Marjorie Williams

It’s almost midnight, and I spent the evening out at a parents’ meeting at the cooperative nursery school my daughter goes to, debating a forlorn plan to raise money by selling raffle tickets. At least we know, this year, exactly how little money we have; in past years, the treasurers weren’t even able to discern that much from the school’s old shoe boxes full of records. (Finally–duh!--they got a woman to take the treasurer’s job, and she whipped everything into shape in no time.) At least this time we didn’t have the Toilet Debate. “Cooperative” means that parents run the whole school, except for the actual teaching, which fortunately we leave to the professionals; among the jobs we all have to do is cleaning the school on weekends. Every year the cleaning issue is debated, and every year the parents continue to clean the toilets. In my little family pod, the way we divide the labor is that Tim does the assigned cleanings, and I go to the meetings. He maintains he has by far the better deal.

When I got home, I still faced the marathon packing involved in moving the four of us to Los Angeles to visit my in-laws for four days. Four days is no easier than nine days, really, since most of the labor is in the fine details–the little socks and underpants and tights to match the dresses and the agonized selection of only a few Beanie Babies and especially the bag of tricks devised to get Willie and Alice through that long plane ride. (Mustn’t forget the box of Band-Aids, a tip from a pediatrician friend, who correctly predicted that Alice would spend hours putting them on. Who cares if she gets off the plane looking as if she walked through a plate glass window?) I admire the airborne parents who take the attitude that other passengers are lucky to be flying with their small darlings, even if they’re screaming, but I don’t have the aplomb for it myself.

My father-in-law tells a story about flying on MGM Grand, the all first-class airline that flew the New York-L.A. route for a while. He looked up from his seat to see a woman making her way, with a small wiggling boy, to two seats opposite a pair of central-casting, young male Industry types in Armani. They made no effort to hide their horror at the prospect of sharing their swank conveyance with a child. But the mother simply smiled at them and said sweetly, “Gentleman, your worst nightmare is about to come true.” In my next life I want to come back as her.

I love my father-in-law for the way he savors this story; he is definitely on her side. I am very lucky in my in-laws, though not quite so lucky as my children are in their grandparents. (Once, when we arrived in mid-summer, Willie was showered with so many gifts that the next morning he said, “Do you know what, Mommy? Yesterday it was Christmas.”) But their house is not the place to go if you want to avoid the food binges that lure the quitting smoker. It’s full of food, great glass jars full of Oreos and buttery cheddar crackers and cunning little butterscotch cookies, an army of breads and cheeses. My plans for Y2K are to retreat to my in-laws’ garage, where Marian keeps understudies to be whisked into the house as soon as anyone makes the tiniest dent in the indoor food supply. The occasion for this trip is her birthday. Is it OK to tell a national audience how old your mother-in-law is? Best to be on the safe side. Let’s just say it’s an important one.