New Neighbo(u)rs

 

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

– Mr. Bennett in “Pride and Prejudice” (Jane Austen)

Too Little, Too Late

We hadn’t even officially moved into our new place when it occurred to me that the people living on the third floor weren’t the most responsible tenants in the world. The first-floor apartment, which was to be ours, had been vacant for some time and the second-floor one had brand-new tenants in it. Yet two of the garbage cans were filled to the brim and, in the heat of the summer, were growing quite rank. Once I saw that the other residents of our street had brought out their trash and recycling, I wheeled the heavy, odiferous bins down the driveway and parked them near the curb.

Not long after moving in, I came home to find cat litter spilled on the stairs leading up to the second and third floors. I smelled it before seeing it. It wasn’t pretty. After a few hours with no sign of a kitty litter clean-up crew , I taped a note to the door leading to the outside, which all the tenants use to go out to our cars. The note began “I apologize for this note.” It went on to ask the offending party to please clean up. Our very kind second-floor neighbor left me a note the next morning saying he wasn’t sure it was theirs but had cleaned it up, anyway. I had an inkling it wasn’t theirs. I had no idea which of my neighbors had cats, but I just don’t see how it’s possible to walk downstairs with a trash bag leaking dirty cat litter and not know it.

It turned out there were two women in their early twenties living on the top floor, although one, apparently, had moved out, and the other had plans to do the same.  On Labor Day weekend, her dad arrived from New Jersey with his pick-up truck and—somehow unsurprisingly—blocked the driveway regularly as they filled his truck with her furniture. We spent our weekend very boringly unpacking boxes and organizing our things, barely managing to get outside, but I did notice on Sunday the greyness of the sky and the heavy humidity, confirming the accuracy of the predictions of rain. It wasn’t until the rain began pouring down in sheets that I noticed the pick-up truck parked at the back of the house, filled with our neighbor’s stuff, including her mattress and box spring.

The truck sat there for hours, and I wondered where they’d gone and why. Who fills an open pickup with furniture and a mattress on a day when rain’s been forecasted …and then leaves?

That’s a rhetorical question.

On Labor Day morning, I woke up to this

pickup at 52

and when the hub-sand got up, we couldn’t help it: We laughed. Hard.

Later that day, dad and daughter having disappeared, I found myself dealing with their detritus, breaking down boxes to put in the recycling bins, throwing out junk, and—what a shocker!—disposing of a cat box filled with… you guessed it… dirty, stinky litter.

I don’t mean to be mean. But I’m kind of glad they’re gone.

Dogs Can’t Talk

100_5400Yesterday I sat at a wooden picnic table, watching and waiting at the end of my son’s camp day to give him time to play. The kids were role-playing on one of the wooden ships in the play area; I gathered that one of the other boys was the captain and Jonah was one of the crew. I chatted with another mom, my attention shifting between her and the children; then I noticed that one of the girls had her face close to Jonah’s and was barking like an angry dog. She shook the rope he was gripping, trying to force him to fall or jump off.

“You have to leave the ship,” she told him. The boy captain watched in silent agreement.

He wasn’t in any mortal danger, so I stayed put, letting it play out. In a minute or two, he left that ship and climbed onto a different one.

“Are you all right, Jonah?” I called over to him.

He nodded. “I’m fine.”

A moment later, he came over, saying he wanted to do something else. We gathered our things and, as we left, the captain, a small boy with blond hair, asked if Jonah was still going to be part of the crew.

“I think he’s quitting,” I told him with a wry smile. “But he’ll be back tomorrow and maybe he’ll be part of your crew then.”

As we walked, Jonah told me what had happened. It mirrored what I’d seen.

She wasn’t the captain, was she?”

“No. She was the dog.”

“Since when does the dog get to kick people off the ship? And since when do dogs talk?

100_5399We discussed this for a bit, and I put forth some hypothetical responses to the girl-dog that suggested she could keep her canine opinions to herself. That night, I debated with myself. Should have stepped in, said something? If so, what would have been the right thing to say? “That’s not nice?” “What’s going on?” The little guy is 7 ½ now, and he needs to school himself in the fine art of sticking up for himself. I won’t always be sitting twenty feet away.

This morning, as we left for camp, I presented Jonah with some choice words of wisdom: Don’t take ca-ca pooh-pooh from anyone.

“Remember,” I told him. “Dogs can’t talk.

We hate to see our kids hurt. That afternoon he told me that he didn’t understand how the kids were acting. “One minute they’re your friends and then the next… they’re not.”

And when he said, “Let’s choose a different camp next summer,” it saddened me.

“You love this camp,” I reminded him. “Don’t let a few kids one summer ruin it for you.”

I’m not saying my kid is perfect, but I’ve always stepped in when I saw him mistreating someone. I’ve preached inclusion and kindness and awareness of other people. And he’s a kind-hearted, caring little guy. I’ve also let him know he doesn’t have to put up with ill treatment; when he was in pre-school, I suggested the words “If you’re not going to be nice, I’m not going to play with you.” I let him know that he could walk away from a kid who refused to play nicely and find someone else to play with. Giving our kids tools to take care of themselves is just as important as teaching them to be considerate and kind.

There are times we all face, as kids and adults, when we’re backed into a corner, when other people insist, singly or in unison, that up is down and the Earth is flat. Sometimes it’s necessary to plant our feet firmly on the deck and grasp the rigging tightly, even as it’s nearly yanked from our hands. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that dogs can’t talk.

 

When Flying is for the Birds

birdsA story hit the news this week about a Minneapolis man who, along with his elementary-school-age kids, was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight for tweeting about his rude treatment by a Southwest employee.

These days, it seems we should be full of gratitude when airlines actually deign to honor our tickets. Let’s face it: just because you’ve paid an outrageous sum for your flight, have had to usher your young kid(s ) through rather frightening, trumped-up (and arguably ineffective) security, and then hoped against hope that your flight wouldn’t be overbooked or delayed and that your luggage sent to Peru… well, none of this should lead to expectations of being treated with respect or courtesy.

Unhappy about anything to do with your flight? Get a grip. You should be grateful it wasn’t gunned down by the Russians.

Our little family just returned from a wonderful three-week trip to England, with a few days at the end in Ireland for my son and me. A bit of the trip was paid for, as the hub-sand had a conference at the University of Cambridge. We were also fortunate to have wonderful, generous friends who invited us to stay with them while in London. And yet the trip was exorbitantly expensive and was a big, amazing, we-won’t-be-doing-this-again-anytime-soon deal for us.

airportI am rather anal about arranging things in advance and booked the trip from Heathrow to Dublin months ahead of time, paying a total of £137 for our one-way flight on British Airways. Heathrow to Dublin takes all of 50 minutes (although they’ll tell you it takes 1 hour, 15 minutes, to cover any delays).

Almost exactly twenty years ago, I made the same trip, but from Gatwick. The train to Gatwick from London took longer than I expected, and I was late arriving at the airport. I was visiting friends who were living in Dublin and didn’t have a phone (this was in the days before cell phones and they didn’t have a land line), so I wouldn’t have been able to get in touch with them if I missed it. I remember convincing the people at check-in that I could get to the gate in time and then running like mad. I did make it, and a few other passengers and I were bussed to the airplane, which was waiting on the tarmac. It was quite an adventure.

Oh, how things have changed. As I don’t have a smart phone and it would have been difficult to get my phone to work abroad, a kind friend in London let me borrow an old, extra phone of his, but I’d returned it to him the previous night. Then the hub-sand and I stayed up organizing and packing our belongings, falling into bed well after midnight.

guardsThe next afternoon, after racing out to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace (which Jonah very much wanted to see), the lad and I lugged our suitcases from Northern London to Heathrow. This trip involved a bus, two tube trains, and a couple of stairwells, and we sweatily arrived at Heathrow at around 4:35 pm.

There were kiosks for checking in as well as a queue for the luggage drop and I wasn’t sure which to do first. So I asked the British Airways employee stationed by both.

She shrugged and smiled a wide smile. “It’s entirely up to you.”

Oh. I see. Thanks for that tidbit of helpful information. We got into the luggage drop-off line. And then I saw it, posted on the board:

“Check-in closes 45 minutes before flight departure.”

Our flight was to depart in… you guessed it… 45 minutes.

I told Jonah to stay in the queue, bolted to the check-in kiosk, grabbed my glasses, grabbed my reservation… and the machine refused to check me in.

I returned to the same employee, who went away and came back to say she was sorry, but the flight was closed. Then she waved me in the direction of another counter, mumbling something about being put on the next flight, at 6:55 pm.

noah_york_072014But dear oh dear. That counter had one person behind it, and several young men in line with their bags strewn across the floor, as though in full camp-out mode. I remembered my promise to Jonah: “When we get to Dublin, we’ll go out to dinner, take a short walk, and then go back to the hotel and relax.” It was toward the end of our trip and we were tired. We needed a break.

I asked Jonah to stay with our luggage once more and went for help. And more employees did come, but by then, another line of passengers had formed. I was frustrated and exhausted and when we finally got up to the counter I was very angry. And then I was told that they could board us on the subsequent flight, but it would cost a fee of more than £200.

No. I’ve paid for our flight. I’m not paying you any more.”

The manager was called, and was she a piece of work. Nasty and uncaring is putting it mildly. She didn’t even acknowledge my child, who was standing beside me, wondering what was going on and why the adults were losing their minds. When I finally relented, because the manager had threatened to call security (I had said I wouldn’t move until they put us on the flight) and because my child was now terrified and crying, I was informed that the charge was more than £500.

“But she said it was two hundred something!”

“That’s per ticket.

Let’s just be clear, American readers: that’s an additional $850-900. For a 50-minute flight. That was already paid for.

My son and I walked away from the British Airways counter in tears.

kilkenny_x Ultimately, we did get to Dublin, but not until the following morning. I was able to book a flight on Aer Lingus for just under £500 (what a bargain!). But I have learned some lessons from my experience:

1. British Airways’s motto, “To fly. To serve.” is not meant to imply it intends to fly or serve its passengers. Caveat emptor. Their “customer relations” department, which has not yet acknowledged my complaint, seems designed to ensure that relations with customers suck.

2. It’s time to get a smart phone, whether I want one or not. The world is making it impossible to live without one.

3. Crying in front of your young child is hazardous. (Jonah to Mommy in Heathrow airport: “Mom. Get a hold of yourself!” Yes. He is seven going on 15.)

4. Flying… is sometimes for the birds.

 

Images, from top to bottom: 1. © Yongnian Gui | Dreamstime.com; 2. © Zacarias Pereira Da Mata | Dreamstime.com; 3. Guards do their changing thang at B.P., July 17, 2014; 4. Sir Jonah prepares to take on the entire airline industry, York, July 2014; 5. We did make it to gorgeous and fascinating Kilkenny, Ireland, no thanks to British Airways.

 

 

On Father’s Day

Big Boy, Little Boy

papasday061514This morning Jonah and I got up late but earlier than Papa (whew!), so we raced up the stairs to grab the cards and the wrapping paper. There were three cards: one from me, one from the boy, and one from the kitties (which I know is ridiculous, but the kitty on the front of it looked so much like our fur babies we had to get it). We filled them out, sped into my bedroom closet, and retrieved the Father’s Day gift where I’d hidden it. I then knelt on the carpeted floor of the closet to wrap while Jonah placed a sign near where Papa slept. The sign warned him not to leave the room because of an electrical mishap. I wasn’t 100% confident it would work.

“Can you also make a sign for the closet door?” I asked.

sign on doorJonah raced out and in a moment was back with a sign that read “do not Enter,” the effectiveness of which was limited by his having taped it at the eye level of one of our cats.

“Are you ready?” Jonah asked.

“Not yet. Almost. Do me a favor and find out what time it is.”

He raced out again and was back in a flash. “Nine twenty.”

“Okay… Oh no — was that Papa groaning?”

“Let me see.”

A moment later: “Yes.”

“Is he up?”

“No.”

When I finished, Jonah seized his sheathed, plastic toy sword. It was decided that he would march in front and I would follow, carrying the gift and cards. He said he didn’t know a Father’s Day song, so we marched silently, with enormous grins on our faces. We reached the living room, but Papa wasn’t there yet. We heard the toilet flush.

“Do over! Do over!” I whispered frantically, and we fled back to the closet, laughing.

Once in retreat, standing in formation behind my little guy, who was peering out the closet door in his mismatched jammies, sword dangling by his side, I hoped to remember this moment forever.

“Let’s go!” I said, and again we marched, this time reaching the living room together with Papa.

“Happy Father’s Day!”

cardsJonah’s card, which he picked out himself, was a Peanuts one in which Snoopy slides over to hug Charlie Brown when you open it. The hub-sand was touched by that—how could he not be?—and immediately reached out and gave Jonah a hug. It was sweet the way the kid signed it for both of us—he is really into writing my name these days. Papa opened the cats’ card next and was amazed at how like our kitties the cover-cat was. He didn’t seem anywhere as impressed with the fact that our cats had written in it. My card was sort of plain and simple, but I liked it for that. I am fully cognizant that cards are a cheesy way to convey a sentiment, but they’ve always seemed cheery to me, so they remain a part of our holiday celebrations, for better or for worse.

We walked to a local cafe for brunch and then to the farmer’s market and made our way back home again. It’s a beautiful, perfect day after a week of rain, and we’re so thankful to Mother Nature for making it that way. The sun is up, the sky is blue; it’s beautiful, and so are you. Dear boys, thanks for being in my life.

 

These Cats Keep Me Sane

thingTwo0514I read somewhere that a kitty who is shy around people does best in a home with another cat who is human-friendly. This allows the shyer one to observe feline-human interactions and grow used to humans’ strange and mind-boggling ways. We have most definitely seen this play out with our kitties. Jonah chose Thing One from the shelter and, from the get-go, the fur baby was comfortable sitting on Jonah’s lap, allowing himself to be stroked. Thing Two has always been far more reluctant and, to this day, would hands-down be voted Most Likely to Dart Off at the Slightest Provocation.

It must be said that the hub-sand was a reluctant participant in the cat adoption process, but I was insistent and even went so far as to promise Jonah a cat when we moved from our house into the apartment. I felt it was important for him, as an only child, to have pet companionship. And of course a cat requires far less commitment than a dog. You don’t have to rush home to get the pooch out for a walk, you can leave for a weekend without too much trouble, etc. So although I’ve always considered myself a dog person, I realized it was a good thing the boy wanted a kitty.

Now, although I continue to love love love dogs, I am very much relishing having these cats share our lives. We laugh about how the two of them will rush in when one of us is on the toilet, how they slink around our legs, expecting to be stroked, Thing One even jumping right onto my lap for some love. Thing One, you see, is my extra-special buddy. He sticks close to me while I clean the litter box and attacks the broom while I sweep up. Thing Two is still shyer around me but if I sit on a particular step on the stairs, he’ll come and let me pet him. I often turn him on his back, gently, and rub his spectacularly furry, stripy, soft-as-anything belly, the loveliest belly on Earth.

2things0514While Thing One is my special buddy, Thing Two has chosen the hub-sand as his special friend. He likes to keep him company as he works, and this morning, as my husband walked toward his desk, Thing Two rushed past him, jumped on his chair, and sprawled across it, looking up at him. He likes to lie on the back of the chair while the hub-sand is at his computer, but he also climbs on the desk, and once somehow pressed buttons on his cell phone. Thing One does this to me, as well: He climbs on me as I type, often standing on the table, his back right under my chin. My cat beard.

Shrinks will tell you that petting a furry critter is soothing, and holding one of these guys is for me a form of meditation. I love to rock them in my arms and give them kisses. They are fuzzy, they are sweet, and the only downside is getting fur up my nose.

While I’ve had cats before, I’m finally getting why people are cat people, why they talk about their cats so much, and why these creatures are so beloved. I admit that while I’ve always liked them, I’ve up until now relegated them to a sort of secondary status when it comes to having a pet. Never again.

Maybe I’m in a particularly cat-friendly time of life, one in which their calm and zen-like ways are especially appealing. I gaze at Thing Two basking in the sun on the window sill and a special peace flows through me, a respite from all the insanity in the world: mass shootings, kidnapped girls, global warming, misogyny, racism, homophobia, general nastiness. I hold one of them and find I can be in the moment. This allows me to cease worrying, to let go, to stop trying to control things that can’t be controlled.

I believe I’ve achieved Cat Nirvana.

Photos: Top: The gorgeous Thing Two; Bottom: Thing One (left) and Thing Two.

 

Not Even Remotely About Mother’s Day

Barfarama

Mama_Thing1_051014

So we seem to have survived the Stomach Bug from Hell, which wiped the three of us out at various times and to various extents over the course of last week. The strangest day was Wednesday, when I woke up and recognized at once that I was really, really sick, announced that I was really, really sick, and then learned that the hub-sand was also really, really sick. This last is particularly bee-zarre because he is by far the healthiest and sturdiest of the three of us. He rarely gets sick and, when he does, usually gets over it quickly (which I’m sure you would agree is insufferable). But the both of us were wiped out by this thing, although he didn’t have the privilege of actually barfing his guts up, which I did several times that day.

We had planned to send the kid back to school on Thursday, but he claimed that morning that his stomach was still bothering him and hardly ate any of his breakfast. I was still exhausted and planned on staying home, so I countered my husband’s sarcastic remarks and groans about getting Jonah back to school. Once it was settled that Jonah and I were staying home, the husband got back into bed and napped.

I am so hoping we have truly left this shit behind because I’ve had about enough of being sick and am wondering if anyone is listening? Hello?! Should I attend High Holy Day services this year, is that what you’re trying to tell me? I’m beggin’ ya, please—we have a Big Trip planned for this summer and we all need to be healthy for it… especially as we won’t likely be taking another one for a looooong time.

Not a Real Woman

waterlilies051014Back in the late ’70s/ early ’80s, as part of the British punk scene, there was a band called Poison Girls whose lead singer, Vi Subversa, was a forty-something mom. She had a gravelly, nasal voice and mostly spoke the songs with the delivery of one skilled in the art of the slap down. One of these songs was called Real Woman.

I’m not a real woman, I won’t cook your food
I’m not on page 3 drinking gin in the nude

Serious guts, it took to perform these songs in front of punk audiences, y’know?

Well, I, too, am not a real woman in the sense that I’m not very interested in much of the stuff the world tells me I’m supposed to care about, which is why this blog is not full of tips for roasting chicken, getting ink stains out of your kids’ clothing, or saving money on groceries. This is not to say that I never consult the internet for tips on those sorts of things. I just don’t strive to be the source for them.

But people are serious about their tips. Don’t mess with those tips. Don’t joke about them, don’t mock them, because they are the stuff women trade on the interwebs and they are golden. For instance, if someone tells you on Facebook that she uses paper lunch bags instead of plastic ones to dispose of kitty litter, she might not appreciate it if you respond, “With or without the lunch in them?”

And here’s something else I’ve noticed: no matter how long it’s been since you graduated high school, you never really leave it behind. I imagine myself in the social room of some old-age home, hunched over a delicious book while a clique of chattering old biddies gossips about the other women. I’ll have pissed one of them off, no doubt, for daring to express my dislike of brussels sprouts or declining to play bingo, and she’ll rally her troops around her, creating a chill rivaling Elsa’s ice palace in Frozen. Somewhere in that home, though, I’ll be bound to find another forthright, book-loving, opinionated oddball, and I’ll be fine… as long as my darling comes to visit his old Mama once in a while.

Artwork by Jonah: Top: Mama and Thing One; Bottom: Waterlilies

 

Ever Notice…?

This is scientifically proven: Those red lights that take so freakin’ long to turn green when you’re sitting there staring at them? If you try to use that time to accomplish something, however small (checking a map, jotting something down, looking for something in your purse*) the light will change to green immediately. So if you’re in a hurry and find yourself at a red light? Try to get something done, and whatever you do, don’t stare at it!

trafficQuick subject shift: Have you ever sat in traffic, wondering what on earth could be its root cause? Cities pay consultants big money to study traffic patterns and then spend more money to widen major roads, build serpentine bridges over highways, add extra exits…. and yet no one has pinpointed the exceedingly obvious culprit: Left turns. How this can be so self-evident and yet never seriously studied is mind boggling. Haven’t you ever been stuck behind someone—seemingly for ages—who is attempting to make a left turn against traffic? What if—bear with me, here—we eliminated left turns completely? What if drivers had to make a series of right turns to get to where they were going? Yes, it would take that individual driver longer to get to his/her destination, but it would speed traffic up overall, thereby saving time in the long run. This idea may seem radical now, but I imagine a world with no left turns with great longing…. perhaps because I’m a visionary ahead of my time.

Here’s another brilliant idea: Have you ever misplaced your cell phone and used another phone to call it? It rings, you locate it, you go one with your day. Well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the little necessities we require—purses, wallets, keys, lipstick, packets of tissues—had numbers we could call when we misplaced them? Sure, the different numbers for each object would require some serious memorization skills, but what a difference it would make in our lives!

“I can’t find my keys. Hold on—I’ll call them.”

Hell, that’s ingenious.

Here’s another little Life Lesson I’ve learned the hard way that I’ll pass along to you out of the goodness of my heart:

contigoI have a Contigo travel mug that has served me well, and I take it with me to work every morning. As you likely know, these mugs are pretty much spill proof: you can turn them upside-down, shake them, drop them. (Go ahead… try it.) To take a sip, you press the button on the side (pictured here in red), which opens a little spout. Pretty much perfect, right? Well, not quite…. One morning a week or two ago, as I was about to cross the street to my workplace, I became aware of a warm liquid spreading across my rear. It seems my Contigo cup had fallen on its side in my tote bag and another object in my tote bag had pressed against the button, resulting in leakage. My appointment calendar was ruined, my pants had an embarrassing wet spot, my tote bag (the least of my worries) was sodden. So these cups, while brilliantly designed, are not entirely fool proof. Thus, if you are a fool (as I am on occasion), be wary and beware.

Just sayin’.

*Please note that texting while driving is never, ever acceptable.

 

Photos: Top: Rush Hour game photographed by Old Mom and © ThinkFun; Contigo cup courtesy of Contigo website and © Contigo. The author of this blog assumes both companies will appreciate the free advertising and thus will not object to the use of these images. Thanks.