“Hey Carrie,” I say. “Wanna make ten bucks?”
“For doing what?” she asks.
“For finding my cell phone.”
“Where is it?” she asks.
“I don’t know, but I’ve got a ten-dollar bill for whoever finds it. Tell your brother.”
She yells Wiiil-yuuum! over her shoulder, then turns back to me.
“I found it last time,” she says. “Remember? It was in the car under your umbrella.”
“I didn’t get ten dollars that time,” she says.
“Because I didn’t offer you ten dollars that time,” I say. “I am offering it to you this time.”
“Will you give me ten dollars for last time, though?”
“That’s not fair!”
“You’re burning daylight, sister. I am liable to find it myself before you finish whining.”
“Oh, I’m going to find it,” she says.
It is around this time that William walks into the room. Carrie explains to him about the bounty.
“Mom lost her phone.”
“Again?” he asks.
“Yeah, again. Whoever finds it gets ten dollars, and I’m going to find it!”
Carrie frantically runs from one end of the playroom to the other. Enthusiastic, if wildly ineffective, this girl. She darts into the kitchen, knocking chairs this way and that.
“Where is your phone?” William asks.
“If I knew I would have already gotten it myself. I remember having it after work yesterday, so I know it is around here somewhere.”
“Aw man, he is going to find it!” Carrie says. “I found it last time, and I didn’t get anything! This is so unfair!”
And let me reiterate that the phone, at this point, is still missing.
Carrie continues to slam and pound about the playroom and kitchen. William snuggles up to me. In a soft, sweet (affected) voice, he tells me of his plans to refuse the reward.
“I don’t even want the ten dollars,” he says. He brushes a lock of stray hair from my face. “If I win, I will give the money to Carrie. She wants it more than me. I am just going to look for the phone because I want to help you.”
But of course he wants the ten dollars. I know he is lying. Sucking up. Manipulating us all, somehow or other. He is trying to spin the situation so that when he finds the phone, he will not only collect the reward, but he will do so to appease our begging.
Please, baby, he wants me to say. You earned it!
And he can shuffle over to me, all chubby cheeks and false modesty, and say, “Well gee, if you insist.” And his sister will give him two thumbs up, or maybe a dramatically slow round of applause, for his efforts. That is his fantasy for how this will play out. It is clear to me. But motherhood is complicated, and I manage to both see right through and fall into the trap he sets for me.
Carrie searches for my phone in the snack cabinet. I tell her it is a ridiculous place to look. She insists that there is a real possibility that the phone may be hiding in and among our processed food. She points out that I polished off the barbecue chips yesterday. That I had eaten “tons” of them. I guess she though I may have just tossed the phone into the cupboard during some sort of carb-loaded frenzy. Anyway, she looks. No phone. (And no more barbecue chips.)
William walks outside. He returns seconds later, phone in hand. It had been in the car. Under my umbrella. Again.
“Here mom,” he says. He is beaming.
“Thank you so much!” I say. I scoop him into my arms. Congratulate him on winning the money.
“No really,” he says. “Give it to Carrie. She wants it more.”
He nuzzles my neck. I squeeze him tightly, then set him down.
“You sure, buddy?” I ask.
“Yeah, beacuse… You know what – I mean, I guess I could keep it if you want me to,” he says.
“Okay, baby,” I say. He did earn it, after all.
I am fast asleep when I hear him. My son. William. His voice is sweet and small.
The shower is running. Todd is already up. I smell soap. Faintly.
Over and around me, the bed linens have achieved that exquisite warmth and softness that peaks between the hours of five and seven AM. The stool at the foot of my bed knocks against the foot board as William climbs over it. One tiny leg, then the other.
“Mom,” he says. He lays his head on my shoulder. “Look outside.”
I sit up, turn around, and take it in. The snow. And really, you’d have to live in the south to see the snow the way we see it. Beautiful, special and dangerous all at once.
The bed is centered against a large window. The shade is up. William and I rest our arms on the headboard like Charlie Brown and Linus at the retaining wall, and we scan the frosted landscape.
There are, at this point in the morning, no footprints. No tire tracks. The skateboard my daughter forgot to put back into the garage, like the Monster energy drink that was carelessly tossed into our front yard by a teenaged pedestrian, is hidden. Out of sight. Every crack in the sidewalk, every weed we neglected to pull, every sin left out in the weather, is indiscriminately covered in a forgiving six-inch blanket of snow.
School is canceled. Work is delayed.
Vowing to make the most of this gift, this catch of free time, we busy ourselves. We make pancakes. Build snowmen. I clean my closet for the first time since forever. Since the last time it snowed.
In Jackson, Georgia, about two hundred miles from us, Kelly Renee Gissendaner learns that her execution will be postponed.
Gissendaner was to be put to death this week for the 1997 murder of her husband. She was to be the first woman executed in Georgia in 70 years. But it is snowing. The execution will have to wait until Monday when roads and schedules are clear.
I think about Gissendaner on and off throughout the day. I wonder about her. How will she pass the extra days that have been granted to her by the snow? How does she feel about it, this catch of free time? Does it feel like a gift, an answer to prayer, or is it prolonging her anxiety?
I think of Gissendaner’s daughter, Kayla. She was only seven when she lost her mother and father to prison and murder. Seven. The same age as my son.
The afternoon sun warms the air, and by lunch time, the slush-slick snow slides off of our metal roof in sheets. Drips from the trees like rain. The ground, and all that litters it, slowly reappears. It is almost over, this break from reality. And I am a little down about all of us returning to our respective routines, but I am also a little relieved.
Whatever I would have expected her to look like, the woman who would ultimately run me down over two pounds of chicken tenderloins at the Belmont Avenue Kroger, this was not it.
She looked slow. Not intellectually disabled slow. More of an I’m on vacation-style of slow. It was the cautious steps she took with her high heeled boots. The leisurely way she pushed her cart up to the chicken section of the meat department. The slow-motion manner in which she, with perfectly lacquered nails, flipped through her four-inch coupon binder.
This pokey, boot-wearing lady. Honestly. Not a care in the world.
And then there was me. With a care in the world. Me, with goose bumps on my goose bumps from standing in the frigid meat department. Me, in flats which, like my nails, are never polished. I’m in a hurry, and my need for chicken is so dire that it makes me hasty. Maybe a little inconsiderate.
“Excuse me,” I say. Boot lady is mooning over her coupons, so I step between her cart and the chicken. I scan the poultry selection from top to bottom. What I seek are the tenderloins. Not breasts. Not bone-in or whole bird. I spy them, but the inventory is low. The packages are deep-set on a high shelf. I raise up on the ball of my foot, reach in, and take two packs (i.e. all the remaining packs) of chicken tenderloins. I throw them in my basket, flash a smile at boot lady, and walk off.
It doesn’t hit me until I leave the meat department that boot lady may have wanted those tenderloins. That she had been there first. That I sort of cut in front of her while she was busy with her binder. And then my thoughts are interrupted by a voice from behind.
“Ma’am? Excuse me! Ma’am? Ma’am!”
I know it is her. I hear that rhythmic sound that can only be produced by pretty heeled boots running across industrial tile. I am ashamed, but also quite desperate for the chicken chili that I am intent on cooking for supper.
I want to say “finders keepers.” Instead, I feign obliviousness.
And she is right behind me. I contemplate shoving the coupon binder out of her hands and making a break for the door while she leans down to retrieve it. I don’t, though. I apologize.
“Sorry,” I say, turning to face her. “I was rushing. Did you want these?”
I reach into my basket to get the chicken, and when I turn to face her, I see that she is smiling.
“No, it is just that I have a coupon for those,” she says.
“The chicken you got,” she says. “I have a coupon for it that you can use. I never buy the tenderloins, and I’d hate for it to go to waste.”
“Wow,” I say. “Thank you.”
So she didn’t run me down to give me my comeuppance. She did it to save me three dollars. It just goes to show that sometimes we don’t get what we deserve. Thankfully.
Writer’s note: “Kroger” is now a category on my blog. That is how much I shop at/write about Kroger.They should send me a gift card. Or a restraining order.
Candy bars. You love ‘em, right? Who doesn’t? But why go to all the trouble of finding a store that sells them (i.e. every store in existence, plus every business everywhere, once you factor in vending machines), and why put up with the exorbitant cost (i.e. 75 cents) when you could just make your own?
With the Chocolate Bar Maker, you can, and it wont cost you but thirty-five dollars. Here is how.
Start by buying the Chocolate Bar Maker kit. It retails for about $18.99, but if you’re a savvy shopper like my daughter, you can find it for about fifteen bucks at an after Christmas clearance sale.
Next, buy a six pack of Hershey bars. This item runs for around $3.50, and if you… wait, what? Oh, you thought there was going to be actual chocolate in the chocolate bar maker? Oh, you naive little thing. I swear, that is just precious. No, the chocolate is not included.
Where was I? Okay, so to the $15.00 you’ll pay for the kit (which consists of a couple of silicone molds and a squirt bottle), and $3.50 you will spend on the “plain” chocolate bars called for in step one of the instructions, add $2.00 for sugar wafers, jelly beans, peanuts, or whatever other snack you choose for the purpose of enhancing and improving upon the otherwise “plain” taste of the chocolate. And now you’re up to what, $20.50?
Okay, now factor in an additional eight dollars to the sub-total, because this squirt bottle, this “Easy Squeezer,” is pretty challenging to control. You’re going to have to get both your blouse and slacks dry cleaned.
While the new, still-in-the-mold candy bar (which your child created by breaking and melting a perfectly good candy bar) sets up in the fridge, tidy up. The sugar wafer isn’t going to fit in the mold. You will have to saw, trim and shape it with a serrated knife, and the breeze generated by your sighs of frustration will carry the sugar wafer sawdust through the air like anthrax. There will also be jelly beans to pick out of the vent return, and lots of tiny, threaded and oddly shaped parts to the “easy squeeze” bottle that will have to be hand-washed. The cost of this will vary greatly based on: a) the speed with which you clean, and b) the hourly rate which you earn at work. I’m going to conservatively estimate that the time you spend cleaning will be worth $6.50.
So there you have it. Just find a retailer that sells the Chocolate Bar Maker, and two hours and $35.00 later, you’ll be enjoying this:
Try spending $35.00 on ready-made chocolate at a store and see what it gets you:
“It’s pine beetles,” my mother said.
“Pine beetles?” I asked.
“Those dead trees in the back yard,” mom explained in a tone of voice one normally reserved for announcing a cancer diagnosis. “Your dad had a guy come out to the house and look at them, and he said it’s pine beetles. The trees have got to go.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “But hey, pine trees aren’t much to look at anyway. At least you’re not losing the river birches.”
“It’s not the trees I’m worried about,” she said. “It’s the expense. Six hundred dollars to take them down.”
“Six hundred dollars?!” I said.
“Yep. Three trees. Two hundred bucks a tree. Six hundred dollars.”
“That’s too bad,” I said, and then, in a vain attempt to lighten her mood, I changed the subject.
“Valentine’s day is this weekend,” I said.
“Is it?” she asked.
“It is,” I said. “It’s Saturday. Are you and Dad going to do something special?”
“I reckon we will have these pine trees taken down. Six hundred bucks. That will be special enough for me.”
That is my mother, and that has been her outlook on receiving gifts for as long as I can remember.
The transmission needs to be rebuilt: Just in time for my birthday!
The putrid smell in the house turns out to be a dead opossum in the duct work which needs to be removed by an exterminator: Happy anniversary to us, Byron!
The orthodontist recommends a root canal on that second molar: Did somebody say, Happy Mother’s Day?
The pine beetle incident was over ten years ago, and while my parents were thirty-plus years into marriage at the time that those trees were cut down, I was a young bride. Mom’s notion that resolutions to expensive emergencies counted as gifts flew in the face of everything I believed about love and romance, and if she was content to receive stump-grinding and dental care as gifts, then I would regard her as a cautionary tale, not an inspiration.
What I wanted for Valentine’s Day that year, and what I thought she should want, was validation. I wanted proof that I was thought of. Cared about. Valued.
After getting off the phone with my mother that afternoon, I told my husband about the pine beetles. I explained to him, in no uncertain terms, that money spent for an emergency did not count as a gift.
“And what is it that you do you want for Valentine’s Day?” he asked.
“Surprise me,” I said. And if it was a thoughtful surprise at the time, it is a forgotten detail now.
I don’t remember the specific trinkets I’ve unwrapped over the past sixteen years of marriage. Not many of them, What I remember instead are the many repairs that, together, we have arranged for our vintage (read: super old and impractical) house. I remember the countless nights during which we took turns with fussy babies. I remember funerals. Layoffs. Flat tires. And with each ordeal, I remember the peace of knowing that he had my back.
Our hardships are temporary, but our commitment toward one another is permanent. It is that way in a time-worn marriage. It is love, if not conventional romance, and it is a gift, indeed.
A dead opossum, thought. That still doesn’t count. I’m drawing the line at dead opossum removal.
My husband and I both received a luchador bottle opener as a gift this year. We’ve no affinity for wrestling, little interest in Mexican pop culture, yet somehow, two different friends (unbeknownst to one another) chose for us the exact same present. Stranger still is the fact that these two friends, at one time, were married to one another.
Our male friend, whom I’ll call “Louis,” gave Todd the red luchador last May. The guys had met up in Atlanta for a music festival, and though the two friends had not historically exchanged birthday gifts, Louis had purchased the luchador on a lark. He had seen it in a store somewhere, and the timing of the festival, the fact that it fell on the weekend that Todd turned 40, had inspired him to throw the bottle opener in with his other purchases.
Seven months later, a Christmas package appeared on my counter. It was from a dear friend I’ll call “Lois.” She’d had her daughter drop off the gift, and I opened it alone in my kitchen. Braced for a laugh, for Lois always gives the most amusing presents (e.g., a female urination device, shampoo containing “real placenta,”), I reached into the bag. It was a second luchador. He was blue and molded into the exact same position as the red wrestler Louis had given Todd that summer.
There is something to this, I thought. Something poetic. What?, I wondered. What I am suppose to do here? Do I put these two on the top of a wedding cake? Store one of them at the lake cabin so that they both have the space they need? Is there something I am to learn here?
Somewhat anxiously, I left the two opponents on my kitchen counter for a week or more and pondered, each time I passed, what meaning could be ascertained from the circumstances leading up to their arriving in our kitchen. Surely, from the mouth holes of their spandex costumes, they had some message to deliver about marriage and divorce. About conflict. About wrestling. Wearing masks. Trying to win.
The truth is that I don’t know much about Louis and Lois with regard to their divorce. I know about them what I know about everyone and everything in the most general sense. I know that people are good and do the best they can. I know that life can be hard, rife with unpredictability. I know that “forever” is an impossibly long time. And then it hit me, what I was to learn from these two. It came to me, the meaning of it all, and I was overcome with such peace that I put the wrestlers away in the junk drawer and worried no longer.
Friendship endures, laughter is a panacea, and in these two friends, we have both. Todd and I are so lucky to have Louis and Lois in our lives. They entertain us, as friends do. With the briefest call or text, they distract us from our cares, as the luchadores do their spectators. You couldn’t ask for a better gift.
Also, you can open bottles with them.
What if you resolved to gain four pounds in 2015? I know this is an asinine proposition, but stay with me a minute. Suppose your New Year’s resolution was to increase your weight by a minimum of four pounds?
We are a paranoid species. Suspicious. When things don’t go our way (as things are want to do), we have a tendency to look beyond ourselves, to look past our own choices and their naturally-resulting consequences, and to look toward something else, something cosmic and external (and menacing), as the force which derails the train of our good intentions: Murphy’s Law. A universe which conspires against us. Good ol’ fashioned bad luck brought on by any number of it’s many sources (e.g. walking under a ladder, being crossed by a black cat, failing to knock on wood when speaking optimistically).
This year, why not spin the universe’s contrary nature to your advantage? Theater people do it all the time. Break a leg, they say to one another. And how often do thespians actually walk out on stage and fracture a femur?
Resolve to gain four pounds this year. At least. Tell everyone you intent to continue smoking throughout 2015. Announce by way of Facebook status that you’ll avoid volunteer work in the new year. That you’ll get even deeper into debt.
Follow my advise, and by this time next year, one of two things will have happened: Either you will have gained the four+ pounds, thereby keeping your resolution, or you will have failed to accomplish the feat, thereby breaking your resolution (in the process maintaining or losing weight).
This is reverse psychology on a cosmic level, and it is a win-win proposition for you. I cannot guarantee that this will make you happy in the new year, but it will make you right. And really, isn’t that the same thing?
Santa is for us. For parents. He was conceived by and is perpetuated because of Moms and Dads. I offer up to you, as exhibit A, a photograph taken during my daughter’s first visit with Santa Claus in 2003.
Look at that infant in Santa’s arms. She doesn’t know who he is. Or who she is. Or what planet she is on. That baby would just as soon been sitting in a bouncy seat as in his velvety lap, and she doesn’t want anything for Christmas aside from the things she wants every other day of the year (i.e. bottle, clean diaper, pacifier, to be picked up and toted around).
This trip to the mall was my idea. The little outfit, though you can’t see it for Santa’s formidable arm, was chosen and bought by me for the expressed purpose of wearing it in this photograph. Baby’s First Christmas.
I am not saying that children don’t enjoy the myth of Santa, and certainly they love to look under the tree on Christmas morning to see what sorts of gifts he has left for them, but the joy they feel while tearing the colorful paper from the boxes can’t touch the happiness we, as parents, experience as we watch their smiles and listen to their squeals in that moment of genuine joy.
A child’s happiness is a powerful drug, so Christmas, for parents, is a big bender. This business with Santa: we start it too soon, we take it too far, and we keep it going much too long.
I started a scrapbook in 2003 after this photograph was taken. (Remember when we were all scrapbooking?) It is a small book, and I add to it only one page each year: a page containing a picture of Carrie and Santa. The photographs chronicle not only our daughter’s physical development, but her intellectual and emotional development as well.
The pictures, after 2007, change less in terms of Carrie’s demeanor. Physically she gets a little taller. A little thinner.
Somewhere around 2011 she just throws her leg over his knee. (Santa had his knee replaced and thought she would be too heavy to sit on it outright.)
In 2013, she gets away from the knee completely and, instead, sits at Santa’s side.
And here is the picture from this year. Carrie in braces. Carrie a year away from make-up. She sits with Santa only for her brother’s sake. He still believes, and this she wants to encourage.
This is middle school; the stage that I dreaded back in 2003 when I started the Santa and Me scrapbook. I dreaded the day she outgrew Santa. And childhood. But adolescence is grand in it’s own way.
Carrie joined the band this year. She is in the drum section. Totally her idea. The school held a Christmas concert earlier this month, and she was so excited. She practiced everyday. Drummed on every surface of the kitchen and playroom for weeks. Jingle bells and Jolly Old St. Nicholas. Her pride and dedication, being witness to it, it made me happy as a mother. It wasn’t the same kind of happiness that I’d felt years ago while watching her in a state of Santa-related giddiness, but it was happiness all the same. Not less or more. Just different.
I feel foolish for having worried (for still sometimes worrying) about all that she and her brother will outgrow. It is silly. They are forever growing. Outgrowing some things. Growing into others. And there is joy to be found in all of it.