Four and a half hours is a long time to have to wait in any one place. I know that because I have did it four days a week for the entire summer.
All I have to say is that being a gymnastics mom is not for the faint of heart.
All three children are competitive gymnasts, and although they all go to the same gym, and in some cases even on the same day, they very rarely all go at the same time. The convoluted schedule that we must follow dictates that at any given time there is likely to be at least one child spending time with me in gymnastics limbo.
Of necessity, I have developed a variety of strategies to help me pass the time. There is nothing that sets my teeth on edge more than a bored child whining in my ear.
One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to take them out walking. The gym is in a nice residential neighborhood and is local to a downtown area with shops and parks. I rotate destinations regularly, and sometimes we just go out walking for its own sake. Owen always resists the suggestion, whining that he is soooo tiiiiiired, or that his feet hurt or some such nonsense, none of which I place any credence on, mostly because I know that once we get past the first block, he comes over into my way of thinking and he will start to scamper, babble, and generally enjoy the fresh air and the relatively rare chance to chat with a completely undistracted mom for a while.
In fact, the chance to be enjoy the kids without other responsibilities or stimuli interfering is probably the think I like best about these walks. The conversations I have had with the kids during these times have ranged from the profound (why are humans on this planet?) to the pedantic (what kind of plant is this?) across into discussions of their social interactions with friends and even (particularly with Ana) into literature.
In any case it was Thursday evening, Ana and Owen had practice during the first shift from 4 to 6:30, and now I had them for two hours while we waited for Frances to finish her practice.
I was more than ready to step out for a bit, having waiting in the gym for the younger ones to finish so before the first whine could ring out, I announced that we were going to go walking.
Ana has learned the joys of a walk with mom, so she was bright and shiny about this, and eagerly pulled on her shorts over her leotard. Owen dragged his feet as he usually does, but in the end, he obediently went with us.
The second full block away from the gym door has a small bridge spanning the creek that runs under the road. We often stop on the bridge to watch the water and look for any wildlife. As we drew near to the bridge, Owen forgot his complaints, and ran ahead with Ana to peer down at the water. After examining the family of ducks that were alternately waddling and swimming in the shallow water and discussing the likely components of their diet (bugs and water plants they decided) we walked on, wondering aloud if the purple markings on the edge of one of the duck’s wings meant that it was a male. By the time Ana had made her case that it probably was male, based on the fact that in mallard ducks only the males had bright colors we had found our way to the next usual stop on this particular walking route, a well tended corner garden that contains a wide enough variety of plants that something is always in bloom, and there are often bugs and butterflies to stop and examine. Since we have been walking past this particular garden for several years I have learned the names of all the plants that grow there, and the kids love to ask me to identify them. I am not sure if they simply do not remember the names and want to know or if they just enjoy testing my knowledge. In any case, this particular exercise has convinced them that mommy really DOES know everything….about plants anyway.
There was to be no quiz today, however, because the owners of the house directly across from the garden had apparently done some housecleaning and had set several large pieces of furniture out to the curb.
Owen loves to collect things. In Owen’s world, his room is a transdimensional space that has a miraculous capacity to store stuff that he likes. Owen’s world, of course, only bears a slight relationship to the real world, and his room only seems bottomless to him because I periodically go in there and make stuff he no longer likes miraculously disappear. Sitting at the curb, calling to him, was an old fashioned wooden desk very much like the one that Frances and Ana have in their bedroom. He took my hand and all but dragged me across the street to check out his find.
Unfortunately, the desk was well past decrepit. I am not above some garbage picking, as Matt will attest (with a roll of his eyes I am sure) but I do have standards. At one time, it was certainly a nice piece, but its useful life probably ended about 10 years before we came over to investigate. I managed to convince Owen that the desk was not worth his time after he insisted on a minute examination of it’s condition and opened each crookedly hung drawer to peek inside.
The two dressers that stood next to this sad specimen were another story altogether.
From across the street, they did not look worthy of a second look, but the up-close view I received courtesy of Owen’s thwarted desire for a desk revealed that underneath the very scuffed and scratched surface were a pair of very sound, solid maple dressers that were old fashioned in a very spare and pleasant way. A bit of sanding and some fresh stain would do wonders. In fact, my curbside assessment was that these dressers were high quality and would be well worth the work to restore.
I experimentally pushed at one of the corners of the larger dresser to see how heavy it was, and consistent with my identification of hardwood construction, I found that it was much too heavy for me to be able to move on my own, even with the help of the kids. Matt would have come to help me if I called him and asked him, but I was not sure these dressers warranted an extra 40 minute drive and a second car. After all, we were not in dire need of new furniture, and I realized that my desire for the dressers were more along the lines of an “impulse buy”. With some regret, I took the kids by the hands and turned our steps back onto our walking path.
The dressers dominated the chatter for the rest of the trip up the road to the playground that we knew lay at its end. The two of them spent considerable energy trying to convince me that we should try and take the dressers home, even going so far as to decide not only that we MUST do so but also portioned out the goods between them, deciding who would get the tall one and who would get the low one.
We reached the end of the road, sat on the swings for a few minutes and then started back, retracing our steps to the gym. As we again approached the spot where the dressers stood waiting, we noticed a pickup truck pull over and slow down. As we watched, a couple disembarked from the truck and began walking around the lawn where the furniture was. I felt a sudden totally irrational pang of anxiety about the dressers, some insane part of my mind having gone rogue and possessive of this garbage picking opportunity that I had already passed over. Then the cells in the rational centers of my mind chimed in, trying to drown out my anxiety by reminding me that I had decided to let them go.
I heard my own voice calling out to to the couple, who were now examining a headboard propped up against a tree, to inform them of the hidden high quality of those dratted dressers. They stopped and smiled, with the easy camaraderie of fellow garbage pickers. They agreed with me that the dressers were certainly a great find, and we both shook our heads at the thought of the terrible waste.
Before I knew quite what was happening, the man was encouraging me to go get my car, promising that he would help me load them up lest they get carted away with the trash.
Thoughts of Matt’s rolling eyes, as well as more practical matters such as what I was going to do with these dressers once I got them home fled from my brain in a rush of garbage nirvana, as I realized that it was simply meant to be. Before I knew what was happening, the kids and I were hoofing it back to the gym at top speed to get my truck, and it’s wide open cargo spaces.
Ana and Owen scampered around me in a flurry of excitement, chattering about the benefits of recycling, and scorning those wasteful people who were ready to trash perfectly good furniture that only needed a bit of work to restore to almost-new condition. They negotiated ownership of the dressers, wondering if the fact that there were three children but only two dressers was going to cause problems. In all, it seemed like it was going to be a fun adventure.
I drive a Honda Pilot, so I had plenty of cargo space for most purposes. The first dresser went in fairly easily, but second one proved a bit stubborn. With some sweat and teamwork we shoved and jiggled and I climbed inside the car to guide the second dresser in.
“Its not going to fit” said a little voice at my elbow. It was Ana, standing and watching the procedure with wide eyes.
“Sure it will honey”, I said to her, not wanting her to lose her previous enthusiasm for the exercise. I gave another mighty shove, telling her “It is almost there!”
“no Mommy,” she insisted, a thread of tears creeping into her voice “it is NOT going to fit”
I kissed her and told her not to worry as my anonymous friend gave the dresser one last shove, and we decided it was as good as it was going to get. He and his wife got into their truck and left, as I worked on tying down the slightly ajar hatch with a bungee cord.
“See sweetie” I said to her proudly ” I knew we could get them in there!”
Ana continued to watch me with those wide blue eyes of hers, and I noticed that her distress did not seem to be abating.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her “we are all done here, lets go get Frances and head home”
That was when I realized that I had unwittingly made a terrible mistake.
The tears spilled over and she began to wail “Take it OUT! Leave the dresser I don’t want it!!!!” In a most unexpected fashion she had erupted into a full blown panic attack as she begged me tearfully to take the dressers out of the car and leave them behind, utterly, and irrationally, convinced that when we started to move, the dressers would either fall out of the car or slide forward into the main cabin.
The easiest solution, of course, would have been to ditch the dressers. The problem, of course, was that there was no way I could get these things out of the car because not only were they way too heavy for me to move alone (hence my original decision to leave them) but they were now very tightly wedged into the back of the car, and it was up to Matt, waiting for me in blissful ignorance at home, to help unwedge them.
I did not want to dismiss her feelings as trivial or irrelevant, so I did try to calm her with a bit of reason (“they are NOT going to budge sweetie…”) as well as an internal reminder to myself about the emotional rollercoaster that prepubescent girls are sometimes forced to ride.
By this point the emotional climate rubbed off on Owen, who started in on a tirade of his own. I will never know for sure if he was genuinely upset by the dressers, or if his outcry was a reaction to Ana’s. The truth is, that it really does not matter why it happened because I was still stranded in this horrifying alternate reality where my kids, who formerly had begged for the dressers were now in dread of the same items and were standing on a darkened streetcorner in the middle of a residential neighborhood screeching as if they were being tortured.
In the end, there was no other solution than to force them, screaming, into the car, pick up Frances early from practice, and get everybody home as fast and as safely as I could so Matt could extract these now hated items from the back of the car.
With help from Frances, we managed to convince Owen and Ana only to scream halfway home by telling jokes and funny stories. Even with that, it was a long ride.
The dressers made it home and nobody got squished.
Matt rolled his eyes and put them in the garage.
Last weekend we sanded off years of scratches and dirt to reveal, as I originally predicted, beautiful wood underneath.
The kids are now back to fighting about who gets which dresser
…..and now whenever we go out walking they sternly instruct me: “NO GARBAGE PICKING”