Some kid in Worcester brought a jar of mercury to class to show his teacher. The teacher opened the jar, touched the mercury and a few drops spilled on the floor. Major panic.
Now, children are being evacuated from the school, homes are being tested, backpacks sealed in hazmat bags and a specialized cleaning of the school is in progress.
What anyone was doing with a jar of mercury is open for discussion. Maybe the kid’s mom is a dental hygienist. Mine was. She worked every day but sometimes when if I was home sick from school, she would come leave work in her white uniform and shoes and come home at lunchtime to heat me up a can of chicken noodle soup. Sometimes she’s bring me home a little present – like a sparkly ring that she nabbed from the dentist’s prize drawer or a Highlight’s magazines from the waiting room or sometimes…she brought me home a little jar of mercury.
They used it to mix up silver amalgam filling material. The mercury was magical. It was beautiful and shiny – surprisingly heavy – and it burst into perfect tiny balls when you squished it with your finger or accidentally dropped it on the kitchen linoleum. I rocked the blob of mercury in my palm, rubbed it between my fingers and kept it next to my box of Kleenex while I lay on the couch and watched “Perry Mason” reruns.
The Massachusetts Department of Health says that mercury exposure poses a serious health risk and that only after extensive testing and thorough cleaning will the kids in Worcester will be allowed back into the school building.
Sure, I think that pulling kids out of school was an overreaction. But just the same, the next time I go to the dentist, I will insist on the white fillings – there’s no mercury and they look nicer.
Summer’s almost over and I’ve been swimming at the town pool as often as I can. The goal was to lose weight, but all it’s done for me is increase my appetite (conveniently, there’s an ice cream truck in the parking lot). But I digress.
What I wanted to talk about was the locker room at the pool. It’s a basic facility with two benches, cube lockers, a couple of showers, toilets and a fuzzy, distorted mirror that doesn’t reveal when I leave with mascara smudged under my eyes.
But what I really want to talk complain about is women who bring their little boys and particularly their not-so-little boys, into the locker room. As a mom of two former-little boys, I understand that you can’t send your three-year old into the men’s room alone. But…comes a time to separate the boys from the big boys.
Call me a prude, call me overly-modest, but I think that a nine-year old belongs in the men’s locker room. Okay, even a seven-year old. Yeah, the one who is already wearing his swim suit but stares unabashed at me while I unhook my bra and pull on my Speedo.
Sure, it’s easier to bring him into the women’s room. You can see him when he walks by the showers, opens all the curtains and turns the water on in each one, you can hear him when he yells as that he can’t find his goggles and you can feel the discomfort of other women and girls in the locker room when he leans against the cinderblock wall in a pose that’s pre-teen cool and watches us females wiggle in and out of our bathing suits.
That at the town pool, 19 year-old Swedish au pairs be required to wear armbands that identify them as such. That way I won’t feel like such a schlump when I look at their thighs and think, “I have three kids, she has three kids, why don’t we look the same?” Maybe instead of armbands, they should be required to wear baggy, one-piece, turtleneck bathing suits that say “NANNY” in block letters on the back.
Is it too much to ask?
That people who have family money come clean so I don’t beat myself up wondering how come I can’t afford to go on vacation to Borneo and drive a new Volvo when the part-time poet with the glassblower husband down the street can. I’m thinking maybe lawn signs. “This mortgage-free house courtesy of Mom and Dad.”
Is it too much to ask?
That anyone who says “Oh, you are a stay at home mom? I could never do that. I’d be so bored,” be punished for their ignorance by having to host a sleepover with six nine year-old boys (including two who have asthma, one who is lactose and gluten intolerant and one who is “gifted”), take a two year-old, a five year-old and a six month old grocery shopping and then spend four hours at the mall shopping for prom dresses with a fifteen year-old girl and end the day teaching a sixteen year-old boy to drive stick shift. Your stick shift. Boring? Hah.
Right now, I am sitting at my computer sipping an ice coffee and contemplating whether I can postpone the minimal work that I have and go for a swim. Right now, while I am not working, all three of my kids are slaving away in actual paying jobs. It’s a beautiful thing.
Okay, Lewis is a camp counselor, but Nathan and Perry are wearing shoes and are holed up in air conditioned offices like actual adults. They have bosses and copy machines and meetings. I almost feel sorry for them.
Then I remember all the times that I begged them to take out the trash, to put their dishes in the dishwasher instead of shoving them under their beds, to flush the toilet and suddenly, a summer of actual work seems like poetic justice. Think I’ll go for that swim now.
My 16-year old son Lewis is going to be an assistant counselor at a sleep away camp in New Hampshire. It’s a paid position, one that I feel like we’re owed. After all, Lewis has spent two weeks every summer for the past eight years at this camp and I have spent thousands of dollars to finance it. I’m not even going to factor in the cost of the lost beach towels, the $50 sweatshirts that they sell in the camp shop that come in two weeks too moldy to salvage, the forgotten sleeping bag and the gone-missing digital camera that he begged to take with him last summer.
So, for the camp, the $1,000 bucks that they will shell out for Lewis to sleep in a cabin with 12 nine-year old boys, peel carrots in the mess hall kitchen and teach sailing is a bargain. Counting the overnight duty, I think that for the eight weeks of camp it works out to something like 75¢ an hour. If you subtract the cost of the stuff we had to buy to outfit him for camp – t-shirts, shorts, bathing suit, sneakers, sunscreen, bug spray as well as the new beach towels, sleeping bag and a replacement camera, it maybe that he’s working for free. But he’s not complaining. Neither am I.
I dislocated my right elbow last week (casseroles are still being accepted) and have a new appreciation for life with two working arms and ten functioning digits. As a writer, I was worried that my livelihood would be compromised and that typing with one hand would be impossible, but I adjusted fairly quickly (deadlines help – so do painkillers) and now only the shift key remains a tad tricky.
On the home front, my husband is a saint and has picked up the considerable household slack – which includes carrying laundry baskets, emptying garbage cans and slicing bagels for breakfast. But on more personal level, there are things that you just can’t ask someone else (especially a guy) to do for you.
Things like: Putting on mascara. This morning, I practically blinded myself with the mascara wand. Vanity thy name is Carol. Thank goodness Mabelline tests their products on rabbits.
Also challenging to insurmountable: Cutting my fingernails, combing my hair, putting my hair in a ponytail, buttoning my jeans, zipping my fly, hooking my bra and shaving my underarms. So if you see a wild-haired, unzipped, braless, furry-pitted, one-armed woman looking for sympathy and a tuna noodle casserole, it’s me.
My neighbor’s house is for sale. They have two little kids and said that they are looking for a house with a bigger yard, on a street with less traffic – maybe on a cul de sac.
I nodded as she outlined her new home wish list – but I wanted to tell her that she should take the “For Sale” sign down. I wanted to tell her that yards are highly overrated. Not only are they a pain in the neck to maintain, but kids don’t play in their yards. You have to scream at them to turn off the computer or the TV or the Xbox and go outside. Then, they play basketball in the neighbor’s driveway or ride their scooters on the sidewalk. Which is another reason not to move.
Cul de sacs don’t have sidewalks. The kids have to play in the street. Sure, the street doesn’t get any traffic, but no one walks by either. It’s lonely at the end of a cul de sac. And with two-acre zoning, you don’t get to know your neighbors on the intimate level that you do when you can see them eating dinner while you are standing at your kitchen sink. No one on a cul de sac wanders over with a beer while you are working in your miniscule garden or feels compelled to invite you to a barbecue because they know that you’ll go crazy from the unbelievable aroma of a smoking brisket wafting over the tiny backyards.
* Translation from the French: “Bottom of the sack”