Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Collegiate Apartment Hunting: Update

Well, Emily's jubilation about securing an apartment with more than one bathroom for her and her four roommates for next year was short lived. Just when everything looked like it was a go, the original apartment became available again and her friends were convinced that it was the place for them, in spite of having only one bathroom. Emily was disappointed but not devastated and I am proud of the way she handled herself. I sense that she is going to fall into the role of "house mom" next year as she is already taking on the responsibility of financial manager. Quite frankly, that is much more challenging than managing with only one bathroom. The mere act of making the deposit was very complicated as the property management company requires a single cashier's check for the full deposit. That meant that five girls with accounts at five different banks had to have their money sent immediately to one bank so a cashier's check could be drawn. Of course, I chose our bank so I could help Emily coordinate the process. We worked out the details in advance so she would know what to do when they all got to the bank. Fortunately, a very patient banker assisted them with the process and they seemed to have everything in order. Just before he went to cut the check, he looked up at my nervous daughter and asked, "Do you want to call your mom?" "Yes," she quickly answered. Moments later my phone rang and I assured her that she had dotted all the "i's" and crossed all the "t's". She sighed, "Okay...thanks, Mommy!" Another major life hurdle cleared! More than 13 years of schooling, SAT's, ACT's, AP exams and college applications and now, obtaining a cashier's check. My baby girl is growing up.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Question of Degrees

Of all the many downsides to aging, my pet peeve of the moment is that I am cold all the time. I remember when I was a kid and my friends and I would always snicker at the "old ladies" with the cardigans over their shoulders. They seemed to emerge any time the temperature dropped into the 70's and they would layer up in long sleeves, pants, a sweater and often a scarf as well. And this was springtime in Los Angeles! I noticed that my mother, born and raised in North Dakota, which often posts the coldest temperatures in the nation, would bundle up at the slightest breeze and allude to her thinning blood. Well, apparently the apple does not fall far from the tree as I find myself constantly fighting a chill. It would seem that I am a journeyman old lady!

Shortly after my 40th birthday, I began to notice how hard it was to stay warm in cold weather. At first, I blamed it on my Southern California roots which had ill prepared me for our tours of duty in cooler climates. I dressed in layers and amassed a closetful of "kitchen sweaters" which made my kids cringe when I wore them out of the house. In spite of my best efforts, I kept shivering. One day, I noticed that one of my right fingertips was white. All the other fingers were flush with color but this finger looked dead from knuckle to tip. It tingled as if it were asleep. I ran it under hot water, massaged it and tapped it on a hard surface to get the blood flowing, all to no avail. It changed from white to blue, looking badly bruised and finally, after more than an hour, it returned to its normal hue. My sister, Mary, identified this phenomenon as "Raynaud's Disease", a not uncommon occurrence in middle-aged women after exposure to cold weather. My pseudo-scientific mind find this intriguing as it never occurs in my left hand and seems to focus on a different finger each year. At first, it happened exclusively in my middle finger and now it is only in my pinkie, but never in my thumb. My kids think it is funny and as it is not limiting in any way, I just wait for it to pass. The only aspect of it I find truly irritating is its reflection on my advancing years.

As Mr. and Mrs. Heat Miser, Al and I have always kept our house as cool as tolerable in the winter and just below sweltering in the summer. While our energy bills would seemingly belie the efficacy of this practice, we resolutely kept the thermostat at 64 degrees throughout the coldest months of the year. Last night, the boys and I came home from a basketball game, soaking wet and chilled to the bone. I quickly shed my wet shoes and layered on my dowdiest kitchen sweaters. Walking past the thermostat, I stopped and stared at the blinking "64" and was struck by the realization that this was almost 35 degrees below my body temperature. Now wonder I am so cold all the time! I brazenly pressed the "Up" arrow once, twice, three times, four times...68 degrees! Moments later, I stood in the kitchen under the ceiling vent, rejoicing in the rush of warm air wafting over me, my pinkie slowly thawing. Later, watching "Bones" with Joey and Jack, I was truly relaxed without the chill and muscle tension that usually rack my body. I left the heat turned up for a couple hours. By the time, I went upstairs to bed, I could feel the cool winter air reestablishing its dominance, but by then, I was ready for it.

I do not think I am ready to sacrifice our kids' college funds for my numb fingers, but I have seen and felt the light and I will not spend the rest of my life huddled under blankets. So, I am off to the hardware store to get a space heater, just as soon as I can wake up my pinkie!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Apartment Hunting Update

Last week, with great reluctance, Emily, along with her four roommates, submitted her application for the 1 bathroom apartment in Isla Vista, just off the UCSB campus. She was unsuccessful in convincing the other girls that sacrificing a second bathroom for a great party deck was not a worthwhile trade-off. So, she sucked it up and completed all the paperwork. I had to complete a Third Party Lease Guarantor form -- after confirming that I was only guaranteeing Emily's rent payment and not all the girls. Then, we waited. Today, I received a text from her that was just bursting with jubilation: they did not get the apartment! She kept her glee to herself and they quickly set about the task of finding another place. I just got off the phone with a very happy college freshman: "Mommy? I found a house!" She feels like karma or divine intervention worked in her favor so that five girls could live happily ever after, at least for nine months, in 800 square feet with two bathrooms. Stay tuned. I am sure there will be lots of great stories to share next year!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Collegiate Apartment Hunting

After just one quarter, Emily has to firm up her housing plans for next year. It happens way too quickly at UCSB. Most of the freshmen live on campus and dorm life has been one of the highlights of her experience thus far. Personally, the idea of living in a dorm and sharing a communal bathroom and a closet-sized bedroom sounds extremely unappealing. At 18, however, my enthusiasm was more akin to what Emily is experiencing. She loves the constant hum of campus life and has made several good friends from her hallway. As her mother, I appreciate that there are some rules in place -- no alcohol in the dorms -- and a modicum of supervision. If most of her friends were planning to remain on campus next year, I think she would opt for another year in the dorms. However, for most upper class men, Isla Vista beckons and the pull is too strong for most students to resist.

Isla Vista is an unincorporated community within Santa Barbara County and sits just west of the campus. When the nearby city of Goleta incorporated in 2002, Isla Vista was deliberately excluded. Apparently, no municipality wants to take on the management burden of a transient student population and minimal tax base. But to a college sophomore, it is paradise. Situated on the cliffs above the Pacific Ocean, it is comprised almost entirely of small apartment complexes built in the 1960's and 70's. There is no real "curb appeal" as there is very little landscaping and most of the residences remain unchanged from when they were built, save for the rare fresh coat of paint. As most units house anywhere from 4 to 10 people, there are cars along the curbs, bumper to bumper in the driveways and packed on what used to be front lawns. And because bicycling is a more efficient means of transportation, the cars rarely move. As one who was thrilled to live in an on-campus trailer park at Stanford, I can understand the appeal of living on one's own and experiencing real independence, all while mom and dad are still picking up the tab. Add to that a nightly sunset spectacular and even this cynical suburbanite is excited -- and apprehensive -- for my daughter.

Emily and 4 of her friends are looking at an apartment just two blocks off the beach. It has 3 bedrooms, two doubles and a single, a big party deck, and ONE BATHROOM! Did you do the math? 5 girls sharing one bathroom! Emily is painfully aware of the challenges of this arrangement but seems to be the only one who has considered this. These girls have known one another for a little more than three months and undoubtedly have little notion of what sharing a living space with 4 other women is really like. For those of us in the over 40 crowd, think about what personal items you used in college. Most of us were wash-and-go. We showered at night, went to bed with wet hair and (maybe) brushed it out in the morning. I had the ubiquitous Maybelline brow pencil and liner, the one whose life you could extend by warming it up over an open flame. Add a little Bonnie Bell bronzer and I was good to go. My three roommates had blow dryers -- it was the post-Dorothy Hamill era, after all -- but they were pretty fast. More importantly, we had known each other for 6 months and we chose to be roommates not just because we were friends but because we understood each other's habits and felt we could respect them. After moving in to our home-sweet-trailer, all four of us sat down and drafted a job chart on which we all agreed. A few of my more compulsive ideas, like window washing, were vetoed. But we lived up to both the letter and the spirit of the job chart and had a great experience. Gayle, Linda, Sharon and I are friends for life, in large part due to the success of our sophomore experiment.

My hope for Emily is that she has the kind of experience that I had and that she and her roommates will not regret sacrificing a second bathroom for a really cool party deck. My nagging suspicion is that they will not be as up front with one another as we were, a move that greatly contributed to the success of our living situation. I sense that there may be several bumps in the road ahead of her, but this is one she will have to navigate on her own. (Heavy sigh.) So, I will support her (their) decision, listen to her grievances, pay the rent each month, hope for the best and love her unconditionally.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mama, Mommy, Mom

Like most mothers, my name has changed as my children have gotten older. I loved being "Mama", Emily's first name for me. It just seemed to roll off her tongue with an almost musical quality. Joey's first name for me was "Daddy" and Al was "Big Daddy". We often called each other by the kids' names for us and I had a lot of explaining to do when I called Al "Big Daddy" in front of some friends. Fortunately, that phase was short lived. With Jack, once again I was "Mama", which he pronounced with a bit of a wind-up and always an exclamation point at the end, "Mmmmmmama!" I morphed into "Mommy" as Emily entered middle school but by the time she finished 8th grade, I was "Mom" to all three kids. With some melancholy, I observed the passing of another life phase. Or so I thought.

I have discovered that the name by which my kids refer to me is an emotional litmus test of their sensibility. When she is excited or overly stressed, my 6-foot baby girl calls me "Mommy". She called the other evening after having spent the day apartment hunting with her future roommates. She sang, "Mommy?" as soon as I answered the phone and I knew immediately that she had had a good day. When she is really down and especially in need of my support, I am "Mommy" once again. Joey is an emotional stalwart and not prone to mood swings or anxiety. Even as a baby, he was content to let anyone hold him and seemed to be most comfortable in the arms of my well-endowed friends. Thus, I became "Mom" to him at a very early age. But the other day he called me, his voice cracking as he said, “Mommy, my head is throbbing and I don't feel good at all". Now this giant boy is lying on the couch, pumped up on Advil and watching Scooby Doo, and I have cancelled all my plans to hang out with him. As a 6th grader, Jack knows that it is totally uncool to ever call me "Mommy" in public. But when he is sad or not feeling well, it is "Mommy" to the rescue. When he was out sick from school one time, he asked me, "Do you love me more when I am sick?" I wrapped him up in my coziest sweatshirt (which he has never given back to me), and assured him that I loved him this much all the time.

"Mommy" is less of a name and more of private plea for love and attention that apparently works very well for my kids. I think it takes them back to a time of complete innocence when "mommy" and "daddy" took care of all their needs and could make any bad situation better. We become "mom" and "dad" as they strive for independence and personal autonomy, which is what we want for them. So, I have to learn to wean myself from my "mommy" response and help them understand that "mom" will always be there for them as well. I am glad that it is a gradual process.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Multari, Party of Five?

When Jack, our youngest, was born in 1998, I turned to Al and said, "Say this to yourself a few times...Multari, party of five? Multari, party of five?" It was more than a bit surreal to think that two college kids who just had the hots for each other had morphed into this cultural paradigm called a nuclear family. We slipped easily enough into the many home based patterns that would come to define us as a family -- waiting for the kids to climb into bed with us on Saturday mornings, family dinners almost every night of the week, bedtime stories complete with individual character vocalizations, watching movies with a big bowl of stovetop popcorn with real butter. But with my transition from career professional to stay-at-home mom, I was desperate to find activities that would get us out of the house and break up the routine. I quickly learned that it is no simple task to identify that which will entertain 5 people of varying ages, interests and attention spans without breaking the bank or exhausting any one's patience. Dining out while trying to satisfy and contain three kids in an unfamiliar environment other than McDonald's, was usually a disaster. We went out for Chinese one Friday evening, in an effort to give me a night away from the kitchen. As Al attempted to hold a conversation with Emily about 3rd grade, I was fishing Jack and his place mat out of the koi pond. I left the restaurant without having eaten, and drove Jack around in circles in the parking lot until everyone else had finished.

We had better luck at the movie theater where we could usually count on the latest Disney or Dreamworks film to offer something for each of us. (When we saw "Shrek", no one in the theater laughed louder or longer than Al!) As the kids got older, Emily became less interested in the kiddy fare and we ventured into live action comedy. We quickly discovered that most "family" comedies are designed to make the kids laugh and the parents pay. We tried several of the big action thrillers but most were too violent or too creepy, especially for Jack. At last, we discovered the inspirational sports genre, such as "Remember the Titans", which seemed to offer something for all of us. Alas, our success was short-lived as we entered a new phase in which the challenge was not to find a movie that everyone would enjoy but that Emily did not want to be seen with us at all.

While it is a natural and expected development that a teenager defines herself independently of her family, we missed Emily. We continued to invite her to join us wherever we went, but her acceptances grew fewer and farther between. Occasionally we could get her to a bowling alley or a new restaurant, but only if there was nothing better to do and absolutely nothing on TV. It seemed somehow ironic that we had finally arrived at a time and place where this broad range of options was truly open to us but dissension in the ranks still kept us at home.

Recently, all five of us went to "Cirque du Soleil" at the Santa Monica Pier. It was a fabulous show and the kids were literally on the edge of their seats in amazement. It truly was one of the highlights of our Christmas season. At $100 per ticket, however, we will not be making a habit of such costly amusement. So, I will continue my quest for the elusive, equally appealing, affordable entertainment venue. In the meantime, if you are looking for us, “Multari, party of five”, check our home first.