Oh, sure, there were happy times in our home this year. Cute kids did and said cute things. But let’s face it, even if I told you about those cute things, would you really remember them next year? No. Instead, let me start with a note about dental care.
Heed this lesson well all you parents of children who will be needing orthodontia: It doesn’t matter how often you tell your kids “Don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin and place it on your lunch tray.” They don’t listen. It doesn’t matter how often their orthodontist reiterates this advice. They don’t care. They will continue to wrap retainers in napkins so that they might throw them away, so that you then will have to plunge your arms elbow-deep into public waste cans and fish through sticky drinks and rotten food. Not once or twice, mind you, but numerous times. And, still, each time you will tell yourself that the child has learned her lesson. But this is a lie. There will be more days of retainer-trashing. Days like November 17, 2005.
The day played out in a painfully slow, torturous rhythm that began when my dryer broke, and I had to wear damp yoga pants to my kickboxing class. I had the flu and felt just awful, but I had to teach anyway. During class, I pulled a stomach muscle – very painful – but beat it on back to the middle school to pick up Kerri for her orthodontist’s appointment. She had the appointment because, during a lunch break from her soccer tournament the previous weekend, she had decided to wrap her retainer in a napkin, place it on her lunch tray, and – you guessed it – throw it away. She then strategically waited another five hours before tearfully announcing that her retainer – her fourth – was in a trash can in Duncanville (20+minutes away). After I signed Kerri in at the orthodontist’s as Kerri “I Lost My Retainer Again” Allred, I learned that our retainer insurance had lapsed and that a new retainer would cost more than my computer. But Kerri was saved from my rage by the doctor’s decision to hold off on another retainer so that he could pull two of her teeth.
Back home, while the dryer guy determined that the motor was fried and needed to be replaced, Tommy and Katie came home from school, and Katie burst into tears. My stomach was killing me, my head was pounding, and my dryer was on the fritz. What else could possibly be wrong? Not to be outdone by her older sister, Katie had wrapped her retainer in a napkin during lunch, placed it on her lunch tray, and then dutifully thrown it away, waiting until now to tell anyone. I thought about leaping across the foyer to kill her, but my aching stomach prevented it.
Now knowing how much a retainer cost and that we had no retainer insurance, there was only one solution. So after the dryer guy left, Katie and I went back to the school and began pulling trash bags out of the dumpsters behind the cafeteria. We soon concluded that the contents of dumpster #1 – chicken, stuffing, gravy, green beans, rolls, and Jell-O – meant that it was the correct dumpster, and we rummaged through the nasty, foul, disgusting remainders of kiddy food. And vomit. No school dumpster is complete without vomit. By bag #4 (and I’m talking giant bags) and no luck, it was clear that I would have to go into the dumpster because – hindered by my stomach – I couldn’t reach any further. So, cussing and ranting, I climbed inside the dumpster.
As I sifted through the sewage of saliva and goo, Katie decided to assist me further by making retching noises outside the dumpster. Have you ever been inside a dumpster? I mean really inside one, wallowing in chocolate milk, mashed meat, and vomit-soaked bread? It really, really stinks. And not just from days of revolting smells, but from weeks, nay, months of rancid stench that wilts your taste buds even when your mouth is closed. My eyes hurt from the putridity, and the princess was standing outside the dumpster gagging!
I snapped. “SHUT UP!”
We don’t say shut up in my house. It’s very rude and extremely inappropriate to say to children.
“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!”
Trapped inside that echoing coffin of noxious fumes, I’m not sure who heard me, but I am sure that somewhere in the world a child caught in the act of wrapping a retainer in a napkin paused and shuddered.
Then, just as I thought I might faint from the fumes, I saw – perched precariously on a heap of … man, I don’t know what that was – something sparkle. I held my breath, plunged my entire arm into the abyss, and pulled out the precious retainer. Yes!
We drove home with the windows down. I made dinner, fed the animals, and announced that after I did a load of laundry (since I really didn’t want our – well, my – dumpster clothing to ripen overnight), I was going to bed. Halfway through my Thera-Flu, the dryer stopped. Dead. And somehow, I knew the retainer was responsible.
Sometime during the dryer/retainer ordeal, Aggie, the cat, disappeared, and I feared an owl might have done her in. This has been a bad year for animals in our house. Over the summer, an owl snatched both Sooner and Benson (our previous cats) and carried them away – at separate times. So we got Aggie and Hunter. But Aggie, ever determined to come into the house, must have met Pete, the dog, head-on while I was answering the door for the dryer guy. The morning following Aggies’s disappearance, I assigned the girls the task of raking Pete’s area. Then came the guttural cry – Kerri had raked up Aggie’s lifeless, little body. We have a new kitten now to keep Hunter company. His name is Calvin. Hunter is now named Susie because it turns out he is a she.
Earlier in the summer, determined to prove to Robb that Pete isn’t the stupidest dog on earth, Pete went to retrieving school. Initially, all he wanted to do was run alongside the other dogs, which was a little embarrassing, but soon enough he was retrieving pigeons. We were pleased as punch when we picked him up from summer school until I realized that the pigeons being thrown for him to retrieve were real. And alive. It was horrible! So Patty the pigeon came home with us, clipped wings and all, and I was determined to teach her to fly again. At no time did I envision having a pet pigeon, but Patty spent her nights in the garage and her days pooping on our cars. We would carry her out and throw her into the air. “You’re free, Patty!” But she’s a homing pigeon, so she wouldn’t leave.
She would fly on top of the garage, perch on its edge, and watch us. She would run along the roof of the house as we drove away and be waiting there faithfully when we returned. Unfortunately, one day she apparently lost her balance and fell into Pete’s area. When I came home, Nala was spitting out feathers.
Cookiedough, our goat, got so fat from eating Snow’s (horse) food that we sent her away to a fat farm – actually, a neighbor’s small goat farm – so that she could regain her figure and her dignity. We’re still waiting. We pretend she’s just on vacation visiting family.
For reasons known only to herself, Katie declared she wants to be called Pinky. So Tommy now wants to be called Pokey. And Kerri was designated Pukey.
But the worst incident of the summer occurred when a little serial killer in the making came to our house and poked out our guinea pig’s eye. Literally. Sparkles ultimately had to be put to sleep. It was terrible. And it was made all the more terrible by the fact that the child had no remorse.
Also over the summer, I was involved in three lawsuits. One was against the idiot kid on the motorcycle who tried to commit suicide by nearly driving into the side of my van. Anyone remember this? Two years ago, he was driving 70 miles per hour without a license on a motorcycle that wasn’t his with a prior conviction for assaulting a police officer (just to give you an idea of the kind of upstanding citizen he is). Witnesses had already called 911 before our mishap, stating that he was going to kill someone. The police cited him for causing the accident, but he sued me for medical expenses (he broke his toe when he lost control of the bike and skidded off the road) and lost wages. The case dragged on for more than a year because the kid kept no-showing for court, forcing us to reschedule several times. Finally, my insurance company decided, as a matter of “economics,” to settle. Meaning they paid the little weasel. Our judicial system at its finest.
The other two lawsuits involved Erin Brokovich, who came to Midlothian to help fight pollution from the three local cement plants, and two local environmental groups. The two groups, Downwinders at Risk and Blue Skies Alliance, recently made Texas history by winning a large settlement against one of the plants. All this occurred while I was finishing the book Athletic Scholarships for Dummies.
And, of course, there is the world according to Robb. Here are some examples of how his mind works: On a recent business trip, he and a co-worker went out to get a bite to eat. When the waitress came, the co-worker unwittingly ordered the same meal Robb had planned to order, which meant Robb now had to order something else. Why? Apparently, real men cannot eat the same meal at restaurants. If one guy at a table orders a meal that sounds really good to another guy at the table, the second guy is out of luck. He can’t order the same thing because – according to the rules of Robb – no self respecting guy would ever say, “I’ll have the same thing.” Instead, he has to order something different. Who knew? It seems so clear to him, but Pinky, Pokey, Pukey, and I just don’t get it.
Other rules of Robb: furniture must not have flower print, he doesn’t trust men with beards, and he will never use a stall in a public restroom if a stall next to it is occupied because – as I understand it – men must never potty beside other men. Good to know.
Robb refuses to eat at Friday’s restaurants and Chili’s because people look too happy on their commercials. (Many of you may recall his similar boycott of Olive Garden restaurants because of their commercials depicting people laughing and enjoying themselves.) And Robb maintains that no one really likes coffee. We’re just pretending because we want to be seen drinking our status coffees. Frankly, I think this is a mild overreaction to my addiction to Starbucks.
Kerri broke her foot in volleyball and then played a full game of soccer before we (okay, before I) realized it was broken. During my interview with a U.S. Senator, Katie got on the other phone and began breathing heavily, “I know what you did last summer!” Kerri came home from school one day and excitedly asked that we go to the grocery store and buy a box of chewy granola bars (which I give them as snacks for school). Apparently, Kerri had been selling her .42 cent granola bars in the cafeteria for $2 apiece. What an extortionist! With visions of laptop computers dancing in her head, she may have a lucrative career in the gasoline/oil industry – jacking up prices in times of need. Tommy then declared that he either wants money from Santa Claus or a machine with which he can make his own money. He also has decided, for some reason, to open a car dealership when he grows up. I don’t know where they get this stuff.
Robb has now taken to imitating Judge Judy and is driving us nuts. He’s in love with the diminutive, yet domineering 4’8,” 65-year-old queen of daytime television mean. How do I compete with that?
From time to time, believe it or not, I actually forget that I’m in rural Texas – despite the fact that an owl stole my cats, that coyotes are occasionally spotted in our backyard, and that friends continue to introduce me to others as “my friend, the Democrat.” Apparently, I alone represent the Democratic party in Ellis County, Texas. But reminders of where we are always bring me back to reality pretty quickly. Like the other day when, just a couple blocks from my house, I came face-to-face with three cows and a bull standing in the middle of the street. I stopped, got out of my van, and did my best imitation of a cowboy, waving my arms and yelling, “Go on ... git!” And they did git. Proud, I got back in the van and realized, by golly, I just herded cattle. Of course, I herded them onto the wrong property. Oh well, the urban cowgirl strikes again.
Still, despite our best efforts, it hasn’t been all doom and gloom this year: both girls won first place in their school talent shows – Katie and her best buddy, Katie Bates, for their singing duet and Kerri for her violin solo. Kerri also became a member of the Old Time Fiddlers Association and won 4th place in a regional competition. Tommy played his very first season of soccer (asthma and all). He played defense, although he spent most of his time on the field entertaining his goalie and other defenders with his air guitar impressions. He’s very excited now because he has lost two front teeth, which means more money from the tooth fairy. New books are out (and in book stores), and I’ve got a great literary agent.
In May, I traveled to Orange County, California, and test-drove a gravity car for Volvo and wrote about it for a European magazine. Robb went on his annual hunting trip and bagged an elk. That’s his happy news, not ours, but the kids and I are getting used to the taste of elk meat. Finally, inspired by the local pollution and Tommy’s asthma, the girls created and launched their own environmental website.
And so with that … we wish you a very happy holiday, and take heart … you could be spending it in a dumpster. Oh, and don’t wrap your retainer in a napkin!