Monday was a holiday. Now that my children are in school, I get how significant an extra day can be in our lives. With our current schedule, I feel like by the time my day gets rolling and I get done what I'd planned, it time to pick up the girls. Their school gets out at 3pm and there is no quick and easy way to get from SE Portland to North Portland and back. I drop the children to their preferred locations--gymnastics, my husband's studio, home--and by then, I have to think about preparing dinner. By the time dinner is eaten and the kitchen cleaned the littlest is already off to bed. We parents cap it off with wine, foot rub, Desperate Housewives, and before you know it, we start all over again. This is how time works in the family dimension: there is never enough.
Presidents' Day. Martin Luther King Day. Veteran's Day. Teacher in-service days. They have a purpose and meaning, but what most families value it as is a day to catch our collective breath.
Now that school dominates our schedule, we see less of our non-schooling friends, so on this bonus Monday, we asked a family we used to see more often to meet us at OMSI. The kids were excited to spend the day there with their buddies, I was looking forward to sipping tea and chatting with my friend and the parent-strangers I would inevitably spark conversations with. I had my snacks, my favorite mug, my soon-to-expire OMSI membership pass, and three eager children secured in the mini-van.
What I didn't have was the sense to know that everyone else in Portland wanted to catch their collective breath at the Science Museum, too. It dawned on me gradually as I looped around the parking lot, again and again. As the vans, hybrids, and wagons circled, the tension was building. I saw a few spaces open up, yet each time another car was already there, blinker on, staking their territory. Three loops through the first lot and I thought I had my first bite: a silver Nissan crossover, backing out near the entrance. I was following the designated flow of the lot's arrows. I was up next. That spot should have been mine. On the opposite side of the car, I see a person who had just pulled into the lot poised to take the space, going against the law of the parking lot arrows. I was helplessly blocked by the departing car, and arrogant bastards swooped it.
By now we were late for our meeting time, the kids were already grating on my nerves, and wasn't feeling very friendly. I waited for them to get settled in, and step out of the car, and as I passed this righteous carload I rolled down my window and shouted "Cheaters!"
We hadn't even gotten to our destination and it was already turning out the be that kind of day.
The back lot turned out to be the same warfare, only less spaces opening up and more contenders. I had a crudely hand-signed conversation with another mini-van mom about a space that we believed to be opening up because a woman was approaching her car. We both put on our blinkers, she signed, "It's mine." I signed back, "Hell no, it's MINE. I've been around this lot five times, newbie. I'm taking it over your dead body." She shook her head unbelievingly. I refused to look at her, and sat back confident and smug. When she drove off, I thought "HA! I won! Move along, sister..." only to realize that the lady with the prospective space was merely getting something out of her car, not leaving, and I was the last to realize it. I was left feeling idiotic and more irritated that ever.
My friend texted me, that they too were late, and I warned her of the parking situation. She confessed she was Day One of her period and not feeling very tolerant of the whole scene. We decided to reschedule (when is the next holiday?) Just as she bids me a nice day, a slew of spots open up and I finally rest the van in one, but was unsure of how to proceed. If the lot was this bad, how will it be in the Science playground, I shuttered to think. In my short-fused parenting frame of mind, I tried to assess if the kids "deserved" to go to OMSI at this point, or if it would be the attitude adjuster they needed.
I should interject now that the morning, prior to our departure, was far from perfect. I'd already heard the words "idiot", "shut up" and "I hate you" repeatedly--the current communication preference of the 3 and 7 year old, despite all of our constant efforts to put names to all of our "big feelings." If I took away everything they held dear, every time they expressed themselves in such a disrespectful way, not only would we never go anywhere and they would spend their days in a toyless basement eating rice cakes and water, they wouldn't learn anything about healthier communication either. It's one of those things you have to consistently encourage betterment of, but you can't allow it to become a daily battle source. I say things like "I can hear you are upset, but I won't be called names" or "You can make a request of your brother to be quieter without being hurtful" or "Hate is pretty strong word to use over a crayon. You are frustrated, I get it." Christ, I am such a fucking mom.
Back to our morning. Husband and I had made some fair and respectful requests to our oldest that she was rebelling hard against. Both expressing one's individual style AND dressing properly for every occasion are important to me, and we are constantly trying to teach this balance to our budding young women. But seriously, a gothic lace veil, a dog collar, dark eye make-up and bright red lipstick is NOT appropriate for a play date at OMSI: YOU ARE NINE YEARS OLD. My final offer was make-up off before we leave, fine if you wear all black, but the veil comes off by the time we park. She agreed, until the final moment, and that is probably what pushed it over the edge for me.
I usually hate disappointing the children, but by this point they were being so obnoxious and ungrateful, and I was feeling too tapped to be compassionate for their side of things, that I pulled the plug on the plan with little tenderness and allowed the disappointment dust fly, then to settle.
Luckily, because my husband owns his own business, I can always drop a kid or two there when I want to thin the pack. Our oldest is already an invaluable employee, who can do a multitude of task including making sales and running credit cards. Regulars know her by name, and kids that come in really connect with her. Best of all she prefers to be there, working side-by-side with her dad. She seemed perfectly happy when I told her dropping her off there was the next plan of action. Isadore insisted she stay, too, which felt like an abandonment to her brother who spends his days pining away for a sisterly playmate. Poor guy, this was supposed to be his day for that.
What I wanted to do from there, I wasn't so sure. Suddenly, every other kid-friendly destination seemed just as volatile and over-run as the science museum. Was I up for that? My feet were cold. I was still harboring hurt feelings from the kids. I thought about going home again but husband's sister and her 4-year-old had been living with us for 10 days. They had successfully hit our last nerves and the siblings had had a heated argument early that morning. Before I left I had seen bags by the door; they were likely departing. I didn't know what the scene would look like there if we were to show up and I didn't even have the energy to text and ask her what her plan was. I was sure the mere wording of the reply would annoy me so I was stuck in avoidance mode. I wanted a space to be grumpy and not have to take my chances dealing with anyone, family or stranger. I had four hours to kill before middle-child's gymnastics class and no where that felt like home.
After 45 minutes of sitting around pondering my next move, it dawned on me. I was perfectly happy where I was: in the mini-van. I had a parking space peering directly into the studio where I could see my darling husband at work, a delicious lunch of leftover stir-fry, plentiful snacks, Stumptown two blocks away, a DVD player to entertain the boy, and a fully charged phone with Facebook and Netflix and to entertain me. This non-sexy vehicle that had been a process in itself to accept into my life, was offering me the peace and solace I was craving.
So that is what I did. I queued up Back to the Future for the boy. I kicked my shoes off and reclined my chair. I alternately blasted the heat, then killed the engine, to control the temperature. I suddenly increased my presence on the social network. I received window-visitations from the rotation of studio-dwelling family members--accepted beardy kisses and doled out snacks. Gradually, I softened to the girls who had been such a source of stress for me; by allowing myself some space to be hurt and disappointed and to show it to them in an honest, non-angry way, they really came around and were very respectful of my boundary, genuinely apologetic, and expressed some sweet compassion toward me.
Ridiculous as it sounds, I actually drove the two blocks to Stumptown to get a coffee, and came back. It was one of those I-don't-care-this-is-just-how-I-want-it type of days. I literally spent the whole afternoon in my "mini-apartment", I came to refer to it as, and you know what? It turned out to be a pretty darn good day because by the end of it, I embraced what I needed to feel nurtured even if it was a slightly comical concept. In fact, it was so successful, I'm considering making it a President's Day tradition.