Thursday, December 30, 2010

Guess Who Destroyed a Smoke Alarm? (Hint: Not Baby Bear, and Not Mr. Lucky)

It was me—yes, Karen!—in another one of those “this could only happen when the husband’s away” moments:

The day after Christmas, Mr. Lucky went up to Georgia to see his parents, taking with him the Crown Prince and Bart the chocolate beagle. I’d had trouble sleeping the previous night, and so was not at my best—whatever that is, since I’m not sure I’ve ever been there. Part of the problem was two boys who don’t seem to need as much sleep as I do—both the Crown Prince and Baby Bear were up very early Sunday morning, and I simply cannot sleep when the younger boy is awake. Terrible things are more likely to happen if I do. Mr. Lucky attributed our sons’ wakefulness and energy to the excitement of Christmas.

After they went to Georgia, I was really hoping to get a better night’s sleep. But alas . . .

At approximately 2:30 am, I was awakened by the regular chirping of the smoke alarm. It chirped about every minute or so, calling for a new battery.

Why? Why, oh why did it have to start doing this at 2:30 in the morning? Why did it have to do this when I had very little sleep the previous night? And why did it have to be on a night when Mr. Lucky was away?

At first, I thought I could ignore it and go back to sleep, but that wasn’t happening. As I stumbled out of our bedroom, which is just off the family room, I could hear the chirping right over my head, where there was one of the many smoke alarms scattered throughout our house.

We have ten foot ceilings, and I was in no mood to go out to the garage and drag in the stepladder. I grabbed a broom and a chair from the dining table, and poked at the smoke alarm till it fell open to reveal the battery.

I tore out the battery. Still the alarm chirped. I said some very, very bad words and began beating the smoke alarm till the casing broke off, revealing all the tiny little bits and wires and doodads inside.

And still it chirped.

More banging and stabbing with the broomstick ensued, till something snapped and sparked, and the other half of the smoke alarm clattered to the floor, leaving only wires dangling out of a hole in the ceiling. YET IT WAS STILL CHIRPING!

How to shut it up? I didn’t know where Mr. Lucky was keeping the hammer this week, and I was in no mood to ransack the house looking for it.

I thought of grabbing the shovel and digging a hole in the backyard to bury the alarm, but it was too cold and dark outside. So I did the next best thing—I rushed it out to the garage and shoved it under a pile of stuff, hoping that would stifle the persistent chirping.

Yet when I returned to the family room, I could still hear loud chirping from the ceiling.

So I started yanking at the wires that dangled from the hole, till there was nothing left to yank. After the snap and spark, I dared not go further. But it wouldn’t stop chirping.

I was furious and frustrated. I went back to bed and drove myself insane wondering how I could muffle that infernal chirping until Mr. Lucky came home . . . in another three days.

Where’s the duct tape? Suppose I took that whole bag of cotton balls beneath the bathroom sink, and taped it over the hole? And suppose I added the complete Sunday edition of the St. Pete Times, would that be enough?

These were the crazed, deranged thoughts racing through my mind as I struggled in vain to go back to sleep. I was at least thankful that Bart was in Georgia. That particular dog would’ve gone nuts from the chirping. Only Jasper has the good sense to go into hiding and stay there.

It didn’t help my mood when Mr. Lucky’s alarm clock went off at 7:30 am. My own alarm clock is so easy to turn on and off—it has a huge snooze button I can pound with my fist—but Mr. Lucky’s clock is all tiny identical buttons set into the casing, and you have to hope you hit the right one with either your fingernail or a very pointy stylus sold separately.

That’s why whenever his alarm clock goes off and he’s not here, I just rip the cord out of the socket.

To continue with the smoke alarm that wouldn’t die, it wasn’t till after I’d had at least one cup of coffee that I realized the chirping came not from that ugly hole I’d left in the ceiling outside our bedroom, but from the smoke alarm in the opposite corner of the family room . . . outside Mr. Lucky’s man-cave.

I’d attacked the wrong smoke alarm.

Well? It was the middle of the night! I was tired! I was ticked! And I swear the chirping had been coming from the smoke alarm outside our bedroom!

I wasn’t even sure we had any 9-volt batteries in the house. There were none in the cupboard where I kept all the other batteries (mostly AA’s for Baby Bear’s toys), so I rummaged through the “junk drawer” in the kitchen. Whenever he deigns to put anything away, no matter what it is, Mr. Lucky always crams it into that drawer.

But it was there that I unearthed an unopened package of 9-volt batteries. They’d probably been there since we moved in, and with my rotten luck, they were no longer any good.

Yet when I switched one out with the old battery in the smoke alarm, the chirping finally ceased.

When Mr. Lucky came home, he was appalled by what I’d done to the other smoke alarm. “I can’t believe you totally destroyed it,” he said.

“You had to be here,” was all I could say. “Under the circumstances, I really think you would’ve done the same. I’ve seen how you are whenever you use the broiler and the one in the kitchen goes off.”

“But I’ve never torn the whole thing off the ceiling and smashed it to smithereens!” he exclaimed. “You’re dangerous, Karen.”

I don’t know if he’s ever given me a finer compliment.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Fiona's Christmas Wish List

Today is Fiona’s birthday, and she would’ve been twenty-one.

Earlier this month, I attended the meeting of
Bereaved Parents, a support group for those who have lost a child. We were asked to share a special Christmas memory concerning our departed offspring. What sprang instantly to my mind was not any particular Christmas holiday out of the ten we had with Fiona, but of the Christmas list she made up shortly before she passed away a decade ago.

I still have that handwritten list, carefully preserved. What’s unique about it is that she didn’t just list stuff for herself—she decided what everyone in the family would want that Christmas. Still, she claimed the lion’s share of wishes.

What Fiona wanted:

Sailor Moon “S” The Movie
Pokemon the Movie 2000

The Simpsons’ Wrestling (Playstation game)
Mr. Driller (also a Playstation game)
Putt-Putt Enters the Race (computer game)
PaRappa the Rapper (Playstation game to replace the one that was too scratched up to work anymore)
Lammy Tee (Lammy was a friend of PaRapper and she had a T-shirt)
PaRappa Ski Cap (He always wore a ski cap. Now you could, too!)

She wrote “Rugrats” but crossed it out. Not on the list but also requested was a video game called Threads of Fate (she’d been playing the promotional demo and wrote the game’s name on the calendar in the kitchen), and a complete set of Sailor Moon Dolls. She saw those advertised on a TV commercial and called me to come and see. “Mom! Mom! Look!” she said.

I came, I saw, I noted. Her father bought the complete set on October 14th of that year, and we put them in our closet to wait until Christmas, but alas—she passed away the next day, October 15th. All of the Sailor Moon dolls are with her now. Mr. Lucky said, “They’ll be our final gift to her.”

That was what Fiona wanted for that Christmas. Somehow she managed to find room on that single sheet of paper for the rest of us.

For her older brother, she wanted him to have a “Crash Bandicoot Color Block Long Sleeve Crew.” Obviously she copied the words out of a catalog. I think it was supposed to be a sweatshirt.

For her dad, she wanted him to have a Playstation game called Duke Nukem: Planet of the Babes. (I don’t think so, Bunny Buttons.)

She wasn’t as specific about what I should get for Christmas, or maybe she was starting to run out of space, but she knew Santa Claus could never go wrong with “Book’s”
(sic) for Mom.

When she showed me the list, I told her that she forgot her baby brother. Even if he was her archnemesis, wouldn’t she like to put something down for him?

Fiona promptly amended her list. She wrote down the name of her younger brother, and next to it added the word, “Bear”.

He got a stuffed Teddy Bear that Christmas.

That’s how the Baby of the family came to be known as our Bear . . . by the final Christmas wish of our Bunny.

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Christmas Tree Up!"

. . . as our firstborn would say.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

When My Husband Cooks, I Always Realize Smoke Gets in My Eyes

A long time ago, in another house we lived in far, far away, I clipped a Family Circus cartoon from the newspaper and stuck it on the refrigerator. It had one of the boys, probably Billy, commenting that the smoke alarm in the house always went off only when Daddy cooked.

It was one of those “it’s funny because it’s true” things. That clipping disappeared in the next move, but it remains with us in spirit, since it continues to happen in fact.

For every time Mr. Lucky uses the broiler—which is several times a week—the smoke alarm goes off in a loud, piercing shriek.

Every. Single. Time.

Once he turns on that broiler, he also runs the fan over the stove full blast. I’ll open the sliding glass door leading to the patio. Mr. Lucky even waves the removable lid from Baby Bear’s toy box at the smoke alarm, which is on the ceiling in a hallway just off the kitchen. And still it goes off.

He always has to jab a broomstick at the smoke alarm to shut it up. Sometimes it’s like watching a kid trying to whack a piƱata. It’ll break open and the battery will bungee out, dangling by its wires, yet the alarm continues to screech. This is usually followed by his standard rant about the hypersensitivity of the alarm (at least we know it works), that segues into a litany of everything he did to prevent it from going off, and then he wraps up with the same old empty threats (not that I can describe his threats any other way) to just remove the alarm altogether.

Meanwhile, the beagles go ballistic. Jasper flees outside, partly to escape the alarm and partly to avoid Mr. Lucky’s yelling, while Bart shakes as if he just swallowed a full bottle of
Acme Earthquake Pills. Once dinner is served, he takes refuge beneath the dining room table, where he treats my feet to a massage with his vibrating torso.

The smoke alarm never goes off when I use the oven. Then again, I don’t use the broiler.

Yet I’ve noticed recently that even when I turn on the oven just to bake something, the dogs go into panic mode. Jasper dashes to the back door and does his gotta-go-now-before-I-explode dance, while a whimpering Bart trots around the house all atremble. They hate the sound of the fan over the stove. They know it’s a harbinger. They just haven’t figured out yet that they only need fear it when their master takes over the kitchen.

Oddly enough, Baby Bear isn’t bothered by it. In fact, he doesn’t even seem to notice when it goes off, possibly because it fits so smoothly with his regular program of routine chaos as to be nothing out of the ordinary to him.

Now that I think about it, I hardly blink myself when it goes off. I just wonder if it’s for the same reason, and if I should be worried about that.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Rant About Gift Wrap

I like to use as many different kinds of gift wrap as possible each Christmas—the more varied, the better. I love wrapping paper covered with candy canes, poinsettias, holly, snowmen and snowflakes, teddy bears, gingerbread men, Santa Claus in numerous poses, and of course Disney characters.

But when it comes to gift wrap, I do not like solid colors, plaids, or stripes (except on my candy canes). I find them boring, unimaginative, and not the least bit festive. I don’t like seeing any of them on bed sheets, either.

Which brings us to those multi-packs of Christmas gift wrap you can buy, usually three or four rolls to a package. They’re a great, economical way to get a variety of designs, except for one teensy little problem: It seems as if every multi-pack out there includes one roll of either solid-colored, striped, or plaid wrapping paper. If I buy these convenient packs, then I’m going to be stuck with unexciting solids, silly stripes, and plaid. Ordinarily I like plaid, but not on my gift wrap—or the bed sheets—unless there’s a sexy Scotsman underneath.

I can’t shake the feeling that each pack includes a solid, stripe or plaid because the gift wrap manufacturers can’t get rid of them any other way. But then why would they make them—unless there’s a very powerful lobby out there dedicated to Saving Our Solid, Striped, and Plaid Christmas Gift Wrap?

I won’t use them. In fact, unless the other rolls in the package have designs that totally blow me away, I’ll just not buy them at all and pay a little extra for individual rolls that allow me to choose exactly what I want, instead of having S, S, and P forced on me through some Spread the Monotony scheme.

In that spirit, I try not to use the same gift wrap design more than once for each person whose gift I wrap. I only wish I could get Mr. Lucky to do the same without having to beat him over the head with that old Claxton fruitcake I pull out of storage along with the ornaments and lights every year. Each Yuletide, he waits until five minutes before midnight on Christmas Eve to wrap my presents. I give him every single roll of wrapping paper in the house, a dozen or more different designs (save any S, S, or P), and I exhort him not to use the same design twice. His usual response is to roll his eyes, but he also knows I must be humored.

Yes, yes, I know that what’s inside the gift wrap is more important than the wrap itself. But I like the variety, the dearth of sameness, the wild explosion of many colors and patterns beneath the tree, a kaleidoscopic chaos with the promise of never knowing what’s next but it’s certain to be a feast for the senses.

In other words, it’s what I know.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

When Bears Attack Furniture

Simply hideous:

No, Baby Bear did not do this by chewing on it, or otherwise ripping it apart with his bare paws. This damage was caused by his constant rocking, one of autism’s many self-stimulatory behaviors.

With the prolonged rocking came heavy sweating, which is why I am so not into leather. He’d sit in the middle of this love seat in our family room and endlessly rock back and forth—think of a single player “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” The kid must have abs that Harry Houdini might never have died for. But as he got older and bigger and stronger, the rocking became more rollicking, sometimes lifting the furniture off its stubby feet and sending the back of his head into the drywall.

I suppose if we pulled the leather over the back of the sofa, we could tack it back into place, but only if we use steel rivets like the kind they use to construct battleships.

There used to be a matching sofa. He did the same thing to the family room sofa (as well as the one in the living room, pictured below with Bear in Rare Repose), until the springs sprang and the wooden framework splintered.

When we had all three children, we had a curved sectional sofa that served very well and we loved it (despite the pile of toys and junk that accumulated in the space behind the curve), but that was over ten years ago and we’re not sure a new one would be “rocking proof.”

I have told Mr. Lucky that we are fated to be a house of armchairs, and that’s just the way it is. He frets over how weird it looks to not have a sofa in either the living room or family room. But who’s going to know and be offended—the Sofa Police? We only have one child living at home now. We don’t entertain, and we have to be practical.

Oh, and as if Baby Bear hasn’t committed enough atrocities lately—this morning I went into his room to find he’d ripped the tag off his new Toy Story 3 comforter.

If anyone from Homeland Security is reading this, then we’re doomed—unless the Sofa Police get here first. But if they want something to haul away in the dead of night, they’re welcome to take the loveseat.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Giving Thanks for Bigger Pies

Someone out there listens to me. And it’s dear old Mrs. Smith of frozen pie fame, who’s gone back to bigger pies. I’m so happy I’ll forgive her for not labeling the new package with the words, “Bigger size back by Karen Lingefelt’s demand. She spoke and we heard. Now maybe she’ll shut up.”

Two years ago I ranted
here about how her pies were shrinking into something closer to tarts, and that simply would not do for this family of pumpkin pie connoisseurs. To be fair, she wasn’t the only manufacturer jumping on the let’s-make-the-product-smaller-for-the-same-price-and-maybe-consumers-won’t-notice bandwagon, but we notice what’s important to us, and at Schloss Lingefelt, that’s pie.

But as much as I appreciate the intentions of Mesdames Smith, Crocker, Callendar, Butterworth, et al to keep us from overindulging and overspending, and while Goodman and Goodwife Lingefelt are certainly grateful for what they do have, the fact remains that on the last Thursday of every November, like their pilgrim forebears they prefer to give thanks for all the bounty, not the rations.

We give thanks for the prosperity and exceptionalism of America—and really, what says “prosperous” and “exceptional” and “American” more deliciously than a large, thick pie topped with towering dollops of whipped cream?

Thank you for bigger pies.

Friday, November 12, 2010

P.O.'d at the P.O.

Last December we received what appeared to be a Christmas card. The house number and town matched ours, but the addressee’s name and street were completely different. For all we knew, it might have included family photos, baby pictures for someone’s grandparents, or a check from a generous friend or relative to make the addressee’s holiday a little merrier. We took it back to the Post Office, only to have it show up in our mailbox again the very next day. Fortunately, Mr. Lucky knew where the street was, and because he’s such a nice guy, he ended up delivering it to the folks in person.

The following March, I found in my mailbox several post cards from the Census Bureau, all reminding me to fill out my Census form and mail it back by April 1st. Only one of the cards was correctly addressed to me. The others were for residences scattered to the four corners of the town. I trust THEY remembered to fill out their Census forms, even without the reminder.

Then last week it happened again—we received a regular business sized envelope so thick, that the sender (whose return address was a P.O. Box) had to stand in line at the post office to pay for the extra postage. I don’t know why she didn’t just slap on an extra stamp.

Notwithstanding, whatever it was, it was addressed to my house number, my street, my town, state and ZIP code—but the addressee was not the name of anyone who lives here. Neither the first nor last name was even close to that of anyone who lives around here.

I looked for both the sender and addressee in the White Pages, but neither was listed.

The sender went to a lot of trouble to pay for extra postage on this thick, stiff envelope. There may have been photos enclosed. It was certainly important to the parties concerned. So I took it to the Post Office.

I waited in line. And waited and waited. I don’t know why they have three windows, when only two are ever open. Finally it was my turn—and I made a point of informing the clerk that while that was my address on the envelope, I was not that person, nor did any person by that name live at my address. Could he please return it to the sender?

He made some weird mark on it and declared he would take care of it. I thanked him and went on my way.

The next day it was back in our mailbox. That weird mark looked something like “ANK”—not “UNK” which might have made more sense to me. No one had bothered to pull out the “Return to Sender” stamp with that rude pointy finger. Hadn’t that clerk heard of Elvis?

Back to the Post Office I went, contemplating how to confront the clerk about this without—well, going postal. When I arrived, the same two clerks manned the same two windows, while the same third window remained closed. But the same old long line snaked all the way back to the door—each person with a stack of boxes probably going overseas, and of course no one will fill out a customs form while waiting, because they're hoping the clerk will forget to tell them they must have one. Alas, he may forget to use a "Return to Sender" stamp, but he never forgets to make YOU step aside and fill out a form.

Did I really want to stand in line for half an hour just to ask the clerk to please, for the love of God and Country, stamp RETURN TO SENDER on this bad penny of an envelope, only to have it boomerang back to my mailbox? No, I did not. Could I trust him to do his job this time? No, I could not. Would he even want to see me again, especially when I was in a foul mood? (All right, a fouler mood than usual.) Unless he was doing this to make me come back so he could get my phone number and ask me on a date, I think not. Besides, I'm already married.

So I went over to the table, pulled a pen out of my purse, and wrote RETURN TO SENDER, ADDRESSEE NOT AT THIS ADDRESS!!! in huge black letters, complete with those exclamation marks (though there should also be a double underline under NOT). Tempting as it was, I resisted the urge to add epithets and a raving manifesto on why the Post Office was losing money. There was only so much available space on the envelope anyway.

I slipped it into the mail slot just like I do with the bills, pulled the slot open again to make sure the letter dropped down like I always do (I felt validated when I saw Meg Ryan’s character doing the same O/C thing in When Harry Met Sally . . .), and for the second time that week, I went on my way—but didn’t thank anyone.

It’s been over a week now, and I haven’t seen that letter since. I hope—nay, trust—it went where it’s supposed to go.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Boo, Humbug! I Am a Halloween Scrooge

We didn’t do Halloween this year. The Crown Prince wanted to come and hand out treats as always, but his group home, as well as his school, are nearly thirty miles away. It would’ve been too late to drive him back to the home afterward. In the morning I would’ve had to wait until Baby Bear was on the bus to take the Crown Prince to school/group home and yada yada yada the whole thing was just a logistical mess, especially since Mr. Lucky had to work Halloween night.

While I’m no fan of Halloween to begin with—maybe because I do enough dressing like a freak and scaring people and yelling for candy the other 364 days of the year—I still felt bad about all of this. The Crown Prince talked non-stop for months of coming to our house on “Sunday, October 31, 2010” (he knows which day of the week for every holiday each year), and wearing what he calls his “pumpkin shirt” (orange T-shirt with a jack o’lantern face on it) for the occasion. The group home even called on Friday afternoon wanting to know what time we were picking him up. He’d decided. But I had to overrule him, and got utterly no pleasure out of it.

After 6 pm Halloween night, I closed the living room blinds and curtains, and made sure all the outdoor lights were off. We didn’t have any jack o’lanterns or Halloween decorations of any kind; just a generic fall wreath made up of autumn leaves hanging on the front door (after Thanksgiving I’ll switch it out for the Christmas wreath).

Baby Bear and I repaired to the family room toward the back of the house to play Crash Bandicoot on the Sony Playstation.

Despite all my humbug precautions, there were still two separate incidents of trick-or-treaters at the door, sending the dogs into a frenzy of barking. The second group of trick-or-treaters was a little more persistent than the first—they rang and knocked and rang again. The house was dark but dogs were barking at the window, so surely there had to be humans with candy.

Are there new rules out there I didn’t hear about? Kiddies, you don’t go to homes with no lights. I remember years ago when we took our two older children trick-or-treating on MacDill Air Force Base, at one house the doofus resident kept opening the door to tell trick-or-treaters that he had no candy. He’d close the door, then another swarm of kids would come up to knock, and he’d open the door again to tell them there was no candy here, rinse and repeat.

Yet his porch light was on. All he had to do was turn it off and he could go back to his beer and Cheetos in peace. The rules in military housing are quite clear about that, and I could’ve sworn similar guidelines were in place in the civilian community.

I simply didn’t answer the door. There was no point when I had nothing to give, and the overexcited dogs might have escaped to wreak more havoc on the children, and besides, I do it with solicitors all the time. I love that peephole that lets me see not only who’s ringing my doorbell, but what they have clutched in their hands. And it’s never balloons and a video camera and an oversized check with my name on it.

The Crown Prince will definitely be coming over for Thanksgiving (I count on him to rattle off the complete menu for me and to harangue his father about putting up the Christmas tree the very next day).

But the creepiest thing of all about our non-Halloween Halloween? Mr. Lucky has yet to bring home bags and bags and bags of half-price candy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Another "I Feel Like the World's Worst Mother" Moment

I was sitting in the softly lit family room last night with the TV on, when Baby Bear burst out of his bedroom—he never just comes out of there; he always shoots out as if he’s been catapulted or fired from a cannon.

He bounded into the family room and threw himself onto the love seat—because he never just enters a room or sits on the furniture, either. Every move that kid makes is as if he has turbo power.

After all these years, I’m accustomed to the bursting and catapulting and bounding and throwing, so I didn’t even glance his way as he commenced rocking back and forth on the love seat.

It probably wasn’t more than a few minutes before I finally deigned to look at him, but in retrospect, I can’t help feeling it was a few minutes too long, and I really should’ve looked at him as soon as he appeared.

He had a nosebleed, and as is usually the case when these things happen, he was—well, a bloody mess.

But what is also usually the case is that in the past, whether he’s covered in
blood or mud or something guaranteed to make me jump out of my seat with a scream, he’ll come and stand before me or, if I’m seated at the computer, quietly stand behind me until I turn to look at him.

For his own part, he never makes a sound; he just has to show himself to me. But last night, he apparently didn’t seem concerned enough to strike his familiar but dreaded, “Hey Mom, look at what a mess I am!” pose.

I found bloodstains in his bedroom, so he was like this when he barreled into the family room. I really should have noticed.

By the time I cleaned him up, the bleeding seemed to have subsided. Afterward, he still insisted on rocking back and forth, which I feared would cause the bleeding to resume, but it didn’t. An hour later his meds finally kicked in and he fell asleep, but I continued to check that nose.

He is fine.

These things upset me more than they do him; in fact, he never seems upset. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a boy or if I should be worried about that, but just to be on the safe side, I am.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fiona, Ten Years Later

Dear Fiona:

It’s now been ten years since you left us—almost the same length of time you were with us. We still miss you, and not a single day goes by that my brain doesn’t hit the replay button on those final moments.

I can talk to people about you and what happened to you, and remain stoic and dry-eyed. But then I go to Wal-Mart, where we happen to casually pass through the ladies’ lingerie department. I see a rack of bras and panties adorned with Disney characters, and just like that I turn into a watering pot because I wish I could buy them for you.

This actually happened a few months ago—and this wasn’t little girls’ underwear, either—these were bras and panties for grown females with bosoms. I froze in my tracks to stare at them, and told your dad, “Fiona would love these. You know she’d love to wear them. And if she were still here, she could wear them, and they would fit,” because you’d be twenty years old now. The waterworks started gushing right there in the middle of Wal-Mart, and your dad had to drag me away. Perhaps it affected him, too, but he wouldn’t admit it.

For a fleeting time frame of only three short years, I had all three of my children and our family was complete. Those were the days when we went bowling as a family every Sunday afternoon. Baby Bear sat in his stroller while the rest of us bowled, and you got a kick out of lofting balls like Mr. Burns. Afterwards we always went to CiCi’s for pizza.

I’ve told your older brother that whenever we hear thunder, that’s you bowling up in heaven. “What’s that sound?” I ask him whenever thunder rolls, and he always replies, “Fiona’s bowling.” He still talks about your last day, of the paramedics who came to the house that morning, and of going to see you in the hospital afterward, but he seems to understand you’re now an angel in heaven.

When you were still here, every morning when I got up, I always went first into your room, because your school bus came earlier than your brother’s, and after you got sick, you had medical needs that had to be taken care of first thing. The day after you died, a Monday morning, I got out of bed and went straight to your pink bedroom without a second thought. It was purely out of habit, a reflex. But you weren’t there. The four-poster bed, with its canopy and comforter all covered with cheerful little hearts, was empty.

I still have your comforter, put away where the blanket-loving Bear can’t get to it. Those hundreds of little hearts are still whole, but my own heart is missing a piece.

At least I know where it is.

We love you, Bunny Buttons!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Baby Bear Gets Down and Dirty

Last weekend we had the Crown Prince over because it was his birthday. (He’s now 22, Mr. Lucky’s age when he married me.) On Sunday evening we all piled into the car to take him back to the group home where he resides with other mentally disabled adult males.

Once there, Baby Bear refused to leave.

For a while we let him sit in the wooden lawn swing on the front porch of the house. Yet when we told him it was time to get up and go home, he made his usual squeal (that’s the best word to describe the sound) of protest and continued rocking in the swing.

We mentioned McDonald’s to him. He usually loves McDonald’s. Not this time. He wanted to stay where he was.

I started rummaging among all the McTrash in the car to show him something that might lure him back. I found an empty Dunkin’ Donuts box and waved it. “How about donuts?” I asked him. He never turns down the opportunity to go for donuts.

Until now.

Mr. Lucky finally attempted to physically remove Bear from the swing. I tried to hold the swing steady, thinking that would make it easier, but Mr. Lucky informed me in no uncertain terms that I was not helping, and to back off. And stay backed off.

I got in the car and started it up. Meanwhile, somewhere between the porch swing and the car, Mr. Lucky and Bear wrestled each other to the ground, which was all dirt. Very fine powdery dirt. Bear was already sweaty from his constant movements, and within seconds he was covered with grime.

Mr. Lucky was on his feet, trying with all his strength to get our son off the ground, but the boy was having none of it. He rolled away from his father, picking up more dirt.

At one point I was afraid he’d roll under the car and stay there, and then we’d never get him out. I turned off the ignition, because he was already too near the exhaust pipe.

And all the while Mr. Lucky was wrestling with him, Bear was yelling something that sounded like, “Nay nay nay nay nay!”

It was decidedly negative. He knows the word no, and he hates hearing it. But he’s never actually said it. He doesn’t talk. Yet I once heard or read somewhere that non-verbal autistic children, when under extreme duress, will suddenly burst out an exclamation in clear, concise Queen’s English to the amazement of all concerned. Was this going to be one of those moments? Would Bear suddenly go a la Charlton Heston in Planet of the Apes and yell at his father to get his filthy hands off him?

Alas, no. I was to hear nothing but the endless staccato of nay-nay-nay-nay-nay, until Bear scrambled to his men’s size 13 feet and fled back into the group home.

Mr. Lucky instructed me to move the car so as to line up the rear passenger door with the sidewalk leading out of the front door. He followed Bear into the house, and managed to distract him with the aquarium they have in the foyer. We’d love to have our own aquarium, but—well, need I explain why that’s not a very good idea?

Somehow Mr. Lucky got the boy distracted enough by the pretty fishies that he was able to quickly propel him out the door and into the back seat of the car.

This whole fiasco took about an hour. Bear was filthy. Mr. Lucky was in a lot of pain from wrestling with him, and remains astonished at the kid’s Incredible Hulk-like strength.

The Crown Prince, meanwhile, had a very Happy Birthday.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Baby Bear Finally Notices the Dogs' Water

Over a year ago, we bought our dogs a new water cooler similar to the old one (pictured below), after it sprang a leak that surreptitiously soaked the carpet in the linen closet. Phyllis rightly marveled at the fact that Aquaboy, aka Baby Bear, had never bothered with it.

She must’ve forgotten to knock on wood when she left that comment, because this afternoon he finally noticed it.

I was sitting at my computer when I heard the splattering sound, whereupon I leaped to my feet, yelled his name and demanded to know what he was doing (like he’s going to respond and confess, but hope springs eternal). I entered the kitchen just in time to see him place the water cooler on the counter, and don that nonchalant “who-knows-what-she’s-yelling-about-now” demeanor that he inherited from his father.

Apparently he picked it up from the floor, tipped it upside-down, and bombs away.

At least he dumped it on the kitchen floor instead of choosing a carpeted area. That’s progress enough for me.

But heaven help us if he ever figures out how to disassemble it while full. Knock on wood.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Another Week Without My Laptop

My laptop acquired a virus from somewhere. Mr. Lucky tried to remove it without success, and suggested that it might have been (though he also acknowledged it might not have been) prevented had I installed Windows updates.

Every night when I shut the computer down, Windows has updates to install. He said those were different updates, and pointed out a little yellow shield in the lower right corner of the screen. Whenever it shows up, I’m supposed to click on it to install updates. But I hadn’t been doing that, because whenever I shut the computer down each night—

“That doesn’t matter,” he said for tenth time. I still needed to click on that yellow badge.

So the laptop spent nearly a week in the shop being nuked by geeks geekier than my husband. I had no Internet. No contact with the outside world. I tried watching the news channels on TV, but it’s hard to just sit there and try to absorb all that stuff. I can do an hour of the evening news and that’s it. I don’t watch a lot of TV, anyway—it stays off during the day, as I would rather listen to music.

We eventually got the laptop back, but it was still glitchy, so Mr. Lucky decided to install a new hard drive. Last time he did that on a computer of which I was a frequent user (before Baby Bear was born), I lost all the Word documents of all the books I’d written prior to that time, and to this day I only have hard copies of them.

This time, I had everything backed up on the flash drive. Even True Pretenses is still on there.

He spent a whole day working on my computer, even though he had a cold and hadn’t been sleeping well, and I’m now back in business. I felt guilty about the expense, but then I feel guilty about any expense, while he keeps telling me not to worry about it.

I told him he’s a prince, and that I would put in a good word for him. I might even bake him a cake, which must be done this weekend anyway, because one of my other princes, our firstborn Crown Prince, has a birthday on Sunday.

I nearly lost my mind not having a computer for a whole week. No, I take that back—I did lose my mind.

I actually did some housework for a change.

Friday, September 17, 2010

See Baby Bear. See Baby Bear Run. Then See Karen Turn Into a Basket Case.

As our family unit trooped out the front door the other day, Baby Bear did something he hasn’t done in a very long time: He took off running.

Usually he goes straight to the car—actually, for reasons known only to him, he always goes around the back of the car to the other side—and then he gets in the back seat. But on this day, as he walked behind the car, something caught his attention, and he suddenly broke into a run down the street.

Mr. Lucky had just gone back into the house because he forgot something—he always forgets something, either his keys, or his wallet, or his cell phone, or his pants—occasionally the first three items will be in the pockets of the pants, but it’s never the pair he’s wearing. Sometimes I think he forgets his brain, which I suspect he keeps in a jar when not in use, but then he can’t find the jar. Since he even gets lost in the house while looking for stuff, I knew it was up to me to chase down the boy.

Our not-so-baby-anymore Bear is thirteen years old, and seventy-five inches tall. I’m—well, I’m a lot older than thirteen, and seventy-one inches tall. He was wearing athletic shoes. I was wearing sandals. Advantage: Bear.

I yelled his name as he ran down the street in a straight line. He has no sense of danger, and I feared he wouldn’t dodge out of the way of any oncoming vehicle. He thinks it’s fun to crash into me, so why not a Mack truck?

Indeed, there was a truck parked on the street, engine roaring, door wide open. It was a large truck, belonging to a lawn maintenance company that was fertilizing someone’s lawn. This meant loud machinery, hazardous chemicals, big hoses snaking everywhere, and people wielding tools that could easily double as weapons. Baby Bear was dashing headlong into a danger zone.

He rushed straight to the open door of the truck. Oh no, I thought, not again. He’s done this before—he sees a strange vehicle with a wide open door, he dives right in, and refuses to budge until we can get a hostage negotiator with a megaphone to promise him donuts, if only he’ll stop reprogramming the radio stations and redirecting the air vents, and come out.

There was no way I could catch up to him before he reached the truck and leaped into it. I only had to get him out of there before he put it into drive and took it for a joyride, careening down the street, knocking down garbage cans and mailboxes, and dragging behind him whoever was on the other end of the hose attached to that tank in the back end of the truck.

Oh yes, I had the whole ghastly picture in my head already--drawn, painted, signed, and framed, ready to hang on the wall and be admired and contemplated by wine-bibbing aficionados of art and connoisseurs of chaos. Why wait, when I can panic now?

I yelled his name again as he reached the open door and . . . He slammed it shut.

Then he did an about face and calmly walked toward me, oblivious to the workers and their noisy equipment. His own work was done.

The workers only smiled and waved at me, good sports all. Clearly they knew kids like mine.

Baby Bear went back to our car and got in, ready to go.

No hostage negotiations were necessary this time. But he still wanted his donuts.

He got them.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Does My Dog Hate Vivaldi?

Baby Bear has a Yamaha keyboard that plays a wide variety of popular melodies across the music spectrum, from children’s favorites to classical. He seems to have a decided preference for classical music, and has favorite pieces that he’ll make the keyboard repeat over and over until I’m hearing them even when the keyboard is off and he’s asleep. Once it was Beethoven’s Turkish March that was Flavor of the Week. The other day it was Antonio Vivaldi’s “La Primavera” from The Four Seasons suite.

That first allegro evokes images of dancing and skipping through fields of wildflowers, chasing butterflies and rejoicing in the return of spring. It’s bright and happy. Who could possibly object to this masterpiece of baroque?

Our chocolate beagle, Bart, that’s who. Each time Baby Bear activated that first allegro, Bart started whimpering, then baying and howling. This upset our Bear, who communicated his displeasure and desires in his own inimitable fashion by grabbing me, gesturing to the dog, and then gesturing to the door. Translated, “Mom, put that dog outside so I can enjoy Vivaldi in peace.”

Bart was only too happy to go outside. But this got me to thinking: Does he really hate that particular tune? Is there something in it he can hear that no human can, something annoying? Yet the other beagle, Jasper, didn’t seem to be bothered by it.

So after Baby Bear went to school, I thought I’d conduct an experiment. We have Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons on CD, as played by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with Seiji Ozawa as conductor and Joseph Silverstein on the violin. It was part of Mr. Lucky’s vast CD collection when we got married way back in 1987. According to the text in the CD insert, Vivaldi also wrote a series of sonnets describing in words what he thought or saw in composing this quartet of famous concertos.

The Spring sonnet includes a reference to a sleeping goatherd’s faithful dog at his side. The second movement of “La Primavera” has repeated notes from the viola that according to the composer, were supposed to represent a barking dog. (At least we’re assured that someone was keeping an eye on those goats.) But it wasn’t this second movement, called a Largo, that upset Bart. It was the first Allegro that disagreed with him.

I played the entire suite on the stereo three times in a row to see what happened with Bart.

First Play: Bart didn’t make a sound. He did, however, head for the back door and wag his tail. Jasper did likewise. Of course, he tends to look up to Bart, but will quickly disavow him and go into hiding anytime he suspects they’re both in trouble. I let them outside, and they came back in during the Autumn movement.

Second Play: Bart was lounging under the coffee table when the dreaded first movement of Spring kicked off. I got up from my chair. He also got up, and wanted to go back outside. He didn’t make a sound. Out he went, and again I let him back in around the autumnal equinox. Jasper slept through it.

Third Play: Upon the return of Spring, Bart was back under the coffee table. This time I remained seated and turned to look at him. He looked back at me. I got up. He didn’t move. Clearly he was bored with my silly experiment.

Could it be he simply found the keyboard rendition annoying? There was only one way to find out. I turned on Baby Bear’s keyboard, found “La Primavera”, and played it.

No reaction from Bart.

I even tried starting it over and over, letting it play for no more than a dozen notes or so each time, just like Bear does. Maybe that was what annoyed Bart. It certainly annoys me.

Still no reaction from Bart. In fact, he was practically snoring under the coffee table.

It’s quite possible he’s desensitized to it by now.

Otherwise, the results of my experiment: Inconclusive. But I did learn a few interesting things about Vivaldi and The Four Seasons that I hadn’t considered before.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Like Father, Like Son

Mr. Lucky likes to watch Netflix movies on his computer, whereas I prefer to watch them on the TV in the family room. I sometimes watch Netflix while he works in the evening. Thanks to its “Recently Viewed” feature that allows us to check up on each other, several days later he’ll remark, “I see you watched (insert movie title here). How’d it look?”

“It looked fine,” I usually say, but what’s fine to me may not be acceptable to him. For as long as we’ve been married, he’s waxed obsessive over widescreen ratios and more recently, high definition. Unless it’s so extremely letterboxed as to resemble the view through Gort’s visor, and so high in definition that it’s 3-D without the kooky glasses, it is unacceptable to him.

So you’d think he’d be more particular than I am about what movies to watch. Not so. Judging from the Netflix viewing history, not only will that man watch just about anything, but I wonder where he finds the time to watch it all.

“Most of those movies I don’t watch all the way through,” he explains. “I only watch them long enough just to see how they look.”

Enter the Bear.

One Saturday while I was at a
TARA meeting, Mr. Lucky introduced Baby Bear to the Netflix streaming disc that works off the PS3. He may as well have opened an institutional sized can of Extra Fancy Gourmet Worms in Heavy Syrup.

In terms of quantity, that boy has a viewing history to match his father’s. It’s mostly from the family/children category, but he has a few movies favored for an excess of stuff boys love. He goes nuts over the first third of The Fugitive (as did his older brother before him, who calls the movie, “Bus Train”). In addition to the bus and the train, there are police cars, ambulances, fire trucks, helicopters, and sirens galore. And let’s not forget the thousands and thousands of gallons of lovely water gushing in torrents over a dam, with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones running and yelling and slipping and splashing through ankle deep water while threatening to shoot somebody—
just like Mom and Dad once did!

I’ve also seen him play the first few minutes of Die Hard over and over, just to watch the landing of the jet airliner.

One day recently, while I was in my office, Mr. Lucky set up the Netflix in the PS3 to play the movie Up on the TV. Shortly afterward, I heard a ruckus between him and Baby Bear, and I went out to investigate.

“He wants the Playstation controller and the remote, but I hid them,” Mr. Lucky explained. Funny, I used to do that myself—only I wasn’t hiding them from Baby Bear. “He wants to quit the movie and find something else.”

“Are you yourself watching it?” I asked. When he said no, I went on, “Then let him change movies if that’s what he wants.”

Mr. Lucky proceeded to steal my lines. “But that’s all he does. He doesn’t watch anything for more than a few minutes. He’s constantly changing out movies.”

“Oh, you mean sort of like you always do? And how about all your channel surfing? How many times have I had to sit there while you endlessly click-click-click and say, ‘I know I’m driving you crazy, Karen, but I can’t help it, I’m a man and men like to hunt’? Well, guess what? Our little boy is becoming a man—AND HE WANTS TO HUNT!”

I myself may not be a hunter, but my shot hit the mark. Grumbling under his breath, Mr. Lucky surrendered the PS3 controller and remote to Baby Bear, and then returned to the computer in his man-cave.

And thence resumed his own feverish hunting through Netflix.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bear Hugs and Grumpy Old Men

Yesterday we availed ourselves of our veterans’ benefits with a trip to MacDill Air Force Base, where we shopped for groceries at the commissary. We charged Baby Bear with pushing the grocery cart, but we still have to keep a close eye on him, especially when we get to the end of an aisle, for it is here that he often attempts to make an escape by pushing the cart in one direction, only to let go of it and dash off in the other.

I tend to keep in close physical contact with him at the end of aisles, usually by putting my arm around him. Occasionally he’ll respond by looping his own arm around my waist.

We were thus entwined at the entrance to a very crowded aisle, from which we needed only one item. Mr. Lucky volunteered to plunge into the mob and retrieve it while Baby Bear and I waited for him with the grocery cart.

Mr. Lucky was about to step away just as an old man shuffled by and mumbled something I couldn’t hear, but apparently Mr. Lucky did, for he only rolled his eyes at the old man, then grinned at me and Baby Bear before disappearing into the crowded aisle.

Baby Bear and I waited behind our cart, arms hooked around each other as he swayed from side to side, taking me with him. No doubt we looked like a pair of human windshield wipers. The old man continued glowering and muttering inaudibly before vanishing in the crowd of shoppers.

We’re used to disapproving scowls and inaudible grumbles from strangers.

Mr. Lucky soon returned, still shaking his head. “You didn’t hear what that old guy said, did you?”

No, I hadn’t. The commissary is a noisy place. Apparently we’d inadvertently blocked the old man’s path by stopping the cart while I put an arm around my son and he returned the gesture. Indignant, the old man had growled, “Why don’t you two find someplace else to fall in love?”

I must admit, that wasn’t as harsh as being barked at to “get a room.”

So the old guy thought my son, only a couple of inches taller than yours truly, was my boyfriend. He’s just turned thirteen and because of his height, he does look older. But as for me, “Do I really look that young?” I asked Mr. Lucky.

Talk about your missed opportunities. If only he’d said something like, “Well, of course, Karen! You look younger than everyone! Why, people mistake you for my daughter all the time!” I would have baked him a chocolate cake.

But no, instead he scoffed and said, “Oh, that guy is old and probably half-blind. All he saw were two people in his way. He was grumpy because he had to go around you.”

So much for a detour into the chocolate cake aisle.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Baby Bear's Adventures Through the Breaking Glass

An alternate subject line considered was, “What took him so long to break a window?”

I always feared it would be the sliding glass door to the patio (into which he does the occasional body slam), or his bedroom window (where I once caught him perched on the window sill as if he were about to use it as a diving board), or the glass doors on the curio cabinet (he likes to sit in front of it and peer past the knickknacks to his reflection in the back mirror).

But no, it was the living room window he broke and since there were no witnesses and he doesn’t/can’t talk, I have no idea how he did it. As always when these things happen, Mr. Lucky was at work, but when he came home later that night and surveyed the damage, he surmised that Baby Bear must have banged his head against the glass hard enough to shatter it. The kid does enjoy headbanging and our walls have numerous dents to prove it.

Those dents are getting higher every year, and I could probably go through every room of the house and assign an approximate date to each dent based on how high it is from the floor. Who needs fancy growth charts?

But I digress.

It was shortly before 8 pm the other night and I’d just taken dinner out of the oven when I heard the ominous crash from the living room. I rushed in to find a jagged hole in the upper window pane, and a bewildered looking Bear just standing there. He never made a sound and he looked all right, so I led him to his room for safety’s sake while I cleaned up the broken glass from the floor.

Then I went back to his room where he sat quietly on the edge of his bed. He was covered with blood.

To my horror, the worst of it was streaming down the inside corner of his eye along his nose, striking fear in my heart that he’d gotten glass in his eye. But I soon ascertained that the blood was coming from a cut on his forehead. He also had a cut on his lower arm. The poor thing had smeared blood all over himself, so he only looked worse than he really was until he was properly cleaned up and bandaged.

All the while, he never let out a peep. He went back to playing his keyboard and making his usual crooning noises while rocking on the loveseat in the family room, as if nothing had happened.

I also found broken glass in the front yard; big shards that flew up to ten feet from the house. I retrieved his ball that he likes to carry around, but there’s no way it could’ve broken the window. It’s a baseball sized “sensory” ball that weighs no more than two ounces.

Perhaps Mr. Lucky is right. It must’ve been that boy’s big hard head that did it.

As for replacing the broken window, I had the usual worst case visions of window repair specialists who wouldn’t be able to come out until two weeks from next Tuesday and bills in the hundreds of dollars; but Mr. Lucky replaced the pane himself the very next day, and it only cost him $24.00.

I like being wrong.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mom and Apple Pie (and Ice Cream and Chocolates)

One of Mrs. Smith’s frozen, ready-to-bake apple pies has been taking up valuable real estate in our freezer since the holidays. I meant to bake it for New Year’s, but Mr. Lucky and the Crown Prince went up to Georgia to spend that holiday with the in-laws---leaving me to deal with Baby Bear and two dogs scared out of their wits by the next door neighbor's fireworks. At the time, I didn’t think it was right to bake that pie and eat it all by myself, so it remained in the freezer alongside a carton of vanilla ice cream.

Eventually Mr. Lucky couldn’t resist digging into the ice cream, leaving only the pie. Occasionally he’d ask, “So when are we going to have that pie, Karen?” and I’d mumble something about pie being “a weekend thing.”

Trouble is, Mr. Lucky works most weekends, and his overall schedule is such that, believe it or not, there’s never been an ideal time to take it out of the freezer and throw it into the oven.

I finally found the time this last week . . . when he and the Crown Prince returned to Georgia for another visit with his kinfolk. I remained at home for four days with two barking dogs and a roaring, rampaging Bear.

On the first evening with his dad out of town, Baby Bear emerged from his room in a deceptively cheery mood, bounced up to me in the middle of the kitchen, and with his trademark yell he pushed all five feet, eleven inches of me flat to the floor! I was barefooted on ceramic tile, so I had no traction to keep me on my feet, and because I happened to be in a part of the kitchen where there was nothing nearby to break my fall, down to the floor I crashed like the Colossus of Rhodes.

That hurt. But at least I came out of it better than old Colossus did. I think he broke into pieces at the bottom of the Aegean. I only got banged up (nice big bruise on the outer thigh), and was in a bit of pain for the next few days.

Since there’s no liquor in the house, I did the only other thing I could to maintain my sanity. I baked that apple pie and ate it with French vanilla ice cream.

I enjoyed a slice for every day Mr. Lucky and our firstborn were gone. That’s a quarter of a pie every day, covered with at least three scoops of the ice cream. I ate it all.

And I did not allow myself to feel so much as a scintilla of guilt.

Oh, and I consumed a whole bag of chocolates, too.

No guilt. Still no sanity, either, and certainly no weight lost, but NO GUILT!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Guess Who Broke the Dining Room Table?

Summer. For other mortals, it means fireworks, water fights, and long, hot, sweat-soaked days that never seem to end.

For me, it means—oh wait, that IS what summer is like at my house. In fact, that’s what it’s like all year round. Let me start over.

Summer. For other mortals, it means cookouts, the beach (well, maybe not this year), long road trips, and warm evenings chatting on the patio beneath a purple sky.

At my house, it means this:

I have no idea how Baby Bear accomplished this feat of destruction. In the past I’ve caught him sitting on it, standing on it, and the day before this happened, I found him hovering next to it, all innocent nonchalance, while the overhead chandelier swayed like a pealing church bell over the center of the table.

Just when I find myself wondering what atrocity that kid is going to commit next, he shows me. I guess I really need to stop wondering. I'm just thankful he wasn't hurt.

Baby Bear is over six feet tall, doesn’t have an ounce of spare flesh to pinch, and has the strength of ten oxen.

Forget Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. I need one called, “Let’s Just Sit.”

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Adventures in Eating Out (Minus the Bear)

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, when I was in the Air Force stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base near Frankfurt, Germany, I often took my meals in the cafeteria at the base hotel. Since I don’t like crowds and noise and chaos (yeah, yeah, I know), I tried to avoid going there during peak hours.

Sometimes I’d have the cafeteria all to myself, and I could sit wherever I wanted, eat my meal, and read The Stars and Stripes newspaper in peace.

Until a family came in. Mind you, it was always a different family, since the Rhein-Main hotel catered mainly to transient military personnel and their dependents. But the makeup of the family was pretty much the same each time: They always had ten kids (or at least it seemed like ten) all under the age of four, one of whom was invariably a baby who never stopped crying.

No matter where I sat in that cafeteria, they always took the booth right next to mine. Every single time. There were a hundred other places they could’ve sat, including some with more space for their brood that I swear actually multiplied by the time I got to my dessert and the back page of the paper. But no—they always picked the booth right next to that lone skinny girl who they must have thought was bored senseless with her newspaper and her solitude, and surely would not object to having green jello flung into her hair.

The parents never took the seat that would’ve put their backs to me. Oh no, they always took the opposite seat, so their kids could lean over into my booth and stare at me as if I were behind bars munching on grass while someone hosed me down. On one occasion, one toddler actually climbed over the booth and landed in the seat across from me. The parents did not even budge. Instead—once it dawned on them they were missing a kid—they called out to him to come back from wherever he was. They had to do this several times before he complied.

Back in those days, I wasn’t assertive enough to speak up and say, “Excuse me, but would you please come and get your kid.” Hell, I wasn’t even assertive enough to pick up my tray and newspaper, and move to the other side of the cafeteria. I feared it would offend the parents. How stupid is that?

But I’m getting a little better about it.

Recently, after putting Baby Bear on the bus, Mr. Lucky and I went out to breakfast. Fortunately, the restaurant wasn’t too crowded, mostly couples or groups of adults. There was only one family in there with three kids, all preschoolers.

So guess where the hostess seated us?

That’s right. At point blank range for flying globs of oatmeal. She handed us menus, told us the name of our server who would be with us shortly, then walked away, leaving us to stare at each other in dismay.

Don’t get me wrong. Mr. Lucky and I have nothing against kids. We’ve had three of our own, all of whom we love very much. But when just the two of us go out to eat, we do not want to be near any kids, no matter how well behaved they are. It sort of defeats the whole purpose of why we’re eating out.

You’d think a restaurant hostess would know that. It should be in a rule book somewhere: Avoid seating couples without children near couples with children.

When the server finally arrived, I whispered to her, “We were wondering if we could sit somewhere else?” She whispered back that she didn’t blame us, and discreetly led us to a quieter booth on the other side of the restaurant. If the parents were offended—assuming they even noticed—I certainly did not care.

Our new booth was a vast improvement. Four well behaved adults occupied the booth behind Mr. Lucky. We ordered, and while we were waiting for our food, a strange, disagreeable look came over Mr. Lucky’s face. Then he sniffed his shirt sleeve.

“What’s the matter, dear?” I asked. “Isn’t your shirt April fresh? Do I need to switch detergents?”

He gestured to the empty booth across the aisle from where we sat, and whispered, “Let’s move over there.”

“Why? We’ve moved once already. We’re going to drive the server insane.”

Without another word he moved to the other booth. Since I didn’t want to sit by myself, I followed suit. And that’s when he informed me that someone in the booth behind him reeked of rampant B.O.

Fortunately we had no reason to move again. When the server arrived with our food, she made a good-natured comment on the fact that we’d moved, but she didn’t ask why and we volunteered no information. Better to let her think whatever she wanted to think, which is probably what most people think about us anyway.

Mr. Lucky left her an extra big tip.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

In My House: The Creature From the Black Lagoon

The beagles have been digging more holes beneath the fence.

Meanwhile, the next door neighbor ran his sprinklers long enough that the water seeped over to our side of the fence, and flooded the beagles’ escape tunnel, making for deep puddles that have since turned into mud pits.

Add to the equation a back door left unlocked (Mr. Lucky pleads guilty), and one Bear with a knack for finding crisis in every opportunity, and what do you get?

Crime Scene Photo A: Paw prints from beagles observed in mud pit.

Crime Scene Photo B: Paw prints from Baby Bear visible on fence.

This is right outside my office window, and if the blinds hadn’t been closed against the glare of the sun against the neighbor’s formerly pristine white fence, then I most certainly would’ve seen Baby Bear.

As it is, I did hear a strange noise outside the window, reminiscent of those cheap sprinklers that go choop-choop-choop while they slowly jerk around in a semi-circle, spewing long jets of water over the grass, then go chuchuchuchuchu as they whip back like the return carriage on a typewriter.

I assumed the neighbor must be using that model sprinkler because the built-in system that came with his house was malfunctioning. Granted, the choop-chooping was more erratic than usual for such a sprinkler, but I thought little of it until I suddenly sensed a presence behind me, and turned in my chair.

Standing there just waiting to be noticed was a creature over six feet tall, made entirely of mud from head to toe.

I screamed for Mr. Lucky. The Mud Monster did not even flinch or attempt to pick me up and carry me back to his swamp like he might have back in the fifties.

Mr. Lucky found this very humorous. Fortunately Baby Bear’s bathroom is equipped with a handheld shower. Mr. Lucky applied it to the Mud Monster, and eventually the mud washed away to reveal our youngest son.

I’m just thankful the back gate was locked.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Why Did the Peacock Cross the Road?

Coming back from lunch this afternoon, we saw a beautiful blue peacock literally sweeping his way eastward across Highway 301.

We see big gray cranes stalking along the roadside every day, usually in groups of three, but this must be the first time I’ve ever seen a peacock outside a zoo or formal garden. Where could he have come from? There are neither zoos nor formal gardens in the immediate vicinity. I’ve heard of neighborhoods down in Miami “terrorized” by peacocks run amok. For all their jewel-like beauty, they do make an awful screeching noise.

He scurried across that busy highway—a big garbage truck had to brake for him—and he safely reached the other side, where he started strutting down the newly paved bike path, his long tail gracefully stretched out behind him like a royal train.

I wanted to jump out of the car and go after him, though heaven alone knows why. He’d surely run away, and what would I do with him? I fear for his safety.

Mr. Lucky had his own idea about what to do with him: “I’ll bet he tastes like chicken.”

But romantic soul that I am, I remain enchanted. Does it mean anything if a peacock crosses your path—and if so, what?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Return of the Allamanda!

This is what it looked like back in January, after all that freezing weather:

I was devastated. But the golden trumpets have rallied, and this is what it looks like today:

And to think Mr. Lucky talked of ripping it out and replacing it with a bench or garden gnome or a colored ball or . . . something. I believe our sunny little bells have earned a reprieve!
I wish I could say the same for the jasmine tree in the back yard, but alas. It's nothing now but a giant twig.
I refuse to replace it with anything other than another jasmine tree.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Most Dreaded Phrase in the English Language (Second in a Series)

“What do you want to do with this?”

Uttered by Mr. Lucky when rerun season starts and he gets it into his head to clean out the garage, a closet, or his man-cave.

“What do you want to do with this?”

My heart sinks like an anchor into the pit of my stomach every time he says he’s going to “clean out” something, because it means I won’t get anything done for the rest of the day. Every five minutes he’ll crash into my office holding up something he’s unearthed and—

“What do you want to do with this?”

Most of the time I tell him to put it back where he found it—especially if it came out of a closet. “If I wanted to do anything with it,” I say, “I would have removed it already and done whatever it is I wanted to do with it.”

But no, he’s trying to create more space in the closet/garage/man-cave by moving everything into my office, till I can’t even budge from my chair for all the spoils of nearly twenty-three years of marriage piled around me like the inventory from Charles Foster Kane’s Xanadu—

“What do you want to do with this?”

—Or what they found in the underground chamber in National Treasure, though I’ve always thought it looked like the same old junk minus the sled.

“What do you want to do with this?”

Trouble is, we’ve only accumulated the kind of stuff that would get us laughed off Antiques Roadshow and Pawn Stars.

“What do you want to do with this?”

I told you, every five minutes. See how annoying it is? He barges back into my office, nearly impaling himself on that cheap tarnished brass knock-off of Anubis that’s supposed to double as a “beverage butler”, and proceeds to empty a bag full of little odds and ends across the keyboard of my computer, even as I sit here typing an opus.

“Look what I found,” he says, thrusting a snow-globe under my nose. As “Lara’s Theme” plays, glitter swirls around a snowy tableau of Yuri Zhivago stealing scrap lumber from a dilapidated Moscow structure while his Party stooge of a half-brother contemplates shooting him for it. “Did you know we still had this?”

“Yes, now please—”

“What do you want to do with this?”

I tell him I had the snow globe put away to keep Baby Bear from dribbling and shooting hoops with it. It is, after all, made of glass and that kid has a thing for breakables. A destructive thing.

“I’ll just put it here for now.” And Mr. Lucky places it on the last square inch of space remaining on my desk.

For now, he says. I know how long “for now” is. Why does he think I can’t get out of my chair anymore? The room was already near capacity from junk he brought in here “for now” the last time he cleaned out another part of the house. I remember that well. Bush was still president. Bush 41.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating, since we haven’t lived in this house that long, but it really does seem as if—

“What do you want to do with this?”

Finally I lose it and yell at him to do whatever he wants with it, just leave me alone.

Why doesn’t he ever seek my input on the really important stuff? Like the time he waited till after he destroyed the receipt to announce he blew all our lottery winnings on the Bioflex 2000 Ultimate X-Treme Digital Family Gym for Home, Office, or Still in Its Original Box Under the Bed. We already had one that’s been holding up our mattress since, yes, Bush 41. With that lotto ticket we could’ve bought a brand new bed frame and paid someone to haul the Bioflex away.

Or the time he traded in my car for a handful of magic beans. That wasn’t what I had in mind when I told him I wanted something “that gets better gas.”

Funny how he never asks, “What do you want to do with this?” in regards to the Bioflex or beans.

Possibly he already knows what I’d say.

(For the first Most Dreaded Phrase in this series, click here.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why? WHY?

Ever since we switched back to Daylight Savings Time, I’ve had a devil of a time getting Baby Bear to wake up in the morning. His school bus usually comes around 8:30, and I’m lucky if I can get him even halfway out of bed before 8:00.

But now that school is out for spring break, guess who’s up at 6:30 am playing Frogger with the volume turned up full blast, and the place lit up like Vegas?

I had to check the other side of the bed to make sure that was Mr. Lucky, and not some Elvis impersonator I didn’t remember picking up in the casino bar the night before. No one was there. Then I remembered he’s up in Georgia with the Crown Prince.

And there is no chocolate in the house.

At least I’m not waking up to find my bed floating in overflow from Baby Bear’s bathroom. Let me be grateful for that!

Friday, April 9, 2010

What the Easter Bunny Brought Me

I woke up Easter morn to find this on my dining room table:

At first I thought that was a doily beneath the usual spoils, until I scooped up the bunny and chocolate kisses to find it was a sexy polka-dotted unmentionable with pink lace trim.

I must admit, I like that better than the stringy fake grass. For one thing, I won't be picking ladies' underwear out of the carpet between now and next Christmas.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Notes From the Teacher

Baby Bear’s teacher and I communicate about the cub’s behavior and other issues via handwritten messages in a spiral notebook kept in the boy’s backpack. I like that this particular teacher takes the time to write detailed notes—no mean feat, considering the number of special needs students in his classroom.

One recent entry made me dizzy just reading it—and I don’t know why, since this is nothing our ursine terror doesn’t do at home every day:

[Baby Bear] used up a lot of energy today. He did not get into trouble but he did not spend much time on anything. He moved constantly from the keyboard to the computer to the television to the bathroom to the refrigerator to the door to the cabinets to the kitchen sink to the sofa and on the bed we use for changing.

You’d think he’d fall asleep from exhaustion at that point. I refer, of course, to the teacher. Baby Bear? Not bloody likely. It was the teacher’s energy he used up; Bear’s own reserves never run dry. If only I could figure out how to harness the power of that boy and sell it, I might rule the world.

In the meantime, the teacher stays on his toes just as the Bear stays on his paws and goes for another lap . . . and another . . . and another . . .

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Seen Around the Neighborhood . . .

While perambulating around the perimeter of our subdivision the other morning, I happened across a huge, rectangular cardboard box sitting in front of someone’s house.

Fools! Everyone knows that when you’re fortunate enough to acquire a big flat screen television, you don’t announce it to the world—and especially burglars casing the neighborhood—by giving its cardboard box pride of place in front of your house. Why, these people made no effort whatsoever to deface the box and break it down into unrecognizable little pieces. In fact, the box looked as if it had never even been opened.

Then I drew closer to it, and saw that it wasn’t a TV at all, but merely one of those objects As Seen On TV.

I refer to one of the many manifestations of the Bioflex 2000 Ultimate X-Treme Digital Family Gym for Home, Office, or Still in Its Original Box Under the Bed. Or in this case, on the homeowner’s curb.

Ah yes. Beware the Ides of March. Two and a half months since New Year’s and the accompanying resolutions that are seldom kept. Clearly someone’s wife was sick of stubbing her toe on this box.

I see variations of this thousand dollar “Look! It’s also a clothes rack!” advertised in the weekly Flyer all the time, with any one of the following interchangeable qualifiers: Barely Used. Rarely Used. Never Used. Free—Please come and get it out of my house!

Okay, so this neighbor—or at least the lady of the house, who probably had to push this behemoth out the door herself even as her husband sat in his recliner, swilling his beer and bellowing she would do no such thing because he had every intention to start using it for at least an hour each day beginning next week—isn’t so foolish, after all. No one was going to steal this thing, let alone burgle their house. Not even Mr. Lucky, the King of Scavengers, would bother with this waste of titanium and polymers.

Not when I’m still stubbing my toe and hanging clothes on the one he has already.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Baby Bear's Newest Weapon of Mass Destruction: The Banana

The battle of wits continues. A better Bear trap has given rise—like a higher tide, heaven help us—to a better, more devious Bear.

Nearly two years ago, we removed the plug from his bathroom sink after we caught him soaking his backside in the basin while water poured over the edge of the vanity onto the floor.

The other day, Baby Bear was in his room playing a video game. Mr. Lucky was in his den playing a video game. And I was in my office—well, I wasn’t playing a video game. But I got up to use the master bathroom on the other side of the house.

When I emerged a short while later, Baby Bear had moved to the family room, where he was now watching TV, all innocence and nonchalance. (Yeah, I know—that should’ve been my first clue he was up to no good.) On my way back to my office, I noticed his bathroom door was closed and I could hear water running inside. I figured it was Mr. Lucky—but then on a hunch I went to Mr. Lucky’s den on the other side of the family room (some days I think this house is too big), only to find him at his desk, destroying planets and asteroids in his daily quest to become galactic overlord of twelve systems.

Now I dashed back to Baby Bear’s bathroom, just in time to see the water seeping out from under the door.

I threw open the bathroom door to find the sink overflowing. I turned off the water and saw what was plugging the drain.

A banana.

He peeled a banana, then shoved it into the bathroom drain. It was a perfect fit. Barely ripe, it was quite firm, and I could not pull it out; I could only break it off, leaving the lower half still clogging the drain.

I started bailing water, while Mr. Lucky got a long fork from the kitchen to try and extract the rest of the banana. It was going nowhere. Eventually the water softened it up enough that the sink slowly drained on its own.

How did that kid come up with the notion to do that? And WHY?

If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he must’ve conjured up this idea well in advance, and was just waiting for the right moment—i.e., for Mom to leave her office next door to his bathroom—to do it.

At least we caught it before we had another repeat of the Great Flood of 2006.

What to do now? No way are we going to ban bananas. They’re good for him, and he loves them—so much that I have to buy a bunch every day. He comes home from school, finds the bunch, and devours it till it’s gone:

Cheese doesn't last very long around here, either:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Baby Bear Becomes Baby Octopus

The other morning, I spotted Baby Bear slowly making his way from kitchen to family room while carrying the following items all at the same time:

1. His bowl of oatmeal.

2. A DVD he'd selected for viewing.

3. His electronic keyboard, which is about three feet long.

4. A sensory ball that he's become very attached to. He had it wedged between his legs, which I've seen him do when he needs to free up his hands for other things, like standing at the bathroom sink to get a drink of water. He doesn't seem to want to lose contact with it. However, with every step he took, the ball would slip, and then he'd pause to try and reposition it--all while balancing the other three items.

Clearly he had plans, and wasn't about to waste time making separate trips to transport all the items he needed for his comfort.

I can't begin to describe how he did all of this. How he managed it for the length of time he did, I have no idea. I didn't have the camera handy to catch a photo of this amazing juggling act, but even if I had, the flash might have startled him into dropping a couple of things I'd rather not see crashing to the floor.

At the very least, I grabbed his bowl of oatmeal. I tried telling him to let the ball drop and kick it forward as he went on his way, but now that he was free of the oatmeal bowl, he just picked it up and continued on his precariously merry way.

I told him he needed more hands. But don't we all?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Too Tall For the School Bus

I’m referring, of course, to the one known as Baby Bear.

Lately, I’ve noticed that when he comes home from school, he has to duck his head as he steps off the bus. I’m amazed as well as thankful that he has yet to conk his noggin on the top of the door (she writes as she knocks on wood).

Yesterday, the bus driver pointed out that he can no longer stand up straight on the school bus, that when walking down the aisle to or from his seat, he has to bow his head.

Before long he’ll be hunching over and stepping off the bus looking as if he’s ready to shake hands with an Imperial Majesty or two.

Eventually we’ll have to buy a convertible, or a car with a sun roof that allows his head to stick up and out like a giraffe on a circus train.

“Baby Bear” seems such a misnomer now, but that’s how I think of him. It’s that or Godzilla.

He’ll always be my Baby Bear even when he’s thirty years old, has a beard like one of the ZZ Top guitarists (oh, how we are so not looking forward to the sprouting of whiskers!) and stands I don’t want to think of how many feet tall.

But the fact remains he is still only twelve years old . . . and is now over six feet tall.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Not My Jasmine Tree!

Once upon a time, in its most glorious full flower, it looked like this:

At the time I posted my last blog entry, my beloved jasmine tree was still very green and leafy, with only a few hints of brown here and there. In fact, it was in such splendid condition following the big freeze that I suspected it of being a weed doing a very convincing impersonation of a jasmine tree.

But my jasmine is--or was--quite real. Look at what's happened to it since:

A stark, reverse oasis amid the verdure of lush crabgrass and flourishing dollar weed!

Now, before anyone clubs me over the head and hollers, "Deciduous!" let me say we've had this tree for several years and it's never done this. In fact, the last time I saw a jasmine tree like this was several days after a certain beagle who shall remain nameless dug up the tree we had before this one. Mr. Lucky, knowing how much I love jasmine, drove all over the county before he finally found a nursery that had another jasmine tree.

When he planted this second one, I wanted him to dig a moat around it and stock it with gators to keep the dogs away. Instead he put some rocks and a decorative wire border around it until it took enough root to stand up to the dogs.

Whenever it bloomed, Mr. Lucky would break off small sprigs and bring them to me so I could have sweet smelling jasmine at my work space.

Now what? Say it ain't so! Say it will rally and come back.

And if not, just club me over the head.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Florida's Freeze Fells the Flowerbed

Behold the aftermath of Florida's recent weeklong freeze:

The hardy gardenia bushes that were planted by the home's builder remain unscathed, leading me to suspect them of really being weeds. But that sad thing at the far end, planted by Mr. Lucky, used to be two proud hibiscus bushes that bloomed bright red and yellow flowers. I loved how tall it grew. I still have hope for it, as the branches closest to the house remain green.

Meanwhile, the Mexican petunias went totally south. And then there's my beloved allamanda:

I loved it when Mr. Lucky planted it near the front door. It bloomed with hundreds of sunny yellow flowers all trumpeting good cheer anytime we came up the front walk.
Our once lush St. Augustine lawn, like all the lawns in our subdivision, has turned yellow.
On the upside, our jasmine tree in the backyard is doing just fine. It doesn't get as much sunlight as the front flowerbed and I wonder if that played a role. (Or if it, too, is really a very sophisticated weed of the world.)
I spent the week wearing old sweaters from the 1980's (haven't had much need to buy new ones since then), while the static electricity gave me the same big hair from that decade. I can't say as it made me feel as young as I was back then.
In the sixteen years we've lived in Florida, that week must have been the first time we ran the heat non-stop. Usually when the weather gets cold, we only have to run it in the mornings.
Since I'm originally from the north, I really don't mind the cold weather. I like wearing sweaters and there's something cozy about a house when the heat is on.
But I really mind what it did to my hibiscus and allamanda. Mr. Lucky, on the other hand, is always looking for ways to change around that flowerbed (the battle over the brick border continues to rage), so it's a certainty that while I've lost my golden flowers, he's gained a golden opportunity.