How my ‘career’ prepared me for motherhood

The other day, my son threw open the door to his room and called out, “Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

I took my cue and went in to browse. My son pointed me toward the bed, which was strewn with an array of random objects.

“The stuff in the way back is all clearance,” he explained. “But those items are final sale.”

“Good to know.”

I left the “shop” with a snow globe, a teddy bear, a single sock, two pencils, a cat toy, three books, a pillow and an earring I had lost months before, apparently behind his bed. Apart from the pillow, everything had been packed into two carrier bags.

The total had come to $5,000.

“Where are we? Venezuela?” I had asked.

He nodded seriously.

“Yes. Yes, we are.”

While swiping my imaginary credit card (he wouldn’t accept imaginary cash) he asked me to put my name and email down on his mailing list for special offers.

What can I say? The kid knows his retail.

When his dad arrived home from work, Jack scurried back up to his room.

“Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

My husband, good sport that he is,  went to have a look.

“Sorry, sir, that’s the wrong door,” my son said.

My husband stood looking confused.

“You have to climb over that barrier first,” my son said, pointing to absolutely nothing.

“I climb over the barrier,” my husband said. “Okay.”

“Now you have to duck under the other barrier.”

He ducked.

“Now you go down the slide.”

He slid. Or pretended to.

“Am I in the shop yet?” he asked and my son nodded.

“The items in the back row are clearance. They are final sale.”

My husband’s haul came to $10,000.

“That’s outrageous!” he cried.

“It’s a game, dear,” I reminded him.

He shook his head and paid, although I could tell his Scottish sensibilities were gravely offended.

“You know, your business model could use a little work,” he said, eyeing the store hours sign that read “Open: 10-11, 4-5.”

“And the entrance doesn’t make it easy for your customers to get in.”

My son shrugged and skipped down the stairs to play something else.

“Actually, I know a few stores that operate like this,” I said. “They’ve stayed in business for years.”

And herein lies the difference between my husband and me. Since finishing university he has always worked in the corporate world, where things are (for the most part) practical and make sense.

My background is in journalism. Did I wield my Fourth Estate powers as a hard-hitting correspondent for a major news network, uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government?

Let’s just say that no one got the results from the 4-H show unless I got to work on time.

As a small-town newspaper reporter I got to see it all. In some cases, twice.

Name a strange situation and I’ve been there. Think of the most outrageous lie someone could tell and I’ve heard it.

I once interviewed a woman who hoped her vast collection of Strawberry Shortcake memorabilia — rumored to be the largest in the world — would be enough to draw customers to the bed and breakfast she’d spent her life savings opening.

I spent several freezing hours making conversation with a cop next to the body of a man who had committed suicide by jumping from the highest building in town, a 6-story parking garage.

I nodded knowingly when an elderly woman hooked up to an oxygen tank and sucking back a beer at 2 p.m. informed me that the crappy post-industrial town she lived in was “God’s country.”

I’ve been cursed at by an Episcopalian priest, hugged by a prison warden and informed by a Somali refugee that I needed to gain weight. (Lovely woman, she was.)

It’s quite a job, one many ambitious young reporters use as a stepping stone to the big city dailies. That was a transition I would never make as I had little aptitude for the profession, in part because I have the world’s least developed news sense.

Here’s an approximation of the sort of conversation I had several times a week with my editor:

Me (hanging up the phone): “Gotta run! Someone’s found a frost heave in their driveway that resembles Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Should I bring a photographer?”

Editor: “We just got a tip that one the selectmen in [name of a town I covered, usually ending in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton] has been arrested for embezzling municipal funds. He planned on using the money to run away with the police chief’s wife.”

Me: “Hmmm, tough call.”

Editor: “Not really. Cover the selectman story.”

Me (shrugging): “Okay but what’s my angle?”

So when my son pretended to open a store with crappy hours, inflationary prices and an impenetrable entrance, it all felt familiar. I was immediately transported back to one of countless “Make Downtown Relevant Again” meetings I used to sit through in any number of towns that ended in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton.

The objective of each meeting was to draw visitors to the long neglected main retail drags people were bypassing to shop at the big box complexes opening up everywhere in small-town USA.

I distinctly remember the owner of a shop selling things no working class family needed or wanted — hand-thrown coffee mugs for $25 and monstrous-looking wire lawn ornaments hand-twisted in India for $75 to name two — lamenting she couldn’t compete with large retailers.

Because a journalist is never supposed to “get involved” in the story, I refrained from suggesting she’d have better luck selling things that more than five people in town could afford to buy. Or that her restricted hours 11-4, NO JOKE, might make it difficult for prospective customers who worked 9-5 to avail themselves of her pricey goods.

So I sat through meeting after meeting while artist coops and fair trade jewelers scratched their heads and fumed about losing customers to Walmart.

This resistance to logic was in no way limited to retailers. The upside of encountering these attitudes is that I never need to negate things when it comes to imaginary play. (I mean, not that I would.)

Your shop is at the end of a water slide? Cool!

You are a ballerina zombie who was brought back from the dead to fight evil? Rock on.

You made that pie out of dog s—t and rocks and you want me to have a slice? Ha-ha! Nice try. Put it down and wash your hands.

thomas-sign-e1488378491338.jpg
The sign my son made after I tried to shop with imaginary cash.

Those awkward first (play)dates

cropped-image4.jpgPlaydates are a necessary evil of modern childhood. It’s not like the old days, when kids ran wild through the neighborhood with their friends and then booked it home when the streetlights came on.

These days many parents are afraid to let their children roam outside unattended. This is either because a) they have seen too many Lifetime movies about child abduction to think rationally (that’s me), or b) they find themselves stymied in their attempts to encourage a healthy independence in their children by well-intentioned, idiotic bystanders who confuse perfectly acceptable parenting practice with abuse. The woman who got arrested for letting her 9-year-old daughter play at the park without her comes to mind. As does the woman who was reported for allowing her three children to play in their own fenced-in backyard while she did laundry inside.

Thus, for many kids, spontaneous social interaction with their peers has been replaced by what amount to appointments, planned with the skilled coordination once reserved for military maneuvers. (“We have swim lessons at 10 but we could do 11.” “We have a birthday party at 11. How about 2?” “Her brother has occupational therapy at 2 and then T-ball.” “How does November look?”)

Of course, you can always play with your children yourself, but if other households are anything like mine, that involves some seriously weird s—t. My son’s idea of a good time is to chase me around the house pretending to be the ghost of a dead piano teacher. (“You must practice!”) Or there’s the one where we leave mean notes for each other, a game that started one day when he scrawled on a notepad, “Dear Mom, I hope you get fat!

Pretending to be indignant, I wrote back:

If I get fat, I’ll sit on you until you barf!

Giggling, he wrote:

If you make me barf, I’ll put it all in your bed!

I wrote:

If you put your barf in my bed, I’ll wait until you are asleep, sneak into your room and spit into your open mouth.

Eyes wide, he looked up.

“Are you serious?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Am I?”

As you can see, the need to get my children around normal people is very real.

But the problem with setting up a playdate for your child is that you are often forced into a date too. Since few parents are willing to drop their kid off at a stranger’s house, you and a rough acquaintance are obligated to make conversation while your children bang around the house and occasionally come streaking through the room butt naked in a fire fighter’s helmet.

To be fair, it’s not always bad. Sometimes, you meet the other parent, hit it off right away and think, “Wow, we should have drinks sometime,” or, “I bet you’d be great in a bar fight.”

Other times the whole thing lags, the conversation falls flat (“Have you lived in this house long?”) and 45 minutes into it you awkwardly check your watch and say, “Well, we should get out of your hair.”

The worst is when you know in advance that you’re not going to like the other parent. I recently endured this when my son set up a playdate with a boy we met at the park. To call his mother uptight would be a kindness. What else can you say about a person who screams like a banshee when she catches her 7-year-old scaling the jungle gym and then follows it with a manic singsong, “Sweetie, get down from there! Ladders aren’t for climbing!”

Huh?

Since they were coming to our house I had the added displeasure of having to clean, which meant shoving every toy, piece of paper, marker and stuffed animal in sight into the hall closet.

When they arrived the boys took off upstairs, leaving me to make constipated conversation with this woman in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the boys ran in saying they couldn’t find our Candy Land game.

I went to look upstairs while they searched downstairs. Not surprisingly, the box was in plain sight on the book shelf in Jack’s room. The same room the boys had just been playing in for 20 minutes.

“Found it!” I called from the top of the stairs, and then stopped when I saw the boys digging through the hall closet while the mother stood nearby, staring at several pieces of paper. She then looked at me, her expression wary and confused.

Looks like I wasn’t the only one who had found something. In her hands were several of the notes Jack and I wrote to each other.

“Oh, those!” I said, running down the stairs to see her clutching one that read: “Dear Mom, I hope you die soon!” in magenta marker.

“That’s just a little joke we have with each other,” I said, as Jack grabbed the Candy Land box from my hands. “See, in the next one I tell him that if I die I will come back as a ghost and scare him until he pees his pants. Ha-ha!”

Her eyes grew wide.

“It’s really just a joke,” I mumbled. “I mean, like, that other one? I wouldn’t, you know, actually defecate in his shoes.”

To suggest that the playdate ended poorly would be an understatement. To speculate that we won’t be having another playdate with this young man any time soon would be sensible.

At the end of the day, that’s probably for the best. I know at least 10 other moms who are much more fun to hang out with, moms who would have laughed those notes off and maybe even joined in the game.

Maybe not.

llll