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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A pause in life's marathon

Last Friday I made my last payment to day care — ever. I'm still in a bit of shock, though I'm sure I'll easily find another use for that monthly expenditure. Perhaps on the boys' never-ending need for shoes. The weight of this didn't hit me until my cell rang and it was my sister calling to tell me the results of her ultrasound. (It's a boy!) She was clearly very excited about the news and then I blurted out, "I just made my last day care payment." Stopped her for a sec.

As it did me. After 12-1/2 years of paying for someone to care for my children while I worked, I'm done. In August, Michael will be in first grade and Ryan and Patrick will be in middle school. Everyone is coming home on the bus — and to mom.

We've been fortunate to have good care for our children. And my work has been flexible enough to allow us to go for stretches without paying for help. Of course, that decision at times took its toll on all of us. But somehow we managed.

Got me to thinking about all those things that were such a part of our lives for so long — strollers, cribs, changing tables, car seats, training wheels, potty seats, diaper bags. There's not a trace of that left in our house, except that I use the changing table to hold laundry supplies in the basement.

Those were the days when parenting was physical. It was easier to drop your baby off to be cared for while you work then to try to negotiate the twilight zone of after school and adolesence. Now, of course, I spend my days trying to mentally stay one step ahead of the boys. For the most part, they are great kids and I enjoy being around them. I'm glad I'm here after school since, as all the parenting magazines and talk shows declare, that's the danger hour. But sometimes, they still play me like a fiddle.

For example, every year the kindergarten students at Michael's after-school care put on a circus for the other children and parents. It's a very big deal. Of course I was, as always, in a hurry leaving the house (it started at 4 and it was five till) and I tried to shoo the boys into the car to come with me.

They balked long enough for me to say, "Fine, you can stay home, but don't cause trouble." On the short drive to Glenview I began to stew. They took advantage of my being in a hurry to get their way. I didn't much appreciate that. I'd been outfoxed, outmaneuvered by my own flesh and blood.

Mikey performed wonderfully as a circus clown, serving as the foil in the perennial favorite knock-knock joke about bananas. I had barely pulled into the driveway with him when he slid the van door open to go sprinting to play with all the big boys, of which there were about a dozen playing basketball in the drive.

I shot Ryan the "get in the house" look and informed him that under no circumstances was the entire neighborhood to be at our house while I'm gone. And then I told him he and Patrick took advantage of my being in a hurry and I didn't appreciate being played. And if it happened again, I was going to find some after-school babysitting help.

I always throw that out there. Between you and me, it'll never happen. But it surely gives them a moment's pause. And that's my point. Always keep 'em guessing.

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