I am sitting at the car dealership, amongst balloons that say “Get your way andthe highway,” having my enormous minivan serviced. I’ve been putting it off for a while, partly because my van is an indispensable tool in my average day, and partly because I wanted to put as much distance between Christmas and a huge auto repair bill as I reasonably could.
Now, dear readers, I know I blew you off last Friday, but I swear, there was a good reason. You know I wouldn’t just do that to you. I mean, I know we’ve been together for several months now. We’re past the getting-to-know-you stage, and maybe you feel like I owe you some kind of committment. I feel it too. I know this is something special, this thing we’ve got here.
But you know. I feel like we never really talk. Not really.
Let me explain my part of the story, and I promise, it’ll never happen again. At least, not in the next couple of weeks.
You see, two months ago, my dear, sweet older brother called me and proposed that we throw a birthday party for my father, who turned 80 yesterday. Our family, we don’t do small events. When my parents had their 50th anniversary, we sent them on a cruise. No, we’re not rich, and yes, we fought and fought about all the details (it’s part of our “process”) but we sent them on a very nice cruise around the Mediterranean and they had a great time, and came back with photos and souvenirs and memories. Mission accomplished.
So, I knew what my brother meant when he wanted to throw my dad a birthday party. He wanted a PAR-TAY. Because that’s what we do. And I was now in charge of it.
So you see, I was finalizing my neurotically exacting party plans last week, last Monday to be specific, while also being an adult. Besides shopping for the party, we had an appraiser coming over, I had to do the recycling, make dinner and go get my hair cut.
The appraiser showed up at the house almost 10 minutes early, which wasn’t exactly welcome since I was still trying to pick dried Honeycombs out of the living room rug and shoving Fisher Price Little People onto their bus. (Honestly, when I’m done it looks like a horrible crime scene. People are just piled on top of each other in the happiest, most colorful mass grave you’ve ever seen.) I had already hid the dirty laundry that was on the floor in the bedroom under my pillow, and the clean laundry was neatly piled on top of the bed, as though that exact pile hadn’t been sitting there for four days waiting to be put away. I took all the junk that was on the bedroom chair, threw it in the closet. Then went to my kid’s bedroom and collected the tissues from two nights of runny noses and threw them away. (This really is my best attempt at house cleaning.)
Warning to anyone who has an appraiser coming over: They take pictures.
I mean, he wasn’t really looking for anything incriminating. He was just a nice guy with regular shoes and a regular clipboard, and he had one of those little hand-held cameras. (Which frankly looked a little silly, because he was a huge guy, and I always feel like large people should have size-appropriate electronics. But that’s just me.) So it’s not like he was intimidating all by himself. But you know there’s a group of people back at the office somewhere who, over lunch or maybe during a smoke break, go through the pictures of people’s houses, pointing and laughing at the dirty stove or the circa 1985 wallpaper. But he was just being a nice guy when we had the following conversation:
Him (motioning to the fireplace with a stack of paper dolls and shredded construction paper piled in front of it): Can I take a picture of that?
Me: I wish you wouldn’t.
Him: Well, we just need it for documentation.
Me: Who’s going to look at it?
Him: No one, really.
Me: Then do you really need it?
Him: Yes. For documentation.
He got pictures of dishes in my sink, papers being sorted on the dining room table, our 1970’s mauve bathroom, our 1970’s “Party” bathroom (decorated with a pastel multi-colored spittle of 1-inch tile, and a yellow toilet and bathtub; we make it work) and some hair that was hanging out by the shower drain.
My humiliation was totally documented. I kept asking him if they documented whether there were children, and parents who worked full time. I told him all about the party I’d been planning. I don’t know if that made its way into the file. Whoever “documentation” is, they’re never coming over for dinner.
So, my friends, I collected together a four-year-old (home from school for Presidents’ Day, because we shouldn’t educate anyone on a day when we talk about political excellence), her two dolls, two bags of plastic recycling, a bag of cardboard recycling, my purse that has to be carried in a certain way or it will open and spill its contents onto the street, a couple of bottles of water, my cell phone and a set of keys. Off to the reliable minivan we went. We were en route to Sam’s Club.
I was buying some plastic water pitchers for the party. I was putting off this particular task because I was convinced that there was a cheaper option somewhere in the world. (By the way, if you ever need to buy the world’s cheapest plastic water pitcher, and you have a little bit of lead time, give me a call.)
As I was driving there, I called the Sinatra Tribute Artist. Yes, we hired a Sinatra Impersonator for my dad’s birthday. (Over the top? Perhaps. Hey, how many times do you turn 80?) Also, my friend Elyse was meeting me for pizza at Sam’s before we did our shopping.
I had talked to the Sinatra guy before, and he’s a pretty on-the-level guy, but like most of my people (and by that, I mean Italians from New Jersey) he’s a talker. So it probably wasn’t a wise idea to call him from the van on the way to meeting Elyse.
We got caught up in the magnificence of Frank Sinatra and music from the 1940’s and 1950’s for a long while, and the virtues of being from North Jersey, particularly Hoboken, until we finally settled into the actual negotiation phase. At this point, I’ve been parked in front of Sam’s Club for about ten minutes, because I was going to be a responsible person and show up early.
Me: So, it’s only about five days til the party. How about you give us a break on the price?
Him: Well, what’s your budget for entertainment for this event?
Me: I gotta tell you, I’m on the upper end of my price range with the number I put in the email.
[My phone is beeping. Elyse is in the parking lot, texting me. I check very quickly between breaths and see a message that says "Are you here?"]
Him: So how about I give you more time? What if I show up early, and I take a few pictures, and get the show started early.
My daughter: Mommy, why are we still in the CAR?
Me: One second, Honey.
Him: Who, me?
Me: Wait. No, not you. Wait. (If I’d been in a quiet office, in a suit, looking at him menacingly across a conference room table, I’d have done the thing where I look slightly disappointed, and been silent for a while. And then I’d have told him that I’d have to think about it. Instead I said:) Ok, more time is good. I have to meet a friend, like, five minutes ago. I’ll call you later.
Him (I actually heard him think “Cha-CHING“): Ok, looking forward to it!
Pizza for lunch at Sam’s Club is fun if, say, you’ve been stuck on a small, lonely island because your FedEx plane crashed into the Pacific, and you’ve been eating crab and drinking coconut milk for three years. Otherwise, the cafe exudes a fluorescent sensation of plastic mediocrity. It’s the perfect place for two moms to meet with their children. We ate pizza, shushed our kids, and picked things up off the floor as our children exploded flying Lego figurines around us and the other Sam’s Club Cafe patrons.
I have to tell you, there are people who like children, who have children, whose children have children, and those people are wonderful, patient human beings who realize that tethering a small child to a single table in an eating area is simply not an option. In the winter, when you haven’t been able to take them outside to work off the exhaustive energy that is childhood, it just seems cruel to tell them to sit still.
There are other people, and we refer to them as nice ladies or nice gentlemen. As in, “Peter, please don’t throw things that might hit that nice lady.” or “Lauren, please put down that nice gentleman’s scarf. It’s not a jump rope.” If we refer to them in the politest terms possible, we are hoping to avoid being reported to the authorities.
We finished a distracted lunch. Recipes were exchanged, family issues were excavated as briefly as possible, and shopping was accomplished.
I did the recycling after lunch, came home and played with my daughter and her Batman Cave. I am a little annoyed that everything for girls is pink and purple, and that when my daughter sees something cool on tv that’s not pink and purple, she asks if it’s also for girls. “Of course it is,” I say, “because girls can shoot and explode things too.” My daughter may grow up to have a slightly destructive streak, but she’s going to kick some ass wherever she ends up.
I’ve noticed, though, a difference between when she plays with Batman and her male cohorts play with Batman: She constantly tries to rehabilitate the Joker. Eventually, Batman, Robin and the Joker realize that they’ve all had a terrible misunderstanding, and they all go to the playground together. That’s actually my favorite part of playing with her. I also love when she incorporates her Pooh figurines into the story, because we get to put Pooh in jail, and Tigger and Piglet ride a bitchin’ motorcycle into the Hundred-Acre Woods.
I made a pizza for dinner, because pizza is one of the world’s most perfect foods, and you can have it mulitple times a day. A big thumbs up to Pillsbury for the pre-made dough in a can. (A big thumbs-down to Pillsbury for making it sound like someone’s just been shot every time the can is opened.)
My husband, Scott, came home, dinner was eaten, and he took over parenting duties as I got ready to go to get my hair cut.
I have been going to the same person for my hair, for thirteen years. I know all about her kids and her partner, I’ve been with her during the platinum blonde years (her, not me), the dark hair years, and now the short-spiky blonde/black years. She was pregnant the year after me, and every time I go we have pictures to show each other. She’s an awesome stylist, she knows how to cover my gray hair in a way that doesn’t make me look like I’m two months from retirement, and she’s a friend. But because it’s almost an hour away, since I’ve had my kid, I go about once every 10 months. I have six-inch-long roots.
I broke down and made an appointment for Monday, though, because when I go home for my dad’s party, I’m determined to fool everyone into believing that I take care of myself, and that I always look fabulous and trendy, even though my actual life is a vacuum for the concepts of fabulous and trendy.
Her: How do you want it this time? Your mile-long hair, as usual?
Me: Nope. Chop it. I’ve surveyed four of my friends, and they all say the same thing. It’s time.
Her: Really? (Actual trepidation in her voice.) You’re not going to cry, are you?
Me: No way. Get me a wash ‘n’ wear haircut, pronto. I want to be out of the house five minutes after I take a shower.
Got my hair cut in a choppy, edgy cut that can totally go “Mom” for the parent-teacher conferences. Got home at ten, started my actual work that I get paid for, and went to bed at 2:41am.
So that was Monday. It was a regular day in the life of a mommy, on a week when I was planning everything, and all my days went like that. So I’m sorry I missed my column.
My van is done now, and so I have to go. But before I go… we have to talk. I know I’m just one half of this relationship, but I think we’re having a problem communicating.
You never call, You never write. I feel like we’re growing apart. My question pile is running a little low, so, when you get the chance, write a girl a letter. Is there any inscrutable topic that you’d like me to make more clear? Is there anything you’re clear on that you’d like me to muddy-up? Perhaps you’ve been looking at the canisters on your kitchen counter and wondering who the person was, who decided we only needed to have flour, sugar, coffee and tea on our counter tops? Drop me a line, I’m here for you, and I’ll talk to you next week!
Ceil Kessler is a busy mom who juggles a marketing and business intelligence consulting firm with a busy mom life and a vegetarian society. She also is going through a mid-life crisis that has her writing at every available opportunity. She will write for food and/or rent. If you have something that needs to be written and some cash, she knows where you can spend it. She has also started writing reviews of exactly one television show (“White Collar”, now on hiatus), and like everyone else, is in the middle of writing a book. Follow her on Twitter at @ceilck.
Update: Names have been changed in this article so that later in life, these people may distance themselves from me as they wish.