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Friday, March 07, 2008

Truth or Dare? [Part 1]

Forty plus years ago, I would walk to and from school every day with my sister. Twenty plus years ago, I repeated this routine with my own daughter. Currently with the present crop of children, walking anywhere is not part of our routine. I decide that I need to take stock and figure out why this should be?

The easiest thing to do would be to blame my two autistic boys who have strong objections to walking. What I like about this excuse is that there is a nugget of truth in it, or rather a tiny granule. They are autistic and they don’t like walking. Convenient though that is, the real truth is more inconvenient.

The first truth is that I have a genuine dislike of anything that could remotely be described as exercise. Exercise is in the ‘boring’ category for me. Not only is it boring, it is also generally time consuming, unproductive and expensive. Whilst I was happy to cycle to work for a decade, that actually saved commuting time, money, the planet and it was fun. Exercise bike’s and their ilk, are works of the devil guaranteed to numb the brain.

The second truth is that it’s really America’s fault and has nothing to do with me personally at all. I am quite blame free. America is a car nation. Anywhere that you might just possibly want to visit, is inconveniently located at least one car ride away. Anywhere else that you may not be quite so interested in visiting, but have to visit, will be located at an additional, even further, car ride away. The total dominance of the car mentality means that as often as not they forget to build any sidewalks.

A few years ago, I worried that when we visited England that I would have forgotten how to walk at all. I heard on the radio that a healthy bod should take 10,000 steps a day. A huge and daunting figure. I read about how old people needed to do weight bearing exercise to increase bone density. I bought a pedometer and stuck it on my waist band after I dropped my little daughter at pre-school as I still had the boys at home.

I was too busy to read the LED screen at any angle with splotched bifocals as I staggered around the house with endless hampers of laundry and carried one or other child or sometimes both, until mid morning. I briefly parked my pair of load bearing ‘excercisers’ in the baby swing and play pen respectively, where they commenced their vocal protest. I took a glimpse at the little screen, gave it a little tap and noticed that it read well over 10,000. I tossed it on the kitchen counter. I didn’t need to exercise, I needed a rest!

The third truth, is that I’m as guilty as the next person of taking the easy option. Even more years ago, I bought a double buggy or stroller, so that we could enjoy fresh air. We would not remain prisoners in our own home. I suspect that the fault lay in the buggy design, in that the children faced forwards whilst I pushed from behind. Maybe it was because they couldn’t see me but whatever it was, the mayhem and hysteria that ensured poured icy water on my plans, and that was before the rainy season.

Only two years ago I tried. We walked from parked car to school, for an evening function. After less than ten paces they collapsed on the ground screaming like banshees, rolling on the lawn and kicking the concrete. The homeowner peeked out from behind the curtain as surely I had beaten them with a burnt stick?

Now I am faced with the reality of my sloppy ways, a collection of children completely incapable of walking more than 9 yards outside their own home. We are in dire need of remedial action. They still have no traffic sense, which means that every road is a danger. They’re never going to acquire any traffic sense if they’re never exposed. I decide to pose as a walker and expose my psyche to a new campaign of torture, for all of us for different reasons.

In theory it should be easy. I think of the one thing that they have continuously hated since time immemorial, car journeys. Surely this is the most obvious solution. Hate the car, then avoid it and walk! To be fair I know that it is mainly the ‘transition’ to the car rather than the car ride itself, but it still have a crumb of logic in there somewhere, doesn’t it?

The initial campaign will be to walk home from school every day. I make a dry run. Two point two miles as a leisurely pace. 22 minutes of stroll, on my own, including traffic light pauses. As I walk I realize that we won’t be able to walk on Wednesday because of double therapy. We won’t be able to walk on Fridays when the triple play dates take place. 3 walks a week seems both pathetic and Herculean at the same time.

My brain flips back and forth between the two options, with little spikes of terror as I see the uneven path, the sprinklers, the trash, an infinite number of road signs to read and the occasional dog and owner. The more I walk, the more hic-cups I see both on the horizon and beneath my tatty shoes. The temperature is in the 70’s in March. In a short while, it will be too hot to walk around outside during the day. I’ll need to take sunglasses, baseball caps, water bottles and sunscreen. Sunscreen! Just the thought of sunscreen is enough to give me an attack of the vapours.

Which two additional adults could I bribe to accompany us? Someone to guard each little body, especially the ‘easily collapsible’ one and the ‘likely to spin off and bolt like a fire-cracker’ one. Maybe I should just tie us altogether with little bits of string, a chain gang of incomprehensible safety?

See Saw Margery Daw

[I apologise for my two week’s absence for ski week and spouse away week, I shall start playing catch up on Monday]

I decide to cook something in advance for the returning spouse. What is a good choice for the stressed out and jet lagged? My mouth talks to my son during the 22 minutes I spend persuading him to eat one grape and a slivered slice of organic apple, but my brain is elsewhere. If I only have to reheat good food, then I can give him the precious gift of time and attention after a terrifying week in England. “I am no Hungary. I wanna go to school now!” he bellows before taking flight. The first statement makes perfect sense but the second has no meaning.

The flowers she picked along the roadside begin to wilt in the middle of the table. I have a pang of guilt about the extravagant bouquet for Mother’s Day in England, a couple of months or more before the American version. “They are lovely dear, you really shouldn’t have gone to all that expense. A card would have been more than enough, really it would. I know you can’t buy them out there are this time of year but you used to make your own. I loved your hand made cards.”

I glance at March’s speech calendar from school. We are already behind. When we hit cereal time I charge upstairs to the bedrooms during the next safe’ish’ three minutes of munching. Horray the beds are dry! Four less loads of laundry to make amends with Mother Nature. I do not make the beds but pat and smooth them. Good enough.

I grab clean clothes from the laundry basket and dash back down stairs to prompt them to clear their places at the table. It’s warm but I pull on long trousers to hide the bruises that are only of consequence to those who cannot understand. They struggle with teeth cleaning as I dress in the kitchen and splash water on my face. A large box of Tampax is strategically placed next to the tooth paste, to provoke a question from the female population, preferably several questions. “Don’t forget to brush the ones at the back!” I solemnly swear that sometime between now and bed time, I will take a shower. What happens to a body if I don’t? Will I begin to rot or merely smell rotten? I remember yesterday’s grocery shopping, still in the garage, unpacked.

“I am need!”
“What do you need dear?”
“Um…. Ah yes! It’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day. We’ll make pots of gold after school dear.”
“I am need dah golden pointy things!”
“Good describing. Do you have any more describing words?”
“Er….dey stick things together and they are making them move.”
“Um….paper fasteners!”
“Yes!” I dither. I have no idea where they are but I don’t want to provoke a meltdown at this delicate stage of the day. We have been working with these little instruments of torture for approximately three and a half years off and on. This is the first occasion that he has voluntary made the first move. What if I look and still can’t find them? Who needs a dollop of negative reinforcement at 7:20 in the morning? I only have time for small and this is huge. “I’ll go and look for them, wait here.”

En route to school in the car I watch someone touch up their make-up in their rear view mirror at a stop light. Glossy, brushed hair and apricot pink talons. I sink a little in my seat and pull my baseball peak lower. My son’s feet pummel the back of the chair as he reves up for a question. The gardeners have finished the grass, now all I have to do if figure out how to programme the little sprinkler control box. How long will that take? Where can I find a long? I only have time for shorts. The school is so close to the Pottery studio. My membership dues are due and I’ve only been once in three months. It’s like a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym every day that fizzles out by mid January. The library fines and forgotten dry cleaning take priority. I remember the note, written in red ink in my diary:- ‘science fair project.’ This evening we must squeeze in another hour of ‘how to mummify fish’ and check the progress of the dead bodies kept in a dry cool spot. I am still searching for a ‘dry cool spot’ in California, in March in 70 degree heat everywhere.

At school a tub of Goldfish crackers awaits my starving son, on his desk. No wonder we’re making no progress on the food campaign. My son’s body backs into mine, spoons style, his fond farewell, as physical contact is often compromised. I need to call into the post office to send off the hand knitted socks to my oldest daughter in Massachucetts, even though they won’t cure her cold. I’m sure I have forgotten something. The car! I need to investigate the smell, the banana smell in the car, before two of them refuse to cross the stink barrier.

Which is more wasteful and why? Ten to 20 minutes watering the new grass so that it stays alive or an indefinite period of time fiddling with the control box and still not being able to water the grass? If I don’t buy and distribute slug pellets within the next 24 hours something will be lost, although I can’t quite remember what it is? I need to make sure that I am at home to receive a telephone call from England at mid day here, which is 8 in the evening there or endure another time warp. If I don’t pay the gardeners today will they return, roll up the lawn and take it away again? Do I really want to spend time making fish pie and salad for people who are unlikely to even sniff them let alone eat them? I need to get hold of a copy of the school se.x talk in advance, just to double check, prepare and ensure that I am ready to deal with any inconsistencies of a pre-teen education. If I don’t collect the prescriptions today will they need to be re-authorized? If I don’t write those thank you notes today I will effectively disqualify myself from any society that calls itself humane. It is my duty as a citizen to listen to the radio so that I can formulate a well reasoning political opinion but I also need to clean out the vegetable drawer in the fridge.

I breathe at the junction, heavy with commuting traffic, waiting for my moment to join the throng in safety. A car slows, the driver waves to me. I pause at the greeting, a moment of hesitation before I raise my fingertips from the wheel and beam back. I recognize the next movement, the gesture of exasperation and she shakes her head and accelerates away closing the gap she made for me. I reflect on her moment of frustration, a tiny pin prick to my high wire balancing act. Poor woman. Wrong category, too little, too late. In the great scheme of things it's minute, an irrelevancy but my eyes leak.

The school day passes at break neck speed, a frenzy of activity and medical insurance paper work. I have every labour saving appliance I need and yet I am still far behind schedule as I collect them in the car.

I decide to avoid the subject of the ‘health talk’ at school until I can find some private time with her. My eldest son is silent as he has exhausted his word bank for the day, squandered them all on peers and teachers. My youngest son is never silent.

“Multi-Emballage! Multi-Emballage! Multi-Emballage!” he squalks, an endless cycle in between giggles.
“What are you saying? Whose been teaching you French dear?”

Surely they should be learning Spanish, if anything?

“It is be right….er ….write.”
“Where was it written?”
“On dah box.”
“What box?”
“Um…….. where is the box?”
“Dah box is being in dah kitchen.”

I am stunned by his helpfulness and patience with my tired old brain.

“Big box or little box?”
“Little box.”
“What colour is the little box?”
“Er it is be dah white and dah sky blue wiv dah elipse. It be have dah little rainbow, dah sunshine yellow, dah apple green and dah neon stinky pinky.”
“Um……? Is there anything inside the little box?”
“Yes, it is be dah little box of Tampons.”

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