In a way it is what any parent dreams of. Part science, part art, all passion. When Leo started saving his money to spend on giant bottles of glue I was grateful. Finally a sensory experience beyond the world of Minecraft.
I was so naive.
Shaving cream (stolen from the master bath). Fancy shampoo (stolen from out guest bath). Laundry detergent (stolen from the laundry room). Baking soda (stolen from our pantry). Corn starch (ditto) all combined with the giant glue to create, well, my nightmare.
For months we have been living in our very own episode of “You can’t do that on television.” We feature gloppy measuring cups, glittery fingers, pale blue (or pink, or purple, or white) crud crusted end tables. As much as we have gained in mess we have lost in tupperware. It is not all bad: we have a fresh smelling car, a collaborative activity, and best of all we have a laughing Leo.
He is standing at the counter now. “Do you hear this?” he asks as he slaps his latest slab onto our dinner plate with a slurping sound. Why yes I do. It is a mess in the making. He thinks I can’t hear it well enough. He brings his creation over to the loveseat where I sit doing the Sunday crossword and sipping room temperature tea. He has me try. It is cool to the touch, it smells like Aveda, it has a subtle glitter, it crackles lightly in my hand. It is, in fact, a full sensory experience. I flop it onto the plate with a satisfying sound. I smile at him and he beams back at me. Perhaps there is something to the slime. And then he is holding it in his hand watching it drip slowly then not so slowly onto our velvet pillow. “I’m sorry Mama.” He reaches across me for my napkin that caught the crumbs of my cookie breakfast. He knocks over the mug that I have balanced on the arm of the loveseat. It covers the dog in tea who jumps off my lap. This quick motion excites the cat who leaps off the counter in pursuit. As Leo picks at the slime with his fingernail and I dab the tea from the rug leaving the dog wet as can be I notice the cat prints.
She is tracking light blue glue on the floor.
This weekend he turned his hand to oobleck which we all remember fondly from kindergarten. “It is a newtonian liquid” He tells me. He is as fuzzy on the definition as oobleck is on its material status but I appreciate the effort.
I have been out for the afternoon at a friend’s movie premiere. Leo has been creating his own masterpiece. His ingredients are neatly packed in their tupperware (the second to last one.) The slime is stretching to fill its dinner plate. The kitchen is covered in corn starch. The floor, the cabinet doors, the inside of the cabinet door, the sink, the faucet.
I call him in.
“Leo, what happened here?” He arrives from the computer room with a crusty cowlick. He raises one eyebrow. We both know what happened here. He looks again. “I cleaned it!” In fact I can see he tried. There are sponge marks streaking the cabinet. After the sixth attempt at cleaning and the seventh time the corn starch has reappeared like the undead he is defeated.
“Maybe oobleck isn’t the best idea.” He tells me, forehead creased with concern.
“Wait…I have it…Slimebeck”. I am thinking of mice, and of men. Leo is less literary. “Oobleck with slime!” What could be better? He asks, fingers sticky with glue, cheek smudged with shaving cream, kitchen corner collecting corn starch.
What indeed, I think looking at Leo, his eyes shining brighter than the glitter in his hair.
Leo’s slime recipe:
Select parent’s favorite spatula, best mixing bowl and every measuring cup and spoon in the house.)
Start with a whole bunch of glue. (like a WHOLE bunch. Although you are decanting into measuring cup do NOT use the measuring marks.)
Spout shaving cream until it is no longer fun (ie, never)
Add saline solution to make it too slippery
Add baking soda to make it too dry (don’t measure, just shake it out so a third of it ends up in the bowl and 2/3 is on the counter)
Add glue to make it too sticky (a fresh measuring cup is necessary here.)
Add detergent because it might help (lament addition of detergent. It din’t help)
Test stickiness on counter (too sticky)
Test stickiness on hands (too sticky but we wont admit it. All we have to do to remove the slime is use more slime to pick up the slime- problem solved)
Test stickiness in hair (no comment)
Add saline (too slimy)
Add glue (be sure to use the remaining clean measuring cup)
Add glitter and food coloring (maybe more color- wait too much color- need glue to dilute- which requires saline- then glue- then baking soda)
He handled it pretty well. We went from splints to casts and he exclaimed over how strong and supported he felt. He might have been the first child ever to tell his parent that he REALLY couldn’t stick things into his casts to help the itching. I tried to tell him that his FINGER was not the same as a sharpened pencil but he wouldn’t have it. He knocked on the casts to help with itching as the med tech had instructed. Even she knew this was futile as she met my eyes over his downtilted head. She shrugged and rolled her eyes. This was a part of her spiel even if she was not a believer.
Every evening he would knock on his casts and the dog would run to the door barking his little head off and I would feel affection towards one of them.
At the doctor’s office things went pretty smoothly. While we were waiting he had me take a photo of the color swatches and send in to family to see if they could guess the two colors he had in mind. “Yellow and Green, orange and blue (never- he assured me, I would never pick Broncos colors) our favorite answer from uncle Chris: black and blue.”
Finally the orthopedist came in. He was all smiles. And full of stories. The compound fracture that ruined the middle school QBs career (career?) , the multiple surgeries needed for messy breaks. Then he started to stray beyond his expertise.
“You are lucky it was your wrists.” He told Oliver. Oliver did not feel lucky. Skiing in the trees like you did can often lead to impalement. Often? Impalements? “Those are difficult to treat” Particularly for an orthopedist I think, beginning to feel less fondly towards this cheerful man.
“If it had been your head you could be dead. Or have a concussion. Those can be life long problems.” He knew one kid, he told us with a big grin, whose concussion brought so much depression that he committed suicide. He knew another who had gone from a straight A student to failing and it took his parents three years to figure out the relationship between the head injury and his slipping grades. In the mean time he wasn’t able to get into a good college.
Oliver is wide eyed. Somehow the public schools have already scared the shit out of my son about getting into college. I figure this is what he picked up on. But no. He is pointing to his chin which has inches of red scabbing. “I DID hit my head.” “Don’t worry sweetie, the ski patrol and the Breckenridge clinic both cleared you. You don’t have a concussion.”
“Oh no, the doctor told us, concussions can come up ANYTIME.” Anytime? I think. Finally he leaves with a smile turning his head through the crack to tell Oliver. “You might still have a Traumatic brain injury.” Keep a look out.
The woman who rolls in the casting cart has a totally different attitude. Oliver is less chatty than usual and manages only to ask her one question. “Which is your favorite color combination for casts.” I’m not sure he sees her quickly check the bottom shelf where she had arranged to materials for his cast before answering. Orange and Yellow.
At home he decides to write his own messages on his cast in case people didn’t sign them. Every mistake is art he has me write in cursive silver sharpie. He checks my work on paper before allowing it to be committed to the cast. His favorite:
Roses are Red
Violets are blue
I broke my arm.
That night I am woken by Oliver, wrapped in a blanket, whispering at my bedside. “I’m not sure I should sleep. Sometimes people with concussions don’t wake up.” I squint at the clock 12:15. “I am so tired.” He tells me. “I don’t think I can stay awake much longer.”
Three weeks later it is time for the casts to come off.
Too cocky I entered the orthopedist office thinking Oliver would be a disappointing case of break, heal, go on to live…perhaps even have an incredible middle school career of carrying laundry baskets.
No. No. No. Evidently there is no such thing as a simple case.
The orthopedist brings in the x rays BEAMING. “See here- he points at a spot that looks, to our eyes, exactly like the rest of the image, you have broken it so badly that you have indented the bone forever. You will have arthritis at 45 instead of 70.”
“At least its your left hand.”
“But I’m a lefty Oliver tells him with misery on his face. “Too bad” the MD says matching Oliver misery with a maniac grin.
“But 45 is so young” Oliver continues to protest. For a moment I am bathed in the warmth of his statement. I am newly 44. If 45 is young 44 is Quickly though I realize what I am in for. Sitting shotgun on the car ride home his eyes almost disappear under the fringe of his bangs he is frowning so high. “Do we know anyone with arthritis?” He asks. “How do they live with it?” “Is there anything to do to prepare?” My mind flashes to years of trying to wrestle enormous glucosamine chondroitin pills into the dog. Old enough to ride shot gun this boy still can not swallow pills. Months earlier his younger brother tortured him by swallowing one, then two, then three m & ms without even a drop of water to go down. A gallon of water and dozens of melting puddles of candy bodies later Oliver had not manages a single time. He still takes his medicine in applesauce.
There will be no premature arthritis prevention in our house.
Late that night I hear the door to my room slide open and see Oliver, once again wrapped in his blanket. “Does arthritis hurt?” He asks me. I reach for his hand, newly accessible to me. “It is a long, long time before you have to worry about it babe. I actually think that doctor might have been a bit of an alarmist.” In the darkness Oliver laughs. “Yeah, it did seem like he was a little too interested in impalements.” “And concussions.” I answer. “And compound fractures” he adds. “And arthirtis.” I giggle, our conversation made funny by the 2:00 hours. “No.” “No.” “Arthritis is something to really be worried about.” He tells me, and my laugh fades. 2:00 might be the time to find things unusually funny but it is also a time of swirling worries.
Steve is in San Diego so I ask Oliver if he wants to sleep in our bed. He hesitates, he is getting older, but after a minute he climbs in and buries his face in Steve’s pillow. We go to sleep holding each other’s non arthritic hands.
It’s sad times when the mention of the word balls doesn’t make Leo snicker.
Fret not, we still have plenty of sophomoric humor at the dinner table. This time however, it is the boys that are schooling us. Steve is holding his Exploding Kittens cards close to his chest, the only one in the family that follows card etiquette (or really any etiquette at all.) Leo can’t let this be. He slides closer on the carefully sanded cherry bench and Steve thows a block with his elbow. Leo reaches out and pinches the skin crowing “I’ve got your wenis.” “My what?” Steve asks, looking down at his lap. “Your wenis.” Leo repeats. I stay silent, not wanting to reveal my old age. How can I not know what a wenis is? I know all the weird douchey words. Oliver, the kid who’s great fun in life is fractions, smirks at us with his first trace of teenage-hood. “YOU don’t know what wenis is?” A quick check on the phone confirms it. The skin on the outside of the elbow: wenis, alt wenus. So we count the wenis’ in the room, we talk about sagging wenises. It goes on for a while until Oliver, too excited to keep his seat stands at the head of the table.
“If this is my wenis, he says arm crooked, finger tracing his funny bone. Then this must be my wagina.”
I am both proud and sad that my boys had the best line of the night.
Soon they won’t need me at all.
Here is an old post where I was still able to teach them the important things in life.
I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes.
[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]I don’t mean to brag but my kids already understand penis jokes. @annawritesstuff[/Tweet]
Yesterday Oliver was selecting a banana from the bunch and held up his choice. “I like this one, it is long and hard.” Like any good role model I snickered. Leo looked at me from his kitchen stool. First his eyes were slanted quizzically. Then they opened wide with understanding. “You are laughing because a banana is like a penis.” Why yes I was.
The solid grasp of penis humor (see what I did there) began, as it should have, with geography. I know we weren’t the first family to do so but we deemed Florida America’s penis. I don’t think this can be argued against on any level. When we arrived for our last visit to Anna Maria Island the climate was decidedly different from Denver. As we exited the airport Oliver thrilled me with this gem. “Florida is America’s penis…which explains why it is so damp.” Not to be outdone Leo crowed to his brother “You are a Florida.” “That’s right…I’m hot.” Oliver responded. Pretty sure he nailed that one.
Balls too are funny. Obviously. For my food revolution I eat apples and peanut butter every morning. You know what is even better than choking down the same goo every day? (That’s what she said) A little body fluid humor from my younger son. “Have you ever noticed that peanut butter has three bad words in it? Pee, nut and butt.” Well no…I hadn’t but it sure made my breakfast more palatable.
Game night always brings a chance to joke around. Nothing gets us laughing more than Apples to Apples Junior. Over time our sick humor and sharpies have combined to create a custom PG 14 version. Many many many of the cards have been amended to read “Your balls.” One of the highest compliments I was ever paid was by Oliver when he was eight. “Mama,” he said looking at me with love and admiration “you are really funny when it comes to ballsacks.” Sometimes though we cross the line. There was that one tough time when the Green card was “delicious” and one family member played your balls. That might have caused a bit of concern..but I was distracted by another card. Boy scouts. “Oh, mama” Oliver chastised me. “You really have to get over your cannibalist tendencies. Sadly this was one time I missed the sexual innuendo. I was going for the general misfit laugh. Instead with my kids growing more sexually aware I could have really gone too far. For the record I don’t know how Boy scouts taste.
A new family pastime offers a new opportunity for testicle jokes. We have all started playing Pokemon go, the app where you encounter Pokemon as you walk around the world and throw Pokeballs at them to build your collection. At the beginning Oliver and I shared the app on my phone. He got frustrated though because my aim was terrible and I kept depleting the reserve of Pokeballs. One time when I apologized for leaving him with no ammunition he told me not to worry. “I always have two balls in reserve.” I guess this kid packs his own ammunition.
Tonight we will watch the Patriots game. I will laugh as the commentators somberly intone things like “Penetrating the hole. Going deep. He slipped that one in there.” I particularly enjoy the excitement in the announcer’s voice as he cries “Great snatch.” I will have to explain more than what to do with a Wide Receiver if I want them to be able to fully enjoy the game.
After all, there are vagina jokes too. I don’t want raise kids who don’t respect women’s bodies.
It’s 3:00am and time to start my day. My belly was a little upset just an hour ago from the full bag of treats I ate, but that has passed, and thrillingly I was able to generate some treats of my own. I left some centered between the doors of the boy’s bedrooms to greet them in the morning. I also put some by the front door on the yellow tiles for guests. I tried for the side door too for the older people but there was nothing left. I am only 8 lbs so my belly really can’t hold much. I will try again later.
Now that I feel better I think I should have a drink. Things look good in this area. Usually I have to leave the bed to find my water bowl but in these wee hours of the morning I see she has left her water within reach on her bedside table. Well, within reach if I climb on her face. Which I do. Ahhhhh. Water.
4:00 am. I think I smell food. How did I miss this before? I smell food and it is HERE. Upstairs. Snuffling around the small boy’s room I find them. The meat treats wrapped in dough that get delivered by that man that I bark at so loudly. Delicately, so delicately I hold one in between my tiny teeth dragging it away from the other. “I will be back for you.” I tell them. Back in our bedroom I find the food has left me off balance. I can’t quite make the herculean jump from the floor to the bed without help. I am eager to get up there. The new comforter smells so detergenty. It doesn’t have all of the lovely wafts of food and puke and pee that I have provided them with over the last year. They are back to the beginning and a little late night snack will help with that “too clean problem.” But first I need to get there. I whine softly. If I do this they will reach over and pick me up. A little more loudly. She is UP! But she doesn’t help me. “The dog needs to pee” she tells him. She is SO WRONG. The dog just peed. What the dog needs to do is come up and eat this meat on her bed and then snuggle under the covers. But the fake news has been passed along and he lumbers out of bed almost hitting the wall on his way out. Down the stairs we go and he misses the present I left for him in the hallway. Oh well, he will see it in the morning when it is light out.
He forces me outside into the cold but it is OK. I have my dumpling to keep me company. When he opens the slider to let me in I hold my head high. I have eaten a bit, but there is enough to bring back to bed. I hop on the couch to take high ground and protect my treasure. He look at me. “Drop it.” He says. “No. No. Shit. My dumpling.”My body betrays me. But somehow against my own will I drop the dumpling.
He heads up the stairs so slowly, the curse of only having 2 legs. So sad for them. I take a quick detour back to the dumplings in the boy’s room. He is surprised now. Again he tells me to drop it. Again my body drops the dumpling against my will. Damn that training. He gathers the dumplings and drops them in the trash. It will be hard work but I will have to deal with that situation later.
Back in bed she asks him what happened. “Go back to sleep.” He tells her. He must be saving the dumpling news for later as a surprise.
I figure his advice is good. I flip the covers with my nose and begin to wriggle under. Something isn’t quite right. Oh no. Oh no. I have climbed into the pillow case again. This is NOT GOOD. Last time I neared death. That would be horrible. Who would protect her from hugs and keep people out of the house. They NEED me. Just like last time she grabbed me by the rear legs and pulled me from the pillow. It is hard to pretend I meant to do that. I tried my best though, shaking it off and burrowing under the actual covers this time. She is clearly too close to the middle of the bed. She usually sleep on the edge so I remind her with my cold wet nose and she moves a few inches. I press my nose against her again, then she moves again. When we are finished I have her right where she likes it, on her side, with only a thin strip of mattress to support here. I know she will mistakenly roll back so instead of my comfortable dog ball I turn my 12 inches sideways and stretch my limbs superdog postion and brace against here. She will be safe now.
At 6:45 they interrupt my rest to tell me it is time to pee. Don’t they know that I peed on the boy’s door to thank him for the dumplings. Despite that I realize my bladder is full from the bedside table drink. I should do that again. So again I climb, shoulder to hair, to head, and stretch to the glass. The water is further down now so I have to adjust a few times but I don’t worry about falling. My long claws have a sturdy grip on her cheek.
7:00 We head downstairs. I am not in the mood for kibble. Steak would be good, or bacon. I could even settle for the dumplings but it is just these dried bits. They expect me to eat them and I don’t like to let them down. So I take a few halfhearted bites and am quickly distracted by my reason for being.
I tell them.
They don’t move. Why do they never seem surprised that this evil beast is in the house?
“Cat cat cat”
“She’s in the house! She’s on the COUNTER! She is going to ruin everything.” I hold onto my trump card. “She is going to break your PHONES!”
Still nothing. My people confound me.
I am on my own now.
I charge at the cat, telling it to get out of our territory but it just hisses back. “You are pathetic. I own you.”
7:05 Even though she is right I have to keep going. I must. “Cat” I tell them surging forward. Her paw slices my face so quickly. “Ow ow ow my nose! My nose” I retreat. But she is still there “Cat!” I tell them. Finally the big boy has heard me. But what is he thinking. “Apollo” he yells my name. He doesn’t sound grateful. He doesn’t know how I have risked life and nose for his family. I am being scooped up. Usually I like this but I need to get back to the beast. This is the time I will win.
7:25 But it is not. I am placed onto the couch in a pillow nest and I have no choice to curl up. It is naptime after all. I rest there while the rest of them bustle around and the cat stares at me from the window sill. I can feel her staring but I won’t give her the satisfaction of meeting her icy blue eyes. I might be resting but I still know EVERYTHING going on around me.
7:35 Too soon they are all leaving. The big boy first. I ignore him because my most beloved is still home and then she and the little boy leave at the same time. This is super confusing. They leave out of opposite doors. How do I know which one to stop. I run to him then her and him then her and as I watch him sidestepping my poop treat I hear her door close and I run back, too late and then am too late for the front door. I have failed. The day is ruined.
8:05 I walk slowly to the office looking for just the right rawhide along the way. The people don’t seem to know the difference. Yet this is a vital distinction. Found it right where I left it outside the door to the bathroom where I had to wait to protect her. I head to work. The cat is already at work curled in the chair and we both know that work time is truce time so I don’t yell at her and she doesn’t call me pathetic.
I offer a brief hello with my curled tail but she ignores me.
8:07 The big problem with the office isn’t even the cat. It’s that weird other dog who lives through the window. Whatever I do he does. But strangely he has no smell. What kind of dog has no smell? No dog I want to know. So I keep an eye on him just in case.
8:10 The male person is standing working at his computer. This is tricky. I will rest for a while on the bed. I used to be able to drag my bed around with my teeth, flip it in the air. I loved that bed. I loved it so much that I opened it up to taste the inside which were wonderful. I took out bits of its insides and left some for me in all of my spots. Each bed in the house. Each room in the house. Each couch in the house. Then one day it was all gone and this big bed arrived. I heard them say it was actually a cat bed and the cat laughed at me. She was way too fancy to lie on the floor unless there was a perfect slant of sunshine. So it is mine. And it is too big to throw around and it is too big to pull apart. Sigh.
8:12 I am recharged. Clearly he has worked too long and too hard and needs a bit of a break. I gift him with my favorite rawhide at his feet. Nothing. I lift it up and drop it again. Nothing I call out quickly. “Hey.” Nothing. “Hey lets play” I tell him. Nothing. Clearly work has made him catatonic. Wait I never noticed the word cat is in catatonic. I’ll totally have to tease her about that. I turn and she is sleeping. Catatonic if you will. And I certainly will. Back to play though. He needs to get his exercise. So I jump up and nip his butt. “Time to play play play.” And we do. I let him think he can have my rawhide but then I take it back. We go on like this for a bit but clearly he is getting too attached to the rawhide. Does he think it is HIS? “It’s mine.” I tell him. But that isn’t enough. I need to take it back. “MINE” I declare and bring it into my bed. Maybe some crusty rawhide drool will help it feel more like home. I can try.
8:15-2:50. It must be time for them to come home soon. I will stand guard. I will stand on two legs and hold one paw delicately against the door. I will wait. During this time there are 6 squirrels “Squirrel” And 42 cars. “Car? car? Car?”
On the warm days they would walk home and I would be in the yard and could greet them in the best possible way. Hugs? I’m in. But it is cold now and there is not walking. There is only driving and it is very difficult to track all of the vehicles.
Then finally it is the right car and I run to the door. Something goes wrong. I can’t run straight. I can only run in the circle. In this circle in this circle. She is reaching for me. It’s too much. I am jumping and circling and wagging. I feel every muscle in my body and try to calm down. But it is SO SO SO exciting. she wasn’t back until the 43rd card. She was never going to come back. Never. I was going to have to live with that boring man and that bitchy cat. There would be no kids. There would be no beloved.
I need to tell her.
Finally I am in her arms. I am slamming my head against hers. Hello Hello. I thought you were never coming back. So I kiss her. Forehead to chin. I try to kiss her nose and lips but she turns away, denying herself my most fervent love. I need to tell her about my day. I race to the office to retrieve my best rawhide. I drop it at her feet for her to have. I jump so high 42 times. I tell her about catatonic. Somehow she doesn’t understand. I love her but I worry a bit about her intelligence.
2:50 So quickly the little boy is home but he has brought a friend. Luckily it is not the bad friend so I only need to give him a light warning to keep his hands off my people and then I can greet my little boy. I jump 42 times and circle six times and kiss for as long as he lets me.
2:51 Nap time.
5:30 Food. I smell food. They are going to need my help cooking. First I need to find a place to pee. They are all in the room so I guess I could go outside. How about this. If I walk to the door and stand there for 5 seconds and they notice me and open the door in 5.5 seconds I will go outside in pee. But thats such a pain. Maybe I will wait 3 seconds. She sees me though and tells me about peeing. Duh.
6:00 Dinner. They have stopped feeding me my dinner. I mean, I have kibble but everyone knows that is not dinner. I have never ONCE seen them eat kibble. Well, actually I saw the little one eat kibble one time but then he spit it out right away. So insulting. So I stand under the table and move from leg to leg. Maybe tonight is the night? It’s chicken and broccoli. Sometimes the little one gives me broccoli. And sometimes that broccoli has brushed against the table. I stick with him.
6:20 Clean up. This is the best. When it is one of the boy’s loading the dishwasher it takes them so long that I can rinse several plates. What would they do without me?
6:30 Nap time. Rinsing the dishes was delicious but exhausting. Too tiring to be bothered to eat kibble. I guess I could go check the sand box and see if the cat has left me any goodies. But I am just so tired. Soooo. I need to get a toy to snuggle up with. I think I left monkey on the bed. Returning downstairs she pins me in the stairway “CAT!” Cat! It is right there. “See the cat?” Still they can’t see the cat. I am worried about their hearing, their vision, their intelligence. They are so lucky to have me to look out for them. To do that. To keep them safe I need to get down the stairs. But there she is.
7:06 Time to check the floor for crumbs. The kitchen and dining room need to be fully snuffled.
7:30 We head upstairs. I double back for the best rawhide which I hide under the covers. I will entertain us with a game of hide and seek. All hide and seek must be done at full speed. That is probably why she is so terrible at it.
7:35 She gets in the shower. I stand in the doorway. Please don’t take me. Please don’t take me. Please. Don’t. Take. Me. When the water stops I know I am safe and it is time to bound into the bathroom. I will lick her legs first then drink the nectar of the shower water. Nothing has ever been so good. Wait? We are leaving the bathroom. Fine. I grab my rawhide and take to the bed.
7:40 Something is wrong. Terribly horribly frighteningly wrong. She is sitting on a blue and white pillow on the floor. She is not moving at all. Her eyes are open but she is not looking at anything. SHE IS DEAD. Only I can save her. I will tempt her back to life. I select pelican. I know she likes pelican. I drop it at her legs. “Wanna play?” I ask. She says nothing. I move to the edge of the bed as close to her ear as I can get. “HELLO” I yell loudly. I think there might have been a flinch a small bit of movement. I try again “HELLO” this is the loudest I can be so I stay at this level. Over and over again I yell. This is it. She is dead. I am so sad. So incredibly sad. I give her a last gift. I pee on her comforter.
It is time to sit vigil with the body so I go to the blue chair. I will dig my own grave and we will go down together. I will dig and dig until it can fit my whole self. Finally I can sit. So I do. Leaving my giant weeping bug eyes on her unmoving face.
Then it happens! I have willed her back to life with my love. She is getting up. She is putting away the pillow. She is seeing my tribute on the bed! She is so excited. Apollo! She says. She is getting her special towel and spray. She likes to cover my scent with her own. It is something we collaborate on.
9:00 Finally it is bedtime. I have less of a job to do because my pee and her spray have mingled into a giant soaked spot on the bed. She will lie right at the edge in order not to disturb our good work. Maybe she is not so dumb after all.
I’m sitting at the counter eating my impossibly small piece of gluten free toast.
In front of me is my journal bulging with papers that have nothing to do with writing, and my planner, filled with orthodontist appointments and PTSA meetings. I am not particularly upbeat. I take a nibble of toast, a sip of water filled with vitamin C (I will NOT get Steve’s cold), and a gulp of tea. I am trying to make things come out evenly like Frances did in my favorite children’s book Bread and Jam for Frances. The tiny toast is a challenge. I don’t know how to make it keep up with my barrel of tea.
Leo walks into the room clad in his too small red fleece robe. His eyes are starry. “Mama!” “Did you know that they publish the lunch schedule ahead of time? So I can pack a lunch on days when I don’t like the meal and know to eat hot lunch when it is good!” Why yes. I did know that. Last week was tragic. He brought in a dry turkey sandwich, oversized seaweed sheets, and a third favorite yogurt on pizza day and was somehow empty handed on orange chicken stir fry day. That sort of thing can just tank a boy.
I thought of the lunch calendar, which I carefully printed out in pre-school when Leo was a pre-reader and has never graced our fridge since. How many homes across America help kids select a delicious lunch? So good in fact that they might actually eat lunch and not arrive home a shaking shell. Lots probably. Poor Leo. He has been left to forage in the fridge forest without proper information. He might as well be a lord, with some flies.
Oliver has already left for school, crunching through the unusual snow in his sneakers. He has no boots at all. Steve ordered some, proud for stepping up and solving a problem in real time, but he ordered size 5. Oliver is a size 7. “Impossible.” Steve told me. “Possible” I told him. “Fact” Oliver told us. It didn’t matter though because when the bog boots came they were a size five children’s. The miniature size sevens wouldn’t have fit anyway. Oliver doesn’t mind. He rushes out in his single pair of shoes. They will do.
It has been a tough stretch for no nag parenting. The contributions that we have hammered so deep into their brains that they exist in their brain stems have continued. They wake on their own. Gather their things. Tuck their homework (which may or may not be completed, who knows?) into folders. They eat breakfast that they cook for themselves, unload the dishwasher, feed the cat. Those things work. For the most part. But the rest seems to have slipped away.
Just last week I was doing my biannual wipe down of the dining room table and I found this:
I have no idea how long it has been there. Writing on paper instead of furniture and walls is something I stopped training them on roughly 7 years ago. Seems we might need to revisit that.
It is not just Leo that needs that lesson. Oliver too seems to be confused about the word permanent in permanent marker. He drew this for us to celebrate our trip to Florida. In October. We remember it fondly. Probably forever.
We have no basement for the boys to trash so instead we have given over our guest room. (Sorry friends). When we made the transition there was a cubby or drawer or slot for each device. Since then, however, there has been saving and spending. At least two more important video game devices have been added to the arsenal. I imagined they would be less messy than legos. I’m not sure. Here is what the desk area that we built from an IKEA expedit (rest in peace) and a piece of maple plywood looks like this morning.
Mixed in with the nerf and the controllers we have apple cores and desiccated pizza.Don’t tell me they aren’t ready for college. Here. Look a little more closely. Or don’t.
Leo is handling the laundry this week. Finally finally we no more have moldy loads taking up residence in the washer. That is a triumph if there ever was one. But the dryer? It is not given the attention it deserves. And if your brother’s clothes hit the floor for the dog to pee on when you are pulling out your own outfit? Bonus.
Leo watches me take my tour. He gathers 15 cheese stick wrappers in his fist and shuts the door to the Video game hole quickly. It’s like his little kid version of hide and seek. If I can’t see it it isn’t there.
Beneath the counter stool he gathers the band aid bits and presses them into the trash. It is full.
Walking past the dining table back to the kitchen his finger traces the sharpie on its apron. “It wasn’t me.” “It says right here: not Leo.”
He gathers the laundry and shoves it into the dryer.
“I’ll fold after school, I promise.”
His face changes like from contrite to disgusted.
“I have to make my lunch. It’s enchilada day.”
[Tweet theme=”basic-white”]The kids room features desiccated pizza. Don’t tell me they aren’t ready for college.[/Tweet]
It is 4:32 and I am lying awake, tender like a bruise.
At the meditation/writing retreat I sat on my computer and broke its casing. It lost the small screws that held its sleek aluminum back on and there is a small crack that is open to its insides. It is hard to see but I know it is there.
Leo brought my laptop with him on our vacation and after a bit of using it it’s fan wouldn’t shut off and it became hot, almost scorching to the touch. We unplugged it and it cooled off. But the battery was broken so without its connection it was useless.
I relate to the computer.
I have felt the depression coming and have tried to ward it off. Steve is gone for the week and I am going to have to be very careful if I want to get through this without having it effect the boys. I look at my calendar and try to find a time to see a friend each day. Taking a walk or eating lunch out, anything that keeps me from my bedroom helps. If I go through the motions of my life sometimes I surprise myself and show up in it.
I ask a friend to have lunch and her text back is brief. “I can’t. Too many errands.” What is this? I asked myself with fondness. She is such a grownup. I would never let errands get in the way of lunch. I can’t even imagine what these errands might be. They sound sort of good though. Maybe I need some errands.
Once upon a time there were errands. When I was a little girl, little enough to sit in the back seat of whichever incarnation of Volvo we drove, I went with my mother on her errands. Lying awake in the middle of the night trying to get back to sleep I reconstruct our route.
In my memory it is chilly outside and my breath is fogging up the window of the car window. She tells me to stop as I trace a heart in the mist, giving it two dots for eyes and a smile. She is worried that it will leave smudges and she is right. When it dries off I can see other hearts, older, marking the glass.
We start at the dry cleaner. Well, we start by circling he block several times looking for a place to park. We are in newton center, newton is a suburb 7 miles west of Boston large enough to have 13 of these little clusters of shops and restaurants (quaintly called villages) but this, true to its name, is the biggest. It is shaped like a large triangle made up of several blocks. There is a T stop here and I watch people trudging up the old steps from the train. The old railway station is large and beautiful but it is locked. This is before the time of reclamation and at least a decade before Starbucks will have lines out the doors. Instead the lines are at the payphones.
My mother has not found a place to park. She is swearing softly. “Can you just wait with the car?” She asks. I nod solemnly as if I could possible move the car if needed and sit tall in my seat. She double parks to run into the dry cleaner and I wait. Alert. Each car that passes us has to slow and some shake their heads at me. We are stopped in the exact spot that my father will park in years later and have his car stolen. He left it running, driver door open, to grab a coffee from the shop that doesn’t exist yet. The thief just got in and drove away. The police caught him before we could even file the report. He got pulled from the car so quickly that he left his butter soft leather gloves behind. When my father held them up triumphantly I understood his pleasure, the thief’s error would trump his own in the retelling.
Today I am safe. No one wanted the Volvo.
My mother has the rear driver door open trying to loop the many metal handles onto the impossibly small plastic hook. She is rushing. When she finally gets them in the clothes are bulky enough to be the size of another person riding next to me. My brother, I decide, someone who would not have been nervous about the other drivers making their way around us while we are double parked.
Now we have gone down the steep section of the road to the bank. This was he age before direct deposit but after the drive through window was installed. The sweet days of banking. Our bank is the first to install a second and third lane that are serviced by a giant vacuum/tube system. I wanted to be the one to take the Jetson’s like canister out of the tube. I crawled into the front seat and leaned over my mother. She tolerates this. When I roll open the lid there is a white envelope filled with crisp bills. Even better there is a lollipop.
Next I wait for her to get electrolysis. I sit in the small room, legs sticking to the padded vinyl chairs, picking chocolates out of a small bowl. I hear murmurs in a Russian accent and a Zap. My mother has been at war with a small handful of hairs on her chin. I am mystified by these hairs. Sometimes she has me look for them because they are too difficult to see. In my middle age I will understand the zap of the machine, know the taste of metallic saliva, and smell the burn. The electrolysis will not work for me either.
From here we go to the Chinese Laundry. This is the precursor to strip malls with beautiful brick and decorative parapets. My favorite Jewish bakery is here but my mother will get to smell its yeasty warmth as she picks up bagels and thin sliced rye. I am holding tight the paper ticket for the shirts. I walk down the stairs to an indoor alley. There is a loud bell as I use my full weight to push open the glass door. It is a good thing there is a bell because I am too small to see over the counter. My hand, clutching the tickets so fiercely that the paper has begun to sag with sogginess reaches up, but my face is pointed at raw wood wainscoting. I can see the staples where it is held together. The man, whose name my mother knows, exchanges the ticket for the shirts, plucking it carefully from my fingers. He offers me a mint which I take to be polite. The lollipop is waiting for me in the car. I carry the shirts carefully in both arms. They are wrapped in paper and crinkle pleasantly like a present.
My mother is not yet back to the car so I try to imagine her. I picture a cake box in her arms, one that might contain rugelach, or black and white cookies. Decades after this my Methodist husband will bake rugelach for me to take to a Christmas cookie exchange. Today there will be no cookies. Instead my mother comes out of the back door of the cobbler with two plastic bags in one hand with the bread and bagels. Shoe box in the other. I can smell the polish as soon as the door opens. I hold it all on my lap, shirts and shoes and bread and bagels.
I’ll drive slowly, she reassures me, as I try to keep our riches from sliding onto the floor. She is in a rush no more.
This bit of memory has centered me. Pun absolutely intended. You know why? Because when I am deeply depressed I don’t make jokes. It is 5:26am now and I am feeling better than I did just 12 hours ago. At dinner things were very quiet. Not a poop joke between us. Oliver, usually one to pose a question to debate, is picking at his chicken. I am sitting, missing Steve, gently poking at myself to see how sore I really am. I am worried that I am not doing well at all. “What’s wrong?” Leo asks, in a mixture of sympathy and accusation. “I’m not sure.” I tell him. “Everything and Nothing” is the answer I don’t want to burden him with. I want it to be a birthday, or 11:11 so I can squinch my eyes tight and wish him safe from these feelings or these lack of feelings or however this episode will play out. It is my most realistic fear, that I will damage my boys with these feelings. Or these lack of feelings. Or however this episode will play out. I find myself right on the edge of being able to help calm his concern, help myself, but I can’t. I imagine opening my arms to him, him sliding across the bench to me and everything feeling a bit better. I can see it because it has happened so many times before. I imagine over explaining something, like SSRIs and neurotransmitters, the way I do baby making and other things they ask about. I imagine his face opening in understanding and eventually in laughter as we take whichever science topic we are dissecting from the rational to the absurd. Instead I look at him in silence. I can’t quite do anything for us now.
I stand and clear my plate and the boys follow me, somber, into the kitchen to clean. Leaving the downer dinner table things are immediately better for them. They decide on a game to play together and I can hear their voices still in the high pitches of boys even though they are not so little any more. I have done this for them at least. Even on days when Steve is away, and I am slipping, they have each other, a fraternity of two.
I make myself stay downstairs until 7 and I turn on music and do a crossword puzzle. I try to take in the velvet of the loveseat, running my fingers across it. I am proud of this find, dug out of the storage room of a vintage shop. Well cleaned it is a precious place in our living room. It has hosted family meetings, and many cuddles. The boys have napped and wrestled here. I try to hear the echoes of joy from our everyday life. My brain is working slowly, songs are playing but I only hear static.
It is 7:02 so I release myself. I am allowed to go to the bedroom. Walking through the barn door I reveal the bed which is both a source of solace and of temptation to take a break from real life. I take a shower, I put on lotion. That is something that I do when I am not depressed. I have on new pajamas. They have stars on them that are so small that I keep trying to brush them off thinking they are lint.
Very deliberately I pick up the tv remote and set it out of reach. I lift the covers and climb into bed. It is 7:30. I reach for my book and stretch my legs and tell myself that I have things under control. Oliver walks in a little early for reading and catches me with my eyes drooping at 7:45. “Maybe you are too tired to read?” He offers me the remote. “We finished our last book anyways.” I realize he isn’t trying to tempt me, but is arguing his own case. “Sure.” I tell him. “We can watch tv.” “Wha did you and Leo end up playing downstairs.” He looks at me with confusion. “When you two decided to play together after dinner, what did you do?” “Oh, nothing, Leo wanted to play with his online friends.” He is not even the tiniest bit upset by this. This is standard. I watch him as he navigates the list of shows we have already recorded. He is tan from vacation despite sunscreen, he is here in my bed which for him is only comforting not a portal to a world apart. I try to breathe him in. “Do you mind if I scream?” He asks me and he is yelling YELLING. “LEO LE-OOOOOO.”
Leo tumbles onto the bed, fresh freckles highlighted by his grin. They are both laughing. They are fine. I haven’t broken them.
Now it is 6:04 am. I am giving up going back to sleep. It might be useful to blame my sluggishness on being tired rather than being depressed. I can hear Oliver in his bedroom, up before his alarm. He is ready to get going on his day. A hallway away
I am looking ahead at the next 12 hours even if I am not looking forward to it. I can tell they are going to be better than the last 12. I will go through today slowly. I will brush my teeth and put on a bra. I will write and walk and meditative. I will follow up on some things for the school and run an evening meeting. After all of that I will come in the side door and the dog will pee himself with joy to see me. The boys will be happy too. They will have eaten pizza, the box still out but the counter beneath it will be clean. I’ll ask them about their days and Oliver will tunelessly sing a song from the musical he is stage managing and Leo will tell me about the 100% on the math test that I already know about. I will sit on the loveseat and one of them will make ice waters and another will sit with his legs on my lap. I will stroke his shins noticing that the hair has grown just the littlest bit thicker even though it is still golden blond. I will think that it feels even more beautiful than the velvet I am sitting one.
I will have a headache, I will be tired, I will miss Steve.
I have moved through the high mountain desert at a snail’s pace. Just this step I tell myself as my conditioning and the altitude argue that I should turn around. It is a short walk from where I am staying at the Shambhala Mountain Center for the retreat and still it is a long journey.
We are only in our second day and I have already learned a few important lessons. The first is that we can begin as many times as we need to. The second is that trying to write everything is probably trying to please everyone. Neither of these things are possible even with endless beginnings. Let that shit go. (I might have paraphrased) The third is that I want a heated towel warmer.
Our spartan room features mismatched threadbare towels that hang on a heated towel bar. Here at the buddhist retreat I have found a material good to covet. I can let go of this coveting. And I will. By buying one for myself.
On the path I pause to take a picture of the reverse footprints of the people who have been here before me. The ground is clear but the snow has stuck into the impressions that their feet made on the earth. I remember what our instructor said the first night. This place in steeped in Dharama. Here they may have stepped in Dharma.
On the hillside a woman sits in the sun looking out at the great Stupa. All who come here receive enlightenment. I’m paraphrasing again but in a less shitty way. Seeing her serene face in the light makes it seem possible. She is at least lit. Which is probably a key step to enlightenment. If there are steps at all.
Just this next step I tell myself as the sweat begins to bead on my brow. There is a group coming behind me. I remember what my new friend told me at lunch. “We each have to reach the Stupa in our own time. At our own pace.” I try not to hurry to keep ahead of them. They can pass me. I can simply step aside. We have been practicing letting things pass. As we sit in the shrine room we notice thoughts and emotions, label them “thinking” and return our observation to our breath.
Here is what my meditation sounds like:
Wow are my eyeballs dry? Thinking. Thinking is a verb. Thinking. But here it is a noun. Thinking. So like that other writer said it is a gerund. Thinking thinking thinking. Do verbs want to be nouns? It seems as though nouns would want to be verbs. Some nouns turn into super annoying verbs. Like adult turns into adulting. Ick. Wait, I shouldn’t be thinking ick. I shouldn’t be thinking shouldn’t. I shouldn’t be thinking. Thinking. I didn’t think my eyeballs could get any more dry. Thinking thinking thinking. I’ll just add in a few extra thinkings to plan ahead for my next thoughts. But the point of this is not to plan ahead. Thinking. Wait? Is that one of the ones I already had banked? Thinking. One extra can’t hurt.
On the path the group passes me by. This morning Susan told us that thoughts are famously compared to clouds. I got stuck on the word famously. Is that her way of avoiding naming the source? Perhaps I can use that in the future when I forget whose words I am using. Fourth thing learned. As I am stuck contemplating the use of the word famously she has continued. The clouds are like thoughts. None ever stay in place for long. So we should let them go. Today, she tells us, we are the sky, not the clouds.
Right now the sky is cloudless.
After just a few minutes more of walking I have shed my hat and unzipped my coat. The wind is cold on my chest and I imagine my heart closing against its gust. I try to unclench, to soften, but in the end I just hurry up.
Despite the rushing I still arrive.
I walk around the outside of the structure and feel like I could be in the middle east, or Greece. Something about the white plaster against the blue sky makes the Stupa feel out of place in this Colorado mountain range. But of course this is exactly where it belongs.
In meditation practice our instructor tells us that we can engage with the shrine in whichever way makes us most comfortable. We can bow or not, we can see it as our teacher, or not. Most of all we can see it as a reflection of ourselves. Our highest and best selves.
I like this, even though it makes me think of my time on Zillow where realtors encourage buyers to tear down right sized houses on generous lots because the “highest and best use” is for a four lot subdivision. They don’t need to tell me that these houses will be huge, overly ornate, with ceilings too high for furniture to fit. I just know.
This great Stupa would be the house of my nightmares. The floors are many colors of marble in a variety of patterns, the walls and ceilings are painted in garish colors. Niches are filled with art and flowers and requests for donation. And with butterscotch candies which may have some meaning or may not.
I am stopped for a minute thinking (thinking) of “may or may not.” Doesn’t “may” already have the “not” included in it? Have I been wasting two words for endless lifetimes? Maybe. Or maybe not.
After taking in his surroundings I allow my gaze to rest on the Buddha in front of me. He is golden. His eyes are cast down in the manner that I have been practicing for two days. And his nipple is out of place.
I am pretty sure that this is not the most common reaction to the sacred space. I have seen people enter and exit with placid faces and fluid movements. I try not to stare. I try not to catch anyone’s eye and gesture up at his nipple. In front of me people are sitting. Sitting in the Buddhist way with fierce back, soft hearts, and natural breath. I take a seat on the cushion and straighten my back. Before I find a place to settle and soften my gaze I peek up again. Yeah. His nipple is way too high.
“Thinking” I tell myself. And that thought floats away like a nipple shaped cloud in the sky.
I approach the statue to add my gratitude to the notes in the offering bowl. Thank you. I plan to write. Keep it simple. Despite this being a writing retreat here it is the feeling not the words that matter. Instead I find that the orange slip of paper reads. “Thank me.” I might understand this shrine. Even if I don’t know it. I write it again, one for him and one for me. We can thank each other.
As I leave I tell myself that next time I will see his eyes not his nipple. I remember the first lesson of meditation.
We have endless beginnings.
I will need them all.
If you are wondering where to begin (again) I deeply recommend Susan Piver’s (our instructor on this retreat) approachable volume: Start Here Now.
It is the time of year that my inbox is full of emails titled “tax receipts.” There is nothing that brings on holiday cheer more than sifting through dusty boxes of paperwork. I try to set aside the looming taxes and focus on festivities. I am not super successful. In the weeks leading up to the holiday season, I flip through aspirational magazines peering at magnificent mantles and imagine dry needles in my Turkish rug.
Instead of immersing myself in the gorgeous garland, I picture myself on hands and knees trying to pick the pine bits out of the pile. It is not pretty.
I set a row of pillar candles on the sideboard to bring seasonal warmth into our dining room. As I look at the pillar candles balanced on gilded plates I see the pool of wax gathering beside and beneath them. I remember the time I lit my living room on fire with a similar set up for a holiday party and realize I never learn.
I wrap Hanukkah gifts in environmentally friendly brown paper and tie the burlap bows tight. I personalize each package and line them up under the tree. I know what will happen over the next eight days. Despite my careful labeling the boys will barrel into the bunch and jumble the packages as they tumble over each other.
As they open their gifts I will concentrate on smoothing out the brown paper for future art projects. I know by the end of the evening I will pitch the whole wrinkled ripped wrapping making my efforts moot. It is likely that whatever they unwrap will end up in the bathtub. Even the booklights.
When the festival of lights ends the celebration continues.
It is time move from the menorah to the tree. We turn on the Christmas music and mull cider on the stove. The fire crackles. We tilt the tree left and right, right and left and spin it around in search of its good side. One boy thinks every side is best. The other wonders if a conical prism can have a side. Steve wonders if the tree is a conical prism. I conjure up a conical prison.
As I unfold protective tissue I remember the time the dog knocked over the tree trying to drink from the dish that held half water and half his own pee. That was a particularly un-merry morning, slicing my finger on shards of vintage ornaments. I see their absence in the empty slots in the divided cardboard box. I appreciate that I have a few less pieces to place.
My younger son’s face turns to mine. The lights from the tree cast him in gold. He holds a foam ornament from pre-school, one I always try to get to the back of the tree in one hand. He points with his other hand to the same empty spots that I celebrated moments before. “What happened to these?”
In a wave I remember him as a tiny toddler, crying over a broken crayon as if the world was about to end. I saw his face exactly at the moment that he learned that life was not perfect, that not everything could be repaired. The reality of mortality was clutched in his plump hand. I remember his tear streaked face as he thrust the crayon bits at me with one fisted hand and the tape with another. It was a sad moment for both of us.
I realized there was one thing I could repair…my attitude. This was not a broken crayon moment. The world was not about to end. So I pushed aside the inevitable problems of the prickly pine and focused on my family.
I told my son the story of the dog and the pee tree as we laughed at, rather than lamented our loss. Engulfed in the sound of his enjoyment I realized that things did not have to be perfect to be precious. After we finished the tree with the foam ornament front and center, we took on the rest of the decorating together.
We filled birch buckets with evergreen boughs and he told me tales of holidays past. He remembered the fire at the holiday party and shared his version of the story. He had been the one to discover the fire and alert me. He had gotten guests out of the room safely and opened the french doors to the porch to allow the smoke to exit. I hadn’t realized what a hero he had been.
He talked about the time we had collected pine cones from our lakeside lot and spray painted them gold. He remembered the sticky sap on his fingers that held the color and made him look like he had golden freckles for the entire winter. We giggled over the time our fluffy cat stormed past the menorah and caught his tail on fire. He ran from us as we tried to put him out. After the original scare it was ridiculous to look at his charred hair, which the cat licked and licked with wounded pride probably wishing that damn oil had only lasted one night.
In classic kid fashion there were times when the box was better than the gift inside. He reminded me of the giant box of packing peanuts that fit both boys. I had only remembered the clean up…but looking at his smile I set that aside.
Looking further back at holiday hi jinx he finally admitted to sneaking downstairs and opening every single gift while we slept upstairs the Christmas he was four. For many years he had blamed the dog. He figured this conversation was a good time to come clean. He seemed to know I would enjoy his antics.
His last story was about the January night that we burned our tree in our outdoor fire pit. I remembered the race to undecorate its branches before ornaments were scorched. As the three guys in the family marched the tree to its final glorious blaze I frantically pulled the last golden pine cones from its branches. He remembered the flames leaping as high as the sky, the sound of the popping pine needles, and how he had run to the house to fetch me to see the spectacle. He found me miserably vacuuming up leftover shreds of paper and bits of tree.
He dragged me outside, taking the vacuum hose with us. He tossed his brother one end of the hose and they stood together aiming their imaginary firefighting gear. It had been years since they had pretended to be firefighters, but this epic sight had brought them back to the age of magic.
Not me. I had wondered why so many of our memories included flames and inched back inside to return to the work of undecorating.
This year was different. I could see it as he did. The golden glow of the seasons was reflected in his reflections. Mishaps and ripped gifts, broken ornaments, and the dog in the figurative dog house were the stories that made up our holidays. The work and the play were woven together. The fact that the decorating and undecorating were never done was exactly the point. The mess of it was the best.
There will be time for taxes later. Right now we will put out enjoy the fires
This year we decided not to have Thanksgiving with family. Although our relatives forgave us the gathering gods did not.
After a lovely time on Anna Maria Island we headed to Universal and Harry Potter World on turkey day. Leo celebrated appropriately with a giant turkey leg but the rest of us clearly did not give the holiday its proper due because things quickly went downhill from there.
In an effort to sound like less of an asshole I will just say that Harry Potter world and the Palmers are not the best partners. My claustrophobia kicked into high gear. Our dog kept us from family dinners. Oliver’s motion sickness kept him from rides. Leo made it to the top of several rides only to walk back down disappointed in his lack of bravery. Steve was once again reminded that his family members are decidedly less fun than he is. Instead of enjoying Universal we trudged through crowds spending money on strange bouncy balls and expensive wands. The one ride all four of us completed was the Suess “roller coaster” which I rode with my eyes closed. It was not a triumphant moment.
The next day we went to the water park…ignoring the fact that it was 62 degrees and raining. My boys were troopers, I managed to grin and bear it, but the life guards were total wimps. After climbing up and backing down from several slides Oliver and Leo found one that they liked. Splashing down with grins and giggles I sent them right back up to the top trying to squeeze in some fun before we had to squeegee off. Right before they were going to slide I caught Leo’s laugh and thumbs up at the top of the tower and felt a bit of Universal redemption. I celebrated too soon. The woman in front of them splashed into the 3 foot pool screaming “I can’t swim.” The life guard heaved a sigh and begrudgingly jumped into the water in his bathing suit and sweatshirt. After his fearless rescue he stayed in the heated water. My boys stayed in their wet suits atop the windy tower. We waited. They waited. He shivered. “What’s up?” I asked him after ten minutes. “I am NOT going to lifeguard while wet in this weather.” I looked down at my soaked suit, over at Steve’s wet hair and up at Leo who was still offering me the thumbs up sign. Ten more minutes went by and the head lifeguard arrived and wrapped our hero in a tiny towel. The lifeguard shook more than our dog. He was probably a soccer player. At least when he was dry.
On the flight home we sat in front of a cougher. This tin can full of farts was doing double duty as a petri dish. Arriving at the airport at 1am (3 am EST) we hailed an Uber. While shredding my fingers trying to dig the seatbelt out from under the seats our 8 lb scardey dog BIT (we think) the Uber driver. As Oliver and I struggled the Uber driver reached into the back seat to help. There was a yelp and he quickly pulled his hand away. I asked if the dog had bitten him. I asked to see his hand and he snapped off the overhead light. He didn’t say a word the rest of the ride. The next day we got an email that Steve’s Uber account was suspended. Hopefully this is not the beginning of a horrible law suit. Oliver and Steve both assure me that there was no mark at all on the driver’s hand, but with the way the rest of the week went I am not convinced that all would be well.
Returning home a bit shaken by the possible bite we arrived in modern day Pompeii. While we were away we had arranged to have a crew trowel plaster over a wall in our living room. Before we had departed we moved every single thing out of the room and both adjoining rooms. Halfway through our trip we saw through our Ring video camera wheelbarrows full of lumber being rolled out of our house. I didn’t quite understand why there was so much STUFF leaving our house so I texted the contractor. It turns out they had torn out the entire wall, reframed, and sheetrocked. Without asking us. Without putting plastic up. Without covering the heat ducts.
So there it was. 1:45 in the morning. Dog shaking, us shaken, house covered in sheetrock shake. Toothbrushes, computers, bedding, food inside cabinets this dust had no boundaries. That night I coughed as much as the airplane lady. In the morning we trudged through the house taking pictures and leaving footprints. What is a great credo for camping is a crappy way to finish a vacation.
I hit the phones. Which is not my favorite thing. Locksmiths, window cleaners, duct cleaners, house cleaners, furniture cleaners. We needed everything. Quickly.
In addition to the dust the actual work on the wall was garbage. The trim was the wrong size. The corner bead was cracked. The paint spray went onto furniture and beams. The paint color didn’t match necessitating a full ceiling and two adjacent walls to be re-done. That was a problem for later. Now we needed to get the dust out of our ducts before the heat blew another layer onto our life.
Sergei came to clean one of our furnaces (our heating system is half from 1913 and half from 1977- neither banner years for duct work) and full system. Because of Sergei’s giant hose (absolutely no pun intended) Steve and I decided to bring the dog with us as we went food shopping and to Home Depot for furnace filters (x1000). Steve and I split up. He returned to the car first and texted me. “The dog shit in the car. Take your time. I am headed back for cleaning supplies.” Sadly I didn’t take his warning seriously. I opened the back hatch of the car manually because it has been having electrical problems. As I did I staggered backwards from the stench. The dog leapt over the back, poop covered paws scrabbling at my sweater. Walking around to the side door I realized that imaging a small turd was not realistic.
This was a shit show. Apollo had clearly had stomach issues (maybe from the bag of treats he ate through that morning.) The poop was everywhere. On the radio knobs, the floor mats, the seats, the console, the steering wheel, the windows. I could continue but you might as well just imagine every part of the car and then imagine it smeared with shit.
In addition to heated seats our car had what I had always considered the best feature of all…cooled seats. Cool air flowed through perforations in the seat back. At least it would have if the tiny holes weren’t each clogged with excrement.
That night I woke at 3am with the worst headache of my life. Whether it was dust or stress barely mattered. It even trumped that time sex made my head explode. In a bad way. The next morning I headed to the chiropractor. I had left the car windows open to air out the poop stink and it had rained overnight for the first time in 65 weeks. I was patting myself on the back for remembering to bring towels to the car BEFORE I sat in water when I pulled the towel hook out of the wall. It fell down with a crumble of plaster adding a small pile of dust to the freshly mopped floor. I stepped over it.
In the parking lot of the chiropractor my normal spot was taken so I pulled into a different row. Halfway in I realized that the row was marked “for compact cars only”. As my parking is not stellar and my car is not compact I decided to reverse and try somewhere else. During that thought process the car seemed to have moved into a terrible angle and I heard myself scrape against the car next to me. Returning to the scene of the crime I couldn’t quite tell if the chip on the driver door of the victim car was from me or not. I left a note anyways. If Uber was going to sue us I might as well bring on an insurance claim for damage that I might not have done.
Perhaps taking responsibility for something that was probably not my fault would start to balance my karmic bank account. It seemed worth a try.
Returning home I told Steve the story of the side swipe and he, along with Oliver the moral compass of the family, asked me why I left a note.
“It seemed like the right thing to do.” I told him hanging up my coat. Stepping away I realized the hook was still secure in the wall, my feet weren’t leaving footprints in the dust, and I hadn’t coughed in almost 2 hours.
Vegas, Manhattan, Paris, almost every part of the world that is not filled with white people. Gay people, Jews, women, Muslims. Hatred is everywhere.
Including inside most of us.
The primary solution being preached against hate crimes and acts of terror is Love. A life of love is what most of us aspire to…but it is not realistic for many of us. It is like advocating abstinence for teen pregnancy. Teens will have sex as surely as we will struggle with hatred.
Let’s keep trying to cultivate love…but in the mean time…hate locally.
In-laws who pretend you don’t exist, the person who cuts you off in traffic, the boss who belittles your work. Go ahead and hate them a little bit. Even better than hating specific people is hating specific behaviors. Baby steps.
Ideally we will all cultivate strong and long lasting relationships that can tolerate small slices of hate.