Monday, April 25, 2011

A Fixed-Wing Parent in a Helicopter World? acitymom chaperones

Somehow, I don't recall how it happened exactly, maybe I blocked it, but I've been cornered into chaperoning my sons' eighth grade field trip to Washington DC. We leave tonight. By bus.

Gaaaa

I tried to see if I could, you know, just fly out there and meet them. No dice. Apparently, the school feels the chaperones should be on the bus as well.  Kill joys.  I'm trying to be positive about a fifteen hour overnight bus ride with forty fourteen year-olds. Really. I am. But I'm open to suggestions. And I don't think Chardonnay can be one of them.

I remember telling the boys it sounded like a fun trip and that I wished I could go. I thought I said it in an off-handed enough manner that...well, anyway, you see how that turned out. They needed more chaperones; the "whole trip was in peril!"

But I'm not the chaperone type. Helicopter parents are the chaperone type. I'm a fixed wing girl. (And I don't think the 1.5 hours of helicopter time I have in my logbook should count. That was a long time ago.)  As an added bonus, I'll have a roommate at the hotel. I don't know her, but she's another parent. I kind of feel that, when you get to be my age, you shouldn't have to be roommates with some stranger you've never met. Weird personal habits and other oddities like snoring or talking in your sleep are things no one should have to put up with, so naturally I feel sorry for her. I hope she's a sound sleeper.

However, when acitymom is given a task, no matter if she likes it or not, she's determined to do it well. So, I went to Merriam-Webster's for help. They define chaperone as follows:

CHAPERONE
1: a person (as a matron) who for propriety accompanies one or more young unmarried women in public or in mixed company
2: an older person who accompanies young people at a social gathering to ensure proper behavior; broadly : one delegated to ensure proper behavior
3: any of a class of proteins that facilitate the proper folding of proteins by binding to and stabilizing unfolded or partially fold
ed proteins --called also molecular chaperone

1. "A matron!" Excuse me. I almost called and told them I couldn't go because of a terrible case of the vapors.

2.  Okay, that's better. I can ensure proper behavior, even if this little social gathering is going to last for five whole days.

3. There will be absolutely no folding of proteins on my bus.

I will try to post as often as I can while away; they have us on a pretty tight schedule. Mostly, I just please want you all to send as much positive energy my way as you can. And if that doesn't help, some Chardonnay waiting upon my return just might stave off any languishing cases of the vapors.

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Who Takes Their Kids to London on a Lark?

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Apparently, we do. Deciding to listen to our own "advice" [Bite Me CNN] the part about how we've never regretted any money we've spent taking our kids on vacation, we took a crow bar to the savings account (read: put it on a credit card) and saddled up for a five day trip to Europe. (Because I work for an airline, this sort of insanity actually seems logical to us.)

It was supposed to be a surprise, you know, like "Wake-up, kids and pack your bags, cuz we're going on vacation!"

"Where?"

"Don't know yet."

Because that's how it is with standby travel. But mysteriously, several days beforehand the boys somehow became suspicious. I don't know how. Oh yeah, I remember now. It happened when my husband told them.

However, due to a snafu with my daughter's passport, which didn't arrive until one day before we wanted to leave, and which I cleverly intercepted from the mailman, none of the kids thought we'd be able to go, leaving the surprise in tact for everyone. And with thanks to the US Department of State, even my husband and me.

London was a logical (airline logical) choice in that it had three daily non-stop flights and the loads there and back looked good. So off we went.

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Unfortunately, some of the best comedic material can come from vacation mishaps. And unfortunately for this blog, we didn't have any. At least not any serious ones, unless you count the irony of arriving two minutes late at the Greenwich Observatory, just in time to see it close. And the jet-lag factor. (see Photo Exhibits A and B)
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I explained to my kids that I considered this trip "traveling," which differs from pure vacation (the beach!) in that inevitably you're way more exhausted when you return than when you left. Several times they tried talking us into going back to the hotel to sleep or watch a movie, and as appealing as that idea sounded to our fatigued fivesome, I argued we can watch movies and sleep anytime. In life, you never know when your next opportunity to see London at night from a four-hundred foot tall Ferris Wheel will come around again. (Photo Exhibit C)
london eye2.jpg

The lines were insane everywhere. It felt like all of Europe decided it was Go to London week (I suspect it was their spring break, too.) but the weather could not have been better, so standing "on line" or, if you prefer "queuing," only served to provide more fun family time. (Photo D)

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We had our share of quibbles and tiffs, but I was thrilled to see how well we travelled together as a family. My husband and I have both been to London many times for our jobs, so we were comfortable there, but all three of the kids were on unfamiliar ground, and therefore, as a rarity, on much more even ground. To watch them bonding as a threesome as they talked and grumbled and laughed when they walked along behind us brings a verklempt tear to acitymom's eye.

The memories and family time we had with children that will be out of the house before we know it have a value that far outweighs the poor exchange rate the dollar has against the pound. I won't say its worth is priceless, mostly because that's a bad writing cliche, but also because when those bills start rolling in you'll probably be able to hear my screams no matter where you are. I'm not an advocate for deficit spending by any stretch, but this one time I'll take that crowbar to our savings account with joy.
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Do Not Disturb?

Four girls sat around our kitchen table eating (and eating and eating) snacks and talking. I was in there as well, partaking of my favorite hobby, cleaning the kitchen. (For those of you new to acitymom, I like to say cleaning the kitchen is my hobby because then I feel better about getting to do it every day.) It was fun to eavesdrop on the girls as they chatted, which is a relatively new experience for me since my daughter's only been with us for a couple of years. All the girls at the table were from our block and they ranged in age from nine to twelve.

One of the twelve-year-olds said, "Whenever I get mad or sad, I just go to my room and close the door."

"Wow," I remember thinking. "Thirty-five years later and I'm still a twelve-year-old girl."

It was hilarious to me and comforting, too. Hilarious in that this aspect of me hadn't changed much in all those years and comforting for me to know this behavior appears to be such an inherently female trait. I mean, I can't remember the last time my husband or one of my sons, when they got mad or sad, ever stormed off to their room and closed (read: slammed) the door.

My daughter on the other hand...For about a year or so after she got here, we would begin to wonder if she'd been replaced by an alien robot if a week had gone by without her stomping off to her room. When it would happen, we'd let her cool down for a little bit, then one of us would go in and talk to her. And that's the trick, isn't it? Knowing when someone (a female) who's stormed off to their (her) room, wants someone to knock on the door a few minutes later to talk about what's wrong. Hint to males: the answer is Yes, we do.

I'm sorry if I'm giving away any female secrets here. Or if perhaps I don't speak for all of us and there really are women out there who storm off and don't secretly want their men to come talk to them to figure out what's wrong. I don't know why we do this, either, storm off. Maybe we need to remove ourselves from the situation for a minute, to take a breath or stop the overflow of emotion. Maybe it's about the drama. I'd hate to think it's the latter, because I'm not big on drama. And yet I do this too. But hey I'm just acitymom and not a psychologist. Maybe I should write it's one of the things they tell us to do when they pull us aside in the fifth grade, just to befuddle men. (That is when they tell us it's best to go to the bathroom together.)

It makes me sad, to think I may never know the answer or solution to this puzzling female phenomenon, so acitymom will be off to her room. Knock at your own risk.

Thanks for reading A City Mom!  Follow me on twitter @acitymom or on Facebook here.

Hungarian Home Alone

We were getting close to coasting out over the Atlantic Ocean when we heard the following radio call on the frequency:

"London Center this is Airline X Flight 123." (I forgot the actual name of airline and flight number. Really.)

"Airline X Flight 123, go ahead."

"Yeah, is there any way you can send a fax or get a message back to Hungarian Airlines, to Budapest Operations. We, uh, have a mom onboard, who, uh, says she forgot to arrange to have someone pick up her kids at school and uh (we pilots say 'uh' a lot. I don't know why.), we have a phone number for the grandmother. Is there any way you can pass along the message?"
OMG. All I could think was, "Thank God that's never happened to me," because, as you know, London Center isn't known for granting favors.

Seriously though, I was thinking it would be all too easy for that to happen to me and there but for the grace of the Universe go I. With all the juggling and plate spinning and mixing of metaphors that I do, a school pick-up could very well be the mouse that got away. At least this mom remembered before her kids were left standing outside their school for hours. (It would have been around eight o'clock in the morning in Budapest when we heard the radio call.)

Yet the Captain I was flying with was outraged. "That is just irresponsible," he said. This from a guy who gets to come home from his trip and go down into the basement into his man-cave for an hour. The impossible dream for me. Mostly because I don't have a man-cave, but also because I've tried to get my family to agree to something similar to that and it just never, ever works out. [ No Talking Dogs Allowed]

"Oh no," I said. "I will not judge her."

It takes no imagination for me to understand a mom preparing for a trip overseas, arranging via a trail of Post-it notes for playdates to happen and for permission slips to arrive at school and reminding everyone there's no music lessons this Tuesday and could someone please pick-up the cat's prescription meds at the pharmacy on Clark and Dickens? As a woman who completely forgot her own dentist appointment, I can see how getting the kids picked up from school and to whomever they would be staying with while she was gone could easily be the one detail that got away. I'm giving our Budapest mom the benefit of the doubt in assuming she'd at least arranged for her kids to be staying with someone and she'd only forgotten this one logistical detail.

London Center was amazingly helpful and cooperative in what could possibly turn out to be one of the most expansive games of Telephone on the planet. (Frantic mom to Flight Attendant, Flight Attendant to Pilot, Pilot to London Center, London Center to Hungarian Airlines' Budapest Operations, Hungarian Airlines' Budapest Operations to Hungarian Grandmother.) By the time the confused message got to the grandmother, it could have asked her to drop the pickles off at the pool. And why couldn't Macaulay Culken's movie mom have thought of this route? I guess if she had, we wouldn't have had Home Alone and one of my favorite movie quotes from John Candy, when he said the bit about how Kids are resilient and how his son finally started talking to him again five or six weeks after having been left alone overnight in a funeral home.

We never did find out how our airborne drama played out, if the grandmother was notified or if those kids ended up waiting outside their school for hours, forced to fend off some sort of Hungarian version of the Wet Bandits with broken Christmas tree ornaments and a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Michael Jordan.

Post-it Note to Self: If forgetting to have your kids picked up at school ever becomes the detail that got away, don't announce it over the frequency, at least not when some blogger is listening.

Post Post-it Note to Self
: Maybe take back every nasty you've said about London Center.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Why I Go Bananas

Bananas on the countertop.

That's how I knew my husband had been to Costco. It's a workout in and of itself, that place is. I try repeatedly to explain this to him and the kids, but I think they just don't get it. Those cases of Pepsi and Gatorade and Progresso and large rafts of paper products are heavy. Piling them into your cart and then out of your cart and into your car and out of your car and into your house and onto the shelves or into the freezer can work up a sweat and then, when everyone else gets home the only evidence of all your effort, other than perhaps your slightly more toned biceps, is bananas on the countertop.


I was astonished yesterday at how mostly invisible my husband's efforts had been, and I know he'd made an effort, because usually it's me making the same effort at least once a month if not more. Don't get me wrong; I love Costco. I try to save my husband money there as often as I can. But is this all anyone sees as a result of all my hard labor? Bananas?

A girlfriend and I were talking a while back at how transparent some of our mom duties are. All the things we do to keep a house running and everyone in it healthy and happy only get noticed when they don't happen: "We're out of toothpaste;" "Where's the birthday present for Connor's party?" "Mrs. Jones won't let me play at their house because none of my shots are up to date;" "Didn't we used to have two cats around here?"

The trouble with grocery shopping, especially at one of those big box-type stores, is that it is such a large amount of physical effort and the only time it gets noticed is when it either doesn't get done or gets done wrong.

"Those aren't the right kind of socks," I complained to the husband, at great risk of having him never shop for us at Costco again. I couldn't resist, though. I wanted him to know how it feels. He made a snide reference to how I could write about this, "but no, wait! Rick already did! "Incredibly Specific Shopping Lists

Later, he admitted it had been a huge amount of work and he could understand now how I sometimes felt unappreciated for it. Aww. An understanding husband who went grocery shopping. What more could a woman ask?

"Thanks for getting bananas," I said.

That reminds me of a story of why I'm better than you. Listen up.

Have you ever met that person? The person who doesn't really hear anything you say, but only uses your words as an opportunity to say something about themselves. Something competitive.

I firmly believe in the New Age theory that the traits we find most annoying in others are things we do ourselves and don't realize or do ourselves and really, really dislike. I'm sorry, were you thinking something? Something else? Can we please try to stay focused on me here?

So when I recently spent a day with a person like the one above, it made me wonder, am I really, really listening to others? Maybe not so well. And I know when my kids come into the kitchen while I'm cooking dinner and talking on the phone with my husband to find out just how late he'll be today, I'm so distracted they could ask me for the keys to the car and I might just say "yes," even though none of them is even old enough for a driver's permit.

Once I did an exercise where, for two weeks, I was required to listen, really listen to others when they talked, to not use the time they were speaking to formulate what I would say next. I don't know where I read about this, or if it was part of one of my New Age ("Woo Hoo," says the husband) classes, but it was really quite enlightening. And much much easier than the exercise where I wasn't allowed to give anyone advice for two weeks.

Perhaps we're all a little guilty of not listening to others as intently as we should. This is probably due in part to the fact that some people just aren't interesting, which makes me wish I had my husband's skill of being able to read the paper or work on the computer while I'm talking. When he appears to not be listening, sometimes I'll say, just to check, "So I kissed him," to which he'll reply without hesitation, "Oh, you did not."

It reminds me of a T-shirt I used to have from a bar in Tucson called Bob Dobbs. It said, "I drink to make other people interesting. Bob, realization 1973." (This is actually a paraphrase of a WC Fields quote) I wish I'd had that T-shirt when I spent the day with my verbose "friend" who took every word I'd said and used it as an opportunity to one-up me. Actually, I would have just settled for a drink. Maybe two.

You've been so patient reading and listening to my rant, so enough about me. What do you think of me? (That line just never gets old.) Well, acitymom hereby pledges to not become that person by becoming a better listener. But if you're out and about some night around dinnertime and you see a twelve-year-old girl driving a '99 Camry, you'll know exactly what happened.

An Evil Game of Musical Chair

"You broke my five-dollar chair."


Kyle looked at me then at his brother. "No. This is how it happened."

I didn't really care about the chair. I'd bought it twenty years ago at Betty's Resale Shop or The Ark, one of those secondhand stores that used to be on North Lincoln Avenue. I'm surprised it lasted this long.

"You see," Kyle continued, "Ethan sat in the chair. Leaned back and broke it."

Anyone with a boy can work the visual here. Actually seeing them in a chair with four legs on the floor is anomaly. I've repeated the phrase, "Four on the floor," so often at dinnertime my family thinks it's part of my meditation practice. Sometimes they get mathematically uppity and say, "I do have four on the floor." Their two legs and two chair legs. Knyuck, Knyuck. "Six on the floor, then," I say, which, as far as mantras go, just doesn't have the same ring to it.
"But," Kyle continued again. "Ethan meticulously put the chair back together and left it sitting here in front of my desk. Then, when I sat down and the whole thing crumbled, Ethan says, 'You broke the chair!'"

"Kyle," I said. "You really need to be more careful with the furniture. I mean, especially after your brother took the time to so carefully repair the chair."

Fortunately for me, Kyle got my sarcasm. Fortunately for Ethan, Kyle didn't get hurt when he sat down on the chair. And Fortunately for Tanya I got there before Kyle could rebuild the chair yet again and put it in front of her desk.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

20 Boys Run Through Loop Carrying Poultry Preparation Product

Perhaps only once in the entire history of the Sears Tower (Okay, I know it's the Willis Tower, but that's still too weird for me to say.), have twenty adolescent boys, led by one completely bald track coach, run through its lobby carrying chicken cooking cream.

I wish I could have seen the spectacle. During my sons' track practice last week, they left their school's campus for a run through downtown. It must have been quite a sight when they decided to take a shortcut through Union Station, which is where they picked up the chicken cooking cream. (And you should know, I only refer to it as chicken cooking cream because that's what my son called it, so I guess technically it's "so-called chicken cooking cream.")

Apparently, there was a promotion on chicken cooking cream that day. The company that makes it had set up a stand with free samples. Why twenty adolescent boys would want free samples of chicken cooking cream is beyond me, because the adolescent boys I know can only cook peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but then again, it's a rare adolescent boy that can pass up food in any form. Since the chicken cooking cream never made it home, which is why I'm still uncertain as to what, exactly, it is, I'm guessing it had the same fate as every other form of food that's come within five yards of my sons in the last ten years.

While I've never run anywhere carrying chicken cooking cream, so-called or otherwise, I have found myself in plenty of similarly ridiculous and what I imagine would be head-turning situations. My favorite is me trying to unlock the front door of my house with a rhinoceros between my legs. No, it's not what you think. At least I don't think it's what you think. Maybe I just hope it's not what you think.

My son asked for and received a large stuffed rhinoceros for Christmas one year. (And good luck finding one of those at your neighborhood Toys R Us.) After dropping him off at school, I noticed he'd left the rhino in the back seat of the car, so I dutifully carried it up to the front door, with my purse and my keys and my coffee cup. Not wanting to set the rhino down on the dirty porch...well you get the picture. I'm just hoping none of the neighbors did.

When my kids grow up, I hope they'll look back fondly on their urban childhood, full of fun memories of driving past Wrigley Field on their way to school each day and jogging around and through famous Chicago landmarks like Union Station and, okay, the Willis Tower, regardless of whether or not they turned any heads with their giant stuffed rhinoceros or little tubs of chicken cooking cream.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Butt-Dialed by your Child? Blackmail!

"So, who was telling all the dead baby jokes on the bus?"

I asked my son this question and the look on his face was priceless. The proverbial Deer in the headlights expression. My query received this response, I'm sure, because he'd thought his mother had suddenly developed over-the-top psychic skills: skills way more powerful than the typical, run-of-the-mill all-knowing mom power of being able to say without turning around, "Please don't drink orange juice right from the carton."


You see, my son's phone had butt-dialed me (I love this term, which is new to me, yet it's a phenomenon I'm familiar with.) He'd unintentionally left me a twenty-minute voicemail, a recording of him and his friends on the bus on his way home from school. And of course I listened to all of it. Twice. It was a priceless insight into his private world. 

When I heard the first few seconds of the recording, I knew immediately what had happened, because my husband's cell phone used to do this all the time when he rode the El. I'd hear the loud background noise, then a CTA voice unclearly (natch) announcing, "Armitage," or some other stop. And when this happened, the children and I would circle around the phone in the kitchen and dutifully try to get his attention, to try to stop this atrocity, this violation of his privacy, by yelling as loud as we could, "Jeff. This is God. Bring your wife flowers." Of course it never worked, because inevitably he would sit on his phone again and shut it off before he heard us.

I didn't have the opportunity to shout at my son, because it was all a voicemail. But still, I thoroughly enjoyed messing with him later.

"I'm pretty sure the kid I heard swearing wasn't you," I said. (Pretty sure it was, actually.)

Not even when he had that 105 fever when he was three do I ever remember seeing him that pale.

At this point I had to tell him what had happened, that his phone had unintentionally dialed me and left a long and detailed insight into his school-bus-riding life. I also told him that, in the future he should really be careful, not about just butt-dialing, but about all of his life in general. He's growing up in a different age. Everything he says, all the dead-baby jokes, every foolish misstep could be recorded. Everything. Just look at what happened to Michael Phelps. Miley Cyrus. Need I go on?

It's a brave new world out there. I was able to make all my dumb teenage and college mistakes without the benefit of surreptitious recording devices and the Internet, Facebook and YouTube. My kids will not have that luxury. And as much as I would like to know the ending of what it was he says someone told them about taking steroids (this is where the voicemail recording finally cut-out), I have to say, there are just some things in the personal life of a mother's son that she just truly, honestly, doesn't want to know.