Sunday, September 26, 2010

What’s wrong with getting it all wrong?

Most parents look forward to the opening of the school year.

Their kids, who have been sitting around all summer begging for something to do (because they have been SOOOOOOOOOOOO Bore-DAH!) traipse happily back to school with their fresh supplies and snappy new clothes. They can't wait to meet up with friends and have their experiences structured in neat, 42-minute intervals.

As soon as the doors close on the Yellow Bus that first day, parents generally dust their hands and breathe a sigh of relief into their morning coffee. As their kids go back to school, they soak in those first peaceful hours and feel back to normal.

I wish that were me.

School, in my anxiety-addled mind, presents a huge opportunity to fail as a parent in embarrassing and potentially devastating ways. Collectively, we think these missteps are destined to ensure that Harvard and Yale have already heard of our children and are in the process of hiring security. The way we're mucking up their lives, they scoff, it will be amazing if Astoria Trucking will accept their transcripts.

Everyone says the early years are most important. I sure hope that's not the case ...

Hmmm. … Who was it who forgot to attend their daughter's first school Birthday Party? Forgot to bring a birthday snack? Oh right, that was me.

Bad mom.

There are so many dates in the calendar destined to be forgotten: When does school start? An orientation? Which day was that?

Bad mom.

Parenthood feels like a state of life in which no amount of preparation is enough, and not enough preparation sets your kids on the road to an address under a bridge.

Did we do enough reading over the summer? Did we practice any numbers? Holy mackerel, she can't tie her shoes.

Shoulders up to my ears, I endure the long days with a thousand what ifs.

What if she doesn't like her new teacher? What if her teacher doesn't like her? What if she doesn't like the after-school program? What happens then?

Worry, worry, worry.

Looking at opportunity from the wrong direction is exactly how anxiety distorts a person's outlook. Backward thinking. It keeps us from having faith or hope. So I force myself to think past my fears.

It doesn't hurt that you get a "do-over" with your second child ... or a doing it all wrong again, but I'm not going there.

When I dropped off The Champ for his first day of preschool this year I felt a little of both. He was wearing pajamas and a smudge of breakfast on his face. He said goodbye, I kissed his cheek and pasted a smile on my face as I walked past the teachers.

There were no tears, no 'mommy stays.' There was just him, playing, sleepwear and all.

Still, I felt as if I were holding my breath for the rest of the day.

More what ifs crowd out any happy thoughts. … What if he growls at other children who want to play? What if he won't share toys? What if he sits in the corner and sulks?

I've seen so many sides of my children I'm never quite sure which will come out or when. I worry that first impressions will imprint themselves incorrectly ... and that the judgment will follow them forever.

Will he be needy or clingy or difficult? Will he be charming and social and funny?

I feel disloyal as I wait for the teacher to give her verdict.

When she tells me "He's so great!" I relax a little. I know it's true, he is great. And it occurs to me that maybe the only thing wrong about "getting it all wrong" is worrying about it.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Can’t hear the noise for all the decibels

"How long has it been making THAT noise?" my husband asked in alarm.

"Huh?" I hesitated. "What noise?"

"THAT noise," he repeated, flicking off the radio so I could hear the rev of the engine as it cleared its mechanical throat of some kind of gear or gasket. "Pretty soon it will sound like a tank. It's probably the manifold."

"Oh … that. I don't know when it began exactly. Probably the same time I turned up the radio to try and drowned it out. Really. Not long."

It wasn't a lie but it was hiding an inconvenient truth: I didn't want to think about the potential need for a new car. I had been keeping this one rolling along for more years than any other car in the neighborhood, and it had become a source of pride. Drowning out each new noise with circa '90s rock rebellion was so much more satisfying than worrying about repairs.

I didn't mention the dance - a sort of shaking shimmy - the car convulses with at unpredictable times. That can't be good. But it's not happening at the moment. Out of sight … out of my mind.

He shakes his head. He knows the drill. Someday soon … hopefully on a warm, non-precipitous day, preferably once the kids are in school or at the sitter's … he'll be summoned to meet me wherever the old girl has decided to conk out. I'm hoping the rendezvous will be nearby a coffee shop with toothsome treats. He's hoping he won't be along a highway at rush hour.

Either way, it's more than likely my cell phone will be out of juice or sitting in its charger at home.

I keep chugging along as the car steps up its noisy commute. Clunkety, clunk, clunk. Lately it feels as if I'm pushing the car uphill with the sheer force of will and my foot pressed firmly to the floorboard. Still, I feel the heat of the scorn from the cars behind me … unable to drive faster than 30 miles per hour … and unable to pass on the upward curve.

I'm sure they are surprised, when they get a chance to pass, that the woman behind the wheel doesn't have blue hair or bifocals … yet.

Procrastination, at least when it comes to visiting the mechanic, is all the ratio of risk and reward. If you are risking your life savings for two months of smooth sailing in a land yacht there's more reason to take your chances on a long-distance tow.

Strange how things change.

I used to be so conscientious about the car. But so many other things have usurped its importance. It's been quite a while since tune ups and scheduled maintenance had actually been scheduled.

It used to be a running joke that "nothing" was ever wrong with a car until the man of the house experienced the symptoms while he was driving it.

You could tell him all about how the brakes that locked up or replicate the squeal that escaped from under the hood until you were blue in the face. These strange and disturbing occurrences were the mechanical equivalent of the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it.

But now the joke is on me.

Trees could be falling all around me and I'd just turn up the radio.

Write to Siobhan Connally at sconnally@troyrecord.com or read more online at www.troyrecord.com, click on “Blogs.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Just a sec ... Mommy's iPhoning it in

Hello. My name is Siobhan. And I’m addicted to TapFish.

I stupidly downloaded the virtual aquarium game onto my "smart phone" thinking it would give the kids something to do while we were driving (besides pestering me about going the wrong way or being lost all together).

However, my virtual conscience kept me up late at night, feeding the kids’ "fish" so they wouldn’t go belly up. I even found myself just visiting neighboring "tanks" to see how the other wannabe pisciculturalists are fairing. Sometimes I feed their fish, too.

"Did ya see me?" she squeals, the excitement of whatever it was I missed bubbling into a froth. "Did ya see? Did ya see?"

No, honey, I’m sorry. I didn’t see, I was feeding your fish. Can you do it again?

But the magic is over. No matter how she sits or spins or contorts, it’s obvious from her expression there is no recreation possible.

"Oh!" She says with disappointed tone. "That’s too bad."

I wish I was making up what she said next. Without a hint of malice and without ever having heard a single stanza, she channeled the spirit of Harry Chapin to lecture me …

"You’re missing everything. And you know, someday, when I’m a grown woman and you want my attention, I probably will be too busy for you. That’s how it is you know."

The words sting.

I flip through the journal she’s been keeping for summer homework. She’s drawn colorful pictures and written mostly legible entries about her activities over the past two months:

"We went to the park … I climbed the BIG jungle gym."

"I went to the pool and swam underwater!"

"I made snow angels in the sand. It was funny."

"I saw bees at the beekeeper’s house! I didn’t even get stung."

None of the entries were things she’d done with me. All the really memorable stuff she experienced over her summer vacation she did with friends and baby sitters and grandparents while I was working.

That stung, too.

I have to admit, however painful, that as a working mom whose desk has magically teleported to her cell phone, distractions are ever-present. I spend so much more of my time with my head bowed to a hand-held device. Even when I turn it off, it’s never truly disconnected.

The fact is, whenever it’s in my hand, I feel compelled to check on it more than I’ve ever felt compelled to check on the kids. So even when I’m here, I’m not really there.

I know I’m not alone. Research consistently being churned out rubs our noses in the mess we’re creating with technology overload. Technological addiction isn’t debated as much as it is denied: “I’m not ignoring my kids. I’m just not bending to their whims. I can stop anytime I like.”

Yet it just seems like a sign of the apocalypse how video games are being designed to help us get our expanding rear-ends off the couch.

I’m not casting the first stone but I certainly know that if I don’t do something soon, I’ll be facing a chip off the old block.

"Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa."

"Wha?"

"Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been calling your name for like a hundred years."

"I’m sorry. I was reading an email. What did you say?"

"Can I play with your iPhone now? I have to feed my fish."

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Photoshop, not a diamond, is a girl’s best friend

Did I ever tell you that I once had the job title "Wedding Consultant?" for a formerly local-ish studio photography company?

No?

It was way back when I was the girl who never wanted to get married, never wanted to have children. ... just wanted to roam around with a camera and see new things.

Tragically clich├ęd, I realize now.

I was perhaps (depending on your position on sales) the worst wedding consultant in the history of wedding consultants. I'd routinely tell folks to buy the least expensive package ... and save their money for a down payment on a house … or a car … or the honeymoon.

I reckoned there would be the same amount of photos to choose from the finished album would just be bigger. "You can always upgrade," is what I’d advise.
That was a fun job.

There were a lot of hilariously imaginative requests.

"Can you make the wall green? I meant to have that room painted before the wedding but never got to do it."

"I am not speaking to my sister anymore. Can you crop her out of the photos?"

"My husband had too much to drink at the cocktail hour and then hung out with his friends all night in the bar. Can you work some magic and put him in some pictures with me at the reception?"

Ah … true love. …

As entertaining as sales can be, nothing compares to my early days in newspapers, where I learned wedding and engagement announcements have their own hidden appeal. You not only get to peek into the lives of different kinds of folks who are all doing the same thing — getting married — you also get to laugh a little at what the hype and hoopla makes them do.

Such as the woman whose engagement photo was a photocopy of a snapshot that had another photocopy of the groom-to-be's head taped next to the bride-to-be. At first I laughed, thinking the unprintable art project was the result of timing and desperation. Maybe they didn't have any good photos together yet?

Yeah ... No.

I later learned the bride-to-be didn't like her intended's physique so she taped a picture of her beloved's head onto her ex-boyfriend's body. She had a nice smile in that old picture, too, and thought it was a shame to waste it.

I will not tell you what odds I placed on the longevity of that marriage, but I imagined the wedding proofs should be speedy if the photographer wanted to get paid.

Sure, I laughed … but I never really understood how much I had in common with that vain bride until I had an engagement of my own to announce.

I set up my tripod and my Yashicamat twin lens reflex in a make-shift studio and demanded my intended smile for the camera.

I set the timer and ran to his side a dozen times.

When the roll was developed it seemed apparent to me that while there were frames that flattered us both, there were none that flatter us together.

So I did what any self-respecting Bridezilla would do. I picked photograph that flattered me best and I pasted his head from another into the frame.

Turns out Photoshop, more than diamonds, is a girl's best friend.