Thanks for driving our tomorrows

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, Life with children

Whew!  We survived the first week of school. While I’m an old hand at sending kids back to school, I’m not even close to acquiring the coping skills necessary for the job. Braving the traffic and woefully inadequate parking at the elementary campus comes close to sending me over the edge. And, the volumes of paperwork that must be completed in one evening cause me to consider throwing myself off a cliff. Last Monday, with eyes crossed and hands curled in arthritic fashion, I asked out loud how many more times I’d have to write my name, address, phone number and emergency contact information. With a sly grin, my oldest took great delight in slapping his pile onto the kitchen table.

As I convalesced after the brutal first day of my three children needing to be in three separate places – two of them at roughly the same time – I realized there’s a very important group of individuals overlooked in all the hoopla surrounding the back-to-school mania: bus drivers. I’m a head-strong, can-do kind of girl, but I couldn’t handle that job on my best day.

I have fond memories of a couple of the ladies who drove me to school as a child. With seeming ease, they navigated the streets and somehow blocked out the mass of chattering, wiggly chaos behind them. I can barely drive with my own three children, who ride under threat of bodily harm for engaging in any funny business that would distract me. Some drivers have 25 times that number of passengers, and still deliver their cargo with a smile. I don’t know how they do it.

Ms. Rucker was the first delivering me to school via bus. She mastered the art of being firm with just enough sweetness thrown in that none of us wanted to disappoint her. When someone decided to act a fool, she gave a look in her mirror that negated any need for her to speak. Then there was Ms. Leatherwood, whose first words, “All right troops, listen up!” grabbed our attention. We were told exactly how things were going to be and that deviations were unacceptable.  I secretly liked her because I felt safe under her watch.

It’s tradition in the Whatley household for the children to be personally chauffeured to the assigned school and walked in the first day. The older two no longer allow the walking-in part, but still expect a ride…provided I promptly leave and refrain from blowing the horn and kisses as I drive away. After that, it’s the yellow limousine.

We’ve been blessed over the years with some awesome drivers. Mrs. Becky Shipp, known for dropping off binders on her way home because a certain young lady’s socializing took priority over the location of her homework, tops the list. She changed routes this year. I’m only forgiving her because she became a beloved member of our family. We’re supposed to forgive family, right?

Some much-deserved praise also goes to the support staff and mechanics laboring behind the scenes to ensure thousands of students arrive at the proper destinations. For various reasons, I made at least six phone calls to GCCISD Transportation this week. I got a pleasant, helpful person each time.    

To all past and present school transportation men and women: Thanks for transporting our future.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Back to the future

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

Much to the chagrin of kids everywhere, summer’s final moments are ticking down. Children and parents alike will bid farewell to spontaneous living as bells ring in the 2008-2009 school year bright and early tomorrow morning. 

After children are deposited at the proper locations, there will be dancing in the streets (Jeff tells everyone that I perform the celebratory ritual in a state of undress), and bon bon consumption will markedly increase. (I don’t believe I’ve ever personally consumed a bon bon, but I go along with the misnomer that stay-at-home moms do nothing but eat them and relax on the couch all day – it’s far more enviable than what I actually do with myself while disguised as the laundry and grocery fairy.)

I’m excited for my children, and a teeny bit delighted for me. Peace and quiet will once again reign over chunks of my day.  It will be difficult to sleep tonight, but tomorrow morning I’ll bounce out of bed, unaided by the alarm clock. Few things motivate me in such a way.

I love the fresh start that accompanies the first day of school. While many make resolutions in January at the start of a new calendar year, I make mine in September. Like the Januarians (I know that’s not a word, but it sounds pretty cool), diet and exercise usually top the list. I’ve spent the past ten years learning that it takes six months to undo a few lazy weeks coupled with snacking on kids’ fare. A more intelligent person would’ve considered that prior to ingesting what I have this summer.

Ordinarily, nine months is plenty of time to attain some goals, but sometimes the challenges of keeping my offspring on the right path impede my progress. That aside, I’m joining my children this year in heading back to school. I wonder who will nag me about my homework? Since I have a pretty decent record of getting results in that department, it will probably be me. I chose classes I wanted to take, so I’m hoping it won’t feel like work at all.

The real challenges facing me this school year are my children attending  three separate campuses (elementary, junior high and high school), and having my oldest start driving himself to school after the Christmas break.  For years I’ve been able to escape having to read all the papers that come home by first weeding out the duplicates. Now I’ll have to sift through it all as it’s coming from different locales.  I’m certain that will be far easier than waiting what will seem like an eternity for my oldest to drive himself home, or having him arrive too quickly. Poor thing, maybe he’ll surprise me and time it just right.

Summers are always a welcome, much-needed break from tight schedules and seemingly endless work. I love it because of the conversations that come up when those things are removed. Now it’s time to dig in and get back to traveling towards the destination we must prepare for – the future. It seems an eternity away, but will be here all too quickly. I hope I’ve timed things at least close to just right.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Eye of the storm

Author: natalie  //  Category: Wedded bliss

Last week I told you hurricane season spawns storms of a different variety in my house because I start plotting the Whatley course of action long before a storm nears land. Jeff prefers the wait-and-see method. I also mentioned his storm plan calls for removing himself from the path of Hurricane Natalie. You’ll never guess where he goes.  

Thirteen years ago we purchased a home boasting 33 windows (it’s not a typo); Jeff started buying plywood here and there as the budget allowed. Piece by piece and over the course of years, every window received its own custom-cut cover spray painted with a number correlative to a meticulously drawn diagram. It was a massive undertaking, and took time an approaching storm wouldn’t allow.

With the approach of Rita on the heels of Katrina in 2005, the dear man in my life didn’t sleep for at least three days. After fulfilling his duties at Bayer, he jumped right on the task of boarding up our home. It was brutally hot that day, and I was worried sick as I watched him haul large, heavy pieces up a ladder to the second-floor windows. He looked like death, and wouldn’t even stop to eat. The City of Baytown was considering an evacuation, and I was to pack as we’d be leaving ahead of the mass exodus.

Given all the Hurricane Katrina coverage, I was having a difficult time as weather forecasters were predicting Rita would bring similar devastation to our area. Just prior to leaving, Jeff found me crying in our bedroom. I knew we had to leave, but my heart wanted to stay and go down with the ship. He looked straight into my watery eyes and said, “We’re going to be just fine.”

We left 12 hours before Baytown was officially called to evacuate.  The gridlock was a nightmare to say the least.  After 31 hours on the road, and no fuel to be had, we had a decision to make: spend another dangerous night (people were getting desperate) on Highway 59, or take our chances returning home.  The distance traveled on our road trip to Hades was only a 45-minute return.   

Hours after arriving home, the storm turned. We’d have some nasty weather to endure, but it wasn’t going to be catastrophic to Baytown. Since hurricane-force winds were still expected, we decided to bunker down in the living room of our boarded-up fortress.

Jeff, completely spent, fell asleep on the way down to our queen-sized air mattress. The kids slept as well, while the dog and I kept vigil, prayed no large trees would fall on our home, and that the roof held. All night I listened to large chunks of natural debris slam into the plywood covering the many windows. Given all the crazy circumstances of Rita, I was as safe as I could possibly be.

I poked a little fun at Jeff last week, but I know he’s removed from my path because he becomes the clear, calm eye at the center of Hurricane Natalie. He’s told me, “we’re going to be just fine”, more times than I can count. He’s by far more accurate than the weatherpersons I watch.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Weathering storms

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, Home sweet home, Wedded bliss

Tropical storm Edouard arrived days ago providing a gentle reminder for each of us to assess our current plans and supplies. It’s something the experts say we should have already done, but by watching the news I’m led to believe many of our brethren wait for an imminent threat.

It also reminded me of one of the biggest things I despise about life in a coastal region: hurricane season. Humidity ranks closely as it affords me one bad hair day after another. Shallow, I know, but it affects my life with far more frequency than the storms.

Like many others, I’m completely stressed by things I can’t control. It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around killer forces threatening cherished people and things. Worse, impending weather events between June and November tend to spawn storms of a different variety on my home front.

I want to be prepared to weather a category 5+ storm and the aftermath, while dear-husband Jeff feels such preparations are overkill fueled by media hype.  Intellectually I know a direct hit from a cat 5 (that’s weather-speak) would wipe out everything, but I’ve got what we need to survive on the roof surrounded by rapid water and critters until we’re rescued and admonished for not getting the heck out of here.

 In my defense, I was a resident of Baytown in ’83 when Alicia hit. The storm itself isn’t etched in my memory, but the aftermath is. Having been born into the luxuries of air conditioning and indoor plumbing, spending an entire month without electricity and water was rough on this girl.

On my storm-tracking chart, coordinates place Jeff dangerously close to nonchalance. In his defense, he’s not a native Texan, and doesn’t have what I would consider healthy fear and sense of urgency in avoiding last-minute preparations. He’s from tornado country, where there was little advance warning of impending disaster. Flying by the seat of one’s pants while assuming the crash position of kissing your hiney good-bye was about all that could be done in the seconds before a strike.

Here, we generally have several days notice, and I get into trouble when I want to discuss potential evacuation departure days out. Irritates the fire out of him, and his irritation is doubly irritating to me. 

The whole Rita evacuation debacle did scoot him somewhat towards seeing things my way as we spent 31 hours on the road, got no further than Livingston, and were forced by fuel constraints to return home to ride out the storm.

Although losing electricity for a week was a bit uncomfortable, it was a shining moment for me. We had everything we needed, and came out on the other side feeling like we’d been on a family camping trip.

Still, when there’s trouble brewing in the Gulf, I can with 100% accuracy predict at least a cat 1 striking our marriage. Given how we weathered Edouard, I’d say Jeff’s done some predicting of his own. His newly-crafted emergency plan calls for removing himself from the path of a storm. He avoided me like the plague last week.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley

Unintended destinations

Author: natalie  //  Category: Life with children

I’m writing to you all this week feeling totally refreshed. I’ve been on a vacation I learned is one of the hottest trends sweeping the travel industry. It’s not often that a part of my life falls in the “with it” category, and finding out we were trendsetters on top of that has been almost dizzying.  I imagine you’re all turning green with envy.  

Jeff took a week off, and we’ve been on a “staycation” – defined as a vacation that is spent at home, or close to home. I hadn’t heard the term up until a couple of months ago, and just this week learned of its popularity due to high gas prices and whopping electric bills.  

The growing trend has been duly noted by those waiting to sell us something, anything to stay in the black, and is the impetus behind the heavily-marketed items needed to make one’s backyard a full-fledged mini resort.

While my backyard boasts some way scaled-down versions of resort-like features, it’s not nearly what the marketers wish I’d attain. In spite of that, we’ve been staycationing for the better part of the decade since I left the workforce.

There has been a couple of nice out-of-state trips, and some where we strayed and bedded down hours from home, but for the most part, expensive vacations were sent packing to achieve a balanced budget.

I’ve learned that vacation is a state of mind. For us, it means breaking the monotonous routine and doing things as a family that our regular schedules don’t allow frequently enough. Over the years, we’ve cleared off the coffee table and eaten dinner while watching movies, played board games into the wee hours, and gone night fishing.

One night, we got our brand-new boat stuck so badly that we had to spend the night out on Cedar Bayou – what an adventure. (I was only allowed to mention that if I also told you that it was me who vetoed the purchase of a thousand-dollar navigational system that would have aided in avoiding that mishap. Inexperience also played a large role, and I’m happy to report that we learned some things, and it hasn’t happened again.) It’s a funny family story I know Jeff wishes we’d all forget.

Just prior to the start of this staycation, I worked my hind end off getting all the laundry done, and the house cleaned. Then I secretly declared a “choratorium” for myself – no household chores other than what was necessary for survival. I kept it a secret just in case one of the kids decided to clean up something; didn’t want them to feel restrained by my edict.

Schlitterbahn Water Park in Galveston was as far as we went this past week. The guys also took in various golf courses, we made a family trip out of getting all the back-to-school shopping done, tied up some loose ends around the house, and the kids enjoyed an afternoon bowling with their dad.  

Our staycations have taken us to many unintended destinations – mostly places buried deep within the heart of our family. I can’t help but think of where we wouldn’t have gone had we been distracted by far flashier travels.  Those are the places I fully intend on visiting again.

© 2008 Natalie Whatley