Spiders, Ants and More Than You Need to Know

Not long ago, I picked up a tangled bit of black yarn off the floor. You’d be surprised (well, maybe not, if you have boys) how much debris ends up on the floor. I’m forever picking up straw wrappers and broken plastic bits and string. It was only after I fingered this squishy bundle on the way to the trashcan that I realized I was fondling a dead spider.

That reminded me of the time I picked a speck of chocolate off my shirt and popped it into my mouth. What should have tasted like every other Oreo cookie crumb I’d ever eaten tasted bitter and spicy and . . . like an ant, apparently.

Remind me never to go on Fear Factor, despite my nifty parlor trick of never throwing up. (Until my two pregnancies–I threw up exactly twice, once each pregnancy–I hadn’t vomited since seventh grade. For those of you who are not math whizzes, I was in seventh grade way back in 1978. My stepmother made porkchops-on-the-run which involves a can of cream of mushroom soup and rice and a packet of onion soup mix and I became violently ill. A coincidence? Probably, but I cannot look a porkchop in the eye without remembering how skinny I felt when I returned to my seventh grade classroom after barfing for a few days in a row.)

Spiders, Ants and More Than You Need to Know

The Answer is No

I have seen previews for “But Can They Sing?” on VH1. I have not watched the show, but my ears have bled as I have stopped to listen to a commercial for this atrocity of a television show.

But even though I haven’t watched the show, I can say with certainty that the answer is no. They cannot sing. Please, no more singing by D-List, has-been celebrities.

In other news, the weekend flew by, my son’s science project is now late, I’m behind on the laundry, I made eggrolls for dinner tonight using those wrappers you see in the produce section, I’ve had a low-grade headache for three days, my sister is in another financial crisis, the $4 helium balloon I bought for my daughter at the grocery store where we were buying eggroll wrappers flew into the sky and I had to stop and buy another helium balloon because I am a pushover, my twins are going to be gone all day tomorrow, my husband’s leaving Friday and he’ll be gone for a week, I wrapped all the Christmas presents and shoved them under my bed on Friday night, the autumn leaves are barely clinging to the branches, and I can feel the seasons rushing by with all the force of a swollen waterfall.

The Answer is No

The Missing Purple Lollipop

My daughter skipped her nap yesterday. As mothers everywhere know, a missed naptime is the beginning of the End of the World As We Know It. That is why today’s nap was essential.

Minutes before she was due to nap, she realized that she needed a lollipop, pronounced “lellipop.” And not just any lellipop, oh no. She needed a purple lellipop and she needed it RIGHT NOW. Now remember, she is my fourth child and my first daughter. What did I do?

I got the kid a purple lollipop, stat.

When I checked on her half an hour later, I found her sound sleep. She clutched the purple candy near her chin, like a wilted wedding bouquet. I pulled a comforter over her and turned on the oscillating fan for white noise.

Two hours later, I heard her footsteps. She stood at the top of the stairs and called for me. “Can I come downstairs?” she hollered.

I hurried to the bottom stair, flipped on the light (because by 4:00 p.m. it’s getting dark here on rainy days), and greeted her. As I climbed the stairs, she blinked and said to me, “I cannot find my lellipop.”

Of course not. It was firmly stuck to the center of her black turtleneck. She cannot get any cuter or I will die of having a heart too full.

The Missing Purple Lollipop

About Last Weekend

So, about last weekend. I slept in late on Saturday–too late to get breakfast at the hotel. The mall was calling my name, so I headed straight for the Eddie Bauer outlet by way of the Bass Shoe outlet where I purchased two pairs of shoes for less than $30 total, thanks to the 75% off sale.

My phone rang while I was in the middle of the Liz Claiborne outlet. My New Best Friend was calling! Hooray! Only not so much because she wasn’t feeling well. She said she’d call back if she felt better later.

I checked my watch and decided to see Shopgirl. I have been a fan of Claire Danes since “My So-Called Life.”

In contrast to the movie the night before, the theater was not even half full. I’m still not sure what I think about the movie–I expected something different, but I’m not sure what exactly. Perhaps this is another case when reading the “novella” (by Steve Martin) would be helpful.

When the movie ended, I ran through the rain to my super-duper rental SUV, unsure of what to do next. On a whim–and sort of in search of a bookstore–I drove north. The rain made the dark highway shiny and sparkly. I thought I was going one direction, when suddenly the road swerved and I seemed to be heading away from civilization instead of toward a big shopping district. I obeyed a hunch and turned and found myself near the giant mall.

Then the phone rang. It was her! My New Best Friend! And she was at the mall! “Which mall?” I said as I navigating through heavy traffic. I am your worst nightmare, talking on my cell phone while I drive.

Uh, the other mall, the one thirty minutes south, the one I left behind. We agreed to meet at Red Robin (by that other mall). Traffic crawled through one stoplight after another and finally, I had that big red car turned around, heading back.

My New Best Friend and I ordered salads and she talked while I ate. Then I talked while she ate. Then we talked more and ordered dessert and talked more. Finally, our cute young waiter abandoned us with the bill, but we kept talking until our bladders spoke up. I checked my watch and saw it was close to 10:00 p.m ., and so we rushed to the bathroom, talked more, walked outside, talked more and finally said good-bye.

On Sunday morning, I slept late. I wasn’t sure what to do with my final day of freedom. I toyed with the idea of strolling around Pike’s Place Market, but almost without conscious thought, I packed up, paid the bill and drove north.

I drove past the exit where I used to go to my job in customer service at Blue Cross. I drove past the exit where we used to find bargains at the annual garage sale at Mill Creek. I drove past the exit with the Taco Time where I worked in high school. I drove past Alderwood Mall, which used to be the “new” mall, but now is an old mall.

I drove past the spot on the freeway where my stepmom’s little yellow truck died while I was driving to work and thought about how I crossed the traffic on foot and ran up a hill and knocked on the glass door of a closed department store to beg to use the phone. I drove past the spot where my husband and I ran out of a gas years ago on the way back from Wild Waves because we were so devastated and distracted by the news that a key family was leaving our tiny church. I drove past the hospital where I worked as a volunteer when I was a teenager. I drove past the fields where I planted strawberries that summer I was thirteen.

And then, I took the exit right by the pie place where my dad used to take us. I passed the gas station where I filled up my tank on the way to mind-numbing job back in my weepy, infertile days before kids. I noticed that the strawberry processing plant is a furniture store now.

I drove down the main drag of the town where I grew up. The new businesses were distracting, yet I recognized the shop where my dad sold and repaired computers next to the Taco Bell. Then the Junior High, which looked nearly unchanged, and the little building where my dad had a repair shop before he had the computer shop. It stood vacant–no one has ever had a really successful business in that tiny place. I used to sit behind the counter while my dad sat nearby soldering things. I loved to play with the soldering iron and watch metal melt and smell that peculiar odor. He repaired ham radios there and after school I’d hang out sometimes. It was in that shop that he asked me to choose whether to live with him or my mother. “The other kids have already chosen to live with me, but it’s up to you. If you want to stay with your mother, you will all stay with her. I won’t split you up.” I was ten or eleven and I cast the final vote.

As I drove further, I remembered the time he took us out to breakfast at that place near the grocery store. I was aghast that he disregarded the starting bell for school, but he was reckless that day and said it didn’t matter. So we were late for school. It only happened once, but I will never forget it.

I drove past the bowling alley. He took us bowling after The Divorce . . . never before, only after. Some kind of penance he chose, I suppose, to suffer through our bickering on Sunday afternoons and to feel guilt for what he’d done to our family.

I passed the place where a fabric store used to be and thought of how I used to ride my bike everywhere in town. In fact, on that road, a tree branch whacked me as I rode by and I have a scar on my eyelid to show for it. The bakery . . . oh, the bakery. As I drove, I was stifling sobs. My dad spent most every morning at the bakery, drinking coffee and eating a donut with the other old geezers. He was such a regular that the owners–from the “old” country like his grandparents–were like family. The bakery was his “Cheers.” Everybody knew his name.
Now, it’s an Orowheat bakery. The original owners sold it when they retired.

I recognized the place that used to be a drive-in. What was it called? “Wink’s”? I once won a coupon for a milkshake during a “Lassie League” baseball game redeemable at Wink’s. They had really greasy fries and I can remember Karla mopping off the grease with a napkin.

Then I saw the KFC where my sister worked the summer my dad was dying. That long-ago afternoon, I drove the mile from home, heaved open the glass door, asked for her and stood by the case full of desserts. When she appeared, the awful news stuck in my throat and I could barely choke out the words, “It’s time.”

She wept in my arms by the dessert case and then I drove her home in silence. When we arrived home, my aunt stopped me at the front door to tell me he was having seizures, but I pushed down the hallway anyway. His eyes were open, unseeing, and his stiff body jerked. I retreated to the darkened living room, pulling my sister with me. A few minutes later, I returned to the bedroom but he was gone. His body was still and I fingered his graying beard and said to myself, “Poor daddy.”

Between the KFC and our house was a tavern. I used to hurry past the tavern, scared a belligerent drunk would accost me. After the tavern, the cemetery. Our street was off of Cemetery Road. I didn’t drive past the house, though, not yet. First, I turned the SUV into the cemetery. I parked at the back and walked to the spot where my dad’s ashes are encased. I remember the day he waved the deed to the cemetery plot at me. He’d been to the funeral director and made the final arrangements himself. He planned to be cremated and despite his preferences, he realized that we’d need a place to go, a place to remember him.

And so I brushed aside a wet autumn leaf and fingered his name on the brass nameplate. Gary W. M______, 1942 – 1989. The tears puddled in my eyes and blurred my vision for a moment. I wished that I’d purchased the adjoining spot. He’s stuck in there with strangers and that seems so wrong.

I turned to look at the back of the cemetery. The house we’d lived in bordered a vacant lot at the back of the cemetery. As a teenager, I’d pick my way through the strip of woods, push aside branches and wander through the cemetery. I was a solitary girl with a morbid awareness of the brevity of life. I’d stare at the gravestones for babies and children and imagine that crushing loss. But I never thought the day would come that I’d be the one standing over a particular spot in the ground, crying. That only happens to other people.

The cemetery has expanded since I lived in that house fifteen years ago and a driveway is where the woods used to be. The open grassy area where we’d play on those rare snowdays is now full of graves. I walked all the way to the fence and tried to peer over it into the backyard, but I heard voices and didn’t want to be discovered.

I left the cemetery then and drove to the street where we used to live. The thing about driving past your old house is that the casual observer might think you are a stalker or perhaps a thief. I turned the car around in the cul-de-sac, noticed that the house next to our old house looked nice. I remembered the mean old biddies who erected a six-foot fence so they wouldn’t have to see our messy yard. Before they did that, they sent us snotty letters, demanding we clean up the yard. They hated us. And they had some kind of local Christian television show. No wonder my dad left the church because of hypocrites.

The garage door at our old house was wide open and my dad would have been so proud to see all the stuff shoved into that garage. He was a man of many interests and a packrat, besides, so in his day, ham radios and computers and SCUBA equipment and campstoves and shelving and books and boxes created mazes in the garage. If we lost something in our family, we’d say, “It’s in a box in the garage,” because we had boxes under the never-used pool table which were never unpacked from the time we moved in.

In the front yard, the Christmas tree my husband and I planted the year after my dad died stretched high into the sky. The afternoon we planted that tree, I burned a pan of rice on the stove. I hadn’t intended to do that, of course, but a multi-tasker to a fault, I left the rice cooking while we went out to dig a hole for that tree. And instead of turning it on “low,” I left the burner on “high.” Smoke filled the house and the smoke detector was shrieking by the time we finished. My saucepan was partially melted on the burner.

Good times.

That Christmas tree has thrived in the front yard and whoever lives in that house has no idea that it was once an actual indoors Christmas tree, a symbol of hope and love and peace, a living memorial of the first Christmas without my dad.

When I finished cruising by my old house, I was done. Just finished. I had no desire to see my old high school or to drive past the church where I grew up. I’d driven down memory lane and found it changed, though the same, bigger and yet smaller than I’d remembered. How life can simply march on without the band leader is a mystery I still cannot understand, but it has and that little brass nameplate is proof.

And so my weekend ended with a pilgrimage to my past and then a return to my future where my little girl flew into my arms with cries of “I missed you so much, Mommy!”

About Last Weekend

The Awesome Power of My Bladder

My bladder has Superpowers. With a simple twitch of my bladder, I can alter events clear across the yard. My bladder creates a rift in the space-time continuum with nary a strain. My bladder causes otherwise calm children to run shrieking into the house, sobbing hysterically. Whenever my bladder speaks, havoc ensues among the docile inhabitants of my house, wherever they are.

In other words, when I pee, all hell breaks loose. Previously sleeping babies wake. Children enchanted by their favorite shows bicker and come to blows. The phone rings. The doorbell chimes. I’m telling you, my bladder has mysterious supernatural powers.

You don’t want to know what happens when my colon rumbles.

The Awesome Power of My Bladder

The Post-Holiday Slump

As I anticipated, I am suffering from the post-holiday slump. And two daycare kids have goopy noses and now my daughter is coming down with a cold, too. The 3-year old boy has an illness every other week during the fall and winter. I can’t begin to express my dismay and annoyance when I see his nose begin to run and I realize that a new virus will make its way like a forwarded email joke through my family. My own daughter didn’t have a cold for her entire first year of life, but the first day I watched the little boy, he arrived with a disgusting snotty nose and my daughter got sick.

On Thursday morning, my husband leaves town for a three day business trip. He’ll arrive home in time for church Sunday. The following Friday, he leaves for a whole week. He’ll be gone for the second Thanksgiving in a row–celebrating with his family in Texas because Thanksgiving will also be the day of his dad’s 75th birthday party.

And so I’m trying to work up some enthusiasm for childcare and schooling at home and vacuuming, without much success, I might add. This is a short week of school–they have half a day on Thursday and no school on Friday because of Veteran’s Day–so I just need to hang on.

My husband called at one point this morning and heard my daughter wailing in the background. He inquired and I explained that I was sick of her dumping out all the toy bins, so I began picking up everything and putting it into a trash bag. At that point, she went berserk and so I sternly warned her that if she dumped them out again, I would put them in the bag. I ordered her gently suggested that she might want to pick them up–and that’s when the phone rang. She was picking up toys, but she was crying–loudly.

He reminded me that she isn’t feeling well and that she’s had a rough week. I hate it when he’s right.

Last week, after her nap we sat in the Big Green Chair (as she calls it), rocking. The weather outside was blustery and I had a moment of clarity and really saw the fleeting nature of that scene. She’s my last little one, the last baby who will curl herself into my lap and insist that we rock.

She’s my final chapter, the last song, the lingering scent of perfume in the air. When she “reads” every word of Goodnight Moon in her sing-song voice, I wish my eyes were a video camera so I could capture the sweetness forever.

And then I tell her it’s time for bed, even though I know she’ll wake up and graduate from high school and enroll in a highly-regarded college and meet Mr. Right and move across the country. “One more time!” she pleads and I relent because I can’t stop time, but I can try to memorize the curls on the back of her head while she reads. One more time.

The Post-Holiday Slump

The Triangle-Haired, Straight-Spined Man in the Movie Theater

Friday night found me driving north in a fire engine red 2006 Dodge Durango. A rented 2006 Dodge Durango. My husband sent me off in style.

The windshield wipers beat a steady rhythm as I peered through the rainy darkness. By 6:30 p.m., I had checked into my hotel room and left again to traipse around the Supermall. When it closed at 9:00 p.m., I wasted some time in my hotel room for thirty minutes. Then, back out in the rain in my fancy-schmancy car.

My timing was perfect. “One for Jarhead,” I said to the guy behind the window.

“The 10:05 show?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Uh, it’s sold out,” he said.

Thinking quickly–and determined to see a movie–I said, “How about the 10:45 show?”

He consulted his register and said, “Well, there are still 239 seats, so that’s okay.” Well, yeah, I thought. Practically empty theater! Who’s crazy enough to watch a movie that starts at 10:45 p.m.?

I handed over my money and he slid a ticket back to me. I went back to my hotel yet again (it was very close to the theater) until it was time for the movie. I congragtulated myself on my perfect timing. I had fifteen minutes to purchase popcorn and pick out a seat.

I walked into the theater clutching my popcorn and Diet Coke (caffeine at 10:45 p.m.! talk about living on the edge!) and then turned to survey the vast crowd. The only available seats appeared to be in the front. I tentatively sat down, but immediately rejected this seat at the end of the second row. I stood and walked up the stairs, hoping against hope to find a single seat next to a nice, pleasant-looking mom like me.

I did not. But I did find a couple of seats in the very back row next to a teenage girl who appeared to be with her mother. With joy, I sat and then, I saw it.

Triangle Hair. Atop the head of a straight-spined, tall man. Right in the middle of my view. I was so distracted by the shape of his bristly hair that I started writing this blog entry in my head. I christened him Triangle Hair Guy and thought perhaps I should alert him to his impending inclusion in my blog. Then I thought a more important thought, but an impertinent thought, one which I could not express out loud. What I thought was, SLOUCH DOWN! SLOUCH! SLOUCH DOWN!

But he did not slouch. He was a middle-aged kind of guy, the kind with a balding head who resorts to cutting his remaining hair shortish and then drying it straight up with a dab of gel for staying power. I watched the entire movie through his triangle fringe of thinning hair, despite maneuvering sideways and striving to sit up as tall as possible.

I scanned the length of the row and decided that theater must seat at least five hundred people. And it was full of a shockingly respectful and responsive crowd. For once, I didn’t hear or see any preschoolers at movie rated R. (I suppose even the most irresponsible parent doesn’t take a preschooler to a movie at 11:00 p.m. One can hope.)

As for the movie itself, Jarhead, the story of a soldier who served during the Iraq war of 1991, gets my thumbs-up. I did wish, though, that I’d read the book first and now, I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of Anthony Swofford’s Jarhead. Some reviewers complain that the movie was “plotless,” but really, the story is about a soldier who doesn’t see combat and it reflects that frustration.

(Please note that this movie contains material which is offensive, including a lot of vulgar language and quite a few sexual references. We are, after all, talking about Marines. This subject matter is not for everyone. I did note that the soldiers I personally know are nothing like those depicted in the movie, but I have no doubt that the world the movie portrayed was more or less accurate. The use of profane language in this movie far surpassed that used in The 40-Year Old Virgin–which I have criticized precisely because of its excessive use of the f-word–but in this movie, it seemed entirely appropriate. However, if you are extremely sensitive to this sort of thing in this sort of setting, beware. Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost really hated this movie–as a former Marine, he found it an inaccurate portrayal of that life.)

When the movie ended, the crowd responded with utter silence and then, someone yelled out the military “Hoo-yah!” cheer. (Did you know that “Hoo-yah” actually means something? It’s actually HUA . . . which stands for Heard, Understood and Acknowledged.) Then people applauded.

And that was the end of my first night of freedom.

The Triangle-Haired, Straight-Spined Man in the Movie Theater