Friday, September 28, 2012

Things I learned on jury duty

Fellow citizens, this week I did something we all dread and complain about: I served in the jury pool in my county's Superior Court. I did not get selected to a jury, but it was touch-and-go close for a while. The experience was not excruciating -- in fact, it was fairly interesting to be inside the justice system -- but I tell you what, I don't really want to do it too often.

I learned a some important things, however, from my few hours hanging around in The Pool. Take notes now because you won't be able to look at this on your smartphone when you're called to serve...nor will you be able to text or call or e-mail me. For a whole day. Because cell phones are not allowed. (I know, right? That got your're freaking out already.)

If I'd only worn this outfit,
I know I'd have been picked.
(1) The #1 most critical aspect of jury duty is parking. No joke. When you receive the summons, you'll notice the mention of parking and paying for parking at least twice on each side of the paper. Then when you call for instructions on the night before your service, you will hear at least four times that you are responsible for paying for parking AND you will hear at least twice that you should park under the big white sign that's spelled P-A-R-K. You think I'm kidding, but nope: They spell it out for you. Twice. P-A-R-K. It reminded me of Tom Cullen, my favorite character in The Stand: Yep, P-A-R-K, that spells jury!

    (Also, I got lost in the parking lot for 10 minutes after we were dismissed. I'm not sure if it's because (a) I was having some sort of low-blood sugar episode that made me extra dumb, (b) I was really so excited to be out of there that I didn't pay attention to where I got off the elevator, or (c) parking is really the most critical aspect of jury duty, and I did not take it seriously enough.)

(2) There's a smart ass (or two) in every crowd. When the court employee is giving instructions at the front of a room of 250 people, and she asks, "Does anyone have any other questions?" then you yell "Was that an interception or a touchdown in last night's game?" we are not amused. (Also, without fail someone asks a question about parking. See point 1 above.)

(3) Daytime television sucks. As do vending machines (see point 6 below). But the whole room rejoices when some over-enthusiastic ding-dong with a mullet and a too-tight t-shirt wins a matching set of dirt bikes on "The Price Is Right."

(4) There will never be a TV show centered on jury selection. The process is not riveting. In fact, it's tedious and boring and you'd better bring a book to read, even if you're called into a trial room for the weeding-out process. There is nothing but sitting and waiting, standing in line, shuffling from one place to a the next, then sitting and waiting some more. (However, as I write this, I'm thinking about the potential for a sitcom called "The Pool" that centers on the jury room. Oh, yeah, it's coming to me now!)

(5) Prepare for an emotional roller coaster...before you even get selected to a trial. You'll run the gamut of feelings on whether or not you want to serve on a jury: anxiety, patriotism, insecurity, annoyance, self-righteousness, gratitude that you're on the jury side and not on the defendant side of the room. We all believe our regular daytime routines are way more important than this jury stuff...until we realize that someone else's rights may at any minute be sitting in our hands, that many lives -- not just the defendant, but his family, friends, neighbors -- will be affected by the decisions that we make in that room. That's heavy. Some thoughts that went through my head, also were verbalized by many of those around me, while sitting in the courtroom awaiting the "random selection" of jurors' names: Oh, I hope I don't get picked, and I can't possibly miss another day of work tomorrow...please don't pick me!  Jeez, this is kind interesting...pick me, come on!. Oh man, I'm so bored and hungry...and why are there no clocks in here?! Please just let me go home! Come on, pick me, man...I really want to hear this case! Noooo, don't pick my name as an alternate, oh my God, please no, I want to get out of here.

(6) Bring snacks. Do not be fooled by the line on the summons that states "no food or drink is permitted in the courtrooms." You may -- and better -- bring something to nosh on and tuck it in your pocket or purse. There are crappy vending machines that may or may not give you a snack when you put your $1.50 in there. There are not many breaks, and even on a break, there's nowhere nearby to go to get food. And lunch happens whenever there's a break in the jury selection process for whatever trial is underway; see point 4 above. By the time my particular trial's jury was selected, it was well after 1:30. I sat on a wooden bench surrounded by a symphony of loudly growling bellies, and I really worried at one point that the man next to me would start gnawing on my arm. And man, oh man, when we got back to the jury room, people were grouchy!

(7) Excuses are like buttholes; everybody's got them. And it's unlikely that your excuse for not being able to report to jury duty will actually get you out of going to jury duty because they've probably heard them all. (Believe me, over the years I have tried many, including childcare, work responsibilities, illness, paid vacation luck.) So you should just go. Really. It's important, and you'll be proud of yourself after. And you may learn some stuff. Or at least you'll get to watch "The Price Is Right" with a whole bunch of people you'd never interact with otherwise and will probably never see again. (Also, Drew Carey looks way different than I remember him. He's almost handsome these days. But let's keep that between us, mm-kay?)

Friday, September 21, 2012

A new friend

Zippy had to accompany me to my eye exam today. Which made me quite nervous. He's not great at entertaining himself, unless it's by doing something mischievous or dangerous. He's not a bad kid, but he's curious and adventurous -- not often content to sit and play or color alone, preferring instead to climb a bookshelf or jump off beds or plan in the sink. Imagine all the implements and solutions and expensive equipment he could destroy here at the eye doctor!

But today at Dr. Steinbach's office, I was reminded of two things that I've learned with Kid Two that I didn't fully grasp with Kid One: First, it's okay to accept help when it's offered. And second, it's okay if my 2-year-old acts like a 2-year-old in public.

The half-hour we spent there went down like this:

The receptionist and assistant persuade me to leave Zippy with them in the waiting area, convincing me that they "do this all the time." It's a hard sell, because in my head I'm thinking, but you've never met my kid. But I realize that my exam will not go well if I am constantly chasing the kid, and my tenseness and anxiety and frustration when Zippy doesn't listen to me will only make everyone else tense, anxious, and frustrated. So I should just accept their help.

I walk back with her into the first room and lean into the first thingamajiggy eye-measurer device. My eyesight stinks, but my ears have perked up like a mama wolf, listening to any sign of mischief...but nothing. I  sneak a peek before walking  into the second room with the second thingamajiggy eye-camera device, and Zippy's just sitting there staring at "Jake and the Neverland Pirates" like he's never seen that magical light-and-talk box before.

"You don't let him watch much TV, huh? I can tell," says the doc's assistant as she leads me away from my babe. "Mm-hmm," I nod, thinking if she only knew how much TV he watches, she'd gasp in horror and slap me.

Within 2 seconds of settling into the real exam room, waiting for the annual personal failure that is my eye test, I hear Zippy's little feet padding down the hallway:

Zip: Mooommmeee? I right here, Mommy! Where you go?
Me: I'm here, buddy, come on in and sit down next to me. Watch the letters on the wall.
Zip: No, mommy, I make friend.
Me: Oh, yeah? A new friend? Ellen is a nice lady.
Zip: Not lay-deeee. Friend! Read a book! See? Hi-ee, my friend!

I look up, and there's a tall gray-haired man in the exam room door. He smiles sheepishly and says, "Hi, I'm James. Your little guy just climbed up on my lap and handed me a book. So we've been reading together. I hope that's okay with you."

Squinting through my eye-droppy, over-dilated eyes, I watch speechlessly as Zippy calmly walk over and puts his hand in this stranger's hand. I see a certain sadness in James's eyes, but a warmth and delight in being chosen by my son. "Bye, mommy. We readin' books." And he leads James away, but not before James turns to me and says, "Your little boy is a delight, and you should be proud. You're blessed."

Yes, James, I am. And evidently, so are you. "Thank you, James," I smile. "Thanks so very much."

I lean back and the doctor comes in. "See?" she says. "He's a beautiful kid. You're a good mommy. And you're both making James so happy."

Okie dokie, then. Zippy picked a friend, the friend likes Zippy. Now relax, accept and soak in this moment of grace, and read the tiny letters on the wall.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Days like this, mama said

I know you don't really have time to read this, my fellow adventurers, because I sure as heck don't have time to write it. After all, it's September, and with September comes school and activities and obligations and all that rush-rush-rush-we're-having-fun stuff.

Consider today's schedule, for example:

5:00 am: Wake up, sort of.

5:30 am: YMCA workout; chat quickly with friend; freak out a bit when I realize I forgot flip-flops for shower; wash, dress, put on make-up, sort of.

7:30 am: Get to work, eat oatmeal, make coffee for everyone who arrives an hour or more after me.

9:30 am: Finally make it through the 52 urgent e-mails in my inbox that arrived overnight; respond to some, put off others.

10:00 to 3:45 pm: Work feverishly on my professional to-do list, without really accomplishing much besides adding more to my to-do list, and gulping down a ham sandwich at my desk between meetings.

4:30 pm: Pick up Zippy from day care; apologize (again) to his friend's mom for the hitting.

4:45 pm: Pick up Happy from art class at school; chase both boys around hallways; pull Zippy away from fish tank while he's kicking me repeatedly in the thighs and stomach; pretend like I'm not fuming because I don't want the judgy stares from other parents.

5:00 pm: Arrive home; supervise hand-washing, homework, snacking, clothes-changing; throw chicken strips in the oven; hope that serving boxed mac-n-cheese again isn't causing major damage.

5:30 pm: Gobble down "dinner" so fast that it sits like a rock in my belly; notice that even the children are tired of mac-n-cheese.

6:00 pm: Hustle the monkeys into the car and drive to flag football practice.

6:15 pm: Meet Coach Honey at flag football practice; watch all my boys run around smiling and enjoy the chilly fall air on my face; chat with another mommy who actually had baseball practice before football practice, marvel at her ability to still be smiling and pleasant and conversational -- and then love her even more when I see her speak through clenched teeth to her 4-year-old because I see she's really just like me, with thin patience but good intentions.

7:30 pm: Wrestle Zippy -- actually, physically wrestle him -- into diaper, pajamas, and bed, then watch as the magic binky-blankie-smoochy combo turns him into the most beautiful, cuddly angel-baby I've ever seen.

7:45 pm: Listen to Happy reading aloud for his assigned 15 minutes, thinking about how this is my very favorite 15 minutes of ever day.

8:20 pm: Say prayers, give kisses, watch Happy completely zonk out with a teeny smile on his still-suntanned face.

8:30 pm: Eat ice cream while conducting the nightly bullet-point conversation with Honey, snuggled on the couch in front of our new favorite show, Game of Thrones.

9:30 pm: Wash face, brush teeth, pluck TWO gnarly ghost-white hairs from the center of my hairline; study white hairs for a moment, wondering how they appeared so suddenly and whether the entire back of my head is gray and I just don't know it because I can't see that part of my body.

9:45 pm: Pass out with my feet on Honey's lap, thankful for this beautiful, healthy family; thankful that we made it through yet another hectic day with smiles and grace; and thankful that it's Wednesday and there's only one more hectic day this week.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

That time Mommy had to nip a little vodka before back-to-school night

I may have mentioned it here before, but my children can go from zero to jackass in 3.2 seconds. One moment I'm awed by their gentleness, cuddliness, and compassion; the next moment I'm horrified by their brutality, meanness, and complete disregard for the safety of their bodies.

In general, the moments between 4:00 and 6:00 pm are the most volatile with these two, when they're tired and hungry and seeking attention. Ironically, this is the brief window of time that I get to spend with my children during weekdays. And it's also the brief window of time in which homework has to be completed, piano needs to be practiced, snacks need to be doled out and eaten, and clothes have to be changed for whatever activity inevitably comes next. Of course this is also the time during which I scramble around the kitchen attempting to create some sort of meal-like substance to fill their bellies. 

Inevitably there is a meltdown of one, two, or three people in this household every day between 4:00 and 6:00 pm. Worse, Honey often comes home right around the time that I have completely lost control, when my patience has officially run out, usually when the children are covered in snot or blood or cat poo or who-knows-what, and I am screaming in the middle of the house with red eyes and a hoarse throat, threatening to sell them on EBay or make them sleep in the shed. (These sound like silly threats, but  really, in the midst of child jackassery, I'm dead serious.) 

I sometimes dread this time period every day, which of course saddens me and guiltifies me and makes me feel like a horrible failure of a wife and mother, but we can talk about all that another time. Mostly it's right around this time of day that stuff like this happens:
The aftermath
On this particular evening, things started out relatively calmly. I was feeling all Supermom, perhaps a little cocky as I oversaw homework etc. and tried to prepare a quick meal before our neighbor came over to babysit so I could go to back-to-school night. I needed 5 minutes to get the almost-burnt fish sticks out of the oven and nuke a plant food that they'd both eat, and I instructed the boys to play hide-and-seek upstairs in one of their bedrooms. Supermom that I am, I thought this was a brilliant plan -- after all, if one boy is hiding, the other boy cannot be pounding on him, and the seeking will surely eat up at least 3 minutes, right?

What I didn't count on was that the Happy, who is 2 feet and 50 pounds bigger than his brother, would hide under a blanket on the living room sofa, nor did I realize that when Zippy jumped on his hiding brother's back he would  be vaulted across the room onto his head. Of course I didn't see exactly what happened because I was tending to the smoldering fish sticks, but I could tell by the thump-thump-thud and the resulting screeching and wailing that it was at least a Level 8 emergency.

I arrived on the scene to find Happy standing over Zippy, who was lying flat on his back. They were both screaming, but I couldn't determine what was actually going on, or who was actually hurt. I scooped up Zippy and tried to assess the damage while calming him, which is about the time Happy completely lost his schmidt. I don't know if he was more worried that his brother was seriously hurt or that I would be really angry, but he went totally berserk, screaming and punching his fists into his legs and yelling about what a horrible brother he is. I took my eyes off Zippy for a minute to try to calm Happy down because this reaction was so totally out there -- but when I looked back to Zippy I discovered blood gushing from his mouth; evidently when he landed on his head, he bit clean through his lip. Awesome. I really love mouth bleeding! This of course made Happy go even more hysterical, and before I knew it, blood was gushing from his nose, too. A nosebleed! I love nosebleeds even more than mouth bleeds! ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! I thought, I ONLY HAVE TWO HANDS! (I think, in fact, I yelled "Oh, Christ!" -- which is an absolute no-no in our house, but as I explained to Happy later, sometimes Mommy prays in odd ways.)

I hustled everyone into the kitchen -- because, of course, practical mommy that I am, I know it's easier to clean blood off tile flooring than leather sofas -- and we plonked down on the floor. I held a dish towel against each face, with Zippy cradled in my lap. For five minutes that seemed like five hours, I sat there speaking calm, soothing words to my children, when inside my brain there was only frenzy: What exactly happened out there? How could hide-and-seek turn into this bloodbath? How long do I let this mouth bleed before we go to the ER? And how do I get us to the ER if they're both bleeding from their faces? What are the symptoms of concussion? How the hell does a kid's nose just start bleeding from sheer emotion? I felt nauseous and shaky, but I managed to be brave and cool for the two little face-bleeders. (Meanwhile, the fish sticks burned black in the oven, which triggered the smoke detector, which triggered a second round of hysterical crying. I think even the cats were wailing at the back door, afraid for their furry little hides.)

Zippy stopped crying before Happy did, possibly because he's made of nails, possibly because he was thinking "WTF, bro, I'm the one who smacked my head off the hardwood and nearly bit my lip off! Get a grip!" I managed to get two Ziploc baggies of ice out of the freezer, and held one on the lip and one on the nose. I called Honey at work. I put the phone on the floor on speaker and calmly stated, "It seems both our children are bleeding from their faces, Zippy may have a concussion, and I need you to just stay on the line until I figure out if we're going to the ER or not." I know that wasn't a nice phone call to make -- I can only imagine how Honey's stomach dropped when he heard this chaos -- but I truly didn't know what to do next, and I needed his calming presence in the room. (And in hindsight, I think I needed him to know exactly what kind of crazy frigging nonsense I go through here sometimes.)

In the end, we did not have to call 911, we did not need to go to the emergency room, Zippy did not have a concussion, and within minutes his lip was numbed by the ice enough that he was clamoring for his beloved binky. (Thank you, God!) But I was so frazzled by the whole experience that my hands shook for a good half-hour. And I felt sick to my stomach, which may have been caused by nerves, but may have been caused by the burned-fish smell permeating our home; the boys ate peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. 

When I opened the cabinet to put the peanut butter away, I noticed a small, old bottle of cherry vodka in the back. You see where this is going, don't you? Yes, I did it: I grabbed that pretty little bottle and tipped it back, took a sweet, burny belt right from the bottle. Then a few minutes later, after handing the maniacs off to my neighbor, I calmly left for back-to-school night, where a friend noticed the blood on my top, and I laughed. A teeny bit maniacally. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Hello, September! I'm so glad you've come.

August is the hardest month. I've thought for a long time that it's only me who felt this way -- that other people are out enjoying time off at the beach or the mountains, laughing with friends around the grill, iced drinks in their hands, happy children frolicking in the yard -- until I read some Tweets and Facebook posts around this essay, A Digression for August, as Summer Rots, which contains a great little summative paragraph about August:

"The month has such potential. There is the summer rental, with its bookshelf of easy literature and sandy bindings. There is the second sangria, the third spritzer, the fourth 'I’m not drunk; you’re drunk.' There is the absent boss, the out-of-town wedding, the totally free weekend that black-holes your best-laid plans, the muggy birthday BBQs for chatty Leos conceived in early winter. And yet the month is freighted with dumb seasonal regrets."

Such potential, dumb seasonal regrets. Ah, how I can relate!

August is my month of wallow. Throughout my adult life, August has been a time where really bad things have happened -- deaths and life-changing illnesses, namely -- and some mildly annoying things have happened that seemed really big at the time -- shitty vacations, summer flus, bounced checks that screwed up big plans, and so on. Usually I start holding my breath around July 31, and I slog through the heat and humidity as best I can.

Black-eyed susans are nice...I guess.
This year I tried to focus on more positive stuff -- I really did! I tried to look for things to make me smile in August: huge patches of black-eyed susans in a field, the rare cool day where we could play outside, long evening walks with the kids to hear the high school band practicing, the thousands of sweet grape tomatoes harvested from our veggie patch. I tried, at least.

In August there's very little money in the bank account because we had so much fun in July, so I generally start the month with my semi-annual "We really need to sit down and figure out why our budget is so screwed up!" freak-out.

Right around the middle of the month I go through my mom mourning. This month, I realized it's been 15 years since my mom died, which seems like a very long time when you're as young as I am...and then I realized that I'm really not that young! I am only 10 years from the age Mom was when she died This realization was compounded when I realized how many close friends I have who are in their mid-40s, and I started to wonder how I would cope with the news that one of them had terminal cancer. This is heavy, spiraling-into-the-abyss kind of stuff to deal with when you're already holding your breath, and it clouds some of those golden flowers, makes the tomatoes taste less yummy and the evening walks less refreshing.

We nearly drowned in tomatoes...this was just the first harvest.
August is so hot, humid, and buggy here in the mid-Atlantic that no one wants to do anything but lie on the couch and watch crappy movies. Remember that yard we worked so hard on in May and June? Yeah, well, we can't enjoy it come August because it's overrun by thousands of obnoxious crickets, horror-movie spiders, and man-eating mosquitoes. This year we had the added joy of fleas in the grass, so any time a child even fell in the grass, they came in covered in tiny, maddeningly itchy welts. (This makes picking tomatoes treacherous too. Most of this month I've worn pants and long skirts to work because my legs look diseased, like I'd contracted scabies.) Add to this houseboundness that friends are on vacation, and all the babysitters have gone back to college. So I get all angsty and whiny about how we've wasted the whole summer, haven't done a darn thing fun, and here comes school right around the corner!

And let's talk about school coming: No matter how old I am, every August I have that recurring anxiety dream about school -- you know, the one where it's the night before The Big History Final and I realize I haven't attended the class all semester and have to read the entire textbook. And now that I have a school-aged child, I relive that almost-school-time anxiety in 3D hi-def surround sound. August means stretching and warming up for that never-ending hamster wheel run that comes with school activities, piano lessons, sports practices, church activities, and all the weekend hopping.

As if a regular August wasn't enough, this year we have to endure all the political ads and media blips and online arguments around the presidential election. (Seriously, some of the "man on the street" interviews I saw this week at the Republican convention scared the crap out of me!) I had to turn away from Facebook, especially, this month because I simply want to enjoy my friends' vacation pictures, not get angry about their views on abortion, gay marriage, or economic "hand-outs."

Today, though, I exhaled. It's September. Aaahhh.

Blue, blue, blue, blue moon
Happy and I celebrated the end of August last night with a blue moon hike in our local state park. It was a clear evening, perfect for night hiking, and although there was not a speck of wildlife to be seen (evidently even the bats hate August), I looked back and discovered that we had a really pretty decent month, as far as Augusts go. No one got ill or injured, no one died, no one lost a job or crashed a car or had to cancel a vacation. I enjoyed a fabulous day with my girlfriends in Atlantic City one weekend; we celebrated a few birthdays with friends and family. I took a week off with my littlest monkey, a day at the zoo with my big monkey, and Honey had a couple wonderful days at the beach with Happy, too. So it was a rare blue-moon August, indeed... to cap off one of the best summers of my life, really.

The slight chill in the air as we hiked around the park reminded me, too, that in a few months it will be February, and I'll be bitching all over again.