Archives for : Life in the Burbs

Pumpkin Head

Not far from our community lies farmland and a farm that allows  kids to ride on a wagon full of hay to travel to a pumpkin patch. Daisy’s class had taken a trip there but Junior wanted to go as a family. Steve and I talked it over and decided to go Saturday afternoon. We would have to pack everyone into my car. As I headed to the driver’s seat, Steve and I both put our hands on the door handle at the same time. I showed him I had the keys and as he reached out to take them from my hand, I closed my fist and told him that I would drive. My car, my right to drive. I told Steve that he could navigate and keep an eye on the backseat and the kids. He quietly went around and got in the passenger seat. As you know, I am not usually this demanding, but I still haven’t been given the opportunity to drive the new car, so Steve gets to mind the kids. I don’t drive the same way as my husband, so I anticipated some back seat driving from the passenger seat. I don’t make excuses for the fact that I drive carefully. I have children in the car. I don’t speed, I watch out for others and I gradually stop at yellow lights if I can.

By the time we reached the farm, Steve had answered the children’s many questions about the length of time it would take to arrive, what we would do there and how many pumpkins we would be able to fit in the trunk. Granted, the trunk is not huge but bigger than Steve’s car. We could get big pumpkins.

The afternoon was fun and the cool air in the open fields made it feel more seasonal. Daisy’s fingers looked a little red and I pulled out a pair of mittens that I had tucked away in my pocket. Junior’s nose was red too but it just made him look cuter. Steve and I walked behind the kids as they marched up and down the rows of pumpkins searching for the perfect pumpkin. Most of the pumpkins had small  spots or marks and looked very real unlike those specimens for sale at the grocery store. Eventually, both children found their perfect pumpkin. I carried Daisy’s and Junior carried his own back to the wagon and we headed back to the barn to get warm cider and cinnamon donuts. We paid for our pumpkins and headed toward the car to go home. Steve excused himself and headed back inside the barn. By the time I had everyone settled in the car with the pumpkins resting comfortably in the trunk, Steve returned with two more pumpkins to carve. I squeezed the pumpkins in with the others; it was a happy fall sight in that trunk.

The next afternoon, I took the newspaper and spread it out on the kitchen table. We rolled up our sleeves and Steve cut the tops off the pumpkins. We reached inside and pulled out the gooey, stringy centers and plopped them on the newspapers. This was disgusting and fun work for the kids and they made lots of dramatic noises as they separated the seedy innards. I pulled out a lot of the seeds and cleaned them to roast on a large sheet pan with lots of salt. Steve and I took large spoons and cleaned out the rest of the pulp and then the kids drew their spooky  faces to show where to cut into the flesh. Steve made the major cuts for Daisy and started Junior’s but they did a great job at refining their designs. Junior’s had giant teeth and Daisy’s had a crooked smile. Steve and I carved ours and I made designs all over mine to let the candlelight shine through. Steve’s looked like a space creature with three eyes. I wasn’t sure he actually planned it that way but sometimes you just have to work with what you have.

That night, we placed the pumpkins on the front porch with the candles lit inside. When it turned dark, we talked outside and stepped back to the sidewalk to admire our work. From start to finish, we had fun with the pumpkins. Choosing and making your own creation gives you pride. Our little collection would provide fun for everyone who passed by our home.

Dancing Daisy

I had no idea that Daisy would stay interested in dance classes past the first month. I signed her up for the lessons when school started thinking that she would tire of the regimen quickly. Daisy, like many little girls, loves to dance around the house pretending to be on tippy-toe. Marie-Claire wanted to dance too and Chloe called around to a few schools to get the particulars so we could send them together. I really wasn’t sure I could shoehorn one more adventure into my weekly calendar. Chloe assured me that if Daisy signed up with Marie-Claire, she could take the girls to class and sit and wait for them if I needed to read or study. I love my supportive friends. I don’t talk about school too much, but everybody knows what I am trying to do; my unspoken plan to gradually get my family to adapt to my returning to school. I think a couple of my pals may be taking their own notes on how to train their own families.

Dance classes were an investment. The outfits, the slippers, the pink bows, the dance bag, etc. The list went on and on. Daisy’s curls were untraditional for a dancer and she wanted to grow them out to make a bun. That change alone was a going to add to our morning prep time.

I took a couple of turns driving last month so Chloe could have some alone time and I could check out the classes. The little girls were adorable. Daisy was pretty good at performing the steps and holding her head up. Maybe this type of training might help her grow up stronger. And she looked like an angel. This week, Daisy packed her own bag to take to class and placed her little slippers in the bag with reverence. Generally, Daisy is a little rougher on her baby dolls and they tend to get negligent care between playtimes. Daisy was sitting up straighter at the table too.

Yesterday, Chloe and I were discussing the girls over coffee. I think French women are pretty cool overall. Chloe does not usually display much emotion but she was making chirping sounds when discussing Marie-Claire’s dancing around the house and practicing. She was so proud. I admit to not understanding much about these feelings towards dance. There were no slippers in my girlhood and I don’t consider myself a good dancer even now. We only have the chance to dance a couple of times a year and one of those is tipsy New Year’s Eve at Mags’ annual party. I used to enjoy dancing with the soldiers at the canteen. Where did that love of dance go? Maybe I need to remember to play music while I clean. Daisy dances around without background music but I need a soundtrack. And come to think of it, I don’t skip anymore either. Or jump rope. I think Chloe and I would look great jumping rope out on the front sidewalk. I wonder when it became uncool to have girl fun.

Incorporating acceptable fun into my daily life would be a good goal. I wonder how Steve would feel about taking couples dance lessons? I might have to figure out how and when to slip that question into a conversation.

Dressing the Part

Pumpkins started sprouting everywhere. They were joined by ghosts and goblins. It happens every fall, the leaves start to turn brilliant shades and blow around carelessly, the grocers suddenly have carving pumpkins up front, the ladies magazines feature comforting food, and I take stock of my jackets.

The fall jacket, the necessary wardrobe piece designed to wear when chilly but not cold. It can’t be too bright because then it would be appropriate  for spring. Darker tones foreshadow the cloudier skies ahead. I was fascinated with the myriad types of jackets students wore to class. They identified the tribe the student belonged to. Bomber style jackets jackets were still in style but noted the wearer’s allegiance toward an edgier motorcycle look. Men’s suit jackets were more colorful these days and a stylish square poked out of top pockets. For women, swingier styles still covered pencil thin skirts and a useful trenchcoat filled in on rainy days. My variety of jackets didn’t scream student and I felt matronly somedays. I yearned to be a cool kid.

I decided to do some shopping. Generally speaking, most department stores are segmented into areas to help you purchase exactly what you need for each member of the family. Steve didn’t love shopping, so I usually just replaced his shirts, ties and socks with new ones. When he needed a new suit, it was more of an event. The tailor had to measure, pinch, tuck and mark a jacket and pants and after alterations, the suit could be picked up and worn. This took some time, so suits were usually ordered with a longer lead time before an event. I personally loved shopping in the men’s department and spent lots of time considering the options before buying the items I knew Steve would wear. Nothing too flashy was the goal.

I wandered around the men’s department gently touching the fabrics and looking for something to catch my attention. As I turned toward the main aisle, my eyes found two large round displays with jackets. A veritable cornucopia of choices. I looked around to see how many people were in the department, slinging my handbag over my arm and started looking at the jackets one by one. Would I fit into a medium? Maybe a small? There was no way to tell but to be brave and try one on. I found one I liked and dropped my bag on the floor, quickly taking the jacket off the hanger to slip on. I couldn’t use the men’s fitting room and the ladies department was on a different floor. The jacket felt a little awkward but the bottom fell right below my waist. I liked that. I hung that one back up and kept looking. As I was checking out the selection, a salesman came by to ask if I required help. I politely turned him down in too high a voice and spoke so quickly I advertised my discomfort. He gave me a sideways glance and moved to a nearby table to pretend to remove lint from piles of sweaters. I must have kicked his shoplifter radar into gear.

Eventually I found a jacket I really liked in a size that looked right. I quickly held it up in front of me to check it out but felt funny trying it on. Luckily, just at that moment, the salesman was asked to help another customer. I crouched over and slid the jacket on and while adjusting the sleeves, I could feel someone come up behind me. I stood up and turned to see the salesman right in front of me with an elderly customer by his side. The customer looked at me and smiled and I just stood still staring at her. To further make her point, the lady leaned in to tell me that she understood because she preferred to wear men’s boxers because they are cooler than ladies panties. The salesman looked from my face to hers and shook his head. Modern day women must be quite a shock sometimes.

A few minutes later, the salesman kindly and quietly completed my purchase for my new jacket. Cook kids, here I come.

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.