Throwback Thursday: Animal Lover

(If you’ve tuned into this blog because of my post about standardized testing, welcome! Although I’m passionate about that cause, I don’t write about it very often… but if you’re looking for stories about parenting, chocolate and wine, traveling, or people [that’d mostly be me] getting into ridiculous situations and blunders but still trying to find the humor in everything, then I hope you’ll stick around!)

The other night, we were watching TV and this commercial for Scrubbing Bubbles came on. In case you haven’t seen it, I’ll give you a play-by-play (you’re welcome): you hear delightful bathtime sounds coming from behind a mostly-closed (bathroom) door which, when opened (by the mom-lady) reveals two young girls using the bathtub to “wash” what can only be described as this… filthy thing. Okay, it’s a dog of some sort — a tiny, disheveled, exceedingly bedraggled-looking dog that snarls at the mom-lady as soon as she opens the door. (Her horrified gasp when she sees the creature staring back at her is maybe my favorite part of the commercial.) There is mud and dirt and soap absolutely everywhere and the girls are begging, “Can we keep him? PLEASE?”

Anyway, the dad-guy comes in and scares the mom-lady with his horrified gasp (actually, maybe this is my favorite part of the commercial…), and it’s mayhem everywhere, but no worries! Scrubbing Bubbles is what you need for this type of mess – cut to the clean bathroom (which the mom-lady has wiped down, of course, because stereotypes), all is well, the end. I pretty much love this commercial, not only because it makes me laugh… not only because I – like most parents – can relate to this chaos… but also because it reminded me of a little, um, encounter I had in my own mom’s bathroom with my own… thing… many years ago.

I’ve always had a soft spot for animals. I also had no problem getting dirty as a kid (who’m I kidding – even now, if I can only find one stain on a sweater, I declare it good to go). Add to those qualities my ADHD impulsiveness and, well, let’s just say I probably didn’t always use the best judgement when it came to critters and such.

There was the time in kindergarten or first grade when, walking home from the school bus, I found a squirrel carcass in the road, picked it up by the tail, and proceeded to bring it home to show my mom, unceremoniously plopping it on the kitchen table. There was also the time only a couple of years ago when I opened the garage door to find myself face to face with a raccoon. Not wanting to be attacked (it was hiding behind the storage bins and could have made a run for me at any moment), I called Nick from my cell phone – he was in the living room at the time – and told him to come and get rid of the raccoon. Well, that’s easier said than done; while Nick hit tennis balls its way and poked at it with a hockey stick, this fellow hissed manically and jauntily ran across every shelf, knocking over anything that got in his way like Steve Martin as Ruprecht the Monkey Boy in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Meanwhile, I’d nicknamed him Jasper (after the pet raccoon in a Little House on the Prairie episode) and kept calling out helpful advice like, “Please be good to Jasper! Don’t hurt him! Jasper just wants to be free!” At one point, Jasper essentially hurtled himself at Nick, practically foaming at the mouth, before finally scurrying out the door.

So, I have a very good track record with wild animals.

One fall (I think it was fall, although I could totally be making this up; the season isn’t important so let’s just go with it) many moons ago, Nick and I were visiting my mom’s house down in Westchester. I remember spending the night at her house, which means we were still living in Denver at the time and had just come back east to visit, either for a holiday or for wedding planning. Anyway, as we pulled into the driveway, I noticed this… cat… loping across my mother’s lawn.

You guys, this poor little fella was not in good shape. He seemed young – maybe young enough to still need his mama – but it was clear that he hadn’t been with his mama in a long time. He was filthy, with no collar, as though his owner hadn’t been taking very good care of him. He was unnaturally thin and his unusual spotted/striped fur was patchy – like maybe he had a disease? – and his tail was completely devoid of fur until the very end, where it poofed out in a little fur explosion. He was… meowing? Sort of? and seemed very hungry, so I immediately took pity on this sweet creature and concluded that we needed to show him a bit of kindness.

My mom and Nick, heartless miscreants that they are, wanted no part of rescuing this darling kitty, so I had to take him on all by myself. Now, I’m not entirely crazy, so I knew better than to just pick him up – rabies and whatnot – so, after donning a jacket and a pair of my stepdad’s work gloves, I gathered the pathetic furball into my arms and brought him into the house.

I remember two specific things about that moment: a) that he was a lot heftier than I’d anticipated (I didn’t know cats were so sturdy!) and b) that my mom’s dog, Jazz, began losing her mind the instant I set foot inside. Jazz, a beautiful Shetland Sheepdog, had many wonderful qualities, but being quiet wasn’t really one of them; still, she surprised me with the ferocity of her barking. I mean, frantic, maniacal, WHAT IS THAT THING YOU HAVE BROUGHT BEFORE ME barking.
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In true TBT fashion, this is not only a throwback photo of Jazz but of Nick and me, too, circa 1990-something. I could’ve removed the sticky notes that my mom added, but they’re my favorite part…

I was all, “Jazz, this is just a cat… A poor, abandoned kitten… Chill out…” and she was all, “WTF ARE YOU DOING I WILL DESTROY IT.” Fearing for the safety of both the dog and the stray, I decided to take my little lost lamb into the bathroom and lock the door. Once inside, I set it in the bathtub and leaned in for a closer look. I don’t know much about cats, but this one had obviously been through the wringer. His ears were pointier than I expected them to be, with little caps of black across their tips, and his face had this extra? fur that came down from the sides, like jowls. And he kept making this… noise? that was not exactly purring but more like low growling.

That seemed odd, but given that I have absolutely zero experience with cats, what did I know? He was obviously emaciated, so I knew I needed to feed him. I left him in the bathroom with a saucer of milk (my mom was thrilled with this decision) and called animal control to ask if there was somewhere we should bring him in because his owners must be missing his sweet face, duh. The woman with whom I spoke informed me that a) the whole cats-like-milk thing is a myth and I was probably hurting him (why are we perpetuating this terrible myth?? Poor buddy!), and b) that many cats are, in fact, outside cats, so the best thing to do would be to let him go so he could return to his family.

But you guys. What if he never made it home? He had certainly been out on his own for quite a while; what if he needed me?? Alas, my mom pointed out that, noble as my efforts were, Jazz and this wandering being couldn’t coexist; since Jazz had been there first – and since it was, you know, my mom’s house and she wanted nothing to do with it – I had to let him go.

And so I brought my growling little bundle out onto the back porch, put some tuna in a bowl (cats and tuna aren’t a myth, right? RIGHT?), and reasoned that if he was truly hungry enough, he’d be back for more and then I could sweep him up and bring him into an animal shelter. IF YOU LOVE SOMETHING, SET IT FREE! IF IT COMES BACK…

We never saw it again.

We did, however, see his likeness several months later. I can’t remember exactly where we were, but I know it was back in Colorado, in the mountains, in some kind of nature-y shop. Nick and I had stopped in because we thought we might find a suitable gift for his dad among the bird feeders, bird books, and wind chime-y things. As Nick was paying for our purchase, I picked up an animal guide and began flipping through it.

And that was when I saw him. Or, at least, when I saw a photo of an animal that looked exactly like the one I had carried into my mom’s bathroom:
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(It wasn’t this exact photo, but you get the idea…)

YES. THAT WOULD BE A BABY BOBCAT.

BECAUSE I BROUGHT A BABY BOBCAT INTO MY MOTHER’S BATHROOM AND ATTEMPTED TO GIVE IT MILK.

Well. That might explain the pointy ears with the black tips… and the mangled, matted fur… and the black puff at the end of its tail… and why he was heavier than I’d thought he’d be… and the unusual fur pattern… and the growling… and OMG I HELD A DISEASED BOBCAT AND IT GROWLED AT ME.

It might also explain why Jazz reacted as though I was bringing something more menacing than a kitten into the living room. Because, I don’t know, dogs have a really good sense of smell and can tell when you’re holding an animal that could SWALLOW THEM WHOLE??

I screamed for Nick, which kind of scared him, but he came over anyway and looked at the picture. For a moment, he was silent. Then he said something like, “Thank God you put on gloves when you picked that thing up, otherwise who knows what might have happened?” 

I married him anyway, despite the sarcasm.

————

In addition to the dozens of deer who live near us, there have been some random fox sightings in our neighborhood. If anyone would like to get up close and personal with one, just let me know; I appear to have the magic touch. I’ll even buy new gloves for the occasion.

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*Maybe* you can drive my car…

I am not so much what you would call “fancy.” Most of my clothes have been spilled on or contain dog fur. I use our iron approximately twice a year, usually to iron on Annie’s Girl Scout patches. My sunglasses are purchased either at a gas station or a grocery store (which is a good thing, since I lose them so frequently).

This lack of fancy-ness also extends to my gadgets and electronics. For more than a year after the screen on my laptop came unhinged, I continued to use it anyway, held together with binder clips. My current cell phone will – not infrequently – just power down, claiming no battery (even though it was last at 56%); my contract isn’t up until June, though, so I just make sure I bring a charger everywhere with me. One spring, for a good six weeks, we used a toaster – daily – whose “on” button had to be held in place by a butcher knife.
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I’m not saying this was safe or smart… I’m just saying that’s how it was.

It’s not that I’m cheap. It’s not even that I’m frugal. I’m more than happy to spend on things that I find important… like Starbucks and Amazon Prime and going out to eat and birthday presents and vacations and cheese and chocolate. It’s more that I’m lazy… And also just not that impressed by bells and whistles. If I can get by with what I have, I’m just fine, thanks.

But then there was the car. My car. The minivan that we’d purchased ten days before Annie was born (the one which, after retrieving it from the parking garage to pick Annie and me up at the hospital main entrance, Nick promptly backed into a concrete pylon). That car was our everything; we basically lived in it.

This was taken with some super-old phone way back in the day, which explains its general craptastic quality. Technology!

We drove that van from our home in Westchester County to our new home – and new life – in Rochester. That van took our girls to doctor’s appointments and preschool. It took us to Broadway shows in New York City, weddings in Boston and Maine, visiting family in Vermont, and on a ferry across Long Island Sound. We picked up our first CCI pup in that van and used it to return the others for Advanced Training.
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Car napping, 2009

We went through infant carriers, five-point harness carseats, full-backed boosters, regular boosters, and plain old seats. We’ve hauled around more children to more games and recitals and parties than I can count. We took our Christmas trees home every year atop that van and folded down its rear seats to make way for new furniture. That van had been puked on, peed on, pooped on (dog, not kid), and had enough pieces of God knows what strewn across its floor to be classified a scientific hazard.
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Rear view, 2011

We took sleeping children home in that car. We read books in that car. The girls did their homework in the backseat and changed clothes before dance class. We listened to the entire audio series of Percy Jackson in that car, drove to see the holiday lights each year, and seriously rocked out to our favorite songs. We laughed and cried – a lot – in that car. Essentially, that car was the chronicle of Annie’s life; it had been with us for all of her eight years. It had 105,000 miles; it had worked hard and well.
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Counting down to the New Year in… where else? The car!

As with anything that’s been well worn, the car had some… issues. The rear sun screen thingies had long since been broken by overenthusiastic children. The front charger ports (originally for cigarette lighters, now for phones and devices if you had the right adaptor) had stopped providing a charge more than two years ago (although if you strung an extra-long cord from the very rear of the car and snaked it through all three rows of seats, you were still in business). The battery – although recently replaced – was unreliable; I’d had to call neighbors for jumps at least three times in the past twelve months.

The side mirror was cracked (after smacking it on the garage doorframe); I reasoned that I could still see out of it, so there was no need to get another. The windshield had been replaced a few months back after having been hit by an rock; the replacement wasn’t fitted properly, however, so it whistled. The rear passenger door had become increasingly erratic – sometimes, it would slide open seamlessly. Others, it would open halfway and then close up again. Basically, every time we got in was an adventure.
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We’d driven over a particularly rough snowbank last year and part of the undercarriage had just ripped off; since it was plastic and didn’t seem to be doing much, I took it inside with me and drove on. When more of the undercarriage began to fall off and drag along the street, I just duct taped the rest in place and hoped for the best (this was not so noticeable at high speeds but was enormously loud when driving around the neighborhood; more than once, I had a neighbor flag me down to let me know that “something was happening” under the car).
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I was completely willing to live with all of these little deficiencies – they gave the car character. More to the point, I’d been saving up for years and years to purchase a new car, deciding I would do so around the time I turned 40… which is in November. (Not so much a 40th birthday present, because a new minivan for one’s own birthday seems both incredibly opulent and really lame, but rather it just seemed like a good goal.) I could scrape by (literally) for less than a year. It was all fine.

Then, without warning, the rear driver’s side door broke – when it closed, the system wouldn’t register it, so every time the car was in “drive” the vehicle emitted a non-stop, ear-piercingly loud, there’s-no-way-you-can-drive-like-this beeeeeep to let us know that THE DOOR ISN’T LATCHED STOP RIGHT NOW. Except that it was latched – the electronics had simply failed to acknowledge it. I found that I could disable the alarm by flipping the auto-door switch to manual, but that was unsatisfying and tedious (those doors are freakin’ heavy).

After doing some research, it appeared that a repair would cost, at minimum, a couple thousand dollars… Which, considering I’d been saving up money to purchase new car later this year anyway, seemed really stupid. And so, with both rear doors functioning poorly, I finally decided the time had come to admit defeat.

I didn’t want a nice new car; I simply wanted one that actually worked. When I told the dealer that I had no interest in taking the show model for a spin, he was visibly taken aback – but I knew there was no point. I liked my current van, Consumer Reports had rated the newer model highly, and I knew I wanted another. End of story.

Since I was trading in our 2008 towards our new car, the dealer – understandably – had to look ours over. The first thing he said upon completing his inspection: “Ummm… you do know that the underside is held together with duct tape…”

YEP. Got it. Totally aware. Thankfully, they took the trade anyway, and a few days later, I drove home in my new minivan.
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You guys, this car is… awesome. The dash is all electronic and touch-screen crazy. The backseat is configured differently so Ella and Annie don’t have to sit right next to each other, THANKS BE TO GOD. I splurged (see, do sometimes go for the gold) and got heated seats (cloth seats though, because leather and I are a bad combination). As with many newer cars, I have the super-fancy option of using my cell phone straight through the car, which is pretty cool. Most importantly, the windshield doesn’t whistle, the power adaptors work, the side mirror isn’t cracked, and all of the doors are fully functional. TALK ABOUT BELLS AND WHISTLES, Y’ALL.

Like most new-model cars, there are no keys; it’s all keyless starting – you just step on the brake, press a button, and the engine awakens. I’ve never really liked the whole keyless thing; it just doesn’t feel right to me, to not need to insert the key into the slot to get a car to go. And indeed, from the very first time I got into the car and wondered what was wrong with it (“Uhhh, Em… You’re pressing the stereo button, not the ignition button…”), I knew that the keyless entry system and I would not be buddies.
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Fast forward to last week, when I took Fenwick with me to run a few errands. I put the puppy in the car and had just begun to pull down the driveway when I realized that I’d left something inside. Rather than pulling all the way into the garage, I elected to leave the car where it was and just run back into the kitchen. As I did, the car emitted this faint “beep” to let me know that the “key” (which was in my pocket) was no longer as close to the engine as it should be. I had no idea what would happen if I got too far away — would the engine shut off? Would the car lock itself down? So, to play it safe, I took all of my keys out of my pocket and placed them on the hood, right by the windshield wipers – so they wouldn’t slide off, naturally – and promised myself that as soon as I came back out of the house, I’d grab the keys and be on my way.

Did I remember to grab the keys when I got back in the car? OF COURSE I DIDN’T. I am me, after all.

I didn’t realize my mistake until I’d arrived at the grocery store (Fenwick in tow) and powered down the car; the moment I moved to get the keys so I could lock the car via the key fob, I knew that I didn’t have them. How on earth the car had managed to continue driving – when the “key” was nowhere near the engine – without warning me in any way, I didn’t know; I also didn’t know where the keys were, given that I’d driven away with them sitting on my windshield wipers.

Thankfully, Nick was in town that day (as opposed to on a business trip), had the extra “key” with him at his office, and was able to meet me at the grocery store posthaste and hand me the replacement (I even managed to get my shopping done in the time it took him to arrive, so I didn’t waste a second – ADHD filling-every-spare-moment FTW!). When I returned home, my keychain was sitting patiently for me on the driveway – so, all in all, it ended just fine.

But still. I posted about my experience on Facebook and within minutes, several friends chimed in that they (or their family members) had gone through similar headaches with their keyless-entry vehicles — driving away from the keys, reaching the destination, and then effectively being stranded. Although, obviously, I’d been responsible for not bringing the keys back into the car with me when I headed to the store, there are soooo many completely innocuous ways that this scenario could occur…

You could jump into the car with your partner, start driving, mistakenly think you had your keys with you (when, in fact, they were at home or the office or wherever), and then only discover that it was your partner whose keys had started the engine after dropping him or her off. And then driving away. And then you’re stuck. Or, heck, the keys could fall out while you load groceries, or help your grandma in the car, or go around to buckle your kids in their carseats. AND YOU’D NEVER KNOW, BECAUSE ONCE THE ENGINE IS RUNNING, THE CAR JUST KEEPS DRIVING WITHOUT WARNING YOU THAT THE KEYS NOWHERE NEAR IT!!!

Car manufacturers! Listen up! This is a major design flaw. The instant a seatbelt is disengaged, a loud, audible alarm rings out inside the car – justifiably so. There is no reason for the same not to occur when a keyless vehicle gets x-distance away from the key fob. This is not rocket science, car folks!! Get with the program!

Getting stranded aside, I’m a big fan of my car. There have been a few other hiccups… Since I got it in the middle of a Rochester winter, I only worried for about 0.47 seconds about keeping it clean – because everything within a 500 mile radius of any road just winds up being covered in salt, anyway. Additionally, the car is about 2″ wider than my previous van – which was already tightly tucked into our garage – so I’ve managed to lightly bump both side mirrors on the garage posts. More than once. BUT THE MIRRORS ARE STILL FULLY INTACT.

Overall, my new car is fantastic. It is a little fancy for me – I’m still figuring out how to work all of its bells and whistles (and, woo boy, actually getting it to call someone using only voice recognition is an adventure unto itself; I’m still not sure why “Nick Work” and “Target” sound the same, but whatever) – but, with due time, I’m sure I’ll have everything straightened out.

At least I’m not trying to start it anymore by turning on the stereo. Progress, people. Progress! (Plus, um, I’m fortunate enough to have a new, safe car… which is pretty much winning in every single way, in my book, is it not?)

 

 

Bahama Drama

Remember when said that I’d tell the story of how I got hypothermia – in the Bahamas, of all places? Well, then I went and described visiting the homeless shelters, and after that there is really no appropriate segue into something as absurd – or unrelated – as Bahamian hypothermia, so I figure I’ll just go from the sublime to the ridiculous and run with it.

I do so like to keep people on their toes.

When we signed up for this cruise, one of the things we were most excited for was the day that the ship would be spending at Disney’s island, Castaway Cay (sounds like “key”). Hence, when Ella opened the curtain to our stateroom on the morning we landed and announced, “Wow – it’s really cloudy. Actually, it looks like it’s… raining…?”, it was not exactly welcome news. We slid open the door to the balcony just far enough to confirm two things: 1) it was most definitely raining and 2) it was most definitely not warm by Caribbean standards.

The forecast called for occasional showers, so we decided to take our chances (that we’d find some dry pockets in the afternoon) and head to the island after the original siege was over. As we’d hoped, the ship virtually emptied out as other sea-farers disembarked. Having the place to ourselves, we shuffleboarded… We explored… We watched Ella and Annie as they delighted in riding the water slide four times in a row with absolutely no line… We thanked our lucky stars that they were tall enough to ride without an adult because it was really freakin’ windy and there was no way we could brave the slides even once without being chilled to the bone.

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Note the rather ominous-looking clouds in the background…

Soon, the wind was accompanied by rain. When the thunder rumbled, the lifeguards hustled everyone out of the pools (to our relief; even fully clothed, we were cold); the folks at Castaway Cay had similarly been ushered out of the water and away from the shoreline. Knowing that we’d soon be joined by – literally – thousands of wet, grouchy beach-goers, we made a beeline for the buffet.

Nothing says “relaxed vacation” like stampeding for the all-you-can-eat shrimp!

By the time we’d finished eating, the rain had mostly stopped. Seeing that the beaches were virtually empty, and seeing as how we’d been looking so forward to our day on the island, Nick and I told the girls that we were going to brave the elements, take our chances, and see what adventure awaited us ashore; they – and GranMary – were welcome to join us. Annie, having become entranced with the ship’s virtual, interactive detective game, opted to stay behind and solve another mystery with GranMary while Ella chose to come with Nick and me.

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As we exited the gangplank (I have no idea if that’s actually what it’s called but it sounds way cooler like that), we passed wet towels that were piled at least six feet high on wheeled carts, cast off as people had boarded the boat and ditched their unnecessary gear. It became apparent the island was, indeed, all but empty the moment we boarded the tram and were the only passengers on it. Soon, we were standing on the beach, ready to do what we’d come here for: snorkeling.

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See? Empty. Emmmmp-teeee.

Or, at least, that’s what Nick – and, more importantly, Ella – had come here for. Nick has loved snorkeling since he was a kid. Ella took an immediate shine to it when she tried it last year and had been itching to go again ever since. I, on the other hand, distinctly dislike snorkeling… but I decided to be a good sport and join them, if only to say that I’d done it.

When Nick picked up the snorkeling gear, he requested some towels and was given… two. Thankfully, we’d thought to bring one with us, so we had three to go ’round. Although it was no longer raining, the wind was still racing; at maybe 65*, I was chilly before I’d even stepped foot in the water, but I hoped that the shallow reef would be warm enough to feel comfortable.
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Thumbs up! Let’s do this!

As I hesitantly waded in, the water felt… okay. Certainly warmer than the air, but hardly balmy. Nick and Ella swam farther out and it became difficult for me to locate their bobbing heads on the horizon, so I decided that if I actually wanted to catch up with them so we could say we’d officially snorkeled together, I’d better get going, no matter how chilly I felt.

You guys. I am just not meant for snorkeling. There’s not one specific thing that bothers me; it’s everything about it. I do get the “Oh, look – beautiful fish!” appeal, but really, I can do that at an aquarium. Or the fish tank in our living room.

Eventually, I made my way over to Nick and Ella, motioning to them so that they’d see it was me – Hey! We’re snorkeling together! Isn’t this great! MEMORIES! – but then quickly reversed course and slogged through the swelling currents back to shore. In order to try to ease the flipper-induced pain in my feet and ankles, I briefly kicked while floating on my back; it did hurt a little less, but it was also much colder than facing downward, so I turned facedown again after only a couple of minutes. Those minutes were enough to chill me from the inside out, however — by the time I (finally) schlepped ashore, I couldn’t stop shivering.

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We pretty much had the lagoon to ourselves…

Given that we possessed only one towel for each of us, I was hesitant to dry myself off just yet (I KNOW, I know). I had no idea how long Nick and Ella would be snorkeling, and if Ella wanted to do something else in the water afterward, I was determined to join her and not be a spoilsport, shivering or not; it seemed prudent, therefore, to keep my towel dry so I wouldn’t have to wrap myself in something soggy later on.

A mistake, in hindsight? Hell yes.
BUT I WAS TRYING TO BE A GOOD MOM, PEOPLE. Surely that earns me some points.

I did understand that I needed to get dry and that just standing around, freezing, was pretty stupid – plus, the shivering was becoming almost violent, not to mention a nuisance – so I hobbled off in search of more towels… only to be told by more than one cast member that there were no dry towels left. NOT ONE SINGLE DRY TOWEL ON THE ENTIRE ISLAND (hence the mountains of wet towels by the gangplank), unless we wanted to purchase one as a souvenir (which, given that I’d already brought an extra towel from home for Nick’s birthday, seemed dumb).

Another thing I don’t like about snorkeling is getting sand all up in my business, so I decided that, at the very least, I could take a warm shower and try to simultaneously clean out my business and raise my body temperature. Turns out the only shower available was outside, with no temperature gauge – so although I did rid my bathing suit of sand, and although the water was warmer than the air, I didn’t exactly get nice and toasty. And I was still soaking wet.

For the record: electric hand dryers do a piss poor job of drying off your entire body.

By the time I limped my way back to our lounge chairs (see: shivering), Nick and Ella were coming out of the water (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS) but I could barely carry on a conversation with them – my jaw felt so heavy, almost numb from all of the chattering.

“Why on earth didn’t you dry off, babe??” Nick – understandably – wanted to know. When I explained that I had tried to warm up but that I was saving my towel in case Ella wanted to do anything more in the water, she piped up that, no, she was cold too, so no more water activities for her… or any of us. ENOUGH WITH THIS WET RIDICULOUSNESS. While changing into dry clothes, I was relieved to see that I was no longer shivering*, but I was growing annoyed at my increasing inability to speak clearly.

* Later, I learned that stopping shivering is actually a sign that your body is shutting down unnecessary motions in order to save energy. So efficient! Go, me!

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Since we’d brought sand toys with us, Ella’s one other request – aside from snorkeling -was to build a sandcastle. Wish granted!

Our favorite gift shop was on the way back to the tram, so we ducked inside for a few minutes to do some shopping. As we sorted through the I Love Castaway Cay! paraphernalia, the oddest thing happened: I began to lose feeling in my fingers. First, my pinkies went entirely numb; that numbness gradually crept into my ring fingers and then to the base of my middle fingers.

Now, I’ve gotten cold hands before. More accurately, I get cold hands all the freakin’ time; Annie and Ella laugh at how my hands are almost always like blocks of ice. Despite living in Snowland, USA, I have yet to find single pair of gloves or mittens that actually keeps me from losing feeling in my fingers, so I am more than familiar with the stinging, painful stages of early frostbite.

This numbness was entirely different; I’d never felt anything like it before, as though each finger could be pierced with something sharp and I wouldn’t even notice. I wiggled them around, clenched and unclenched my fists, but the bizarre numbness only continued to grow. When we’d finished shopping (side note: we bought a towel. I AM NOT KIDDING), I stopped Nick and slurred, “This is going to sound like I’m being overdramatic, but I’m losing feeling in my fingers and I can’t figure out why.”

He looked at me with a combination of WTF and That’s Not Good, suggesting I go to the restroom to try and warm them up under some hot water. I heeded his advice but it was no use – they remained feeling-less. As I told him about my lack of success, it became apparent that my mouth was becoming as numb as my fingers. My tongue felt heavy, my lips felt the way they do when I’m having an allergic reaction (thick and uncomfortable), and I was slurring my speech as though I’d downed several Mai Tais too many or just had a shot of novocaine (in other words: very sexy).

“This is just so weird,” I lamented. “It’s like I’m having an allergic reaction. I don’t think I ate anything unusual, though… Maybe I got stung by a rogue jellyfish?” Obviously, my head was working as slowly as my fingers.

Thankfully, Nick could still think clearly, so after a moment of consideration he postulated, “Um… actually, I think you’ve got the beginnings of hypothermia.”

This seemed preposterous, given that we were on a tropical island in the middle of the Caribbean, but Nick went on. “Somehow, snorkeling and the wind and then not getting warm afterward really messed up your core temperature, so now your body is removing heat from your extremities – like your fingers and your mouth – so it has enough to keep the rest of you going.”

The more I thought about it, about how different the numbness in my fingers felt than it ever had before, about the uncontrollable shivering, about my heavy jaw and sloppy speech, the more it appeared that Nick was probably right. Guess someone’s been paying attention to the Discovery Channel!

“Well, what the heck do I do about that??”

“I think we should get you back onto the ship as quickly as possible and then have you take a shower until you warm up.”

All in favor? AYE.

After running to catch the tram (have you ever tried to run while you’re tingly and numb? Very, very weird), we made a hasty return to our stateroom… But not before I whipped out my phone to take a group selfie, because there is always time for selfies.

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Now that I’m a bit more sane, I guess my lips do look kind of blue…

Once in the shower, it took a good ten minutes for my fingers and jaw to return to normal; it was actually kind of interesting, because I could feel the warmth spreading from the inside out, one little bit at a time, like lava. Not wanting to take any chances, I pulled on every layer I’d brought and hopped under the bed covers for the rest of the hour until dinner; Nick and Ella had ordered hot chocolate from the room service menu, which absolutely sped my recovery.

Upon returning home, I Googled hypothermia and found the following:

Mild hypothermia

Signs and symptoms of mild hypothermia include:
– Shivering
– Dizziness
– Hunger
– Nausea
– Faster breathing
– Trouble speaking
– Slight confusion
– Lack of coordination
– Fatigue
– Increased heart rate

Shivering? Check. Dizziness? Check. Trouble speaking? Slight confusion? Lack of coordination? Fatigue? Check check check check. 

No, I didn’t take my temperature, nor did I visit the ship’s doctor, so I can’t be 100% certain that it was hypothermia… But people? It was hypothermia.

So, it wasn’t quite the “adventure” on Castaway Cay that we’d envisioned, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – especially because it makes me ridiculously badass… or an incredible wuss. At the very least, it makes an excellent ice breaker or Two Truths And A Lie factoid. I GOT HYPOTHERMIA. IN THE FRICKIN’ BAHAMAS. Not everyone can say that.

————-

I do realize that writing this is a bit outlandish, considering my last post. I’m just going to get this out of the way, then. YES, it is CRAZY that we live in a world where some of us cannot afford rent or food while others have so much “extra” money, they have fabulous vacations on cruises and islands and seeing Big Ben and the Great Barrier Reef. AND THEN those of us who have vacationed come home and gripe about the parts of our vacations that were less than stellar. “What were you doing last week? Struggling to keep your home? That really, really sucks. Oh, us? We were at Disney’s private island. It was cold, though, so I can totally relate – I mean, sometimes life hands you lemons.”

CRAZINESS.

Does that mean that we should never take vacations if we can afford them? No, I don’t think so. Does it mean that we can never complain about disappointments that we encounter on said vacations? Nah, especially if you do it with humor and grace.

With that said, I do think that perspective and gratitude go a helluva long way. You can bemoan life’s little hiccups – even while sipping a daiquiri on a beach in Hawaii – while still being tremendously grateful that you’re on that beach, period.
Even if you get hypothermia while you’re there.

 

So You Think You Can’t Dance?? Try It!

Over Columbus Day weekend, we had the incredible privilege of attending Nick’s sister’s wedding. We were thrilled to be in Minnesota to celebrate with Emi and her new husband, Matt. It was autumnally beautiful – great weather, lovely temperatures – with warmth and pure joy emanating from absolutely every corner.

The invitation said that the wedding was to begin at 6 p.m. and would be followed by the reception, cocktails, and dinner, with “awkward but enthusiastic dancing” (their wording – how fabulous is that??) to last from 9:00 p.m. until 1 a.m. (which, for the uninitiated, is 2 a.m. EST; I’m not good with The Math but I do time zones quite well). I assumed that Ella and Annie would ace their roles as flower girls (or junior bridesmaids; they insisted they were the latter), that they’d enjoy the party, but that they would start to fade relatively shortly after that. As such, we’d scheduled a babysitter to meet them at our hotel room so that Nick and I could drink without guilt really let loose and celebrate with everyone. I had no idea how I would manage to stay upright until what felt like 2 a.m., but by God I was bound and determined to try.

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Taken sometime after midnight, mostly upright.

I’m not usually much for dancing. I have dragged myself into a dance club (is that what they’re called? Would “club” suffice, or does that not imply dancing?) at the insistence of others exactly twice in my life, and each time I avoided the dance floor as much as possible. It’s not that I’m a terrible dancer… well, okay. I’m a terrible dancer. But it’s more that I typically just don’t have a whole lot of fun dancing. Watching people dance, on the other hand, is something I genuinely love, so I figured that I’d spend much of Emi and Matt’s reception observing from afar, joining in only when it seemed to be bridesmaid-duty necessary.

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The girls, on the other hand, hopped on the dance floor as soon as possible – which, in this case, happened to be during Emi and Matt’s first dance. Ella’s elation and Annie’s twerk-ish expression make me smile.

I hadn’t had opportunity to cut too much of a rug prior to the girls retiring for the night, so once I returned from dropping Annie and Ella off at the hotel, I screwed up my courage and decided that I would make my obligatory appearance on the dance floor. When that dance was over, I thought I’d subtly slip away to one of the nearby tables to rest up and giggle at the other people shakin’ their groove thangs. Instead, I found myself not wanting to leave. It was fun! Nay, it was hilarious! There was laughter! There was exuberance! I was making a complete fool of myself and, for some reason, I did not care one whit! (Part of the reason may have been alcohol, but that’s just a guess.)

After my four-hour frenzy on the dance floor, both participating and carefully observing others, I feel that I am now somewhat of a dancing expert. Or, at least an expert in Almost-40-something White Girl Dance Moves.* In case you have not found yourself on the dance floor in quite some time, or in case you are not an Almost-40-something White Girl, allow me to more fully explain the crackerjack moves that are, apparently, all the rage these days.**

* Given that I am an almost-40-something white girl, I feel that I can make this ridiculous statement. Yes, it’s an obvious over-generalization and is meant to be absurd. Carry on.
** “These days” = at Emi and Matt’s wedding. Which clearly means they are absolutely true for everyone, everywhere. Carry on again.

Because I’ve seen only a few of the photos from Emi and Matt’s shindig with people actually dancing, I cannot provide you with much visual evidence. Knowing that it wouldn’t be much fun to see reenactments of me attempting these steps, I asked Annie and Ella for help and they graciously volunteered to be my models, knowing that I would post the photos here (which is yet another reason why having children was a good idea). And so, I present to you…

Dance Moves That Are All The Rage These Days, At Least If You’re An Almost-40-something White Girl (aka Me) Dancing At A Wedding

0) The Circle

I’ve started with ‘0’ because, as everyone knows, it is illegal for any wedding reception dancing to take place without at least some of the participants first forming a circle. The Circle is an effective tool for being able to dance oneself while simultaneously keeping an eye on the other dancers, especially if someone elects to start a move that is best when copied. The Circle is critical for when one must break out one’s most bodacious moves in the center of said circle (say, for example, The Worm… in your bridesmaid dress… across the reception-hall floor. OH YES, IT HAPPENED). The Circle is also useful for creating a space across which one may strut when one simply must stand next to another dancer at right that very moment. Which brings us to the actual dance moves, starting with…

1) The Squat

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This is the most essential of all the moves, as it is the building block for everything else. You are not attempting to do a full-on squat like you would at CrossFit or during that horrible fitness test in gym class, but rather a half-squat where your knees are just slightly bent and your pelvis is tucked back. For this move to be authentic, you should step side-to-side between both feet as though you are keeping time or are about to start the Funky Chicken.  Be sure to really dig into your heels so you can grind them into the floor later for support.

2. The “Hey Girl!”
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This one is a cinch. While performing The Squat, simply raise one hand in the air to salute a fellow dancer – most likely female – across the circle from you. You may point at her, you may wave your hand in the air, you may hail, you may fist pump – so long as only one hand is in the air and you maintain The Squat, you have affected the “Hey Girl!” properly.

wedding dancing
As mentioned, I haven’t yet seen many dance photos from the wedding – but if ever there were an absolutely perfect Almost-40-something White Girl dance example, THIS IS IT.
First, we have formed The Circle (it’s a messy circle, but it’s there). If you look carefully, you will see an additional dance circle in the corner of the photo, just beyond the gentleman in the pinkish shirt.
You will note that one of Emi’s other bridesmaids, K (in the silver sweater and rockin’ blonde hair) and I (yes, I’m wearing a lei; don’t ask) are really feeling The Squat.
Finally, please note that our dear friend H is performing the “Hey Girl!” to K and me, with her right index finger pointed righteously upward.
THREE MOVES IN ONE – BAM!

3. The Power Squat
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Sadly, there are times when the delicacy of The Squat will simply not suffice; you must feel that music and get even lower to the ground. This is where the Power Squat comes in handy. (Note that this is different from how you will get down to the ground when the “a little bit softer now” part of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” is played and everyone flattens themselves onto the dance floor; the Power Squat is far more rhythmic and athletic, obviously.) For added effect, you may do mini fist pumps while in the Power Squat.

4. The Squat Driver
wedding dance8

Part of what makes The Squat such a fantastic building block is that, while in it, you can perform additional classic moves – the Swim, the Sprinkler, the Cabbage Patch, etc. In this case, Annie has incorporated the Bus Driver (complete with mini stank-face, which is totally necessary while performing the Squat Driver in a circle so that you can properly entice the people across the Circle from you).

wedding dance13
It’s a little difficult to see here (unless you have x-ray vision and can see through H’s arm), but I do believe I’m executing a lovely version of the Squat Driver in this photo… 

5. The Phantom Lighter
wedding dance9

Okay, so no one uses lighters anymore at concerts, instead replacing them with cell phones, but the concept is the same: you wave that arm overhead, left to right and back again. While dancing, no cell phone is necessary (although it may certainly be present) and your hand may be empty, but you can still thrust that arm into the air and move it to and fro. Don’t forget to keep your Squat intact; abandoning the Squat is grounds for immediate disqualification (or at least being elected as the person who needs to go get the next round).

6. The Grabwedding dance10

For this, you will need at least two people (more are certainly possible). While still performing The Squat, reach out and clasp the hand (or hands – go on, double up) of a nearby dancer. The Grab is best executed when you look your partner square in the eye and make a stank face. This is not meant to be an elaborately choreographed routine; it is merely to gain physical contact with another dancer. Be careful not to lean back too far, nor to rely solely on the person whose hand you are grasping to hold you up; wedding reception dancers are notoriously unbalanced and depending on anyone for support is a risky proposition.

7. The Shoulder Press
wedding dance11

When you need to get close to another dancer (trust me, you will) and back-to-back moves are unsatisfactory because you cannot see your partner’s face (see also: unbalanced), the Shoulder Press comes in handy. This way, you can continue to perform The Squat (duh) while cozying up to someone else and looking them in the eye. Bonus points for smiling, nodding, and awww yeah eyebrow raising. This move can be carried on for several moments, then can easily segue into the Grab or the Spoon (see below). Or you could decide to separate and rejoin the rest of the dance circle, giving a quick “Hey Girl!” to one of the dancers across the Circle from you; the possibilities are endless.

8. The Spoon
wedding dance12

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get close – I mean really close – to your fellow dancers, and the Shoulder Press simply isn’t cutting it. Enter: the Spoon. The beauty of the Spoon is its simplicity – all you need to do is come up from behind, join your dancing buddy in The Squat, and make your presence known. Nothing complicated or intricate. No need for introductions. In fact, apparently you don’t even need to have met the other person before performing the Spoon. (I’m convinced that, while being Spooned at the reception, I was touched in places that had previously only been seen by my husband, children, or mother – by somebody to whom I hadn’t even been introduced.) You can also perform the Spoon with someone with whom you’re intimately acquainted.
wedding dancing
Look carefully: H’s husband [pinkish shirt] is in the process of starting the Spoon as H performs the “Hey Girl!”).
FOUR MOVES IN ONE! BOOYAH!!
——————-

There are many (many) more moves, of course, but these nine (don’t forget The Circle) should get you through several hours of very happy boogie-ing down. Dancers in situations like these enjoy a shared experience, where everyone loves everybody else, much like communes or cults. While you are dancing, it is beautiful and wonderful; only after you successfully pull yourself away and look back do you realize the slightly bizarre and potentially questionable relationships you had with everyone involved.

The best part about these moves is that they require no formal training and can be performed by absolutely anyone. You need not be an Almost-40-something White Girl, nor attending a wedding, and you certainly don’t need to have even one iota of rhythm or natural dance ability. What you do need is the desire to have a boatload of fun, the willingness to make an absolute ass out of yourself, and a lot of stamina.

(Be forewarned: if you decide to wear your heels for the entire four hours that you are dancing – especially if you do not normally wear shoes with any sort of heel at all – your feet will really not appreciate it.)

wedding dance3
High heels? Nope. But after dancing ALL NIGHT LONG, anything other than slippers was pretty much torture.

As an added bonus, dancing like this is tremendous exercise. Turns out, maintaining The Squat for such an extended period of time puts a surprising amount of strain on your quads. Unless you’re an ultra-marathoner or the stunt double for The Hulk, you’ll likely awaken the following morning to discover that you can hardly walk and your entire body below your armpits will ache for a minimum of three days… which makes these Almost-40-something White Girl Moves both a cardio workout and a strength workout.

Fun, laughter, incredible memories, and you can scratch Going To The Gym off your calendar?? Sign me UP!

Two-and-a-half weeks post-reception, I’m no longer in pain (save for the agony caused by the emotional humiliation). Looking back on that night, I can’t quite believe it was me out there – but I’m damn glad I decided not to be an observer. Yeah, when the rest of the photos appear (there were an awful lot of people taking an awful lot of pictures), my quads may grumble all over again, but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be giggling.

In the meantime, I have these sweet new moves to practice. After all, I am an expert now; that reputation was hard-earned and I’m not about to let it go any time soon.

I’m Bringing Boredom Back

In 2014, children rarely have the opportunity to become bored. There are, of course, the timeless classics that have entertained kids for millennia – being outside, playing games, building elaborate villages with Barbies or Legos (okay, so maybe they weren’t doing that hundreds of years ago, but you know what I mean). There are also oodles of technology-filled pastimes, from low-tech marvels like TV and music-listening to ever-updating apps and video games and things that I’m not even remotely hip enough to know about. We can talk ourselves in circles about how much technology is good versus how much is bad, how infrequently children play outside; how over-scheduled their lives are; I’m not even going to attempt to enter into those debates. I will say, however, that all of these things do mean that children almost never have the chance to be bored – they can just fire up the computer, trade Pokeman cards, or set the DVR to record a program that can be watched at any time of the day or night, no more “Oh, I guess I’ll have to wait until it’s on…” or, heaven help us, sitting through commercials.

After observing said never-bored children when they’ve been faced with the slightest bit of change-in-routine adversity, I feel that I can confidently say that boredom is a good thing.

We need to bring back boredom.

long island1

Case in point: after returning Jambi for Advanced Training, we began our drive home via ferry from Long Island to Connecticut. Allow me to paint the scene… A three-deck ship traversing Long Island Sound, cutting majestically through the water at the bow and leaving a frothy white wake at the stern. A gorgeous summer day, sunny but not too warm, salt air breeze billowing around us. Crashing, soaring waves ahead, as though caused by the strongest imaginable current (in fact, they marked where the Sound meets the Atlantic, and they were, indeed, caused by monstrous currents). Sailboats and fishing vessels and motorboats zipping in and out of our line of sight, which extended down the sweeping coast of extreme eastern Long Island, over to the Connecticut shoreline, and all the way out to sea. Rentable binoculars that swiveled in all directions, with which you could see every detail of the passing boats, buildings, and landscape. A formidable-looking building on a formidable-but-beautiful-looking island (which, we learned upon Googling, was Plum Island, home of mysterious government research). A charming lighthouse, promising safety and salvation. Birds cruising overhead, hundreds of passengers with bags and snacks and stories to be imagined, shipboard rooms to be explored and visited.

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Plum Island is actually right perty.

In other words, essentially the perfect setting for a wickedly entertaining action/travel/ adventure movie, complete with intrigue and mystique and mysteriously deep bodies of water…
… and yet, my girls? Bored. BORED TO DEATH.

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Look! A lighthouse!

Although we had a car full of books and drawing supplies and the like, they opted not to bring any of said items with them onto the decks. Likewise, Nick and I forbade them from using their iPads, citing a) that there was no need, as we’d only be onboard for a little over an hour and we tend to reserve electronics for longer journeys, b) they had us and their grandparents to converse and hang out with, and c) we are on a ship traveling over water and past lighthouses with the Atlantic Ocean at our fingertips and how can you find nothing to do omg??

Believe it or not, they – in fact – found nothing to do. Nothing at all for the entire sixty-plus minutes we were on that beautiful, lovely, exciting, godforsaken ferry. Well, I should rephrase that; nothing at all except complaining about how they were so bored and that there was nothing to do.

long island2
House-lighthouse thing near the Connecticut shoreline.

I had assumed that such behavior was not unique to my children but didn’t have an opportunity to put my assumption to the test until yesterday when I volunteered as one of the playground monitors at the girls’ elementary school. Although there was no precipitation during recess itself, it and rained earlier in the day, covering everything with a fine layer of water drops and puddles. The official (i.e. paid) playground monitors attempted to dry off the equipment, but their towels were doing little good; after seeing several first graders slip off the monkey bars and slide – not in the good way – down the climbing walls, the principal decided that it was simply too wet to allow the students to actually play on the playground, so recess was then limited to playing on the blacktop or swings. (Why the kiddos couldn’t play on the fields was a mystery to me; concern over slipping on the wet grass seemed overblown at best; concern over wet sneakers seemed even sillier. Given that our school is not prone to overreacting or helicoptering, however, and generally allows kids to be kids, I decided to give the principal the benefit of the doubt and just go along with the no playing on the grass thing.)

Because there are only six (or eight? I can’t remember) swings, the majority of the students found themselves on or near the blacktop for the duration of recess. It should be noted that the blacktop is an area the is entirely devoid of anything to do, a vast wasteland of asphalt… except for the basket ball hoops on each end (and the requisite basketballs to toss into such hoops), the marked-off four-square courts (and the requisite balls with which to play), the hopscotch boards, the life-sized tic-tac-toe boards, a brick wall replete with drawings, benches upon which to sit, etc. Oh! And did I mention that the children were not required to stand atop the blacktop alone but could bring all of their friends with them?

To be fair, some of the kids entertained themselves all recess long. There were basketball free-throws and impromptu games of Red Rover and marauding bands of children who stalked the corners of the blacktop and gossiped to their hearts’ content. But, by far, the two-word phrase I heard uttered more than any other was, “I’m bored!” or it’s four-word cousin, “This is so boring!” 

Now, I’m hardly the paragon of childhood self-entertainment. It’s long been noted that I used to come downstairs as a kid and ask my mom, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” I, like virtually all children, uttered the B word more times than I’d like to count, until my mom actually forbade me from using it. But I did know how to go outside and entertain myself – not with dolls, not with toys, but simply by being and using my imagination. Some of my happiest memories  as a kid revolve around the forts that my brother and I created beneath and within the branches of enormous trees, or the “king chairs” that we dug into snowbanks at the top of our driveway.

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This photo is basically only for show… She was interested in this for approximately 24 seconds.

Today, it’s different. Kids are used to being constantly entertained, to having little – or no – downtime in which to unwind and actually have to devise ways to keep themselves occupied and busy. They go from school to home (almost never by walking) to homework (often scripted) to sports (run by an adult to tells them what to do) to enrichment classes (also run by an adult) to music lessons (taught by grown-ups with an agenda) to dinner to bed. Their “free time” is filled with play, yes – but, left to their own devices, that play would almost always include Minecraft or shows on the Disney Channel or the latest unbeatable level on Candy Crush. Their days are so very structured, with very few opportunities to even consider the art of making something out of (what seems like) nothing.

It makes sense, then – sadly – that neither my girls nor many of the hundreds of kids on that playground were able to occupy themselves with their simple surroundings. They were unable to see that, actually, there was so much to do. They could examine the passing ships and make up stories about where they came from and where they were going. They could look for colonies of ants that were making their homes along the blacktop’s edge. They could count the stairs between the decks or the strides necessary to traverse the blacktop diagonally. They could time themselves (by, like, counting out loud instead of using an app or a watch) to see how quickly they could cross the area in front of them backwards and sideways. They could pick blades of grass and try to whistle with them or braid them together. They could invent tales of espionage and action, elaborate fantasies of why they needed to cross the Sound via ferry instead of driving through Manhattan and up the Connecticut shore. They could stretch. They could do jumping jacks. They could see how long they could stand on one leg or only their tippy tip toes. They could talk to their friends or parents or grandparents – not about anything specific; just talking. They could look up at the sky and search for shapes in the clouds. They could look up at the sky for no other reason than that the sky is not the earth and it is far away and a special kind of magic. They could breathe in deliciously fresh air and appreciate not being stuck indoors all day long.

But mostly? They don’t. They’re just bored.

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Can you tell how appreciative she is?

I know; some of this comes with age. It’s not just a child-of-2014 deficit. But this generation of kids is more scheduled and structured than any we’ve seen before, with more time spent on screens than we could ever have imagined when we were their age, and as a result, they are used to having someone else provide their entertainment – which means they don’t have any idea what to do with themselves when they don’t have something (specific) to do.

Which is crappy because being able to distract oneself when stuck in an undesirable situation is a pretty damned important skill. We’ve all had those dreaded moments at the doctor’s office – or, God forbid, the DMV – when we realize the magazines are from 2011 and we have to preserve the little battery life that remains on our cellphones because we’ll need Google Maps to help us get to the pharmacy (because paper maps? Please) and suddenly terror strikes as we stare thirty minutes of dead air straight in the face. We’ve had those moments waiting in the line that is 397 times longer than the ride itself and we’ve given our phones to our oldest child so that she can take photos of her father trying his hand at whack-a-mole and there’s not even so much as a stray coupon or Advil label to read in our purses or backpacks. THE HORROR.

Truth is, life involves a lot of waiting around, and if you have no ability to occupy yourself unless you’ve got a handheld electronic device within reach or a copy of Us Weekly, it’s not gonna be pretty. Moreover, we’re not going to get very far – I’m talking big picture here, like as a species – if we don’t have people coming up with new ideas and inventions. To do that, imagination and free-thinking is needed, stat. I’m pretty sure that young Benjamin Franklin was roaming his backyard, just biding his time with his kite, as a storm approached and suddenly something sparked his imagination (see what I did there?). If he’d spent every waking moment shuttling between soccer practice and orchestra and besting the next level of the Star Wars version of Angry Birds, he might never have examined his glasses more closely and decided to create bifocals.

As a kid, I think that boredom is pretty much par for the course (as an adult, I honestly don’t understand how anyone over the age of 20 can be bored; there is so much to do in any given day, having nothing to do would be such a wonderful luxury – I can assure you that I’d fill it with mindless blather that would keep me very, very happy). But we’re not doing our children any good by providing them with entertainment 24/7 (yes, this comes from the mom with a Summer Fun List who hates endless stretches of nothing). I bet even Thomas Edison was bored from time to time, which is a good thing because without the ideas that were generated during his downtime, we’d be way behind schedule and might still be listening to “All About That Bass” on 8-track.

I don’t think it’s possible to fully teach kids how to divert their attention. We can help, we can provide suggestions, but in the end, the only way that kids learn how to occupy their time and use their imaginations is to actually do it. And the way to allow them that opportunity means allowing for more downtime – and for more time to be bored. The best way to learn how to beat boredom is to face it enough that you know how to kick its butt.

So, I hereby propose that we bring back boredom. Go on – get outside and play. No, you don’t need to bring the baseball and the bat with you. Just leave the bikes behind. That’s right, you can just be outside with nothing to do – until you create or discover something to do.

Nick and I are really not the hovering type of parents; our girls have a lot of freedom and leeway to learn, to create, to make their own mistakes, to develop confidence and competence. Still, they lack the ability to easily distract themselves without a device or some toys, so we’ve already begun implementing this new philosophy at home, providing stretches of time when we “make” them run along with no crutches to lean on. Ella and Annie don’t yet seem to view this in a positive light, especially when they tell me that they’re bored and I gleefully – and genuinely – chime back, “That’s awesome!”

Someday, when they’re adults, I hope they’ll appreciate the ability to entertain themselves. Especially if we still have the DMV.

 

Jurassic Kitchen

Now that we are finally back to life (back to reality), the process of de-summering the house has begun in earnest. Beach towels that hung on the hooks in the front hall have been folded and put in the closet, making way for fall coats. Stale snacks that never got consumed (because of the ice cream, duh) have been pitched, with fresh school-year snacks taking their place. Toys that had been left on the counter since June were finally shelved, replaced by a new caddy (on sale at Target, score!) filled with school supplies (that must remain in said caddy under penalty of death because, for the love of God, how do the scissors disappear so quickly up in here and did you really need to use the entire roll of tape for your “special project”?).

The art closet remains on my to-do list; stay tuned.

While happily helping the orphaned items find their homes, I was reminded of another (perhaps the only other?) time this summer when I reorganized a portion of the kitchen. Except it wasn’t really reorganizing; it was more excavating. Back when Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico in July, my sister-in-law, Emi, came to watch the girls… which meant I had to do a serious house-clean. Okay, I didn’t have to – but I really wanted to.

You see, Emi is one of those uber-organized, super-clean people (yes, we get along extremely well; stop laughing). Whereas my motto is It’s Time To Vacuum When The Dog Hair Starts Rolling Across The Dining Room Like Tumbleweeds, Emi’s motto is Why Vacuum Three Times A Day When You Can Vacuum Four? Nearly every time she comes here, she re-sorts and reorganizes the Tupperware and makes sure our counters are always nice and shiny.

Although this is, indeed, lovely – and, one might think, motivation for me to not tidy up before she arrives, since she’ll do it better than I would, anyway – I nevertheless want to at least try to have things in some semblance of order before she visits, not because Emi judges me (she doesn’t at all), but because I like to prove to myself that I’m capable of holding to a higher standard. For a couple of days, anyway. This time, I went for shock value and actually went through the Tupperware on my own (ah ha!) and made sure the food in our cupboards was safely accessible (by which I mean re-stacking the canned goods so they didn’t conk you on the head when you opened the cupboard to get yourself some cereal).

As I attempted to sort through the baking supplies, I discovered that some of them didn’t move, and was mortified when I remembered the reason why: they were still stuck in the Karo syrup that had spilled. When we were making Christmas cookies. Last December. I mean, it wasn’t a surprise; I’d known that the syrup was there all these months. In fact, I’d deliberately left it there when it spilled, sloshing its thick sweetness all over the drawer, because how in the heck does one even begin to clean up that much Karo syrup? (For the uninitiated, Karo is a brand of corn syrup that is occasionally used in baking. It is dense, like molasses, but clear – and sticky, like… syrup – and makes an excellent ingredient in cookie frosting because it causes the icing to harden to a glossy finish. For this same reason, it is a complete nightmare when it, say, spills and covers a drawer.)

By the time I realized what had happened (back in December), the other baking supplies were nestled in a bed of syrup at least a quarter inch thick. It made my head spin just thinking about removing everything – dragging strands of syrup through the air like tacky mozzarella – and then getting the Karo off of each box, bottle, and bag. And then there would be the mess of syrup in the drawer that would need scrubbing… I simply couldn’t even.

So I did what any other (procrastinating) person would have done: I just left it there. Another day, I’d tackle it. Another time, when I had the energy. But then the syrup, um, hardened, creating its own little veneer, and suddenly cleaning it up became far less urgent. The baking supplies were still stuck, of course, but they were relatively easily pried out – and when I did, I was met with a thin layer of sugary plastic rather than sticky terror, so I just kind of forgot about it.

Until I knew that we’d be gone and Emi would be here and she’d see the fossilized remains in our drawer and would be all, How the heck did this happen? and I’d have to explain that it had been there since December and I’d been too lazy busy to clean it up, and, well, that was just too much, even for me. It had to be taken care of.

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Yup. Just a little bit of a mess down in there.

After removing everything that broke free without a fight, I was left with what essentially amounted to an archeological dig. Remember in Jurassic Park when the mosquito is trapped in the amber? That was basically my kitchen, except with Anise Extract and a rubber band instead of a fossilized bug.

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You can’t really see it here, but the things that I’d pulled from the resin-y bottom left impressions behind, so it was totally like an archeological expedition. This was right above the mesozoic layer.

I tried to remove the remaining veneer by hand but soon discovered that doing so was impossible because it was, you know, stuck to the drawer. As it had hardened, it left no room between itself and the laminate, so I couldn’t reach beneath and pry it loose. I considered removing the drawer and filling it with water to, I don’t know, melt it down but that seemed to be pure folly.

“You know,” I informed Nick, “I’ve decided that it really isn’t a problem. I mean, it’s been here for seven months. Do we really have to clean it up?”

He just gave me a look.

“Okay, fine. Be all sanitary. Whatever.”

It became clear that the only option would be to chip away at it – literally – using some sort of chisel. We don’t happen to have chisels lying around, but we do happen to have my grandfather’s old toolbox filled with all sorts of random utensils, including this delightful file-like thing.
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We like to get all 
Home Improvement up in here.

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What, like you don’t ask your husband to snap photos of you chiseling away fossilized corn syrup in case you ever decide to blog about it. Psh.

It was tedious – and surprisingly tiring – work but eventually the veneer came up, one little plastic bit at a time. Twenty minutes later, the drawer was filled with shards of see-through rock candy, which was fairly easy to dump into the trash. A few paper towels and some GreenWorks squirts later, and voila – good as new!

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Please ignore whatever schmutz is on the front of the drawer. It’s always what’s on the inside that counts anyway, right?

After re-filing the contents, I stood back and admired my handiwork. Quite amazing, really. THIS DRAWER IS SO WONDERFULLY ORGANIZED. Surely you would feel welcome in our tidy, cozy home, Emi. Would you like to put leftovers in some Tupperware? BOOM. Right there. How d’you like me now?

I’m pretty sure it was the methodically catalogued baking cabinet that allowed Emi to not totally lose her mind when all three dogs got into the trash and wound up recycling its contents – out both ends – on her bedroom floor. I hope we left the carpet cleaner out, because if not, she’d have to have waded through the cupboards containing the cleaning supplies, and let’s just say they’re not exactly as easy to sort through as the Tupperware, if you know what I mean. One can only order so many areas of the house, no? Plus, I appreciate the irony of untidy cleaning supplies. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, in closing, if you were concerned that the stash of Easter candy you just found – in September – was horribly negligent on your part, allow me to assure you that you are are in very good company. Also, by way of a Public Service Announcement, I can now say with confidence that if a bottle of Karo syrup spills in your baking drawer, it is much easier – and more fun, in an archeological kind of way – to just let it harden before attempting to remove it. True, you could probably chisel the stuff out sooner than seven months later, but hey, why rush it?

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I could try to convince you that, seven weeks later, the drawer is still this neat… but I prefer not to waste anyone’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to the Here and Now, Yeah

* you’ve totally got that song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

So, yeah… It’s been awhile… We had this thing going on – summer, they call it? – and there just hasn’t been much chance to sit down and type. Or clean. Or get organized. Or do anything remotely productive.

But, maybe for the first time ever, you know what? It’s been okay.
Actually, it’s been really, really good.

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Missions: accomplished!

If you’ll come a little closer, I’ll tell you something: I didn’t really believe it was possible. I know, I said back in June that I was looking forward to summer, to having the time off from teaching, to taking the break. I know, back in July, that I said I had already become annoyed with how little I was accomplishing, how the lack of routine was jarring. As I wrote both of those posts – as the days of summer ticked off, one by one – I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for School Year Emily to emerge from my sunscreen and bug spray-encrusted shell (butterfly-like, not Sigourney Weaver Alien like, that’s gross), assuming I’d be so done with all of this No Structure nonsense that I’d ignore my children for two hours straight while I attempted to feel human again.

I’ve just never been good at relaxing, at doing nothing. Not ever; even back in elementary school, I would come downstairs in the morning and ask my mom, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” (No joke. I was a riot.) But for some reason, this summer was different. I wouldn’t say it came naturally to me – I essentially had to force myself to try to chill out, which I realize is both ironic and oxymoronic – but, by God, I did it.

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Previously, I would have hidden this photo because of my rather, um, unflattering stance. Now, it reminds me of the helluva good time the girls and I had this summer. #GirlPower!

It’s been weeks since the garden was weeded, but every time I thought about doing it, I saw that I’d have to not do something fun with the girls in order to make it happen. This summer, I chose fun. “Reorganize the Art Closet” has been on my To-Do list for three months, but each time I considered taking it on, some (completely foreign, believe me) voice in my head reminded me that there were crossword puzzles sitting in my bag, just waiting for me, and would I really take the time to do crosswords once the school year began? I would not. And so, very uncharacteristically, I did those damn crosswords, dozens of them, and I loved it. Posting here has been sporadic at best, not because I haven’t had anything to say (oh, ho! Come now!). I have probably twenty ideas for blog posts that I really, really want to write… but doing so would have meant less singing with Nick in the dining room after the girls have gone to sleep (we’re totally like Sonny and Cher except not at all), and so – quite to my shock – I opted not to write.

For ten straight weeks, I ignored everything that normally takes up my “spare time” – tidying, editing photos, getting together with friends, exercising, writing, making sure we have enough toilet paper – and focused only on the absolute necessities (food, sleep, wine) and just enjoying the hell out of summer… and what do you know? The world didn’t come tumbling down!

It did start to crack a little at the foundation, however. Don’t get me wrong; it was a blast going with the flow, really taking each day as it came, savoring the moments, for real and not like on a motivational poster. But it was a bit of a battle with myself to HAVE FUN and RELAX DAMN IT, and after 70 days? I’m plumb worn out. I’m tired of damp bathing suits. I’m done with unwashed hair. I’m over not being able to find a single crayon because the freakin’ art closet is completely overflowing with yarn and tangled Christmas pipe cleaners. I’m through with not seeing my friends. I’ve had it with the girls’ epic bickering (to their credit, they were amazing playmates and buddies for the vast majority of summer, but given that they basically haven’t played with anyone else since June, they are sick of one another; believe me, I get it).

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I took this last night because I was so giddy to be have our systems back on track, but looking at it now, all I’m seeing are the piles of shoes beneath the bench,the random Fourth of July decoration lingering above the white boards, the games that are in total disarray… I’m not sure how it’s possible to be so simultaneously on top of things but also messy, but HERE WE ARE.
Omg, tangent – can you even imagine what a hilarious disaster it would be if this were an organizational/ house decoration blog? HAHAHAHA.

This summer, I kicked back with the best of ’em, and I’m so very glad I did, but today? SCHOOL BEGAN TODAY AND I COULD KISS THE GROUND THE CALENDAR WALKS ON. Real life starts again, SIGN ME UP! Sure, it’s only been one day, but already I feel more like School Year Emily. The laundry has been done (times three), the sheets have all been laundered (and the beds done up perty), the towels have been washed and rehung (it was okay that they weren’t really washed all summer because we were out of town so much, right?), and errands have been run. Plus also I exercised and then cancelled out the burned calories by going to Starbucks, so it’s a total win.

Next week, I’ll be back to subbing. Our home will (hopefully!) be in better shape, along with my thighs (too far?). The art closet will be sorted through if it kills me. Blogs will be written (maybe even about What We Did This Summer) and photos will be edited and emails will be answered. I might even throw in a crossword or two, if I’m really on the ball.

For now though? These girls have started second and fourth grade (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS but also HOW DID THEY GET SO OLD??) with hearts full of awesome summer memories (and more than a few bug bites)… and for the first time ever, I can truly say I loved it, right alongside them.

Especially now that they’re back to school, holla!

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