Have you ever spent all morning cleaning the house and gotten very hungry all of a sudden, and started craving those Trader Joe’s cauliflower pancakes you had in the freezer, but ALSO in the freezer was an overenthusiastic ice maker, which spewed ice over the kitchen floor whenever you opened it, and then, when you closed it and went into the fridge for another tasty and necessary item, you stepped on a piece of ice and started to slip, so you reached down to pick it up, and the fridge attacked you with GUSTO, and the collision it had with your shoulder dislodged the shelving on the side of the fridge door, and everything heavy and full and glass fell and shattered on the kitchen tiles, including that GIGANTIC bottle of gluten-free tamari sauce you bought because it was so much cheaper to buy that way, and then had to spend the next hour trying to mop it all up without cutting yourself too badly, and that damn soy sauce was everywhere. and THEN you remembered how you made this new year’s resolution that when you caught yourself having negative thoughts, you should say, “And this is good because—?” and found yourself thinking, “This is good because now I can feel a little bit sorry for myself without feeling ashamed?” I have.
1:17 pm: “Despair.” With freedom still 118 minutes away, I looked longingly at the jellyfish in their watery castle. Nothing would have given me greater joy than to watch them float for the remainder of the afternoon. It behooved me to focus on the task at hand, however: herding hormonal preteens through the gift shop while keeping all breaking, licking, and stealing to a minimum.
I’ll start at the beginning.
9:00 – 10:30 am: “Mutual Tolerance.” To be honest, the first hour or two had not been terrible; everybody was reasonably focused and amenable back then. Students swarmed the exhibition halls, copying each other’s answers to worksheet questions while I relentlessly counted heads. Long ago, when I brought my kids here on a regular basis, I let the youngest wear her tap shoes. That way I could hear her footsteps and snag her before she disappeared into the kaleidoscopic crowds. But these kids were my size, with long legs and All-Stars and limited impulse control, so I wrangled to the best of my abilities.
10:45 am: “Loss.” Unable to locate either of the teachers or even the vast majority of the other students from our school, I was forced to swallow my pride and ask for assistance from museum personnel. They raised eyebrows in disdainful bewilderment, spoke agitatedly into headsets, and filed us in front of a packed auditorium–to the embarrassment of all currently in my charge. Note: Middle schoolers do not like to be embarrassed.
11:00 am: “Reprieve.” In the Planetarium, most of the tough kids dozed off, which was a nice turn of events. I guess it’s tiring to ride that pubescent roller coaster all day. Given a moment to relax and gather my thoughts, I might have gotten a few winks myself. Let’s call it meditating.
When I did manage to pay attention, I heard myself guffawing at the docent’s terrible jokes. How disappointing. What happens to humans when we reach middle age, anyway? And why isn’t there an exhibit at the Academy of Sciences that explains mid-life mysteries such as: how we hurt ourselves sleeping, or why pants become unbearably tight by 4 pm?
12:04 – 12:26 pm: “Lunch.” We desperately needed an airing out, but rain was dumping relentlessly. We sprawled on the floor of the cafeteria, where the noise level hovered around an impressive 140 decibels. I tried to keep the food fights to a minimum; failing that, pretended not to notice. Kids stole each other’s Cheetos, spilled a variety of contraband, and “group-chatted” with friends back at school, hooting and snorting until half-chewed food bits plastered their phones and friends. Several skirmishes were doused, and all cursing was ignored. Note: teachers occasionally adopt a Stepford Wife-type expression, perhaps because death and/or a partial frontal-lobotomy is necessary to avoid feeling pain in these circumstances. I adopted the same approach. It beats yelling.
12:46 pm: “Detonation.” All hell broke loose once we hit the touch pool. Due to some comment or action too small for the adult seismograph, Mia and Carmen were no longer speaking, so the other girls allied themselves accordingly. I had to choose: force all sides of the conflict to stay together and risk a full-on fight? Or give the aggrieved parties enough room to avoid bloodshed? Since only a few kids could torment sea stars at a time, I let my cranky quorum dissolve into disparate, dark caverns of tanks. I was lucky to know where five or six of them were at any given moment. The phones were out in force by then, no doubt broadcasting their social war to the larger middle school arena. I pretended not to notice—mostly so I could check my own and count the minutes to freedom.
2:10 – 2:29: “Education.” In the African Hall, I tried in vain to interest them in a replica of Lucy (the oldest human ancestor to walk upright) or in the adorable penguins that swam and pooped and watched the Nature Channel at the far end of the room. Instead, students gravitated to the diorama of stuffed dik-diks, doubling over as they read the explanatory signage loudly and repeatedly—a sign titled, “Dikdik Details,” and containing other unfortunate words and phrases such as: “sticky fluid.” Never mind that the fluid in question was produced by their under-eye glands. Hey, science experts! Couldn’t we have called this eye fluid tears, so that eleven-year-old boys might refrain from dry humping the nearby benches?
Oh, well. At least everyone temporarily forgot about World War III.
Note: the Dikdik is named for the alarm call it makes by blowing air through its nasal passages–often while lurching in a zig-zag pattern. I’m surprised they weren’t named “Drunken Idiots” or “Tween Boys.”
Another note: the Blue-Footed Booby is not on display at the Academy. I’d say I dodged a bullet there.
2:40 – 3:15 pm: “The Reemergence of Hope.” The schlep back to school was remarkably uneventful despite:
*a twenty-minute walk in the pouring rain
*100 wet, overstimulated sixth graders crammed onto a single city bus, and
*the fact that adults were outnumbered 25:1.
One of the teachers commented that this was a “great group of students” and that they were a “welcome relief” after last year’s cohort. I managed to maintain my new Stepford Wife expression while making a mental note not to volunteer for anything involving the current 7th graders.
3:15 pm and onward: “Dénouement.” I rewarded myself with vending machine coffee in a Styrofoam cup…and a big fat glass of wine with dinner.
What I learned: kids are great, but two is plenty. Also, we can’t possibly afford to pay our middle school teachers what they deserve.
I remember it all like it was yesterday.
Acne, drama, self-doubt. Excessive mooning about. A variety of binges and very bad decisions.
I behaved irrationally, irresponsibly, disrespectfully, and the one I treated the worst was me.
Yet having a teenager may be even more terrifying.
Still plagued by acne and self-doubt, my lingering woes are compounded by close proximity to this raw lump of developing human–one who wears her disdain, depression, euphoria, and ill-founded bravado at the very surface. Nothing I can say or do will serve as salve. It is what it is–a tough row to hoe.
I remember when each hour crawled languorously before me—a caterpillar on sixteen tiny legs, inching from Pensacola to New York City and back before the mantel clock would chime again.
Two days before my birthday, I thought I might be 50 before I turned eleven.
Now the years skip about with surprising unpredictability, and I’m never certain how old I am on any given day. It’s not unusual for me to believe I’m in my late twenties–until I try to stay up past eleven, until I glance at my little ones, and realize we see eye to eye.
My house is not a happy sleep place. Sooner or later, someone is destined to rouse me, so I can no longer doze off before the first two or three late-night interruptions. This makes it impossible to relax, read a book, sleep, or participate enthusiastically in conjugal relations. Mostly I just lie there and worry about who will be first to appear bleary-eyed at my bedside.
Last night, it was Miss Twelve. My light was still on low and I was holding a book open, imagining myself being able to concentrate on the words.
Miss Twelve looked at me expectantly. What follows is our conversation, verbatim:
Miss 12: What?
Miss 12: What?
Me: What’s up?
Miss 12: What?
Me: WHAT IS UP?
Miss 12: What?
Me: Can’t sleep?
Miss 12: What?
Me: IT LOOKS LIKE YOU ARE HAVING TROUBLE SLEEPING.
Miss 12: What?
Me: Do you need something?
Miss 12: What?
Me: HOW CAN I HELP YOU?
Miss 12: I can’t sleep.
Me: You can’t sleep and you are DEAF.
Miss 12: What?
Me: YOU SEEM DEAF.
Miss 12: I can’t hear you. I’m wearing ear plugs (removes ear plugs).
Me: WHY WOULD YOU WEAR EARPLUGS WHILE TRYING TO HAVE A CONVERSATION?
Miss 12: I was too lazy to take them out.
Miss 12: Anyway. I can’t sleep, so I took some melatonin. Good night.
Ridiculous as it was, the interchange was mercifully brief, and did not require me to get up and rub a back, procure ibuprofen, review for the state capitals test, fluff pillows, discuss the fall of the Roman Empire, fetch an icepack, listen to friend issues, or massage feet–all of which have happened in the past few weeks. Instead, I had plenty of time to worry about the next nighttime visitor.
To be honest, I’ve never read a chicken soup book; I can’t get past the cloying font on the covers. But I could see how a volume dedicated to the carpool driver might be useful. Gratitude is definitely not the focus of my consciousness while driving a carful of kids from here to eternity.
It’s not usually the kids that give me an aneurysm, though. The main problem with the carpool is the driving.
And the traffic.
And the idiots.
It’s the construction detours and backups.
It’s the sitting, the endless sitting.
It’s the feeling that my life is passing me by while I lurch from red light to red light.
It’s the premonition that if and when I finally arrive, a posse of hormonally-agitated tweens will roll their eyes and say welcoming things such as, “what took you so long?”
It’s the fact that, after ninety minutes in my gas-guzzling butt-breaker, I am unable to exit the vehicle without hoisting myself up with the car door. Apparently I have developed some sort of Saturday night palsy of the left hip. No doubt AARP is lurking in the shadows, waiting to enroll an early-adopter.
And…did I mention the sitting?
I am thankful that the carpool exists, of course. Otherwise I would be doing three times the driving. In fact, since it’s physically impossible to be two places at one time, one or both of my kids would be standing around unchaperoned on a curb somewhere. I am therefore forever indebted to those lovely parents who have teamed with me.
A carpool is a beautiful and delicate balance, thrown easily by one member making a team, or being cast in a play, or needing a retainer, or feverish. Do not sit next to me or my kids if you have a cold. You could screw up the logistics of my parenting life for the next two weeks, and my carpool buddies wouldn’t thank you, either.
I do try to combat my bad-itude. I bring snacks, a special ergonomic back pillow, and loud music of the passengers’ choosing. I’ve developed an audiobook habit for the solo runs, which helps mask the fact that I waste a shocking proportion of my waking hours behind the wheel–only to arrive exactly where I began.
Despite all of that…I f#%@ing hate it. I do.
I’m not alone, either. Carpool driving is on the shit list of parents everywhere, right next to stomach viruses, fundraising, and lunchroom duty. We are ripe for some spiritual guidance. So where is our chicken soup book?
There are 250 soup books. No lie. They have editions specifically targeting:
- parents of twins
- hockey lovers, and
- country music listeners.
There are fourteen different soup books about the wisdom we can gain from our furry friends. There is even one volume mysteriously entitled, “O, Canada.”
Surely the size and desperation of the group keening for some carpool inspiration warrants the 251st book.
Bring on the soup, people.
Jolene was the sprout of every girl who had ever hurt my feelings, reincarnated as a preschooler.
Yet my daughter was inexplicably devoted.
Ever hopeful, she would greet her wee frien-emy warmly.
Jolene would shriek and hide under the table. She would ignore–then punish cruelly if my child played with anyone else.
When confronted, Jolene would blame her actions on her delicate emotional state. “I’m really missing my mom today,” she would say, copping a sad face. “That’s why I’m making bad choices.”
But she would look me in the eye in a way that tipped her tiny hand.