Jamie Elliott Grossman

Archive for September, 2011|Monthly archive page

A boy, a new car, and a big bitch.

In Humor, Them! Them! Wonderful Them! on September 26, 2011 at 9:14 pm

A few months ago we traded in our beloved Subaru Outback wagon for a brand spanking new soccer mom-esque mini-van.  I must confess that while I was excited by the prospect of a new automobile, I was not initially jazzed about a mini-van being my go-to choice for transport.  I was fiercely loyal to my Subaru. I felt rebellious and cool in the parking lot after school in a sea of mini-vans; my manual transmission a big anarchist’s “A” in the face of all the other van-driving mommies. (Right now you all should be thinking, “Newsflash:  the station wagon was the mini-van of two generations’ ago.”) But like that nerdy  dork of a guy who turns out to be a diamond in the rough, I gradually became enamored with the promise of a large cargo hold, the ability to actually car-pool with my kids’ friends, decent gas efficiency and if I had my way, leather trim, a back-up camera and satellite radio…

The Subaru, while trusty and reliable for the past seven years was showing its age. And while plenty of devotees hold on to their Subees for at least two times this easily, we were just done. So we did our research, we test drove, we compared and contrasted and finally settled on a very beautiful Honda in a seductive mocha metallic finish totally befitting of the suburban mommy I had become.

I can fondly recall the excitement surrounding my family’s purchase of a new car when I was a kid. There was the stately black Buick Regal with its vinyl top, then there was the sporty Mercury Capri with its bucket seats, and then finally the sexy champagne colored Toyota Celica Supra with those headlights that futuristically flipped up and down… It was fun scrambling around the showroom, sitting in the driver’s seat, touching things on the dash we weren’t normally allowed to touch. Everything was new and shiny….and then, voila! A new car! Life was good.

When my husband and I made our announcement about our new car, we braced for similar excitement expressed by our children, complete with lively rounds of “Cool!!!! When can we take a ride in it!” But what we got instead was a seven-year old immediately bursting into hysterics and in between shoulder-shaking sobs, him dramatically crying out, “But… but… Why? I love the Subaru. It’s the only car I have ever known. How could you do this to me?”

Upon reflection, we hadn’t made any real effort to discuss the potential purchase of a new car with the kids in advance of its actual purchase. I didn’t think it was necessary to call a family meeting in order to “soften the blow” caused by the new tricked out mini-van,  because to me buying a mini-van was not as life-changing as like, say, having another baby or moving to Tibet or even getting a new puppy might be.

This apparent fierce and soul-crushing love our seven-year old had for the Subaru caught me off guard and in another one of my finer moments, rendered me completely devoid of empathy for what he was experiencing. “Come on!” I said to him incredulously, playfully mussing up his thick crown of dark hair. “Are you kidding me dude? New cars are so cool! You will love it when you see it… I promise…There’s so much more space and all these cool buttons to push…and a back-up camera!!!” This was met simply with, “How? How could you give away the only car I have ever loved?” As he was going on and on with the histrionics, I made a mental note to write to Subaru’s marketing department, for their advertising campaign was clearly the most effective in the whole industry if they were able to capture the heart of a seven-year old non-driver.

Look, I do recognize that people can and do feel all sorts of deep love for their cars. In fact, I think I saw a television ad recently where a Subaru owner whose life was saved by his Subaru was standing in a junk yard emotionally saying goodbye to his trashed car as he yanked the gear shift cover out as a memento.  So I get it. But these car loyalists are usually adults with driver’s licenses. My son is only seven and just learned how to ride a two-wheeler. And furthermore, nothing of any major significance ever happened in that car… Nothing at all. He wasn’t conceived in that car. He wasn’t born in that car. The most we had ever done in that car was eat some chicken nuggets and change a few poop diapers…

I figured at some point he would just get over it, but he didn’t. He moped around the house for days as if his best friend was moving away, searching me with his tear-filled eyes “Why, Mom? Why?” Finally, I could not take his dramatic shit anymore and so I screamed, “For g-d’s sake, you need to get over this dude! It’s not like this car was a relative or a friend! It’s just a car! It’s just a thing! Metal and rubber and glass! You are acting like I told you your stuffed bunny rabbit’s ears fell off, when all that is going on here is that we are buying a new car and just so you know, most people think that getting a new car is COOL!”

Mr. Intractable looked at me with his puppy dog eyes and said, “But there is nothing wrong with the Subaru and even if there was something wrong with it, why don’t you and Daddy just fix it?” My boy, ever the pragmatist, indeed raised a valid point. Why, when there were only 65,000 miles on the car and we owned it free and clear, were we getting a new one? Well, it was going to need new head gaskets in less than a year and that repair alone was close to $2000.00. To us, that was the slippery slope whereby the old reliable Japanese stand-by turned into a money-sucking vortex of frustration.

On the eve before we were to trade in the Subaru for the new mini-van, the seven-year old went to bed still deflated.  I went to bed feeling frustrated as hell but then that old friend of mine, Guilt, started to creep in making me feel like the grand prize winner of the “Biggest Bitch on Earth” contest because I couldn’t muster up any empathy for what the kid was going through. If a friend moved away or a pet died or a bully was bugging him, I would be right there to squeeze all my love into him and make it better. But his attachment and connection to this car, this thing, was just something I could not relate to.

So I decided to take an informal poll of my mom-friends to see whether any of them had experienced this type of reaction from any of their kids when buying a new car. Much to my surprise, quite a number of them reported that their children too “had a hard time with change” when it came to a new car purchase. I was humbled, for it never dawned on me that something like buying a new car could represent security-threatening change to a kid. It never occurred to me to look at this event through the lens of a child. My child. I had to make this right.

In the light of a new day, the morning that the trade was to go down, my son came to the kitchen dressed and ready for summer camp, but clearly still sullen. I considered this beautiful sensitive child for a moment and how unsettled the poor kid was feeling and decided that we should immediately go into the garage, climb into the Subaru, and sit in it one last time as a family to take turns eulogizing the car. There were tears, stories, laughs and hugs, the three-year old made up nonsensical stories about the car and a princess and Dora and a dragon and a cookie. I took silly snapshots of the boy hugging and kissing the car goodbye, and afterwards I think we all felt a little better. As we climbed out of the Subaru for the last time, I thought of that television ad and I turned and dramatically reached in the car to pull out the gear shift cover to keep for the seven-year old. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t tug that sucker loose. So I settled for the ashtray. I wiped back a rogue tear, went back into the house and gave the ashtray to the seven-year old.

Then later that morning at the camp bus stop, the most ridiculous thing happened. My son, you know the one moping for days over the whole new car thing? Well, he ran up to his counselor Mike with a noticeable spring in his step and announced with unmistakable glee, “Hey Mike! Guess what? We are getting a brand new mini-van today!!! It has a back-up camera in it… How cool is that!!!”

Holy Second Grade, Batman!

In Humor, Them! Them! Wonderful Them! on September 21, 2011 at 8:06 am

The second grader started school two weeks ago and so far, so good, or so I naively thought until I attended “Back to School” night last week. I swear I left my son’s school that night feeling as stressed out and anxious as I did while studying for the New York State Bar Exam years ago. For I fear that there is going to be a lot of work involved in the second grade. And the second grader is not going to have it so easy, either.

In second grade, each student receives an “agenda”… essentially a day planner to get the kids in the habit of writing down their homework assignments each day. This is an excellent thing to teach kids, for I am a major list maker, calendar keeper and possess a strong affinity for planners, agendas, and the like… But with the second grader’s agenda, I am obliged to attest in ink that I have taken an active and participatory role in his homework-doing by duly executing said agenda every single day in the spaces provided. As his reward for obtaining my daily John Hancocks, my second grader accumulates gold stars or some such which, when a certain level of compliance is reached, have the potential of turning into some sort of cool prize. So it would appear that the second grader’s success in second grade is inextricably woven together with and hinges perilously upon my ability to be an active and participatory parent.

I totally dig the second grader’s teacher. She is soft-spoken and low-key, in fact I think she might have even been wearing Birkenstocks during Back to School Night. She’s into encouraging the students’ independence and told us that she feels it is her job to turn our baby second graders into big strong third graders by year’s end. She also made it clear that the students are responsible for ensuring that their agendas are signed by their parents. I was so relieved….for this took some of the pressure off.

But then she mentioned something I found a bit more troublesome… with each child she was sending home a math textbook expressly for home use so that we (the parents) can teach them (our children) math. Whoa… Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute!  A math textbook?  For me to teach my kid math? What the fuck just happened here? I considered this seemingly cool teacher as I was hunched over my second grader’s smallish desk, and thought to myself that this woman had a lot of chutzpah making all sorts of assumptions about my math ability and my ability to be patient for that matter. So while sitting at my second grader’s desk on Back to School night, uncomfortably in his little second grader chair I might add, I sheepishly looked around the classroom at the other parents to see if the emotion of horror had registered on anyone else’s face besides mine. For the last time I opened a math textbook was well over twenty years ago and I think it gave me hives or scabies or scurvy or something. Then sure enough a few days later the second grader ambled off the bus and handed me a large-ish oversized math textbook and said, “Here Mom, this book’s for you.”

No doubt some of you will get the very wrong idea that I am a slacker mother who wants this whole child rearing gig to kinda run on autopilot, and you would not be wrong to a certain degree. However, I really do want to be and am present for assistance in all sorts of homework and projects and chauffeuring. I derailed my career for this very privilege. But where I feel I must draw the line is at what appears to be a dangerously close flirtation with what smacks of homeschooling and in math of all subjects.

As I have mentioned previously, I am not made of the same stuff that teachers are made of. I am surly, impatient, and downright rude if I say so myself, and I hated homework. So fourteen years after I slammed my last textbook shut forever (or so I thought), I find myself the uppity and not at all grateful recipient of this big heavy math textbook and I am bristling at the notion that I have apparently been deputized a de facto math teacher. It has been many many years since I have “done math” and like my parents before me, I am certain that the math my second grader will be doing is that “new math” and since I could barely do the old “new math” of my day there really is nowhere good for this to go. The teacher, who proudly stated she loves math, mentioned something about a revolutionary new approach to teaching math: as opposed to good ol’ rote learning, now the kids will be learning how to “math think.” I am not sure whether my brain can actually “math think” at this stage in my life because I suspect that the section of my brain that once held all the math is now being occupied by song lyrics from the 80s and 90s. But out of a sick curiosity tinged with hints of guilt from my shitty attitude, the other night after everyone was asleep I sat down and flipped through this textbook and breathed a sigh of relief because for now this seems do-able; they are learning how to tell time on an analog clock. After looking up “analog clock” on Wikipedia, I felt reasonably confident that I could handle this.

Finally, in the second grade there will be spelling. Thank g-d because I was getting a little worried that all this school was good for was teaching phonetic spelling and that I would forever have to suffer through homework filled with “kreetshure” and “chawklit” and “appel”…. I am a pretty decent speller despite the fact that I periodically experience vicious flashbacks of my fifth grade spelling bee where I was eliminated during the final round because the winning word was “seize” and not “sees” or “seas”. But last year when I would review my kid’s homework, I would have to bite down hard on a pencil to stifle my screams from his g-d awful spelling. When people spell words incorrectly, to me it is akin to fingernails on a black board and it drives me crazy. But I seem to recall reading somewhere that good spelling is a gift you are either born with or not, which of course begs the question, if you are destined to be a shitty speller by genetics, why even bother trying to fight destiny at all? Anyway, every Friday the class gets a list of words to learn and study during the week, and then they will be tested on the following Friday. Where I come in is in the studying of these words and it seems that once again I have to be V.E.R.Y. VERY involved. We parents were given two single spaced typed sheets with explicit instructions on how all this learning of the spelling words is to go down. The students are to pick an activity every day from a list of over 20 possibilities to help them learn the words on the list… like making a crossword puzzle, or crafting the words using Popsicle sticks, or spelling the words using alphabet pasta, or writing the words in sugar, sand or shaving cream. What happened to good old-fashioned flash cards? This is so very different from the way I used to study for spelling tests, it almost sounds like fun. So this past weekend, in the spirit of being an active and participatory parent, I ate 400 creamsicles, I purchased ten bags of alphabet pasta, and even turned a blind but twitching eye to a nightmare of a shaving cream mess on my new floors all in the name of helping my kid ace the spelling test this week. And I dutifully signed the agenda in the spaces provided, proving to the world and to my second grade teacher that I did so.

Nothing’s changed…

In Humor, Them! Them! Wonderful Them! on September 15, 2011 at 7:00 am

If any of you were thinking that my extended silence can be attributed to some amazing development in my children’s sleeping habits and that I have been greedily indulging in gobs of restorative sleep, don’t waste your time… My children are still the shitty sleepers that they always have been; they still take endless amounts of time to actually go to sleep and do a piss poor job of actually staying asleep.

About six weeks ago, my computer caught a nasty virus and quickly passed, taking all my work with it and killing my ability to write my tales of woe.  Now my dead computer is being held hostage at Data Doctors for an appalling three hundred dollar ransom, and though I miss my work dearly, I am finding it hard to cough up this princely sum for its release.  Sadly the death of my laptop was solely my fault;  apparently one has to renew virus protection periodically, and apparently  I failed to notice/chose to ignore  the blinking flashing swirling beeping and honking yellow exclamation points letting me know that my computer was at risk… I suppose it was naïve of me to think I was invincible when it came to computer viruses. But I digress.

So though I have not entered into a parenting stage approaching normalcy (meaning, that of everyone else I know similarly situated) complete with healthy doses of quality sleep, and quality time with my hunky husband, I can report that things have marginally improved. Now instead of me lying on the floor of the toddler’s (now preschooler’s) room seething while my extremities go numb for an hour, I have somehow managed to kiss and go, with the proviso that I can do this as long as I am sitting just outside her door in the hallway with my (new) computer. This is a win-win because I get to do something other than go stark raving mad in the dark and she still gets to keep me in her sights as she drifts off to sleep. This new method is especially effective when I have to put both children to bed on my own because now I really can technically be in two places at once.

But while I have gotten some relief in this department, things have seemingly run afoul during the “pre-game” show. Now there is all sorts of pre-bedtime mishegas that sometimes actually make me feel wistful for the simple days of lying on the floor for hours contorted and in the dark. There is “Extended Bath Time”, where the newly minted second grader requests some extra time to “chill” in the tub (Child: “After you finish washing my hair, I just feel like relaxing here in the tub for a bit, Mom. Okay?” Me: “Oh, really, had a rough day in the second grade, did you?”) I am not sure what all of that is about, but I do know this: if I do not have the luxury of time to just “chill” in the tub, then hey, neither should you, you unemployed parasite of a second grader.

Come bath time, especially because I have to administer two separate baths, I am all business: get in, lather it up, rinse it off and get out. I know without a doubt that if I had more than two children I would just march them outside every night and toss them a bar of soap while I brusquely and unceremoniously hosed them down. And though I am fairly certain that I am sucking every last bits of joy out of bath time, it seems that everything they do lately, from getting in and out of the car, to eating and getting dressed, to coming when I call for them, takes for-ev-er, and it drives me batty because I come from the land of speed and efficiency. My motto is “Get the job done fast and move on.”

There is probably some middle ground where I could ease up and not be so militant and they could be more responsive to me than the semi-comatose slugs they are prone to be…but there are some days, days when I have not slept, when I have been cranking it all day long between work-work, house-work, and mommy-work… that I simply cannot stand to sit on that tiny bathroom stool in that tiny prison cell of a bathroom for more than a nanosecond anxiously waiting till they tell me that either the water has turned cold or someone has to pee. My irritation is compounded by a factor of two because after the first bath, I have to do it all over again for the other one, emptying and cleaning the tub, filling it up again, and ensuring there is an adequate bubble to water ratio.

Then after dinner, after the kitchen is cleaned up, after bath time, after pajamas but before tooth brushing time, they have also devised what is known as “Cereal Time” (Child: “Mom… it’s not like we are asking to eat Oreos before bed! Just wholesome ‘whole grain’ Cheerios!” and “You wouldn’t want us to starve, would you?”). Within the sacred confines of my head, to this I reply:  I think “Cereal Time” is a load of crap. In my world, after dinner the kitchen is closed. So note to my children– I really have no problem with you going to bed starving till you wake up the next day to eat your organic blueberry waffles slathered with Nutella.

But my hunky husband holds a completely different philosophy than I do on this matter, something having to do with him feeling “heartsick” at the mere thought of his children going to bed hungry (even though they ate a full plate of chicken nuggets with a chocolate chip cookie chaser just two hours’ prior). This perplexes me because it’s not like he grew up during the Irish potato famine or the Great Depression for heaven’s sake, so he’s got no real first-hand knowledge of “starving”. He’s a Jewish guy from northern New Jersey with a solid history of being well-fed, so I don’t get it. I mean, COME ON, it’s not like our kids would ever be confused with actual starving children who have flies crawling all over their sad little faces while they eat spoonfuls of dirty river water that one might see and be tempted to even adopt on those infomercials designed to tug at one’s heart and purse strings at the vulnerable hour of 3 a.m.!! But there are just so many battles one can fight in a given day. And I don’t want my long lasting legacy to be that of the family’s sole joy-sucking Grinch mother at every turn. So now I quietly dole out the bowls of cereal and smile as I pour the milk, trying to think happy thoughts as I go.

Next we come to Story Time (Child: “Mom, how about we act out some ‘Frog and Toad’ stories? I’ll be Frog, you can be Toad.” Me: “Um well, it takes me some time to ‘get into character’ and it’s way past your bedtime.” Child: “Okay, will you read to us about how the Earth was created?” Me: “Um, son, it’s 8:45; way too late to give equal time to both the scientific and biblical versions of the answer to this very well thought out question.” Child: “Okay, how about reading to us about how hair grows?” Me: “Um, well, that is just too biological a story for before bed.”)… Don’t get the wrong impression I really do like to read stories to them. I love snuggling close with a good book or three, reading aloud with silly voices for all the different characters, but I think in all fairness that three books, three short books max, is aplenty.  But when it comes to story time, they have an insatiable appetite. So I spend just as much time saying, “No, no, no, no, no…. three stories is enough!” as I do reading the actual stories.

Tooth brushing time is another time-sucker complete with lively rounds of “He goes first!”, “No, she goes first!”, “But I went first yesterday!”, “No, I did!”, then giving way to, “I want to go first!”, “No, I do!”, “She’s pushing me off the stool!”, “It’s my stool!”, “”It has my name on it!”, “I want to try flossing!” “No, I want to try flossing!” Me: “Um, you both can try flossing?”, “No, I do it!” It’s just a hazy swirl of little toothbrushes, splashing water and small elbows. I am not really sure if their teeth ever get brushed in all this craziness. But I can only hope.

Once they finally are asleep, it feels as though I have run a marathon and I am dog-tired as I drag myself across the threshold of my bedroom and haul myself into bed. These children of mine, who I love so very much, well they still wake at ridiculously early morning hours. The second grader is slightly better than the preschooler in this arena. He gets up at around a roosterly yet tolerable 6:00 a.m. But the preschooler routinely kicks our door down SWAT-team style somewhere between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m., climbing over me and wedging herself between us on a nightly basis. So in summation, nothing has really changed and yes, even though my children are waaaaaaay past the newborn-it’s-all-about-survival stage, here I am still sleep deprived, still insane. Have you seen me lately? My hair is half gray, usually untamed and huge, my eyebrows are in need of some TLC and most likely only one leg is shaved (this is probably too much information. I know.).

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