Survival of the Funnest

You may well be wondering “Hey, did you guys survive the bedbugs? Or have you been carried off by the invading swarm?”

Well, both, in a way.

We came through it. We walked Bloodsucker valley and lived to tell. We’re still moving around the city, and we’re not scratching persistent itchy bites. We pass through the nights unmolested. Ten years from now, I might be cautiously optimistic that the process has worked. But we also seem to have been carried off, replaced by new, stronger more bad-ass people. We were made new through bedbugs. And even the Fun Apartment was made new. Even though it’s pretty much still the same.

It was 26 days living with the bags. Twenty. Six. March of 2017 is now just a charred piece of paper on the family calendar.

It was only supposed to be 24 days, but the exterminator decided–twice!–to rearrange his schedule.

And perhaps I should thank him, because it was those extra two days that did it. Those were the days that showed me that things couldn’t be the old way anymore. I knew on those two days that we were–or at least I was–going to be different people at the end of those two days. Those were the days I said all the swear words.

Happily, at the end of those two days, Mr. Fun Apartment and I were different people still married to each other, so that’s a plus. And I was a new person who just did whatever felt good. And didn’t feel bad about feeling good. I dyed a pink streak in my hair. I threw out at least a third of our stuff, but decided that we really couldn’t live without a giant squid costume.

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Eyeballs the size of dinner plates!

I went to a fancy party–on a Monday night–and drank ALL the champagne! I made cereal and called it dinner–to great applause! We started watching Looney Tunes! The Mr. bought some shorts! (Well, he’s got the legs for it.)

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Push the Sky Away.

I got interested in a band* and then actually went to see them play–like an actual real person does! We went camping and ate ice cream sandwiches for lunch! At this point, I fully expect the boys to come home with tattoos. I’m cool with that, as long as they are anchors with the word “Mom” over them.

So now, apparently, I’m a person who says “Yes, why the hell not?” to almost any proposition I get. But I warn you to use your power over me wisely: I’m very susceptible to suggestion. Yes! The answer is yes! Unless you’re the PTA, in which case the answer is “Umm . . . maybe next year?”

So does all this newness mean that I’m ramping up for a big blog-name-changing announcement? No. Not yet.

But we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions that begin with “When?” and “Where?” I think we’re pretty set on “Who?” I’m afraid that “How?” will just have to sort itself out later. I’m too busy saying yes to things.

So, for my mom and the realtor she’s been secretly emailing, we’re not packing up yet. But we’re opening the lens wide. We’re putting on shoes, but no pants.

Why the hell not?

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*One of the in-house music critics insists on referring to the band as Nick Cave and the Bad Nuts. Hey, I’m pretty sure Nick would say “Bring it on.”

 

 

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Grand, indeed.

Remember when my super awesome Grandma ran off with my title of “Smallest Dwelling Space in the Family”? In one down-sizing move, she moved into her own assisted living Fun Apartment complete with bingo and a meal plan. Well, she’s been cut down in the prime of her youth. At age 100, she passed away two weeks ago.

So, it is with a heavy heart that I write my second obituary ever. When your grandma is 100, you kind of assume that she must have some key to eternal life, because she keeps still being there. Five or six years ago, I used to get weepy when I said goodbye to her. But recently, her staying power seemed so great that I’d give her a hug and wave “See you at Christmas!” on our way out of town. Ah well.

People, let me tell you: having a 100 year old grandma was awesome. She was spunky, feisty, and utterly devoted to her long-awaited great grandchildren.

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Oldest, youngest, and one in the middle.

And for a good portion of those 100 years, she was remarkably lucid. In recent conversations when I thought perhaps she was confused, inevitably it was I who had lost the plot, not her. To be fair, how could I be expected to remember that my husband got a new job, just because Grandma did?

Another awesome thing about a 100 year old grandma: I got to go to a birthday party at her assisted living facility where there were a lot of guests who weren’t quite sure who they were celebrating. There was a bouquet of 100 roses and a very large cake. And wouldn’t you know it? Grandma, who had had her hair done at a salon that morning, was working the room, thanking everyone for coming and asking if they had enough cake.

But having a 100 year old grandma was also very hard. She became less herself each time I saw her. As her eyesight left, it took her favorite activities with it. She couldn’t read, watch classic movies on tv, or sew. Her vocabulary evaporated rapidly. Conversations with her were more retrograde than linear and she became increasingly confused. Toward the end, she was genuinely suffering in a body that no longer obeyed her and a brain that stopped trying to follow conversations around her.

 

But at her essence, Grandma was a pretty fantastic lady. She had very high standards. My sister and I saw this in her reactions to the various boyfriends we paraded in front of her. My college boyfriend was met with a sniff. Later she told me “You must think I just fell off the turnip truck.” I’m still not sure what she meant by that, actually. But whatever her meaning, that guy isn’t around anymore, so she must have been right. A boyfriend of my sister’s was very well-received until he mentioned he didn’t want to have any children. After that, he might as well have been an end table for all Grandma regarded him. When I brought the future Mr. Fun Apartment around, she brought out the good china for dinner and told him “We’re putting on the dog!” Grandma knew what she was about.

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That necklace grabber is now 8 years old.

She was an inveterate letter writer. Wherever I lived, she sent a steady stream of envelopes to my mailbox. These envelopes were often stuffed with things she cut out of her newspaper–comics, articles, whatever struck her fancy. As her eyesight failed, the handwriting got worse and the newspaper clippings began to include panels from several different comics. I began to wonder when she would just post me the whole edition of the Grand Rapids Press inside an envelope and have done with it. But thanks to the strength of her pen, I have stacks and stacks of her letters to read through when I feel lonely for her. I even have most of the clippings.

She could be a very sweet lady, although not to everyone at every moment, especially toward the end. She also had a unrivaled  ability to carry grudges long past their sell-by date. Mention her name to my dad, nearly forty years after my parents’ divorce, and he still looks somewhat uncomfortable.

Do you want to know the secret to her long life? Let me tell you: ice cream. I’m pretty sure she ate ice cream every day of her life. She had a bowl every night while she watched old movies on tv. At least, she did until she couldn’t figure out how to work her tv anymore. Then she just ate the ice cream.

(Maybe I’ll just pitch this health conscious, clean-eating business out the window.)

Two things I inherited from Grandma: a love of craft projects–especially secret projects–and her sewing machine. In her later years, she made enough quilts to cover an entire sleeping village. As her eyesight went, though, the quilting fell to my inexperienced hands (quilt count: 4, if you count one that Grandma made and I hand-quilted and passed off as my own to my nephew.) But during her last, title-snatching move, we found a quilt (Dresden Plates, I am reliably informed) she had started, but will never finish. It came to the Fun Apartment, so Grandma and I are still working together on a secret project.

I’m taking my time on it. I don’t really want it to end.

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Sleep tight. . . .

Remember when we got the huge new bed? And remember when we were overrun with sea monkeys?

Well, those two things have kind of come together in a horrible way for us. It’s another infestation, but less friendly, more plague-y. That’s right: we found bed bugs.

Can you hear me screaming all the curse words, even from where you are? Good, that means I’m doing it right.

Go ahead and take a moment to glance around, itch everywhere, and then send us a text cancelling our next social engagement. It’s all right: everyone does. We grow accustomed to it.

How did we get them? Beats us. You can’t exactly interrogate the little m-f-ers, so it really could have been from anywhere. But where it is now is under the kids’ bed. (New bunk bed with all metal frame currently on requisition.)

So what did we do? Well, the exterminator suggested we go stay somewhere else for 14-20 days. This brought a fit of grim laughter. If we had somewhere else to live for that long, don’t you think we’d already be living there? And let me tell you, even very nice people aren’t eager to accept our kind of refugees into their homes.

Because the moving out option was not open to us until our summer staff retreat, and because the exterminator implied to Mr. Fun Apartment that waiting that long would constitute child abuse, we got instead the more complicated, larger pain in the ass option of “bag and bomb.” That essentially means that we have packed ALL of our stuff into large plastic bags. Then, the exterminator dropped what is hopefully a very lethal and effective pesticide into each bag and sealed them up.

But did not take them anywhere.

That’s right. Just when we thought it couldn’t get any more fun, the Fun Apartment stuffed itself into (at last count) 57 awkward and somewhat fragile plastic bags. That number does not including the ones in the bathtub that hold the clothes we are allowed to wear over the next two weeks, and then take to the laundromat for some 40 minutes of fun in the hot, hot dryer.

And it’s two weeks of this, not counting the four extra days when the exterminator couldn’t be bothered to come by. So 18 days. Oh, and the extra 6 six days he suggested, while he tries to wrangle up the stragglers who did not deign to go inside the bags, but instead continue to wander about the apartment in search of luxury living spaces in Chelsea. (Location, location, location!)

And after 24 days of living like refugees in our own house, another fun time awaits us!: putting everything away again! It will be like moving in! Again! Except not into a new, bigger place. Into the exact same place.

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Climb every mountain.


In the interim, we’re camped out among the bags, all carefully stacked to the heavens. But we can start to see the bones of our old home reemerging. Today, after some rearranging, our little guy gasped with delight “We can have a couch?!” Upon receiving confirmation that, yes, we could indeed have a couch, just like regular people, he positively glowed.

And to show that we’ve been visited by not just any ordinary bedbugs, but ones with incredible senses of irony: I was counting the days until we can slice open the bags and move in again, and as I was tapping the days (10), a bed bug wandered across the calendar.

So, good thing we’re going through all this. It’s going swimmingly. Exactly as planned.

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Team Spirit

A few weeks ago, the Fun Apartment represented at the women’s rights march here in our own backyard. After all, as I tell all three of these guys, several times a week, “Mommy is a person, not a (ladder, tissue, housemaid, miracle worker, etc.)” So, all of my fellas tagged along to support me at what one son referred to as the “Kitty March.”

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Meow.

(You guys! Why didn’t anyone tell me about the hats?!?! I could totally have made the hats!!! My knitting superpowers, gone to waste!!)

Anyway, as we strolled along (the boys were somewhat relieved by the pace, as they had earlier expressed concerns such as “Mommy, I don’t know how to march!”) Our newly minted kindergartener used the opportunity to try to read the signs. The third grader asked a lot of questions, and listened intently. They demolished a contraband bag of cheez-its which greatly increased their stamina for the march. Chants rippled through the crowds, but as one suggested that the current resident of the white house should vacate the premises immediately, the elder boy grew pensive.

“Mommy,” he said. “Remember how you said that when we watch football, we only say good things about our team? How we don’t say bad things about the other team because that’s not nice?”

(Our team, by the way, is the GREEN BAY PACKERS. And this was the day before they were defeated in the playoffs by the team the boys referred to as the Atlantis Falcons. Ok, Lost City, you win. This time.)

“But, isn’t this”–he indicated the chanting–“like saying bad things about the other team? Shouldn’t we just say good things about the Packers–I mean, about women?”

People, I was stunned. Stunned, not only because it meant he had actually heard something I said other than “There’s chocolate for breakfast,” but because he heard something I said and he was right. They go low. WE go high.

So, here we go. I’m only saying good things about my team. And it’s easy to do. You see, my team believes in the dignity of all humans. My team believes in accepting everyone. My team believes in loving our neighbors and caring for our community. On my team, we open doors to welcome people in. My team knows that because all lives matter, we need to ensure that black lives matter. My team is about contributing to something larger than yourself. My team raises people up. My team believes that we have a responsibility to our children, to our planet, and to each other. My team believes in equity. My team has a lot of work to do, but that’s ok, because my team believes in raising our children to be even better than ourselves, so they’ll keep doing that work.

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You tell ’em.

(My team also believes you should pick up after yourself, but on this one, my immediate family members are not exactly first round draft picks.)

Wow, there are a lot of good things to say about my team. And guess what: if you want to be on my team, we’d love to have you! We don’t have jerseys, but I am going to make us the hats–looks like there will be plenty of chances to wear them.

Does this post mean that the blog will now become a hotbed of political insights? No, I seriously doubt it.  We’ll probably be back to wondering why our tiny household requires five kinds of toothpaste among four people later this week.

But today, I just need to say it: Go Team!

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The Big Sleep

A popular Fun Apartment joke is that some well-meaning friend or relative (Hi, Mom!) will threaten to send me some large item that regular people have in their house, like a dishwasher, a chainsaw, or a throw pillow and I will say “Are you kidding?? If we had one those, we would all have to sleep in it!”

Well, the joke is on me. We just got something so big that, yes, we have to sleep in it. Lucky for us, it’s a new bed. And it’s enormous. Enormous really doesn’t cover it. Our old comforter certainly didn’t.

i mean, seriously, look at this thing:

Bear sold separately.

Shopping for a bed is not something I had ever done before, because quite frankly, I’m crap as an adult, and mattress shopping is definitely filed under “things adults do.” See, I already had a perfectly good bed. The story is this: My mom was trying to lure my little sister, aged 4, into sleeping in her own room, so she bought her a big girl bed. That same sister is now pushing forty hard enough to break a wrist. So, that’s a recommendation for the Sleep Shop in Appleton, Wisconsin. You should probably check them out, if you are interested in mattress longevity.

But that box spring finally gave out, in the prime of its youth–possibly accelerated by the Fun Apartment’s Winter Youth Fitness Plan (i.e. jumping on the bed).

So we had to to mattress shopping. We trooped out, armed with our teddy bear and giant squid to test out beds. We camped out in mattress stores and engaged in a lay down, roll over, get up, lay down, roll over, get up protocol that, it must be said, makes one incredibly sleepy. In fact, when we actually chose one, I didn’t have the stamina to stick around and seal the deal. I needed some fresh air to wake myself up (and the saleswoman was tiring of playing twenty questions with the kids).

Seal the deal we did, but perhaps the soporific effect of mattress shopping may have marred our judgement. This bed is like a land mass–like Pangaea. Maybe it’s just the shift from double to queen, which is very striking. The Man of my Dreams and I are fairly compact, so a double bed had suited our needs. And I’d always thought of the Queen as somewhat diminutive–at least she looks that way in the photographs, but this realm must include the all former colonies and the erstwhile empire. Often I wake in the night  gasping, “I’m all by myself!” I panic, my arm flailing out to barely brush against the Mister. It’s also really tall. Sometimes I rather expect a tiny  dried pea to come rolling out of it. It’s so tall that one member of the family has requested a ladder so that he can join for bedtime reading. You know our philosophy of reading around here, so that ladder might just happen for him.

And are we sleeping proportionately better? Well, the Man of My Dreams is not the best of sleepers, but he reports a certain creature comfort need that is met by the “bedemoth.” And I am pretty much a top ranking amateur in the sleep department so sure, I’ll say yes. But I kinda miss the extra foot of floor space. After all, an extra foot at the Fun Apartment is well, a whole extra foot.

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Back to school.

Ahh, it is back to school time again. And not just for the kiddos, this year. For me, too.


You see, five years ago, I gave up teaching for what, in a lot of ways, has been an even harder job as a stay at home mom, albeit with smaller adult to kid ratios. Maybe if you don’t move to an insanely small home in a prohibitively expensive city, and maybe if you don’t lop three quarters of your income and living space away at the same time, you have an easier go of it, I wouldn’t know.

But I spent five years sitting on the economic sidelines. And I had thoroughly convinced myself that I would never be fit for the work force again. I made several awkward attempts at it, but my most recent approach of having a job find me just wasn’t working. “Give it another five years,” another mom urged me. “I think it could happen!”

But now–miracle of miracles!–I have rejoined the gainfully employed! I teach kindergarten! And it’s awesome! And it’s kindergarten! We are going to have so much crazy fun! And the kids are hysterical! I’m beyond excited!

And beyond terrified. What if I forget how to work? My memory of how jobs work is a little fuzzy. I gather that they want me to be there every day, around the same time. And apparently, I am supposed to stay there all day. Does that seem right to you guys? And I am supposed to dress up, not just in the jeans without holes. Yikes. I urgently need to know if skirts with cargo pockets are still a thing, or if I’m totally screwed.

To launch this whole job thing, though, it has taken a really large village. So many wonderful people have come forward, arms linked together, to make this possible for me. It’s a good thing you can’t see me typing, because I am actually crying as I think about everyone who has babysat my kids, cheered me on, lugged my laundry to 8th Avenue, bought me a(nother) glass of wine, texted me that it’s all going to be fine. Even the boys I have abandoned to their fate at the afterschool program rush toward me at pickup, joyfully asking about my day, thoughtfully inquiring if anyone has the same lunchbox that I do. Truly, I am blessed.

So I’m going to ask you guys a favor, too, if that isn’t too cheeky: send me off on this adventure with all your good wishes, okay? I’m going to need them.

***

You may ask yourselves, why has it taken me an entire month to get this first day of school post up? Well, things came up. And work is a damn lot of work. I’m tired.

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Neighborhood Watch.

Late one night, almost two weeks ago now, the air outside the Fun Apartment was thick with helicopters. Siren wails were trailing through the streets. Voices from the street carried up through the windows–not the usual Saturday night revelry.

“What’s going on out there?” I asked the Man of My Dreams. He shrugged and went back to needing glasses to read the laptop screen. It was after bedtime, so we were observing the radio silence protocol. The helicopters continued to flaunt our blackout curtains, however. Finally, my gossipy friend Facebook filled me in. “Explosion in Chelsea?!?! WE live in Chelsea!”

We began to scour the meager media reports. Apparently at 8:30, about the time, I was escorting one of the boys on an after hours bathroom trip to the back of the Fun Apartment, a dumpster exploded on 23rd street two avenues away. I hadn’t heard a thing, but the Mister, up front in the north wing did report having heard a loud noise.

We texted a few “We’re ok mom!” messages and then warily went to bed.

And morning came, a foggy quiet morning with very little new information, but several more inquiries about our wellbeing. Still, it was clear that, after the helicopter chaos of the night before, things seemed to be settling down. I slunk out, ostensibly for bagels, but really just for recon. Mostly, it seemed like a regular Sunday morning, only with 23rd street closed.

And we are a little ways from the scene. We were tempted to think of it as “far away” because it happened 6 blocks and two avenue away. Six blocks, after all, is a long way when you are walking with tired kids and heavy groceries. But six blocks seems a bit closer to home when one thinks in explosion terms. As my sister said, “Just how close does it need to get before you think it’s close?” Still, within the cozy bubble of the Fun Apartment, we felt safe. I guess we didn’t think there was another option.

Later, I brought the boys over to see the site, too. We couldn’t get very close, so they didn’t see much, but they got to ask all their questions and get it out of their systems before they headed for school the next day and heard all sorts of reports filtered through the brains of 7 year olds. And the boys did have a lot of questions, which I answered as patiently and calmly as I could (yes, there are a lot of police officers. No, they probably aren’t draining all the water from the water towers. No we can’t go any closer. Yes, they have handcuffs. No, Encyclopedia Brown probably isn’t here, he is busy in Idaville.) Finally, we got down to the nub of the situation: “If a police officer sees a chicken walking in the street, and he is really hungry, can he shoot the chicken?” That’s when I figured they were probably done processing and we could go to the playground.

I held a small balloon of hope in my heart–a hope that this was garden variety New York craziness, and not well, you know:

That balloon deflated rapidly, as the investigation came to a head very quickly. From three things seemed to happen very quickly. One mass text message later and by Tuesday night, the whole story seemed pretty thoroughly taped up.
It was so thoroughly taped up that I am left wondering if it actually happened. People don’t seem to be talking about it. The free newspaper went back to telling me about the best places to drink beer in the city (although they missed the best one: our window seat.) I walked by the site of the explosion site this weekend and I couldn’t tell with any certainty where exactly the bomb had gone off. And I walked the rest of the way home through a joyous street fair, thinking, “Nice try, hatred and fear. But you lose. Again.”

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