Thursday, May 01, 2008

Carpet shopping, raccoons, Mother's Day cards and 400-foot-tall robots-- that is, a pretty typical week for me.

Everyone has their own skill-set. Or, as I like to think of it, everyone has their own superpowers.

Isn't it more fun to think of the things you can do as a "superpower" than it is to describe them as "skills?" Imagine a world in which your resume begins with positions held and companies worked at and then moves on to "superpowers." Better, imagine a world where you actually have superpowers. A world where you could fly, or where you were superstrong, or where you could install your own carpeting or at least feel secure about your ability to rip out your old carpeting before the guys come to install the new carpeting.

I don't have superpowers, not even the lame kind involving carpeting. I wish I did, because then I could spend less time thinking to myself things like "I wonder if getting a Mother's Day card at a gas station is a bad thing," and more times thinking to myself things like "how am I going to defeat this 400-foot-tall alien robot?"

You know you've had a heck of a week when fighting a 400-foot-tall alien robot seems preferable to the other stuff you're doing. But that's the case this week, and the problems I'm facing are so great that I haven't yet resolved whether I should or should not have bought that Mother's Day card.

Here's the dilemma on that one: You've got to get Mom a Mother's Day card, right? So you should go to a card store and get her a card to go with whatever crummy gift you get her -- and, yeah, it's generally going to be a crummy gift unless you do what we do in our house, which is just ask Mom (Sweetie) what she wants and then insist that she not give the "Mom" answer but instead give a real answer.

The "Mom" answer is always something like "Oh, I don't care, it's just enough that you're here" or "I just want you all to get along" or some guff like that. Only Moms give those kinds of answers. Ask a Dad what he wants for Father's Day and I bet you don't get "It doesn't matter to me as long as we're all together." I'm sure it'll be something more like "A convertible car." Equally unhelpful, but at least honest.

So we don't let Sweetie get away with that, and that's why Sweetie gets relatively decent Mother's Day presents. This year she's getting lunch at a restaurant, a movie, and a playyard to help keep the Babies! out of harm's way in the backyard. The playyard is absolutely necessary because the Babies! would not survive five minutes in our backyard without it; our backyard is, in terms of hazards, the equivalent of a construction site. It's only about 20 feet wide, and it slopes downhill to the left -- which means it slopes downhill towards the dropoff into the neighbor's yard. The only thing between our yard and the dropoff is the Raccoon Shed -- the old storage shed that the previous owners never weatherized, so the only thing we "store" in it anymore are raccoons. The shed is rotting and full of mammals and nails, so the Babies! can't be allowed to get near it. But the slope of the backyard means that gravity is always pulling them towards the dropoff and the shed.

If they don't end up in the shed, they have two other options -- the stairwell that, I know now, will flood out the playroom if I'm too lazy to rake, or the private road full of rich people behind us, rich people who drive SUVs that have them 14' off the ground and who don't stop for stopsigns.

Since our backyard is so small, all of those things, plus the other neighbor's yard, are only about 1 second out of the Babies! reach if they start moving towards them, and I'm not exaggerating that. These Babies! are fast. I can't keep up with them. We were playing "Cloverfield" last night -- not the movie, the game. "Cloverfield" has evolved into a game where I chase the Babies! around our kitchen, living room, and dining room while yelling "Rrraraharhr!" (I think I spelled that right) and if I catch them I give them "Cloverfield," which means I pick them up and flop them onto the couch and sometimes give them Zerberts.

It's even less safe than it sounds.

Last night, when we played "Cloverfield," I couldn't catch them. Our kitchen/dining room/living room are set up so that you can run around in circles, going from kitchen to dining room to living room to kitchen, and so I was chasing them like that and they lapped me.

They are 20 months old, almost. Things can only go downhill from there. That's why I can't have them in the backyard-- nobody can, not even Sweetie, whose diet is far more healthy (i.e., "far less Cheeto-based") than mine. Those Babies! take off in opposite directions, and one person alone can't mind them. They'll end up down the stairwell drowning in wet leaves or being adopted by the raccoon family in the shed. Sweetie wants to be able to take the Babies! out to the yard to play in their pool and not die in the shed all at the same time, so for Mother's Day, the Babies! bought her a playyard to put them in.

Whether or not you're going to get your Mom a playyard to keep the kids alive, you also have to get her a card, and that card should be from a card shop, right? But what if there's an identical card for sale at a gas station? Suppose you're in line at a gas station waiting to pay for the 108-oz soda you bought to drink on the drive home from court because the drive home is an hour long drive and you're planning on working out when you get home so you need to be properly hydrated, and you get that proper hydration by drinking 108 ounces of Diet Mountain Dew while you drive along and listen to "Inside Out" by Eve 6, the song you just found out that Middle Daughter downloaded like three months ago and never told you even though everyone in the family knows you love that song? What if all that happens? Can you buy Mom that very-nice Mother's Day card knowing that it came from a gas station? It seems wrong to do that, but why? I can't explain it. What if it's identical to the card I would get in the card shop, right down to price? Can I be faulted for getting it at a gas station, then? It's not like it has grease stains on it. What if I throw in some scratch-off lottery tickets?

What if I get some scratch-off lottery tickets and give them to Mom for Mother's Day as part of her present and then she scratches them off and wins $40,000, and I realize that if I had scratched them off, I'd have the $40,000, and could have given her, say, $5,000 for Mother's Day and looked great and still come out $35,000 ahead? How guilty would I feel realizing that I resent Mom having $40,000, and how much guiltier would I feel when I realize that I'd only give Mom 1/8 of that if I'd kept the ticket?

Luckily for me, I didn't have the time and energy to ponder those questions this week-- I haven't bought Mom's Mother's Day card at all, yet-- because I was too busy trying to order replacement carpet for the playroom, which I'd only just finished when I found out I'd also have to order a replacement crib because, while I don't have superpowers, Mr F does and one of Mr F's superpowers is jumping.

Or escaping. We thought we had solved the problem of the Babies! jumping like maniacs in their cribs by bolting the cribs to the wall and putting tents over them. That, combined with my expert construction, should have been enough. But we forgot that cribs are three-dimensional and I learned of our errors this morning when Sweetie called me and told me, and I quote: "Mr F busted through the bottom of his crib."

She'd put them in their cribs to watch a little TV while she took a quick bath. Don't go hating on us. There's absolutely nothing wrong with letting Babies! watch a little TV now and then, especially if it's Meet The Robinsons, which this was. So, yes, the Babies! have a little television in their room, and yes, we let them watch movies on it, and no, it's not harmful to them because it's not like they've got a cable hookup in there and even if they did, they cannot change the channels themselves. I know that because when they get the remote control for our TV, all they do is try to eat it, not change channels.

Moments after she put them in the crib, Mr F started jumping up and down, and moments after that, the bottom fell out of the crib and we got hit with yet another housing emergency, because it's not considered good parenting to make a 20 month old sleep on the floor and if we put them in the same crib they'll spend the whole night fighting.

As Sweetie explained to me the problem with the crib, I couldn't help but congratulate myself on the sense we'd shown the other night when we'd decided that we'd recarpet only the flooded playroom instead of the whole downstairs. We had to recarpet the playroom because I was never able to successfully dry the carpet off after the rain flooded in last week -- although I was able to run a household fan so much that it broke, and I was able to the use bleach and vinegar and lemons to rub into the carpet to keep there from being a mold outbreak in our house, all of which led us to go to the store that night to try to find out how much carpet would cost and how soon they could install it, only to learn that the answers to those questions are a lot and not very soon.
Carpet is expensive. We'd be better off, I think, just layering $5 bills all over the floor until we built up a floor covering; at least we'd save on installation charges. We'd gone there to price the carpet, and found the lowest-priced carpet available, at which point I had to try to calculate how much it would cost by multiplying my measurements of our two downstairs rooms by the cost per square foot, math which worked out to really really expensive x a lot of inches and it was all made a lot harder because I'd decided to bring the Babies! along, and the Babies! decided that they did not want to be in a store pricing carpet, or if they had to be in a store pricing carpet, then they wanted to be in that store pricing carpet but also running around and yelling, and since we decided that letting the Babies! run through a home improvement store at top speed was not likely to end up in any good way, they were confined to carts, a situation they dealt with by crying and yelling and throwing bottles at me.

But not both at the same time; first Mr F did that, so Sweetie took him to go wait in the car and I kept Mr Bunches because he was okay. Only after Sweetie was gone did Mr Bunches begin the same thing.

Which is how I ended up ordering carpet to be installed in our playroom and family room while at the same time spinning Mr Bunches around by the arms and letting him chew on my library card and telling him to play with the carpet samples. The sales guy was very patient. And very slow. He could definitely have sped the whole process up. I think he was enjoying it. Or at least enjoying the fact that his customer would say anything to make it go faster: Him: Would you like gold or silver inlays? Me: Doesn't matter. Him: Mornings or afternoons better for the measuring. Me: Doesn't matter. I don't even recall most of what he asked me. For all I know, one of the questions was Can I just use your credit card to charge a bunch of stuff off the internet while your distracted by trying to find the cellphone you just let your son play with and which he threw under the carpet rack? To which I'd have said Doesn't matter.

It was only later that Sweetie and I reconsidered doing two rooms of carpeting, and opted to go with just the one even though the rooms adjoin. Part of our consideration was that they're going to charge us to rip out the carpeting, and they charge more per square foot to rip out the carpeting than the cost of installing the new carpeting. When I found that out at the store, my first thought was I could probably do that myself; how hard can ripping out carpeting be? My second thought was But if they're charging so much for it, isn't it likely that it's pretty hard to do? My third thought was What did Mr Bunches do with my cell phone and where is he, anyway?

But a bigger part of our consideration in limiting the number of rooms we are going to recarpet right now was that we didn't need to replace the other room's carpet yet. Only one room was flooded, not two, so we decided it would be smarter to save the money for whatever goes wrong next. That was our exact thinking: save it for whatever goes wrong next. We didn't know that "whatever goes wrong next" would be the crib, almost immediately. And it doesn't matter, really, what "whatever goes wrong next" is or will be; we're used to it, at this point.

We've raised "anticipation of housing doom" to the level of superpower.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A Happy Belated Birthday To The Boy!

I'm just a little bit late on this, but I have to salute The Boy because it was his birthday on Friday; he turned 16. And since I on occasion will make fun of the kids on here, then I also feel compelled to at least one time per year recognize them for being the good kids they are.

For The Boy, though, recognizing him on-time was made more difficult by several factors. For one, my Real Job intruded a lot last week, and without the Real Job, there's no "Thinking The Lions" first because my office at my Real Job is where I do most of this and second because if I don't have the Real Job then Sweetie will make me do housework.

The Boy's actual birthday was last Friday, and I could have posted something honoring him that day, since I took the day off after my busy week, but I was too busy on Friday blow-drying our carpet and picking up Greek food, both of which are time-consuming but only one of which was The Boy's fault. I know what you're guessing, but, no, The Boy was responsible for the Greek food, since he wanted gyros for his birthday. He didn't want to go to the restaurant because going to a restaurant means taking the Babies! to the restaurant with us, and because saying "taking the Babies! to the restaurant with us" is synonymous with "taking two very loud perpetual motion machines to the restaurant with us" or, to be more accurate, it's synonymous with "taking two very loud perpetual motion machines that apparently were designed to rub Ramen noodles in their hair and then throw their milk cups at the computer to the restaurant with us." So I had to go pick up the gyros. (I took the Babies! anyway.)(Ramen noodle-hair and all.)

But I didn't leave until after I tried to blow dry our playroom floor. There are, it turns out, lots of hidden secrets to owning a house, and I will let you in on one of them: If you have a back door that is recessed into the ground so that if you go out it you have to climb up stairs, and if you never ever use that back door because it's in the playroom and you really don't go outside all that much anyway because "outside" is filled with hickory nut shells from the hickory trees in your yard and it's also filled with bugs, and if because you don't really use that back door you tend to ignore the leaves that accumulate in the stairwell until they are waist high, and if because of that you forget that there was a drain in that stairwell, a drain that is now covered by years of old decomposing leaves that are now waist high, and if you also live in a location that occasionally gets rain, if all of that is true, then here is my tip for you: you can't really blow dry a carpet with a hair-styling blow-dryer left at your house by Oldest when she moved out.

Here's another tip: Babies! will happily play on a soaking wet carpet, getting their socks and pants wet, for hours, so if you find yourself suddenly, inexplicably, changing diapers a lot on your day off, and also changing pants and socks and wondering just what the heck is going on with the Babies! and their peeing, maybe go check the playroom.

So that took most of the day Friday, and I couldn't post anything about how great The Boy is to make up for all the times I post things about how he's basically an optimist who uses phrases like "the Stalin of snacks." Plus, it was hard to think up good things to say after watching The Boy eat about15 pounds of lamb on his gyro. He ordered so much extra meat that you couldn't really call it a gyro anymore. It was more like a pita being overrun by lamb strips -- like if the pita was the Spartans in 300 and the lamb strips were the guys who weren't Spartans in 300.

Saturday, I was going to post something about what a great guy The Boy is and how he helps out and pitches in and really takes surprisingly good care of the Babies! when we have him babysit. I didn't get to it, though, because I had to go get plants for the yard, since I announced to Sweetie that it was time we started doing the yard right, and that meant going to a greenhouse to get actual plants that were designed to be in an actual yard, and by the time we got home from that I was exhausted because we took the Babies! with us there but left The Boy home since he was watching the NFL Draft and didn't want to move off of Frankencouch.

That left Sunday, when I had fully intended to post something nice about The Boy but I couldn't because The Boy had to use our home computer (which we call " 'Puter") to do his homework, homework he started at 11 a.m. and continued working on with only one break (at 12:10 to eat lunch, which was tortillas and mayonnaise and lunchmeat) until 4:30 p.m., nonstop, and I had to hang around and help him with that because he was working on a research paper; my role was to edit each draft and help him interpret my editing comments and also to calm him down when I suggest, in draft three, that he move paragraphs back to the spot he'd had them in draft one, only I'd suggested that he move them for draft two and then changed my mind because I thought they were better where they were in the first place. ("That's called editing," I explained, unhelpfully). By 4:30 when he was done 'Puting, I couldn't go on there and post anything nice about him because I was tired from editing, and also because I was really close to the end of The Golden Compass, which I'd been reading in between editing, and also because I had to start cooking spaghetti and meatballs for dinner.

So now it's today, and I'm really late posting this entry to say nice stuff about The Boy, but you can see that I really had no choice but to delay things even though that means The Boy gets an after-birthday salute instead of an on-birthday salute.

And he did deserve an on-birthday salute, because The Boy really has a great many good qualities. He's funny, funny in a way that makes it seem very natural. He works hard at whatever he sets his mind to do -- he recently started working out to build up muscle for varsity football and puts a lot of effort into it, effort that requires a large amount of lamb meat but effort nonetheless.

And although he will probably hate that I mention it, The Boy is a softie. He wants to come across all gruff and tough, but he's not. He's nice to his sisters -- he recently took a break from watching sports just to talk on the phone to Oldest, who had called to talk to her mom or her sister but found neither of them available. When she asked to talk to The Boy, he went ahead and did it. He plays with the Babies! -- actually gets down and plays with them and talks to them and interacts with them and (we've seen it) kisses them. And he's moved by tears; The Boy is still affected by the time Sweetie was pregnant and overwhelmed by having 36-week-old Babies! inside her and broke down crying about laundry not being done.

You may have to dig a little to get past the layers of NCAA-Tournament-Watching and Playstation 3-Playing and Teenage-Boy-Hanging-Out-With-Friends-Looking-Guilty and all that other stuff that lies on The Boy's surface, but scratch past that and you find a great kid who's not only fun to hang out with but will make you proud to know him, and prouder to know him the longer you know him. So please, in your comments, with The Boy a happy belated birthday.

I'll pass them to him just as soon as I finish blow-drying the basement.