The Teachers’ Lounge

Stops me cold, keeps me standing,
Twenty five years on…

Every year, during parent-teacher conferences, my school’s PTA does a teacher dinner. Warm, home-made sustenance to help them get through repeating 20 minutes of report card hell.

This is one volunteer activity I jump at.  I usually sign up to bring in plastic wrap and forks, or extension cords – easy stuff that either Frank or I can do, usually sourced from current stock – simple. Finally, last year, I ventured into bringing consumables — Chicken Noodle Soup. It was a huge hit and I felt not the slightest amount of guilt showing off the Costco soup container when pressed for the recipe. (Their soup made from roasted chicken is amaaaazing.)

There is only one thing that bothers me: Going into the teachers’ lounge.

You remember it from school, right? The room off the side hall where you couldn’t really see into… where teachers would disappear into, whispering to each other and glancing around furtively. The few times you were told to go there to find another teacher felt like entry into an Egyptian tomb… I was convinced I would be cursed and never spoke of it. It was sacred space. Teachers only.  There was free soda and chips in there. They talked about you in there.

So when I volunteered to do the dinner set up the first year, I had to take a few deep breaths before stepping into the teachers’ lounge. I kept my eyes down. I asked permission before opening drawers. I acted as if the furniture was museum quality and tried desperately not to make a mess of any type.

Net, I was totally taken aback at how the mythological status of the teachers’ lounge remained so many years after my education ended. I know many of the teachers at my kids’ lower school. They are way cooler than any teacher I ever had, not to mention about 3 decades younger. I can honestly say they are — to a person — women I would enjoy hanging out with. But their space? Noooo, can’t do it…

So tomorrow is the dinner. The soup is ready to go, the crock pot is clean and I’ve dug out 40 plastic forks, knives and spoons. But I’ve given up on the set up. I just can’t do it. I am thoroughly convinced Mr. Etheridge or Mrs. Vogt or Mr. Lawson is going to burst around the corner, catch me in there, and ruin my chances of getting into a good college, not to mention whisper about me to another teacher.  I’ll just stay on this side of the door…

Travel Blues

Hear that sucking sound?
That’s my soul being swallowed
By lady black hole.
So there I was, in Hartford, Connecticut, trying to get back to Cincinnati. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon and I had thoroughly enjoyed my journey from the retreat center back to the airport — lovely trees still in full fall bloom, not too much traffic and good tunes playing on my rental Ford Focus. (A mini commercial for the Focus: it was a great car. Peppy, nicely styled, comfortable… thumbs up.)

Anyway, I arrived at the airport with time to kill and enjoyed reading, journaling (a luxury) and listening to music. But then… the dreaded announcement that our flight had mechanical problems and we were on a delay. People in need of a re-route clogged the desk with requests to change flights. Me? I stayed put. I only wanted Cincinnati, and I decided that a positive attitude would save the day.

About two hours later there were only about 15 of us left at the gate, all aiming for Cincinnati, waiting to hear the latest. We had watched the nice young mechanic doing something to one of the engines, but he had been missing for a while. And although we could still see the pilots through the glass, there were no telltale blinkey lights or buzz of activity that spelled “boarding soon”. The waiting group of people had started to talk together – a gentle camaraderie born from the sense we were all in this together. I alone proclaimed my steadfast belief that the plane was well, and we would be boarding soon. And not two minutes later, the older gentleman at the desk pulled out the microphone to address the anticipating group.

“I’m sorry folks, but it looks like the flight will be canceled as they are unable to fix it…” Bastard made me look like a fool.

We all wandered to the counter and rebooked into disgustingly early flights the following morning, none of them direct, took our sparse little $6 food voucher and hoped that the hotel they chose for us would be suitable and clean. (I think my exact words were: “Please book the closest ‘non flea bag’ hotel possible.”

Through this all I tried keep my sense of humor and positive outlook (flea bag comment not withstanding), because frankly, the opposite just sucks. Although I can get as outraged and indignant as the next person, it just gives me a headache, and it never seems to progress my situation in the slightest.  However, I found myself repeatedly standing next to Sulky Sue and her strangely quiet husband time and time again. She had no trouble with outrage and indignation.

When generally categorizing people, I have a system that breaks people into two camps: those I would be happy to be trapped in an airport with, and those I would not. (Ironic, huh?) Care to guess which group Sulky Sue falls into?  About 5 minutes into waiting for the hotel shuttle, I wanted to gouge out my eyes and puncture my ear drums. Not only did she have zero nice things to say about the situation, she had to keep retelling about the fit she threw on email a few years back to get a $500 voucher from Delta after a flight was cancelled. “It’s been long enough since I did that, I should be able to do this again,” she repeated to anyone who would listen.

When she turned to me a few times for reassurance of her feelings, I would state something befuddlingly optimistic — “better a broken airplane on the ground than in the air.”  When she was sure the flight was cancelled only because so few people were left, I found myself telling stories of being on flights with less than 10 people all the time, trying to puncture her defenses. When we parted at 8pm at the hotel, all having signed up for the 4am shuttle back to the airport the next morning, I counted my blessings for a few Sue-free hours.

The next morning, having managed to snag the front seat in the shuttle bus to avoid all conversation, we arrived to check in and manage the confusion our flight cancellation would cause. As I approached the counter, I felt compelled to shield the agent from the Sue-Onslaught that would be his next customer.  “Despite what others might tell you,” I whispered to him conspiratorially, “I think you’ve all done a nice job on this flight cancellation. Thanks for taking care of me.”  And then as soon as I was done, I headed to the gate hell-bent on being done with Sue.

The flight to Atlanta was nondescript and easy. We arrived a little late and although I had to ‘OJ Simpson’ through the terminals (that’s Hertz, not homicide), the deep morning fog had slowed everyone down so I was fine.   I waited until the end to board, as I hate sitting in overheated airplanes, sweating, trying not to touch the elbow of the person next to me — and I knew this flight was totally full of early Monday commuters. Finally I got on, and sashayed my way to the back of the plane. I looked up, anticipating which open seat was mine.

There was only one open seat at the back of the plane. Care to guess who it was next to?  I silently cursed the travel gods (“I have been nothing if not positive and helpful; piss off.”) Yes, I had to sit next to Sulky Sue for the flight.

Well, it turns out that not only is she negative, she’s incapable of reading social cues. I pulled out a book instantly and began reading. That did not slow her down in the slightest. Talk talk talk… About 20 minutes into it, I rescued my finger which had been holding my place in the book, naively thinking that perhaps she would notice and swiftly beg me to return to my reading (“Please, don’t let me keep you from your book”). No such luck. So I made nice. Found out we knew a few people in common (Cincinnati is terribly small). Endured more travel hell stories.

When I got off the plane in Cincinnati, I didn’t look back. I bolted. When I passed a bathroom that few know about, I took refuge inside, hoping she might pass by and be long gone before I arrived at baggage claim. I could take no more. I felt toxic, stained, drained of all happiness and joy (oh my god, she’s a dementor, I just figured it out).

While driving home I tried to shake it off;  I visualized my kids snuggling me the next morning, cold toes pressed against my legs, butterfly kisses to spare.  That seemed to buoy me.  But it wasn’t until I had my kids actually in my arms later that day that my aura cleared — ahhh, my patronis had arrived.

One final note about the trip: be careful who reads your texts. Below is an actual text exchange during the flight delay:

Me: hi. flight on maintenance delay. no details. snf snf

Me: still here. no word. they have rebooked half the flight… i still have faith

Frank: Mom I hope you’l be here – AP [my daughter]  (Note: I did not see this text before sending the next one)

Me: faith be damned. they just canceled flight. shit. once i know what i’m doing will call.

Frank: Mom i’m useing dads phone and watch your language and we made you cookies waaaaaaa flight canseled

Me: hi sweetie. sorry about that. i am VERY sad too. thanks for the cookies.


My inner coward,
revealed, welcomes you to join;
Judgment optional.

non·cha·lant: adjective \ˌnän-shə-ˈlänt; ˈnän-shə-ˌlänt, -lənt\

Definition of NONCHALANT: having an air of easy unconcern or indifference

The word nonchalant is a beautiful word. First, it sounds French, which makes me sound instantly cool. Second, I can spell it, which doesn’t happen often for words exceeding two syllables. And third it is almost onomatopoetic, which is a word I can’t spell but can pronounce.

Let me share some things that I am nonchalant about.

1. Missing a turn while driving.
2. Whether my kids eat dessert with dinner or after dinner.
3. The 10 feet in front of me on the road; go ahead, take it.
4. Coffee

Some things I am decidedly not nonchalant about.

1. Snakes. We will not have one in our house, ever.
2. Bathrooms. See my collected works on the subject.
3. My hair. I’m hair involved. There, I said it.
4. Earthquakes.

Wow, why earthquakes you might ask? Because yesterday I was freaking in one!!! And apparently, in Costa Rica, the number one thing people are nonchalant about is earthquakes. This was not a tiny one. It lasted easily 30 seconds. It rumbled and shook the room quite nicely. Immediately after, upon reflection,  I decided to leave my room, passport/phone/credit cards in hand, and spend a little time outside on the off chance than being inside wasn’t a good idea.

I was alone.

No one else gave a crap.  They laughed in the hotel bar. They were not spilling into the streets, peering up into the sky waiting for the building to crumble. They did not suffer from flashbacks to 1970’s disaster movies about fire or airplanes or natural disasters. They are, it seems, Latin. I am, painfully and obviously, white.

Well, I don’t care. I have decided that earthquakes have taken over the number one spot of things I’m worried about that I can’t control. Number two is tornados, but at least Jim Cantore calls me to let me know when one is coming. When they make an “Earthquake Notify” service, then I can reorder my irrational fears again.  In the meantime, please join me outside.

Let the Babysitter Fold Your Underwear

Desperation wins
And ego takes a back seat.
Pride mellows when gulped.
A few months ago, my stay-at-home husband returned to the workforce after 8 years. It was a planned event – timed to when our boy started full-time kindergarten. It required us to decide between after-school care or an in-house babysitter for the hours between 3:30 and 6, and we chose a sitter. (Plug here for Care.Com – that’s how I found our sitter; site was very easy to use and they offer loads of support.)

One reason I loved the idea of a sitter was that she would be able to take up some of the house-chore burden, namely laundry and some light cleaning. We have someone coming weekly to clean the house, but I want to make it every other week with our sitter filling in the gap. And the laundry is self-evident — this family of four seems to wear 6 or 7 outfits a day and it piles up.

Here’s the deal: I haven’t been able to ask her to do the cleaning or laundry yet. On the cleaning side, I really haven’t figured out what I want her to do versus the cleaner – just haven’t taken the time to map it out. On the laundry side, it is pure embarrassment: I don’t want her to see my underwear.

For starters, I’m not svelte. Further,  I don’t chose to spend my money on underwear that matches my bras. I have plain old cotton panties in a variety of fruit based colors, and some are so old they would horrify my mom if she saw them (‘what if you get hit by a car and have to go to the hospital?!?’). But this past week our sitter spent the day with our mildly ill daughter, and I asked her if while she was at home she would do some laundry. We had a bunch, I was leaving town in a few days and I figured they were housebound any way. So I took a gulp of my pride and showed her how to work the machine.

When I returned 8 hours later every single bit of clothing was clean. All of it. Folded or hung up.  The baskets empty, the floor visible. I felt like the cobbler the morning after the elves visited. Somewhere, angels sang while violin music gently crescendo’d.

Yep, I am sooooo over the underwear thing.  I might never be able to look her in the eye again, but it is a small price to pay for the lightness it brings.

Silent Breakfast

pleasure abounding:
up with the sun, kids asleep.
surreal silence

I went on a short weekend retreat recently. It took place at Kripalu, a yoga center in Massachusetts – you’ve doubtless seen the beautiful pictures of it in the back of women’s magazines. I wasn’t there for yoga reasons — I’ll talk more about what I did in future posts. But since we were at a yoga place, we had to abide by one of their practices – silent breakfast.

I can honestly say that I have never, ever experienced silent breakfast before. Maybe, once… when I was single?? No, I’m sure the TV was on. And there was that one time in 2010 when both kids took too big a bite and spent 30 seconds chewing. Otherwise, nope, never. Regardless, I think we all can imagine a silent breakfast alone, but it is quite another thing to experience it with 400 of your closest friends in a spacious, airy cafeteria. Let me share…

I actually found it pleasant at times. Being fully present. Being one with the food. Ahh, the food. Did I mention it was yoga center? Think vegetarian meets hippie meets macrobiotic meets green – that about covers the food selection, morning, noon and night. It was tasty for the most part (I will never like kale, I should just stop trying), but not exactly recognizable for this mother-of-two-who-thinks-pancakes-for-dinner-is-a-solid-choice sometimes.

Anyway, back to the nothingness. The first morning I experienced it I frankly spent most of the time trying to figure out what to do with my eyes. Do I just stare at my food? Do I look around? Am I allowed to smile at someone if I catch their eye? Is it creepy to watch the person across from me eat? I ended up looking about a foot above everyone’s head and maintaining a banal smile in an attempt to fake contemplating-ness. I did ok.

The second morning was brutal.  I was totally annoyed by the people around me who, for some reason, seemed incapable of abiding by the rules. There was the guy in the serving line who looked like he should have been a puppeteer — felt shoes, wild, gray hair, a bouncing step. He could not quit talking to himself about the food. The worker stocking the line with more tofu and edamame ‘shushed’ him vigorously, but Muppet man continued. I kept my distance from him because he started to act more like a homeless guy who wandered in and less like a friendly creative type.

Next were two women, clearly friends, who sat at same table as me. They just faked it. They whispered. A lot.  It wasn’t like they just did it a few times – they did it the whole time.   I was looking around for Shush-man but he was nowhere to be found. I realized what a total rule follower I am — who do they think they are by talking?! How dare they. I was going to say something to them (or at least mime something so as to not stoop to their level) but I then noticed zen lady.

Zen lady sat on my other side. Her lack of talking seemed to create a black hole. She made no noise. No clink of silverware or tink of cup. She was a ninja. She also was part bird (clearly a yoga type) so perhaps that made her lighter than air. I suddenly became aware that although I spoke no words, I was breathing like a linebacker. When I raised  fork to mouth, I heard the sound of my forearm peel from the table. (No, I wasn’t sticky — this was just a normal flesh-meets-wood-and-separates-again sound. Try it. It’s a little loud, right??) I felt like my swallowing was disturbing her. Was that the sound of me blinking? Good god! I inhaled the last of my quinoa cream and organic nuts and beat feet as fast I could lest I stand on the table and shout “Okay, who farted?”

Prior to this, I would have told you that on a normal weekday morning, when the kids are whining about eating cereal (again…) and my husband has made himself hoarse repeating “put your shoes on” 100 times, a silent breakfast would be a welcome alternative. But trust me, I’ve seen the other side and I’m not sure I can take it.

Journey of a Late Coffee Bloomer

With a lover’s voice
it calls to me; willingly
I follow, unmoored.

I have been caffeine free since around 1995. It was at that time I decided 10 or so cans of Diet Coke a day couldn’t possibly be good for me, so I stopped drinking them and changed exclusively to water and the occasional OJ. Then, about a year ago, in our annual trek to Georgia for Thanksgiving, I ordered coffee to assist me in the late day/night drive.

image from Wikipedia

Wow. When caffeine isn’t part of your life, re-entry has quite an impact. I was up until 2am that morning, having safely made the 9 hour journey with nary a yawn. I made a strategic choice starting then: to use caffeine, specifically coffee, in a pharmaceutical capacity to aid my attentiveness and productivity.

It was amazing. One cup of coffee plus a clear few hours on my calendar resulted in tremendous output. I was able to rebound from sleep-shortened nights quickly.  Sure, I picked up the habit of tapping out a complex drum solo on my desk while reading, and my kids likely noticed that the “after high” was not the best time to be around me. But I could control it. I could turn it off and on.

Or could I? I am now drinking one to two cups a day and I’m ashamed. I feel like I’ve succumbed to a lover from the wrong side of the tracks… the kind good girls like me are attracted to in a “he would never look at me with those brooding eyes but if he did I know I could rock his world” and then “I could change him so that everyone could see that he has a heart of gold” kind of way.  I’ve kept up with my “I use coffee medicinally only” story,  trying to pretend that I’m still caffeine free since 1995, but it’s a lie. I love the burst of speed I get. I love the clarity. I love the little ritual at the Starbucks at work (we have one in the lobby) where I wait patiently to add my cream and 2 Splendas to my coffee. I don’t do anything but a plain cup of brew, as I lack the experience or nerve to take the relationship further. And I refuse to call the small size “tall” out of principle. Otherwise, I feel cool for the first time ever, all because of a drink.

There is only one downside: the vacating colon 90 minutes in. This is not something they talk about in the commercials… there is great marketing synergy there: a joint advertising campaign between Folgers and Charmin, perhaps. Not sure why they don’t test that one out. (The best part of waking up, is Folgers in your cup… and Charmin in the john…)  My coffee habit beginnings coincided with a change of assignment at work, so I’m in a new building with new bathroom rituals (long-suffering followers of this blog well know my fascination with bathrooms and the behaviors and etiquette therein).  So the exploding colon bit has been a little difficult to maneuver.  The good news is that the bathroom is much closer to my office. The bad news is twofold: open offices and only 2 stalls. Do you know how hard it is to disguise the butt-pucker shuffle in cube land?  It’s hard enough to make yourself look normal from the waist up, when passing closed offices with small-windowed doors, but open offices afford the full body view and the quick-paced bottom-tuck position is incredibly noticeable. The only good news is that since people don’t really know me, they might have just assumed I happened to have an unusual gait. And since I’ve varied my flight path unpredictably, and so many people work from home, I’m counting on no one really paying that much attention. The two stall issue is one I just have to suffer through… don’t ask.

So with all these data points — increased productivity and output on one side, colon health (a different type of output) and public embarrassment on the other side — I’m at a cross roads. Should I continue my caffeine-aided lifestyle and just live with the downsides?  Or return to the land of the self-righteous and caffeine free (and slightly less productive)?  I can already see that one to two cups isn’t going to work much longer. Today, my one cup after lunch couldn’t overcome a coma-inducing lunch… So what’s next? A regular second or third cup each day? Where do I stop?

I think I have my answer. I must go back… go back and find that energy source I had before I starting experimenting. The one that exists naturally within me and doesn’t require stealth tactics in my gastrointestinal rituals. I already feel my self-esteem slipping away, as I move away from, as usual, the “in-crowd”, back to the land of the unique and self-proclaimed happy-I’m-different group. I know that is where I belong… but it was good while it lasted.

Here’s to Nepal, Estonia, The Universe and Bacteria

Perspective: best viewed
through wine’s last drops, the obits,
or your kids’ kisses.

The unthinkable happened yesterday. In my blog-world of words mixed with ego, stats matter. One of my first posts brought that to life and got me early readership. And since then, no matter how blasé I may seem about the relevance of stats on my feelings as a blogger, I would be lying if I didn’t admit that on those days readership is present (meaning anyone clicks through), my writing ego jumps up and down in glee.

Yesterday I had zero hits. Nuthin’. Not a single person in the entire web surfing universe made it to my page. Framed that way, it is one of the most depressing facts to see stated in black in white that exists.

But today I was saved by someone from Nepal. Yes, Nepal.

Image from Wikipedia. That green bit is Nepal.

Just a few hits today, driven by someone in a country that is 7,790 miles away by air.  This takes the thought that I am just one small drop in the ocean of online content, and turns it on its ear. Someone from Nepal read my blog. How is that possible? (Ok, they found it because they did a search on men’s magazines; let’s not go there… but they clicked.) How random that someone from a country I couldn’t name the capital of in a multiple choice test (it is Kathmandu) visited my blog. Let’s be clear, I seriously doubt my blog was their intended target when the searched, but you know what? They clicked more than once — how cool is that.

It causes me to recall that I’ve had other global visitors, from places so far away and different from me, that again, my small place in the world feels less and less remote. Estonia stopped by one day and was my only visitor.  Lebanon, Barbados and the Syrian Arab Republic have had single visitors, among other small countries halfway around the world.

As a result, I can’t decide if this is a big world or a small one. On the big world side sits facts such as: a) the global population (6.9 billion), b) the biomass, or mass of living organisms, of bacteria roughly equals the weight of 50 million blue whales. (eww); c) if you compress the life span of Earth to 24 hours, humans start at 11:58:43pm, 1 minute and 17 seconds from where we are now and d) the perspective of us relative to the size of the universe (this last link is really, really cool, I mean depressing, I mean cool).

On the small world side sits facts such as: a) someone from Nepal now knows who Family Haikus is; b) I sat next to someone on a plane once who knew the minister who performed my wedding ceremony (we were nowhere near Georgia at the time); c) I’m two degrees of separation from Elton John and thus three degrees from the Queen of England; and d) I am the center (or very near to) of the universe for my children.

I think I’ll just fall back on one of my favorite sayings, taught to me by my friend Shelly: Make it an “and”, not an “or.”  Look at the world as an “and”. It is big and small. I can have zero view days and someone from flipping Nepal can find me.  My life span is but a flash in the overall march of time and the time spent today in a tickle fight with my kids made time stand still and them feel like nothing else mattered.

So here’s to zero view days. May they happen again and may I get Freshly Pressed soon…

A boy, a cow, a creative comparison

Life with a young boy,
demands energy, patience,
hugs and much laughter.

First field trip of Kindergarten! How cool! How exciting! My boy, AB, 5 years old, was all a-flutter about the bus ride to the farm. When I got home that night, he couldn’t wait to tell me about everything that happened.

As usual, the story tumbled out of him quickly, loudly and without any noticeable punctuation.  I’m used that. But then he slowed down to talk about milking the cow.

“We got to milk a cow. It was really cool.”

– Really? What was it like?

“It was warm and it felt really funny.”

– Did you get to pull on the teats? (Why I felt compelled to add this particular word to his working vocabulary is unknown to me. Luckily he doesn’t seem to have heard it.)

“Yeah. It felt like when you stretch your boy parts really really far and squeeze it.”

– *Dramatic pause* It does? Do you do that often?

“Yeah, well no. Well…” and off he went into the next room. The baby sitter and I exchanged looks and I busted up laughing. If you are 5 and you milk a cow, then you likely have a limited experience set to draw from when trying to describe what it feels like. So being a boy, you naturally turn to things at hand, so to speak, to clarify the circumstances.  I gave him full marks for creativity and clarity. I think the baby sitter was a little disquieted by the discussion.

My only concern now is that he will share this particular comparison set with teachers or other kids at school. And in doing so, he will either a) get sent to the principal’s office or b) pick up a nick name he will regret (elasti-boy, stretch, teat-man). I think the kids are a little young as yet to be this clever or cruel, but ten minutes on the play ground often makes me think otherwise.

I am now reviewing all future field trips, trying to decide whether he has enough G rated life experiences to conduct proper post-event-story-telling.  Alternatively, I may just think up really creative questions to ask him so that his replies can become future blog posts. Mother of the year has never been a goal for me…

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