Saturday, April 4, 2009

Home Alone

I was feeling rather full of myself. Not only had I purchased the birthday gift two days in advance, but it was an educational outer space toy to match the party theme. Even though my husband was out of town for work, I was keeping it all together. It was Saturday and all four of my children had schedules that would overlap at some point in the day. (The baby's "schedule" being a nap.) No worries though; I had everything under control. After the "morning marathon" (getting everyone fed and ready to go out the door) I would take my eight year old son and baby with me to the preschooler's outer space party. (Families were invited.) My 11 year old daughter wasn't thrilled about attending a party for four year olds so I planned to leave her at home for a short time with the usual injunction not to answer the phone or the door and a reminder that I would be in touch by cell phone. Shortly after noon I would leave my preschooler at her party for about 30 minutes with one of the gazillion mothers she knows and take my son to his friend's house for a play date and pick up my oldest daughter at home. She had her own birthday party to attend at 1pm and after dropping her off I would quickly swing back to the outer space party with the baby for the last hour. (Okay, so I hadn't figured out where the nap would fit in. I was definitely playing it by ear on that one.) At five after ten my blood pressure was starting to rise as we finally made it out the door and headed to the party. The house had the usual bouquet of balloons out front to help everyone identify the party, but it was the mile long line of cars parked on the street that got my attention. We would definitely need the stroller for this one. 15 minutes later, with considerable sweat developing on my forehead, I lumbered through the white picket fence with my stroller, purse, gift and three children into the immaculately clean and stylish home that hosted the outer space party. The mother of the birthday boy was a vision of calm serenity with her entourage of helpers. I had already given everyone the "mind your manners" talk in the car but my kids could hardly help themselves when they saw the huge bounce house in the back yard and went running through the family room with a whoop and out into the back yard. All the parents were gathered in small groups around the deck and backyard visiting while the children knocked themselves out in the bounce house. I slipped into one of the groups while the baby clung to me. I have long since gotten used to moms talking about how crazy and busy their lives are even when I know they only have two kids, a nanny and a husband who is actually home by dinner. I was biting my tongue a bit during this sort of conversation when the inevitable happened again: someone addressed me with a look of sympathetic incredulousness and said, "I don't know how you do it!" I don't either is my standard reply. After this sort of conversation and with just enough time to get my oldest daughter to her party, I made arrangements with several of the moms to keep an eye on my daughter while I was gone. I called my daughter over and told her who she could go to if she needed anything and that I would be gone for a few minutes to take her brother and sister somewhere. And then she did something totally out of character for her that she has never done before: she started to whimper and said she wanted to stay with me. I told her that's fine, she could come with me but she would most likely miss the birthday cake if she did. She did NOT want to miss the birthday cake and she did NOT want me to leave. As I tried to reason with my four year old I was feeling the anxiety of my oldest daughter who was now surely wondering if she would be late to her own friend's party. We went back and forth for awhile until I found myself leaving the party with all three kids, my four year old in tears clinging to my side. The moms with nannies and helpers looked on in horror. As I started to maneuver my personal carnival down the driveway and faced the mile long line of cars knowing how long it would take me to get to my own car with a crying four old clinging to my side as I tried to push the stroller, I turned back around and gently commandeered her back to the party hedging my bets that she would be fine once I walked out the door. She was. I was exhausted at this point but trying to keep on my happy mom face when I got back home and my 11 year old pointed out that the gift card we purchased for her friend just yesterday was missing. How was that possible? I specifically left it in the car so we wouldn't lose it before the party! I felt moisture gathering in my eyes at this point. All my efforts to keep it together and under control seemed to be unraveling before me. Deep breaths. Lots of people survive cancer and war, you can survive a weekend alone with your children I tell myself. I sent her into the party with an apology and permission to blame me and made a mental note to get another gift card before the day is over. (When would I do that?) The baby fell asleep in the car on the way back to the outer space party but of course I hade to park a mile away to pick up my daughter so I woke her up to go in. I arrived just as they are singing "happy birthday" and saw my daughter loving every minute of it as she eyed the cake anxiously. I was starving by now and quickly shoveled down a piece of cold, slimy pizza before inhaling some of the designer birthday cake. After all the parties and play dates were over and we were all home again, I let the digital babysitter take a turn while I hid out in my room for about an hour. Then it was off to an art show at the coffee house where my oldest daughter had a painting on display. It was extremely crowded and my daughter's painting was on the opposite end of the bookstore. After squeezing through the crowds and oohing and aahing over her truly gorgeous snowy white owl, I found myself mindlessly purchasing books that my children were handing me along with a replacement gift card for my daughter's friend. I had no energy to deflect any of their requests with my usual "put it on your birthday list". I think they sensed that and were taking advantage of me. They were books after all. It's not like I was buying a bunch of candy or junk toys from Wal-mart I rationalized. We left the bookstore shortly after sundown to a cool and balmy southern California evening. Something about the smell of the air and the sound of adult conversation behind me caused me to go into a temporary trance as I envisioned myself going on a grown up date with my husband. "Mom, I'm hungry!" says one of the kids and I quickly snap out of it. Panda for dinner again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Baseball Madness

I was the only single mom at the baseball game tonight. (My apologies to the true single moms out there because, honestly, I don't know how you do it. My watered down version of single motherhood is bad enough.) My husband warned me he would be working late, but it wasn't until late afternoon that I checked my email and discovered there was a baseball game scheduled for my 8 year old son at 5:15. (Dinner time. Perfect.) By that time I realized it was definitely too late to get ultra prepared and be there for the warm up at 4:45. Not with four kids and a friend in tow. And so it was that I swerved into the parking lot at 5:00 with a bag of rice cakes, some cheese sticks, bottled water and five kids. My son ran ahead with his stuff and I asked my 11 year old daughter and friend to take my 4 year old daughter to the park while I got the baby and lawn chair out. "Um, Allyson, (whatever happened to "Mrs."?) do we really have to babysit because I'm going to D.C for spring break in two days so we'd like to play alone." Blink. Stare. My daughter (bless her little heart), sensing impending doom, stepped in. "It's okay mom, we'll watch her." I put on the backpack/lawn chair and start to get the baby out of her car seat. I noticed for the first time she is shoe-less. This will not do. I got her out anyway, not caring at this point if she looked neglected because I am already heavy laden with my backpack/lawn chair and the game is about to begin. I grab my purse with the cell phone so I can track my husband's ETA and start heading for the ball park. My daughter comes running over to tell me her brother's mitt isn't in his bag. Sweet. Knowing none of the other responsible and prepared mothers would do this, I command my oldest to stay right with her sister and I head back to the car to go home and get the mitt. (Baby back in the car seat, backpack/lawnchair back in the trunk . . .) Back home I search our unbelievably cluttered garage and to my dismay, though not to my surprise, no mitt. I call my husband. "It's gotta be in his bag. He just didn't search around in it enough." I grab the baby's shoes and head back to the park. (Baby back out of the car seat, put back on the backpack/lawnchair.)Sure enough, the mitt is in the bag. I settle in to watch the game with all the other good parents. I notice there are either solo dads, moms and dads, or - my favorite - moms and dads with grandparents or even nannies. I'm pretty sure none of them have five kids with them because they are all just sitting there watching the game and cheering on their boys. The baby sits on my lap and "watches" the game for about three and half minutes before she starts crawling all over me and grabbing other people's water bottles. I get up and head out to the boonies beyond right field to check on the girls. (Did I mention my hefty 18 month old no longer likes walking in public?) My daughter's friend is still annoyed by their third wheel so I try to redirect her back to the game with me. The game stretches on and on and on as little league games do. My son strikes out twice and gets hit in the face and cries at one point. I'm sure it's because I didn't feed him a proper dinner before we left and I'm not as attentive as the other mothers. Isn't everything my fault? Once the game is over and my children (and friend) dine on Hawaiin sweet rolls and Big League chewing gum provided by the snack mom, I load up my crew and the backpack/lawnchair I sat in for three and a half minutes and call my husband again. He is chatting casually with someone about blasting one more clump of kidney stones with a laser. I'd like to blast something with a laser. "I'm going to be another hour." We head to Panda. The friend has special requests and wants to come into the restaurant with me. No can do. Everyone stay in the car. By the time I get home with the food at 8pm I am as fried as the orange chicken my kids are chowing down on.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

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