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December 7, 2013

Of kids, phone calls and toilet paper

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The Daily Star

---- — We have reached that golden age when both kids are responsible enough to be trusted alone for short periods of time.

There are caveats, of course. The Boy can only be alone-alone for 15 minutes or so. The Tween can be alone-alone for about 90 before she gets anxious. The two together — well, it kind of depends on the sibling weather.

Way back in September, due to a perfect storm of commitments, I wound up being the parent who had to go to the Middle School Open House while my husband worked. Because I don’t always thoroughly read the stuff that the schools send home, which I totally take ownership of, I didn’t realize that the open house wasn’t a drop-in, chit-chat, go home event. Instead, the parents would be following their kids’ schedules.

Not a big deal, really. But I’d told the kids I’d only be gone for 20 minutes max. I tried to call home to let them know the change but the cell reception at the Middle School is iffy at best. It’s a great situation for teachers who want their students to pay attention, granted.

Still, I could be home in three minutes — or, if I catch the light right, 2½ — just in case something happened.

Which is why I panicked when my cellphone went off in the middle of my child’s seventh-period class. First, because my phone rang really loudly while the teacher was speaking; second, because I was convinced that something dire had happened.

I ducked into the hallway to call home. I couldn’t get anything resembling a signal.

So I ran outside and called home, expecting to hear a tale of woe and blood and fire. I was fully prepared to talk to a paramedic or a police officer.

Instead, The Tween answered.

“Hi, Mom.”

“What happened? Who’s hurt?” I asked.

“I called because Cory won’t get off of the computer and it’s my turn.”

Reader, I nearly leapt down the phone to throttle her. Then him. I settled for driving home and yelling.

After a long, long review of what constitutes an emergency — is there fire? is there a lot of blood? no, more than a paper cut — we gave it another go. And another. While I still worry (and suspect I always will), I’m relatively confident that they are fine.

My major concern now lies elsewhere in the house.

Last night, while I was finishing up at the Green Toad Bookstore, where I work a couple of hours each week, my husband called. The last two weeks have been full of tag-team parenting because of various work and school commitments. I don’t know if there has been a night when all four human members of the house have been home at the same time.

I should have remembered that the adolescent canine member of the house can also feel neglected.

“Hi,” my husband said, when he called. “Just FYI. Someone peed on our bed.”

“Was it you?” I asked, thinking he must be joking.

“No,” he said. “I didn’t see it in person but I’m pretty sure it was the dog.”

“Great,” I said and made it clear that what I wanted to say was “not great. So not great” but with more vigorous, grown-up words.

We worked out where all of the new laundry was, what had been started, and what needed to be dry before we fell into a deep, dreamless sleep. Then he had to run out the door for a work thing.

The kids and dog were home alone together for maybe 30 minutes.

Said dog greeted me when I walked in the door, wagging her nub of a tail.

“You’re still on my naughty list,” I growled at her. Then I noticed that the entire entryway, kitchen and family room were festooned with what looked like fat snowflakes. I looked at the dog again. She wagged her nub again.

I walked on. The dining room was also full of snow, as were the stairs, the upstairs hallway and my office.

I looked at the dog, who’d been following at my heel the entire time. Now in her mouth was what remained of a roll of toilet paper, which had been pilfered from the guest bathroom. She looked pleased.

The kids, who had heard me come home, popped their heads out of their rooms and saw the TP carnage.

“Why didn’t anyone try to stop her?” I asked.

Both shrugged.

“How could you not notice an entire house covered in shredded toilet paper?”

More shrugs.

I guess I should just be happy that they didn’t give me a call.

Adrienne Martini is a freelance writer, instructor at the State University College at Oneonta, mom to Maddy and Cory, wife to Scott, and author of “Sweater Quest.” Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/parentingimperfect.