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Mom on the Run

Mom Takes On Curling Adventure

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I was in the moment I opened the flyer attachment that Jamie sent me: “Curling Experience: Curious about curling? Want to see if you can throw a stone or sweep one through the house? Here’s your chance to get out on the ice here in Richmond! Our members will show you the curling basics so you can get on the ice, throw a rock, and sweep the stone!”

Yeah, so the Curling Experience ran until 10 p.m. Yeah, so I had a whole two-plus hour drive back afterward. Yeah, so I’m old, and not exactly flexible anymore. Who cares? It’s curling! Sport of brooms – with which I am vaguely acquainted – and loud pants! Terrific! “Of course!” I emailed Jamie back immediately, a month ago. “Sign me up!”

Jamie and I waited impatiently in and out of the weeks since. My best friend since we met the first day of high school, Jamie and I haven’t lived in the same city in decades, and she has a toddler now while my kids are in and through college, but still we share an unbreakable bond and, apparently, taste for odd adventure.

We had a lot of back-and-forth discussions before the big night. My son plays ice hockey so I’ve spent a lot of time in ice rinks, and I was concerned about shoes, and not falling. Jamie was more worried about the weight of the stone, and the coordination of legs and arms for “throwing” it. Between us and our online research, we satisfied no concerns at all, and showed up for the big night in jeans, sneakers, and jackets. “I want to sweep,” Jamie said. “Heck with that,” I said. “I want to throw.” So, as usual, we made a perfect team.

The Curling Club of Virginia, as it turns out, is the only curling club in the Commonwealth. Headquartered in Richmond, they fundraised heavily before getting started – a new set of 16 stones runs $25,000 and up – and are eager to bring on new members. Each stone weighs 42 pounds, and every stone in the sport, for every team in every country, comes from the same island off the coast of Scotland where the sport originated. One of the Curling Club team members passed around a stone so each member of our Experience group of six could heft it, and tilted the stone back to show us the narrow, rough ring that skims the ice. He showed us his curling shoes with the special slick Teflon pads on the bottom of the left foot (since he is right-handed), and the wooden hack that is set in the ice as a brace for takeoff.

Our on-ice lesson starts with “stone delivery.” Jamie and I wisely position ourselves at the end of our line of six intro curlers. Ben is at the front, and he and his wife – whose name tag I never can see, her hair covers it the whole time – turn out to be fairly natural athletes. On his first time out, Ben pushes off with his right foot and eases into a lunge, his left knee up and his right leg positioned gracefully behind him. But when he goes to release the stone – splat! Yeah. Our group nods in understanding. We expected that. Jamie and I, arms crossed, the oldest of the six by at least 20 years, don’t chuckle as loudly as the rest. We are thinking about outstretched legs, about hamstrings and quadriceps not used to sudden exertion, about jeans reacting to stress.

Shane and Kiley are up after Ben and his covered-nametag wife. They are not natural athletes, and have more difficulty than Ben. Shane is long and thin, and his bones almost seem to tangle. His wife Kiley is heavier, rounder, and bellyflops onto the ice. Jamie and I look at each other knowingly. This, is what we expect for ourselves. Definitely.

And then it’s my turn. Jamie, bringing up the rear of our line, watches me intently. I position my right foot firmly in the hack. I grip the stabilizer bar – a bunch of glued-together PVC pipe – with my left hand and the red handle of the stone in my right. My left foot on the temporary sliding piece, I try to focus on the movement of the lunge, try to imagine it in my mind, to make sure my left knee goes up and my right leg goes back. Finally I push off, and … I slide, I release the stone, and I don’t fall!

Whoo! I can curl! I pump the air with my fist. Take that, age 47!

Pool Cleaners Need Resumes, too

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I recognize my son’s ringtone immediately. It cuts through any sound, any background, no matter where I am or what I’m doing. I don’t like the ringtone, it’s a weird robotic kind of thing, but my husband set it a year ago when I first got my smart phone and I don’t know how to change it, so it stays. And it’s just as well, because my ears are programmed to listen for it; my son calling from college is rare and important, and every fiber of my being is eager to know about and take his calls.

So when the robot music starts I pick it up through the conversation and the radio and the road noise, and, “Wait!” I say, stilling everyone in the car, and bend down to dig through my purse for my phone. I grab it, hoping the ringing hasn’t been going too long, and slide over the blinking arrow. “Hello?”

“Hey,” my kid says nonchalantly, as if he calls me daily. “How are you?”

“Good, how are you?” I ask. I’m pretty sure he’s not checking on my general welfare, though, and I wait for the request that is sure to come.

“Good. Hey, can you do me a favor?”

Aha. Knew it. “Sure. What’s up?”

“I have to have a resume to apply for a job, for this summer, and I don’t have any idea how to do it. Can you help me?”

Aha! Perfect! Something I can do, something that I as a recruiter am uniquely qualified for among my son’s large list of contacts. For one brief and shining moment, right now, I’m important! “Of course,” I say, trying not to sound too glad he’s asked me. “I’m happy to. What’s the job?”

“Cleaning pools,” my son says. Instantly I wonder why he needs a resume to apply to a pool cleaning job, but I assume he wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t a requirement, so I hold my tongue. “It’s with Taylor, so it’s kind of a set thing, but I need to turn in a resume.”

“OK,” I say. For a minute I consider describing a resume format to him – name and contact details at the top, experience header, education section – but then decide nah, that conversation would take too long, and I’m in the car, with everyone being quiet while I talk, and it would be quicker for me to do it myself anyway. He will learn from seeing my finished product. So, “Type up for me all your jobs. The name of the company, the title of the job, your start date and end date, and email it, and I’ll set it all up and send it back to you.”

“Name of company …” his voice trails off.

Ah. Ok. I start again, more slowly: “Name of company, your job title, when you started – just month and year – and when you left the job. That’s it.”

“OK. I’ll get that to you. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.” And then, because my son is almost 19 and he’s away in college and he’s almost all grown up but not quite, and because I will always, always be his mom and worry about everything, I add: “And wear sunscreen when you’re out cleaning pools.”

“Yeah, Mom, I will. Talk to you later.”

And my boy is gone again.

Interrupting Throat Trickle Painful, Annoying

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

The tickle starts low, and way in the back of my throat. I try to ignore it. I swallow, once, twice, hoping to soothe it, sweep it away. I clear my throat, gently, carefully. But the tickle grows, deepens, intensifies, and bang! The cough erupts like a volcano.

Oh, my throat hurts. My throat hurts and my chest is heavy and my head feels like it’s full of cotton balls. I haven’t been able to hear clearly for the better part of a week and though I am exhausted, wiped out, I can’t sleep. That throat tickle interrupts even a fully medicated slumber.

It’s been a while since I had a head cold. Months. Maybe even a full year. After more than two decades of daycare and schools, I no longer have children bringing home every virus that travels through the Manassas area. I eat better, I sleep better, I don’t frequent places full of sickly youngsters. And so I generally remain healthy.

Until Super Bowl Sunday when my nose wouldn’t stop running and my ears started to clog. I stayed up late, watching the end of the game, even though I knew I needed sleep, and I slugged a cupful of cherry-flavored NyQuil before bedtime. I installed boxes of tissues everywhere – bedside table, coffee table, dining room table – and picked up a fresh, full bottle of nasal spray. I relied on DayQuil for Monday and Tuesday, supplemented with NyQuil at night, but then I decided I was better, and the cold wasn’t affecting my nose so much and the medication wasn’t ideally suited for this virus anyway. So I stopped, relied on tissues and orange juice, and waited. I read once that the average head cold lasts seven to 10 days. At that rate, I only had a few days to go. May as well power through.

But this throat tickle … it is unpredictable and powerful. It interrupts meals and work and sleep. It has gone on for days and days. I’m not used to having sore throats, and throat tickles, and this is painful and annoying. So I’m really happy when I discover in a moment of desperation that Hall’s cough drops work, and I’m delighted to discover that each individually wrapped little lozenge comes with five or six “Pep Talks”!

I’m cleaning my bedside in the morning, picking up the tissues and lozenge wrappings strewn in the middle of the night, and I take a moment to sit on the bed, unscrunch the wrappers, and read the Pep Talks I missed in the dark. “Seize the day,” says the first one, smack in the middle of the paper. “The show must go on. Or work,” is in the bottom left corner. “Impress yourself today,” advises the upper-right hand corner. “Nothing you can’t handle,” reads the lower right. And, finally, in the upper left-hand corner, “Fire up those engines!”

These things crack me up, and have been for days. My first bag of lozenges was found in the cabinet at work, fairly old though still unexpired, and obviously left there after the last cold, whenever that was. That bag was lemon and honey flavored, and did not have wrappers bearing motivational messages. When they ran out I bought a bag of cherry lozenges, just for variety, and was several lozenges in before I opened my bleary eyes enough to notice the tiny print on the white paper wrappers. And now, really, with the way my head and chest feels, they are the only fun to be had around here.

Ahh! The feeling is familiar. The tickle, low and insistent, stabbing little pangs. COUGH! My lungs hurt as the air explodes out. I sit and recover for just a minute, hand on my chest, eyes watering. Then I get up, cross the room, aiming for the magic bag of lozenges. I reach in, grab randomly, pull one out. I untwist the ends, pop the lozenge in, start to suck, and, eyes closed, gratefully feel the numbness begin to spread down my throat. Finally I open my eyes, and bring the wrapper up: “You can do it and you know it.” “Put your game face on.” “Seize the day.” “Let’s hear your battle cry.” And, most meaningfully this time, “Get through it.”

Yeah. It’s just a cold. Get through it. I can do it! Ugh.


These Workout Pants are Tighter: The Fear of Gaining Back Weight

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

My eyes narrow as I pull on my workout pants. Hey …

I step across my bedroom towards the full-length mirror and stand in front of it, hands on hips. I step closer and turn left, rotate so my body is reflected full-length, sideways. Deliberately, I move my hands down and grab my butt. Well, more precisely, I grab the seat of my pants. No, no, no! These pants, this fabric, this was definitely looser, right here, this part, just, what, the other day? Weren’t they? Are they that much tighter? In just a day? Is this possible?

OK, I try to think slowly, rationally. Maybe it’s the pants. Right? I recently took the ones on the bottom of the stack and swapped them with the ones on the top, knowing I do laundry frequently enough that my workout pants aren’t wearing evenly; I wear some a lot more frequently than I wear others. Maybe this pair is just less worn, less stretched, so they are smaller, tighter? Optimistically I peel off the one pair, cross to the dresser, and select a pair from the bottom, of the stack in the drawer. I shake out the pants, which are identical to the pair I just took off – same brand, same size, same color, purchased at the same time – and step into them, one leg at a time. I pull them up, settle them around hips, and move back to the mirror.

Where … aaah! No! It can’t be! But my hands, grasping the fabric, tell me it’s true. There is no doubt. My pants are tighter. In the seat. This pair, and the other pair too. I have – shudder – gained weight.

This, then, is the terror of anyone who has lost weight: gaining it back. It has been almost exactly two years since I started going to the gym and cutting back on food. I don’t know exactly how many pounds I lost, I didn’t weigh myself before I started. But I lost four sizes in total, and I love being this smaller size! I love looking good in clothes, and feeling healthy, and mostly looking good in all the lovely colorful fashionable new clothes that my smaller size required me to buy.

I have been absolutely determined to maintain my new size, and I’m really working at it. I honestly have achieved the much advertised change in lifestyle: I spend my evenings at the gym. Weekend activities revolve around, well, activity. I hardly ever eat bread or dessert or drink soda anymore. I drink protein drinks at breakfast and eat fruit for a mid-afternoon snack. I virtually never miss a scheduled spin cycle class, and I am competitive and a little crazy about weight-lifting, annoying all my male gym buddies by comparing my weights to any other woman who happens to wander into the free weights section of Gold’s Gym.

Except for the past month. It’s been trying, the beginning of the New Year. Schedule changes have cost me more than a few spin classes. Holidays and general feelings of complacency have led to some poor eating choices (I look good! I exercise! Sure, I can have some chips and queso! Yum, cookies?). My husband took over the daily dog walks. And now … now my pants are tight! Aughhh!

I twist and turn in front of the mirror. I take the workout pants off and try a pair of jeans: same thing. My clothes still fit, sure, but they are definitely tighter. In the rear, and, I stop and grab my belly, in the waist, too? No!

I rush to face the mirror again. I stand, pooch out my belly, in what even in my worry I understand to be an exaggerated fat pose. And my fear is rewarded: look! I turn sideways again, inspect my bulgy midsection. No no no! This can’t be!

I stop and close my eyes. I breathe, and set my jaw. OK, fine, I think. I can do this. I lost the weight once. I maintained it. Everyone gains a little bit of weight over the holidays. Life has been stressful. But it’s just a few pounds, just a little bit extra, and I will lose it again!

Still. I shudder. I don’t want to go back. I turn, look into the mirror one more time, and say goodbye to chips and queso. Again.


It’s the New Year, So When Can I have My Gym Back?

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

The couple is standing over by the abs chair, studying it intently. The man and the woman are middle-aged, perhaps a little older, and each is wearing a faded, loose white t-shirt, long baggy shorts, and stiff, new-looking sneakers. His wire-frame glasses have slipped down toward the end of his nose. Her hair is frizzy and she looks generally rumpled.

The man is holding a piece of paper, and they both consult it, several times, while looking hard at the abs chair. They talk back and forth to each other, then finally the man nods. He looks at his wife – it seems clear that’s who she is, the couple just seems to match – and hands her the paper. Then he approaches the chair, puts his hands on the armrest handles, and steps up into it.

Tentatively, feet on the lower bars, he turns to his left, leaving his hands on the handholds, and rotates toward the padded back of the chair. He lifts up on his tip-toes, tries to twist and fully press against the back, but of course he can’t, not with his hands the way they are, gripping the opposite handles.

I’m standing just across from the couple, about 10 feet away. I’m with Brett, my regular training partner, waiting for him to finish his triceps pulldowns, after which it will be my turn. I’ve been at this gym for about 18 months, and I have regular gym friends, a regular training partner, a regular schedule, and a regular workout routine. This gym and its varied equipment are familiar and comfortable.

But I recognize the couple and their dilemma. That was me, not so long very long ago, and I remember it well. I was fortunate enough to be dragged around the gym for the first few months by a friend with 30 years’ weightlifting experience. He knew what he was doing, and he showed me. By the time his schedule changed and kept us from working out together I knew enough to keep going, and not be completely lost in the gym.

Most of the time, my Gold’s Gym is filled with people who know what they’re doing, regulars who move comfortably between machines and equipment, who have their routines and their weights in their heads and who don’t stand and stare and try figure out how to work everything. But it’s January now, and the gym is full of Resolutionists, people who got memberships and shiny new sneakers for Christmas and now, in the spirit of the season, are beginning their long-delayed exercise routines.

“Don’t worry,” my friend Luke said last January, when I was frustrated by all the extra people milling about and taking up space on the machines. “They got gym memberships for Christmas, they started coming at New Year’s, and they’ll give it up for Lent.” I had laughed then – ha ha, I’m a gym regular now, and entitled to roll my eyes at confused new members! – and darned if it didn’t turn out to be true! So now I know, and I feel gentle and tolerant towards the new people in here, people who are slowing me down and moving stuff and leaving weights in the wrong places … but who are either genuinely trying, or who will be gone soon enough. That was me once, and I stayed and improved and got healthier, and I hope it sticks for some of these newbies clogging up the place.

So now, today, I am watching the couple out of the corner of my eye as I do my set. OK, I decide, I’ll help them. I’ll walk over there and smile encouragingly and offer to show them how to use the abs chair. It’s a risky thing, offering assistance, because people don’t always appreciate the suggestion that they don’t know what they’re doing. Sometimes they are embarrassed, and sometimes, “No, no, I’m fine,” they tell me irritably, waving me away. But this couple is obviously inexperienced, and I’m old enough and un-muscular enough that my help might be accepted. Yes, I decide, I’ll try.

But by the time I finish my set (“thirteen … fourteen … fifteen”) and move the pin back to Brett’s heavier weight … hey, where did they go? The man and his wife have scooted away. I look around the free weights room, try to find them, see what they’re doing now, see if they need help. Wherever they are, they should be easy to spot.

The couple seems to be gone, though. I don’t see them anywhere. I am partially relieved – yes! Clear out! Leave me my gym! – but I am disappointed, too. Used regularly and effectively, the gym is the tool to better health, better fitting clothes, and better self-confidence. I hope the couple and all their machine-hogging Resolutionist friends stick it out.

Well, OK, I think, looking around at the gym, full with so many people that there is even a line at the water fountain; maybe not all of them. Some of them can stick it out, but I still wouldn’t mind having my gym back.

Working Laptop Fails to get Creative Juices Flowing

The laptop is new to me. It was my husband’s, is a few years old, and no longer has enough memory to do what he needs to do. So he bought a new laptop, cleaned this one off, removed his password, and handed it over.

So exciting! I’ve been using my desktop for I don’t even know how many years. Seven? Eight? It’s a workhorse, this old Gateway, and hosts the WiFi router for the whole house as well as the printer. The desktop has stored away years of Christmas card letters, kids’ high school essays, and sports schedule emails … it’s an archive of my family’s history.

And it is slow. Painfully slow. It takes forever to turn on, generally freezes when turning off, and is impossible to use for anything online. I really only need Word and email, though, so it’s worked. My computing needs are not great.

But when my husband offered the laptop, visions of speed and freedom danced in my head. I could work from the comfort of the living room sofa with the TV on, or from the kitchen while I cook dinner! I could watch YouTube videos! I could – gasp – join the 21st century and be mobile! So, yes, please, I told him quickly, and waited impatiently for the day when it was ready to go.

I will be more effective with a laptop, I promised myself. I can research things without needing 30 minutes’ lead time to get the computer on and warmed up. I can write – my columns, and maybe more! I would certainly be more creative with a laptop, able to capture my thoughts and ideas more quickly. Speed and power! I drooled. Yes. My efficiency would soar!

So here it is, finally, my big portable computing moment. My husband leaves the laptop in its pouch on the dining room table and walks away. I approach it nervously, pretending I’m not. I don’t know a thing about setting up the laptop, but I do not want to ask for help. Surely I can figure this out. I know the general parts – power cord, mouse (because the built-in touch pad is quirky and sensitive), machine itself. I open the pouch and pull everything out, then lift open the laptop cover. I look hard at the black surface. There, on top. Isn’t that the power symbol on the small round button? Gingerly I press it, and a blue light! Yes!

OK, then! Confident now, I pick up the power cord. Of course I know the plug end, and into the wall it goes. The other end is round; I check the side of the laptop and, helpfully, there’s only one round hold. Another blue light! Success! As the laptop sings its opening chimes I try the end of the mouse cord in first one rectangular slot – nope – then the other. Yes, that one fits. I move the mouse experimentally, and voila! Cursor control!

Within minutes – and just a few, not the 30 or so I’m used to – the laptop is up and ready, its screen of familiar icons lit and waiting. Ha! I’m going to work right now! In the early evening, in the dining room, while dinner is cooking. I’m going to write, here, capturing the energy and creative juices as they flow, rather than trying to summon them at a prescribed time upstairs in the cold and silent office. I can write, and as needed I can just get up and stir the pasta and come back, and get up and let the dogs out and come back, and get up and check the chicken and come back. Easy.

I am thrilled. Yes, I will do more! I will be faster! I will be more creative! This is fantastic!

So – click – I open Word. I create a blank page. I wait for the words to come. I get up and stir and check the chicken. I come back, and sit and wait for words. I get up and let the dogs out, and back in. I sit back down, and prepare to write. I sit and sit, and no words come.

Hmm. Well, maybe I should get to know this laptop better. What other programs are here? I move the mouse to the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. I click on the Windows logo. I scan, and … oh! Games! I shouldn’t, but … look how many! Chess, and Spider Solitaire, and hey! Mahjong Titans! I click and … ohhh. Such a fancy mahjong screen! Eight layout choices, music … well, just for a minute, right, to get the creative juices flowing?

Twenty minutes of Mahjong Titans later, it is clear: the laptop has enriched my life indeed.

Charitable Donations Replace Christmas Gifts for Adults

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I stand back and look at the tree. My daughter came home unexpectedly for the weekend, so my husband and I took advantage of having a kid present and decorated the house for Christmas. She is in her senior year of college and our son is in his freshman year, and with no other kids at home, my husband and I are having to figure out new processes, new expectations for just about every aspect of life. We’ve got the day-to-day stuff down, but holidays are fresh new ground.

Putting up the tree ourselves didn’t seem right, but setting up during their Thanksgiving visit seemed early, and waiting until they show up a few days before Christmas seemed late. It was convenient that our daughter popped home when she did, two weeks before the big day. My husband hauled up the boxes, and in an hour the deed was done: tree, stockings, wreaths, flags, little Santas and angels sprinkled here and there throughout the downstairs.

Last was the presents, and that’s what I’ve just finished doing. I had wrapped the gifts already, and once the tree was up it took just a minute to transfer them all over.

All of them.

I stand and look for a minute at the tree. This seems … sparse.

“Is that it?” my husband asks, standing next to me and looking.

“Yep,” I say, nodding, arms crossed. “That’s it.”

Beneath the tree: one large-ish box containing the expensive boots our ROTC-obsessed son requested for Christmas. One large-ish box with the camouflage pattern camelback wearable water bottle for my son, from my parents, which my dad had delivered to our house. One small box containing a shirt for our nephew. And one very small box holding a beautiful sparkly bracelet that I picked up for myself for a crazy low price on Black Friday.

“Well, I have two boxes to add for you,” I tell my husband. “They haven’t come in yet.”

“And I’ll have one for you,” he adds.

We stand together, looking at the tree, nodding at this sobering news.

“Do we have anybody else to buy for?” he asks.

“Nope,” I tell him. This year, for the first time ever, we have finally, finally done away with adult gifts for my family. Instead, we are giving charitable donations: “I’ll write up some cards for my parents and sisters, saying what donations we made in their names.” I’m having iTunes gift cards emailed directly to my sister-in-law for our nephew and niece. “We do need to find something for your mom and dad,” I say. He nods … but we both know those will be small, token-type gifts.

But our kids … just last week we gave our daughter cash for a down payment on a car as her Christmas gift. Aside from the boots, we’ll probably give our son some money.

And that’s it! For the first time in 22 years there are no babysitters, no teachers, no coaches for whom to buy gifts. No kids’ friends or even kids’ friends’ parents – other moms and dads who sit on bleachers and serve as back-up cheerleaders and EMTs and couriers – expecting little gifts or cards or homemade cookies.

So beneath our tree is lonely. The years of mountains of brightly wrapped gifts are over. The big toy gifts evolved to small electronics gifts, and those evolved to checks and deposits and down payments on cars. Things too big to fit under the tree.

Until … yeah, I decide, turning firmly away from the tree. I’m going shopping.

Trading in the Minivan: A Goodbye That Didn’t Happen

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I have to bend down to get into the little car. I slip my right foot in, swing my rear end in and sit down, then bring my left foot over. I reach out, farther than I expect, and pull the door shut. I ease back into the bucket seat, feel it hug my sides and shoulders, and reach forward with both hands to grip the steering wheel.

This little car is nothing – nothing! – like my minivan.

Wow. My feet are on the pedals, but I haven’t started it up yet. There’s too much to look at! Left hand still on the steering wheel, I reach out with my right and touch the control panel. There, within easy reach, the dial for temperature control, the touch computer screen, the radio and navigation system buttons. I slide my fingers down everything, feeling wonderingly. I drop my hand onto the gear shift knob, sportily set between the seats, not on the steering column.

I pull my hand back onto the steering wheel and look at the dashboard in front of me. Whoo, a tachometer! The minivan didn’t even pretend to have one of those. Its dash just had a speedometer, a fuel gauge, and a temperature readout. I have no idea what to even do with rpm readings.

Finally I press the button – press the button! Ha! – and start the engine. Vroom! With that the computer screen lights up, the dashboard springs to life, and I take the opportunity to test the sunroof. Ha again! I try not to gawk as the beige ceiling slides back, revealing a black glass roof. Then that lifts and pulls back too, and voila! The dealership bay ceiling is visible above me.

I turn and look at my husband in the passenger seat. I can’t help it, I’m grinning. We ordered this car, sight unseen, from a dealership in South Carolina. I had test-driven an older, stick-shift model, but this one is less than a year old, manual transmission, and is fully loaded.

And, mostly, it’s yellow. Bright, shiny, sunny, unavoidable yellow. I have wanted a yellow car for my entire life, and now’s my chance. My kids are both in college, my minivan is on its last legs (well, wheels), and I’m 47. Much older and it will be downright ridiculous to get a yellow car; at least right now it’s just silly. So my co-worker Pete found it online, I had it shipped up, and now here we are! Sitting in it! Right here in real life! I get to test-drive it, of course, I’m not committed to buying this car, but it is so cute, and yellow, and affordable, and we have financing all set, there has to be something seriously wrong with it not to leave here with it tonight.

“Ready to go?” The salesman is squished into the small back seat with my son, home for the Thanksgiving weekend and here to experience his mother driving not-a-minivan. I nod, and slide the gear shift into reverse, then – oooh! – we all stare appreciatively at the computer screen, which magically shows the bay behind us, courtesy of the rear-view camera. No way! I try to steer by the picture but can’t in the end, it’s too unfamiliar, the little car and the camera, and I twist around, peering around the driver’s seat headrest and out the little back window to get a better view.

Away we zip off into the night. First I drive, then my husband has a turn. We drive fast, and slow. We take turns and straightaways, try a U-turn. We play with the radio and the navigation system. And finally we go back to the dealership, where we spend over an hour completing paperwork.

We are on the way home, my husband and I and our son squished into the back seat once again, a sheaf of paperwork in our hands, when I realize: I drove her for more than 11 years, we took her on vacations and to tournaments and practices and grocery store runs. I drove Brownies and Cub Scouts and soccer teams and volleyball players and lacrosse sticks and hockey equipment. The minivan was central to my life, to my kids’ childhoods … and I didn’t even look back to say goodbye.

Son Barters when Accepting Cash for Everyday College Expenses

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I have just been online paying the final invoice for my son’s first semester of college. I have been forcing myself to breathe during the two-minute transaction; my bank routing and account information is already entered and it only takes one login ID, one password, one “payments” tab click, one “pay invoice in full” click, and finally one “make payment” click to complete the process.

The breathing part was required because I have now paid the “final” invoice three times, while receiving two refunds for overpayment in between payments one and two. Today’s tuition invoice was for $0.14 – really! – and knowing that the processing costs are well above that invoice amount, plus the fact that that there have already been four other transactions, makes me want to smack someone.

But that would be pointless and destructive, so instead, while I’m here in the online payment portal, I’ve decided to add money to my son’s ID card. That one magic card gets him into his dorm and the library, serves as a meal counter in the cafeteria, and is also a debit card for use in vending machines and washing machines and dryers in the dorm. My son is down to $3 on his card and I’m trying on this late evening to increase that.

To add to the evening’s payment frustration, the online system seems to be down. Three times I’ve put in my son’s ID number (or what I think is his ID number) and his birthdate (that I am sure of!), and three times I’ve gotten a message saying the system is having problems and to try again later. Ugh. Later, I’m going to be in bed. Later, and I will have forgotten.

So I go back to the instructions page and read carefully. Aha! My son can add money himself, in person, on campus, with a credit card. And he has a copy of my credit card, for emergencies, and for staples things I want to buy for him. Yes, I think tiredly, let’s go that route.

I pick up my phone, and text my kid: “Just tried to add money to your ID card online but the system seems to be down. You can do it on campus though … I authorize $75 from my credit card.”

I don’t expect to hear back right away, surely my son is busy, but I get an immediate text back: “I don’t need 75 thanks for the offer probably will just add 35 or so”.

That, I realize, is a big deal. My son doesn’t like to spend my money, he likes to be completely self-sufficient. He has his savings from his summer job, and he wants to use that. But he paid for his own books this semester, and he contributed a lot to his laptop, both things my husband and I fully bought for his sister, and those took a big chunk out of his savings. And maybe he thinks it’s OK for us to pay for his laundry. Whatever the reason, it appears that he will accept some money on his ID card, and that’s a good thing. But $35 doesn’t seem like much to me. Each load of laundry is $7, I think.

So I text back: “$60 then.”

He replies: “40”.

I meet him halfway: “$50”.

And I receive back, “Deal. 45 it is”

I grin. “Lol. Handshake :)” I text back.

I sit back in my chair, smiling. I look up, and, done, click away the online payment plan web page. Finally, an effective and pleasant college payment process!

Battle Pineapple Upside-Down Cake? It’s Cheaper to Eat Out

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

OK. I give up. This damp rag is not working. I roll back off my knees onto my heels, stand up, and cross the kitchen. I pull open a silverware drawer, slide aside the divider with the knives and forks, and root around in the assortment of random mismatched implements. Finally I find what I’m looking for: an old steak knife from probably the 1970s, donated to our then-new family by my in-laws when my husband and I set up our household in 1989.

The knife is rarely used, not part of any matching set, and has a sharp, thin blade. It’s come in handy often over the past decades and is definitely the tool for the job today.

Back over to the refrigerator. I open the door, kneel down, get a good grip, and lean in. I apply the blade of the knife to the far right edge of the goo, and start scraping.

The maraschino cherry juice is thick and sticky, and obviously has been settling in for some time. I’m not quite sure how I hadn’t noticed it when it first started to accumulate – though, OK, I saw it a week or two ago, I just didn’t get around to cleaning it right away. I had a feeling it was going to require some elbow grease!

It’s been a few weeks since I cleaned out the pantry, clearing out the accumulated kid snacks and school lunch components. Today it’s the refrigerator. Among other scary things, I’ve thrown out seven expired Greek yogurts, two old looking tubs of shredded Parmesan cheese, and a few completely wasted bags of produce: lettuce, tomatoes, mini peppers.

I’m still adjusting to having no kids at home: I’ve decreased my grocery shopping by a lot, but some things I still buy too much of. Bottled meat marinade, for instance. I only use half a bottle now that I’m cooking for only two, leaving the other half in the fridge …where, apparently, it gets pushed to the back and forgotten. I cook less in general – it’s so cheap for two people to eat out – and I forget the ingredients I have on hand and use less when I do, leading to the three half-full tubs of shredded Parmesan.

The maraschino cherries, however, have no such empty-nester explanation. A few times each year I indulge in a homemade pineapple upside-down cake even though nobody eats it but me, and then I need a small jar of maraschino cherries. A pineapple upside-down cake is just not as fun without maraschino cherry halves centered in the pineapple rings.

But even the smallest jar is too big, and I put the remainder in the fridge, where, like marinade, it gets pushed to the back and forgotten … and apparently knocked over. And then the juice oozes out, and spreads, and hardens in the cold, and becomes an unnatural red-pink glue that has to be chiseled off.

Carefully, carefully I scrape. The hot wet rag I applied before bringing out the knife has softened the long smear, but it still takes some effort, a slow and steadily powered push. From time to time I back out of the fridge and wipe the compacted gunk off the knife and onto a napkin, clearing the blade for the next swipe.

It takes a few minutes – scraping and wiping and finally rubbing the spot with the rag – until all traces are gone. I stand up, raise the jar of cherries to my eye level, and assess: looks like there are enough left for another pineapple upside-down cake. I unscrew, replace, and tighten the lid – no more leaking, thank you! – and put it back in the fridge.

I stand for a minute, gazing proudly at my work, gleaming bare and sparkling refrigerator shelves. Yes! Everything inside is clear and visible. No more buying ingredients I already have!

And as I swing the fridge door closed I happen to see the calendar stuck on the side. November. Oh! Thanksgiving! Extra food, extra cooking … and kids home for the holidays. I open the fridge door again and gaze inside, getting a good look at the clean shelves while I can.

Autism Walk Sparks Competition for a Good Cause

Mom on the Run

It’s a beautiful day, sunny and crisp, and I’m at the 9th Annual Walk for Autism Virginia. My company has sponsored a team and there’s a good-sized group of us here, co-workers with spouses and kids, wagons and strollers, happily, chattily making the laps around the Prince William Fairgrounds.

I’ve had a lot of fun. I like my co-workers, and it’s been good to meet the family members I hear so much about. Since I’ve been in Manassas for a long time I’ve run into other people I know, too – it was terrific to catch up with Charlene, who I haven’t seen for almost 10 years.

Now we’re on our third and final lap. Our work group is hanging loosely together, more spread out than when we started, lollygagging little kids towards the back, striding grown-ups in front, and older sisters darting up and down along our group. There are refreshments (pizza! Chick-fil-A!), games, and a moon bounce to celebrate the end of the walk, and the kids are excited, ready to wrap up this boring walking.

Aniya, nine, is particularly frustrated. Her moving on to the after-party is being held up by her mom, who is being held up by cranky five-year-old Julius. So Aniya splits off from them and bounces up to me a few yards ahead. “I want to run,” she complains to me. “I want to run and get there fast, and get to the games and food.”

I consider it for a minute. We’ve just started the third and final lap. I took a spin class this morning, and one last night. I feel fine … but ugh, I hate running. And everyone I work with is here and will be watching me do it. It’s not really far, though, and I think I’m in decent shape. Aniya is hopping up and down. She won’t be allowed to run alone, so … “OK,” I tell her.

I’ve just started to think about it – put one foot in front of the other, my husband counseled in May when we did the Warrior Dash, a 5K run broken up by obstacles – when Aniya grins at me and takes off. With a whirl of her purple jacket she zips away, darting between people and up the hill. (Of course we’re at the base of a hill. Because running isn’t going to be difficult enough.)

Oh no! I really have to do this, and right now! Automatically I take off too, chasing Aniya, following the trail she’s breaking.

The first people we pass, of course, are the president of our company and her husband, and “Oho! Look at this! They’re running! Go, Lianne!” “Look at Lianne run!” Their voices trail behind as Aniya and I get farther away, but ugh, people are watching! And I’m wearing a bright yellow jacket. I’m not going to blend in very well. I’m afraid this is going to be embarrassing. Why did I suggest this? Running?

I catch up to Aniya – I’m glad she’s short, with short legs, and already played a soccer game today! – and we race along for a while, dodging around clumps of walkers. It’s warm in the sun so her coat is open, and it’s flapping as she runs. She’s got her pink hat clutched in her hands and it’s swinging back and forth and she’s chatting, prattling on about how she wishes she didn’t have her coat, and she wants to get to the games, and this has been fun but all the way around three times is long, and she’s hungry.

I’m chugging silently along, listening and nodding, trying to keep a steady pace and looking worriedly ahead. We have a long way to go before we finish, nine-year-old girls seem to have limitless energy, and everyone is watching me! One foot in front of the other, Lianne ….

And shortly after we round the corner, and are part-way up the hill, wham! Aniya stops running. I slam on my own brakes, locking my knees and lunging forward. “OK,” she pants. “That’s enough for now. We can walk for a while.” Yes! I don’t punch the air, I don’t do a victory dance, and I don’t call back to my team, “She stopped first!” Instead, I smile, and we walk, Aniya and I, on this beautiful, sunny, crisp day, for a good cause.

For more information on improving the lives of all affected by autism in Northern Virginia, see

Next Big Lesson in College: Do the Dishes

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I’ve been trying to reach my son all afternoon. He called while I was in a meeting – darned work! – and when I tried calling him back he hung up on me, and my next call went straight to voice mail. “Sorry. Class,” stated the immediate text message.

Ah, good, I thought. I paid a lot of money for him to go to college to take classes, so, “No problem talk to you later” I texted back.

But then I didn’t hear from him. I sent another text message, “Call whenever,” but got no response. And I wasn’t really worried, so far every college phone call has been good, or just checking in, not about a problem, but still, my son called. I wanted to talk to him.

So on the way home from the gym I try one more time. He answers on the fourth ring, just as I am getting ready to hang up, and, knowing it’s me, launches right in, “Hey, I was just calling to apologize for all the times I didn’t do my dishes,” he says.

My mouth falls open. I was prepared for some sort of problem, or major news, so this … um … what? “Apologizing?”

“Yeah,” he says. “Some of my suitemates aren’t doing their dishes, and it’s making me crazy, and I know I did that, and now I get it. Sorry.”

I almost laugh out loud, it’s so unexpected, but catch myself in the nick of time. And rather than focus on the glorious realization and apology: “The dishes are all stacked up, huh?”

“Yeah,” he says. “They’re all piled up on the toilet, next to the sink. I’m just watching them to see how long it takes. I’m not doing them.”

Now I can’t help it, I have to laugh, remembering the small bathroom shared by the two dorm rooms and four boys. “Good luck with that,” I finally tell him. “My college roommate did the same thing. I finally caved and did them. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

“Oh, no,” he assures me. “I’m not going to do them. I’m doing my own dishes. But I’m not doing theirs.”

But, wait: “They’re sitting on the toilet?” I ask. “What are you doing? Moving them every time you have to go, or using someone else’s bathroom?”

“No, they’re not in the way,” he explains. “They’re on the top, in the back.”

“Oh, on top of the tank. Gotcha.”

“Yeah. So it’s no big deal, but you see them every time you go into the bathroom, especially when you have to use the toilet. They’re all right there. And I’m not doing them.”

“Good for you,” I tell him, and I mean it.

Then, “OK, I’ve got to go,” he tells me, less than a minute after answering the phone. “Talk to you later.” And my boy hangs up, leaving me staring at my phone in surprise and delight. Apologized for not doing his dishes! Just a week after I learned that he gets himself up in the morning – and his suitemate too, “because there’s no way he would wake up on time by himself” – though I had to shake him awake all through high school.

And I laugh, already anticipating the next lesson in my son’s college education!

First Timer’s Choice Breathing Skills No Match for Spin Class

Mom on the Run 

It’s 9:00 a.m. and I’m in the spin classroom at the gym, getting my bike ready. I’ve been taking spin classes for four or five months, and one of the many things I’ve learned is to arrive early to get the bike I want, to set it up, and to stretch out.

I’m prepping my preferred bike – they’re all just a little different, with tension and seat variations and I certainly have favorites – when the man walks in.

“Is there going to be a class?” he asks.

“Yes,” I tell him. “It starts in 15 minutes.” I know most of the spin regulars, we are a small and committed bunch, and this man is not one of them, so: “Have you taken spin before?”

“No,” he says. Then, “Do they have back-to-back classes?” My eyebrows shoot up in surprise. Ah, yes, the man has definitely not tried this if he thinks he needs two classes. I mean … everyone is dripping with sweat by the time spin is over. Everyone. For months my legs were in agony from the up and down, up and down, and still every class is painful and exhausting. So – two classes? “I’m looking for a really good workout,” he continues.

“Don’t worry,” I reassure him. “This IS a really good workout.” Ha! What an understatement. Spin class is a killer, even this kind of introductory Saturday morning class. But maybe the guy is in super shape, I think. Maybe he’s a triathlete or something. So, “There is a body pump class right before this,” I offer. “There are some people, including the spin instructor, who take that class and then come right up here to do spin. That’s cardio plus weights. You could do that first.”

The man nods slightly, kind of dismisses the idea, like body pump followed by spin still isn’t challenging enough, and turns his attention to a bike. My gym has articulating spin bikes, they sway from side to side mimicking a real bike’s motion. They’re strange at first, and this guy is swinging the bike back and forth, back and forth, experimenting.

“Take that bike next to me,” I suggest. “I’ll help you through the class.” He looks at me, questioningly. “I can explain terms to you and stuff.” The man nods, moves to the bike to my right, and starts to adjust the seat and handlebar height. I show him how to set it up, suggest he drape a few paper towels over his handlebars to wipe away the sweat during the session, and offer a friendly warning: “This is a tough class. It’s going to kick your butt.”

The man stops what he’s doing, sets his hands on the bike seat, and completely seriously says, “I’ll be fine. I use Buddhist breathing techniques to control my heart rate.”

I freeze and bite my lip, trying not to smile. I have introduced several people to spin class, runners and bikers and excellent overall athletes, people with strong muscles and great stamina, and every single one has huffed and puffed and sweated and groaned and barely finished their class. It took weeks before I was certain I wasn’t actually going to die during class. So this guy – Buddhist breathing techniques? Is he serious?

He must see the doubt on my face, though, because he plunges on: “The first time I tried it, I went running, and I used to be able to run only one or two miles. With the Buddhist breathing techniques, I ran eight or 10 miles! I was just able to run and run. This will be fine.”

“OK,” I tell him. And this time I can’t help but smile a little. “That’s great. But it’s still going to kick your butt. Don’t worry about speed or going up and down. Just keep pedaling. Try to finish.”

Other people are starting to filter in as the man looks at me and smiles. Poor silly Lianne. I obviously don’t understand. “I’ll be fine,” he says. “Really.” And as I stretch my legs and arrange my towel across the handlebars I begin to doubt my warnings. Maybe this guy is a super athlete. Maybe he’s going to zip easily through this class and teach me a lesson about arrogance and fitness. I mean, Colleen and Christy and Tonya and I all suffered, but maybe … Buddhist breathing techniques?

The class starts and soon I’m focused and swept up. My heart pounds with the music as I pedal, cranking resistance up and down as I climb up and coast down imaginary hills. I keep an eye on the guy, as promised. I talk him through positions two and three. I explain how to “gear up” and what “muddy road” should feel like. I mostly keep quiet, though, I don’t urge him on like I did for my friends’ first times; this guy’s got this, right? He wanted two back-to-back classes, after all.

It’s only at the beginning of the third song, still in the early part of the class, when the man turns to me and pants, a word with each breath, “You … weren’t … kidding. This … is … really … hard!” I can’t help it. I grin through my sweat, and reply, “Yeah, but you can do it!” And I don’t say a word about Buddhist breathing techniques.

Pumps Ordered by Phone from Bed

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I have just lain down, ready for bed, when – darn it! I meant to go online and order black pumps today. I want the exact same as the fabulous gray shoes I just got, but in black. They are comfortable, and just the right height, and a good price, and I have worn my favorite black pumps so much (they go with everything!) that they are getting beat up, so it made sense to me to buy the gray ones, in black; a guaranteed winner.

But, darn it! My day is over. It’s late. It’s not urgent, of course, but I tend to forget little non-urgent to-do items until suddenly they become urgent. So I really think about it: I could get up, turn my computer on, and check the website.

Or … I have a thought. I sit up, reach over, and pick up my cell phone. OK, everyone else I know does everything on their smart phones. I have a smart phone. Can I … ?

I click the Google button at the top of my screen and type in, “dsw”. The little bar crawls across the screen, and ta da! The DSW website is there on my phone!

So far, so good. There. A search box. I position my cursor and type in, “fergalicious jinx.” I happen to know that’s the brand and style of the fabulous gray pumps. It’s a memorable name. And wow! Almost instantly, there on my screen, the shoe! But – really? Dang it. The Jinx only comes in gray and red? Boo.

Hmph. I sit for a minute and pout. Well, I’m sure there are some comfortable all-occasion black pumps on this website somewhere. Can I figure out how to search on this phone? I scroll down on the screen, look at the “people who looked at this shoe also looked at” section. Nah. Those are all gray.

I click the DSW home page button. Aha! A search feature! “Women”, I click. “Pumps & Heels”. Then “High Heel Pumps”. Ah! Filters! Brand! I click “Fergalicious” – since I know that brand fits well – and Submit. Wow! I get a screen full of shoes! But there’s so many. Can I … I go back to Filters: sure enough. Under “Color”, I select the black box and Submit. And wow! Thirteen pair of black Fergalicious pumps!

Down I scroll through the thumbnail pictures. Don’t like the first pair. The next picture is of boots. A pair of wedges, those are cute, but not what I need. A pair of ankle-high booties. Oh! What’s this Sammi pump? I tap the picture. Hmm, that looks about right. I scroll farther down, click on Product Details. Sueded microfiber, almond toe (whatever that is; almond shape?), 3 ½” covered heel, $44.95. That’s pretty reasonable, really. Since it’s going to come to my house and I know it’s going to fit.

“Add to bag,” I click. I peck in my email address and password, and voila!, up pops my DSW discount dollars. No way! I’ve earned two $10 discounts. I type DOUBLEUP in the “offer or cert code” box (I remember that from when I ordered my gray Jinx two weeks ago) to get double points, and Apply. Just like that, my shipping charges disappear, too!

Check out takes about a minute. I have my credit card number memorized (from, um, regular online shopping; sorry, honey!) and pop it in. My billing and shipping addresses are already saved. “Complete purchase.”

Within a minute, while I’m still staring at my phone in awe, I get an email – also on my phone – from DSW thanking me for my order and saying it will be shipped out within days.

I sit there in bed for a moment, sort of stunned. I can’t believe I just did that! On my phone! In less than five minutes! Searched, filtered, chose, and purchased a pair of shoes! On my phone! Then – well, guess I can now, my day is done, my to-do list accomplished – I sort of shake my head, turn off my phone, click off my lamp, and go to sleep.

Mom on the Run columnist Lianne Wilkens lives in Manassas and is now exploring life as an empty nester. She has come a long way in learning how to use her phone.

Tuition Refund Check is in the Mail, Maybe

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

“Hi!” I know I sound giddy, answering my phone. But it’s my son! In his fourth week of his freshman year of college, and he’s calling me!

He’s called a few times, sometimes even just to say hi and check in, bless his heart, but it’s still infrequent, and very exciting. So I gush when I see his name on my phone.

Today, however, my 18-year-old is all business. “Hey, I just got a check from the college. It was in my mailbox. What do you want me to do with it?”

“A check?” I’m confused. “Why did they send you a check?”

“It says you overpaid the tuition. It’s for $2,200. What do I do with it?”

“Overpaid tuition?” OK, now that’s annoying. When I went to pay his tuition bill I checked it online for several days, and the bill was different every time. Finally I gave up and called the school, and was told that the latest number was accurate and correct, and besides, anything extra I sent would be kept in my son’s account towards the spring semester. And yet now my kid has received a check – for $2,200, that’s a lot! – and a note that says just the opposite.

I sigh and roll my eyes at the absolute … grr … well, OK, I decide, this is more a good thing than a bad thing, college costing less than I had planned, and no big deal. I’ll just take the check, deposit it, and send it back to them when I write the next check in January.

So: “Just mail it to me,” I tell my son.

There is a silence on the other end. “Mail it?” He hesitates. “Is that safe?”

I smile. Too funny. My technologically capable kid is perfectly comfortable with online transfers, debit cards, and direct deposit, but doesn’t trust old-fashioned paper checks to be delivered via U.S. mail.

“Um, it would be fine,” I tell him, smiling. “If you’re worried about it, just wrap the check in a piece of paper so you can’t see the numbers through the envelope. Did I give you envelopes and stamps?” I know I packed mail supplies for my daughter when she went to college, but she pared down the shopping list for my son, crossing off items she didn’t use. And now I don’t recall sending them along with this second kid, darn it.

But … “Uh, actually,” my kid says, hesitating slightly, “I’m more worried about user error.”

I pause a minute, try to figure out what he means. User error? Oh, holy cow: “Do you not know how to address an envelope?”

Another pause, then, “Maybe I can just wait and bring it home with me on fall break?”

Oh, my gosh. I grin, and rub my face with my free hand. Wow. Doesn’t know how to address an envelope. How did I let this very crucial part of my son’s education go unfilled? And how can I rectify this now, from here? I imagine talking him through writing out an envelope: ‘In the upper left-hand corner …’. Maybe I can scan one in and email the image?

Then, “Oh, wait, I know. Our accounts are with the same bank. You can just deposit it into my account. I’ll send you the account number.”

Wait: ‘How do I do that?’ I shake my head again and wonder what other life skills I have completely overlooked as I “prepared my son for college”!

Pantry Reveals Hidden, Expired Snackfood Gems

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

“January 2011,” I call out to my husband as I hear him step into the hallway, coming up from the basement. “That was the oldest expiration date.”

“Yeah?” Two steps later and he’s in the kitchen, surveying the scene.

There’s not much to see. I already cleaned most of it up. The trash bag has been pulled from the can and sits, bulging, by the back door. The boxes, a whole stack of them, have already been unfolded or crushed and carted to the recycle bin. In fact, the only remaining evidence of my purge is the heap of plastic chip clips sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, scavenged valuables.

I stand, hands on hips, perusing. “I can’t believe how much snack food we had.”

“I can,” my husband says. “The pantry was overflowing.”

And, OK, he is absolutely right. I hadn’t planned to tackle the pantry today, but when I got back from the grocery store and there was nowhere to put the box of oatmeal packets, it kind of became a necessity. At first I was going to just rearrange stuff, shove it deeper back, make a space just big enough for a box of oatmeal packets, but then I looked and … well, it needed to be done.

Almost 40 minutes later, the pantry contains less than half its contents. And oh, the surprises inside!

I was disappointed to throw away four boxes of expensive packages of individually packaged pretzel sticks – three unopened, but all long expired. My son, recently delivered to his freshman year in college, loved them in his school lunches … for a little while. Not, sadly, for very long, and I had stocked up in the meantime.

There was an individual fruit and gelatin cup that had turned a color no doubt unplanned by the Jell-O company. Honey roasted peanuts that had actually gone soft. Six – six! – partial bags of marshmallows, all (clunk, clunk!) alarmingly hardened. A whole heap of snack packages of peanut-butter crackers without expiration dates, but that crumbled a little when I picked them up.

There were three boxes of graham crackers in the pantry, each missing just one brick; did I make a cheesecake and forget the rest of the box the next time? I was disappointed but sort of proud of myself to put two unopened but quite old boxes of double-chocolate Milano cookies in the trash.

I opened and dumped a couple of jars of pancake mix straight into the trash – poof! For a while my kids wanted pancakes for breakfast, and I bought powdered mix and portioned it into jars so in the morning we could just add water, shake, and cook. Obviously, though, the requests at home ran out before the stockpile did.

On and on it went. We have a deep pantry, and stuff has always tended to get shoved in deeply. Bravely I reached in, blindly, time and again, grasping pale packages lurking in the back. Courageously, I stuck my arm in and swept the far corners, feeling for hidden yucky things. Calmly, I emptied out the last vestiges of school lunches, accepting that I’m done making them. Forever.

Now, my husband and I survey my work. The top two pantry shelves have stuff in the front only, nothing at all in the back. The pouches of protein powder that were sitting on the kitchen counter, too big to fit anywhere before, are tidily put away. The extra large bag of peanut M&Ms, previously stored down with the dog food, efficiently sits front and center.

“Nice work,” my husband says, then turns on his heel and gets back to whatever he was doing.

And as I stand and look, I realize with dismay: hey! No more marshmallows!?

Packing List for Parents Weekend Grows Longer by the Phone Call

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

I started my Parents’ Weekend list on a notepad in the kitchen on the day we got back from moving my son into the dorm for his freshman year of college. Parent’s Weekend was almost a month away then, and I didn’t want to forget the few things we neglected to pack:

· Travel mug

· Mattress egg crate pad

I mean, we took down a mattress egg crate pad, a brand-new one advertised as the right size for an extra-long twin bed, never opened, but when we got to the dorm it was weirdly shaped, both too wide and too short. We sort of wrapped it around my son’s mattress, but immediately planned to take my daughter’s old one down at the first opportunity. In her senior year of college now, she’s in an apartment with a double bed, and her old, regular sized egg crate pad is in the basement. Luckily we never seem to throw anything away.

And that was the full list for several days, until my son’s renter’s insurance policy came in the mail for his signature. Renter’s insurance, covering all those electronics in his room, is the cheapest way to go, we discovered, but I couldn’t set it up until we had his dorm address, so I just now got the policy. And I added to the Parents’ Weekend delivery list:

Renter’s policy for signature

Then my son called: could we bring him a bike? We have several bikes in the garage, he knows, he’s not picky, just one of those? He has to get all the way across campus first thing every morning, and a bike would be very helpful. OK, no problem; so the list became:

— Travel mug

— Mattress egg crate pad

— Renter’s policy for signature

— Bike

Then I went shopping, and I picked up some snacks I knew he would like: another big bag of peanut M&Ms, two boxes of HoHos now that the store has them back in stock, two cases of green tea bottles, from which he must be going through withdrawal, plus a long-sleeved shirt that I bought on impulse. My son has plenty of clothes, I know, but I saw it and thought he’d like it. It’s a Mom thing, and I realize it’s more important to me to give the shirt than it is for him to receive it.

The very day I went shopping, he got a final paycheck in the mail from his summer job. “What do you want to do with it?” I texted. “You can bring it here,” he answered. So then my list:

— Travel mug

— Mattress egg crate pad

—  Renter’s policy for signature

— Bike

—  Snacks + green tea

— Paycheck

A few days later, another text message from my son: “When you come down can you bring me a Caps jersey, preferably the Ovie one, and the pull-up bar from the doorway?”

Immediately I went upstairs, dug out the jersey, pulled the pull-up bar off the door, and set them to the side in the hallway. I didn’t want to forget them. And I extended the list, which almost filled up the paper, because I didn’t realize the list was going to be so long and I started off with pretty big handwriting:

— Travel mug

— Mattress egg crate pad

— Renter’s policy for signature

— Bike

— Snacks + green tea

— Paycheck

— Ovie Caps jersey

— Pull-up bar

And now, still a week away from the Parents’ Weekend trip, I think of the pile we’re taking down, realizing that we have to drive the pick-up truck down again now that we’re taking a bike. I think about the box I mailed last week with five pair of socks and night-vision goggles, and I consider the suspiciously small load of stuff we drove down the first time … and I realize how glad I am to still be needed.

No Longer Facing Rules, Being a Role Model, Mom Makes Plans for Free Time

Mom on the Run: The Next Chapter

The text from Christy is out of the blue: “Wanna have dinner w/me tonight? Just u & me, and early (we do have school tmrw).” The message closes with a smiley face.

I stop and think for a minute: tonight? Um … I hadn’t planned on it. I’ve got things to do. My husband isn’t home, but there are chores; laundry, and – finally – taking a flamethrower or its chemical equivalent to my son’s bathroom. Um ….

Ah, forget it, I think. Cleaning the bathroom, really? Over dinner with Christy? “Yes! I’m in! 6ish?” Woohoo! I grin and do a silly happy dance. So exciting! A spontaneous weeknight girls’ night! With Christy, my buddy from the gym who I really only get to talk to while we’re sweating it out on the yellow mean elliptical machine, or quickly in the locker room.

Chores, schmores. That bathroom has been filthy for months, another day or two won’t hurt it. Right? And I start my planning – what I’m going to wear, what time I should leave. Fantastic!

The only problem with the dinner with Christy, really, is that it’s yet another step down the slippery slope. All of a sudden, with my kids both in college and out of the house, my new mantra is, “I can do whatever I want.” It was a shocking revelation some months ago, and I’ve spent the summer applying it, first with tentative baby steps and now more frequently and boldly.

It all started with the newspaper. I’ve always read the whole newspaper every morning. I start with the front page, work my way through local news, then read the Style section, saving the comics and crossword puzzle for last – mental dessert, after the hearty news fare. One day I was short on time, though, and decided I didn’t want to waste my abbreviated breakfast hour on the news. I would hear that on the radio on my commute to work, or check the headlines online. Instead, I just read and enjoyed the Style section and the comics. And lo and behold, the world didn’t grind to a halt. Now, shockingly, it’s a rare day when I read the whole front page section.

The next step was drinking directly from a carton of milk. I was standing there in the kitchen, nobody was around, and I didn’t feel like making the long walk to the cabinet – probably four whole feet! – for a cup just for one swig. And then I was going to have to wash the cup, too. And hardly anybody drinks milk besides me anyway. As long as there’s no backwash … I lifted the carton, took my gulp, rescrewed the lid, and put it back in the refrigerator. Nobody ever knew, and nobody got sick. Freedom!

It spiraled down from there. “I can do whatever I want” has meant staying up way past my bedtime to talk to a friend. Completely illogical but ravishingly beautiful blue suede heels arrived in the mail just a few days ago. And I have a mad, deep, and lustful crush on an adorable – adorable! – sporty yellow car. I’ve always wanted a yellow car, it gets great mileage, I’ve driven my minivan for 11 years and mostly: I can do whatever I want.

I don’t have kids around to answer to or care for anymore. I don’t have to be a role model, or eat vegetables, or buy a new winter coat in sensible, match-everything black.

And tonight, I don’t have to clean my son’s bathroom. I can do whatever I want, and I’m going out. On a schoolnight. See you at six o’clock, Christy!

Empty-Nester Grocery Shopping Means Smaller Sizes, No Peanut Butter & Jelly

Mom on the Run

I’m in the grocery store, wheeling my cart slowly, slowly down the aisles. Up and down, up and down. If I don’t go through the store in the same order, not skipping any aisles, I forget things. I may not remember I need mayonnaise until I’m in the actual condiments aisle, confronted with it. So up and down I go for the whole length of the store, every time.

Today, though, is different. I suspect there are a lot of things I don’t need to remember; today I’m shopping for just me and my husband – my first empty-nester shopping trip. With just a few exceptions, annual kids-at-camp weeks, I’ve shopped for two grown ups and one or two kids for the past 21 years. But now both kids are at college, and that makes today’s trip very strange.

I’m half-way through the grocery store already, and my cart isn’t even a quarter full. In the produce section I got oranges and bananas for myself, but no grapes for my son or strawberries for my daughter. I bought one russet potato for my husband and one sweet potato for myself, just one of each, not even bothering with a plastic bag.

In the meat section I had to dig for a small package of ground beef. A few years ago, when I generally fed all four of us plus my daughter’s boyfriend, I always bought two-pound packages; that’s how much it took to make enough tacos or cheeseburgers for everyone. For the last few years, down to one kid, I bought one pound. But today, I figure I’m looking for three-quarters of a pound of hamburger. There isn’t one that size, though; the smallest package is just less than a full pound, so I guess we’ll have leftovers.

I troll right past the peanut butter and jelly – the partial jars already in the pantry and fridge will last just the two of us quite a long time. Same with salsa, relish, and my stock of canned soup. I don’t even need to buy pasta; all we need is a half box, maybe less, per meal. I hesitate, then go ahead and pick up a loaf of bread. Even if we have some at home, it’ll probably be stale by now.

It’s strange, this empty-nester grocery shopping. It’s not depressing or sad, really, I’ve been thinking about and planning for it for a good while. But it is eye-opening, how large all the cans and packages are, and how frustrating a bag of eight hamburger buns is, because they’re just not the same after having been frozen and thawed.

So I wheel slowly, looking for smaller units. Aisle after aisle, nope, don’t need this; nope, have plenty of that. For everything I do want, I put the smallest size container in my basket.

Finally I make it to the dairy section, where I stand and look at milk for a good long while. I checked before I left the house, and I still have three unopened half-gallons. It’s remarkable; I can’t recall the last time I didn’t need to buy milk. But I wheel away, no milk in my basket, and record yet another milestone moment.

Determined to Stay, Mom Delivers Son to College

Mom on the Run

“OK,” my son says, looking around. “I guess that’s it. You can go now.”

What? My mouth falls open. “No way! We’re not done! We’re not leaving yet!” Shoot, we just finished setting up my son’s dorm room a few minutes ago. We haven’t even been here a full two hours yet, I don’t think. And he wants us to leave already?

Luckily, my husband and daughter seem as surprised as I am. “I thought we needed to go to a Target or a Walmart or something, and get stuff to hang up your hat rack?” My son made his own baseball cap rack just a few days ago, and we haven’t been able to get it to make it stay on the wall with the stick-on hooks we brought. They’re not adhering to the back of the rack, which crashed loudly down onto the dorm desk twice already.

“And we need a king-sized pillowcase,” I add. I had a selection of new pillows in the spare room at home, and when my son chose one he brought two, one regular size and one king-sized, for optimum dorm life comfort. Unfortunately, with his minimal understanding of bed linens, he didn’t realize that the pillowcases that came with his new college sheet sets wouldn’t fit both pillows.

“Plus,” I continue stubbornly, hands crossed in front of my chest, “we are staying for the welcome presentation. This is my day, my last day, and I am going to bask in it.” I straighten my back, lock my knees, lift my chin. This is not negotiable.

Behind me, there’s a small scuffing sound. I turn back and look at Sam, my son’s new roommate. Sam is the oldest child in his family, and his mom and dad looked genuinely appalled when I said no, no, no, we wouldn’t be staying all the way until dinnertime and the college Family Welcome Picnic tonight. This is my second child to deliver to college, and we know all about Family Welcome Picnics. Potato chips and platitudes. No, I explained to them, we would be heading home well before that.

But this is quite a bit earlier than “well before the Family Welcome Picnic,” and Sam is standing, leaning on his bed, watching us intently. He is dressed in a crisp yellow button-down oxford, long sleeves folded at the forearms. Sam moved into the shared room with a rack full of ties, a shiny new iron, and a tabletop ironing board. He went to an all-boys’ private high school and, I know, is going to be learning a lot from my son, with his baseball caps, stinky ice hockey gear, and affinity for generously wrinkled dress shirts.

Right now, Sam is absorbing, obviously learning an important new lesson. But what lesson? That his new roommate’s family is crazy, and needs to be shed as quickly as possible? That my son is a sociopath and doesn’t fully appreciate his loving parents and sister? Or, maybe, that his own parents spending the full weekend in town and attending every single welcome event isn’t the only way to go, and things will be very different when they leave his little brother at college in a few years?

I turn back around and face my son. In any case, no. I am firm about this. I am not driving more than two hours, spending 90 minutes putting clothes in the dresser and making the bed, then turning around and driving all the way back home. This is my youngest child, I’m delivering him to college, I’ll see him in a month at parents’ weekend but then not again until Thanksgiving, and I am not leaving yet. No way, no how.

My son looks at me, recognizes the expression on my face, and maybe he gets it too, because he softens visibly. “OK, OK,” he says, hands up defensively. “Fine. You don’t have to leave yet. I was just saying I’m ready. You can stay longer if you want to.” He looks at me steadily. “But yeah. Let’s go find the Target.”

I nod, having won one of my last battles. I shoulder my purse and move towards the door, leading the way.

Mom Inventories College Necessities, Readies Empty Nest

Mom on the Run

I’m home, finally, after a long and busy day at work. I walk in the front door, pass through the hall, and enter the kitchen. On my right, at the entry to the family room, sit a laundry basket and a plastic bin overflowing with my daughter’s clothes. I close my eyes for a second, breathe, and walk on, ignoring the chaos.

Straight ahead, on a kitchen chair, are the groceries I picked up for her over the last weekend. There’s really no better place to put them and the days are ticking by quickly, so they’re staying on the chair: a jug of canola oil, a Costco-sized box of Frosted Mini-Wheats, a leaning stack of tortillas. On the floor in front of the chair is a green cloth grocery bag bulging with canned goods.

I move on into the kitchen, looking for a spot to drop my stuff from work. On the counter are my daughter’s beloved KitchenAid stand mixer, a hand-me-down from my sister, and her juicer. I glance to my left, into the living room and dining room. In front of the piano is another clear storage bin full of cleaning supplies, dishes, and paper products.

I breathe and move on. This is all just my daughter’s stuff. She lives in an off-campus apartment now, but she spent the spring semester studying abroad and sublet it through the summer. So she brought home everything but her furniture, and it was tucked away all spring, but over the last few months it’s been dug out and spread throughout my house. Her own bedroom is a fire hazard, a maze of storage bins and baskets full of stuff.

My son’s room, on the other hand, is clean and tidy. Unnaturally, freakishly clean and tidy; usually it looks like a cyclone tore through. But today, five days before leaving for his freshman year in college, it’s strangely bare. He was warned to clean it before he left – “Or we will do it for you!” – and in the euphoria of departure and adventure he has thrown himself into the task.

Besides, all of his college stuff is in the spare bedroom. I’ve spent the summer collecting necessities and it would have gotten lost in his debris-field bedroom, so I started stacking it all in here. On the futon, a tightly rolled area rug and bedding: mattress egg crate pad, mattress liner, quilt, pillow, and a blanket. On the floor, almost fully blocking the door, is a teetering mountain of underbed storage boxes, two already jam-packed with stuff, a third half-way filled, and a fourth waiting for clothes. He’s got a green cloth bag of food too, random snacks I picked up at the grocery store the other day – ramen noodles, Doritos, NutriGrain bars, peanut M&Ms, Pop-Tarts.

On the floor nearby, the spiral notebook where I’ve been keeping my “packed stuff” list, sorted by underbed box. I know, I’m crazy, but when I’m asked, I want to be able to whip out the paper, run my finger down it, and say, “Yes, I did get a small sewing kit, and it’s in box two!”

Part of me is at my absolute wit’s end with all this clutter and mess. I am not known for keeping a pristine, white-glove house, but these heaps, these spilling-over boxes and baskets make me tense. I want them gone, I want things put away, I want doorways cleared and laundry baskets empty and available.

The rest of me looks at all this stuff and worries about what’s not here, worries especially for my son’s stack, about what I’ve forgotten, what I’ve left out, what he’s going to need and have a hard time getting with his limited transportation and shopping options on campus.

And mostly when I breathe and try not to think about the mess I try not to think about what it means, and how empty my house will be with the stuff gone – and the kids who will be staying behind with it.


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