Sunday, September 13, 2009


Let me take you far, far back in time to what seems like a lifetime ago. Before I met my husband (and we had three children in 4 years, a mortgage and minivan payment and enough Melissa and Doug puzzles to make me clinically insane) I lived in a little apartment on Weil Street (in Milwaukee's fashionable - but slightly dangerous - Riverwest neighbourhood with my giant tabby cat, Hiccup, and my Diet Cokes, books and music and all the things that made me happy. I also had a best friend, Jenny, with whom I spent most weekend days and evenings. We'd met in college at our after-classes bar/restaurant job (read as: our skip-class-to-drink-at job) and had immediately teamed up because of a shared love of good handbags, cute (and possibly drug-addicted) boys and beer. But by the day we're talking about, we were grown-ups; Jenny was a social worker and I worked for The Lang Companies. Our long-standing plans on Friday nights still stood. Always. Our reputations as Fun Party Girls were hard-won and well-earned. We were basically inseparable. And we still are - no matter the 50 miles between our homes, our children's school, napping and playdate schedules. My favourite way to start the morning is chatting with Jenny on the phone while her boys jabber happily in the background and my kids fight. And I drink Diet Cokes until I put Callie on the bus and drop off Henry at preschool. Anyhow. I adore Jenny and always have.
On Saturday nights, our habit (due to vicious hangovers) was to hang out, watch movies, have pizza and Diet Cokes and rest up for shopping on Sunday. So this Saturday night was not unlike many others; we were watching television, I got tired and went to bed, and Jenny fell asleep on my sofa. However, at some point in the wee hours of the morning (and I do mean that - now my idea of "wee hours" is, like, 10:15 pm, but then it was more like 4:30 am) Jenny was shaking me awake, mumbling some nonsense about a candle in my living room. I finally awoke (I used to be a super-heavy sleeper, but now my kids have ruined that for me forever. That and my abs.) and asked her what the hell she was talking about, and Jenny said "Jules, there's a candle sizzling in your living room." I said (really meanly) "Then. Blow. It. Out." and Jenny said I just needed to see it. I'm not going to lie here. I was really annoyed with her. I'd always considered myself the tougher of the two, and this was just further evidence of her babyish-ness. (Jenny and I loved each other to the core, but we fought like cats-n-dogs. She once leaned over the front seat of some friend's car to punch me continuously while I - totally drunk - laughed and kicked her.) So I stormed into my living room to inspect this sizzling candle on my awesome purple bookcase, and she was right: the damn thing was sizzling. In my near-slumbering state I tried to blow it out. It didn't do anything except sort of fizzle up the side of the glass votive cup, and, well, sizzle. So (because I am a genius) I grabbed a glass of water and poured it into the votive cup. In nearly slow motion it quietly sizzled again and then in a whoosh it formed a ball of fire and shot up to the ceiling. I'm not joshing. A ball. Of fire. Jenny and I screamed and hugged one another in fear. I think I yelled "Stop! Drop! Roll!!!" We were screaming and crying and hugging, and as quickly as it had formed and blown up, it dissipated and was...gone. The only evidence was greasy black streaks up the wall behind the bookcase and on the ceiling above the explosion. Jenny, clearly traumatised, began gathering up her handbag and keys, quickly exiting the crime scene, and I was alone to survey the damage and wonder what the hell had happened. I have to admit that I was scared to be there alone. I was mad at myself for being scared in the first place, but I was mad at Jenny for abandoning me! We'd just experienced a flaming ball of fire, for crying out loud! We were in this together! Anyhow, She bailed out of there for her less-combustible, non-smoky apartment, and there I was. I considered calling the Fire Department, but I didn't want them to come over (because my snowman pjs were too comfy, and I was too lazy to get dressed) and I really didn't want them to know that I'd gone to bed with a candle still burning. Seriously, isn't that something we all learned in, like, 4th grade?
I tried really hard to go back to sleep that night, but I was consumed with the trauma of the event: what if Jenny hadn't awoken? What if it had started a real fire, not just a fireball? Could the fire now be inside the wall, and if so, would I break my legs if I jumped off my balcony with Hiccup in my arms? The next day I called the fire department and explained the situation (and I might have even disguised my voice) and he calmly (and without judgement) explained that the grease from the fragranced candle had ignited long after the candle wick had been burned, and that what we'd experienced was a grease fire. I'd caused it to explode when I dumped a glass of water over it, and the next time you have a grease fire you only use baking soda to extinguish it. And yes, we did learn that in 7th grade Home Ec class, but it's possible I wasn't paying attention because I was busy daydreaming about Guess jeans and Forenza sweaters. And I earned exactly 0 credits of Chemistry in college because I was busy daydreaming about what adventures Jenny and I would have that weekend and whether I could possibly charge a new Coach handbag. So yeah, I didn't get it that it was a grease fire at the time.
When I moved out of that happy, cluttered little apartment two years later (because Craig and I rented a flat together...we lived in sin) the landlord informed me that I either had to re-paint the living room or cover up the grease stains from fireball. I sprayed it with Kilz and got the hell the outta dodge, but to this day, my husband says that one of the first things he wondered (after he wondered how much that giant cat weighed) was "What the hell is all that black crap on the wall and ceiling?"

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Cussing is Scary.

This is the funniest/scariest/saddest thing that I've ever witnessed in my daughter's classroom:
I was volunteering in my daughter Callie's k4 class one afternoon, and it was nearing the end of the day and we were all having Circle Time. Mrs. Harrigan* had just read a story, and as she finished she glanced up at the clock and said "Wow, friends! I can't believe we have a few extra minutes! This never happens to us! Can you believe it, friends??" (I'll vouch for this one: as a mother of three, I can tell you we are never, ever running on time, much less early. So just imagine trying to keep a classroom of 23 four and five year olds running on time. I spent the entire year admiring the woman, frankly, because if I'd been her, I would have been hitting the vodka bottle every day before lunch.)
So she was amazed, hands on her hips while we all exclaimed how incredulous we felt that we were ahead of schedule. Murmurs of amazement went up from the crowd, and as silence settled over us again, Nathan* threw his hands in the air and yelled "Yeah, WHAT THE HELL?"
A shocked gasp erupted from every single kid in that classroom. I was terrified. My hands were shaking, two little girls beside me nearly started to cry, and DeeDee*, in a hushed and rather awed voice, whispered "that's a bad word." I thought we'd all be sent straight to the principal's office. I was scared. Would she call my parents? Would I have to stand in the corner? Would she hold me back next year? I think two little trembling girls near me wet their pants because somehow our mere presence in the face of such disobedience made us complicit in his horrible crime.
Mrs. Harrigan looked at Nathan with eyes narrowed. "What did you say?" she hissed. Nathan whispered "I said 'what the hell.'" I knew that he knew he'd crossed a line. This was an actual cuss word. This wasn't "poop face" or dummybutt." This was a real cuss word. I feared the consequences. Mrs. Harrigan, eyes still narrowed and still whispering, said "That is NOT a word we use at school, Nathan."
By now our early-finish surprise had been ruined; the time it had taken to address this awful crime had used up our precious extra minutes, and it was time to proceed on into the coat room, get our backpacks and sit down criss-cross-applesauce for bus lines and parent pick-ups. The festive and jolly mood had evaporated with the utterance of a simple curse word, and we solemnly walked out into the suddenly less-sunny afternoon to board our buses or take our moms' hands to get in our minivans. Callie held tightly to my hand, and I sat beside her on the school bus, even more determined to protect her from every cuss word in the world.

*names have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty.