One thing I like about January is that the tyranny of the elf is over. Aunt Jill gave us the “elf on the shelf.” He comes in December and sits on a shelf to report behavior to Santa, but he’s supposed to move every night. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the number of times I have to spring out of my warm bed in the middle of the night to move Twilight the elf is embarrassing. He didn’t move for 3 nights at one point. He started on the telescope. The next morning he’d flipped around precariously and was looking like a fall was imminent. That lasted for 2 nights. Chesley, one of Ava’s 2 moms stepped in at that point. Apparently one of her friend’s elves didn’t move for 3 weeks. When he finally did move, he had a cast on. So Twilight’s 3-day telescope stay ended with him in a paper towel/duct tape head bandage, arm and leg cast lying on the faux greenery in the hermit crab tank. Santa had written a note about Twilight’s daredevil personality, and all was well.
Toby’s shirts are backwards but right side out more often than not. It makes me empathetically gag to look at her with the collar clutching her trachea. She fights me on it. She’ll pull her head back and yank out the collar of the shirt to skeptically peer at the tag. It irritates me to be second-guessed; it irritates me more to be reminded of how I look half the time when I’m trying to read something close up with my furrowed brow, wince, and frown.
We didn’t actually last an entire month on the wagon. We suspended it for our trip to Mexico in the middle of the month for Mike’s 50th birthday. The man next to me on our flight to Mexico smelled putrid. He was probably in his late 50’s. Was it a hygiene issue or was he ill? I heard on NPR about this woman whose husband died of Parkinson’s disease. She told his doctors that she’d been able to smell the disease from its onset. The doctors gave her a group of 12 people to sniff. In 11 out of 12 of the cases she’d properly diagnosed whether or not the patient had Parkinson’s disease. The one she’d gotten wrong was deemed a false positive; however, a month later the man was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. I have a keen sense of smell. When I was dating, I’d develop an olfactory aversion to a guy. One guy in particular after 2 years developed this odd, nutty smell. I always wondered whether he’d had the smell all along, or had it just appeared or did I fabricate it to push me out of the relationship? I’ll never know but I imagined my omniscient perception of my ignorant neighbor’s demise while he sputtered pretzel crumbs down his flannel front.
Our trip to Mexico was short. We left Philly on Friday morning and left Mexico on Monday afternoon. Tim had made the reservations late at night. The price was right, but he didn’t notice that we arrived in Minneapolis from Mazatlan at 7:45 pm and didn’t depart for Philly until 7:12 the next morning. I would never have chosen that itinerary, but it was nice to have a buffer between Mexico and real life. Neither Tim nor I are great at vacation. We both balk at the inertia and fill the time up with over-eating and over drinking. It’s so hard to achieve life/sex balance in this world. Here we were with a lovely room in Mexico, able to sleep as late as we like without the fear of little people scampering in, and we would collapse into bed completely peopled-out. Frigid Minneapolis was just what we needed.
It was a posse of 13 with brothers, spouses, aunts, and uncles. Tim’s mom and 2 aunts preside over the villa in Mazatlan. Vegetable washing, water instructions and logistical protocol greeted us upon our arrival. Our first failing was that we had not procured the requested “Vanilla Delight” creamer because we hadn’t checked our bags. This news filtered through the ranks with some dismay. The aunties weren’t alone in their desire for Vanilla Delight. At home, a group of crazy militiamen had stormed an empty barracks on a wildlife refuge in Western Oregon to protest federal ownership and maintenance of the nature preserve and grazing lands. They were camping out fully armed and ready for battle. One of the requests to their sympathizers was “vanilla delight creamer.” I can’t help but imagine Carol and the aunties in full camouflage gear besting the militia in a fight for creamer. Aunt Anne would wave the creamer triumphantly and then lament the number of Weight Watchers points she loses in the name of Vanilla Delight. (A short google quest revealed an adequate Vanilla Delight substitute to be: vanilla, condensed milk, and half & half; I’ll forward the recipe to the anti-federalists.)
Along with family, Patrick had engineered the surprise appearance of Delfino and his wife, Rosa. Delfino worked for Onion Flats for about 6 years. He made the harrowing trip across the Mexican border to Philly three times. Years would pass between his impregnating Rosa on a trip home and his meeting the offspring. Delfino is one of those immigrant workers who fuel the Republican “boot strap” arguments. His English improved with every minute he spent in the states. He worked hard, never complained, and always graciously accepted offers of hospitality. He’d come to birthdays and holiday meals and grin as he ate piles of home-cooked food. During one of his crossings, he’d been roped to the chassis of a truck. His leg was jammed against the exhaust pipe and burned severely. He then stood, propped up by the men around him for 24 hours on a freezing truck ride from Texas to Philly ignoring his wound. On another trip he’d paid a “coyote” to assist with his passage. Delfino and a truckload of want-to-be workers were released into the Texan dessert with nothing. Delfino survived. He was at the brink of dehydration and starvation, but he flipped over a corpse on the ground and found the half a canteen of water that saved his life.
Rosa stayed home with what became 4 kids during all of Delfino’s Philadelphia time. She insisted he come home for good when there was a major gas explosion in their hometown. 14 people were killed. Delfino was able to apply what he’d learned from Tim and Pat in Philly. He’d built a family compound and had another project going as well. Rosa’s English is non-existent, so I was imagining that the 2 days were trying for her as drunken Canadian Aunties asked her multiple questions. They responded to her polite smiles and nods by merely increasing the volume of their English and asking again. I was wrong. Rosa cried as she and Delfino descended the stairs of the villa to their awaiting cab. She’d never left her kids before. She’d never been on a plane. She’d never had running water. Their little seaside room and bathroom was the most luxury she’d ever experienced.
Perhaps I was projecting my exhaustion on Rosa. Don’t get me wrong, the massage, the beach, the incredible meals were great, but it was the stories that made it all worthwhile. Somewhere in Mazatlan, there is an angry pit bull owner looking to extort money from Aunt Sue. At the beach on Stone Island, Sue found a little terrier covered in fleas and ticks. She sat on her rented chaise lounge with the little dog de-lousing it for 4 hours. I’m sure the exquisitely gay waiter who rented out the chaises and doled out the cocktails and seafood was horrified by the Sue’s delousing process, but when she finished, she bundled the dog into a towel and took it on the boat back to the main land. She spent another 4 hours getting it shots and sorting out the process by which she could bring the dog back to Canada. She smuggled it into the villa and bathed it for another 4 hours. The property managers of the villa have a strict no-pet policy. They discovered Sue with her bundle in the living room. She has now boarded the dog with one of the animal rescue workers. The pet-neglecting, drug-cartel-member, previous owner is spreading the word around town that he’s after that blond Canadian who stole his dog, so Sue is refusing to go back to Stony Island.
Remember that there were 14 kids in Tim’s dad’s family, 7 of each sex. 3 of them share the birthday 3/24, 3 of them share the birthday 9/25, and there’s a set of twins in the mix. They all ran a hotel in Northern Ontario. According to Aunt Anne, the boys were smoking, drinking slackers, and the girls did ALL THE WORK. Helen, their mom, asked Anne to paint the front hall when she was a teenager. She was already angry because the boys were playing cards, but when Anne found a dirty, ruined brush in a half-dried can of paint, she snapped. She painted “PISS ON YOU!” on the side of the building in hot pink and took off with no money on a bus to see a boy. It was an odyssey fueled by her determination to FUCK EVERYONE. So she was boy crazy for a while and living with Aunt Sue. Sue was accepting of Anne’s dating habits but was plugging for Dave, Anne’s current husband. At one point, Sue had called Dave to come and fix her unbroken washing machine. According to Sue’s plan, Dave arrived to find Anne on the couch canoodling with another guy. Dave calmly told Anne she was going to lose him if she kept seeing other guys. All went according to Sue’s plan, and with a clap of thunder Anne was saved and in love for the rest of her life.
The other stories revolved around the patriarch, Eddy. Apparently, he was a fearsome, prideful man. When they were young, the boys were all sliding in a puddle on the concrete floor of their cousin’s barn. (The cousin is down there in Mazatlan as well) Teddy, the youngest ended up sliding through the puddle and into a trough of cow manure at the exact moment Eddy arrived in his prized Lincoln to collect his sons. Eddy hosed Teddy off fully-clothed, had him strip, hosed him off again buck-naked. Eddy then bundled Teddy and his wet clothes into a potato sack and threw him into the trunk for the ride home.
The car was Eddy’s pride. Some out-of-towner challenged Eddy to a race and beat him handily on the highway. Eddy retorted that his car would kill the competition on the back roads. The other guy rose to the challenge and let Eddy plan the course. They careened through the back roads at top speed. Suddenly Eddy braked in the middle of the race and watched as the competition careened into an unavoidable ravine and totaled his car. Eddy wasn’t going to allow another car in Sudbury, Ontario to be faster than his Lincoln.
Speaking of stories, the flight attendant on our trip home treated us to a round of drinks because I told her Susie stories from my youth. Susie (my mom) used to treat airplanes like her own personal cocktail party when we’d fly to Florida. She’d set my brother and me up with a YAHTZEE tournament, and then she’d sashay back to the smoking area and stand in the aisle next to a handsome, fellow smoker and chat away. Can you imagine being the person in front of me and Curt? We’d be fighting, kicking, spilling soda, and rolling 5 dice on the seat back tray every 15 seconds while our mom helped herself to those little mini bottles of scotch and smoked her merits. She’d always grab a few for the road and stow them in her purse. No wonder the airlines almost went bankrupt.
Susie, by the way, was the saint who took care of the kids while we were away. I honestly got the, “don’t let the door hit you on the way out” feeling from everyone the night before we left. We came back to hundreds of cookies, relaxed children who’d been able to just HANG OUT for a few days; even the neurotic cat had gotten spoiled. Susie let him into our room (normally forbidden as Tim and I are both allergic to him) and he slept with her on our bed every night. Susie’s only complaint was my map-quested directions to gymnastics and her horrible experience with taking all 3 to the pediatrician. (Can you believe I managed to coincide our vacation with the wellness visits; I’m a genius!) Susie was livid because she’d arrived 7 minutes late at 9:37 for 3 9:30 appointments, and they didn’t get out of there until 11!!!! Little does she know that getting 3 kids through their physicals in under 2 hours is parenting nirvana.
A triumphant upshot of mom’s babysitting is that when the kids called, they were calling on mom’s ancient flip phone. Toby actually said to me, “Mom, you sound like you just lost a tooth! What’s wrong with you????” (No, I wasn’t drunk and slurring my words. I was speaking as I always do.) My mom has been telling me for years that I mumble and that MY PHONE is terrible. AHA!!!!! She has finally replaced that phone with an iphone. She keeps complaining that she’s too old to figure the thing out. Meanwhile she downloaded some crowd-sourced traffic app, mastered face time, and set up her wifi connection without any problem. Susie will be texting rings around your average teenager before March.
We’ve been back for over a month, but I’m still wondering about that life/sex balance thing. OK, so I spent a fair bit of time in my 20’s and early 30’s in sub-par relationships because I wanted to be able to have sex whenever I wanted comfortably. So then, I meet the man of my dreams, and 20 months later we have an infant, and we have 2 more in the following 2.5 years. So here we are with 3 kids 9,8,6. Over the weekend I texted my husband to tell him that miraculously, all 3 kids were out of the house.
Yep, he rushed home to have sex, and I was stuck for an hour a block away with a woman who was locked out of her house and crying like an 8 year old demanding that I find “Livvy.” Her shirt was inside out. Clearly someone had gotten sick of righting her clothes as well. I got sucked into the drama because I had hung out a little too long while I dropped off the girls. I was hurrying home and checking my phone. A couple said to me, “Can you call 911? That woman is really confused and locked out of her house, and neither of us has a phone.” 911 was no help. They told me to get a locksmith or call a member of her family. I climbed over the woman’s fence and rubbed her shoulders and called a number that was on one of the doors “for delivery call…” Everyone who passed by ended up hanging out to make sure it all ended well, but I was the only one who’d scaled the fence, so I was stuck, and she seemed to trust me and relax a little although she’d burst into tears every few minutes. Her daughter did eventually come. By the time I got home, we were worried that the neighbor kids would be popping by soon to see if ours were around. Then the person I’d called to help the woman wanted to come and bring us lunch. “DON’T COME BY!!! WE DON’T NEED LUNCH!!!!!
After our blissful 20 minutes, Tim actually went to take a nap. He’d been up the night before with Steel. She’d been to a ridiculous birthday party. They took a pink limo to a spa where they all got hair, make-up, and nails done and then danced on a catwalk and limo-ed home. All of this happened with pizza, soda and pop rocks. I’m not even going to delve into how many things are wrong with that scenario. The sad thing is that she puked all over the place, and Tim berated her for essentially not being able to “hold her junk food.” I slept through all of this. (Tim is on a cleanse. This has resulted in my drinking for both of us on Saturday night.) It turns out that it was a bug. I’m sure the junk food didn’t help, but she probably wouldn’t have avoided puking if she’d had a kale smoothie for dinner. Toby got it on Monday. I handled the puke. Tim had the junk food pizza puke. I had the family dinner/crème brulee puke. Tim has twice since he went on the cleanse made copious amounts of a ridiculously sinful dish: crème brulee (a gallon of it) and then a bushel of mashed potatoes that were at least half cream cheese, a quarter butter, and the final quarter potatoes. I reined him in on making 5 gallons of spaghetti sauce that he couldn’t eat, 2 out of 3 kids won’t eat, and I shouldn’t eat.
I was a little grumpy about having to bring still-sick Toby to work with me, but the only thing that really stunk about it was that I couldn't ride my bike. She's just so adorable.
How is sex supposed to fit in between the 18 loads of not-right-side-out laundry and the Fabrezing of puked-on, ebay oriental rugs? It’s especially hard when puked-on bed sheets are a reminder of one of the lowest points in our marriage. Someone had puked, and Tim told me he’d handle it. He did. He stripped beds and loaded laundry. I’d underestimated his optimism about the power of the washing machine. He thought it was half laundry, half garbage disposal. That wasn’t the case. It would have been fine if he’d let me deal with the somewhat sanitized chunks of vomit on the sheets after they’d been through a wash cycle, but no, he threw them in the dryer. Finding vomit cooked onto both the entire set of sheets, and the interior of the dryer wasn’t my favorite moment in our marriage. But, if someone had taken our kids for 12 minutes after I’d opened that dryer, I probably still would have had sex with him…