Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Why it takes half an hour to put groceries away

“And then by the time I put the groceries away, it was already 8:30…”

“It took you half an hour to put groceries away?” my friend asked, incredulous, and no doubt wondering why it had taken me so long to return the call. As it was, I was shouldering the phone, doing the dishes while I dialed back, since mom always said, “don’t return calls after 9:00 p.m.”

“Well, yeah…” The 30 or so minutes had flown by with a flurry of activity. First of all, the shopping trip was much needed as I had put it off due to a snow day and a weather delay day, which in their very nature offer more times for kids to be eating and inviting their friends over to eat, which means additional depletion of the pantry. So truthfully, I had much more to put away than usual.

The timing of the trip was another factor. My younger two and I had dropped off my oldest after extended day at about 6:00 p.m. He didn’t want to come with us, even though we were going out to eat first (“Can you just bring me back a hamburger?” “Okay, honey.”). After dinner out and shopping, by the time we got home it was nearly 8:00 p.m. and the first time all day that my younger two had been home. Aside from all the bags of food for which I had to enforce carrying-in assistance, the kids were schlepping in their backpacks and accessories from their long day at school (which wasn’t as long as usual, since they’d had a two hour delay).

Basically what occurred during the subsequent 30 minutes was tripping over numerous bags, backpacks, coats, and boots as I tried to explain how to microwave a hamburger and fries as well as sort out the food and put the frozen stuff away first, all the while enforcing showers, since (thankfully) bedtime would “be here before you know it,” then shooing the two who weren’t in the shower away from the bags, since they were pawing through them to see if I got any cookies or ice cream; either picking up discarded towels and dirty clothes or chasing after the culprit to do it himself; unpacking the lunch boxes while making a mental note of who ate what and whether anyone would even qualify or cookie or ice cream; confirming that everyone did their homework at extended day and then snooping through their agenda books and folders anyway, since my middle son alluded that he “might” have a chorus concert the very next night and surely that couldn’t be the first he’d heard of it. Finally, all the food was in its proper place, treats doled out, lunch boxes lined up on the counter for morning repacking, water bottles and plastic containers added to the sink full of dishes (since our dishwasher is still broken), laundry in a pile by the basement door, kids upstairs with their respective cookies and ice cream, my fingers crossed that they didn’t spill anything on my bed, since surely that was where they were watching TV.

I finished the dishes and told my friend I had to go. I needed to tuck everyone in (before they fell asleep in my bed and I had to carry them, which is not even possible in some cases anymore, and) before starting a load of laundry and ensuring that the coats, hoodies, mittens, hats, and boots were where everyone could find them in the morning.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Weather or not

“What if I don’t finish it?”
“What do you mean, ‘what if I don’t finish?’ ”

“Well, what if there’s not enough time?”

I remained neutral, even though I felt alarmed. “How can there not be enough time? You’ve known about this project since before Christmas.” And he’d complained about it every time we talked about it since then.

“Well, I’m just wondering what would happen if I didn’t finish it by tomorrow?”

“You’ll get points off,” his older brother interjected, as he walked by, on his way down to the man cave to play wii. A grade ahead of his brother, he’d had the same assignment and even the same teacher the year before, though that didn’t really matter – the whole 4th grade has to do the same project: interviewing someone about their weather experiences.

“That’s not an option.” I said matter-of-factly. “You have to finish it, no matter how long it takes, even if you have to stay up all night to do it.”

“Yeah, okay. I can do it.”

“I know you can, honey. I trusted you to manage your own time, so I’m counting on you to get the work done.” I’d talked about the project with his dad the Saturday before, explaining the email I had written to the teacher, expressing my concerns. She said she’d go over the project with the kids again before the weekend. Dad wondered if it was a good idea to let Middle Son go to a football playoff party the next day, if he hadn’t finished the project. I assured Dad that the consequences of procrastination were going to be a last-minute rush and the dark cloud of undone homework hanging over Middle Son’s head for the long weekend and that would be enough. I hoped that was still the case.

I had discussed the project with my middle son on Friday when he didn’t want to work on it Friday night. “Mrs. So-and-so talked about it with us today. I’m good.” I asked him for his proposed homework schedule. He told me he’d do his math worksheet Friday night, and that he’d work on his project on Tuesday morning (since Monday was a holiday), Tuesday night, and Wednesday morning (the day it was due) before school. We get up pretty early around here so doing homework in the morning is not really a big deal, but I was not all that comfortable with the extreme procrastination of this project. Still, all I asked is “Is that going to be enough time?”

“Yes,” he assured me.

I told him okay, and that he needed to be respectful of my time if he was going to need my help, and that I wasn’t going to be willing to work with him if he was going to yell at me, or have face-plant rants wherein he threw himself onto the couch complaining about how “stupid” or “unfair” the assignment was, both of which had occurred numerous times during the preceding month or so.
Since we’d had a snow day Tuesday, my middle son had bailed on working on the project that morning. “I’m not doing homework on a snow day, mom!” he’d asserted in the “duh” tone of voice he saves for replying to what he considers to be really stupid questions, like "What about your homework schedule?". He stayed out in the snow and freezing rain for most of the day, avoiding the project (which, in my opinion, was what was “really stupid” – I’d had enough after an hour and a half of shoveling). Finally, at about 5:30 p.m. when I was just wrapping up the bulk of my work day, he announced that he was ready to work on his project, and the question was posed, “What if I don’t finish...?”

But he did. Cheerfully, even. We spent more than three hours, which included a working dinner, together in my office. We had to enlist the cooperation of his two brothers, who stayed out of our way and managed the cooking of a pizza. I sat at my desk, tying up some loose ends from the day’s work, since I’d had to take time out to shovel and manage the 2/3 of the kids who weren’t avoiding their homework by staying outside all day. I enjoyed his company. We discussed scenarios, such as what if he fell asleep while he was doing the report, and my reply, that I’d wake him up and he could start working on it again. He confessed that what he was really worried about was the oral report part. “First things first,” I told him. Then we imagined what it would be like to give a report on Jacoby Ellsbury or how to throw certain kinds of pitches, like curve balls. (“But I don’t know how to do that yet.” “So, wouldn’t it be interesting to research?”) We shared a laugh over the idea that if he had spent as much time working on the report as he had complaining about it up until now, he would have been done already.

“I’m so glad I got this over with – now I won’t have to feel guilty about it the next time we have a snow day!” which I am sure he hoped would be tomorrow.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Enjoy the snow day!"

“Enjoy the snow day!” My middle son’s teacher had closed her email from the evening before with this good wish.

Yeah, I thought…I’m sure she’s gonna enjoy the snow day

Once I got the call from the superintendent that school was cancelled, I began feeling gloomy about a day with a packed calendar, a project deadline, and having to juggle three very energetic boys. I didn’t want to be too grumpy about it though, lest I put a damper on my boys’ good mood. What kid doesn’t enjoy a snow day? I told them they could stay up as late as they wanted.

On the bright side, because we found out the evening before, I could stay up until midnight working, since I wasn’t sure what I’d be able to get done the next day.

I suggested to the kids, “Don’t get up too early, you don’t have to go anywhere,” but they were up at least by 7:00 anyway. To their credit, they did try to be quiet, but their excitement over dueling tops couldn’t really be contained.

When I emerged to get coffee a few minutes past 7:00, my middle son immediately asked if we could go to Target. He wanted to spend some of his Christmas money on new Beyblades (the dueling tops).

“Uhmmm, honey…the town is kind of shut down today. No one is on the roads except the plows. Did you see the driveway? I don’t think we’d be able to get the car out any time soon anyway. Besides, I’m working today, remember?”

“Well, then can So-and-so come over?”

“Hello, look at the time – do you really think So-and-so is up yet?” But he probably was, and no doubt his mom was having the same conversation with him.

“Anyway, weren’t you planning to go skating this morning?” and the countdown began until 9:00 a.m. when they could go to our neighbors’ house – they’d built an ice rink in their back yard.

At 8:30 we began round one of dressing up for outdoors, which entailed much ado about “where are my gloves! No not those ones, the ‘good’ ones!”

Not long after 9:30 my middle son came stomping back into the house holding a wad of paper towels up to his face, blood gushing out his nose. I shoved my conference (wireless handset phone) call into my hoodie pocket and rushed to meet him, “My God, honey, what happened!?”

“Oh, nothing. I just faceplanted on the ice.”

“Are you okay?” I was relieved there were no other people involved, no teeth knocked out, and nothing that needed stitching.

“Yeah, but it just won’t stop bleeding.” End of round one. I helped him take off his clothes and put them in the dryer. His boots went in front of the electric fireplace, “good” gloves on the radiator. He went to lie down while I fixed hot cocoa for him, and mopped up the foyer where the snow (and blood) he tracked in was starting to melt. I set him up in front of a movie and returned to work.

Not long after his brothers filed in. I repeated the clothing removal, dryer, fireplace, mopping, and snack detail, and they joined their brother in front of the show.

At about 11:30 we began round two. Except for a few trips in and out to exchange gloves complain that something didn’t fit right or someone stole my gloves or “I can’t find my hat,” have a snack, and use the bathroom, the boys toured our very quiet and unusually traffic-free neighborhood with their friends until 2:00 when the ice-rink neighbors took them sledding. I was able to actually participate in two meetings during this time, and follow up with associated action items, as well as chip away at a project whose deadline was that day (and ultimately, was finished before midnight, which still counts as “that day,” since some people in Hawaii might still in the office at that time). They got back right in time for my 3:00 conference call, which I left on my credenza and went downstairs to repeat the clothing removal, dryer, fireplace, mopping, and food and beverage infusion again.

My youngest took a nap and my older two had So-and-so over. When So-and-so’s mom called to ask him to come home for dinner, my older boys began round three. By then it was past 5:00 p.m. I figured I’d call it a day soon. I needed to shovel, and was counting on doing that in order to burn off the cookies I’d enjoyed with my afternoon coffee.

But just then, the phone rang. I recognized the number and snatched it up immediately. It was the superintendent again, speaking agonizingly slowly. C’mon, c’mon, out with it, I thought, praying it wasn’t another cancellation (fortunately it was just a two-hour delay, but I groaned as I checked my calendar and saw that I had two meetings scheduled first thing in the morning, and that is why I wound up working again until nearly midnight after shoveling out and dinner).

I can’t say there was really anything about the day that I enjoyed as much as watching the snow fall from my office window, against the backdrop of the town clock. But I was glad my kids enjoyed it, and I could think of a lot of bright sides, such as my kids are old enough to play outside by themselves now, a benevolent couple in a plow came by and scooped out the end of my driveway where the street plows had piled and packed snow about two feet high, and with all the mopping up after my kids, my floor is a lot cleaner than it has been in a long time.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The 180

“Get away, Cat!” my youngest nudged her off the couch where he was sulking after I refused to let him walk out the front door shoeless and in pajamas. There was snow on the ground. He was mad at me that I wouldn’t let him have just mini donuts for breakfast. I had insisted he eat some “protein on the side” and he didn’t like any of the choices I’d offered: milk, cheese, or yogurt.

“Awww, the poor kitty…” I had been hovering nearby and clearing fragile items from his warpath. He can actually reach the deadbolt on the door and I wouldn’t have wanted him to stomp off “looking for a new family” while I was showering, even though I assured him that probably any other family he’d find that would take him in would insist that he eat a balanced breakfast before church. Nor did I want him destroying any of his brothers’ carefully built Lego creations or paper airplanes, or disrupting any of their artfully arranged personal belongings that were strewn about in locations only they could imagine were strategic. He had already trashed the bedroom, when I’d suggested he take a break and play Nerf basketball after getting into an argument about the Beyblade tournament he was having with his brothers. He’d been up since 6:15 and been on edge much of the time.

“What!? I don’t want her near me!”

“Well, that’s too bad – she’s apparently the only one that wants to be.” His older brothers were still watching the Sunday morning cartoons I’d let them turn on after “The Exercise Show” – it was about 8:15 a.m. I picked up the cat, who rarely extends herself to any of the kids unless I am right there with them. She is somewhat skittish still, even after living with us for nearly three years since being rescued by one of my brother’s friends. She used to be called “Dryer Kitty” because she would not leave my brother’s friend’s laundry room. She actually let me hold her without flexing her claws while I stage-whispered, “Don’t take him personally, Dee – he’s just having a grumpy morning.”

“Hmmmph!” My youngest, of course, had heard me, even though he’d removed himself from the couch and assumed the position of self-imposed exile under the breakfast bar.

“Listen, honey, you really need to start your day over. You can do that any time, you know.”

“Duh, mom. How do you think I’m gonna do that? It’s already light out.”

“Well, I don’t mean literally. For real. I mean in your imagination. Although…you could go get back into bed now, wait a few minutes while you think about things, and then get up on the right side of it…that would be one way to start over. And don't say 'duh' to me.”

He tucked his chin and glared at me with angry eyebrows.

“Okay, then, push the imaginary reset button. Whatever you have to do. I have to go take a shower now. I don’t want to be late for church.” I hoped that he’d quit being such a pill if he didn’t have an audience.

“What – you’re just going to leave me down here?”

“No, you can go hang out with your brothers. Just don’t start anything with them.”

I showered quickly and went back downstairs to refill my coffee cup. My youngest had relocated, but not without tearing apart a floor puzzle of the solar system that my middle son and I had put together. It was a good thing my youngest had moved on, because that was about the last straw and I wouldn’t have wanted to yell at him.

Instead, I stalked back up to the bathroom and shut the door firmly. As I was getting ready, I heard the side door slamming a few times. God help me, I thought.

“Mom?” My oldest knocked on the bathroom door.

“I’ll be out in a few minutes. Can you use the one downstairs?”

“Oh, okay. No. I just wondered where you were.”

“You found me. Where are your brothers?”

“They went outside. They’re looking at the glow sticks.” The boys had constructed a snow structure the day before at dusk, complete with about 40 glow sticks.

“Did they put clothes on?”


I relaxed a little.

When I went downstairs I practically collided with my youngest, who was doing a happy dance in the dining room. “Oh, look at you…”

“Hi Mommy!”

“Hi,” I said back. And to my middle son who was close behind him, “How?”

He just shrugged and hummed, “I dunno.”

“THANK YOU!” I pantomimed exaggeratedly, and then out loud, “Okay, everybody, turn around and walk right back out that door – it’s time to go to church!”

But no one will see it

I set up the nativity in the back yard again this year. In the past it has been out front near the fire hydrant that is on our property, and...