Walking that edge

So, I was at the doctor’s office today, which was about as much fun as it ever is. Since I’ve been having double vision, my doc agreed that an MRI of my brain would probably be a good idea, and an MRI of my upper back as well if we can get the insurance company to buy off on the idea. I was carrying the baby and a heavy bag of library books last week and felt something go “sproing” between my shoulderblades. So, yeah, hopefully it’s just a muscle. But just in case ….

And I come home and things are pretty dreadful in general. No one cleans unless I force them to, so the house is dirty and grubby. I haven’t kept up with the laundry so it’s *everywhere* and no one can tell dirty from clean anymore. Indy has been trying to stealthily bring all the schoolbooks back upstairs, one by one, so they’re all sitting at the top of the stairs in a pile. My room smells faintly of dirty baby diapers. I feel this horrible sense of panic start to rise in me. 

I realize that I have reached the point at which my coping skills fail.

There’s no way I can keep up with everything that needs keeping up, at least not with the skillset that I currently possess. The teenager wants me to play Diablo 3 with him as our “special thing” but the only time we can play is after the little kids go to sleep. They’re night owls, just like me, so that’s problematic. The little boys have been playing too many video games over the weekend and their behavior is horrible. They need me to direct them through their schoolwork and teach them and love them, instead of just letting them vegetate playing Xbox games. The baby rarely allows me to put him down for more than five minutes, so I can do few of these things. Indy needs so much and there’s just nothing left in my tank to give her. And my oldest daughter is drifting farther and farther from me every day and it’s breaking my heart.

I feel overwhelmed and lost much of the time. And I know that I can’t fix everything. I know, all too well, that I am powerless to change other people and to even change myself very much. 

I need to let go of the desire to change them.

I need to find the grace and hope and love that I need to change myself.

And I know that there are moments of grace just waiting for me. The Ninja hopped onto my bed this morning while I was giving the baby his bottle and kissed his brother’s fuzzy little head and then kissed me. The Tank came to me the other day and insisted on kissing me  five times, just to make sure that I knew that he loved me. Moments of happiness and peace do appear, here and there. I was quietly reading “The Hobbit” to the Ninja tonight, after he told me that we “didn’t even come close” to finishing it last time. He decided that Gandalf needed to compensate Biblo for his expenses in buying cakes, as *he* was the one who invited the dwarfs over. Trust my Ninja to look at the financial angle.

I don’t deserve the gifts that I’ve been given.

I manage them poorly.

I am so grateful for them, though. I need to let them know this. Even Indy, who mostly seems to live her life in pursuit of the perfect means of making me crazy. Once upon a time, she was my newborn baby and my constant companion. For as long as I live, she’ll be with me, so maybe I should make the best of it.

I could make things so much better around here . . . if I could just find peace. Wholeness. Happiness. Contentment. Love.

They’re right there, just out of reach. 

One of the AA things that I struggled with, during the 150 or so meetings I attended over the years, was the Serenity Prayer. 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve fought against this for years. I don’t go to God when I am weak, I try to do everything myself. Fix everything myself. Bash things into shape even when they’re stubbornly never going to change for me. Typical adult-child-of-alcoholic behavior, really. I lack that wisdom aspect, the part where you figure out what part you’re supposed to play in this crazy universe and JUST DO THAT PART.

So I am giving up. Not on life, no, but on trying to force it to be what I want it to be. 

It’s frightening, to be honest. To say “Take my hands and let them be your tools, O Lord.” To relinquish the delusion that I am controlling things with my desperate attempts to make people do what I want them to do. Terrifying to say “I love you for who you are, and I accept that you’re going to make your own mistakes.”

Because the stakes are so high. Because the consequences are enormous. Because I am afraid. So terribly terribly afraid that the people I love will suffer. Will lose. Will hurt. So I . . . hurt them by trying to control them? How does that make sense?

To everyone I know and love, all I can say is this: I love you. I will try to respect you as an individual with your own decisions and choices in life. 

To myself, all I can say is . . . “Let Go and Let God.”

That’s the hardest thing.


The Post Where I Ramble about Food

I like to save money on things. That’s nothing unusual– people love a bargain. When it comes to coupons and deals and saving money on the usual household expenses, I am fairly frugal. CVS just sent us an email telling us that we’re in their top 1% of “money savers” on their products, which amounts to probably a thousand dollars in money saved over the course of a year. I’m able to get more for our money, and it’s a good feeling.

So I get why people would want to save money on groceries– food is the most flexible of our expenditures. No one can clip a coupon to save on the mortgage, and the electric bill and heating oil bills are hard to get down past a certain level without either freezing to death in the winter or roasting in the summer. Saving money on water is not that big a savings, percentage-wise, and who really wants to give up Netflix? 

But seriously, some of the weekly menus and grocery lists that the deal and coupon and savings websites print are simply pitiful. 

They’re not unfamiliar– my mom pretty much cooked in a similar way when I was a kid. We’d have a protein, a vegetable, and a starch. It’s the standard American plate. Hunk of meat, smaller portion of a sad lonely vegetable, and something to fill in around the edges. My dad didn’t like meat very well, so mostly we had hamburgers on nights that he was home, but we’d have fried chicken or pork chops when he was away. Broccoli, boiled or steamed, or corn, or frozen mixed vegetables. Mashed potatoes, maybe some rice. Mac and cheese. Nothing fancy.

My mom could cook quite well when she tried, but it wasn’t something she worked at on a daily basis. She’d go big for Thanksgiving  and would go nuts once in a while and make up a feast, but it was the simple American standard most days. 

That’s how I learned to cook. And, obviously, that’s how these coupon-cutters and savings-gurus and penny-pinching mommas are still cooking. They post photos of their shopping trips and they’re sad little things– a paltry bunch of veggies, mostly shrink-wrapped in plastic, a meager amount of fruit, and some chicken. Plenty of boxed items that were gotten for cheap due to coupons and sales. Maybe a splurge of ice cream bars or something for dessert. But that’s about it.

To dress this fare up, they rely upon “creative” ways to make chicken breast taste like something. Mostly in crock pots. But face it, there’s only so many times one can eat a chicken breast before one begins to feel like they’re growing feathers. The same applies to ground beef. It’s fairly tasteless and has a bland texture. You can douse it in sauce, cover it with spices, and try to hide it behind starches, but in the end it’s still just hamburger. 

I started out cooking similar stuff. My big “go-to” meal for Sundays was a pot roast with mashed potatoes and the aforementioned mixed vegetables. And gravy, homemade if I was feeling very adventurous. Mostly that tasted like thickened grease, which was not a good flavour, but I was just learning, what can I say?

These days, I admit, I am somewhat tired of cooking the same old things. And I have more days than I care to admit where I am just too exhausted by the demands of life to cook ANYTHING and we end up eating sandwiches and frozen pizzas. I don’t cook as well as I’d like to as often as I’d like to. I do, however, have bigger and better meals in mind when I do cook.

I have been spoiled, in a way, by having a big grocery chain in town that prides itself on selling locally-sourced fresh fruits and vegetables (when they can find a supplier. Lots of stuff is still imported from out of Texas.) HEB is a major player in the Texas economy, so they can motivate farmers to grow stuff exclusively for them. And their produce departments are largely really good. There’s five of them in town, and only one has a poor produce section. (Can you guess which side of town that one is on? Two points if you guessed the poor side.) 

My grocery pile looks nothing like the stacks of food that those ladies are photographing. For one thing, we buy WAY more vegetables and fruits. My husband would say this is a bad thing, as things do tend to go bad in the vegetable drawer when I have a bad week and don’t get around to cooking, but it does mean that we always have something fresh and green around to eat. We always have celery, onions, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cilantro, and cucumbers on hand. Most of the time, we also have mushrooms, avocados, bell peppers, jalapenos, zucchini, and italian parsley on hand. I buy other things as needed for that week’s recipes– daikon radish, maybe, or watercress. We love bean sprouts but they’re not carried often anymore after all those sickness outbreaks. I am a huge fan of Swiss chard and the many kinds of greens, mustard to collards to turnip. I even still buy broccoli, but it never makes it to the table cooked. Usually it’s been eaten by a kid before then.

Fruit almost never gets thrown out, and we buy a LOT of it. A typical week has us going through a 3-5 lb bag of apples, two bunches of bananas, 2-4 lbs of strawberries, half a dozen lemons, a pineapple, several pounds of grapes, and probably 5 lbs of whatever else is in season and on sale. We go through a watermelon a week in summer, if it’s cheap enough, and in winter the kids go crazy for those big boxes of mandarins. I honestly cannot keep those in the house, they go so fast.

We buy rice in 25 lb sacks from Thailand– jasmine rice, it’s the best. We buy prodigious amounts of potatoes, both fresh and the dried mashed potatoes in a box. Pasta . . . you don’t want to know how much pasta we go through. When I see these people buying a little 12 oz bag of fettucini for a meal and then telling me they have LEFTOVERS . . . HOW??? HOW??? My goodness, if I mess up and buy the 24 oz bag of pasta, I get sad looks as the children accuse me of starving them intentionally. Anything less than a 32 oz bag is child abuse, in their estimation. We do not have leftovers of anything unless I intentionally cook twice the amount we’ll need in order to freeze a portion. 

I think the biggest difference in the way I cook now, with a large family that includes 5 adult-sized people on a daily basis, is the number of side dishes I prepare. In addition to the main course, there are almost always two vegetable selections, quite often two starches, a “child favorite” on the side like baked beans or macaroni and cheese, some kind of bread or rolls, and most often a salad. That’s just an ordinary meal. So when I make harira, a Moroccan stew, for example, in addition to the very thick and filling beef stew, we’d also have couscous on the side, fresh flatbread of some type, vegetable crudites with ranch dressing, and a salad. Probably fruit for dessert. We don’t often make “real” desserts except on Sundays, and even then it’s going to be just a strawberry shortcake. 

If we have a lasagna or spaghetti, we don’t have to make the secondary starches, since everyone loves pasta, but we’ll have two different veggies and a salad, probably with garlic bread or French bread on the side. We go through gallons of ranch dressing for dipping in chunks of cucumber or carrot sticks and celery. I try to get the seasonal veggies when I can– corn on the cob is huge around here, but I usually only have to share the asparagus with one or two other people. This is an advantage and one that I exploit.

My biggest complaint about my daughter’s cooking (besides her uncanny ability to ruin chicken) is her scanty side dishes. I’ll come down for dinner, spot the serving dishes on the table, and end up having to run into the kitchen to open a can of fruit cocktail and hurriedly slap together a salad. And even then, there’s not much food getting thrown away at the end of the meal. The mixed veggies are the food most likely to be thrown away . . . but that’s only on days where Indy decides that she doesn’t want any. When she’s in the mood for them, she’s picking them out of the bowl with her fingers (thereby making everyone else go EEEWWWW and guaranteeing that she has the bowl to herself.)

I’m not judging these cost-conscious moms . . . I’m wondering how they do it. How do you get leftovers when you’re already making such a small portion of food? These people are claiming that they each have an entire night a week dedicated to just eating leftovers. If I did that, we’d all be sharing a moldy Tupperware of some soup that no one had liked earlier in the week. 

My kids aren’t all fat, either, so it’s not overeating that’s killing my grocery budget. 

Of course, the biggest thing that I have noticed is that these people think that the extras . . . are extra.

I can’t live like that. I swear I must have Italian or Spanish roots, that my Scottish and Irish forebears were really just some lost mariners that got swept ashore by accident on some rocky Celtic coast and had to adapt their Mediterranean ways to the cold north.  Meals are important. They’re family time. They’re part of the way I show my love to my family. 

One of the cost-savings sites had a menu posted this week with pork carnitas tacos as one of the meals. And behind “taco toppings” she put the word “optional.” And that’s the biggest difference– for me, toppings for the tacos are not optional. If I’m making pork carnitas, there’s going to be shredded lettuce and chopped tomato and salsa and guacamole and sour cream and cheese of various types and probably limes and pickled and fresh jalapenos and sliced avocado and sliced black olives. Most of the time, I’ll make pico de gallo, too. And, no, not all of the cilantro will get eaten, but it will be there, fresh and green and pretty on the plate. And the haters can choose to ignore it if they like, but it will be there for those that like it. Along with all the other richnesses.

So I spend too much on food, I guess. But really, how much is too much? A bundle of cilantro is 28 cents. A jalapeno is less than a dime. Even a tub of sour cream is just 77 cents. I’m spending maybe two or three bucks on those toppings and it’s a vastly different eating experience than it would be to simply put some shredded pork on a tortilla by itself. That’s a price I’m willing to pay to give my family the best that I can. 

If we were counting every penny, yes, I’d cut back a lot. If the choice was between cilantro and electricity, you know I’d be picking the electricity to keep my kids warm and safe. But most of the time, the choice to eat well isn’t a choice between abundance and starvation, but a choice between abundance and something else. Saving time, maybe, or simple inexperience in cooking. Maybe choosing to spend money on other things that they consider more important. Maybe they’re just not “foodie” people and they honestly don’t pay much attention to what they’re eating. 

I just know that, when I look down the table, it gives me pleasure to see the serving dishes piled high with all the things I’ve prepared for my family. I may take a few shortcuts– I admit, on fajita night, I serve pre-prepared rice that I buy frozen instead of making fresh Spanish rice– but there’s an abundance, plenty of variety, and good flavors to savor and enjoy. And it’s not worth saving money if I’m going to be sitting at the table just watching my kids push that same steamed broccoli around on their plates and chew dispiritedly through yet another way to prepare cheap chicken breasts. 

Yeah, I’ve been there and done that. And I prefer it this way. 








Dusty shelves and forgotten names

Long ago, when I was a perilously bored 12 year old living in Indiana, a gentleman of my acquaintance gave me a gift that was, at the time, more precious than rubies: a cardboard box of books. Later, my father would give me another box with books more tailored to my tastes, but at this point I was so desperate for books to read that anything would do.

By coincidence, you see, the junior high students were shoved into the high school that year while the junior high was remodeled and thus I had no access to a school library. I didn’t have a library card at the town library yet, either, so the books were the only new reading material that I’d gotten my hands on in months. I spent many hours sifting through the volumes, reading things I’d never have read otherwise from Reader’s Digest Condensed Books and various paperbacks that had apparently been in someone’s yard sale. It was a treasure and I’ve given that fellow a lot of mental goodwill over the years just thanks to that gift.

The ironic thing is that I barely remember any of them now. 

If you want a humbling sort of experience for anyone who has ever sought fame and glory in the writing world, just look up the names of those books from just twenty-eight years ago. You may find a review or two of them on Goodreads, someone might have a battered copy at Abe Books or Amazon, but by and large they’re forgotten, overlooked, and pretty much doomed to remain that way forever. There’s a flood of new books released every year, so it’s not like anyone’s going to go look through thrillers and romances and historical fiction novels from the 80’s for their next big thing. Somewhere on a shelf, those books are decomposing, if they all haven’t been shunted to trash heaps and Goodwills and dusty attics already.

It’s probably less of an issue for writers of science fiction and fantasy, since the fandom has always been relatively small and the big “hits” tend to stick around for longer since they have less competition from newer stuff, but the same still holds true. Go into any used book store– you’ll see a few books still hanging on from the 80’s and 90’s, a rare handful of decrepit paperbacks from earlier years, but the main stock-in-trade is more recent stuff.

And the older stuff is pretty shabby in light of modern works, anyway. I’m reading through “Lord Valentine’s Castle” by Robert Silverberg, the first of his Majipoor books. In 1981, it was a Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel and a Locus Award Nominee for Best Fantasy Novel. Because it’s on those lists, in part, it still gets some attention, as well as because it’s the first book of that famous series. But still, on Goodreads, it has only 15 reviews from this entire year. 

In comparison, Patrick Rothfuss’s “The Name of the Wind” (which isn’t from this year, but is pretty recent and pretty comparable, having gotten even less notice in its publishing year in the science fiction and fantasy community, and it’s also the first book in a series)– it’s gotten 15 reviews in just six days. Obviously, newer fresher stuff is going to draw the reader. Old dusty paperbacks with rather dated hairstyles on the cover? Not so much. (I won’t mention the pants. They’re too awful.) I’m having a hard time staying engaged with Lord Valentine, simply because I’ve read so many fantasy novels that this one seems to telegraph all its moves in advance. No real surprises and the entire thing seems dated and a bit clunky. It’s hard to stay on top these days– the current trend is multi-layered novels that are more mysterious and complicated than any Cold War spy novel ever dreamed of being. A simple fantasy book from the 80’s just can’t hold a candle to their complexity.

Most of those older books have this problem. Leaving aside the true classics of literature, which are classics BECAUSE they’re timeless, there just isn’t much to recommend in older popular novels. I may have adored Mrs. Pollifax and John Le Carre, but kids these days don’t even know there WAS a Cold War. My sixteen year old expressed surprise that anybody would think Russia could ever be an important enemy for us. I wanted to weep.

History makes no impression upon the current days unless it’s taught and insisted upon and re-iterated. Books are the same way. Those books from the Reader’s Digest series barely have left a smidgen of themselves in my mind. I remember a book about John Adams and the wooing of his wife. Barely. I know there was one about a woman vet and her husband struggling to make it in the country. Some vague memories of thrillers and romances, but it’s almost impossible to remember any details at all, or if I read some of those later on. I glutted myself on so much Dick Francis and Ken Follett and Phyllis Whitney that it’s hard to recall where I read them first. 

I recently took my entire Shannara paperback set to the used book store to trade in for something else. My kids thought it was boring, and I couldn’t be bothered re-reading them so much later. They were amusing enough, at the time, but they just don’t hold up to close inspection these days. 

Sadly, that seems to be true of almost every author. Even the “big names” should be humble. There are a few things that stand the test of time, but very few. Of all the science fiction and fantasy authors out there, only JRR Tolkien seems to have transcended genre and history to really make a place for himself in the annals of literature. Even the greats of sci-fi’s early days will someday fade to obscurity– be honest, besides Ray Bradbury and George Orwell and freaking Jules Verne, who REALLY wrote something that will last through the ages?

If you say Douglas Adams, you’ll be slapped with a salmon.

Enjoy what little tastes you get of glory and fame, then. How long until this current generation is tilled under in a landfill and young minds are filling themselves with the latest fizzy goodness?

If you look at the list of “fantasy and science fiction” on Goodreads and look at the top 10, you’ll think it’s already happened. Long live . . . YA fiction? Sigh. I guess.



Beyond just surviving

So, I turned 40 this year.

You have to understand something before that will make any sense– my mother died at 36, her mother at 33. For my entire life, I never believed that I’d make it to 40.

And then I did.

And then I got pre-eclampsia in a complicated and difficult pregnancy that had already thrown a threatened miscarriage at me as well as hyperemesis gravidarum. I felt mortality swoop terribly near before just passing me by.

The effect, so far, has been to unlock everything I’d been holding back from myself.

I’ve lived my life in “reaction” to things. I resisted and fought and put my back up against anything that was expected of me or anything that reminded me of my mother. I shut off whole areas of human experience just because they felt threatening to my fragile sense of self. I never really let myself feel positive about anything. I sabotaged everything that may have freed me from my cage. In the end, I nearly lost my family and I unfortunately did lose my career. 

So I’m standing here now, 40, and admittedly fat and middle-aged and possibly devastatingly boring to the vast majority of humanity. And I said to myself . . . so what? I want to live. I want to be ME. Not some half-assed version of me. Me entire, me with all my moles and scars and habits and irritating realities. 

So what if I have secretly longed to wear gobs of eyeliner and dress in black clothes since I was 13? What’s to stop me? So what if I want a tattoo of a dragon? I’ve been coveting it for twenty years now, isn’t it about time I just allowed myself the indulgence? If I want to walk barefoot through life or hike the Appalachian Trail or just dance whenever I want to, really, why not? I have no regard for propriety in a culture as essentially broken and debased as ours is. People are shocked by shoelessness but completely indifferent to debauchery. Now that’s a world turned on its head.

The best part about freeing myself from my limitations . . . is that, contrary to what you’d expect, I feel more inclined to selflessness. 

Now, I’m not claiming sainthood here. Just saying that, once I stopped feeling like I was unable to be myself, I suddenly felt that sometimes the best part of one’s self is sacrificing it.

Baby steps here, and I’m not going to brag on any of them. Just interesting to me that I feel more secure in just doing things for people that are kind or loving or things that are usually annoying and frustrating to me. Maybe this is the best part of being free– that I’m free to think beyond myself, because I feel like I can be myself.

Maybe just in NOT imposing on other people when I can do something perfectly well myself. Maybe choosing to be silent instead of critical. Maybe saying the nice thing that didn’t necessarily need to be said. Complimenting someone. Taking on those hard tasks.

It’s interesting. And it’s more than just enduring.

Maybe it’s living.


Enduring is rough

So, I have been having something of a rough few days. 

My husband did fix my truck this weekend, that was great, and he managed to do it for a reasonable amount. My stepson let me use his car for the three days I needed to shuttle my teenager to and from band camp. I was able to get some errands run and some good purchases made. My stockpile of soaps, shampoos, toothpastes, diapers, and other personal care stuff is growing. 

I’ve just been absolutely sick as a dog since Friday.

The funny thing is that I have no idea what’s going on with me. I don’t have a fever. I don’t have any cold symptoms or gastrointestinal ills. I’m just utterly wiped out by a fatigue unlike anything I’ve ever had before. I’ve been sleeping and sleeping and resting and sleeping, but I still feel like someone rolled over me with a steam roller. Uck.

I’ve got some lymph nodes swollen, a mildly sore throat, and some weird pains– including a patch on my leg that hurts whenever it’s touched by anything. So, barring a miraculous recovery before 9am, I’ll be calling my doctor for an office visit. The big worry for me, of course, would be some kind of thyroid problem. I was supposed to have my thyroid removed in October of 2013, except I got pregnant in September. That sort of put the kabosh on surgery for a while. 

The doctors told me that, once you have cysts in your thyroid, they NEVER EVER go away. Which is maybe reasonable, but I have a sneaking suspicion that mine shrunk during pregnancy. I can swallow again– and swallowing was a fraught and dangerous exercise there for a while because I had three huge cysts pushing on my esophagus. But now I can eat and drink just fine. Either way, I’m going to ask for another sonogram to see what my thyroid is doing. And I’m sure the doc will want to run some blood tests to figure out this latest quirk in my ongoing attempt to figure out What is Wrong With Marti.

(I know, the answer to that is practically infinite.)

It’s been hard. And the baby has been doing poorly, with bad congestion and two episodes of poor breathing. And my adult children are driving me insane. I swear, they get exponentially more exasperating after 16. Maybe because I was essentially an adult on my own at that age– it’s frustrating when they expect me to do things for them instead of them doing things for themselves. I know that being alive to be ABLE to help them is what I’ve been praying for all these years. But that doesn’t mean I like being their chauffeur or their housemaid or their lackey, either.

But I’ve wisened up SOME over the course of the years, and I know that my frustration is MY problem. I need to conform myself to Christ, to be loving and calm and understanding. But also stern when I have to be. The only issue is when it’s my pride and impatience and ego speaking and when it’s my love and morals and ethics and values speaking. If I could shut up those first three voices, we’d all be a lot better off.

I must endure, even though I am weary and sore and dreadfully afraid. And I am afraid– failure is always right there waiting for me. I just pray that I can get things right . . . and that it isn’t catastrophic when I’m wrong.


Unfinished business

So I’ve been tracking what books I’ve read on Goodreads for several years now. I don’t usually count cookbooks or decorating books, and I almost never add in the many picture books that I read to the boys. Mostly I stick to listing the novels and adult nonfiction that I read.

I’ve managed to read more than 50 books a year now for three years running– 79 in 2012, 114 in 2013. I’m up to 62 books so far this year, although I’m falling behind on my goal of 120. Having a baby put a definite crimp in my style. 

The problem I’ve discovered, however, is that I have also managed to rack up an impressive number of books that I’ve begun reading and never finished. I’ve got 62 books on my “currently reading” list. Oops. 

Some of them I had to return to the library too soon, some of them irritated me beyond reason and got tossed in a corner, and many of them just didn’t hold my interest with other, more delightful books in the room. 

I’m determined, however, to clean that list up. So I’ve decided that I’m not going to go pick up any more “new” books for the stack until I’ve cleaned out my “currently reading” list. I may just delete some of them, the ones that were truly terrible, but the books that simply got overlooked and ignored need to be re-assessed and I need to decide if I’m going to finish them or abandon them for good.

It just looks like carelessness that I haven’t finished reading so many of my choices. I’d like to be able to whittle it down to just the books that I have out from the library on any given week and not a long sad list of my failures. 

So that’s my project for the next few months– attack that list. Deal with the books on it. Find the enjoyable ones and finally let go of the rest. It’s not the entirety of life, of course, but a side project I can pursue while everything else goes on. Some of those books ARE good books, I just couldn’t get into them at the time for whatever reason. It’s not a smear on a great book that you tried to read it at the wrong time. I don’t want to leave that mess sitting there, so it’s time to fix it.

Wish me luck.


The Long War

You could say that all of life is in a war with entropy. Things break, living organisms die, the sun is slowly dying, and ice cream always melts too fast. 

We had a lovely example of that fact this week. Remember how I said my summer had been boring? Well, my Suburban decided that entropy would win this week and burnt up my 4×4 transfer case. My son was stranded at the high school and I was stranded with the truck for over an hour each, we had to tow it home behind our little Malibu (complete with more entropy in the way of snapping ropes!), and my lovely truck is now up on jacks until we can scrape together the parts to fix it.

Yeah, that wasn’t boring or anything. Thankfully my stepson is loaning me his car for the week and our oldest daughter is loaning us some extra cash for parts. Entropy is expensive.

My biggest battle, however, is usually with my autistic daughter, Indy.

You see, she’s severely autistic. And she’s got her own ideas about how things SHOULD be. And when things aren’t like she thinks they should be, she gets upset. Nervous. Frantic. Sometimes to the point of freaking out in aggressive displays of rage, sometimes to the point of hysterical crying. You have to feel sorry for her, because for HER, the need to control her universe is overwhelming. Change is more than unsettling, it’s horrible for her. I understand– I’ve battled anxiety since childhood. She simply MUST order her universe in a way that makes sense to her.

The problem is, what she thinks is Right, Proper, Appropriate, and Perfect is . . . pretty screwy.

She thinks dishes should be dirty. To the point where she will take clean dishes down, stack dirty dishes between them, and replace all of them in the cabinet. She’ll seed a dishwasher full of clean dishes with strategically-placed dirty ones. She’ll take dirty plates out of the dishwasher and return them to the china cabinet. You don’t even want to imagine what the silverware looks like after she’s been mixing in dirty spoons and knives and forks.

Books, dvds, and cds all belong in special places. If they don’t belong in Any Bag that Has a Zipper, they usually belong on the floor. In certain spots. Usually in someone else’s bedroom or in a much-travelled pathway, like the route from the dining room to the kitchen. Quite often, about three feet away from my bedroom dresser, right where her father walks when he gets out of bed. Or possibly stashed inside our medicine chest. One Harry Potter book belongs on the banister rail near the bongo drums. A baby’s FIsher Price moving gears toy, sans gears, belongs right inside her sister’s doorway. 

The pantry is a particularly bad sore spot– she has certain places for every food item, and insists that the Windex and bird seed and Mean Green all belong on the food shelves. The Nesquik has to teeter in constant danger of falling off the middle shelf. The apples belong on the floor, apparently. EVerything must be mixed up with no sorting into “soups” and “tomato products” and “pastas” and “cereals.” 

Some of her personal rules are simply irritating– her habit of moving one of our water storage bottles just six inches out from the wall, say. Not all three of them, just the third. Don’t ask me why. And it probably won’t kill anyone that she insists the sunflower-painted biscotti jar has to be on the right side of the stove, not the left (which is where I like it.) 

Some of her rules are actively dangerous, like her placing things next to the top of the stairs, or throwing all the shoes off the shoe rack, right next to the bottom of the stairs and the front door. She decided the springs off the broken trampoline belonged in our neighbor’s yard and accidentally conked his daughter on the head with one. Everything belongs over the back fence, apparently, so this is a fairly common risk we’re running. We’ve given up on keeping sports equipment outside, or gardening tools. We kind of hope she’ll throw the dog over next and save us the trouble of rehoming him . . . ahem. Anyway.

Some of her rules of order are just personally offensive to me. I don’t want $8 worth of chocolate powder to get spilled all through the laundry room when someone inevitably knocks it off the darn shelf. I hate having to dig behind the ice cream cones and the olive oil and the egg noodles to find a can of beans. And here’s the bad part– whenever I clean things up, pick things up, sort things, or throw away things, she is unable to stop herself from undoing it.

It’s infuriating at times. She’ll take empty bottles out of the garbage can and replace them on shelves. She’ll throw clean laundry back on the floor in piles. She immediately returns everything in the pantry back to its “ideal” location– HER ideal location– within minutes of me sorting everything. She’ll take rotten FOOD out of the garbage can and put it back into the refrigerator. Because, you know, that cream cheese belongs on that shelf, even if it is black and gray and green with various mounds of mold.

Sometimes, I have to let her win. She’ll get too upset, or I’ll just simply be too tired or too injured to battle her entropy. Sometimes it’s just easier to let it go, let her insist that the Better Homes and Gardens from last month belongs on the floor next to the couch. Sure, it’s a pain to step around things and find Robert Munsch books and Disney dvds next to the Immodium and Tums, but it’s far far easier than putting them back, over and over, pointlessly it seems.

But I don’t want to live in chaos and entropy all the time. I want to be able to find the tomato paste without a five minute hunt. I want to walk down the hall and not worry I’ll slip on our 1st grade religious education book, which she thinks belongs at the top of the stairs. I’d freaking LOVE not to have to open my purse before every trip and remove the inevitable bottle of hydrogen peroxide that she stashes inside every day.

So I keep battling against the mess. I know I can’t win. But I have to fight the good fight. It may please her, somewhere in her mysterious little heart, to strip the sheets and pillowcase off her bed and then wipe her food-covered hands on the mattress and pillow, but there are certain standards one must uphold, if only to keep the adult protective services from thinking we’re TRYING to make her live in squalor.

This is the long war, and every day finds us fighting the same battles, over and over. 

I don’t know which of us is more irritated by the other. I know she’s more stubborn than I am, simply because the war is a huge part of her day. I have to cram time for it in between a million other things. She has all day to reorder the house.

Neither one of us is winning, I suspect. Tonight she became very upset because she’d somehow misplaced her “Stuart Little” dvd. It’s so scratched that it barely plays, mostly due to her tossing it down on surfaces not ideal for dvd preservation. But she really wanted that movie. She’s been playing it on a loop all week. She simply could not go to bed without that dvd.

My oldest son and daughter helped me look around for it, to no avail. Finally, around 1am, I remembered that my 5 year old had picked up the dvds and games from the gameroom floor– sure enough, the disc had fallen to the bottom shelf, upside down. 

Indy was ecstatic when I gave it to her and ran off to her room with a fairly cheerful thank-you. I went to take a bath and feed the baby. An hour later, I went to check on her, figuing she’d be asleep listening to the menu over and over.

She wasn’t asleep– I could hear her echolalia through the door. And the sound of . . . Cartoon Network? Yep. Commercials for the nighttime shows, which I largely hate.

Stuart Little was sitting on the couch table. Exactly where she wanted it.