No More Grilled Cheese

In the summer, you have to make lunch. At the table. You have to make lunch, just like you make dinner. It is a good time to eat, better than later, the experts say. But it is a bad time to be in the kitchen. It just interrupts everything. Kids have to eat lunch, though, so when it is summer, and they are home, you have to make it.

Yesterday, school began. It is now 12:22 pm. I have just experienced my second day of not making lunch in the kitchen. It feels like a vacation, not that I don’t enjoy feeding my children. I do, I just don’t like the plates, and the dishwasher. I’d rather keep bees than empty the dishwasher.

Anyway, here is a story about that weed lady I told you about months ago…(Click here)

When Parents Argue

A study done by researchers at Montclair State University in New Jersey says that parents who stay in high-conflict marriages cause more harm in their kids than if they split up. If kids witness years of yelling and arguing, they will suffer in the end. Better to see less strife. But we knew that already.

It is a scary thing to decide to go separate ways, if there are kids to consider. It is hard to predict future effects. I have always maintained that since people on earth disagree and argue, kids should see people disagreeing and arguing. And they should see them settle differences, compromise, find solutions and shake hands. Sometimes, people can’t shake hands. Sometimes, they never settle, or agree to disagree, or play fair, or show good sportsmanship. So, that is why this study makes sense. 

I think that in these cases, it is better to explain to kids who will one day choose mates how to choose mates who can argue and disagree and then figure it all out. Ta da.  

Relationship School

We watch The Bachelorette on Monday evenings. There, I said it. This is the first season that we’ve tuned in. At first, I thought it would provide silly summer entertainment for us gals. During the school year, everything is pretty serious. Clearly, there is no television on Monday nights. So, we heard about the roses and the cute boys and the dates in foreign lands and decided, Count Us In. 

I must say, watching the show with a twelve and fourteen year old has been a surprisingly valuable experience. A tutorial, really, in basic social interactions that girls will someday need. Boys 101. We have learned, for instance, how to trust your instinct, how to sense deception, whether to give someone a second chance, how to recognize narcissism, and yes, which haircuts look best on which face shapes, which is important to know, too. We’ve also learned about which traits are essential in a mate, and which ones are necessary for each one of us.

It helps that the people on the show, for the most part, do not seem insane, like they do on other such programs. The Bachelorette appears smart, hard-working, appreciative and kind. The six contenders who remain seem like terrific guys, clever, fun, funny. We don’t like that one of them says “like” a lot, but we think he does it when he is nervous. We also wonder how six men can fall in love with one woman, and how one woman can date six men at once. We are learning about the television business, too.

Meantime, we understand that next week, people cry about something. Kissing, laughing, crying…The Bachelorette covers it all. 

If The Sweatshirt Fits

When my kids aren’t looking, I wear their clothing. Well, sometimes they aren’t looking. I think it is supposed to be the other way around. When you are 12 and 14, and girls, you go into your mom’s closet and borrow the things that make sense to borrow. Small things with appropriate necklines. I borrow small things with appropriate necklines, I’m afraid, yes I do. It is not for any reason other than that they have some garments that I don’t have, and why buy them for me, when I have already bought them for them.

It should be noted that I do not borrow fashion items, anything recognizably current amongst the adolescent set. I do not wear the clothing that you would see in the middle school hallway. Fortunately, for my daughters. I could, and would, except for them. I just borrow athletic gear. Not one to really buy my own athletic gear on a regular schedule, though I am athletic on a regular schedule, I was utterly thrilled when it occurred to me that I could vary my sweatshirts and Ts. I have a tiny collection. I can’t buy sweats, I don’t know why. Or short-sleeved shirts. It seems silly. I only buy  real clothes.

So, when I have rotated my two Ts and two sweatshirts, I hit the racks.

“Mommy, is that my shirt?” they say, getting into the car after school.

“Yes, I love it. Can I borrow it?”

“Yes, you can,” they say, slowly, reminding me that it is already on my body. 

I am careful to select from only the items that my kids do not really care about. I do not pick anything new, or newish. I limit my choice to clothes mashed in the back of their closets. Yesterday, I discovered a fleece pullover with a one-third zipper. Powder blue, in a dusty sort of way. Subtle. Fab. Just fab. My older daughter had outgrown it and given it to her sister. I hadn’t seen it on either of them in months. I wore it all day, really enjoying the thinness of the fabric, which they use now, the designers. They make thin material that keeps you as warm as thick material. This was a technological marvel, this powder blue shirt. I felt very scientific in it. I felt like a lab animal. When I went outside in it, I noticed the other lab animals, in green and blue, with zippers, without. Who is warmer, I wondered. Does the zipper create a draft?

Today, I did not borrow anything. I put on my own fleece shirt. It is not thin, and it has buttons. It is also not blue. It does not keep me as warm as the blue one. There is nothing technological about it. It is a Dark Ages sweatshirt. If I remember, there was an orange one that was purchased with the blue one. I look forward to trying it on tomorrow.


Ladies of the House

We got the Sylvania in 1970. It felt big in all ways, a monolithic cube of wonder to ten year old eyes. Until the television arrived, crossing the threshold of our suburban split-level like jetsam from a futuristic ship, we were happy enough with the standard appliance in the corner of my parents’ bedroom, even if you had to nudge the antennas every third minute to clear out the picture. But this bit of technology promised more than we ever thought could emanate from a machine in our house. We were part of progress. We had a color TV.

Its predecessor went to the basement. The Zenith, a black and white. MaryJane lived in the basement. She was the second maid to live there. Not housekeepers, but maids. There was a distinction, I presume, but I could not define it then. Betty was the first, hired two weeks before my mother and I both began kindergarten, she as a teacher and me, a student in puffed sleeves and tennis sneaks. One of Betty’s hands was missing fingers, but she could tie shoelaces and attach safety pins and chop whatever needed chopping for dinner. Betty lived in our finished basement from Sunday evening until the following Friday, when she left by taxi to go somewhere, home, maybe. Three decades of black women followed her, making the weekly trip from a New York borough to Westchester, by train or bus, or both, earning money to send to family in “the islands” or elsewhere. Sons, daughters, husbands, in-laws…we never quite knew, or knew why.

MaryJane worked in a beer factory before moving to New York to clean houses. It think it was Milwaukee. She was in her twenties, slim and efficient. We played games in a spiral notebook after school sometimes, word hunts, mainly, in ball point pen. The basement was a large rectangle, with a trapezoidal alcove cut into one of the walls, long enough for a twin bed, wide enough for a dresser. My mother had provided bolsters for the bed, so it could pretend to be a couch during the daytime. The Zenith sat on a gold metal stand, with wheels and a basket underneath. On the front of the set, MaryJane taped a square sheet of pliable plastic, striped in a rainbow of colors. The black and white images behind it turned yellow or turquoise or green, but without regard for what they were. A person’s face could have been half-purple, half-red. An apple, orange. An orange, blue.

MaryJane wasn’t part of the progress, I sensed, then, in my wood-paneled cellar in New Rochelle, New York. But she wanted to be.

It wasn’t long that it began to bother me that maids, and only black maids, worked in our home, a liberal home, an intellectual home. I didn’t like that they ate meals after we did, by themselves. I didn’t like that they never used the phone. I started to go into the kitchen, early, and help them prepare, and afterwards, clear as many plates as I could carry. I learned their daily schedules and hurried to make my bed and straighten up my room before they came upstairs. No toothpaste hit the bathroom sink. I didn’t like that the women served me, and I didn’t like that the women were black. My parents didn’t choose them because they were black, clearly. They just were. All of them were, lined up in chairs against the wall at Mrs. B’s, the domestic agency in Larchmont where Mom went to pick them up their first day.

I’ve come to realize that my notion of race and equality was formed early, in my childhood house, and because of the presence there of Betty and MaryJane and Winnifred and Annie, women who straddled culture and class and burned in me, a white child from an affluent family, the necessity of respect.

The ladies who lived in my house–the employees, companions and quiet witness to our family dynamics–served my psyche, I know now, more than anything else.

Find Me, Idea

It has been cold here, so the 1 pm walk/run has been eradicated from the schedule. Instead, I hop on the Stairmaster, but only if it is 40 degrees or above, as such hopping requires a dash across the yard to the back house. In Texas, some houses have back houses, separate little buildings that could have been garages or extra bedrooms. They are also called “quarters,” the kind of quarters for guests.

All of this is irrelevant. Except for the cold part. I have lost my tolerance for it, I am embarassed to say, and even a trot across the little lawn is too unpleasant at 39 degrees. So, I stay inside and exercise in my bedroom. I do aerobics in my bedroom, in front of a mirror, just like the eighties.

“What did you do today?” my daughters will ask.

“I did aerobics in my bedroom,” I tell them. They look at each other, thinking, “What. What have we been given in this person. What does it all mean?”

Anyway, when I do aerobics in front of my parents’ antique oak mirror, which has moved as many times as I have, I think of other things. That is because aerobics is boring. I should inject, here, that I do not do the traditional Jane Fonda-style work-outs, but have my own modern take, more dance, more Fosse, more moi. The ideas that pop into my brain when I do this are generally very good. I learned a long time ago that when you are a writer, you are always writing, even when you are at the movies or having a little snack or doing aerobics in your bedroom.

Today was terrific. I’ve been working on a nonfiction book that today became a “concept.” A whole “thing.” Not just one, but many. It could be many. I am not going to say what it is. It is going to be a secret. When I got the idea, I was finished exercising. That is how it works because then, you have to do the idea. But since I needed to go to my daughter’s basketball game in fifteen minutes, I had to shower before doing the idea. In the shower, if you can believe the wealth, I had another fabulous jolt of creativity. Yet another something poured out of the head into my head and I had to stay there until it was finished. It was a long shower.

I tell the girls to hurry up in the shower. The younger one uses enough water for a small nation. Maybe I should permit it, I am thinking now, as long as she emerges not only clean, but inspired.

Making the Case for Boys

“Mommy, have you ever had a good experience with a boy?” my fourteen year old asked, laughing.

We were telling stories, the ones about my life with the other gender, the males. I have some stories, not many, but some. Interestingly, all of them have elements of disaster, slap-stick and incredulity. They are not the usual tales, I do not think. Most people don’t have boys showing up at their doors flanked by psychiatric nurses, just wanting to say hi, I do not think. 

“That is a movie,” Daphne went on. “I can see it.”

My twelve year old agreed, falling out of her desk chair.

“Did I tell you the one about taking the dog on the train and being kicked off in New Jersey because you are not allowed to take dogs on trains? Flash, did I tell you the one about Flash?”

“Uh, no.”

Well, he was a dog, yes, but really a symbol of my misguided and pathetic devotion to a boy who didn’t, well, reciprocate the feeling, and yes, we waited on the platform somewhere between Philadelphia and Manhattan as train after train blew by, sending our hair/fur into our eyes. Our squinting, visionless eyes. Our what-have-we-done now eyes, because, hey, it was not just me. Flash could have said no.

I have two girls who will soon be interested in boys. Given my history, I could easily suggest to them that they skip the whole experience. In fact, I have, I admit, suggested just that, throwing out the idea that they could sidestep the whole thing by selecting, now, two sons of people I know, dear friends of mine, with solid psyches and brilliant brains. It would make so much sense. They could forget we know them, if they wanted. When they were six, they bought in. Now, it is another story.

“Mommy, you are crazy.”

Okay, then. 

I am left to guide them through the process, when it happens, and I am preparing, mentally. It runs counter to my  current philosophy that boys are like death, you know, with the five steps, but okay, I will commit to the task, as it is a maternal duty. I want my girls to grow up and find the most wonderful mates, yes I do, even if I didn’t. But how, I ask myself, does someone with my clear and disastrous resume impart the right guidance? How does someone who failed the course now teach the class? 

I will have to rely on theory, not personal example. And movies. Movies are good. And motorcycles. When we see one, I point to it and tell them, “If you ever get on one of those things with someone who would drive one of those things, a person like that, with the buckles all over his torso and no graduate degree, you will encounter mayhem in your lives.” 

The whole thing worries me. Don’t make the choices I made, make the choices I would make now, the ones you don’t actually see. Make those. Unless you want to write about it later on. More later. So much more…

Snow in Texas

This is a silly thing to discuss today, after all the Afghan craziness yesterday, but it is something I’d like to explore. Do your children wear coats? I mean, when it is cold outside, do they go into their closets and pull out thick garments with sleeves and zippers and hoods, sometimes, and put them on before leaving the house? Are there hats involved? Or gloves, and scarves?

Here, in Texas, kids can survive in short sleeves for nine months of the year. For the other three, they add a sweatshirt. This morning, it was 37 degrees outside, and when I made my second trip to school, at 7:35, it was snowing.

“What is that?” said my 14 year old from the back seat, shivering.

“That is snow,” I answered, in sheepskin, and pajamas.

“Wow! Snow!”

“Wow, a coat, maybe.”

“No coat.”

“The vest, without the sleeves?”

Last year, I bought the vest, thinking it was at least something, if it wasn’t a coat. She loved the vest, I thought.

“It doesn’t do anything,” she said. 

“Then, there is something to do.”

It was early for word games. And we had arrived at school. Instead of dropping her off a half mile away and making her feel the cold, step by blustery step, I pulled up a little closer than usual. I am a bad parent. I am not tough enough. Tomorrow, I am going to be so mean. I am going to make her wear the vest. 

Timing is Everything

I was in the supermarket yesterday, the Monday before Thanksgiving, shopping for things like milk and lettuce and olives, when I noticed all of the extra displays at the ends of the aisles. Big towers of string beans and yams and chicken broth and onions, those crispy onions in the can. “What is going on?” I said to myself, well, maybe to the person next to me, too, at the yogurt. What do they think it is, Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving was last week.

We’ve been eating leftovers since Tuesday. That would be the Tuesday before, well, Wednesday. Last Wednesday. In our house this year, the thanking took place early. We live far from family, something like 1500 miles, okay 1546 miles, if you drive. If you drive 23 hours and 48 minutes. Far, however you figure it. So, we don’t visit on specified holidays. We visit when we need to, or can. Mostly, Mom does the visiting because she is one person and we are three. 

“I am going to be in the neighborhood the third week of November,” she said from the phone in New York. “I’ll stop off on the way back.” The “neighborhood” was Florida. We are in Texas. It is all relative, especially when you are a relative. 

“Fabulous, we will have Thanksgiving. Better, we will have Thanksgiving on Daphne’s birthday,” I said. “It will be so festive, two celebrations at once.” Growing up, we generally hit the holidays on the actual day, but as college and work and doctors’ call schedules interfered, we began to choose times when everyone was around, regardless of the calendar. We usually got the month right, but sometimes we didn’t. It didn’t matter. It wasn’t about the sun and the moon. It was about us.

So, I went to the supermarket when everybody else was buying milk and lettuce and olives and loaded up the wagon with string beans and yams and pecan pie and a colossal 16 pound turkey. We got homework done quickly and got out the carving knives and set the table with a pilgrim cloth I purchased in August. And we turned 14 and opened presents and told funny stories and tried the cranberries again, but still didn’t like them. Which is just fine. We can taste them again, next June.