The Unprecedented

Salutations, precious scions. 

I am writing this to you from the distant past. My greatest wish is that it reaches you one day. That the Internet, for all its immeasurable beauty and hideous flaws, still exists. Although only Amazon knows what will happen between now and then. 

Where to start? Perhaps the beginning. 

Another morning dawns. Gentle purple receding from the open wound of pink as tides of orange begin flowing in on a sea of puffy pillows. If there is one thing in The Unprecedented that hasn’t changed it’s how beautifully a day can start. It’s almost enough to make up for the fact that the rest of the day will be just like all the others.

Almost.

In our Quadrant, the disease threat has lowered significantly but is ever looming. We are still in the earliest stages of Limited Phase 3. Restrictions abound. Face Coverings are still required. Droplet has become a dirty word. 

We try to make the best of it, however. My mask is flamboyant and covered in sequins. On the Hard Days, I secretly pretend I am a superhero. Captain Extra. Why not? Fun is in short supply here in The Unprecedented. It’s important to steal joy whenever we can. 

They have finally allowed us to consume some of our rations at the Eating Houses, although only in the Outside Zone. Many have rejoiced at this development but this has slowed down the neighborhood Banana Bread and Sourdough Black Market. No one has dropped off an extra loaf on the porch in weeks. I suppose it was inevitable. After all these months, baking can no longer compete with the allure of Doom Scrolling on our devices. 

The Libraries have also opened albeit in Limited Capacity. If you stand in the Outside Zone, the Blessed Ones will gather the books you desire and place your Bag of Knowledge within the appropriate Social Distance Sector for you to pick up once they have retreated back within the safety of the doors. This small gift from the Re-Opening Committee is like a breath of fresh air when one is drowning. 

The Remote Learning begins soon. The Educators have exhausted themselves preparing, faced with an impossible task. They are most noble, rising above and beyond and then beyond some more. Although I confess if I never come across the phrase “student log-in information” again it will be too soon. Cursed be thy passwords.

Those of us tasked with the homeside of Remote Learning have made a silent pact that Happy Hour will be whenever it is needed. We shall let the boxed wine flow unimpeded by the morality of who we were in the year of Two Thousand And Nineteen. Time and Units of Alcohol have become utterly meaningless in The Unprecedented.  

Some of the people have begun forming Pods. Humans, now and forever more, are social animals. It is much needed, especially for The Small Ones, who have turned feral and have begun rejecting pants.  

I confess, there are days when it all seems much too bleak. I do not know where we would be if we couldn’t turn to the Narrative Visual Arts for comfort. All hail the Streaming Services! Praise be to Hulu! 

It is uncertain if we shall ever return to living in precedented times, but, lo, through the swirling maelstrom of this accursed New Normal, we humans still manage to adjust. Adapt. Evolve. Just like we always have. It is this thought, late at night, when the Insomnia strikes again, that brings a small measure of comfort. The thought I cling to as though to a dream, while images hazy with the mists of nostalgia begin wafting up from my subconscious. 

Of the Before Times.  

Back when Personal Space was something one took for granted, not something that was bitterly fought for and doled out like currency among one’s own family. Back when we worshipped such frivolous things as precious metals, instead of the life-giving force of Alone Time. The utter bliss of an Empty House. Only in The Unprecedented could Working Remotely be both a blessing and a curse. 

Such fools we mortals are. To not appreciate what we had while we had it. In another timeline, one that had not descended into its darkest depths, I would be forcing my Small Ones to brush their teeth right now and stuffing them into their Before Times clothes. Ones with actual buttons and zippers, instead of the ill-fitting mixed textile sacks we have grown accustomed to. My Quarantine Partner would be heading to work in the Away From Here while I walked the offspring to School. Then I would head to the Local Coffeeshop up the hill, for a pastry and a giant coffee and cloth-free conversations with friends.

But now. 

Now. 

There is no danish. Only Zoom. 

Alas, I regret nothing. It has to be done. To protect the Vulnerable Ones.

In the end, let it be known there is still hope. There is always hope. If there wasn’t, I would not be writing this to you now. Humor is our preservation and Compassion is our weapon. After so much Devastation, I only desire, above all, that We can get our Shit together enough so that You, the future generations, may thrive.

Pandemically yours, 

Your Great Elder, 

A’rill Brandolor

Breakfast for Dinner: Recipe for Disaster

SCENE: A messy living room, littered with the dead bodies of an epic battle between the Naked Barbies Battalion and the Funko Pop Regiment. Two young children, a boy and a girl, ages 6 and 4 respectively, are dramatically lying on the floor among the ruins.  

A Mother, late 30’s, comically full wine glass in hand and giving off strong swamp witch vibes, enters the room. 

Mother: Hey guys! What’s going on? 

Son: We’re BORED.

Daughter: SO BORED.

Mother: Ah, well, don’t let me interrupt. Just wanted to let you know I was going to do something different for tonight. What do you guys think about breakfast for dinner?

Son: What’s breakfast for dinner?

Mother: It’s, you know, when you have breakfast for dinner. 

Son: I don’t understand.

Mother: Breakfast. For dinner. I’ll make eggs. Sausage. Oh! Homefries! 

Daughter: But we already ate breakfast. 

Mother: Yeah. I know. But this is breakfast for dinner. 

*sound of crickets*

Mother: It’s fun. 

Son: Why?

Mother: Why is it fun?

Son: Yeah.

Daughter: Yeah. 

Mother: Because…it’s different. It’s, I don’t know. Breaking the rules. Eating breakfast food at night. We’re culinary rebels. Also, bacon. 

Daughter: Can we have chocolate for dinner instead?

Mother: No. 

Daughter: But chocolate is fun. 

Son: But you always say we can’t have macaroni and cheese for breakfast.

Mother: Yeah. And?

Son: And you said we couldn’t have macaroni and cheese for breakfast because it’s not a breakfast food but now you’re saying we can eat breakfast food for dinner. Were you lying?

Mother: No. Look, it’s just something fun.

Son: Macaroni and cheese is fun. 

Mother: We’re not talking about macaroni and cheese. We’re talking about dinner tonight. 

Son: OK. But can we have macaroni and cheese for breakfast tomorrow?

Mother: No.  

Son: Can we have macaroni and cheese as breakfast for dinner tonight?

Mother: No! Look, you guys aren’t getting the whole spirit of this thing. 

Daughter: There is always chocolate. Everyone likes chocolate. 

Son: I don’t understand. What are the rules!? 

Mother: It only goes one way. You can have breakfast for dinner but not dinner for breakfast.

Son: Why?

Mother: Because a society has to have rules or it falls apart. 

Son: Society is dumb.

Mother: Yes, it is. 

Son: So we can have macaroni and cheese?

Mother: *let’s out primal scream*

Daughter: Gummi bears are also fun. 

The Father enters the room, oblivious. 

Father: Hey gang, what are we thinking for dinner? 

The Mother drains her wine glass. She lets out an impressive burp. 

Mother: Pizza. 

Son: Yay!

Daughter: Yay! 

Father: Again? 

Daughter: Can we get chocolate pizza?

Mother: I’m going to get more wine.

END SCENE 

A van after my own heart

It’s been said that fortune favors the bold. Which, if true, would explain a lot about my life. At best, I can probably be described as casually feisty. And that’s only after an entire pot of coffee. 

So, fortune doesn’t so much favor me as ignore me most of the time and then suddenly remember I’m there, which is when she surprises me with either a slightly larger than normal tax return or a weird skin disease, depending on how she is feeling that day. 

It’s worked out fairly well so far, however. I love my life even though there is a shocking lack of money, jewels OR vast kingdoms in it. It’s also usually a pleasant surprise when things just happen to fall into my lap and work out. 

Take, for example, how my family and I recently found ourselves the proud owners of a van. A Honda Odyssey, to be more precise. From 2003, not to brag. Tan in color, in case you weren’t jealous enough. It’s a van totally suitable for a woman such as myself who firmly grabs life by the coattails and just hangs on for dear life.

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How we acquired this van is also very on brand with my lifestyle. It was already parked in our driveway. It was the van our landlord’s handyman’s right hand man, Jacob, used to haul right hand handyman stuff around in. He was all like, you guys want this? And we were like maybe? And he named a decent price. And we were like, I mean it’s already here everything.

That was big selling point No. 1. Because I personally would rather shove some butter knives slowly into my eyeballs than set foot on a car lot. 

Selling point No. 2 was that I have spent the last 16 years riding around in the car I got my last year of college. A car, may I humbly add, that now has two, count them two, working doors thanks to George and Mike down at Alewife Auto. I don’t know if any of you have ever had the pleasure of riding in a two-door 2004 Hyundai Accent but it’s basically one step above a clown car. There was barely room for me in there. Then I added a husband, a dog and two kids. Plus all our crap. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the pleasure of riding in any car with small children, but they need to take every single they own. And no less than 47 snacks. The breaking point though was our recent vacation to the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. We drove four hours each way and we were packed tighter than…well, then nothing else I can think of because nothing else in the world has been packed as tight as we were in that car in all of history. And while painfully unfurling myself from the pretzel position I had been sitting in upon arriving home, I said to myself “never again.”

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Then, what do you know, lo and behold, there was a van! Ours for the taking! Once the check clears (fingers crossed)! Fortune had briefly glanced my way again and shrugged her shoulders!

Her name is Brunhilda. Our van, that is. Because she’s going to be towing around a bunch of tiny ginger Vikings. (And yes, my friend Melissa and I came up with the name after drinking beer with a very high alcohol content). 

I haven’t driven her yet. But I did go sit inside. Y’all. Y’ALL. The sheer amount of SPACE in these things. It felt like it went on forever. Like that dolly zoom effect they do in movies where suddenly all perception is distorted. I probably could have done a cartwheel in there. If I wasn’t so scared that doing a cartwheel at my age would result in a permanent injury. 

Needless to say, I have big plans for our Big Lady. 

Road trips. 

Camping trips. 

Drive-in movie theater nights.

Carpooling somewhere, anywhere, with anyone, anytime.

Daytime mommy naps followed by daytime wine drinking. Followed by another mommy nap. 

My new writing office.

A podcast studio every Thursday. 

World’s smallest rave party. 

Live down by the river if things get worse.

The possibilities are endless. 

I’ll admit, it’s nice to be excited about something. This year, oof. This year. Well, you already know. It’s the kind of year that makes buying a 17-year-old van one of the lone bright spots. 

But hey, hasn’t it also been said that life is not about what you have, it’s about what you do with what you have? And what I have now is an old ass van named Brunhilda. And the name of a dude willing to paint a van mural of a mostly naked Viking woman riding a pink unicorn that is shooting flames out of its mouth. 

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An evening with Stephen King

When it comes to long-term relationships, it’s important to surprise each other every once in a while. If you’ve been together long enough, this can be done as easily as accidentally listening to your partner when they’re talking. Which is how I heard the following last night. 

“If you weren’t so scared of spiders, I’d take you down into the sewers by my mom’s house.” 

An actual sentence uttered by my husband of ten years. I haven’t listened to a damn thing the man’s said in at least three years (the “Hamilton” soundtrack just blaring in my mind every time he opens his mouth), and yet, somehow, this is the one thing that got through. Blame it on the pandemic and our isolation, but so help me, I heard it and I couldn’t unhear it, which meant I was about to get to know my husband better whether I wanted to or not.

“Say what now?” I replied, as the sound of a record scratch reverberated through my head.

“Yeah…have I never told you about when I used to hang out in the sewers?”

“You have not,” I responded, while looking around futilely for anyone else who could corroborate that this was happening. 

“Yeah, you know the drainage ditch across from my parents house? If you follow that down to Farmington Avenue, there are these two concrete tunnels, side by side. You know the kind I mean?”

“I do not. I did not play in the sewer as a child,” I said, unable to hide my smile. “But by all means, continue.”

“Well, one was big enough you could crawl through and after about hundred yards, you came to a room down there. It was a roughly seven square foot concrete room, with a bunch of drainage pipes. My buddies and I, we’d go down there with flashlights and hang out.”

You think you know someone. You think you know all their stories. Only to find out that their childhood was apparently written by Stephen King. 

“What is your life, dude?” I asked after a long pause. 

“Oh, that’s nothing. We once made a hideout out of an abandoned foundation for a house.”

HOO BOY. 

“Hang on,” I said. “I’m going to need another beer.”

I grabbed two. If Stephen King has taught me anything, it’s that stories that begin with children in sewers tend to be long.  

“It was about three feet down, with steps built in and a dirt floor. We made a roof out of broken down tree limbs so it was hidden from view. We’d steal cigarettes from the Circle K and go down there after school,” said the man I formerly knew as my mild-mannered husband. “We had a little radio we’d play. Our one buddy, he had a rough home life, he’d go there when he needed to get away. It was great for about three years and then some high school kids discovered it and kicked us out.”

“Please tell me at some point you guys poked a dead body with a stick.”

“No.”

“Did you pull a gun on the high school punks? Because they tried to steal your dead body?”

“No.”

He let out a long and well earned irritated sigh. 

“But we did build a treehouse one summer,” he added. 

“Of course you did.”

“Well, what was your childhood like?” he asked.

“Normal. Not some combination of ‘IT’ and ‘Stand By Me.’” 

“Like I already said, there was never a dead body. Seriously, what did you do in the summers?”

Oh, because apparently we were getting to know me now. I took another sip of my beer. 

“You know,” I said, “running around feral in the woods and cornfields. Minimal adult supervision.”

“So you were ‘Children of the Corn’?” 

I laughed hard. Which might also have been because I was now on my third beer. 

“I was also prom queen,” I snorted.

We both started laughing. We laughed so hard, in fact, that we woke up our young son. He shuffled out of his room in that terrifying way small children have late at night. 

“‘The Shining!’” we both shouted while pointing at him.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked, rubbing his eyes.

“Nothing,” said his father.

“Redrum,” said his immature mother.  

He very wisely turned around and went back to bed. 

And so, the point of all this is that, one, the world was a Stephen King novel long before 2020. And two, I think I’m going to start listening to my husband more. Especially while we are living through this diet version of “The Stand.” 

Turns out getting to know your family is worth it. They have lives worthy of books. 

 

The 5 stages of house cleaning with children

 

Stage One: Optimism(-ish)

Hey kids! Come here please. …Guys? Come on, I know you hear me. …BECAUSE I SAID SO. 

Don’t make me start counting. One! TWOOO…good choice. OK, now before you start groaning, hear me out. Today we’re going to clean the house! Yay! 

(Fifteen minute pause for loud whining and fake tantrums)

Wow, those are some really good points you guys made there. I’ve totally changed my mind. Of course I’m kidding. Now start cleaning. This entire house is a disaster. But hey, we can make it fun! We’ll blast some loud music and chug coffee while we do it, alright? Fine, root beer in your case. Trust me, there is nothing better than having a clean house. You’ll see. Now who wants to hear some Tupac? Ugh. Fine. Taylor Swift. 

Stage Two: Frustration

OK, let’s start with your rooms. I want you to put any toys you don’t want anymore in this bin and put any trash or broken toys in this bin. Dirty clothes in the hamper, books on the bookshelves, toys in the toy box. Yes, I know. It does sound like a lot of work. Because you guys have not cleaned anything since the last time we did this even though I tell you to clean your rooms daily. 

Look, watch how easy it is. Take this thing. Do you want to keep this? You do? This thing I have never seen you play with? It’s your favorite toy? Oh, your favorite toy of all time? That’s interesting because I’m pretty sure it’s actually half of a plastic hanger. OK, OK, OK, fine! You can keep it. But how about we put this marker that doesn’t work anymore in the bin. Oh, it’s also your favorite toy? You named it Mr. Marker? Yeah, no, sure. You have to let me get rid of this baby rattle, though. Really!? You will? Oh, good job, kiddo, I’m proud of you…Hey, why is this empty? WHO’S BEEN TAKING TOYS OUT OF THE “TOYS TO DONATE” BIN!?

Stage Three: Bargaining (Followed By Anger)

Look, guys, if we all work together we can get this done in an hour, tops. And maybe, if you kids do a good enough job, and stop with all the complaining, we can have ice cream when we’re done? I don’t know, whatever flavor is in that ancient tub in the back of the freezer. We’ll even throw some M&M’s on top. Yes, fine, marshmallows too. Just keep cleaning. 

Wait, why are you crying? Yes, you have to get rid of it. It’s one-third of a broken Mardi Gras beaded necklace. No, you do not love it. Oh stop it, it is not your best friend. You own 189 stuffies. Make one of them your best friend, alright? 

What the…is this a freakin’ SANDWICH IN YOUR LAUNDRY BASKET? 

Stage Four: Depression (Followed By More Anger)

I just wanted a clean home. Is that too much to ask? Other moms have clean homes. Probably. 

Oh, who am I kidding? What’s even the point? It’s just going to get messy again. Life is meaningless. 

No, just because I’m laying here on your floor in the fetal position does not mean you can stop. Just step around me. Well, someday when you have your own children you can lay in their filthy, gross rooms in a puddle of your own existential crisis while they pick up one single Lego at a time at the speed of molasses. 

Wait, is that…is that all the donation toys UNDER YOUR BED!? SON OF A …

Stage Five: Acceptance of Corner Cutting

Oh, just throw it under the bed. I don’t care! Let’s just get it done. No, of course we can’t just stop. What lesson would that be teaching you? Now go shove all these broken Transformers into your closet. 

(Opens bottle of wine, take giant swig straight from bottle)

Yeah, whatever, you can keep it. Go put it on top of the old washcloth pile. It’s next to the naked Barbie pile. Behind the generic Magna-Tiles pile! And when you’re done with that shove these half eaten baby board books haphazardly into your bookshelves. Well, shove harder then. 

Yup, alright. I’m calling it. We’re done. Everyone into the kitchen for some ancient freezer-burned-flavored ice cream. 

We’ve earned it.

 

This girl is on fire

I always assumed I would have an arch nemesis someday. My personality kind of demands it. Obviously it would be someone who was cool and awesome, someone worthy of battling a badass antihero with a heart of gold such as myself. But also clearly someone with less wit and less awesome hair. 

Imagine my surprise, then, when my arch nemesis turned out to be the sun. 

Oh yeah. Let’s talk about polymorphic light eruption, kids. First, of course, by discussing what polymorphic light eruption sounds like:

A mildly successful electro pop duo.

A phrase shouted out by the Power Rangers. 

Part of a convoluted plot in a sci-fi novel.

How forest fires on distant planets start. 

What pretentious yet smart people call volcanic activity. 

A cool space thing NASA discovered that you hear at the end of the morning news segment. 

A horrifying space thing NASA discovered that you hear at the beginning of the morning news segment. 

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Now let’s discuss what polymorphic light eruption actually is:

Stupid people who develop a stupid allergy to the stupid sun out of nowhere.

It started last spring. I thought it was a fluke but then it happened again this year. It normally appears on the chest or the arms but I am one of the super lucky rare ones where I get the rash on my face. You know “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark”? The scene where they open the ark of the covenant and it melts that Nazi’s face off? I’m like that dude three seconds into the scene but without the relief of my face ever actually melting off. Or of the sweet, sweet release of eventual death. I just have to sit here with my giant face rash, all red and itchy and poofy and on fire, and continue to act like a human. The good news is that after the rash goes away, which it only does if I avoid the sun for two weeks, it will likely come roaring back whenever I am exposed to the sun again. The even better news is that this will now likely happen every spring and summer until I die.

There aren’t charity runs for this skin disease. Probably because it’s mild and none of us who have it can be outside in the sun that long anymore. There is no cure and not much in the way of treatment. Probably because the universe is cruel and unfair and dumb and stupid.  

It just really, really sucks and makes summer suck. Especially this summer. The summer of 2020, which was going SO WELL ANYWAY. 

I love two things (besides my children and husband and fried cheese and blah, blah, blah). Those two things are running and going to the beach. Two things that are all the more important during this crap show of a year, since they are two things I can do outside and, as long as I avoid popular spots, without many people around. They are also, of course, two things that make it almost impossible to avoid the sun. 

So, at this point, all I have left to say is, nice try, sun. And nice try, 2020. But you will not defeat me. 

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Oh no. No matter how many murder hornets, chicken sandwich wars, global pandemics, quarantines, racists, bigots, homophobics, sexists, economy crashes, vaccine conspiracy theories, entire continents burning, World War III threats, armed protesters demanding haircuts, actual alien footage, “Tiger King” documentaries you throw out. And no matter how much you turn my personal life into that level in Super Mario Bros. 3 where the angry cartoon sun is literally trying to kill you.  

You. Will. Not. Defeat. Me. 

And do you know why? Because humans are nothing if not adaptable. That is what we do best, in fact. That is why we are survivors.

We adapt. 

So I will sit inside with my volcano face and I will keep writing and I will do my daily run at 4 a.m. to avoid the stupid murderous sun. And I will go to the beach. You hear me? I’m going to the beach and I will dress like Morticia Addams and I will totally pull the look off. And I’m going to snag bits and pieces of happiness whenever possible. I’m going to love what I should love more and ignore what I should ignore more and speak up against what is wrong more and support those who need my support right now. 

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Because I will not be defeated this year. Eight months into this horrific dystopian future and I now eat disappointment and threats of World War III for breakfast. 

Better luck next year. 

 

Box Spring Hot Box

It was the title that came first. It floated up from the mysterious depths of my sleep deprived brain, like a phoenix rising from the ashes of a terrible night. 

Or arose like a zombie. That wanted to eat my brain. Was eating my brain. Or something. 

I’m so tired. 

Anyway, the point is. What is the point? Oh, right. The point is I know what you’re thinking. What is up with that title? It’s a funny story actually. It was the title that came first. 

Wait, I already said that.

OK. Where was I? There I was, trapped for hours, trapped in a hell of my own making, when it came to me. 

Box Spring Hot Box.

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Heh. That’s really funny, I thought to myself. Although now that I’m writing this, it’s not quite as clever as it sounded at 3 a.m. It’s mildly amusing at best. But if I change it now then I have to rewrite the whole beginning and no one is really going to read this anyway except my mom so…moving on. 

What is a box spring hot box, you ask? Well, it started out fine. Sweet even. A tale as old as sleep. I was gently nudged out of a deep slumber by the horrifying sensation that a presence near me was breathing heavily. My eyelids fluttered open to behold an extra from Stephen King’s “Children of the Corn” staring at me. Confusingly, this tiny devil mumbled something about having a nightmare and so I resisted the urge to dropkick the creepy face long enough to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and realize the monster was my own child. 

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So I let him crawl into bed with us. Just for a minute, I said sternly, both of us knowing that I am a gigantic liar, lair, stained pajama pants on fire. 

So he hopped on up, laying on top of the covers and immediately taking up more real estate than was necessary for a 45-pound body. Meanwhile I scooched closer to my husband, who was blissfully snoring away on my other side, the covers wrapped around him like a tortilla. Meanwhile meanwhile, the dog, disturbed by all this commotion, sighed exasperatedly and scooched over as well, moving to lay at the bottom of my feet. 

It was nice at first. Cozy. For a moment I even started to think I understood why all those hippies insist the entire family sleep in the same bed. I was surrounded by love. 

And body heat. I was surrounded by all the body heat. Why was everyone giving off so much heat? Who decided 98.6 degrees is a reasonable number? It’s a ridiculous temperature for a human body. Why can’t we all be a balmy 77? 

It was hot. So bloody hot. And I was trapped under the covers. I tried squirming out but was blocked by the headboard. The dog was blocking the southern exit and there was also the irrational fear that I would get stuck midway and end up roasted to death, cooked by my very own family.  

Why didn’t I just wake one of them up, I hear you asking. Well, well, well, aren’t we just FULL of questions today. 

Sorry. I’m a bit cranky. I don’t know if you heard but I didn’t get much sleep last night. 

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Anyway, waking up either my son or husband so that I could crawl out would have been the logical thing to do. Hence the problem. You’re talking logic. Logic at an illogical time during an illogical year. And, let’s face it, with a ridiculous specimen of a woman. 

To my credit, I did briefly flirt with the idea of waking one of them up. Actually, I was so hot I downright seduced the idea of shoving them onto the floor full force just to feel fresh air on my body again. But then I looked over at my loud snoring burrito, who had been working round the clock from home for months. Stressed and exhausted. Then I turned my head to look at my very own Vitruvian Man, just splayed out in all his tiny glory, who has been struggling with a world that doesn’t make sense and nightmares of Mommy and Daddy getting sick. Even the hellhound at my feet, even if I was willing to crawl out that way, is about to turn 15. He’s been such a good boy, even though his hips hurt and we kept bringing babies home from the hospital without ever once consulting him. 

They all deserved sleep. Peaceful sleep. Or so it seemed in my muddled mind at 3 a.m. 

So I lay in my box spring hot box for the rest of the night. Alternating between analyzing my latest dream (playing basketball with Brad Pitt, where he kept making baskets by throwing the ball from behind his back all while discussing the writing of James Agee, whom I have never read) and replaying every embarrassing moment from junior high (which are numerous and still not funny to me yet). 

Then, like a rainbow after the storm, my husband grunted and farted and I knew the long night had ended. I would soon be free. He was a mere yawn and unselfconscious scratch away from being awake. 

And the point to all this is…

What is the point? There is a point. I came up with it somewhere around paragraph three. I need more coffee. Oh yes, the point is, I yelled at my kids today. For picking their noses and not cleaning their rooms like I asked. I was snippy with my husband, who made the mistake of standing there. I even had a very stern talking to with the dog who keeps aggressively shedding. 

And so the point is I wrote this to let them all know how much I love them. Even when I’m cranky and tired and yelling. Love comes out in many different and often strange ways. Ways like staying up half the night because you just want the ones you love to find as much peace as possible in this world. 

Although next time, I think I’ll just kick one of them to the floor and show them my love by getting a good night’s sleep myself. 

Impossible Girls

To my dearest daughter on the eve of your 4th birthday,

I will never forget the day you were born. Mostly because it’s hard to forget when someone slits your abdomen open and pulls a human being out of it. Then I heard your very first cry and tears welled up in my own eyes. You sounded like a dying pterodactyl. It was a screech so piercing it felt like an ice pick was stabbing my brain. And I’m not the only one. The nurses on the pediatric ward all agreed it was one of the most intense caterwauls they had ever heard. One of them actually twitched whenever you cried. 

Oh, but how perfect you were. When you were sleeping. 

It’s been an immense pleasure these past few years watching you grow up. I even had a front row seat because you were never not climbing all over me. Four years in and I’ve peed by myself twice. Then, just when I couldn’t take it anymore, you’d fall asleep on my chest and finally stay still long enough to let me smell the top of your head. Which smelled like sweat and macaroni and cheese and everything that is right with the world. 

It’s happening less and less now. The lazy afternoons listening to your soft breathing. On the plus side, you’ve taken to climbing things other than me. The unsecured bookcases. The door frames. The extremely large and heavy dresser. Which goes to show that you are a gal who won’t take no for an answer. No matter how many times your parents scream it at you. 

Then again, what else could one expect from the girl who invented a game called Fireball? If you are ever reading this in the future and are wondering how you play Fireball, I can’t help you. Four-year-old you won’t tell me. All I know is that you play it in your brother’s room and it often involves horrific crashing noises. One time you were playing it and you tore out of his room hollering “I’m going on the run!” Then you grabbed a handful of Cheerios from the table, shoved them in your mouth, and kept right on running full speed to the other side of the house. 

I’m pretty sure you won that day.

This other time you and your brother were sitting on the couch and you asked him if he wanted to play “The Floor is Lava.” He excitedly responded with “yes!” and you immediately pushed him off the couch with a spectacular bang. 

Speaking of loud noises, you have less of a pitter patter and more of a brigade of war drums. You make the grand entrance of tyrants three times your size. How something so small could make such a cacophony while dressed like a butterfly princess is an impressive achievement. So much so that I had to search for a word big enough to describe it and came across “cacophony.” 

You dance like you want everyone watching. You hug until it hurts. You sing often and loud and joyously and completely off-key. You scream “I hate you, Momma!” at least three times a day. You tell me you love me at least ten. You love books and dirt and puddles and cats and lipstick and Super Mario Bros. 

You have an annoying devotion to fairness. You want answers to all the questions. Even the hard ones. You get mad when it’s not what you want to hear.  

You are nothing like I’d thought you’d be. You’re better than anything I could have dreamed of.

You make me want to tear my hair out some days. You are utterly impossible some days. 

And thank god. 

You are growing up in an impossible world, baby girl. It is scary and unjust and exhausting and extreme. 

And an impossible world needs girls like you. Fearless, strong, loud. It needs people who love fiercely and aren’t afraid to fight. Who won’t take no for an answer. Who have war drums for feet. 

Which is why, on my worst days, the days where it all seems hopeless, I look at you and your wild, tangled hair. The dirt on your left cheek. The butterfly wings and the sword. You make me want to fight the impossible. 

You make me want to be an impossible girl too. 

 

Not all that glitters is marigold

I once was very mean to a marigold. It wasn’t anything personal. It was merely in the name of science.

Specifically, that name was the Fourth Grade Science Fair. The birthplace of so many childhood wrongs. Somehow I had convinced my teacher of the merit of the hypothetical question “Does Being Nice to Plants Help Them Grow?” A fantastic scientific query when you are both lazy but insecure about being lazy and want to make it kind of seem like you care while doing minimal work. 

So I planted two marigold seeds. Once I day I would sing to one and read it books and was on my best behavior. The “grandma is over for a visit and it’s her birthday” behavior. 

And to the other one I was verbally abusive in that unique, dark, unholy way that only a 10-year-old girl can be. 

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I don’t remember my official “results” or even my grade. The only conclusion I took away was the knowledge that the entirety of this one marigold’s life was having a freckled brat angrily try out new curse words on it when her mother wasn’t around. 

This lingering guilt likely explains my current awkward relationship to plants. Why I have never gardened. Why house plants stress me out. Why I prefer to let plants run wild and free in nature. I do not, under any circumstance, want to be responsible for them. As soon as they are in my care, I feel the crushing burden of having to keep them not only alive, but happy. And I don’t necessarily trust myself with the weight of this commitment considering I have seen the immoral results of my former mad scientist self. 

I killed a flower WITH WORDS.

I’m a monster. 

Which brings me to last week. There are always consequences when one tries to play God with Nature. Mine came in the form of my friend Melissa, who very sweetly and generously surprised my kids with their very own starter vegetable garden kit. Complete with 15 different seed pods. It was one of those enrichment activities I’d heard so much about but have never, ever done with my children. I wasn’t worried though. At least at first. I assumed like most other things that were good for us, my family and I would talk excitedly about it for 15 minutes and then forget about it completely. 

Oh, but then how their eyes lit up. For the first time in a long time. They were engaged. They were getting along. They were happy in a way I hadn’t seen since school shut down. 

Sigh. 

So we planted the tiny seeds in the tiny pods while the kids peppered me with one thousand questions. All of which I enthusiastically answered wrong because I know zero about gardening but still wanted to encourage their newfound passion.

“Momma! What are turnips!?”

“Sad onions!”

“How did turnips get their name!?”

“They were discovered by Joe Turnip of Indiana!”

“What do leeks taste like?”

“Like celery that is wearing a bow tie!” 

And from there things started to spin out of control. I casually asked my mom to help me find something to put all these seed pods in because she knows more about gardening than her marigold murdering daughter. Before I knew it, a large garden bed, a toolkit, adorable tiny gardening gloves and four giant bags of soil were making their way to my house. Because a Memaw who misses her grandchildren and who has an Amazon Prime account at her disposal is a dangerous creature. 

Then my husband started talking about how we’ll need a trellis for the tomato plants and maybe a tiny fence to keep out the bunnies and maybe we could plant some sunflowers too. 

And daisies, added my daughter.

And tulips, added my son. 

And, lo and behold, I am now the reluctant owner of a garden. Responsible for the health and happiness of dozens of tiny lives. Which means I’m obsessively watching them and constantly questioning if I’m over or under watering and following my husband around the house telling him about all the awful things I learned on Google today.

“Did you know some ancient religions thought plants had souls?”

“Did you know trees make cries for help? Like when they’re in danger or thirsty?”

“Did you know plants know when they’re being eaten? They send out defense mechanisms to try to stop it.”

Sigh. 

I guess the punishment fits the crime. As they say, the arc of history bends toward justice. 

But as they also say, you can lead a horticulture but you can’t make her like it. 

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Welcome to the Neighborhood!

(Based on only a slightly exaggerated true story…)

Oh hey, hi! Hi! You must be our new downstairs neighbors. So nice to finally meet you! We saw you moving your stuff in. Not that we were creeping on you from the windows or anything. OK, maybe just a little bit. Haha! Kidding. It was a lot. 

Sorry. Am I coming on too strong? I’ve been told that before. Although I’m sure that’s coming as no surprise to you. I mean, just look at me. Our very first meeting and I’m standing here on the porch holding two martinis and a stack of Captain Underpants books while wearing my jammie jams. My daughter and I were just getting ready to drop these off at the neighbor’s house down the street. You know, as one does. Ha! See, last week they dropped off some beer and some children’s books and now we’re just returning the favor. Kinda like a traveling children’s library bar thing. So it’s, you know, less weird than it looks. 

2020, amiright? 

Oh, speaking of which, this little imp beside me is my daughter Mae. She’s three. And I’m just now realizing she’s not wearing any pants. Sorry. At least I wrestled her into some shoes, eh? What’s that? Oh, that’s just a toy knife in her hand. It came from her brother’s kitchen set he got last Christmas. She’s named it Stabby. Takes it with her wherever she goes. It’s not sharp. So, no need to worry. Sweetie, say hi to the new neighbors. No growling, we talked about this. *whispers* She hasn’t really been handling social distancing well. 

So, you’re renting out the first floor, yeah? I know they’ve been doing renovations for months down there but didn’t realize they were HONEY, STOP YELLING FROM THE WINDOW. We’re talking to the new neighbors. THE NEW NEIGHBORS! Well, if you want to meet them get down here then! Oof. Kids, huh? I mean, you two don’t have kids…I’m assuming. Oh good. I mean, children are the greatest things on Earth and also simultaneously the worst. Speaking of which, here’s my other one. This is my son, Riker. Could not be more proud of him. He survived three months of kindergarten with a teacher that makes Miss Hannigan from “Annie” look maternal. In my defense, what is up with math these days? Hmm, what’s that? Oh ha! Yes, it is quite the outfit indeed. He loves that winter hat. We just can’t manage to get him to take it off even though it’s June. Although I think it goes well with the shorts and cowboy boots, all considered. 

And this here pair of eyeballs sticking out of that jungle of facial hair is my husband, Ryan. He’s been working from home since March and has only had one day off in, like, ten weeks so he’s a bit feral at the moment. At least he showered. Like, three days ago, tops. Right, sweetie? Yes, fine, you can go back inside. You did your 30 seconds of daily interaction. 

Men, amiright?

What’s that now? Oh yes, I know exactly what noise you’re talking about. That’s our dog, Buffy. Buffy the Male Dog. See, I didn’t know he was a boy when we got him. Actually I did but I really wanted a dog named Buffy because I thought it sounded hilarious and it kinda just made it funnier that he was a boy. ANYHOO, that loud hacking sound is just one of his old man noises. He’s almost 15 and has accumulated quite a lot of them. I know it sounds awful and like he’s dying but I assure you he is not. The devil himself is going to die before that old bag of bones does. 

Ha! H…a…

Sorry. I didn’t mean to start crying. I just love that stupid, smelly dog so much. I’ll die if I ever lose him. You know? Do you have pets? No? No pets and no kids. No wonder you look so…what’s the word? Not frumpy. Well rested. Happy. 

By the way, the red car with the gray hood and the duct taped window is ours. But we are happy to share our driveway with you if you ever need it. We don’t use the car much anymore anyway. See, this one time a storm blew a fridge into our car and it’s a long story but on the plus side, we did recently take it to the mechanic and both doors open now and there is no longer an exhaust leak inside slowly killing us all. 

So, anyway, I better drop these drinks off on our neighbor’s porch like the good little booze fairy I am. Huh. That didn’t sound very politically correct. Sorry. Gee, can you tell I haven’t been around too many people lately? Ha! Oof, I miss people so much. Hey! Do you guys happen to roller skate? Yeah, no, that’s ok, it was a long shot. I’ve been trying to learn so I can justify drunkenly buying a pair of professional grade ones so if you ever hear me screaming like a banshee at a high speed down the street, it’s just me learning my lesson. 

Oop, one last thing. If you hear our fire alarm, don’t worry. It just means dinner’s ready. 

OK, well, lovely to have finally met you and all. Sorry we are ridiculous people. And welcome to the neighborhood!