Friday, September 10, 2010


Yesterday, the Matron met Scarlett at her bus stop.

Bus! Whole new world!! That one block walk? The Universe.

As they were heading home and Scarlett was instructing the Matron on the demerits in her parenting grade book for waiting for at the bus stop ("MOM!! Nobody else's MOTHERS are at the stop!") the Matron noticed a slim, youngish boy wandering around in sort of a loopy way.

He was maybe 10? 11? Looking at street signs and circling the block.

Matron: "I think that little boy is lost. He got off at the wrong bus stop, I bet."


Matron to young child: "Hi! Do you live around here?"

Child: "I don't think so. I live near White Bear Avenue and Ruth Street. But I can just walk downtown and see if that's where my house is. Is this downtown?"

A. White Bear and Ruth Street are miles away.

B. Downtown is nowhere near said streets.

C. Child clearly is lost.

Matron: "I'm Mary. What your name?"

Child: "Jamal."

Matron: "Do you know your address? Your home phone or Mom or Dad's cell phone? Brother or sister?"

After some time it became apparent that Jamal didn't know his address, phone number, cell phones or any other vital locating kind of information. The Matron used her cell phone to call his school but got this: sorry we are closed for the day.

Matron to Jamal: "Jamal, I know everyone learns that it's unsafe to go anywhere with strangers. I want to do what you want me to do. I can call the police right now and they'll come and find your Mom and Dad. Or, you can come home with us -- you can sit on the steps or come in, whatever you want -- and I'll work on finding your parents and take you home. If we can't find them, a police officer will come and get you and make everything okay."

Jamal: "How many kids do you have?"

Matron: "Three. They're all home. You can meet them all. If we find a phone number for your Mom, you can talk to her right away. Sometimes you have to make a hard decision: is this safe? I can tell you that all I want to do is find your Mom and Dad, but it's your choice. We can sit here on the stoop and wait for the police and that would be totally cool. But if you want to come and sit on my front steps -- with my kids-- or in the kitchen, I'll try to find your parents. Here's my cell phone. Call anyone you want. I'm going to let you hold onto the cell phone so that you're in charge. Okay?"

Jamal took the cell phone. The Matron dialed 911 but didn't hit 'send': "If you want to call the police, just hit this green button. Okay?

Jamal: "Do you have orange juice at your house? I'm a little thirsty because I've been walking for a lot of bus stops."

Scarlett: "Orange juice, lemonade AND some blue sports drink."

Jamal: "Maybe I'll sit in the kitchen."

After calling his old elementary school, the school district's central office, new school and all old numbers for parents--while Jamal had a hearty snack and hot cocoa in the kitchen, surrounded by all three children -- it became clear that he was in no-man's land.

Matron: "Jamal? I think I have to call a police officer. He can figure out how to get you home."

Jamal: "Can you drive me to my old house? We moved awhile back and I think I can get to the new house from my old house."

Jamal is 13 and in 7th grade. The Matron is now worried about Merrick's inadequacies.

Yours truly has some great pause, considering.

Matron: "I think that it would be safer for you to have a police officer come and make sure you get home. They're super smart that way and I'm not. Plus, you get to ride in the police car! Have you ever been in one?"

Jamal: "Can we call 911 now? Can I sit behind the bars?"

She called the non-emergency number for the police; a very attentive officer arrived within 15 minutes. Although he nearly fingerprinted the Matron (driver's license #, birth-date, social security, ID), he was clearly in her camp. She handed him the list of contact information, schools, and old addresses for Jamal. Even though she knew the officer quickly trusted her, she also is certain that his first question to Jamal was: "What happened in that house? Everything okay?" And that's a good thing.

Police Officer: "Are you sure you didn't go to the police academy? This is sort of efficiency to the nth degree."

Matron: "Welcome to my world."

And the whole family waved good-bye to Jamal from his perch in the back of the police car, backpack by his side.

Then John started drilling Merrick on his address and phone number.
But tonight, the Matron is still haunted by that little guy wandering through foreign territory and heartened that in this era of 'stranger danger,' he was able to accept a little help from a stranger.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Real Housewives of Minnesota

Wake up at 5:30.

Try to remember what day it is and what pressing matters demand your attention within the next ten minutes.

Get the sixty-pound puppy off your stomach.

Find sweat pants.

Peel off any stray children who wandered into the marital bed.

Go downstairs and make a gourmet breakfast: pop-tarts and hot cocoa.

Take the compost outside, and hope at least some of the bugs go with it.

Sweep, empty dishwasher, vacuum dog hair, check email.

Eat oatmeal while the teenager mumbles some dissenting opinion or another to anything you say.

Get up middle child and wait patiently while the various threads of hysteria are worked out.

Make another gourmet breakfast: bread and butter.

Walk to bus with sixty-pound puppy and then chase said puppy when he breaks free from leash to chase squirrels.

Understand that despite the offer from the gang-banger big brother of the other child at the bus stop, you will not allow your daughter to 'hitch a lift' with him should the bus be late or absent. Pretend otherwise, as this is Minnesota. Repression, denial and lies are part of the cultural landscape.

Return home to witness youngest child's desperate search for school uniform (jeans, white t-shirt, black hoodie). Because these items are stripped off and discarded, one by one and over time, this is a fun way to rummage through the entire house.

Three mile run with the dogs. Well, run (or be dragged by) one and pull the fearful Satan's Familiar, who is working with his boss (that would be Satan) to insure the Matron's eternal fate after welcoming the sixty-pound puppy into the house.

Drive to work, wondering why it is socially unacceptable to have a cocktail for breakfast.

Discuss compulsory heterosexuality with students in Gender and Women Studies class; note that one young man keeps saying "babe" when referring to women. Be glad he's in the class.

Office hours. Pray nobody shows up.

Two hours of this: Scarlett. Teachers need new theater schedule; stage manager for second show requires schedule for first show; major audition for lead role in Disney film requires contact with not one, but two, agents; family calendar must be updated to include her 24/7 schedule through November; schedule voice lesson; call for auditions for The Little Match Girl (guess who wants to BE the little match girl?); register for Children's Theater Pre-Professional acting troupe after successful audition and wonder about the 'pre' in professional; check with director of next show to see if child is allowed to cut hair half an inch; investigate possible venues for dance lessons now deemed a necessity for someone whose life goal is to live onstage.

Grade papers. Note that 'our' means 'are' for many and forgive the students who believe that sexism and racism are highlights of the 1960s and has nothing to do with them.

Nod attentively at meetings with administrators.

Pick up the youngest from school; use baby wipes in van to clean chocolate off front of shirt and remind self to find a comb instead of using fingers -- all day.

Spend thirty minutes on a four minute rush hour drive.

Question teenager about the viability of spending six hours on the computer playing war games. Remind said teen about homework, dog-training and chores and pretend you're not ready to rip out his hair when he revolts.

Ban everyone from computers and television.

Vacuum dog hair (did she mention the sixty-pound puppy), check email and clean three bathrooms.

Empty lunch boxes, walk dogs again and start dinner. Debate the possibility that all five family members will be agreeable to the same meal. Note how quickly bugs form around the compost by the sink (a lovely empty ice cream bucket).

Start family on food while rounding up Scarlett for rehearsal.

Drive once again through (the end this time) of rush hour traffic and consider listening to NPR a moment of relaxation.

Work on online classes while waiting two hours for rehearsal to end.

Drive home against a backdrop of "why can't we stop at Dairy Queen?"

Chase youngest around for bedtime rally, make school lunches, vacuum dog hair, sweep kitchen, do laundry, check email, whip up bedtime snacks, check family calendar, and reconsider the cocktail.


Put youngest to bed (mostly involves tickling), spend hour attending to middle-child's hysteria (which changes every hour or so), spend more time tending to oldest's needs and interests, offer Advil PM to children who can't sleep, let the dogs out, put away laundry.

Watch Mad Men.

Field queries from husband about adapting a Mad Man model for one's own contemporary marriage.

Close shades and turn on night lights.

Clean up dog vomit (did she mention the sixty-pound puppy?) and put Merrick back to bed after he hears the dreaded rain.

Wonder why nobody makes a hit TV series out of this. She could totally squeeze into a cool designer dress and spend hours trying to manipulate people.



Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Middle-Aged Mama

If you're under thirty, you shouldn't be reading this blog.

Yesterday, the Matron donned an adorable green and red, sorta flowered shirt, that she purchased from Old Navy. Said shirt has puffy sleeves and ties behind the back. In short, she was Fashion Mogul.

It is 6:15 on the first day of school. The Matron is wearing her spiffy shirt while downing her daily dose of the vitamins and supplements that promise to keep hip replacement at bay.

He Who Cannot Be Named: "Mom, where did you get that shirt?"

Matron: "Good morning to you, too! Old Navy! Isn't it great?"

HWCBN: "I don't mean to be insulting, but that's a shirt for a thirteen-year old. I'M even too old for that shirt. If I was a girl, that is."

Matron: "Really? But I like it!"

HWCBN: "That's because you like children. It doesn't mean you should dress like one."

After that ego boost, HWCBN loped off to his bus (at 6:34 a.m., Lord help them all). The next in line appeared in the kitchen, where the Matron was in the midst of an endless stream of bacon, eggs, and lunch boxes.

Scarlett: "Mom, whose shirt is that?"

Matron: "Mine! It's new. Do you like it?"

Scarlett: "Um . . . . "

Matron: "What?"

Scarlett: "Don't you think that's a little too fashionable for a mother?"

Matron: "Can't mothers look good?"

Scarlett: "Not really. I don't plan on having any children."

Now the Matron is really feeling good about herself, her wardrobe, and her daughter's perspective on maternity.

Scarlett goes off to her bus (7:10, better).

John stumbles into the kitchen: "What day is it?"

Matron: "First day of school, Tuesday."

John: "New shirt?"

Matron (finally nearing approval!): "Yes! Isn't it great?"

John: "You look like you're fourteen. Wearing your hair in two pony-tails adds to the distortion."

Matron: "Distortion?"

John (awakened by the understanding that this is now a potential for no sex for about six months): "Bad word choice! I just meant you're beautiful and that's a youthful look for you. Really flattering. People might veer away from the big flowers on the shirt and go right to your tight little butt. So yes, great shirt. Highlights your assets. That's quite the montage of red and green, isn't it?"

Whereupon the Matron immediately went upstairs and changed shirts, hoping to spare herself a fourth round with Merrick.

Can't these people wake up simultaneously?

Merrick is roused.

Merrick: "Mama? What awe you weawing?"

Matron: "What do you mean, what am I wearing? Work clothes! I teach today."

Merrick: "Did Gwandma Mawy buy that shiwt for you?"

Sometimes you just can't win. Pass the bifocals and Vogue magazine, please.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Being Pregnant

Which, the Matron enjoyed, immensely.

Those years are long gone (her youngest is seven) but she has fond memories of the three gestational years.

First Pregnancy with He Who Cannot Be Named: The Matron, then a Youngish Miss, was supposed to be writing a dissertation. Instead, she watched cooking shows on television and read every junk novel published in the past ten years.

John: "Shouldn't you be writing that dissertation?"


That's how she went into motherhood. Heels dug in, fear.

She gained 35 pounds and once ate an entire roasted chicken on the way home from the grocery store. Her dear spousal unit still marvels about that (partly because he wanted, and didn't get any, of the beast).

Second Pregnancy with Scarlett: the Matron again gained more weight than necessary but was unable to read novels or watch television. She had a toddler to chase. Still, she enjoyed the expanding belly and process, loved the little creature who poked through her skin.

When she was seven months pregnant with the diva, the Matron (who has told this story before, sorry long-time readers) was restless on the marital bed. Wind was high. Thunderstorms started happening. It was 11:00 p.m. on a week night; HWCBN, formerly Stryker, at 16 months, was sound asleep in his room. But the impending storm gave her pause, so she rose from the bed and joined her husband in the living room downstairs.

Then the wind found its breath. All across the Twin Cities, trees were felled and houses damaged. Hers? A 110 foot, 15 ton tree fell into her house --- lodging in four places, most markedly, an enormous section of the tree landing on the bed wherein yours truly (and Scarlett, in theory) had been ten minutes earlier. The bed was broken in half; the entire room full of tree. Yes--forty feet of tree crammed into the former bedroom. Good-bye nice new divan!

The entire room was destroyed--oh, and the roof, the kitchen, the garage and two cars. Let's just say the insurance check nearly topped the value of the home.

When the tree fell -- with the wind, the thunder, the storm--neither John nor the Matron knew quite what had happened except that suddenly outside was in. The wind gusts in the living room were magnificent, as were the popping live electrical wires.

Matron, hysterical: "What's that small fire in the kitchen by that clump of wires?"

John rushed upstairs to get Stryker; the Matron (remember, seven months pregnant?) rounded up the equally hysterical dogs.

They slept on the living floor at a neighbor's house and it took six days for the crane to arrive and successfully dislodge the tree. Please don't get her going on all the "don't go into labor" jokes she endured during the endless reconstruction and train of workers ahead. She's here to tell you that there's nothing worse than being hugely pregnant, trying to write a dissertation, handling a toddler, rebuilding a house AND enduring endless jokes from men whose belts drag their pants down well, well, under the butt crack.

And the engineer who examined their house at the insurance company's behest? He pointed out the two foot crack in the wall by Stryker's crib -- right at the head.

Engineer: "Wow, you're lucky you didn't lose that guy."

Thanks for that!

Pregnancy Number Three, Merrick: For this one, the Matron decided not to find out if she was carting a boy or girl.

But she'll never, ever forget this. One beautiful, still night -- around 3 a.m. when the bladder called--she was up and alone in the darkness. She went to the window, hand on the growing baby, looked out over the rooftops, stars, dewed lawns with no one else awake, and knew, knew, this was a boy. If there is some non-linear logical means of knowledge, she was offered it that night. She never wavered in her conviction.

This time, yours truly - by then clearly a Matron -- gained just 20 pounds (starting out at about 105) and gave birth to a 10 lb. Merrick. She looked quite alarming. She's not prone to refugee camp jokes, but perhaps this might be the moment.

Male Friend Without a Clue: "Oh my GOD. Could you get any BIGGER? That baby must be like, three years old? But otherwise I think you need a protein drink. Is there something the matter with the way this thing is developing? Is it normal to be stick thin with a sixty pound belly?"

Thanks for that!

But today, the Matron is waxing a wee bit nostalgic about that reproductive era. She's not only solidly into her forties, she'll say good-bye to them in just a handful (ahem, or less) of years. One of her friends is pregnant for the first time at forty, and the Matron will admit to a wee bit of envy. Okay, the whole birthing endeavor is just under death on the pain scale, but before that?

Just you and me, kid.