Friday, September 28, 2012

It's Alive!

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted anything here. It's not that I didn't think about it--I did. It's not even as if I didn't write anything--I sat down one day and started not one, but two posts, both of which failed to gel into anything that I cared to finish, much less inflict on anyone else. Now I'm at the point where the weight of guilt, or the sense that I now have to post something brilliant to make up for my sloth, could possibly crush the remaining impulse I have to post anything, so I'm just going to jump in and hope a loyal reader or two will forgive me what is sure to be a fairly haphazard post.

First of all, for those who read my last post about the baby squirrel we found in our back yard, I have good news. Chopper, as he has been christened by the woman who has been taking care of him, is alive and well and thriving, as you can see in the video below. I've actually been a little surprised at the number of our friends who have been asking about him (thanks to Facebook, pretty much everyone we know seems to have taken notice). It's nice to know that even grownups have a soft spot in their hearts for a little beady-eyed fuzzy. (Except of course, for one college friend, who has a long-standing loathing of squirrels. I suspect he understands the rescue but the multiple pictures of Chopper that keep showing up in my Facebook feed courtesy of Chopper's new mama are probably giving him a twitch.)

Secondly, I have not been trapped under anything heavy. I have not fled the country. I have not even locked myself in the bathroom with a bottle of vodka and a straw, even after having to coax Son #2 through finishing not one, but two projects this week that would have been a piece of cake had he not procrastinated on them. (There are days I wonder if he's conducting a scientific experiment to see if he can literally make my head pop off just by raising my blood pressure. He came close this week.)

Instead, I've been muddling along in a fog as my family's routine slowly settles into place for the fall. We did, in fact, end up with a soccer practice every single day of the week, and between that, religious school, Son #1's therapies, Son #2's play, and Son #3's theater class, we're running quite a bit of the time. I've gone in to volunteer in Son #3's classroom and in the school office a few times. I've made a couple of half-hearted attempts to work on the garage, though the weather is still so hot that it is hard to be in there for very long. My dad is having so much fun giving me crap about it, though, that I almost hate to clean it up now. (And that is officially the excuse I will be using for my slow progress until further notice.)
Safety first!

I couldn't quite put into words why I was feeling so aimless until I was talking to my friend L today.* She was complaining that she felt like there was something she was supposed to be doing, but she couldn't put her finger on what it was. For the last two years she was the treasurer of the booster club while I was the president, and she got to deal with all kinds of fun stuff (such as submitting all the required documentation necessary to get the state of California to un-suspend our nonprofit status). I told her I didn't actually think that she was forgetting anything--it was just that she was used to being so swamped with things to do for the booster club that it was like she had phantom limb syndrome now, her brain insisting that there was a to-do list there, where in fact there was none.

If I had been a clearer-minded thinker, I could have applied this diagnosis to myself a couple of weeks ago. And no, I don't have any good answers for her. I suspect the feeling will fade away, given time and some distance from the things that used to be our responsibilities. One of my friends, whose son is in kindergarten with Son #3 and who manages the wrapping paper fundraiser for the booster club, told me that our numbers were up this year. And even as I congratulated her I realized, I don't need to worry about this. It is no longer my responsibility if the numbers for the wrapping paper sales are good or bad.  We have a very capable president this year who can handle that responsibility, and all the others that go with being president, without me hovering.

I've also been talking to my sister-in-law, who is still a member of the co-op preschool Son #3 attended last year. I've been pumping her for details on what is going on there this year, even though with 2/3rds of the members graduating in Son #3's class last year, the co-op is now mostly full of people I don't know. A lot of my time last year was also taken up with my duties there, volunteering once a week and being the treasurer. I even miss some parts of it, though not the long meetings or the plethora of information-free reply-to-all emails. I feel the lack of that responsibility in my life too.
Don't miss this part. Not even a little bit.

So now I have to get used to a new normal in my life, one that does not involve simply lining up to-do list items as if they are hurdles to fling myself over one at a time until the school year is over and I get the summer to pause, catch my breath, and prepare to do it all again. I do have time to write (however meanderingly or badly), time to maybe go get a cup of coffee with a friend and talk about something other than school fundraising strategies, time to rediscover old hobbies, time to clean my house. And even time to still help at school, because now that I feel that it isn't consuming my life, I'm actually starting to remember why I liked volunteering in the first place. The trick will be not filling up my schedule with things that seem critical to distract myself from the frenetic tedium of everyday life, and depriving myself of the time to do things I like.

So now that I've gotten over the delusion that I need to be brilliant to be on the internet (doesn't stop anyone else), I'll be trying to write regularly again and to ignore the phantom limb of last year's to-do list. And if you see me trying to volunteer for something new, tackle me, please!

*Since "my friend who took the batteries to the household hazardous waste recycling" is a mouthful, I'm going to use her first initial, L, to identify her from here on out.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What Happens When You're Making Other Plans

Yesterday was the start of soccer season. Our plan for the day was to walk over to the park with all three boys, hang out for all of their games, and then head home for the afternoon. That part of the plan actually went off more or less as planned, with the caveat that we probably didn't take nearly enough water or shade-producing devices to make five hours in the sun and heat bearable. And in a classic spasm of Volunteer Tourette's, I volunteered to be team mom for Son #3's team, which means that I will shortly get to start coordinating snack schedules, determining whether or not the team wants to buy a banner to display at games (I personally hate them, as they are expensive and become trash at the end of the season), etc. I'm beginning to wonder if I need an intervention.

Realizing that we had an afternoon relatively free, we invited a friend and her two children to come and hang out. (Bonus: I have had five bags of clothes for her son sitting in the hall for weeks. She was grateful to get them and I was thrilled to have another 29.4 pounds of stuff out of the house!) We sent the kids outside to play in the sprinkler and settled down at the dining room table to chat. Suddenly the kids ran in to tell us that there was a baby squirrel in the yard. We all headed out, I personally thinking that they must be confused.

Well, they weren't. Behind the swing set, on the grass, was a tiny squirrel. He seemed to be moving rather slowly for a squirrel, and looked a bit unwell to me. (My first thought, after our morning out at the park, was dehydration.) I'm a giant softy for small furry critters, and I'd like to say that I immediately sprang into swift, purposeful action. I believe I actually blurted out something along the lines of, "Holy shit! I hope this thing doesn't die on my watch." I routinely kill houseplants, and the only reason our goldfish survives my haphazard tank-cleaning schedule is because it is a rat with fins. I knew nursing a sick baby squirrel would be way beyond my pay grade. However, even if I had been able to stomach the idea of doing nothing, that wasn't an option with four kids looking on.
He did not look like a happy camper.

First I made a clumsy attempt to get him into a shoebox, which simply made him retreat under the steps to the playhouse. I went back into the house, got some leather work gloves, and fished him out. We ultimately housed him in a cat carrier (after Son #2 and my husband brought out for my inspection any number of unsuitable homes). The kids rubbernecked for a while, then moved on. After all, at least for my kids, watching mom freak out and obsess over something is a more-or-less everyday occurrence.
Offering him some water soon after capture. Thick oversized gloves + squirrel = comedy of errors.

I have to digress a moment here to talk about the internet. My husband has always been an early adopter of technology, and way back in the '90s I used to give him all kinds of crap about how the internet was simply a morass of mind-bogglingly useless information. I have been eating crow on this subject since about 2001. In this particular instance, the internet proved staggeringly useful. My husband posted a picture of the squirrel on Facebook immediately, soliciting suggestions of what to do from his friends. Within minutes they were helping him contact an experienced squirrel rescuer. I Googled information on what to do, and found a recipe for a simple rehydration formula (water with a little salt and sugar), which our furry little friend guzzled from an oral syringe when I offered it to him. We found information on squirrel development, which led us to guess that he was probably weaned or close to it, based on the fact that he had a full coat of fur and open eyes.

He wasn't wild about being picked up with gloves, but he didn't mind the grub.

We followed the advice of the web sites and tried to locate the nest he might have fallen from, but mysteriously, the part of our yard where he appeared is not near any large trees. After I posted a picture on Facebook, another friend suggested that he may have been from a nest disturbed by tree trimming, which would explain the sticky clumps of what I guessed was tree sap in his fur, though that theory also didn't point us to any likely spots since I don't think any of the neighbors have had trees trimmed recently. At any rate, we didn't have any luck finding his mom. Luckily, the squirrel rescuer said she could come get him on Sunday morning, so we only had to keep him going overnight.

I was relatively laid back (for me) about caring for him. Which meant that I only:
  • Ran to the pet store and bought $9 worth of puppy formula, which the squirrel refused to drink. (From the smell of it, I didn't blame him.)
  • Hovered over the cat carrier all evening, shooing away a very curious Toothless, who could sense that there was something interesting of a rodent nature inside and insisted on sniffing the carrier from all angles.
  • Rummaged in the garage for something softer than the rags I had initially put in the carrier with him, eventually coming up with a couple of old hooded baby towels.
  • Dosed him regularly with the rehydration formula (which he did like) and fed him a strawberry, one half at a time. (If the squirrel rescuer hadn't cautioned us not to overfeed him, I probably would have been offering him something every fifteen minutes.)
  • Put the carrier in our bathroom overnight, on top of a heating pad and under a towel for warmth, on the theory that having our guest safely away from the cats behind a closed door was the best plan, even if it meant I couldn't check his breathing every half an hour all night long.
  • Got up once before dawn to give him another dose of fluids.
This morning our guest looked a bit perkier than he had before. He took some more fluids, gnawed a bit more strawberry, but mostly seemed interested in burrowing into the baby towel and going to sleep. We had the kids say goodbye to him before my husband took them to religious school, and I stayed home to await the squirrel rescuer. She showed up slightly before her predicted arrival time, and by 10 a.m. our house was once again squirrel-free.

Now that it's all over (from our end, anyway; the squirrel rescuer has promised to keep us posted on the squirrel's progress), I have to wonder what my kids' takeaway will be from all of this. For one thing, I'm sure that while they probably won't remember the details of their morning of soccer, they will probably remember "the day we found a baby squirrel in the yard" for a long time. I hope that they will learn from our example, and try to help sensibly when they see a problem that needs fixing (including taking smart precautions and calling in expert help when needed). Mostly, though, I'm sure that this will just confirm for them that getting things done and panicking are not necessarily mutually exclusive options. After all, their mom's a pro at it.
Sadly, the kids may have to look elsewhere for cool, calm, and collected role models.

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Week Stuck in Neutral

It's amazing how little I can get accomplished when I have a sick kid at home and no pressing deadlines.
Yeah, it's been that kind of week.

I'm not saying this because I'm proud of it--on the contrary, I'm a little horrified that it is Friday and I've made so little progress on my goals on any front. Here's my score for the week:

Garage 1, Jen 0: Though I've been in the house all week, I didn't exactly feel comfortable leaving Son #3 (age 5) to his own devices so I could go sift through the mess in the garage. I had been so hoping to make some visible progress before my parents got home from their long summer trip, since they have long despaired of seeing the floor of my garage ever again. (For the record, you can see parts of the floor now. Small parts.) They got home yesterday--so much for that ambition. The good news and the bad news are the same: the mess isn't going anywhere. It will have to wait until next week.

Laziness 1, Jen 0: Last week I was getting up regularly to walk a brisk 2 miles each morning before the boys went to school. This week the gravity in my bed has increased, or something. And of course once my husband (who has been a real mensch taking Sons #1 and 2 to school each morning so that I don't have to drag their petri dish little brother out any more than is absolutely necessary) is gone, my opportunity to nip out for a walk around the block is gone with him. By the end of the day, after the nightly homework wrangling and chauffeur duty to the kid activity du jour (soccer, soccer, and more soccer), I'm firmly caught in the gravity well of the couch. Again, next week, right?

House 1, Jen 0: You'd think that days of being entrenched at home would produce a whirlwind of domestic activity, right? Instead, I'm finding that the hours of staring at the same walls are producing a paralysis of action. In theory I have had enough time this week to really give this place a thorough scrubbing. In reality, the more I look, the more I see to do. Have the arms of the dining room chairs always looked that grubby? When did those fingerprints get all over the molding? And why on earth do the boys deposit their dirty socks everywhere but the %&*#@^* hamper? It doesn't help that whenever, for example, I start doing some dishes, Son #3 requests a sandwich, or juice, or that I switch the TV channel, or whatever.

It also doesn't help that I am the Least Motivated Housewife in the Universe. It's not that I don't like living in a clean house. I love living in a clean house. I just am not particularly enthusiastic about spending all my time in the process of actually, well, cleaning. The things I like to do include reading, knitting, getting up to speed on current events, watching good movies, etc.--all things that take time in their own right and are difficult to do while you are, for example, scrubbing toilets. The toilets need to be scrubbed, a clean toilet is a joy to have, and yet, I do not like scrubbing toilets. Add in the fact that housework in a house full of three boys has a certain rearranging-deck-chairs-on-the-Titanic sense of futility about it, and I think I can be forgiven for my lack of alacrity in jumping to clean things I know will only stay clean as long as I can keep the kids out of the house.

I haven't been completely idle. Examples:

I spent some of the early part of the week putting together materials for a booster club fundraiser. However, I'm not feeling very satisfied with this work, since I have a couple of forms in waiting-for-approval limbo, and I can't do anything further until I get the stamp of approval from the office. I also baked muffins for last night's booster club meeting (with the invaluable help of my friend of battery disposal fame, who brought over 6 eggs when I realized I didn't have any), thus proving that my case of Volunteer Tourette's is by no means cured. (Volunteer Tourette's is a term that same friend coined to describe those of us at school who compulsively raise their hands to volunteer for everything, regardless of the state of their schedules or sanity. Mind you, she's just as bad as the rest of us.)

I took Son #3 to the doctor yesterday morning, on the theory that even though I was 100% sure that all he had was a virus, it wouldn't hurt to check (or to have a doctor's note when he goes back to school after four days out). One copay and a strep test later, and the doctor concluded...he has a virus. We are now past the fevers and into coughing and snot (lots of snot), and I'm reasonably certain he will be back in school on Monday.

I balanced the checkbook, and didn't even swear when it didn't come out right the first time.

And, yes, I started to pick at some of the housework. Our covered patio out back was just one broken appliance away from junkyard status, so I began sweeping and cleaning out there. I vacuumed a vast quantity of black cat hair off of the area rug in our bedroom (and no, I'm not sure why Toothless and Extra choose to play-fight there, unless it is because their fur contrasts nicely with the light-grey background of the rug). I didn't have the fortitude to do much about the continually renewing pile of junk mail, or the disturbing odor that wafted from the refrigerator the last time I opened it, but I suspect those aren't going anywhere. Their time will come.

Clearly I need to be catching up on my TV watching.

I'm not going to make stupid and likely false predictions about how next week is going to be better. First, I can't foresee the future, and second, the universe likes to send me stuff like swine flu and plumbing disasters when I start to get cocky about how nothing else could possibly go wrong. But now that Son #3 seems to be well enough to beat up on Son #2 about how much room he is taking up on the couch, his return to school is blessedly imminent. And with any luck a day or two of checking things off of my to-do list will snap me out of this funk. Right?

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Plan, and God Laughs

I feel a day like this coming on...

I like to have a plan. I think I come by this naturally. My parents emphasized the importance of knowing what you needed to do when (and neither of them are exactly wild and crazy examples of spontaneity themselves). When I was a teenager, well before the days of GPS or even Mapquest, they used to have me drive to important places, such as the site of a job interview, the day before the event I was supposed to attend, to ensure I knew exactly where to go and how long it would take me. Then, of course, my parents would point out that I should add fifteen minutes to my estimated travel time (at least) to give myself a cushion in case of bad traffic or other unexpected delays. It took me a long time (and many, many strange looks from my husband as I told him about similar family procedures that always seemed perfectly natural to me) before I realized that most people don't operate like this.

I won't say that I didn't have a long flirtation with procrastination in my adolescence and to a certain extent in my college years. I would do my reading and note-taking fairly early but delay the actual writing of a paper, say, until the day or even the night before it was due. In retrospect, I was damn lucky that I was never the victim of a poorly-timed flu or power outage--it would have been nobody's fault but my own if I had missed one of those closely-cut deadlines simply because I misjudged how kind the universe was going to be to me when I needed everything to go perfectly.

Nowadays, I'm back to my hypervigilant planning roots. Our family life has too many moving parts to just have faith that somehow everything will all work out and get done on time. Just the logistics of getting the kids to their soccer practices each week (appropriately dressed, with shin guards, soccer ball, water bottle, and on time despite having to herd along all three of the boys every blessed time) is a challenge--and that's only one part of what we have to make sure happens every week. Needless to say, I have Plan A and B, and often C and D, to try to make sure that the critical things get done each week no matter how crammed our schedule gets.

But the truth is, there is no amount of planning that is enough to keep everything going exactly the way you expect. I'll admit that, but it doesn't make me happy.

Today we came back from a long holiday weekend away with my husband's family. On the surprisingly quick drive back to L.A. from Palm Springs, I began making a mental to-do list of all the things I needed to do on Tuesday, and scheduling each hour of the day until I would need to pick up the kids from school. Drop off an invoice for copies in the booster club box, stop by and see if the school coordinator needs any volunteer help with clerical tasks, go home and work on materials for the booster club fundraiser later this month: not a moment of my kid-free time would be wasted. Then we got home, and Son #3 crawled into his bed and fell asleep for most of the afternoon. Uh-oh. He gave up napping before he turned three, and when he sleeps during the day it means nothing good. Sure enough, by the time he woke up he had an obvious fever.

I wish I could say that it was with good grace that I immediately scrapped Plan A, consigned the bulk of the tasks on it to the category of Things That Could Wait Another Day, and morphed into a cross between Mary Poppins and Florence Nightingale. In truth, I wasn't sure where the thermometer was, and it was only reluctantly that I admitted to myself that even if Son #3's fever disappeared before morning, he couldn't go to school anyway since he would not be fever-free for 24 hours. (Yes, I realize that most school illness policies seem to be more often honored in the breach than the observance, with parents surreptitiously dosing their kids with Motrin or whatever and hoping the teachers won't notice. When I'm feeling charitable, I hope that the people doing this are those who need to work and have no child care options, but I still hate it. At any rate, I do have a child care option when my kids are not in school--me--and I don't like being a hypocrite, so I follow the rules.) I fretted a bit (silently) about the undone Tuesday items that were going to be added to an already pretty full Wednesday lineup, on top of the all-too-real possibility that Son #3's fever would not have run its course in time for him to go to school Wednesday either.

But there wasn't much point in throwing a pity party for myself over it. If being able to plan is critical for being able to keep our family life on a relatively even keel, being flexible is even more important for keeping things going when the plan goes awry. Okay, sometimes my backup plans aren't ideal: one day last year I congratulated myself on my foresight in putting the boys in nearby schools when my car got a flat tire and I had to walk most of the routes I would normally have driven that day. (Walk Son #3 to preschool and stay for my work day. Walk Son #3 back home. Walk to elementary school with Son #3 to pick up Son #2. Walk to middle school with Sons #2 & 3 to pick up Son #1. Walk home. Fall into stupor on couch because you haven't walked that much in a single day in, well, ever.) I wasn't feeling nearly so smug by 4 p.m., though on the plus side I slept very well that night. The boys were pretty game that day, though, and receptive to the idea that they were getting exercise and helping the environment (which is how I shamelessly sold them on the unplanned walk). There was certainly less whining than I would have expected, especially when one subtracted mine. If I could survive that day, I'll survive tomorrow. And probably many other days that don't go the way I hoped or expected.

I hope my kids will learn to both plan and be flexible. I think that no matter what they decide they want to do or be, these are life skills that will serve them well. And if I succeed in teaching this to them, I won't feel nearly as guilty when their future girlfriends realize that the boys never learned to consistently pick up their dirty socks.

Everyone can use a humility lesson now and then, right?