The Stress of Going Back to School

So that’s it. Gone are the days of elementary school conferences and cookie dough fundraisers. I’m officially the mom of a middle school, a high school and a college student. Boy #3 turned 13 a few weeks ago, so I’m a full-fledged mom of teens — until January when I then graduate to “mom of a-20-year-old” status. (When in the heck did THIS happen, by the way?)

Back-to-school time is always crazy busy for our family. Having two teachers in the family means double-whammy beginning-of-the-year stress, and even though you’ll probably find this incredibly hard to believe, I don’t handle stress so well. This is evidenced by my “back-to-school acne” that has arrived, right on cue. Because nothing makes a 45-year-old woman feel better about herself than a mutinous bout of cystic acne.

And you know what has not helped my stress level this year? My newest teenager. I love the kid, but if I’m being honest (And when aren’t I?), he’s making me a little bit crazy right now. (And when I say “a little bit crazy,” what I really mean is “total batshit crazy.”) And we’ve only had five days of school.

Last year, he rode the bus to school and, being in 6th grade, was able to get himself out the door and to the bus stop on his own so I could head to school early, about 7 a.m., to get some things done before the halls filled up with Axe Body Spray and teenage angst. This year, however, he is riding to school with me, which means that even though I get up at the same time and am ready to head out the door at the same time, I am a full 20-30 minutes later getting to school.

Why is this, you may ask? Is it because Boy #3 and I are bonding over a home-cooked breakfast before we start our day? That’s a big “nope.” I’m not that good of a mom. It’s because no matter how much I prod and push, he cannot seem to run in any gear but slower-than-molasses, or sometimes even reverse. It LITERALLY takes him 10 minutes to put on his socks and shoes. And that’s when he can even find both of his shoes. He also never manages to remember to tell me anything that needs to be done until I have one foot out the door. Let’s take this morning for example. I had loaded myself up with my computer bag, purse and lunch and was walking past the kitchen table when I spotted his football mouthguard — still in the plastic bag. “Do you need this?” I asked naively, to which he spewed in panic, “I HAVE TO HAVE THIS MOLDED FOR MY TEETH THIS AFTERNOON OR I CAN’T PRACTICE!” Now, if you haven’t had the pleasure of helping a child, or a stranger for that matter, mold a mouthguard, please realize that in order to do this, you have to put it in boiling water. And the saying “A watched pot never boils” could NOT be more true. I had to put down my bags, put water in a pot on the stove and wait for it to boil before going to school. Now, you’re probably thinking, “Great life lesson here! He forgot to do it, so he doesn’t get to practice. Natural consequences, baby!” And don’t get me wrong, you’re absolutely right, but here’s the deal: Sometimes I’m just too tired to be a good mom and stand my ground, and unfortunately this morning was one of those sometimes.

But clearly, I’m going to have to nip this irresponsibility in the bud. For heaven’s sake, by last Friday night we had had three days of school, two of which were early outs, and he had already lost his bag and cleats TWICE. On the first day of school, he apparently left it outside on the front lawn of the school before the doors opened in the morning. Luckily, someone turned it in to the office and he got it the next day, so we didn’t have to buy him new shoes and he learned a lesson about holding on to his stuff. Bet he won’t do that again, right? Wrong. After the football game Friday night, another middle school teacher found his backpack, with his cleats inside, under the bleachers. Fortunately, the teacher had seen my son with the bag, so he knew whose it was because we hadn’t actually gotten around to ever putting his name on it anywhere. That would make too much sense.

So for those of you who are keeping track, he lost his bag and cleats twice so far, and this morning he forgot to boil his mouthguard until we were walking out the door. However, that wasn’t all the day had in store… Late morning I received an email from his band teacher saying that she had found his red folder he had lost, and of course she found it shoved way back in someone else’s cubby, which he had mistakenly used. Who’d a guessed that? But the fun didn’t stop there. Oh no. At the end of the school day, he informed me that he’d forgotten his football pants at home and that he needed them for practice an hour later. At this point, my backbone had grown back, and I told him he would have to walk home to get his pants because I had meetings I couldn’t miss. He replied that he wouldn’t be able to get home and back in time, to which I replied that it’s only one mile away, and that he could get there in 10 minutes. Obviously, I forgot how slowly my son does everything, along with the fact that I could barely do a 10-minute-mile when I was training for a half-marathon. Lucky for him my husband had gotten home from work by the time Boy #3 got there and was able to bring him back to the school. Instead of the 10 minutes that I projected, it actually took him 25 minutes to walk there. Whoops! “Bet you won’t forget your pants again!” I said when he tried to get mad at ME for the whole situation.

This picture kind of sums up our school year so far. Why is it that last week on Facebook my feed was full of photos of happy, smiling children, holding beautiful Etsy signs announcing “Back to School 2nd Grade,” and when I tried to get a “first day of school” photo, this is what I got?

Yep, it’s pretty much a mug shot.

So yeah, my routine back-to-school stress this year is complemented by my I-have-a-7th-grade-boy stress, with just a pinch of my-sophomore-in-college-waited-until-the-last-minute-to-figure-out-his-student-loans stress and my-sophomore-in-high-school-waited-until-the-last-two-days-of-summer-to-read-his-assigned-summer-English-novel stress. Oh, and my sophomore in high school also got a concussion last week in football practice and missed his first two days of school. There’s that, too.

And although it probably seems a little bit (or “a lot bit”) like I’m complaining, please know that I’m really not. Because with the brain farts (and the actual farts), the stinky football pads and the “Oh my gosh, Mom, you’re so melodramatic” attitude comes the unexpected hugs, the deep conversations over which Shark Tank investor we want to fund our hypothetical business and the “I forgot to tell you I love you” texts.

Back to school means back to stress. And probably the onset of The Great Acne War. That’s just the way it is. It’s how we choose to handle that stress, however, that determines who we really are. We can let it take over, or we can acknowledge its presence and then move on. In the process, we may not only manage to get through this thing called life (nod to Prince), but we may even learn to appreciate the messiness we encounter along the way because it means we are really living.

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P.S. After writing this last night, Boy #3 has managed to once again lose his shoes and had to go to school wearing his dad’s tennis shoes.

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P.P.S. After school today I got a phone call from Boy #3 telling me he had left his football pants in my classroom (even though he managed to remember to grab his shoulder pads, jersey and helmet) and would I please come bring them to the practice field? I can’t make this stuff up.

photo by: Mark Bonica

Awkward Phase — The Sequel

I think I’m going through an awkward phase.

Most people attribute the “awkward phase” to something that happens to kids teetering on the verge of puberty, and I most certainly experienced the awkward phase back then. For me, it was 6th grade. While most of the other girls were experimenting with either makeup or making out, I, on the other hand, chose to bring my Cabbage Patch Kid to school for the day. Why not? I thought. Daycare is costing me a fortune! All kidding aside, I really did bring my Cabbage Patch Kid to school. And I didn’t think this was weird.

In fact, I remember being quite proud as I smelled my little Pammy’s head at recess. (Cabbage Patch Kids all had that same smell like baby powder mixed with rubber, which was like catnip for kids–and apparently tweens.)

What else did I bring to school you may wonder? My 6-inch-thick file folder full of the adoption papers of my imaginary friends. Yes, I had imaginary friends. In fact, my best friend and I created a whole imaginary friend community. They all had backstories and we mapped out their relationships in elaborate family trees. They weren’t actually people, though, they were creatures we created–most of them in some way fluffy–as well as some animals thrown in there for good measure. At recess my friend and I would discuss what was happening with our imaginary friends like we were discussing the plot of some bizarre soap opera or reality TV show. All of this, of course, with my Cabbage Patch Kid looking on, dotingly.

My 6th grade school picture really seems to capture the essence of my awkwardness. I had apparently tried to feather my hair (It was 1983), but hadn’t blow dried it or anything, so I didn’t really pull it off. Instead, my hair was parted down the middle, with my cowlick, or “rooster tail” as my mom called it, taking center stage, and the rest was a half-wavy, half-straight mess. I wore, in the photo, a pink polo, and of course had intended to pop the collar like all the cool kids, but since instead of it being an Izod with an alligator on the chest, it was the Sears Catalog-brand knock-off with a dragon on the chest, the collar didn’t have the stiffness it was supposed to and only part of it would actually stay up. And of course I wore no makeup, which is fine except for the dark circles under my eyes that looked like eye black like football players wear. It is a sight to behold.

So when one of the boys came up to me before school and said, “Brian Reece wants to know if you’ll go with him,” (which is what we called being boyfriend/girlfriend even though we never “went” anywhere) and knowing Brian was one of the “cool kids,” I probably should’ve realized that something was amiss. And yet when Brian came up to me later in the day and told me his friend had just said it as a joke, I was heartbroken, like we had broken up after seven years of living together or something. To this day, Brian defends himself by saying that he was being a gentleman by telling me the truth, but I just tell him that he’s lucky I said yes when he asked me to marry him 10 years later.

So back to my present-day awkward phase. It’s this whole 45 thing. I know some people say the 40s is when you feel like you’ve really hit your stride, but I just feel like instead of striding along confidently, I’m doing this half-walking half-galloping thing, not really sure what I’m doing.

I feel very unsure of how I’m supposed to feel at 45. Am I young? Am I old? What exactly is “middle-aged” supposed to look like? I don’t want to be one of those women who’s 65 and wearing a tight babydoll t-shirt that says “Bae.” I don’t want younger women to look at me and think, “Who does she think she is,” and I don’t want older women to look at me and think, “Who does she think she is.” I mean, at what point do I realize my shorts are too short or my style is too Forever 21? At what point do I start wearing culottes and sensible shoes? Will I know when it’s time for me to head straight for the Alfred Dunner section when I walk into Younkers?

And then there’s the hair. So many women cut their hair short when they get older, and this terrifies me. I’ve tried it several different times in my life, and each time, no matter the style, I looked utterly ridiculous. I envy the women who have the face to pull off short hair. This face, however, cannot. But someday soon am I going to wake up and find that I’ve let a well-meaning stylist cut it all off? Or will the opposite happen, and I’ll be 60, refusing to let anyone near my Crystal Gayle-length locks, trying way too hard to look young, which ironically, just ends up making you look old?

I know, 45 is not old. But it’s not exactly young either. It’s funny that when some of my students first find out I’m 45, they don’t believe me. “You don’t look that old!” they say, which at first feels like a real compliment, but then it hits me — Wait, but I really AM that old. And I just hope that I “don’t look that old” in the “I’m-not-trying-to-look-young-it’s-my-genetics” way and not the “creepy-old-woman-wearing-Daisy-Dukes-and-pigtails” way.

I want to look young, but I don’t want to look desperate to look young. And I’m really unsure where that fine line is.

This 45 business is also confusing when thinking about how to act. I don’t really fit in with the younger crowd. This becomes obvious to me when I’m with a group in their 20s and 30s, and they’re all relaxed, maybe having a drink or two, and I’m thinking about the laundry I really should be doing and trying to calculate in my head the latest time I can go to bed without feeling like I’ve been run over by a party bus for the next three days. (And usually that time is well before midnight.) The other day one of my younger friends mentioned how she’d been up partying until 4 a.m. a few nights prior and my body nearly went into shock for her. I had to consciously make myself shut my gaping mouth because I didn’t want to make her feel bad or let on that I’m a total wet blanket. But I just couldn’t stop thinking about how nonchalant she was about it. 4 a.m.??? Usually I am awake by 4:15 after having to get up for my third time to pee. What is wrong with me that my palms were sweating and I had to do a little discreet Lamaze breathing just to calm myself down from just imagining partying until 4 a.m.? And then after the shock wore off, the curiosity set in: How in the hell did she not fall asleep? I drink half a Blue Moon and I can barely keep my eyes open, no matter if it’s 2 in the afternoon or 8 at night. I found myself studying her, wondering what her secret was — and then I realized her secret was that she is at least 15 years younger than I am.

Being a parent of a 12-year-old at age 45 isn’t any less awkward. Sitting at ball games and band concerts, I look around and realize that some of these parents are barely 30, which means I am much closer to those children’s grandparents’ age than their parents’. Sometimes I wonder if I am supposed to look like the expert, this wise old parent who has lived through it all and can share her tips on how to raise kids. But then I look around again and realize that most of these younger parents have got it together way more than I do and I really should be taking notes from them, or at least tracing back my steps to see where I went wrong. One thing I do know is that these parents have way more energy than I do, and I feel like I really owe my youngest son an apology. “Sorry that Mommy used to really care and actually made meals for the family, which were eaten at the kitchen table. Now if Daddy doesn’t cook it’s every boy for himself to scrounge around in the refrigerator and cupboards and then eat in the living room in front of the TV. Or, if we’re keeping it real here, in your room in front of the XBOX. Mommy’s just too old and worn out to argue.”

Caught somewhere in between the age where bar-hopping every weekend makes you the “fun friend” and not the “friend who someone really needs to have a talk with,” and where scheduling colonoscopies for both you and your husband on your wedding anniversary sounds like a sensible way to celebrate, I’m stuck here in Awkward Land, where I’m just not sure what’s a good idea and a really, really bad idea anymore. Much like my deteriorating vision, everything seems just a bit on the fuzzy side. But the weird thing is, I don’t think my husband, who is only 10 days younger than me, seems to be in the same awkward phase. He’s much more confident in his 45-ness than I am and doesn’t seem plagued by the same concerns. Is this because men take longer to mature than women, so my 45 is really equivalent to his 40, or because I am just neurotic? Perhaps a little of both.

I was having a conversation the other night with some friends who are the same age and all of a sudden I blurted out, “Oh, God, on our next birthdays we’ll be 46!” Yep, just call me Captain Obvious. Perhaps at 12:01 a.m. on February 24, the person I feel like will magically be the person I’m supposed to be at my age. Perhaps I’ll experience a rush of confidence and will finally feel comfortable in my own skin. Maybe, just maybe, this awkward phase will have run its course.

But until then, every time I pass a mirror, I’ll see that girl with the half-feathered hair and half-popped collar, trading scratch-and-sniff stickers one minute and sneaking peeks in Danielle Steel romance novels the next. I may be a few years older, but I’m no more sure of myself and definitely no less awkward.

A Letter of Apology to My Pants

Dear Pants,

I’m sorry I got your hopes up this morning. I know I set you up for disappointment when I laid you out last night, ready to wear to work on my first day back from spring break. And even though I tried you on this morning, only to discard you in a heap on my bedroom floor, please understand…

It’s not you; it’s me.

I had every intention of wearing you today. Really, I did. But when I tried you on, something inside me said, “No, you really shouldn’t. Just no.”

It was my gut. Not as in “I had a gut feeling I shouldn’t wear these,” like they were going to bring me bad luck or something. It was literally my gut that was hanging out over the top of you when I finally managed to get you buttoned.

I know that when I reached for another pair of pants in my closet, the ones that are not-so-affectionately known as my “fat pants,” you shed a little tear.

If it makes you feel better, so did I.

I’m not sure why I didn’t think I would gain a few pounds over spring break. It’s not like I worked out. Heck, I barely even walked. And then there was the food. I was bad. I was really bad. Like buy-a-large-container-of-mini-powdered-donuts-“for-the-kids”-and-then-proceed-to eat-the-majority-of-them-yourself bad. (If you dunk them in your coffee first, that washes away the calories, right?)

So even though I acknowledged that I was eating like I was gearing up for a long period of hibernation, a little part of me foolishly thought maybe my metabolism wouldn’t really notice.

Oh, I assure you, it most certainly did.

And it was pissed.

After all it has done for me these past months, how could I betray it so blatantly? I didn’t even try to hide the chocolate chips that I mixed in with my scoops of peanut butter. I did, however, try to imagine that I was really eating a bowl of fat-free Greek yogurt, but my metabolism wasn’t buying it.

So, pants, please know that although I threw you down in disgust this morning, it wasn’t because of anything you’d done. People often let out their anger on the ones they love the most.

And even though we have to break up for a bit, and during that time I will have to see other pants, I won’t forget you. Hopefully someday soon, with a little will power (and perhaps the mental picture of myself in a swimsuit), I’ll work things out on my end.

I hope we’re a perfect fit again soon.

Yours truly,

Paula

 

 

Pride Comes Before the Fall

It’s spring break, and instead of lounging on the beach, umbrella drink in hand, I’ve opted to spend it at home, toilet brush in hand. (And when I say “I’ve opted to,” you know what I really mean is, “My checking account has decided for me.”)

And just to add insult to injury, Mother Nature decided that she’d give Iowa the near-80 temperatures at the end of February and instead deliver a snowstorm a few weeks later, during “spring” break. Yes, Mother Nature, we get it. You’re sooooo ironic.

So since I’m not going anywhere fun and it’s too crappy to be outside, I figured I might as well make good use of my time and try to get organized. (And when I say “Get organized,” you know what I really mean is, “Put some of that laundry away that’s been stacking up in the basement since Christmas and is now taller than me.”)

And speaking of laundry, you know when you look in your closet and don’t think you have any pants to wear, so you go to Goodwill (because you’re cheap that way) and sort of black out and when you come to you’ve purchased 13 pairs of pants? And when you get home you start bringing up laundry from the basement that’s been clean and in a basket down there for several months, and you start putting clothes away, and you keep finding more pants, and more pants, and suddenly you have enough pants hanging in your closet to clothe the entire cast of “The Walking Dead,” (including all the zombies)? No? Yeah, me neither…

I try so hard to get organized, but sometimes I just feel like the universe is against me. Need an example? No problem. I just happen to have one right here.

Take today, for instance. I “ran in” to Target (translation: “spent two hours there”) for a few essentials and got kind of sucked in to the organizing aisles. All of the products seemed to be calling my name, promising that if I just took them home, I’d miraculously undergo some sort of transformation into one of those women whose houses have absolutely no clutter. You know these houses. The ones where the owners apparently never get bills in the mail that they have to stack up on the kitchen table, or whose kids don’t wear shoes. The ones that always look like the owners are keeping it obsessively and freakishly clean just in case some Realtor wants to come show it on a moment’s notice. Even though they aren’t even for sale…

So I just knew if I bought some more things, as in, brought more clutter into the house, it would somehow magically reduce my clutter. (It made much more sense when I was actually staring at the under-the-bed storage tubs at Target.) I settled on one of those put-it-together-yourself two-tier shoe shelves that I could put in my closet. I knew it would just make all the difference. And at $12.99 — what a bargain!

After bringing it home, I encountered my first challenge: actually getting the pieces out of the box, which was glued together with what had to be the most industrial-strength glue ever manufactured. Ripping off the end of the box in little-bitty teensy-weensy pieces, I finally managed to slide out the particle boards. Laying everything on the floor, I convinced myself to at least peruse the directions, even though I was pretty sure I could figure it out myself. (There were literally only four pieces.) I screwed the pieces together and popped on the little plastic thingies that “hide” the screws, and I stood back to admire my handiwork.

Not bad, if I do say so myself.

You see, my track record with things like this isn’t terribly impressive. Usually what happens is, I eyeball it, think, “This looks pretty easy,” put it together, stand back to admire it . . . and realize that I’ve just put all of the pieces on backwards.

But this time, I couldn’t find one thing I’d done wrong. I even double- and triple-checked, just to be sure. And I have to admit, I kind of puffed out my chest a bit when I picked it up to carry it into my bedroom.

And that’s when I made my fatal mistake.

I got cocky.

I got cocky, and I let my guard down. I was unstoppable, I was invincible! I was Rose with my arms stretched out, flying on the front of the Titanic!

And we all know what happened to the Titanic.

I set down the shelf so I could clear out room for it in my closet. Oh, and before I do that, I thought, why don’t I change into some comfy pants? I couldn’t possibly get organized wearing jeans.

And that’s when it happened.

Thinking back, I’m not even sure what happened. It’s kind of a blur. But as I was taking off my jeans, I got a little wobbly, because if you didn’t know, I’m not the most coordinated of individuals. I got a little wobbly, and in what I’m sure was slow motion, I started going down. It’s like I was hovering over my body, looking down and thinking, “What the heck is she doing? Is she really going to fall backwards just trying to put her pants on?”

Yes, yes I was.

I kind of caught myself falling and tried to gracefully transition into a sit, but in reality I just fell back hard and sat right down. On my shelf.

And in case you were wondering, no, a particle-board shelf does not bear the weight of a hundred-some pound woman. No, it most certainly does not.

Next thing I knew, I was sitting down, with half of the shelf to my left and half to my right, and a burning sensation in the back of my thigh. The thing done broke right in half.

Well, not exactly in half, because if you didn’t know, particle board does not break evenly. It breaks in a horrible, sharp, jaggedy way, just to ensure that there is no possible way you could ever dream of repairing it.

I sat there, stunned, thinking, “Did I really just do that?” And then the pain set in. Not only had I gotten a road rash-type bloody burn on the back of my right leg, but somehow I had pulled a muscle right below my left hip.

I remembered then how moments earlier, I was thinking just how cool I was for successfully constructing a $13 shelf. Well, I definitely was not feeling cool any longer. Humility — along with a heaping dollop of humiliation — had promptly taken over.

And as I was throwing the broken pieces into the trash bin outside, before searching the house for a bandage large enough to cover my seepy wound, an old adage popped into my head: Pride comes before the fall.

Well played, universe. Well played.

Let’s All Go to the Movies

Whoever thought it would be a good idea to go to the mall to see a movie on the day after Christmas was kind of an idiot. Oh, I guess that was me. After pulling in to the parking lot and realizing that it was waaaaay more packed than it had been on Black Friday (Yes, I went. Don’t judge.), Husband decided that was a good time to remind me that last year we went to a movie in the morning. And when we walked out of the theater and surveyed the crowd which had gone from “somewhat busy” to “violating fire code insanity,” we had remarked, “Good thing we didn’t wait until 2:00 to come!”

I glanced at my phone: 2:30.

Oh well. We were there, and we managed to find a parking spot. We had already tried to eat at Five Guys with the thought we would go to a later show, but when we couldn’t even get in the door because of the line, we thought we’d see a show first, and eat later. So in we went.

I have never been to Grand Central Station, but I’ve seen it in the movies, and this seemed pretty darn close. Some people waiting in one of several long lines, other people leaning against walls and larger-than-life ads of a cartoon baby in a suit or LEGO Batman and still others just wandering around in circles, staring up at the movie times in red LEDs, muttering to themselves. I looked up at that same movie sign, scanning it for Rogue One, and finally found the 2:50 showing. My joy was quickly dissipated, though, when the 2:50 suddenly changed to the word “FULL.” Crap. So I stood in line for 10 minutes to get tickets for the next showing, all the while wondering what the heck we were going to do in this crowded mall for over an hour and a half.

It’s not like we’re huge shoppers — especially the boys — but couple that with the fact that it was literally difficult to even move through the walkways in between the stores, and the prospect of leisurely shopping at Bath & Body Works or for God’s sake the Apple Store made me feel nauseous. We did, however, have to make an exchange at Hot Topic, so we decided to venture there. But first we had to make it through the food court.

As we tried to weave our way through the people and around the lines, I reverted back to my “mom of little kid” self and couldn’t fight the urge to grab my boys’ hands in the fear that we would get separated and never see each other again. First we walked past Zombie Burger, which had a sizable line, but at least they had organized it, and since it was at the end of the food court, had people standing right next to the wall instead of out in the walkway with everyone else. And everything was going ok — until we came to the hallway for the restrooms.

So many people were spilling out of there, and it seemed to me like they were all moving in fast motion. It was like a hose was turned on and was just spraying these people out. I honestly found myself thinking, “What is going on in there? Are they having some sort of entertainment back by the vending machines and the family restroom?” And of course these people were all swimming against the stream or trying to merge into our lane that was headed out of the food court. It was literally body-to-body contact with perfect strangers. What made it even more challenging was that half of them were also carrying trays — trying not to lose their Potato Ole’s or Mongolian beef and rice.

When we finally reached the end of the food court and could come up for air, at least for a few precious seconds, we shuffled to Hot Topic, just a few stores down. And we entered.

Have you ever been to a Hot Topic store? I don’t know if it’s every Hot Topic or just the one at our mall, but I’m positive it carries the most merchandise per square foot of any other store in the world. T-shirts, skirts, robes, pajamas, keychains, bags, Pop figures, earrings, chokers, lanyards, candy, posters — it’s all there. All jammed together. And to display all this merch, they have to have racks and display cases and shelves everywhere. It was a maze, but with what seemed like only dead ends. We could see the wall of t-shirts that Boy #2 needed to get to in order to pick out a shirt to exchange, but getting there was an entirely other matter. We tried to walk around the Pokemon display — blocked by a tween girl with pigtails and her mom. We tried to squeeze between the “Stranger Things” and Disney Princess racks — blocked again by two guys who seemed way too old to be buying a Pikachu onesie. Finally, after going what seemed to be the longest distance between two points possible, we made it to the wall.

I instantly got dizzy looking up at all of the t-shirts that were displayed clear up to the ceiling. Boy #2 hadn’t decided what he wanted, so we stood there, pressed against the wall and sweating, necks craning, trying to decide between the sloth in space, Edgar Allen Poe on a police bike and pug with laser eyes. Finally, he settled on an Alexander Hamilton one, which I would agree was a good choice considering some of the alternatives.

So here I made the sacrifice moms make, telling Boys #2 and 3 to save themselves as I fought my way to the checkout. Again, taking the most circuitous route possible, I managed to get to the end of one of two lines. There were arrows on the floor that I think were supposed to help us know where the lines began and ended, but they did not seem to actually correlate to anything related to the line or the cash registers, so we all ignored them and just picked a place to stand and wait. After 15 minutes waiting behind another middle-aged mom with glazed-over eyes and her teenage daughter who was buying a hardly-anything-there babydoll top that made me thankful I didn’t have girls, I finally made my even exchange.

When I stepped out of the store, I took a deep breath and also instinctively covered my eyes at the sudden change from dungeon darkness (I’m pretty sure they don’t have any lights in Hot Topic, or if they do, they’re always burned out) to bright mall light. I found Husband and the boys, who appeared to be having just as good of a time as I was, leaned up against the wall between Lids and Orange Julius. At this point, Boys #2 and 3 were starving and didn’t think they could wait until after the movie to eat, so we headed back into the belly of the beast—the food court.

I don’t know how you get when you’re hot and tired, but in our family, we become incapable of making any sort of decision. Such was the case here, and we stood, trying not get knocked over by other hungry people, taking turns saying, “I don’t care” when asked where we should get something to eat. I had to go to my happy place and do some inner self-talk to remind myself that we were having a fun family adventure and so I shouldn’t completely freak out on them. Finally, we went with the shortest line, which was an Italian place that curiously had no line as opposed to the other restaurants that were at least 8 people deep. The thought that it was because the food totally sucked crossed my mind, but at this point I didn’t care. I just needed something to fill my boys up and waste about 40 more minutes of time. Crappy pizza it was.

We actually managed to find a booth without wandering around hunting for 10 minutes. Out of the corner of my eye I spied a family getting up from the table and made a beeline, ready to knock over an old man or small child if I had to in order to secure the seats. (Ok, I wouldn’t really have knocked over innocent people, especially vulnerable ones like old men or toddlers. At least I don’t think I would have.) As we went to sit down, Boy #3 said, “Mom are we really going to sit here? The table’s all dirty and still has people’s trash on it.” Just sit down I said in a guttural voice that emanated from deep within, and I think Boy #3 knew that he probably shouldn’t complain again.

And there we sat, waiting until we could get into our movie at 4:15. We didn’t even chance having the boys get up out of the booth to get napkins for fear of someone else trying to hone in on their seats, so, like the good mom I am, I just told them to wipe off the blobs of pizza sauce on their faces with their hands. “But it’s all over my hands now!” Boy #3 whined. “Just keep rubbing your hands together and it will go away,” I heard myself saying.

Finally it was time. We could get into our theater, where we could at least wait in the comfort of cushiony seats that recline a little and, even though the movie eventually filled up, was still much less crowded and hectic than the rest of the mall. By the time the movie finally started, we had already eaten our popcorn, but we didn’t even care. The movie was really good, and the conversation afterward at Applebee’s, breaking down the scenes over hamburgers and hot-wings-Boy #2-didn’t-realize-were-actually-hot-even-though-they-were-called-hotwings, was priceless.

I think we’ll do this again next year.

The Final Countdown

Sending your kid off to college kind of sucks.

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It’s the final countdown. [Insert annoying keyboard riff here if you’d like. Or don’t. Although I’m sure the tune has already penetrated your brain by this time and now will be on “Repeat” for the next three days anyway. Yeah, sorry about that.]

No, I’m really not referring to the Europe song. It’s exactly one week until we drop off Boy #1 at college.

One. Week.

The pit in my stomach began to form a year ago, when I couldn’t believe he was going to start his senior year. And it’s never left. There were just too many “lasts” that the pit never had a chance to leave — the last time he’d play football, the last wrestling match, the last time he and his girlfriend would sit on the floor by her locker before school (And yes, I stood outside my classroom and pretended to answer a text while secretly taking a photo so I could remember this moment forever. Did you even have to ask?)

Graduation was hard enough, but at least I knew I had a few more months with him before I had to kick him out into the cold, cruel world. And as the summer has begun waning down, I’ve found myself becoming just a wee bit crazy, trying to do anything I could to take my mind off The Final Countdown.

Like cleaning. It began with the garage. I started out just taking down the tables that were still set up in my garage from my rained-out garage sale two months earlier. (No one’s surprised they were still up, are they?) Then suddenly I was organizing tools, wiping mystery fluorescent-green grime off the workbench, knocking down cobwebs that I’m pretty sure were original to the 1960s house and even venturing into the corner where I know a mouse lives and is just waiting to jump out and eat my face. Now mind you, we still can’t park a car in there. It’s only one stall and well, we have a lot of crap that has nowhere else to go. And although I still wouldn’t eat off the floor, I would probably eat off a plate that was sitting on the floor, which is as good as it gets at our house.

Then I started to tackle the basement. You know, the basement where we finished a room for Boy #1 and then apparently after hammering in the final nail, dropped the hammer, put our hands up and announced, “I’m out.” We’ll get all of this cleaned up tomorrow, we said. And we did. If the term tomorrow has been changed to now mean a timespan of approximately four years.

Yes, people. I’m talking wood, drywall, power tools — it was all still down there. Along with about four inches of drywall dust mixed with just regular old gross basement dust. Now, we had cleaned up Boy #1’s room, we’re not that disgusting. But the rest of the unfinished basement was HORR. I. BLE.

Did I mention that everything that we didn’t know where to put over the past four years was also stashed in the basement? So it was not only dirty, it was CHOCK FULL. And the best part? The petrified turds I kept finding from when my dog had evidently snuck downstairs to do his business. Oh, he won’t go down there when we’re down there. He knows better. He just sits at the top of the stairs like a perfect angel. But apparently when he thinks we’re not looking he likes to creep down the steps and take care of business. I never knew when I would run across one; it was always a surprise. You know, kind of like an Easter egg hunt. But not as colorful.

As I was elbow deep in dust and doo-doo, Husband came downstairs, processed what he was witnessing, and said, “I think you’re opposite nesting.” And it hit me — I was. Before the boys were born, I always got that burst of energy that made me want to clean out cupboards and alphabetize the spice rack. I realized that I’m experiencing that same feeling, except instead of trying to make everything perfect before a boy joined our home, I’m trying to make everything perfect before one leaves our home. And the fact that it keeps me so busy that I don’t have time to think about the fact that he is going to leave soon is an added bonus.

But now the garage and basement are clean, nearly everything on the college shopping list has been checked off and I am forced to think about it.

And it kind of sucks.

Parents of young kids, I know every day someone or another tells you, “They grow up way too fast.” And you politely nod your head and smile.

But, seriously, they grow up way too fast. It’s really a thing. Soon scientists are going to discover the proof that as your children age, time moves exponentially faster, so much so that you will finish reading the last Harry Potter book to your child, hand him his soft blue blanket, tuck him in and innocently close your own eyes for the night only to wake up and find that he’s got armpit hair, big muscles and tattoos (Yeah, tattoos. Just go with it.) and you’re at Target buying him a set of steak knives and explaining to him what a pillow sham is.

And you try to remember the last 18 years and all you come up with are glimmers of images of baby steps and toothless grins and light sabers and that “Husky phase” and home runs all blurred together so that you really can’t picture anything clearly at all.

And you’re not only sad, you’re downright pissed that his childhood is gone and you had no say in the matter.

Rational Me knows that this is part of life. Children must grow up and move away. And it will someday feel normal and right.

But Batshit-Crazy Me considers locking him in the basement, where I can read to him when I bring down his cookies and milk and kiss him goodnight. I mean, we haven’t even read the new Harry Potter book yet!

And Rational Me tries to regain control and reminds me that this is not a reason for heartache. People lose their children, for Heaven’s sake! And I can’t even begin to imagine that pain.

I know Rational Me is right. And it will tackle Batshit-Crazy Me next week before I handcuff myself to Boy #1 so we never have to be apart.

And instead Batshit-Crazy Me will go home and cry, flipping through scrapbooks and eating that King-Sized Hershey Bar that looked at me so sympathetically in the grocery checkout line. And realizing I will be doing this again in another four years, I’ll begin warning myself: They grow up way too fast.

At the Car Wash

You may be thinking, “How could anyone be anxious about the car wash?” And I will answer with a hearty, “Good question!” But I am, and it’s officially gone from bad to worse. After last week, I have actually vowed that I will never enter another car wash again. And I mean it.

Touchless_Car_WashAnxiety and I go way back.

Waaaaayyyy back.

Whether it was going to the nurse every afternoon in kindergarten so I could go home and be with my family, or suffering a meltdown in the aisles of the Osceola Public Library because my mom would limit me to only FIVE books to check out at a time—And how in the world was I supposed to choose from all of them??—so I ended up at home with none, or resorting to biting my own arm because it would take my focus off something stressful,  Anxiety has been a constant since I can remember. I didn’t, however, recognize that it WAS Anxiety until I was an adult—married with a couple kids—and realizing that the way I felt was not normal and not conducive to a healthy relationship with anyone. Including myself.

So with time (along with therapy and some helpful prescription drugs), I was able to break up with Anxiety. (“It’s not you, Anxiety, it’s me.”) At least for a while. But just like an ex who can’t let go, Anxiety keeps showing back up, wearing a trench coat and a boom box perched on its shoulder blasting Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

I’ve allowed Anxiety to hang around again lately, probably precipitated by the fact that I have a senior and am worrying about him leaving, college and how the heck we’re going to pay for it all. But with all I have going on right now and all I could be worrying about, where does Anxiety seem to harass me the most?

At the car wash.

You may be thinking, “How could anyone be anxious about the car wash?” And I will answer with a hearty, “Good question!” But I am, and it’s officially gone from bad to worse. After last week, I have actually vowed that I will never enter another car wash again. And I mean it.

Allow me to share my humiliation with you.

It was a week ago, on a Friday, and my car really needed washed. Not only was it dusty, but birds had used it as their personal toilet, and I knew it was time. So I took a deep breath and pulled into my local car wash.

As I swiped my debit card and marked the $7 Silver Wash, I had to take a deep breath and tell myself that my fears of driving into a car wash were silly and completely unfounded. I got the green light and proceeded ahead.

And that’s where it all went wrong.

I slowly crept ahead, letting the jets of soapy water blast the undercarriage, until I knew I was getting close to that place where my wheel is supposed to fit nicely into that little place, making the red light come on and the carwash continue. (Sorry if that was too technical for you.) But my wheel did not fit nicely into that little place. Instead, I felt the wheel falling off the edge of the little place and the car went kind of kattywompus on me.

Shit. Somehow I didn’t get my wheel in the right spot. Awesome. What the heck do I do now? I thought.

So I backed up a little, put it back into drive, moving the wheel over a little left so I could get it in the little place. And slooooowly drove forward.

Nope.

Missed again. Seriously? How hard can it be???

At this point I’m not only feeling anxious about not being able to get this car wash going, I’m also feeling claustrophobic because the garage door is still shut in front of me, so my only way out is to back out quite a ways, without being able to see anyone else who might be pulling in at the same time.

Shit.

So I backed up again, and this time I put the car in park and got out, left my car in the stall and walked outside to look for an attendant or just anyone who would pull in my car correctly for me. I had no pride left. I planned to just say, “I suck. Will you please drive my car through the car wash for me?” But no one was to be found, so I was forced to join my car again, alone, in the stall.

At this point I was nearing a full-blown panic attack. I was shaking and my heart was pounding out of my chest. But I did a few Lamaze breaths and tried to pump myself up by yelling at myself, “Seriously, idiots can do this! Complete idiots can pull their car into a car wash correctly. You have a college degree and were class valedictorian. Really, Paula, really? Come on, do this.”

So I eyed where my wheel was and where it had to go, and I swear it looked like that wheel should just go straight into that little place. All I had to do is pull straight ahead. Like a foot and a half. I couldn’t miss.

I missed.

I am not exaggerating when I say that I pulled back and pulled forward 10 times. By this time I had completely broken into a sweat and was swearing like a sailor. Loudly.

Until finally I felt my car jerk forward a little, like it’s supposed to, and then come to a halt.

Victory!

Or so I thought…

Apparently sometime during my pull back-pull forward show, the garage door had opened and I hadn’t even noticed.

The car wash had timed out.

It was like “Buh-bye” as it gave me the green light to proceed out of the stall. But instead of emerging all wet and shiny and clean, I did the drive of shame out of the car wash, my car now looking WORSE than it did before because it was covered not only in dust and bird poop, but the bottom half of my car now wore dirty soapsuds as well.

Aaaaaand it cost me $7.

I comforted myself in the fact that no one else was exiting the car wash at the same time, so hopefully no one noticed that I emerged dirtier than I entered. But leave it to my husband to burst my bubble. When I relayed what had transpired, he said, “I’m sure they have it on camera.”

I’m just waiting for it to show up on YouTube with the caption, “Woman vs. Car Wash: Car Wash wins!”

Well played, Anxiety, well played. Until we meet again. Which I’m sure won’t be long.

 

 

 

 

It’s Spring Break and I’m Spring Broke

Spring Break BeachSo, here I am. Tuesday of my Spring Break. It’s 6:30 p.m. and I’m sitting in our second-hand recliner with a sleeping dog drinking a cup of coffee (I am, not the dog) and downing some Double-Stuff Oreos.

Living. The. Dream.

Trying really hard not to log in to Facebook too many times lest I am bombarded with photos of other people’s Spring Breaks—most of which are a tad bit more vacation-ish than mine. Not that I’m not happy for them; I really am! It’s just not quite as fun to look at pictures of the sand, sun and ocean when we had our ONE nice day yesterday of the entire week, and now it’s raining—again—which actually looks really good compared to the SNOW that’s forecast for Saturday. Blah.

I know I shouldn’t complain. Some people don’t get to take any time off let alone fly to Florida for a week. Teachers on Spring Break, however, just seems a bit, I don’t know, ironic.

Let’s see, we’ll give you a week for Spring Break, but we won’t actually pay you enough so that you can afford to take your family anywhere tropical. Or subtropical. Or even a hotel an hour away that is decorated in a tropical theme.

And even if we thought before that we might be able to save just enough money to take the kids on a little getaway, Reality quickly stepped in, snapped its fingers and said, “Oh no, you didn’t!” (in a super sassy voice, of course).

Today, in fact, we participated in that wildly popular Spring Break activity of paying bills. And not just our normal monthly bills. Nope. Just in time for Spring Break, we welcomed a few annual expenses (property taxes, THREE vehicle licenses) as well as several new unexpected bills into our family. (Welcome, $6,000 income tax bill! We’re glad to have ya!)

Other glamorous Spring Break activities I’ve enjoyed so far include:

  • eating $1 hot dogs at Sam’s Club with my sister (which was curiously a lot more fun than it sounds)!
  • power shopping at Goodwill for spring pants that actually fit me in 15 minutes before the store closed. (In case you’re wondering, any pride I had has long since vanished.)
  • doing laundry. Always doing laundry.
  • bowling a … wait for it ... 88 and 77 before finally really ripping up the lanes by bowling a 111. Apparently it was Palindrome Sunday at Alley Bowl.
  • wrestling with dead vines from what has to be the strongest nuisance plant known to man that was all wound around the posts of my covered patio. Seriously, I had to channel my inner Hulk to rip apart each individual strand of that thing. Then trying to bag it all up was a whole other adventure that I’m sure was pretty entertaining to passers-by.
  • taking down my outdoor Christmas decorations. (And yes, I realize it’s mid-March. Because I’m classy like that.)
  • watching hours of my husband playing some video game involving weird wizard-ish people and a dragon-y thingy he conjures that I named Little Triceratops. Mind you, watching him play for so long was not intentional. I really think after a while I just kind of went into a trance. Or maybe the wizard-ish character put some kind of a spell on me…one that he concocted using the water hyacinth and ninsroot he collected along his journeys…
  • buying fleece from the clearance bin and washing it twice before using it as a poop-and-pee pad in a guinea pig cage to replace the messy bedding. So far, the girls are just pooping and peeing wherever they please, so this may not have been the most successful endeavor. Oh well, at least I don’t have a layer of bedding stuck to my clothes after walking out of Boy #3’s room! (Cue Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” — with appropriate whistling.)

Honestly, though, it hasn’t been that bad (even though you may be saying to yourself, “Really? Hasn’t it?”). No, really. Saturday night after my “bright idea” of trying to get into a brand-new microbrewery/eatery in “the city,” and being told it would be a two-hour wait, with no place to stand, and after almost going into full-panic mode in the car because I couldn’t make a decision about where else to eat, my husband arbitrarily (can’t say “randomly” if you’re married to a math teacher—unless it truly is random) chose a place we’d never eaten, and it turned out to be THE BEST food I think I’ve ever had. (Who knew Skillet Corn could be so freaking delicious?) So we found a new favorite special occasion joint, which is a plus!

And even though this probably isn’t what the boys would choose if they were asked, “What would you like to do for Spring Break this year?” they are still managing to have some fun together, and it is nice to have some down time to just hang out. Tomorrow we may go watch open practice for the NCAA Men’s Division I Tournament teams who are in Des Moines. Because that sounds kind of cool and, you know, it’s free. So there’s that.

Husband also mentioned that we should probably try to clean out the garage. This will not be a fun task, to put it lightly, however it will be nice if we actually manage to get this accomplished. But considering we’re supposed to have up to 50 mph winds tomorrow and Thursday and then highs in the 40s on Friday and Saturday, my guess is this will still be on the to-do list when we go back to school.

But no matter if we’re lying on the beach in Mexico or lying on the couch watching each other play video games, the important thing is that we’re together while we’re doing it. And even though being a teacher doesn’t afford me many luxuries, it does provide me with the luxury of more time with my family than many other people get. And in the end, it’s the time—and not where it’s spent—that really matters, right?