My Brush with Crime at Pre-School


I stole a car from the pre-school parking lot yesterday.  Almost.  And accidentally. Luckily, my downward spiral into a life of crime was thwarted by my three year-old.  It all happened so fast.

Things were crazy at the end of this week and I just wasn’t in top form.  I took the baby with me to pick up my son from pre-school.  Usually I’m at work — but because my nanny was caring for her ill mother, I stayed home and was happy to get the chance to go to pick-up.  All of this is to say that I don’t really know the parents of my son’s classmates because I’m that mom they never see.  Anyway. 

The pre-school parking lot is an SUV flash mob — it’s almost comical.  Suburbia Central Casting.  You’d be hard-pressed to find a mid-sized vehicle without a third row.  

So I walk over to our car, which looks like every other car in the lot, and I open the back door (I left it unlocked).  It looks dirtier than usual to me and somehow just a bit off.  I couldn’t put my finger on it.  But my nanny drives it during the week, so the reality is that I’m not the best person to ask how it looks Monday through Friday.  So I didn’t think much of it.

I begin to load the  baby into the car seat and the straps aren’t fitting her.  And I start to have this moment of slow realization that something isn’t quite right, but my brain isn’t really catching up.  It’s cold and I’m getting pissed about adjusting the straps, and then I take a good look at the car seat — and something about it is different.  Really different.

It has flowers on it.  Our car seat doesn’t have…

“Mommy, this isn’t our car,” says the three year-old.

Oh my God.  It’s not our car.

{Oh my God.  Someone has a messier car than we do.  This is great news.}

And as I take my child out of the car seat that does not belong to us from the vehicle that is not registered to me, the whole silly episode would  have been done.  Except, as I closed the door, standing right there is the rightful owner of the car, waiting to place his daughter into her flowered car seat with the straps configured to her height and weight, not my daughter’s.  Oh, and it’s one of the parents from my son’s class — one who probably already thinks I’m a Phantom Absentee Parent.  And now also a novice car thief.  Perfect.

The look on his face was somewhere between disturbed and confused.  I have no idea what look was on my face but I can assure you it was no photo opportunity.

I apologize profusely and nervously stammer something about not being able to get far without the keys.  I then point to my own car, two spots over, which, in my defense, is the same model and color — just so he knows I’m not certifiable, or criminal.

My son’s friend then pipes up with:  “Why is your mommy trying to take our car?”

I wonder if this is a good time to ask about the next PTA meeting.  Probably not.  I decide against it and enter our legally owned vehicle, where the non-flowered car seat straps fit just fine.

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First Halloween in Suburbia

Well, it was my first one as an adult, anyway, and here’s what I learned:  Halloween is no joke in the suburbs.  It’s sort of hard core.  From the house and yard decorations to the amount of candy one needs to distribute, we were not entirely prepared.

Who knew that people decorated their homes in our town as if there was a blue ribbon to be handed out, or as though Martha Stewart was coming through with a camera crew?  Not us — we thought our three little yard scarecrows and an uncarved pumpkin were cute.

Who knew that nine large bags of candy was amateurish?  Not us.  Sorry, neighborhood children, we suck. 

But those shortcomings aside, we had a great day.  Nobody pitched a fit over wearing a costume, which was a good start.

Not even the dog, though he did mumble something about abject humiliation, animal cruelty and finding a new home.  But we resolved our differences.

This was the first year our son really understood the whole trick-or-treat gig and the candy payoff.  By the third house, he was a seasoned pro.

And the baby caught on quickly.  She’s in the “Let me run and find danger” phase, so she was on the move — as much as her giant lamb suit would allow.

We finally slowed her down for a milk break.

And with our loot, we went home to comb through our treats.  And by “our treats,” of course I mean some very strategic skimming on my part.  (How come nobody gives out Mounds anymore?  Those are my favorite.  Not a single one in the bag.)

And then there was the sad realization that our nine bags of candy would only last about another hour in prime time.  Next year, we’ll be ready.

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Tales From a Garage Sale Virgin

I’m a huge nerd for being so happy about the success of our garage sale this weekend.  I hate clutter, so the purger in me was thrilled by the cleansing aspect of the whole thing.  Plus it’s just fabulous people watching, right in your own driveway.  I didn’t have the nerve to take photos of people as they were shopping (and risk losing the sale), but let me tell you, there are images distinctly embossed in my mind, for better or worse.  Hello, cross-section of America — welcome to the side of my house.

Let me first say that we never made any progress on the prep front.  I mean, none.  My neighbor Donna was in her garage and basement for a couple of nights leading up to the big event, sorting through her stuff and getting it all ready.  She made all the signs to hang up around town (which were fabulous).  My meager contribution was a posting on Craigslist.

P and I vowed Friday night, right in line with our last-minute ways, to get into that basement and at least mentally sort through what was staying vs going.  Didn’t happen — I fell asleep on the couch at 9:00.  We rolled ourselves outside at 6:45 Saturday morning (for a 9am start time, now advertised all over town) and found Donna had practically set up a retail establishment in her driveway.  Apparently, while we foolishly slept, she had been outside until midnight and back out there at 5am getting ready.  She had so much stuff, all organized and merchandized.  Racks of clothing hanging up.  Rows of shoes.  Major furniture.  And a bunch of items in between.  She had a nice little home base table with a calculator and a fanny pack full of small bills and change.  Donna was a garage sale rock star.

We were humbled novices.

We were dragging our stuff up from the basement and realizing that this garage sale was forcing life decisions.

“Aren’t we putting all the baby stuff out for sale?”

“I don’t know, are we?  What if we need it again?”

Family planning conversations in the driveway at sunrise before coffee — yes, we were sorely underprepared.

But I will tell you that it all went unbelievably well.  Donna’s signs brought us tons of foot traffic, despite the early birds (What is with these people?   You have to show up for first dibs 30 minutes before start time?).  And we had a perfect weather day.  I’m sort of convinced Donna arranged that as well. 

For me and my Type A-ness, I really just wanted the stuff gone.  Yes, I was happy to get money for it but the value of purging it far outweighed its retail value in my mind. 

And because we have a little history of keep vs purge debates in our marriage, there were a few items that we each were keeping a watchful eye on during the sale. 

Item #1:  P’s rollerblades.  I have known him since 1999 and have never witnessed him on rollerblades, though he insists on moving them from home to home with us over the years.  (Sold!)

Item #2:  Rolling dice glassware set.  This is a very kitschy set that was gifted to us.  P wanted to get rid of it.  I don’t love it but it has some sentimental value to me.  (Not sold — though plenty of folks considered it, or maybe just pointed at it.)

Item #3:  Bucket of noisy children’s books.  I’m all for cute kids’ books, but you know that feeling of wishing for a particularly noise-making book to break?  I was done with some of the key offenders in this category and felt other families may not be annoyed as easily by them.  Many noisy books sold, except for the one I hate most — because I was dumb enough to keep it in plain sight where my son could notice and promptly reclaim it.  (Epic fail.)

Overall, I’d say we sold 90% of what we put out there — and managed to make some good money too.  So it was ok to be underprepared.  I think my sales associates were also helpful and quite charming.

My daughter handled the rug and pillows department.

And my son was the general greeter/sales manager.

So why is there still so much stuff in my basement?  We may have to do this again, come springtime.

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Pancakes, Pumpkins and Productivity

First, it’s on. 

The garage sale, that is.  My neighbor Donna and I are both woefully unprepared but we’re getting our stuff out there come 9am next Saturday.  Remember how P and I were going to go through all of the items in question this weekend?  Never happened.  We decided it was enough to know we need to unload a bunch of crap.  Which items specifically will fall into the “for sale” bucket are tbd (probably around midnight Friday).  Plus, it was just too nice outside to hang around the basement wondering how we accumulated all of this junk. 

So instead, here’s what we did.  It was a wildly productive weekend, and anytime my to-do list makes good progress, I am happy.  Even better that we had fun along the way.

  • Friday night, date night for P’s birthday.  Good food.  Nice drinks. 
  • I had a solo trip out to Long Island on Saturday to visit a friend and her first baby.  Sorry Long Islanders, it’s lovely there, but it’s never an easy trip.  But I actually didn’t mind all that much because it was the first time in years I had that much car time to myself, which meant 1) songs with adult lyrics played very loudly and 2) nobody in the back seat who minded.  Oh and the baby is precious.  5 weeks old.  I love newborns, though they make me ache for just one more resident of Fordeville. 
  • I made pancakes for breakfast on Sunday.  This really isn’t a big deal.  I have no fancy recipe to share because it was plain and from a box, but the reality is that we just never seem to have time to cook anything for breakfast recently (unless you count toasting).  And it’s one of the few foods that the whole family likes.  So that was nice.
  • We went to a local nursery and found they were doing hay rides, the pumpkin patch, the whole “fall is here, despite your denial” deal.  My son loves a good tractor ride and both kids had a ball picking out their pumpkins.  Bonus points that it was right up the road.
  • Off to the mall we went in search of an iPhone for me (done!  and wow), Halloween costumes for the kids (done! even one for the poor pug) and a birthday present for P (done!).  The baby napped through my iPhone consult and they both slept in the car on the way home — we could not have planned this if we tried.  True planet alignment. 

Here are a few shots from the pumpkin picking.  While this fun ensued, I’m sure that alien pods continued to multiply our stuff in the basement.  But I’m too scared to look, until maybe Friday.

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Operation Basement Purge

Six months in, I still don’t know my neighbors very well.  They are all very nice people, but the reality is that I’m not home much during the week and we just haven’t made it much beyond quick hellos in passing. 

But in one of these passing conversations in our adjancent driveways over the summer, my neighbor Donna and I got to talking somehow about junk in our houses and how it multiplies over time, etc.  She suggested a joint garage sale and, at the time, I thought it was great.  Yes, we said, let’s do that in the fall before it gets too cold out.

So Donna called me yesterday and, apparently, the time is now.  As in, next weekend.  I admire her ambition because, I think — at least from what she described — she is as ill-prepared as I am to get this together in a week.  But it’s now or never (well, now or springtime) and next weekend is the only time we could get our schedules to align in October. 

This seems like a bit more than I can deal with right now.  If you saw my basement, you might cry for me.  But I hate, HATE the clutter and we are hoping to refinish the basement before Christmas, so this seems to be the best motivating force we could have.  Go Donna.

Donna and I agreed to see how much respective progress we could make this weekend in getting our stuff organized enough to hit the Go button.  It’s going to be an interesting weekend. 

I’ll fill you in after the Official Assessment of Plausibility.  And with that, I’m fairly confident I’ll have an opportunity to cover one of the core yin and yang debates in my marriage:  Keep vs Toss.  More to come.

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Street Fair, Suburban Style

It’s so badly named — maybe that’s why I initially dismissed the notion of FestiFall.  Maybe it sounds too much like Festivus (“It’s time for the airing of the grievances!”). I also had no idea the scale of this thing, this street fair on steroids that occuppied our suburban downtown last Sunday.

I hated street fairs when I lived in the city.  They were annoying — rerouting us in our car to go around the street closures, slowing us down on foot trying to navigate the crowds.  People loved the food but it grossed me out (the Street Meat most of all).  People, apparently, also loved to buy socks and underwear off the street and get chair massages in the middle of Amsterdam Avenue.  Me, not so much.

But there we were, checking out FestiFall and, for reasons I can’t quite pinpoint, it didn’t bother me at all.  Well, except the name. 

First, it never hurts when you find something that a three year-old loves.  My son was beside himself with excitement over the train ride.  The driver looked like he may have just made bail, but no matter — father and son had a great time circling the bank parking lot.

And the baby kicked back, remaining a total trooper, despite us totally disrespecting her nap time so as not to sacrifice our killer FestiFall parking spot.  Priorities.

Our son then surprised both of us by scaling the forboding “Tree House” — you know, those massive inflatable slides that defy inertia and gravity.  He’s kind of skittish about a lot of things, so we were totally skeptical that his “I want to go on the slide” would actually result in a trip down to completion.  Score one for the three year-old…he was a champ, though I was convinced by his face that he had that moment of inertia and gravity doubt on the way down.  I’m sure he must have envisioned himself launching off the slide into the middle of Elm St.

Here’s his moment of truth.  See him way up there?

On the shopping front, no underwear or socks for sale.  No chair massages.  Lots of home improvement companies — general contractors, landscapers, masons.  So there was my husband, comparison shopping for a finished basement in the middle of a street fair.  But I managed to pick up some great photographs of Spain and Portugal from a local artist that I think may be the missing links to pull the family room together.  I’ve looked high and low — who knew to scour the FestiFall (ugh, the name) for home decor?

And, last but not least, if you’ve never had a deep fried Oreo, you’re really missing out.

Yeah, I know it looks like fried calamari here but it was damn good.  Maybe Street Meat is not too far in my future after all.

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First Day of Pre-School

Glad to report that everything went as well as it could have.  For me, that meant no tantrums, no potty accidents and the inclusion of a train table in the classroom.  Score.

I was nervous about this transition, only because it’s one of many that we’ve thrown at my son over the last few months .  Along with the move itself came the last new school, a nanny in our house for the baby, etc.  And he’s just not great with change.  This is a kid who has been in full-time day care since the age of 4 months, so the anxiety wasn’t about him being away from home during the day.  It was having to explain that this was “a different new school” after he was still getting used to the day care place we had used for the last 5 months since our move to the burbs.  And that was my struggle — I just didn’t love that last place but wondered if we should move him again and have him deal with another transition.  Financially, it was just ridiculous to go on paying for full time day care *and* a nanny (for our 1 year old) — but it was where we could place him at the time we moved and I didn’t want him just sitting home all day.  The boy needs to burn his energy with other like-minded 3 year old maniacs.  Dirt.  Trains.  Running.  Running faster.  Spitting.  More trains. All that good stuff.  So, anyway, the day care was fine for a few months until the school year started — and that bought us more time to potty train for pre-school…in theory…let’s file that under “ongoing challenges that I’m told one day will pass.” 

So there was a lot of chat in the house for the last week or so about the new school.  We drove him past it a few times, let him see the nice flag outside with the teddy bear (he liked that).  We read the letter together from his teachers last week, letting him know how excited they were to meet him (indifference).  We went shopping for a new lunch bag but, always late to the game on these things, found only barren shelves in the Back to School section of Target.  Oops.  (But I did get some other great items that day…)

And then yesterday, I worked from home so that I could bring him for the big first day.  I kept talking it up but the kid is on to me, kind of mentally raising one eyebrow at my over the top enthusiasm, as if to say “Lady, take it down a notch.  You’re not fooling anyone.”

He got a little dressed up for the occasion.  I kind of thought he looked like he was off to work (maybe at some hip web developer internship or something).

I left my usual 5 minutes to arrive somewhere that is 5 minutes away.  Not smart.  Let’s just say I vastly underestimated the flashmob that “First Day of Preschool” means in our new town.  The kids were really decked out.  They all had sweet looking backpacks (Oops — do we need one?  He’s only 3.  I guess I’ll repurpose the Thomas one at home that is used for train storage).  They all had both parents with them (Shit.  Called P — we both felt bad — and then quickly justified with “Yeah but he’s been going to day care forever — this isn’t his first time off to school.”).  Oh and some had grandparents there too for the big event.  Lots of pictures everywhere (Check.  At least I brought my camera.) — we waited in line to take the requisite shot in front of the pre-school sign.

So, because all of town was there, and all in their large SUVs, the place was crazy.  No parking anywhere.  Swarms of families.  A total zoo.  My nanny was in the passenger seat checking out the routine and kept saying nervously “Please tell me it’s not like this all the time,” undoubtedly imagining herself toting my 1 year-old through this exercise twice a day.

We went inside, my son’s hand in mine, and he was fine — covered his ears a bit, which is his new nervous response to any uncertain situation — but seemed genuinely curious.  We found the appointed Teddy Bear room (Really?  Do we have to do this as parents?  “Oh my son is in AM Teddy Bears.”  So awkward.  How about Room 202?)

The moment I saw the train table in the classroom, I knew he’d be fine.  Amen.

He refused to wear his name tag around his neck (no surprise there) but, being the day care veteran that he is, immediately demanded an inspection of his cubby’s location.  We checked it out and he approved.  Back to the train table.  I watched from afar and wondered how long it was going to take for him to move from happy about this to annoyed that it did not have all of his preferred engines in place.  It took about 2 minutes (“But they don’t even have Percy.  Where are all of the engines and their coal tenders?”). 

But he was fine and off I went (after showing him again where the potty is, praying that he would not have an accident on Day One).  They only kept him an hour (this will be the case all week) in the morning — so we went home, had lunch, talked about his new friends and more commentary on the lackluster train table — then went back for an hour of the afternoon session.  All the while, I had medium-sized fires popping up at the office and  was begging my assistant to find a way to move a call I’m hosting across 4 countries — “Just buy me 15 minutes so I can pick up my son” — so that I can be there for the end of the school day.  My Blackberry was buzzing, ringing and smoking as I walked into the afternoon classroom (the PM Kittens — again, really?).  And I just wanted so badly, in that moment, to be a stay at home mom who could focus on this one important thing for my son without feeling the possible early warning signs of a stroke as I shuffled work “priorities.”  (More on the SAHM pangs another time). 

But it all worked out, even if I aged 3 years over the course of the day from the running around.  Turned out my son also loved the resident guinea pigs in the classroom.  He asked me where their mommy is and I speculated that maybe she lives in another classroom.  He gave me the “mentally my eyebrow is up” look again and said:  “No.  I don’t fink so.  I fink she’s at work.”  Hm.  My first reaction was how cute that was.  Then I was proud that he thinks of women as working role models (so progressive — oh please, justify much?).  And then I was just plain sad that was his first thought about where someone’s mommy would be.  It bothered me, though the blow was lessened by what he said next:  “But she’ll come see the babies later.  Mommy always comes back.” 

And then he dragged me back in the classroom (now empty) to show me the defects of the train table in detail. 

One more required photo outside (now he’s losing steam) and back home to give the baby a full recap.

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Sunday Morning at the Y

Glad to report that neither my son nor my husband disliked the parent-child swim class that I signed them up for as much as I had anticipated.  It was 50/50 as to who was going to be more annoyed with me for this, but they had a great time. 

I did it to avoid a repeat of last winter, which felt both endless and claustrophobic.  This was largely because we had a total lack of foresight and planned no structured activities for a highly energetic toddler.  That was sort of a bad equation, especially in what was then our 700 square foot apartment with an infant too.  So, anyway, I figured a weekly Sunday morning class of sorts would get us all up and out for a while.  In my head, I had this great plan to tie in a nice family breakfast out in town, but let’s just say that was total disillusionment for a variety of reasons.  Maybe next week.

So this was our first trip to the local Y in town.  Very nice, if not a bit overwhelming with the amount of stuff you can sign up for.  It was pre-caffeine for me, so I didn’t trust my clouded judgement and decided to forego any other enrollment for now.

No photos to show of the big first swim class but not for lack of trying.  As I started to take out my camera, some obnoxious mother walked up to me and pointed right to a sign that gently reminded me no photography is allowed inside the Y.  Um, OK — are you the Hall Monitor or just frustrated with the apparent lack of authority in your life?  So, no shots to share, except for my son’s first membership card.  Three shots later (not out of vanity but a combination of technical error and closed eyes), he got his plastic.  We are now his guests for admission (we’re not members), which is sort of how life with kids feels anyway.

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