Friday, April 27, 2012

Excuse Me While I Kiss The Pergo

Last night I was quickly cleaning up the dishes after dinner when it happened. I was in a hurry because I wanted to join my family outside for a game of scramble. In my haste, I dumped over the can I keep for collecting discarded grease. This can had been nearly full, but was now almost empty, its contents quickly spreading across the kitchen floor. Many people would have cursed at this calamitous turn of events. Martha Stewart would surely have fired any minion who spilled a can of grease on her floor. (Except that Martha Stewart probably doesn't eat ground beef, so that example is moot.)  I simply sighed and began the long process of cleaning up my mess. Again.

My clumsiness is something I'm accustomed to. I've learned not to wear white; I've learned not to carry explosives; I've learned not to write with permanent marker without first putting on coveralls. I love wearing high-heeled sandals, but I say a little prayer before I leave the house so I don't end up in the emergency room if I fall off of them. While most people think my fear of heights is just a run-of-the-mill phobia, the truth is that heights pose a real danger to a klutz like me. I suppose I could try to avoid all situations that hold any chance of injury to myself or to others, but that would mean living my life inside an empty closet. Sometimes I think that might not be so bad; the peace and quiet might be nice. But then I think of everything I'd miss out on, like who Kim Kardashian is dating and the decision on the Vikings stadium. Not to mention dinner parties.

I enjoy entertaining, but unlike most hostesses, who only have to worry about the condition of their house, their food, and their kids during dinner, I have the added concern that some sort of mishap will leave me, or worse, one of my guests injured. I haven't injured anyone else (yet), but I once gave myself a second-degree burn on my wrist while making fajitas for guests. My friend Jennifer saw it and was horrified. "I'm fine," I said, and continued cooking, my raw skin shimmering as I flipped a steak in a cast-iron pan. Trying to be helpful, Jennifer reached for the freezer. "You should really put some ice on that."  What Jennifer didn't realize is that if I attempted to put ice on my burn, I'd most likely drop the ice, slip on it, fall, hit my head, and end up with a concussion. In the end, we all forgot the incident, and we went on to have a lovely evening. The two-inch burn scar on my wrist is like a of many that I have. In fact, If you look closely, you might find much of my life story from my collection of healed injuries: the huge scar on my knee from the time I crashed my bike into a tree, the scar on my elbow from the time I fell off the clothesline pole, the scars on my hand from the time I collided with David Eubanks during a basketball game in 8th-grade gym class. I can still see the lead in my palm from the time I joined my fellow high-school newspaper staffers in throwing pencils straight up so they'd stick into the holes in the acoustic ceiling tiles. Theirs stuck; mine instead flew back down and punctured my hand, leaving a tiny graphite spot. I worried for a while that I'd be poisoned, but now I think of it as a welcome excuse whenever my memory fails me. 

Throughout my life, my lack of grace has appealed to some, who find it charming. It's also annoyed many more, who consider it one of my several off-putting traits. Thankfully, my husband is in the former camp. Early in our relationship, on a trip to Hawaii, B and I were racing through the maze in the Dole pineapple plantation when I fell. In mud. I instantly got up, thoroughly embarrassed, expecting him to laugh at me. He laughed all right, and straight out of the manual How to Add Insult to Injury, he asked me to lay back down in the mud so he could take my picture. I declined. I assured him that he'd have plenty more opportunities to capture me horizontal after a tumble. Now when I fall, he doesn't even blink an eye. If we're talking, he continues the conversation as if nothing happened, although he might lean over so he can be sure I can hear what he's saying.

Somehow, people still trust me to perform tasks that are probably better left to the graceful.  Last week I was tasked with cleaning the white altar paraments for our church. Someone (apparently a fellow ham-fisted congregant) had spilled wine not once, but twice on the paraments. For most people, the process of bringing these materials home, washing them, drying them, ironing them, and returning them to the altar would not be a big deal.  For me, the assignment was more like a list of don'ts: don't drop the paraments in the street, don't run over them with your car, don't inadvertently wash them with your daughter's red sweatshirt, don't knock over the drying rack on top of the cat, don't burn yourself ironing them. On Sunday, when I looked at the clean, pressed paraments on the altar, I beamed with pride. Or maybe it was relief.

After Thanksgiving dinner at my brother's house last year, my sister dropped the tray that held the turkey, spilling grease all over the floor. (Yes, another grease spill. BP should have contacted me for advice.) As we were cleaning the floor, I realized that clumsiness runs in my family. My father used to ride his bike to my high-school tennis matches. Our dog, a Scottish terrier mix, rode in a crate my father ingeniously attached to the back of the bike. After one match, when I was exhausted after a particularly devastating loss, I watched longingly as my teammates climbed into the comfort of their parents' cars to go home. My dad gave me the option of either riding on the back of his bike or hitchhiking home. There are few things more humiliating for a 15-year-old than riding on the back of your father's bike with a dog named Scottie riding in a crate behind you. That is, unless that bike were to tip over, scattering you, your dad, your dog, and your tennis balls across 28th Avenue during rush hour. I think that's about the time my dad decided to quit smoking.

Thus far, my children appear to have inherited B's deftness. Nevertheless, they've had to learn to put up with me and my awkwardness. When my son was four and my daughter was three, we were stringing beads together to make Christmas ornaments. My son used his little fingers, his motor skills still developing, to meticulously slide twenty-five red beads onto a string. He handed me the string of beads, so proud of himself, and as I was attempting to tie the two ends together, praising him for his efforts, I dropped one end of the string and all 25 beads scattered across the floor. He was disillusioned, but after we picked all the beads up, he gamely started over. He carefully got all the beads back onto the string, and just as I was saying "Mommy will have to be more careful this time," I dropped the beads again. I gasped, looking at my son, expecting him to cry. Heck, I was almost in tears. Instead, he looked shocked for a moment, but then he cocked his head and looked at me with pity. "Oh, Mommy," he said, shaking his head. I realized that one advantage to my condition was that I was teaching my children to have sympathy for the less fortunate, and more klutzy, among them. Amen.

As for last night, I did eventually make it out to the scramble game. I was immediately knocked out of the game by my very athletic and agile daughter, but that's okay. I'd had enough exercise scrubbing the kitchen floor anyway.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hey, Baby!

Some friends of ours, Seth and Betsy, are expecting their first baby in a couple of months.  As a mother of two, I am thrilled for these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby! I also pity these parents-to-be, because I remember what it was like to have a new baby.

Watching our friends prepare for the arrival of their child brings me back to the days when my husband and I were expecting our first baby. We were so excited!  In fact, the very day I found out I was pregnant, my husband gutted what would become the baby's room. We had so much fun designing the room and picking out furniture. I attended showers where generous friends and family gave me beautiful and thoughtful gifts: the outfits I'd lovingly chosen, the stuffed animals that would coordinate with the quilt I'd registered for. Oh, the fun Seth and Betsy are going to have! Their lives are going to be so happy! Enjoy every minute, I say. Because once that baby comes, the fun is O-V-E-R, and you're left with a glut of useless stuffed animals and dressy outfits that the baby will wear once and ruin. No one gives you what you really need, which is diapers and a bottle of scotch, because that's not what you asked for. And now you're stuck with a bunch of stuffed bears, giraffes, and lambs, which would be great if they could hold, rock, and feed an inconsolable baby at 3:30 in the morning. But they can't. All they can do is sit there and look at you, and sometimes talk to you (or so you think when you haven't slept in three days).

When I consider the early days of my son's life, I'm glad I didn't know what I was getting into, because I'd never have done it. People tried to warn me, too, but I didn't listen. I remember being pregnant, in a state of bliss, munching on a doughnut and waddling around the office, when I came across a coworker, Chris. He looked like he'd been on a week-long bender, but really, he and his wife had just had a baby. Disheveled, bleary-eyed, barely coherent, Chris was clutching a cup of coffee and leaning against a wall. "It's so hard," he mumbled. ""  I patted him on the back and tried to comfort him by offering him a bite of my doughnut. But I also didn't let him dampen my spirits. Sure, he was having a hard time, but I was, after all, going to be a mother, not a father, and everyone knows mothers are better equipped to handle parenthood than fathers. Just ask my husband, who put our daughter's first diaper on backwards. You might think that's completely understandable, but a) she was our second child, b) our son was still in diapers at the time, and c) our nurse accused me of putting the diaper on backwards, because, naturally, my husband told her I'd done it. He was already on my bad side for blithely getting up during my labor and saying, "You look like you're okay. I'm hungry. I'm going to get a muffin." If I didn't think I needed him to help raise the children, I'd have bludgeoned him with my copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting.

I can only vaguely remember my son's first couple months of life, which is probably for the best, because most of what I remember was pure misery. All he did was eat, hiccup, and cry, over and over and over again. We had a cat that wanted to hurt him. Bad. Our son had jaundice and was supposed to wear a lighted blanket to sleep. Except that he didn't sleep, save for the times during the day when I'd put him in the stroller and attempt to jog with him. One of our neighbors, Mrs. Johnson, later told me that I looked less like a new mother and more like a zombie, stumbling back and forth along the street with a stroller. Mrs. Johnson is also the battle-ax who often shouted at me that it was too hot outside for the baby. I had to remind myself that people like her--who had babies during the Nixon administration--drank and smoked during pregnancy, didn't nurse their babies, buckled the baby into the car with them (if they even used a seat belt) and came from the school of Let Your Baby Cry it Out. But they will criticize anyone who brings a baby outside when it's over 72 degrees. Mrs. Johnson is a constant reminder to me that I have my parents to blame for all of my deep failings.

My mother-in-law, God bless her, stayed with us one night so that I could get a decent night's sleep. (I don't think she believed me when I said how bad it was. Either that, or she was scared into helping me by the fact that I was functioning just above the level of a comatose person.) She only did it once. When we asked her a month later if she'd stay with us another night, the look of horror on her face was immediate. "I just don't think...I can do that again." And I couldn't blame her. She'd survived one night with a baby that wouldn't sleep, on top of several years with me for a daughter-in-law. Asking for one more night was simply asking too much.

My friend Amy had her first daughter about a year and a half before my son was born, so the experience of having a newborn was fresh in her mind when I called her at the height of my misery, blubbering into the phone about how I didn't think I was going to survive. I remember her promise to me: "Sar, it's going to get better. Really."  She paused. "Didn't anyone buy you a bottle of scotch?"

That was nine years ago. It did get better. Now when I watch my son dive for a ball in a scramble game, quietly read a book, or double over after I've sat on a whoopee cushion he's planted on my chair, those memories of sleepless nights seem so long ago. Now I just enjoy his company. And I'll enjoy it even more when he learns to control his flatulence and he chews with his mouth closed.

Of course, I've not shared my stories of sleepless nights with Seth or Betsy. Who knows; their baby might sleep beautifully. And if that's true, I'll be so happy for them. Really. Of course, everyone knows that babies who are great sleepers will cause their parents the most trouble when they become teenagers and young adults. I heard the entire cast of Jersey Shore slept through the night straight out of their mothers' wombs. Just sayin'.