Sunday, December 28, 2014

Age appropriate

I had just left the room for a moment. A millisecond to be exact. I didn't even see the wrapping come off the package, which had seemed to arrive out of nowhere. But I heard it. The sound of paper tearing in long, continuous strips.

This can't be good.

No sooner had they unwrapped the Christmas Village building set, ripped open the box and dumped out it contents -- several pillows of multi-color parts -- than the bottoms of my feet began to tingle in anticipation of the pain that would undoubtedly follow.

There was no time between the crinkle and burst of cellophane bags to stop what was happening. A cascade of hard plastic building bricks hit the soft carpet, surging like a waterfall.

It didn't matter where I was in the house at that moment – the basement … the attic … or the garage 500 feet away – because the sound of the bricks clinking together like tiny champagne glasses could have easily pierced lead.

The heavy sigh that left me that moment, if you are a parent you know, was the unmistakable sound of despair ...

A sound that is exactly like twelve-hundred sixty-three pieces of LEGO raining down from the air and covering the entire eight-by-five area rug with an inch of debris. My living room was now a minefield of holiday cheer. Which meant it was only a matter of time until the whole place erupted.

I started to count …

Three. …

Two …

“MOMMY! Can you help me?”

I took a deep breath and chased it with a slurp of coffee that had grown cold.

“Nope. Can't. Says as much right on the box: Ages 12 and up. I am much upward of eight. Sorry (NOT) sorry.

“Awww!” he said in momentary protest before raking his hands through the bricks.

“I'll help him,” said his big sister, in a voice that took on the sweetness of a much younger child; a child who didn't need to talk herself into the belief that Santa Claus was, indeed, watching.

She knew it to be true.

They hovered over the plastic carnage and I went back to my work.

I didn't get far. I could hear the low growl, a warning sign and stopped in my tracks.

I started to count …

Three …

Two …

MOMMY! The kitten is stealing pieces we need.”

I think she ate one of the connecting rods!”

Maybe if you feed her, she'll leave you alone?”

I pick up the cat and take her away. A tiny kitten will not be the reason Rome in Toyland falls.

Silence. How long will it last?

Three ...

Two …

MOMMY! She is not even helping.”

BUT MOMMY! He's already messed it all up.”

I roll my eyes and push my luck … “Do what you can. Try not to fight.”

I take another deep breath and hold it …

Three ...

Two ...

One ...

Silence? I can't believe it worked.

Still quiet. A true Christmas miracle.

Chore after chore completed in blissful quiet. It certainly seemed miraculous. Now, some people might object to the singing of several rounds of “Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, Robin Laid An Egg,” being classified as either blissful or quiet, but in the absence of a full-on sibling war over which of them is holding the illustrated instructions upside down, there are a great many things I'm willing to overlook. Repetitious caroling among them.

Oh, to be a silly rube.

Turns out the silence had nothing to do with harmony. Christmas Village was abandoned. A few small buildings dotted the living room landscape in various states of completion, while the makings of a large, working carousel lay scattered on the floor like confetti. Any moment, I expected dog hair to float by like tumble weeds.

The children were gone. Both of them. Scattered to the wind … or their rooms. … or to Netflix once they realized the project they had started was a little beyond their pay grade. After all, neither of them had reached the ripe old age of 12 and up.

Still … there was the matter of the mess. ...

Carefully, oh so carefully, I eased my way into a seated position on the rug.

“I'm definitely older than 12,” I said and began raking my hands through the rubble.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas spirit ... and other holiday casualties

I can't find my Christmas spirit.

I've looked for it everywhere. Somehow it's just gone missing.

I hope the kitten didn't get it. She's a feisty one. Always chewing the corners off Christmas cards and tearing up wrapping paper.

I would blame her if I could, but I know it's not her fault.

For a time, I thought that someone had stolen it. Shoplifted, as it were, from the storage room of my brain that usually contains all of my warm and fuzzy thoughts. Ordinarily it's not difficult to find. It's the room adjacent to the ones that harbor nostalgia and gratitude. The Spirit of the Season stuffed into a dented cardboard box with all the tinsel and construction paper ornaments I so carefully saved over the years.

But I don't think that's possible. Who would want my old, worn out joy?

Oh sure, the 24-hour news offers a lineup of possible culprits. …

There's no shortage of rampages, whether deadly or just damaging to the psyche. There's no shortage of depravity, which, over time, will tend to sap your reserves of good will.

Keep clicking through channels. Then turn it off. What else can you do?

Still can't get away from the feeling ...

As if the world around me has turned into a sales pitch.

But that's just white noise …

Something I should simply tune out.

I plug in the Christmas tree. Maybe the warm glow from “traditional” twinkle lights will thaw my icy heart.

It's a possibility, I tell myself. After all, I had rejoiced a little at the hardware store when I found strings of incandescent mini-lights at half price. I am done with the cold, lifeless LEDs.

Maybe this was all I'd need. A dose of white, environmentally unfriendly, light.

Still nothing.

Maybe it's the dread of more stuff entering the house, taking up space we no longer have. All the pretty parcels brought late at night by a guy in a sooty beard and wearing a red suit.

For a moment, shouldn't it bring happiness?

The hours he spent at the mall, or online, searching for the “perfect thing.”

Of course, you know there are no “perfect things.”

It's not about things at all. It's about change.

The kids are growing up. The Christmas card list gains one person and loses two others.

I try not to dwell in the inevitable future. I know it's unwise. The future exists in one form or another, not both. There's no point in trying to set up housekeeping there until it becomes the present and you know the address for certain.

I need exercise and fresh air. I'll take the kids sledding. That will help.

And for the twelve minutes the stars align and the children are racing the dog down an icy hill on their toboggans with unbridled glee, I am calm.

It doesn't matter that I wore the wrong socks and my toes are beginning to turn blue.

It doesn't matter that in a matter of minutes a fight will break out over who was faster, or who's allowed to use whose sled.

Christmas will come. I will find that stupid, ratty box in an unexpected place, and when I open it, it will be filled with the spirit of the season.

Hopefully, I can catch it before it gets loose again. It won't stand a chance against that kitten.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Snow day

Outside, the world looked like a juggled snow globe.

Fat flakes swirl around in icy water, frantically at first and then slowly, as if deciding where to land. It was all beautifully precarious.

Inside, our world seems equally tumultuous.

A boy and girl dance around the house, celebrating this unexpected day off with mirth and glee, as well as a fantastic fight over the remote control.

“It's my turn to pick the movie,” shouts one as the other hollers: “You picked last time.” Of course, it doesn't matter which one said what, they both believe it should have been their turn.

I used to love snow days. The sledding. The snow fort building. The snow-encrusted mittens drying on the radiator. A day made of frozen sweet confection, wrapped in white icing and offered up insistently by Mother Nature.

She wouldn't take No for an answer.

Unlike myself. I take No as a question.

Wouldn't you like to play a game? No?

How about we make Christmas cookies? No?

I suppose the idea of you kids going out into the snow isn't going to happen either is it? No?


I didn't want to do any of those things either, truth be told. If we played a game, they would just fight over the rules. If we made cookies, it would just be the “Royal We” baking. And if we went out in the snow I would have to be out in it, too. Freezing.

Let's just skip to the hot chocolate, shall we? The kind with mini marshmallows, of course.

No cocoa? You've got to be kidding.

Of course, I'm not kidding … Now I remember what I forgot at the grocery store.

The snow has turned to rain. Freezing rain.

I feel better. The fact that we're not outside has shifted from failure to fortune. Which means now the kids want to build a snowman.

“This is the worst snow day ever,” says one of them.

It doesn't matter which one. They speak for each other, even if they don't admit such sibling harmony exists between them.

It's cold all of a sudden. In the living room. The fire's gone out.

As I get it going again, the kids huddle together on the couch under a blanket.

They are whispering, which is good, since the weather and the bickering have left me with a tension headache. And then they are gone.

“Do you have any boxes?”

“Can we have some wrapping paper?”

“Tissue paper?”

I am happy for the truce and show them where they can find such things.

They disappear upstairs, where I hear not a peep nor a rustle for more than an hour.

One after the other they traipse down with packages and bags festooned with ribbons and bows and rolls' worth of Magic tape, and tuck them under the tree.

Each strangely shaped package was marked with its intended recipient: Dad. Mom. Grandma. Grandpa.

The biggest ones were dedicated to each other: My Little Bother and My Big Blister.

So much for sibling rivalry and snow days.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

fixers and breakers

My friend had just arrived. We had made plans to brave the cold and go for a brief jog through the neighborhood. …

But I wasn't ready.

Instead, I was stuffing a small mountain of denim and Perma Press into the front-loader.

“I can finally do laundry!” I said with all the excitement I usually reserve for a sale on the pricey yogurt at the supermarket.

She knew exactly what I meant …

The washer hadn't been working for months. It wasn't broken, but there was something wrong with the outlet that connected it to power.

My husband had finally gotten around to “fixing” it.

“It must be nice for you ... that he's so handy,” she said, earnestly congratulating my husband for being a gen-u-ine Mr. Fix-It.

The equivalency of a husband who can repair a leak in a faucet or rewire an outlet in the laundry is calculated against an outrageous hourly fee. With or without plumber's crack.

I can't compete.

Even if one were to combine the wages of the babysitter, the maid and the school bus driver, who make up the basis of my unspoken worth, we're not even close. Of course a babysitter who swears in front of the kids, a maid who never mops the floors and a bus driver who plays inappropriate music on the way to and from school wouldn't likely have union representation in her corner.

But I digress.

Nice wasn't the word I would use to describe the way my husband fixes things. Humorous is more to the point.

Truth be told. It's not as if his skills are any more marketable than mine.

I still remember the cumbersome instructions we had to review for guests after he fixed the lighting in our first house:

"Ok. If you need to use the bathroom, remember to turn on the track lights in the dining room first. They are on the same circuit, and the bathroom lights won’t turn on without the dining room lights on. … And if you turn on the hall lights and they go off by themselves don't worry, it's nothing. Just turn them back on, making sure the switch located all the way to the left is turned on first. Oh. ... and the light over the bed works with a remote control. If you can't get them to come on you'll have to go to the main panel on the wall, make sure that the switch is pressed DOWN, and press the sensor – located on the right – seven times until the little green lights on the left side of the switch glow orange."

Yeah … those were the days … Strange no one ever asked to be shown the location of the fire extinguisher.

In retrospect, he has evolved rapidly since those early days of do-it-yourself electrical work.

In our current home, most of the lights do what one would expect with a simple flip of a switch. But not all.

Eventually. … the perfect confluence of boredom and ingenuity would meet one rainy afternoon … and he would descend into the basement to finish what he'd started.

Fingers crossed, I listened to clanging and muttered curse words as they wafted up from the cellar, and dreamed of doing laundry without tripping over an extension cord, which had snaked up from the depths of the house for far too long.

But I didn't need to be clairvoyant to understand the price for such a wonderful development in the at-home washing business had been paid inadvertently by the dryer. In 40 minutes – the time, it takes for a load of heavy-duty duds to cycle through all the prescribed rinses – that crazy thought would become a fact.

For one machine to work, it seemed, the other had to be on hiatus.

Breaker, breaker. … who's got the breaker?