Sunday, December 12, 2010

Bonding with the parental units

Husband No. 1 and I recently returned from a roadtrip to Washington, DC, to engage in some "parental units bonding," a phrase our sons use to describe what they term our "interesting" visits to their worlds.

I fear that in their view, bonding with parental units includes far too many occasions to be interrogated by a mother who seizes upon the opportunity to also closely monitor their reactions and body language during the same type of intense questioning they regularly endure during the mandated weekly calls home.

From our perspective, the delight of being able to spend time with these wonderful young men often includes using a credit card on their behalf. For me, it also means being the target of their jokes -- or the eye-rolling or head-shaking that follows when I say something they consider outrageous. I should note there that this seems to include nearly everything, but what set them off this time was opening a discussion about thongs and whether they truly qualify as underwear. Apparently they do not consider this to be appropriate Thanksgiving conversation.

So I suppose it should not surprise me that No. 2 son has declined an invitation to bond with his mother and her two best friends from high school during a cruise at the end of January. But I felt I owed him an invite as I took No. 1 son on a cruise during his college years. However, No. 2's response was "If you're going with Sheila and Diane, I think there will be a lot of stories, and I don't want to be part of them."

Still hoping to persuade him in order to remove any guilt, I persisted: "But Dad says there are nude beaches on the Turks and Caicos Islands -- wouldn't that be interesting? I told him I better stay on my diet." Long pause. Finally, he responded with a deep sigh and a weary voice (although it also might have been trembling with fear): "Please don't take any pictures, Mom."

This response also implied that if I ignored his request, it could lead to many years of therapy for him.

It occurred to me afterward that No. 2 son's ability to avoid bonding with his mother dates back many years. I first became aware of this when I happened to discover a "personal narrative" he wrote for an English class at the age of 13. It was entitled "The Halfway Interesting Trip To and From Texas (without the Texas)" and recounted our 2003 trip together to Fort Worth. This journey began with a bus ride to Boston to catch the Amtrak train and in the words of No. 2, "The bus ride was not horrible. I just sat there and listened to music the entire time even with my mom trying to 'bond' with me."

The narrative then went on to complain that we had to travel for more than two and a half days by train because his mother refused to fly and also was too cheap to pay for a sleeping car. In his words:

"It was extremely uncomfortable because I shared the seat with my mother and I could not get comfortable so I got very little sleep that night. If you have ever been on a train and sat next to someone, you know how it feels wanting to scream at the top of your lungs because you can't find a single comfortable position."

Next came what I consider to be the most revealing part of the narrative:

"After the restless night, I just did what I had done the entire trip so far: listen to music, eat food, read, sit and stare blankly out the window, repeat. This was a very sufficient system that enabled me to survive the trip of extreme boredom (and still managing to avoid 'bonding')."

Despite this proof that my son would rather be bored out of his mind than bond with me, I have continued to persist in my quest. And even though I tell him his refusal to comply could lead to years of therapy for ME, he still claims an avoidance to bonding. Maybe I should threaten to talk more about thongs unless he agrees to more bonding time with Mom.

Also, I should note here that this is the same son who gave up weekend plans with friends to accompany me and Husband No. 1 on my birthday trip to a Maine island a couple of years ago and also joined us on my birthday quest to see a moose in the wild last year. So maybe bonding with parental units isn't so bad after all.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

You may carry a gun, but I have a clipboard

The bulky white jacket I am wearing over multiple layers of clothing in this photo has the words "Event Staff" on the back, but it really should say "Parade Princess."

I much prefer this term to "Coordinator" of the City of Portsmouth Holiday Parade, which means I have been in charge of this seasonal venture for four consecutive years now. Besides, "Parade Princess" sounds so much better than "The Grinch," which is what some of the local cops were calling me last night.

There was a point where I nearly told one of them, "You may carry a gun, but I have a clipboard so please call the $#@% tow truck and get these cars hauled outta here." By waving my clipboard as a wand, I did succeed in getting five vehicles ticketed and hauled away for violating the "no parking after 4 p.m." notice near the downtown reviewing stand. Ho Ho Ho.

I lost count at the number of illegal vendors I urged the police to eject, along with their cheap balloons and crappy light sticks, but it was at least six. Nothing says Christmas like "you're outta here." Ho ho ho.

Then there were the problems with floats. We are extremely strict about safety following a terrible tragedy in the 2006 parade when a 9-year-old Cub Scout fell off a float and was fatally injured by the float trailer's wheels. Since then, the City has retaken control of parade planning and banned "outrigger" wheels --those extending beyond the footprint the float. This is clearly stated on the application, at a mandatory safety meeting and in every other way possible -- but there are always issues.

This year, one of the complications involved trying to explain the requirements to the NH Association for the Blind. After several attempts by the sighted person building the float were rejected, we convinced them to use a piece of plywood to extend the float platform over the wheels. But when the apparatus arrived at "Float World," the police officer conducting the safety check discovered adding the platform also eliminated the safety railings needed when children ride on floats.

His solution? Require that the child be strapped to the fake lighthouse, as you can see in the photo. But it worked and the float could participate! Ho ho ho.

Lest you think that we lack Holiday Heart, the announcer and I (shown here) were part of a romantic gesture last night. As we were awaiting the start of the parade, a young man climbed the stairs to the "Reviewing Stand," which is actually a flatbed trailer brought in for the event. Before I could sternly order him to leave, he sheepishly asked if he could borrow our microphone because he wanted to propose to his girlfriend. The guy pulled out a diamond ring to prove he wasn't joking and we readily handed over the portable mike. (It should be noted here that I would NEVER surrender my clipboard.) He marched into the middle of the downtown square in front of the Reviewing Stand, requested over the public address system that his girlfriend join him, got down on one knee and proposed. She burst into tears but nodded "yes," which was a good thing because he planned to make her walk home if she said no.

Other than some of the issues mentioned earlier -- plus a lost $1,000 check, two bands waylaid en route to staging locations, a confused trolley driver, having to tell religious groups that giving away free cocoa could violate our food safety codes, the Seacoast Mothers group cancelling at the last minute and four more fire trucks than expected showing up from area towns to accompany Santa Claus (changes that wreak havoc with my carefully prepared narrative for the announcer to read) -- the parade was a success. There were easily 8,000 people along the route and the weather was a balmy 30 degrees (although I was prepared for far worse with another coat, long underwear, fleece socks, shirt and gloves, etc., under my lovely white Event Staff jacket).

This year's theme was "A Nautical Christmas" because Portsmouth is the official host community for the USS Virginia nuclear sub undergoing work at the nearby Naval Shipyard, but they almost didn't get to pull a 21-foot-long sub replica behind a truck accompanying the officers and crew marching in the parade. You guessed it -- the trailer had outrigger wheels, which we only learned a few days ago. But because the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is the nation's most efficient, workers there quickly welded on a steel "skirt" to make it legal. Ho Ho Ho.

The nautical theme resulted in a variety of offerings, but one of the favorites was this "clipper ship" with a working hot tub that had swimsuit-clad "Santa Babies" in it. Although I warned this year's judge that no extra points were to be awarded for bikinis in December, he still chose this float as Best Commercial Entry. But since the creators were clever in using lights and integrating a hot tub into their theme, it was hard to get too mad about it.

Maybe I've mellowed since the last time I blogged about my Holiday Parade chores (click here to read that entry). Or perhaps it's just that there's only so much a Princess can do. Maybe next year I should go for Queen.