Archive | August, 2011

The Wheels on the Bus Go Way Too Fast

19 Aug


Ropes of fog dance through the valleys at sunrise, the air damp, laced with the sweet scent of maturing corn, as a collective sigh of relief rolls across the Nebraska countryside. After a long, hot, pressure-cooker of a summer, the morning air has finally taken on the crisp quality that heralds the return of fall, football, and yellow buses on gravel roads…

School is finally back in session!

Summer vacation is a good idea, in theory, but eighty-seven consecutive days of togetherness is pure insanity. By the end of July my kids have seen it all, done it all, grown bored with it all, and eaten me out of house and home. By mid-August they’re bitching, moaning, whining, complaining bumps-on-logs that smell like feet, and I’m one “But, Moooom…” away from a straight jacket.

Usually, when the first day back to school finally rolls around, I’m so excited it feels like Christmas—only better! I stare out the window, giddy and giggling with glee, anxiously awaiting the school bus to pull into the driveway and magically whisk my bickering children away from me, and away from each other, for a few, blissful hours of peace.

But, this year, for some, strange reason, when I watched the bus carry my boys off into sunrise, headed for the big, wide world of Not-at-Home, there was a heavy sadness in my heart that’s never been there before, and I have no idea why.

Maybe it’s because, for the very first time since we started this massive chapter of our lives, neither one of my boys had a brand-new box of crayons tucked in their backpacks. That’s nothing new for my oldest. He’s a sophomore now, and hasn’t touched a crayon in so long I’m not sure he’d recognize one in a line-up. To be honest, he hardly ever used them, even when he was supposed to. At the end of every school year, his Crayolas would come home just as sharp as they were on the day we bought them… except the orange. I never could quite figure that out. Either orange is secretly his favorite color and he used it on everything, or he let someone borrow it. I’m leaning towards the ‘borrow.’

My youngest, on the other hand, loved to color. He still does. He colors and draws and reads and writes, soaking up art like it’s his life-blood. He creates intricate, imaginary worlds with a zany cast of colorful characters living atop majestic mountains in castles made of pure gold—and then he annihilates them all with a demonic creature covered in scales, welding an AK-47 and breathing fire from its second head. It’s disturbing, to say the least, but he’s a boy. I’ve learned that’s what they do.

He’s in seventh grade this year, playing football, growing faster than his shoes can keep up. No more recess or Elmer’s Glue for him, and no more easy weeknights for me. The boys’ schedules are packed with practices, games, drum-line auditions. Permission slips are flying left and right. I’ve signed my name more times, on more forms, in the past few days than I did when I bought my first home, and cash is flying out of my purse so fast I’m beginning to think it would be easier to cut out the middle-man and give the school my PIN number so they can pull what they need directly from my bank account.

Picture day is less than a week away, and it’s all downhill from there. This school year will start rolling by so fast I’m afraid if I blink it will be over, and they’ll be back to bickering their summer away. Or, worse, school itself will be over, they’ll be grown, and they’ll be gone.

In three years, my oldest will be a freshman again, this time in college. That’s crazy to think about, so I try not to. It seems like only yesterday I was a clueless new mother, a midnight zombie singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on continuous loop as I walked miles up and down the hallway of our tiny duplex. Not the best choice for a lullaby, but it was the only song that lulled my colicky, screaming newborn to sleep.

He goes to sleep all on his own now, lulling himself into dreamland with an iPod playlist that I’m sure I shouldn’t approve of but let him listen to anyway. There are bigger battles to fight than his crappy taste in music. Besides, if Elvis’s hips couldn’t turn my mother into a heathen as the Catholic Right feared they would, then I seriously doubt whatever it is my son is listening to will turn him into one either.

My oldest can be stubborn and moody and sullen like all teenagers tend to be, but he is also sharp and witty, with just the right amount smart-ass peppered in to make him irresistibly charming. He tends to keep his emotions to himself, his expression often one of stoic disinterest, but every once in awhile, if he’s truly passionate about something, the mask slips and his face lights up like the sunrise. In that moment, he looks like the little boy he used to be.

My youngest is the polar opposite. He’s passionate about everything. Since the day he was born, he’s been a happy, hyper, little chatterbox who laughs in his sleep and isn’t afraid to cry. He loves everyone and everything, and his Venti-sized cupful of compassion runneth over. He wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up. My oldest just wants to be rich and drive a Koenigsegg. Knowing him, he will.

I’m confident both of my boys will succeed at whatever they set their minds to. They already do. As much as I’d like to brag and take full credit for it, I know they turned out as amazing as they did all on their own. It happened while I wasn’t looking. I was probably doing dishes at the time.

I can feel the time I have left with them slipping away. I want this school year to drag like no school year has ever dragged before. I want the school bus to stall in the driveway before pulling out onto the highway, and allow me a few more precious moments to enjoy my children while they’re still children, before they grow into the men they are destined to become. I know I can’t stop time, but I would love to see the clock slow down, just a little bit. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Goodbye, My Friend

5 Aug

My coffee maker passed away this morning. It was a horrible shock, and all I can think is if I had been paying attention I would have known that it was coming. I would have been prepared to say my final goodbyes. I would have treated him better. In all honesty, my Mr. Coffee did occasionally show signs of his distress over the past year or so. I was just too self-absorbed to see. He was slow to brew. He sputtered and coughed a little more than usual. I had to push the ‘On’ button more than once. Sometimes, I’d put twelve cups of water in and only get six cups of coffee in return. 
I thought he was just being stubborn. I’d clean him and talk nice to him and he’d do better for awhile, but a few weeks later he’d be up to his old tricks again and gyp me out of six cups of coffee. I thought he was messing with my mind. I thought he was toying with my emotions and praying on my weakness. But, no. My poor Mr. Coffee was slowing dying all along.
At five o’clock this morning, a morning like any normal morning, I fell out of bed, crashed into the wall, and stumbled down the hall toward the kitchen. Mr. Coffee greeted me with the gentle, green glow of his digital clock face, and I said, ‘Good morning, beautiful,’ in return. I smiled and gave him a little wink as I filled the carafe with water and poured it into his belly. He let out a little burp and I laughed as I lined his basket with a fresh filter and added a healthy scoop of his favorite rich, aromatic grounds. We were having a great morning—the perfect morning—until I pushed ‘On.’
He didn’t respond. 
Not a big deal. It’s happened before. I pushed the button again. This time he came to life, and I smiled and patted him gently, telling him I’d be right back. I went to go do my business while he did his business, but before I could leave the room, he sputtered and coughed. Startled, I turned back to him. He let out seven, pained beeps and sputtered some more. A deep, guttural growl came out of his underbelly, and he shut down completely. I gave him a little glare for being stubborn, and he looked back at me with his sad, green glow. I rolled my eyes at his pouty face, and we tried it again. 
Two minutes of sputtering, steaming and coughing later, only six, measly drops of coffee had managed to drip into the carafe. I was livid, and I let that coffee maker know it! Knowing what I know now, I am too ashamed to admit what I called him, but let’s just say it wasn’t very ladylike. Mr. Coffee sputtered and steamed, and squirted out two more drops of coffee (probably out of pure terror)… and then he died.  
Selfish person that I am, I was only worried about myself in that moment. The air disappeared from my lungs and I started to shake. Panic set in as I seriously started jonesing for my caffeine fix. My mind raced, my heart palpitated, and I walked in crazed circles, muttering to myself, as I tried to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do now.
‘I could go to the gas station… it’s only ten miles away and they probably won’t mind if I’m still in my pj’s… but their coffee sucks and I would have to buy like six cups to get me through the morning, and I don’t have that many hands… I could wait two more hours until the hardware store opens at seven and buy a new maker, but two hours? That’s like an eternity… Walmart’s open twenty-four hours a day and I’ve seen tons of people there in their pj’s! YES! But, wait… it’s thirty miles away… that’s a long drive without coffee to help get me there… What to do, what to do, what to do?’
And then I remembered—I have a four-cup maker in the basement! (Cue the sunshine! Ahhh!) Happy days are here again…. It took me a good twenty minutes of cursing and digging to find that old, four-cup maker, but eventually I did, and I was well on my way to caffeinated bliss. 
Once my own needs were filled, I lovingly washed my Mr. Coffee one last time and gently set him in an out-of-the-way corner of the garage. Maybe one day, if my husband is bored, he can do an autopsy to determine the cause of death. It’s possible he can be revived to brew another day, but, more than likely, Mr. Coffee will spend eternity in the Butler County Landfill, resting peacefully on the hill overlooking the countryside, buried somewhere near my Rival Crockpot that bit the dust last fall. 
There’s a brand-new coffee maker sitting prominently in his place on my counter now. His name is Black and Decker. We met earlier this afternoon at True Value and I invited him to come live with me. He’s very pretty, but he’s no Mr. Coffee. Not even close. He won’t let me select my brew strength or adjust the temperature of the warmer. He doesn’t filter my water or greet me with the soft, green glow of a digital display, gently reminding me how many minutes I have left until automatic shut-off. He doesn’t even have a cleaning feature. But he does make a full pot of coffee in less than two minutes, so that’s something, I guess.
Maybe one day we will be as good of friends as Mr. Coffee and I were, but I’m not ready to rush into anything just yet. For right now, I think we’ll take it one pot of coffee at time and see how things go.
Rest in peace, Mr. Coffee. You will be missed, my friend.

It’s a Jungle Out There

2 Aug

My absolute, all-time favorite summer pastime is mowing my lawn, but you’d never guess it by looking out into my yard right now. It’s an embarrassing, over-grown tangle of grass that’s starting to resemble the Amazon rainforest. Every morning, as soon as I get up, I stand on the deck with a cup of coffee in hand, and look out upon the jungle below and say, “Today is the day, my friend… Today is the day,” and I head off to work with the excited anticipation of a child on Christmas Eve.
That anticipation quickly fades. By the time I get off work it’s 110 in the shade and the heat index is hovering somewhere around the second level of Hell. It takes everything I have just to walk from the car to the house without collapsing from heat exhaustion, and I’m shoving my kids out of my way as I dive headfirst into the deep freeze to suck down Popsicles six at a time, the backyard jungle nothing more than a distant, nagging memory in the back of my mind. 
I don’t handle heat well—especially the steamy, drippy, oppressively-humid Nebraska kind of heat. My husband, on the other hand, can’t handle the cold. It’s already an unbearably-muggy 82 degrees at seven in the morning, I’m mopping sweat off my brow, panting along with the dogs, and he’s walking around the house, teeth chattering, “Have you seen my sweatshirt?” Why, yes, dear, I have. I sold them all to buy this block of ice I’m sitting on.
 
I will get out and mow my lawn one of these days—but probably not today. When I checked the forecasted highs for the day, the weather map burst into flames. That’s never a good sign. So I think I’ll wait. This is Nebraska, after all. “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it’ll change.” It’ll probably snow on Saturday.