There is just so much to look forward to…

Recently, videos with audio about “only having little kids for four years” have been making the rounds. As someone who loves the baby/toddler/preschool years, it definitely tugs at my heartstrings.

But.

I realize those years aren’t everyone’s jam. Even if they are- the last two years have definitely been outside anything remotely resembling a typical experience of those years and the last thing anyone needs at this point is more guilt/anxiety piling on. No one should be feeling deficient if they haven’t loved every second of an exceptionally difficult time.

Also- they may only be little for four years, but they’re still ours and there are many years following those four. I wrote the following for submissions late last year, it never went anywhere, but it seems perfect for this moment….

Over a year ago I had a rare day where my eldest had a day off from school, but my youngest still had preschool. We were both excited to have some one on one time and decided coffee and hot cocoa at our favorite coffee place was in order once we dropped off his little sister.

On our way to our table, I saw an acquaintance and stopped to say a quick hello and I introduced my eight year old. This friend had only seen me at the coffee house with my three year old and hadn’t realized I had an older child as well. She was there with her husband enjoying a kid-free breakfast date. It was the third week of December, we chatted for a second about the craziness of the holiday season and the additional challenges posed by the very strange year, then my son and I and I said a quick, “enjoy your breakfast!’ and went to our table.

We got settled, debated the merits of different baked goods, made our decisions, then were quickly absorbed in enjoying our treats. We were also enjoying our conversation. My son was excitedly telling me about a kid’s history book he had finished and we started talking about if we would have liked living in Tudor England. (The lack of coffee in that place and time had me down as a HARD no, in case anyone is wondering…) Inwardly I marveled at how different a coffee outing looks with this child than it did several years ago. My purse only had my wallet, keys, and our masks in it. A variety of little toys to keep him busy, along with a phone with a few favorite episodes in the event of total meltdown, are no longer required. Now I’m with a (not so) small human who is gaining more knowledge by the moment and eager to discuss and share his thoughts.

The baby and toddler years are my time to shine. It has been my favorite phase so far. I would often sideeye parents who talked the golden years of parenting being when you have mid-older elementary children. At the time I could not believe anything could ever replace or compare to having a tiny body snuggled up to you, or a sticky little hand in yours. As time has moved on I’m realizing more and more, it is not a comparison- it is a continuation. We sat there for almost an hour talking about his book, his friends, his plan for the rest of the holiday break. I realized that all of that baby and toddler time had brought us here and rather than feeling wistful like I usually would- it felt like an amazing gift. It was quite the realization over coffee and an amazing scone.

Towards the end of our outing, my friend got up to leave with her husband and stopped by our table. I expected to exchange quick holiday wishes and hopes for a better New Year, but she surprised me. My friend smiled and mentioned she had been feeling a bit wistful with her children all in full time school. In her smile and her eyes I saw a kindred spirit, another mom who had adored the baby and toddler years and was sad they were definitely at an end. I smiled a smile that I’m sure mirrored her own, and was about to say something about how fast it goes or other cliched phrase, feeling that pull towards those days of little ones even as I was truly enjoying and marveling over this outing with my big kid. Before I can say anything else, my friend added,

“I hope you don’t think I was eavesdropping, but I so enjoyed listening to you two talking. It was so much fun to hear your son talk about his book and it makes me realize even though I miss having little ones, there is just so much to look forward to.”

Then we exchanged wishes for a good holiday and Happy New Year, finished our breakfast and headed about our to-do list and errands. I thought about what my friend had said for the rest of the day and about the realizations I had as well. Then things got busy and it drifted to the back of my mind.

This past fall, as my now- four year old started reception; full-time school where we live, I was more and more likely to lament the fact that we are really and truly out of the baby/ tiny kid phase at our house. I think wistfully of chubby arms, gummy smiles, and unsteady steps more than I care to admit. I hadn’t thought about this coffee date and my friend’s comments a half a year ago until the other day and it stopped me in my tracks…

This may be a time of big changes and transitions. It may be the time where I have to say goodbye to the baby and toddler years forever.

But.

There really is just so much to look forward to.

If you also saw a only little for four years video and it made you pause, yes, we only have little ones for four years, but there’s a lot of wonderful to come after that.

One year later…

Hope is a spur to action. Hope is not a lottery ticket that we cling to. It’s a hammer that we use in an emergency to break the glass, sound the alarm, and spring into action. Hope is not a state of mind, it’s a state of action. -Ady Barkan

I’ve struggled with the idea of writing a post focusing fact that this week marks one year since the start of the first lockdown.

There’s the dreariness brought on by the soul-crushing realization we’ve now been in this bizarre version of normal for over a year that makes me reluctant to sit down and write, much less hit publish on a post like this.

There’s also the doubt that there’s much I can add to the conversation that hasn’t been said already… As I’ve said before, I realize how lucky I’ve been in the past year.

My first inclination was to post a meme I made once I’d been at parenting through a pandemic for a while… and hopefully write something funny about the strange journey of this past year:

However- the above quote from Ady Barkan has been in the back of my mind pretty consistently since I heard him speak in an interview with Jimmy marking the release of Not Going Quietlya documentary about Barkan’s experience with ALS.

Listening to a man who’s health is deteriorating at an alarming rate speak about hope captivated me.

This is a a man who, due to a cruel twist of fate, may not live to see forty and won’t live to see his children grow up. It would be impossible to blame him or judge him if he treated hope like a lottery ticket.

What else are you supposed to do when your world has been flipped on it’s end and there’s nothing to do but work with the tilted normal you’re left with?

In Barkan’s view- there is plenty to do, if you’re willing to change your view. This skewed normal is a time for action.

Since listening to that interview I’ve realized how much hope there has been in the last year, as hard and awful as it has been.

I see the kind hope Ady Barkan speaks of in the quick development of a vaccine for COVID-19. I see it in the lines of people waiting to receive their shot, going to pharmacies at closing time in case there are extra doses. I see hope as information is shared on the best way to book a vaccine for loved ones.

I see it in the effort so many have put into following restrictions that have been cumbersome and frustrating to protect others.

I see some hope for the future of education – there’s been some serious realizations about flaws in our system. This has been an opportunity to assess our values and what we want for our children and those who teach them. As there’s been a broader view into what our teachers do, there’s also greater reason for action to

I see hope in relationships. The past year has given the slightest glimpse into the reality Barkan and too many others live with. Our time is precious, and we never know how much time and freedom to move we will have. It is a reordering of priorities- we know now how much we’ve miss seeing friends and loved ones. When we’re finally able to be together again, I think it will be valued more highly than before.

Personally, I have hope my children will look back on this as a year where they realized they can be flexible, resilient and do incredibly hard things, even when they don’t want to.

I hope they remember it was a time where it was also okay or everyone to be sad and frustrated by a circumstance beyond their control, even as we all worked to make the best of it.

I hope I will remember the value I place on relationships as the calendar turns closer and closer to marking two years since I’ve seen many family and friends- a circumstance I never planned for.

I hope I will continue to work towards goals I have for myself. If I was able to find time to do some hard work in this past year, I know I can do it.

Finding hope as I reflect on this last year doesn’t discount the breathtaking scope of loss that has been experienced.

It’s more a realization this past year wasn’t wasted. It’s not a year to write off and say we never want to experience again. We can take what we’ve learned to improve the world as we go forward.

If we can do that, I’m sincerely hopeful for better days ahead.

Here is the link to Ady Barkan’s interview:

No one expects…

I think most of us took the word expect and predict out of our vocabularies this year. This has been a year of the unexpected and (to a degree) the unpredictable. I was thinking about last year’s end of year post and trying to decide if and how to write one this year. There’s not really a good way to sum this up, it’s been a roller coaster. Thankfully, it looks like we might be on the last few full loops before the end of this ride.

In thinking about this year, a few things have come to the top of my mind:

I’ve been told I’m good in a crisis (this relates to the topic at hand, I promise). This is a benefit-ish of the the way I tend to process my anxiety. Sometimes it’s like my brain is on a permanent doom scroll. This means I’ve usually run through countless potential scenarios and responses/ outcomes. So, most times I have an idea of what to do next when the unexpected rears its’ head and I don’t have to think too hard, I just have to do the next thing.

Then 2020 happened.

I’ll turn it over to Monty Python for a second here…

Substitute global pandemic for Spanish Inquisition, and yup, that about covers it.

It’s a little disconcerting to realize even with hours worrying and planning for (I thought) everything possible- I hadn’t even gotten close to the way events rolled out this year. That’s a lot of wakeful hours spent over the years- and I still had to make things up this year as I went along.

My biggest takeaway from this year was a pretty blunt reminder that you cannot prepare or plan for everything. The best you can do is just look for the next choice and go from there. It’s a tough concept for a control freak a planner to wrap their brain around. If I’m going to reframe this in a positive light- I am achieving new levels of flexibility and adaptability.

I should note- on a greater geopolitical/ social level, so much of what has happened in 2020 should absolutely have been expected. That’s a discussion for another time as I don’t think I can give it the deserved detail and attention today. There are also so many writers more qualified than I am to speak on many of the inequalities and injustices of this year and I feel it’s been best to share their voices rather than add in my less informed/experienced opinion.

Like everyone else I’ve looked for inspiration this year and have found many sources, thankfully. One that has been on my mind a lot has been the Queen. Binging The Crown most likely had something to do with this. Living in England probably factors in too.

I’ve thought a lot this year about World War Two and the hardships and separations experienced by those who lived through that time in history. I don’t feel like it is a perfect comparison as there are many differences in circumstances and the way this year has been experienced, especially compared to the average American’s experience on the home front during the war. However, The Queen is in the unique position (among many other very unique aspects of her life) of being someone who can speak with authority on both of these times in history. Her speech in March, at the start of lockdown, has popped up in my mind again and again as the months have gone by this year. This was at the point the reality of how long this could go on and what that would mean for me personally was just dawning. I have now been out of the US the longest I have ever been in my life, and this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my parents, as well as many other family and friends.

The Queen referenced lyrics from a song popular during the war, which have become increasingly appropriate as time has passed this year,

“We will meet again”

I have come back to these words again and again this year, and I’m sure I will keep them in my mind for the coming months.

I know this it is true and with each passing day we get closer to the day where we will meet again and this current reality becomes a chapter for the history books.

Last year, I wrapped up with a joke about my new favorite shirt:

Clearly… I had no idea just how much foreshadowing was happening there.

In related news, I think I might be retiring this shirt.

Just in case.

Happy New Year everyone. Stay safe, and hopeful that better days are coming soon.

The Weak Bridge

Said weak bridge

In the past eighteen months, I’ve moved to England and turned forty. Oh, and we have a pandemic going on and we’re currently white- knuckling through election week and starting lockdown 2.0.

At this point, standard 2020.

I’ve had this in my drafts folder for a long time and it seems appropriate for right now.

We’re living in a more rural part of England, both Gingers go to school in a nearby town. Fortunately, school is still happening so I continue to drive the route for school drop off that I have for over a year (not counting the seven month pause) now.

After everyone was dropped off, the way I drove out of town leads me over a bridge – somewhat ominously called a weak bridge. This is not a name you usually want assigned to a piece of infrastructure you use daily, particularly one that was built before the American Revolution.

Last year, once I’d managed the challenge of being on the wrong (to me) side of both car and road, I started to gain a mastery of roundabouts. Fun fact- if you were awful at double Dutch jump rope as a child, roundabouts are probably not going to be your favorite traffic device. With all of that reasonably under control, I found myself with time to think on my daily drive out of town. As I got to thinking I realized the weak bridge was a perfect metaphor for certain seasons of life..

Vehicles over a certain weight aren’t allowed on the weak bridge and there are bollards to ensure that more than what the bridge can handle does not get through.

This seemed like the perfect metaphor for turning forty at the time and feels even more applicable now.

Even before factoring in the upheaval caused by current events it had been an interesting year or so. At times it felt like the universe was trying to hammer home the gravity of the impending milestone birthday by lobbing life events at a rate that was almost darkly comedic at times. In my close circle of friends, most of us were turning forty within the same nine months or so. As a group, we experienced so much change, loss, health issues, and major life events in six months that if we’d submitted it to the writers of This is Us it would have been kicked back for being a bit much.

It was a natural point in my life to take stock, do some evaluating, make necessary changes, and stop allowing anything that is not good for my infrastructure through.

Then the pandemic happened.

Its been a situation without precedent in most of our lifetimes. Quarantine, worry, illness, stress, financial insecurity, have all left us in an emotionally weakened state. Our values have been tested as well as our resilience and many of us have had to inspect our views to make sure we are creating a world that provides equality, safety, and fairness for all. Now, we are anxiously watching election results and hoping that decency and kindness will win over the unrelenting chaos and calculated cruelty of the last four years.

It has been a time of trying to juggle so many responsibilities that cannot be dropped and constantly trying to figure out what would bounce and what would shatter if dropped. Quarantine meant that we were isolated from so many of those we would turn to for support. Many have endured illness and loss without being able to say goodbye or to grieve with and hug those left behind.

Yet, we STILL have so much that still has to happen on a day-to-day basis. That will not change as things start to slowly reopen and hopefully inch towards yet another new normal. Everyone will come out of this with varying degrees of structural damage.

We are all weak bridges right now.

We all need to take more care to insure we can get let through what must get through and we put up our bollards to stop what is trivial and what we cannot bear right now. Our tolerances will vary in what we can handle as we go forward.

Everyone has been shaken, but some were closer to the epicenter than others. Those of us that are in better condition may have to take on some “traffic” for others so they can remain standing.

As for me, I’ll keep thinking of the signs I saw every day for a while -Temporary Road Works. The weak bridge was not weak forever. The crew worked on it to shore up the worn out arches and reinforce the foundation. One day the bollards came out (much to the relief of my poor car, which has more than one scratch due to my misjudging where they are) and the bridge returned to doing it’s job as normal.

The bollards- they look wider in this picture than they actually were.

We won’t have to have our bollards up forever either. Things will improve, we will learn how to navigate around the permanent changes in our landscape. It will become clearer what responsibilities can be set down until restrictions are lifted to the point we can share them with others again. In the meantime, bollards will stay up, we will all still be able to do our most important jobs. We will get where we need to be, it just might take a little longer than before.

Sometimes you have to turn centuries old masonry for a good metaphor about the current state of the world. Who knew?

Featured

It’s Chaos…

“We’d have these huge philosophical arguments where I was like- I don’t believe in an intelligent creator, per se, but I think there might be a latticework of logic and meaning to the universe that maybe we’re too small to see. And she was like, Sweetie, it’s all random, it’s all chaos. It’s chaos. Be kind. It’s chaos. Be kind.” -Patton Oswalt, Annihilation

I was invited by the wonderful Smelly Socks and Garden Peas to write a post about what we will do the first weekend after the end of quarantine/ lockdown.  It has been a challenge, with all the togetherness of late it’s a miracle when I can construct a complete thought without interruption, let alone an entire blog post.

As I thought about what I might want to write about I turned over several ideas, perhaps returning to simple pleasures like parks and pubs, maybe those historical sites I have been dying to get to (once a Tudor history nerd, always a Tudor history nerd) or maybe something about the overnight trips we want to plan?

But.

The above quote from Patton Oswalt’s Annihilation special on Netflix keeps running through my head and blocking out all of those other thoughts of a post-lockdown existence.  Father of Gingers and I have been big fans of Patton Oswalt’s stand up for years.  His slightly curmudgeon-y and misanthropic, sharp, nerdy, occasionally quirky take on the world speaks to us and our sense of humor.

However, Annihilation was hard for both of us to get through.  It was the first special after the death of Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara.  A not-insignificant portion of the set is him talking about losing his wife, and worse, telling their elementary school- age daughter that her mother is gone and how they both dealt with it and are dealing with it.  It is the only comedy set I’ve ever watched where I had to repeatedly try to swallow around a huge lump in my throat and needed several breaks to wipe my eyes.  Through it all, he comes back to McNamara’s philosophy on life, “It’s chaos, be kind.”   She was speaking in a more metaphysical sense, but it has very practical applications right now.

The current situation in the world is best described as Chaos with chaos sauce, chaos sprinkles, and an angst cherry on top.

There’s not much left for us to do, but be kind.

There is so much information bombarding us from every corner.  Everyone has a slightly different priority order, the vast majority of which carry absolutely no malicious intent towards others.  The majority of people are making decisions using the best information they can to make best decisions they can in a time of best worst choices.

It’s chaos

Some of us are going to have to make decisions based on medical information. They may be too much at risk and they have to stay inside until this storm is further past.

It’s chaos

Some feel the lockdown has gone on too long, some feel it’s ending too early.

It’s chaos

Finances may be the driving factor in some family’s decisions on how they’re going to proceed. Mental health is a not-insignificant factor in the balance as well.

It’s chaos

Everyone is on on edge- these are life and death choices, not just for the threat of COVID-19, but also in terms of mental health and financial stability. There isn’t a one size fits all answer.

Be Kind.

The bottom line is there is no way around this chaos, the only option is to just get through it. It doesn’t have to be pretty- but how much better will it be if we are kind?

This is a very long winded way to say I don’t know yet what my first choice is for when our first weekend out of lockdown comes. We will be taking a slow approach for several reasons that make it the best fit for our family. I do know I’ll try my hardest to be kind.

There’s a very real chance I totally misunderstood the assignment… but at least this is off my chest.

Remember- Teachers are dealing with the alligator closest to the boat right now.

*This was originally slated to run on another site and I was just notified it was dropped from their schedule today. When I wrote it on Monday, very few teachers had been able to reach out to their students, and as we all know the week has been rapidly changing.

When my husband and I are working through a crisis, we usually remind each other to focus on the alligators closest to the boat. That is- worry about and address the most immediate/ threatening problem first before trying to move on to the next. It has served us well over the years and I keep coming back to this maxim when I think about the teachers trying to navigate this current crisis.

Full disclosure- I am a teacher who is currently a SAHM and working to realize some writing aspirations. That is why I have time to write this, if I were teaching right now, I would be focused on more pressing needs. If I’m being honest, seeing some of the comments about school closures and how work will be provided to students makes me hesitant to ever return to the classroom. I’ve been greatly disheartened by how many complaints I’ve seen from parents feeling like their children aren’t getting digital assignments fast enough, that teachers are probably just taking this time as a vacation, and so on.

To that- I say please realize teachers are trying to get two families through this crisis, the one in their home and the family they spend at minimum every Monday through Friday with. I say at minimum because do the countless out of contract hours they spend with this second family and preparing to teach. When I was in the classroom, there were always students who kept me up nights as I worried about circumstances in their lives that were completely outside of my control. That was in the course of a normal school year- and this school year is no longer normal.

Honestly, if you are able to complain about not having digital resources yet for your child, the good news is your child is nowhere near being the alligator closest to your teachers boat. Teachers everywhere are trying to figure out a completely different style of teaching on the fly (especially those who teach the younger grades). While they’re doing this they’re also worried about some of their children being safe at home, having enough to eat, and if those students are going to even have a home while this crisis lasts.

Rest assured your child(ren)’s teacher(s) care about them, they have invested a lot of time into every student in their care. They want to see “their kids” succeed and are likely crushed that they will not be spending time with their classes in the coming weeks. Events like class plays, field trips, proms, and graduations are all cancelled or potentially cancelled. There are children who were just having concepts click, finally making gains in essential skills and now they are in a holding pattern. All of these examples represent countless work hours by both teachers and their students. Please know teachers everywhere are losing sleep worrying about children in their class and trying to figure out how to make sure their students get the best possible education in a completely unprecedented situation. Please give them time to deal with these alligators. They are dealing with all of these worries in addition to the ones we all currently share. I promise they will get to you. These are trying times and while you are worried about your children, understandably, just remember that the teacher you’re frustrated with is worrying about dozens.

But Does It Spark Joy?

So, I was chatting with my aunt the other day (I have been very lucky to have a ton of support from my family as I’ve started this whole blogging thing) and she reminded me of an escapade that I had written on a list of topics to write about but then forgotten about (or possibly suppressed, you’ll understand in a second)…

This all took place back before Father of Gingers and I started the whole Parents of Gingers circus act collaboration that is our life today. At the time we were living in Germany and had been married almost two years. It had been a very eventful two years, with a trans- Atlantic move, lots of travel, new jobs, and a guest room fire- just to name a few highlights.

It was summer time and we were headed back to the States to see friends and family. Due to the fact the trip wasn’t very long, we had decided to each go visit our grandparents separately. I went to see my Gran in Texas and future Father of Gingers (FFoG?) was off to Michigan.

I should take a minute here to explain my Gran. Honestly, there’s enough material for several posts but I want to keep this short today. We will be coming back to her, especially as I seem to have reincarnated her in Little Ginger, whom we frequently call ReGran. I guess the fastest way to sum up Gran for this post is- she was a red-headed army nurse in the Pacific during the Second World War, and there were combat boots involved. She was eighty-eight when this happened, living on her own with an aide that came in daily to help her with errands since Gran was no longer driving.

Gran was the original Ginger and my gingers often remind me of her. Big Ginger is named for that set of grandparents, and as I said before sometimes Little Ginger is just my Gran in a toddler body. I never feel Gran’s presence more strongly than I do when I’m trying to unload/reload the dishwasher and Little Ginger feels compelled to supervise.

Gran liked to stay busy, to the point where I was usually totally exhausted by the end of the visit. There was always something we could be doing, dusting off the top of kitchen cabinets, unloading a dishwasher, going through a closet or drawers to clean out any clutter. On this visit, she decided she would really like to go though some filing cabinets that had not been sorted since my grandfather had passed away. I agreed that we could do that (we were going to do it either way, if I’m being honest) so her aide and I got to work.

We got through the first few drawers of the filing cabinet fairly quickly and purged what needed to be purged. Then we got to the top of the filing cabinet, and it was one of those cabinets where the top drawer opened up towards you then slid in, kind of like a garage door, giving shelf space to store things. The key that opened the bottom drawers did not open the top drawer, and it was the only one we had. Fortunately my grandfather had decided that basic lock picking was a skill I should learn when I was a teenager. He was absolutely right and it has definitely come in handy more times than many other things I learned as a teenager- looking at you Trigonometry.

I told Gran and her aide that I thought I could probably get the lock open and got the go-ahead. A few minutes later-success! I lifted the drawer to slide it back, promptly shrieked and let the door slam shut. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’re probably wondering what kind of woodland creature I ran afoul of this time?You be justified in wondering that. Totally justified and completely wrong. Not every traumatic event in my life has been the fault of a woodland creature; although it does seem to be a bit disproportionate compared to other people I’ve talked to. Even without getting into the time a mouse died in my office at the retirement home…

Anyway- back to the filing cabinet.

I opened it again, convinced I couldn’t possibly have seen what I thought I saw, but the fact that Gran’s aide looked equally horrified gave me the sinking feeling I was right. And, yup, there it was, sitting in a display case; a freaking shrunken head! As I sat there, stunned, wondering how this was possibly my life, Gran peered over my shoulder to see what the fuss was about and matter of factly said:

“Oh, I wondered where that had gotten to… It used to be part of a set.”

Other families have salt and pepper shakers that are part of sets and handed down. Or vases, or heirloom quilts. You never hear about anyone fighting over who gets the shrunken heads. Maybe it does happen and it just doesn’t come up in conversation? I just don’t know.

I don’t remember much about what happened after that, I guess a surprise shrunken head when you’re expecting to find decades-old tax returns will do that to a person. I do remember Mexican food and beer were part of the afternoon. It was medicinal at that point. I talked to FoG on the phone that night. He was telling me about his very busy (but surplus head-free) day he had with his grandparents and said he was exhausted. I announced I’d picked a filing cabinet lock and found a shrunken head. I won the conversation/ who’s the most tired contest.

The rest of the visit with my Gran passed unremarkably, and I made a mental note to let my mother and her siblings know about the plus 1/4ish of a person hanging out in the filing cabinet.

I can’t help but wonder what Marie Kondo would have said about the whole situation.

***I should note here that later on after further discussion, it was determined that the shrunken head was not a real one but a souvenir that had been picked up during my grandparents’ time living in South America. So, the good news was I had not disturbed someone’s head. Be grateful for the small things in life, I always say. Whether it’s sunshine or the fact you didn’t get surprised by authentic human remains, just imitation.

The whereabouts of the other half of the set remain unknown.

Even more perspective…

So, thirty-nine is a few days away, then this countdown to forty thing gets REALLY real. I’d planned to write a post about goals, hopes, fears, and lessons learned but there were a couple of issues:

  • It was turning into an epic-length post and it probably needs to be chopped into some shorter, more coherent posts.
  • It’s been a frustrating few weeks, nothing major; just enough that, when combined with a slight case of birthday dread grumpiness lead to a very salty post, so I’ll come back to it when I’ve had an attitude adjustment.

(Actual editing note from original post)

Instead, I decided to search for, you guessed it, more perspective. The golf cart wasn’t quite doing it, nor was the candle situation. Some thing with a bit more punch was needed. It was time for… the squirrel.

I guess I should probably add some context now.

This all happened when I was living in my first post-college apartment, working at my first adulty-adult job. It was a third floor walk-up one bedroom (the apartment, not the job) and I loved it (once again, the apartment, the job was more of a mixed bag). It had a little balcony on the front and back and because of the way the buildings were laid out I didn’t share my landing with anyone. Probably because third story walk-ups aren’t super desirable when it comes to moving in, carrying groceries, and so forth. I had nice neighbors, for the most part. The other part will probably be a post down the line. I felt like I was definitely doing, and even succeeding at, the whole grown-up thing.

One night, as I was settling in, I started to hear a skittering noise above me. As I didn’t have upstairs neighbors, this was mildly concerning. I kept hearing “skitter, skitter…THUD.” I checked, nothing was inside the apartment so I figured some sort of nature must be in the attic. I didn’t have access to the attic, which was fine with me. I’m more of a “you stay out of my house, I’ll stay out of yours” kind of girl when it comes to nature. I called the front office the next morning. They said a few buildings were having a squirrel issue and they’d add mine to the list to be looked at. I congratulated myself on yet another successful bout of adulting and that was that.

Nope. Not. Even. Close. Whatever the people who were contacted by the front office did, it was less a deterrent and more a sign to the local squirrel community that there was an all night squirrel rager going on every night. I got kind of used to hearing skittering and thudding. However, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t getting more and more concerned about the continued presence of what I could only assume were very persistent (and at least mildly concussed at this point) squirrels. I made a few more calls to the front office and was told there was absolutely nothing to be concerned about. I guess they thought I was concerned about the squirrel concussions rather than the actual presence of squirrels and they knew squirrels couldn’t get concussions?

This went on for a few weeks and in the meantime a friend had come to stay with me while she did an internship for school. Even though the space was tiny, we were on slightly different schedules and it was a lot of fun to have her as a roommate again. Then, one day I had to leave work early with a raging fever and sore throat. I dragged off to the doctor and was informed that I had strep. I headed to the pharmacy to pick up antibiotics and other necessities and was looking forward to just collapsing on the bed when I got home. As I was wrapping all of this up, I got a call from my friend saying she was back at the apartment, and was there anything in the linen closet in the hall that could possibly be making a banging noise? I kept towels, sheets, and my winter clothes in that closet, so it was pretty unlikely. I told her I’d be there in a few minutes and had the sinking feeling that the strep diagnosis might be the high point of the day…

Back at the apartment there was the now familiar skittering and thudding. Instead of being overhead, it was now in the closet, and it sounded just about as delighted as I was about this turn of events. I called the front office, yet again, and asked if maybe now was the time to be concerned about the squirrels? They agreed that maybe there was a cause for concern and they’d send someone up to look, but the closet had to be empty. I countered that this was problematic as angry squirrels had become a recent addition to that closet’s contents. They stated again that they couldn’t possibly assess or correct the problem unless the closet was empty. I inquired as to how exactly I was supposed to empty it. They suggested banging on the door to scare away any new residents of the closet and I might want to move fast before they built a nest. Awesome.

So, my friend and I armed ourselves with a frying pan and a broom and put on oven mitts. At that point, my downstairs neighbor came up to borrow or return something and unknowingly walked into Squirrel Watch. She was the adventurous sort (seriously she looked, and acted, like an adult version of Pippi Longstocking) so she signed on for operation closet clearing with the helpful suggestion I might want some garbage bags at the ready for the items we were about to remove from the closet. I looked at her questioningly and she replied with a terse, “Trust me on this.”

We banged on the closet door screaming suggestions that any occupants of the closet might want to vacate at this time. Once we were fairly sure it was clear, we grabbed our respective squirrel deterring devices and opened the door. Apparently the squirrels decided they needed a condo/bathroom to recover from their all night ragers. There was a hole about a foot across that had been gnawed out at the back of the closet and the situation inside wasn’t pretty. Let’s just say the garbage bags were absolutely needed and my winter wardrobe took a not-insignificant hit. We got the closet emptied in record time and slammed the door. The maintenance guys from the front office showed up and asked why we’d opened the closet door if there were squirrels in there? Sigh.

They agreed the current situation was on the problematic side and said they’d be back in the morning to repair the hole in the closet and deal with the squirrels. My wonderful neighbor stopped back by and said I was welcome to hang out at her house while they fixed the squirrel damage. I was too tired and feverish to do more. We double bagged the closet contents and decided to deal with it the next day and I went off to bed.

The next morning, my friend headed off to her internship, I let the repair crew in, and told them I’d be downstairs at my neighbors.  They said they’d stop by and let me know when they were finished.  I chilled with Pippi (not her real name, I just really want to make sure you have this mental image) and consumed copious fluids.  After a while, there was a knock on the door, they were finished with the repairs, my linen closet was now hole-less, clean, and most importantly- squirrel free.  I trudged back upstairs, Pippi decided to come with me to see how the repairs had gone.   I can not stress strongly that everything I’m about to write is completely true.

We walked into the apartment and over to the closet.  Pippi was behind me and we opened the door, so we could see the freaking ginormous hole freshly repaired (and thankfully clean) closet.  Then from behind me I hear,

“Oh, holy shit!”

Pippi had a vocabulary that could euphemistically be described as colorful, which was always a little wild given her resemblance to one of my childhood literary heros.  She came up with phrases I’m sure never crossed Astrid Lindgren’s mind.  I was pretty unfazed  by what she said, it was fairly tame, honestly. So I replied with,

“I know, right? It’s insane they made a hole that big!”

To which she replied:

“Oh, no sweetie, that asshole is on your bed.

I peeked around her, and it turned out the squirrel was indeed on my bed.  He looked pissed.  I guess we had interrupted his nap time.  Total pandemonium ensued.  Pippi snatched the broom and went roaring into battle screaming at me to open all the windows and doors.  The squirrel, sensing impending doom coming for him in the version of a twenty-something Pippi Longstocking spewing obscenities made the decision to run under the bed and take refuge in the box springs.  Did you know squirrels can bark?  I learned that that day.  The more you know, right?

I stood in the doorway now armed with a frying pan as I watched Pippi scream,

“Come out you motherf&*#$%!” (among other things… she was In. The. Zone. which was impressive, how often do you need a zone to cope with surprise squirrel?)

She was jumping on the bed and brandishing the broom.  The squirrel was holding his ground. I was seriously ready to throw in the towel, close the bedroom door and declare it the squirrel’s room and wish him great happiness. I went to grab the phone to call the front office, or Ranger Rick.  I wasn’t really sure at that point.  The squirrel took his opening, streaked out of the room and out the front door and did a majestic dive off the third floor deck.  It seemed to occur to him about halfway down he wasn’t a flying squirrel, but he still managed to tuck and roll and tore away as Pippi screamed threats after him.

Excitement over, we took my surviving clothes and linens off to a laundromat that would do your laundry and charge you by the pound.  Totally worth it. Every few weeks after that, an acorn would hit near me as I walked to my car.  I never saw who threw it, but I knew.

This episode  left me with a fairly intense distrust of wildlife, especially squirrels, and it presented my family and friends with a theme for every card and gag gift opportunity for the rest of my natural life.  You really can’t put a price on that, or so they tell me.   It did provide me with a bar to judge things by.  As long as these recent frustrations and this birthday remain free of squirrels, surprise or conventional, it’ll be okay.  That’s squirrel perspective for you.  There’s also probably something to be said about acorns, but I’m not sure what it is…

More perspective

So, it’s the time of year where I have a greater chance than usual of turning into (hmm, how to put this…) a giant, crazy, raving stressball. (Imagine me shriek singing Fa la la la here). I’m working on that and trying to keep it simpler, set reasonable expectations, and maintain perspective…

I have to preface this with, sometimes things just kind of happen to me. I don’t know why, but they just do. My first year teaching, my mentor rolled her eyes at me when I brought plastic baggies on my first field trip and reassured me in all her years teaching she’d never had a kid get sick on the bus. You know what, she was right, instead one of my students slipped in the men’s room and got soaked. It was not pleasant- the plastic bags were the unsung heroes that day. It should also be noted the same kid got violently bus sick on the next field trip. I had an economy-size box of huge Ziplocs at the ready. I strongly identified with this kiddo, I’m also not sure that he ever went on another field trip. All of this to say- sometimes I just seem to attract chaos and wind up holding a nude painting in a golf cart and sometimes I just need to pay more attention.

Back to the lesson in perspective. Years ago, BG (before gingers, not the seventies sining group… although I now have “Stayin’ Alive stuck in my head) we were living in Germany and had a year where we had guest coming to stay about every other month or so. Let me just add yet another preface saying that if you are reading this and were among the guests at this time, the incident I’m about to write about was NOT a reflection on your visits. It’s more the universe showing its work to prove the whole (spoiler alert), “I probably shouldn’t have candles” thing.

We were getting the guest room cleaned up between guest stays and I’d decided to light a candle to make that side of the apartment extra welcoming and homey. I thought it was far enough away from the curtains and all the windows were closed. Father of Gingers went out to do a few errands. I puttered around, did a few odds and ends, then decided that I should probably go blow the candle out. If only it had been that simple.

I rounded the corner into the guest room and was a bit taken aback to discover that one wall appeared to be on fire. I’d never been a fan of the curtains involved in the blaze but clearly this was something I needed to get under control, and quickly, especially because in that moment I could not for the life of me remember the number for German emergency services. I disregarded all of my Girl Scout training, (let’s be real, I’d started down the Girl Scout gone bad road the minute I lit the candle) ran to the kitchen and filled a mixing bowl with water. I promptly threw it on the fire. Do you know what happens when you throw water at flaming nylon curtains? I do. I don’t recommend it. Having successfully scattered smoldering globs of melted synthetic fabric everywhere, I decided it was time for another approach. I went into the bathroom, drenched a couple of towels, ran back into the guest room and beat the flames out. It kind of felt like something from Little House on The Prairie. Ma Ingalls would’ve been impressed.

At this point I was standing in a not-insignificant puddle of water, hacking up a lung and there was smoke and soot everywhere. I decided it was probably time to call Father of Gingers and kindly request he return home and hope he’d remember the many good qualities he married me for. He calmly agreed to come home and clearly thought it couldn’t be that bad. He was a bit surprised when he came home and I looked like an extra from the chimney sweep scene in Mary Poppins. We got it cleaned up, and our wonderful landlord was very kind and not terribly perturbed about the now Cajun-style guest room. He told us to contact our renters insurance and he’d organize the repairs.

(Mary Poppins scene for reference)

Then came the repairmen. There was a man who worked as sort of a general contractor. He’d been out to fix things before and do some general maintenance. He looked like a missing member of an ’80s hair band complete with the feathered hair and jumpsuit. I loved when he came to work on a project, he was very friendly and I always hoped he might break into a Van Halen song. It never happened. He spoke several languages, German, Russian, and Czech if I remember correctly. It made things interesting as I spoke minimal German and didn’t begin to have the vocabulary to explain flambéeing the guest room and French and English didn’t help either. So a lot of things were conducted through vigorous charades. We managed pretty well most of the time.

It took several visits to restore order to the guest room and when he came for one of his final projects, our next round of houseguests had arrived. My friend spoke German, so she went in to ask him if he’d like some of the coffee we were making and if so, what he’d like in it. I was happy about the fact that for once, he wasn’t going to have to play charades and there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings. Operating on this theory I waited while my friend offered him coffee. It took a while. She had tried to convey we were drinking decaf and for some reason it wasn’t being communicated. We decided to just bring in the coffee and call it good. When I brought the coffee in, he asked (I think) what my friend was trying to say. Time for charades…

“Hmmm, decaffeinated…you know Ohne (German for no/none)” I then proceeded to shake my whole body like I’d had at least ten cups of strong coffee.

His reply:

“Ohhhhhhhhh! DeKOFFFinated!”

We established the coffee was deKOFFinated and all was well. The guest room returned to its pre-candle fiasco state and I saw the incognito member of the ’80s hair band several more times for various things- the heat being a reoccurring issue. The heaters in that place merit their own post. I always had coffee ready

I guess the take away from this, much like the golf cart adventure, is if I can confirm that nothing is on fire and I’m not playing charades to communicate- I probably don’t need to be stressed out. Additionally, I’m still not allowed to have candles almost eight years later. We never had another fire, but I maintain correlation doesn’t equal causation.