Thursday, October 30, 2008

Stupidity breeds ingenuity (thank goodness)

Being a parent reveals all sorts of unflattering things in a person. It’s great for building character, I suppose, but some of what I’ve learned, I wish I hadn’t. I could write an entire post on this subject, but I’ll reserve the focus this time for one particular shortcoming among the many: my inability to focus well when I’m being barraged by constant conversation. I’ve already written several times here about the nonstop chattering of my child; I never thought it would lead me to car damage. However, I believe that’s exactly what happened.

You see, I’ve had the pleasure of parking in many garages, and my car is small. I’m quite accustomed to pulling in, backing out, making sure the vehicle is properly aligned, etc. I’ve done it for years, without incident. Until now. In the past year, I have not once, but twice left the driver’s door open and attempted to back out of the garage that way. One time, I realized my error in time. The other? I practically tore the door off, and broke several storm door panels that had been leaning too close to the garage opening… it was ugly. Neighbors heard the screech of metal and peeked into our driveway to make certain we were all standing… Beyond humiliating, I kid you not.

And I’ve tried to figure it out. Why do I suddenly stink behind the wheel? And the only consistent factor I can find is my son, and his incessant flow of words spilling into my ears at all times. Add to that my tendency to try to look at him when he’s talking, and you have a distracted mommy-brain who often turns around to face the back seat, all while trying to extract a big machine through the narrow opening of a block structure.

So, I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to literally look at my car door each and every time I am preparing to back out of the garage. And thanks to my recent deliberate efforts, there has not been another incident of leaving the car door open.

But. After checking the car door to confirm that it was shut, my cocky self-assurance led me instead to drive the vehicle too close to the driver’s-side wall. The door remained happily intact, but my driver’s side mirror? Not. It was pummeled. By the time I had comprehended the horrible noise of butchered plastic and stopped in mid-backup, it was too late: the mirror hung, lifeless, suspended only by the silver cables inside. It even swung back and forth slightly, like a body suspended from a broken neck. Well, perhaps not quite that graphic. But it seemed that way to me—probably because I was its killer.

I drove the car with dangling, detached mirror for several days. Superglue did not work. One elderly gent in the Strip District explained to me (even though I had not asked) that I would need to use screws to reattach the mirror to the car body. It sounded logical, until closer examination of my car revealed very little to which one might attach a screw. I pled my case with Todd. My driving was already quite possibly impaired by motherhood itself; was I safe in a car that was missing a mirror? Was his son safe? Was this even legal? Wasn’t there something he could do?

And God bless him, he did. I came downstairs last evening, found him beaming, and went into the garage to check out his handiwork. The mirror was fixed! There it stood, back in shape, proudly at attention, reflecting with ease. No more crazy swinging. I was elated.

“How did you do it?”

He grinned sheepishly. “You won’t believe it.” And he pointed to the life-saving tool: My craft glue gun.

We howled. And the mirror? It held.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Halloween-related issues

Halloween was never a big deal at our house growing up; we didn’t really live in a neighborhood, so the folks drove us in costume to homes of people we knew. I honestly don’t have many clear memories of that, even, so I’m guessing it was fun, but ultimately wasn’t too important to me. We always were allowed extra sweets at that time of year, and school afforded an opportunity to wear a costume, so I suppose I never longed for the thrill of knocking on strangers’ doors or pulling any pranks on mean neighbors (we didn’t have any close enough).

But this isn’t about trick-or-treating. I think the whole practice is rather bizarre, but I’m not barring my kid from doing it. He’s done it, and I’m sure he’ll do it again. He’s still small, so we can steer him away from scary costumes glamorizing the latest horror movie killer. And that’s good—because frankly, I’m not sure what I’ll do when he decides to “be” someone like that instead of a policeman (this year’s choice).

No, this post is about the dark side of Halloween: the emphasis on the spirit world. Goths didn’t exist when I was a kid, so I was spared that visual reminder of the undead; mostly, though, just being a goody-two-shoes academic band member kept me from the realization that there are a lot of people in this world who are quite fascinated with “the other side.” In college, a couple of girls on my dorm floor were experimenting with a ouija board, and I know that made me rather uneasy—but I didn’t lie awake at night wondering about evil spirits they might have unleashed. I just didn’t think about it much at all.

An apartment I rented a few years later kind of freaked me out a bit, because the first few days I lived there, I kept thinking I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I am not proud to tell you that I finally just spoke to mid-air and explained that I was not trying to cause problems and I was sure that “we” could co-exist… and I stopped seeing anything unusual. But I’m not convinced that the whole thing wasn’t in my imagination, and that my “addressing” the air gave me adequate peace of mind that I was able to subconsciously quell my overactive, nervous brain.

That little apartment drama was honestly the only time I've even remotely detected anything out of the ordinary. And that experience was still pretty darned ordinary. Don’t get me wrong—I’m glad for that. I’ve been told that I am “Missouri” because I must be shown something before I believe it—and I’m quite comfortable with that label. Todd and I stayed at an old Victorian B&B a few years back, and he saw and heard some things that he can’t explain…but not me. Never heard or felt or saw a thing other than what was right in front of my face, plain as day. I was really bothered by the whole thing for awhile, alarmed that my own husband had had an experience like that, but now that time’s passed, I can kind of just not think about that, too.

Yet. It seems that I am one person who has not detected anything spiritually unsettling, surrounded by other people who have had the opposite experience. And some of these are others that I trust, people I have no reason to believe would lie about such a matter. Like my own husband. What do I make of that? And how do I explain all this to my little boy, who right now calls ghosts “ghosties,” finds them cute, and thinks witches are sisters to scarecrows?

The added complication of late is my faith—a factor I didn’t have to consider in my earlier, more wishy-washy/anything-goes years. Christianity doesn’t say a thing about ghosts in the Bible, at least not that I’m aware of. It talks a lot about spirits, but they don't sound like the same thing—the spirits in the Bible are something to avoid, something to keep out of your life and your home and yourself. I won’t lie: I have had a couple of experiences in my life recently that I truly believe were evidence of spiritual warfare, and yes, I do think that’s a reality. I’m more convinced daily that most of what is going on around us, we’ll never see or feel. But if I’m reading correctly, the Bible seems to say that good spirits aren’t spirits at all; they’re angels. There are no lost souls floating around us; they’re all accounted for. (I’m not Catholic, so I don’t feel obligated to delve into the oddity of Purgatory.)

So, accepting Christian doctrine as my reality, I feel as if I have to assume that any valid ghostly experience is likely interaction with an evil spirit. Is that possible? How about the stories where a dead family member reappears and helps someone out, saves someone’s life? Can I bend that scenario and explain it by assuming an angel took on a familiar form to put a family’s mind at ease? That seems kind of far-fetched and unnecessary…why would an angel bother? But it wouldn’t make sense for an evil spirit to assume a lost loved ones identity and then perform good deeds, would it? I’ll tell you, I am just flummoxed. I go months without thinking about this whole can of worms, and then it suddenly reappears in my psyche and I am forced to try to reconcile things all over again.

I’m blaming a blog for the latest resurgence of this train of thought; I regularly read a sometimes irreverent, always amazingly well-written page called Somewhere on the Masthead (there’s a link to it on this page), and one of the recent posts was called An October Moment. The fellow who writes the page described just such an inexplicable experience he’d had, and it turns out he’s had quite a few; there are several October Moments that you can find on his blog. I don’t know if they’re true, and I don’t know this guy from Adam. Maybe he’s just a good writer and he knows that if his readers think the stuff’s true, they’re all the more hooked on it—although he insists they all happened. Anyway, I made the mistake of reading some of his Moments, and now here I am, trying to make sense of something that I shouldn’t even be thinking about because it just frustrates me and frightens me a little and mostly just gives me even more questions to ask God when we meet...and He is plenty aware that I already have way too many.

I should know by now to simply avoid all this ghost stuff. It’s something I just need to steer clear of, like horrible and sick news stories about little children being harmed. I should have learned by now that this grayish, vaporous world of spirits and the like is a bad place for me to even scurry through. I should know. But it’s Halloween, gosh darn it. I can’t get away from the subject. And I’m haunted (tee hee) by all the weird stories I’ve heard from reliable sources. What’s a God-fearing girl to think?

Oh well. That’s all from this very visible, very normal, very logical part of the world. How about you? Seen anything strange lately?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Bilious times

So, the hubby’s away for the weekend, and I plan lots of fun activities to pass the time for me and the boy. We go to a local museum, while away the hours gazing at dead critters’ bones and sparkly gems. Then we play in the park. We head to the grocery store, and as we begin to shop, I call for a pizza; that will be our dinner, the final treat to a lovely day of treats.

We pick up the pizza, take it home, gorge ourselves. The kid eats a bit more than normal, but not an alarming amount—he tells me as he manages half of a third piece that he was really hungry. We digest, and play a bit more, and then I give him a nice warm bath and dress him in fuzzy, clean PJs. He climbs into bed, there are stories and songs, and he drifts off to sleep.

The only damper up ‘til that time? As we were touring the dinosaur displays, the cat apparently puked on an afghan downstairs. But I saw it before we sat on it, and I threw the drippy mess into the washer.

Fast forward a couple of hours—I have just showered and I’m getting ready for bed myself, when I hear coughing coming from my son’s room. It goes on, and it has an ominous sound; this is not the dry, I-sleep-with-a-fan-on cough. I hurry in, leaving his lights off in hopes that there’s no real issue. And I pat him in the semi-darkness. But wait. He’s sticky. The sheets are wet. The comforter is wet. What is that horrendous sweet stench? Omigosh.

I turn on the dim light. There is yuck on him, on his pillow, on his covers, on the sheets… I quickly strip him down and pull off the bedclothes, rolling all the nastiness into the middle. I won’t go into detail because any parent already knows, and anyone else doesn’t want to. Suffice it to say that the entire time I’m doing this, I’m thinking how the smell will also make me hurl if I don’t get away from it soon, and also thinking how pathetic is a small, tired, ill child sporting regurgitation on his chin. I murmur quietly to my half-conscious son, tell him we’ll get this cleaned up, wipe him off and dress him in clean clothes, flip the waterproof mattress pad, put on a new fitted sheet, fish out clean blankets, and try to get my poor little guy to rinse his mouth. He refuses (God only knows why) and I choose to let it go. If he doesn’t care, I don’t care.

It’s done. He climbs back into bed and immediately goes back to sleep. I leave his room and deposit the horror into the washer (I have to remove the now-clean afghan first), then wash my hands like an OCD junkie, change into sleeping clothes, brush my teeth, the works. Climbing into my just-washed sheets should be a treat, but I feel contaminated now, yet too tired to shower a second time. I lie there, listening intently for more coughing. Every breath, every twitch yanks me back to a hyper-awake state. At last, I drift into uneasy sleep…

…only to be awakened again, by that awful cough. I leap from bed, instantly alert, rush to the kid’s room…and find an exact duplicate of the previous scene. This time he’s got it in his hair, too, at the bottom on the side. You can imagine how well he takes to getting that area wiped down with a wet washcloth. Again, we change everything, but this time he’s shaking from the physical strain and from his sleepy little-kid outrage. Again, I put him back into bed, on the last clean single sheet in the house, praying that there’s nothing left for him to projectile vomit. Thankfully, he goes back to sleep again, poor little guy. And I once more drag a roll of disgustingness to the washer, transferring to the dryer the now-clean sheet and cover from our last round.

I wash my hands again, and go back to sleep, exhausted.

But it’s not over yet, folks. The cat wakes me with that too-familiar heaving sound that he reserves for special moments like this: 3 am. I am on my feet in a second, rushing to the living room, where I manage to locate the sound in the darkness and punt the offending creature off the carpet and onto hardwood, where hairballs and the slime they wear are much less damaging. He finishes his work, and I see him retreating just as I flip the light on. I clean this up, the last of four bilious episodes within a 24-hour period. I go back to sleep. And wake to a small voice in the early morn: “I’m done sleeping, Mama.”

Some days are just like this, I suppose. You try to thank God for washing machines and multiple sets of bed linens. You thank Him that your child is healthy most of the time, that he’s not taking chemo that makes him sick like this every day. You thank Him that you have a husband who just happens to be out of town this weekend, but is usually not.

And you pray for NO MORE PUKE.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Good flick

I don’t normally tout or slam films—they’re fine, but I’m not a big movie person and it takes something special to get my attention. Finding Nemo did, if you recall, and there are a few big-people movies that stand out in a crowd, but by and large I feel concern for our society and the amount of attention and time we give to something unreal. And movies are, for the most part, unreal. They’re a means of escaping the real. (Television is the true enemy—but that’s a post for another day.)

Then, there are movies that don’t fit the mold. Some biographies, historically accurate movies, movies that do not come to exist for the same reasons that pop culture creates films. One such example is The Unforeseen.

I’ve been waiting to rent The Unforeseen for about 2 years—at least it feels as if that’s how long it’s been on my “wait” list in Netflix.* I saw it previewed on PBS way back when, and my curiosity was piqued. It was presented as a pretty fair-minded, multi-sided documentary about suburban sprawl.

And it succeeds, in my opinion anyway. It’s very good. It made me think about the issue from different angles; it forced me to consider all the factors that go into building most modern-day housing developments. It provided the basics in understanding how these projects are funded, and who benefits the most, and which beneficiaries take on the greatest risks. It gave a face, a voice, to all the different players in that drama. It will break your heart a little, and make you angry a little. It’s poetic like a Cormac McCarthy book, and it tells a story that almost anyone living in America today has been affected by.

Would it cause you to change your mind about buying a home in a “sprawl” development? If your mind is made up and you love the house, then I doubt it. But if you’re just considering it, or if there’s another of these housing plans in the works near you, I can see where it might light a fire under your bum.

So, when you get a chance, I’d recommend you see it. But ladies, be prepared: Robert Redford (who helped produce it) makes an appearance, and you may be shocked to see how time has worn him down. There remains very little evidence of the Sundance Kid.

* Didn’t want you to think that I was contradicting myself—we have the bare-bones Netflix package, which permits 2 movies per month, not at the same time…and we sometimes remember to watch that many.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

BIG time=changing standards?

It’s time for a brief rant from Mel. (And believe it or not, this is brief for me.)

Vehicles have become silly large. Have you noticed?

Rumor has it that car size was originally based on the width of a wagon. Since cars needed to utilize the same routes that wagons did, the first cars looked a lot like a motorized wagon. People likely had less to carry in vehicles back then, because most people had not yet become obsessed consumers and collectors of crap—most of them had not the means, nor very much crap available to purchase and hoard. There was no need to haul your world around with you, because you stayed at home most of the time, unless you were wealthy, in which case you had several homes and a fleet of poor people to move your stuff for you.

But I’m getting off track—that’s not the focus for today. I’d like to focus on the sheer size, the monstrosity, the ludicrously gargantuan aspect of many of today’s motor vehicles.

The humongous nature of many American vehicles would be problematic enough, what with minute parking places and skinny lanes and low bridges and the sort. But what makes them even more dangerous is the fact that often, they are driven by diminutive ladies who cannot see out of them properly. And who may or may not be trying to talk on the phone and sip a macchiato while they steer that boat.

I don’t mean to sound sexist; why would I do that? I AM a woman, for cryin’ out loud. But I am short, and I know I am short, and I choose to drive a small car that rides quite low to the ground. How many times have I seen a female head peering out from behind a steering wheel of a behemoth? On how many occasions have I witnessed these cuties struggling to park their big killing machines? How often have I been narrowly missed by a big ol’ bumper because the pretty little driver couldn’t see over the vehicle’s frame to spot me?

I know, I know—kids’ car seat regulations demand bigger vehicles than we used to have. I also realize that bigger cars are safer, and higher, and less prone to being destroyed on impact like my tiny car. And honestly, some people are perfectly capable of driving these homes on wheels, and doing it well. But many such drivers are not equipped to handle these giants on the road. This fact, and the danger it brings, can only be exacerbated by the reality that driving alongside the monsters are tiny counterparts like Minis and Smart Cars and the like. How can these bitty rides share the road with SUVs—piloted by distracted and caffeinated midgets, mind you—that are modeled after an off-road wartime transport machine instead of a horse-drawn box?

So what’s the answer? And it’s not a simple answer, because This Is America, and we like stuff B I G and we don’t care it if sucks up gasoline and that’s our right as piggish consumers, by golly! Okay, okay. Un-bundle your undies and take a breath; yes, I get frustrated with huge gas-guzzlers and their defenders in general—but that’s a rant for another post. Here’s a thought: How about re-testing drivers periodically? How about forcing drivers to re-test in the car they’ll actually be driving? And how about outlawing cell phones while operating a vehicle? Maybe we could re-test drivers more frequently if they insist on driving vehicles that top 2 tons. Or, even better, try this: How about coming up with another class of license? In addition to the CDL, we could have the HSUL (Hulking Sport Utility License) and perhaps even the BPUL (Behemoth Pick-Up License). If that sounds ridiculous, then consider how many people are proponents of testing elderly drivers more often; are you not at least equally threatened by smaller and/or less capable drivers who can’t see well enough from large vehicles to be fully informed behind the wheel?

I know it’s everyone’s choice to choose the vehicle they drive. But too many choices have both improved vehicle safety and performance, and also have forced us into this insane world where a Vespa scooter and a Hummer and a semi with full trailer load can all share the same highways. To top that off, prosperity in our society has given us money to burn on gasoline and frothy drinks and technology. And the crazy thing is that no one thinks that’s crazy.

And hey—feel free to remind me of my spewing here if I ever turn up driving something just slightly smaller than an RV.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

"Melativity" revisited

Penning Mel’s theory of relativity (see previous post) got me thinking about the whole relativity issue. And it gave me a little stab of guilt, right in the gut—because if truth be told, I am guilty of occasional judgment on others—and glorification of self—thanks to relativity.

For example, how many times have I excused my own behavior by looking around me and thinking, Hey, I’m not as bad as so-and-so? I’ve pulled that flimsy line out of my pocket to justify tests unstudied for, to comfort myself after hurting another’s feelings, to make acceptable a behavior that I knew in my heart was wrong.

The worst part is admitting that I whip out Mel’s ol’ theory of relativity in matters of faith. I’ve stood self-righteously atop many a soapbox, including the Christian soapbox, and I’ve told myself that at least I’m not a gossip like that woman (well, actually, I am sometimes) and thank goodness I can admit when I’m wrong about something (oh really? Ask my husband about that) and it’s a sign of my growth that I don’t get mad at God when things don’t go my way (hmmmmm… wonder what God would say about that?) and…you get the idea.

It’s funny in a sick kind of way that I’ve compared myself to others over and over as a means of minimizing my sin. I can’t think of any believer who hasn’t done that at some point. Yet, the Bible seems pretty clear about this issue. This is only one of many references:

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.
-2 Corinthians 10:12

It would seem that relativity among people doesn’t mean a whole lot. I’m supposed to be relating to all the other folks around me, but I’m not supposed to judge myself relative to whether those other folks are being holier or less holy than I am. I am instructed to compare myself to only One.

So, I’m sad to say that in matters of righteousness, my theory of relativity falls sadly flat. It’s stinkin’ thinkin,’ you might say. (Ah, remember Stuart Smalley? Remember the good old days when SNL made up its own parodied figures instead of mocking real, live people? Oops, there I go comparing again…)

All this blathering just goes to show that theories are only theoretical. But you knew that. The theory of evolution proves it even better than melativity does. *

* For a funny little 5-minute lesson on evolution’s improbability, hit the library and borrow the children’s book Yellow and Pink by William Steig. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Mel’s theory of relativity

Yeah, I know, I’m borrowing where I may not have a right to borrow. But my theory is so simple-minded in comparison to Einstein’s that I feel certain he wouldn’t be threatened in the slightest. (By the way, I went to Wikipedia and tried to familiarize myself with the real theory… and my head began to pulse and ache and I was cruelly reminded of how feeble my brain truly is.)

So, in my theory of relativity, everything is relative to whatever else is around it. For example, you may have heard the notion that people who want to be thinner need only to hang around heavier folks to achieve the desired perception. Because, you see, you will appear to be thinner if those around you are heavier. The same goes for intelligence, fashion sense, talent, and so on. Improve your own in a hearbeat, merely by being seen around lesser examples of the same. Sick, yes. But true? I believe so.

Now I’m going to stretch this theory a bit, you see—because I stupidly chose to wear a light color this morning, and then also stupidly chose to eat something other than water. And as I was spilling food on my shirt once again, I put it all together: If everything is perceived relative to what surrounds it, then why not wear the same color I plan to eat? It’s so honest, so forthright in its boldness, this suggestion. After all, the sinking economy forces me to plan pretty much every meal anyway, right? And if I’m planning, then heck, I can wear red on tomato sauce day. I can don yellow on a mustard and hot dog day. I can pull out my finest salmon pink on salmon loaf day. And on holidays? Well, that gets a smidge more complicated. I think Christmas occasions would require mottled, semi-blended shades of brown, to better disguise the chocolate. And Thanksgiving might demand a nondescript, patterned blouse of a light, polyester blend—all the better to dry quickly after I’ve rinsed the spilt dinner and drops of red wine away in a sink and then donned again the damp-but-clean shirt.

I’ve got it all figured out; I only wonder why I didn’t think of this sooner. You all can thank me when your water bills and dry cleaning bills are drastically reduced on this plan. And you don’t have to say it—I know only a genius could come up with a theory this brilliant.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

My downfall

I need to confess something, people. I have a problem. An addiction. I need to get it off my chest.

I am addicted to “for sale.”

Do you know Have you gone there in search of a desired item, or to sell your undesirables? It’s a wonderful marketplace, a beacon of common sense in a world of materialism gone mad. It’s local, it’s free, and it’s downright intoxicating with its limitless purchasing and selling possibilities.

I can’t stay away from it. It draws me like a fresh-baked smell, like a favorite song. I sit down at the monitor to check the weather, and suddenly without my even realizing, I’ve made the quick click to that too-familiar URL. I could spend hours there, scanning items for sale, checking out the freebies, researching prices for items that are similar to what I plan to sell.

I know why I love it so. Actually, is merely a symptom of the true problem from which I suffer: a very real, twisted need to save every abandoned, abused, or endangered piece of furniture that crosses my path. I come by the illness honestly—I believe it runs in my family—and I’m happy to say that although I suffer from this weakness, I have thus far minimized the companion packrat syndrome that often feeds the need to save possessions forever. Thankfully, I have no trouble unloading things if I feel certain they’ll have a good, appreciative home with their new owners...

Another reason I love it so is because, unlike the Pennysaver weekly, has pictures most of the time. You can see the item before you trek cross country to check out the “like new” piece that turns out to be rusted, or broken, or warped, or nonfunctioning. Plus, the face-to-face contact is delayed, allowing you to garner information about the item before you have to deliver a “yes” or “no” directly to the seller. There’s some pressure when you’re facing the seller—anyone who’s visited a desperate seller’s tag sale has felt that pressure—and I know I sometimes fall prey to guilt-purchasing if the seller is sweet, or old, or looks unhealthy, or lives in a run-down home or any number of other factors that elicit my sympathy. More than once, I’ve bought something I really didn’t want because I could see it would make the seller happy, give them hope, provide them with needed money. And while that’s not a terrible thing, it’s probably not the best shopping protocol.

One more reason I love craigslist is because it, like the web in general, provides anonymity and therefore permits behaviors you would likely not display in a real-world setting. I can be flippant in emails asking for information about an item. I can be forward, implying that I’d expect a discount for distance traveled or the like. I can be completely honest (i.e., I have absolutely no need for this but if you really want to unload it for less, let me know) or I can stretch the truth when I find out that the item isn’t right for me (i.e., My husband won’t let me spend any money right now…)

In short, craigslist is a wondrous yet dangerous place for me to linger. Maybe now that I’ve “come out,” a few of you will check on me occasionally to make certain I’m not contemplating any useless purchases of lovely, high-quality, right-priced items that won’t fit into our diminutive home. I have to remind myself that honestly, if I don’t need it, it ain’t such a good deal after all.

But golly, it breaks my heart to pass on some of this stuff. Oh, for a used furniture storefront in which to play.