Sunday, October 27, 2013

Looking Out For Number One

We went to Parent’s Weekend and, of course, all I wanted to talk about were the co-ed bathrooms.

We were about to leave his room for a walk around campus and I asked for the key so I could quickly pee first.

“You don’t need a key anymore,” he said, explaining that they affixed Band-aids to the faceplate so the door just pushes open.

I made my way to the bathroom but never went in.

“The sign doesn’t say ‘Men/Women" anymore. It just says ‘Men’,” I announced back in his room.

“Yeah, don’t worry about that. It’s still for everybody,” he assured me.

“But why does it say only ‘Men’?”

Why indeed!  Because it seems that Residential Life Services originally ordered the wrong signs for these newly renovated dorm bathrooms. Some were supposed be “Men” and some were supposed to be “Women,” and of course some were supposed to be "Men/Women." But the only "Men/Women" ended up being ordered.

Finally, things made sense to me. Because it seemed odd to me that, even in the most liberal of circumstances, some men and some women wouldn’t want a bit more privacy. That some 18-year-old co-ed might want to sanctify her God-given right to poop in solitude. Or at least not with a dude in the next stall.

But, as usual, I am wrong.

My son explained that no one was willing to start using a further away bathroom just because the sign had changed. In fact, the kids made their own handwritten signs that declared, “All Genders Indiscriminately Welcome” and taped them on the door of every bathroom.

I attempted a second shot at peeing, but a girl wrapped only in a towel walked into the “Men’s” bathroom ahead of me. I felt like she should have her privacy, so I walked around the halls until I found the lone “Single” bathroom. I was elated to discover it still had a lock on it.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Almhult Smaland

Soon after my son left for college, after I picked up all the clothes he left on the floor, cleaned all the gum wrappers out of the car and put away the football and tennis racquet he decided not to take with him after all, I felt myself running out of things to do. I liked the feeling of restoring order, so I even went on to put my things away. After all that was done, I had two things left over.

One was an 8-pack of wooden hangers from IKEA. The other was a shrink-wrapped set of plastic ware – 17 individual containers with green lids to store leftovers, also from IKEA. Neither took up much space because they were all wrapped up but you could see how they might quickly overtake a kitchen or closet.

My son bought both these items for school but took neither with him. I told him he would need smaller, thinner hangers and that his refrigerator would probably only be able to accommodate two storage containers, not 17.

I vacillated about returning the items to IKEA. I think I’m the only person on earth who doesn’t worship that store. I find it big and confusing, and even though it’s only 15 minutes away, it always feels like it’s a whole-day trip. Plus, my son didn’t keep the receipt.

I could have easily given both items to a friend or neighbor but something in me kicked in after my son left; I needed everything back where it belonged.

I put the hangers and the plastic ware in the car along with five other things I had to return (including my son’s rented snowboard). I had a three-hour window – plenty of time to make all my stops – and off I set with my list and my optimism still intact.

I know it sounds like I’m making this trip for the sole purpose of returning the IKEA merchandise, but in fact, the snowboard was late and I was about to be charged for it.  IKEA was sort of a happy afterthought. A side trip that would put everything right in my world. I looked up the address of a Ski Barn near the IKEA store and was almost giddy about how efficient I was about to be.

I spent my first hour trying to find the Ski Barn on a treacherous, unfamiliar highway and finally gave up. I also couldn’t find the “nearby” Bed, Bath and Beyond even though I had their street address, a GPS system and my iPhone. Ultimately, I decided to just head straight to IKEA. 

Although I’d never returned anything at IKEA before, there were two things I should have recognized as harbingers of doom: First, the Returns Area has a seating area that can accommodate 100 people and second, they have one of those machine where you “take a number” just like at the deli counter. My number was 28. They were on number 2.

For 30 minutes, I watched the woman on the next bench (Number 25) crawl out of her skin while I daydreamed about what it would be like when my son came home for Thanksgiving.  Would he be heavier? Hairer? Taller? Smarter? Would he still feel like this was home?

When it was finally my turn, the clerk said she couldn’t give me a refund, only store credit. I begged, but she wouldn’t relent. She handed me a gift card for $9.60 and took my merchandise.

Tired and dejected, I could have just returned home. I had already been there an hour. Instead, I forced myself to enter the Swedish labyrinth that is IKEA and spend the gift card. If I didn’t use it now, I never would.

I snuck in by the check out registers and made my way back, through the shelves of boxed furniture parts, to the “showrooms.” I thought I would get myself a new teacup or some candles, but nothing struck my fancy. I wandered aimlessly for 45 minutes, picking up cheap little knick-knacks with umlaut-laden names and placed them back on their melamine shelves.  At one point, the urge to leave became so intense that I actually considered re-buying the plastic ware set and the hangers, thinking they were not that useless after all.

Eventually I settled on a pair of pot holders in a color I didn’t really like, displaying two Swedish words I didn’t really know, simply because they were $4.99 each and I could use up my whole gift card.

I looked up the words when I got home: Almhult Smaland.  It’s the town where IKEA was founded.

Disappointed that I bought potholders that commemorate a store I have no affection for, I decided to make up a new meaning for Almhult Smaland: A nuanced phrase conveying that almost everything is back where it belongs.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Cold Turkey

I went for a walk with an old friend – a woman who also just sent her oldest (a son) off to college. After 45 seconds of small talk, we began to commiserate about the lack of incoming information.

Her son doesn’t call her much either, but unlike me, instead of complaining about it in a blog, she’s spent the last several weeks in due diligence, interviewing elders to determine where realistic expectations should lie.

I told her I was jealous of the moms of girls – women who got calls or texts daily, sometimes every few hours.

She called that phenomenon The Dump and Run. Kids, mostly girls (but not always) calling moms and unloading for 45 minutes, spewing their unresolved problems or just venting about the day, leaving the hapless mother to a sleepless night pacing the house and putting her face in a bag of OREOs because she knows there's nothing she can do to help.

The mom then calls the kid the next day to check in.

"How are you doing today?" the mom will ask.

 And the kid says, “I’m fine. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You don’t want that,” my friend counseled.

No, I don’t want that. But I want something. Is there nothing in the middle? Because it seems to me that between a kid who calls every few hours and a kid who doesn’t pick up the phone at all there is a lot of real estate.

Another friend reminds me time and again that this is what boys need to do. They need to SEPARATE. As in, become their own person. Why, I’m not sure.  This friend has no children but his advice comes with sobering cautionary tales. He has several friends who did not separate successfully, and those men are still living in their parents’ homes – the men themselves all over 50 years old.

I don't want that either.

So I’m trying to go cold turkey. Not picking up the phone. Waiting until he calls me.

Here I am. White knuckled and waiting.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Nice Shoes!

Early on, when I still cared about whether my son’s dorm fridge remained in the middle of his dorm room, I would ask him about it when we talked.  Again, early on. When we still talked.

I asked him for three straight days if the fridge was still in the middle of the room and each day the answer was yes. So I stopped asking.

I'd try to get some business done with him through text messages but it wasn't nearly as efficient as when I used to have him captive in my kitchen during breakfast.

Is the meal plan working out? 
Did you get the birthday card from Grandma? 
I had a dream about you last night: you had a big rubbery nose.

Sometimes I'd get an LOL; most of the time, nothing.

I didn’t hear from him for a long while and then I got a text: I’m at the mall and I’m about to buy some jeans and shoes. Can I put it on the credit card?

I said of course. After all, he’d texted me. Unprompted.

Later I sent a message asking if I could see a picture of the shoes. This went unanswered, so I sent it again the next day.  Eventually he texted me a picture of his new shoes. They were sitting on top of his desk next to a bottle of Advil. You could see the wastebasket next to the desk – its contents piled almost six inches beyond capacity.

Get those shoes off the table. Someone is going to die!
Jesus, empty the garbage.
Why is the Advil out? Are you not feeling well?

Of course I didn’t write any of those things. But it took all my willpower. All of it.

Nice shoes! I wrote.

No response.