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Thursday, September 30, 2010

City Gal Takes A Walk

I always feel a little dirty after publishing a blog post. You know, because I've revealed something, probably something unflattering, about myself. Something usually negative. I don't actually hate my life. Today. After all, the leaves are turning, and there are a lot of trees around here. Tourists come here to see the scenery I see everyday as I grudgingly drive hither and thither pursuing my suburban aims.  I often appreciate the open sky and the treeline, I'll have you know. Just yesterday I lived through a semi-glorious, semi-harrowing exploration of the natural beauty of Upstate New York.

Emboldened by an encounter with a woman at the dog park who told me about a great walk not too far from town, I decided to take advantage of the gorgeous day (trying to forget that it felt like spring, not fall, and to just enjoy the sun, clear sky, and weirdness of fallen leaves in the 70 degree weather). Of course I checked out the map on the interwebs before venturing out, saw the Bennett Hill Preserve of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy ( quite simple and -- most important -- basically a closed loop with only one entrance and therefore impossible, I repeat, impossible to get lost. I don't have the greatest sense of direction. In early days in Central Park,  I am compelled to admit that I started out more than once, with a child in a stroller, at 79th and Central Park West, aiming for 84th and Madison on the Upper East Side, and ended up at say, 106th and Central Park West, after crossing to within viewing distance of my intended destination. The Bennett HIll Preserve is no Central Park. One easy path, one hard path up a largish hill to a loop, all color-coded. All I needed was green to yellow, avoiding red, zip-zoop. The woman had told me it took about an hour to go up, walk the loop and return.

I found the place very easily, just alongside a charming (smelly) dairy farm (cows are louder than one might think). I believe this is the dairy farm from which our milk comes.  Anyhoo, there was one of those little sign-in boxes, which was cute, but gave me pause, as I recall some serious hikes in New Hampshire with my rock climbing friends where you have to sign in. Implication being if your body is discovered, they can identify you by your name in the log.....I signed in. I also considered calling the husband to tell him where I was since I was walking alone (!) except for one very fluffy, large dog no one takes seriously.

I brought water for myself and for the dog. Since the walk would only be about an hour, I left it in the car. (!) Then Milo and I set out along the one and only path leading to the two paths up the hill to the loop. It was a really lovely path, the first part following the edge of the meadow where the noisy cows grazed. We had to really bend under a fallen tree at one point, but that was fine. Then the path turned up the hill and wound along. I didn't see any trail markings or anything, but it was a path. Kind of steep at one point. I thought I saw a red marking on a tree and thought that was peculiar, as I had intended to take the easy path and wasn't sure now where I was. Eventually, we met up with the yellow path around the top. The intersection was marked with a pretty stile. There were two painted yellow spots on a tree right at the jointure.

Milo and I followed the yellow path, which was clearly marked, my pounding heart noted with relief. I remembered this path made the loop at the top and figured if I followed it around, we'd either get back to the stile or find the green path. So we walked. It was a narrow path, up and down, full of leaves and pine needles, and through a forest of pines and other finer limbed trees. Thoughts of how big a no-no it is to go off by yourself, especially for a woman, started intruding. I hoped the dog counted as a companion, although I doubted his, shall we say, efficacy in an emergency. Now rattled, I saw no sign of the green path, and then, indeed, saw the marks for the red path, which seemed to be taking over for the yellow path. Now I was confused and rattled. I had been on the red path on the way up, right? So I decided to retrace my steps. It had been about 35 minutes. Suddenly I thought of all the idiotic hikers who perish on seemingly benign hikes because they haven't compasses or water or even a granola bar, not to mention the seasoned travelers who get stuck in a sudden attack of bad weather on Mount Washington every summer.  Here I was, in upstate New York, serious country, and I had left my water in my car. Furthermore, I was alone, and anyone who survives childhood knows you're never supposed to go off into the woods alone. Even if you do have a large dog with you - especially since he's fluffy and people don't take him seriously.

Sweaty, panicky, but neither hungry nor thirsty, I started back. The yellow marks were on both sides of the trees, so I had no trouble, until I came to a sort of openish area amongst the pines and found myself going down. This path didn't look right. There were blue and red ties around the trees here, which I hadn't seen before - and they weren't the right colors. I couldn't see the yellow path. The markers were pretty far apart. I debated whether I should continue, since down was at least the right direction, and so maybe this was actually the easy path and I had been mistaken about the green markers. Then I flashed back to one of those hikes with my rock climbing friends (my beautiful lost young men, Steve and Phil), when Phil's girlfriend and I hiked to the rock face with them, and then the girlfriend and I tried to hike down to the car, since we weren't climbing. Tried to hike down, I say, but couldn't find the path. Blundered around in the mountains of New Hampshire and ended up climbing down through treetops and scrabbling through underbrush for two hours until we found a road and managed to eventually find the car. Scared half to death. I decided not to just wing it down this time. Providence provided an exit once, but probably wouldn't reward such stupidity twice.

I started back up to where the yellow path was supposed to be. Milo had hesitated before going down this way, after all. He probably remembered the smell. With a careful look around, I found the yellow path again, found the wonderful yellow markers again, and after another little bit, I came upon the convenient, blessed, trail-marking stile. We started down the path, which was definitely the right path, and after a few yards I saw a marker - green - painted on a tree. I had been on the right path the whole way up. I found a few more markers - green- going down. I checked the reverse side of the trees. There were no green markers visible on the way up. Vindication of a sort.

I relaxed and we walked down. Milo got to run off-leash, which was a thrill for him, and we made it to the sign-in box, where I mentioned the poor trail markers in the comments section, to our water, and to our home. Milo needed a serious grooming to remove about a million burrs, and that was my foray into the great outdoors. There will likely be a blog post about Lyme Disease one of these days.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Divorce Saturday

Thank God It's Monday.

My adored cousin L, who is about my age (once you're over a certain age, a year or so doesn't matter, now does it?), but who had kids way before I did, used to complain that she hated the weekends. At that time I spent every weekend going to bookstores and cafes, going out to dinner and movies with friends, maybe having a date here and there, sleeping late, lounging around in sweats - doing, you know, whateverthehellIwanted. Well, now my kids are the age hers were when she started saying this, and now I own a home, and now I know what she meant.

Friday night rolls around. We manage to coordinate dance drop-offs and pick-ups, get everyone home, and have a decent dinner (which I make). The husband and I, because we have such a spectacular social life, usually end up watching old Masterpiece Theater episodes and going to bed early. Saturday morning looms, after all, and I need my rest.

Saturday rolls around. It's cleaning day. It's laundry day. It's yard work day. It's grocery shopping day.  But before cleaning and shopping; there's walking the dog, buying oranges and slicing them for soccer for the 3rd grader's game; there's a photo shoot for overpriced photos of the 3rd grader's soccer team; there's the farmers' market, which I have to get to early enough that the egg lady and the bread man haven't run out.  Farmer's Market overlaps with soccer games, so the husband and I tag-team that. We reconvene at the house and start cleaning. At some point in this morass of human filth (around the toilet bowl usually), I am overcome with a rush of heated despair: while I am cleaning this- this- this object, the grass is growing, the crabgrass is dying and offering a brief interlude when we could easily pull it out and plant seed and improve the lawn before all the leaves fall down (glory of fall) and need raking; the spiders are spinning webs in the corners of all the vestibules of my house; the acorns are taking the morning to embed themselves further into the yard pursuant to their goal of turning it into a forest; the laundry needs shifting and folding; we have nothing to eat; we have to remember to get the 7th grader to her rehearsal; the lawn needs mowing, the shrubs need trimming; and there is a nature fair/river festival/craft fair/state park where I would much rather be.

Instead, I am cleaning this- this- this toilet, and I have two more, and the tiles need extra care, and really all the floors should be washed by hand; and I hate the trim on the shower door; and why are the knobs on all my kitchen cabinets gold colored? And while I'm cleaning and the yard is growing and tangling like some stop-action example of entropy, I'm unable to paint the family room a better color because I'm cleaning the ding-dong toilet and the floors and the shower (who picked these ugly bronze-like and very ornate fixtures? I would pick something very simple that wipes clean easily) and I'm just becoming hotter and hotter and hotter and it's time for a divorce now, because this is definitely not my fault that all this stuff has to be done and it has to be done on Saturday. Isn't Saturday the Sabbath somewhere?

Around noon the children, who have been pressed into various chores, are now hiding. The dog wants to play. The husband and I take off our ipods. I'm sweaty and smelly and hungry, and I want someone to give me lunch. Now. The husband may have similar feelings, but I don't want to know. Furthermore, he's not allowed to. He needs to give me lunch. NOW. Besides, there is still laundry and meal-planning, and the desire to go to the gym and the dog needs his long afternoon exercise and there is just this constant awareness that my whole life is like, well, like my backyard - plug up one chipmunk hole and and a chipmunk runs out of another one. Don't even get me started on the wildlife in the yard. Don't even get me started on the wildlife in the house. Who knew there could be so many spiders? The 3rd grader does. She tracks 'em like a zealot. We are wearing out the stair treads removing them (sometimes in a cup, with humane intent, to the outside, where they apparently immediately pitch their webs in the vestibule; sometimes crushed in a tissue, with murderous intent, right down the drain). And then there are those lovely little things I brought home from the Coop that require removing from the ceiling.

Thing is, I would much rather do yard work than clean the house. But I would much rather have a clean house than not. So while we exhaust ourselves cleaning, I am aware most unpleasantly of all the other projects not happening. The basic maintenance, and then the so-called fun stuff about owning a home: painting it to your own liking, or whatever. Some consider this sort of work fun. And don't even get me started on what I really thought I'd be doing when I owned a home (back in the 20th Century, when I even gave a thought to any of this): hiring a maid to clean the house, and consulting with a designer about the interior of it. That is so far away from me now that I'm not even exactly sure where I learned of those possibilities. Oh yeah, wait, I remember. I was raised in that kind of home. Sigh. My freelance writing career is going to have to really take off before any of that becomes possible. Divorce Saturday.

Lest you condemn me as a big fat whiner (or a short, plump one - whatever), I have to admit that my attitude might have something to do with my world view. Is that a tautology? I believe it is. I will check my dictionary later. I do understand that 'smile until you feel happy' philosophy. It just doesn't work for me. Enjoying a clean house is definitely not the same thing as enjoying cleaning it, and let me assure you, that enjoying cleaning depends a lot on whether you can afford not to.

Nevertheless, there are pleasant things about this list of chores. For example, the Farmers' Market, once I've stalked the eggs and bread, provides a pleasant outdoor interlude. I usually run into my friend Annie there, and Annie is always so much busier than I am, and so cheerful about it, that I am biting my lip even daring to complain. We take a moment to appreciate the Mushroom Guy - who has  a very charming girlfriend who is missing half of her left pinkie - but only a moment, because that is all either Annie or I can spare with such a long list of to-dos. Then we're off, our baggy housework clothes flapping around us.

And at the end of the day, there is the occasional dinner that the husband and I have been invited to, or that we have invited friends to; if not, there is a clean house. Sometimes we've bucked the Saturday trend and spent the day at a festival/fair/nature preserve/state park/with friends, and we come home exhausted. We always turn in early then, because we are freakin' tired, and Sunday looms. Divorce Sunday. Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I Know This Kid

Lolita, I'll call her. Big, brown, almond-shaped eyes with dark lashes, hair falling in a messy Rita Hayworth wave across her face, perfect olive skin, willowy, if an 8 year old can be willowy-- she's a beauty. She's publicly polite, but privately, she's, well, she's an instigator. She's my daughter's friend, and she makes me uncomfortable. All her visits follow a pattern, so I'll use the last one as an example.

She comes over and they want to go on the computer. I give them a time limit (15 minutes each). Timer set, timer dings. A private, whispered conference commences, and my daughter asks if Lolita can have more time. Not wanting to seem too strict, I allow 5 more minutes. Timer set, timer dings, and Lolita remains at the desk. My child gets up and is ready for snack. Lolita lingers. Even when I say time to stop, Lolita lingers, tapping on the keys until I put out snack.

Snack done, there's more whispering. Then my child wants to know if they can call up Zack. My child never calls up Zack. My child almost never calls anyone. She never, for example, calls Lolita. Every time Lolita comes over, this is what happens. Zack lives a couple of blocks away and he was last year's heartthrob in Cc's clatch of friends. I confess I've even suspected Lolita's interest in Cc is vested in Zack. Last year they called Zack, to no avail. He wasn't home, or didn't answer, or whatever. The boy has no interest in playing with them after school, although chasing them at recess was last year's big time game. So this time, I say, "Why?" Lolita says they want to see if he can play. It was nearing 5 p.m. I just say, "No." "Can we see if we can go over there?" Lolita says. At least she's speaking directly to me, but certainly not taking No as an answer. I shake my head. "Not today." My child says, "Come on, Lolita, when my mom says 'No' in that tone, she means it." (Victory!) "Go on, go play. Find something to do," I say.

They went into the basement and commenced thumping around. I knew they were playing with some old crutches, using them to swing off the steps. Moderately dangerous, but whatever. After a while, though, there was silence. Silence is almost always trouble. So I went over to the basement door and peeked through the crack. My child was sitting on the floor playing with some old dolls. Lolita was still on the crutches. I listened. Cc held up one of the dolls, a My Little Pony, and explained what she liked about it. Lolita was saying she stopped playing with those dolls when she was like four. Swinging around, one of her legs crooked, pretending she had a broken leg.  Cc said, "Well, I don't play with them that often, but I like them."" Dolls are boring," said Lolita. "Well I'm waiting for you to give me a turn on those crutches," said Cc. "I can't, I have a broken leg," said Lolita. "Oh, come on Lolita," said Cc. "It's my turn now". "OK,"said Lolita with a heavy sigh. "Let me sit down on this chair." (She was still pretending her leg was broken, even though she's way too mature to pretend with dolls.)

I left them alone. Cc was sticking up for herself. But I  wondered if there was a cost. For me, that kind of disapproval from a friend like Lolita would have cost me a lot. Instead of just avoiding her, or choosing other friends, I would have been hurling myself at her, trying to get her approval. It didn't seem that way for my child, I told myself. My child is totally different from me. I'm just projecting my inner child's insecurities onto my outer child. I'm thinking of years ahead, middle school, when Lolita is still boy-crazy and is ready to get physical/sexual.

Later on, I peeked again, and the disapproving, above-it-all Lolita was playing house with Cc. Blankets spread all over the floor, doctor's kit in use, imagination turned on full strength.

Lolita stayed for dinner, and she and Cc kept up the energy for the whole time. As soon as Lolita's mother picked her up, though, Cc's face sagged. "What's wrong?" I said. "I'm tired," she said. "Too long an afternoon for a school day?" I asked, offering a coded excuse for the future. I don't know if she understood it, but she nodded. "Okay," I said, "We'll keep that in mind."

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Step Too Far

So last year the bus stop was at our house, but this year, to save time and money on gas, the Dept. of Ed changed some regulations to consolidate stops. Regulations stipulate no child may walk more than one tenth of a mile to a stop. Good, good, all good. I'm behind it 100%. Fine. So this year, the bus stop is around the U of our street in front of somebody else's house. Okay, fine. Do I really care? Not so much, except when the weather is snowy and 3rd grader will have to tromp along in the slush on the sidewalk-free suburban streets. Okay, so we'll suck it up. After all, didn't we tromp along in the slush of New York City's streets day in day out for six years to get to and from school and every other activity we schlepped to, carrying snacks, violins, leotards, bookbags, lunchboxes, purses, and often strollers on our backs? Yes we did. We never lived far enough from school (one mile) to qualify for a bus. Furthermore, riding a bus of any kind in New York is exquisite torture. I'd rather walk in any weather any distance under three miles (by myself, not with a child under age 12) in NYC than ride a bus, particularly a crosstown bus. And I did.

Today was the first day of school, so we walked around the U to the new bus stop, chatted with the neighbors, took photos, let the dogs sniff one another. One of the mothers said the distance from her house to ours was over one tenth of a mile, she wouldn't want to have her child walk it in bad weather. Fine, fine, whatever, little seeds of doubt planted, but whatever. Then the bus came along the street. Came along the U my 3rd grader and I had just walked, sailed around the U, right past our house, and stopped at the designated bus stop. Fine, whatever, fine.

I'm sure my clever readers know where this is going. Seeds of doubt sprouting, bus sailing right past our house, disapproving mothers who know more than I. On the way home from running errands, I clocked the distance on my odometer. By gum, if it wasn't more than one tenth of a mile. Not a lot more, but more. Google Maps put it at one tenth exactamundo. Fine, whatevs. At dismissal time, the 7th grader, the dog, and I went outside to weed, or dig up chipmunk holes with our noses, and wait for the 3rd grader. I figured the morning's bus sailing was possibly just one of those things, the driver would work it out more efficiently; but no, it was no fluke. When the bus finally arrived, late of course, having those first-day kinks, it sailed right past our house again. I waved, the driver waved back. A few moments later, the child came walking around the U.

Reports of first day followed. Nice teacher (thank God), happy child, a new friend or two already, a cool planner provided by the school, complete with translucent cover. Lunch, relax, gossip: Still on the bus, last year's nemesis, M. M lives on the next street over, with another child my child likes. This other child, Olivia, according to my child, said that this year, she and M were supposed to wait together at M's house for the bus. They live diagonally from one another on the same street. But M and Olivia "are feuding" according to my child. So somebody's mother called the bus company, and now M and Olivia are waiting at their respective homes for the bus, as they used to do, on the same street, diagonally across from one another.

Is this not petty? Still, if the bus company will reverse itself over this silly 3rd grade enmity, how about over sailing past my house on the way to the designated bus stop?

Well, they wouldn't change the stop just because the bus went right past the house. The bus goes right past lots of people's houses. The orders had come from on high at the Department of Ed, and the Superintendant had to enforce them.  The woman on the phone was adamant, and a little peeved. Considering how long the phone was busy before I got through, I judged they'd been fielding a lot of calls like mine. But they would come and measure to make sure the new stop wasn't more than one tenth of a mile from the driveway. Okay, I said. Why not? I think it is, by a little.

So about ten minutes later -- I kid you not. This is a small town -- when I left to walk the dog, I met a man with a rolling ruler disk on a stick. (Somebody knows what those are called, but I don't). Looks like a giant pizza cutter. We walked the distance together, chatting about the very handsome dog lunging for acorns every step. My credibility on the line, I worried as he cut the corner to cross over to the bus stop. At the designated stop, he looked at his pizza cutter. 585 he said and turned back towards his yellow minibus. Huh, I said. Presumably one tenth of a mile is what, 500 feet? So I was right. I jogged after him and said, so what does this mean? He said, Means they're gonna have to change the stop back.

Now I'd done it. Now I remembered my child's reaction when I said she'd be picked up and dropped off at the neighbor's house: "Cool. You mean I can walk?"  I said to the pizza cutter, Can we just make it casual, that when the weather's bad, the bus can let her off at our house? No, they can't do that, he said, because that would confuse the driver, especially if there was a substitute driver one day. Have to follow the regulations said the guy. Guess you've been getting a lot of these calls, I said. He rolled his eyes and said, You wouldn't believe.

I went on a long walk with the dog. Shortly after we returned home, the bus company called. Same lady. You were right, she said, apologetic. The stop is too far. By just a little, I said. I mean, I really don't mind the walking, except in crummy weather. We're adding your address to the list, said the lady. Number 38 will be your stop from now on.

I hung up. Victory. Now I'd done it.