Archives for : Life in the Burbs

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!


Fancy Man

I feel as if I was preparing for this for a long time. Years of child rearing have produced two pretty good kids who get along most of the time. Steve thinks they have good values and Junior has a good work ethic. Many young men start out with paper routes but Junior has been accepting some pay from Zettie Louise for a while and he hides it away in a cigar box in his bottom drawer. From time to time, Junior even earns some money from extra chores around the house.

What I wasn’t ready for was Junior’s decision to want to buy a couple of bow ties to wear with his dress shirts to school this year. In the past, shopping for school clothes involved a lot of negotiations just to try on some pants and shirts. Shoe shopping required a completely different day after a full nights’ sleep. As I was skimming the shirt display, Junior placed his hand on a solid color shirt and requested that the rest of his shirts all be solid-colored. I looked directly into his eyes to see if he was pulling my leg. Something was up. Junior opened his other hand to reveal three bow ties with stripes and designs. They were clip-on bow ties; a great time saving trick. I stared at them. My mind was having trouble adjusting to my son’s request to wear bow ties with dress shirts to school. It seemed a little over the top, especially with recess involved. I didn’t want to stifle any interest in dressing well though, so we pulled out solid color shirts that would compliment the ties.

The cashier asked Junior if the bow ties were his with such delight that he blurted out “Yes” and went on to tell her that he was even going to pay for them. She praised his taste and his interest in dressing well profusely. When we returned home from shopping, Junior took his bags into his room and I helped Daisy hang up her dresses in her closet. We got involved pulling out some dresses that no longer fit and sorting the rest of the purchases. Daisy’s lace-edged socks required a lot of sorting since some had frayed over the summer. I didn’t know how long Junior had been standing in the doorway before I noticed him. But there he was in a beautiful light blue shirt with a slightly skewed bow tie under his chin. He was adorable and mature at the same time. I fussed over him and straightened the tie. He told me that he didn’t want to wear them everyday but some special days each week. I agreed that showing that kind of style would be best for certain days. I promised Junior to wash and iron his shirts with Steve’s each week. So now there were two men in our house. I couldn’t wait for the young one to introduce himself to the older one. I think they might get along well. As Junior was leaving the room, he yelled out one final question. He wanted to know what age he would start shaving. I poked my head into the hallway and told Junior to ask his father. There’s only so much maturity I can deal with in one day.

Kids for a Day

Sunday was chosen as the day to switch roles. I looked forward to it with great anticipation and pulled out the croquet set to get it ready for Steve and me to play. Steve was going to finish the lawn on Saturday so he could have fun with me without breaking the rules. We decided that there would be no tasks given to the kids that were dangerous or inappropriate for their ages.

After church, I changed into my play clothes and sat down at the kitchenette waiting for my lunch. Junior dutifully made bologna and cheese sandwiches for Steve and me. Half-filled glasses of milk and two cookies were placed next to each plate. After I was done, I left my plate on the table and went outside. I was called back inside to bring my plate to the sink to get cleaned. These new parents mean business. I may have left some crumbs on the table in retaliation. Steve and I had a good time outdoors playing and stopped each other when some adult task called out to us. We strolled around the house looking at the garden and flower beds and discussed possible changes. When it got a little warm, we showed up at the back door begging for something to drink and were handed cups of water. We were handed some grapes to munch on also. When we asked for more, we were told that it would spoil our dinner. Daisy closed the back door in our faces after telling us to run and play. When we played croquet, Steve cheated by moving a wicket and I complained loudly, calling out Junior’s name to get a ruling. He came outdoors and told us to get along and be quiet. Strong parenting skills on display!

I really started to get hungry and went inside to get something to hold me over. I found Junior and Daisy sitting at the kitchenette coloring and talking. Daisy scolded me for eating too close to dinner, which I didn’t see getting made. When I asked what we were having, Junior and Daisy both looked up at me. I repeated my question. Junior looked at me and said he didn’t think he could cook a whole dinner because he was just a kid. I smiled at him and told him that we could order a pizza from Vesuvius and have it delivered. There are some perks to adulthood, pizza delivery being a good one. Daisy set the table and Junior got the drinks ready and when the pizza arrived, we all enjoyed it. After dinner, Steve brought out the Monopoly game to play while the kids cleaned up. We had a good time swapping roles for the day and as I got up to clean up the game, Junior looked at Steve and me and told us it was bedtime. I hoped the children wouldn’t notice how happy we were to be sent to bed early.

I was reading in bed and listened to the children clean up and eventually close the doors and go to their rooms. It wasn’t much later than they would usually be told to go to bed and Daisy knocked on our door to kiss us goodnight. As she was leaving the room, I saw Junior’s hand reach into the room and turn off the light switch. He followed that up with a stern warning for us to go to sleep,

I was not about to argue, so I put down my book and pulled my sleep mask over my eyes, putting my head down on the pillow. Steve, on the other hand, was not about to go without a fight. He called out loudly for a drink of water. I heard the kids laughing in the hall as they headed to their rooms, ignoring his request.

Trigger Isn’t Just a Horse

Some things really get to me some days. I haven’t yet figured out the pattern involved, but I definitely have a shorter fuse some days than others. Worse news than that, the children know when to steer clear of me. I overheard Junior tell Daisy that I must have one of my “splitting” headaches after I yelled at him for tracking mud in on his shoes. It wasn’t a lot of mud, but I had just been on my hands and knees for an hour scrubbing the floor.

I tried not to laugh to myself at the description since I apparently didn’t enunciate well in anger and it probably sounded silly. I realized that whenever I told the children that my head hurt, it was always “splitting.” I took two aspirin, closed the drapes in the living room and sat down in the semi-darkness to relieve the pain. Poor kids, they must have a skewed idea of adulthood if they watched us carefully. Mothers and dads go about their days like clockwork and have the chance to complain, loudly at times. but I usually put a stop to the kids’ complaints about food they don’t like, itchy clothing they don’t want to wear and having to go to bed at a certain time. No wonder they think life will be paradise when they are adults. Little do they know.

The reality of adulthood is that we would love to be kids again, especially in summer. Open the screen door, run outside, ride bikes and play. Come home for meals. Go to bed and repeat. So, I invented a new day. The children would be in charge for a day; this would require some light clean-up duties, easy meals to prepare and the chance for Steve and I to chill outside enjoying the day. The children would be permitted to stay up after us if they wanted and could tell us when to wash up and go to bed after dinner. I explained my plan over dinner and everyone seemed to think it was a great idea. I can’t wait.

The Abundance of Tarts

Zettie Louise never ceases to surprise me. When Junior was helping her yesterday, she made him lunch. That wasn’t surprising but the fact that Zettie Louise had Junior help her make a gourmet treat was a hoot. When Junior came home from helping Zettie Louise yesterday, he was sweaty from working outside but holding a platter full of beautiful Ricotta Tomato Tarts. That’s not something you see everyday in my son’s hands. He was showing them to me because he had helped make them. Mind you, Junior is a great son and knows how to get the spoon to his lips most of the time without making a mess, but his cooking skills are sporadic. The tarts were gorgeous and he placed them in the icebox for dinner. I gushed over them and he smiled before going to clean up.

In many ways, Junior is different at Zettie Louise’s. More mature or thoughtful or something. He really respects her and has learned a lot listening to her. He throws in comments at dinner about subjects that they discuss. I’m not sure how many in-depth discussions I have had with my son about the state of the world but Zettie Louise covers a lot of serious topics with him. That makes me proud of him but I wonder if he thinks I am more superficial than her. I suppose in my position as mother, it will always be a little disconcerting to have someone else teach my son something. When children are young, you are with them all of the time and you are aware of everything they know. Then one day, someone else babysits them and they come home knowing new stuff. That’s when they start to surprise you with their own discoveries.

I called Zettie Louise after dinner and thanked her for the tarts. They were truly delicious. She had used her own home-grown tomatoes and basil. I also thanked her for the way she interacted with Junior. Zettie Louise always calls him Steven when she talks about him. After our call, I realized that Zettie Louise was in touch with a different side of my son. Even my nickname for him kept him my baby. It was a little late to start calling him Stephen but it wasn’t too late to start treating him a little more like a young man.

Today, Zettie Louise sent my son home with some beautiful tomatoes and the recipe for the tarts. I asked my son if he would take some time with me to prepare the recipe so he could teach me any tricks he learned along the way. He graciously told me that he would fit me into his schedule and we both laughed at the formality of his reply. His laugh reminded me that Junior was my little boy and always would be. Who he was with others was not supposed to be who he was with me. I was special in his life because I was his mom. We prepared more tarts and they were absolutely delicious. Everyone clapped at the table when Junior walked out the platter and placed it on the table. He deserved the applause and thanked him for making the meal extra special again.


Saving Time is Delicious

I was pondering some efficiency methods to make life run smoothly when I returned to school in the fall. As in most houses, getting everyone up and fed took the most courage and planning. The lack of a good night’s sleep for even one member of a household affected everyone. I am a sleep zealot. I try my best to get seven hours every night. I get up before everyone else to get the day started well and prepare a good breakfast. I also really need a few minutes of quiet time before starting to interact with other humans. My morning smoke is crucial planning time for me and I consider my morning ritual a chance for me to work on autopilot until I am fully functional.

With such a high premium on getting each day started right, I was going to tackle breakfast differently this year. I am planning on stealing a few minutes after dinner each evening to get everything in place for breakfast. I don’t want to dumb down these good meals but I figured some meals could be made more mom and time friendly, much like casseroles do for dinner. I was going to start out with making a Baked French Toast casserole. It’s special enough to make my family feel my love but not so unusual for them to reject it without tasting it.

My next big task would be getting the children ready for the school year with clothes and shoes. Daisy enjoys this task more than Junior, but boys are easier to buy multiples for once you know their size. Once I have established the right size for pants for Junior, I just pick up four more in different colors. I try and choose shirts that are neutral enough to go with most of the pants. His sock choices are easy as long as they “don’t itch.” Shoe buying required a whole afternoon and since I always put it off until the last possible day, it remains the most stressful. I like to start to talk about the fact that we are going to go shopping for school clothes long before we actually do it; that helps get the children used to the idea. If I start really early, I can let them off the hook after their first protests by telling them I will put it off a little longer. That way, I remain the understanding mom who can be tricked into seeing things their way. Little did they know, I was way ahead of them. I usually followed up a week later with another warning about the upcoming shopping day. During this announcement, I like to muse aloud about maybe having time after shopping to get an ice cream sundae. Then I change the subject entirely before they can add anything. Progress in difficult tasks takes time. I actually read that in one of my textbooks last semester; I checked to see if a woman wrote it since it sounded just like mom-talk. By the time we actually get to the shopping day, all resistance is futile and the children will be grudgingly looking forward to it. Now I need to find a way through my issue with shoe shopping for them. Those last minute buying days are always with packed with kids who have too much nervous energy.

Last night before dinner, I gathered the ingredients for the Baked French Toast and put them on the end of the counter. After dinner and finishing most of the dishes, I left the sink full of soapy water, another great time saver. I assembled the casserole and placed it in the icebox. This morning, I surprised everyone with a delicious hot breakfast treat and they all liked it. I am going to add a few more morning casseroles to my repertoire over the next few weeks. It’s nice for me because I don’t have to rush around as much in the morning. I need to make sure I have plenty of time for a good breakfast too.