February 25, 2015

Removing the 'Joy' in Joint

Last week my aunt in Florida emailed my two sisters and I and inquired about whether or not we might be hosting a joint graduation party this summer.  She needed to reschedule a cancelled flight and hoped to coordinate it with the date of a potential family party.  Maria will have one high school graduate up in Milwaukee, and Ann has a high school-er and an 8th grader graduating not far from me in the Western Suburbs of Chicago.  My Eddie is graduating from 8th grade as well. 

Ann emailed all of us which weekends she would prefer based on when she had custody of her four kids.  Maria shared that she planned to attend her college reunion on one of Ann's proposed weekends.  Although Ann hoped Memorial weekend would win out, it wouldn't work for Maria.  Maria's husband comes from a small family.  His mother and sister from the east coast would be in town for her son's actual graduation in Milwaukee.  I chimed in with the suggestion that Maria plan to attend a graduation party on the Sunday of her college reunion.  Driving from Indiana to Milwaukee, she could stop off at a party in Chicago.  Could she handle showing up to hang out with family after an exhausting weekend?  At the end of my email I offered to host the party at our home, which seemed to make the most sense since I was the only one of the three of us with a local in-law side to invite.

Ann responded eventually after she and Maria took a side bar (that is my polite way of stating that despite the email chain we were building, my two older, practically Siamese sisters managed to squeeze in a phone chat on topic).  Ann passed the news along that Maria had agreed that the Sunday of her reunion weekend would work after all.  She had checked the list of events and nothing seemed to be taking place at her college on Sunday.  Ann went on to suggest that she host a party for 'our side'.  Her plan was to honor the four cousins on our side of the family, and invite only family members on our side.  That way, she was so good to point out, 'Ernie could host her in-law side whenever she pleased, and there wouldn't be so many people.'  Swell.  Except for the fact, that I had no intention of selecting and sacrificing another summer Saturday or Sunday to celebrate Eddie's graduation all over again.  As a co-host to the joint party concept, I would be contributing financially for the food, drink, etc.  Did she really expect me to follow that party up with another party at my home on a different day with more food and drink to purchase?  As far as people over load is concerned, she is assuming that everyone will be available on the first Sunday in June.  Coach has three siblings in town.  Eleven kids between the three of them, most of whom are very young.

I responded that Coach and I weren't interested in hosting two parties.  She insisted in yet another email that she host only our side.  I was somewhat surprised.  Enough was enough.  I called her.  Had she not read thru my email?  If I was to host, Coach and I would contribute to the food for our side in addition to paying for the entire in-law side to eat.  She shouted into the phone that I wouldn't be hosting two parties, because she would be hosting the first one.  I suppose in her vast social experience she has never encountered co-hosting something.  Splitting the bill?  Ever heard of it?  That argument null, she shouted that she wanted the party at her house.  Her rant continued.  Her kids wanted the party at their house.  My kids aren't spoiled, so that was simple for me.  Tell them 'NO'.  Finally she tried to pull rank.  She had two kids graduating.  I only had one.  I was done.

Please understand that the party we speak of doesn't differ in any way based on whose address it's located at.  Swing set, basketball hoop, deck, kids running and playing, beef and pasta catered.  Casual.  Both houses can hold a good number of people.  Now, if one of us were insisting on building a stage and hiring a DJ and attempting to lure a phenomenal teen idol while contemplating hiring an outside valet service, then I could see how we would be in disagreement. It's a family party, and for the record, Coach's siblings went to high school with some of my siblings and typically everyone enjoys catching up when I host both sides for a First Communion party, etc.  The kids are all interested in similar things:  chasing a ball, chasing each other, eating, laughing, playing.  Good times. 

I decided to be the bigger person.  I got mad first.  Frustrated.  Stomped around the house at the stupidity of it all.  Then I decided to just let her host a party, so long as Patrick's graduation wouldn't be celebrated.  We would plan his party separately, because despite all attempts to stream line the party process a consensus couldn't be reached.  The semi-joined sisters (Ann and Maria) could co-host a joint party.  Have at it.  I'm confident that Ann's kids will be with their father when we celebrate Eddie's party, and Maria's family will be too busy to make another trek in from Milwaukee.  My two brothers families will most likely be busy, or exhausted by the multiple invitations.  So . . . in the end, Ann will have her way.  Why should this day be any different than any other day?  We will end up with a party attended by whoever can make it from Coach's family, just as Ann suggested.

I still need to share the new plan with my sister.  There is just so much I'd like to say, yet I know I should keep it simple.  One thought:  'Good news, crazy wins out . . . again.  Have fun at your party.'  I vow to devote an entire post to the responses I would like to send her way along with additional facts from past non(sister)sense.  Look for 'Possible Responses to a Sister's Love.'

February 22, 2015

My Texas Invitation Revisited

I was in second grade.  My Grandma, who also lived in Chicago, planned to travel to Texas to babysit for my two cousins while their parents went away to a medical conference.  My cousins Jimmy and Susie were about 4 and 6 years old respectively.  It was decided that I would accompany Grandma to Texas for the two week visit.  My parents shared with me that I would be expected to keep the kids entertained, encourage sibling peace, and model good listening and excellent behavior.  It was no secret that my cousins were indulged up to their eyeballs, but I accepted the challenge willingly.

My excitement was barely manageable over the few weeks leading up to our departure.  I would miss the last few days of second grade, and I would fly on a plane.  My siblings would be staying home.  I couldn't wrap my brain around my good fortune.  To this day, I have no idea what conversations took place prior to my invitation.  Was my name and those of my four siblings tossed into a hat and my name pulled?  Was my slightly-older-than-my cousins'-age a factor in the decision?  Did Grandma request me?  Did my aunt and uncle request me?  Was it easier for a second grader like me to miss school than my older sisters?  I never asked, and I can't say I cared.  I suspect that Grandma's opinion was heavily weighted based on the crayon story.

My Mom told me years ago how Grandma felt sorry for me.  She almost fainted when my parents shared the news that they were expecting again despite the fact that I was still a baby.  My brother arrived a few days shy of my first birthday.  While we lived out of state, my Grandparents visited for Easter one year.  I was a preschooler at the time.  Grandma brought everyone a small box of crayons and a coloring book.  She then presented me with a large box of 64 crayons complete with a sharpener in the back.  During the Easter egg hunt she attempted to shimmy up a very small sapling in order to retrieve an egg to add to my basket.  I'm not convinced that Grandma was a middle child sympathizer or if she was just disturbed by the fact that my brother dethroned me from babyhood too soon.  I won't deny basking in the uncommon extra attention.

The Texas visit proved to be every bit as awesome as I had anticipated.  My cousins and I created forts in their unfurnished living room.  We weren't even told to pack up our gathered building supplies each day.  We convinced Grandma to whip up new giant bowls of jello daily.  Batches of her peanut butter cookies did not disappoint.  The ice cream truck considered their sprawling ranch house a sure thing, and we raced to the street with dollars flapping in our hands nightly.  This was like an out of body experience for me.  Coming from a family who never flagged down an ice cream truck because the expense was too great, I felt like I was flying overhead watching this unfamiliar ritual.  I wondered how I would adjust back to my old life once I returned to Chicago.  There were trips to the swimming pool and hours spent on the swing set.  On one insufferably hot afternoon, Grandma tried to cool herself by wading into the public baby pool with her pants rolled up.  I'm guessing a bathing suit was no longer part of her wardrobe.  Her stumble and partial submersion into the pool became a highlight of the trip.  Keeping up with my end of the deal, I led by example at clean up time.  I diffused the sibling spats as they cropped up, and overall felt years older for the responsibilities I was granted.  I do recall worrying that word would get back to my folks that Susie and I had stayed up a bit late chatting after being put to bed.  When my Aunt and Uncle returned, my Aunt and Grandma took me to the mall and bought me a beautiful dress as a thank you for all of my help.  I now owned a dress that had not been broken in by either of my sisters.  Pinch me.

For years after my reintroduction into reality, there was a repeated phrase that became so overused it eventually developed into a family joke.  "Remember Ernie, you got to go to Texas."  When a neighbor had an extra ticket to a ball game, this infamous phrase was directed my way.  My name was automatically removed from the running for a cool experience that might only be available to a select few family members.  My Texas time felt like a life sentence, where my future of outstanding opportunities was constantly clouded by my ineligible status.  

I hadn't thought of this trip for years until last week.  Fozzy, my best friend from high school, texted me Thursday night.  'Want to go to Ireland for 10-12 days in July?'  Would I?  Were my Texas cousins spoiled?  Is the Pope Catholic?  My mind began to whirl.  How?  How?  How? 

Logistics.  Who would deal with the six kids if I went away?  Coach wouldn't be able to take another week off of work, since we went to Disney in January and intend to go to D.C. over spring break.  My parents live nearby, but their help would be limited by their age and willingness to be strapped with my brood.  It would be impossible to ship kids off to bond with a few Chicago area cousins, because swim season would be wrapping up.  The gang would need to be near home in order to prepare for and compete in the mid July swim finals.  On the other hand, the kids are old enough and well behaved enough to be farmed out or left with a sitter or Laddie for stretches of the day.  I wasn't sure if I should dare to allow myself to consider the potential memories and fun this vacation might provide.

The expense.  I tried to consider it, but my mind kept wandering back to the 'never do it' category that this trip falls into, and I feel like the cost argument should be obsolete.  Fozzy has been selected to participate in a course, so 3 or 4 nights in a hotel along with the rental car cost for those days would be provided.  After studying in Ireland as a college junior, I still have friends that perhaps we could visit.  If we stayed with my good friend's, empty-nester parents, Chris and Janice, near Dublin for a night, that would equate to additional savings.  The fact that we would be splitting the remaining lodging and rental car costs would help.  
Practical.  I almost instantly started to find a reason to go to Ireland.  Perhaps I could bring Laddie along to look at the college I studied at for a year, in case he would want to apply there.  I could drop him off with Chris and Janice, who could show him the college while I toured around the country with Fozzy.  They could then drop him at the airport and he could fly home to Chicago.  Several of the kids play Irish music and my sister in law is from Northern Ireland.  I could offer to accompany a few of her kids and a few of mine to her family farm where they could spend time with cousins and participate in some Irish music sessions to strengthen their music skills.  This would alleviate my need to make arrangements for a few extra bodies at home in my absence.  Of course the imaginary travel bill was growing with every possible 'practical' scenario. 

Input.  Since Fozzy's invitation, I've gathered input from other friends, strangers, acquaintances, Coach, and my parents.  There isn't another adult who thinks I should pass up this opportunity . . . unless of course you count the adults who are related to me.  Everyone outside my family that I polled suggested that I jump at the chance.  Enlist the aid of friends, family, and capable driving-age sitters to handle the kids.  I heard comments like, 'Life is short.'  'You have to do this for yourself.'  'You deserve it.' 'You never know when another opportunity like this is going to come along.'  At least one friend has offered to take a couple of my kids for as long as needed.  (Hoping we would still be friends after she is stuck with my offspring for days!)  Coach said nothing.  I brought it up repeatedly on Thursday night.  Finally I asked him what he thought.  "Sounds like a trip you take when your kids are grown."  I called my mom about another matter and casually worked the potential Ireland trip into the conversation.  Rather than bite at the implied assistance, she laughed.  The next day, I brought the topic up to my dad on the phone.  He didn't say much, but my mom picked up the phone and asked, "You aren't seriously considering this, are you?"

It's a tough call.  I could go.  Demand it.  Make the necessary arrangements.  Plan everything.  I have been to Ireland multiple times before.  Should I hold out for a location I haven't visited before?  What if another travel option comes along in a few years?  I can hardly bog friends and family down with my crew again.  What if this turns into Texas all over again?  'Remember Ernie, you got to go to Ireland.'

February 15, 2015

Dirty Sheets, Crumby Counters, Kicked Around Laundry, and No Chore Reminders

I went to St. Louis this weekend for an Irish dancing competition.  Although two of the boys and both girls dance, I only brought the more serious dancers:  the girls.  It was hectic getting out the door on Friday.  The kids had a half day, and I intended to leave right when they got home.  I was busy preparing meals that could be eaten at home while we were away.  A portion of the chicken broccoli casserole that I earmarked for Friday night was stored in a cooler and loaded into the car with the dancing gear and overnight bags.  To save money, we would reheat the casserole for dinner.  I grabbed some leftover turkey and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes for the second night at the last minute.  I explained to Coach that they could feast on frozen pizza on Saturday night, but the huge crock pot of tasty chili should be plugged in on Sunday.  This way we could arrive home Sunday evening and a warm dinner would be waiting.  Our departure was delayed because once the dinners were divvied up and stored in the fridge or the cooler-to-go, I ran to the post office to apply for a passport for Reggie.  The frustration revolving around this passport ordeal is sufficient to fill another post . . . assuming I can ever see the humor in the situation.

Getting the kids off to school that morning, I lost my cool.  In fact lately it seems more often than not that I find myself blowing my lid.  The kids manage to tune me out, leave a trail for me to deal with, and look surprised when I'm upset.  I was beating myself up about how I can't seem to get a handle on teaching the kids to deal with their own belongings, chores, and siblings.  Something has got to give.  I was face to face with a pivotal moment where I recognized a need for a change.  How to go about it?  I reviewed a million different tactics in my head that I could try when I returned from St. Louis.  I admit, this was a trip I was dreading.  Long drives make me sleepy.  I hate driving tired, but I seem to be perpetually exhausted.  Once at the event I anticipated getting two kids prepped in the morning, delivered to different stages on time while I offered encouraging words, and protected their costly dresses from spilled food and other potential stains.  The weekend's stress potential was gnawing at me, and now I was questioning my mothering capabilities.  I vowed to reach deep inside to find the patience required to deal with the upcoming challenges of the weekend and my reentry into our hectic family life.

The girls and I chilled out in the hotel room while watching 'Love it or List it' on HGTV.  I raced down to the lobby to reheat our food since the promised microwave failed to appear, and we dined in front of the television.  After they showered, I applied leg tanner to Mini and rolled the portion of her hair into curlers that would be exposed by her wig.  (Trust me not enough blog space in cyberspace for the nonsense involved in the world of competitive Irish dance, but someday my tell all book will cover all the gory details).   I laid out the clothes for morning and put them to bed much later than I had hoped.  After the first day of competitions ended, we called home to share the good news of all their success before we headed to the hotel pool.  I treated the girls to frozen yogurt with their choice of toppings in the hotel lobby shop.  Mini neglected to hear me say there was no need to fill the entire bowl which would be priced based on its weight.  Her ridiculously generous portion ended up costing me a small fortune, but I informed her she would just have to share some with me.  The evening played out in a similar way . . . Curly still begged to sleep in the pullout while Mini and I shared the king size bed.  No way.  I've slept with Mini before in a double bed.  I feared for my life.  Curly's more compact 7 year old size and less combative sleeping style made her the perfect partner to share the king size bed with me.  We laughed, joked, chatted, and enjoyed our stay.  That's when Curly remarked, "I could live here."  I must admit I concurred.

It wasn't just that we were in a nice hotel and someone else was making the bed and washing the towels.  Being away from the everyday tasks, the constant flow of back talk, the refusal of many family members to pitch in, and the complicated schedule of activities was refreshing.  The girls weren't shuffling underfoot being silly and distracting as I tried to tackle an endless to do list while dealing with sassy teens, incomplete or ignored kid chores, and navigating car pool themed text messages.  There was certainly stress involved in putting the wig on without inflicting too much pain, reviewing dances in hopes of removing any jitters, and rushing between stages to view each of their dances.  In our down time we admired dresses that we liked and acted like our lunch was a picnic directly from the 'Frances' children's books complete with odd food combinations without forgetting a tasty spread of some kind.  Then it was time to come home.

I have on occasion questioned the kids as to what they would do without me.  Today I found out.  Kitchen counters would be neglected.  Crumbs had purchased real estate on top of older, more foundation like crumbs.  Of course I have never been accused of being a neat freak.  Counter tops are frequently crumby, sticky messes with a lopsided stack of 'important' paperwork teetering precariously on the granite counter edge.  In fact I am guessing that I left the kitchen in disarray after preparing enough food to feed an army before my trek to St. Louis.  I do recall loading and starting the dishwasher, and I could swear that I wiped the counter quickly.  Additionally, the stack of laundry that Tetonka was told to sort on Thursday had dwindled but was still present.  This heap of clean clothes had now been trampled on and kicked around my master bedroom.  There on top of the new solid oak doors that were installed this week were not one, but two basketball hoops.  They had turned my room into a full court.  From the doorway to the closet.  No one picks up anything off the floor in our home, so tripping over unsorted laundry only added interest to an exciting, full court, master bedroom basketball game.  Why not? 

The note I left was never seen.  The verbal announcement that a note was being left behind was not heard most likely due to Coach's inactive listening capabilities.  Lately quite sharp.  Note to self:  no longer speak to husband while the laptop is propped up in front of him.  Insist that he close it and tune in.  I was careful not to overload the apparently invisible list.  I included a reminder that Laddie and Eddie were to handle the sheets, that the wire shelves could be installed again on the new pantry door, that Tetonka's vacuuming services were needed, and there was a written basketball practice reminder.  I must note that at least one load of laundry was washed and the burned out light bulbs were replaced in the too-high-to-reach light fixture in the laundry room.  Of course the weekend included plenty of driving to basketball games and practices because we don't encounter a day without this taxi service.  All great accomplishments.

I asked a few boys what chores they had accomplished while I was away.  Reggie the robot could list quite a few.  Tetonka moaned and held his head in his hands as if it might roll away.  Eddie insisted he had been plenty helpful.  Any instructions I suggested were met with disdain.  I believe a teenager commented from the safety of another room about how quiet it was while I was away.  I forced Tetonka to address the left behind, now kicked around laundry.  Even Coach requested that I give it a rest.  Careful what you wish for.  I like rest, and clearly I don't get enough of it. 

February 10, 2015

Baking Thanks

Going to bed Wednesday night, I suddenly realized that I failed to bake.  My subconscious, mental checklist caught me off guard and in a moment of clarity I became aware that I forgot to whip up a baked good for Reggie's carpool.   (I attribute my scheduling mishap to the fact that after collapsing into a two hour, midday nap earlier in the week, I dragged myself to the doctor to receive medication for a sinus infection.  A two hour nap plus time at a doctor's office and pharmacy soaked up the time necessary to complete my to do list.)  I intend to bake for this woman, who I barely know, but who has graciously agreed to pick Reggie up every Thursday and transport him to the North side of Chicago for ceili practice.  Why this nine year old, recreational dancer is involved in a World Championship ceili team is a blog post for another day.  When all the stars align, I promise to carve out enough time to document the intensely mind-blowing nonsense that is grossly and inseparably interwoven into the world of Irish dancing.  Due to the intense, politically-charged experiences I have survived, I will most likely need to publish my future best seller when my children have officially retired from the sport.  Of course it would make sense to begin writing it now since transforming my first hand account into a reader-worthy, tell all will undoubtedly take years.  Perhaps I will begin to hammer away at it after I share a bit about my interesting, but typical Thursday. 

I slipped into a deep sleep after assuring myself that I would mix the dry ingredients in the morning before work, therefore making it entirely possible to still provide car pool super mom and her family with a tasty treat.  Always good to have a plan.  Coach handled most of the kid duties while I measured, poured, mixed and eventually scrambled out the door for work.

This is only my third year at my part time job.  Because dull doesn't work well for me, I have only held down newly created positions.  (I suppose my high school days at Burger King are the exception.  To be more specific, since I graduated from college, I have stepped into various evolving roles).  Last week I attended a workshop for other individuals who work in a similar capacity in other area Catholic Schools.  These presentations always leave me recharged and ready to accomplish many tasks.  Therefore, I approached my Thursday work day with energy and zest.  My day would be productive, and I would rush home to complete my infamous chocolate chip cookies.  Much work stuff was handled, but time failed me.  My goal to escape before 2:00 evaporated.  At last I found myself speeding down the interstate calculating what time I would have to get the cookies in the oven in order to have them pop out presentably.  My mind raced faster than the minivan while I sorted thru the duties and the order I needed to do them when I arrived home.

Reggie would need his dinner in a thermos ready to go at 3:30.  Awesome car pool lady initially offered to grab him a bite to eat on the way to dancing.  I drew the line.  Driving is enough of a gift, no need to also feed him.  I utilize both the microwave convection and the oven when I make cookies, so I made a mental note to warm up his leftover pasta before I preheated the convection for incoming cookie sheets.   While the pasta reheated, I searched for a clean thermos.  Challenging.  The kids left the dirty thermoses from last night's dinner-on-the-run in the dance bag.  Fished one out of said bag, washed it, filled it.  Gathered the eggs, vanilla, and butter and began tossing ingredients into my professional grade mixer.  I always double the recipe when I bake cookies, so I purchased this enormous, top of the line machine last year.  Love it.  Turned the switch to mix and grabbed a stick of butter to grease the cookie sheets.  Only glanced at the clock a few dozen times.

First I heard it.  A loud groan.  Then I saw the results.  A steady stream of white smoke rose ceremoniously from the top of the kitchen aid.  No!  I turned it off and unplugged it.  Damn thick dough!  As a side note, my cookies are thick and quite popular, but this is in large part due to the extra flour I add to the recipe.  Yummy.  No time to cry or panic - although either would have proven therapeutic, I plunged my buttery hands into the dough and began to knead.  I tossed in piles of chocolate chip morsels and scooped balls of dough onto the prepared sheets.  Two cookie sheets in.  Twenty four dreamy cookies would be out of the oven in 13 minutes.  Left to cool for a bit, they'd be warm and loaded on a paper plate in time for carpool superwoman.   

Reggie and Curly walked in from the bus.  Their excitement over my cookie creating deflated somewhat when they asked the usual, "Are they for us?"  I rarely make cookies 'for us'.  Instead I serve this dessert to kindhearted souls as a thank you whenever I think a standard 'thanks' won't cut the mustard.  You could say this form of thanking people is in my genes.  Well, I suppose gratitude baking isn't really hereditary as much as it is a learned behavior.  My mom delivered her very popular baked goods to other people as a congratulations, a welcome to the neighborhood, or a thank you when I was growing up.  Kids on my brothers' baseball team came to expect a plate of cookies at the next game for an awesome play or a home run.  My mom used the same mix-master for about 18 years.  I'm on my second . . . possibly third?  No time to think of my defunct stand mixer, although I must admit the reality continued to fog my already cluttered head. 

Before I directed kids to after school jobs and homework, I promised that everyone could have one of my cookies later.  Reggie quickly changed his clothes and ate the first installment of warm pasta that sat covered with tin foil on the table.  I positioned him at the piano where he practiced his pieces until the teacher arrived for his abbreviated lesson.  Curly was posted at the family room window as a look out for the car pool SUV.  "She's here!" she called and we sprung into action.  Still filling, removing, and rotating cookie sheets in the ovens, I stopped and shuffled outside in my work clothes, house slippers, and apron.  I grabbed Reggie off the piano bench, and ordered Curly to jump up for her lesson.  Outside I swung Reggie's backpack into the back seat and handed the confused mom a plate full of warm cookies.  She insisted that it isn't necessary for me to provide her with home baked treats each week.  I smiled and acted like I understood.  I am already planning Irish soda bread for this Thursday. 

February 2, 2015

Car Pool Refusals - Neighbor Style

When Curly was six months old, we moved to a bigger house.  I was hesitant to move initially, because the new house was not included on the school's free bus route.  It was, however, less expensive to move then to put on an addition.  

A woman named Mary Ann, who I had known for years, lived directly across the street from our new house.  Her kids attended the same Catholic School as our kids.  Not long after we were settled, I called Mary Ann and asked her if she would be willing to drive Eddie home for me the following day.  

Laddie needed to stay after school for altar server practice, and if she could just grab Eddie for me then Curly could finish her nap before I had drive back to school to get Laddie.  She agreed to drive him, but she asked me to instruct Eddie to look for her car in front of the rectory after school.  Her kids walked to her car in the parking lot at dismissal.  She didn't exit her vehicle, and clearly this occasion would not warrant an adjustment to her plan.

The next afternoon I sat down in front of my sewing machine at the kitchen table.  I was sewing the pocket of a hoodie sweatshirt that belonged toMary Ann’s teenage son, Rick.  She had approached me a few days before and asked me to sew it for him.  Apparently this was the only ‘coat’ she could get Rick to wear, and my Laddie had ripped the pocket in a game of backyard football.  

(After Mary Ann had marched back across the street to her house, Laddie pointed out to dumbfounded-me that Rick's brother Ryan had told him not to worry about it.  The pocket had been previously ripped.  Laddie had caused additional damage to it during their game, but it was an accident.  They were playing football after all, not chess). 

Mary Ann explained that since she knew that I sewed, she decided she would ask me to fix it rather than take it to a tailor, but if I would prefer she go the tailor route I could let her know.  My muddled head screamed ‘tailor, tailor!‘, but dumbfounded-me couldn’t spit out the words.  Welcome to the neighborhood.

Curly was a fussy baby.  Her ability to cling to me resembled the baby monkey instincts we witnessed so often at the zoo.  I rarely put her down.  She required a barium enema when she was six months old.  That fall I had constructed easy Halloween costumes that required little or no hand sewing.  I refused to unpack the sewing machine.  No cutting out patterns.  No multiple trips to the fabric store.  

But for Mary Ann’s request, I dug through my closet until I came to the unopened sewing machine box.  I lugged it down to the kitchen table and prepared to secure the torn pocket.  The phone rang.  It was Mary Ann.  She was shouting into the phone.  I instinctively jumped from the chair and ran to get my car keys.  She couldn’t find Eddie.  Did I remember to tell him where she parked her car?  Did he forget she was picking him up?  A question I struggled to answer definitively as mind reading is not my foray.  
Ironically I was working on fixing Mary Ann's kid's sweatshirt when she called me freaking out that Eddie didn't walk to her car the day I asked her to drive him home from school. 

Eddie was in 2nd grade.  I guessed that he had forgotten the ride arrangement, and my detailed instructions.  He was probably waiting for me near the flag pole.  Her 8th grader, whose sweatshirt I was sewing, sat in the front seat next to her.  She had no plans to get out of her car.  Finally, she agreed to send Rick to find Eddie.  She then pointed out how important it was for her kids to get home because they had basketball tryouts that night.  They needed to get started on their homework.  

I could see how this five minute fiasco could put a real damper on study time.  When her rant was complete, I hung up.  Waited for my pulse to slow down.  I looked at my unwelcome sewing project and was tempted to sew the arms hole openings shut.

Every Mother's Dream

It’s every mothers dream. I wish I could bottle it.  Sell it.  When it works, its priceless.  After all, it’s time saving, convenient, and possibly life-altering.  What mother doesn’t want to be included in a great car pool?  I’ve been fortunate to be offered rides from some of the greatest, selfless women living in the western suburbs of Chicago.  More typically though, I’ve been left at the curb, squinting thru the tinted, minivan windows wondering why other mothers don't consider car pooling the most important survival mechanism of parenting.

To be fair, not every parent can accommodate the number of kids in our family into their automobiles. After Curly was born there were a few years when Coach and I were forced to drive separately to distant family functions because we couldn’t safely cram the whole crew into the minivan.  Nearby destinations were different.  We utilized the highly illegal, but ever popular ‘double buckle’ option.  This choice was accompanied by continuous moaning, complaining, and grunting.  Thus. . .  SHORT distances.  Typically though, not all of my kids need to be at the same activity at the same time.  Translation:  I am always on the prowl for friendly, willing drivers to grab a kid of mine one week while I grab theirs the following week.  Despite my offers to drive half the time, I often end up juggling the transporting of kids in different directions because no one jumped at the ‘car pool’ suggestion.  Understandably, many moms who might be able to squeeze a kid in their backset have plans to stop somewhere on the way home, or attend another offspring’s game.  Bummer.  As I have discovered over the years, there are countless parents who avoid living the dream.  I don't mean to imply that driving my kid around is dreamy, just that it is perhaps time saving and sanity preserving.

Laddie attended afternoon preschool back in the day when Eddie was a toddler and Tetonka was about to enter the world (weighing in at 10 lbs 3 oz, innocent bystanders kept expecting his appearance months before he was born and never hesitated to tell me how positively enormous I looked long before his December due date).  Coach and I drove much smaller cars then we do currently.  A neighbor with a son in the same class agreed to carpool with me.  I pointed out that once the baby arrived, I would no longer be able to fit neighbor Davey in my car because all available rear row seating would be occupied by Laddie, Eddie, and the monster growing within.  Davey’s mom and I hatched a plan.  I would drive the first half of the year and once the baby arrived, she would take over the driving.  It wasn’t exactly even-steven, but she insisted that it would be perfectly acceptable to her.  Trust me, there was much rejoicing.

When Eddie enrolled in preschool, he made a best friend, Carl, on the first day.  Carl’s mom, Shari, as it turns out, was the bomb.  Carl was the youngest of four boys.  Shari felt my pain as I waddled around in my well worn maternity clothes expecting Mini.  She insisted on picking Eddie up from preschool.  Period.  No strings.  No switching off.  I suggested sharing the responsibility, but she simply pointed out that she was going to the preschool pick up line anyway.  I countered with the fact that she wouldn’t have to ‘go to the preschool line’ if I drove sometimes.  No more discussion necessary as she offered a friendly wave while backing down my driveway.  I may have wept.

Eventually we did purchase a minivan.  The gang was still fairly young, so they weren’t involved in too many extracurricular activities.  There was a heavenly, free bus service that delivered the boys home after parochial school, and we typically hung out at home while the younger guys napped.  When Eddie was in first grade, he asked me why I had failed to sign him up for Irish dancing classes.  Oh.  I didn’t remember agreeing to that, but I found a class in the next town over that a girl named Maureen in Laddie’s class was attending.  Before I signed him up, I learned more about the class from Maureen's mom, Ms. Katy, who actually assisted the dancing instructor.  The class was very low key.  He loved it.  Every Wednesday I disrupted naps, loaded youngsters into the minivan, and dragged along a bag of entertaining books and toys in the crammed car.  Because the bus would have dropped them off too late, I then grabbed the boys from school and drove to Irish dancing.  I followed Ms. Katy from the school parking lot to the dancing class parking lot.  Odd, frustrating, counter intuitive.  Choose the word that best fits.  

It pained me to interfere with nap time.  The precious few minutes of the day when the house was relatively quiet.  Typically during this afternoon siesta I accomplished something or laid down for a rest myself.  By this time Reggie was the baby and Curly was expanding by leaps and bounds in my spacious belly.  My brother’s daughter,  who was Mini’s age, joined our daily adventures because I babysat for her while her parents worked.  Full car, dizzy head, nutty life, no car pool.  I approached Ms. Katy about possibly giving Eddie a lift to dancing right from school, since she attended the classes each week because of her role as assistant teacher.  She agreed to drive him the next week.  Once.  I waited a week or so, and I approached her again.  I was careful to use the ‘car pool’ term.  She explained to me that she didn’t like to car pool.  She had had a bad experience once.  I tried to wrap my brain around what she was saying.  Who doesn’t like car pools?  Ms. Katy, who was as serious as a heart attack, didn’t.  She rarely smiled, wore her hair in a very short cropped style, and could easily have been mistaken for a nun.  She never expanded about her bad experience.  My imagination created a few possible details.  Her kids arrived late, the driver swore a lot, there was a car accident?  I will never know.  Just as she will never know how delicious the baked goods were that I would have supplied her in exchange for a ride for Eddie.

The additional car pool-refusal stories involving another Catholic School mom, who is also my neighbor, are so plentiful that they required a separate blog post.  If you can stomach the irony of the situation, I invite you to read that post as well.  Title:  Car pool denials - neighbor style.

After years of paying tuition for the kids to attend Catholic School, Coach and I determined that we could no longer afford it.  Laddie was graduating and preparing for public high school, and Curly was about to enter the 4 year old preschool program.  With no end in sight to the tuition bills, we pulled the kids in August of 2012 and transferred to the public school.  Fortunately, our school district is outstanding, and we've had a great experience there.  The junior high is only three blocks from our home while the other building is a short drive away.  Since the transfer, I have never struggled to score my kids a ride when I am in a pinch.  Most of the time the junior high kids walk to school, but other parents are willing to pick my kids up in the morning or after school, if it is too cold to walk and I'm not home. 

Eddie is on three basketball teams.  (I must have been dazed and confused when I agreed to this nightmare.)  When practice ends for his school team, he can easily walk home, but he typically gets flagged down by another parent who drops him off at our door.  Two of his school buddies, Oliver and Ken, are on the school team with him and one of the travel teams as well.  Coach and I typically steer clear of travel teams, but Eddie is able to play on the team thanks in part to the willingness of Oliver and Ken's parents to help us transport him.  We drive to some of the practices and attend the games that work into our schedule, but these moms insist that with our hectic schedule they are happy to grab Eddie despite our inferior car pool involvement.  My guilt over not doing my share has been fueled by Eddie's teenage remarks that Oliver and Ken's moms drive him more than we do.  I have shared this issue with the both moms.  They only laugh and assure me that with two kids each and the close proximity we live to each other, they can handle giving Eddie a lift.  Oliver's mom pointed out that Oliver lives at home, but her daughter is away at college.  She insists that Oliver enjoys Eddie's company on the long drives to and from games.  I can't say enough about how kind and accommodating these women are to incorporate us into their car pool despite our weak return commitment. 

Someday my kids will be older.  Most of them will have their licenses.  College dorms will house some of them.  Reggie and Curly will be living at home requiring occasional rides.  At this juncture in my life, I predict that I will become known as the most dedicated car pool mama to ever operate a minivan.