“But Why?” My existential trip to gain a Residential Parking Permit.

Van NessToday I ventured to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency office to obtain yet another Residential Parking Permit. Having moved 5 times in the 15 years that I’ve lived here, this is certainly a task I’ve done before. This morning’s conundrum was a debate of taking the 2-year-old with me or waiting to go by myself. For those of you San Franciscans that have completed this task, as I would guess the majority of you have, it’s an interesting trip in and of itself. Located at an unappealing stretch of “South Van Ness” the crowd surrounding the area and the actual citizens waiting at the office make up a varied and diverse population. I wouldn’t say that I necessarily feel unsafe going down there. What gives me pause are the not one, but two ARMED security guards, the metal detector to enter, the bullet proof glass enclosed customer service agents with their “safetyCOM” intercom used to communicate with each person. And because this is the office that handles parking tickets and disputes too, WITHOUT FAIL, there is always an altercation of some sort around the paying of parking tickets, booting of cars or disputing of charges. I’ve born witness to these disputes every time and not being a fan of conflict of any kind, count the seconds until I can get my green placard and get the heck out of there. I’m guessing these disputes account for the presence of guns for the security team and employees, carefully ensconced behind a protective barrier.

So, this morning I decided that I WOULD bring my daughter on our field trip and actually have found in the past, that strapping a baby to your chest and trekking to the office ensures immediate if not instantaneous line cutting, as they try to shuttle you quickly through the process. A strategy that I’ve used on more than one occasion. Our trip was easy and uneventful while inside the office. My daughter actually softened up one of the beleaguered staff that helped us who chatted up my daughter through the aforementioned “safetyCOM” and gave her some paper and pen to draw with as I gained my permits.

As an aside I always walk up to the window when my number is called and want to give a preamble explaining that I’m NOT there to rip them a new one, I promise to be pleasant, cordial, have all of my documentation in place and simply want to complete this transaction quickly so that they, too, can take a break for their lunch or whatever next respite they have from this evil window. Inevitably they all start out the transaction the same way (a) either, dukes up, assuming you’re a slightly hysterical or crazy nut, ready to tear into them for a parking infraction that they had nothing to do with or (b) already rolling their eyes at what they assume to be an ignorant newbie to the city without the proper documentation to obtain the required RSP (Residential Parking Permit.) “NO! You CANNOT use a printed check as proof of residency, no your driver’s license certainly doesn’t count and can’t be used either. And where is your updated car registration?!” DENIED!” I actually can’t think of many more unpleasant jobs in the city. But I digress….

So, this morning’s interesting twist came as we left the office and my daughter, embracing the freedom of walking and the desire to do much by herself, ambled out of the building down South Van Ness avenue, wearing a backpack and sunglasses that she insisted upon and true to her nature, started to try to engage everyone we came upon. It really wasn’t that big of a deal until we passed a homeless man, curled up on a backpack, taking a mid-morning nap on the sidewalk. I KNEW intuitively that she would find this fascinating. And of course she did. Despite me taking her by the hand and trying to distract her and move her along, she started yelling (which is her version of talking), “SLEEPING!” “SLEEPING!” She pulled away and went for a closer look. “SLEEPING!” If left to her own devices I’m sure she would’ve squatted down on her little legs, cocked her head to within a few inches of this man’s face and tried to wake him up. A trick she’s mastered at home on various family members. Because she’s only two I was able to simply respond with “Yes, he’s sleeping. He’s sleepy and taking a nap.” And that was that, we moved on to engaging with the nice man at the Goodwill drive-thru cleaning the driveway with a blower. FASCINATING! According to my daughter.   As I drove away I began to think about my 4- year old and how his questions around the man sleeping on the sidewalk would have been more sophisticated, more numerous- one after the other, eventually leading to, “but why??” as most questioning sessions do with the 4 –year old. As a parent I find that what starts off as a simple question and answer session, can turn quite existential after the 4th or 5th “but why?” And the tired mom in me sometimes has to resort to the “I don’t know. It just is.” “Just because.” Sigh. Having done no research on the best way to talk to our children around the homeless population I was curious what other people do. Certainly, as kids reach school age there are more appropriate ways to cover this topic, but within the 3-5 year old age I’m at a bit of a loss in how to deal with it. “Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a home.” “But WHY?”…. And you can see where this leads after the 3rd, 4th, 5th “but WHY?” Raising kids in the city, this is something that I’d like to get ahead of, but haven’t given it much thought. And now it has me thinking….without many answers. Candidately, I think I could host an adult dinner party, broaching the topic of the SF homeless population and really dig into some serious issues by following the lead of the 4-year old and pushing into the “why” of it all.

Until then, I’m interested in figuring out how other parents have dealt with this in the city. Do you have a good response? City Mouse would certainly love to hear.

Until next time,

The City Mouse

Time for a “Time Out!” : Lesson #1 from a FTSM (First Time Summer Mom)

Being the FTSM (First Time Summer Mom) of a preschool aged child, I now pay attention to and read the other funny articles and self-deprecating mommy- blog posts on coping with summer vacation/ end of the school year panic and fatigue. This one has been circulating wildly around my Facebook feed and while I can’t totally relate yet, I now get it more than I would have cared to before.

Personally, school for my son has been an amazing, transformative and life-saving transition. For me. Really. For the 3 years before school started, I lived unstructured days with two very small children, struggling to fill time from sun-up to nap time and nap time to bedtime. At least that’s what it felt like most days, if I’m being honest.

However, a nice perk I realized was that after 15 years of working professionally, having limited flexibility in my schedule and spending the last 5 years of it commuting 3 hrs each day to the Silicon Valley, the initial openness and freedom of a day on maternity leave was sweet and delicious. I loved that I didn’t use my car, have hard deadlines and could relish in focusing on a new little being without attention being pulled in multiple directions. That was year #1.

Years 2 and 3 at home began to get difficult for me and I missed a routine and purpose in leaving the house. Sometimes I wistfully gazed at the receptionist at the doctor’s office, for example, thinking, “Wow, you got up, showered, you’re here doing your job and making plans to go to lunch with friends. Sounds AMAZING!” On some days, I was really, really jealous of the receptionist.

Once my son started school, a new routine began of drop-off and pick-up, 5 days a week, every morning and I loved it: Getting up to an alarm again (I can’t believe I’m saying that), showering and anticipating the few fleeting minutes of social time at drop- off with the other moms. I felt I had a purpose and a place to be, at least at 8:45 and 11:45. And I’m sure my son got some benefit from school, as well! Smirk.

As the school year was drawing to a close, I had my first, “Holy Hell” moment of, “What do I do once school is out?” Complicating matters was knowing that I would also be facing down my last few weeks of pregnancy #3. A rough combo. Thankfully, my son’s preschool offered a summer school option that we’re taking advantage of, but until then have 2 weeks off in the interim.

I recently read another blog post about a fellow mom/ blogger attempting to be a super summer mom (June 6th post) and thought it was funny and honest. I don’t know that I’ve aspired to be anything quite that heroine like, but I did think that I could attempt, at least a few fun outings with the 2 kids despite my expanding girth and decreasing mobility. Over the course of 4 days I offered outings to the zoo, the park and walks over and over again. And each time, my 4-year-old said, “No thanks. I’d rather stay home and play.” And we did. Just stay home. And it dawned on me that my little guy has been on a treadmill, too and needed some decompression time.

After a big first year of school, he got up every morning, 5-days a week and went to his “job.” Every weekend morning, we typically threw the kids in the stroller to go for walks, get coffee and get some outside time. The result is that there were few mornings during the year where my son could just have some leisurely play time at home. In pajamas. Nowhere to go. And that’s just what he wanted to do. When I took a step back and just let him direct the day, I could see that all he wanted was non-scheduled time. Well, of course he did. I’m sure he felt like those first few months after I was on maternity leave where I realized, despite exhaustion and the feeling of being overwhelmed, the beauty of having nowhere you had to be. No shower necessary! No need to dress up. And my son reacted the same way.

I have to say we had some good days at home and it worked well with my increasingly tired, pregnant self to just lay low. Like some overused mommy cliché, when given free time, my son actually got out a cardboard box for some self-directed imaginative play, “Let’s make a fire station and pole!” And had a blast entertaining himself and playing with his sister all day long. The other change I made, which is quite rare, is took a day off from trying to multi-task around my house like a crazy woman and just sat on the floor and played with the kids or was able to just be there in the room when they were playing, which they LOVED. I was a passive part in their imaginative play. “Mommy, you’re in the wheelchair and we’re taking you to the hospital….weeeoooooweeeoooo!….Ok, it’s another ambulance emergency.” And they’d scamper off and back again. And I’ll had to do was sit there to play my part!

You’d think as a mom who is home with her kids, this would occur ALL THE TIME. Play time: mom & kids, around the clock! I’m sure I thought it would be the case before I had the kids. But it’s amazing how much of the non-glamorous house stuff you have to do all day long to keep everything running smoothly. Maslow’s bottom- of –the- pyramid hierarchy of needs kind of stuff. You know food, water, shelter, clothing, sleep.

It’s interesting because I’m a big believer in some of David Elkind’s philosophies espoused in the “The Hurried Child.” My central take away being, to slow down and decrease planned activities, refuse the pull to over schedule and focus on free play. I thought I was embracing this by having almost no outside school scheduled classes or activities at such a young age. However, I realized that the pull of all of the tantalizing places to go right outside our door was a double-edged sword, causing me to get up and out of the house and inadvertently “schedule” our “unscheduled” time.

My ah-ha moment this week was that it’s good to just take a “time-out” in the best possible way and find the fun things literally in our backyard. I can’t say that I plan to have boxes of homemade crafts and art stations and all other manner of ready- to- go- at- home activities all summer. We have this 3rd kid thing looming and all. But I will, when I can, take time to take a “day off” with my kids, get on the floor and just be. Lesson #1, I guess from this FTSM (First Time Summer Mom).

Until next time,

The City Mouse