Sunday, December 18, 2016

A Bad Kitten Mom

I'm a month behind in my kitten story. Sorry about that. I'm going to try to catch up, but it's like trying to catch a leaf on the current of a river, always moving downstream.

As it is, I still have to put together Mike's Demotivators calendar before Christmas. Can you make up any rude holidays I should have in it? I could use some help with that. I'm tempted to leave the whole calendar blank after January 20, Inauguration Day, like the end of the world.

But you didn't come here for the end of the American government as we know it. You came here for kittens. Who doesn't need kittens when democracy is flushing down the toilet?

So, I was excited and nervous for kitten day. We had called to schedule another visit and they called back an hour later and told us we could pick him up tonight. He was two pounds and one ounce, big enough for flea meds. I wanted to get him right then, but I volunteered at school and Nick and I had a meeting after school. I couldn't see going to get him, dropping him off at home in the spare bathroom, and then leaving him alone for five hours, even if he did have blankies, a water dish, food, and a brand new litter box in it.

I never did tell you about the three trips to Petco. The first time, I spent over a hundred dollars. I lost track the second two times. I did not want to know. Plausible deniability, you know. There was the cat pheromone stuff you plug into an outlet to make all the cats happy, Feliway. There was a grassy-smelling additive to attract a kitten to a new litter box, Cat Attract. I bought one of those heating pads that I could never quite tell was working. I get that it can't be too warm, but I had to pile blankets and pillows on it to feel the heat collecting. And in the cool spare bathroom, it was as if it was a shade warmer than the inside of my refrigerator. So, I piled a bunch of blankets onto the heating pad. And there were two little cat beds and toys and a travel carrier. I didn't buy the warm teddy bear with the heartbeat for him to snuggle with. Should I have bought the warm teddy bear with the heartbeat?

I bought at least five kinds of toy  mice. Who needs five kinds of toy mice?

A kitten called Eli/Blitz/Yeager.

Who knew which mouse he would like?

So finally, we finished with our work and headed out pick up the kitten. Shy kitten, terrified kitten, lonely kitten. We absolutely had to make the little guy comfortable. It wouldn't be possible that first night, but how long would it take?

Can you believe that I got everything set up, cat litter and all, and forgot to buy food? So, before we could stop for the kitten, we had to make one more stop at Petco.

What kind of kitten mom am I going to be if I can't remember to buy him food?

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Letter to the Electors of the Electoral College

There are just a few days left before you, the electors of the electoral college, do your job. It's an important job.

The question is whether you, as a serious arm of the government, will allow a man to become President who doesn't actually want to become President of the United States, a man who will not take this job seriously, a man who wants to dissolve many critical departments of the government, a man who stated that he wants to make a profit while in office, a man who will not honor the Constitution.

Political differences being what they may be, even staunch Republicans can see that this man does not honor the Constitution. Trump threatens to revoke citizenship of people who protest using their right to free speech. He tweets insults at heads of governments of foreign countries. He's assigning a nightmare staff to his council, people who vow to defund and deflate the very departments they've been assigned to lead. He doesn't even attend security briefings, saying he's smart enough to do the job without them. Being smart and having information are two wildly different things.

Is this what we want in a leader? No, as a majority, we didn't vote for this man. More than 2.8 million more people voted for Hillary Clinton than for Trump. Is this what you, the electors, want for us, your people?

Trump wants to run a reality TV show instead of doing his job!

Let's just say that again: Trump wants to run a reality TV show instead of doing the work of being President of the United States.

These last few days before you make your final vote, the protest should be its loudest. Have you heard us?

We have marched in protest. We have written to Senators, to Congressmen, to the electors of the electoral college yourselves. We have avidly followed the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, and BBC articles about Russian influences on the election. Granted, the results of these investigations will not be complete by December 19th, the day you must do your job.

What more can we do to let you know that you are about to make a momentous decision? It is one that will follow each of you for the rest of your lives, one that may easily affect your grandchildren's freedoms and way of life.

Again, look at what Trump is doing:
  • He doesn't want to live in the White House, preferring to spend a million dollars a day of the government's money on the security required to protect him elsewhere.
  •  He only attends one of five security briefings.
  •  He tweets complaints about comedy impersonations as well as foreign leaders at 3am.
  •  He is delegating work to his staff, a group of people who seemed to have been chosen for their hatred of the departments they have been chosen to lead.  
  • He makes threats to protestors that go directly against the First Amendment of our Constitution. 
  • He has stated that he wants to make a profit while being President.
  • He wants to run a reality TV show while he's in office. 
  • He has no intention of separating his business affairs from his political ones and has included the leaders of his companies in private meetings with foreign leaders.
We didn't vote for him. If he becomes President of the United States, it's only because you did. So think about what you're about to do.

Trump doesn't want to live in the White House. Please vote to make that so.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, November 17, 2016

All In

Every morning after that, I woke up with the realization that bringing home a kitten was a mistake. We had a wonderful, if slightly boring, dynamic at home. I had time to take care of my three pets, the dog, the cat, and the frog, without digging into the rest of my schedule. I was sleeping pretty well. Seth was eleven, too settled to be disrupted by kitten energy. Teddy was already the bottom rung of the family hierarchy. How much lower could he stand to go? Things were good as they were, pretty great, actually.

But as every day progressed, especially when I checked the vet's website, I fell in love with our kitten all over again. His brothers and sister were going home with families. Eventually, he was one of only two. On Saturday, I called and asked how much he weighed.

One pound, twelve ounces.

What? Four days ago, he was one pound, eleven ounces. How could he be growing so slowly? Would he be ready to come home in a month? I didn't think I could wait that long. Look at him.

So, I made another appointment to visit my little munchkin on Monday. Then, Mike and Nick decided they wanted to go. Nick said I should stay home. It was a Saturday. I thought I'd tag along but suddenly, it was a guy thing. Buy video games, eat fast food, show Dad Nick's kitten.

Well, okay. I'd just seen the little guy on Thursday, but I was worried that Mike was the only one who could put a stop to the madness. I called the vet's office again and they said they were too busy right then. Could they come at 3pm?

Suddenly, I was blathering about how, if Mike didn't like the kitten, the whole thing might have to be called off. I begged for them to make it nice when the two arrived, to make the kitten perfect, to ensure that everything was perfect so we really could bring him home. They said they'd do the best that they could.

When I got off the phone, I realized I'd sweated rings around my armpits. I paced. I tried to clean the house. Mike's sense of the kitten might be better if the house was clean when he got home and I asked him about it. I paced some more. I looked the guys up on my app, Find My Friends. They had arrived at the vet's office.

I sweated and paced and checked the stalker app again until I saw that they were on the road home. No time to relax yet. I frantically vacuumed and ran a load of laundry.

When the door slammed open, I ran downstairs to look at Mike's face. He looked relaxed but a little annoyed.

"Two video games," he said. "And lunch."

I tried to sound casual. "How was the kitten?"

Nick answered, "He was really cute! He's getting tamer! He was really sleepy! They had to wake him up!" And on like that.

I let him run on then, I looked at Mike, who shrugged his shoulders. "He was okay. He didn't do much, mostly slept."

I rolled my lips into my teeth and bit them a little to slow myself down. The pause was difficult to manage. The quiet voice almost a squeak. "Well, do you think it'll work out?"

"Yeah, I guess. Nick is really excited. He hasn't been this interested in anything for a few months. I suppose it'll do."

And I jumped into the air. I don't usually jump, but that day, I jumped. I think Nick jumped too. Then, I called the vet's office and said they could really, really put us on as definites list for our kitten. We were all in.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, November 14, 2016

Maggots, Tapeworms, and Leeches

The next time I visited with the as-yet-unnamed kitten, I came prepared. I brought the dog's blanket and a little cat toy I'd made by balling a wad of both Teddy's and Seth's fur until it behaved like a felted wool toy. I reinforced it with a few stitches and added a string. I was resourceful, prepared, right?

It reminded me of when Nick was born and we brought home one of his baby blankets from the hospital so that our dog Indiana could get a whiff of him in advance.We had nothing to worry about. Indiana loved Nick on sight. He was her baby. We could see the love on her face.

I thought the blanket and this little toy would inspire some curiosity, a moment of recognition, cat and dog with this human. I thought it might make getting to know my kitty easier.

The technician brought me and the kitten into the same room along with a blanket and a pillow. I could take my time, she said. He was one pound, eleven ounces and could come home with us when he was two pounds and could be treated for fleas and worms. Worms?

Nobody said anything about worms.

But then the technician left and I was stuck in the room with a flea bitten, wild and possibly wormy little kitten.

It didn't seem like so much fun after that. I tried not to think about the worms. Seth had had worms when he was a kitten. No one, not even the five year old Nick who played with him, had gotten worms before we found out and got him treated. So, I tried not to visualize those worms eating through my intestines, or Nick's. I sat back on the pillow on the floor and waited, throwing the little cat toy around by its string.

Nothing. He had no response to it. None, except the occasional time I hit him with it and then, he'd cower further under the little table. I sat that way for ten minutes or so. I'm not that patient. I should be after two dogs, two cats, a boy, and now a kitten. Are there evolutionary advantages to being impatient?

I don't know, but if there are, my line will last through the ages and more than one toddler will say 'dammit' as his first word. Don't ask. Really, it's embarrassing.

Then, I felt stupid because I still had to corner the poor creature, throw a blanket over him, and roll him into a burrito again to get him into my arms.

Once he was there, he sat like an antelope in the jaws of a cheetah, staring into the near space without making eye contact.

I petted him with my one finger again. He stiffened.

Then, remembering the effect the tears had on him the last time I had visited. I wondered if I could dampen my finger on my tears again to make it feel like what his mom would do. No tears.

And then a vision of worms in my eye sprung to mind. No tears.

Spit, maybe?

But I couldn't put my kitteny-possibly-wormy fingers in my mouth. I just couldn't.

See, if I have a kryptonite, it's maggots, tape worms, and leeches. They're all the same in my book, things that will eat me from the inside out if I let them. I'm telling you that I have observed open-heart surgery and kidney surgery. I can clean up shit, vomit, and spoiled food like a champ. But put maggots on the compost and I become a sweaty heaving mess. If I discover little white worms crawling around in the turds in the litter box and I can puke my split pea soup on them for additional nutrients. I carried an ounce of salt like a talisman on me at all times for a week on a canoe trip in leech country. I don't do parasites.

I sat and stared at the tiny kitten. Eli/Blitz/Yeager. Whatever his name might be. Fuck.

So, I spit on him.

It was just a little globule of spit, but it was enough that I could use the one finger to clean him the way his momma would have. He seemed to relax a little. I smeared my spit around until it had the right resistance when I petted him with my one finger, pulling at his skin just a tiny bit. He closed his eyes as if momma had appeared out of the mist. This was working.

The only problem I had then was that the one spot on his fur, the middle of where I had spit, stuck up like a wet cowlick. Do you remember that scene in the movie There's Something about Mary where she accidentally uses his sperm in her hair and spends the whole meal with her bangs sticking up and you know what that crap in her hair is even though she doesn't?

It looked like that.

I could imagine the technician asking how he got wet. I might be able to raise my eyebrows and say I had no clue, but could I lie? Could I really?

So, I got to work on the spot. I think he was getting tired of big momma licking the same spot over and over again, of me rubbing it with the furry dog blanket, my T-shirt, the terry cloth inside of my jacket. But he tolerated it because maybe if he didn't, the big predator would just eat him.

Finally, I got the spit spot smoothed out and looking normal, for the most part.

It was time for me to go. I wrapped him in the blanket they'd provided for me and took him back to the front desk.

"So," the cheerful receptionist asked, "can we change you from 'potential' to a 'definite' new momma?"

I stood at the door, took a deep breath, and thought of Nick's face if I said no.

"Oh yeah, sure," I said vaguely. "Sure."

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, November 11, 2016


After that, I went to see my potential kitty, Jagger, every few days. I knew I was done for after the first time I sat alone with him. I posted pictures of potential Yeager/Jagger/Whatshisname on Facebook. Was Mike going to discover my hard intent on Facebook? I was going to have to pretend I was still negotiating before he sat down to cyberstalk my friends and the community through my account.

The staff at the vet clinic had come briefly into the room with my kitty and left me with a few toys, a blanket, and an offer for a cup of coffee. I just wanted to see if this wild kitten would warm up to me or would he forever scrabble to get away from me whenever anyone handed him to me?

How old was this guy? Had the window of opportunity passed? While he ran from one corner to another, staring at me, I googled 'taming a feral kitten' on the Internet. I wanted him to feel my calm. After ten weeks, the article said it could get really hard. Between eight and ten weeks, it could take a month or so.


I needed to pick this guy up, about a thousand times.

So, I put down my phone, rolled onto my belly, and crawled over to the table he hid behind. He hissed, then skittered over to the doctor's stool and tried to hide among the wheels. I army-crawled to the doctor's stool. He bolted to the door. I slithered to the door. Boy, I hoped no one was watching. He shot past me to the table again. I rolled over and sat up.

I needed another plan, a less friendly plan.

I stood up, grabbed two corners of the blanket, picked up the table he was hiding behind and put it on top of a chair, and I dropped the blanket over him like I was kidnapping him in a Bronx parking lot.

The poor creature writhed in the blanket and I rolled it like I'd worked at Taco Time on the pinto bean burrito station for thirty years. I folded the blanket back to expose his face.

He looked at me as if I were about to eat him. I put one finger behind his ears to pet him. He hissed but then calmed down a little. I stayed silent and nearly still except for that one finger. His eyes squinted a little and I could feel the tiny heart beat under his bony ribs slow just a little. I tried not to stare at him as if I were a predator.

"I've got you," I breathed. He settled. Then, he tilted his Yoda head and stared up at me with huge hazel eyes. I loosened the burrito a little and petted him further down his back. He stared. I stared.

Then, something popped in my soul. I could swear, it felt like a bubble. And suddenly tears spilled onto my cheeks. He continued to stare at me and I looked through the blur until I realized his fur was wet from my own tears.

I petted him with that one finger, wiping the tears until his fur was evenly damp. I wondered at the look on his face, if he too thought of that mother who had, until five days ago, licked him and loved him with her tiny tongue.

And I knew he was mine, my tiny baby kitten.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Only a Potential

So, a few days after Nick and I visited the kittens, Mike finally agreed that we could perhaps bring one home. Maybe.

Then, after dinner, during commercials, we had a vigorous discussion of names. One name was rejected because of a mean kid at school.

"He has an 'M' on his head in his stripes. What about Memphis?" I sat in my recliner petting Seth. Eleven years ago, Nick had named Seth after a cat in a book who had saved his owners lives by showing them a gas leak. Seriously.

"Mom, that's ridiculous! You'd name him after a city?" Nick was on one end of the couch with the dog's blanket pulled up over him. At some point, all the blankets became the dog's blanket.

"What about Merlin?" I said.

 "I'm not nine years old."

"Well, what then?" Mike hadn't added a thing to the conversation. He sat on the other end of the couch with his computer in his lap. Was he even ready for this, a kitten who would chew, make noise at night, break things, upset the balance with Teddy and Seth?

"I like my names to come from something meaningful to me. What about Blitz?"

"He's pretty shy so far. I didn't see him tearing anything up, not even when we looked in on him before the humans came into the room."

"Maybe that's a good thing," Mike murmured.

"Jager then? It's German for 'hunter.'"

"How would you spell it?"

"Like the German word, with a 'J'.'

"And people would call him Jagger and think he's named after the Rolling Stones."

"Only people at the vet clinic would ever see the spelling. What difference does it make?" Mike piped in.

And the commercial break was over, thus the conversation was closed, for now.

The next day on a whim, I went back to the clinic and asked to visit them again. Nick said he was too tired to go. Did he really want this?

When I arrived, they all grinned, handed me my kitty and escorted me into a room to sit with him. I sat down on the floor and let him go. He skittered into a corner. Someone came in to see how I was doing and caught him again and put him into my lap. I told her that he looked pretty wild. I asked if they'd bring me the rest of the kittens so I could see him with the others, so he'd relax.

And then there were five kittens, a blanket, a few toys, and me in a room. The cuteness was overwhelming.

I was in heaven. Ritz, the one they told me had nearly died, played with everything. He had a big belly with dots on it. I batted a ball toward him and he batted it back. Eventually, I got him to come over by making my finger disappear around the corner of my jeans. Vincent, the smallest one, came and quietly sat on my shin while Ritz played. He didn't seem to mind when I gathered him up and put him into my zippered jacket. He snuggled in and let me pet him.

The other three, including our Blitz/Jager, huddled in a corner glaring at me at first. At least they looked terrified. Eventually, they played a little with balls I rolled in their direction. They didn't come close, but they climbed on the bars of the doctor's stool and played king of the mountain on a tiny shelf beneath a table. The white kitten grabbed Bone's tail. Blitz/Jager mostly stayed withing paw's reach of the other two, across the room from me.

I sat and watched my kitty. Technicians came and went, easily picked up the friendlier of the kittens, chased and cornered Blitz/Jager to put him into my lap a couple of times where he shivered until I let him go. I didn't intend to make him stay on my lap. The worst nightmare I could imagine would be to be picked up and held by someone's without being allowed to get away. Each time he jumped off my lap, he looked back as if some monster had decided he wasn't hungry. Then, he rejoined his brothers and sister in the corner.

If this kept up, he might be a hard sell for Mike. I've noticed that Mike likes any animal who likes him back. Beyond that, it's pretty simple. He once gave honey-covered hazelnuts to a friendly squirrel at our apartment complex.  Seymour, he named him. Mike loved Seymour. Mike kept working with Seymour until he would leap onto his legs whenever he left the apartment and climb up and cling to a belt for a treat. I usually threw the nuts at Seymour from a distance, but he was a pretty smart cookie.

Do you remember when women wore skirts and pantyhose to work? Yeah that. The morning Seymour climbed my pantyhose inside my skirt and got tangled, I put a quick end to that kind of training. Picture a woman in heels screaming and running down the sidewalk, slapping her thighs, and lifting her skirt while a sad but well-trained little squirrel clung to her hem.

But would Blitz/Jager warm up to Mike? What if he never did? What if he stayed sort of wild forever? What if he didn't like me or Nick either? What would we do?

I stayed too long that day, petted and played with the friendly kittens, watched Blitz/Jager in the corner and wished I could change my mind and adopt one of the others instead. Had the friendly ones already been claimed? I felt a stab of remorse at the thought. 

When I finally left that room and they took my picture with Blitz/Jager, I asked them to use the word potential when they posted my picture on Facebook.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Practice Saying 'No, Thank You'

After I told Nick and much later, Mike, about the trailer park kittens and we agreed as a family that we might consider bringing one home. We could easily have left it at that. I should say instead that I could easily have left it at that.

But I didn't.

Later in the evening, Seth got his usual burst of energy, and I found myself chanting, "Kitten! Kitten! Kitten!" Now, we've chanted this before when Seth is batting at Teddy's ears or at a toy that's dangled in front of him, but it took on new meaning this time, new emphasis. 'Kitten' could mean someone else in our house too.

The next day, Mike was out doing something for the Boy Scouts and wasn't going to be home for a few hours. To my credit, Nick had been sitting in front of the television watching a Netflix series that he'd seen before. We were both bored of it. I tried to think of this as something helpful, getting Nick up and out of the house for a change, not something underhanded to further influence Nick and the way he talked to his dad about getting a kitten.

"Want to drop in and see the kittens this morning?"

"Can we do that? Just drop in?"

"Sure. Why not? They're looking for homes for these kitties, aren't they?" This was further evidence of my insensitivity to the needs of others. I didn't even bother to call the vet to see if they were busy.

So, we invented an errand. I can't even remember what. Socks, the Post Office, something lame. And then we had lunch. It was nice to go have lunch on a Saturday. After that, we casually drove into the empty parking lot at the vet's office where the kittens were being held in isolation.

"They're not busy!" I said cheerfully. And in we walked. They took us back right away, enthused at people who might either foster or adopt any of these guys. They tied us into gowns. They found the right size gloves for our big hands. And the next thing we knew, they'd caught us a pair of wild spitting kittens to hold so that we could fall in love with them. Even their hissing was adorable. It was. Really.

"They don't bite any more," the cheerful technician said. And yet, I had to hold my kitten around its chest and legs with my long fingers to keep him from leaping out of my hands. I wasn't sure a kitten could safely leap to the ground from my height.

"These guys are not much more than a pound," she told us. "They'll have to be two pounds before anyone can claim them. They'll have to be cleared from isolation and treated for fleas." She didn't mention worms, but I figured there were worms too. Weren't there always worms with kittens? Maybe I shouldn't mention worms either.

"It'll be a week or two," she said. Nick and I stood there, each of us with a kitten held firmly in our hands. My kitten had stopped hissing but was still panting. Nick's kitten had been claimed already, but sat comfortably in his hand as he stroked his tiny ears. Too bad we couldn't take that one. He was nicer.

Then, in some semblance of letting the technician get back to her job, I asked if Nick could hold the available kitten before we left. The technician reached for Nick's kitten. It struggled and clawed as she tried to pick him up and before she could lean all the way over to put him down, he leapt to the floor, scrabbling for the safety of the cage and his other siblings. I handed Nick my little grey kitten and immediately he stopped panting and calmed in Nicks hands.


I do not know what it is about that boy, but he has a way with cats. A cat will run from me on the street when I call to it but walk toward him casually, as if this hulking teenage boy was the cat's meow, rubbing all over him and purring. Even as an eleven year old boy, cats came to him easily. How is that fair? Eleven year old boys are like Neanderthals!

Finally, I apologized for all the time we'd taken from the vet tech's day and said we'd think about it. I knew we couldn't make a decision without Mike being involved. The last time I did that was when my grandma had just died and I had an excuse - my grandma just died so don't anyone dare fight me over an extra cat in the house.

When we left, the technician took our gloves and our gowns, sprayed us with disinfectant and we were on our way again. No debt to pay. No obligation. There was still time and plenty of excuses. We could walk away. No deal. No problem.

Then next morning, I awoke knowing absolutely that getting a wild kitten right now was a terrible decision to make even if he was a rescue from under the trailer of a very nasty man who was letting them all starve to death. I was just recovering some energy after a nasty bout with a virus. Nick was still catching up from missing six days of school. Mike was finally getting some sleep and recovering some time from the Boy Scouts by stepping back from being the Scoutmaster. He was still going to do some trips and adult training, but he finally had time to fix that bottom step that heaved every time anyone stood on it. This was a perfect time for all of us to cruise a bit, to stay on course, to keep away from distractions, to catch up on our sleep.

'No, thank you,' would have been the correct response. 'No, thank you.'


Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, October 28, 2016

Manipulating the Situation

So when I got home, I tried to stay quiet about the five little kitties. They were in isolation until they recovered and were safe. They were adorable. I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that four of them still needed homes. The white one, the pretty girl, was claimed. The rest were boys.

I like boys.

When I got home, Mike wasn't home yet. Nick quietly helped me carry groceries and the huge bag of dog foot. I almost hate when he's quiet. After unpacking the groceries, I sat down in the recliner and stared at Nick until he looked at me funny.

"What?" he said.

Mouth shut, I thought. It's no fair if Mike isn't home yet. It isn't fair if I use his boy's pleading eyes against the poor man. And when I sat quietly, a stern voice in my head told me our lives were well settled. We had a five year old dog, a six year old frog, and an eleven year old cat. He was a good cat. I shouldn't upset the balance. I just shouldn't.

I picked up my iPhone, started a new game of solitaire and let Nick go back to his Netflix show.

Mike and I have been worried about Nick. He dropped out of football. He dropped Boy Scouts. He even dropped karate just a month before his sensei said he would be ready for the adult-level black belt test. How could he quit right before he achieved this level? He kept saying he was dropping one thing so he could focus on another. And when the other thing came up, he'd make excuses and say he was going to focus on something else. It's been hard to do, but we've let him decide.

Three months later, Nick's still not doing much. My friends reassure me that he'll be okay. A friend who taught high school for twenty-six years said it was a common age for a lull and shifting interests. I remember hearing the Scout leaders say that we should encourage the boys to get their requirements by the age of sixteen because the boys so often loose interest at that age. I don't think I really believed them. Besides, I thought, I really wanted Nick to use initiative. I think initiative is a critical lesson. But he quit everything!

Learn what you like to do and do it.

If you don't do it, isn't it a clue that you don't want it so much after all?

So, you'd think it would be easy to leave Nick alone in his search. I keep telling my friends that I just want him to be interested in something, anything. Well, anything besides the television and video games. I don't really care what it is. I have trouble watching him do nothing.

I went back to staring at Nick. I was finally going to learn to keep my mouth shut for as long as it took for Mike to get home. An hour? An hour and a half? How hard is that?

"What?" Nick said again.

I tried to start another game of solitaire. It didn't work. I looked up at him and he was still looking at me, waiting.

"When I picked up the dog food, they brought me into the back to see some kittens they rescued."

"Kittens? Really? Can we get a kitten, Mom? Can we?"

"I don't know," I said, smiling at his enthusiasm. "We'll have to talk to your dad." Mike does so much to make his boy happy. He really does. I know I'm bad. I know I should have kept my mouth shut and talked alone with Mike first.

But I didn't.

Thank you for listening, jb

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trying to Keep My Mouth Shut

So, I followed my friend into the bowels of the vet clinic, and there, in isolation, were five adorable kittens playing with their new surroundings. They were rescued from under a trailer where a horrible man lived, my friend said. Horrible.

I didn't want to know how horrible.

I have to tell you that I had to unfriend a friend who kept posting those kind of stories and pictures about the horrible people that dogs and cats are rescued from. I know that some dogs suffer terrible neglect and abuse at the hands of people. I know that some people let hordes of cats overrun their properties but lose track of them where they get parasites, starve, and often die. I know that there are wonderful people out there who routinely rescue these sad creatures from the clutches of death and help to find them homes.

But I can't tolerate the agony. I just can't. I'm willing to be on the receiving end of these stories. I fell in love with an abused cat who was returned to the shelter three times and a pit bull mix who had been abused and who had nearly died. I had two other shelter dogs who turned into beloved members of the family. I know that this is the only thing I can do. I can not rescue or even watch a rescue because my heart breaks every time even though the ends of the stories are usually happy.

But when I looked at those kittens, adorable and tiny as they were, a quiet voice in my mind told me it was a mistake to be here. We finally had some peace in our house, finally enough sleep.

It was probably Mike's voice. I've lived with that man for a quarter of a century. I know his voice in my ear when I hear it. He has a soothing voice, a sensible voice, a voice that respects the boundaries of having too much to do.

"You should adopt one of these sweeties," my friend said, leaning into my other ear. "He would love living with you." She already had one in mind. Three were already claimed. She wanted me to take the one she loved but couldn't take because her dogs would eat him. She wanted to love him from the vantage point of my house and the days when I brought him in to stay because we were going on vacation. She wanted to be an auntie.

"I'll think about it," I told her after looking through that window for twenty minutes. "I'll talk to my family and we'll think about it."

And it should have ended there. I should never have opened my mouth at home. I should have called Nick to carry in the big bag of dog food and left a comfortable silence between us or at least talk of homework and Scout meetings and such. I should have, but you know I didn't.

Thank you for listening, jb

Hoodwinked by Cuteness

We're in trouble and it's my fault. Seriously, our lives were pretty even these days. The dog, the cat, and the frog are plenty busy, but we could handle that. I've got more energy than I did because of my sleep doctor and my rheumatologist. So things were cruising along. Life was ordinary for a change. I like ordinary.

See, all I was doing was picking up dog food at the vet's office. Teddy has an intolerance or an allergy and so he eats the expensive stuff. Go figure. They all eat the expensive stuff at our house.

That was when my friend, the vet technician, said these thirteen fateful words.

"You just have to come back and look at the kittens. They're adorable."

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

A New Ear Worm

I woke up to a new ear worm. Oh, this is going to be a good one if I have to listen to it spiral around in my brain for a week or more. Somebody, please. I'm begging you. Start a new ear worm for me.

Last night, Mike put The Lego Movie on TV. I had forgotten that I enjoyed it, at least a little. My husband watches the Presidential debates one night and The Lego Movie the next. Go figure. He's a man of diverse tastes. Plus, you have to admit, don't you, that the Presidential debates have had a comic feature about them. Farcical. Animated, in the very least. Those two are so goobered up that they look like plastic bobble-heads of themselves. I guess they have to do that. Hair has to be a helmet when you're sporting a comb-over flip. I can't take it seriously. I'm telling you. If I did, I'd just have to put my face in my hands and cry. I'm hoping that other countries know that most of us don't believe we're showing our best selves here.

I'm done with the political rant. It's just that it's gone on and on and on and then has spiraled into this incredibly strange choice of candidates. Nauseating.

So, my ear worm? I was trying to tell you about my ear worm a la Lego.

Everything is awesome. 
Everything is cool when you're part of a team. 
Everything is awesome when we're living our dream.

I'm sure it was intended to get on everybody's nerves, sort of like the song that gets on everybody's nerves. A couple of years ago, Nick and his Cub Scout friends worked to put that one in my head at camp. Yes, the everybody's nerves song has rolled around in my head, thankfully never for more than a day or so at a time. It's dangerous for me to even contemplate the song that gets on everybody's nerves. You never know what's going to stick.

I've lived with La Cucaracha in my mind. That one took about three years to go away completely. Agony. Sheer agony. A couple of years ago, there was I'm So Happy - clap along if you feel like a room without a roof. It did not make me happy after it endured for a month or two. I also lived through If I Only Had a Brain, not a good song for humming at work. It was embarrassing and I think my brain's revenge for all the mistakes I gave it grief about. Ding dong, the witch is dead is also not very good when your boss is a woman. And I won't even mention Disney's oldest, lamest ride through fairy dust and pink animated castles and gondolas. That ear worm does brain damage to those of us who are susceptible to inane and repetitive songs. Just don't do it. Don't say another word.

So, while I rummaged through my dirty fridge for lunch parts this morning, reminding myself that I needed to clean it out today, I heard Everything is awesome. When I picked up dirty plates and glasses from the living room from last night's snacking, I heard Everything is cool when you're part of a team.When I got into the car and backed it around the corner to wait for Nick to come running down so I could drive him to the bus stop, I heard some different song on the radio for a blessed moment until we arrived. Unfortunately, it wasn't long enough to supersede my awesome agony for long. When I got home and walked back into the house, I noticed that Nick had avoided breaking down some boxes that Mike had left in the foyer for him yesterday and I heard Everything is better when we stick together. And when I trudged back up the stairs and saw that I had a whole load of dirty dishes in the sink and spread out on the counter, I heard Life is good 'cause everything's awesome.

Life is just awesome, isn't it?

Can anyone help me? Can you suggest alternatives? Sing a little reggae, beat box, classical, alternative pop, zydeco, jazz, anything into my ear. I'd love to hear something different, something that is fun to hear over and over, something that I could whisper, whisper, and whisper again to reset my poor brain.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Procrastination and Snorkeling Snot

Hi. Did you miss me?

I've been.....No, I don't have writer's block. I wish. I'm still writing a lot but I'm trying to send my energy somewhere it doesn't want to go, editing. All the while I'm editing or procrastinating editing, ideas and lines crowd into my mind asking to be laid down on the page. So, I've been missing from here. It's nice here usually, but I've been gone. Sorry about that. I miss you, all fourteen of you. 

Editing sucks. Did you know that? It's easy to start new stuff, hard to edit it to make it bind together into a family of words that feel like a book. I have nine books in progress. The truth is that I have nine books that are almost completely written but I need to finish cleaning them up. That's pathetic, isn't it?

I need a deadline, and I'm not talking about the day I realize I'm going to die and crap, my poor books are going to molder into dust and never find their way into the light of day. Not that kind of deadline.

Okay, I once promised I wouldn't spend much time writing about writing, but here I am, breaking that wall and dragging you into my boring office where I'm sure you don't want to stand around looking over my shoulder.

It's nicer in our story room where we are surrounded by books and stories, Tiffany lights, cozy arm chairs where no one asks you to sit up straight or keep your feet off. And there's a fireplace that never has to be stoked and never, not once, bothers anyone's asthma.

Nick is sick again and I've stopped burning my candle at my desk in fear of aggravating his breathing. He's usually low on the scale of asthma sufferers, but when he catches a virus like this one, it blows up into coughing fits, sore ribs, appointments with his specialists, excuses for school which are never thoroughly understood, and fearful nights watching my boy struggle to breathe all the while jittering uncontrollably because of the high doses of steroids the doctors have put him on to keep his airways open.

There's a balance between his heart rate standing at 125 for a few hours and constricted airways dropping his oxygen saturation to the lower 90% range that makes Mike and I feel like we're emergency room staff. Mike is the one who's good at it, thorough, even when he's sleep-deprived. I get exhausted in the night and fear I'll make a fatal mistake like giving Nick medicine too soon and loading his heart beyond its capacity. Before Mike goes to bed, I write down the time Nick can have the next dose of what and the things I need to check before I give it to him. Last night at 2:00am, Nick sat for another twenty minutes and breathed in the steroids though his nebulizer. He's also on prednisone, and inhaled long-acting steroids. Finally, at 2:45, his breathing eased and he fell into a fitful sleep.His snoring sounded like a bear growling.

He's breathing through so much gunk. I took a video of him last night and Mike thought it was funny, said he was snorkeling. But it's a very dark kind of humor, listening to your child literally drown in his own snot.
So, I'm letting myself take a break from editing for a few days because it's just not easy staying up all night and acting normal during the day. It's impossible to act normal most days anyway.

Thank you for listening, jb

Saturday, September 3, 2016

A Cheerful CPAP Stepford Wife

I am here to tell you that I have finally been converted. I am a woman of faith in the machine. I am a believer in the the technology. I am new and improved, a card-carrying witness to the sleepless that there is hope for all of you the way there was for me.

Two weeks ago, I got fitted for a CPAP.

I've been healed. It feels like a miracle. I go to bed a little tired and I breathe in the cool damp air provided through a tube. In the morning, I wake up cheerful, happy, whistling. All day long I'm acting this way.

I might be annoying my friends, the ones who have yet to be converted. The ones who liked to commiserate in my misery. The ones who are exhausted. The ones who still complain that they're tired all of the time, even doing stuff they used to think was fun.

I'd like to say I should have done this years ago but I wouldn't have. I just couldn't commit to putting a mask over my nose connected to a hose connected to an air pump. I was afraid of that alien feeling of air blowing out of my mouth when I opened it. Mike couldn't really talk right once he had his mask on at night. I knew it had to feel strange. It does, if I think about it. I was afraid of being choked by the umbilical. I had visions of the Matrix, all of us connected to the network to become batteries for the AI aliens. I wanted to sleep unencumbered.

But I was exhausted. It was excruciating when I was also in the middle of menopausal hot flashes and flares of hypoglycemic fury and while Nick was in the middle of his Neanderthal preteen days. I reached rock-bottom this summer when I just couldn't feel rested no matter how many hours I slept, nine, nine and a half, even ten hours pieced together in a night. Sometimes I was spending twelve hours trying to get eight hours of sleep. I was miserable. I couldn't make a basic decision. I couldn't get anything accomplished.

So finally, after two or three years of snoring myself awake multiple times a night, of being crabby and tired all day, and of telling people I'd never hook myself to a tube that blows air up my nose all night because of my claustrophobia or whatever horror movie fear I harbored, I finally took the plunge and told a sleep doctor I was ready to do whatever it took so I could get a decent night's sleep.

And I am here, on the other side, telling you that if you suffer from snoring, if you snort yourself awake even once a night, if you drag your sorry ass through every meeting, though every movie, though every conversation as if it's a chore, it may be time for you to convert too.

Join us, the enthusiastic, the merry, the gordamned go-getters of the world. CPAP users unite! Or maybe you're afraid we will kill you with our cheerfulness during the movie.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, September 2, 2016

The Science of Beauty

Mike and I took Teddy to the dog park this afternoon. Oh, the happiness of that place bubbles over and dogs grin as they chase and wag and leap. Joy runs in globs of saliva and in joints loosened by play. It shows up in smeared mud across backsides.

When I'm at the dog park, I get caught up in all the joy. Teddy introduces me to people, people with dogs, young people, old people, kids, and even good looking people who might not ordinarily be seen talking to a ...

A what?

Well, my looks are not in favor in this culture. I once spoke to a big ugly woman who had just returned from Africa. There, she was a beauty. She told me that the culture reveres large women. Incredible. She said it was hard to come back to being ugly again.

I always feel a little bit more beautiful because of Teddy. He's sleek, silky, and very friendly. That makes up for a lot of my medical ugliness.

Yes, I said medical ugliness. I'm frumpy and don't have good hair any more. It's an autoimmune issue. It's not that bad, really, not having good hair. I try to remember that it's superficial, not relevant to what I'm trying to accomplish in my life, but I still struggle with it. Vanity versus medical ugliness. Damn.

Ugliness is just a measure of DNA regularity anyway. Did you ever hear about that? The most beautiful people are seen as beautiful because their features are so incredibly normal. Average. Typical. Standard. Ordinary.

That's not how you usually think of beauty, is it?

So all of those kids in high school, the ones struggling to fit in, those staring across the lunch room at a boy who will never know their name .... They're just looking at the most ordinary of ordinary boys.

Ha! Gorgeous is simply a matter of being normal and who really wants to be normal anyway?

I guess I still do. At least my dog is normal.

Thank you for listening, jb

Exhaustion and an Endless Campaign

I think of six things to tell you every day. I do. And sometimes, when I hear the same news cycling around again on the radio, I think of the same six things to tell you again, stuff I never get around to telling you in the first place. Then, when I'm finally home and my hands are no longer busy on the steering wheel or chopping vegetables the teenager won't eat or trying to make enough for leftovers when the teenager insists that what I made isn't even going to be enough for tonight. Yet when I'm finally done with all of those things, I can't think of a damned thing to tell you. By that hour, I'm a flake.

Yeah, you're right. I'm always a flake. I forgot to call the neckerchief people again today and I'm still not sure if I need to make 37 blank neckerchiefs so the neckerchief people can silk-screen them by next week. Mike. I blame Mike. He got all het up about it on Sunday and we went out and bought 17 yards of black fabric that he said he'd help make into the blank neckerchiefs. Then, we all went into a coma after I made him calzones. And yesterday and today, I forgot to call the neckerchief people to see if they could actually make the neckerchiefs as well as silk-screen them with our logo. And even if they can, I'm stuck with 17 yards of cheap fabric to make 38 more neckerchiefs than we actually need.

I'm pretty sure, too, that the fact that the neckerchief people didn't call when they said they'd call on Monday doesn't mean that they've got it covered and the neckerchiefs are on their way. I haven't even had a quote yet. That's not good. They might not be able to find the blank neckerchiefs and I might be sitting on a time bomb that'll go off right before we need them next Thursday night. Well, crap.

That wasn't one of the six things I had intended to tell you. Neither was the fact that the theme song from 'The Brady Bunch' kept going through my head earlier and I remembered just how lonely I'd been watching all those stupid seventies sitcoms when I was a teenager in the seventies. I blame my sister. She wants me to write about my dad. I don't want to send her stuff I've written about my dad. The last time I told my extended family that I was writing, it was chaos.

Here's what one person said, "Nobody reads that magazine anyway."

Someone else told me, "People tell me they like my writing all the time. I should write something and send it out to be published. I could be famous."

Another said, "I don't have time to read stuff like that."

And another told me that I had to sign everything I gave her for a while because it would be more valuable that way. She made me sign a freaking birdhouse. I am not kidding you. Keep your eyes open for the priceless birdhouse at Sotheby's. She wouldn't even put it outside so it could have the decency to host baby birds or even rot properly.

It was agony. I'm telling you. Since then, if they ask if I'm writing, I tell them I'm not with a straight face. I lie right through my teeth. I know. I'm bad, lying to my family that way, but I do, so don't say anything to any of them, okay? I may or may not send my sister something I wrote about my dad. I haven't decided yet.

And that's not one of the six things I've been meaning to tell you either.

Here's one thing:

These days I switch the radio to pop music any time NPR is talking about the election for the millionth time. Oh, I hear the worst of the gaffes, and there are many. I've listened to snippets of debates, but I'm so damned sick of it all. The last time I really listened was when Chris Christie dropped out. Man, that was going to be the best movie, Chris Farley runs for President. Oh right. I'm sorry Mrs. Farley. He's gone and can't do that movie. I miss him too.

And I didn't want to bother with the other candidates. It was way too many people! So, I let it go for a bit until it died down. But now, look at the fix that we're in. There has been other news, right? People are still doing other things or have we seriously paused in all relevant world news for this great breath of idiocy we call the campaign trail. At this point, it's as much of an endurance race as taking the Oregon trail only on the Oregon trail, you started in March after the snows and hoped to God you made it to the Pacific ocean by November so stuff didn't freeze and they didn't name a pass after your starving cannibalistic ass. The campaign trail began more than a year ago! We're dead now. The snows have come to the pass and there's no end in sight and the reporters are still going on and on and on, reporting over our frozen and gnawed carcasses. I don't want to hear any more about the campaign trail.

So give it a rest and don't bring it up again until October, okay?

Yeah, that'll work.

Thank you for listening, jb

A Handsome Heart

Last week, our family went to the Midsummer Renaissance Faire in Bonney Lake. Sorry, it's over for the year, so don't bother looking up the days and hours, but you can go next year.

We had a great time. We did. We ate meat pies, bought leather for projects we'll never do, watched live chess, participated in the axe-throwing tournament. Yes, I did hit the bulls-eye three times with the metal part of an axe, but twice it was broadside and once it just bounced off like a rubber mallet. Nick's friend had actually practiced beforehand and won the youth tournament.

But there was one thing that I wish had gone differently.

See, Nick's friend wanted to get arrested again. For a small fee, you can have your children or husband or whoever arrested and thrown in jail. It's brilliant, a show, great income for the ones that run it, and totally worth it for people like me who want to be entertained.

So, after seeing our group casually saunter by, I paid the fair maiden my money and she wrote down details on a certificate. We both waited for a jailer to become available. The Scottish brogue was going on a break. The truly scary guy was arresting someone else, thankfully. That left the guy who could have been on the cover of GQ Knights, and his cheerful, but powerful cohort.

GQ looked over the fair maiden's shoulder and she held up the certificate to him. Right then, Cheerful walked up to her other side. GQ looked at the certificate, at me, and then did a familiar dance that I recognized right away. He shook his head almost imperceptibly, almost. His dark, almond-shaped eyes squinched a little as if he was in pain. And he took a half a step back. You might think that was the moment I'd liked to have changed.

But it wasn't.

Cheerful, on the other hand took the proffered certificate, smiled, and walked away with me.

"That's not right," he said quietly. I knew what he was talking about - the rejection. I admit that it had hurt, but just a little.

"Oh, don't worry," I said. "It's ugly-woman syndrome."

"Oh!" he said, brightening as we walked. "I have ugly-man syndrome."

At this point, I wish I'd said something wise or sweet or encouraging. I didn't. I rambled on about my own affairs and never once said what I could have or should have said.

Don't you hate that?

I could have said that a good man was much more valuable than a pretty man.

I could have said that my first impression of him was cheerful and strong and there was a lot to be said for that.

I could have told him that his looks weren't ugly, just not dangerously handsome.

I could have told him that he could save a lot of time this way, not having to sift through a raft of silly women who'd just hurt him in the end if all that was important to them was finding a man who looked a certain way.

I could have told him that the right woman for him would feel his strength, cherish his cheerfulness, and soak his kindness down into her bones like a nutrient.

I could have, but I didn't. I hate when I can't think of that perfect line. I just can't. Those lines pop into my head in the middle of a dark night, in the shower, on the road running errands during endless radio commercials.

But I am sitting here, more than a week after the incident, remembering this man's sweet face and his kindness. I might not have said the right thing in the moment, but it can't hurt for me to send a soft blessing through the ether to a wife this man hasn't quite met, a message for her to cherish this man's strong, handsome, and kind heart for an eternity.

He was kind to a frumpy middle-aged woman and there is nothing more handsome than that.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Cycle of Joy and Melancholy

I have a new routine at night, wrestling with my new CPAP machine. I admit that I have been sleeping better overall. I like breathing moist cool air while I'm tucked under my covers. But I'm having some problems getting used to the big hose and having a mask over my face all night.

This morning I heard Mike leaving and I rushed out of bed to say goodbye. He was already in the foyer when I hobbled in on bare feet, trying to get my bones adjusted to being upright. He put down his backpack and his smoothie, then sat down on the bench to put on his tennis shoes. He still wears khaki pants and a dress shirt to work, but he puts tennis shoes on with them instead of dress shoes. I like the look.

"What are you doing up?" he asked.

"I'm saying goodbye to you."

You know those repetitions that make you happy, that make things right in the world? This is one of them. Summer will end soon and we'll all be in the kitchen at the same time when school starts, but this is our summertime routine and it makes me happy.

"How did you do with your CPAP last night?"

"Fine. The mask was lying on the pillow next to me this morning and the machine was off."

Mike leaned over, found a shoe, slid a foot into it, and tied it. He sat up to look at me.

"You don't remember taking it off?"



He leaned over and found the other shoe, kicked into the back corner and almost out of reach.

"Now I have two little bruises on my forehead where my mask attaches to my face."

I pointed to the spots and could feel the soreness there. Then, I leaned against the wall. It was too early.

"You need to loosen the straps around your head."

He shoved the shoe onto his foot and tied it. Then he stood up, the signal that our time was nearly at an end.

"But whenever I loosen the straps, it ends up shifting in my sleep and then waking me up with cold air blowing into my eye."

Mike did something with one eyebrow that was an answer. He picked up his backpack and slung it over one shoulder. He picked up his smoothie. I took two steps forward and leaned into him, tucking my head into his other shoulder where it belonged. I held the strap of his backpack to keep it from sliding off.

"You'll get used to it," he said into my hair.

  He always hugged me with the cold smoothie held away from me.

"As long as I don't keep taking it off in my sleep."

And then he was out the door, waving at me from the driveway by the garage, and then gone. This was one of those repetitions that was always made me a little sad. I could go back to bed, could sit and read in the quiet house before Nick bolted into the morning. I could do anything. It should have been sweet, some time to myself.

But it wasn't.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, July 25, 2016

Don't Forget the Calzones

What do you tell a man that you've known for thirty years on your anniversary? I guess it depends on whether or not you love him.

Yes, I love him. 

Can I write Mike a love story with canoes and hikes and a good meal served when he's hungry? I suppose I could because that's what we have together, canoes and dogs and boys and hikes and twenty-five years on the same property in the woods?

And I can't forget the good meals. Mike loves a good meal. I'd guess his favorite are what his mother cooked for him, chicken fricassee, macaroni and cheese, and pink potato salad. We both loved that potato salad. Oh, I've learned to make those for him along with his other favorites, chicken Parmesan, Louisiana meatballs, halloumi chicken, and my calzones. My calzones are a vision with their ricotta, red sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese spilling out on the side that was cut in half and the braided look of the homemade crust where I press edges together. If all that weren't enough, I'm good with pie too, apple, pumpkin, even lemon meringue with lightly zested lemons and a tall meringue that tastes like a marshmallow.

But I know I'm not perfect. I can't tell him I've solved all of our problems, Nick's binge video games, my struggle to keep the yard from growing weeds as tall as the house, my rickety health. I wish I could, but that wasn't part of the deal.

"Did you know I was this way when you married me?" I asked him once in the kitchen when we stood on opposite sides of an old debate. Should the yard look like a forest or a golf course? I've always voted forest and you know where that puts him. Neither of us has ever won except for the summer my mother came to visit and we needed things to look acceptable in a short time. It turns out that the landscapers voted with Mike. But we debate from the same old standpoints anyway. And once in a while I ask him if he knew who I was when he married me.

"Yup," he said looking over his glasses at me.

He wasn't really angry and neither was I. And after knowing the man for thirty years, I know that this, by itself, is worth a great deal to him.

Plus the calzones. Don't forget the calzones.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, July 1, 2016

Chelan's Lake Haven Part I

We just got back from a Vacasa vacation. It's going to sound so good, you'll think it's an advertisement. It's not. I really just loved it. We all did.

When we were still packing on the morning we left, I kept losing my balance and generally looked like a pasty whiner with great big saddlebags under my eye slits. Mike stopped packing for a minute, looked at me, and frowned.

"You're not well enough to go on vacation."

I've been dizzy and sleepless and generally feeling awful for weeks. I felt so bad, I didn't have energy to see a doctor. I kept crying around Mike, Nick, and my friends. Everybody was worried about me, but I couldn't imagine losing this one chance in the past two years in exchange for a trip to urgent care. I couldn't see staying home with a nephew and fuming about things he wouldn't do to care for himself, let alone the things he wouldn't do to contribute to the well-being of our family. 

I looked at Mike through my eye slits, doing my best to glare.

"I'm not well enough to stay home." I said.

He looked at me with doubt evident on his face then finally went on putting stuff into the cooler.

"Oh, I'm feeling okay, not good, but well enough to manage." I resolved to fake it until we got to the cabin, even if it killed me.

Mike packed and loaded most of the stuff, but still I wrestled with a bag or two and talked Nick through his last-minute packing. When I got into the back seat of the car with my pillow, we were only a half an hour past when we said we wanted to leave.

Nick drove and Mike monitored him. I didn't even have to look out the window if I wanted. So, I fell asleep until we approached the exit for the Cle Elum Bakery.

"Starbucks?" I asked.

"No stops for Starbucks," Nick said. He sounded like the soup nazi on Seinfeld.

"Do not become that man," I said. "Starbucks!" Already, I was feeling better.

But there were no Starbucks in Cle Elum. See, I love the fruit bars at the Cle Elum Bakery as much as the rest of the family, but I can't eat the fruit bars any more because of my sugar levels. I wanted a sugar-free decaf treat. So, we walked across the street to Owen's Meats for spicy pepperoni. That's a treat. Then, Mike gave Nick directions for Pioneer Coffee and I got my sugar-free decaf treat.

Then, I settled into the back seat of the car for daydreaming and doodling. I haven't had much time for daydreaming or doodling lately. It turns out that car doodling is pretty awful, so I stopped after one attempt and got on with my daydreaming. I fell asleep again and didn't wake up until we hit the turn for Leavenworth.

"Fruit stand!" Mike sang. "Millions of peaches. Peaches for me."

"No!" Nick said. "Do not get Mom singing that song!"

I'd had an ear worm last summer when we bought a flat of excellent peaches and I guess I burned out my options on that song.

"But I can sing. I really can."

"Anything. Just not that song. I won't stop if you sing that song," Nick said.

"Don't turn into that man," I said again. You know the man I mean, the one who will never stop when you have to pee. We were really having fun now.

Mike gave Nick directions to Peck's Orchard. For some reason, it had to be Peck's. I guess it was his go-to place when he used to be a raft guide on the Wenatchee. I missed those trips down the Wenatchee and I remembered stopping at Peck's but I didn't know that had to be the place. I came out with a couple of bags, peaches, cider, Walla Walla sweet onion mustard, and some peach and mango jelly.

The two of them were standing there, trying to look casual but failing utterly.

"There's nothing to see here," Nick said. I tried to look around him and he shifted. I held out a bag to Nick. He didn't move. He was trying not to smile and nobody breathed for a minute.

Finally, Mike reached for the bags.

"Dad! You failed your mission. You broke formation."

And then I saw it. A fabric store. Yay! A fabric store. Nick groaned. I walked past him into the lightly cooled interior. The Leavenworth Quilt Company. It didn't take long for me to find three or four sweet fat quarters even though I don't really need more fabric. As I checked out, the ladies behind the counter laughed when I told them Nick's blocking ploy. This was beginning to be a great vacation already. Pepperoni, iced coffee, peaches, and fat quarters. It was still an hour and a half until we got to our Vacasa vacation. I wondered what we would find there, but no matter how rustic it was, I knew I was going to have fun. Mike had packed my kayak and my paddle. I had plenty of books. And I had my sun hat and a swim suit. What's not to like about a cabin on a lake?

When we finally got there, the environment had turned to desert. The mountains were nearly naked. It was hot out and the air conditioner of the car was barely keeping up.

"There!" Mike said with excitement. "Turn here!" And there it was, a lovely brown cabin with red trim and a long covered porch on two sides overlooking Lake Chelan.

Mike and Nick ran around, counting TVs and claiming beds. Mike shouted out amenities - a great kitchen, a Jacuzzi, cozy blankets, a breakfast nook, an outdoor shower - while I sat down on extra-wide couch in the shade of the porch and looked out over a stunning lake view with desert mountains on the other side. This was no rustic cabin.

I had made it here alive. I was ON vacation and everything around me was set to luxury.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

A Fifty Pound Block of Frozen Butter

"What?" I said for the fourth time. "I can't hear you."

"Never mind," she mumbled. I can sense when a student has dug in her heels and won't work with me at all, but I gave it one more shot.

"Look, I'm a little hard of hearing. I don't mean to be this way, but I am. Can you speak up?"

"Well, I'm quiet. I just am." She stared me in the eye, daring me. How is it that a feeling in a small room between two people who have never really met can be such a solid mass? It was like a fifty pound block of butter fresh from the freezer.

"Okay," I said slowly and stridently. I tried to think of another tactic. "Suppose your grandmother was hard of hearing. Would you speak so she could hear you or would you let her sit there by herself not understanding a word you said?" I glared back. One more resistive word and I would be done. I'm hard of hearing and not known for my patience either.

And she began to cry.

Oh crap. Now, I'd done it.

"You need a minute," I said more softly. As I closed doors to the adjacent classrooms, I reviewed what I'd said. Yes, my voice had gotten indignant. Yes, I'd repeated myself and dug in my heels when she seemed destined to sit and accomplish nothing. But nothing I'd said was out of phase with what we had to accomplish.

I pushed the lever for paper towels and tore off three sheets the size of tissues. Stupid, rough, tissues.

When I sat back down and handed them to her, I said, "Did you lose your grandmother?"

She nodded and blew her nose.

"And I can tell by the way you're feeling that she must have loved you very much."

She nodded and blew her nose on the second and third paper towels. I got up and got two more. I didn't dare pat her on the back. I didn't know this girl well enough to pat her. I didn't know her at all. All year, I don't think her face had even registered in my mind even though she sat in the front row when the teacher extracted her to work with me. I wondered if she'd go on crying the whole period and we'd get nothing accomplished. We had a full hour of work to get done and only forty more minutes to do it. I decided not to push her too soon. I sat back down and let her be for a minute more.

I handed her the other two fake tissues. She sniffed and seemed to melt some of that resistance. 

She looked up, her face clearing a bit, got up and levered herself two more ugly tissues, blew the rest of her tears out, and threw them all into the trash. Then she sat down. Suddenly, it seemed that there was melted butter all over the table between us.

"Are you ready now?" I said quietly?

"Yes," she said audibly. "I am."

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, May 30, 2016

Love Darts

I've been trying to tell myself I'll feel better if I visit my blog. I will feel better, right? What makes you feel better?


Okay, I'll keep up my end of this conversation. I feel better when I walk and I look for small things. Today, I looked at rain drops on sweet pea tendrils. They were beautiful doodles, all curls and light.

I looked at a snail. Her shell rocked back and forth as she made her way across the path. Her shell was battered, as if she'd struggled with it. I told her she was beautiful and she let her antenna come back out after hiding her face for a while.

I know how she feels.

She really was beautiful, a black spiral showing deep windings. She might be a Pacific Sideband snail. I wondered if the spiral tells told how old she was. I wondered at the little bumps on her tender flesh, a pattern that looked like spikes but were probably only ridges like the lines on a European slug.

I found out that calling my visitor 'she' might be misleading. One website said she was a hermaphrodite. I'm reluctant to look that up on my computer because I might get all kinds of strange photos that I don't want to see. You know how bad it can get online. So, I'll take their word for it. Sex is strange, especially when love darts are involved. Did you know that land snails shoot out love darts?

Watch this and my work is done. Now, you're educated and you can say you have voyeuristic tendencies too. Don't those snails deserve a little privacy?

I didn't think so either. I admit. I watched the whole video, but it was a little icky there for a while.

Thank you for listening, jb

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seven Weeks In

The dryer's humming. In the bedroom, another load of whites and one of colors is only half folded. The guys are in bed, surely not asleep yet, but in bed. Mike called to say he was okay at camp, that he cleaned toilets again in preparation for the training he'll do tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. No one else wanted to do the toilets, he said. I've cleaned those toilets. I can imagine the quiet work he did today. There would be spiders, the smell of Ajax, worn sponges, and rubber gloves.

That was the only peaceful part of my day, imagining Mike cleaning toilets. Humbling, I texted him. Meditative.

I'm not managing meditative actions on my own. Nicki told me she could tell I was agitated today, distracted, chattering on and on. I heard myself, barely pausing for a breath, not quite staying connected to our conversation, switching from one subject to another. I felt like a discarded grocery bag being blown in circles in the wind, only hoping for a chain link fence at the back of the parking lot to hold me still for a moment.

Four or five times, I've felt a fluttering under my ribs as if I were about to give a speech or walk a crowded aisle in very high heels and a very short skirt. Do you remember those days? I do. I was not an easy girl. Being pretty was a mortification all its own. I was not clumsy, but I never carried it off, the heels and short skirts. It was all about confidence, my friends told me. Own it, they told me. I did not own the heels and short skirts or any eyes that followed me then. Heels and short skirts made my heart flutter.

That fluttering came back into me as I sat still and on my own in my house today. It came yesterday afternoon when the house was still empty for just a few minutes longer in the afternoon. It came this morning like that spring the poor male robin thrashed against the window over and over until he was exhausted. I haven't washed my windows since. The rival mirroring his aggressive movements in that clean window never quite made contact he could smell but battered him still. The fluttering is there now, inside my ribs, battering itself in its own reflection.

I could blame my busy schedule, Mike's absence, Nick's mild virus. But I have to add my lack of privacy in my own home, the way my nephew walks silently into a room in an attempt to be quiet. He ends up unnerving me further. Who walks through a house without turning on the lights? Someone who feels bad about existing in my space, someone who's trying to be as invisible as he can. The unwanted child trying not to be a bother.

Oh, he's only a kid. He's a big kid, but he's a kid, not ready to move away from the ones he knows, not quite happy staying put. Our house is a waypoint for him, a lake in the middle of his migration, a thousand miles from home, but not completely unfamiliar. I see it now the way I didn't see it before.

It won't help. It won't keep me from startling when I walk into the living room and find him already sitting there. It won't make me stop wondering where he is when I go into the shower knowing full well that the cat can so easily open the bathroom door and often does. I imagine that quiet boy walking past then and how we would both be so mortified.

It doesn't stop me from being embarrassed when something inappropriate comes on the television when we two are the last ones watching at night. All of this is an exercise in shame.

I remember when my nephew was a boy, bigger than his older brother but two years younger. He was five. One day during a visit, we walked under wisteria growing over an awning over my brother's deck. His mother, my sister, was still in the house, no doubt wrangling a toddler and a seven year old. As I stepped down onto my brother's stone steps, my nephew yelled, "Tie my shoes!" I'm not sure he even remembered my name then. He'd put his shoes on, but the laces dangled from either sides of his feet. "Tie my shoes now!" I remember the way I tucked my chin and looked at him over the top of my glasses.

"Tie your own shoes," I'd replied and I walked away. I didn't have kids then. I had expected that a small boy would use the word please because I'd heard his mother use it often. I had expected that a five year old would be practicing with his laces, trying, at least.

He looked at me then, so lost, so angry, and confused at the same time. I wasn't, in fact, as easy as his mother. I looked like her. Shouldn't I act like her too, all soft and comforting and compliant? My sister doesn't like confrontation. My sister is the nurturing one.

I seemed to have been given all the fight and none of the mothering when DNA was handed out.

And I am still that same aunt, not as nurturing, not anticipating my nephew's needs. I didn't see that he was an adult who wasn't quite ready to be on his own. I was supposed to give him the backup nest, the home away from home for when he was really ready to move into his own place and wash his own dishes and make his own meals. At five, he didn't want to be old enough to tie his own shoes. Didn't I understand that? Don't I understand it now?

The fluttering in my chest says I do. I do. I do.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Needing to Hear the Truth

This morning, the water was out. I paid $162.90 for a well-digging and -repairing guy to show me how to flip a switch when the cistern happens to empty and its circuit throws that switch to protect the water pump. No one yelled at me for wasting their money. People actually thanked me for trying to do something. I felt rather miserable about it. I really did.

When the water came on, I ran a load of dishes and laid down on the couch to see if I could get more than five hours of sleep all added up together. Then I watched TV instead of getting up and getting any yard work done. The weeds are knee high. No one yelled at me. Yet, I felt pretty miserable about it.

I also skipped going to school to volunteer this afternoon. I usually try to help students with their writing on Tuesdays. Sometimes I don't help them the right way and I don't manage to follow the teacher's directions. I try to keep up. I really do, but sometimes I goof up. No one gets mad about it. In fact, they thank me for trying. Today, when I told the teacher I couldn't come because I didn't feel well, she didn't yell at me. She thanked me for all the other times I've come. Still, I felt bad I skipped school. I wasn't really that sick. I just didn't feel well from not sleeping. Miserable.

On my back deck, the hummingbird was irritated at how hard I tried to take her picture. I got out the camera with the big telephoto eye. It clicked and clacked. She dodged and ran whenever I raised the big eye and it clicked and clacked at her. Eventually, she sat on an ugly branch among some dead leaves and tick-tick-tick-ticked at me for my impudence. Couldn't I just go away so she could drink her nectar in peace?

I'm sure she was yelling at me. I got up out of my deck chair, collected my camera and things, and came inside. Then, I felt a little less miserable.

Thank you for listening, jb

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

In Her Shoes

I want to tell you about cannabis girl, but I shouldn't. I want to tell you about how a father might circumvent a difficult requirement for a Scout, but I shouldn't. I want to tell you about how I'd probably get fired if I were paid to work at the high school since I'm just alongside an edge that the staff wants me to run, teaching their way when my way seems to be working. Seems to be. Oh, I hope my way is working. I give my students snacks. I'm not certain I'm allowed to give them snacks. A girl ate a bunch of fruit today and told me she would get hives if she ate very much. Crap! I get students out of their seats to stretch when they yawn and admit they're sleepy. Sometimes we laugh too loudly about what we're doing.

I am not a teacher. I'm not trained to teach writing the way the teachers were trained to teach writing. I teach commas by asking students to notice their breath when they read a sentence aloud. I teach grammar that way too. "Does it sound right to your ear?" I ask them. If they weren't raised saying 'I hain't got none' or 'This needs done' or 'He done it,' their ears should tell them if the grammar is right.

Only, it doesn't work when it comes to the girl who's native language is not English. She's come a long way in speaking and writing since October when I met her. I tell her to imagine about how I would word something, or how her teachers would. She's getting there.

Today, I asked her to wrap my scarf around my head. It was an interesting moment that I'm ashamed I didn't linger within. What would it feel like to be a Muslim woman in America?

I wouldn't like being required to wear a head covering, but the women I've asked say they feel comfortable wearing a hijab. Did early Native Americans chafe under restrictive women's clothing, the corsets, the long skirts covering ankles?

I pulled the scarf down off my head too quickly, before she and I had a chance to sit in our scarves together to feel the communal nature of what we'd done. I felt uncomfortable. I'm not sure if it was because I wouldn't want to be forced to cover my hair or if I didn't want anyone to confuse me for a Muslim woman. Isn't that an awful thing to admit? Even though we sat in an empty classroom, I was a little afraid. Have I ever told you that I don't have a lot of courage when it comes to standing up for what I think is right? I wanted to ask if anyone had ever been cruel to her. I wanted to sit and listen to her story of being a Muslim woman in America. Yet, I was afraid to commit to experiencing that cruelty by keeping the scarf on my own head for any longer. I hope I didn't hurt her feelings.

We didn't have time, I like to tell myself. We were working on a time crunch for a paper she had to write by Thursday morning.

But there was this important moment between us, more important than the paper this girl had to write, more important than learning to listen for commas and word choices, more important than her entire education in this school this year. It was about a cultural clash that you hear about in the news, that is most likely a bit frightening for her. It was frightening for me. And I could have made it something significant between us, something strong.

I'm pretty sure I flubbed it.

Thanks for listening, jb

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Closer If Only for a Moment More

Last night, I slept under a canopy of stars, in the middle of a field, far away from the crowd of Scouts. Since most of the Scouts thought that was such a great idea and moved into my field, Nick and his cozy hammock were left on his own under the Western red cedars. He actually asked me to move from my spot to be closer to him. What else could I possibly want from my teenager for this Mother's Day weekend? 

So many times, he's independent and separate from me, but for a moment longer, he's still my boy, more comfortable near me than far away. 

I'll take it. 

Thank you for listening, jb

Car Camping

Last night, I camped for the first time in years. I had almost thought I was done with it, being old and tired as I am. This is car camping too, not a real trek into the wilderness. But Mike asked and since it was Mother's Day weekend, I said yes. 

And just now, as I sat up, Nick came running over to tell me to hurry up and get up. I needed to see something. So I reluctantly crawled out of my cozy bed and went to see what he wanted to show me at 6:13 in the morning before I'd gotten the gum out of my eyes.  

They were so casual, flipping their tails and ears and looking up at us now and then. Nick kept chatting away and they still didn't run. He said one of them sniffed him in his hammock. He said it woke him up. How funny, to be sniffed by a deer in your sleep. It was beautiful to see. 

And all I'd had to tell you was how I watched the stars before I fell asleep. I watched the whole universe move slowly around the Earth, I could see the Milky Way for the first time in a decade. Much later, I woke for a moment and an owl hooted just once in the night and fell silent again. 

Now, in the morning air, with gnats swarming us, Nick and I sit around a cold fire pit. He has fallen asleep and is gently snoring. 

Thank you for listening, jb 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Put Down the iPhone and Listen

When I let Teddy out for his last pee of the day, I heard a conversation between two owls. I don't have any idea what they were saying, but I had to go and mess it up. I slid open the screen and stepped out onto the deck in my socks. That didn't bother these two. They kept calling back and forth. Then, I tried a couple of times to record them on my iPhone. When the light for the video camera came on, the near owl was quieter. When I accidentally played a video back, the near one stopped calling entirely. I didn't realize I shouldn't have. He had sounded like he was on the gutter over my head. He could still be standing there, silently wishing I would go away with my light and intrusive machinations.

He might have been a she. The far one might have been a young owl, a mate, a neighbor. It had been a comfortable conversation, a connection through the dark night. It was a calm call back and forth, now and then a few trills added for emphasis to the classic whooo-who-who-who-whoooooo. I wanted to hear more, but in the usual style of these times, I got caught up in which way I should hold my iCamera so the sound could best be captured, which video would be the clearest for my friends to hear. I played it back, deleting some lousy ones here and there. And then the two owls were both silent.

I should have stood on my deck in my socks in the dark night and listened to the magic. I should have put down my iPhone and felt gentle rain on my face and listened to a night conversation of another species, one that sounded much like conversations I remember between my grandparents in their porch swing in the evenings so many decades ago. I remember horses in the field across the road that came near, swished their tails, flicked their ears, and nibbled grass, as they also listened to my grandparents' voices telling quiet stories.

These owls knew better than I how to end a busy day. I should have simply listened.

Thank you for listening, jb

Friday, April 29, 2016

Excess Zucchini and Patience

I don't know what to tell you.

It's been a hard day. A friend of mine died and today was her memorial. I have to tell you that when they called for people to say something about my friend, I could only think of all the times she listened to me. She was one of those people who didn't offer advice, but I wanted it because I knew she just knew what I was talking about. I asked her a lot of questions about parenting. She had five children. I only have one. Usually, her advice was mild and patient, as if I would figure things out if I just thought about them for a while. It kind of reminded me of my grandpa's advice. It was the best kind of advice, quiet and thoughtful, you-can-figure-this-out kind of advice.

She sometimes brought Nick gifts, a few stamps to add to his collection, food she had canned that she knew he would like, toys her grandchildren had outgrown. 

Instead of clumping with my usual cohorts after the service, I sat down with a woman who looked like my friend. I wanted to tell her how lucky she was to have such a solid mom, someone who was patient and understood the world. I wanted to hug her, to talk until I could see if she had inherited the same kind of view of the world. I believe, after my short visit with her, that she had.

There are five people in this world whose mom was even-tempered, who was down-to-earth, who was firm and honest and always friendly. And I saw that at least one of these people had been given those same gifts. I'm sure the rest benefited from them even if they weren't born with the same temperaments.

Hell, I benefited from her temperament. I'm sure I was more patient and yet still firm with Nick because I knew this woman and asked her for advice now and then.

And I ate some of the zucchinis that she grew. I loved getting excess zucchinis. I'm going to miss those zucchinis. I really am.

Thank you for listening, jb

Monday, April 25, 2016

Heaven Versus Reality

Nick walked into the kitchen while I was making his lunch. He looked ready for school. Then, I wondered if something was wrong when he hugged me really hard and said, "Mom, I love you."

Had I died? Was I in heaven?

"Do you smell my aura?" he asked. And I wondered if his contemplative nature had suddenly come into being.

And then he farted, laughed, and walked away.

Right. My boy. The Universe has not flipped upside-down.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sitting on My Butt

I am always inspired by the movie, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I love the wrinkles in Sean Penn's face when they're on the mountain. I love that his character doesn't always take the picture when he's really in the moment. And I love that Ben Stiller's character gets out of his own way and finally does some things. But I have a couple of problems with the movie.

Walter Mitty would totally have died in the Himalayas at 18,000 feet, crossing glaciers alone while wearing his high school Jansport backpack with his high school sleepover sleeping bag. It annoys me that experience is glossed over as if you don't have to think before you keep going up when your Sherpas refuse to go any further and head back down the trail. I know they weren't making a movie about gaining experience in the wilderness, but it still bugs me.

There's this whole perspective in the movie that you actually have to go somewhere in order to be a complete person. Oh, I'm not saying going somewhere isn't great, but most of the time, I have to be satisfied with my ordinary life. I have to try to find that same kind of magic with the same scenes in front of me every day. That's a little harder than getting on a plane and flying to an exotic location. Try it sometime. Find the magic in the every day. And I did, just a little as I painted on the back deck this afternoon while hummingbirds jetted back and forth past me. It was small magic, but it was magic.

Or maybe I'm just jealous.

And there's that gorgeous scene with the longboard and the incredible hill. At least Walter Mitty had some experience on a skateboard before he did that, but how did he keep from getting into that deadly oscillation that always ends in a faceplant? Once, I decided I wanted to bike down a mountain. Mike drove me to the top and left me there with our bike. Big Sky, Montana. That has a ring doesn't it? It sounds so adventurous, doesn't it? I thought it would be like that longboard scene, graceful, gliding, wind blowing through my hair. I spent most of the time on my bike praying I wouldn't flip over my handlebars. My hands went numb clutching the brakes and I had to come to a walking pace to manage each gravelly switchback. It was a misery, not a graceful, gliding, wind-in-my-hair experience, especially with all that unguardrailed space in front of me. Still, that scene is one of the most thrilling of the movie for the simple distance you can see in it, kind of like what you see on a mountain in Big Sky, Montana. I never completed a skateboarding bucket list and now, since I get injured so easily from falling, I never will. So that scene sort of pisses me off.

But the thing that bugs me the most about that movie is that every single time I'm watching it, every single time, I'm sitting on my butt in front of the television.

Thank you for listening, jb

Sunday, April 10, 2016

A Post-Apocalyptic Lunch Box

I just realized that Nick hasn't unpacked his lunch box since the Friday before two weeks ago. First, there was a weekend and he procrastinated emptying it. Then, he had the flu for a week and missed school. He forgot about it. Then last week was Spring Break and he forgot about it still. The lunch box is not my responsibility. It's not, but I have to tell you that it's hard not to get started bleaching and disinfecting it with ultraviolet rays and whatever other tools I have at hand. Can you put a cloth and plastic lunch box in the dryer?

A good mommy would clean that crap up.

A good mom wouldn't.

That's the difference. These days, I'm supposed to be working to be a good mom, not a mommy, a woman who helps her boy when he needs it and lets him fry when he doesn't. That means that I provide the space for homework but I don't tell him when to do it. I might wash his clothes for another year or so but don't fold them or put them away. I still make a healthy lunch but I let him unpack his own lunch box at the end of the day.

Yup, I said let him fry. It's mean, isn't it?

I feel awful. I hate seeing him stress. I hate talking to him about less than perfect grades. I hate letting that lunch box fester even one more night. It was easier being a good mommy and doing everything for him. Trying to tell the difference between what he should do and what I can still do is the worst part of parenting an older kid.

But he needs this, doesn't he? He needs me to let it fester more than he needs me to clean it up for him.

When I was in seventh grade, I left an orange in my locker over Christmas break. Oh, that was the year when my two best friends turned on me, bullying me until I wanted to cry. My dad had cancer and my family and I weren't sure then if he would make it or not. It was a rough time in my life.

But no one cleaned up that orange but me. By the time class started that January, the orange was solid green, mold green, the kind that could either kill you or cure your pneumonia. For weeks, my locker smelled like a horror-movie version of an orange if horror movies had smells. For years, I've remembered how my fingers squelched right through the skin of that orange when I tried unsuccessfully to use a lunchroom napkin to pick it up and dispose of it. Its garbage juice splattered my knee socks, my shoes, and finally the janitor stood over me while I wiped the drippings off his newly polished wooden floors. My lockermate, the girl who had begun to taunt me with my other ex-best friend, truly hated me from that moment on. It was as if I'd done this to the both of us with some kind of intent.

Yes, even though I was stressed by my life, bullies, illness, and the gore of my father's surgeries, I will always remember the smell of that rotten orange. I never made that mistake again. I don't leave food lying around.

This is the moment when I can almost imagine what it was like to be my mother. Almost. She couldn't stand my messes. I absolutely drove her nuts with them, sometimes intentionally just to keep her out of my room. She still can't sleep with a dirty spoon in her sink overnight. And will I be able to go to sleep with that mold-fest partying in Nick's lunch bag overnight? Will I? Will there be maggots? I hate maggots.

I'm going to go try to sleep like a baby. But in the morning, I'm going to work really hard to be out of the house and waiting in the car when Nick opens up that lunch bag and takes a big whiff of it. I might even pull out the garbage can for him to empty and put on the kitchen fan before I go.

I think I'm going to feel a little sorry for him. Who wouldn't after the forty-three year old memory of that orange came flooding back like it was real again?

Thanks for listening, jb