I am a people person…kinda. I like people, I like talking to them and interacting with them…but I also need time away from people. Time to read a book or write, neither or which are things that are done too well when interacting with others. (These things can be done in the presence of others…just not in conversation!)
I like to think of myself as an extroverted introvert. I am not a person who thrives on contact with other people…but if I go a couple days with very little contact, I can become far too self-centered and I realize that I need that human contact to remain…well, a happy human.
All that being said, last week was a week of insanity for someone who needs a little non-people time in her life. I had agreed – without stopping to consider my introverted tendencies – that I would substitute as the aide at my children’s old preschool. Yep. Five days of kids…and zero days of writing.
I have a friend who once said – in public – “I do not like other people’s children.” I laughed out loud when she divulged this truth about herself, all the while thinking, “I don’t really either, but I would never admit it out loud.” Well, on careful consideration, it’s not that I don’t LIKE other people’s children…but I definitely do not want to have to take care of them for more than, say, an hour. Once a year or so. Tops.
I walked into the classroom on Monday morning, already feeling relieved that I had remembered a former commitment for Tuesday, which got me out of one day of preschool insanity. I was looking at 4 days, however. Four very long days of no reading, no writing, and no quiet.
The day began with a very smiley young man walking up to me proudly and saying, “I got a new belt!” Which, with a tug at his long-sleeved t-shirt, revealed not only the new belt but also his entire abdomen. “That’s great!” I said, smiling nervously in return and wondering if I ought to pull down said shirt or leave him alone to take care of it on his own. After several nanoseconds of deliberation – all the time looking anywhere but at the wee boy – he saved me from having to make a decision by lowering his shirt himself. Thankfully. He did, however, make the exact same declaration in the restroom on Friday, using the exact same tone of excitement in his voice. It’s a big deal, a new belt.
Monday proceeded without too much more excitement, and I headed home that afternoon glad that I only had three days left of this fun.
Tuesday I woke up both relieved and nervous. Nervous for the events of the morning – which I blogged about on my other blog if you’re interested – and relieved that I wouldn’t have to face any more belts.
Wednesday dawned cold and foggy. It also brought a phone call from the preschool teacher. She had the flu. Rather badly. And, with the regular aide being out of town, and no substitutes reachable, that meant that someone would have to phone all 40 children that both the morning and afternoon classes were cancelled. Being a member of the preschool board and the appointed substitute of the day…guess who got to make all those calls? Oh, and by the way, I hate telephones.
By the time I returned home after making approximately 65 phone calls, I was ready to go to bed.
Thursday morning brought yet another phone call from the teacher. Still ill. But, this time, she’d gotten a sub. I drove in wondering what the preschoolers would have to say about not one but TWO substitute teachers.
Can you guess?
“That’s not how we do it!” That’s what they said. Over and over and over. The other frequently-heard sentence of the day was, “You’re supposed to sing a song for that.” To which I replied, “I know, but I don’t know that song.” “We do!” was the shouted response. “Well, then,” I replied, “Can you sing it for me?” “Yes!” the happy children cried. “Okay, go ahead,” I said, knowing perfectly what their response would be.
Total and complete silence.
I must say, however, that the children, though deprived of their regular songs, were wonderfully behaved and the morning went quite well. Since neither of us really knew what we were doing, it was all just fun and games and forgetting names all morning. By afternoon the teacher was well enough to return and never have I felt so relieved!
Friday dawned foggy and cold yet again, but this time as I drove in to school I felt relaxed. I’d made it this far – I could make it another few hours! Turns out, that day was the most fun of all, perhaps because I was the most relaxed and least worried of the entire week.
The day began with a discussion about water, ice and igloos. Somehow the question of penguins and the arctic arose and as the teacher was dealing with a minor behavior issue that involved, I believe, a demonstration of penguin tobogganing, one child commented, “They have penguins at the North Pole.” “What is the North Pole?” another classmate inquired. “It’s kinda like the South Pole,” the first child replied seriously.
I jumped up immediately to write that bit of wisdom down on a scrap of paper.
Later, during Choice Time, I found myself sitting at the playdough table. This proved to be an excellent place for relaxation and stimulation, both. I was relaxed because it was something I was fairly good at: making playdough cookies, snakes, and, as one little boy wanted to make, roads. It was stimulating because of the fabulous conversation around the kidney-shaped table.
“I saw my friend J. at church this morning and I was so exciting to see him. And he was so exciting to see me, too.”
You say “exciting” I say “excited”. Potato PoTAAto.
A few minutes later, when handed a playdough cookie (shaped like a whale) on a tray, my favorite wee girl (I know, you’re not supposed to have favorites. Couldn’t help it.) said, “This is delicious or, as Fancy Nancy would say, ‘it’s delectable’.” How could I not love a child who quotes Fancy Nancy?!
And then there was the candid discussion about one girl’s morning visit to the doctor. “I had to get three shots right here [shows upper leg] this morning and two right here [shows upper arm].” “Oh,” I replied, “that’s a lot of shots. Were you brave?” “No,” she said, smiling. “I cried and cried.”
The “five-minute” warning came about then, and I couldn’t stop grinning as we cleaned up the playdough. Turns out, I do like other people’s kids.
About once a year. Tops.
Our last day in Tunisia was our most exciting. But not necessarily for a good reason.
We headed out to the camel market on our final morning. No, we were not looking to buy a camel, but we were searching for an authentic experience in Tunisian life – for this market, or bazaar, was a place of vast proportions and numerous opportunities.
Picture dusty rugs on the desert ground – aisle after aisle of them – with vegetables, fruits, trinkets, pots, pans, pottery, spices, leather goods, and drinks for sale. There were animals, too: goats and sheep and, I suppose, camels, though I think they were in a different part of the bazaar. I bought a baggie of saffron for my mom. I knew it was supposed to be the most expensive spice in the world, but here it was dirt cheap! I wish I had such a good source of saffron now.
It was hot in the open-air market, and aromatic. Cinnamon and peppers and sweat filled the air. And it was full of noises. Bleats and baas, the sounds of goat milk streaming into metal cans. The call of merchants selling their wares, the din of old and wrinkled women gossiping, of young men jesting, of children laughing and crying and playing in the aisles.
We walked down row after row, being jostled and beckoned to, and then, almost as if we’d planned it, all of us stopped – after being persuaded to by the vendors – to admire something that looked like cantaloupe.
My best friend and I stood at one rug, talking with the vendors. I say “talking with” but really it was more “talking at” – they didn’t understand us and we didn’t understand them. I think the phrase “James Bond” might have arisen. Other than that our communication was by smiles and gestures and thumbs up.
The rest of our group stood not two feet away from us at the neighboring rug.
We watched as the vendors cut into a melon with a scimitar – using that long, curved blade to slice through the melon as smoothly as if it were butter. We laughed and they laughed and we did our bit to promote good will and international peace.
And then, suddenly, one of the laughing and smiling salesmen at our rug jumped up and grabbed my friend around the neck. He held his scimitar to her throat – the tip just millimeters from her skin – and, unbelievably, laughed.
No one in the souk looked up. No one worried or noticed or troubled about the gullible Americans and the scimitar-wielding melon-salesmen.
I stood, immobile, terrified, tongue-tied. The man smiled on and on, his gold-toothed grin so wide that I could see where his molars ought to have been. His friends, too, grinned and guffawed.
It felt like minutes passed but I suppose it was only seconds. Next to us, our traveling companions were unaware that anything was wrong, so mesmerized were they by a slick little melon-cutting exhibition going on at their rug. Bits of sweet, orange flesh flew in all directions.
And then, all of a sudden, the man released my friend. Spewing out words we did not understand, he pulled away his sword, still laughing, still flashing those golden teeth. So much laughter! So many broken melons.
It wasn’t until we headed back to the hotel, sometime later, that my friend’s aunt realized her wallet had been stolen.
It was all a diversion. And we fell into their trap perfectly.
But it makes for a great story.
The summer of my 14th year I was offered a job. As this job did not involve babysitting or vacuuming or pulling weeds in the garden, I was eager to take it on. I do not know why, exactly, I was offered this job. I suppose the people must have been desperate. Either that or extremely optimistic. Either that or they had never met me and just thought that, since they knew and liked my sister, they would know and like me as well.
Boy, were they disappointed.
I was uniquely UNqualified for the job. 1) I could not drive, and the job involved driving large vehicles. 2) I grew up with two sisters and zero brothers and the job involved lots of muscled, sweaty men spitting and hefting things and this intimidated me greatly because I did not understand men, did not know how to talk to them or behave around them, did not have any clue as to how to flirt with them and was far too shy to do so even if I did know how. 3) The job involved patience and focus…and I was easily bored.
But, given the choice of a job – and a paycheck – I said “Yes!” despite the little voice in the back of my head shouting, “RUN AWAY!”
And so my sister picked me up one hot August day – or perhaps it was July – and drove me over to the parking place of Occupational Hazard Number One (hereafter referred to simply as OH NO).
As we parked and got out of her car, I spotted a large, intimidating Hay Truck.
“Um…is that the vehicle I’m going to be driving?” I asked my sister.
“Probably,” she replied. “But it could be that one over there.” She pointed and I saw a mammoth truck looming over the farm yard. It was like The Incredible Hulk…or the Jolly Green Giant, minus the jolly parts.
At OH NO I met Nancy, my optimistic/desperate employer. I don’t think she was overly impressed with me. My sister hung around awhile, and then she drove away, leaving me behind, horribly nervous, and desperately shy of these unknown, sweaty men and the efficient woman who had hired them.
There was one person there whom I knew: my brother-in-law. He was always kind to me, teasing me and telling me to stand up straight. I have never asked him, but I have a feeling that, as he saw me hanging around that day, he had to have known better than to expect big things of his little, wimpy sister-in-law.
We piled into the cab of OH NO. I was smushed between my brother-in-law and a French Canadian guy whom I couldn’t understand and who smoked these appalling-smelling skinny cigarettes. I thought longingly of the babies I could be sitting on to earn my money and wondered how on God’s green earth bodies could smell so badly. And they hadn’t even begun bucking bales yet.
There were more guys riding on the back of the truck. Younger guys. A couple only a year or two older than me. I knew that there were girls who would give their eye teeth to be in my position. I was prepared to give my eye teeth to get out of it.
And then it was my turn at the wheel. My brother-in-law gave me a few pointers and set me free to wreck the havoc that he probably knew I’d be wrecking. They began tossing bales and I began driving V-E-R-Y S-L-O-W-L-Y. This was in part because I was supposed to drive slowly…but also in part because I had to shift, steer, and otherwise operate a gigantic vehicle when I had never, in my life, operated any kind of vehicle, ever.
It is a funny fact that a field which appears to be flat and level may be, upon closer inspection, very much NOT flat or smooth. If there was a tiny hump in the land, an itsy bitsy depression in the ground, I found it with OH NO. I stalled the truck. I heaved and lurched and abused the truck. And, in my attempts to NOT run over bales along the way, I managed to run over at least three which were lurking in the shadows and then jumped out at me in particularly vulnerable moments.
I couldn’t hear over the sound of the engine, nor could I see in my rear view mirror as it was soon obscured by bales of hay…but I know…I KNOW…that I was being laughed at. Or perhaps cursed.
I was asked to drive two other times that summer. And, being a glutton for punishment, I did so. I think that somehow I thought this was good for me. A learning experience. A chance to broaden my protected and innocent horizons.
What it turned out to be was a chance to realize that I was in no hurry to get my driver’s license if this was what the future held. To accept that babysitting, while NOT my favorite way to spend time, was a way better way to earn a few bucks than this embarrassing gig.
It was also a chance to cultivate my keen sense of smell – to realize that men can be identified by their particular sweat – and to know that, should I ever come across that dreadful-smelling brand of French Canadian cigarettes again, I’ll be immediately transported to a certain hot hay field on Orcas Island where, to my chagrin, I proved my ineptitude as a professional driver.
Several weeks after haying was over, my sister came up to me and handed me an envelope. I eagerly tore it open and found myself staring at a woefully tiny paycheck. Turns out the owner of OH NO took the cost of the run-over hay bales out of my check.
I stared at my pathetic wages and looked up at my sister. “FOURTEEN DOLLARS?” I asked her.
But she didn’t answer. She was too busy trying not to laugh.
I was mad. I thought of the sweaty men, and the nasty cigarettes and the hot, yellow fields under the summer sun. I thought of OH NO, and the grinding gear shifts and the non-power-steering. And then, surprisingly, a little part of me smiled.
I had survived.
And I came out with a great story to tell.
I spent nine weeks during the summer of 1989 in Thailand with a group of about 100 college students. Most of the summer was spent in Bangkok, hanging out at Ramkhamhaeng University. Then, at least, it was the largest university in the world, boasting over 500,000 students. We met with students, debated God vs. Buddha (though most of them knew very little about him) and we talked about America. It was a challenging and sweaty summer, full of pop-in-a-bag (in the interests of reusing their pop bottles the venders poured pop into ice-filled bags and gave you a straw), bargaining over trinkets (actually I’m a horrible bargainer – I’d way rather just pay the money they’re asking and be done with it), and salmonella due to an unpalatable “dessert” of an egg poached in coconut milk complete with tiny rice balls floating around in the bowl. I had two bites and could stomach no more but it was enough to keep me indoors for the next several days…and then led to more fun later on back at home. Oy, vey.
We also spent some time in northern Thailand in Chang Mai and Khao Yai National Park, which was a lesson in identifying land leaches and in what not to do when you see a small hole in the ground right outside your cabin door.
We visited a waterfall at some point, driving down a heart-stopping, narrow, curving, hilly road. The fact that I survived that drive is a miracle, as we swerved past busses, trucks, and other wide loads that almost gave us heart-attacks, let alone almost sent us careening over the edge of the road into land-leach-filled tropical jungles.
We also took a train to see the actual bridge at the River Kwai…which broke our hearts and caused me to quote Rupert Brookes “The Soldier”, which famously says, “There is a corner in a foreign field which is forever England” as we saw the rows upon rows of white wooden crosses marking the British cemetery. Still makes my heart ache to think of it.
But then, at the end of the summer, we went to Phuket Island for a few days. (Yes, you’re remembering right: it’s one of the scenes of the Tsunami in 2004. It’s just one of the places I’ve been that afterwards has suffered incredible loss…I need to blog about that whole topic sometime.) We also spent a week in Krabi nearby, which I’m sure also suffered beyond belief from the tidal wave, though I’ve never heard details.
Krabi is a nice, small, southern city on the coast of Thailand. We spent most of our time there in a jungle village outside of Krabi proper. It was there that I saw my first lightning bugs, incidentally.
While we were there we visited some homes located on the Andaman Sea.
Yes, ON the Andaman sea.
On stilts, over the water, with the tides coming and going not far below their floorboards.
We visited with the familes, talked, ate a little something, and then – SHOOT! – I had to use the facilities.
Now, virtually all of the potties in Thailand were “squatty potties” – non-flushable bowls with a handy water source nearby which, after you “went” you cleaned by filling a pan (or two) with water, pouring the water down the bowl, and hopefully sending all the nastiness far away so as to not offend the next person.
Not so with a house-on-stilts over the sea.
I told our interpreter of my need and he, knowing what I would be facing, asked me just how badly I needed it. I told him I was rather desperate. (This memory gives me a little more patience with my children on long car trips.)
He then relayed my need to the man of the house who, with an agreeable smile, motioned for me to follow him. There was another girl who needed the same thing so the two of us followed him into the house. (We had been sitting on the deck outside.) There was, of course, no electricity, no hallway lined with school photos, no recycling bins, couches, or TV guides on over-laden coffee tables.
There was one windowless room, the bare grass-woven walls leaving chinks of light on the smooth floor. There was a cooking corner, some sleeping mats rolled up for the daylight hours, and a walled-off area smack in the center to which he led us. He gestured inside, picked up a door (with both hands) which was leaning against the wall, and, with a few incoherent words, indicated that by strategically placing the door over the opening, we could shut ourselves in. Smiling and unabashed, he turned to go.
My friend and I looked at each other, our eyes wide. The door, which was made of uneven sea-worn boards held together by a board or two nailed across them, was heavy. I entered the room, which is surprisingly large in my memory, and there, in the far corner, was a hole.
Below the hole was the sea…which, at low tide, was simply a beach. I was glad the tide was high just then.
Gotta admit, though, they had a good flushing system!
The hole was bordered on both sides by bricks, to elevate the feet (often bare or possibly in flip flops) in case of misses, I suppose.
I heard kids playing outside, and voices floated in from the deck. I shrugged my shoulders and proceeded with the task at hand.
And that, my friends, is why I am so thankful for my life. For the blessings I enjoy. For the bills that get paid and the firm roof over my head. For the food in my cupboards. For my lovely kids and patient husband.
For toilets that flush.
And the tides that wash away our iniquities.
P.S. – I’ve heard, though haven’t been able to confirm, that military cemeteries in foreign lands have been deeded over to that country. So the military cemetery for England, for example, there at the Bridge of the River Kwai, is officially on British land. I think that’s very cool.
I was listening to the classical music station while driving the 15 minutes home from town the other day, and a piece of music came on the radio that I hadn’t heard in a long time. A piece of music that is steeped in my family’s lore. A piece of music about which no one can be neutral.
I’m talking about Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.
I don’t know that I remember the very first time I heard this famous piece of music, but I do remember the first time I was old enough to understand my mother’s feelings about it.
She was not amused.
In fact, if there is any piece of classical music that my mother can be said to hate, it would be Bolero. I think mom’s issue with it is that she hates the repetition of it and she hates the way it makes her heart beat in the rhythm of the drums.
Mom is not a fan of drums.
My father and sister, on the other hand, love it. My dad’s love for it might come more from teasing my mom about it than from real love, I’m not sure. My sister, though, will turn the music up loud and dance around the house and, if I know her, collapse on the floor dramatically at the culmination. Well, if she doesn’t, she should.
The first time I remember hearing Bolero, I decided that I hated it, too. I decided this for several reasons. One being that it was different than anything I’d heard before, and was, therefore, suspect. (My parents listened exclusively to classical music, but this was NOT like the usual stuff they listened to.)
But the main reason I disliked it was that Mom disliked it.
Now I don’t disparage my mom at all in this telling – everyone is entitled to their opinion and, as a mom myself now, I know how hard it is to never express my opinion on anything and thereby impact my children’s opinions about those very things. It’s impossible. And our kids pick up on that.
When I first heard Bolero, I was at the age where whatever my mom thought, I thought as well. I remember looking at the Sears catalog with Mom once (remember those honking huge catalogs, the stuff of dreams and visions and uplift for short guests at the dinner table?) and every dress that she liked, I liked. I remember echoing her views about the dresses, and my sister saying scornfully, “You only like that because Mom likes it.”
“I do not!” I said. But suddenly it dawned on me that I did.
And so, for many years (not giving a lot of thought to Ravel or his Bolero) I disliked it.
And then one day, along about late high school or early college, it dawned on me that I actually liked Bolero! I actually got a kick out of the repetition, the change in each repeat, the different instruments entering in (and trying to identify those instruments as they did so), the rise in volume and intensity. I especially liked the rapid slide at the end, signifying the dancer’s collapse on the stage in an exhausted heap. (At least in my mind that’s always what happens at the end!)
All these thoughts went through my mind as we drove home the other day – dancing along as best I could while in the driver’s seat – listening to Bolero.
And my daughter, in all her five-year old wisdom, said (without prompting), “I don’t like this music! Can we listen to something else?”
I laughed out loud and turned up the volume.
Being very careful to keep my opinions to myself as I did so.
When we got home, I stopped the car in the driveway and we listened to the last couple minutes. I laughed in delight when it came to a crashing end.
My daughter’s response? “Finally it’s over! Can I put on Veggie Tales now?”
I found this link to Bolero on You Tube and it’s 5 minutes of your life that will not be wasted if you give it a watch. It is vastly shortened from its usual 15 or so minutes, but that’s fine – you can find the whole thing on You Tube or anywhere else if you like.
This is a “flash-mob” made up of members from the Copenhagen Philharmonic in Copenhagen’s Central Station. I love the way the musicians gradually enter in (which is so perfect for Bolero, as it’s a gradually building piece of music), and the realization that dawns on the faces of the audience as they sit on the floor, point, whisper, and clap wildly at the end.
I absolutely love this video.
If you’d rather watch it actually on You Tube, click below.
One sunny morning two springs ago, I was sitting at my computer when my son (who was home from school for the day with a nasty cold) came up to me and, while looking out the window said, “Mom, there’s a pig in the yard.”
I, without even looking up, replied, “No, there’s not.”
“Well,” said he, “then it’s a weird looking dog.”
I looked up this time, glanced out the window, and said, “Actually it looks more like a sheep.” At which point I returned to my writing, hoping this pig/dog/sheep would just go away.
In fact, though it had been heading east, into the fields and away from our yard, it suddenly turned around and headed back into the greener pastures of our front lawn.
I told my son to get the binoculars.
After applying said instrument to my eyes I saw that my son’s initial judgment was correct. It was indeed a pig. In my yard. Uninvited.
After going out on the deck and confirming – on film, even – that the pink creature appeared to be here to stay, I began to wonder what on earth I was supposed to do about it. Doing nothing seemed to be a very bad option. So did chasing it into, say, the garage.
I chose to get a second opinion.
Now there will be some of you who, if you’ve been reading me for long, know exactly who I called first. That would be the same person I called in the skunk vs. cat issue and the pheasant-though-my-front-window incident. That’s right: my husband.
It’s not that I’m an incapable woman, unable to handle things on my own or to think for myself. It’s just that, when faced with the bizarre or stressful, he’s the guy I’m glad to have on my side.
That and I always value a second opinion.
That and I don’t always have very good first opinions.
The phone rang in his office. Given that when I usually call it’s nothing exciting, he can’t have had any premonition of weirdness. That’s what makes these phone calls to him so fun.
Me: “You’re never going to believe what’s in our front yard.”
Him: “Not another window-breaking pheasant?”
Me: “No, but the animal kingdom is a good place to begin.”
Him: “Tell me.”
Me: (Wanting to play the guessing game a little longer but, realizing that I’m interrupting him at work, I capitulate.) “A pig.”
Him: Silence. And then laughter.
The upshot of the deal was that I called our three farmer neighbors who have pig barns – none of which are closer than ¾ of a mile away – and none of which were home. I then called our other neighbor over the hill and asked him if he just maybe knew anything about it. He didn’t.
I then called the sheriff, because it just seemed like the thing to do.
I was watching the pig out the window through all my phoning. He had found a nice little shady place beneath some pine trees that he kinda liked.
I couldn’t help but think of Wilbur. And Babe. And bacon.
The sheriff told me to phone around – as I had done – and that, if no one claimed him within a week, the piggy was ours.
“A week!” I thought, hanging up the phone. “What am I supposed to do with a pig in my yard for a week?!”
Well, as the day went on, one neighbor called, and, having established that the errant pig was not a baby, (“No,” I said, “he’s way bigger than that.”) he said it couldn’t be theirs.
We kept watching him. Sometimes he’d disappear only to show up again an hour later and return to his cool wet place under the trees.
Finally another neighbor returned my call and, sure enough, they’d sold some pigs that morning and it was possible that one of them escaped without notice.
They came over on their ATV. They searched. And searched. He was nowhere to be found.
A very large part of me was rooting for Wilbur at this point. I’d taken a shine to this wayward porcine. I had visions of him trotting off into the sunset, a smile on his face, savoring every breath of free air afforded him. “This is the life!” he thought (in my imagination), “freedom and the open road!”
But then they found him – so far under the pine trees that none of us had seen him – dozing the afternoon away.
He was rudely awakened.
And ran. And ran.
More help was brought in. Help that carried a gun.
All my imagined stories came crashing down. I didn’t want his break for freedom to end this way.
But, the truth was, he was “compromised”. He was out of the carefully controlled habitat that is required for piggies, which meant that he could not be sold commercially. He could either A) turn into a 4-H project or B) be shot. I don’t think that A) was ever really an option.
By this time my daughter had gotten off the bus and my son had filled her in on all the excitement.
We made sure they were both in the house when the shot rang out from the back yard.
The writer side of me wants a better ending to this story. Wants to turn it into a children’s picture book, with talking pigs and wise, encouraging birds. Wants to illustrate him – a bandana tied to a stick over his shoulder – as he trots away across the fields.
But sometimes reality gets in the way of all that.
I know that the truth of the matter is he would never have survived, had he wandered off and eluded his farmer.
But still, it makes me sad.
That’s why I write fiction. It’s much easier to control than real life.
I realize that I’m an optimist, but wouldn’t you think, that in this day and age, they could come up with a better way of opening cereal bags?
I did not grow up eating cereal. Instead, our mom would wake up every morning at, I believe, 5:30. She would read her Bible and pray, and then she would make us pancakes or waffles or eggs or French toast or some other lovely breakfast thing. Then, after devouring our tasty meal we’d sit while Dad read devotions and prayed and then we’d rush off to the bus stop for another day, our tummies filled with the most important meal of the day – and, of course, lots of love to top us off.
I remember, incidentally, that there were days I was convinced that Dad was praying far too long and that I was going to miss the bus. Being the youngest I wondered (in the middle of the prayer) if possibly I’d missed some secret signal that had previously been set up by my sisters that would alert our dad to the idea that he was praying too long.
I would cough. Sometimes more than once. I would wiggle. I would sniff. I would do anything to let Dad know that, by golly, if he didn’t stop praying so long he was going to have to drive us to school.
I don’t think he ever stopped due to my coughing. Probably prayed longer, even.
And, truth be told, I never missed the bus.
But back to the cereal.
I remember being at the military commissary with my mom once and begging her to buy Apple Jacks cereal. Now, my mom was not one to give in to tactics such as begging, comparing, or otherwise cajoling. In fact, she, like Dad ignoring my coughing, probably would resist buying something the more I bothered her about it.
But, for some unknown reason, she gave in that day. Perhaps she was feeling ill or weak or simply kind – all I know is, she bought the Apple Jacks – that green box we still see on the grocery store shelves today.
I couldn’t believe my good fortune.
And then came breakfast the next day. I was so excited. I was over the moon! Apple Jacks for breakfast!!
Yep. You guessed it. I hated them.
Yep. You guessed it again. Mom was quite cross.
I recall the same thing happening one day when I insisted that yes, I did want an egg salad sandwich for lunch. “Yes,” I insisted, “I love egg salad. Yes, I will eat every bite.”
Mom asked me again. Clarified. Looked puzzled.
Yep, I hated it. Still am not a fan.
Those are the only two times I recall Mom giving in to my bizarre food desires. And, to be honest, I don’t blame her for resisting, given my track record.
As for the cereal thing, I still don’t care for it. I eat a couple kinds, but I’d far rather have yogurt and fruit with granola on top than a bowl of cereal with milk.
And as for opening those cereal bags…it’s the most annoying thing since forever.
‘Cause, you see, I am not near the mother my mom was – I give my kids cereal for breakfast. None of this homemade goodness from me. And, quite frankly, I’m done feeling guilty about it.
Or I thought I was until I wrote this post…
I cannot sew. I mean, I can do a straight line okay - so long as I remember how to use my sewing machine - but let me make it perfectly clear: to call myself a seamstress would be to boarder on blasphemy.
When I was in 8th grade Home Economics class, I made a skirt. With stripes I had to match. I managed to put the zipper in under much tutelage from my mom. Turns out I put it in backwards – like for a boy – so my teacher made me do the whole thing over. I’m not positive that I can point my entire mental block about sewing to that moment in time, but I think it’s a fair cop.
My woeful sewing skills came to a head this fall when my sisters and I set out to make a quilt for our mother for Christmas.
Allow me to explain a couple of things.
My oldest sister is a fabulous seamstress. She makes marvelous quilts and crafts and clothes. She makes them quickly, and she makes them perfectly. She has a new sewing machine that can make anything except dinner.
Our other sister is a fabulous crafter. She carves, sculpts, glues, cuts, welds, and owns an excavator. What this has to do with sewing I don’t know, I just felt compelled to point it out.
She also sews.
And then there’s me. An optimist who thinks she can sew but really can’t. An optimist who once made a quilt without a pattern (because I’m too lazy to follow directions) and who forgot how to thread her sewing machine because it had been sitting idle for approximately 8 years.
My quilt had zero diagonals, zero tricks. I walked into Hobby Lobby, bought a bunch of fabric I liked, went home and made the quilt. I added two borders because I wanted it larger.
I am rather good with borders. Nice, easy, straight lines – I can handle that.
So my sister – the sewer – asks me if I think I can participate in The Great Quilt Project for Mom. I said yes.
(Remember: I’m an optimist.)
She sent a packet of instructions and cut fabric, oh, maybe August. Lots of time before Christmas.
I sat on it for, oh, maybe 4 months. (Remember: I’m lazy. I’m also a procrastinator. I’m also a people-pleaser. None of these things made for a good situation come last Thanksgiving when I finally admitted to myself, “Shoot. I can’t possibly do this.…”)
My sister – the sewer – had said to me when she sent the squares, “Just let me know if you can’t do it, mail the stuff back, and that will be fine.”
She’s very kind and very wise.
And so, along came Thanksgiving, which, as you know, is close to December, which, as you know, is the month wherein lies Christmas…and the due date of this surprise quilt.
I called my sister. “I can’t do it!!!!!!”
“I told you that if you couldn’t do it to just let me know.” She is NOT cross, she is NOT hollering, she is NOT even being quiet and fuming. She was possibly laughing to herself; I’m not sure.
So I mailed back the packet of fabric, the directions, the carefully cut strips of fabric in pristine zip-lock bags, the brand-new roller blade thingy for my rolly-cutter thing….
Too bad I couldn’t mail back the 4 months I’d sat on the project.
When we went out to Washington to be with my family for Christmas, my dear sister – the sewer – sat beside me while I sewed – in nice, easy, straight lines – the border for the quilt, on her fabulous new sewing machine that can make anything except perhaps procrastinators hurry.
I had border experience, after all.
She allowed me – nay, WANTED me – to do this so that we could say we all three made the quilt for Mom.
Do I have a wonderful sister, or what?
I have, as a matter of fact, two wonderful sisters. Their quilt squares were so fantastic I can’t even tell you.
My borders set them off perfectly.
I had too many rags anyway. Old t-shirts, unraveling towels, washcloths…
Now about ten of them are in the dumpster…along with two pairs of rubber gloves and about 6 pairs of vinyl ones ‘cause why use one when two will do, the kids figure.
What was the cause of this decidedly un-green moment in our lives? This moment that was the culmination of this day of odors and springtime shenanigans?
Allow me to explain.
Living in the country presents interesting opportunities for us to interact with the local inhabitants…the four-legged ones.
Now that we have a cat, the interactions have become more…intense.
I stare down hawks in nearby trees, suspecting them of nefarious intent.
I warn off the birds that I so love, in hopes that the cat won’t have them for lunch.
And, of course, I dread skunks.
Well, sadly, my worst skunk fears came true. It was a very spring-like day: a little chilly, a little rainy, and, apparently, just perfect for creatures to check out the neighborhood after their long winter’s naps.
It began with the tell-tale skunky smell that reached my nostrils as I ate my Special K. But soon after came another smell. A smell I didn’t recognize.
This new smell was kinda like burning rubber…only it wasn’t so acrid. Mostly what it was, was musky. I couldn’t identify it beyond that. I wandered around the house, sniffing at windows and doors.
Nope. Not my son’s dirty laundry.
Nope, not the smelly organic fertilizer that was the last mystery scent in my house.
Nor was it the kitchen garbage, though admittedly it needed to go out.
Finally, while standing at the deck door and scratching my head at the unidentifiable stench, our cat streaked by like calico lightening, heading around the house toward the open garage.
I opened the door. I sniffed again. Not pleasant.
Puzzled, I followed the cat to the garage where I found her flopping around strangely. She ran to hide beneath my car. I grabbed my trusty Mag-Lite – the kind you could brain a robber with – and shone it on her face, now peering out at me from a cupboard where she’d run to hide.
She was wet, bedraggled, muddy, scared, and her eyes were squeezed almost totally shut. And, the scariest thing, her mouth and chest were covered with foam. In addition, she smelled to high heaven of this unidentifiable musky stench.
Turns out that the typical scent we identify as “skunk” is kind of the “edge” of the stench, the smell which dissipates into the air and you pass in your car with prayers of thankfulness that it wasn’t you who hit the poor critter.
But when a skunk gets you full on, it smells different. It smells primal. It smelled just like my cat. I could almost see the stench rising in wavy cartoonic lines from her dripping fur.
The poor kitty! She’s been feeling a wee bit cooped up, I think, what with her three-week old kittens and all (what new mom can’t relate?!) and her mouse-catching instincts (she’s a great mouser – always gifting us with the horrid things) were kicking into full gear. I could just hear her train of thought, “This black and white creature must be a strange rabbit!!”
I’m hoping – nay, praying – that she has learned her lesson.
She didn’t give me much time to stare. In an instant of freaked-out-kittyness, she leaped out of the cupboard, back under my car, and into the box where her three kittens waited patiently for their second breakfast.
She looked up at me from slitted eyes, still foaming, still bushy-tailed and mohawked. Never before have I seen such a pitiful creature.
Analysis began. What is this foamy stuff all over her mouth and chin that’s dripping onto the kittens? And why is she so muddy? Is this really skunk? Or is this going to turn out like Old Yeller and am I going to have to consol my unconsolable daughter tonight as we build a wooden cross over freshly-turned dirt and could I possibly write a story about it?
Is she going to leap up in some acrobatic stunt and bite me – or her babies?
Is she injured? No. Just frightened…and stinky!!!!
This has got to be a skunk.
I stayed watching her for a long time to make sure she wasn’t going to turn into an insane monster. She hissed at me, twice, but can you even blame her?
I went inside the house and phoned my husband at work.
“Umm…I’m fine, our children are fine, our cat is not so fine.”
While I waited for him to arrive I researched rabies and distemper on the internet. What would we do without these self-diagnostic tools?
When my husband walked in the house the first words out of his mouth were, “Yep, skunk.” He knew what I did not – that full-in-the-face skunk smells like whatever-it-was that was now wafting through our house due to her proximity to the garage/house door, and that it actually now smelled WORSE in the house than it did outside.
After I called the vet and my husband rinsed the cat’s eyes with saline as per their advice, I waved goodbye as he drove off to a clean-smelling office and I was left to open every window in the house – some of which hadn’t been opened in years.And of course, this was a day that began with frost on the ground and it wasn’t yet 9a.m….in other words, it got really cold in the house really fast.
The poor wee kitty didn’t settle down to feed her babies for a long time, but they were fine…just a little smelly! She was licking them after about 2 hours, as well as nursing them.
I phoned around for some home-grown wisdom about removing skunk stink from kittys. The upshot: we tried both the vet’s recommended Odor Mute and also a mixture of Dawn dish soap (for the oils in the skunk spray), baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide. We thought that, as she got it FULL IN THE FACE and was literally dripping with liquid stench, she might need more than one bath.
And so we dove in to the bathing process. First, the vet-recommended concoction. I wiped repeatedly at her face with a sponge dripping with the stuff while my husband held her TIGHT in an old roasting pan full of Odor Mute and warm water.
I don’t think that roasting pan had ever held such an unappetizing thing.
She bit me once – and I can’t blame her – but with my trusty kitchen rubber gloves, I was fine. She scratched a wee bit, but then she settled down, resigned, I suppose, to the indignity of it all.
Or, perhaps she knew we were helping her?
Then, after she’d soaked in that for several minutes, we turned to the other mixture of 1 quart hydrogen peroxide, 1 teaspoon liquid Dawn dish detergent, and ½ cup baking soda (thank you, Brian and Jodi!). Only we added too much soap, but I think it was okay!
After that was done, we moved on to the kittens while poor Copernicus (yes, that’s our cat’s name…don’t ask) ran out of the garage, shivering and unhappy. (Why was the door open, you ask? Because it SMELLED in there!!!)
Then we washed the kittens, which went fairly well, considering.
When we were all done, and all the kittens were being cuddled and rubbed dry, my husband sought out Copernicus. He spotted her, huddled beneath the deck, and approached her with very little hope that she’d allow him to pick her up.
She didn’t move a muscle.
He brought her in and we wrapped her in a dry towel – then traded that one for yet another – and soon she, like the kittens, was looking less like a bedraggled mess and more like the cat we all knew and loved.
It is now a couple hours after the baths. The excitement has left me worn out. The kittens are warm and dry. Their mama actually smells quite good (we’ll see what we think tomorrow and decide if a second fun-time bath-time is in order) and even the clothes we were wearing have come out of the wash smelling like roses…as opposed to Pepe Le Pew.
I am overwhelmed with smells right now. Air fresheners, soap, even coffee smells bad at this moment in time.
And don’t even get me started on skunk musk.
I need a hot cup of tea. And bed.
Can you tell my sense of humor has fled? Just the facts, ma’am. I’m too tired to crack a smile.
Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, we won’t have to bathe her again tomorrow…
My mama told me there’d be days like this. I just didn’t believe her.
P.S.: Good news! Even though the creek did rise in the night (and a good thing, we needed the rain!), it’s the next day and she still smells nice! Horray! This ordeal may indeed be over.
Please, somebody, tell me that cats are smart enough to learn their lesson that black and white “rabbits” aren’t to be messed with!!