Walking down the brick sidewalk, my black boots crunching over dried, yellow leaves, I spot a young mother and her toddler walking toward me. The dark-haired little girl, wearing a quilted, navy blue jacket and pink tutu, grasps her mother’s hand, slightly swinging as they stroll by. I catch the mother’s eye, nodding hello. The little girl is singing a familiar tune that catches me off guard, taking me back 15 years.
“The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round...”
I don’t know why the song resonates so much, but I want to start singing. The thing is, when my children were growing up singing that song, I didn’t even like it. It drove me nuts.
“And the horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep.”
“And the wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish.”
God, will this song ever end? That’s what I probably thought while Peyton sat on my lap during circle time, patting her pudgy hands to the beat of the bus song.
Now, I turn my head and watch the mother and daughter walk out of sight, the little singsongy voice growing fainter as it “beep, beep, beeps” down the sidewalk.
Maybe it’s a hormonal shift or the shift in seasons, but I suddenly want to cry. And so I do. Hard. Luckily, I make it to the car before the waterworks start pouring in earnest. Does that mother know how lucky she is? Does she know how quickly this moment will pass? Does she appreciate the simplicity of walking hand in hand on a crisp fall day?
Did I appreciate it at the time?
I often feel the weight of nostalgia--or is it melancholy?-- when the seasons change. But this year, even more so. The sight of this mother and child singing seems like a wake-up call, a reminder. Pay attention. Appreciate the moment when you’re in it. It doesn’t last long.
Older parents often tell younger parents this. I’ve written past essays on the topic: "Taking Off" and "Children and the Corn." But I’m really feeling it now, with Peyton in the throes of applying to colleges. Eighteen years ago, she was still in my belly, beefing up for a December debut. Now she’s gearing up for another journey.
Yes, the wheels on the bus go round and round, faster than ever. And while we can’t always control the speed--or bumps along the way--we keep on moving.
The email comes in with an attachment for me to fill out and send back. Simple enough.
But the request to “fill out the form” fills me with dread. Seriously, I moan to myself, I have to fill out another form?
So what do I do? What I always do: I hit the “Mark Unread” button, and proceed to the next email.
Forms send me into a frenzied tailspin. Think Edvard Munch’s “The Scream.” That’s pretty much how I feel when faced with filling out forms. I’m sure there’s a name for my affliction. I like to say I have form-a-phobia. Others might say I’m disorganized or, perhaps, just lazy. Guilty as charged.
Anyone with children in school knows a fear of filling out forms is not a good formula for successful parenting. My senior almost missed the first day of school last week because her medical forms had not been sent. You’d think after 14 years of having a child in school I’d have this gig down. I guess I thought Bobby had taken care of it. Even though we’re divorced we still work together as a team when it comes to the kids. He has always been the organized one, the “form” guy, the sign-the-girls-up-for-soccer guy. I’m better at the triple-trips-a-day to CVS, Starbucks, and Safeway. We all play our roles, and scheduling is not one I’ve perfected.
But somehow it all works out. The girls have managed to stay enrolled in school--albeit with some “gentle” reminders from the accounting department and school nurses. Of course, this year, Peyton’s final one in high school, we hit a snag: her last first day of school almost didn’t happen. When the woman from the school’s health center looked up from her laptop, I could tell what she was thinking. How lame are you that you didn’t take care of this?
And here’s where I have to admit that not only did I neglect to fill out her medical forms, I neglected to schedule the girls’ annual check-ups altogether. That’s right. No check ups. Somehow this summer, I simply forgot to take them to the doctor for their annual physical.
Walking with a friend, rehashing the story later that day, she asked, “You mean you never called to make an appointment?” She chuckled, but didn’t cut me any slack. “What were you thinking?”
I wasn’t thinking, apparently. Okay, somewhere in the back of my mind, I figured I’d take them in for check-ups the first few weeks of school, handing in the forms a wee bit late. That’s what I’ve done before, and it has worked. Perhaps the schools have been enabling my tendency to put off things until the last minute. But not this time.
“Oh my gosh,” I said to the woman peering from behind the laptop. “I just called her pediatrician and we can get a physical this week.”
She paused, shooting me a disdainful look. “No, I’m sorry. She needs the forms today.”
I quickly called the doctor’s office, begging the nurse to please, please, please squeeze us in.
We take our girls to a pediatrician who doesn’t take insurance. That’s both the good and bad part of this story. It means a parent can scramble for an appointment at the last minute and see the doctor. That day. It also means there will be a whopping bill along with the visit. And, yes, more forms to fill.
So I will be paying the price for my form-a-phobia. And maybe, just maybe, I will have learned a lesson. I believe there’s hope for me. As they say, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery. Too bad it took nursery, elementary, middle and high school to get here.
My daughters and I are snapping photos on our iPhones as we head up the Blue Sky Basin chairlift in Vail, Colorado. We chat about which run we’re going to take. Katherine, 13, announces Blue Sky is her favorite part of the mountain. “I just love it over here,” she says, taking in the fresh powder that had fallen the night before.
I inhale the crisp air, happy to be sharing my favorite sport with my two favorite people.
But getting to this happy place did not happen overnight. Less than ten years ago, the scene was quite different. At the entrance to ski school, Katherine, then four, falls to the floor in a heap of mittens, down and tears. “No, no, no!” she yells, gasping for air. “I don’t want to go! I’m going to throw up!” (Threatening to throw up was one of her signature moves.)
I try picking her up, but she goes limp, arms flailing. People stare like they’re watching a scene from Sophie’s Choice. The little blond girl screaming and reaching out, as a man tries to lead her away. When I finally un-velcro her arms from my leg, handing her off to the young male instructor, my goggles are fogged from sweat and I can’t peel off my Patagonia fast enough.
I remember wondering if skiing with children would ever get easier. The hassle of heavy equipment, lift lines, children who decide they need to use the bathroom after you’ve bundled them in layers of long johns, put on parkas, buckled boots and slipped on pink helmets over knotted hair and dangling barrettes. And we’re paying to do this?
I thought about my own childhood and all the ski trips we took with my parents. Every Christmas, mid-winter and spring vacation, our family would pile into the Oldsmobile station wagon, unbuckled, and head up the turnpike to northern Vermont. My two older brothers and I bickered so much, my parents had to tape lines on the back seat to separate us. We’d take turns sleeping atop duffle bags in the “way back,” while my mother read aloud from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “James and the Giant Peach.” Along the way, we’d stop at those dusty, wooden-floored New England general stores to buy Fire Balls, Slim Jims and leaf-shaped maple sugar candies.
Unlike cushy Colorado, northern Vermont was all about blue ice and blue leather ski boots. I’d be in my older brothers’ hand-me-downs (always navy blue or red), skiing between my father’s legs. It’s no wonder he later developed back problems. Some of the lifts then didn’t have safety bars. I remember Dad putting his ski pole across our laps to keep us from slipping off the chair. Now there are safety bars and footrests. I can’t imagine not having safety bars—especially when you see how close to the seat’s edge children get. It’s almost as if they’re taunting their parents, purposely sliding forward, like slippery noodles, making us more nervous than we already are.
Once we graduated from ski school and were able to ski alone or with friends, skiing became an entirely new sport. We’d race down black diamonds, show off under the lift, create narrow paths through the woods that looked like undulating luge trails with speed bumps. Even the après ski scene was fun. (And the older we got, the more fun it became.) We’d hang out in the lodge, playing Pac Man, chewing Juicy Fruit and drinking hot chocolate laden with whipped cream.
I never thought for a moment about my parents and whether or not they were having fun. Until I had my own children.
I never thought the day would come that I’d be able to ski with my children without wiping runny noses, deflecting complaints, stopping for bathroom breaks. Now they have to stop for me.
“My hands are freezing. We need to stop for some hot chocolate,” I tell them.
“Mom, you want to stop again?” Peyton asks.
“Come on, you can handle one more run,” Katherine tells me.
“Sure, I can handle one more,” I say, pinching myself that we’ve made it to this place.