Sunday, October 30, 2011

Mischief Night

 I come home around 9pm and see 4 rolls of toilet paper and an egg carton near the front door. It's common for a neighbor to drop a carton or 2 by our house, since we have chickens. I absently wonder if Carol next door got such a great deal on Charmin at the grocery outlet she frequents that she was inspired to share. I say hi to the stepkid, talk on the phone for a little while, then take Alice out for a walk. I notice that the household supplies have gone away, and finally realize that it's Mischief Night.

Where/when I grew up, after the little trick or treaters had called it a night, older kids did the requisite marauding on Halloween, their pillowcases filled with eggs and spray paint cans instead of candy. Houses were egged and toilet papered; Jack-o-lanterns were smashed; mailboxes were knocked over with baseball bats and shovels; headstones were graffitied; sugar was poured into gas tanks.

Around here, teenagers make some mischief that seems pretty white-bread in comparison the night before Halloween.Which is tonight. Better yet (if you're 14), school is cancelled tomorrow because of a freak 7 to 10 inches of snow that fell yesterday, which is mostly melted but left widespread power outages.

I knock on my stepkid's door, wondering if he actually sneaked out.

Stepkid: "Yeah?"

He's playing xBox, talking with his friends online through his headset.

Me: "So...where are the toilet paper and eggs?" Teenagers have highly attuned bullshit detectors. I'm still refining my updated-for-high-school parenting technique: straightforward and respectful, and under no circumstances trying to be cool. He looks up for a moment, a near-smile.

SK: "I put them away."

Me: "Huh. What changed your mind?"

SK: "I don't know."

Me: "Sounds like a smart choice. There could be consequences you wouldn't want if you got caught." I don't mention the ethical import of leaving other people's property alone, as much as it kills me not to.

SK: "I might still go."

So, do I shut down that option? Do I in effect condone it by recalling my own high school Halloween exploits? Do I wait and see what he decides to do? I don't know so I don't say anything, just go about cleaning up in the kitchen. He comes out a little while later. I often wish we had an upstairs/downstairs floor plan, but I'm thankful tonight, as I know I will be for the duration of high school, that his bedroom is off the kitchen, a spoke of the household hub, and that he is forced by proximity to interact with the rest of us, all the while having his much-needed privacy respected.

I tell him whatever he does, I don't want him to use our eggs. The hens are laying less with the shorter days, and it's a waste of food.

SK: "Seriously? It's not a waste -- other animals will eat them. It's better than toilet paper. I mean, that's littering."

It was a long time ago, but I'm pretty positive I wasn't pondering the ramifications, ecological or otherwise, of my near-future actions as I headed out with my fellow Hallows' Eve vandals. All I could think of was sweet revenge on a mean neighbor, and later raiding my baby brother's candy stash. (I had a notion of myself as a nice girl, but there's quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.)

It's 11:30pm and he hasn't left yet, and I need to go to bed but I'm stalling. He just came out to use the bathroom. On his way back into his Man, Jr. Cave, I ask if he's going to bed. (The stepkid does have a bedtime, just to be clear. But with a 6am wake-up and 3 hours of football practice every day, it's not something we ever need to enforce.) "No, no school tomorrow." "Are you staying home?" He looks at the clock and laughs, at me. "Obviously."

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Public vs. Private

I noticed this sign while taking a walk near my workplace yesterday. My phone camera doesn't convey how battered and knocked over the sign was.

This is the area to which the public has access.Wish I brought my picnic basket!

As obvious a contrast as this, I couldn't resist documenting it. This sign is within sight of the public briar patch.

Again, the camera on my BlackBerry doesn't do this a bit of justice. It's a truly sweeping view of Long Island Sound, with a mansion to the right that serves as HQ for an insurance holding company. I don't know what that means, so I asked a lovely older woman who was also taking a moment away from her work to admire the view. "I don't know what they do over there," she said, gesturing to the other part of the building. "I work on the foundation side, that's all I know. And I'm the only one who sits out here and eats my lunch in the summertime. The rest of them sit at their computers, never look up all day."

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Room of One's Own, On Wheels

Every day I think, "Today is the day I take the train to work" to my J.O.B. 30 miles away. Every day I leave the house just a little too late to both catch the train and the shuttle from the train to my workplace in order to arrive on time. Driving might or might not get me at my desk any earlier...but it might. After six months of this daily delusion, of checking for my train ticket (still there, still only 2 out of 10 punches punched) and failing to use it, I'm finally admitting that I choose, I choose to sit in some of the country's worst rush-hour traffic, idling away my time and gasoline and ozone layer, ratcheting up that scary-high odometer reading, day after everlovin' day.

All I want is to be with my child, the one from whom I'm separated now 12+ hours/day because we need the income and benefits. (I miss my stepkid, too, yet while parental presence is critically important with a teen, so is allowing them their space. Also, his Dad is on-hand, more appropriate for talking about girls and shaving tutorials.) I cry every Monday for the duration of my commute, it's so painful that I can't do what ought to be my primary job, the only job that matters, except around the edges of the day... yet driving usually extends this separation from my children. This is crazy, right?

But then I understood: My car is the only place that's all mine (most of the time). Anywhere. My office at work is a cubicle. No, that's an exaggeration: It's a right angle. I share a cubicle. My home office is the corner of the kitchen. Another whole 90-degrees all to myself. It's the farthest corner from the stove, but if the wind is right and the wooden stirring spoon is cocked just so, a pasta sauce splatter across my computer screen is not improbable.

Our house is small and all on one level. The only potential Virginia Woolf turf is the playhouse above the chicken coop, and it's hard to write in a place where the ceiling's too low for a person over 4' 5" to comfortably sit upright.

Our bathroom doors don't have locks. My kid is four.

Me: I'd like privacy, please.
Her: Okay.
Me: Um, why are you still here?
Her: For privacy company!

My car is not exactly a destination. It isn't an on-the-go entertainment center, or an all-terrain overstuffed lounge chair, like some of the vehicles with which I share the interstate. It features an old-school AM/FM radio, all the preset buttons preset to our region's plethora of public radio (WNYC on the way to work, WSHU on the way home and  WFUV the rest of the time). The CD player became mysteriously jammed a couple years back. The shock absorbers don't.  The locks and windows have to be clicked and cranked by hand. It loses hubcaps like a gradeschooler loses teeth. But the heat and A/C work. It reliably starts and stays started. It's paid for. It's fairly clean. It is comfortable enough while stationary for a nap or meditation or to use my laptop when parked in a wifi spot.

I might go sit in it right now, in the driveway, actually. As I'm typing my stepkid, whose bedroom shares a wall with the kitchen, is waging battle with zombies or an opposing football team or some other video game enemy. My husband is standing at the island behind me, eating his lunch. My daughter has interrupted me three times...for kisses. Break my heart, already. I'm taking the train on Monday, I mean it. Even if it means crying in public (transportation).

Header Image from Bangbouh @ Flickr