At the beginning of the summer I had all kinds of plans for my child. Some of the plans were just for fun, like spend a day at the zoo and check out the zip lining place that we’ve been meaning to check out for two summers. Other plans were more practical, like teach my kid how to tie her damn shoes already. Sometimes I am amazed at my laziness as a parent when it comes to the little things. My husband likes to remind me that our child has been cooking since she was four and reading a year later. But I still cringe when I think about the things she can’t do, like tie her shoes, ride a bike unassisted or roller skate.
As part of some unseen action plan, my dad took mini-me out to buy a bike last weekend. I’m pretty sure this is his way of telling me I am slacking as a parent. He bought her a baseball glove last year and a scooter the year before. This is also coming from the man who put a fur hat on me as a helmet when I was a toddler and padded me up to shoot hockey pucks at me when I could hardly walk, so I’m not going to read too much into it. She got a pretty little white Trek with lime green flowers on it. Her last bike was also white and looked as new the day we got rid of it as the day we bought it. She walked it around the block on occasion and spent many hours packing and unpacking the cute little purse on the handlebars, but even with the training wheels on it, she was terrified to ride. When we forced her to go for a trip around the block she stopped at every corner dismounting her bike to turn it. She was afraid turning the handlebars more than a millimeter would topple the whole package and she didn’t want to get run over by her own bike.
She is behaving much the same with her new, bigger bike. She sits in the driveway ringing the bell and walks it up and down the sidewalk. At least now she actually straddles the bike while walking it instead of standing next to it like it’s a puppy she’s taking for a stroll. Her dad had to cover the pedals with washcloths and duct tape to prevent them from scratching her legs. I’m not entirely convinced she will ride the bike even after seeing her balance on it while coasting for about 50 feet. All I can picture is the episode of Friends where Phoebe is finally learning to ride a bike as a 30 year old.
My child can be great at 100 things but the 3 things she can’t do will take a sledge hammer to my self-esteem. I feel like I am a total failure as a mother when my kid can’t get the little bunny to go through the hole with her shoe laces. Or maybe the bunny is supposed to go around a tree. Or maybe it’s just bunny ears that are supposed to be tied together. I’m not even sure, which is probably part of the problem. Regardless, my kid might still be wearing Minnie Mouse velcro shoes in high school if I don’t get it together and teach this kid how to loop, swoop and pull. This is the stuff that keeps me up at night and keeps my therapist in business.
After realizing summer is already half over, I have been attacking my to do list like a sniper in a bell tower mowing down college students. I have been knocking off trips to the zoo and the movies while reading multiplication tables out loud and picking up books from the library. We spent the morning at our local historical museum where we walked from building to building with no indoor plumbing or electricity and antiques like chamber pots and looms. In a log cabin a woman dressed as a pilgrim demonstrated a toy that essentially taught children the motion to milk a cow. It was a little monkey that climbed two ropes when you pulled them. As my daughter struggled to get the monkey all the way to the top all I could picture was myself lounging on a hay-stuffed couch crying to a pioneer therapist about how my family would probably starve because my daughter was never going to master her milking skills. Luckily there were no sheep shaving games or carrot harvesting challenges or we probably would have been asked to leave due to gross incompetence. We would never have survived as settlers.
I have decided that I need to put a few things on my own to-do list and the first thing is quit freaking out about insignificant shit that I won’t remember worrying about five years from now. I like to put things in perspective by thinking about how I will look back on them in a year or five years. It helps me realize what is worth focusing my attention on. Instead of wasting my time worrying about how I am going to find shoes for my daughter to wear to gym next year, I’ll daydream about her attending Harvard or Yale. Of course she will be wearing her velcro Hello Kitty sneakers as she pushes her bike to class, but she won’t starve!
My mother doesn’t throw away anything. I know this is a common theme with moms – saving memorabilia from life events, family vacations, and preschool art projects, but my mom takes it to a whole new level. If I am ever in need of an unusual object, I ask my mom if she has it before running to Target. My husband used to be surprised by this, but over the years he has come to appreciate it. I remember going to a Hawaiian themed party years ago and telling him to call my mom to see if she had grass skirts and leis. He thought I was crazy until he made the call and discovered that she had both items, and in fact had a grass skirt small enough for our then two year old daughter. Not only does she have everything, she usually has multiples.
Unfortunately, her aversion to throwing things out also carries over to the contents of her pantry and refrigerator. This has been an ongoing theme for my family since I can remember. I have always checked the expiration dates knowing that salad dressings found in my parents’ refrigerator could be up to five years old. It takes years to get through a bottle since there are about twenty seven varieties available at all times. I recall helping my dad move their previous fridge out to the garage and finding a bottle of bleu cheese dressing from the 90s as well as a thirty year old bottle of peppermint schnapps in the door. I think we ended up throwing out half of the contents of the refrigerator that day after discovering condiments that somehow migrated from the previous appliance from the 80s. My mom was out of town during this event or I’m sure half of the items purged would have somehow found their way to the new refrigerator.
My mom’s aversion to discarding anything is most evident at their lake house. This second home has become the dumping ground for everything she can’t bear to part with, but can no longer keep at their main home without appearing crazy. I have to admit, I have taken advantage of this storage space myself when I discovered that I was unable to discard things like my daughter’s first doll house, the one she played with a total of three hours in her life. I have since moved a handful of toys to the “playroom” at the lake house where no children ever play. I would have put all of this stuff in the basement, but that part of the house is packed with enough Christmas decorations to light up the block. There may also be a unicycle rolling around down there.
I always think of the lake house refrigerator as a relatively safe place since the house was purchased just eight years ago and isn’t used all that frequently. My thought is that perishables are purchased in smaller sizes and used quicker. This apparently is not the case. We sat down to dinner last week, and my husband, as he has become accustomed to doing, flipped over the bottle of mustard to check the date before opening it. He announced that the mustard had expired the previous year. My mom immediately ran to the refrigerator, declaring she had another bottle. Of course she had multiple bottles – there are close to thirty bottles of salad dressing in her other refrigerator. As she handed him the new yellow bottle, he flipped it over to reveal an expiration date in 2017. She didn’t give up, but returned with yet another bottle. He looked at the bottom of the third bottle to find another two year old expiration date. As my mom stood racking her brain for the last time she bought condiments I delved into the refrigerator to see what other toppings I could find for the burgers. I discovered mayo that expired in 2018 and miracle whip that expired in 2017. Apparently my mom stocked up on the condiments in 2015 and 2016 but hasn’t done so since. It makes sense, when you can’t fit any more plastic bottles of goo in your fridge doors, you stop buying.
In the end, the burgers were so good they didn’t even need toppings. My mom smeared some dill dip on her bun, my daughter and husband had plain ketchup and I ate mine with nothing at all. Who knows if my dad even noticed. He probably used the expired mustard or some twelve year old steak sauce. He is immune to expired food at this point. My mom has been pumping him full of month old lunch meat and eight year old salad dressing for years.
**I wrote this piece while listening to music as old as the salad dressing in my parents’refrigerator – Milo Goes to College
Family vacations are always a mix of pure joy and total exhaustion. Children don’t acclimate to new settings as quickly as adults so their reactions to pretty much everything are usually a little over the top. They are like little ping pong balls bouncing back and forth between bliss and terror. My mini-me is usually on the verge of wetting her pants with excitement or trying to find a safe place because the sky is falling. Also, once she is excited, there is very little slowing her down. She is like a tiny energizer bunny. Unfortunately, her recovery time from a walk into terror town is of similar length.
We took a trip down to Florida last month to test out the latest Harry Potter ride at Universal. This was not exactly the trip we were planning to take at the end of June, or really at all, but it happened. We had gone to Universal during Easter break and somehow when I planned the trip back in March, I bought two sets of tickets to the theme parks. This sounds ridiculous unless you know me. I buy duplicates of things all the time. In fact, I realized on this trip that I had packed a pair of shorts with a tag still on them that I had worn several times since May. I had not actually been wearing the pair with the tag on them, I had been sporting this pair’s doppelganger for a month prior to buying the shorts I took on vacation. I usually pretend that I intentionally bought duplicates because of my undying affection for whatever the item is, but this tactic was not a good one in the case of the duplicate tickets. I had to fess up that I accidentally bought two sets of tickets whilst confused about how many days and how many parks we planned on visiting. Needless to say, my husband was not thrilled about this trip but mini-me was over the moon, especially since a new ride had opened just two weeks before our arrival.
During our flight down to Orlando, my daughter talked of nothing other than the timing of our riding the new ride, where she most wanted to sit and how many times we should fly through the air strapped onto a metal track during our stay. She vacillated between titillation and crippling fear for the three hour trek. She loves all things Harry Potter but is nervous about roller coasters, so there was much ambivalence. She had watched several YouTube videos of the ride which were apparently replaying on the screen in her brain repeatedly.
Once we arrived, we could hardly hold her back while we checked into the hotel and grabbed lunch. As we headed toward the park (by foot since it was faster than the water taxi), she skipped ahead of us calling back for us to hurry up. When I finally barked at her to slow down and settle down she turned to me and said very earnestly “I know, having kids is hard. Maybe you two shouldn’t have gotten married.” Just like that – mom, these are the consequence of your actions, live with them. She stroked my arm while saying this, the same way I have touched her while doling out a punishment for the last several years. I couldn’t help but laugh. Proud of herself, she skipped off ahead of us again.
My husband and I spent the rest of the vacation blaming every minor disappointment on our marriage. Everything from long lines to the rain that arrived halfway through our third day was the result of our nuptials. Apparently the butterfly effect of all things can be traced back to our wedding fifteen years ago, even the decision for overweight women to wear short shorts. Who knew?! Luckily, the same rules applied to all things that went right. Riding the front car of the new roller coaster wasn’t luck, it was the direct result of my saying “I do” in 2004. If not for our marriage, the ride probably wouldn’t even exist. If nothing else, the recurring joke saved us our sanity while fighting crowds in the sweltering heat.
By the final night of our trip, my family was literally falling asleep at dinner. The fact that the seating at the restaurant was groups of couches did not help. We fought the sleepiness long enough to inhale some sushi before collapsing into our beds. My child’s sudden narcolepsy was of course blamed on her parents’ marriage. I had to point out that this was probably the most accurate assessment of the entire trip. This crew really does wear me out!