Thursday, December 20, 2012

You Are Here

I was driving yesterday with my kids in the backseat when I realized I had just pulled in front of a police car. When his lights started flashing, my spine jammed straight up as I told the kids nonchalantly, We're going to get pulled over. Everything's OK. Don't worry.

At a stop, I watched in my rearview as the officer behind me turned on his siren before doing a sharp u-turn away from us in the opposite direction. OH GOOD. I relaxed back into my seat. Having an idea of why I was concerned, Daisy explained helpfully, "They probably took a picture of your license plate, and they'll find you later. That's why I want to be a police when I grow up - you get to use clues to solve mysteries." Thanks, kid.

I guess the simplest way to explain how I got here is I stepped into a DMV, insurance, registration, lost-ATM-card, misplaced-mail-key, official-mail-overflow quicksand about a year ago while my attention was on my job, raising my daughters, and working toward better options for us. There were signs in the spring, but I didn't notice how bad it really was until this fall, when I was pulled over in front of my apartment - without the kids this time - for expired registration. It was one of my more rude run-ins with the law.

The officer threw down a reality check, "Do you realize I can impound your car a month from now if you don't renew your registration?" before sending me into an existential crisis, "And look! Is this even your car? Your insurance covers a different model! That means this car isn't even insured!" What the? I glanced around to make sure I was in the right car. He decided to let me off with a mere fix-it ticket, and I shakily got on the road to forget about almost everything except work, kids, and moving.

On the way home after a late work night in November, I was pulled over again. The officer was polite but concerned, "Do you realize there is a warrant out for your arrest in two counties?" Oh no. "In some counties, they won't ask questions - they'll cuff you and impound your car. You look like a hardworking lady that doesn't need to go to jail. Make this a priority." [Gulp.] OK.

After fighting a sudden urge to see Smokey and the Bandit,  I did; I faced the box of guilt I'd been stuffing mail into since late spring. The box had been a fixture in the corner of my daily life for months. It was in the hotel room during Fourth of July with Bindy and the girls. It was in my car as I zigzagged to and from the apartment, condo, and work. Finally, I opened that puppy. There were plenty of bills I had been paying all along but there were a few surprises. For example, I owed the DMV a few hundred dollars, payable immediately, because my registration had been suspended. There was a band of red across the top of the official notice so I knew I was really in trouble.

Out of checks, I tried to pay online, but I was now in the bad category that didn't have this privilege.  I went to my bank to get a cashier's check for $342 made out to the DMV, then I stopped at a UPS store, the closest mail outlet. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I hesitated before handing over the envelope - the man was fully engaged in telling a story to his buddy, and I just had a feeling.

Three weeks later, the DMV had not received the check. The good news is, I learned I actually owe exactly half of what I sent them. I was so excited when I learned the bill was lower from the DMV rep on the phone that I had to ask, So, what do you guys do when people overpay? The rep reassured me, "Don't worry, we will cash the check and send you a check for the difference . . . " Awesome! "But wait, I haven't received anything from you yet!" I know, I know.

Oh yeah. And that's the bad news - nothing is resolved. Still. I pray every time I get in my car: please let me get to my destination as planned. And keep everyone on the road safe. And give me the power to break the space-time continuum so I can be punctual for once in my life. Amen.

It took me two days of phone calls to BofA with conflicting instructions to determine that the cashier's check had not been cashed and what I needed to do was what my mother had advised all along - go into the bank where you got the cashier's check. Fine, I thought there was this thing called the internet that took over the inside of banks, but whatever; fighting your mother is fighting yourself. I went in and waited in line. I explained that I needed to put a stop payment on a cashier's check. The teller directed me to a manager sitting at a desk.

I approached the desk and explained that I needed to put a stop payment on a cashier's check. The manager, who looked to be a couple years out of high school, motioned for me to sit down while he made a phone call. Then he explained the good news. There's usually a 90-day waiting period for making a stop payment on a cashier's check. In this case, because the amount was relatively low, we just need to wait 30 days, which will be Friday 12/21. I had a knee-jerk, stressed out moment, But you don't understand! I need this money to pay my car registration yesterday and I don't have more cash for this right now. He was unmoved, "I'm sorry to hear that, ma'am. There are laws about how cashier checks are handled, blah, blah, blah . . . "

The bank manager went on, "I will need you to fill out paperwork and have it signed by a notary." He had asked to see my ID, which had just expired last week, when I had first sat down at his desk. "Of course, the notary won't sign anything with an expired drivers license, so you'll need to take care of that first. Hopefully, you will have that by Friday."

Yeah sure, you betcha, kid. My driver's license renewal was another surprise from the box, which was further complicated by my change of address, which was even further complicated by losing my new mail key for the first couple weeks at the condo. During that time, I also managed to not forward my mail from the apartment, though I thought I had.

So basically, sinking a little but I'll find a way out. I always do.



Sunday, December 16, 2012

Joy and Sorrow

Yesterday, I received an infinitecampus message - delivered as email and voicemail - that it was recommended to keep my children away from the news, which is how I learned about the shooting in Connecticut.


Then a woman said, "Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow."

And he answered:

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say, "Joy is greater than sorrow," and others say, "Nay, sorrow is the greater."
But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep upon your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weigh his gold and his silver, needs must your joy or your sorrow rise or fall.

kahlil gibran

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ignore Him

We were debriefing in the car after school yesterday when Daisy announced, "There's a boy named Nick in my class who likes me, Mom! Isn't that a coincidence? Grandpa knew a guy named Nick . . . and you did . . . and now me."

I'm not sure Grandpa was talking about a boy named Nick in his insult rhyme, but YOU MAY NOT tell that kid he's a nut with a big, fat butt!

"I won't!"

Promise me!

"I promise!" Daisy was cracking up when I was making her promise because she's not likely to try out "Nick is a nut." She didn't inherit my naturally aloof nature, providing the proper amount of detachment and cluelessness necessary to be unintentionally harsh at times. Daisy's 4th grade teacher said recently that I should be proud of how sweet and considerate my daughter is in class; she called her a model of kindness.

I asked Daisy how she knew this Nick character like-liked her.

"Because there's this song called Gangnam Style . . . "

Oh no.

"And Nick was singing a part from the song that says, 'hey sexy lady!' while he looked at me and nodded his head and smiled. And a girl in class asked him if he liked me, and he said, 'Yeah, I like her. She's sexy.' And then the girl told me what he said at recess."

What do you think he meant by that?

"I know, right? I don't know! It was so awkward!"

Have I met this kid? What does he look like?

"Well, he has anger management issues. He has brown hair and picks his nose in class and has buck teeth."

Wow, he doesn't sound that great. Don't try to help him with the anger issues. He needs to fix those himself.

"Yeah, it's really weird. I was his friend for a few months, and he never seemed angry at school. And now he gets angry all the time."

Ignore him.


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

New Action Item for Bindy

My first grader, Violet, has been making school mornings hell again since our move. I'm already in trouble with her principal for tardies a few months into the school year. I don't even know how to convey in words how bad it is, especially if you're familiar with Violet's TV-host face. I've said this a million times before, but with other adults, away from her mother, Violet is rarely anything but charming. I've even seen her put on a happy face for her father. It's not that it's always the case, but usually, if she goes off on anyone other than her sister, she goes off on me. Especially when we have to be somewhere.

I asked Violet the other morning, exasperated, why she thinks it's OK to take out her anger on me. Without missing a beat, she exclaimed, "WHAT? You want me to be MEAN to my FRIENDS? Maybe I don't want to hurt people's feelings!"

I'm a person.


And, believe me, Bindy, I already know.

*She needs rest.
*She needs routine.
*She needs exercise.
*She needs her clothes set out the night before.
*She needs boundaries.

What if you are addressing all those needs in a slightly flawed, human way, and the kid still fights you every step: waking, dressing, eating, brushing, and leaving? Our morning routine is a noisy scuffle. I've noticed how much louder the three of us seem when we bust out the front door in the morning at the condos, as opposed to at the apartments when we at least had sirens to compete with the howling and the stomping and the slamming.

And the mooing. Whenever Violet's really annoyed with me for not giving in to her stubborn, stubborn will, she moos like an angry cow. That sound can do me in like few things can  - I have screamed til I don't make sense in the face of the mooing. When I'm in the zone, I can tease her out of it by calmly wondering where that angry cow might be. And, I'm never proud of screaming, but that kid has found one of my buttons and she's found it good.

The other day, I marched Violet to her teacher after school and told on her because she's obviously on the path to living in a van down by the river. The teacher took my cue and brought home the message to cooperate with getting ready for school in the morning in a stern voice, ending with a hug. Violet smiled brightly and looked a little pale. She is petrified of getting in trouble at school.

Then it was to Daisy's teacher for a parent conference, so I took the opportunity to tell on Violet again. Violet doesn't actually make herself late very often, but she makes her fourth grade sister, Daisy, who starts 10 minutes earlier and is held accountable for being on time, chronically late. The tardies feed into Daisy's anxiety around being behind grade level in a few of her skills. The coping strategy Daisy inherited from me is to release her stressed-out mind to fly free in the clouds, far from the light of reality. For three years now, I've heard that you can tell Daisy something in class and know she hasn't heard a thing even though she's looking right at you. Will Daisy's path even include the van? What if it's only a bench in a park? Inevitably, it's the mother's fault, so what am I going to do about her little hothead of a sister Violet?

Violet was tense with me about something tonight, and I reminded her of our daily affirmation -- "Fighting your mother is fighting yourself." It's actually been surprisingly effective at times, but she  wasn't into it, "I wish I lived with my teachuh!"

You listen to your teacher! If you didn't refuse to cooperate with me so much, your life would be a lot more pleasant. Why do you listen to your teacher anyway?

"Because she has a principal. I nevuh wanna go to the principal's!"

So if I had a principal, would you listen to me?

"Who ah you gonna get to do the job?"

Hmm . . . I don't know. Who are you scared of?

Daisy interjected, "She's scared of Bindy!"

Violet nodded in agreement, "Bindy's mean to me. Remembah when she made me put on pull-ups to go to bed because she didn't know I DIDN'T EVEN WEAR THEM ANYMO? And you saw and told huh I didn't need them? Membah that time?"

I don't really remember, but more importantly, Violet does.

So, Fair Lady Principal Bindy, (I know how you like a fancy title) we might have to set up a skype meeting with you soon because talking to you is my child's consequence. The hope still burns for Mothers for Peace, but this one can be done from the comfort of your own home. Talk soon.