Not This Year, Satan

One of the great things about our school district is the delayed start time for middle and high school students. The older kids start AFTER the elementary kids. Instead of being the first ones on the bus, they are the last ones on the bus. I’m pretty sure the school district’s scheduling decisions were based on lots of science and not, say, an unmitigated fear of what teenagers are like when they’ve had to rise before the sun. Little kids usually wake first while big kids tend to sleep in. It’s all very logical and makes sense and I think it would work really well for families with kids that aren’t broken like mine. Because mine are broken and this setup has been terrible for us.

My two youngest, elementary-aged children would sleep until the average Sunday brunch time each and every day if I would let them. They are both extremely difficult to motivate in the early morning hours. Simply raising their heads off of their pillows seems like a monumental task, so crushing are their grade school responsibilities. Meanwhile, my oldest child, my middle schooler, could watch the director’s cut of “Titanic” in the free time he has each day between when he’s ready for school and when he has to leave to catch the bus. He has so many minutes to burn that he actually gets bored, inevitably following me from room to room trying to discuss some sports thing as I’m deep-breathing my way through my first cup of coffee while simultaneously packing lunches, trying to find PE-approved shoes, stuffing the green folder in backpacks, and imploring his younger siblings to please, for the love, JUST GET OUT OF BED.

Anyway, in summary, I spent most of last school year trying unsuccessfully to wake Charlie and Millie up while pretending to listen to Henry talk about football. It was just as much fun as it seems! If you’re guessing that there was a lot of rage involved in our morning routine, you are guessing correctly.

And, let it be known that I tried really, really hard last year to be kind and gentle and loving and patient and to not say the really bad curse words before 7:00 a.m. I had Waffle Wednesdays and French Toast Fridays and special lunch box treats and hugs and kisses and all manner of gentle encouragement to get those two little kids up and out the door. Morning after endless morning, it did not work.

None of it worked. I always ended up yelling. Every time. So much yelling.

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I vowed, Scarlett O’Hara-style, that this school year would be different. Because, I simply cannot have another year full of red hot rage over having to doula my children through their before school routines. I just cannot. I need greater independence from my perfectly capable children.

Last year, we tried out alarm clocks but it went poorly. In an era when you can, essentially, just yell commands in the direction of your phone or your Echo or your iPad or your mother, the complicated multi-step process of setting alarm clocks proved problematic for the youngest of our household. Each morning, Millie would turn her bleeping alarm clock off by… unplugging it. Effective, yes, but also not very efficient. That meant, each evening, we’d have to sit down and reset the time and then the alarms and also the snooze capabilities confused each of them and we basically abandoned the alarm clocks pretty early on in the school year.

This year, I procured a Google Home Mini for Charlie. Voice commands make it easy for him to set the alarm and also, as a bonus, I can always tell when he’s awake in the morning because I can hear him yelling from his bed at the top of his lungs, “HEY GOOGLE STOP STOP GOOGLE STOP.” Millie is still using an old-school alarm clock for now because her bedroom most closely resembles our local landfill and I’m using the Google Mini as the dangling carrot in my cleanup scheme. She’s only unplugged her alarm twice this year (so far) so I can confidently claim that we seem to have rounded that learning curve.

In an effort to further streamline our morning routine, I also bought these great dry-erase charts that I hung on the back of the kids’ bedroom doors outlining what they need to do every day. These charts are working great in that Charlie and Millie remember to ignore them almost every day.

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However, laying out the next day’s outfit the night before is critical for Millie since she is forever picking things to wear to school that she actually can’t wear to school. She always picks a miniskirt and sandals on gym days or wants to wear her gymnastics leotard on library days. Laying out her outfit the night before means I can fight with her about her clothing choices at the end of the day when I’m exhausted instead of fighting with her first thing in the morning when I’m also exhausted. The whole process is very frustrating but also adorable in that Millie literally lays out her outfits.

The charts are colorful and cute and all but I’m actually thinking about just laminating instructional signs and hanging them all over my house instead. Every morning is this hamster wheel exercise in asking my kids over and over and over again if they have their shoes or their library books or their sweatshirts or asking if they’ve brushed their hair and washed their faces. I’m tired of the sound of my own voice. Signs would make this way easier. Want to know what to pack in your lunch? There’s a sign for that! Asking me repeatedly what you need for flag football practice? Reference the sign! Curious how you can brush your teeth without leaving the bathroom looking like someone was murdered with Crest? I have a sign for that!

It wouldn’t be pretty to look at but at least any houseguests we may have would know how to pour themselves their own bowl of cereal in five easy steps.

I don’t want to seem overly confident or anything and I know we’re not that deep into the school year yet but I have super high hopes for less rage this year with our charts and our instructional signs and our more advanced alarm clocks. I mean, last year was so endlessly frustrating that I think it can only get better from here, right? I mean, even if this year still proves maddening, I can always look forward to the middle and high school years with their later start times. That’s only – let me check my math here – FIVE YEARS AWAY.

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Assumptions I Make About Other Honda Odyssey Drivers Based On Model Year

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2018

Fully loaded: Our first baby is on the way! We are just SO excited to become parents. This is such a magical time! We finished the nursery this past weekend. Have I shown you pictures yet? No? Hold on. Let me get my phone.

Base model: Peed on a pregnancy test at 4:45 a.m. and discovered we’re going to have a third kid. I don’t even know how to break the news to my spouse. I was at the dealership before they even opened because this is absolutely a panic purchase. I’m sure I’ll have regrets and if I’m being honest right now, I’m not sure if I’m talking about the minivan or the third kid.

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2017

I haven’t slept through the night in 18 months and I can’t remember the last time I brushed my teeth. I’m only out driving around right now because we sprung for the fancy integrated DVD player and it’s the one thing that makes the baby stop crying.

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2016

I have an infant and a toddler and probably a preschooler, too, and I have to lug them in and out of this car an unbelievable number of times each day and do you know how heavy that bucket car seat is so you can pry my sliding passenger doors from my cold, dead hands. Andy! Help me get the double stroller loaded in the back of the van!

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2015

These spill-proof sippy cups really aren’t spill-proof. How can they even claim they’re spill-proof? They totally spill! The label should read, will do a pretty okay job of not spilling. Related, do you smell something weird in here? I definitely smell something weird in here. This van is starting to smell weird.

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2014

Yes! Sure! I can totally drive us all. Give me a minute though. I just want to get some blankets from the back to cover up all of the seats. I would hate for you to get a stain on your pants or something.

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2013

With clean rims: We refuse to give up on a life of order and cleanliness even though we are drowning in kids and their detritus.

With filthy rims: We have completely given up on a life of order and cleanliness because we are drowning in kids and their detritus. Park the van outside the garage so it will get clean the next time it rains.

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2012

I drive approximately 750 miles each week hauling my kids to all of their places. We LIVE out of this car. I could cook a three-course meal for our entire soccer team out of the back. I even rigged a Keurig to run off of the cigarette lighter. Oh, is that a bug bite on your arm? Let me see if I’ve got something in the trunk for that.

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2011

This car has seen some shit. Specifically from that one road trip back home from the beach when two of the three kids had a stomach bug. We’re DEFINITELY leasing next time. No question.

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2010

We are only two years away from being DONE with car seats and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go buy a brand new vehicle just to put booster seats in it again. I don’t know what that light is that just came on on the dashboard but I don’t care. I am limping across the finish line with this minivan, crevices full of Lego pieces and Cheetos and that stain that looks like blood but is probably just a melted lollipop from the doctor’s office.

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2009

Both sliding doors on this thing broke two years ago but it’s okay because the kids are old enough to just climb in and out through the back hatch. And, it’s a good thing that back hatch still works because I’m not spending a penny more fixing this minivan if what we’re fixing isn’t absolutely essential to the operation of the vehicle.

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2008

I can haul anything you need hauled. Need me to take that old dishwasher to the dump? Sure! That sofa you bought on Craigslist? Let me grab some bungee cords! A dozen ferrets not in cages? Not a problem! My minivan is so destroyed from a decade of kids that nothing could possibly make it grosser. Let me help you with that mulch!

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2007

We had to send our kid to private school for Reasons and even though we were totally going to get a new car this year, the tuition is killing us so we’re going to wait for a bit.

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2006

Our teenager is driving now so we handed this down to them but I’m deeply conflicted because while there’s nothing even remotely attractive about driving a minivan, I’m very aware that there’s a whoooooooole lot of room in the back when that third row is folded flat.

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2005

This van just sits in our driveway for long stretches and the air conditioning no longer works but we’re keeping it around specifically to haul the kids and their crap to and from college. Have you seen how much stuff fits in the back of this thing when the third row is folded flat?

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2004

If I park my minivan underneath this obviously diseased tree and a big storm comes through…

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2003 or earlier

I basically discovered minivans before minivans were a Thing. Have I told you how many miles I’ve logged with this baby? I mean, I didn’t even change the timing belt until 205K. Are you on any of the Ody Club forum web pages? No? Just in case, I’ll give you my handle.

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Anyone driving a Honda Pilot, regardless of model year

We’re not really “Minivan People,” per se. That’s why we drive an SUV. Even though our SUV is, like, two feet of cargo space away from literally being a minivan. But, it’s not a minivan. It’s an SUV. Because we’re cool.

A Little Light

A few weeks ago, I picked up Charlie and Millie from summer camp and surprised them with lunch in town at our favorite burger place. Charlie loves a good cheeseburger and Millie could beat grown men in a french fry eating competition and also this made for one fewer meal I had to prepare at home so we were all pretty jazzed to be there.

This restaurant happens to be super small so when we entered, we headed straight to the counter to put in our order before finding a table. We found ourselves behind a young man placing a large takeout order. He was hot and sweaty and dirty and had obviously been working outside and appeared to be taking food to the rest of his crew.

After paying for our burgers and fries, I thought it best for the kids to wash up because who knows what they do at summer camp but it probably should come off of their hands before lunch so we headed to the bathroom. Upon returning to the little dining room, we were greeted by what could only be described as a mustard explosion. We stopped in our tracks and kind of did that cartoonish double-blink with our eyes. On one side of the restaurant, mustard was everywhere. On a couple of the tables, on the walls, the chairs, the floor. Bright, yellow mustard painted all over the place. And, all over the shirt and jeans and hands of the young man with the takeout order who we were behind in line when we arrived and who was obviously the point of origin for the mustard detonation.

In the short time we were in the bathroom, this customer’s order had come up and he had obviously attempted to add some ketchup and mustard to the burgers in the bag before heading out the door. At this restaurant, both of those condiments are in big red and yellow plastic squeeze bottles. I don’t know if the lid to the mustard wasn’t on tight or maybe, since the restaurant had just opened for the day, the temperature change from the cold refrigerator storage and the super warm dining room caused some sort of volatile buildup in the bottle which led to the explosion? I’m not sure but my CSI splatter analysis suggests the latter. It must have been absolutely spectacular.

What was even more spectacular is that no one was helping the young man clean it all up. He had grabbed a couple of napkins and was futilely trying to wipe the mustard from his pants but he mostly just looked overwhelmed and embarrassed. Two of the six tables in the restaurant were occupied – one with parents and their teenage children and another larger family with a few adults and lots of young kids. It was, without a doubt, impossible to not notice what had happened which made it so surprising to me that no one was moving a muscle to assist. Everyone had witnessed it and then just… continued on. Like nothing had happened.

I assigned Charlie and Millie to an open table that wasn’t dusted in mustard and went to help, interrupting the lady at the counter to ask for some paper towels and then returning to start wiping up the tables and the chairs and the floor while the young man looked at me and tried to explain that he had no idea what had just happened. I reassured him it was all okay and after several minutes, we had made some good progress. An employee eventually emerged to help. We all worked together a little bit longer and had most of it wiped up in short order. When we went to throw the mustard-covered paper towels in the garbage, the young man looked at me, smiled, and said, “I’m going to smell like mustard all day now.” I laughed and offered to hold the door open for him as he left with his tray of drinks and paper bag filled with burgers and fries and most likely, too much mustard.

Then, our order came up and the kids and I devoured our food, talked about how crazy that mustard thing was, and left in search of ice cream.

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So much going on in this world right now makes me feel completely and utterly helpless. Not hopeless. I haven’t lost hope. But, it feels like there isn’t enough helping going on anymore. I think that’s what brings me the greatest despair. The lack of genuine compassion for one another. Sometimes, it feels like no one has the space or the patience to just be kind.

I can donate my time and I can donate my money and I can speak passionately and I can listen empathetically and I can educate myself and I can advocate for others and I can rearrange our entire November vacation to be home in time to vote at our local precinct in the mid-term elections because I’m a little leery of absentee voting and it just seems better to be there on that day to vote in person, right?

I can do all of those things. And, I can show my children how to be helpers. How to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How to imagine a situation – a life – that is different than their own. How to see a need and then fill it. How to clean up mustard with sub-par, non-absorbent, eco-friendly paper towels.

In the tiniest, seemingly inconsequential of ways and in the biggest, most significant of ways, helping others, compassion for others, kindness for others, matters.