Sunday, May 21, 2006

Parking

I pull into the lot at the Midtown Tennis Club and almost swoon. Parking. Lots of it.

“Kyle, I predict you’re going to like learning tennis here.” This is, of course, unfair of me to say. You see, I already love it here—and we hadn’t even been inside. I eye the expanse of asphalt with a dreamy look in my eyes, row after beautiful row of brightly painted, yellow-gold stripes. The wide-open, empty spaces. I inhale a deep breath through my nose. Aaah.

Parking, or lack thereof, is part of life for city moms. It’s a subject I presume most suburban parents never have to consider, but it’s something I find myself considering every day, for just about every single child-based activity.

“A picnic at Sunshine Park? Sure! Sounds like fun!” Where will I park?

“A birthday party at the Goodman Theater? We’ll be there!” How will I retrieve my children without getting towed?

“A play date at 900 North Michigan? Huh? Me too? Ummm… Oh, there’s an extra space in your garage?” Whew.

Parking is the reason I wanted to buy our house. It has a driveway. After the showing my husband looked up from where we stood on the sidewalk and envisioned 110-years of Victorian charm crumbling around him. I looked down the long expanse of driveway that led to the alley and said, We have to take it!

You just want it for the driveway, he said.

And the problem there is, exactly what?

My husband takes the El to work. He doesn’t understand.

But my kids do. They even help me with the chant to the Parking Goddess.

You’ve never heard of the Parking Goddess? Sacrilege! I’ll bet you never get Hollywood parking, either. I know it sounds crazy, but prayers, chants and personal sacrifices to the Parking Goddess are all part of a city moms life. If you’ve never circled Lincoln Park thirty times while your Trotters To Go Chicken Salad warmed to salmonella temperature in the trunk and your kids started panicking as they watched the sun set on their picnic at Sunshine Park, then maybe you can’t understand.

I know I’m not alone in believing in the Parking Goddess; I’ve seen other moms in action—sure, different chants, different juju, but it’s all essentially same. We even debate the efficacy of our different rituals, but we all believe in her. Oh yes, we believe.

And you can’t forget, when you get that great space, to give thanks. The Parking Goddess is munificent, certainly—but merciless when thanks is forgotten. I had a stretch where I had to park blocks away from my destination and it lasted for several weeks, all because I forgot to give thanks for the space right outside the veterinarian’s that time I had to lug my nineteen-pound cat inside for shots. The next time the Parking Goddess finally saw fit to grant me a good space, I sacrificed a Volvo.

Every after-school activity and play date is given a lead-time based on time to destination—and time to park. The academy where the boys take Karate lessons is about a five-minute drive from where we live, but we leave 20-minutes prior.

Then there was the summer morning my son Ethan smirked when I said, “Hurry up! We’ll be late for the beach!” He figured it was just more of my dry humor. It was. I was kidding—just, sadly, not really kidding enough. You see, the parking lot at the Lake tends to fill up by 11:00 am.

And I thought my quarter hoarding days were over when we moved out of our apartment and into our first house, with a washer and dryer in the basement. Nope. Now I need quarters for the parking meters. At least in my neighborhood, a quarter buys you an hour. As you head south and east from here, that same quarter buys you less and less. A few times I’ve run out and found myself holding out two dimes and a nickel to complete strangers, Can you spare a quarter? Citiphiles get it. They reach into pockets and purses to help me out. Those of you from out of town, or who just moved in from Elmhurst, give me a wide berth—apparently having been warned about aggressive street people begging for change, even those with Prada bags.

I suppose public transportation would be the way to go, better for the environment too, but I try to imagine getting my kids to Karate on the #11 Lincoln. We’d have to leave the night before.

So instead of being environmentally conscious, I’m parking conscious instead: completely incapable of driving down any side street without thinking, “Ooh, there’s a good space.”

Today I tell Kyle, “Hurry up, we’ll be late for the parking lot—I mean your tennis lesson.”

I want to arrive early, so I can sit there and swoon.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Warcraft Widow


Most men, young and old, respond to a call for food with Pavlovian reflex, a pounding up or down stairs in the general direction of the kitchen with a stop for washing hands only when reminded by their wife or mother. That is most men not playing World of Warcraft.

Hey guys, I say to my husband and sons, What do you say to some pancakes or waffles for brunch this morning? I know the brunch part is pushing it—not a man-thing at all—but they’ve been at it for a couple of hours and I assume the bowls of cereal they had earlier have worn off by now.

Umm, sorry Mom. No waffles. We’re in an instance.

An instance? I don’t know what this is, but I know what it means for me. I am one of the many many women across the globe who has become a Warcraft Widow. This is not a new term. It is not one that I have coined. If I knew whom to give copyright credit to, I would do so, although I believe you can’t actually copyright a title or proper name. Anyhow, what I do know is, in this particular instance, I will be eating my waffles alone.

Men like computer games. Women, as a rule, do not. Now I’m sure I may get a few irritated comments from female computer aficionados, and I’m sure they’re out there. It’s just that I personally, have never met one.

When I was in high school, two of my best friends, Amir and Bill, used to drag me to arcades for Pac Man and Space Invaders and as I watched them dump countless quarters into the machines I would oftentimes find myself thinking, Gee, I could be chewing on broken glass right now instead.

The only thing more boring than watching someone else play a video game is watching someone else surf the internet—but it’s funny how it always takes a while before you realize, I’m watching someone else surf the internet and it is really really boring and there are just so many better ways for me to waste my time.

This family World of Warcraft fascination began with my husband. His twin brother introduced him to Warcraft several years ago and I’ve never forgiven him. My brother-in-law, that is. I try to tell myself that it could be worse. He could be addicted to something harmful—like beer, or the Gilmore Girls. At least he’s in the basement on the computer not out gallivanting around town in a state of inebriation. But still, it troubles me. Especially the times he refuses food. Or to stop for other things I deem important. “I’m sorry Kim, I can’t lift the bookcase off your leg—I’m in a group. We’re in an instance.”

So while my husband proceeds to not let down his Warcraft buddies by staying with the group (which I presume, unbeknownst to my husband, is actually made up of my old friends Amir and Bill), I proceed to free myself from under the bookcase by gnawing off my own leg.

He liked to play on weekend mornings and our boys loved to watch. Are you listening? The boys loved to watch someone else play a video game. It wasn’t long before they had their own characters and were traveling through fields and towns fighting the Alliance as members of the Horde, wielding night-elves at each other and taking care of their virtual pets, which only made me wish they’d take such great care of their real ones.

Now my sons play Warcraft with several of their school friends. And don’t think I don’t feel the reproachful glares of their mothers. The game can be a little violent—but I tell myself, not any more violent than Saturday morning cartoons—and at least with the video game, they’re learning valuable skills, like math and how to vanquish mortal foes with a long sword. Just show me the boardroom where these skills wouldn’t come in handy.

Still, I worry the boys play too much. They speak their own language, and it’s not the twin language of their toddler years. Now they speak Warcraft.

“I’m a level 36 Warlock! I can’t run you through the wailing caverns.” “Let’s do some quests in Hillsbrad, maybe we’ll run into some PVP’ers.” “Okay, but we’ll have to watch we don’t get ganked.” Ganked? Do you see why I worry?

Even their “real” play is fraught with references to this game. “I’m an Orc and I have 26 strength and 14 life. I need 100 gold to buy that armor from you.”

Maybe I really should be happier. How many mothers get their Saturday mornings to themselves? I can write or go to yoga or sleep-in. I shouldn’t begrudge the men in my life this time together, off in virtual worlds, fighting virtual battles together, but quite selfishly, I kind of do. I suppose I could always grab a long sword and join them, become a level 1 Rogue…

Then again, maybe not. It’s a small price to pay for the opportunity to eat my waffles all by myself.