Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pretzel Logic

In which we see the typical chaos of a"normal" morning

The Felix Chronicles, # 26

6:00 a.m. Monday morning. Cellphone alarm goes off. I have the presence of mind not to press snooze. I hear the front door slam as my wife takes the dogs for a walk. My son Ryland is with her. I realize that allotting one day for the Jefferson administration on Friday is not going to be enough time. Maybe I can move faster through the Washington administration and make it through the XYZ Affair today. No meetings this afternoon.

6:02. I open my eyes. We’re on the other side of daylight savings time, so it’s not dark anymore when I get out of bed. Outside the window, sunshine and a swatch of red in the trees. Foliage still going strong. Isn’t it a little late? Somehow I remember barer trees at this point in November when I was in high school. I see frost on the ground as I head to the bathroom.

6:07. When I come out, I turn on the TV. The hosts of Morning Joe are talking about the election. Funny: this is the climax, and months ago I daydreamed about the excitement of Election Day. Now that it’s almost here, I’m anxious for it to be over. Discussion of the polls. Joe Scarborough can be very irritating. All these faux populists.

6:14. Too much time picking a tie. I go with Little green Democratic donkeys Republican elephants in a navy background. White oxford shirt. Navy khakis. My uniform. The Morning Joe stock analyst in London is talking about another update day in Europe. Dow Futures are up. I switch to CNN as I make the bed. Grab socks and underwear as I head to the bathroom again for a shower. I’m actually running a little head of schedule.

6:32. Cell rings as I thread my brown leather belt through the khakis. “Hi,” I say, knowing it’s my wife. “We forgot that Grayson has a field trip today,” she tells me. “He needs a bag lunch. Could you get it started?” Damn. “OK,” I say.

6:33. I head to my daughter’s bedroom. “NANceee. NANceee. It’s time to start your day,” I say my incantatory sing-song voice. No movement. “C’mon little girl. Time to get up.”

“One more minute?”

“No. I need you to get going. Can I count on you to pick your own clothes?”

Groggy: “OK.”

6:42. I can’t linger, and head downstairs to make that lunch. I assemble a turkey sandwich, some pretzels, and a bag of grapes. Don’t know about a drink. Nancy comes downstairs wearing hot pink shorts, and a sleeveless shirt over a T-Shirt. “No no no!” I say. “You can’t wear that! It’s November, not July. Now go upstairs and put on long pants!”

“I don’t want to wear long pants.”

Nancy! Now!” I head to the top of the staircase and shout downstairs. “Grayson! Are you up?”

“Yeah. But I can’t find my glasses!”

“Did you look by the TV?”

“Yeah. I can’t find them.”

Dammit. I haven’t resolved the lunch situation, need to keep an eye on Nancy, and breakfast isn’t underway. I head downstairs to look for the glasses.

My wife returns. Dogs bound up the stairs. Mud prints on hard wood. “Grayson can’t find his glasses,” I tell her. She says nothing, disappears around a corner into the bathroom, and returns with them in her hand. “You were saying?”

She tells me to wake up Jay and she’ll start breakfast and Ryland’s lunch (he takes one everyday). Jays says he’s awake. Always does, never is. I see a bowl of melted ice cream on a bedside table, two unmade beds, and a sweater on the floor. Meanwhile, Grayson is playing a computer game with Ryland. Grayson is barefoot, and Ryland has somehow shed his sneakers. “C’mon boys! Let’s get going! Get your shoes on and get upstairs!”

6:51. I come back upstairs to find Nancy in a party dress. “No no no no no no no!”

“Why can’t she wear that?”

“Because it’s a dress that has to be dry cleaned. She’ll get mustard or blue paint on it in like one nanosecond. She should only wear that one for special occasions.” My wife shrugs. “She’ll have outgrown it by spring,” she says to me. Then she turns to our daughter. “Nancy, go change your dress.”

“But Mom!”

“Go!” She does. The kids always take her more seriously than me.

While the eggs cook, I get out cups, plates, forks, milk, juice water. Ritalin and Omega 3 for Ryland. Glucosamine for my aching joints. I head outside for the newspaper.

7:02 “Mom!” It’s Grayson “I can’t find my sneakers!”

My wife looks at me. “You know he doesn’t like pretzels. Will you go look for them?”

“I don’t know where they are! And since when doesn’t he like pretzels?”

She ignores the pretzel question. “They’re over by the back door. I can’t do that and make breakfast and Ryland’s lunch!”

Grumbling about a lack of time to read the paper, I head down to get the sneakers, which are right where she says they are. Grayson and Ryland are glued to the computer again. Jay is still in bed. “Jay!”

“All right already!” he barks. All right already?

7:06. At last. Scrambled eggs on sourdough bread with cranberry juice. A copy of the Times. Nancy finally wearing jeans and a pink cotton sweater, eating a bowl of Cocoa Puffs. Small stain already on that sweater. My wife is making herself toast. No sign of the boys. Will I go get them, she asks? I sigh. She shoots me with an annoyed expression.

“Look,” she says, packing two waterbottles into each boy’s lunch and putting the lunches into backpacks. “I made breakfast and Ryland’s lunch. I always make Ryland’s lunch. I know you want to read your paper, but I haven’t even taken a shower yet.– ”

“OK OK OK OK.” I get up and walk toward the stairs. “BOYS!”

Nothing. "You can’t just shout at them," she tells me.


“I’m not hungry!” Ryland bellows back.

“I don’t care! Get up here anyway!”


“If you don’t come up here now, I’m going to go down there and pull you up by the hair!” Fantasies of authoritarianism. I imagine my students Beth and Joey witnessing this scene. Beth would be horrified. Joey would be amused. I don't care.

Ryland appears at the bottom of the stairs. “I’m not hungry,” he says, ascending. We walk over to the table, whereupon I hand him his meds. For once, he takes them without further comment. I return to my cooling eggs.

7:29. I look up from the Arts & Leisure section. Oh shit. Ryland’s bus will be here in five minutes. He has long since disappeared downstairs. “Ryland! Time to go!” I begin gathering up dishes. Lyde, returning from a shower and fresh clothes, picks up a few herself. “I have to run,” she says. “Promised a student I would meet her at eight.” She pecks me on the cheek. “Chinese tonight, right?” Right.

She pauses by the door. “Did you RSVP for that birthday party you were supposed to yesterday?”

"Did I RSVP?

Yes. You. Remember? We agreed I would take Nancy to the party after coaching the soccer game next Saturday. You said you would make the call. You said it was the least you could do."

"Right. I did." She walks back over to me, pecks me on the cheek. A stroke on my face means no hard feelings. I hear the lumbering engine of the bus through the open door. “Ryland!”

7:44. I still haven’t recovered my breath after sprinting after the bus, backpack in hand. But he made it. Dishes packed in the dishwasher, Nancy’s teeth brushed. Doors locked. Grayson has actually managed to put on a jacket without prompting and has headed to the car, Nintendo in hand. I help Nancy into a pullover. No sign of Jay. “We’ll be waiting in the car,” I shout down to him. A moment later he emerges. I can see through the driveway he’s left the lights on his room. Not worth wrangling over.

7:51. The local NPR affiliate is going through its running feature of what’s in the morning papers. Parkway gridlock. I have a green light but can’t get on. I fume. Jay shouts to Grayson and Nancy to put their seat belts on.

8: 11. Drop-off point for the kids. “Have a good day with your friends!” I say merrily. That’s when Grayson points out that he doesn’t have his backpack, and thus not his lunch. Arrgh! I call my wife. She says she’ll bring it by later that morning. I head up to the staff parking lot.

8:16. I get out of the car about ten minutes later than I’d like to be. That’s all right; I photocopied the handouts for this afternoon already, and am showing a DVD first thing. I can start it, set up my laptop, and get a cup of coffee.

“Morning, Mr. Cullen.”

“Good morning, Mark.”

“Hey, Jim.”

“Morning, Andy.”

I can feel myself stabilizing as I walk down the hall to my classroom. Here I’m regarded as a civilized human being, not a raging lunatic who fulminates about ketchup on dresses that require dry-cleaning. I enter my classroom and start writing notes on the blackboard (the rumored Smartboard hasn’t surfaced yet. Just as well – one more gadget to master). I try to picture Alexander Hamilton rushing to get out of his country house up in Harlem the morning. Difficult, but not impossible. Easier to imagine him arguing with his wife, particularly because he was unfaithful to her. Some flying ceramics, maybe. A slammed door or two. Rudeness to a servant and some rough handling of horses. I can’t see Jefferson rushing or shouting, though I can conjure angry silences between him and Sally Hemings at Monticello. Even as a slave, she surely had a few emotional tools at her disposal.

Where would we be without public personae? Right now, at least, paid employment seems so much easier than the alternatives. To be sure it has its frustrations. But teaching a class seems a whole lot easier to manage than getting four kids out the door – or, for that matter, getting them in the door and sorting through all their stuff at the end of the day, which is what I do on Mondays. When I unpack Grayson’s backpack at 6:27 that evening after turning on the TV to find out what’s happened in the presidential race so far today, I find a lunch untouched, except for an empty bag of pretzels. I guess that makes me a genius. Can’t wait to brag to my wife.

Until I learn that he gave them to a classmate.