It’s Alive! It’s Alive!

20150225_092039There is a story Spousal Unit and I like to tell. We were newlyweds, living in our cute newlywed cape cod on a cute newlywed-ish street. Almost all of those cute cape cods have been razed, replaced with McMansions. That’s another story for another time. For now, we focus on the early nineties when times were easy and houses didn’t have their own ZIP codes.

We had the best neighbors. Spousal Unit and I have been lucky that way. Everywhere we’ve lived, we’ve had superb, Lake Woebegon-esque neighbors. The women are strong, the men are good looking and all of the children are above average. The neighbors to our left were particularly so.

He was a transplant surgeon and she a physical therapist. They were easy on the eye and had lovely antique furniture. They were friendly, funny and easy-going. In other words, to my newlywed eyes, they were freaking perfect. They moved away and we lost touch, but I imagine they still are.

She had just given birth to their third child. Being the nice southern girl I am, I took a casserole to them. I wasn’t at the “I’m gonna have babies” stage of my marriage. I was at the “There’s no way in hell I’m gonna have babies” stage of my marriage. Their house smelled like baby poop and peaches. Even perfect babies’ diapers stink.

Like the nice southern girl she is, she thanked me for the casserole, then told me the story I tell to this day. Her husband had come home from work earlier that week after a day of important doctoring. He had probably transplanted a liver or two and maybe saved a life or six. He walked in to his comfortable abode to see his house in a mess, his toddlers with goopy dirty toddler faces and his wife splayed on a chair, holding the newborn. She was still in her pajamas.

As brilliant as this man is, he still didn’t have much common sense. He asked her, “What on earth have you done all day?”

I imagine that her head swiveled 360 degrees, her pupils turned red while green vomit spewed from her and she growled, “I. Kept. Your. Children. ALIVE.”

Thank heavens Spousal Unit had the benefit of hearing this story before we jumped into the procreation pool. Of course, he has asked other equally stupid questions, “How could you spend $600 at Costco?” “Don’t you think those pants are getting a little tight?” And “Does our daughter REALLY need a pony?” But he always saw the wisdom in knowing that simply keeping creatures alive is a full time job.

Right now, we are keeping a seven-year-old cat alive. In true southern tradition, I can only say, “Bless her heart.” This kitty has been at death’s door since Girl Child picked her out at the shelter seven years ago. As we were paying up at the shelter, the volunteer looked at the kitten’s gaunt body, watery eyes and mucus-covered nose. “Are you sure you want this one?” Third grade Girl Child nodded her head yes. She was in love. The volunteer shook her head and took my credit card. “We don’t give money back.”

That kitty refuses to die, despite T.O.D. proclaimed a couple of times by the World’s Best Vet. “Time of death, 1420…oh wait.” At six years old, she decided to have kidney failure right at the time of Girl Child’s final exams. I whispered into her little cat ear that she HAD to live through exams. She must have heard me incorrectly and thought I meant Girl Child’s Ph.D. dissertation and not ninth grade exams. She’s still alive. Of course we have to inject subcutaneous fluids into her four times a week, and suffer bodily harm when we give her a pill every night, but we are keeping the cat alive.

Boy Child also has the instinct to take nearly dead things and keep them alive. For instance a 1949 Packard struggles for breath in our carport. Multiple bicycles from the 30s to the 70s lean upon one another in our garage. His stereo system is a multi-generational resuscitation that would impress Dr. Frankenstein, as well as any audiophile.

And then there’s Daisy. The old girl has more rot than the FBI body farm in Knoxville. It seems as if she lists to the side a little more each day and cries rust from her windows. It will take so much more than subQ fluids to keep her alive. Those with common sense advise me to let somebody else have the project. I feel like third grade Girl Child holding a sickly kitten, advised to just go find another kitty. Like Girl Child, I clutch Daisy close to me and shake my head no.

Keeping things alive is keeping hope alive. As long as the cat has a high quality of life, commanding us to give her water from whatever facet she’s near, yelling at red fuzz balls, flipping off the other cat with her attitude and hiding from Spousal Unit when it’s Pill and SubQ time, she will remain alive.

As long as Daisy continues to hold hopes, dreams and possibilities, she, too, will remain alive. I still imagine a writing getaway. I still hope for giving food donations from her during the holidays. I still picture her parked on a beach. Spousal Unit may come home to a messy house, dog hair floating in the air and me still in my pajamas, but I will have kept the camper alive.

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Ice Sculpture

20150218_130543“I thought Daisy would be prettier in the snow,” muttered Boy Child as he looked out at our Middle Tennessee version of frozen tundra.

“And I thought you’d be in college,” I spat back, belatedly realizing that comment would nullify my winning Mother-of-the-Year. It’s Day Three of The Great Ice Storm of 2015. We are all a little edgy. I’m just thankful that we are still alive and nobody’s threatened to eat the dog. We ran out of bread and milk. We still have toilet paper though. Single ply.

What Boy Child doesn’t know is that many of his Nashville classmates are the result of the Great Ice Storm of ’94. He never questioned all of those November birthday parties as he was growing up. Back in 1994, the ice storm was bigger. More trees fell down. More newscasters freaked out. We didn’t have heat. We made our own. And we LIKED it. We walked naked in the ice to Sportsman’s Grille and it was uphill both ways.

Boy Child and I stared out the window. The ice turned our yard into a fairy tale. A Disney movie. Diamond-like crystals twinkled from the trees, danced in the sunlight. A slick coating of glass entombed the sleeping Adirondack rockers as they waited for a prince’s magic kiss to awaken them. The baby magnolias we just planted bent like obsequious waiters. I could order bread from them. And maybe some milk.

Girl Child muttered under her breath in the next room. We think she made a deal with an entity for these days off of school. The term paper was due. The term paper was not completed. Each day school was closed was a day she had reprieve. That must have been one heckuva – dare I say helluva – deal she made. If I hear Charlie Daniels playing fiddle in the background, I’ll know.

My attention focused again toward Daisy. Poor thing. Ice doesn’t become her. It’s as if the weight of the ice makes her sag even more. Boy Child wants to go ahead and paint Daisy’s outside. I understand. I would like to have a tummy tuck. My Dunlop has reached epic proportions. (For the southern-uninitiated: My gut done lopped over my belt.) However, tucking this tummy before it loses some girth would make no more sense than painting Daisy before she is waterproof.

I honestly don’t know what the next step for Daisy should be. Continue with demolition? Fix what has already been revealed? Park her in the front yard and call her an art installation? “Trailer Trash: A Study of Metal in Cold Weather.” Girl Child’s term paper is on Dadaism and the movement of art and anti-art during the first World War. I could weld a couple of porcelain water fountains onto Daisy’s side. Girl Child could use me as a primary resource. I am nothing, if not helpful.

The truth is that we can’t do anything with Daisy in this weather. After all, we are in survival mode. There are four of us and only three televisions hooked up to cable. I can imagine the stories my grandchildren will hear. “Back in aught fifteen, we had an ice storm, followed by an inch – mind you an INCH – of snow. Your aunt made a deal with the DEVIL to have extra time for a term paper. We ran out of bread. And milk. My mama, she was a tough one she was and the only toilet paper we had was SINGLE PLY.”

My grandchildren will gasp. They had no idea their grandma was such a tyrant. They will look out at the shining, colorful 1959 camper in their back yard and sigh. They wish they could have known Grandma Tina. Too bad she died on the table during a tummy tuck.

Steel Magnolia

20150211_112337The text from Boy Child arrived as I was shuttling Girl Child from school to appointment to another appointment. The ringtone his texts make is called “Bubbles.” I chose the ringtone because it sounds like poo hitting the toilet. Plip. Plop. That way I smile whenever he texts me, no matter what the text may hold.

Usually his texts make me smile, anyway. He makes discoveries and has to share. “There’s a dope Packard on the side of the road I could get for parts.” Sometimes he needs advice. “Can I cook noodles in an iron skillet?” I didn’t respond in time and he did. Maybe that’s why the folks north of the Mason-Dixon line up in Cincinnati didn’t quite get this guy. He’s a southern boy through and through. Bow ties are for wearing and cast iron skillets are for cooking. Absolutely anything.

Occasionally, I DON’T smile when I hear “Plip. Plop.” When he was at school this past semester, I frowned. A lot. “The speaker for the co-op program pointed me out in front of the class and said bow ties were childish and trendy.” There were more. “A homeless guy just kicked me in the shins and ran.” This is why Boy Child is taking a semester off and working as tech support at his alma mater.

And why he was home watching Treehouse Masters when he texted me. Plip. Plop. I pulled over into a parking spot to read the text. “I had a crazy idea. I’ll tell you when you get home.”

That boy is smart. He knows when a teaser will get my attention. I called him. “What’s your idea?” I asked. “I’m running errands and I have to pee.” I don’t know why I always tell people when I have to pee. I’m an overweight, middle-aged woman who has had two children. Of course I have to pee.

He was watching Treehouse Masters. The Discovery, Velocity, Learning and History channels and their ilk will be the death of our retirement fund. Their shows have inspired the go cart made from a futon ruined in the Great Flood of 2010, the purchasing and refurbishing of six vintage bicycles, the purchasing and semi-rebuilding of a 1949 Packard, the destruction and reconstruction of a play set into a treehouse, the launch of a rocket – or twelve – into the neighborhood. What rocket? Us? We don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no rocket. And the building of a motorized bike. Self-preservation, medication and legal issues prevent me from continuing.

This time, our good friends on Animal Planet had inspired Boy Child to do something out of the box. “It is a REALLY crazy, idea, Mom,” he warned. More crazy than buying a 1959 vintage camper? More crazy than buying Bonarroo tickets for the family? More crazy than trying to convince Spousal Unit to buy back Girl Child’s first pony so I know that she’s o.k? I know from crazy, boy.

“Let’s turn Daisy into a treehouse.”

Now, that is freaking crazy. Initially, I shot him down faster than a mobster on Valentine’s Day. “But, I want her to go places. I could never get my fat ass up in a tree house. The neighbors would CRAP.”

The icky neighbors would crap. The ones shooting at a fox near my son’s bedroom window all those years ago. The ones who have more noisy equipment rat-a-tatting, buzzing, sucking, blowing, on a daily basis than an over-developed developer’s construction site. Those neighbors would grumble into their mint juleps. The cool nabes would love it, though. The cool nabes would BRING mint juleps. Besides, tree houses are allowed in our city within a city. Campers, not so much. I do love semantics.

I pushed aside my need to pee and we brainstormed. We could use a bicycle hoist to get me up and down. Treehouse Master dude had shown that on one of his episodes. We could stick Daisy up between two of the huge magnolias in our back yard. She isn’t a Shasta, but she’d have wings. There would be a deck out the back. I would have a view. It would be very Zen.

He brainstormed. I squirmed. I really did need to pee. Waitaminute. Daisy doesn’t have a potty. No way was I going to be aloft in the middle of a magnolia without easy access to a water closet. I could always tinkle off the deck, but then I wouldn’t be the only one with a view. I couldn’t do that to even the service-addicted, fox shootin’ people next door.

He continued to brainstorm, but I had come back down to earth. “Dude. If she isn’t even strong enough to be deemed road worthy by you, then how can she hold her weight up in a freaking tree?” It was simple, he said. We weld her to I-beams and then we…. I got lost in the technicalities. My eyes crossed. They were swimming anyway. I really, honest-to-God had to pee.

I hated to shoot him down. After all, we NEED our next generations to think outside the box, untethered by parameters that might be obsolete. Who knows, trying to hang a vintage camper in magnolias might lead to the cure for cancer. But I needed to thwart his desire for raising Daisy to new heights before he started ordering I-beams and cranes from Amazon.

I am embarrassed to say, I resorted to using the old bait and switch trick from his toddler years, when we had to leave the uber cool bookstore with the train table. Instead of tempting him with a Thomas the Tank Engine book, holding it out in front of him, like a fake rabbit to a racing greyhound, I simply mentioned food. I was going to Whole Foods later, so I asked him what sounded good. He redirected smoothly and Daisy remains earthbound.

Until the next episode of Fast ‘n’ Loud inspires him to put a big block engine in her. Plip. Plop.

Thin Skinned

20150204_092936I made an unforgivable mistake that has affected my family for weeks now. They suffer and are in agony, discomfort and dismay of Biblical proportion. There is great wailing and gnashing of teeth. I promise that I will never make this mistake again. I fling myself at their feet, begging for mercy. Surely one erroneous step won’t damage and scar my beloveds for their entire lives. They curse me and turn away. I am sickened and shamed. I squirm with self -loathing and also because my butt hurts. After all, I suffer as well. We all suffer because (gasp) I bought single ply.

It was an honest mistake. I was in the Costco zone, where once one reaches the back of the store and has sampled seven types of cake, dip, cheese, barbecue and laundry detergent (oh I wasn’t supposed to eat that?) one becomes impervious to outside stimuli. Otherwise one would find the source of that infernal beep and put it out of its misery. And one would give the screaming child in the buggy WHATEVER THE HELL IT WANTS JUST TO SHUT IT UP. I am grateful for the calm focus that overcomes me shortly after I leave the frigid roller derby of the vegetable cooler. Fine, you can have those raspberries, but get out of my way while I grab the English cucumbers and before I smack you with my bag of seven Romaine Lettuce hearts.

The last time I weathered Costco, having survived the vegetable cooler, I dusted off my shoulders, Purelled my hands and removed the blood stains from the front of my cart. I burped up the lobster spread and washed it down with a juice sample. It was time for the home stretch and I was in the zone. The Costco Zone. I zeroed in on the list, no longer a victim of circumstance and outside stimuli. With laser like focus, I set my trajectory on the skyscrapers of toilet paper and paper towels. We needed both. I am hunter-gatherer. I put both in my cart. I continued to frozen foods.

Forty-five minutes later, I limped into the security of our home and muttered to Spousal Unit with what I was sure was my last gasp. “It’s all in the car,” I whispered as the vultures flew overhead, sizing me up. I would be lunch AND dinner. My dying act would have been to provide for my family. Maybe somebody should write that down and use it for my eulogy.

We heard a blood-curdling scream from the garage. I came back to life. Had Boy Child finally severed a limb with his angle grinder? Did his ’49 Packard return to life in Stephen King fashion and have him cornered in the driveway? He opened the mudroom door and stood, silhouetted in the frame with an object in his hand. It was a roll of toilet paper, individually wrapped, in what looked like butcher paper. I had thought that was kinda cool. And, well, sanitary.

He looked at his father and me with fear in his eyes. “Mom. Dad. Are we having money problems?” Well, honey, the college thing is kind of expensive, as well as the horse thing your sister is into. And we did kind of hemorrhage cash during the holidays. It is so sweet of you to ask. Why DO you ask? Are you going to get a job?

He looked at the beautifully individually wrapped roll of tp in his hand and then looked at me, huge blue eyes glistening with tears. “Well, I wondered. If you know, money was hard. Because. Well.” Then he turned menacing, squinting his eyes and thrusting his hand forward. “This (expletive) toilet paper is (expletive) single ply.”

It’s been a rough few weeks. A real pain in the patooty, one could say. Spousal Unit remains game. He is a man of few needs. Girl Child just rolls her eyes and stomps up to her room, where she probably has a stash hidden.

Boy Child will not forgive. This is a personal offense to him. I offered to take it to a homeless shelter. He was aghast. How could I do that to those poor people for whom life’s smallest comforts were always outside their reach? I offered to buy a different brand and have this in deep six storage for, you know, Armageddon. “That is wasteful,” he pronounced. It’s encouraging to know he doesn’t believe the end of times is near.

We could roll the yard of a nemesis or friend, which is often the same thing. No. It would disintegrate mid-air. He scratched his sore hind end. Well, just double up on the amount you use, I advised. A death stare rewarded my effort. He shot down each idea faster than I could release it from my mouth. It was verbal skeet. Dare I say crap shoot?

Left alone with my thoughts and 48 rolls of single ply, I pondered. Maybe we could use it for Daisy’s insulation. After all, that’s a project that is turning to crap. I keep making these weird choices that have my family members Googling “how to commit mom.” I don’t have the heart to tell them that they’re stuck with me. Me, a 1959 canned ham camper, a smelly, hairy dog with bad manners and a lifetime supply of toilet paper that doesn’t know how to get the job done. For my family, I am genuinely a pain in the butt.