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Cruising the Corridor: “Got Chaos?” by Libby McNamee

Spring has sprung! Needless to say, that’s a very good thing after a long, dark winter! On the flip side, it’s also time to confront the chaos in the garage, the attic, and everywhere else in between. Just like April showers bring May flowers, spring also brings cleaning. Unfortunately organizing goes hand in hand with that, a real catch-22.

It’s hard to clean if you aren’t organized, but it’s also hard to organize if things aren’t clean. This circular logic makes my head spin which doesn’t accomplish a whole lot. We all know the mantra — just dig in and start somewhere, preferably fueled either by alcohol, a triple-venti latte, or both. Mustering that courage is easier for some than others. In fact, some don’t even need courage at all. It’s hard to be friends with people like that, but I try to be open-minded.

Those are the people in this world who are “born organized” (BO). The rest of us are not so gifted in this category. Much to my chagrin and that of many roommates over the years, I am definitely in the “not” category. (On the plus side, I don’t have BO, at least I hope not.) Instead I’ve spent a heck of a lot time trying to reinvent myself as being BO while humming, “To clean the impossible dream, to de-clutter the unbeatable foe…”

We can throw up our hands and yell, “Organize shmorganize,” and concede defeat. It’s definitely tempting. However, studies show that clutter can take a surprising toll on our daily lives, creating stress, draining energy, and generating a firestorm of negative feelings. Clutter is something we all have to combat in some form or another. Let’s face it – clutter is the American creeping crud. Oh where, oh where, do these pesky piles come from? Oh where, oh where, should they go? You’ve got me on that one. Sometimes, though, those pesky piles can provide a strange source of comfort.

When it was exam time during law school, I used to carry around a stack of old  dog-eared notes from the semester. Don’t get me wrong; I had no intention of looking at them ever again. Just seeing their familiar creases, though, was soothing in its’ own strange way. In my mind, I figured it just made me look extra scholarly until my father began to refer to my sloppy stack as “your debris.”

Alas, my de-cluttering challenges were confirmed as a losing battle a couple of years ago. It happened in the preschool carpool line as my son Sam and his friend were getting into the car. With an experienced hand, Sam pushed some junk, I mean, “important valuable items,” out of the way. Reassuring his friend, he said, “Don’t worry. My mom’s car is always trashed.” Out of the mouth of four-year-olds comes the unadulterated truth. Next time I made him ride his Big Wheel home.

Everyone’s got their Linus blanket, right? Somehow, though, I’ve always identified more with Pig-Pen who seems to magnetically attract dirt. He fights the good fight, claiming it’s not really dirt but the “dust of ancient civilizations” clinging to him. Atta go, Pig-Pen! By the way Tom Sawyer has a wall he will let you whitewash if you buy a turn.

After buying so many de-cluttering books that they have cluttered up my bookshelves, I have five basic principles in my ongoing pursuit of organizing chaos. For you BO people, these may be extremely basic. However, for those of us who are not BO, they may not be.

1. ACCEPT YOURSELF. If your system works for you, it doesn’t have to be pretty. When I was toiling away in law school, the backseat of my brown Aries K became my locker on wheels. Yes, it seems ridiculous, and it was. However, I never forgot a book for class in three years! (Note: One distinct advantage of a traditional locker is that it can’t get booted for unpaid parking tickets, hypothetically speaking.)

2. TAKE THE TIME. Often clutter accumulates because we take short cuts, avoid making unpleasant decisions, and just don’t want to take the time to deal with it. Consider the time you spend trying to find things, rebuying them, and then realizing you had them all along.

You are discovering a whole new world of white t-shirts in remarkably similar styles. Everything needs a home. On the Saturday after Christmas, my husband went to Target and got 30 plastic tubs and some masking tape. Then he headed valiantly to the attic, a jumble of God-knows-what accumulated over the last 10 years. It was oppressive to even go up there, so we had a tradition of avoiding it.

After a few hours, he emerged to go buy 30 more tubs. He would have bought even more, but there were none left. By the end of the afternoon, everything in the attic was in a labeled tub, and they were neatly stacked. Since then it has been downright pleasant to find things in the attic, and even easier to put them away.

3. JUST DO IT. Pick one dreaded organizing chore to tackle per day, no more and no less. For months I put off confronting the mega-snarl of necklaces in the depths of my jewelry
box. There were at least 15 of them tangled up in a puzzle worse than a Rubik’s Cube. With much dread, I launched an attack armed with safety pins and a magnifying glass. Pretty soon I found myself enjoying the challenge. My reward was an invigorating sense of accomplishment plus a bunch of “new” necklaces that I put away correctly, so far anyway.

4. STORE IT AT THE STORE. Watch what comes in your door because it could be clutter in disguise. However tempting, don’t buy organizational supplies until you know what you actually need. Although those bins may have been a great deal, if they don’t work in your space, they just become additional clutter. Leave it in the store until you need it. That’s why they call it a “store.” (Pretty cool concept, huh?)

5. CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK. If you feel discouraged, turn on “Hoarders.” That show is guaranteed to make you feel like your house is right out of Real Simple! It’s downright sad to see so many people who can’t get rid of belongings without a television camera in their face. It’s no wonder the show is now in its sixth season and going strong.

It’s OK not to be BO. Hopefully you’ll find facing the chaos is never as awful as the dread. Combating chaos is an ongoing daily battle for all of us, but the payback is worth it. In the words of Scarlett O’Hara, “Tomorrow is another day!”

2-04-2013  Libby McNamee

The Whimsical Gardener

There was no bigger newbie gardener along the Robious Corridor last spring. In fact, I was even worse than a newbie. Heck, even plastic houseplants would die on my watch, eventually choked by dust and headed straight for the trash can. Thinking it would be a good experience for my son, though, and spurred on by a friend’s enthusiasm for all things green, I decided to try growing some seeds indoors. Throwing some basic seeds, a few plastic trays, and some “fancy” dirt into my cart at Walmart was just a lark. Even if it was a waste of money, I rationalized that I’ve wasted much more on far sillier things. (Unfortunately it’s true. Skylanders figures, anyone?)

Little did I know this horticultural experience would be so enriching – for me anyhow. Naturally my son was unfazed and pretty much disinterested in the entire experience other than an occasional dutiful glance, usually prompted several times by yours truly. Now if I had been growing chocolate ice cream cones and gummy bears, it would have been a whole different story.

Filled with gardening gusto, I filled up the trays with some gourmet dirt and started sticking a few teeny tiny seeds down into each compartment. Only then did I think to look at the back of the packet. Oops! You’re supposed to plant them at different depths depending on the type. My bad. Well, it was done, and I certainly wasn’t about to pan for those microscopic seeds and redo it all. There were certainly more seeds to be had at Walmart – or even at Target, let alone the real deal at the Great Big Greenhouse.

Oh, I watered that dirt and hovered over those trays, then hovered over the trays and watered that dirt some more. With God as my witness, no seeds were going to be thirsty or lonely on my watch! About a week later, I actually spotted a few little pieces of green shooting up. Even better, they didn’t appear to be weeds! (At that point I would have settled for weeds rather than nothing at all!)

Without sugarcoating my reaction, I was practically dizzy with delight! Holy moley!
My feeble efforts – and the force of a minor miracle (or maybe I should say Miracle Grow) – had actually made something grow! My elation was like seeing the red line appear on a pregnancy test. YES!! Babies were on their way, babies who don’t wear diapers!

Yes, lo and behold, there in the lettuce tray were some itsy-bitsy lettuce sprouts. And in the carrot tray there was another type of little green shoot. With that, I was hooked. I can’t believe how exciting it was to see a Lilliputian beet plant. (As you may have guessed, it looks like a regular beet plant only much, much smaller.) By then I was hooked, checking on them first thing in the morning, during the day, and then again at night. Meanwhile my able assistant was inside, probably watching “Good Luck, Charlie” reruns.

After loading up on yet more trays, designer dirt, and lots of random seeds, I was ready to bring another new batch of baby plants into this world. My husband humored me by gallantly building a square wooden box and picking up a book on square foot gardening. Then I was really in business, planting all sorts of seeds, and making a grid to keep track of what was where.

Man, the sugar snap peas grew so quickly it was hard to keep up with them. When I pulled in the driveway, my eyes would just bug out of my head! No way! Yes way! It seemed like the vines doubled in size every day, outgrowing whatever means of support that I’d jerry-rigged the previous day. My husband muttered, “Now I know what Jack felt like with his crazy beanstalk!” At the rate it was going, we were starting to wonder if ours was going to reach far up into the clouds, too.

Before long, the box became known as the “Jungle” because, well, it was pretty jungly. (Is “jungly” a word? Well, it is now.) This Salisbury suburban jungle consisted of a motley crew of various plants strangely living in harmony, all growing around, over, and under each other. Somehow, though, each managed to contort itself to get enough sunlight to thrive, no easy feat. Rest assured, though, this rampant growth did not break the covenants of Salisbury Home Owners Association.

In all fairness I must confess that all was not rosy in the garden. Yes, there a major
blunder on my part that became known the Great Cucumber Massacre. With good intentions of giving my flourishing cucumber plants more room to spread out and grow, I moved them to another spot in the yard. Unbeknownst to me, there was little to no drainage there, so I had unwittingly offed them all overnight. Oy vey. As my gardening guru buddy explained afterwards, “Nobody likes to have wet feet.”

While researching and trying to get up to speed (seed?), I discovered that Thomas Jefferson was a passionate gardener. He collected seeds everywhere he went, especially in France. In fact, he once wrote, “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Apparently he really meant it! On a trip to Italy, he smuggled rice seeds out of the country in his pocket, which was a capital offense. Then at the ripe old age of 83, Mr. Jefferson heard rumors of giant cucumbers growing in Ohio. Not one to be left out of a gardening experiment, he contacted the Governor of Ohio to obtain some seeds. After sharing them with his friends, he would go around and measure to see who grew the longest. He was also quite fond of peas, racing his neighbors every spring to grow the first crop.

Early last summer we went to tour Monticello. When we learned of the whopping 3½-hour wait, though, we opted for the gift shop instead. (That is usually my favorite place anyway.) Much to my delight they sold many varieties of Mr. Jefferson’s prized seeds. Of course I just had to buy some of the infamous cucumber seeds, officially called “Long Green Improved Cucumber.” At that point I was doubly inspired to try them out, hoping to recover from the Great Cucumber Massacre.

Although skeptical of TJ’s colossal cucumber seeds, I found they were all they were
cracked up to be and more! They really seemed turbo-powered, sprouting up in a big way less than a week later. Perhaps they were making up for lost time given the unexpected demise of the previous crop. Whatever it was, it wasn’t long before the vines were winding around, large and in charge, with many prickly cukes a-growing! Perhaps we should channel Thomas Jefferson and have our very own Robious Corridor competition this summer to see who can grow the longest cucumber. That’s it – another contest, the Bettie Weaver gardeners versus the Robious gardeners!

So it’s time to gear up for some gardening! Haven’t you also wasted more money on crazier things? In the words of Thomas Jefferson, “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of a garden… But though I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” Take it from the Father of Liberty, you are never too old to become a young gardener.

There may even be hope for my son who recently asked, “Are we going to have a garden
again?” Of course that was the “royal” we, but at least a seed has been planted…

12-10-2012 Libby McNamee

The Best of Christmas!

As we roll into mid-December, the gift-giving sprint has officially begun. ‘Tis that season once again! Alas it began even earlier this year when Walmart opened its doors at 8 PM on Thanksgiving night. Yes, it’s now time to come up with a present for everyone and their pet schnauzer. Don’t forget to have a “gift closet” with a few emergency gifts on hand! These gifts will become a lifeline when unexpected schnauzers arrive at your home bearing annoyingly thoughtful gifts, putting you on the spot. It’s a priceless resource, I tell you!

Really, though, when you get right down to it, does it really matter? Do you remember what you gave everyone, even from last Christmas? Can you recall what you received? I sure don’t. Instead I remember who was around on Christmas Day and how the day felt.

Looking back on Christmases past, my memories from childhood are few but oh-so-vivid. I remember waking up early in the stillness of Christmas morning, wondering if Santa really had visited. Just a few minutes later, my older sister sprained her ankle as we sprinted down the back stairs. When she finally managed to limp over to the tree, she exclaimed with glee, “Wow — a habitrail! Too bad there aren’t any gerbils!”

Popping her head out of the kitchen, my mother responded, “Are you sure there aren’t some gerbils in there?” She had insider information, you see. As matter of fact, though, there weren’t any gerbils inside, at least not anymore. Apparently Santa was not the only one who had a yummy snack in the middle of the night. So did our cat! Fa la la la la! Ah, here’s to yuletide memories burned on the brain!

Another memory embedded in my mind is an image of our matching stockings hung by the chimney with care, lovingly hand-knit by Mom. Despite her best intentions, though, there was always one exception from the lineup. She valiantly started one for my younger brother, the youngest of five, but never had the time to finish it. Understandably with five kids to commandeer, she didn’t exactly have time to knit the day away.

Every year she was apologetic, though, vowing, “I’ll finish it for next year!” It became a family running joke, which makes me wonder if my 39-year-old brother has ever received his stocking. My mother claims she did finish it up, so I’ll take her word for it. That’s why my family’s stockings came nicely embroidered from the Lands End factory.

Another source of amusement is my relentless peeking at presents. My mother squirreled them away in the front eaves, conveniently located off my bedroom. It was awfully hard to resist, so I didn’t. Victory was mine when I spotted a Magic 8 Ball as well as the “Nadia’s Theme” and “Glen Campbell, Rhinestone Cowboy” records. (Yes, I’m talking round, thin records here, as in an LP.)

Let’s not forget the pent-up excitement of Christmas Eve! In reality, though, the suspense starts well before then, weeks beforehand. My solution was to expand the whole “Christmas Eve” concept for as many days as necessary. That way the Big Day would seem closer and not quite so elusive. Clever, huh? So I dubbed the day before Christmas Eve as Christmas Eve-Eve. Accordingly the day before Christmas Eve-Eve was Christmas-Eve-Eve-Eve, and so on.

For so long my younger sister pined away for a pair of Dr. Scholl’s. Determined not to miss out, she even resorted to making herself some paper ones. Needless to say, they weren’t exactly durable. She couldn’t make it out of her bedroom before the staples gave way and the paper ripped. So it was a huge deal when Santa delivered those coveted sandals to her. Unfortunately it also happened to be wintertime in Boston with snowdrifts everywhere. (Anybody remember the Blizzard of ’76?) Not deterred, she marched onto the bus come January wearing her new Dr. Scholl’s along with white socks and a big smile.

Another Christmas morning my younger brother got a Stretch Armstrong doll. He literally held onto it – and stretched it – all year long until the skin wore out and some gross goo started to seep out. (Old age isn’t always pretty.) It wasn’t the doll per se, it was how much he loved it that mattered. People matter. Things don’t.

Fast-forward to parental memories. When our son was 18-months-old, we gave him a Thomas the Tank Engine train table. He was literally beyond excitement, well into ecstasy. That night he went to bed at the regular time, and all was quiet for about an hour. All of a sudden he was wide-awake, insisting upon getting up. We quickly figured out he wanted to make sure the table was still there and not just a wonderful toddler dream.

Then when he was three, all he wanted was a “Toy Story” Woody doll, a “Toy Story” Mack truck set, and a drum set. He was utterly delighted with his gifts, the sum total well below $50. Now they are all long gone, either handed down to other tykes or given to Goodwill. Thankfully, though, the photos remain along with his garbled wish list scribbled with hieroglyphics. More recent memories are watching him tear open Lego set after Lego set and then building them for the next two days straight.

In a memorable Christmas sermon a few years back, the priest explained that gift-giving is an important meeting of the minds. The Biblical Maji didn’t just send their well wishes on a Hallmark card. Instead they traveled a great distance with only a star for guidance, and they came bearing gifts. They weren’t just any gifts from the clearance rack, but precious ones that required a generous heart – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Even with that, it’s not the jewels themselves or their cost that add real value. (What the heck are frankincense and myrrh anyway?) It’s the act of sacrificing something precious for a loved one’s benefit and enjoyment. Gifts are meant to be the product of reflection and thoughtfulness, not a means to get the task out of the way. It really is the thought that counts.

10-05-2012 Libby McNamee

For  all you budding entrepreneurs out there, I’m about to share some promising small  business ideas that you’re welcome to pursue. Of course they may be a tad unorthodox, so putting these cutting edge concepts into action could pose a potential challenge. (OK, I’ll man up to you. There may be multiple challenges on multiple levels.)

Due to my generous nature I will not charge any royalty fees based on your financial success with one proviso. You must agree not to sue if your well intentioned pursuits end up in death,dismemberment, or something in between.

By the way, these ideas are all strictly confidential, so let’s just keep it among us peeps along the Robious Corridor. We don’t want any West Enders running away with the prize, do we?
THE TASER TOT

Without further ado, my brainchild to share with you is the revolutionary TASER TOT! I’ve been mulling over this idea for years now, and I must (humbly) say it’s downright brilliant. It even makes Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000 look so very 2000, which I guess it is. Anyway, this pearl of an idea is not to be confused with a mere tater tot, although tater tots do hold a special place dear to my heart and waistline.

For all you parents of young kids out there, the TASER TOT is the product of your dreams. This, my friends, is none other than a kid-friendly taser gun. Yes, I know this sounds like an oxymoron and definitely not “pc” in this world of helicopter parents buzzing around theiryoung offspring.

Before passing judgment, though, imagine this scenario. Unfortunately it won’t take too much creativity on your part if you have ever spent much time with a toddler. Let’s say
your normally sweet tot is way overtired yet cannot manage to settle down and go to sleep.

As a result he/she is utterly miserable, not to mention you, your family, and your immediate neighbors who are boarding up their windows as fast as their hands can hammer in the dark. To make matters worse, the fact that the little guy is so overtired makes it even harder for him to doze off. (Funny how that works, but that is the grim reality.)

So with a benevolent (teetering on nefarious) smile, you pull out your handy-dandy TASER TOT. Then you, well, you taser him — with love of course. The effect is immediate and instantaneous SLEEP. There is no more drama, no more screaming, and no more tantrums or belligerent behavior. And your kid won’t act up anymore either. That is because he is now perfectly content and fast asleep in Dreamland, a wonderful place for a toddler to spend some time.

Voila! He wakes up hours later, refreshed, relaxed, and a happy-go-lucky toddler once again. It’s a win-win, all thanks to the ingenious TASER TOT.

THE REVERSE TASER TOT

Although it’s hard to conceptualize, there are times when you do NOT want your small child to fall asleep. These moments are rare yet strategically crucial for your emotional stability and those within your path.

Think of having no food in the house (or wine) and then heading to the grocery store only to realize with horror that your wee one has nodded off along the way. Dang it! This is when you calmly whip our your wonderful REVERSE TASER TOT.  With that same benevolent-borderingon- depraved smile, you do what you have to do, you reverse taser him — with love once again. Proceed on your merry way, gathering food and nourishment for your family at a rapid pace. Then it’s glorious naptime when you get home and the perfect time to crack open that bottle of wine.

*It would be great to combine the REVERSE TASER TOT with the original TATER TOT as one compact model. In this scenario the REVERSE TASER TOT would operate as a separate gear to the original TASER TOT. Investigate the option of travel size as well for busy families always on the go.

THE ROBO-MOMMY

The ROBO-MOMMY is the answer to lots and lots of prayer. She volunteers at school in your place without a single gripe all year long. She’ll even volunteer to be the room mother! (Tennis skirt not included.) Even better, the ROBO-MOMMY is programmed to look and act exactly like you, so no one is ever the wiser. It’ll be our little secret!

The ROBO-MOMMY also loves to cook epicurean meals and clean just about anything over and over again. Thanks be to robotics, she is also programmed with Martha Stewart-like cleaning abilities. Just when you think it can’t get any better, she is also a homework maven, hard-wired with patience galore and a special aptitude for math and foreign languages. For those with multiple school-age children, consider several ROBO-MOMMIES. Just make sure to have lots of D batteries on hand. You sure don’t want to run out of juice the night before the geometry final!

* If possible, configure the ROBO-MOMMY so the benefits of her rigorous gym workouts transfer back to the “real” mommy’s body. Just think of the miles ROBO-MOMMY could log in early in the morning before making the kids’ lunches!

THE ROBO-DADDY

Daddies are also overworked and in high demand. Since they are so valuable, they need their own special clone as well. With the ROBO-DADDY, Daddy really can be everywhere and still hold down a job. He’ll be home for dinner every night by 5:30 PM without fail, he’ll attend every PTA meeting, and he will happily coach the kids’ soccer teams. (Yes, I mean “teams” in the plural. Amazing, huh?) He will no longer be distracted by the endless “honey-do” list or spend hours mowing the lawn on Saturday afternoon. For you daddies out there, ROBO-DADDY could change your life! Hey, it could even work for a weekly night out with the guys…

DOODIE-BUSTERS!

When there’s a diaper blowout that’s making you want to hurl, who ya gonna call?
DOODIE-BUSTERS!

This incredible company will arrive with the speed of an ambulance struck on crack. Don’t worry about prepping the area with air-freshener – they’ll be clad in full HAZMAT gear, complete with gas masks. (Just assure the kids that these entrepreneurs are not affiliated with Darth Vader in any way.) Open 24 hour a day and seven days a week, DOODIE-BUSTERS! is always ready to answer the call of “doodie.” They get the job done, all without making a stink. There is nothing that DOODIE BUSTERS! can’t handle. They will take on potty training accidents, long ignored litter boxes, cat barf, clogged toilets, stinky socks, and even Chia pets from the back of your frig. They will also disinfect your home after the swine flu has ravaged everyone in your home.

Hope these ideas have gotten your entrepreneurial juices flowing! Remember you promised not to sue if your clinical trials go awry, right?

8-05-2012 Libby McNamee

 THE SPORTING LIFE

Alas, I’ve always liked sports but have never been particularly good at them. Way back in the day, my well-intentioned mother signed my sister and me up for softball year after year, which we absolutely detested. Oh, we D-E-T-E-S-T-E- D it all right!

The coach called me “Liz” for three years straight and wouldn’t let either of us swing at the ball. Yes, you read that right. Since we’re both lefties and tough for pitchers, we had a pretty good chance of getting walked. Nice.

Eventually we were afraid to swing anyway, so were a-okay with that stealth plan of attack. My sister would play right field, and I would play left. (Or was it the other way around?) Anyway, we never touched that dang ball during a game in three years.

Finally after what seemed to be an eternity, we were done with the ongoing purgatory of the Indians softball team. We took a gander at our stiff and shiny Wilson gloves and burst out laughing, realizing they still looked brand-new. That’s because they were. We had never actually used them. Students we were; student-athletes we were not.

Oops, a correction here – I now recall having contact with a ball once during a game. There I was out in left field (or was it right?) Lost in a daydream, probably about my latest Nancy Drew mystery, I wasn’t paying attention. So there I was, imagining myself driving around shotgun in Ned Nickerson’s red roadster, when all of a sudden – BOOM! Lo and behold someone cracked the ball out my way. It fell out the sky, smacking me right on the forehead – hard! I sure had a big ole goose egg, but it still didn’t get me out of batting (I.e. trying to get walked) in the next inning. Rats.

Let’s fast-forward about 30 years (OK, 35) to the present. My son just started playing sports for the first time as a kindergartner. After reading all the parenting articles, we had been trying hard not to over schedule him, so we thought age six would be a good time to start him in organized sports. We signed him up for soccer and were horrified to see how good some of the other players already were. Apparently these kids had been dribbling foam soccer balls around their pac’n’plays and Cheerios while in utero. It was insane. We definitely missed the memo on that one. I couldn’t help but think if it’s this crazy competitive here, what’s it like in Northern Virginia, New Jersey, New York? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

Speaking of not knowing, my son literally had no idea what was going on during the first game. Since there had been so much rain at the outset, his team hardly had a chance to practice. The poor little guy wasn’t quite sure in what direction to kick the ball. Then after halftime, he didn’t understand why the other team nonchalantly took over his team’s side of the field without even asking. I guess we should have explained the basics of how to play a game of soccer. My bad.

Once when the opposing team took a penalty kick, the little man was on the field but
totally spaced out. Lo and behold, the ball smacked on the head with a loud THUD that reverberated onto the field. Man, that had to have HURT! Interestingly enough I missed the entire episode because I was chatting away, not paying attention either. (Are you noticing a theme here?) Anyway, he took it well and got back in the game after a few minutes. At the end-of-season banquet, his dedicated coach began to make speeches about each player’s best moments and then awarded a trophy. (He even had trophies for the three-year-old little sisters for being such good “cheerleaders.”) Meanwhile I was starting to sweat. What the heck could he say, would he say about our little guy?

My son was just learning the game, while so many of the others were little Pele clones. I just didn’t want him to be embarrassed and scarred for life. When it was finally his turn, the coach exclaimed that he “had one of the great defensive plays of the entire season!” What? Who? Oh baby, I was sweating even harder then. Maybe he had the wrong kid. The coach continued, “He saved our team a goal! If he hadn’t blocked it, it definitely would have gone in!” Although our little soccer player had no idea what the coach was talking about, he just beamed at the praise and proudly received his trophy. Needless to say, I will always have a special place in my heart for that coach. Now that’s a good man.

This past spring my son wanted to try playing baseball. Inwardly I cringed based on my own miserable experience. Outwardly I exclaimed, “That’s great!” He had three fabulous coaches who led drills and pitched for hours in the heat, never once losing patience. To the coaches’ credit, the team’s improvement was remarkable. They evolved from being the Bad News Kinder-Bears into a real force. At the outset none of them knew how to hold the bat, let alone swing it. By the end our little slugger was getting some decent hits and making it onto base a lot of the time. It’s all thanks to a few good men.

Despite having the most dedicated coaches on Earth, though, our little guy just didn’t like baseball itself. OK, he hated it and then some. I guess an aversion to swinging at small hard balls with a stick of wood must run in the gene pool. Recently I received an email about fall soccer signups. Nooooooo way, not again! Lo and behold, my son was dying to sign up. Yessssssss way! Here we go again, back on the crazy train. Mustering all due decorum, I asked, “Are you SURE you want to play soccer again?” He replied, “Oh, soccer? I’m a professional at that.” As I stared at him, dumbfounded, he continued, “I even got a trophy.” Well, there’s no lack of self confidence there, just hallucinogenic ideations.

It really doesn’t matter to me whether the little man develops into a student/athlete. (Perhaps he will surprise us all!) The reality is that not all kids are going to be great athletes, and not all kids are going to be great students. Even fewer kids will be both. That’s OK. Someone has to be average (“ungifted” if you will), so the great ones can stand out. Otherwise they really aren’t so great after all, are they?

There is one thing for which I do wish. I hope when he grows up, people think, “That’s a good man.” See you on the soccer field. I’ll be wearing a hard hat and paying attention
this time for sure.

6-05-2012 Libby McNamee

BUS STOP BONDING

It doesn’t get much more local than the bus stop, the equivalent of the “office water cooler” for neighborhood parents with school-age kids. In fact, when you stop and think about it, bus stops only exist because they are more local than any microbrew.

With a kindergartener, this has been our first year to experience Bus Stop Bonding (“BSB.”) Although some refer to it as “gossip,” I prefer to look at it as “bonding.” It’s been amazing to finally meet families who have lived within barking distance for years. We may be able to recognize their dogs’ voices in our sleep, but had no idea we have kids the same age. In retrospect, the brightly colored plastic toys scattered all over the lawn for years should have been a big clue.

The Chesterfield County school year consists of approximately 182 days of instruction. That loosely translates into a whopping 364 visits to the bus stop, minus a few sick days and those inevitable missed-the-dang-bus days. Presuming each bus stop visit takes at least 10 minutes, that’s an easy 100 minutes a week. Over the course of an academic year, that amounts to 3,604 minutes, over 60 hours. That’s a whole lot of BSB, especially for those (like myself) who are prone to linger and chat long after the fumes from the big yellow bus are gone. How could you not know your neighbors’ extended family tree by the end of the year?

If only a barista from Café Caturra would magically appear and take our orders! Long before lunchtime, though, it is time to go home and tackle the day’s to-do list, including those pesky carry-overs from the previous day. Then before you know it, it’s already time to zip back to the bus stop, regroup, and catch up on the day’s events. We really should have our own reality show, “As Salisbury Turns.” (Move on over, Kardashians!) And yes, it’s also time to welcome your kids back home!

Although every day is a little bit different, BSB can be as predictable as any math calculation. Some folks serenely arrive early while others sprint to make it, panting all the way. (There is much fanfare when they pound up the stairs!) Some stroll along while others drive, pulling up to the exact same spot every day. Some parents wear baseball caps to hide their bedhead, while some are routinely showered, dressed, and all prepared to begin a productive day.

Every once in a while, though, a traditional bedheader will buck the system out when you least expect it. She shows up wearing makeup (of all things!) as well as a fashionable outfit that is both unwrinkled AND matching, accompanied by heels. Soon the bus stop is atwitter with wide-eyed speculation. What is she doing today? Where could she be going? Is everything OK? Can I come, too? It definitely adds some intrigue and mystery to an otherwise average morning.

Often it is something innocuous like a Bettie Weaver field trip (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Occasionally it is something really big and momentous, like a job interview after years of being at home. At the end of the day, the posse isn’t happy without a full report whether it’s good or bad. It all comes with being part of the BSB family.

There are lots of fathers out there, too. The lucky fathers who work at home tend to be there more often than others. Sometimes fathers can make it there for the send-off, and sometimes they are there to surprise their kids at the end of the day. There’s nothing like seeing the smiles of excitement flash onto the kids’ faces as they race off the bus to Daddy.

Rainy days have their own special protocol with a fleet of shiny mini-vans and SUVs hovering around the bus stop. Just like the cars, socializing comes to a standstill. Everyone just hunkers down, trying to keep dry as long as possible before leaping onto the bus.

At the beginning of the year, I must confess we did something highly unorthodox. We went to the bus stop that was six houses down the street, even though there was another one much closer, only two houses away. Sam had a buddy from preschool who would be at the one further away, and he wanted to get on the bus with her. I didn’t mind – it was a chance to burn a few extra calories hoofing it down there twice a day, ten times a week, and so on. Plus since he was the one actually riding the bus, especially for the first time, I figured he should be the one to pick the bus stop.

Then just a few weeks ago, out of nowhere, he wanted to switch to the other one, finally noticing with great clarity that it’s much closer than the other one. (It took him a while!) Okaaaay, I thought, it is HIS bus stop after all, but what about my bi-daily dose of BSB, my peeps, my homegirls? There’s nothing like your first bus stop.

At first I felt a bit awkward, being the New Girl and all. Yes, I still felt like the New Girl despite the fact that I’d lived two doors down for the past nine-plus years. That didn’t matter. I was still brand new tothat bus stop. I didn’t know their rituals. I didn’t know their protocol. I mean, where did everyone line up on rainy days?

How could the BSB be anywhere as good as at our original bus stop? Heck, would there be any bonding at all at this new locale? Even if there was BSB, would it be, could it be as quality? Was it possible to recreate the same sort of BSB that I had down the street? I had my doubts ‘cuz that BSB was something special, and we all know good BSB is hard to find.

Slowly and surely, I got used to the new bus stop. Getting over guilty feelings of disloyalty, I was even – gasp! – enjoying the new crowd.   As I adapted to the new bus stop culture, it turned out not to be much different after all. Phew! I assured myself that we really weren’t traitors, even though we appeared to be, even to myself. Now it’s hard to believe we ever used to turn right out the driveway to head to the bus stop. There’s that resilient human spirit for you.

In just a few short days all BSB will officially be curtailed for the long summer vacation. I’m going to miss this daily ritual, but just think about all that BSB to catch up on come September – at both potential bus stops!