Archives for : Life in the Burbs

You Don’t Scare Me

Instructor Snow kept all of us very consistent. Everyone arrived before class, took the same seats each time and stayed mostly quiet except when called on. I could feel the butterflies in my stomach before class, during class and while I relived the class in my head on the way to Lucy’s class. If you didn’t complete the readings, you were probably not prepared to answer the questions Mr. Snow asked. The assignments were not creative but did reinforce the facts in the text. The first time I was called on, I could feel my cheeks flush and the slight pause that occurred before I opened my mouth to answer felt like ten minutes. Mr. Snow moved forward after my answer, so I guess it was correct. I trembled for a few minutes before I resurfaced to hear what he was saying. A small group of us were all in Lucy’s class next, so we walked over to that building together, discussing the extreme stiffness of the class.

Lucy gave an extra assignment to the class that week, but I looked forward to writing another short piece. The subject was meant for Halloween but it seemed uniquely suited to our previous class. The subject was a paper about what scared us. A couple of chuckles that couldn’t be suppressed slipped out and Lucy paused for a moment and looked thoughtful. Lucy admitted that she was surprised that asking us to write about something scary caused laughter. She wasn’t speaking in an accusatory voice, more like perplexed.

I hesitantly spoke up and told Lucy that there could be scary things about school or classes. She asked for more clarity. I hesitated and another classmate talked about the possibility that a few people in the class might write about the same person and it was an instructor. Lucy gasped. I quickly added that it wasn’t her and it wasn’t so much the school work as the personality presenting the class in such a strict manner.

Lucy started to laugh a little and said she understood. Lucy walked back to the front of the classroom and waited about ten seconds before admitting that she had been taught by Mr. Snow in the past. This time, it was our turn to gasp. When the nervous giggling ended, Lucy moved on to the next discussion.

I guess Mr. Snow’s reputation was well known. Maybe it was just a rite of passage to get through his class. We all have difficult tasks in life that we look back at with a pride of accomplishment. I was really hoping it would be worth it.

Cold Snow

The weather was finally getting chilly and I wore one of my favorite sweaters with a new clasp. I hurried toward a building that I was unfamiliar with to meet the instructor of my class. As a woman of the world,  I know that there are people in the world whose purpose is to feel superior to others, but I never thought it would be a teacher.

The class that Mr. Snow was teaching started out differently than all of my others. It was scheduled to start later in the month than every other class due to the fact that the instructor was not available until then. Mr. Snow obviously thought a lot of his abilities and made it clear that he would be the authority in class. He handed out a very difficult schedule of assignments and readings during the 1st class. Those who weren’t enrolled in time had to beg others to borrow the page for a long enough time to copy down the coursework because Mr. Snow wouldn’t give out anymore copies. It seemed a little harsh but Mr. Snow must have thought he was training us correctly.

The good thing about it was that I could look ahead and try to keep up with the well-written schedule. There seemed to be a lot of pages with each reading and I had not cracked open the text yet. I was envisioning some late nights after the kids had gone to bed, trying to keep up. Mr. Snow himself did not seem to be a friendly type and held himself fairly rigidly at the front of the class. It was a little like a classroom from grade school with the strict teacher in command. The one thing I had really enjoyed about college was the absence of being a kid. Adults having heady conversations was a big break from my daily routine of questions about tooth brushing and picking up socks.

My classmates were very quiet and there wasn’t much moving around. Mr. Snow’s demeanor suffocated the room. It was going to take a lot of energy to stay alert enough to do well here and my stomach was hurting a little from a small knot that had formed in the base of it. Mr. Snow started his first lecture; he was an expert on the subject and from time to time would point to the students in the front seats to ask them questions. It seemed closer to an inquisition than a classroom and I was relieved that I didn’t get called on.

After the class, everyone filed out without speaking and traveled in separate directions in the hallway. I had another class to get to in a few minutes, so I checked my schedule and headed to another building. I knew the campus pretty well at this point and knew where I was headed since this class had already started last week. But I had a recurring dream of showing up in the wrong classroom. Knowing me, I would probably sit there until the end of class before being confident enough to admit my mistake and leave. I reached my destination and again double-checked the paper attached to the door to check the subject and the teacher’s name. I knew I was going to enjoy this class; Lucy was teaching and I looked forward to more of her discussions on writing and even wanted her criticism. Her gentle nudges last semester had guided my writing in the right direction, once I let go of the embarrassment of being criticized. And I improved. She had assigned some initial coursework during the last class.

As I sat down, I noticed that the man next to me looked familiar. He smiled and quietly asked me what I thought of that last class. He must have just seen me in Mr. Snow’s classroom. I rolled my eyes and told him that I had never experienced a teacher like that. Before he got to say anything else, Lucy breezed into the classroom like fresh air. She warmly greeted the class and smiled my way. Now, that’s the way a teacher should be.

That night, I sat alone doing my reading for Mr. Snow’s class. I was determined to do well in my classes, even if it was hard. I wondered about the kids and their relationships with their teachers. I remember being afraid of certain teachers in grade school. Children are good at sharing that kind of information and creating good nicknames for teachers that make your stomach have knots. Maybe I needed to create a nickname for Mr. Snow to help describe him and the way he made me feel. It felt childish but might put a better spin on my feelings. I probably should check in with the children tomorrow to see how they like their classes. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in my own learning that I don’t pay attention to the other learners in the family.


Hawks Can Drive

Steve really wants a new car. I could tell as soon as he started to complain about his current vehicle that it was coming – car fever. It’s certainly alright with me if Steve gets a new car. He works hard, earns a good salary and takes care of lots of things around the house. Really, it’s no secret that men show their personalties through their wheels. Normally, Steve does not include me in this type of decision, he just wanders down to Stu Hansen’s dealership and picks out a new model. He sweetly surprised me with a new car a few years ago and I love my Nash. This time wasn’t much different except this car was not your average familymobile. I guess my much-loved car was going to keep all of us on the road when we travel together.

Last night, a Studebaker SilverHawk pulled up to the house. I saw it parking out front and took a moment to see where the driver was headed. It was a flashy two-seater, the kind that Artie would drive. Then, Steve climbed out of it. It wasn’t two minutes before every man in the neighborhood was out front. Some of them got rides, some just stood and talked. There looked like some friendly banter going back and forth and I was still peeking out from the front room drapes watching the whole scene. When Artie got to Steve, he happily slapped him on the back. I couldn’t help but think that Artie would be picking out some new wheels himself soon, and there would have to be more than room for two!

It was a pretty car. Shiny, black and white, and sleekly shaped. If I didn’t have two children who wouldn’t fit in the glove box and trunk, I would be happy to put on a scarf and drive around town in it. So, now what do I do? I looked at my husband’s face. He really is a good husband, a good father and a guy. This looks like a guy’s car. I think I can find a babysitter from time to time so we can go out together in the fancy car. Maybe I can even drive it some time.

In My Own Defense

Mags has a new love. I never thought it would happen. Let me explain. Mags and Harold purchased a beautiful new TV set. The tube must be huge and the cabinet is a gorgeous walnut color. Mags had to purchase a new coffee table to match the set, which prompted her new purchases for the top of the coffee table – a large stand-up lighter, an ashtray that resembled artwork and two large artsy-looking books that no one would ever read. I watched her rearrange them for an hour earlier one day this week. It wasn’t as boring as it sounds; Mags makes a great martini with extra olives.

The TV set is not the new love. It’s what shows up on that new set. There’s a courtroom show with a guy named Mason that has her mesmerized. The morning after the show this week, she was at my door as soon as the children left for school. Over two cups of coffee and several cigarettes, Mags described her interest in this TV show. I had no idea what she was saying about the characters but she said it looked just like the inside of a real courtroom. I reminded her that she had not spent much time in real courtrooms. She even believed that some of the actors might really be lawyers and judges because they were so convincing. Mags has never been caught up in any TV show. I had planned on doing some extra reading this morning but seeing Mags so excited was much more fun. When it got close to lunchtime, Mags jumped up and realized that she had to go shopping for dinner.

As I completed my chores and baked an apple cake, I thought about Mags’ new mini-obsession. I have had my own little love affairs with certain records and played them repeatedly when no one was home. Like Mags, I even rearranged my own pretty things from time to time, but usually when I am dusting and can’t remember where I had everything. I told Steve about the new show Mags liked and he said that he heard some people talking about it around the water cooler. Well, I like to be trendy and knowledgeable about new stuff so next week, I’ll be watching along with everyone else. Steve even said he would join me. Who knows where this will lead? Maybe I’ll have a new mini-obsession.

Take A Letter

I’ve written a lot lately in my journal late at night. From time to time, my life seems very busy and this was definitely one of those times. My schoolwork was intensive, the children were very busy, Steve even had new duties with his latest promotion; I want to remember these times later in life, so I remind myself to take the time to write down what is happening. Some nights I can write multiple pages easily and sometimes my thoughts float onto the pages one word at a time. When I went to the 5&10 this week, I picked up a diary for Daisy. She may only be able to make simple sentences this year or little drawings, but getting her off to a good start will help her capture more of her life.

Having a daughter is scary, you want the best for them and you need to protect them. Daisy is a good talker, plays well with others and pays attention in school; I suspect she does not like much drama. Daisy is sensitive to loud noises and sometimes covers her ears when we get close to trains or a plane flies overhead. I have watched her enjoy the enchantment of having a best friend who lives next door. Marie-Claire and Daisy can spend hours together one day and have new conversations the next day. Her communication skills are wonderful and she can have funny talks with her dad and hold her own with her brother.

Junior and Daisy grew up playing with each other because they lived in the same house. There were times when they disagreed and snitched on each other; I refereed when they couldn’t compromise. But most of the time, they just played together. Although that is a great foundation for being siblings forever, it isn’t always memorable. The emotional moments, the highs and lows, are what remains in our memories. It’s funny to think of parents arranging play times for children as they grow up. I wonder what adults would think if people were just randomly chosen to come over to their house to spend a few hours. Somehow, children can bridge those gaps better than adults. It takes me a long time just to say hello to the check-out girl if I haven’t met her before.

I went to meet Daisy’s new teacher this week. She is a lovely young lady with long, blonde hair and an earnest smile. She already knew a little about each of the children in her class even though it was full. The little desks were in four rows of two, so each child had someone right next to them throughout the day. It was going to be a great life lesson for some children to have to sit next to a student they would have preferred not to. Daisy had already talked about the boy who sat with her in fairly friendly terms. I think it’s good that she had a brother to get along with first so she wouldn’t be surprised how different girls and boys are from each other.

I think Daisy will do well this year. My heart aches with the thought of her growing up and away from me too quickly; I was never especially close to my mother and felt like I didn’t meet her expectations. In retrospect, this would be hard to really believe now, but I never heard my mother tell me her expectations. I would have to start having those talks with Daisy and Junior. Although those are the kinds of discussion children usually can’t stand, eventually it would sink in that I wanted a lot for them in life. We all do. We look to this next generation, with all of the outstanding opportunities they have been given, and still want them to go far in life. My generation fought for them to have more choices. I think in my journal tonight I will start to make a list of the things I want my children to know in life. It’s never too soon or too late to start.

March Will Be Madness

One by one, everyone came into the kitchen to see what was going on and we all gathered around Edie, still sitting at the table looking pale. Gail broke through the crowd and grabbed Edie, hugging her so hard we had to get Gail to put her back into her seat to breathe. Baby-loving Gail, who knew the joys and sorrows of having children and wanting but not having more, cried little tears of joy. After congratulating Edie, we helped her into the living room and sat her in the middle of the davenport so we could all talk to her. Sarah brought her some cold water and a few crackers to quell her nausea.

Edie had left us clues. Miniature food, bunnies, eggs, food with blankets; but we had missed the message. We laughed and talked about babies and diapers and lack of sleep and the fact that Edie would have more cleavage to deal with. Mags did the math and estimated a March birth. By the time Sarah asked what Artie thought, Edie felt better and was smiling. And then she admitted that she had not told her husband yet. Edie said that she didn’t know how to tell him. She was anxious because it took so long to get pregnant. With Artie away so much on long trips with multiple flights, every time he returned from a long trip they had to get to know each other all over again. Everyone fell silent simultaneously. Mags asked Edie where she kept the liquor and when Artie would be home next. As it turned out, Artie was due back that night. Everyone sprang into action around Edie, packing food, cleaning up the dishes, wiping down every surface and returning Edie’s beautiful home back to its adults-only tidiness level.

Mags reset the table for two with china and candles and set out a silver tray with Artie’s favorite scotch and a small glass. Chloe had kept enough food for two people and placed it in containers in the icebox for reheating. Everyone else took home the rest of the food. Edie sat watching us all scurry around her home. Two beautiful slices of pie were plated and covered and the bunny cake became the centerpiece at the table for two. Sarah rearranged some of the fresh flowers in a smaller bouquet and found a vase for the table also.

We all sat down around Edie again and helped her devise her plan to tell Artie. I didn’t have much to add; I knew that she would be able to share the good news with him easily. She’s a romance writer and this could just be a scene from one of her less racy novels. When we left, Edie was ready and swore to let us know how well it all went.


The Changing Seasons

Finally, we were back to our card parties. The weather outside was still warm, but once school starts up, we go back to our games. Having girl friends is crucial to me. My neighborhood is a hot bed of good women. We keep great homes, raise terrific kids, appreciate our husbands and manage to keep each other sane. I have no idea if other communities are like this, but I could not live without my galpals.

Edie was hosting this time and it is always a pleasure to visit her beautiful home because everything is always in the right place; there are no shoes left around the doorway, no crumbs in the wrong places and she keeps her expensive possessions out in plain view. She and Artie are childless.

We were all very chatty since we had not enjoyed any long stretches of time with the whole group since the spring. Edie’s theme was based on something not very fall-like, but it was cute. Edie had little bunnies set out around her table and she even baked a cake and shaped it to look like a rabbit. It took a little while to get started with all the conversation and Edie was serving everyone Bunny Marys, a bloody mary with carrot juice. I splashed in a little extra vodka to dilute the juice and sweeten it a little. The spectacular food was all finger food and Edie had even cut up a pie into little slivers and arranged them around the cake. The main serving dish held miniature meatballs in a red sauce and there were tiny garlic toast points plated nearby. There were hot dogs in blankets with small ears of corn and deviled eggs. A miniature feast!

Edie was buzzing around refilling drinks and keeping the table set with food. We were all talking over each other and not totally in the card game mood. I followed Edie to the kitchen to help keep plates cleaned up and found her standing in front of the icebox with her head in the freezer section, breathing in the cold air. As she closed the door she saw me and she seemed embarrassed by my standing there. Edie’s face was a mixture of warm and cold at the same time. Warm on the inside with ruddy cheeks, and cold on the outside with streaks of white around the edges of her face. She also looked like she was going to throw up, so I pointed her body toward the trash can and took off the lid. Edie didn’t get very sick and just a little bile came up. I moved her over to a seat at the dinette and she held her head. I knew what was right finally; Edie was preggers.

Not Right Now

Procrastination is difficult for me. I know it is the standard process for some folks but it stresses me out. I am often too early for events, start thinking about the Christmas holidays in the summer, and worry about when spring will return as soon as the new year starts. Now that we are all back in school, I want the kids to sit down right after they get home and do their homework. But this year Junior has been very reluctant and has wasted some time in his room before I eventually go and get him to get it started. Daisy doesn’t have much so her homework can be done before he even starts. Junior seems easily distracted this year and he has had a lot more homework than previously. I would like him to start some good habits now since he will be doing homework for a long time.

After my psychology class, I stopped to talk to one of my instructors about it. He asked me about my homework habits and I told him that I liked to get the hardest assignments done first and then move on to the easier ones. He didn’t remark and when he paused, I fell into the trap of filling in the silence by continuing to talk. A thousand words later, I realized that Junior was not me and our habits would not be the same. I felt a little stupid since this is exactly the kind of stuff I was studying. The instructor helped me understand that I needed to be more aware of how Junior approached tasks to help him create his own process.

More than once, I have heard parents talk about how much harder it is to raise one gender over another. Boys are supposed to be harder in the beginning but girls are harder in their teen years. I really had not noticed any issues yet. I liked my kids and had a lot of fun always trying to get to know them better. They changed as they got older and I tried to really notice the changes. It’s hard to see changes when you live with children because some of them are so gradual. The habits you notice that change start to feel like mistakes. You had a system and it worked and then along comes a kid who turns it upside down. Nobody likes to change what they think is a good thing. But change we must and I started to back off on nagging Junior about the homework.

The first couple of days, he didn’t do his homework until after dinner and ended up at the kitchen dinette after we had all left to go watch tv. Another night, he was late getting done and didn’t finish. There may have been some issue the next day with his teacher because he came home complaining that she was picking on him. I refrained from asking any questions and changed the subject. The next afternoon, Junior went to his room and played after school while Daisy and I sat in the kitchen. I was reading and making dinner while she practiced her handwriting. Junior came in and joined us for a while and then left. He finished the rest of his homework after dinner. Eventually, Junior worked out a solution of his own, doing some homework early and some late. A couple of days he completed it all early enough to join us while we played a board game after dinner.

I impressed myself with my ability to keep my mouth shut and not offer advice. I am ultra good at advice. I give it away for free, but only when I have something to really offer. If I don’t know something about an issue, my lips are sealed. After a full week of experiments, Junior seemed less angry at his teacher for assigning homework and completed it all to their satisfaction. I need to be better at letting the children work out their own solutions. As they get older, they really need me less and less for some things. Who knows, some day I might be out of a job!

Labor Day is Hard Work

Endings are bittersweet. Traditionally, Labor Day is a chance for us to spend the afternoon in the backyard, grilling burgers and hot dogs. We can see most of our neighbors doing the same thing in their yards and the smell of our neighborhood is delicious. The kids join pick up games of baseball and basketball, depending on their age, as the neighbors wander next door chatting with a cold drink. The traditional holidays are a way for us to transition into the next season. Daisy and Marie-Claire were running between the yards playing tag with Junior and Jack Frost. Francis and Steve were standing between the two yards keeping a watchful eye on the grills. I could see Chloe from time to time doing the same thing I was doing, bringing items from the kitchen out to the table in the yard. It was like a play and we were all the actors.

The food is the same every year, and serving corn on the cob is a must. I can’t imagine who first had the guts to eat corn on the cob; you have to literally husk the ears to find it. But it wouldn’t be summer without it. I like to gently simmer my corn with lots of salt in the water. Timing when to start the cobs is tricky since I depend on Steve to let me know how close the food is to finishing and he uses imprecise timing words like pretty soon and almost. He can cook outside but he couldn’t use those same tactics in a kitchen. I sometimes have to go out and move the food around myself to check on it, but I dislike smelling like a grill, and only try to check one time. I made my traditional potato salad early in the morning so that it had time to chill. I had a pot of baked beans on the stove and ready with a large chunk of bacon fat poking out of the top of the beans. The table was set with the plastic ware and a big chilled pitcher of lemonade was already waiting on the table. I was worried about the corn because I had purchased some new cute holders and wanted them to steal the show.

I called out to Steve and interrupted his conversation enough to make him check one last time on the burgers and hot dogs. He told me they were ready and I brought out the last of the condiments and put the foods in serving bowls. I called out to the kids to get washed up and they helped carry out the last of the food from the kitchen as Steve mounded up the hot food in buns. I pulled the ears out of the water and held them with a hot pad to place the holders in the ends. I laid them each in their special look-alike corn plates and slathered them with melted butter. I carried out that tray last to impress my family.

Steve didn’t really notice the little corn plates but the kids loved them. Daisy and Junior dug into their corn first while I fixed their hot dogs. Steve got lots of praise for his delicious food and we ate and talked as our neighbors around us ate and talked and enjoyed their family dinners. It probably seems silly to get so much delight out of corn-shaped plates, but I like the little touches. After the meal, we sat and talked about the upcoming change in seasons and doings. Steve joked about his three students and having to go to meet the teacher night at college. Junior offered to go with him to hear about my progress. I disappointed them both by letting them know that no such thing would happen. We cleaned up the plates and I worked on getting dessert ready. An end of summer meal wouldn’t be right without some ice cream. I sliced four good pieces of neopolitan out onto plates using a serrated knife on the package. Topping each with a drizzle of chocolate syrup and whipped cream and a cherry made it very festive. By the time we were finished, the little melted pools of uneaten ice cream made a rainbow on each plate.

Tomorrow would be an early day for all of us, so the children went in to prepare for bed with more than the usual grumbling. Even that is a tradition. I was tired and very ready to go to sleep but Steve and I sat out in the backyard with Chloe and Frances as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed the last of the evening. Traditions are important; neighbors are important too. The sun gradually set and the air turned cooler; a reminder of what was to come.

My Best Handwriting

The dog days of summer were upon us and I was wilting outside but very excited inside. My little school schedule wasn’t the same as a full-time college student and going to school this way was going to take a lot longer, but I could handle it and handle it well. The last thing I wanted to do was mess up. I knew this year that I could be confident about my writing skills. That would help with finishing homework on time and at least as well as most other students. My children are used to seeing me sit at the dinette with them to work on homework. I liked being nearby to help with spelling and easy arithmetic problems. Stevie Junior had some more difficult subjects this year and Daisy was a real school girl now, possibly with homework. We spent a good deal of time yesterday picking out new lunch boxes. By the middle of the year, the thermos in them will already have been replaced, since they all seem to shatter easily after a couple of months of use and a couple harder than average falls. I gave the children my usual song and dance about the fact that just because the cans were made of metal, the thermos lining would not be spared when the lunch pail is used for schoolyard warfare.

I confess to having my own sad love affair with school supplies. My own mother sewed a pencil bag for me to take to school in 1st grade. It was denim with a cool string-pull that was easy to operate and large enough to fit my own collection of different size number 2’s. My teacher thought it was so terrific, she asked my mother to sew one for every child in my class. I remember my mother spent many nights sewing the bags and I even helped pull through the shoelaces that kept them shut. The only problem I encountered was that every kid in my class had the same pencil holder. The teacher used a marker to write every person’s name on each so we could tell the difference.

I spent a morning in the school bookstore buying the necessary textbooks for my classes that were now available. While I was there, I thumbed through lots of other textbooks in subjects that seemed very foreign now but might seem doable later. I found beautiful new notebooks and pens that felt right for my fingers. I am pretty good at not getting ink from my cartridge pen all over the page when making notes and I think it improves my handwriting. Just like in cooking, the right equipment makes life more enjoyable. I felt like such a weird school student but I really enjoyed it. Maybe it wasn’t so bad that it would take me so long to get an education. When I returned home, Junior didn’t seem too excited about my school books but that it is to be expected. Daisy asked me if I was going to have to learn new spelling words. She even offered to help me by making flash cards. She likes school now and I hope it stays that way. I really want her to go to college, right after high school.

For dinner, I made a delicious casserole. I didn’t want to spend a lot of time cooking and just heating up something seemed to make more sense. I used my usual chicken pot pie recipe but placed it in a long casserole pan. The new part was the addition of tater tots to the top. I placed them one by one in long rows to cover the entire surface and then baked everything until golden brown. I haven’t really used tater tots very much in cooking but everyone loved them. I will have to think of new ways to adapt some other recipes to update them also. At least I had one more easy recipe to add to my box. With the school season starting up, I needed all the help I could get!