Dinner and a Show

As the kids have become teenagers, it has become easier to get out of the house for an evening. Our instructions are no longer rambling missives to the babysitter with phone numbers for poison control. Our instructions now are called over our shoulders to anyone downstairs within earshot.

Saturday night, that wasn’t quite enough. There was a clog in the communication that started with a drywall guy.

Starting Friday, we stepped knee-deep into the project of converting the upstairs, walk-in attic into a livable, climate-controlled bedroom. Our girls have always shared a room. Until a year ago, they always wanted to. When they decided they no longer wanted to share, they really decided it. Like, really. And we’re not easy to convince on making big, sweeping changes. We tried to ride this one out. But it became clear that it was time to give each of them their own space and the only way to do that was with some construction.

By the end of Saturday, all of the framing was done before we left for dinner. We had made a 6:45 reservation to celebrate our anniversary at the Melting Pot. We ordered pizza for the rapscallions remaining behind. And we called out some last minute advice over our shoulder as we left. Be safe, we shouted to the one going out on the town. Don’t burn the house down, we called out to the others.

We should have been more specific

I was relaxed and happy on the way to the restaurant. We talked about garage sale fiascos that spanned the entire decade of 2000-2010 before Todd finally put his foot down and said he’d rather set himself on fire than ever host another garage sale. When we finally got seated in our private booth, I was feeling a little cocky. It was going almost too well.

But there were some apron strings still tied to home. And the texts started coming in.

The first text came in before we were even seated. It was innocent enough. The youngest texted me to ask Todd if it was okay to use the power in the attic. Could she run a load of laundry? Our attic, while being mostly converted into her new bedroom, is also the laundry room.

Sure, I said. It’s all fine.

The next text I received came in while the server was explaining the courses and describing our menu options. It seemed like pertinent information for the rest of my meal, so I had set my phone aside. I didn’t see that it was blowing up with a second series of texts. This second batch came in from our older daughter, who was relaxing in the living room on the first floor. It said something to the effect of, “I’m just going to ignore the fact that it sounds like it is raining from the upstairs into the living room.”

Her text about ignoring this obvious disturbance was immediately followed by a much more urgent text that read simply, “OHHHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOOOO.”

I hadn’t seen either text when the phone I had set aside began buzzing at my hip. I flipped it over to see who was calling and it was Lucy. I was fairly certain that she wouldn’t call about nothing. As I was deciding what to do about answering, I saw her unread “OHHHHHHH NOOOOOOOO” text on my lock screen and eliminated the “should I answer’ question.

I answered.

She began with, “I don’t want to ruin your anniversary, but….”

And so it began.

The drywall guys hadn’t hooked the drain hose back up to the washer when they left for the day. Apparently they told us not to use it. They said so in Spanish. While we speak enough Spanish to ask for a bathroom and announce that the burrito is hot, we don’t know what “Don’t use the washer tonight” sounds like. So, you know. She used the washer.

And at the end of the wash cycle, instead of all that dirty, soapy water draining where washers drain, it projectile shot out into a half-constructed attic bedroom, soaked into the floor, and down into the ceiling of the living room below.

The next 30 minutes were a blur of tactical information. Where the shop vac was located and how to use it. Go get your brother. Make sure you empty the shop vac if it fills all the way up. Line up buckets under the ceiling leaks in the living room. Your typical this and that.

Meanwhile, the poor server thought we must be on the brink of calling it quits after 28 years together. She couldn’t get a word in. And there was never a “ha ha, house is flooding, sorry about the phone calls” moment in our chit chat. So she had to dance around a crisis she knew nothing about and we had to let that go.

After the crisis came the apologies. We’re sorry we did laundry. How much is fixing this going to cost? Is your dinner ruined? How’s Dad? We paid our bill after I did some fairly significant damage to the dessert plates and the chocolate fondue and headed home.

On the way home, I could tell Todd was focused on what we would walk in on. They had done a pretty good job–and when I say they, I mean Jenna–but we knew there was a totally separate clean-up phase waiting for the adults with adult skills.

But really. What did I expect?

About halfway home, I looked at Todd and said, “I wonder what we would have talked about tonight if the washer hadn’t overflowed into the attic and down into the living room?”

I guess we’ll never know.

Everything I needed to know about my mother and myself, I learned in Maas Brothers.

This has not been my best week. About 75% of that was my own fault and within my own control. The other 25% just was. I tried to slog through it looking as normal (for me) as was possible.

Sunday is Mother’s Day. If this is a surprise to you and your mom is within reach, you still have tomorrow to scrounge something up. I would not have considered this to be a triggering day, but this year it has been. It has as much to do with the ages of my children and the state of the world as it does with the fact that my own mother has been gone for 3 years now.

The real problem this week is not what’s going on around me. It’s that I went into it unprepared. There are a lot of quick moving storms that go just fine in a 14′ skiff. But if you try to ride one out on the upside of a sheet of cardboard, you’ll have a different experience.

The last few weeks I’ve been riding the cardboard. But I’m working on that one and I’m still floating.

It has been impossible not to think about my mother this week as I sift through people’s posts and plans and a few of my own regrets. My mother was gone a long time before she died. She was only a shell of herself toward the end. She still knew who I was. She could still speak to me, but her comments were slow and measured and emotionless. I’ve asked myself many times if I did enough while I could. If I said enough. If she heard what I said and what I didn’t say.

Was it enough? It wasn’t enough for me. But in the end, it had to be and I knew it was okay. I’m sure it could have been better. I’m sure I could have done better. If we’d had more time, I feel certain we would have gotten it right, because we never did stop trying.

But it was okay. We were okay. We were always vastly different people and we both knew that.

There was a time when the very pronounced differences between me and Mom caused us to grit our teeth and do battle. I couldn’t openly confront her like my brother could. I was too chicken and she was too smart and too fiery. So I fought back with passive aggressive behavior like sticking my tongue out when she turned her back or by wearing my cleats and softball pants to my first night of the 10-day etiquette class she forced me to attend.

On a crisp day in February of 1987, I had waltzed through the back door for dinner with my gym bag slung over my shoulder. Before I could pick a spot to drop it and then be told immediately to pick it back up, my mother looked up from her spot in the kitchen and said, “I signed you up for a 2-week etiquette class at Maas Brothers.” Her tone was so casual. So unapologetic. “Come see.”

“Are you joking?” I asked her. My tone certainly informed her tone that there needed to be a very good reason for this announcement.

I don’t know why I even asked her if she was joking. She didn’t joke about things like that. I hopped the three stairs into our kitchen from the family room and looked down at the newspaper clipping she had cut out for me. Teen Etiquette and Fashion Class! Teens and table manners. Fashion and form. Maas Brothers. Monday-Thursday, February 23-March 5. 6-8 p.m.

“Mom!” I looked up in shock. “I have practice! Why did you sign me up for this?”

“You won’t have to miss practice. Just practice, change, and go to the class from the field. You can eat after.” How did my mother not see that this plan was from the actual devil? “You need to learn a little refinement, Missy,” she smiled sweetly and sort of half winked at me. “You can’t spend your life in your softball uniform.” Oh, I think I can, Mom. Pretty sure I can.

Looking back, I wonder if I should’ve argued more. Why did I lead with “I have practice” when the real issue was that this entire concept was 100% detestable? Did she just have a look on her face and a tone in her voice that shut me down? Did I secretly believe she was right and that I needed to learn to walk with 12 place settings of Lenox Charleston on my head? I don’t remember. All I remember is that it was planned and paid for and that I was to report to the 2nd floor of Maas Brothers on Monday, February 23. It was as good as done.

On that Monday, I monitored the time pretty closely, feeling distracted and stressed out during batting practice. When Coach called the end of practice and let us go, I looked at my watch and saw that there wasn’t time for a full outfit change or a shower. I had to sprint to my car and drive above the speed limit to arrive at the Tallahassee Mall on time. At that point, I only had time to pull a clean shirt over my dirty one. I stepped out into the parking lot and looked down at myself. From my neck down, not one thing matched. I had a clean red polo pulled over a dirty practice t-shirt. My pants were smeared in the orange clay of an unnecessary slide into 2nd base. I hadn’t worn my stirrups over my unmatched socks. And my cleats were cleats. I had arrived at my first “refinement class” wearing a golf shirt, baseball pants, and cleats. My mother had made me show up there that day, but that round went to me.

I trotted across a mostly empty parking lot, listening to the cadence of my cleats against the pavement, and noticed a smell like Listerine in the air. I had no idea what to attribute it to. Maybe that was what etiquette smelled like. Once inside Maas Brothers. I walked the short straight path through some lingerie and perfumes to the escalator and spent the entire ride up trying to free my right shoe from the grooves where I had wedged it when I hopped on with too much umph. This was going to be a disaster.

The closer I got to the second floor, the more aware I became that I was about to walk into a class wearing the worst outfit any of them would ever have seen. I didn’t have much time to twist in my worries, though, because as I stepped off the escalator, I could see a group of teenage girls sitting in chairs in a circle, right out in the middle of the store. There was nothing to do but join them. Only one chair was empty, between two strangers, and I plopped down in it and tried to tuck my shoes under the chair. When I got up the nerve to look around the group and make eye contact, I saw the smiling green eyes of my middle school best friend, Meredith. She waved subtly from her waist, because she knew how not to draw attention to herself. Ah, Meredith. Nothing in that moment, besides being sent home immediately with $100, could have made me happier. I had a friend in this miserable class.

When we had a moment to chat, she laughed and looked me over quickly.

“You came straight from softball practice, I hope?”

“Yeah,” I chuckled. “I won’t be doing this again.”

I didn’t, either. I showed up each night to learn from Judy Turman, a graceful woman who looked like porcelain and moved like a fluid. She was tall and thin and well put together. From her, I learned to cross my feet at the ankles and tuck them under my chair at an angle. I learned what would happen to my legs over the course of a lifetime if I continued along the desperately misguided path of crossing my legs at the knees. I learned how to sit. How to stand. How to wave. How to smile. How to properly set a table. Which forks to use for which foods. And how to dress. I learned that Meredith was still my friend, though we were now at different schools, and that I would always, always be more comfortable in cleats than in heels.

On the second day of the second week of class, we began to hash out details of the course’s grand finale: a fashion show complete with a runway and the music and outfit of our choosing. Parents, friends, and any casual bystanders with nothing better to do were invited to witness the fruits of Judy’s labor, which would comprise the entire session on the final night of the class. She met with each of us to choose songs and to discuss our taste in clothing. It was obvious to Judy, from only a few days of teaching us, who should wear what. Judy knew a girl that came straight from softball every day was never going to wear wedges or power suits. She dressed me up in 1987 overalls and slipped some red flats on my feet. As much as I did not want any part of the class or the event, I remember feeling like I had won the outfit lottery. To be flat on my feet and wrapped in denim was my fashion show best case scenario.

When Thursday night regrettably arrived, I found myself standing in a clump of girls, outmatched and uncomfortable, waiting for my cue to walk. When I heard the words, “Hi there,” I stepped out onto the runway and strutted my white denim stuff to Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I hated it. Every second. All of my empty spaces were filled with knots and nausea. When I was done and sweating through 1987 behind the stage, I scanned the audience for my family and caught my mother’s eye. What was the expression in her eyes? Was it joy? Was it an apology? Was it a truce? Was it concession? It was maybe a little of everything. I never asked her for any detail. If either of us had gone into this course with any doubt about who we were, there was no doubt now. She was her. I was me. She was skirts and matching shoes and hose with no runs in them. I was cleats and sneakers and denim and tube socks.

And by the end of that final night, I had a certificate in my hand that essentially stated we were agreeing to disagree. For the rest of our lives.

So to my mother, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I raise my shrimp fork, with a plate on my head. There are running shoes on my feet which I can clearly see because my legs are so egregiously crossed at the knees.

I have no regrets.
I know she doesn’t either.

My Credentials

Through the years, a lot of my friends have managed to raise kids and hold down jobs at the same time. I don’t understand this extreme and skillful display of multitasking. I have never been able to do it myself. Those of you out there with this skill, I applaud you.

Lately, I can’t even live life and then blog about it. I’m just living. But that part is going pretty well.

I’ve been asked a lot about whether I have been Covid vaccinated. I haven’t. I plan to in the summer. I have also been thinking about Mother’s Day, which is next weekend. And in clicking around my blog, I found a little something that managed to ensconce motherhood, vaccinations, and my inability to multitask.

This particular day is probably the worst one I ever carried out as a mom. I can’t believe there wasn’t a social worker waiting in my driveway to take my children when I got home from the store.

They don’t remember this.
I will never forget.

———————————————————–10 years ago….

Our fourth kid is a robust little sisterwoman. She’s chubby and tough and she doesn’t get sick. If she has ever been on an antibiotic, it’s only been one. And I’m not sure she’s ever had one at all. The others haven’t fared so well, so many of Jenna’s trips to the doctor have been as a spectator for some other very grotesque ailment. And then there was this whole “doctors charge too much” tirade I went off on, and I up and switched doctors, and charts were moving around faster than a suitcase trying to catch up to a frequent flier. And in all of the swirling chaos, I guess I just forgot about the whole “check ups” thing. I was checking her at home. She was fine.

But then one day quite recently, it seemed like maybe it was time to get her established with the pediatrician and figure out where we stood on the vaccinations issue. So I went. I didn’t tell her what we were doing. We just went to meet the doctor. He looked her over, met her, and then said: “Now, about her shots.”

“Oh yes. About that. How many are we behind?” I asked. I didn’t even bother to ask if we were. I knew we were behind. I think I even knew we were woefully behind. But I didn’t know we were devastatingly, woefully behind.

“Let’s see,” he said, referring to her chart. His eyes were down and his lips were moving. His head bobbed as he counted under his breath. One, two, three, four, five…..six, seven, eight….nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen…fourteen.” He said. His voice seemed unnaturally high and glib and he paused for just a fraction of a second to let that final number have some hang time before he said, “We’ll need to split that up over 5 visits.” Oh good. She’s going to love me for this, I thought. As if the doctor really needed to continue, he added one final note, “What I find funny about all of this is that you are pro vaccination!” Ha ha ha ha ha. I know! Isn’t that a gem? Welcome to my world, doctor. It’s crazy in here.   I did manage to show shock, because it was a staggering number he’d proposed, “Have I taken her to any of her check ups?” He looked down at the chart again. “Yes, you took her for her 2 month and her 4 month.” Huh. She’s 3. His expression was blank. So was mine. Huh.

So, to add to the fun of that 14-shot diagnosis, on my way out he handed me a stack of papers to do some lead poison testing on the baby. This, I must admit, I have no intention of doing. Though I am pro-vaccination, I am anti-lead-poison-testing. That just reeks of doctor-insurance scam. Perhaps this thinking caused me to subconsciously place the stack of papers up against my windshield as I strapped the girls in the car. I’m not really sure about that. But the effect was clear. I pulled out into 56th street and 130,000 papers went flying into the Tampa sky like confetti in front of a fan. Well, pooh. That’s a problem. I had to pull into the median, and while my ridiculously bewildered girls watched, I darted into traffic, between spurts of passing cars, and collected the lead poison testing papers.
Does it get better?
Yes, it does.

We were in a super big hurry that day, because it was a half day at school and because that’s just how these things seem to go. Before we could pick up the boys, we had to pick up a pie crust at the grocery store. We only needed this one thing. And in case you don’t see it coming yet: Super big hurry + quick stop = spontaneous catastrophic event. I am still so dumb in matters of daily living that I did not see this one coming. We threw Jenna into a cart, because she really cannot be trusted anywhere. Ever. And Lucy, who’s 4, was on foot. And as I was staring at the wall of Pillsbury products, Lucy began to cough. A lot.

“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yes, Mommy. I’m fine.” She replied, without hesitation. OK, good. That’s good. My eyes went back to shopping mode. The coughing started again, this time with some disturbing cadences thrown in.
“Seriously,” I said. “Are you okay? Are you going to throw up?” I asked, growing more alarmed.
“No, I’m not going to throw up. I’m okay.” OK. If you say so. But oh man. That cough. And those cadences. And there it came. Up came the Frosty I had bought her at Wendy’s just 20 minutes before. This all came as a complete shock to me, because…well, because I’ve chosen to block out all the other public vomits and catastrophic grocery visits that have occurred in the last 6 years. There’s no way this should have shocked me. I was just in denial. But as it was, I had NOTHING with me to use for catching a second-hand Frosty or cleaning up the after effects of the Frosty. So I did the only thing I could think of at the time: I grabbed the bottom of her t-shirt and used it as a bucket.

It kept coming. I kept holding that shirt. Patrons were walking around us, bug-eyed. What do you do in this situation? Totally pretend it isn’t happening? Make eye-contact and start offering giggly “it’s not viral” explanations? I couldn’t worry too much about all of that, because the Frosty was STILL coming up. And though I hate to say it, we were out of shirt.

In the intense pandemonium of the moment, I rolled up the nasty shirt, lifted it over her head and now she was shirtless and throwing up on the floor. Oh man. My head darted around like an owl until I saw a couple of employees chatting in the warehouse, behind double doors. I ran about 10 feet, banged on those doors, made some quick “we’re vomiting. it’s not viral” conversation and begged for a bucket or a mop or something. Anything. The lady came rushing back out with a mop and some paper towels and leaned down to start cleaning it up. Oh, no, ma’am. I’ll do that, I offered. I don’t want anyone else to have to do this. So I mopped up the floor, pulled Healthy Child out of the cart, put Shirtless Child into the cart, grabbed a silly pie crust and went running for the check out. On the way, I threw that shirt into a trash can. We had to stop in the bathroom to clean off her shoes.
Twice she stood up in the cart…with no shirt on.
“Sit down,” I whispered, mortified. “You have no shirt.”

As we checked out, I internally weighed the pros and cons of addressing the obvious fact that she was shirtless. Do you tell the cashier, ‘Oh yes, she’s shirtless because of all the vomit,’ or do you just let it sit there, unexplained, like it’s somehow what you meant to do that day?  I went with ‘say nothing, make no eye contact.’
When in doubt, skulk.
She does have a nice tan. I’ll say that for her.

So. When one silly pie crust can cause this much commotion, do you see why we are 14 shots behind?
I think it makes perfect sense.