Thursday, July 31, 2008

It's My Party, and I'll Cry 'Cause I Can't Stop

I seem to have overactive tear ducts again. This is the third time in my life I've had this problem. And it is a problem. Let me explain while I have control, and probably another 15 minutes of private time this morning.
Crying for me has never just been that sweet little 'shining eyes and sniffling' thing some people have mastered. No, if I start crying, my body takes over and I have to go somewhere and sob into a towel. And sob. And sob. Then, after I can finally mop up the snot and get off the floor, my sinuses are throbbing, my eyes look like I went three rounds with Tyson, and I can do a fantastic impression of Janis Joplin. I do not have control of this, and I really wish I did.

1992 was a meteor shower of events that completely rocked my world: I dropped out of law school after thinking for years that law was my life; the boy I'd dated for four years broke up with me at a wedding; my parents put our 15-year old dog to sleep; and then my grandmother passed away. After that, I found it difficult to speak to my family. The tears would come with even the merest thought of how things had changed. I'd pick up the phone only to put it down again and run for a towel.
When my dad died of cancer in 1999, I had a little more control, which is strange because I was also pregnant for the first time. I think because it was simultaneously the saddest and the happiest things ever, I was more balanced and less prone to sobbing despite the hormone hurricane. I did my share of crying, but I seemed to acquire the ability to pull it together when I really needed to.
My father-in-law died 9 months after my own father and, post-partum, the sobbing returned. I finally just quit picking up the phone to call Don's family - I'd dial the area code and then couldn't see the rest of the numbers.
And it's happening again. My mother-in-law died in April and I've been a mess ever since. There are four amazing women that I really need to stay in touch with - not for their sakes, for my own. They are my sisters-in-law and my mother-in-law's best friend and I haven't been able to do more than forward silly emails to them. Even now, my throat is constricting like I swallowed a whole butterscotch disk.
I'll be back...

Okay, let's try this again. I need them, and I need my own family, and I have got to figure out a way to get over this. I have prayed about this before, and I think God has answered my prayers by saying, "this is just how I made you, you're not alone, cope." I've thanked Him for giving me so many wonderful things to cry about: memories of playing Yahtzee and sewing with my grandmother; walking down the aisle with my dad; hearing the kids making pancakes with their Grandma Jean.

Okay, I can see the screen again. Sort of. So here's my thoughts. And maybe another prayer answer in the form of a suggestion. If you get a phone call and the ID says it's me, but after you say hello there's just this muffled sobbing in the background, will you just hang on and wait for me? I'm trying.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A word is just a word...

I went shopping with Ben today. He needed new shoes. He's been telling me daily for a week: "Mom, I could really like some new shoes, maybe some more sandals because summer is not over yet and these ones are not so nice anymore and they smell bad, and I could like a new pair of tennis shoes too, because I like to run fast and running fast is not so easy in sandals."

Side Note: Ben is almost 5, and has been speaking clearly since he was about 20 months old. It's not my doing, really, he's very intelligent and is the third child, so has heard more speech since birth than the other two combined. I do think his first words were "stop touching me" however.

We were in the checkout line with our little handheld basket (which conveniently limits purchases) and he was taking things out for me. He dropped the box containing his new tennies (clearance and they fit and he liked them! Hat Trick for mom!) and said,

"Oh, crap, I dropped them! I wasn't trying to juggle you, shoes! Come back here!"

Now the woman behind me started to laugh - she was alone but clearly a mom, also, and appreciated Ben's little admonishment to his shoes.

But the woman in front of us, who was also a mom and had her brood with her, let out a shocked gasp and so did the oldest of her three kids. We were perhaps 8 feet away from them, but I clearly heard the middle child whisper, "Mommy, he said a bad word!" She shushed them all, refused to make eye contact with me, and finished her transaction. Ben continued to scold things from the basket, letting them know that he had no intention of juggling them either and they would all need to kindly stay put, please. I didn't think much about it until we were driving home and Ben, who never really stops talking, suddenly says, "Mom, is crap a bad word?" and then stops talking to wait for my answer.

Wow. Is it?

Here's what I told him: "Well, it's not really a bad word, but it's not a very nice word, and maybe we could find something different to say, like fiddlesticks or squash or drat." This made him happy, and he of course used fiddlesticks and squash in various sentences all the way home, and tried with some success to find rhymes for both. That's a whole 'nother post...

Here's what I thought: I use the word all the time. I love the way it sounds, like you feel when you use it - crap. It became part of the lexicon in the 1850's in phrases like 'I have to crap' and 'that's crappy workmanship'; and then became commonplace in the 1920's and 30's when crapper became a new word for toilet. It's synonymous for bad words, but is it really a bad word in itself? I don't think so. It's not very nice sounding coming from the mouth of an otherwise cute kid, so perhaps I should teach my children something cuter to say. But I was secretly proud of the fact that he used it in the appropriate context.

So when fiddlesticks and squash become old hat or even embarrassing to say, perhaps they will be old enough to decide if and when to use crap or something else (they are their father's kids too...) or maybe we can come up with something entirely new, like "gablitznick" or "crumbledeehoo." Then again, that is probably the point when mom ceases to be funny and becomes embarrassingly weird, even though she hasn't changed a bit.

(I know you're asking how I know all that stuff about word history. That's another post, also. Suffice it to say I have quite a reference library that does not involve a search engine because I love this crap.)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Just a Typical Day

Friday May 23, 2008
The day starts out alarmingly normal – I put the kids on the bus, read for awhile, and then the phone rings. It's my friend Sandy, and she says, “Um… are you watching the news?” No, actually I was watching Handy Manny with Ben (well, not really watching, just … okay I was totally in to it).
“Have you talked to your husband… this morning… at all?” Well, that got the heart pounding like a pot of coffee fails to anymore. I turn on the news as she tells me there’s been a fatal crane accident at the power plant where Don works. The news helicopters are indeed showing a nasty scene – cranes look much larger broken on the ground – and is that… could that be… sheets covering bodies? Oh God…
Sandy says, “Okay, call him and call me right back so you don’t have to be alone with the newscast.” Of course he doesn’t answer his cell phone. Of course all the horrible thoughts go through my head. Of course I’m panicked and can’t even remember Sandy’s number to call her back.
As I’m talking to Sandy about plans for the weekend (as if that really matters at this moment, but it helps me focus), my cell finally rings and it’s – thank you God – my husband. He was on the other side of the jobsite, he’s fine, didn’t even hear it go over, he’s fine, he has to go for the head count now, and he’s fine. He could tell I was laughing and crying at the same time, so he actually said “I love you” rather than waiting for me to say it and responding, “you too” in his usual way.
I wipe my nose on my sleeve, get back to my conversation with Sandy and we have a good talk about the weekend, the kids, her job, etc. Like I hadn’t just bungee jumped off a cliff and needed a change of underwear.
All morning I told myself this was the life of the ironworker’s wife – you just never know. I handled other phone calls from folks who wanted to make sure he was okay, sent some emails indicating he was fine, and then finally, once he walked in the door, allowed myself to believe it. He was fine. Others were not, and I took a few moments to say prayers for them and their families. It’s dangerous work, and we all accept the risks, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it happens.
The day goes on, the kids come home, they snack and complain and fight with each other, and I’m back to normal, for the most part.
Then they go out to ride the four-wheeler. Don’s outside also so I’m under the impression that I’m free to go about my housewifely duties, the ones I neglected this morning while all those new gray hairs came in. As I’m starting dinner, Don returns to the house a little shaken and I’m wondering if he’s had a delayed reaction to the morning’s activities. I’m prepared to be sympathetic and make him something yummy for dessert.

No, it’s much worse than that.

Abby and Ben were riding the four-wheeler on the dam by the deepest part of the pond.

Can you find the errors in that sentence? Why yes, you are correct – the entire thing is a mistake! You can get extra credit if you can tell me what happened next!
The four wheeler went into the pond and they were both tossed into the water. Don brought them both into the house, stripped them naked and tossed them in the shower to warm up before coming to the kitchen to tell me. How did I miss all this? NCIS marathon on USA Network on the kitchen tv, loud enough to be heard over the running water. It’s a weakness.

He then says, “you gonna help me get it out?”
I’m very very tempted to say, “hell no, leave the death machine to rust! What were you thinking letting them drive that, and near the pond, are you insane?”
But then, it really is Elliott’s four wheeler, and he really enjoys it, and he’s never had a problem on it, even when giving his siblings a ride. So I turn off the oven, put on my boots and trudge down to the pond. The back wheel is visible over the water, and I tamp down the momentary panic, pushing the vision of my two children trapped beneath it far far away because, as I remind myself in litany as I walk, they are fine. They are fine.
Don has hooked his own four wheeler up to the back end of the sunken one and says to me, from the water, “okay, get on and pull her out.”
He seems to forget for a moment that I do not know (nor do I care) how to drive a four-wheeler. I wonder if there was some head injury he received while mowing, a low branch or something, that has caused this momentary lapse in his judgment. But then, remembering that he was out with them and Abby and Ben were on the four wheeler by the pond anyway… no head injury required, perhaps.
So I get on and he gives me a quick lesson. He also seems to forget that I do not know (nor do I care) how to drive a stick shift, and that is essentially what you must do to properly operate a four-wheeler. Take it out of neutral with your left foot, give it gas with your right elbow, squeeze your knees together to brake… I don’t know.
Some part of my anatomy must have been paying attention because we managed to get the drowning four wheeler upright and up towards the bank. Then my luck changed, because Don said (I still can’t believe these words really came out of his mouth), “Okay, take it straight down that hill towards that big tree.”
My first thought was, looking down the steep hill, that after all we’d been through today, I was probably going to be the one on the stretcher. And if I lived, I’d be staying in the hospital a good long time, milking whatever injuries I had to the fullest (Why yes, I’d love another ice water. Today’s newspaper would be great, thanks. Could you just shut that light out on your way? Another Darvocet would be lovely, thanks ever so much.)
Then he has the audacity to smirk at me when I hesitate and say, “It has reverse, I can get it out of there.”
Should this be construed as confidence in my abilities to weather a crisis, or should this be an insult that he’s more worried about his toy than his wife? No time to ponder this, as he’s standing in muddy water up to his thighs and is now irritated with me. So down I go, towards the big tree. The little four-wheeler comes slurping out of the pond, dripping mud and grass and looking for all the world like a wrecked ship. I get control of the panic again, because now I am expected to back the big boy toy out of the ravine. Again, the temptation to petulantly stomp off to the house and eat something chocolate is overwhelming, but I contain it and persevere. When both vehicles are back on the bank, and the chance for me to escape is presented, I darn near fall in the water myself in my eagerness. My hands and knees are shaking so badly I must look like the bride of Frankenstein in blue jeans heading back to the house.
Dishes needed to be done, but with the shaking hands was perhaps not the wisest choice of activities. However, here I was finally back in my element and could work on relaxing. Or at least just get the dishes done.
Don returns to the house, changes his clothes, and comes to the kitchen.
“Okay, so I have driver training, I’m going. I’ll be back later,” he announces. What this means is that he’s going to head to the local volunteer fire station where he is a Lieutenant, take out one of the big giant fire trucks, get in the passenger seat, and let the new guy drive around the area.
Fast. At night. While Don shouts instructions at him to simulate a real emergency.

I begin to shake like I have Parkinson’s and Don asks if I’m okay.
Sure, I’m okay. Why wouldn’t I be okay? I came within a gnat’s breath of losing three of the people I care about more than anything else in the whole world today. Why wouldn’t I be able to just shake that off and make chicken? Yeah, most of my family almost died today… pass the ketchup, please. So please make my day complete and send Elliott out to play hopscotch on the highway and you go ride in that 20 ton fire truck with a 22-year old on gravel roads in the dark. I’m fine, really.
I cried all the way through my shower, which was almost cathartic enough. I sincerely hope that my sense of humor can see me sanely through my husband’s prolonged adolescence so that I’m able to enjoy what will undoubtedly be the milder rebellions of my children. I’ll let you know.


I know that folks will want to know where my blog title came from. Some of my friends and family will get it, on one level, but I need to explain that it's more than what it seems. And they will understand that, too.
There's a Jewish superstition that if you leave your oven empty, you will not have anything to cook in it when you want or need to. So placing an empty pan (clean or dirty, I assume for my own benefit) ensures plentiful food stores. So on one level, this title is about keeping something in your oven for good luck. In my case, it's humor.
I'm also the mother of three pretty cool kids, and I really enjoy being a mom. It's actually the only job I've ever had that really feels right. Yes, it's difficult, ever-changing with nothing but on-the-job training, and the paycheck involves asking the husband if I can please transfer some more money into my account (which often earns me the bonus of a roll of the eyes and an exasperated sigh). However, I wouldn't want any other profession right now. So on another level, my blog is about motherhood and all that entails.
So ultimately, my blog is going to be about maintaining the humorous aspects of motherhood and my life, so that no matter how ugly things get sometimes, I will always be able to smile and laugh. I hope you enjoy it.
Let me also add at this point that I have absolutely no idea why I'm starting a blog. I love to write, and there are a lot of funny things in my life, but I can't do anything that resembles a routine- not dishes, meals, bathing my kids or myself, or even getting everyone's teeth brushed. I've tried to force routines on my family with so little success it's stunning. If I announce that we are going to try Family Game Night, or will have spaghetti every Thursday, that night will arrive with six things on the calendar that involve being in three places at once, and no pasta in the house. I can't even discipline with any consistency. I once announced that the kids would have to earn 'screen time' by doing active things like playing outdoors or practicing karate. That lasted about a week. The kids felt restricted by the timer and the chart and we lost all the relaxed spontenaity of our normal life. I felt like I was monitoring every minute of their lives again, something I didn't need to do even when they were newborns. It was awful. Routines are something we just can't do, I've accepted that.
So if a week goes by with no new post from me, please be patient. It's not that I don't care, it's just that I don't want to force it. Life around here happens in huge chunks of activity, most of which are wonderful and perfect for us. When I have a moment to myself, I will record those chunks for posterity. And hopefully you'll laugh with us.