Zits and Zippers

If you saw the photos from Max’s eighth grade graduation I selected to put on Face Book this weekend..a pictorial summary of our family’s special moment…you might think, what an idyllic scene at chez Bollinger. Indeed, many of the comments I got when the photos were first posted included things like, “Wow, you guys already look like true Californians,” “The family looks handsome and happy,” or “There’s a shot you should frame!”

But I wonder if you might be interested in what really happened before those pictures were taken…the true story that led up to the first click of the camera that busy Friday afternoon.

Graduation Day roared to a start even earlier than usual as it had been decided weeks prior that a Friday morning, early in June, might be the best time for Charlie to meet up with his old class mates back in Montclair via skype. I had actually remembered to put the skype date in my calendar and had posted a sticky note on the kitchen door as an extra reminder. Charlie’s alarm had been set early so he could eat, dress and be ready for a half hour virtual visit before heading to his very last day of school in Saratoga.

I threw on some yoga wear to replace my pj’s, which is my usual attire (sometimes with minor modifications) to escort Chloe to school, pulled my hair into a cleaner ballet bun and then tried to mask the “zit the size of Texas” that had suddenly bloomed on my chin during the night. Chances were slim that I would actually be seen by many of Charlie’s New Jersey classmates. They wanted to see and talk to him, not me, but it was possible there would be a moment or two of hellos and good-byes with his former teacher and so I had decided that a little dash of makeup might be in order. (“Skype Prep,” as I call it, is one of the many reasons I’m not a huge fan of this type of communication. I resent having to take a full steam shower and pluck my eyebrows before the event.)

All was ready for Charlie’s visit with his Montclair crowd. We waited and waited. No caller ever showed up on the other end of the computer connection. I emailed the teacher, hoping for a response that something had come up and maybe we’d have to schedule another meeting time. I called the elementary school, punching in the familiar 973 area code, and left a message with the main office. Still, no response from our east coast friends. If I believed in such things, I might have seen the “skype flop” of that morning as an omen for the rest of the day…a preliminary lesson that life rarely happens the way you plan it.

Of course, I had a tightly planned agenda for the day…a list neatly organized in my mind of what needed to be accomplished and when…so all would come off without a hitch. Max, the star graduate and Chloe, a band performer in the graduation ceremony, had to be dropped off at different places on the middle school grounds at different times. My agenda, so efficient and tidy, was built around these two crucial drop-off times. In thinking through the logistics, I had thoughtfully projected the need for two vehicles to accommodate the different drop-offs, as well as all the other family needs and contingencies.

When Scott casually emailed me from work that morning, asking what time he needed to be home for the festivities (even though I had repeatedly gone through the schedule), I quickly dashed off a reply that presented accurate minute-by-minute details for the day. The schedule was extremely thorough and comprehensive. I liked it so much, in fact, that I printed a copy and left it in the center of the kitchen island… as a reference point for my family in case anyone happened to get lost on their personal journey to “event readiness.” I was clear in the brief email correspondence to my husband that he needed to be home by 1:00pm to assist in the shower/bath management of the children, the earlier-than-usual dog walk and poop pick-up (I wasn’t doing that in my dress and heels), the knotting of the ties (only Charlie wanted to wear a tie but I would need some fatherly expertise with that task) and the family photo session that would end ten minutes prior to the first middle school drop-off time at 3:00pm.

Scott replied to my email, “The schedule has too much padding built in. Can I be home by 2:00 instead?”

“No,” I wrote back. “I don’t have time to explain all of this in writing. The schedule clearly speaks for itself. Do you want me to call you at work to discuss it?”

“I’ll be home at 1:00.”

Amidst frequent muttering about being ready way before it was really necessary, and comments like, “Now what do I do, just stand here and wait?” Scott and I proceeded to get everyone set, one by one, with plenty of time to spare to hit the bathroom, tidy up and dress ourselves. Having already done my makeup earlier in the day (very clever, indeed), I now needed only some minor makeup touch-ups and to put on my dress. I added another liberal layer of  liquid base to better conceal the Texas-sized zit that throbbed on my chin for all of Redwood Middle School to see. Over the sounds of running water, as Scott brushed his teeth, we could hear Charlie on the deck below. Was that the skateboard rolling across the deck floorboards? Yes, Scott reported, as he observed Charlie zipping past on the deck below our bathroom window. I came to stand beside Scott, my dress pulled only halfway up, and looked out the large window myself. Charlie was atop his skateboard, not wearing his helmet to protect his previously concussed head from two years ago, I noted. His blue-striped tie twisted slightly in the breeze as he whizzed beneath us and hollered with delight.

“Charlie!” I yelled down. “Get in the house this instant. We’re not doing skateboarding right now! Today is about Max!”

Charlie yelled back up at me, “I’m soooo bored, Mom! You got us ready way too soon!” And then, “Anyway! All my days are about me, not Max!” Suddenly, I noticed that our neighbor’s side door was open. Were the neighbors out and about? Did they just hear that very loud back-and-forth between mother and son? Could they have seen me standing at the window in my bra and half pulled-up dress? I slammed down the window and shut out the skate board sounds. Marching back into the closet to finish my dressing, I loudly exclaimed to my husband, “Scott, you have to deal with that boy. He’s going to go sailing off the deck…he’s skateboarding in his nice outfit…and…and…”

“Okay. I’m on it!” Scott sighed, spitting the last of his toothpaste into the sink on the far right of the vanity. Scott had gotten ready in a matter of 10 minutes, way ahead of schedule in his personal preparation steps. He left me to quickly finish up my own makeover so we could begin the pictures promptly. I patted myself on the back for all my meticulous agenda work. Here was a prime example of why it was so smart to build padding into the schedule. With children who suddenly take it upon themselves to start skateboarding in their Sunday best, such padding is essential.

I pulled the top half of my dress all the way up and began the tricky maneuver of zipping it, hands behind me. If I could just get past that difficult part where the seams meet on either side of the zipper…well, goodness…it didn’t seem to be moving up any further. I unzipped and started again. Same thing. The zipper was jamming at the crucial intersection of vertical and horizontal seams. I unzipped and took the dress off my body completely…to examine the zipper situation more closely. I needed my old lady glasses to see if perhaps there were threads getting in the way of the zipper’s railroad path. Nope, no threads. I tried the zipper a few more times, practicing the motion with the dress in my hands instead of on my body. Yes, it was catching a bit where the cloth got thicker because of the seams, but I was able to track the zipper successfully up to the top. I did this a few more times, to assure myself that the zipper indeed worked. It’s a simple matter of rough tailoring, I thought. Now I’ll just try it again on my body.

I put the dress back on, zipped it to where I could on my own and then decided to leave the bathroom prep station in search of assistance. Because of the tricky nature of the zipper, I figured Scott would offer the best aid. I found him in the kitchen, standing with the other family members around the kitchen island. They were mumbling about the obnoxious agenda that sat on the granite in front of them. I saw that someone had doodled a spastic face with tongue sticking out at the bottom of the paper. There was protest in the crowd as I approached the island only halfway zipped up. “Mom, why aren’t you ready yet?!” from Max. “Gross…bras!” from Charlie. Chloe and Genevieve made no comment but both of them scrutinized my half undressed state in silence, looking me up and down, as if to say, “What have we here?”

“Scott,” I turned my back to him, pointed to the problem, “can you zip me up? It keeps getting stuck.” The kids slowly departed from the kitchen scene, pouncing on the opportunity to do something annoying while the parents attended to an uncooperative zipper.

“Now do it carefully,” I said to my husband, “this has always been a tricky zipper. Don’t force it.”

Scott smartly lowered the zipper all the way down to the base of my back, to get a running start and use the momentum up the zipper track to overcome any hitch, but the plan didn’t work. No, the zipper stubbornly came to an abrupt halt at the halfway mark.

“It’s the seams. They meet right there and it’s getting stuck,” I said.

He tried again, lowered the zipper, then rising, rising, rising, it stopped at the bumpy seam intersection again. “It’s seems a little tight, like there’s not a lot of give in the fabric, Cass,” he said gently.

“I’m not too fat for this dress. I just tried this on a couple of days ago…in a practice run,” I whined.

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Scott said,  speaking firmly with his practical voice. “Do you have a plan B…you know, another dress you could wear?”

“It’s not because it’s too small,” I insisted. “I wore this dress at Max’s fifth grade graduation just after I had Genevieve.” I started to pant a little. We’d used up quite a bit of time on the zipper thing. We needed to get started on the pictures. I didn’t want to miss this crucial opportunity for a fine family shot. “I’ve gained a little weight, lately. But this dress still fits. I know it! I just had it on the other day! How could this be happening?!” Scott said nothing. He gave one last pull on the metal, but to no avail. I stomped back to our bedroom in disgust.

In my closet, I quickly scanned my array of dresses and found one that would work. Actually, this was a dress I could just pull over my head; no damned zippers! I was disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to wear the dress that I had planned on. My chin zit was also not on the agenda for today. This was really stressful, I thought, taking in and letting out a deep breath, feeling sorry for myself…if only for a moment since there wasn’t time to wallow in despair. I began to pull the zipper down so I could quickly throw the “Plan B” dress onto my body. The zipper wouldn’t budge…up… or…down. My sweaty fingers pulled this way and that on the jammed piece of metal. I tried to slide the dress down over my hips, but there wasn’t enough roominess in the dress for it to make the trip successfully from waist to thighs. Then, I tried pushing the dress upward but soon abandoned this idea as I estimated that the dress might get stuck at chest level and then I would have trouble breathing when the cloth covered my face. I would suffocate and never make it to the graduation! We’d have to cut me out of the dress! Slowly, I was able to inch the zippered back of the dress around to my front mid section so I could take a closer look at the trouble spot. With the zipper at abdomen level, I pulled at it frantically, eyes searching still for the root cause of the snag. The zipper would not move and now the dress would not move either. I heard the kids asking Scott on the other side of the closet wall, “When are we going?” “Where’s Mom?” “What about the pictures?”

Scott came barreling around the corner into the bathroom and then our walk-in closet, “Cass, come on, what is taking so long?” He stopped when he saw me in the doorway of the closet, still struggling with the zipper. He noticed the tears that were beginning to well in my eyes and my complete frustration as I grunted and hissed at the zipper. “Now, I can’t get out of this thing. Oh my God, we’re going to have to cut it off me!”

Scott rushed toward me, grabbed the zipper forcefully, and with one sharp tug, was finally able to move it downward, catching a small amount of my abdominal flesh in the zipper teeth and tearing the zipper lining a bit, but, at last, I was free. I gratefully clambered out of the dress and threw the second choice dress over my head. I glanced at myself in the bathroom mirror, checked to see that the zit cover-up remained in place and that my mascara had not smeared, raccoon-style, as a result of my tears. Miraculously, my hair had not turned to a mass of frizz during my steamy zipper fits. The product-laden curls were settled nicely about my face. I scooped up my camera on my way out of our bedroom and dashed after Scott to the deck outside to take pictures of my 14-year-old graduate in the mid-afternoon sun. I thought to myself, as I focused and adjusted the aperture, that the pictured plan in your mind is almost NEVER the picture that comes to be. Furthermore, the way I see these pictures of my eldest boy and his siblings, as they jostle into position for the shot, is not the way others will see them. There’s a history behind these photos…a story about zits and zippers and all the imperfections that make the moments in life so against plan, so unpredictable, so memorable. Can I capture all that with this photo? I don’t think so. But maybe I can write it.

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