Writing a blog has been liberating and healing, and I am so appreciative of the warm response to my ramblings and reflections. But one recent experience was so scary and distressing it gave me my first ever case of writer’s block.
It involved lice.
A couple of weeks ago, I got a call after dinner to inform me that one of my daughter’s friends, with whom she’d just spent the weekend, had lice. It was too late to go to the lice lady to have Kim checked out, so I made an appointment for the next morning. Then I raced to CVS and purchased an at-home treatment (after a quick survey of the store to make sure no one I knew was on the checkout line), because of course I couldn’t wait overnight to find out from an expert whether Kim had it, too.
Dr. House was was determined to make that diagnosis herself.
That night, as I combed out Kim’s hair with our new blue plastic nit comb, I found dozens of tiny white eggs.
I cannot tell you how grossed out I was, so I won’t even try.
As I made the dreaded calls to the moms of the friends Kim had seen since the weekend to warn them their daughters might be infected, too, my head started to itch.
First thing the next morning, I took Kim to the lice lady, who said I had done an excellent job with the at-home kit, because after an hour combing Kim’s hair, she didn’t find a single egg.
Evidently I was quite the lice-slayer. I was very proud of myself.
I had a comb out too, and the lice lady didn’t find anything because, she explained cheerfully, a) I’m old, and b) there are some people lice just aren’t attracted to.
I thought we were home free, but two days later I did a comb out on Kim as a precaution, and found more eggs. I had already changed Kim’s bedding and tossed her stuffed animals in the attic, but evidently that wasn’t enough. I boiled her brushes (again), and put everything she touched in the dryer, not to mention vacuuming like a madwoman (once I figured out where the cleaning lady keeps the vacuum cleaner, and how to operate it).
But the next day, more eggs.
This cleaning frenzy continued for two weeks, with me spending hours a day doing laundry, and evenings in front of the kitchen sink, combing out Kim’s hair. At one point, I gave Kim a hug (being careful to avoid her head) and told her it was nice to have this bonding time with her, just the two of us. “WHAT KIND OF MOTHER ARE YOU,” yelled Kim, “THAT YOU’RE HAPPY YOUR DAUGHTER HAS LICE?!”
That’s not exactly what I meant, but she had a point.
Finally, right before Christmas, I decided we had to make another trip to the lice lady to figure out why we couldn’t shake the problem. The lady did a comb out, and found the eggs, just like I had.
Only it turns out what I’d been combing out for two weeks weren’t eggs. They were towel lint. “So you’ve been combing my hair for an hour every night til my neck hurts, and using that nasty shampoo that smells, and boiling my brushes til they melt, and ruining my North Face jacket in the dryer, all because I have TOWEL LINT?” asked Kim with a look.
All things considered, though, she took it pretty well. Good thing for me Christmas was right around the corner.
Needless to say, Santa brought her a new coat and a new brush.
Christmas is what I’ll write about tomorrow, but I had to get this story out of the way first, the story of the last time I play doctor because I am too impatient to spend one night waiting for a proper appointment.
Ho ho ho.
I am letting my babysitter go, so this is the last day someone else will take care of a whole lot of things I should be taking care of myself.
I have no business having a full-time babysitter. My children are teenagers. When I left my job in June, Carrie pointed out that I didn’t need her anymore. Of course I did, I argued, and found lots of things for her to do: clean out the shed, sort through my children’s clothes, help me weed the garden. We went to the farmer’s market and bought apples. But when I asked her to do my Pilates tape with me, she said it really was time for her to find another job.
I insisted it was not. I love having Carrie around. She’s smart and fun, and I hate to clean the refrigerator. So she reorganized the pantry and the linen closet and threw away outdated medicines and polished the silver that the cleaning lady forgot about, all without my asking, because she likes to keep busy. (And because she hates Pilates.)
Then my youngest child got her first babysitting job. “How can I be working as her babysitter when she’s out babysitting someone herself?” Carrie asked me.
She had a point.
I’m really going to miss her, and not just because of the refrigerator.
Carrie’s the one who found my husband’s body after his heart attack. She was so traumatized she didn’t think she’d be able to come back to work, but she did, after two days, because we needed her. She tells the kids stories about their dad: how he loved to cook, and made her special versions of his meals because she doesn’t like tomatoes; how he bragged to her about his wonderful children and brilliant, beautiful wife (I’m just repeating); how he’d remind her to throw out all the catalogues before I got home. When Carrie’s former employer offered to double her salary if she worked for them again she turned it down, and never even told me. And when I got food poisoning this spring, she’s the one who kept a cool washcloth on my forehead and made me ginger tea and watched over me, for hours, until it passed.
I think the worst thing about getting older is saying goodbye to all the people you wish you didn’t have to. You don’t have any idea how much you’ll miss them until you measure the hole in your heart after they’re gone.
Someone out there is very lucky.
Today was the last time I had someone else fill my car’s tires with air at the gas station. I learned how to do it myself.
Filling a car’s tires with air wouldn’t be a big deal for most people, but it was for me. I didn’t even figure out how to use the self-serve gas pump until I was 40. Between living in the city for years and not needing a car, then having a husband who did most of the driving because I can’t parallel park, it just wasn’t an issue. Car tasks were Not My Job.
Now, of course, everything is my job. It has been for over eight years, but somehow I avoided filling my tires with air. Maybe it was done when I had my car serviced? At another point in my life, I probably would have just replaced the tires if the little warning light went on. Can you imagine? “My tires must be broken, I’d better get new ones.”
Anyway, this morning the warning light went on in my car as I was pulling out of the driveway to get coffee. I picked up my friend — let’s call him You Know Who You Are — to go to the coffee shop and, pointing to the warning light, hinted that “someone” would have to get the tires filled. You Know Who You Are knows me better than to think I planned on doing it myself, but evidently car tasks are Not His Job, either. At least, not my car tasks. You Know Who You Are figured that “someone” would be the man at the gas station.
So an hour or so later, worried every minute that my tires would explode because the light was on, I headed for the gas station. There were two men working at the station, and both were very busy tinkering under a car. One ignored me, and the other acted annoyed when I asked him how to fill my tires with air. He just pointed to the machine and slid back under the car. But when he glanced over and saw my bewildered look as I fumbled for change, he came over to help. He showed me how to take the caps off the tires, and when I dropped the first cap into the tire, and couldn’t get it out, he brought me a new one.
Awww. Mr. Cranky was really a softie.
We eventually got all four tires filled. Mr. Cranky tried to refuse a tip, but I insisted (and gave him a good one, because Mr. Ignored Me was watching). I turned on the car and the warning light was off, so I drove home.
I know it’s silly to get a sense of accomplishment from doing something third graders can do with their bikes, but it felt good to add to my list of Things I Can Do. There are so many things I can’t do — carry a tune, keep my favorite soap opera on the air, make my children stop missing their father — that it’s nice to add something to the list that I can control.
I know — maybe I’ll finally learn how to parallel park.
Today is the last time I’m going to listen to Bruce Springsteen in the car, instead of eavesdropping on my kids and their friends in the back seat.
You don’t find out much from Children Of A Certain Age by asking them what’s going on. By the time they’re middle school vets, kids are secretive and sneaky — if you think yours aren’t, that just means they’re very good at it. (No offense.)
Ask Children Of A Certain Age how their day was, and you’re lucky if you get a grunt or an eyeroll. Since I don’t speak “grunt,” like most parents I’ve developed coping mechanisms. Volunteering to car pool is sure-fire. And easy: Shut up, steer and listen. It’s remarkable how quickly kids forget you’re in the car. You find out who has a crush on whom, which boy is filching his dad’s Cubans, whose Bat Mitvah theme just “didn’t match the venue.” It’s brilliant.
You have to keep the radio on, so The Children think you’re listening to music, not them. Except, I can get distracted by Bruce, and today was one of those times. So while eighth graders were gossiping madly in the back of my Odyssey, I was hearing for the thousandth time about tramps like me who are born to run. Consequently, I missed whatever inspired this snippet: “There’s only one kid in our grade who goes to bed at 9, and she got books for Christmas.” I was dying to know what that was about, but I couldn’t ask or I’d blow my cover.
I could only guess what possessed some poor girl’s parents to force her to get ten hours of sleep, and give her presents that might inspire her or make her think, instead of something to make her nails sassier.
Maybe they were guarding her dreams and visions (that’s for you, Stephanie).
In any case, next time, I’ll keep my eyes on the road, and my ears tuned in to the back seat.
When I’m not riding through mansions of glory in suicide machines, that is.
This morning, my son — let’s call him Patrick — came into the kitchen for breakfast. I’d made him eggs and toast. He asked me to get him a glass of orange juice; I suggested he get it himself, since I was in the middle of scrubbing the pan I’d burned the eggs in. “But you’re closer to the refrigerator,” he pointed out. So I poured him a glass— but tomorrow he’ll have to get it himself.
When Patrick was a toddler, he hardly ever cried. I marveled to my mother about how serene he was. “Of course he’s always happy,” my mother snapped. “He gets whatever he wants.”
Which was true. But in all fairness, that’s because Patrick didn’t ask for very much. The first time we took him trick-or-treating, he dutifully walked up to the door and dug a package of Twizzlers out of the candy bowl, but held back when we got to the next house. I asked him why he didn’t want to go again, and he opened up his bag to proudly display the Twizzlers. “I already got something,” he explained. Same thing with his first Easter egg hunt the following spring: one egg was enough. He was resourceful, too — if he couldn’t have a gun, he’d shoot people with a banana. He raced “cars” made out of empty salt shakers.
Even today, he’ll wear jeans until his knees are exposed and sneakers until a toe is poking out, and get annoyed when I insist on dragging him to the mall to get new ones. His slippers are held together with duct tape.
But I’m not doing him any favors by playing waitress in the morning, or reminding him to hand in his homework. He’s more capable than I realized.
I made that discovery recently when he wanted to go to a concert that required traveling from our suburb by train into New York City, then via subway to Brooklyn, and home again before the trains stopped running. That sounded like a lot of coordinating for a teenage boy who packed only one pair of shoes for summer camp (“I can do it myself, Mom!”), then lost them and had to be driven home barefoot, but one of his friends who was going was an expert at navigating the city, so I warily bought Patrick a ticket. He called me as his train was pulling into the station (okay, I called him), and he mentioned that the friend who was supposed to accompany him wouldn’t be going after all. “DON’T GET ON THE TRAIN! I’ll drive you! You don’t know how to get to Brooklyn!” I cried. But it turned out he did. “I take Metro North to Grand Central, catch the L train to Brooklyn and get off at Bedford Avenue,” Patrick replied calmly as the doors closed behind him. My stomach clenched and I poured myself a glass of wine to settle my nerves. But only one, not unconvinced I wouldn’t be racing to Brooklyn in the coming hours to search for my lost boy.
That night, Patrick returned happy, safe and sound. Sober, even.
I learned my lesson. Patrick’s as smart and resourceful as he was when he was two. Which means he can get his own orange juice.
I think I’ll even teach him how to make eggs.
Today will be last time I throw something in the garbage because I am too lazy to find a place for it.
I’m not talking about things like the toaster I pitched into the trash last week, that only toasted bread on one side. I used it that way for months, putting the bread in twice so I could toast both sides, before it hit me: “I really shouldn’t have to do this.” So I went to the mall and bought a toaster at Williams-Sonoma that looks like something from the Jetsons. That felt good.
No so good was the pile of furniture, clothes, toys and dishes that I giddily cast into the dumpster when I was having the ceiling in my basement fixed three years ago. I spent all weekend running around the house finding things to throw away. By the time I was finished, the dumpster was bursting and there wasn’t enough room for the old ceiling pieces, so the contractor had to rent a second dumpster. Which meant it cost me $500 to throw away my crap.
For my next round of purging, my neighbor, let’s call her Annie, and I decided to have a garage sale. That went fine, but as you know, there’s always a lot of junk left after a garage sale. The dregs of your belongings, the items you couldn’t even give away. Annie’s husband, let’s call him Mitch, is very ecology-conscious and doesn’t believe in throwing things in the garbage that will end up in a landfill and destroy the environment. He puts them in his basement instead. So even though I had promised Annie that if she had a garage sale with me we would put everything left out in the trash pile, and she wouldn’t have to haul stuff back into her house that she never wanted to see again, Mitch couldn’t bear to go along with that. So after the sale, not only did Annie have all of her leftover stuff sitting in her basement, she had all of mine.
Another strategy I would not advise to dispose of belongings is tossing them out a window. It seemed like a good idea at the time: When my mother was selling the house I grew up in, her attic was full of junk she couldn’t bear to part with. Sorting through it, piles and piles of it, she’d agree to throw something away, like a deflated basketball or box of our old school notebooks, then change her mind. It got so frustrating, I threatened to just fling things out the attic window. Then I started doing it. It was so much fun, my mother started doing it, too. Whee! went Barbies and torn paperbacks, out the window. Whoosh! went grungy pillows and comforters. (Good lord, I sound like Dr. Seuss.) We were just finishing up — and, if memory serves, polishing off a bottle of wine we snuck up there — when my dad found us and said, “You’d better come outside.” So we did. Dad pointed to the house. Under the attic window was the roof over our front porch, which was now covered with our stuff. And we didn’t have a ladder tall enough to get it off.
With a little extra effort, I can find places for things I don’t need anymore. There are two churches in our town that have huge attic sales every year; there are charities that pick up items, and bins for used clothes at the grocery store. I can take advantage of that.
Today I’ll throw something away that I really shouldn’t, because I told you I would. Maybe a bike my kids have outgrown, or an old stereo.
But I’m going to cheat. Before the trash pickup, I’m going to tell Mitch it’s out there.