Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mental Snapshots

Tuesday afternoon, as we were packing to travel out of state for my daughter's great-grandmother's funeral, I picked up my camera.

"I don't think you're going to want to bring your camera to a funeral!" my daughter protested.

No, I agreed, but we were going to be spending a couple of days with her father's family. We'd be spending the night at my stepdaughter's house, and we might want to take pictures at some other point during the trip. Since that grandbaby came along, I'm pretty good about remembering the camera.

It turned out that I didn't take any pictures during the trip, but I definitely found myself wishing that it weren't inappropriate to take pictures at a wake or funeral. Maybe that sounds morbid, but I can tell you that I was snapping pictures in my mind, pictures of family at its very best.

If it were proper to record a funeral as we do weddings and birthday parties and every other occasion of our lives, I'd have snapped my sister-in-law quietly slipping into the chair next to her mother after she saw her start to cry from across the room. I'd have photographed my daughter and stepson from the back, her dark head under his blond one, buried in his shoulder as he held her close. My grandson stretched out sound asleep on a bench in the hallway. My future son-in-law whisking his baby out of the room at the first peep, before my stepdaughter was fully out of her chair. My ex-husband's cousin on her knees in the grass, lifting a flower from the casket to hand to her mother. One young man slipping a supportive arm around another. A glass of water or a tissue quietly extended. People I love at their best.

Yes, funerals are sad and solemn, and it would be inappropriate to be snapping pictures. But I'm holding them in my mind, those snapshots of people unselfconsciously loving one another, reaching out to share.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Almost Done Mocking the School District, I Promise

Well, I can't actually promise. I mean, who knows what the rest of the year holds?

Last week, I mentioned that I'd received an automated call from the school district letting me know that--news flash--my daughter should attend the first day of school. A few days later, I got the same call again, and told my daughter (in my best imitation of the mechanical voice on the line) that teachers would be covering information important to her success for the whole school year on that day.

"They're lying," she said.

I wasn't surprised by her view, given that on the first day of school last year, each of her seven teachers spent the first class session reading and discussing the same four rules. It was like Groundhog Day with a soap-opera-style cast change: the part of the boring teacher is now being played by....

I didn't really need to sell her, since until those calls started coming in we'd both thought it was sort of assumed that students would start school started. More to point out an upside, I said, "They're going to have ice cream."

"No, they're not." She shook her head; her tone was flat, but she looked mildly amused.

"That's what they said on the recording," I told her. "They made a big point of the fact that they're going to have ice cream on the first day."

She shrugged. "But they're not."

I told her I couldn't see why they'd call me up and lie about having ice cream, but I knew what she was thinking. They were lying about the important information, so why not the ice cream?

School started yesterday.

No ice cream.

Seriously. Not even a mention.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eighth Grade Apparently Has Its Own Language

My daughter came home from her first day of eighth grade today and told me that she'd met a new girl. She didn't know her name, though, only that she was in "LA2" with her.

"LA2?" I asked.


"Language Arts?"

"Yeah," she said. "That's not that hard."

"Okay," I agreed, "but what's the 2?"

"2," she said. "We have it twice."

"Okay, so she's in your LA2 class..."

"Yeah. Well, actually, she's in my LA1 class, too...but LA2 is first."

Fortunately, I didn't have to go any further with that, because it was time to read and sign the rules for science.

For instance, "do not remove animals from the classroom" and "do not taste any materials used in class".

I'm not at all sure the right lessons are being conveyed.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School Prep - Take 9

Tomorrow, my daughter starts eighth grade. Yeah, let's not dwell on that...I mention it only because that means that this week, we've been preparing for the first day of school for the ninth time. Last night, I looked at her new clothes hanging neatly in the closet and her new school bag neatly packed with all the supplies she'll need (for the first 24 hours, until teachers start making their individual demands) and realized that we were Ready. No, really. She could have gotten up this morning and walked out the door to school with no fuss, no stress, no last minute search for anything...and school didn't even start today.

And it only took nine tries.

I should be feeling good, but instead I'm looking suspiciously at her bag and wondering what's going to escape from it and become hopelessly lost before tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Overcommitment Hangover

You know that nagging feeling you get in your stomach when something is hanging over your head that should have been done, when you know that the next time the phone rings it’s going to be the landlord looking for a past-due check or your boss wondering why some project hasn’t wrapped up?

Well, I’ve got it. Thing is, my rent is paid and my work is up to date. My nagging feeling isn’t caused by any dropped balls or time pressure or shortage of cash. It’s caused by the simple fact that I took most of the past two days off. An unexpected sick day followed by an afternoon off for the company softball game was more than I could cope with.

I took my daughter to the game and we had a great time. We ate out on the way home. We went to see Bandslam late, had the whole theater to ourselves, and sang out loud. The popcorn was unusually buttery.

And then when I finally lay down to sleep…nothing. Just that queasy, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop sense of anticipation about the fallout from all those balls I’d dropped.

I searched my mind. I searched the floor. Nope, couldn’t find a dropped ball anywhere.

There was a time, I’m sure, when I could take a nice, relaxing day in stride. In fact, when my daughter was young and I worked very part-time, most of my days were nice and relaxing. A lot of changes intervened and life got very busy, and for about ten months I went to bed at midnight worrying over what was undone and woke up at 5:00 a.m. (or sometimes 3:30), bleary-eyed and shaky and already feeling behind.

And I forgot how to relax. I forgot how to feel okay about enjoying a day. I forgot what it was like not to cringe when the phone rang, because I knew that there was going to be some wildly unrealistic new demand coming across the wire. But I escaped that job—a victory that feels a lot like having ended an abusive marriage—more than eight months ago. And I’m still in recovery.

I know what’s going on and can name it and try to push it aside. I’m blessed with employers who believe in work-life balance and not only accept but agree with the idea that my daughter is far more important than anything they might ever ask me to do. But I’m still lying down at night with that fear that I haven’t done enough, the feeling that something is wrong just because I’m not feeling any pressure and I’m getting a full night’s sleep.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Magical Cereal - Day 5

I'm a creature of habit,and one of those habits is that I eat Quaker Oat Bran every morning, with 2% milk and fresh berries. Every morning. You got the habit thing, right? Occasionally, if I'm feeling adventurous, I'll vary the mix of berries.

One day not long ago, I went to the grocery store and they didn't have oat bran. I didn't panic. Okay, I panicked a little, because it seems like the selection of foods in the grocery store gets smaller every week, while the shelf-space dedicated to a single variety of a single brand mushrooms. But I took a few deep breaths and decided to try Kellogg's All Bran. Just until I could find Quaker Oat Bran somewhere else, mind you. This was an interim measure, not a life change.

You're probably thinking that this little cereal crisis isn't really worth mentioning, and I would agree with you if I hadn't, just yesterday, read the back of the box.

Kellogg's All Bran is going to make me HAPPIER.

I kid you not; it's guaranteed. In just ten days.

Although ten days seemed ambitious, I didn't take issue with the assertion that their cereal was going to make me feel lighter and healthier. It has a boatload of fiber in it, and I'm a big fan of fiber. "Happier" gave me pause. The kind of pause that makes a person wonder whether the FDA or the Department of Agriculture is aware of these claims.

My daughter, of course, is the princess of positive spin. When I first pointed this out to her she said, "Maybe it works. Maybe it's like exercise."

This morning, on day 5, I said to her, "Well, my cereal hasn't made me any happier, but I lost two pounds overnight," and she said, "And that makes you happy, right?"

SHE makes me happy. I'm thinking that maybe I should label her with a 10-day promise, since there is apparently no regulation of that kind of thing.

But I'm still skeptical about the implication of the quote at the bottom of the box, which seems to suggest that Kellogg's All Bran is going to be good for my SOUL. I'll let you know how that works out.