Sunday, January 30, 2011


And with a huge electric POP, my teapot was no more. Well, not actually no more. It was very happy to just sit there with the light on, taking up counter space with a pitcher of water that would never boil. There's just too much true about life in that statement to go THERE at the moment, and so I rewind to Halloween, when the most recent of the broken started.

"Aren't you ready yet, Grandma?! You've been in there for a week!" It's the Friday before Halloween, and, after a week of hanging out with Great-grandma while Grandma was at her pre-op appointments, little boy was ready to see his big brother in the Halloween parade with Grandma and me.

We were, as usual, running late. The little one was dancing in his ninja costume from his own Halloween parade an hour earlier, shooting at Great-grandma, who is telling me once again, how lucky she is to have three girls. She does still remember that I'm her granddaughter, or that "Bethy" is her granddaughter. It's just that she doesn't equate Bethy with me. And my children simply blow her mind.

Grandma emerges from her room still buttoning her pants and confides, "My hernia's out, and I can't manipulate it back in!" These weren't the actual words she used. It was medical terminology, but when she was done translating that was what she meant. And it turns out that the problem can be serious. If the hernia protrudes for so many hours because it cuts off circulation to to bowel and can lead to bowel death. So Grandma called the doctor, and I asked her if she wanted to stay home. But she insisted that she wanted to live her life, so we left Great-grandma home with the dogs.

The Halloween parade was actually quite entertaining, and I, the evil Mrs. Kim, managed not to argue, fight, loudly discuss, or have any other less-than-pleasant interactions while there. Considering how the prior few months had been going school-wise, this was huge progress.

When we returned to Grandma's house an hour or so later, Great-grandma was a mite confused, and Grandma's hernia was still protruding. The doctor had called back and wanted Grandma to go into the emergency room. Grandpa came home to take her, and I returned home to get my big son from the bus and wait for my husband to arrive. I promised to come back and look after Great-grandma at least until my brother came home and maybe later, depending.

Great-grandma was slightly hysterical after the general excitement over the hernia, and it had not been good for her brain. Like my teapot, something had popped, albeit not permanently.

"Cheryl!" she called down the hallway to my aunt, who had remained in Ohio and not made the trip with her.

"Cheryl's not here, Grandma. It's Beth. Why don't we have some dinner?"

"Cheryl said she was coming back. We're going out to eat." Not likely, I thought. Cheryl is 300 miles away.

"Grandma, you're in Pittsburgh. Mom had to go in to the emergency room, and I'm going to be with you for a while. Would you like something to eat?"

"No, no. I just ate." No she didn't. "Barbie's sick, huh?"

"Yes. But they'll take care of her. We'll just wait for them here. Let's sit down and watch a show for a while."

"Oh! See if Matlock's on! I do like him."

In the hours I spent with her that evening, I discovered that she really liked the new shows like "Matlock," but they had a few too many murders. She felt more comfortable with shows like "Dragnet" that we managed to locate on Retro TV. She wasn't sure where Cheryl was (yes, this subject kept coming back up), but was sure that she had said she was coming back soon and then they could go out for dinner. Therefore, she wasn't going to eat dinner with me. They were going out. But her little girl Barbie (Grandma) was sick, so Great-grandma wasn't sure that they should really go.

I convinced Great-grandma that a little popcorn wouldn't spoil her appetite and might make her feel better. As I opened the microwave bag and offered her some of the hot buttered popcorn, she commented, "Mmmmm. This is good! You said you can make this in the microwave? What will they think of next? Where did you find this? Maybe I could get me some...."

Grandma has kept a stash of microwave popcorn for over twenty years. Something in her mind was just a little loose.

I should have gotten used to this "broken" state of affairs, because it would plague me over the following weeks. My grandfather and mother would both have surgeries. My grandmother would be hospitalized, and we would begin dealing with restricting her activities and looking for a permanent placement for her. Not that we jumped the gun on this. The incident above is just a sample. One day she left something on the stove, went outside to play with her dog, and returned to the house to meet the firemen inside. Now, I understand forgetting something on the stove--I have done this repeatedly. But how do you miss the sirens? How do you not see the fire trucks arriving at YOUR door? How do you not notice the firefighters entering your own home?

That same week, our furnace would quit. It started first with a click and hiss. Then it simply got cold--from 70 to 64, 63, 62, 59 one morning. I called the apartment at 8:00 AM. They had someone out at 8:04. Now that's service. But a few days later, it quit again. This was slightly more frustrating. Not only did we not have heat as the cold was approaching, but I just could not find my cell phone and had to find the number for the apartment (which had been on speed dial). I finally got through to them, and they once again, came out quickly. This time, the maintenance man showed me how to check the pilot, told me to call immediately if it went out again, left a long lighter to relight it, and showed me how to turn off the gas line running to the furnace if I needed to.

I woke a few days later at 4:45 shivering. I trudged downstairs to the laundry room. I bent down to check the pilot. WHOOSH! Flames shot 18 inches out of the furnace, singeing my hair on the left hand side and my eyelashes on my right eye. I used my new cell phone (I caved after a week of searching) to take a picture of my hair to convince myself I wasn't dreaming. It was, after all, not quite 5:00 AM.

Nope. Singed hair on film, or digital whatever. I turned off the gas to the furnace and moved everything out of the laundry room for good measure. Then I ran to the grocery store for a new plunger and something else to pour down the toilet. You see, the toilet wasn't working either.

If you have to wake to find, after your first act of the new day, that your toilet does not flush, at least console yourself that YOU found it and were not awakened by someone who was not as cheerful as yourself about such things.

I returned from the store to find a crying child.

"Mommy! Where did you go?!" wailed AJ. This is a common state of affairs in our house. I cannot be out of AJ's sight for more than one or two waking moments. If he has not checked on me in the bathroom approximately every seven and a half seconds, then I can be assured that he is up to no good.

"I just ran to the store, AJ. I had to get some things." He followed me up the stairs, and, seeing the plunger, forgot all of his prior anxiety.

"Is it broken AGAIN, Mommy!" He hopped gleefully around our small bathroom.

"Shhhh!" I hissed at him. "Do NOT wake your father and brother."

With a jig that could get him an audition for Riverdance, AJ exclaimed, "But you have to push it DOWN, Mommy! Can I? Can I?" He mimicked plunging with his arms complete with splashing sound effects.

I let him. He didn't push down the water, but he did "break all the toilet paper," which made him very happy, and didn't wake the rest of the family, which made me very happy.

After the furnace was replaced, we called for the toilet. After all, when Ilsuk was using the gym for the bathroom, and I was considering holding it until I could get to my parents, it was time to call persistently for real help.

They brought a plumbing snake. AJ was beside himself and dancing for sheer joy. "What is that? Can I do it?"

"You'll have to ask this gentleman," I answered.

"Can I, gentleman?" intoned AJ.

"Well, I think this is a little dirty for you," answered the maintenance man. "But you can watch."

I left AJ at the top of the steps, asking questions like, "Is it alive? What do you feed it? Can't I do it once? Do you need a license? If I eat all my vegetables, can I try?"

There was a squeal of delight as the snake plunged into the water and AJ announced, "Mom! The gentleman is starting his homework!!"

Finally, my husband heard the maintenance man ask, "Don't you have school today?"

My husband looked at me. It was time to take AJ to Grandma's house.

We got a call a few hours later.

They had found my cell phone. At least God has a sense of humor.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Sleepover

It's funny. You can think you're doing okay as a person--not great, lots of mistakes, but still okay--until something small that everybody can handle just totally throws you off your game.

The other night, my husband brought back BJ with a friend to sleep over. Now, I have actually been nagging for him to do this. BJ needs to spend time with friends. This friend's family always does stuff for us. The friend is often treated unfairly, and the friend's mother never gets a break. Plus, I had had a terrible feeling about the day, and the last time I had had a terrible feeling, we got into a car accident. So when they came back safely, I would have been game for almost anything. Or so I thought.

Anyone can handle sleepovers, especially a former teacher and daycare worker, right? I went to countless of them as a child. Really, they are no big deal. And it really seemed like it was going to be all right. For about 20 minutes.

Let me say right now that all the images I have of the radiant Mrs. McCauley, face fully made-up and long dark hair glossily cascading over her shoulder, smiling benevolently at 6 rambunctious girls at some ungodly hour of the morning and cheerfully offering us breakfast, have taken on new sainted status. I am not that woman.

"Let's play Wii!" shouts our guest, bouncing on the La-Z-Boy.

"Try our Harry Potter!" offer my boys, bouncing on the adjacent love seat.

"Can you fight?" asks our guest.

"Yes, sometimes," answers my older one.

"You can shoot with your stick!" adds my little one. "I'm going to be Hagrid."

"I'll play Harry," says my big one.

"You'll share with your guest," says Daddy.

After a little crying, my little one is established on the computer. The guest and my big one FINALLY have the controllers. Now, I don't know what changed during the ride to our house, but for some reason, these children, who use their own Wiis daily with no outside help, have suddenly lost the capacity to put the loop of the controllers around their wrists, attach the nunchuks, and choose the game disk.

"How do you DO this?" whines our guest.

"Mommy, this won't work," whines my big one.

"Mommy, no one will let me play," whines my little one from his computer game.

Approximately three and a half minutes later, we are chainging the game because it is "boring." Translation: my big one has more hearts than our guest. Five minutes later, my big one is running off to his room because he "accidentally" quit the game when our guest was attempting to achieve "match point" in table tennis. *Sigh* Life is hard when you're learning to share.

Eventually, we put in soccer because that is what our guest likes. This is actually not a bad thing. My boys need to learn about soccer because all the kids in one country of their heritage know about it. They don't have to like it; they just need to know enough to get by. So, soccer = good. But our guest cannot play soccer. Nor does he have the patience to learn it. Not that my children are any better. They don't want to learn soccer either--they just want to win it or quit, which is exactly what my big one does as he abandons the Wii and attempts to seize the mouse from his computer game-playing brother.

"Mo-om! AJ's not giving me a turn!" shouts my big one.

"Your brother didn't need to give you a turn. YOU were playing Wii and not giving HIM a turn. How could you play Wii and the computer at the same time anyway?"

This argument is unpersuasive. Whining resumes.

Meanwhile, our guest is complaining about the soccer uniforms, the soccer stadium, and the fact that my husband, who has agreed to play with him so that our guest can, in fact, actually play the game HE wanted, has unwittingly scored a goal and taken the lead.

After five hours of this repeated, my beleaguered husband goes to bed and leaves me with the three children. This is a great form of birth control. I have absolutely NO desire for another child at the moment. And, horrible demon that I am, I make them sit down on the floor with covers and choose a movie from Netflix. I am SO mean. I have been told.

When the movie is over at 11:30, I inform the poor browbeaten boys, none of whom is more than six-years-old, that it is bed time, that, yes, they must brush their teeth, and don't any of them dare think of not using the potty because our guest has not brought any extra clothing and there is only so much laundry I want to do.

Ten minutes later, they are lying in bed. AJ is crying because he wants to sleep with Mommy. BJ is bouncing and giggling, and our guest is whining that someone has touched him. The three boys are squeezed together in a single bed. Everyone is going to get touched. I try to explain this to our guest, who looks doubtful. I also try to convince my boys to TRY to give him a little extra space.

We say prayers, give kisses, and I trudge off to bed at some time after midnight. In whispers they think I can't hear, they say, "Just a minute. We can sneak anywhere when she's in her room."

I hear clunks. Giggles. Rustling. I decide that if I don't smell smoke or hear sirens, I am not going to investigate.

After about twenty minutes, things quiet down, and I hear little feet shuffling into my room. My little one is scared and climbs into our bed. My husband smiles as he snuggles down between the two of us.

I wander a few times during the night. All are sleeping peacefully.

I am awakened a few minutes before 7:00 by laser gun fire in the living room. At least it was almost 7:00.

Things do not improve in the morning. We are now more tired than we were yesterday, and our patience is waning. The little one is desperate to win anything, which is unlikely because he is the smallest, so every such attempt is punctuated with a full out temper tantrum in the middle of the floor. Our guest is rough housing and then complaining each time he is touched, something that incenses my children who generally never mention an injury unless they want me to staunch blood flow so that they can keep going.

We take a break to eat.

Ten minutes later, we are ready to wrestle again.

"Every time you fight, one of you ends up crying," I point out. "So if you're going to fight, you might as well decide right now who's going to cry."

My little one immediately volunteers, "Okay! This time BJ cries!"

So we went back to Wii. There was great whining. We have three boys and only two controllers. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we lose. Only certain games allow us to be the same character. Sometimes we don't understand the turn structure.

I threaten to turn off the whole thing if I hear a single complaint more. Our guest regards me fearfully.

A second later, my big one begins, "Awwww! It's his turn agai-ain!" Then, catching the look on my face, he quickly adds, "and that's why it's SO AWESOME, Mom!...We can keep the Wii on?"

So I went upstairs and hid in the bathroom for ten minutes. Like I said, millions of mothers have handled this, but at least this weekend, put me on the Nasty Mom List. I am not cut out for sleepovers.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Ring in the New Year!

"Let's go to Gamma's house again when we sleep," AJ suggested this morning. Then he added, "But this time tell me first."

It sounds like typical AJ speak, up there with, "Call BJ and sure him I'm a robot and robots don't sleep early," and "My real parents are vampires and superheroes." That is if you didn't know that we had, in fact, packed up the boys and went to my parents' house at 3:00 AM on New Year's Day while the police searched the area for the kids that broke into the vacant apartment next to us--the second time the police came for problems with the adjacent apartment in three weeks.

Unfortunately, AJ is only too firmly grounded in reality.

My husband and I have been discussing this over and over. What exactly should we do? Is it safe for the boys to live here? Was the first issue--an outraged woman bashing in our living room window by accident (we're not sure if she thought it was the neighbors' or if she just caught it on the back swing while she was aiming again for their front door). We were assured by the apartment that the neighbors were moving and that further incidents should not occur. I worried for the younger children in that family who are still so innocent and had played so kindly with my children all summer and blindly hoped that perhaps the problems wouldn't stay with us or follow them. But now we were wondering. Was that a fluke or the first incident in a pattern?

As he looked at me during the short drive over to my parents', my husband said simply, "This is how people get shot, Beth. The kids are scared. The cops are scared."

He's right. I know it. And our paper thin walls aren't going to keep any bullets out. We were lucky that night.

The funny thing is...I know that we're meant to be here. For how long, I don't know. I just have felt it. And I am slowly being taught to love my neighbors. It has been a very long lesson as I am perhaps more stubborn than some people the Lord has to deal with. The years, in fact, do stretch on. When the roommate with an abusive boyfriend was taken away, there were new issues to deal with (although my second roommate and I are still in touch, and I am so grateful because she ROCKS!). When I then thought I was leaving the problems of that dorm, I moved in with a felon (Oops! Surprise!).

Of course, a lot has happened between then and now, but I am STILL learning to love my neighbors. And each time I think I am getting somewhere, I realize that I may not be.

I spent the next day wondering where these kids' parents were. We also had "parented" a teenager for a short time - my husband's cousin who stayed with us for two years from the time he was 14-16. During that time, I identified strongly with Petunia Dursley. I felt awful for not being able to love this child the way a mother should. With an adopted brother, I always had been sure that I could love a child who was not mine. And perhaps I did and do, in my own way. Many older mothers reassured me that the "love" they felt for their children when they were teenagers was not always the affectionate kind. And much of what I, and I suspect many other parents, felt was more concern for him and resentment that I couldn't do what needed to be done than anger at him or resentment that he was there.

Back to the point, however, as I reminded myself New Year's Day, Petunia Dursley always knew where Harry was.

But then I began thinking of all the what if's. What if the kids, who had broken in next door and sounded like they were tearing the place apart and were about to come through our walls, had snuck out and their parents thought they were sleeping? What if their parents couldn't find them? What if I was completely wrong, and this wasn't the parents' fault at all? But then, whose fault is it? Is fault-finding inappropriate or is it a necessary step in finding the problem that must be solved?

What blame lies on me in this situation? Am I participating by ignoring something going on around me?

Once again, loving my neighbor is turning out to be a whole lot harder than it sounds.