law wanted us to go golfing. I had never golfed before, but was willing to learn so off we went.

Prior to hitting the course we spent some time on the driving range where he showed me the basics. Again, I was really nervous because I was still getting to know my new in-laws. Add that to it being my first time playing golf, and I sucked. The thing about golf is that you really need to concentrate, be the ball. And you can't concentrate very well if you are worrying about whether your mother-in-law thinks you need a hair cut.

On the first hole it took me several tries to get the ball off the tee. Even after that finally happened, it didn't go very far. For the first two holes I ended up picking up the ball and climbing into the cart so I wouldn't hold everyone up. After the second hole I decided I wanted to drive the golf cart. My husband explained how it worked, including the concept of a regulator.

On our way to the next hole we had to go up and down some winding, steep hills that were covered in leaves and pine needles. Headed down a particularly steep hill I panicked. The cart seemed to be speeding out of control and sliding on the leaves. I decided the best course of action would be steer off the path in hopes of slowing down. Unfortunately I steered onto an even steeper downhill slope with more leaves and pine needles. At this point, after yelling instructions at me that went unheeded my husband saw ahead that this wasn't going to end well. We were headed straight for a tree, and clearly I had lost my ability to act rationally and wasn't going to swerve to avoid it. There was only one option left. He yelled "jump" as he bailed out the side of the cart and rolled into a pile of leaves. Somehow in my panic I missed this instruction and I nailed the tree. Hard.

In case you didn't already know this, golf carts do not come equipped with air bags. Apparently this isn't a safety feature that most people need. What happened next is a little hazy. Something about a golf cart with a busted tire and some dents and a course official coming by to take it away.

Now I am shaken, a little banged up, and my husband is covered in sticks and leaves. My father-in-law is a die-hard golfer so instead of packing up and heading home he asks us if we want to continue with the round. Despite all that has happened, I irrationally think I need to make a good impression, that somehow this fiasco can be salvaged, so I say "sure". We procure a new cart which my husband drove, and has driven every time we golf to this day.

We get to the third hole and when it is my turn to tee off I hit it, hard, squarely in the middle. It soars. And so do my next shots and so on, for the entire round. I am not saying I made Jack Nicklaus envious, but I did a decent job for a first timer. And every round since then I have made a good number of decent shots.

I am not a great golfer, or even a good one. Or even fair. I am just someone who humiliated themselves so badly that there was nowhere to go but up. And if you have already hit the bottom (or the tree) it is much much easier to focus on golf. Because once you have hit a tree with a golf cart completely sober in front of your in-laws, you'd rather "be the ball".

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Let there be light

After Thanksgiving I insist that we must put up the Christmas lights outside, the garland around our front door, and drag out the lawn ornaments. Yes, we have lawn ornaments. I can't remember how or why we got them. I distinctly remember, in my my younger years, thinking I would never be one of those people. How tacky. Yet somehow, once I had children my DNA was altered and I find them perfectly acceptable, even charming. Perhaps one day I will snap out of it and return to realizing we aren't the Griswald's.

On the afternoon of the designated outside decorating day the husband dutifully drags out the tall ladder and all the necessary equipment. I have purchased a few new boxes of lights for the tree and we have some from past years for above the porch. In order to keep the boy occupied and out of the way he puts him in charge of opening the boxes and unraveling the lights. In the meantime, the husband is up on the very high ladder hanging lights for the peak of our front porch - a treacherous endeavor at best.

In the meantime, the girl comes out and seizes the strands of lights that the boy has unraveled. She gets herself a step ladder and begins wrapping the strands of lights around branches of a tree in a haphazard fashion. Then the boy joins in with a different strand of lights that are a different color. No no no, I think, the tree lights must be all the same! But I don't interfere because the children are occupied and the chaos has been temporarily contained and the husband can focus on not breaking his neck.

The husband has moved onto the lawn ornaments and by this time the boy has grown bored of light stringing so he decides to help by setting up the spiral tree. There are some pesky nylon strings that he decides must be part of the packaging, and helpfully cuts. Unfortunately these are what hold the shape of the tree. Now our tree springs up, like a giant slinky with a star at the top.

It is getting dark and cold and the children are rioting, so the husband declares the project complete. He plugs in the cords and discovers that only half the icicle lights are working, so only half the peak is lit up. The tree looks like a crazed, multicolor snake, and we have a giant light-up slinky on our lawn. We call it good enough, and go inside.

The next morning, while it's still dark, the husband goes out to get the paper. The light-up moose has fallen over like it has been shot. The lights over the peak have fallen off their nails. They form a rope across the front of our porch, like the finish line at a race. Only lit up. And in icicle form. But wait - the half that had previously been non-functional and dark when it was outlining the peak has come to life and all the lights are working. It is a Christmas miracle, and who are we to mess with that? We leave everything the way it is and go inside for some coffee.