Florence Foster Jenkins, Please Save Me: Wholesome Mother-Daughter Activities When the Weather Isn’t Cooperating

When the summer was mapped out, we knew that there would be a rough patch in August. We signed up the child for three weeks of summer camp, which were staggered through June and July, and we joined a swimming pool club a couple miles away so that there’d be someplace for us to go cool off now and then. But we knew that there would be long weeks of my having to come up with Things to Do with My Daughter, and that the worst patch would be in August, when there would be two solid weeks of just the two of us together, day in and day out.

What I didn’t anticipate was that there would be so much rain. There’s been incredibly fickle weather here in Southern Connecticut and it’s made it difficult for us to take advantage of the swim club. As a result, we’ve gone to the movies several times this summer, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it does get rather expensive after a bit. And I do feel guilty about it, because, let’s face it, going to the movies is awesome, but it’s hardly a wholesome, enlightening, get-you-into-Harvard kind of activity. But it’s all I have the strength for; I swear to God, I’m doing the best I can.

Yesterday morning, I was sitting in my comfy chair reading the New York Times online when I noticed, looking out the slider doors to the balcony, that the floor of the balcony was unusually cruddy-looking. There’s been construction going on behind our apartment, and I think between the usual crud that accumulates there (leaves, cat fur) and construction filth flying around the air, the balcony floor had come to look especially vile. The air was solid humidity and my daughter and I were both feeling fussy, obviously dreading the day ahead. There would be no swimming — we knew rain was coming — and the only thing on the calendar was a plan to go to the public library at 3 p.m. for a crafts program on how to make pop-up books. But it was seven in the morning, and we were a long, long way from three o’clock.

“Hey,” I called down to the first floor, where my daughter was sitting at the table reading a Diary of a Wimpy Kid book. “I’ve got a really stupid, crazy idea, you wanna hear it?” She answered in the affirmative.
“What if we fill a bucket with soapy water and go scrub the floor of the balcony out here?” I said. “It’s pretty gross and it doesn’t have to be.”

This was such a weird suggestion that she leapt at it. In five minutes we filled a big bucket with a mixture of dishwashing liquid, vinegar, and water; we got some scrub brushes in hand; and we laid a towel out just inside the balcony’s slider door. “Ok,” I said. “Let’s do this.” In our nightshirts, we went outside and started scrubbing. The cat sat just inside the door and watched us skeptically.

“This is fun!” my daughter crowed. She and I cleaned the short drain pipes that go from the balcony to a gutter below — which had to be done anyhow — and we got an incredible amount of schmutz loosened from the floor. About five minutes after we started, it began to rain. “This is good!” my daughter said. “The rain’s gonna help rinse the floor.” “Sure!” I said. “And it doesn’t matter if we get wet, ’cause we can just take a shower afterwards and get normal again.” Two seconds after I said that, the rain shifted from a gentle, warm rain into a cold, hard, pounding rain. It was the kind of downpour that ruins your shoes and trashes umbrellas, and there we were, scrubbing the balcony floor.

“This is awesome!” my daughter laughed. We scrubbed more and then she dumped out the bucket of soapy water to rinse off the last of the crud. Years of schmutz went swirling down through the drainpipes, and I leaned over the balcony to see it land in the gutter and funnel down to the ground. It was very satisfying.

The rain began to let up and we actually started to feel cold. “We better go clean ourselves up,” I said. We got onto the towel inside and the cat watched us peel off our disgusting soggy clothes and then I hustled us through warm showers. It was all very relaxed and enjoyable and I thought, “Maybe the day won’t be so bad. This was a weird start to the day, sure, but it wasn’t a bad start.”

Little did I know that by two o’clock we would be glowering at each other, sick to death of hearing each other’s every move, tired of the sound of our voices bickering.

Today we awakened to sunshine and ridiculous heat; unfortunately, there is also, still, the ridiculous humidity, and I suspect rain will come sufficiently soon to make going to the pool a non-option for us. It’s iffy — could go either way — but since we get to the pool by bus, and it’s a small project to get there, carrying our traditional two tote bags (one for food, one for swimsuits and towels and so on) this isn’t a chance I’m willing to take. As such, I have devised a Plan B for today, which my daughter is dreading, but which I actually have great hope for. We are going to go see the new Florence Foster Jenkins movie, which is screening downtown at 11.30.

She may or may not like it. I may be burning some bridges here. But I am optimistic. My daughter is a big fan of The Devil Wears Prada; she knows who Meryl Streep is. My thinking is, watching Meryl Streep play The World’s Worst Opera Singer might just blow her tiny mind, and she’ll remember this day fondly for the rest of her life. The other possibility — and it’s a real, likely, possibility — is that she will never forgive me for today, and hate Meryl Streep and costume movies for the rest of her life because I took her to see this movie.

It might be wise for me to soften the blow by shelling out for a tub of popcorn. Update TK.

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