500 Miles to Heaven

Well, hello! I’ve been quiet, I know, but I was on vacation. And then when we got back home, my brain was on the slow setting for at least another week and a half.

Our vacations are typically spent at my parents’ place on Lake Superior. They live in the same state as we do, and yet their place is 500 miles away. 500 miles! In the same state! I’m sure that sounds like loony talk to you east coast people, who can drive through 5 states in 20 minutes. But if you look at a map of Michigan, it will make sense. Michigan is two long gobs of land surrounded by water…not a shortcut to be had. See, look how crazy Michigan is:

We drive from almost the furthest southeastern point on the map (near Detroit) to the furthest location northwesterly (is that a word?) in the fingerlike projection east of Minnesota. So, the northwesterly fingerlike thingy. You see what I mean, right?

Crazier still is making that drive with two little kids and a 6-month old puppy. Before we left, I thought, “Oh, it’ll be fine.. Benjamin’s gained so much maturity since last time, and Ellie…well, at least she’s not a baby anymore.”

Ummmmmmmm. Well.

GAZILLION HOUR FAMILY CAR TRIP LOG:

7:00 a.m. Already several hours behind schedule. Ellie, normally the early chirpy bird in the family, refuses to get up. She actually says, “Mama, you be quiet now so I can sleeeeeeeeeeeep.”

7:30 a.m. Car almost loaded. Children jump around, excited. Puppy goes on one last walk before interminable confinement.

7:45 a.m. Tim Horton’s drive-through. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. COFFEE.

8:00 a.m. Takeoff! Estimated time of arrival – 6:00 p.m.

8:30 a.m. Benjamin asks how much longer it’s going to be before we get there.

9:00 a.m. I had wanted to save movies for later when things got desperate. As it turns out, we’re already desperate at the end of hour one. I put in the movie Rio.

9:30 a.m. Children quiet, dog crying. Bathroom break!

10:00 a.m. Road trip bliss. Silence from the back. I’m even reading a grown-up book.

10:15 a.m. Movie concludes. Whining begins. Ellie’s diaper has soaked through; The Daddy pulls over.

10:30 a.m.  Back on the road.

10:45 a.m. Children want to see Rio again.

12:30 p.m. We stop at our favorite drive-in restaurant for lunch. Amazingly, Ellie has wet through ANOTHER diaper? Also, only one surly waitress has been assigned to carside service. She ignores us, and then ignores us some more. Finally, a woman in the car next to us takes pity. When the waitress comes to take their order, she points to us and says, “Uhhh, they’ve been here for a long time, much longer than we have.” She sullenly takes our order. When she finally brings the food, she delivers it on one of those window-hangy trays, even though I had told her that we’d need it to go since we’d been there so long (an hour!). I’m afraid of her, but I muster the courage to ask her to bag it up for us. She is furious. I give her a big tip so she doesn’t slash our tires on the sly before we can peel out of there.

1:45 p.m. Finally eating food. No picnic tables available, so we set up lunch on a blanket in the grass. It’s fun! It’s so much fun, in fact, that both children, overstimulated by the wonders of nature, ignore their lunches completely.  I plead and admonish, but no one listens. The Daddy walks Maya in large circles around the park, trying to eat as she alternately sniffs and lunges. Poor guy.

2:15 p.m. Back on the road. Benjamin asks, “How much longer?” and “Can we watch Rio again?” I start listing all of the other movies I brought, but each selection is denied. I tell them we need a break from Rio for a little while and they should just watch the scenery go by, or maybe read a book. Benjamin reminds me that Ellie can’t read, so I suggest that he read to her. He chooses to watch the scenery. Ellie whines.

2:30 p.m. Both children are hungry and whiny. Surprise! I mention that they should’ve eaten lunch, and pass out snacks and juice boxes.

3:00 p.m. Ellie’s whining finally flips my overload switch. I yell at her to quit it already, which makes her cry. The crying is louder and screechier than the whining. The Daddy is wowed by my superior parenting skills.

3:15 p.m. You guessed it….Rio.

3:45 p.m. And more whining.

4:00 p.m. Can’t anyone just take a NAP? We stop to walk the dog again. I get some “coffee” (brown aquarium water?) at a gas station.

5:30 p.m. We stop at Wendy’s so the kids can get out of the car for a while. The Daddy is once again stuck with the dog, although I am beginning to feel jealous of dog duty. We try to order some food, since lunch was so poorly received. Ellie wants chicken; Benjamin wants nothing. Then he wants a cheeseburger. No, he doesn’t. Yes, he does. No. Yes? Oh wait – no. We get to the table, and it turns out that what he really wants is chicken. What I really want is a lobotomy. And ear plugs.

6:00 p.m. Getting closer. I talk the kids into watching Curious George, which is even more audibly irritating than Rio. Ellie says her “bums hurts” and Benjamin says, “Mine too!”

7:00 p.m. Getting closer.

7:30 p.m. Yesssssssss!

So there you have it – only eleven and a half hours. What am I complaining about?

Despite the pain of getting there, the rewards make it all worthwhile. Time spent with my parents is priceless, and they don’t get to see the kids enough. The beauty of the place is breathtaking, and what could be better than having a private place to play and swim, right in your own back yard?

It is simply heaven.

Love, Eternal

Dear Gramma,

I still think of you all the time.

When we were all there with you, those last few days, I remember thinking we should have another family reunion later, when we’re not waiting for something so sad to happen.

I  sat next to you for hours and read as you slept. Your consciousness drifted back and forth between the place we both were and the place you were going next, without me.

You opened your eyes, once, and asked if I remembered my little yellow raincoat, the one I had when I was three. Some time later, you asked if I remembered the time we boiled a clam I found in the lake.

Later still, you said we made a nice family, and I agreed.

***

I don’t often think of those last days, though. Mostly, I think of things you said (“My stars and bars!”) and did.  Things you knitted. Things you cooked and baked. The way you laughed, the way you walked; your snowy hair. The stories you told me as we played cards on lazy Sunday afternoons. Working the crosswords with the big paperback cheat books, as you called them. Listening to you name the flowers and birds as we strolled to the lake. The way some of your teeth came out at night and were left to sleep alone in a water glass on the counter.

I think of the time you found a snake in our basement and killed it with a hockey stick.

I think of how I wrote you eight-page letters as a lonely freshman in college, and how you wrote long letters back. Tucked inside there were always Marmaduke cartoons to make me laugh, and crisp dollar bills so I could buy myself a Coke.

I think of the time we were lost in rural Wisconsin after a cousin’s wedding reception. You guided us home through the inky black night, using only your voice and a map that lived somewhere in the far reaches of your mind.

I think of how thankful I am that I have a picture of us hugging after my wedding. (It makes me promise the universe that I will take more pictures, because every passing moment is a precious one.)

I think of these things, and so much more.

On the worst days, I think of how much I wish I could see you walking with my own two little ones, stopping to show them the Queen Anne’s lace and the devil’s paintbrush, or pointing a long finger skyward at the chickadees and the goldfinches.

Things I can do: Snuggle their little bodies up in afghans that you knitted with your two capable hands. Feed them your baked apples and your schaum tortes. Teach them the card games we played, and when they beat me, I’ll exclaim, “Son of a GUN!”

***

A few days before you died, I heard my mother ask you if you were scared, and you said no. I could tell that you really meant it. Your faith had made you sure of things.

***

Leaving your side to fly back to Michigan was the absolute worst. I tried to choke out some words sufficient for the occasion, but how could words ever be enough? In your wise, wonderful way, you stopped me and said the words I will never forget:

I know you love me, and that makes me happy.”

***

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but I picture you floating on a warm fluffy cloud, laughing and drinking happy hour Manhattans with Grandpa. I hope it’s fun, there. I hope you’re happy.

I miss you.

Love,

Anne

The Scream Queen

The Daddy worked this weekend, so I was essentially a single parent. Single parents everywhere, I tip my hat to you. YOU ARE HARDCORE. When it was just Benjamin it wasn’t so bad, but Ellie’s flair for the dramatic and the natural histrionics that accompany age 2 made me want to  move to another country – by myself, please. I got so angry once about the incessant arguing and defiance that I sent myself to time out, and then I sent everyone to their rooms so the dog and I could have a few moments to regroup. It didn’t really work though, because they just continued their argument upstairs, loudly enough so I could hear every word. Next: an unidentified crash, followed by crying, followed by Benjamin yelling, “I told you not to touch that!”

The dog sat close to me, leaning in as if to soothe both of us. I murmured apologies into her ear for bringing her in to such a chaotic family. Poor thing.

The whole weekend wasn’t like that, thankfully (right now, for example, they’re sleeping like angels). Earlier today, I took them to their very first stage play, a local production of Pipi Longstocking. It was a bit of a risk, taking Ellie there; I knew Benjamin would do fine, but 2-year-olds aren’t known for their attention spans, or their ability to understand why they can’t talk loudly wherever and whenever the mood strikes them. In the car on the way there, I explained what a theater was and how we should behave during the play. We practiced whispering. She assured me that she would be quiet. “I pwomise, Mama!”

Amazingly, we made it all the way to intermission with no problems whatsoever! I was so proud. They really seemed to enjoy it, too. When intermission started, though, Benjamin said,

“I really like this, Mama, but I’m ready to go home now.”

“Don’t you want to know how it ends?”

“No, I don’t. I just want to go home.”

Given how well things had gone, I decided that leaving on a high note wasn’t such a bad thing. I said sure, we could leave now.

Error #1: But INSTEAD of going home, instead of listening to the poor boy, I convinced him that it would be fun to go to a nearby furniture store to quickly pick up a pair of lamps I had ordered.

(When will I ever learn?)

We got to the store and it was packed with people. They were having some kind of big sale, seemingly attended by everyone in town. I had called ahead so that the lamps would be ready when we got there. Ellie wanted to ride in one of the courtesy strollers they offer at the door, so I let her. We chose one and started towards the customer service desk at the back of the store.

Error #2: Then I decided we should quickly check out the clearance center for bar stools.

At that moment, Ellie decided she no longer wanted to ride in the stroller; instead, she wanted her doll to ride in it. In the following moment, I decided I should look for bar stools another day, and we’d just get the lamps and head out of there.

Very rapidly, the situation deteriorated. I can’t even describe to you how it happened. All I know is that I told her we were leaving, and suddenly she was screaming – and I do mean screaming. It was screaming worthy of a horror movie, and it ricocheted off the walls of the jam-packed furniture megastore. She screamed and sobbed and screamed some more. It was like a dramatization of a child’s meltdown in a movie. I’ve never seen anything like it from either of my children. My best guess is that she had held so much inside during her stint at Pipi Longstocking that it all just had to come tumbling out. Of her mouth. Loudly.

At first, Benjamin and I just stood there and stared dumbly at her, unsure of what to do. Finally, I calmly said, “We’re leaving now.” I took Benjamin’s hand and started to walk away. She called my bluff and didn’t follow. Benjamin, a better parent than I am,  started tugging at me. “We can’t leave her here, Mama! Go get her!”

So we walked back to her. I put her screaming little self back in the stroller and went to the desk to pick up the lamps. On the way, I started laughing. Benjamin started laughing too, because I was. By the time we got to the desk, we were laughing so hard that we could barely talk, while Ellie continued her screamfest.

A masochistic employee offered to carry the lamps for me, since I obviously had my hands full. As we began our bizarre trip back to the front of the store, people glared and stared at us disapprovingly, moving carefully out of our way.  Ellie, in the lead, continued to scream inconsolably in her stroller; Benjamin and I followed, laughing maniacally; the store employee brought up the rear and attempted to set himself apart from our strange, cacophonous parade.

As soon as we got outside, she stopped instantly, like someone flipped a switch. I guess when your captive audience of around a hundred shoppers disappears, so does the motivation for your Oscar-worthy performance.

“We go home, now, Mama?”

“Yes, Meryl Streep. We go home now.”

The Box Rebellion

Sunday

“Mama, we go HOME.”

“We are home, Ellie, this is our home now.”

“No, Mama, dis is new house, not home. I wanna go HOME now!”

“Our stuff isn’t there anymore, sweetpea, it’s here in this house. Your bed is here, your toys are here, Mama and Daddy and Benjamin are here. See?”

“I wanna go home.”

“This is where we live now, bunny.”

“No, thank you. It NOT.”

Monday

“Mama, we going home now?”

“Yes, we’re going to the new house. That’s our home.”

“No!” *pouting, tears*

We take her to the old house to show her that nothing is there anymore. Then we go home.

Tuesday

I turn left at the light onto our new street. Ellie is in the back seat clutching her doll.

“Mama, we go to the new house now?”

“Yep, we’re going to the new house now.”

“YAY!”

It was unprecedented. The 2-year-old was suddenly, inexplicably able to triumph over her typical rigid and maladaptive nature, adjusting to the new house in only three days. Benjamin did an equally good job. I’d love to take credit and write something profound about how I leveraged the concepts of consistent, compassionate parenting in order to effectively manage change in my children’s lives – but really, they did a good job all on their own with little input from me. The Lesson: Sometimes if you get out of your kids’ way and stop talking so much, things just fall into place.

(Now that I’ve said that, it’s certain that the first thing Benjamin will bring up to his future therapist is the time he was ripped away from the only home he ever knew, and everyone acted like it was no big freakin’ deal. Unfeeling monsters! Passive aggressive manipulators! Emotionally numbed-out zombies who eat children’s tender beating hearts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!)

Speaking of breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I unpacked the kitchen first. Because BY GOD, WE HAVE TO EAT. Clothes? Medicine? Toiletry items? Books? Ppppffffftttt. I still haven’t unpacked all of that stuff. But all the food is right where I can find it.

Also unpacked and/or installed: televisions, blinds, wireless Internet, pet supplies, and sod. I’d love it if we were the kind of people who rushed to unpack their art studio first thing, or their cherished world-travel memorabilia, or even their home gym equipment…but alas, we are not those people. We are people who unpack the food and televisions first, and race to ensure that we have blinds up so the children sleep as long as possible in the morning.

I’ve given myself until the end of next weekend to get all of the rest of the boxes unpacked. The main motivation is that I’m tiring of conversations following this general template:

“Have you seen my _________?” (Fill in anything, here. Shampoo. Book. Health-sustaining medication. Cat.)

“No. Did you look in the box in the dining room?”

“Which one?”

“The one on the top? Or maybe it’s in the box in the coat closet.”

“No, I looked there. That box is full of cleaning supplies and toddler clothes.”

“Oh. Well, there’s a box of Christmas decorations in the half bath. It could’ve gotten thrown in there.”

“Christmas decorations in the half bath?”

“Yeah. I was carrying the box, and that’s where I got tired.”

“I’ll just go look in the garage. There are tons of boxes in there, still.”

“Good idea. Maybe someday we’ll actually be able to park a car in there!”

Or a bike, at least.

As usual, I’m being slightly hyperbolous. It’s not really that bad. There are not any boxes in the half bath (anymore). We are not missing the cat. Even now, there is room to park a bike in the garage. But anyone who has moved recently knows what I’m talking about. It’s like living in a convoluted cardboard maze. And no matter how carefully you label the boxes (oh, if only I’d labeled carefully), there is just no way to know where everything is until you’ve unpacked every last one of them.

Given my history, that will probably occur sometime around 2015.

MY SANITY IS IN ONE OF THESE

If Walls Could Talk

In recent days, I have become a professional at packing, taping, and stacking boxes. I had been feeling really smug about my packing efficiency quotient (PEQ), but then I started packing up the kitchen. Dishes are a real pain, you guys. All the wrapping. And pots are no picnic either, mostly because of the handles. They’re so pointy and poke-y and unbendable.

It’s been hard, too, to pack with the kids around, so most of the packing has been taking place at night. Except when Benjamin got out a suitcase one busy morning last week and started stuffing his clothes into it.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Packing up my clothes so we can move to the new house, Mama!”

“Good job! Except we don’t need to pack up your clothes yet, because we’re not going for another week or so.”

“But I’m so excited to live there!”

“Me too, sweetie!”

“But…Mama? I think our old house is going to really miss us.”

“So you think that the house has feelings like we do, and it will feel sad when we’re not here anymore?”

“Yeah. I think it’s going to feel really, really sad.”

I know what he means. I was going to explain to him that houses aren’t living things with feelings, but I didn’t. Because when I was a little girl, I felt exactly the same way. I remember riding in the back of my parents’ car as they drove it to the dealership to trade it in, lying on the seat, tightly hugging the upholstery (this was, of course, before seat belt laws). As though I was bidding farewell to a dear loved one, tears streamed down my cheeks as I whispered, “We loved you, car. Thank you, car. I’ll miss you, car. You were a good, good car.”

Such a little drama queen! Now we know where Ellie gets it.

Anyway, I told him that story, and I added that even though I was sad to leave our old car, we got a nice new car that was great, and that the old car ended up taking care of another family. I said that our house was going to take care of some new people, too.

“So the house won’t be lonely,” I said, “because there will be new people here to keep it company. Does that make you feel better?”

“No, it doesn’t. Because it will still miss us.”

Again, I couldn’t argue, even though I’m a “grown-up” now and should “know better.” Sure, I could’ve explained that he was simply projecting his own feelings on the house as a convenient way to avoid difficult emotions, blah blah blah. But he’s five, and also, I’m not entirely convinced myself that the house won’t miss us.

So I said that we could do things like drive by the house and wave, and open the window and yell, “I miss you, house!” I said we could talk about the house any time, and that he could have some pictures of the house in his new room.

“Really? That would be great!” he said. “Then I won’t forget how it was here.”

I won’t forget how it was here, either. I won’t forget moving in with The Daddy, youthful and childless, thrilled to start a new life with a garage AND space for a guest room and home office. The elaborate Christmas Eve dinners I tried to cook in my miniscule kitchen to impress my new in-laws.  Laughing on the big back deck with my girlfriends. Renovating the bedroom 7 months pregnant. Kissing my newborns’ cheeks in the big chair in the family room. Avoiding the squeaky floorboard in the nursery in the middle of the night. The way I felt instantly comforted, walking through the door after a long day.

What Benjamin will eventually understand is that those feelings and memories have almost nothing to do with the house. Someday, maybe very soon, he’ll understand that home is wherever we all are – wherever we’re laughing, singing, playing, squabbling, cooking, sleeping, dreaming.

Regardless: We loved you, house. Thank you, house. We’ll miss you, house. You were a good, good house.

Buy One…Get Three Free!

I’ve started several posts recently, but my brain activity is too random and unfocused to string sentences together. If you cracked open my skull to look for brains, you would find only a disorganized swirly jumble of the the following words:

New house PACKING sod and sprinklers ONE MILLION DOLLARS mortgage approval furniture chocolate LIGHT FIXTURES puppy fence Benjamin caramel doctor appointments PUPPY moving truck new socks CLOSING DATE Ellie’s molars cheese sticks grocery list BLINDS AND TOWEL BARS The Daddy’s birthday water meter township taxes PAINT COLORS appliances carpet cleaner rental agreement and a small sign that reads BRAINS NO LONGER LIVE HERE.

The good news is, our garage sale went really well, far better than I had expected. True, setting up the thing was miserable; I was out there for hours, hemming and hawing and moving things around, but in the end it was pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself. I had things set up in zones – there was a baby stuff zone, a toy zone, a mysterious manly hardware-type-stuff zone, a clothing zone, etc. I held the sale with my friend, and we felt quite smug on Friday morning when we had an initial rush of customers. But then it rained. We managed to entertain ourselves by buying each other’s stuff, which isn’t really the best way to optimize earnings. Then we got hungry, so we spent the rest of the morning’s profits on having lunch delivered. We couldn’t go inside and MAKE lunch, silly – what if a herd of demanding customers came?

In my garage sale ad, I had said that if you came to the sale and told me a joke, I’d give you a discount. People were intrigued by this offer, and I heard quite a few jokes. Quality varied, however, and I’ve forgotten most of them. One was about an elderly couple sharing a single pair of dentures at a restaurant – I remember that one. The best were the jokes that kids told me, because I could tell they had practiced on the way over. Ellie likes to tell this old standard, with a twist all her own that she thought up at the playground:

“Mama, why did the chicken cross the road?”
“Why, Ellie?”
“To get to the other SLIDE!”
*collapses in giggles*

See there, how my mind just wanders off topic, willy nilly? We were talking about the garage sale, and now I’m telling you about Ellie writing her own jokes. I’ve really got to keep it together. Speaking of keeping it together, did you hear about the leper who laughed his head off? (Yeah, I remembered THAT one.)

Anyway: Things didn’t really pick up until the second day. Shoppers were confused by my off-the-wall strategy, which was to agree to whatever price they suggested, then lower it and throw in extra stuff. It would go like this:

“How much for this stroller?”
“What do I have it marked at…$15?”
“Yeah. Will you take $10?”
“Absolutely! And I’ll throw in that baby blanket too.”
“Oh…well, thanks! I’m also thinking about this baby gym.”
“Sure thing! I’ll give you the stroller, blanket, and baby gym for $7.”
“So I get all three things for $7? I thought we started at $10???”
“We sure did…tell all your friends!”

I considered it a volume discount. My goal was to get the stuff out of my garage, and for the most part it worked. Despite my pre-sale angst, I really liked holding the sale.  I got to sit outside all day and chat with interesting people who told me jokes. AND I made around $350, even with my loosey goosey “sales strategy.”

One thing that surprised me was that none of my kids’ Halloween costumes went. I was selling them for two dollars. TWO DOLLARS. These are nice costumes, too – I don’t skimp on Halloween. For example, look at this picture of Benjamin in his very first costume when he was four months old:

CUTEST GOLDFISH EVER

You said, “Awwww!” didn’t you? If you didn’t, you’re dead inside and should seek counseling immediately. But really, TWO DOLLARS.  How is it possible that no one bought this freakin’ adorable fish costume? On the first day I was cool about it, but on the second day, I started pleading with people to please, PLEASE, think of Halloween, think of the children, get an early start, don’t you know anyone who needs a costume for their baby or young child? Perhaps the crazed look in my eye drove them away. One lady humored me and tried to contact her friend by both phone and text, but alas, no luck. Her “friend” intently ignored her, which in my opinion is her loss. Hmph.

Anyway, want a fish costume? $2. And if you buy two, I’ll give you both for $1. And I’ll throw in a waffle iron and a subwoofer. Tell all your friends!

OCTOPUS: EVERY KID'S HALLOWEEN DREAM

Five Is a Magic Number

On Thursday, my favorite Benjamin in the whole wide world turned five.

He’d been waiting impatiently for this day, counting down the months, the weeks, the days, the hours. I’m not sure what magical thing he thought would occur when he turned five, but whatever it was, it seemed very, very important to arrive at the day and revel in it.

The night before, he had told me how he’d like his day to go, and we followed as closely to his recommended schedule as we could:

6:00 a.m.: Begins the arduous chore of getting the rest of the family to vacate their beds. Family is reluctant.

6:30 a.m.: Enthusiastically opens presents with bleary-eyed family. Attempts to ride awesome new Transformer bike around tiny dining room. Amazingly, nothing ends up broken or damaged, other than Mama’s nerves.

6:45 a.m.: The Daddy struggles to free the Sentinel Prime transformer from his high-security packaging, valiantly battling tie-downs with dull kitchen shears. Benjamin declares that this is “the best birthday ever.”

7:00 a.m.: Ellie starts sobbing that she doesn’t have any princess presents for “her” birthday. Any and all attempts to explain that her birthday isn’t until December are met with pouty indignation and intermittent heaving sobs. Benjamin’s repeated reminders of the proprietary nature of the day do nothing to soothe her egocentric crisis.

8:00 a.m.: Breakfast at IHOP! Ellie spills coffee cream all over her and Mama. Ben eats his entire breakfast plus 30% of everyone else’s breakfast. The kids aren’t producing more than an average level of mayhem in the categories of volume or activity, so I ignore the foul looks from the elderly couple at a nearby table. Or maybe that’s just how their faces have frozen after years of sour moods? I make a mental note to perform hourly checks of my own facial expression status to avoid ending up this way.

10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.: Time at Grandma’s to avoid boring parental errands.

2:15 p.m.: The Daddy takes Benjamin to see the new Transformers movie.
Mama attempts to renew plates at DMV, but is turned away due to statewide computer failure. Simultaneously thrilled and disappointed.

4:30: Mama and Benjamin pick up the cake!

5:30: First (outside) ride on bike. Benjamin is gleeful. Unfortunately the glee causes the listening section of the brain to shut down completely, resulting in an unfortunate crash.

5:45: Back on the bike.

6:30: BLTs for dinner (Benjamin’s favorite), followed by the SUPERDUPERAMAZING TRANSFORMERS CAKE!

MMMM...CAKE!

FYI, the blue and black frosting looked really cool, but tasted like battery acid mixed with rat poop. Not that I’ve ever tasted that combination, or even one of the components by itself, but you got the picture, right? HORRIBLE. But Benjamin loved it, and that’s the important thing.

The funniest things he said:

“So I’m five now. Why isn’t my voice lower?”

and

“When I blew out my candle, I wished for always having a loving family.”

“Oh, Benjamin, that’s so sweet! I love that wish. And you will always have that – we love you so much, and we always will.”

“AND THEN I wished for all the Transformers in the world!”

At least he knew which wish to tell me first. That’s a clear sign he’s developing the kind of emotional manipulation skills that he’ll need to survive in the world.

I couldn’t be more proud of my sweet, sweet five-year-old boy.

UNSTOPPABLE, JUST LIKE TIME AND OPTIMUS PRIME

32 Points of Procrastination

It always starts the same way.  I throw open my closet doors with unbridled enthusiasm and every intention of ending up with a neat, organized space.

But then here’s how it goes, every time:

1. What the @&#*! is this?
2. Ohhhhh…right. This is part of that whatchahoozit baby carrier thing we got that one summer.
3. I wonder if we still have that?
4. Probably not.
5. *throws out the piece*
6. Hmmm…brown pants. I wonder if these still fit.
7. *tries on pants*
8. God, I wish I could still wear these pants. I wore these pants with that really soft sweater.
9. But I haven’t seen that sweater in awhile…I wonder if I left it at the cleaners?
10.*halfheartedly looks through sweaters*
11. Oh, but look! Here’s the purse that goes with it. Purses ALWAYS fit!
12. *sits down, rifles through purse*
13. Hey! My lost library card! *opens zippered pocket*
14. Lip gloss…old gum…antacids…appointment reminder. Must’ve carried this purse while pregnant. (Tipoff: Antacids)
15. Oooooh, I should sell all my maternity clothes in the garage sale! Where did I put those?
16. Although we could still have another baby…
17. Don’t be insane!
18. *shudders*
19. Well, hellllooooo, spring jacket! Too bad I didn’t find you this spring when I needed you.
20. And right there next to you, there’s the dress I thought I donated.
21. This must be the Bermuda Triangle section of the closet? Maybe I’ll find Hoffa, wearing the shoes I lost.
22. Not unless they’re cement shoes! HAHA
23. Somebody was just raving to me about their Bermuda vacation. Who was that? I wonder how long the flight is.
24. *picks up iPhone, Googles flight length to Bermuda* Only 2 1/2 hours!
25. *checks Facebook, Words with Friends, completes quick level of Angry Birds*
26. Okay, time to get serious. *stretches*
27. My pretty pink shoes…keep? Sell? Donate? They’re a bit specific. And slightly absurd.
28. I think the last time I wore them was to that fantastic restaurant with The Daddy.
29. Where we ate those delicious crab cakes.
30. And the chocolate mousse with the brandy in it.
31. I’m hungry.
32. *leaves closet in shambles to forage for food*

So there it is, that’s the pattern. I start cleaning out or organizing something and instantly develop a raging case of attention deficit disorder. My mother could go into a professional organizer’s house and show them what they did wrong, but I just spin my wheels and get confused and frustrated, and sometimes hungry.

The good news is that we’re moving in only 3 1/2 weeks, so I’m sure to find everything then. And this weekend is…drum roll…the garage sale! I’m really doing it this time. I even placed an ad and everything, so it’s really official and I can’t back out.

I can’t wait to see how much money I make selling maternity tops and old lamps!

MY ATTENTION SPAN: LOST OVER THE BERMUDA TRIANGLE

For The Woman Who Scrubbed My Sink

Dear Friend,

I saw you earlier today in the hall, when I was on my way to check out of my beautiful room. I wanted to say thank you for all that you did for me, but I was too shy (and worried that I was late for my meeting) to manage more than a quick smile and a rushed morning hello.

On the way to the airport, I thought about a typical day for you. I did your job in the summer between high school and college, although comparing what I did to what you do is like a parish priest comparing himself to the Pope. It was a Ramada Inn in a small Michigan town, as opposed to a world-class luxury hotel in ritzy Santa Barbara.

As I thought about you, I imagined that you likely awoke before dawn. You probably helped a child or two get ready for the day, and maybe you walked a dog. Perhaps you threw some dinner ingredients into a crock pot, as I often do, and put the clean dishes away that dried overnight. You probably put on your uniform at the last minute, wishing it was more comfortable, and plucked a pair of stiff black shoes from the bottom of your closet.

You arrived at work early and went in through the back entrance, smiling at various coworkers on the way, greeting them quietly in case of guests looming nearby. You hurried to the stock room to get a cart – you hoped you were early enough to score one of the newer carts with the squeak-free wheels. Finding one, you loaded it up with supplies; first the sheets, then the towels, then the cleaners and toiletries. You prayed for one of the good vacuums, since the bad ones could add as much as 3 minutes to the time spent in each room.

You stopped by the supervisor’s desk to get your list of room assignments, helpfully organized into “check-outs” and “stay-overs.” The sheet contained a time limit in which you should have completed all of the rooms, as though all messes are created equal. The time limit didn’t account for the kinds of disasters created by late-night parties/the food poisoning victim who couldn’t make it to the bathroom in time/the little girl who couldn’t bear to leave her hamster at home and has been keeping it in the bathtub for the past three days.

You pushed your heavy load down the hall, accustomed to and unaffected by the perpetual feeling that the whole thing was going to capsize. When I saw you, you were probably already on your fourth or fifth stay-over room, moving at a steady clip, not yet exhausted and dreaming of putting your feet up.

I should’ve said out loud that I’m grateful for what you do. At the very least, I should’ve left you a note on the dresser, thanking you for caring for me and cleaning up my mess in your unassuming, anonymous way. Your work is important and it is truly appreciated. For those of us who are especially weary of cleaning up our own messes (and those of our children), your services are a rare and cherished luxury.

Love,

The Woman With All The Unnecessary Shoes in Room 525

SHE ALSO SCRUBS SPANISH-TILED SHOWERS

Friday Morning in Four Parts

I.

6:15 a.m. My eyes haven’t even opened yet. I can sense daylight through my eyelids, but I am not yet remotely interested in what time it is. Benjamin is lying next to me. I’m pretty sure he’s sleeping, but then he says,

“Mama, Grandma told me that saying ‘What the…?‘ is fine. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Here we go again. Keeping my eyes closed, I say,

“Grandma probably doesn’t know the end of that sentence, so she would think it’s fine. But it’s not okay for you to say, because plenty of people DO know how to finish that sentence, and you’re too little to be saying it.”

“I’m listening to Grandma because she’s right.”

“No, I’d like you to listen to me because I’m your mother and I said so.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

I’d type out the rest of the conversation, but it’s irritating and redundant.

Notably, not even an hour later, Ellie peers into her cereal bowl and says, “What the…?”

II.

8:30 a.m. Benjamin and I are in the car, idling in the drive-through line at Tim Horton’s. He’s playing with his show-and-tell item, a skeleton of a Quetzalcoatlus, and is right in the middle of explaining why he needs a chocolate chip cookie. At that moment, out of nowhere, BAM! The lady behind us slams into my rear bumper.

Benjamin probably said, “What the…?” but I didn’t hear it. I pull into a parking space and exit the car. The perpetrator does the same, meeting me between the vehicles to inspect the damage.

I throw my hands up in the air, incredulous. “What was that?” I ask.

She looks at me sadly. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know how it happened.”

My heart rate slows. Who really does know why, when they do something like that? It wasn’t like she did it on purpose. I look at her car and notice a little boy, much like my own, sitting in the back seat. I look for damage and there is very little. “Well, I’ve done plenty of things I can’t explain too.” She smiles. I reach out, give her arm a little squeeze, and suggest we just get back in our cars and get some coffee.

I slide back into my seat. Benjamin says, “Why did she do that to us?”

“She says she doesn’t know.”

“Oh. Well, she almost broke my Quetzalcoatlus skeleton.”

“Boy, that would’ve really stunk.”

“You’re right, Mama, it really would’ve.”

He said I was right about something!

III.

8:40 a.m. I finally make it to the window at Tim Horton’s. Everything about my order is correct, except the part where they downsized my coffee, ensuring that I won’t attain the appropriate caffeine dosage required to fully start the engine on my higher-level brain functions.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo!

I mention this to the drive-through lady, and she is plainly uninterested in correcting the problem. “Oh,” she says, “that’s the size they charged you for. Sorry!” Then she adds, “Figures. Goes right along with how the rest of my morning is going!”

IV.

8:55 a.m. Benjamin and I arrive at his preschool. He hands me his Quetzalcoatlus skeleton model and says, “Here, Mama. Hide this behind your back so I can surprise my friends with it. My back isn’t big enough to hide it behind because I’m only little.”

(In case you’re wondering by now, a Quetzalcoatlus is a type of flying dinosaur. And I would be remiss if I didn’t explain that flying dinosaurs are actually called Pterosaurs, as Benjamin announces to anyone who will listen.)

I take the skeleton as he’s climbing out of the car. When I move my arm behind my back to hide it, I feel one of its wings catch on my shirt and then OMG the whole thing just collapses into a million pieces, spread out all over the parking space next to us. OK, so maybe it was only 10-ish pieces, but still, we’d been through so much already this morning, and now THIS.

Benjamin starts to panic. “Mama, all the pieces! They’re all over! We have to pick them up and put it back together! Hurry! Mama! Mama! Mama, mama, mama!”

We scramble to pick up all the pieces before another car comes to park in the space. The problem is, I don’t know how many pieces we should have, because I didn’t put the wretched thing splendid specimen together.

I dump what we’ve got into his booster seat and set about recreating it. After a few false starts, it goes together pretty easily. Benjamin thinks I’m a heroic genius.

“Thanks Mama! You did it! I can’t wait to show it to my friends!”

I tell him I’m not going to try to hide it behind my back again, and he sees the wisdom. We walk into his school, and as soon as his friends see the skeleton, they go bananas. He beams from ear to ear.

On my way out, one of the little girls in his class stops me to say,

“Hey, Benjamin’s Mama, you look really pretty today!”

I smile at her, thank her, and give her all the cash in my purse. No, I didn’t. But who could’ve blamed me?

QUETZALCOATLUS DETESTED FENDER BENDERS