Tuesday, April 29, 2008

But Karen, Spiders Eat Bugs!

I don't care if they eat green eggs with ham and wash it down with 100 percent pure Florida pulp free orange juice mixed with Kentucky bourbon. Unless you can persuade me that they'll keep the soap scum off my bathroom tiles, I want nothing to do with them.

Erica Ridley recently blogged about lizards in her house, while Vicki Lane so does not do snakes. Guess what I’m railing against today?

Anytime I see a spider, you have a window to go to court and have me declared legally insane.

Spiders haven’t been a problem in our current abode, perhaps because of the “bug guy” who visits every three months. But in the much older house where we lived in the 90’s, about fifteen miles north of here, arachnids abounded, huge brown things almost as big as the back of my hand. We were more likely to see them early in the morning, or late at night.

These spiders weren’t poisonous, just creepy looking, especially when they carried egg sacs. We had a screened porch just off the family room, and one afternoon I spotted one of these monsters on the screen with its bag of little monsters. The sunlight hit the screen in such a way that the spider’s shadow made it look bigger and even more menacing. I brought the children inside and sent Mr. Lucky out to slay it.

He was on the computer late one night when he was startled by one scampering across the ceiling, hauling an egg sac like a bank bandit on the lam. On another occasion, he opened the fuse box to find two of them with their little bag of spoils.

And they were fast. They could whisk across the room in the blink of an eye. I would see one, run to grab the bug spray, and when I came back, the spider would be gone. But I was never content to shrug my shoulders and move on with my life—no, that spider had to be found and eliminated to the exclusion of all other considerations, and I usually caught up to it in another room.

It took a lot of bug spray just to get rid of one, they were so big and stubborn. When we didn’t have bug spray, I applied the starch Mr. Lucky kept for his military uniforms, and on another occasion, I used oven cleaner. It wasn’t as if I ever cleaned the oven, anyway, except in years ending with the letter F.

Mr. Lucky thought nothing of shooting half a can of bug spray at a few mosquitoes or gnats outside on the porch. Yet anytime one of those giant brown spiders showed up inside the house, he’d only tickle it with a light mist. As it scurried off in rage, usually behind the heaviest piece of furniture, Mr. Lucky would saunter away in the opposite direction, offhandedly declaring, “It’ll be dead soon.”

“I want it dead and out of my house NOW!” I yelled. I was always afraid my son would find the carcass before I did, and stick it in his mouth. Mr. Lucky, on the other hand, insisted I had some crazy idea that if the spider didn’t die immediately, then it would mutate into fifty times its original size and seek vengeance on me while I slept. I don’t know where he came up with that notion but he did—and he even scoffed at his own assumption. Men!

As further evidence of how easily these little critters can scar me for life, when I was in the Air Force, single and living in my own apartment off base in Texas, I woke up one night to the sound of crackling paper in the room. I switched on the light and traced the sound to a paper bag in the corner. A huge black spider was crawling around in there. I nearly freaked out, and I can’t remember why I didn’t kill it then and there, but I do remember grabbing the bag and throwing it outside the apartment door.

Twe—oh, never mind how many years later it is now—but today we have a ceiling fan in the bedroom that I absolutely must have running at full speed all night, not just to keep cool, but because I can’t sleep without the “white noise” it makes. Sometimes I wake up to the sound of crackling and rattling, but it’s invariably something in the room being blown or ruffled by the ceiling fan. Yet to Mr. Lucky’s understandable annoyance, I cannot, nay, will not go back to sleep or allow him to do so, until I turn on the light, identify the source of the sound, confirm that it is only because of the ceiling fan and not a spider, and take steps to muffle that nerve-wracking noise.

I wonder why he’s never taken advantage of that window to have me committed? Love? Free maid service? Or because I’m the only one in the house who knows that if the pizza cutter isn’t in the kitchen drawer, then it must be at the bottom of Baby Bear’s toy box?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Mischief Will Find a Way

In the wake of the Great Flood, we removed the plug from the drain in Baby Bear's bathtub, and put it in the bathroom cabinet. He took it out of the cabinet and pushed it back into the drain for an encore performance. We pulled it out again, and this time hid it high in a cupboard somewhere in the kitchen. He hasn't found it--yet. But he will. Every day I catch him rummaging through the cupboards--not necessarily for the plug, but for anything he can use as a weapon of mass destruction--and as he grows taller and his arms get longer, he's reaching higher and digging deeper.

Keeping the bathroom door locked at all times isn’t feasible, as he doesn’t always communicate that he needs to go. To encourage him to independently use the bathroom while still alerting us, we installed an alarm on the bathroom door, the child-safety kind designed for gates to swimming pools. But for various reasons having to do with the complexities of activating and deactivating and reactivating the alarm each and every time someone opened or closed the door, coupled with the acoustics of the bathroom and the potential for hearing loss, we concluded this wasn’t the best solution.

Mr. Lucky and I did some brainstorming, and we decided to hook a wreath hanger over the bathroom door, and hang a cluster of bells dangling from multiple cords. As quaint as it sounds, this has worked very well . . . until last night.

The husband and I were watching TV. I assumed Baby Bear was in his room, because even though his door was closed, I could hear his electronic keyboard playing that annoying, repetitious rhythm he likes. Two of our dogs were with us, and for some reason I suddenly realized the third one—the same one who’s always going into Bear’s room to chew up his toys (and more recently, the boy’s mattress)—was missing.

I don’t know why this occurred to me when it did, but I told my husband he’d better go check on that dog, and make sure he wasn’t taking another piece out of that mattress. Our son doesn’t seem to care what that dog chews up, but I most certainly do.

It turned out no one was in the boy’s bedroom. The dog was lounging outside the bathroom, and Mr. Lucky went in to find our ten year old son naked and sitting . . . in the bathroom sink.

Not the tub. Not the toilet. The sink.

The drain was plugged. The water was running, and had just started to flow over to the floor. But most alarming of all was his precarious position. He’s five feet, six inches tall. The sink and vanity are only about thirty inches wide. Contrary to what you'd expect, Bear was not sitting with his back to the mirror, and his legs dangling over the cabinet doors beneath the sink, oh no. Instead, he was curled up sideways in the sink/on the vanity, with his back to the toilet, which is right next to the vanity.

How easily he could’ve slipped and fallen backwards, hitting his head on the toilet and worse! I was beyond horrified, and I’m still shuddering to think of what might have happened had Mr. Lucky not checked on him when he did.

The roar of water in the bathroom sink doesn’t make as much noise as the bathtub. Bear seems to have figured that out. And why hadn’t we heard the bells—unless he’s also deduced that if you open and close the bathroom door very, very slowly, the bells will not ring? He doesn’t talk, so who knows what goes on inside his head or where he gets his ideas?

In any event, Mr. Lucky removed the plug from the bathroom sink. Why do we need one in the child’s bathroom, anyway? We have two sinks in the master bathroom, and I only use the plug on mine when I’m inserting or removing my contact lenses; otherwise they will jump off my fingertips and dive straight into that drain.

We know it won’t end here. Every time we build a better Bear trap, our youngest simply evolves into a better, more dangerous Bear.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hung Up on Hangers

I mentioned in an earlier blog entry here that Baby Bear seemed to have a thing for hangers, the thick plastic, triangular kind. Well, it’s mushroomed into a very big thing. He’s not just collecting them—he’s hoarding them like a leprechaun with a pot of gold.

Every time—oh phooey, all the time—I do laundry, I always seem to come up short on hangers. We can’t hang anything in the hall closet, because Bear yanks jackets right off the hangers and lets them drop to the floor, only to run off with the hangers. He has no clothes in his closet—I have to hang his clothes in the closet of his father’s office, or they’ll always be piled on the floor.

Every few weeks I buy a bundle of ten white plastic hangers from Wal-Mart. Bear will take one and carry it around everywhere he goes, frequently twirling it around his index finger (he’s become very adept at that). Sooner or later, he’ll leave it for one of the dogs to chew into bits unless I manage to intercept it first, and then he pulls another out of the closet. Rinse and repeat.

While I was at the
TARA meeting this last Saturday, Mr. Lucky bravely ventured out for a walk around the neighborhood with all three dogs and Baby Bear. (Only the dogs were on leashes; thanks for asking.) He said our son did very well, except for when they passed by a house where the garage door was up. The owner was sitting out front, one of those old guys who would rather sit in a camp chair in his open garage than inside his nice, air conditioned house. There are several men in the neighborhood like that; Mr. Lucky believes their wives banish them out there so they don’t smoke up the house or otherwise get underfoot. (Maybe I should talk to those wives.)

Baby Bear broke into a run, charging up the driveway past the old man and into his garage full of junk. He emerged a moment later, holding up none other than a white plastic hanger as if it were a priceless idol he’d just retrieved from an ancient temple in a cave.

Neither the old man nor Mr. Lucky had any idea how that kid zeroed in on that hanger.

Then yesterday morning, Bear took me by the hand and pulled me into the living room, where he pointed at the sofa.

“That’s a sofa,” I said.

No, that wasn’t what he wanted from me. He pulled me closer, jabbing his finger repeatedly toward the very top edge of the sofa.

“Did you slide something back there?” I asked. “Not another DVD?” I pulled out the sofa a few inches, and found a hanger back there. I gave it to him, then after I pushed the sofa back into place, he slipped the hanger behind it again and wanted me to get it back out.

I told him we weren’t doing that, and walked away. He conned Mr. Lucky, who moved the sofa from the wall and found a whole secret stash of seven plastic white hangers.

Then last night, after Bear fell asleep, I went into his room to conduct the usual bedtime protocols that can only be done after he falls asleep—making sure his overhead light was off while the ceiling fan continued to revolve; unplugging his electronic keyboard (he sets it to some repetitious and annoying rhythm that somehow acts as a lullaby for him); adjusting his covers, and clearing the floor. Last night I had to clear it of hangers.

There were hangers everywhere! On the floor. On top of his dresser. In his toy box. Even in his bed. Not a single one dangled from the rod in his closet. I gathered them up—twelve total—and hooked them over the lonely rod.

Like a kid in a candy store? Not my Bear. He'd rather be turned loose in a dry cleaners.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

It's My Blog and I'll Whine If I Want To (First in what will certainly be a never-ending series)

The day started out well enough, except when Baby Bear lunged at me (something he does a lot for no particular reason). As I reflexively held up my hands, he smashed my left ring and pinkie fingers. That made it very painful to type on the computer.

Mr. Lucky went and picked up our firstborn, the Crown Prince, and brought him back for a visit. Baby Bear was thrilled to see his big brother, constantly smiling up at him and tugging on his hand. There was many a moment, in fact, when I saw his mouth and tongue moving in such a way, that I was sure he was trying to say his brother’s name. I did my best to prompt him many times, pointing to the Crown Prince and saying his name, but Bear has yet to say a real word.

Still, I loved seeing them get along so well, and it made me wish the Prince still lived with us.

Shortly after four, Mr. Lucky left in his Buick Riviera to take our oldest back to the group home where he lives, about thirty miles away. About a half hour later, he called me on his cell phone. He’d just taken the exit off the Interstate to the group home, which was still about seven miles away, and the belt on his Buick broke, overheating the engine. He needed me to come and pick them up and take them the rest of the way, then bring Mr. Lucky back home.

It was almost five o’clock on Monday. I couldn’t think of a worse time of day to be on the Interstate, especially with Baby Bear. We’ve been having a lot of trouble keeping him buckled in the back seat of the minivan lately, but for some reason he’ll stay buckled in the front passenger seat (at 5’6”, he’s big enough), so that’s where I strapped him in minus his shoes because he would’ve doffed them before I backed out of the driveway. I switched on the ignition, and with an ominous ding, a picture of a little gas tank lit up on the dashboard. The needle on the fuel gauge just brushed the top of the letter E.

Mr. Lucky, the last person to drive the minivan, had struck again. That man will not pull into a gas station until he’s running on fumes, or—in at least two cases that I’ve been holding over his head for years—until the tank simply runs dry and the car sputters to a halt in the very middle of the road. Me—Ms. Perfectly Self-Righteous—I never let the tank go below half, and let me tell you, that paid off several years ago when we had to evacuate because of a hurricane (subject for a future post).

We usually gas up on base (when we go out there, twenty miles away) or at Wal-Mart about seven miles away, but I didn’t want to take a chance on going that far with so little, so I pulled into the first gas station on our trip, which had pumps very different from what I was used to. A Cadillac was directly in front of me, and turned into the nearest available pump. I stayed right on his tail, hoping he’d pull forward to the next pump, but instead his reverse lights flashed on, and I had to back up. He wasn’t there to get gas, he was there to go into the convenience store, and decided he wanted to back in to the parking space out front. I had to sit and wait while he maneuvered his huge car as if he were trying to steer the Titanic around that iceberg. In the meantime, another car zoomed in from the opposite direction and took the pump I’d originally hoped to get.

Finally I got to a pump. Baby Bear screamed and thrashed in his seat, probably because we were in an unfamiliar place and weren’t moving. I came thisclose to locking the keys in the minivan (thank you, God, for stopping me just before I shut the door).

I inserted my ATM card and played twenty questions with the computer while some very annoying rock music blared from speakers over my head. Then I couldn’t get the pump to work. Twice I pushed the Help button. In a moment of desperation, I pushed the blue handicapped button. No one came out to assist me or even point out to me what I was doing wrong. In disgust I slammed the nozzle back into the pump, which was a very stupid thing to do, because in so doing I smashed the same two fingers I’d bashed earlier while fending off the lunging Bear.

I said a couple of very bad words, and got back into the minivan, where Bear was using the dashboard as a busy box. I pulled forward to the next pump, which had been vacated while I was smashing my fingers.

I inserted my ATM card again, and answered the same old twenty questions--but this time I figured out what I’d done wrong before—there was some silly lever I had to flip up (or maybe it was down) before the fuel would flow. No wonder they wouldn’t come out and help me. I was very frazzled.

As the gas tank filled, our bank account drained. Fifty dollars later, we were on our way. My two fingers were throbbing. The air conditioner blew heat on my feet because Bear had been playing with the knobs. All the way, he rocked back and forth in the seat as if he were playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” with an invisible playmate. It actually affected my ability to accelerate.

I had to get on one Interstate, then from there merge onto another Interstate, all during rush hour, before we finally found Mr. Lucky and the Crown Prince just off the exit ramp.

The Crown Prince, at 6’5”, insisted on folding himself into the very back seat. Bear decided to join him. We drove to the group home to drop off the older boy, during which time Bear got out of his seat and came up front to lay on the horn. As Mr. Lucky strapped him into the back seat using at least two seat belts, Bear started rocking forward again and hit his dad right in the nose.

Ah, if my husband and I had a dollar for every time that kid hit one of us in the nose, or the mouth . . . or smashed our fingers . . . we could buy a full tank of gas for every car and truck on our street.

I asked him if he wanted me to drive back, otherwise he’d have to sit with Bear to make sure he stayed buckled. No way was Mr. Macho doing that, even with a throbbing nose. He insisted on driving, so I crawled into the back with Bear.

To get back to the Interstate, we had to drive a seven mile stretch of highway running parallel to railroad tracks. Every time we passed a railroad crossing, with the red lights and crisscross signs and striped barricades—Bear pulled on me and pointed to it, jabbing his finger in the air until I said, “Railroad crossing.”

There must be a railroad crossing every hundred feet along that stretch, because it seems as if that’s all he did until we got to the Interstate. Who are these people always complaining that railroad crossings aren’t clearly marked? My autistic son sees every darned one of them.

On the way home, something that could only spring from my anxiety-fevered imagination occurred to me: I told my husband how I put my ATM card and PIN number into the first pump but didn't get gas from it. I was worried that someone could pull up immediately afterward and fill up on my card. He said no, that it should time-out and even if it didn’t, the person wouldn’t get more than fifty dollars’ worth.

By that evening, I had two blue fingernails on my left hand, and wondered if I’d have to polish the rest in a similar shade to match. Though they’re still tender, they’re doing better now, as is Mr. Lucky’s nose and his Buick, which went in for repairs the next morning.

A check of the bank account confirmed that no one got free gas off my ATM card. At least it gave me something new to worry about.

Oh, and the number of times I had to get up for Baby Bear related incidents while writing this post? 9

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Family Food Fetishes, Part I

Like her two brothers, our late daughter Fiona was autistic. She loved cheese pizza and potato chips. The pizza had to have started out as a cheese pizza; we could not take a pepperoni pizza and remove the pepperoni, for she always knew. She ate only plain potato chips—no ruffles or ridges, no barbecue or cool ranch.

In her earlier years, she loved fruit loops and applejack cereal. (Oh, heck, so did we.) We bought her the most popular brand name, until the company made two mistakes: They added a new colored loop (blue) to the fruit, and a new colored jack (green) to the apple.

Fiona would not eat either of these cereals after that.

We tried emptying the boxes into large mixing bowls and picking out the offending colors, but she wasn’t fooled. She still wouldn’t eat the cereal. Could we not understand what was so obvious to her? THOSE STRANGE COLORS HAD CONTAMINATED IT!

We searched for lesser known brands that did not have evil blue in the fruit, or detestable green in the apple, but the damage had been done. She would no longer eat these cereals, regardless of brand or absence of unacceptable colors.

For years we assumed this was a feature of her autism, but her younger brother, Baby Bear, loves pepperoni more than any other part of the pizza, will eat any flavor or texture of chip, and any kind of cereal. In that sense, he clearly takes after his father.

When it comes to cereal, I bounce back and forth between raisin bran and grapenuts. Recently, when I ran out of cereal, Mr. Lucky went out to buy some more and came back with two boxes of “trail mix”—grapenuts with all sorts of exotic stuff added to it. It was as if the company took bits out of every type of cereal they made, threw it all together into one box, shook it up and called it “trail mix”--which quite frankly sounds like dog food to me.

I wouldn’t touch it.

Mr. Lucky thought I was crazy and unreasonable and stuck in a rut—as if he didn’t already know all these things about me after twenty years of marriage. “Come on, it’s the same cereal you’ve always eaten,” he said. “And it comes with lots of other stuff you like—cranberries, almonds, vanilla. Plus it was on sale—buy one, get one free.” This is the kind of logic I’ve come to expect from my husband, who’s an honor graduate of the Gracie Allen School of Economics.

I do like cranberries and almonds and vanilla. I also like ketchup and chocolate and fried chicken, but I sure as hell do not want to eat them together, and I certainly don’t want to find them in my grapenuts or raisin bran.

Mr. Lucky gladly ate the trail mix, because he’ll eat any kind of cereal at any time of day—except for grapenuts and raisin bran.

The next day I went out myself to buy cereal I knew I would eat. I had to read the boxes carefully to make sure I got just raisin bran, and not extra crunchy raisin bran, or raisin bran with grapes and nuts, or—heaven forbid, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s out there, and I mean way out there—raisin bran with chocolate flakes, chicken chunks and dried globs of ketchup.

Maybe Fiona’s aversion to blue fruit loops and green applejacks had nothing to do with autism. It could be she simply took after her mother.

Mr. Lucky likes to tease me by saying I’m no fun, that I have no sense of adventure.

That’s not entirely true. Secretly, I really want to eat cocoa puffs for breakfast. And I probably would, if I weren’t afraid he and Baby Bear would devour them as snack food, leaving me with nothing to eat for breakfast . . . except grapenuts and raisin bran.