Day 30 The real bummer about yesterday's cat shenanigans (if they wanted a ride into town, all they had to do was ask) was that I spent most of the night coughing and cat luring so when my alarm rang at 5:45am, I knew I couldn't make the 8-hour round trip to Pennsylvania with my mom.
Yesterday my mom and dad visited my Aunt Jerry (my dad's aunt) in Western Pennsylvania. I was supposed to go. But with the no sleep and the ugly cough, I had no business visiting a precious ol' gal in a hospital.
Aunt Jerry was one of the few women who provided for my dad growing up when his own mother could not or would not. All of my "dad's side" memories feature Aunt Jerry, the star of every trip-to-Pennsylvania episode. The baked apple pie on the counter, ready for dinner, the scrapped dough rolled into tiny balls and baked with cinnamon and sugar, a teaser of what was to come. The crinoline petticoats from when she and her late husband used to go square dancing, if you added up all the hours Morgan and I have spent in Pennsylvania, the majority of that time would be us dressed up in those skirts. The hours spent around her kitchen table, all the generations, shoved into her tiny kitchen, the shits and damns flying quick and sideways, never have I heard such an old lady cuss so much. Her under five foot frame, a tiny cannonball of hospitality, opinions, generosity, four-letter-words, and love.
She had been living in a retirement community until recently when her back started to collapse, putting her into the hospital. Her already frail bones breaking, the pain cruel, the prognosis crueler.
My parents made arrangements to visit her, not expecting it to be as bad as it is. A sedated shell of a lady, my mom and dad both devastated by the reality that Aunt Jerry's days are few.
The pain medication kicked in during the final few minutes of my parents visit, gracing my dad with a small gift from his beloved aunt. My dad was giving his cousin, Susan (Aunt Jerry's daughter), his business card so that she would have his contact information. Aunt Jerry wanted to know what he was giving her. My dad told her, and Aunt Jerry insisted, "Read it to me." They did as she asked, and before Susan could tuck it into her purse, Aunt Jerry insisted again, "Put that on my board." She was referring to the bulletin board in her room that displayed the cards she had received during her time in the hospital. My dad reasoned, "But it's just my business card. It's only a bunch of phone numbers." Aunt Jerry didn't care, "I want it on my board."
I wasn't there, but in my vision of the story, I can hear her demand, "Shit, Steve, put it on my damn board."
That's my Aunt Jerry. Fiercely determined to show her pride of her family.
Mom called tonight and said that it's just a matter of days. Hospice has been called and papers have been signed and there's nothing left to do but wait for Aunt Jerry's body to stop.
I'm terribly bummed I didn't get to see her yesterday but then again, I'll always remember her as the tiny ol' spitfire who always greeted me with a quick hug and forever love.
Love you, Aunt Jerry. Get up there, give 'em heck, and dance on those streets of gold.
Day 29 (yes, I know I skipped 28.) I must have been pretty desperate, climbing out of bed at 2:00 in the morning, throwing on clothes, surely something on backward, and driving four miles into the town Kroger. My constant coughing was either trying to kill me or make me want to kill, so I surrendered myself to the drug aisle.
On my way into town, about a mile from respiratory relief, I heard a noise that made me question my consciousness.
"Meow. Meow. Meee-ooowww."
This cannot be happening.
I prayed my way into a gas station, my heart pounding as I parked and turned off the engine. I began walking around my car, making clicking noises, trying to lure a cat from out under the hood.
It was the middle of the night when the crazies come to life so no one seemed to mind that I was talking dirty to my car, "Come on, baby, it's me, come to mommy," but at least one dude seemed intrigued.
"Hey, you having some car problems?"
"Well, not exactly. I think my cat is under the hood of my car."
He looked confused. And disappointed.
"How long you think you've been driving?"
"Oh gosh, maybe three or four miles."
His question made my mind see dark, for the first time I realized I had been driving - who am I kidding, I had been hauling ass - for four miles, trying to get to Kroger so I could finally sleep.
I looked at my new friend, and I gave him no choice. "Hey, since you're standing there, I'm gonna pop the hood, but I'm super nervous. So just stand there, will ya?"
He took a step back, hesitating, "Sorry. I just really like animals."
He kept some distance but stayed close while I nervously lifted the hood, please-God-please-let-her-be-okay. As the hood released, there she was.
"Oh my gosh, Millie."
My Millie girl. Not even an ounce of panic in her eyes. There was my Millie girl, as if all she needed was a ride into town.
I scooped her up and brought her in close, and as I stepped back to shut the hood, little Rusty boy squeezed his head up from behind.
"Oh my goodness. They're all in there."
"How many cats do you have?" I had almost forgot about my new friend.
"Three. Only three."
With Millie in my arms, my friend reached for Rusty, scooping him out, and together we peered down, both expecting to see number three.
But no Ginger.
I turned back to my friend, "You think, I mean, if something happened, you think . . . you think we'd smell it?" Not the kind of thing you ever expect to ask a stranger at 2am.
"Yeah, sure, I'm sure we would." He had his phone light out, peering into the maze of steel, hoping or not hoping to find number three.
"I'm just gonna take these two back home. Thanks so much. Really, thanks for your help."
I put the two cats in the car, and we headed back home, my heart not fully recovered from the scare.
Ginger, where are you?
I pulled into our drive, parked, opened the car door, and scooped Millie and Rusty off the passenger seat. As quickly as I set them down, my Ginger girl ran out to greet us. I could tell she was as worried as I had been.
Call me crazy or deliriously exhausted, but I swear I saw them group hug.
It was now almost three in the morning, and I still had to run to Kroger. I pulled back onto the road, my mind finally at ease and my heart trying to catch up. I glanced out the window and there they were, all three cats, one right after the other, running up to the porch.
Oh, thank God.
There's no greater peace than to know that all your babies are safely home.
Day 27 Tonight has been one of those not-so-special evenings that I know I will look back on and miss deeply.
I made dinner - like homemade everything (a rarity) - and Greta pulled up a chair to the counter and asked to help over and over and over while I responded, "Not yet, Greta, the stove top is too hot." We pushed all the arts and crafts to one end of a messy table giving us just enough room for our dinner plates; I ate over half my meal with Greta on my lap while she begged to be excused so she could go outside and play with the kitties who were staring at us from the window. "Just one more bite, Greta." The two of us together are such broken records.
I unloaded the dishwasher while Matt cleaned up from dinner and the big kids played football out back and Greta walked around with a kitty dangling from her forearm.
Darkness brought them all in and we shared cobbler from the same plate and I made a cup of coffee. Matt hung pictures on the wall and the kids played make-believe and there were many tears and bossing each other around and so many I'm sorrys, but it was all okay because we were together just living life.
Nothing special. Far from perfect. Forever precious.
Day 26 I just oiled up with seven different essential oils, and I'm tucking myself in for the night. We are all a tad congested and I'm desperate to prevent us from coughing each other awake. I also slathered the kids, and when Matt came upstairs he nearly fell over because the aroma is so strong and intense.
'Tis the season, I guess.
How about you? Do you use essential oils? Have any favorites?
Day 25 The jury's still out on whether or not I will survive the grade school haunted hallway that my FIVE YEAR OLD dragged me to. No joke, my heart is still racing (we made it out alive 90 minutes ago). I AM TOO OLD FOR THIS. As I ran out the back, screaming, "thank you, Jesus," I breathed such a sigh of relief that it was over.
AND THEN THE CHAINSAW.
That flippin' chainsaw. Why?
I made a beeline for the nearest bench and collapsed, Harper still squeezing my hand and laughing her head off.
"Oh mercy, Harper, give momma a minute. I need to make sure I'm alive."
Did I mention the haunted hallway was hosted by the middle school's National Junior Honor Society? A bunch of 11 and 12 year old smartypants. I assumed it would be SAFE for this 30-something mom, but OH NO. Middle schoolers are weird and awkward and the smart ones are even weirder. In other words, they are experts at making people FREAK OUT.
It was so bad at one point that they had to TURN THE LIGHTS ON for us.
And so goes life as the momma of a thrill seeker.
Ever since we made a costume stop at the Halloween store and Harper experienced the fright-then-giggle from things that go jump in the night, she has been begging me to take her to a haunted house. So when an announcement came home from Henry's school advertising a haunted hallway at the middle school, hosted by the NATIONAL JUNIOR HONOR SOCIETY, I thought, "Oh good. This will be good clean fun and safe for 5-year-old and momma alike."
And here's the worst of it. As we waited in line for our turn, we could hear the occasional scream from those who had gone before us. But the screams weren't constant, just a random screech here and there.
Until it was our turn. From the minute we turned the corner down that first hallway, it was one long wail (me) complimented by a rhythm of squeal-giggle-squeal-giggle (my little ghost hunter). THE ENTIRE TIME.
I have never.
We're home now. I've built myself a nest of comfort. My bed with my memory foam mattress and handmade quilt, my hot tea with honey, lights on all over the house, TV show blaring about cops catching bad guys and locking them up, my Anne Lamott books. It's all better now, Ali. That's what I keep telling myself. And my racing heart.
As for my Harper girl, she's cuddled up next to me, asking when we can go back.
Day 24 Got a minute? I'd love your advice.
I know that if I say "I want to be a writer," y'all will tell me, "Oh, Ali, you are a writer."
And I get that.
But here's where I continue to stumble on my journey of identifying with being a writer. (No, it's not my A+ ability to write sentences with a high volume of prepositions. Or my killer skill of starting sentences with conjunctions.)
The struggle is this: Voice.
I haven't found my writer's voice.
Actually, I have, sort of, but it's more of a multiple personality. I have one voice that is feisty, snarky and often self-deprecating (example here). And then I have another voice that is poetic, impassioned and heart bleeding (example here).
Both are authentic. Both are spirited. Both are me.
But as a blogger and wannabe writer, I think I need to develop only one voice.
And so here's what I want to know. Do I try the overwhelming task of merging the two voices? Do I nurture one and kill the other? Where do I go from here?
Tell me your thoughts, sweet reader.
I'd love to hear your voice.
Day 23 Both kids brought home information about Red Ribbon Week, and one of the handouts listed a statistic that said, "Children whose parents talk to them about drugs at a young age are 50% less likely to use when they are older." And I was all, CRAP! I haven't talked to them about drugs. I need to talk to them about drugs. RIGHT NOW.
KIDS! We need to talk. Get over here. STAT.
And then as they looked up at me and I looked down at them, I couldn't for the life of me figure out what to say because it immediately felt like I had left my body and was watching some after school special featuring atrocious child acting and some washed up actress from the 80s.
"Now kids. I need to tell you something. Do you know what drugs are?"
"No, mom, what are drugs?"
"Well, kids. I was just getting ready to tell you about drugs."
And then I stumbled through some song and dance about the medicines that the doctor gives us are good drugs but some people take medicine when the doctor doesn't tell them to and that's bad drugs.
Clearly, I was nailing it.
Henry kind of tuned out because he's quick to discern when momma's talking crazy again, and Harper just stared at me with her big wide eyes, chin to the floor, mind blown that some people - kids even - would ever ever ever take pills that would make them sick.
And because the whole thing made me feel like a first-class nut job parent I threw out a real zinger, just to really hit it home.
"Yeah, I know, hard to believe, kids. But it's really no different than when you eat candy even though you know it's not a healthy choice but you do it anyway because it tastes good. That's like drugs, kids. People know it's a bad choice but they think it's fun so they do it anyway."
I thought Harper's eyes were going to explode right out of her skull, she just couldn't compute what crazy momma was saying. I could see her little brain waves churning faster as her breath drew deeper, processing this new information, as if my children eating candy is the same as some stoner kid taking hits from the bong.
All in all, it went well.
I'm pretty sure I'm raisin' my kids to be sober for life.
And man I wish I was a smoker. Because after that conversation, I could use a cigarette.
Day 22 I'm about to make you hate me.
I have a freakin' good life. The picture-perfect house in the country with walnut floors that most days are covered in any of hundreds of toys that my three beautiful and healthy children share or don't share. A man I married who I had only just met a few months before and turns how he's a total keeper. He's got a job and everything. Like that ever happens. Those beautiful healthy babies were no struggle to conceive and my greatest symptom as I grew them was acid reflux. Three pregnancies and I only puked once.
You've probably puked more times reading that last paragraph.
I haven't even begun to mention my family. I'm just not going to mention them because then you'll want to kill me.
Like I said, it's a really good life.
And I don't know why.
Why me when she has cancer AND a son with autism?
Why me when her van was stolen right before she was able to find insurance?
Why me when she had to flee her country, three kids in tow, and now she is fighting one hospital visit after the next?
Why me when she was a victim of trafficking?
And here's a news flash for ya. I don't have an answer. I ask that same stupid question daily and still no answer.
While I know that God has poured out His grace over every nook and cranny of my lovely life, I have faith that He has poured it out over every nook and cranny of her life and her life and yes, even hers.
And here's a blog post wrapped-neatly-in-a-bow for ya. My theology of God and grace and blessing is all so warped and twisted that I just can't rest in anything other than, "Fine. This is what it is. Be grateful and pray. And spread the love and mercy of God like a Southern California wildfire during a drought on a windy day. And wouldya stop all your bitchin' and groanin' already. For the love, Ali, just shut up."
Day 21 I am lying in bed and cannot think of one single thing to blog about. Surely there are dozens of things I can blog about, but none of them are exciting me. Actually, many excite me but they require more mental effort than I have at this present moment. So instead of staring at this screen, I'm gonna call it a night and hope the sandman fills my dreams with magical genius bloggy ideas.