Shoot the messenger

20150129_131555“We have three solutions to Daisy,” announced Boy Child gleefully as I walked in the door with Girl Child. I have a 16-year-old daughter who has a huge, irritable diva of a mare with whom we had just been arguing. The mare wants to be lame. We don’t want the mare to be lame. The mare wants to kick people, places, things. We don’t want the mare to kick people, places, things. We were not in a peace, love, joy, frame of mind. Girl Child evacuated to her room. I stood, glowering in the kitchen. There was no such escape for me.

“First,” he continued believing that I really wanted to hear this. “We can just make her your writing office and she won’t go anywhere.” Well, he had half of it right. But I bought a camper and not a playhouse.

“Or your second choice is that we can do a structural rebuild for really close trips and you can go like 20 miles an hour in her.” That should make a lot of friends on I-24 headed to Bonnaroo happy. I squinted in my I’m-grumpy-what-the-hell-are-you-trying-to-tell-me way. He was getting nervous. His dad left to fold laundry. The man will sacrifice his own child.

“Or. Well. We can do a total tear-apart for big trips and we can get her to like 40 miles an hour.”

And that’s the good news? What the HELL?

Admittedly, I knew that Boy Child had seen the same disturbing photographs online that I had seen. A woman bought a refurbished vintage camper and was driving it across country, to her home. Somewhere along the way, the camper started snaking and then basically pulled off of its chassis, causing the whole thing to roll over a couple of times. And, yeah, it made the Range Rover that was pulling it roll over a couple of times also. My take was that Range Rovers are renowned for their rollover issues. Get a better tow vehicle.

The boys didn’t go for that. When they discovered Daisy’s rotten wood barely supporting her roof, they started digging around under her floor. You just can’t get 56 years out of wood that has been water damaged for decades any more. “She’s just old,” declared Spousal Unit. I glared at him and reminded him that he and Daisy were born the same year. Didn’t he have towels to fold?

Then, they told me – in unison – that she needs brakes. It could be my imagination and I know that’s what testosterone in my family would tell me, but I think they are a little too pleased with themselves when they give me this bad news. Spousal Unit has always been this way and the bad news glee gene has been passed on to his son. Thank heavens Spousal Unit didn’t go to med school. “Mrs. Soandso,” he would grin as he elbowed his colleague. “We have good news and we have bad news. I’m afraid your husband, Mr. Soandso, has a terminal illness.”

His colleague would elbow back and grin. “We have three options. Let him suffer. Let him die. Let him suffer and die.” Mrs. Soandso would turn, stunned, toward her husband and they would wonder which was the good news?

My menfolk stood on either end of the kitchen, me in the middle. I was 600 British, rushing into the valley, not knowing that I was surrounded on three sides by Russians with full artillery. My saber was useless against their numbers and their weapons. It was my Charge of the Light Brigade, mine to do and die.

“Fine.” I barked. “I will take care of it.”

Don’t ask me. I don’t know what I meant by that, either. Five days later, I am sitting in Daisy, actually writing from within her broken shell. This is still sacred space. but I don’t know how or for what this space will be used. I want Daisy to be able to do it all. I want her to be a writing retreat in our back yard, or snuggled up to a creek, or in the middle of the city. I want to go on family trips with Daisy. See America. Or at least Tennessee. Daisy would have a good time at horse shows and would provide a respite between classes and even a place to change from white dressage breeches to regular khaki ones.

Maybe Daisy is trying to tell me that she can’t be everything I want her to be. Heaven knows Spousal Unit has been trying to tell me that for a quarter of a century. He can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and even fold towels. But maybe he can’t get a vintage canned ham camper road worthy.

I know for danged sure, he and his son can’t deliver bad news with the appropriate somberness.

The saying advises, “Don’t shoot the messenger.” When I stood there, between the two of them, realizing that lame horses and a broken-down camper were my lot in life, I didn’t take the saying’s advice. I shot both of them the bird, whirled around and left the room.

Risky Business

20150121_095621We are being teased with an early spring in Middle Tennessee this week. I don’t believe it for a minute and I wish my jonquils would do the same. I see them peeking their curious stems out of the ground and I yell at them, just like I yell at my teenage offspring. “Don’t be tempted to do something stupid! Make good choices! Be safe!”

But, like my offspring, they are going to try it. They are going to take risks and they will get their little stems frozen for it. Risky behavior is inherent in teenagers and spring flowers. Not so much with middle-aged women. Unless, of course, a middle-aged woman decides one day that she is going to buy a vintage trailer for a writing studio and then buys the danged thing the following day.

Yes, I’ve reached the “what was I thinking?” part of this journey. Yesterday — a warm and lovely day — Boy Child and I continued to demo Daisy. We had planned on keeping most of Daisy’s interior intact, but were going to remove the paneling that had obvious water damage. Even though it looked like old injuries, we wanted a fresh, strong, surface on which to paint fun, retro colors. We discovered we are a long way from fun, retro colors. Using an angle grinder, we carefully cut away the top part of the paneling above the sink/stove cabinet. Soft, rotted wood greeted us. Oh dear. The cheap 50s paneling had dried out and just looked bad. Behind that? The frame? Daisy’s BONES? Crepe paper. Each time I banged my head against the wall in dismay, charcoal-colored flakes of fifty-six-year-old 2 x 2 rained upon me.

The basic rule of thumb when one is ridding a body of unwanted rot, decay, or other type of cancer is to remove until there are “clear margins.” When one of my besties had a lumpectomy, the surgeon didn’t cut far enough and she had to have a second lumpectomy. She will agree: It’s best to get it all out the first time.

This means we have to cut the frame that holds Daisy’s sides up and replace bad wood with good. I am having flashbacks to buying an old house on a cool street when I was pregnant with Girl Child and learning that the entire breakfast room wall was infested with termites. When the contractor ripped out the drywall, what remained was a sheet of undulating, scurrying, maggot-like creatures. Beneath them was tissue-soft material that used to be wood. Carpenters had to cut away until they found clear margins.

We took advantage of that by filling the room with French doors. My friend with the lumpectomies took advantage of her situation to get a new rack. I will take advantage of Daisy’s misfortune somehow. Probably not French doors. We had to remove the sink/stove cabinet to get to the rot at the bottom. Daisy seems more open without it. I think she’s breathing a little easier. I might not return the sink/stove cabinet to its former position. Maybe Daisy will get a new rack.

Just as I know my jonquils will take a bit of a beating when the weather turns cold again, I took a risk and I’m getting a little frostbite. I suppose the key to taking risks is to make them such that one can recover from them. Plan for the worst, but hope for the best, I’ve always heard. As Boy Child prophesied doom and despair yesterday, each time he uncovered a layer of rot, I reminded him that Daisy is about the journey and not the destination. She probably won’t be ready for this year’s Bonnaroo, but we didn’t know what to do about her lack of bathroom facilities anyway.

Besides, it is a far bigger risk to go to a music festival with two under-age progeny and 90,000 of our closest friends than it is to restore a vintage camper. “Don’t be tempted to do something stupid! Make good choices! Be safe!”

Public Nuisance

20150114_104034I need to get out more. Seriously. I think I’ve forgotten how to behave in public, or at least in a public that isn’t Costco, Target or the barn where we keep our daughter’s horse.

Spousal Unit and I quit going out on New Year’s Eve a couple of decades ago. We joke that NYE is for amateurs and the professionals stay home, but to be honest, it just isn’t fun to play bumper cars with people whose alcohol levels are higher than their IQs. Since most of our friends must think the same way, we were invited to New Year’s DAY parties instead.

The first was a mother-daughter brunch of alumnae from Girl Child’s middle school. Nice women. Nice kids. It would be nice to catch up. And it was nice. Well, except. Me.

I’ve kept in touch with most of these women through facebook. I knew who had gone where for summer vacay and whose older kid was in what college. The problem is that sometimes my brain doesn’t connect the facebook person with the real person. The lady with whom I had joked about sending me a Christmas card on facebook wasn’t the lady with whom I joked about it in person. I was about halfway through, “I got your card and even though I love you, too, I haven’t sent you one of ours yet,” when I got the connection. Or lack thereof.

Barb looked at me, confused as I muttered the rest of my sentence. “Oh. Okay?” she said. I smiled goofily after scanning to my left, realizing that I had meant to say that to Julie. I’m at that age when embarrassment and hot flashes go hand in hand. It grew uncomfortably hot in that room.

After that, I couldn’t say anything right. I found myself regaling the crowd with the story of Spousal Unit’s allergic reaction to an antibiotic the night before. I don’t know what compelled me. That I was alone bringing in the New Year and wanted sympathy? That I had an audience? An unrealized need to be kicked out of a lovely Belle Meade home? I couldn’t stop. Perfect complexions turned green. Polite smiles dimmed. And yet I continued to give sound effects of his rather violent reaction to the antibiotic, candidly advising these ladies that one should watch a loud action movie when one’s spouse is heaving out his innards and not a quiet love story. “If I stay…” she whispers in her ghostly form as the cello plays softly and I hear the F-22 engine sounds of a man blasting out the past month’s meals.

It got worse. Girl Child and I went to party number two. He teaches at Vanderbilt. She teaches Chinese dance. They are brilliant. Their daughter is brilliant. Their daughter is my daughter’s friend. My daughter is brilliant. This was going to be a brilliant time. We arrived at their awesome bungalow and I was excited. Excellent food. Wonderful conversation. One of my favorite politicians was there. These are my people. I could let my liberal hair down.

But first I had to remove my shoes. Custom demanded it and dozens of pairs of shoes piled on one another in the foyer. My stomach lurched. I didn’t have on socks and my unsightly fungal toenail curled in embarrassment, begging me to leave on my shoes. I looked around. Not a single person had on shoes. This toenail has scared small children and made women scream. Men have fainted. I took a deep breath and acquiesced to custom. Then, I stood with one foot on top of another.

The politician was cornered in the dining room. He would remember me if I dropped a couple of names, but I couldn’t wobble to the corner with one foot on top of the other. Damn this toenail. I swooped in on the older daughter of the brilliant hosts and engaged her in conversation. “You’re friends with somebody… ummmm….” I tried to balance with one foot hiding the other, trying to remember who told me about the sister of my daughter’s friend. I knew I had just had a conversation about her, but the memory evaporated as soon as I opened my mouth. She was polite, smiling to the crazy lady. I blabbered and once again, found myself unable to stop. I talked about their pets. There is a dog. And a cat. And wasn’t there a middle sized pet?

She looked at me. “We had a rabbit a long time ago, but it died.” That got me started on how the phrase “the rabbit died” became a saying for when a woman found out she is pregnant. She wanted to escape; I could tell. I didn’t blame her, but I couldn’t quit telling her that after the rabbit was injected with the woman’s….

After her friends rescued her, I wobbled to Girl Child and her friend. “I can’t seem to find a conversation to enter,” I told my daughter.

“Please stay out of ours,” she replied. That’s fair. I grabbed a can of La Croix water and thought about checking on Spousal Unit. It would suck if he were dead. Instead, I waddled to the living room and sat on the sofa. Started to engage in another conversation, but it was going on long before I arrived. These people are brilliant.

The dog ambled toward me, sniffed and walked past, knocking my can of water off the table. Et tu Brute? I schlepped to the kitchen, looking for a paper towel, a rag, anything and just ended up standing in the middle of the hallway, feeling like I was in a jelly jar with a party surrounding me. Feeling like the girl in “If I Stay.” I looked over to the sofa where I had been sitting and the hostess and a friend were frantically soaking up the water. “Uhhhhh…that was me…” I said. “It’s just water. I was looking for something to mop it up with.” But I was the girl in “If I Stay” and nobody could hear my ghostly voice.

I pretended that I got a phone call from a sick Spousal Unit needing my attention. I put on my cute shoes and I left. I texted Girl Child, telling her I would be back to pick her up in an hour. She was confused. She wasn’t the only one.

This is when I know I need to get Daisy up and running, pretty, comfy and warm. She will serve as my refuge. I will crawl into a fetal position on her bunk and rock, thumb in my mouth, golden retriever farting at my feet, telling me in his own special golden retriever way that I am perfectly fine with my limited social skills. I don’t need to get out more. I just need to stay in and rub his belly. Daisy will hold me, reminding me that it’s o.k. to be a bit out of place. She knows the feels. We will be awkward together and when Spousal Unit reacts to antibiotics, I will go to Daisy. I will watch a really loud action movie because, just in case I didn’t get the chance to tell you on New Year’s Day, the sounds of a puking Spousal Unit are just gross.

Designer Labels

20150107_092719Spousal Unit gave me a label maker for Christmas. A label maker! This man knows me. This man loves me. This man can flat out gift. Furs, cars, jewels? Who needs ‘em? That crap is for peasants. With a label maker as my scepter, I am a queen among women and I shall rule forever.

Nothing is safe when I am armed with a label maker. Nothing is sacred, including family members. If you tick me off, you might end up with a label declaring you a pain in the ass dangling from your forehead. With a label maker, ignorance is not an excuse. Nobody can claim that they don’t know “where it goes,” when there is a label clearly marking that it goes THERE. I’ve labeled everything in the basement and am working my way up the stairs. I’m coming for you.

Spousal unit was generous this year. He also gave me a sewing machine so I can make curtains and upholstery for Daisy, but the label maker excites me the most.

Why is that, I wonder? Is it the writer in me, wanting the right word for the object, thought, or action? One can call someone who cuts one off in traffic a bad driver or one can call someone who cuts one off in traffic an asshat. The right label makes all the difference.

Or is it my desire to feel just a little bit of control in a life filled with busy-ness, craziness, and messiness? I can’t walk through the house for all of the clutter and dog hair, but if there is a label declaring that the gift wrap lives HERE and the gift wrap actually IS here, then I can pretend all is in order.

Having the right label for a particular illness makes that illness more tolerable for me. When I first got sick and couldn’t lift a leg to get up the stairs or raise an arm high enough to put my car in park, it was scary, yucky and upsetting. Once it had a name — rheumatoid arthritis — it was scary, yucky and upsetting, but I could get a prescription or four. When we label something, we can do something about it.

Yes, often labels are perceived as bad. I maintain that labels don’t hurt people; people who misuse labels hurt people. That’s why sometimes we need to change the name of the label. In a time when tensions are high, we search for a label that won’t offend. It’s difficult for me to call African Americans anything but black. That’s because I grew up in an era when people fought for black power and black pride. I want to cling to anything that was so hard won. Of course, if we quit seeing everything in black and white – literally – the beautiful shades of brown, mocha, alabaster, topaz and tan might blend into a label that works for everyone: human being. Go ahead and label me naïve.

Then again, a good label, the right label, makes all of the difference. I was an advertising copywriter before I retired to become a stay-at-home mom. (Allow me to digress. Talk about a misnomer. Stay-at-home? Have you SEEN the mileage on my car? Instead of a soccer mom, I’m a horse one. We live in town. Horses don’t. That means driving to the barn. A LOT. And to tack stores. And horse vets. And horse shows. And horse vets again. That doesn’t even count all of the Girl Scout/Cub scout field trips and back-to-the-office-supply-store-for-tomorrow’s-project trips and to school and from school and then back to school trips that have commenced in twenty years of parenting. Stay at home my big, shiny, back end.) Back in my advertising days, we would spend entire afternoons searching for the right word. For instance, a BMW aftermarket company gave a car “panache” and not “superior maneuverability.” Pigeon Forge labeled as a vacation destination nestled in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains is good. Pigeon Forge as an over-developed plot of strip malls filled with rednecks and poor dental health, not so much. Perhaps an ad agency needs to think of a label for moms who have left the work force and do anything but stay at home.

Sometimes the right label is simply a symbol of hope and potential. I prefer to label Daisy as a vintage camper we are restoring and not that rusty piece of metal taking our money and our time. Better yet, I shall label her an adventure. With an adventure, anything is possible and barriers to progress are mere challenges to overcome along the way. For instance, the current challenge – winter – has dampened our enthusiasm to actually go outside in single digit temps and form freezing cold metal into the shape it used to be. Additionally, I don’t trust Boy Child to not place his tongue on the freezing cold metal to see if it sticks. Instead, we hover over diagrams of what we would like to do with her and stalk vintage camper websites from the warmth of our house. We shall not label this time as procrastination or chicken heartedness, but instead shall call it research and development. I will print that out on my label maker right now.