Friday, March 16, 2012

Green Card

In the early hours of Wednesday morning, I was stricken by a ghastly stomach bug. By 7am, I was preparing to die quietly, curled around a bottle of Pedialyte, when Mr. Berman burst into the room.

"It's your Green Card appointment! At 8am! Come on, I'll drive you!"

I scowled in his general direction, somewhat petulantly, I have to confess.

"Just can't. Sod off."

"You can -- you have to. Or you won't be able to travel next month."

I remembered that I have a business trip in April, by which time I need to have renewed my Green Card. It takes months to get an appointment. I struggled to find a suitable expletive, but ran out of energy and reverted to my father's family-friendly favorite in times of stress.

"GOD give me strength." (It's really quite effective when pronounced with venom, a perfectly acceptable substitute when a meatier alternative is not readily available or appropriate. I consider it the tofu of the swearing world.)

"It'll only take you 15 minutes. My appointment was really fast. Come on."

With this, Mr. Berman hauled me to a sitting position. I pointed out that he evidently hated me and wanted me to die. He ignored me, wisely, and proceeded to assess my clothing. Having vomited all over myself a number of times in the night, I was wearing an odd assortment of garments. He pronounced the yoga pants Green Card-worthy, wrestled my feet into flip flops, and dragged a sweater over the most offensive article, a Marks & Spencer flannel pyjama top in pink plaid, circa 1985, now encrusted with traces of vomit. Since I was gnashing my teeth in a threatening manner throughout this process, he decided against enforced tooth brushing, and dragged me out to the car.

"What about Ted?" I whimpered.

The same stomach bug had also hit my youngest son 24 hours before, and he was off school, lying prone with his head positioned over a bowl in precautionary fashion. He is not a morning person under the best of circumstances, which these decidedly were not. My husband ran back to fetch him, and emerged from the house five minutes later, bearing a limp and pasty-faced Ted, who was also wearing mismatched pyjamas, with snowboots.

"Come on," Mr. Berman said encouragingly. "Let's get it over with -- we'll have you home and back in bed soon."

I lay in the reclined passenger seat with a plastic bag hooked over my ears as we hurtled through rush-hour streets. (During this time, I reconsidered my hardcore eco stance. Plastic may be the devil's substance, but it does have its uses. You couldn't rely on a reusable hessian bag for this task.) Upon arrival at the Citizenship and Immigration Office, I lurched out of the car, and staggered towards the door.

"Why does mummy look like an old lady?" I heard my son ask, as I disappeared into the bowels of the government. It struck me that I did not look like the kind of person you'd want to be granting permanent resident status to. In panic, I wondered if those were the last words I would hear him say. What if they determined I looked infectious (which I most certainly was), or crazy (which I most certainly looked, with my pink plaid flannel, vomit-encrusted pyjama shirt dangling below my sweater) and put me back on the boat? Do they still have boats, for people like me?

Good god -- was I in danger of deportation?

Deported I was not, but the interminable line was almost the end of me. I silently cursed Mr. Berman and his 15-minute promise, and consigned all 23 people on line in front of me to burn in hell, as I stood feverishly, on trembling legs, for almost an hour, with frequent dashes to the restroom. Eventually, an official fingerprinted me (which took a while, on account of my dripping palms), photographed me (which also took a while, on account of the fact that I looked dead on every try), and approved me (and we wonder why the country is in the state it's in).

As I was leaving, I was asked to fill in a customer satisfaction survey. I refrained from complaint, given that I had just infected everyone within a 5-mile radius with what I was beginning to think must be Ebola.

My conscience is somewhat alleviated when I remember that they'll all have the last laugh.

We will live, and our stomachs will recover. But only I will have to live with an official ID for the next 10 years that is a Feverish-Looking, Dear-God-Why-Didn't-I-At-Least Apply-Blush, Exceedingly-Green Card.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Day of Rest

I love Sunday evenings. I find that those last few precious hours of the wekend set the tone for my whole week. Get it right and I retain a modicum of calm organization through Wednesday at least. Get it wrong, and my life goes to hell in a handbasket by 6am Monday morning.

This week does not look good.

Sunday started out pretty well. Realigned my disgruntled chakras at yoga. Got kids out biking and running for familial fresh air and exercise. Planned menu for the week, got groceries, and tidied bills and paperwork into a neat pile (thereby continuing the self-delusion that I am On Top Of It).

The evening continued in a similar vein -- boys persuaded into shower/hairwash/nail clipping routine with only their usual degree of recalcitrance. Older son made dinner. Wrangled boys into bed at a reasonable hour.

How did it all go so wrong?

I was contemplating a leisurely bath and glass of wine, when Mr. Berman noticed that one of our cats was missing. Worse still, we realized that we had not set eyes on her since Saturday morning. Wracked with guilt, I tried not to panic. I persuaded myself that since she was a stray we had taken in, she was used to the mean streets of New York, where god knows there is plenty of vermin for her to go at if she gets peckish.

Mr Berman reacted more productively. He wandered outside at regular intervals, calling her name, each time coming back looking more concerned. I decided to skip the bath in a show of solidarity, but forged ahead with the glass of wine. One needs sustenance in times of stress, I find.

As midnight approached, there was still no sign of the cat. Mr Berman was in a tailspin of guilt by this juncture. He pointed out, in an accusatory fashion, that since she is My cat, she responds best to My voice, so would I get My ass out of the door to help look for her please. Reluctantly, I dragged on some flip flops, and headed off into the night.

I walked around 3 square blocks in my pyjamas, calling her name and muttering angrily. My personal safety did cross my mind at one point, but I looked way too crazy for anyone to mess with.

As I neared home, I passed our neighbors' house, and called the cat's name one last time. In response, I heard a plaintive mew. I tried it again -- and again, she answered back. I'd found her...but where the hell was she?

I tore into the house, and grabbed Mr Berman. We tiptoed into our neighbors' yard, and realized that the mewing was coming from their basement, where it appeared the cat had been stuck for 2 days without food or water. We would have to ring the bell and wake them up.

At this point, I should mention that my neighbors are a lovely family, new to the neighborhood. They are most likely not used to having crazy, barely-dressed, foul-mouthed people ringing their bell at midnight. They are most certainly not used to living next door to us.

They were incredibly gracious, and showed us into their partially-renovated basement. The cat was stuck in a 2-foot high crawl space under the kitchen, so Mrs Neighbor fetched a can of tuna with which to tempt her out. 

The cat was not tempted. 

There was nothing for it -- I had to crawl in after her. It involved a fair amount of wriggling through dirt, and I ended up hanging ass-first out of the crawl space, calling "Here kitty kitty" through gritted teeth.

The cat crawled over to sniff at the tuna. I made a grab for her but missed, hurling the entire can of tuna all over Mrs Neighbor in the process. The cat followed with a yowl, embedding all 10 claws firmly into Mrs Neighbor's back. Mrs Neighbor, quite understandably, started to scream. After a mad chase around the basement, we caught the terrified animal, apologized profusely, and slunk back home, leaving Mrs Neighbor to pick the tuna out of her hair while Mr Neighbor cleaned the blood off her back.

We are awash in shame.

And this was Sunday evening. My lovely, peaceful, organized Sunday evening.

Roll on Monday. I'm ready.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Costco

Every month, we make an excursion to Costco. There is initially great excitement at the prospect (we don't get out much), and everyone eagerly piles into the car. The kids look forward to the sample tasting. Mr Berman mentally eyes the electronics and prepares to make his case for an extra 50" flatscreen TV. I contemplate which new kitchen appliances I will buy and barely use.

What we always forget is that Saturday afternoon at Costco is hell. Thousands of tortured souls who could not resist temptation, forced to spend an eternity consumed with anguish and futile dreams of escape. We remember this as soon as turn into the parking lot. The conversation is always the same.

"Looks crowded."
"Yup."
"Should have come early, right when it opens."
"Yup."
"Or midweek, after work."
"Yup."

We drive around for 15 minutes, and if we are lucky, eventually find a space without fisticuffs. Parking space sabotage is common. People cut you with steely resolve, and would run over their own children in order to secure a spot. I have a strong moral compass when it comes to parking etiquette, and these outrages have me practically frothing at the mouth. By the time I stagger out of the car, I am exhausted by the strong language and hand signs I have been forced to distribute.

It only gets worse.

The place is impossibly crowded, which enforces a sedate shuffle. I am not sedate, nor do I shuffle. I prize energy, efficiency, speed. But these virtues count for nothing in Costco. So I shuffle around with the crowd, as energetically, efficiently, and speedily as I can, practically grinding my teeth to powder in the process.

Here is our shopping list:
Supersize cheddar
Supersize yogurt
Supersize pretzels
Supersize cheerios
Supersize houmous
Supersize rice
Supersize peas
It continues, in the same vein, for 3 pages.

In addition to food, we also review this month's special offer items. Of particular interest: supersize stretch pants, $11.99. Could come in handy. I place 3 pairs in the cart.

My favorite part is the discount wine store, which we visit after check out. At this point in the proceedings, I am invariably losing the will to live, and it is all I can do to prevent myself from ripping the cork out with my teeth and downing the nearest bottle.

So why do we put ourselves through this?

It's not to save money. Any savings on food are rendered neutral by the ready availability of electronics, kitchen appliances, and supersize stretch pants.

We do it, quite simply, to save time.

A few hours of Costco torture once a month gives us precious extra time with the boys each weekend. We can stroll through the greenmarket without worrying whether we have enough cat litter. Spend a little extra time in the library without dashing off to stock up on loo roll. We could even, god forbid, sit down en famille for a civilized breakfast, thanks to our supersize pack of frozen croissants.

Counterintuitive as it might seem, that precious commodity time is now available at your local Costco store.

See you in the dairy aisle.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Packed lunch

Yesterday was my son's first day at middle school.

Of course, I had forgotten to register for the "My Lunch Money" program online until the night before. I took care of it at 11:47pm, but discovered to my dismay that payments take 24 hours to appear in the school's system.

What the hell would I give him to eat on his first day? We are in the middle of an everlasting kitchen renovation during which we are subsisting on deliveries and take out, and the chances of me finding healthful sustenance amidst the dust and mess were slim.

I rustled around in the laundry hamper (where I am storing comestibles during the renovation), and retrieved a packet of Cheetos and a Capri Sun.

This would not do. While my son would be perfectly happy with this for lunch, his new school offers a very healthful menu with lots of fruits, veggies, and whole grains. I cannot send him into this environment with Cheetos. While I don't think Cheetos, if taken in moderation, would be bad for him, they sure as hell would be bad for me.

I would look like a Bad Parent.

I reviewed the label on the Capri Sun. I was encouraged by the fact that it contains 30% less sugar. Than what? Cotton candy? It didn't say. But it fooled me for a second, so it will fool the Judgers. I popped it into the lunch box.

I located the peanut butter under a pile of bills, alongside a suspicious-looking loaf of bread. I selected the two most promising slices, cut the worst of the mold off, and made a somewhat presentable sandwich.

What the hell could I do for fruit and veg? There was a forgotten green pepper in the fridge, but no amount of fancy knifework would ever make it edible. I grubbed about in the back of the vegetable drawer, and emerged triumphant with a remarkably well-preserved pear. I sliced it lovingly into an environmentally-friendly, non-BPA, reusable plastic container, being careful to leave the little 'organic' sticker on. Chew on that, Judgers!

While I was in the refrigerator, I noticed a lone yogurt, which was a little past its sell-by date. But not by much. I reminded myself that yogurt is meant to go off, sort of. I scratched off the sell-by date with my nail, added it to the lunch box, and zipped it all shut.

It was done. My reputation as a Not-All-That-Bad Parent was safe. My son's stomach, maybe less so. There is always Pepto Bismol.

I wonder if it counts as a vegetable?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Kids N Action

Today, I found myself in an indoor amusement park.

That alone would be bad enough. But my time in this neon hell coincided with the very window of time in which I was expected to review a considerable volume of work and provide meaningful feedback to my colleagues.

How, you might ask, did I get myself into this?

Guilt.

I am on vacation this week. However, we are in the throes of kitchen renovation, so rather than expanding my kids' experience by trekking through the rainforests of West Africa or visiting monasteries in Tibet, I have been dragging them around Home Depot, Lowes, and shady tile warehouses in the industrial nether regions of Brooklyn. This, coupled with the fact that there are projects at work that I cannot just walk away from, means that downtime with my kids has been somewhat challenged.

During this afternoon's home-improvement excursion, we passed Kids N Action, and my youngest asked, very nicely, if we might go in. Considering that I had recently plied them with a 2-pound cinnamon bun apiece to keep them quiet in Ikea, I should have known better. But I caved. 

Kids N Action, I discovered, is a glatt kosher version of Chuck E Cheese. There were play tunnels, a ball pit, go carts, and -- la pi├Ęce de no-parental-resistance -- an indoor roller coaster. A cacophonic whirl of sensory overstimulation, the place might aptly be renamed Parents N Purgatory.

There was not, unfortunately, a bar. 

I managed to find a seat in the cafe, and opened up my laptop. Before switching on, I glanced over to check on the boys, and realized that they were already on their fifth roller coaster ride, which considering the cinnamon buns they had recently put away, could only end badly. Feeling faintly guilty that I had unleashed my over-sugared kids on the other inhabitants of this brightly-colored plastic jungle, I dutifully ignored my gut, and started reviewing work. 

Two cups of bad coffee later, I eventually sent feedback, which may or may not have been meaningful. I had one of my heads coming on, and could not wait to get home and take 3 Excedrin (migraine-strength) with a glass of wine. I extracted my kids from the ball pit, with considerable difficulty.

"Mummy, this place is FANTASTIC!"
"Mmm-hmm."
"I mean, I can't believe we've never been here before!"
"Mmm-hmm."
"Do you like it mummy?"

Silence, as I wondered how to answer.

My youngest answered for me.

"I bet you do mummy, because you have fun when you see us having fun, right?"

There it is, in a nutshell. The reason places like Parents N Purgatory exist. We have fun when we see them having fun. No matter how miserable we are.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Teleconfession

I had an 8am call yesterday morning, to present work to an extended client team in the US and EU.

This is way earlier than should be legal. While I truly don't mind getting up early -- like it, even -- the fact that I am expected to be cogent, compelling, and persuasive before my second cup of tea is terrifying. I decided to take the call from home, which would give me a little longer to rally my rambling thoughts.

What should be pointed out here is that my summer mornings are a harried whirl of multi-tasking activity. There are soccer boots to be found, water bottles to be filled, lunches to be packed, breakfasts to be made, sunscreen to be applied, screen-time rules to be laid down, arguments to be had...god forbid I have time for a shower.

So of course, this morning I was in my usual state of disarray.

I hopped out of the shower and onto the call, wearing nothing but a towel. I started off in decent fashion, pretty authoritative I thought, for 8am. And then it occurred to me. What if my clients and colleagues could see me right now?

The authoritative note slipped out of my voice, and I clutched my towel a little tighter.

I am thankful beyond expression that videoconferencing has not taken off in a big way in the business environment. While I love Skype and will happily chat away to my parents in my pyjamas, having to be well-groomed and ironed at any time of the day or night for business calls would be way beyond my capabilities.

This morning's call went smoothly. Nobody guessed I was looking for something clean to wear as we discussed the ideas, or was groping under the bed for my shoe as we decided on next steps. Everyone left the call happy, and I left it dressed.

Videoconferencing would put an end to this kind of multi-tasking. Which would be a shame. Because I went to work clean. And I smelt great.

Odorconferencing. Now that I could cope with.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Presentation skills

My son recently had to give a speech at his graduation. He was the salutatorian (I had to look it up), and so was asked to inspire his fellow graduates and their families with erudite, pithy, and amusing words of wisdom.

He is 10. And while I am a firm believer in allowing kids to do their own work and make their own mistakes, I couldn't let the lad fail in front of 500 people. So I became, for two brief weeks, a stage mom.

We brainstormed ideas for his speech. ("You need one idea. No rambling nonsense. If you tell them more than one thing, you've told them too much.")

He wrote it, and I reviewed it. Ruthlessly. ("Where's the structure? It's all about structure. Repetition and structure.")

And then we rehearsed. And rehearsed. And rehearsed again.

I had the poor fellow recite it in the kitchen. ("Slow down.") On the stairs looking down at a family audience of 3 people and 2 cats. ("Slower.")  With his notes. ("Pause between each sentence.") Without his notes. ("You need to know this inside and out so you can think on your feet.")

I was unbearable. Because I do this a lot. And I know that you had better be prepared, because things don't always go according to plan.

Just yesterday, we had a presentation at work. There were 30 people squeezed into a conference room that bulges at the seams with 20. My jacket was tight. It was hot. I was thirsty. I stood up to present, and realized to my horror that I was quite unable to draw a breath. I gasped. I spluttered a sentence. I sipped some water. I took a shallow breath, in order not to burst the buttons on my jacket, and spluttered some more. It was the most uncomfortable presentation experience of my life.

Afterwards, a colleague mentioned that she liked the way I took my time, and drew deep, thoughtful breaths between each point. I disabused her of this notion, and explained that I was in fact hyperventilating, and had almost died for want of a paper bag to breathe into.

"Oh," she replied. "I thought you were doing it for emotional effect."

At least they didn't see the whites of my eyes.

On graduation day, my son was spiffy and smart in his new suit and shiny shoes. He climbed up to the podium, where he had to stand on a stool so he could see over the top. He looked around calmly (just like mummy told him to), smiled (ditto), and took a deep breath (ditto, although he was in no danger of losing his buttons). Then he began...

He did a lovely, lovely job. I commented that he looked so comfortable up there, as if he presented to 500 people on a regular basis.

"Were you nervous?"
"Yes. My trousers were shaking."

Bless his heart.

I was so proud. Because even with shaking trousers, he didn't let us see the whites of his eyes.