Archives for : Life in the Burbs

Because I Said So

As mothers go, I am not too bad. Taking care of children and a house are both full time jobs. Some days, there are more hours to spend with the children than others depending on how much housework needs to be accomplished, Junior and Daisy generally play together nicely with intermittent arguments. When they want me to play with them, it is is because they are bored with each other and want to be entertained. If I’m not too busy, that’s a welcome break.

With the nicer weather, we have been able to spend more time outside riding bikes and playing in the sandbox. Steve promised to put a new swing set in the backyard this year and we are all looking forward to that. Daisy loves the swings at the school playground. Junior is more a jungle gym guy.

Motherhood came easily to me and I didn’t ask for a lot of advice from family members. I value making independent decisions. But nothing prepared me for the moment when I turned into my own mother. I noticed it first in my choice of bag. My handbags have gradually grown over the years. There’s so much to carry. Of course, when the children were babies, I carried their cloth diapers, pins, and tissues in a special bag with extra bottles and pacifiers.

My own handbag is home to small dinosaurs, bows, some jacks, brushes, Lifesavers, crackers and a small book or two. My lipstick was lost somewhere in the bottom and the bag itself was heavy as hell. I walked leanly slightly to one side when my bag was on that shoulder but the muscle in that arm was stronger too. If I could go back in time and find the first cave woman who chose to pick up all of the cave children’s rocks, I would tell her to leave them behind.

After lunch, I told Junior and Daisy to carry their dishes to the sink and Junior got up and started to leave the kitchen. When I called him back, Junior kept walking. When I called him again, he told me that he didn’t want to carry his dishes to the sink. I told Junior to stop and when he did I told him to come back and do as I asked. Then Junior asked the question most children do, why. Sadly, my mother’s voice came out of my mouth and I told him “because I said so.” There, it was finally done. I had become my mother and all the other mothers who came before her who didn’t have a better answer. I stopped in my tracks and looked behind me to see if my mother was standing there. Maybe it is meant to be and really not a totally bad answer. Mothers have a wisdom built around brevity, a lack of time and hearts full of love for their own families. Some mothers have enough love to adopt the children of others, healing some wounds. The mothers in my neighborhood watch over and keep everyone’s children safe. I know that my children could stop at any house on our street and find comfort if needed.

Junior walked back to the table, picked up his plate and glass and brought it to the sink. I didn’t really mind his testing his boundaries since he didn’t mind my need to mother-speak. He gave me half a smile and I tousled his hair. Good kid. He knew how far to take his insurgency. Maybe it was time to clean out my handbag.

Marking the Days

I passed. Better than that; I received an A. I placed my grade report on Steve’s pillow for him to see.

Near the end of the school year, I begin to mark off the days on the kitchen calendar 30 days before the last day of school for Junior and Daisy. They both like school for different reasons but the countdown probably feels like a tally of the time until they are free for the summer. I really count down as a reckoning until the days when the kids are home and need something to do.

School is good at teaching kids to be busy. The teachers move through subjects on a timed schedule and there is always plenty to do. Their stomachs are scheduled to eat at the same time every day. This training teaches children to need direction and depend on scheduled activities. I like my summer days to be unscheduled. If we feel like playing cards right after breakfast, I’m in. If we have a tea party at lunch, I can make that happen. So the first few days of summer always result in the children needing more help to just play and not proclaim that they have nothing to do. This summer, my club pool days will be scheduled with the weather in mind. The other days may have backyard picnics, packed lunches at the park or short order dining when I’m in the mood.

At dinner, Steve asked the children if they had looked for summer jobs yet. They giggled, but I felt there was something darker beneath this question. Last summer, Junior worked with Zettie Louise a few times each week. I wasn’t sure if she needed him to help her this year and I realized that her mysterious spy travels had decreased. Steve told the children that he expected them to read more this summer. Truthfully, Steve is a good reader and finishes a novel every month. Steve went on to present his thoughts on how more reading would help the children learn faster in school. Steve told the children that I would be glad to take them to the library every week to pick out new books. I really didn’t mind him offering my services. I love the library and take the kids there on a randomly regular schedule anyway. The clincher was Steve offering the children money to read books. We had not discussed this and I was unsure of the value of reading if it became a job. I probably burst their balloons by announcing that Steve and I would have to discuss the pay aspect.

After the kids were in bed, I asked Steve about his reading for pay program. He explained that I might need the children to be quietly reading more as I prepared myself for more classes in the fall. I fell quiet. Steve had been thinking about me. And more classes. I had buried my thoughts about more classes because I didn’t know what to take or why I was taking them. I quietly thanked him and told him I would think about it. Steve looked at me quizzically and asked me if I didn’t want to go back. I explained that I wanted to go back but needed to figure out why. School is not a hobby. He told me that he was proud of me, very smart and needed to think hard about it. All said with manly security. In the meantime, he added, how much should the kids earn for every book?

Words Count

I turned in my term paper today. I think Lucy’s smile was the only happy face in the class, but I felt relieved to be done. Lucy had assigned us all code numbers to use on our papers instead of names to protect the innocent. As soon as the works were all collected, Lucy handed out directions on reading and reviewing the papers of others in the class. The instructions were straight forward and included how many points to assign each section. This was really going to happen. Lucy gave each of us another person’s paper. As I read the words of another classmate, I tried my best to be objective and fair but it is always easy to point out the negative. On top of that, I wanted to believe that my work was better. As this horrible bias dawned on me, I slowly realized that we could all be graded for the good work we had crafted. I loved that thought and decided to look for the good. After reading further, I got into the theme and enjoyed the writer’s choices in language and content. I might even learn a few tricks if I really pay attention.

In the comments section of the review page, I lavished praise on the high points and used some questions to address possible options for areas of challenge. I was certainly no expert but I had my thoughts. Overall, the paper was a success and met the theme offered. Lucy wanted each of us to make remarks on three papers. As we completed our remarks, we left the papers on the desk at the front of the class and chose another one. The second one I read was different from the first and enjoyable in its own way. I read and even read a couple of passages twice to really understand the writer’s perspective. It looked like everyone in class was making little notes on the pages they were reading. By the end of class, everyone had finished reading three papers and there were stacks of words on the desk.

I wished I could have taken a picture of the papers in case I couldn’t remember it in my own memory.  I finished my first class and and felt a smile cross my face. Lucy must have noticed and started to walk along with me in the hallway. She asked me about what my plans were for next semester. I stopped walking. I had no idea. I really had not thought ahead. To successfully complete one class was one thing; to take another was a whole other conversation with myself.

Team Jones

The recent weather had encouraged our lawn to start growing like crazy. This time of year always brings out the best in the husbands of Calista Court. On a random weekend, they all wake up, sit straight up in their beds and know what has to be done. It’s like they are all programmed by some maniacal master puppeteer. Right after breakfast, they all appear moving about in rhythm on their lawns, back and forth, to and fro, manicuring little blades of grass. The funny part is that the blades will continue to grow and they will have to repeat this task again and again, but never with the same spirit as the first of the season. I loved watching this every year.

Steve loves his lawn and takes pride in it, like most men. The edges require a special touch, the bare spots get evaluated, the amount and frequency of rain becomes important and the children are encouraged to play in the back yard. The front yard is the work of art; the back yard is for family use. When I read the newspaper in the morning, I always check the weather to give my report and as we approach the weekend, we schedule our days around it. Of course, part of the weather checking is for Steve’s golf game. He doesn’t need to sacrifice more than one day of each weekend to the grass gods. He is a good golfer and enjoys getting up early and meeting the guys at the club for 18 holes. He is entitled to his exercise and is excused from church services. But the other day starts with the lawn. Steve even carved out a spot on the side yard that he mows a little lower that the rest and I noticed that he has started to chip golf balls back and forth next to the house. I’m sure the children would enjoy a real putting green to play mini-golf on, but he laughed at my suggestion.

After the lawn was manicured this week, Steven sat in the back yard with a cold beer. I made lemonade for the rest of us and brought a tray out so I could sit with him. We could still hear the buzzing of other mowers throughout the neighborhood. His arms looked a little light red and I wondered if he had gotten a little too much sun, but he seemed very content. The first lemonade of the season has a certain special sweet tang and I watched the children play tag with some of the neighbor kids in the yard. Life is a cycle of seasons, but spring brings a special feeling. Getting outside more often, smelling the freshly-mown grass, seeing the flowers bloom and noticing everyone else enjoy the same activities is part of our lives. Every year I watch this process for signs of change; Junior and Daisy look more grown up each year and I am slowing forgetting how adorable they were when little. I can still remember taking Daisy’s shoes off and letting her walk in the fresh grass for the first time. It must have been cold on her toes but she was running around and falling in it after only a short time. Junior found his first worm digging in the grass when he was just a few years old. The fact that he only had half of it in his hand worried me a little, but worms, like children gain resilience when they have new experiences.

I looked over at Steve and saw a quiet smile on his face. He has built a great life for us. When he finished his beer, he got up to put away his lawn equipment. I offered to help and we walked to the garage carrying the tools. I waited as he cleaned them off and stowed them away until next week. He has a very orderly set-up and I don’t ever move things around. When I asked him if there was anything I could do to help, he handed me his golf bag. It was heavy, but I slung the big carrying strap over my shoulder and balanced it against my hip. Steve grabbed some small towels and I followed him back to the back yard where we were sitting. He took the bag and propped it up against the chair. He handed me one of the towels and he took the other. He pulled out a club and handed it to me. I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I watched as he took another club and started to use it to clean off the metal parts.  Without talking, we sat and cleaned his clubs.

I surprised myself a little. I didn’t resent the fact that Steve just handed me his golf bag to carry. Or the fact that he just expected me to help him clean his clubs. We’re a team. Steve would help me anytime I asked him to around the inside of the house. I suppose I should just be glad that he trusted me with his clubs. I know they are important to him and they really weren’t very dirty anyway.  After we finished all of them and they were safely back in the bag, Steve carried the clubs back to the car and packed them in the trunk. I stepped inside to start cooking and he joined me in the kitchen; Steve sat at the table reading the newspaper. I have always been a clean as you go cook, so as the dirty cooking equipment mounted up, I washed a few things and placed them up to dry on the dish rack. After the drainer was full, I walked over to the kitchenette and laid a fresh drying towel next to Steve. He took the hint and dried the dishes. What a guy; turns out we are a great team!

Night Work

There is a strange effect on my ability to be grateful when I don’t get enough sleep. I love sleeping and know that I need a good 8 hours to get through my busy days without snapping at someone or droping things. Yes, I am clumsier when sleepy. Sometimes, I ignore this need to sleep and think I can catch up the next day or muscle through my day. This poor decision resulted in an embarrassing event for me.

I stayed up after everyone had gone to sleep to write the other night after a previous night of poor sleep. I thought that the quiet darkness would enable me to concentrate on creating a better term paper. I wasn’t under any time restrictions to complete it yet but nervous me was already anxious about writing a masterpiece. Up to this point, I had been able to write my papers while the kids were at school and there were two weeks of school left before it had to be submitted for reading.

The problem with working at night is the dark. I keep a clean house and while the children get ready for bed, I pick up and put away the things they played with that night. Steve is usually busy watching TV and I don’t like to get caught up in a show I won’t be able to finish. Plus, I think he likes this time by himself. Being with people at work is probably hard; I am the one who can’t wait to see everyone return every day to hear about their exploits.

While I was picking up our Lego structure on the kitchenette, Daisy called out to me and interrupted my checking for fallen pieces. Once I got Daisy situated with the pink ruffly nightgown she wanted to wear, there was her hair to comb out and a special book to find for reading. After the kids were settled in bed and I returned to the living room, Steve had made me a cocktail and I sat down with him on the sofa to watch TV.

After everyone was sleeping and my mind started to wander back to my paper, I could not resist the temptation to write down a brilliant idea. As I got to the kitchenette with my notebook, I found my bare foot engaged with a errant Lego that was on the floor. I quietly swore and put pressure on the other foot, which also found a piece. More swearing happened and I fell back onto the floor on my backside, loudly. As I sat there mumbling to myself, I heard voices approaching quickly. The faces of three scared people appeared in the doorway and one of them was holding a bat. Utter embarrassment. The giggling started at that point. When they recovered their senses, my family helped me up and I limped off to bed rubbing my poor sore butt. By the time we reached the bedroom, I remembered to have Steve take the bat away from Daisy.

The next morning, I had a gigantic black and blue bruise forming and decided to give up sitting. Aspirin was my helper that day and the only way to fall asleep and stay asleep that night. Needless to say, I have changed one of my habits. Now the kids clean up their own toys before bath time. It makes us stop playing 15 minutes sooner but it builds good character. And keeps the Legos from hurting anyone along the way.

Step this Way

Yesterday, it felt like a summer morning. Unnaturally warm with a sun that was already beating down and it wasn’t even 9 in the morning. Earlier, I had walked the children to the bus stop to jumpstart my yearly attempt at losing a few pounds before the actual start of bathing suit season. I intended on getting myself to a lovely bronze shade this year at the club. The children were old enough to play with their friends and get in and out of the pool without constant monitoring. I would only have to keep one eye on them this year. This summer, I planned on getting my housework done early enough three days each week to get poolside in time to choose a prime spot. Most people already knew where my group sat and don’t bother with those chairs anyway. But I preferred a certain vantage point to be able to see the pool and the playground area. Walking back from the bus stop, I took an extra turn around the block and was ready for a quick sit before starting my chores.

I was working on my end of term paper. It was our longest assignment and Lucy had left the theme wide open. She threw in a little monkey wrench by letting us know that three other members of the class would be reading each person’s work so we would get ready for more peer review criticism. I was used to Lucy’s comments on my papers and was completely unprepared for having other students critique my work. Some of my classmates have real talent and I admired their stories when they had the chance to read them in class. Lucy had given each of us the chance to read some works of our own choosing and some she chose. The funniest class was when she mixed up our works and we had to read out loud words that we had not written ourselves. The author’s name was not read until after the reading was done. Several times, we were guessing who the writer was as we listened. It was fun and a little intimidating to hear someone else read my words and they placed emphasis on different words than I would have. It really made me rethink my writing style. I wanted to write a paper on life and how it continues to continue, despite what happens. As a family, we had ups and downs, and the world certainly had its own ups and downs. The climate of our country has changed dramatically since the end of the war and most people never even mention that time anymore. It’s part of history now. The end of term paper required some thought and my new walks might give me time to ponder how to write it.

Today as I headed back up the block from the bus stop, Sarah came out and asked if she could join me and I told her I would take another turn around the block. The next thing I knew, Zettie Louise, Chloe and Mags had joined the group and we all walked around the block again. The conversation was light and fun and the whole chatty gang walked at the same pace.  As we came back around, everyone returned to their own home, promising to look for each other again in the morning if the weather was good.  If we kept this up, I would definitely be ready for a new bathing suit. But the part I really enjoyed was just the spontaneous group that just joined in as we strolled around the block. Life continues to continue, even on my block.

Secrets of a Great Garden

Chloe is some kind of magical garden witch. Mrs. Kravitz had a lovely garden and part of the reason Chloe and Francis chose the house next door was due to that garden. For some reason, it is lovelier than usual this Spring. Although we had our normal weeks of wet weather, when the sun returned this week, beautiful new baby blooms appeared everywhere in Chloe’s garden in profusion. Even the soil underneath the plants looked darker. I knew that Chloe had two major green thumbs and had something different going on. For the last month or so, I had seen Chloe outside puttering around with a small galvanized bucket in one hand and a trowel in the other. Chloe always wears gloves when she works outside, a long apron that covers most of her outfit and a straw hat. It was quite a get-up; a chic farm girl. Everything she wears makes me a little jealous.  She’s so French. I would look silly in that hat anyway.

Yesterday morning while enjoying my morning smoke, I stepped out the back door to check on my flower beds to see if there were any signs of life. I saw Chloe had her back to me and did not see me watching her. She was very professional and used the side of the trowel to blend the mixture from the bucket into the base of each plant. My intuition was right, Chloe was using some kind of secret substance to help enhance her garden!

I slipped back inside and finished making breakfast. When I saw Chloe leave to do errands, I crept back outside to inspect those plants more closely. A couple of neighbors walked by and I tried my best not to look guilty while I inspected the dirt underneath my neighbor’s plants. I pleasantly smiled and waved at them. There were wet granules with flecks of white underneath the plants and so much of it worked into the plants that I could smell them. Coffee grounds with broken eggshells! Chloe had her secrets, like Edie. Why didn’t I have any secrets? I returned inside and did my housework while mulling over the lack of mystery in my life. I really didn’t have any reason to be envious of Chloe. I’m sure she would share her magic with me if I bothered to ask her, and I planned to work up the nerve to nonchalantly admire her plants the next day while asking her for tips on how to help my own. Everyone likes to give advice, so I was relatively sure that Chloe would tell me. After all, I was her best next door neighbor.

This morning, I cracked open the back door to get that first blast of cool air and smoke. Leaning against the door frame, I looked down to find a surprise. On the lower step outside my door was a galvanized bucket full of coffee grounds and eggshells. I’m glad no one could see my face as I blushed knowing I had been caught redhanded. I chuckled out loud to myself and then stopped wondering how Chloe had discovered my snooping. Is it possible that she really was magical?

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Artie must be a lucky guy. Edie, his wonderful wife, is a secret romance writer. Presumably, she earns something on those novels, although it would be rude to ask her if she gets to keep that money for herself. Artie travels so he sees a lot of cities and probably eats out in those exotic places. His pilot life looks glamorous and he looks very official going off to work in his uniform. Although I know Edie misses him when he is away, when he returns he is off for a few days in a row. I’m not sure what it would be like to have Steve hanging around the house for multiple days. He would probably get underfoot and I would miss my ability to follow my own schedule.

Edie told me about a plan she had to treat Artie when he came home from his next trip. Edie shopped for Artie’s favorite foods, planned delicious meals, including breakfast in bed, and stocked up on his preferred expensive liquor. She had asked me about whether it would be too much to give him a pedicure. Artie had beautiful hands. He did have a small scar from a war wound on his arm but almost every man I knew had at least one small leftover scar somewhere. Edie told me that Artie got regular manicures; a fact I planned on not sharing with Steve unless I needed to get him to wash up for dinner someday.

Edie also bought some cushy new pillows for their bed. I did not ask for any details on that part of the plan. I had read her novels and knew Edie could handle that part of her plan. She had also purchased some flying magazines and bought him a new model airplane to work on. The plan sounded like so much fun!

When I saw Artie’s fancy car parked in the driveway this morning and noticed the blinds still closed, I figured Edie had started her event. I hoped that Edie remembered to take the phone off the hook. Artie returns to work in four days. In the meantime, Edie and Artie would enjoy their little love nest alone. Hopefully, Artie will make some future plans to treat our Edie. She is so thoughtful and deserves some special treatment for keeping those home fires burning.

The Best Time of My Life

My life seems pretty charmed. A terrific husband, two great kids, my lovely home, my gal pals and more. I am following my dreams and trying out going to school after what seems like forever. I have my own car and a generous allowance to spend without accounting for every penny.

Maybe that’s why I was taken aback by the subject of Lucy’s latest assignment. Thinking back, I couldn’t put my finger directly on any time in my life that was spectacular. My wedding day was very special, of course, and the birth of each of the children were days to remember. Stevie Junior’s appearance after a long labor made me a Mom. For Daisy’s birth, I was cooler and collected and enjoyed the nurses’ care more. Nursery nurses take good care of newborns but they remember to take the babies away after nursing to allow mothers time to rest. All special times. So how could I choose the best time of my life so far?

It sure was not my childhood. I was a “serious” child who was good in school without trying too hard, athletic without practicing too much and had enough friends. A mediocre existence; low on drama and needs. Since I had time to prepare for class, I brought the question up at our card party in a semi-casual conversation. We were at Gail’s house and Daisy was playing with Gracie as we sat and had cocktails. When I brought up the question, the mood in the room turned thoughtful and wend deadly silent. Gail answered first and turned first to check to see that the girls were not within earshot. Gail liked her pre-mommy days when she and Gil were working as a medical team. It wasn’t that she didn’t like being a mother because we all knew she was a supermom to her children. Gail explained that she felt totally alive using her nursing skills.

Mags said her best days were ahead. She knew that Harold was working hard to be promoted and she was his partner in that quest. Every dinner party she hosted, every charity event they attended, every person she met was a chance to use her instincts to see how she could be of assistance. Judy Anne, of course, thought all of her life was the best and Sarah loved the childhood days of being her daddy’s princess. Edie reminisced about those fleeting days after she was first engaged when Artie was super attentive. Chloe chuckled and said that she was waiting for the best but knew that the tide had turned in her favor moving to the states. Everyone turned to look at me. I shrugged my shoulders and meekly answered today. After I said it, I knew it was true. I smiled and looked at my friends. I knew what I would write about. Life was pretty good and every day had a little of the best times in it. I knew that I would face hard days ahead, but past hard times hadn’t broken me. My faith in myself was strong and there were examples all around me of how good I had it. The only thing I needed to do now was check how many words the assignment entailed. This paper might be long.

The Sweet Taste of Success

Gail is a great mom. She has three little ones to care for and would have more if they came along. Her children are always polite, play well with others and seem very easy-going. I give her a lot of credit in this department since her husband Gil is not home on time every night, especially when he has house calls to make. Sometimes, Gail will ask me to watch her children for short periods or if she gets in a bind with her regular sitters.

Gail spends individual time with each of her children to teach them kitchen skills, which is very commendable. I do include my kids when baking but it is more like “play” baking. What Gail teaches her children is real cooking. Although age appropriate and simple, their skills are real and her children will be able to feed themselves in the future. Self-sustainable children are a challenging goal.

We sometimes start our days with minor skirmishes over bed making but I am not giving up on this battle. I don’t expect military corners but a neat bed to start the day. I confess to being a bit of a nag against clothes on the floor too. Both children have hampers in their closets for laundry. Now that would be a great skill to have someone learn.

The one habit I tried to keep from creeping into my morning routine was starting the day with a complaint. It’s hard to do when a child appears at the kitchen dinette with completely mismatched or inappropriate clothing. Holding my tongue isn’t my strong suit but I thought back to the mornings of my youth when the greeting I heard most mornings was “Are you wearing that?” The question did not inspire confidence in my fashion choices. My answer to that dilemma is never to let any complaints come out of my mouth before we have established that it is a good morning. The result is that our mornings have been pleasant; well, at least not traumatic. It’s easier to accept Junior’s mismatched shirts and pants when I don’t lie out his clothes the night before. Daisy gets into these moods where she insists on wearing similar accessories every day. She wore a child-sized apron on top off every dress for a month straight. When I wanted to wash it, she sat next to the washer until she was assured I hadn’t ruined it. She is a girly-girl but she has an edge. She refused to give Junior his favorite holster and play gun for a week and wore it constantly at home. When he approached her to beg for its return, she would remove the gun from the holster, point it at Junior and give him a stern warning to back away. We all did as requested. Eventually she replaced that need when she came upon an old sweater of mine that she wore as a long coat with the sleeves up. I prayed that she did not ever say she wanted to work in the fashion industry.

Gail called to see if Gracie could come over for a visit while she took the other two for new shoes. I was anxious to have the chance to see what Gracie had recently learned from her mother in the kitchen and agreed easily. Later, when Gail returned, we were all sitting around the kitchenette enjoying scrambled eggs. Gail had recently shown Gracie how to make them and I was able to learn Gail’s secret to softly scrambled eggs. They were delicious. I lightly toasted some homemade bread and served them on top. I might have to hang around Gail’s  children for more lessons.