Friday, July 31, 2015

How MODOT drove me to insanity today

I was all set to pick up Zoe from camp today. All ready. We made plans to meet the other parents on the school tennis courts at 1 p.m., leaving immediately for the 50-minute drive to camp with time to spare on the 2 p.m. pick-up time. We left promptly at 1. Ten minutes later, I was screaming inside my head.

We started crawling on the highway, and then we started barely creeping, and then we stopped. Completely. The text messages were flying back and forth. Four mothers were melting down in four cars.

MODOT, in their infinite wisdom, closed two of three lanes on the highway for no reason. Forty-five minutes later (45, people, FORTY FIVE) we came upon the bottle neck. And we found two MODOT guys in a truck, backing slowly up in the two closed lanes and removing the cones that closed the lanes. M drives on this highway every day. He drives on it twice a day. He went through there yesterday, once in the morning and once at night (that would be twice) and he drove on the lanes that were closed today. The lanes were open last night, and they were closed this morning. And then they were s l o w l y being re-opened when we squeaked through with five billion other cars. There was no discernible reason why those lanes were closed when they were functioning just fine yesterday. The screaming in my head intensified and included expletives, including a few I made up.

We arrived at Zoe's camp 45 minutes late, with the guilt practically dripping off me. I was crushed. Zoe didn't seem to care a bit, but I kissed that Mother of the Year award good-bye yet again.

Normally I do okay with traffic. I'm not a road ragey kind of person. I figure there's nothing I can do, so why fight it? Listen to some good tunes, or turn on talk radio and learn something new, sit back, enjoy the ride. I'll prattle on incessantly about the most mundane crap in the world and every once in awhile M might interject something (the ratio of words, A to M, is usually roughly 5732:1). Today, though, I was unable to do this. Maybe it was my anxiety to see Zoe. Okay, most likely it was my anxiety to see Zoe. I was not calm, and I could feel my blood pressure creeping up. Poor M, normally the poster boy for road rage, sat quietly in the driver's seat and proceeded to ignore my rantings and ravings.

"Why are we backed up? Why? What is going on? You said there was no construction yesterday. If there was none yesterday, why is there today? If we get up there and find a bunch of dudes in orange vests just lollygagging around I am going to come unglued. Seriously? Zoe is going to be so upset. And her counselors. I mean, we are supposed to be there at 2. We are not there at 2, we are stuck here on this stupid highway with these stupid cars and not going anywhere at all. This is ridiculous. Who can I call about this? Someone needs to know what is going on. Why do we keep stopping altogether? And all three lanes are stopping. Which means no one is going anywhere. Are they having a parade up there? Do you think if we get stranded here on the highway we can raid that taco truck two cars ahead of us?"

M let me go, probably sensing that 1.) it was pointless to try to stop me and 2.) it was helping me not have a heart attack. Then, he lashed out against the traffic in his own way.


It was cathartic for both of us. I mean, it did nothing, but it felt good. The people stayed on their brakes and we stayed on ours and we stopped and creeped and stopped and creeped and finally we made it through and we made it to camp, where a little girl's arms flung around my neck immediately brought my blood pressure back down and put a grin on my face.

She talked nearly the entire way home, except for when she was singing. There was something about a moose who was swimming and then sleeping and then dead. We heard about her hikes and activities and meals and everything else she could think of to tell us. When we hit more traffic on the way home (of course) I didn't really give a shit because we had picked up our package and were together again.

She's gone already. We got home, cleaned her up, and I delivered her to a birthday party. The child is in high demand. I imagine she will collapse upon arrival at home later tonight, and will sleep like the dead until sometime tomorrow. I don't mind at all. She's home.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

My missing piece

I miss my little girl. She's away at camp and I am not with her and I feel as though I am missing an appendage.

When I told my mother I was pregnant, she said, "Now you will know what it is like to walk around with your heart outside of your body." The minute I gave birth to Zoe, I learned what she meant.

In an attempt to make myself feel better about her absence, I plan things for us to do when we are together again. I purchased a journal that gives writing prompts for both of us to share our thoughts with each other. I learned from a friend how to access all of the Doctor Who episodes on Netflix so we can start watching together. I had started watching and was about five episodes into season four when Amazon Prime dropped all the BBC shows and I came to a screeching halt. Now that we have Netflix I can watch there, but I couldn't find them and then I remembered Zoe wants to watch Doctor Who, too, and so I should just start over with her. I thought about what else we can do when we go to Chicago to visit the American Girl store.

I think about her often, wondering what she's doing at this exact moment. Is she on a hike? In a canoe? In the pool? Did she put on sunscreen? Is she being friendly to girls not in her little cluster, girls who are there without known friends? Are they really calling her Donut?

Our house is like every other house where people live and work and play. It accumulates clutter over the course of our days. Mail piles up on the counter. Books and magazines and iDevices - and their accompanying charging and headphones cords - are strewn about. A sweater is tossed over a chair, shoes jumbled on the floor just inside the door, all the Zoe-made trinkets from the kitchen windowsill piled on the island so the man who hung the new window treatments wouldn't knock them over. About once a week, I sweep through and clean it all up. Horizontal surfaces remain visible for maybe a couple of hours at most, and then the stuff of life creeps back in. In preparation for the plumber coming to fix our toilets Wednesday - because plumbers are ultimately very concerned with the crap sitting around their clients' homes - I cleaned everything up. Arms full of Zoe's detritus, I elbowed open the door to her room and pushed in. I saw her cluttered dresser, full of clothes and jewelry and bouncy balls and various awards certificates earned from her summer camps. Her unmade bed. Stuffed animals scattered about, especially those freaky big-eyed ones she loves so much. An empty backpack on the floor, slouching up against the foot of her bed. I felt a catch in my throat and realized I was about three seconds away from losing it, from breaking down in tears, just from missing her so much. I distracted myself by making her bed and remembering what day of the week it was and calculating how many hours it would be until we pick her up. For those of you who don't know me, this is the best sort of distraction, because in order to do mental math of any sort I need to shut down all other brain processes short of breathing and concentrate really hard for a really long time. And even then most of the time the answer at which I arrive is invariably incorrect.

Earlier this summer, she created a new routine. She sighs loudly and mournfully, and looks at me with big, sad eyes. I ask her what is wrong. She sighs again, shakes her head slowly, and laments, "My smoochy tank is empty." And then I cover her face with kisses until she's laughing and kissing me back. She will do this several times in one day, which leads me to believe that, much like my bladder in the middle of the night, her smoochy tank doesn't hold much. I wonder how she's getting by today, this being the fourth day of being unable to fill her smoochy tank.

My smoochy tank is empty, too. Thankfully, I will fill it tomorrow. How many hours is that? Let's see...if it's 4:07 now...

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wash, dry, fold, help

Our church participates in a program called Room at the Inn, where once a month we host families who are struggling with homelessness. It's temporary, emergency shelter. We have a spacious youth house next to our church, and a huge team of volunteers from our parish serve as hosts and hostesses each month. The guests are served a meal and given a clean, comfortable place to stay. Room at the Inn offers many, many other resources to these families, and our church has been a Night Site for years. Every month in the parish bulletin I would see the long list of names of people who selflessly give of their time and energy. I thought about helping, but I didn't feel like I could commit to anything. How could I give up such a large block of time when I work full time and have an incredibly active family?

And then I learned of a need that I could fulfill: laundry.

After each night we host, there are loads of dirty laundry. Sheet sets and comforters for four or five beds, towels and wash clothes, table cloths. Laundry is pretty easy to do, and can be done on any schedule. So I signed up.

This is my third time doing laundry for RATI. I pick up big laundry bags outside the youth house the morning after our guests spend the night, haul them home, sort, wash, dry, fold, and deliver them back for the next round of guests.

Just to clarify: I love doing laundry so this isn't really a penance for me. I mean I love doing laundry. Some people like to mow their lawn, some people like to vacuum. No one I know likes to clean toilets, but you get my drift. Laundry is my thing. I love seeing mounds of dirty cloths go in and come out clean and fresh and neatly folded. It's cathartic. It's the easiest way I know to get a feeling of accomplishment. I have even mastered folding fitted sheets so they look nice.

I picked up this month's RATI laundry this morning and am two loads in. I'm working from home this morning while the plumber fixes a couple toilets, so I'm ahead of the game. The dryer beeps and I take a break and fold sheets, saying a prayer for the person who slept in them last night and thanking God that my circumstances are far more fortunate and that I am able to help in this way. My only regret is that I didn't know I could help until late last year.

So my charge to you today, dear readers, is to look around and see where you can help. Dig into details. Ask questions. I stumbled on my laundry gig while going through formation for a retreat with another RATI volunteer. She talked about the program and mentioned that she needed volunteers to handle the laundry the next month when she was serving as captain. I jumped all over it. I know what I'm doing pales in comparison to our wonderful volunteers like my friend who make and serve meals and stay the night with our guests, listening to their stories or just providing companionship. I'm a behind-the-scenes worker bee, and I'm fine with that right now. I can stay up all night doing laundry or throw in a load between all my other tasks. I'm just happy I can help in my own small way, and I'm happy that my name is on that list of people Room at the Inn can count on each month. Requests for my services have picked up...I've done the laundry last month and now this, and I couldn't be happier.

Go forth. Serve. Help others, even those (or perhaps especially those) you don't know. Make a difference, no matter how small, even if it's just a load of laundry. Gandhi said "We need not wait to see what others do." What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Catching Up (or...The Completely Random and Bizarre Thoughts I Have)

My alarm went off this morning and I hit snooze, as usual. And then I laid there and watched the block of sun shining through a transom window creep across the wall and around the corner. And I thought about how now that I know where the pin is in my left big toe I can feel it, even though before my first follow-up appointment yesterday when I hadn't seen my foot since before the surgery I couldn't. And I wondered if the small muscle on my right leg, just above and to the inside of my kneecap, is spastic for a reason. Blood clot? Leg muscle cancer? Parkinson's? And I thought about the stuff I needed to get finished at work today (harsh edit of an obituary that was a.) too long and b.) written entirely in passive voice to the point where I was tempted to make a drinking game of it and knock something back every time I read the word "was" only to realize that if I did that I'd be polluted by the second graph). And I wondered how Zoe is doing, away at Girl Scout camp, and wondered how much longer the Girl Scouts would be able to offer resident camp since numbers appear to be declining and how sad that would be for whole generations of girls to not experience everything I got to. And then I realized that I wanted to start writing again.

I have taken quite a break from writing. Months. I haven't worked on the book, I haven't written any flash non-fiction, no short stories, no personal essays. I bailed on Open Mic this month because I had nothing to read and I didn't feel like sitting there and beating myself up for being so unproductive while everyone else read. I have thought about writing, but haven't felt motivated to actually do it. At all.

Once I got back in walking form from the first foot surgery, I started walking. I was up to over an hour each evening, which is a big chunk of time to take out of my day. It was good, though, and so worth it. I discovered the beauty of podcasts while I walk. I listen and am transported out of my sneakers and into whole new worlds. I can walk for hours if I have good podcasts to distract me. Just when I got all settled into my walking habit, it was time to fix the other foot. Now I'm back in a boot and sidelined yet again.

I went on a reading binge. Book after book after book. I have a long list of excellent recommendations from friends and colleagues and I started tearing through it. My Kindle died in the process and, after I finished crying and whining over it (I was very attached, it was a gift from M and converted me from books to e-reading) I ordered a new one. The new Kindle is amazing, so much better than my old one. I purchased "Go Set a Watchman," Harper Lee's new novel, in hardback as I wanted a first edition. I read it and found myself annoyed that it was an actual book and not on my Kindle. I never thought that would happen. (Note, the content didn't annoy me at all. I actually liked it, and think that people should get over the whole "Oh no Atticus is a racist" thing and focus on the humanity of the story, which to me is this: one of the hardest things in the world is realizing that your parents are not only mortal, but also very flawed human beings just like everybody else.)

We bought a new couch for the basement, which has inadvertently led to a new hobby and severe decrease in productivity. While we have been looking at couches for two years now, this was an impulse purchase as I wasn't actively couch shopping when I found it. We moved quickly, though, and took advantage of a good sale. Now the couch is installed in the finished basement and faces an empty wall. M has been instructed to buy a television already and has started his tortuous process of research, analyzing, and generally flogging the dead horse to hell and back before making a decision. Somehow the discussion of television sets led to a discussion of paid television and suddenly we found ourselves signed up for Netflix. I have launched into binge watching Gilmore Girls and am starting to annoy even myself with the amount of time spent in front of the boob tube. And yet, I see no end in sight as I still have over half the Gilmore Girls episodes to watch before resuming my obsession with Doctor Who and catching up with the rest of the world on Mad Men, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and a variety of other shows mocking me from my Watch List.

I completely changed my purse habit. For my female readers, you know how big this is. My standard bag for the past umpteen years has been the same: it must have both a long strap to be wearable as a cross-body plus a shorter handle(s) to carry easily by hand, plus an outside pocket that's large enough to accommodate the cell phone but little else. The bag itself can't be too large because then I just fill it up with crap but it can't be too small because sometimes there's a lot of crap I really need to haul. Because of these criteria, my husband has deemed my purse the "family bag," or the Fambag, as he has taken to calling it. We step out the door on any given day for any given destination, and before we even pull out of the driveway my bag is suddenly home to my husband's glasses and, depending on what he's wearing, chapstick, wallet, keys, etc. Zoe usually throws in an item or two, and then I'm walking around weighed down while my family moves blissfully unencumbered. Then, recently, I noticed a trend among my friends and one cousin. They have adorable little wristlets that carry cash, cards, a key fob and a phone, and little else. Then they have larger totes they toss the wristlet into when they need to carry more. I looked at my adorable summer bag I use for work and a light bulb went off. I found myself a snazzy bright blue wristlet that, with a coupon, costs me all of two dollars, and gave it a whirl. Breakthrough. Because I now usually no longer have anything that resembles a Fambag, I am not asked to carry everyone else's crap. Mind. Blown. It's a whole new way of life.

I have been working a ton. Some things shifted at work and suddenly my laid-back summer (busy, but not crazy busy) shifted into a much higher gear (crazy busy). It's all good stuff, but it has taken an enormous amount of concentration and effort. Some nights I barely have any brainpower left to even read and comprehend what I'm reading.

But I want to start writing again. So I need to just, you know, write.

Maybe after this episode of Gilmore Girls.