Sunday, June 28, 2009

Defensive Driving School

My defensive driving class wasn't that bad this time. It was bad in the way that it was 5 hours long, the room was ice cold on one side and heated on the other side, and it was pretty much lit with strobe lights. But it turns out that I'm now so old that I can kind of reminisce about all the defensive driving classes I've had, and compare them all to each other, grading them on a scale of overall human misery.

Like, was the instructor a pompous, overbearing ass who treated us like pond scum for getting a ticket, acted like a drill sergeant about breaks, lambasted us with threats of dire consequences if we went to the bathroom, like the last time I took the class? No, this class was taught by a sweet old man wearing a bolo tie, whose assistant, his sweet, befuddled and mummified wife, cued him on things he forgot or what he was supposed to lecture on next.

Were there a lot of belligerent, angry strangers, mad about being stuck there for five hours, mad about getting their photo radar tickets, mad about being spied on by the government, mad about the fee, or mad about the bad picture the photo radar took of them, like the last time I took the class? No, I took the class in Scottsdale and it was a pretty mild crowd. We took to our sweet old coot, kind of adopting him. We didn't want to hurt his feelings.

Were there a lot of accident fatality videos intended to scare us to death so that for weeks we'll be paranoid about driving, paranoid about seatbelts, paranoid about kids in the car, strapping them in with extra rope, paranoid about red light runners, paranoid about passengers, paranoid about lawsuits, paranoid about alcohol, even paranoid about driving under the influence of an aspirin? Yes, just like every single time.

So I sat there, refreshing my horror at all the dangers out there, at how my sweet little car, the car I lovingly call my pony is actually a dangerous piece of heavy equipment, then, at 9:30 pm, we were set free to wreak havoc upon the roadways. I creakingly pulled my car out of the parking lot, crept up to the first stop light looking for the horrors of a red light runner, fearfully drove home watching for lane changers, speeders, drunks, drug addicts, rear enders and sideswipers, and especially for photo radar.

Then, after taking about an hour to drive the two miles, I successfully got home.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perfect Day for the Public Pool

Yes, I promised the kids that we'd go swimming at the public pool today, the one with a high-dive, a low-dive, a fountain, and a waterslide, thousands of kids and parents.

Yes, it's probably the hottest day of the year so far. My car - which is pretty smart - says it's 107.

Yes, I'll admit it, I was a little excited when I left for my exercise class this morning and it was drizzling, thinking, Don't they close pools when it rains? Because then I thought I wouldn't have to go and I'd get to do my favorite Mom camp activity - go see a movie.
But yes, because we live in Arizona, the clouds didn't last long and the sun came out again, a sweltering, suffocating, kind of sun today.

Yes, it's true, I won't swim. This isn't because I hate my body. I've talked about this before, but let's just say that, except for my daily shower, I find the process of being wet excruciating.

Yes, I'm going to try to have an out-of-body experience while I'm sitting there melting on my folding lawn chair, maybe pretending I'm on the beach somewhere with a cool breeze on my face.

Yes, I'll probably faint and have to be revived by paramedics. This has happened before in much cooler places.

Yes, I'm bringing a book to read, my writer's notebook, and a bunch of magazines, but I'll probably just get on my phone and waste all my time yakking to a bunch of people and get nothing done.

Yes, my kids will ask for money for the vending machines which only accept dollars and which will malfunction right after they put their money in. Right then all the pool employees will have suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. If I find someone, they'll look at me blankly and say, "I'm sorry, Ma'am, but you have to call the number on the machines to get a refund of your dollar."

Yes, though I've planned this very carefully, going late to coincide with sundown since the pool stays open late, it won't work out like I've planned. The pool will be dirty from being open all day, the day will stay hot, a breeze will never stir, the kids will never want to get out, and the sun will never set.

And Yes, they'll want to do it again.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Driving With Bar Mitzvahzilla

We're leaving an ice skating rink: my daughter, her friend who's been coming along on our Mom Camp adventures, and Bar Mitzvahzilla, who's in the front seat with me.

I don't like having my son in the front seat. He gets a little too excited with the world view from this unexpected position. He starts out by pressing or pulling everything on the dashboard, saying, "What's this?" "What does this do?" and then before you know it, he's reset my clock to zero, pulled up the parking brake, and shifted the car into reverse all at the same time. Or he starts fiddling with the radio and suddenly I'm listening to La Campesina, the all-Spanish station.

This time all the kids have the smoothies that I bought them at the ice skating rink. Bar Mitzvahzilla's is almost gone, but not completely. As far as he's concerned, there's a lot left. As I drive towards home, he begins fidgeting with his cup. It seems there's a tiny bit of smoothie in that cup - down in the very bottom of that cup - trapped in a forgotten crevice between the ice cubes. He's going to get it out if it's the last thing he does.

He slurps through the straw, then he adjusts the straw, first one position then another, slurping at each spot, like this is some kind of never-empty cup.

I say, "I'm sure that's empty now. Can you stop that?"

He says, "There's more in here, Mom."

So while I'm driving and thinking about the similarities between my life and a Laurel and Hardy sketch, he's shaking the ice, tilting the cup at various angles, and continuing to slurp, until finally, right when I get exasperated and say, "Can you just stop it already?" he dumps the whole cup of ice on his head.

Driving with Bar Mitzvahzilla. Looks like a man, acts like a monkey.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Sleepwalking Zombie

I've been doing a bit of clothes shopping lately. Since we only have two seasons in Arizona, one short and one really long, my summer clothes wear out pretty fast.

There's this tiny, little season we like to call "winter" when I pull out the heavy part of my wardrobe. This is the season when winter visitors come to Arizona and practically wear bathing suits in the streets, acting like it's hot out, while I'm contemplating whether I'll look dumb wearing mittens when it hits 50 degrees. It turns out I will look dumb.

Then there's summer, which is the rest of the year. During that season it's really too hot to wear any clothes at all but people do rather than strut around naked. Clothing is painful in 115 degree weather, no matter what you're wearing. And when you add in the vagaries of some pre-menopause-type symptoms, we're talking several shirts a day.

And this is why I'm shopping this year. This year my aging body has new needs and last year's summer clothes just won't do.

I was fat from age 15 to age 40 - that's 25 years, from 1975 to 2000. I pretty much missed all the fashions for all those years because even though I told myself I could wear the really gigantic size of all the pretty styles, once I put them on in, like, a size 20, I looked like a wall moving down the street. When I was fat, I preferred to dress like I was invisible - in something to camouflage me. I preferred to wear black from head to toe so that I'd look like a black hole of anti-matter and people would just look away from me and onto the next, more colorful, person.

So I missed all those styles and, just my luck, when I lost my weight at 40 it was too late. First of all, I found out I had no real sense of style at all. I stumble into my closet every day and come out with the same thing on, a top and a bottom. The same combination I wore when I was fat. Never a bracelet, never interesting earrings, never a scarf. Second of all, I found that I couldn't just let myself dress out of my age group. I can tell when I look dumb.

And now there's the new problem with my arms.

You know when you're young - like 48 - and you look at your mother's arms which are all wrinkled up and you think, "Wow - I hope my arms will never get like that. I'm sure they won't because I'm part of this new generation and we refuse to age!" - or something like that? And then you turn 49 and you're kind of blind because you can't see far and you can't see near and you put on a shirt and there's this line in the mirror and you can't really make out what it is so you look closer and closer and closer, and, guess what? It's the big wrinkle from your mother's arm.

So I had to go shopping. There was a choice to make, after all. Was I going to listen to the burning hot, menopausal voice inside of me telling me to to take it all off, or was I going to listen to my new visitor, the wrinkled zombie, who was telling me to cover it all up? I experimented a little in front of my mirror and I realized that if I modify my clothing a bit and then hold my arms just in front of me a little when I walk so the wrinkles fall backwards - kind of like a sleepwalking zombie - my arms actually look great.

And that's working for me now - the sleepwalking zombie look. We'll see about next year.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Summer of Yes

This week was my kids' first official week off from school. Since we spent the entire camping budget to send them to sleepaway camp in July, they're home with me this month. Mom Camp.

I was pretty enthusiastic on Monday, apparently a little too enthusiastic for them. In the car on the way back from my morning exercise class, I declared this to be the "Summer of Yes," where they would say "yes" to all the activities I've planned for them, diving into new adventures.

My daughter was okay with it, but I encountered resistance on the other side of the car. Bar Mitzvahzilla had apparently decided it was going to be a "Summer of No." It wasn't exactly a "No," it was more like a "Can you just drop me off at home?" followed by a "Can I go on the PlayStation when we get there?"

About two years ago, I decided to override my husband's wise opinion and I bought Bar Mitzvahzilla a PlayStation 2 game system. He was already 12 and was apparently the last child anywhere in the Western Hemisphere who didn't have a gaming system. We were already social outcasts, with legions of boys who weren't interested in coming over to our house to hang out because there wasn't anything to do - despite our basketball hoop and air hockey table. One time a boy came over and expressed astonishment that we had a nice house; the kids at school had all assumed that we were poor because Bar Mitzvahzilla didn't have a gaming system.

So I gave in, buckled. I told Husband that we could keep this thing contained. It'd be used when friends were over only. And anyway, seeing my son stick out like such a sore thumb reminded me of myself as a kid, when friends came over with their perfect Barbies with store-bought Barbie clothes, and then I'd pull out what passed for a Barbie in our house: a Barbie body with a freckled Skipper head and one leg. And it was naked. I felt my boy's misery.

After two years passed, I had to shovel past criss-crossed mounds of wires just to find my son somewhere tangled in the middle, the computer addict needing more, more, more. And just like they say happens with drugs, the purchases didn't stop with the Playstation. Soon there was a Wii, and then there was an iTouch, which I actually thought he'd use for music. Little did I know he could download games. And I don't mean to seem naive, but isn't it a little odd that my son, whom I'm trying to raise Jewishy Jewish, with Jewish values and a reverence for life, spends all of his time on these devices killing human-looking creatures?

Sometimes things I don't want to look at closely kind of dance around the edges of my brain and then, when I finally notice them, my brain kicks back on and I can act swiftly. So when Bar Mitzvahzilla tried to opt out of every activity in favor of staying home with his favorite friend in the world, the PlayStation, this thing I apparently invited into our house to raise my child two years ago, well, that was it. It became the "Summer of No" all right, but with me saying No.

So I took it all away. He put up a good fight, asking me hundreds of times after the ban if he could use them anyway, waiting to tire me out, insisting he had nothing to do. And of course he had nothing to do. He has become the most boring child in the world, with no interests except that. With it all gone, we'll just see who exists under there.

But let's put it this way: by Wednesday he played basketball in the driveway, then he put on his Rollerblades and zoomed around the neighborhood. On Friday he became aware of the existence of other people in the world again, and actually had a conversation with his sister.

And yes, he came along on all the activities I planned in this, the first week of the Summer of Yes.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Pint-Sized Tyrant

My husband and I knew we were in trouble. We had just booked a second hotel reservation for our vacation in August. He was just sick of going to the same California city over and over again. Why can't we break free? Why do we all have to answer to her?

I said, "We'd better ask her in the morning. We'll see if she'll go for it."

He said, "She's nine-years-old. She'll just have to get used to it."

And I thought, Oh yeah. She's nine.

How did I end up with a child who appears to be a child in all things except for her indomitable will? A child in size only, she is a fully-formed human being of such concentrated purpose that nothing can ever deter her from her vacation goals: in December we will go on a vacation to the same tired hotel we always go to in Tucson, and in August we will go on a vacation to Oceanside. This year she sat me down at the computer until I found a hotel in Oceanside identical to the one in Tucson, and then made me book it.

No matter how bored we get once there, she is excited and thrilled every second. She unpacks completely. She sets up her stuff on the desk in the loft bedroom. She arranges all of her stuffed animals. She is different than she is at home - she is neat. If it's the December trip and we've taken Hanukkah on the road, she's ready with everything: the menorah, the candles, the lighter; she's organized gifts with labels for each day.

Every morning of every trip she is up at the crack of dawn ready to go eat the free breakfast with the Husband and Bar Mitzvahzilla. It's only served till 9:30 so she really has to crack the whip to get Dad out of bed. Since the rest of us tend towards a type of laziness and lethargy, she follows us around with the laptop or the newspaper until we look up movie times, then she lassos us into the car to drive to see them. She is a whirlwind of activity and sheer will born into a family who would easily sleep away their vacation. She'll make something of us yet.

My daughter, the Pint-Sized Tyrant. How do I tell her we're going to La Jolla?

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jailbird Mom

It was a lovely Saturday afternoon. I was driving along in my car, two nine-year-olds in the back seat plotting how they were going to destroy my house with their 10-hour playdate, and I was on my way to pick up Bar Mitzvahzilla from his friend's house. Since nothing makes me happier than wanting what I don't have, I thought I'd drive through Paradise Valley, the land of the 10,000 square foot mansion, on my way there - even though the town is filled with 30 mile per hour speed limits and photo radar.

So I passed a photo radar van and I made a note of it, thinking, "Aha! There's the photo radar van. I'll remember it's there on my way back!"

I picked up my son, and we all got back in the car. Now I had a very hungry son in the front seat biting his nails, and two nine-year-olds in the back seat who had decided to videotape imitations of their favorite You Tube comedy routine (Bon Qui Qui at King Burger - and no, I don't let my daughter watch the ending). Of course, I decided to pop back on through Paradise Valley on my way back home. Of course I forgot about the photo radar van I had just seen.

I drove. The photo radar flashed. I said, "Oh, shoot, I just got a ticket!" Now, for some strange reason, this got Bar Mitzvahzilla very excited, like he was imagining me in prison stripes dragging a ball and chain around. Was this pay back for all these years of parenting - the metaphoric jail cell of childhood - or was it just that 13-year-olds seem to thrive on other people's misery? He said, "You are busted, Mom. Hey, do you think they got my picture?"

Obviously, if a real, live police officer had pulled me over, I never would have gotten a ticket. I would have gotten some sympathy, maybe a prescription for tranquilizers, a coupon for a free spa day at a resort, maybe even an escort home with lights flashing. No one seeing a harried mother with three kids in the car driving her nuts could possibly give her a ticket. But a heartless machine? Of course.

I got the ticket in the mail one week later. My daughter was standing near me and burst into tears at the idea that I was going to jail. I explained that I just had to go to defensive driving school. Then she burst into tears at the idea of defensive driving school. I almost promised to take the online class until I realized it actually involved passing a test to get out of the ticket. I knew this wasn't for me. I need the kind of class where you can be physically present but mentally absent, not an online class where you can be physically absent but mentally present. I'm not mentally present for anything.

My daughter understood. On June 25th I'm going to be spending an evening with a bunch of disparate strangers at a hotel. And then I'll drive home - very slowly.

Monday, June 1, 2009

All Wet

My kids have started up their yearly clamor to get a pool, but they've run into an unyielding object standing in the way of their desire: their Dad. There'd be no problem with me getting a pool - I actually will spend money on anything. Just the idea of buying a pool gets the shopper in me kind of worked up: the process of picking one, choosing waterfall features, accent tiles, watching the yard get dug up, filling up the pool for days with a garden hose. You can always get a compulsive shopper to shop, after all.

But the immovable ox that I'm married to has a a lot of objections. Even his objections have objections.

Since he considers himself some type of Olympic swimmer - the Jewish, 54-year-old, three time a week-type of Olympic swimmer anyway - he could never get in his weekly swimming in a backyard pool. No, he must have swimming lanes and bobbing buoys; he's got to fight silently and mentally with the other swimmers who are trying to encroach on his space and, especially, with any swim team that shows up to practice, even if they're children. And there are his other reasons: the money, the money, and the money.

Then he throws the whole question on me: "Ask Mom if she'd swim in it." And the kids both look at me expectantly.

I'm not exactly what you'd call a natural athlete. As a child, if a ball was thrown towards me I'd duck rather than catch it. I spent long hours swinging like Tarzan from the knot at the end of the rope in our gym class in Skokie wondering why the teacher was yelling at me to climb. I had climbed. I had climbed up there, hadn't I?

Same thing with swimming. I never even dunked my head till I was eleven. My mother finally signed me up for a swim class where we were grouped by skill level not age level, so I was with the five-year-olds. One day, the instructor told us to abandon our nose plugs and open our eyes under water. I abandoned the class instead. To this day, to get a really good swim, I need a snorkel and mask. And a wetsuit.

And now there are grown-up reasons not to swim.

For example, when I take my shower each day, the stuff on my head that is supposed to be human hair dries on its own into an interesting, Jewish-type of fur ball. You know when people have naturally curly hair and other people love it and talk them into wearing it naturally? No one's ever said that to me. They call 911. It takes at least ten specialty products to make my hair resemble something that is supposed to grow out of a human being's head as opposed to something that's supposed to grow on a lawn.

There's the bathing suit problem: the fact that there are parts of my body that are not meant for daytime, sunlit viewing. There are parts of me that I can't even stand to look at, and it's my body. And when I get into the water, some of that unviewable stuff becomes flotation devices. My thighs levitate and, if I walk through the water, the fat part of me either stays behind or zooms on ahead. This doesn't actually happen to me on dry land, which leads me to the conclusion that I'm meants to be on dry land.

When we were leaving Chicago for Arizona in 1973 and my father didn't want to tell people all the myriad reasons why we were moving - from the asthmatic child to his own heart attack - all he had to say was that we had bought a house with a swimming pool in the backyard. Boiled down to its essential essence, it became this: we were moving to Arizona to get a swimming pool.

After five years passed, things had changed. There was, unfortunately, no more father; he had died of a second heart attack. And that pool, that wondrous mirage in the desert? It had become a swamp in our backyard, greenish brown, with some type of hissing and bubbling primordial ooze growing in it. Let's put it this way, no one was swimming in it.

So, sorry kids, we can't get a pool. Maybe next year.