Middle school: The purgatory of parenting

January is really the most un-wonderful time of the year.  The weather stinks, I’m still tired from the holidays, AND it’s that very awkward and terrible time when all of the Reese’s peanut butter trees are no longer in the store, but it’s too early for the Reese’s peanut butter eggs to come out.  I sat in the parking lot outside of a Five Below last week and wondered–where do all the trees go?  Because all of my local chocolate peanut butter tree selling retailers seemed like they had an abundant supply of them the week before Christmas.  Now there are none.  I can’t figure out the math on that.  Why no leftovers, Five Below?  You didn’t put them back in the stock room for next Christmas, did you?  ‘Cause that’s not fair.  I’m not sure how I will live until the retail stores decide it’s almost Easter.

Speaking of things I may not live through, it occurred to me just this week that in approximately 8 months, I will have two middle schoolers in my home.  TWO MIDDLE SCHOOLERS.  Can’t. Breathe. Must. Eat. Reese’s. Peanut. Butter. Chocolate. Trees.

I know some of you have younger kids, and aren’t there yet.  You are still in the thick of diapers and preschool and early morning wake up calls, and can’t imagine a day when you will sleep past 6 am on a weekend.  Or some of you more experienced parents are far enough away from it that you forget what it’s like, and the pain has dulled with time.  Some things are difficult to fully convey in words, but let me see if I can paint you a picture of these special, special years.

Having a middle schooler is like picking up your mail, casually opening it just like every other day, and then realizing that one of the envelopes had white powder with anthrax in it and now you have a huge crisis on your hands and also probably you are going to die.  And then 10 minutes later everything’s “fine” and the person who laced the envelope with anthrax is sitting on your couch with a headset on, happily playing a video game, while you continue working on your newest hobby which happens to be deep breathing and growing new grey hairs.

Having a middle schooler means that there are lots of tall-ish people with long limbs, big shoes, and questionable hygiene in your house, and you have to feed them pancakes a lot.  And they eat your pancakes but they don’t make eye contact with you.  And they wear a hood for extra protection indoors in case of leaking ceilings or splattering pancake syrup, I am assuming.

Having a middle schooler means that you are no longer funny.  You used to be very funny, maybe let’s say, just last year or the year before.   In fact, you used to be able to make certain people laugh hysterically just by playing peek-a-boo!  But now you’re not funny.  And every time you try to use any humor of any kind, someone in a hoodie yells, “STOP!”.

Having a middle schooler means that you question the very foundations of your education, as you stare mutely at your 7th-grader’s homework on algebraic expressions or some such, hoping to forestall the meltdown that will inevitably ensue should you be unable to not only figure out how to do it, but also figure out how to show your work using a simple 13 step process that, in your day, was a two step process.

Having a middle schooler means that you will sometimes have your sweet baby, who now weighs 100+ lbs instead of 10 lbs, come over to snuggle with you like a fully grown St. Bernard who thinks he is a lap dog.  And you love every second of it, even if his knee is in your spleen.  You don’t even care about your spleen right now, because you know that once the magic passes, your sweet, oversized baby will disappear underneath his hoodie for an indeterminate amount of time.

Having a middle schooler means that you have lots of toys, but no one plays with them.  But they also won’t let you get rid of them yet.  And they are unfortunately old enough that they notice when you try to sneak the toys out of the house to take to Goodwill.  Ah, how you miss the days when they didn’t have object permanence, or even those good times when you could trick them into thinking that if they couldn’t find a certain toy it was because they probably lost it, so maybe they should take better care of their stuff next time.

Having a middle schooler means that instead of dealing with diapers, field trips, potty training, preschool, and playdates, you now must face “crushes”, sex talks, friend drama, eye rolling, snarky comments, and poorly developed sarcasm skills.  You may really want to help them with this sarcasm piece since you know that you are so much better at it, but this is not advisable.

Having a middle schooler means that all important problems, questions, and/or feelings will absolutely need to be discussed at 9:30 PM, when you really thought you were crossing the finish line for the day.

Having a middle schooler means that your child will come home and tell you the things that happened at school, and you realize you have to relive all of the horrible things that happened to you in middle school.  Except now it’s worse, because it is happening to your tall-ish, constantly hungry, hoodie-clad baby.

Having a middle schooler means that you kind of want to call your mom and dad to complain, but you don’t because you’re pretty sure that they will laugh maniacally at you.

Having a middle schooler means that all of the above can happen to you in the span of one day, and just when you feel completely beaten down, you still get to be the soft place to land.

Having a middle schooler means that as bad as it seems for you, you know it’s worse for them.

Having a middle schooler means that you will need lots of Reese’s chocolate peanut butter trees.

 

 

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Uterus on Wheels

I have a love-hate relationship with my minivan.

It’s mostly love.  Ninety percent love.  OK, eighty-five percent.  I remember being in my 20’s and scoffing at the 30- and 40-somethings around me who had embraced the minivan stage of life, and thinking, “I will NEVER be that person.  There is no way I will ever drive a minivan.  Ever”  And yet, here I am, rocking my 2011 Honda Odyssey.  Black, because that makes it look sexy.  Power doors, so that they can magically open with the light touch of a button on my key fob, fascinating and delighting my children time and time again.

My two work BFF’s and I used to have matching Honda minivans, parked side-by-side in our parking lot at work, announcing to the world our position in life without a word. My one friend coined the term “Uterus on Wheels” (UOW) when referring to her minivan, which is the most sad yet accurate description I have heard yet.  She once threatened to hang a set of truck nuts from her bumper to balance out the estrogen that seems to ooze from every crevice.  Instead she traded her UOW for a sporty little BMW.   Mid-life crisis if you ask me, and unwise at this time when storage and function simply must take precedence over vanity.

I was recently at my local Honda dealership for a service appointment, and while I was there one of the salesmen was trying to talk me into buying a new car.
“What are you driving now?”, he asked me.
“A Honda Odyssey”, I replied.
“You got kids?  Married?” he inquired, and this is where I gave him the side-eye.  I mean, does he know a lot of single gals without a partner and a gaggle of kids who drive around in minivans for giggles?

My husband was devastated when we first took the plunge into minivan-land.  We were both 32 at the time, with a 2 year-old and another on the way.  The day we picked it up and drove off the lot, he appeared humbled and ashamed, his manhood challenged.  Would he be strong enough to drive a UOW?  Could he withstand this assault on his testosterone levels?  He started calling it the “family mobile”, and I told my 2-year old that our new van was a “cool car”.  He repeated the phrase “cool car” in his cute little toddler voice which always intoned upward at the end of every phrase, so that each time he said it, it sounded like a question.  “Cool car?  Cool car?”  Allllll the way home, we rode in our cool car (?), our toddler repeating his mantra from the back seat as if to convince us both that if you say it enough, it must be true.

But my new van WAS cool, especially with my pregnant belly and a toddler in arms.   I no longer had to bend over and strain my back as I once did in my 4-door sedan to buckle my little one into his car seat.  Loading up the trunk after my weekly grocery haul was a breeze, and we had room for all the toddler and baby paraphernalia on our road trips to see family.

My kids are bigger now, but the UOW is still working overtime.  My husband has since bought a Toyota Tacoma for him to drive, likely an effort to recover his manhood.  He looks really cool in it, but guess what?  It still doesn’t haul as much stuff as my uterus.  Anytime he has to haul a big load, the uterus gets it done.  Road trips are always a job for the UOW, which easily accommodates all of the suitcases, coolers, bikes, toys, and people that we need to bring with us.  The man-mobile just can’t manage quite as much.  There may be a metaphor in there.

All that said, my UOW is not without its faults.  Her turning radius–not so good.  I had an angry man in a little compact sedan flip me off the other week when I underestimated the breadth of my turn while coming out of a school parking lot onto a narrow side street, causing him to have to hit the brakes.  Never mind that he was barreling down a side street adjacent to a school about 30 miles over the speed limit. Jerk. Move out of the way, dude–my uterus is coming at you!  Your compact sedan must yield in my wake!

Parking can be a challenge. It’s kind of like trying to wiggle into a pair of skinny jeans one size too small. On a good day if you come at it from the right angle, it’s possible.  But it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes once you get in, you can’t get out.  Then you have to open the door a tiny crack, suck in, and scootch out, praying that the person beside you won’t leave an angry note on your windshield.  And parallel parking?  Fuggeddaboutit.  Just don’t.

She’s looking a little beat up these days, my UOW.  She is bearing the scars of life with a young family.  In this way, I feel like we understand each other.  She has some exterior scratches, and the other day she had an unfortunate encounter with a deer.  She tries to be pretty, but it’s really an uphill battle for her, what with the constant stream of Goldfish crackers getting ground into her upholstery and the dead bugs freckling her front-side.  Her windows hide secret messages and pictures that can only be seen from the inside when the glass fogs up.  We could probably survive at least 2 days after an apocalypse in there between the snack remnants that have fallen between the seat cracks and the half-empty water bottles camping out in all of the cup-holders.   No one cares about washing the UOW consistently, though sometimes she is the recipient of a homespun car wash in the driveway, with kids in bathing suits who only manage to get her streaky-clean at best, and even with that her upper third goes completely untouched. I don’t think the UOW cares, nor do I, since we both know it is just a matter of time before the rain comes to wash away the soapy streaks.  She is the embodiment of functionality.  And I love her, streaks and all.

The other day, hubby said that we probably won’t need our UOW much longer, now that the kids are getting older.  He proposed getting a bigger truck for him, and downsizing my car.  “But, what about all the high-school friends I will have to shuttle to and fro?  And the family road trips?  What about college move-in days??”  He’s clearly not thinking this through all the way to the end.  We’re not ready for a vehicular hysterectomy quite yet, in my opinion.

So in the meantime, I shall drive my uterus proudly through town, racking up the miles and the memories, angering hurried men in compact sedans and inciting jeers from twenty year-olds who look upon my streaky, bug-speckled van and say, “I will never drive a minivan.”