Saturday, August 25, 2007

I should have known better

I'm back in high school. At my age it's just humiliating to have to return because of a mistake. It seems I am one credit short of graduation. Even though I've earned a bachelors' degree in the meantime, I have to make it official and earn my high school diploma. The only problem is I can't seem to make it to first period gym class -- ever.

It's the same dream over and over again.

I get through a school year only to realize I've never attended a single first period class. The dream varies on occasion -- one night I miss history and another I miss an entire year of math -- but the gyst is always the same: I'm flunking out because I can't seem to remember to go to class.

I understand such dreams are common, but I'm blaming their frequency these last few weeks on the sad fact that it's the back-to-school season and because Ittybit will be returning to the Marilla Cuthbert Academy for Unspeakably Charming Children in the Fall. It's irrefutable proof that my baby is growing up, and soon she'll be in post school rather than preschool.

Two years ago she could barely walk from one corner of a room to the other and now she's trying on every sneaker in the shoe store, wondering which one will make her jump higher and run faster in the tiny tots' tiny playground, not to mention selecting a pair she believes will give her enough "entergy" to jump to the moon.

And not only do I have to come to terms with my baby's eventual independence (and astronautical aspirations), but also the fact that when it comes to the rudiments of elementary education, I am in a sub-remedial category.

Why just the other day while speaking with friends about their vacation plans I incorrectly identified Charlotte as being located in South Carolina. I even tried to cleverly conceal my stupidity as they snickered uncontrollably by asserting that GEOMETRY was not my forte. GEOMETRY! Of course then I just put my finger in my mouth, made a popping sound and blamed "mommy brain" for my sudden lack of intelligence.

But the truth is the brain bust wasn't sudden. I am horrible at geography. I am one of those people who say we're going "up to New York City," or "down to Canada" for the weekend. It's painful. But it's more than maps and locations, I'm also unsure of a lot of other basics. All those things we learned by memorization? Yeah, well my memory isn't what it used to be. I joke that if I have to learn one more phone number my own number will be squeezed right out of my memory, only it's the kind of joke that rings true.

So I'm looking forward to helping the kids with their homework about as much as I'm looking forward to an ingrown toenail.

As it is, helping out in the preschool classroom has proven me to be on the low end of the learning curve. I'll run down the list of egregious things I've done in case you missed them: I've allowed children to finger paint when they were supposed to be painting with bushes; I've hung artwork right smack-dab in the middle of the walkway through the painting room and the kitchen; and allowed my kid to wear skull and crossbones leg warmers to school, a completely inappropriate item of clothing regardless of the popularity of pirates.

But back to school we go, both of us. She will have a few new outfits and a new pair of sneakers that make her jump higher and run faster and I will have a nervous breakdown.

Fractions? Integers? Spit infinitives? Intercoastal waterways? The periodic table of elements? Paste? They all scare me to death. I might as well be standing in front of an audience in my underwear. Another common dream, I'm told.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bumper crops and floating holidays

Have you heard about August 8th?

That would be "National Sneak Some Zucchini On Your Neightbors' Front Porch" night. Easily one of the most important holidays of the year since the vegetable multiplies faster in the garden than rabbits do.

Now, I don't grow zucchini but I have been the recipient of others' bumper crops. I've smiled politely as gardeners big and small proudly proffer bags of the stuff for me to puzzle over. I've grilled it, sauteed it, fried it, barbecued it, even baked it into bread, but mostly I find the stuff about a week later, liquified and rotting on my kitchen counter.

So I'm fairly certain if I actually grew zucchini I would have participated in this seemingly harmless prank. Yes, if I grew the prolific plant I might even lobby the people in charge of ratifying such celebrations to extend the merriment for the entire month.

But, like I said, I don't grow zucchini. What seems to grow uncontrollably, under the cover of night, at my house are baby clothes. We are drowning in perfectly lovely things for newborns. We're also swimming in outfits for boys ages six months to a year.

I'm not really sure how this happened since 20th century conveniences such as washers and dryers have taken away much the work involved in laundry, but I'm sure mass production and slave wages, which have made most goods relatively inexpensive, have everything to do with the superabundance, making baby clothes almost disposable. Almost but not quite because no matter how many closets full we have we tend to wear the same 10 items over and over.

I'm happy to do laundry every day if it means I can wear my favorite sweater over and over. While I'm at it, I'll just throw in the orange stripy snapsuit that I love so much on the Champ, as well as the brown polka-dotted skirt that I think looks so cute on Ittybit and that she MIGHT actually wear if I pull it out of the basket and marvel about how CLEAN it looks.

I do this washing of the same two loads of laundry day in and day out even though we have drawers full of perfectly good alternatives, most of which came handed down by people just like me; people who found themselves drowning in baby clothes and saw the opportunity to drop a few bags full on my front porch. Figuratively speaking that is.

Some of them asked sheepishly, almost pleadingly, if we needed baby clothes for the Champ. Some sent boxes of next-to new (and new) items cross country through the mail. Others waited until we were safely ensconced in their living room, eating hors d'oeuvres and sipping tasty beverages before they stealthily placed boxes upon boxes of their sons' baby clothes in the trunk of our car.

From first-hand experience, I know that what seasoned parents think when they learn of an impending birth. They don't really think: "AWWWW how sweet, a baby. What a blessing." Oh no, they're thinking: "If I play my cards right I can unload the metric ton of onsies that have accumulated in the attic."

Just this past week I learned that my husband's colleague and his wife are expecting twin girls. I did what all second-time parents do: I packed a zippered comforter bag (king sized) full of Ittybit's more presentable duds and left it NEAR his truck, telling him he could take it or leave it. I wasn't going to foist more clothes than anyone could humanly use upon him unless he was willing.

Score ONE for me. He took the bag.

It will be difficult to pick just one day out of the calendar year to drop baby clothes on the front porches of unsuspecting expecting parents.

Perhaps it can just be a floating holiday.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

A bridge to nowhere

As I got to the midway point beads of sweat collected on my forehead.

Ten years ago one winter I'd reached this very spot on the bridge and lost control of my car. It had skated in a complete circle. Before I knew it the car came to a stop and I was facing the river, my knees shaking. I hadn't even considered what to do as the world slid sideways, I just held my breath and steered into the skid. Knees still knocking against the steering wheel, I righted the car and continued driving, thanking the universe there were no cars behind me.

Every time I drive over the span of metal and concrete, I relive that cold night and think about what could have happened.

This time as I traversed the bridge it was mid-summer, Champ was in the back seat, presumably sleeping and there were no impediments to a safe and uneventful crossing. But in Minneapolis, where a bridge collapsed into the Mississippi River at rush hour just the day before, there were hundreds of commuters who probably thought the same thing. I imagine some of them routinely held their breath as they crossed time and again.

I'm not particularly afraid of bridges, but I have to admit that I tend to go through a mental run-through of all the things I could do should the concrete evaporate under my wheels. I never get far before I have to chastise myself for neglecting to put a hammer under the seat. Should the car submerge and the power windows short out, I'm fairly certain I won't have the strength to open the car door underwater.

I briefly consider precautions to take the next time I'm crossing over a bridge. Maybe I'll wear the baby sling. If we go under, I can crawl into the back seat, pop him in the sling and swim on my back once I get to the surface. But then I look into the rearview mirror and see the toddler car seat, which is currently empty since she's spending a few hours with her Amah and Papa, and mentally wad up that particular solution and toss it into the trash.

It may sound funny but I know people who are getting prepared for all types of disasters. They've got flashlights and batteries, duct tape and plastic bags, sterno and stereos. They're stocking up on bottled water and canned goods, they're tucking sleeping bags and road flares in their cars and they're putting Iodine in their medicine cabinets and candles in their cupboards.

Of course they're not crazy, they just want to be prepared in case the end begins with them.

We all have our particular fears, too. Some living along the coast fear hurricanes, some fear floods. Terror is on everyone's mind, while faulty bridges (specifically those over water) is my fear trigger.

It's not as if such things as the Minnesota bridge disaster haven't happened here, they have. Ten people were killed in April 1987 after the collapse of the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek near Amsterdam sent several cars and a tractor-trailer into the water.. Other failures have occurred, fortunately without the loss of life. Two years ago a ramp of the Dunn Memorial Bridge partially collapsed, but was identified by a woman who had driven over the fault and who alerted authorities. The episode vaguely recalled another stunning bridge failure that similarly resulted in no casualties -- the Green Island Bridge, which in 1977 collapsed after flooding weakened its foundation.

We've been lucky. According to 2006 Federal Highway Administration reports, of the 594,709 bridges in the United States, 152,945, or 26 percent, are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Likewise, 17 percent (161,750 of the 961,382 federal-aid road miles) of U.S. highways are reported to have conditions needing resurfacing or reconstruction.

Sobering statistics that always seem to bring me back to my mental drawing board, tapping my imaginary pencil on the paper of my empty plans.

Maybe if I had an inflatable raft ...

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Just keeping up with the Jones'

When my husband asked me if I heard about the new study that claims obesity is a social disease, my first response was "I don't buy it."

I tend to do that a lot: I hear the summary of a thought and pass judgement immediately.

"No, really. It says here that once a person becomes obese for whatever reason, it may make it more socially acceptable for people close to him or her to gain weight, and that new social norms can proliferate quickly. Really, just think how many of our social gatherings revolve around food."

"Somebody actually PAID somebody to study this? That body size can be in fashion? That the 'birds of a feather adage,' may not be in play in weight? Whoa nellie. Back up the truck."

"OK, now you're just making fun of me," he said, miffed that I wasn't taking him seriously.

"No, your right. There's definitely something to this theory that obesity may have a social component. ... Like when everybody and their mothers were trying to get the 'pooch,' the little tubby potbelly everyone thought was sexy. And how all the models bulked up during the 80s when Reagan was in office, but then slimmed down again during the Clinton administration."

And the more I thought about it the more rational, even comforting, the thought became.

Is it possible that the BACK FAT I've recently acquired after incubating the Champ might actually be because all my friends are doing it and NOT merely a stunning lack of physical activity mixed with over indulging in copious amounts of junk food? Pass the Ho-Hos, where do I sign up?

I mean, really. ... I'm never going back to the days when my friends and I would get together and exercise. Long gone are the long walks after sunrise. Now the most I can manage on the rare occasion is to weed my sorry strip of garden alongside the house. I didn't even have the stamina to watch when a volleyball game broke out at a barbecue over the weekend. This study may just give me the impetus to ditch any and all remaining thin friends. stock up on Ben and Jerry's New York Superfudge Chunk and stay in the house all day watching back to back Law and Order reruns.

Turns out my friends are 57 percent as likely to gain weight after I do even if we only call each other friends but never actually see each other. Friends who move away might as well burn my address and stop sending Christmas cards because this study claims if they don't they'll still be trapped in my weight-gaining whirlwind. It doesn't matter if they move to Peru, they're still influenced by me and my back fat.

But what if my friends no longer find their back fat acceptable? What if they are successful in getting rid of the unsightly bulge? Not to worry, I, too, will miraculously shape myself accordingly. Then all I would have to do is dump all my non-back-fat shedding friends to keep the weight off.

Oh, and it's not just friends and neighbors I call friends (the neighbors we don't like are apparently safe from my back fat) it's also my husband, but to a lesser degree. Should I become obese, he's is only 37 percent more likely to become obese in just a few years. What a shocker! Perhaps we should divorce before it comes to that. It would NOT be pleasant to go through life with a husband sporting his pregnancy weight back fat.

But really, how ground breaking is it to realize we are keeping up with the Jones' on the bathroom scale as well as in the driveway and on the fashion runway?

What this study is seriously suggesting, and what scientists are all spinning their wheels about, is the idea that if there is a social component to weight gain there should be an equal and opposite social component to weight loss. And such a finding will make socially-driven programs and group weight loss endeavors more effective in fighting our battles with bulge. I wonder if the Weight Watcher's people know about this?