Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
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Thursday, May 27, 2010
Five minutes later, I carried my daughter down the stairs, and called something out to him, probably a snack or game suggestion. No answer. I went into the living room, but he wasn't there. I checked the basement. The lights were off. Not there, either. I looked in the cold cellar, and the laundry room, and the little alcove under the basement stairs. I started calling his name.
I run upstairs, back into the living room, and looked behind the couch. My daughter started shouting his name, too, in her endearing baby way. "Are you?" She called. "Are yoooouuuuuu?" I ran upstairs and checked his room, our room, the bathroom, my office. I called his name again and again.
I ran into the backyard. The gate was open and the yard was empty. I sprinted around to the front and looked up and down the sidewalk, hoping to see a beautiful little boy with unruly blond hair, wandering down the street, back home towards me. There were already tears on my cheeks. My writer's imagination was going wild. My son, my cautious little son who would never venture more than a few feet away from the house without thinking better of it and coming back home again, was gone. Gone. Just like that. It was as though he'd disappeared off the face of the earth.
I have never been more terrified.
I ran inside to get the portable phone, but before I did, I took one last look up and down the street. I felt like I was standing at the edge of a precipice, with my life before this happened behind me, and my life after this happened a gaping and horrifying chasm I was going to have to dive into. (I told you, I have a wild imagination.) Is this really happening? I asked myself. Where is he? What do I do?
I remembered something I'd read once about the first 20 minutes a child is missing being the most crucial. I called 911. The operator asked my address, then my name, and how to spell it. I couldn't remember. I couldn't breathe. "Please," he said to me. "Please understand that these things almost always turn out fine. The faster you answer my questions, the faster we can help you find your son." Find your son. Oh my god, I think my son is missing.
I answered all his questions, continuing to run around the house as we talked, up the stairs, down the stairs, into the yard, out onto the sidewalk again, over and over until I was dripping with sweat and my daughter was bumping and giggling on my hip, thinking we were playing a game. Then I had to describe his clothes, his body type, his hair, and his eyes. It was too much like a made-for-TV movie. I sat down on the stairs and started to cry. I was describing my son to the police. Because I couldn't find him. He was with me one moment, and then he was gone.
I've been writing a lot lately about how fragile and uncertain life is, but I never really thought my life could be fragile and uncertain. I was writing about other people, not me and my family. I was safe.
How arrogant of me. What made me think nothing bad could ever happen to me? I cried while the operator assured me emergency services would be arriving momentarily. I wondered what I could have done, if anything, to prevent this from happening. I blamed myself entirely.
Just then, I heard a voice. "Mummy, why are you crying? Who are you talking to?"
He had chocolate and crumbs all over his face. "The police," I said. "Mummy called the police." I was already feeling like an idiot. My son's latest misdemeanour is to sneak cookies from the kitchen and then hide somewhere and eat them. How had I not thought of this? I glanced into the kitchen and saw the stool pushed close to the counter and the empty cookie jar sitting open at the edge of it. I'd make a terrible detective. I'd missed all the clues, and panicked instead. Clearly, high pressure situations are not my forte.
"Hello?" Said the operator.
"I found my son," I said sheepishly.
"Is he okay? Do you need medical help?"
"No. He was just hiding behind the easy chair in the living room, eating cookies. I'm so sorry to have bothered you."
The operator laughed and assured me I was not the first mother who had called him in a panicked state about a child who wasn't really missing. He cancelled the police cars, firetrucks, and ambulances. I hung up and hugged my son so hard he wriggled away.
"Why are you crying, Mummy?"
"Because I thought I lost you," I said, wiping the chocolate from his little mouth.
"Don't cry, Mummy, I'm not lost."
So what lessons did I learn here? First, that I'm awful in a crisis. I couldn't even remember my own name. I'm too embarassed to fully reveal the extent of my hyperventilating, but suffice it to say the operator could possibly now qualify as my therapist. Second, I need to keep the cookies somewhere else.
And third, everything really can change within the confines of a minute or two. Catastrophes like the earthquake in Haiti and the oil spill in the Gulf are testament to this. None of us, no matter how careful we are, or how much we have, or how smart we are, or how nice we are, are immune.
This is what I learned, during ten terrifying minutes, one hot afternoon: life is full of valuable things. Some of them matter more than others. It's up to us to figure out the things that really matter, and stop worrying about the things that don't. Our existence really is too short and uncertain to waste a single second.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
"Um, what? I have a clothesline?"
She pointed up. Way up. At this thing in my yard that runs across our property line, nearly at roof level.
"I just have no idea how I would ever use it," I said to my neighbour. "And I should probably run. I think one of the children has set something on fire." (Not really. Obviously. My children are angels. Or, at least don't have access to matches.)
Then my neighbour reached across the fence and pointed to a metal handle thingie against the wall. "You just pull that and it comes down," she said. "Easy peasy."
"Great, thanks," I said.
"I'm so happy to help out," she replied, and went back to hanging her bloomers to dry below eye level.
Now that I know I have a working clothesline in my backyard (it's big enough to fit my entire wardrobe at one time, and that's saying a lot) I cannot, in good conscience, refrain from using it. I tried the metal handle thingie, and it really is easy frigging peasy. So, I'm officially turning off my dryer. Even if the moment I raise my underpants up the pole, I'm going to have a summer camp-related post-panty raid flashback, and envision my undies (white, with Friday emblazoned on them in pink; I was that kind of kid), flapping in the breeze at the top of the flagpole. Shudder.
With all the carbon I'll save, perhaps I'll fly to London. Or France.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
So this afternoon, I phoned the library and timidly explained my situation to the very kind sounding lady on the phone. (She sounded, in fact, the very way you'd imagine a Very Kindly Librarian with Grey Hair to sound, the kind of librarian you might remember from your childhood. She made me think of the Very Kindly Librarian with Grey Hair who worked in my hometown, whose name was Aunt Sheila. She really was my aunt, actually - well, my great aunt. And she had a Scottish accent so didn't really sound anything like this lady on the phone today, but I could tell they were cut from the same cloth. As in, the Kindly Librarian cloth. It's probably a tartan cloth.)
Anyway, the Kindly Librarian (not the one I yelled at, by the way) kindly checked both my son's card and my card and could not find a damage fee of any sort. "If you could kindly bring in the notice the next time you're here, I'll sort this out for you. And don't worry, you don't have to pay the fee."
Hmmm. I guess the Other, Not-So-Kindly Librarian was just trying to scare me by sending me a notice in the mail, and then, poof, eradicating the fine, since, let's face it, it never would have stood up in court. (Or where ever it is one takes one's library fine grievances.) Either that, or God and the Universe have a great sense of humour (and the ability to send fake library notices. Interesting.)
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I behaved badly last week.
Okay, so I probably behaved badly more than once last week, but this time was particularly bad. And also, it had consequences. My bad behaviour is going to cost me money. Not a lot of money, but money no less.
The other upshot of my uppity actions: I have besmirched a local establishment I and my children frequent often, and hold in high regard. Besmirched, I say.
The place I have besmirched is the library.
You may recall there were a few rainy, windy, crappy days last week. And while I know in my last post I preached the benefits of gratefulness and not making a big deal out of the small stuff when the alternative is being buried under a pile of rubble, on this particular windy, stormy day, I wasn’t feeling especially grateful. The kids had runny noses (and have had runny noses, it seems, for the past month, with no end to the snot storm in sight), the wind was buffeting us down the street at an alarming rate, I feared an errant tree branch was going to be the end of us all, we were freezing, some of us were crying, and we had one last errand to run before we’d finally be able to return to the safety of home for a nice, warm lunch.
Our final task on this blustery day: We had library items to return. Books and a CD.
I pulled up to the library, scooted the stroller up the ramp, and attempted to open the book-return drop box on the lower level of the building. But the box was locked.
I jiggled it, annoyed. Definitely locked.
Which is when I noticed the cloth bag I was holding, containing said (already late) library items slated for return, was dripping.
I reached inside. Everything was soaked. An errant sippy cup had made it’s way into the bag and leaked its water contents all over everything.
"Poop," I said aloud.
"Poop," my son repeated with a laugh. (We recently had an f-word incident so are working very hard around our house to clean up our potty mouths so my son will stop, for the love of God, saying at every possible opportunity, "We CAN'T say FUCK, Mama. FUCK is a bad word.")
While the wind continued to howl and rage, I removed all items from the bag and wiped them with my coat. They were just a little damp, nothing a few wipes wouldn’t cure.
Except for the CD -- which was called Healthy Kidz, by the way, and was so lame we’d nixed it as a family in favour of some Pretenders (Maia’s new favourite band; you should see her kick it to Back on the Chain Gang). The water had leaked into the case and soaked the liner notes. Although the CD itself was fine (still lame, but fine) no amount of wiping could hide the fact that someone had wet the CD case. Besmirched it, if you will, with an unknown substance.
Oh how I wished the drop box wasn’t locked.
Oh how I didn’t want to have to plunk my pathetic wet CD case in front of the librarian and see the judgement in her eyes.
Another gust of wind blew off my son’s hat. I ran down the ramp to retrive it while he laughed and shouted "Poop!" into the wind.
By this time I was feeling annoyed. Okay, not just annoyed. I was feeling downright indignant. I’m a taxpayer, dammit, I was thinking. I pay taxes – and, if I’m being honest, far too many library late fees -- so that things like book return drop boxes will be bloody well open when I need them to be open, in order to avoid pulling my unwieldy stroller all the way into the library, loading it and the kids onto the elevator, going up the elevator and handing my (wet, damn it, damn it, damn it) books and CD to the librarian! Why the hell isn’t the drop box open?! Why, I beseech you?!
(When I'm angry, my inner voice tends to become extremely wordy and drama-queeny.)
So I parked the stroller and ran through the glass doors of the library, then shouted up at the librarian, who was at the top of the stairs behind her counter.
“Why,” I shouted, my hair flying out everywhere, an angry expression on my red face, “isn’t the drop box open?!”
“Because,” she replied coolly. “It’s only open when the library is closed. And the library is open right now."
Like I was stupid or something.
And I wasn't the stupid one. The library was the stupid one!
“Well, that’s stupid,” I shouted. “Even Blockbuster keeps their drop-box open all day and taxpayers aren’t even paying for that drop box.” (Listen, I told you: I behaved badly. I didn’t say I was proud of myself.)
The librarian didn’t respond. She gave me a very judgmental look. It made me angrier.
I stormed out the door, grabbed my library books, pulled the kids inside the library – making a big show about how difficult it was to pull the stroller through the doors with all the wind – parked them at the bottom of the stairs, stomped up the stairs, and dumped my books and (wet) CD in front of the librarian.
Then I ran away before she noticed that everything was damp.
Heading for home, I felt ashamed already. I mean, the librarian herself probably hadn’t made the decision that the drop box was to stay closed during library hours. And it probably wasn’t a calculated attempt to burn idiots like me who spill their kids’ water all over their stuff.
What was I thinking, being such a cow? I let my temper get the better of me. I yelled at the librarian. I stomped around the library. Library's are quiet, nice places. Quiet, nice places with books.
I probably shouldn’t have been surprised today when I got a notice in the mail from the library informing me (or, more accurately, informing my son, whose library card the items were taken out on, for shame) that I owe $15.98. For the damage of the Healthy Kidz CD, natch.
Part of me wanted to stomp over to the library and say, “Come on, people, the CD wasn’t damaged, the liner notes were wet, that's all! Geez! Half the stuff we take out of the library looks like it's been chewed by a pit bull before we even get a chance to chew on it ourselves!"
But another part of me knew this notice probably never would have arrived if I hadn’t behaved so badly.
If I'd been nice, if I'd explained to the librarian what had happened, if I'd apologized for wetting something that wasn't mine, things probably would have turned out differently. Even if the CD was damaged -- which I am SO sure it wasn’t by the way (and yes, I do have a thing about being right even when I know I’m wrong) -- the librarian might have decided to go easy on me and not make me pay for the lame CD that probably came free with a box of cereal.
Instead, I stomped, I yelled, I potentially wrecked her morning.
I have to pay the $15.98.
While I’m not saying I’m never going to let my temper get the better of me again - I'm me, after all, and not always the cooleset customer on the block - I am saying I learned a lesson. It's a pretty basic one: It's always nice to be nice. In the immortal words of the Stone Roses, Love Spreads. Plus, if I had been nice, I would have been setting a better example for my children, too. Because they are (the f-word incident being a case in point) watching and listening.