“Mom!” the daughter exclaimed. “What are you watching NOW?”
While in the throes of child rearing, I never watched TV. I missed all the good ones: Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, Will and Grace, Friends, The West Wing, Everybody Loves Raymond, Law and Order and The Sopranos. So, it’s no surprise that my family members are befuddled by the amount of TV watching I do now. I self-medicate for hours upon hours with the likes of How to Get Away With Murder, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Shameless,The Bachelor, the remake of Dynasty and A Million Little Things.
“Daughter,” I responded. “I have Parental PTSD.”
Proof of the disorder is documented in a ten-and-a-half year-old email to my long-lost friend, Brenda, found while going through 27 years’ worth of papers over the weekend.
My life is a whirlwind. I remember when the kids were 5, 3 and 1 and people would say, “You think this is tough – just wait till you get into the car pool years!”
Car pool years? What could possibly be easier? Buy a new mini-van, tune into Dr. Laura on the radio, toss the kids a few granola bars and tool around town, listening to stories of first loves and latest fights, relishing the freedom of not having to carry sappy cups, tie shoes or buckle kids in car seats.
Now we’re at 16, 14 and 12 years old and this is my life:
I leave my room at 7:50 am when the last door slams. I long ago learned that since my spouse and I have different senses of urgency (i.e. he thinks 12 minutes is more than enough time to get three kids up and out), it would be better for everyone to have just one parent do mornings. Since the spouse always works way beyond dinner time, it makes perfect sense for his kid bonding time to be before I wake up. I get my sleep. He gets the grief.
I start the day hobbling my way through a mile-long walk because that’s all I can muster with my two, yes, two, bad knees that are awaiting replacements. Then, I come home and get on the phone with my best friend and volunteer buddy, Claire, to see what we’re up against. If we’re not running the high school plant sale, or doing picture day at the middle school, I get on my computer and google hotels for our next baseball tournament in Rhode Island or Richmond, or somewhere in between. Once I’ve found a kid-friendly place with a bar, I start thinking about the AAU National BasketballTournament in Las Vegas and research flights for that. Frustrated by the cost, compounded by my lack of income, I move on to websites for an all-star cheerleading team that’s closer than 45 minutes away, in hopes of convincing the daughter that it’s up to her standards. I then look at the dog who I can’t stand and those eyes guilt me into walking him around the block.
Now it’s lunch time and I pull out the yuppie greens, spritz ’em with raspberry vinaigrette and follow with a pound of chocolate to make up for the saved calories.
I defrost hamburger in the microwave and whip up a lasagna for dinner, because who doesn’t love lasagna? I smile smugly knowing our newly-instituted three family dinners a week was actually going to happen. I head back to the computer for a few games of Snood, then then fiddle on freelancers.com and get depressed that another paycheck-less day has come and gone.
At 3 pm I head off to the high school with the daughter’s softball gear. As her friends, who vary by the day, pile into the minivan, I smile, hand them water bottles and ask who is hooking up with whom. Despite the daughter’s “Moooom!”s, they always answer. I drop the girls at the field and swing around to pick up 6th grade Leo and his entourage. I bring them home and they beg for money to go to the bagel store, Chinese restaurant or pizza parlor, all within walking distance of the house.
I say, “Can’t you wait? I made lasagna.”
“We hate lasagna!” they chant in unison.
“Fine!” I bellow and toss a twenty at them with a resurgence of guilt about giving them the father’s hard-earned dollars for food. When there’s plenty in the house. When I haven’t contributed to the family income in weeks.
At 4 pm, Max, the middle child (who flat out refuses a ride home from school in fear of having to answer anything as innocuous as “How was your day?”), saunters up the hill with iTouch earphones sewn to his head, plaid shorts slung low, Hollister eagle flying across his chest.
“Bagel?” is his greeting.
“No, lasagna tonight.”
“I hate lasagna. I’m going to the bagel store.”
At which point, he charges to the garage to grab his brother’s way-too-small-for-him bicycle. Meanwhile, said brother and buddies are returning with their sesame chicken (and rice that ends up stuck to the table and the rug underneath), and starts screaming at Max for taking his bike. I see a middle finger flash as he disappears around the corner.
I jump into the car, calling out to Leo and friends, “I’ll be back at 5 to take you to baseball. Be ready.”
Off I go to watch an hour of the daughter’s softball game. She sits the bench the entire time I’m there. I rush home, honk the horn, honk it again, curse and jump out of the car, forgetting about my aching knees until I hit the cement driveway. Doubly angry, I scream, “Leeeeeoooo!”
“Just saving,” Friend Number One responds. If you don’t know this yet, saving means saving a score for Call of Duty 5 or Grand Theft Auto 6 or some other absolutely inappropriate X-box game.
“I’m throwing that thing out,” I threaten for the ninetieth time this month.
Twelve minutes later, they appear, ready for baseball. Friend Number Two, not on the team, needs to be dropped across town and I mumble under my breath. Two minutes from the field, and five minutes late, Friend Number One announces he forgot his cleats. I say something to the tune of it they hadn’t been playing that !#@% game, he’d have realized he forgot his cleats.
(Keep in mind that Friend Number One is here every single day and has heard much worse spew from my mouth.) So, back to Friend One’s house where his mother is getting home from work. I smile wistfully and wish I still worked in an office. She smiles knowingly and wishes she were home with the kids.
Drop off complete, I rush back to the softball field where the daughter is pouting because I missed her hit in her single at bat.
“I’m starving!” she announces.
“Great. We’re having lasagna.”
“I hate lasagna”
“I hate you.”
I drop the daughter and yell to Max who has to go to basketball practice in Manhattan.
“Hold on!” He knows better than to say, “Saving!’”
“Max! We’re late!”
He slams out of the house and into the car. “We have to pick up Jamal.”
“Jamal lives on the other side of town. I JUST dropped Anthony over there. You couldn’t have told me this half an hour ago?”
“I didn’t know.”
Cursing, I drive through town to pick up Jamal who has lost his phone so Max has to get out of the car, go to the door and ring the doorbell. No one answers. I honk the horn (like it does any good). Max shrugs his shoulders.
“Let’s GO!” I scream. “We still have to pick up Kris!”
“Hold on!” Max yells. “I hear him.”
Out comes smiling Jamal, 14 year-old muscles bulging beneath his basketball jersey. Off we go to pick up Kris (brother of Friend Number One whose house we had already been to. Twice.).
Six minutes of waiting at Kris’s house and he pops in the car, earphones attached. After finally making the left turn onto the busy road at the corner, he announces he has forgotten his basketball sneakers. Again, note this is the brother of Friend Number One, who forgot his baseball cleats. I tell him to wear the sneakers he has on, but proceed to squeal the tires as I turn the car around.
If you haven’t yet surmised, I am full of threats and no follow-through.
Forty-five minutes in bumper-to-bumper traffic and forty-five curses later, we pull up in front of the Riverside Church gym.
“Goodbye you morons!” I call cheerfully as the boys bound out, fifteen minutes late for practice. I head back over the bridge to pick up the daughter for cheerleading practice.
The daughter is waiting on the porch. I have erased all bad karma from my soul as it is essential to do and say the right thing because if the daughter likes this new team, my thrice-weekly trips to a far, far away gym will cease and my life will change.
We pull up to the new gym six minutes later and she melts down.
“I’m NOT going in there.”
“What do you mean, you’re not going in there? They are expecting you.” (A whole other story, but the long and short of it is, she’s one of those throw-up-in-the-air-and-hope-to-catch-them cheerleaders and we’ve had years of trauma and drama with different teams.)
“”This place sucks.”
“Stop saying that word. It makes me sick.”
“Would you rather I say !#@%?”
“Just get out of the car and go in.”
“I’m not doing it. Look at this place. It’s disgusting. This team su..stinks.”
“You don’t know that.”
Arms folded over her chest. Lips pursed. I look at the clock.
“I have to go get Leo.”
“Of course. It’s always Leo. You’ll do anything for Leo.”
“You’ll pay any amount of money and drive him hours away for baseball.”
“You’re making me cheer at this disgusting place because you don’t want to drive me to Fairfield.”
“Get out of the car.”
“Get the !#@% out of the car!”
Slam. Screach. Peel out.
I rush to the baseball field where I find the spouse hitting ground balls to the kids.
“Yay! You can take the boys home. I have a football board meeting. Max is at basketball. Evil Coach Tony will bring him home. Molly’s at cheerleading. I’ll pick her up. Put the lasagna in the oven when you get home.”
I can only stay an hour at the meeting, 55 minutes of which is devoted to a fight between two parents. I leave to pick up the daughter, anticipating her reaction to the “gross” team.
I enter the gym. The daughter comes into the waiting room, giggling with another girl.
“Can we give Christina a ride home?”
“Sure!” I answer kindly, wanting to make a good impression on new friends in hopes that it will mean she’ll stay with this team. “Where do you live?”
“North Bergen,” I repeat. A 25-minute drive each way.
I ask the daughter how she liked it. She shrugs.
We return home at 9:53 pm.
“Where’s Daddy?” I ask Leo, in front of the X-box again.
“Went to Barnes and Noble.”
“Ugh. He knows we’re having family dinner.”
“No one wants family dinner!” all three children scream at once.
“Fine! But don’t blame me when you’re screwed up adults!” I screech.
“Mom! I need a poster board for a project!” Max screeches back.
“When’s it due?”
I run to CVS, arriving a nano-second before they lock the door, return home, scream at the kids to go to bed, put the lasagna in the freezer and grab the Chocolate Mint Chip Ice cream. I eat the whole half-gallon.
I then open my emails and start typing to my long-lost friend, Brenda, a dissertation documenting my day and defining the life that has led to my Parental PTSD.