Middle Aged Treehouse

I'm only mature in years.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Moving on

Well, Kate's been driving for 72 hours when she has her first accident.

In our driveway.

This is the first morning she has to back the car out to turn it around; Dave and I have been doing it for her. I watch her in case she needs guiding, but no, the kid can back perfectly. When it's time to drive forward to exit, she turns the corner going left, going around the house where I can't see her, and I'm thinking, "Dang, she drives better than I can," when I hear a soft, muffled crunchy sound.

I think, "Wha--? Surely that was nothing. She must have run over a stick or something." I start to go into the house but change my mind.

Walking around the corner, I see that she has continued to turn left, so that instead of continuing straight down the driveway, she's veered into a flowerbed and made contact with a large crepe myrtle. There's a round, dirt-smudged cave-in about 14 inches in diameter on Ishmael's (Kate named the car after reading Moby Dick) front left fender, which is now squished down almost to the tire. There are about 12 inches of black tire tread on the tree.

Tire marks on a tree?

By the time I get to her, she has already pulled the car out of this strange position, but the curved tire marks arcing through the flowerbed make it easy to see what has happened. In order to get the car into this spot, she would have been just inches from the side of the house.

She is sobbing, Lucille Ball-style.

"My coffee mug was tipping over! I only looked down for a second! Are you gonna tell Dad? (huge gulp of air) He's gonna be so ma-ha-haaaaaaad! Aaaaaa!"

Kate has this Starbucks thermal mug her friend Aubrey personalized for her Sweet 16. She loves it. Its plastic outer liner holds pictures from musicals and bits and pieces of Kate's show scripts (a great gift idea, by the way).

I snatch the mug, saying something about, "NO drinks, no phone, no iPod, until you get used to driving." After about ten minutes she calms down and I decide it she doesn't drive herself to school this very morning she will be forced to take buses and cabs for the rest of her life. I tell her to proceed with extreme caution and to text me the nanosecond she gets to school.

Fifteen minutes later, my cell phone beeps.

I'm at school okay. I am so sorry and so stupid

Everyone goes on with their day. At school, Kate gets teased by the choir teacher, who has heard the story from me. She laughs about it. She returns home, and texts:

home again, home again, jiggety jig

After school she tells me in her best grownup voice she knows how to be careful and can she please go pick Braeden up and take him to Tinseltown. I say, "Okay with me, but you have to clear it with Dad and that means telling all about the morning's debacle."

Of course, the whole reason we saved my old clunker car was that Dave predicted this day would come. The steel-caged, airbag-equipped 1993 Volvo sedan has 240,000 miles, a few dents and dings, and an N.A.D.A. book value of well, nada. So I figure Dave will be okay, maybe a little crabby.

Kate starts crying again when she tells him about the morning. He takes it well; he's actually quite fatherly, calm and sympathetic.

Until he sees the car.

Then he lets out this sound: "Huuuuaagh!" like someone just shot him in the back. The expletives start flying. Now I have to talk HIM down. I start considering a career in counseling.

Then he sees the tree.

"HOW? HOW? HOW did you do this?"

More blubbering from my daughter, whose eye makeup now looks like something from Children of the Corn.

Later at dinner, I say a blessing, talking to our Heavenly Father mostly on Kate's behalf. Jack and Dave and I are suppressing laughter over my gratitude and requests while Kate is in tears again. Miraculously, albeit after an endless lecture, my husband kindly tells Kate she can go pick Braeden up from the Appleby's where his parents have taken him to dinner, about a mile from our house.

Kate slowly drives away. About 10 seconds later, she calls me.

She's at the end of the driveway.

"Uh, which way is Appleby's?" I do not believe my ears.

So David tells her to follow him to the street to Appleby's and I am thinking, "Are we insane? Are we crazy to let her out on the streets?"

Well, are we?

I guess I'll find out in exactly three and a half hours when the battered old Volvo pulls into the driveway.

Please, God.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Not getting any younger? Says who?

Last night I did something I had not done since about 8th grade. I took a ball-point pen and wrote a message on my hand so that I would not forget an appointment. Big blocky letters now speak to me from my wrinkled, liver-spotted, collagen-deprived dishpan hand.

Two days ago I also did something unbecoming for a 48-year-old woman; I kicked an inanimate object. I kicked the crap out of a vending machine that robbed me of $2.70 of the $2.80 worth of couch cushion money I had shaken from my purse. I am not a violent or hot tempered person. But here is how it happened:

At 3 o' clock Monday, a tiny, sinister voice spoke to me at my desk.

"Must have chocolate. Must have chocolate NOW."

I crept to the downstairs vending area, a dark place only frequented by the science grad students pulling all-nighters. I was in luck; the machine had been recently filled with sweet and salty snacks for the tired and the desperate.

I pushed two crispy fresh dollar bills into the money slot before figuring out this machine must prefer shiny coins. Coins did indeed do the trick, but alas, the Reese's Cup I had actually chosen based on the fact that it looked the least likely to get hung up in the machine did precisely that. At this point, I felt nothing but rage. I banged my fist on the machine's plexiglass front, hoping to disengage the overpriced treat. I bumped it with my hip. Twice. Finally, even though I knew my phony kung fu would get me nowhere, I gave my best drill team high kick to the machine's mocking face, hoping no one would witness this useless (and stupid-looking) gesture. I was so exasperated I actually pulled out my cell phone and called the number on the sticker above the coin slot.

"Hello, I am just calling to tell you that I am a gentle, middle-aged mother of two and that your malfunctioning machine has pushed me to violence. I have no money, and no chocolate!"

The woman who answered the phone was a pro. She practically purred, "Oh! Ma'am, I am so sorry! What building are you in? I will let the technicians know. And you can go collect reimbursement from the business office over there and we'll take care of that."

"Um, thanks. I think I'm okay now. I just wanted you guys to know this thing isn't working."

I felt like a crazy woman talked down from the ledge. I must have looked it, too, because my editor took pity on me and maternally walked me over to the nearest 7-Eleven for a candy bar. I guess I'm living up to one of my favorite quotes by Odgen Nash:

"You can never be young again, but you can stay immature indefintely."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

But they just got here

We were cleaning house today. I got ambitious and decided to finish changing the cabinet handles in our kitchen and den, with Jack's help.

"You'll need to remove these," I told my son, pointing to the odd remaining plastic child-proof latches.

"What are these?" asked Jack.

"Safety latches. They kept you out of trouble when you were little."

We are still living in our first house, the house we brought both our babies home to. My children have never known bedrooms other than the ones they occupy now. I also realized today that we still keep all the measuring cups in a bottom kitchen drawer, a trick my mom taught me so that a baby could entertain itself while I cooked. Our ceramic cookie jar is in the form of Mister Frumble, the pig from the Richard Scarry books. (Yes, you know!— the one who wore a green hat and drove the pickle car.)

Last month we painted over the fluffy storybook clouds in Jack's room to reinvent the room with a mossy green coat of paint. I had created this mural when I was seven months pregnant and I still consider it one of my proudest artistic endeavors. I've known for a long time that the day would come when Jack would outgrow it, but I managed to talk him into leaving the skyscape on the ceiling for old time's sake. (He bought into my idea that his new teenaged room would feel like a "topless tiki hut.")

After a sneeze-inducing excavation of Jack's closet, we loaded the van with donated boxes and bags of old clothes headed for Goodwill. The Herculean feat was sorting through Jack's incredible toy collection. (From the number of complete Happy Meal sets, I think I now know where I picked up that extra thirty pounds over the past decade.) It was fun revisiting our old friends Arthur, the Berenstain Bears, Lowly Worm, Spiderman, Inspector Gadget, and Captain Underpants — in most cases deciding their sentimental value far exceeded whatever they might fetch on Ebay or the used bookstore. Side by side, Jack and I sorted, culled and stored, reuniting countless Lego sets and squeezing selected Beanie Babies into Ziplock bags. I pulled an Eric Carle print from its hiding place behind the shoe bag, taking momentary delight before having to drop it into the trash. We dumped the best of the Hot Wheels cars into plastic boxes and dressed up the bed with a preppy plaid comforter from the Back-To-College section of Target.

I didn't have the heart to find a new home for Jack's tiny Batman costume, the one he wore nearly daily when he was four; it's still folded and sitting in my room. I walk by it every day and wonder what it will be like the next time Jack's room gets a major makeover. Where will he be living? When we moved here, Jack wasn't even a idea. Now he's shaving. How can this be?

In exactly two years, Kate will leave for college. What am I going to do the 70-plus My Little Ponys that live in the plastic trunk in her closet? (Right now I'm imagining a Whatever Happened to Baby Jane scene: Me sitting in the middle of the pastel herd, combing their pink plastic manes with a tiny brush, swigging wine straight from the bottle, mascara streaming down my face.)

I love my teenagers, and this time in their lives. They're smart, funny, capable and full of possiblities — but still a work in progress. I really don't miss those sweet fuzzy headed baby and toddler days, although I enjoyed that time to the fullest. I loved every minute — the six continuous years of diapers, the spit up, the sleep deprivation, the endless ear infections. (Ironically, now we have three dearly loved dogs to take care of the pooping, peeing and throwing up.)

Parenting is like a roller coaster. You wait a long time to get on and there's no getting off once you're on the ride. Safety is a huge concern, there are enormous highs and lows and twists, and once the ride rolls to a stop all you can say is, "That's it? But it was so short!"