Friday, July 31, 2009

"I am collecting a collection..."

I have a secret wish. It involves one day moving to Scotland where my children can bicycle to school every morning while I dash off to classes at the University of St. Andrews Divinity School.

This afternoon, during naptime, I indulged in a peculiar form of escapism: perusing the staff profiles at St. Andrews. One resident scholar had written an entire book on the uses of food in the Old Testament.
The very idea set me spinning: Can you imagine, I thought to myself, devoting hundreds of hours to elucidating something so singular? I sighed. The life of the academic involves, among other things, the ability – and might I add, luxury – of being able to mono-focus.

No sooner had this thought flitted through my brain than a cacophony of events unfolded simultaneously. I recount them in no particular order: one Audrey Sophia noisily emerged from her bedroom dragging a mass of crumpled blankets and begging for “cholkie” (a.k.a. chocolate); Evangeline Grace (who had been sleeping soundly in her swing), was roused by the jangling of her big sister’s door and began to root in search of food; my cell phone, perched on the corner of the kitchen counter, erupted in vibrations and succeeded in clattering to the floor; and finally, the oven, in which one medium-sized chicken was roasting in its juices, began to hiss and smoke.

I took the chicken out of the oven, sat Audrey in her chair before a small bowl of blueberries and half a dozen “Ms” (that is, M & Ms), picked up a now wailing Evie and proceeded to nurse her while returning a missed call from Dutch.

I laughed to myself. Isn’t this motherhood? The art of applying oneself simultaneously to five, seemingly unrelated subjects (whether topics or persons), and then somehow attempting to blend them together into some sort of synchronized picture of cohesion?

Most of the time, the outcome falls a little wide of the mark, and there is that voice in the back of your mind chiding you for never quite getting it right, for always leaving something amiss…

But then I remembered that “I am collecting a collection.” The quotation emanates from one of my favorite scenes in the BBC animated children’s series, Charlie and Lola, in which Charlie, who has proven himself to be quite the expert dinosaur collector, is sitting with his little sister Lola, examining – with evident disdain – her supposed ‘collection:’ a seashell, a ruler, a hair bauble, etc.

To the outward observer, Lola’s collection, like many a mother’s life, looks like nothing more than a mishmash of unrelated items trying to pass themselves off as “respectable.”

‘That’s not a collection!” howls Charlie. “A collection is meant to be a collection of things that all go together.” It must be made up of “…all of the same kind of thing.”

“But they do go together,” insists Lola, “because I collected them for all the very same reason.”

What reason could it be, wonders Charlie in exasperation? Is it a collection of things that people don’t need?

At last, Lola illuminates the mystery: “Mine is a proper collection," she insists. "It's a collection of things that people do need...and that I can give to them…and which will make them very, very pleased.”
The seashell, as it turns out, doubles as a jewelry tray for Mother; the ruler is for Daddy who is always measuring things; and the hair bauble is on its way back to Lola’s best friend, who had lost it “ages and ages ago.”

I am not now (and will probably never be) an expert in the uses of food in Old Testament literature, but I am certainly, like many a mother, an expert collector... of sorts.

For although my life may seem, at a given moment, to be nothing but a mishmash of seemingly unrelated experiences, each of them is making it possible for me to gain possession of certain character qualities – qualities such as patience, kindness, and self-control – which I would otherwise lack; and which, when shared, have the added benefit of "pleasing" - or blessing - other people.

My collection, like Lola’s, does go together. You just have to be looking at it through the right set of spectacles.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tea Party

A Life Less Ordinary

"There are no ordinary people." ~CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory

This morning I had a plan with a friend to visit a neighborhood Barnes & Noble and let our (collectively) 5 children play amongst the books while we attempted some form of semi- adult conversation.

But our ordinary plan was foiled for an even more ordinary reason: the cable man, who was scheduled to knock on my friend’s door between 7:30 and 9:00 a.m., didn’t roll up until 9:15, making it impossible for us to transport our babbling brood to and from the bookstore before lunch…

So I hauled two babies and two baskets of laundry into the back of my car and headed to her house for a bit of playtime instead.

As I climbed into my car I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window. Well aren’t you the picture of suburban domesticity!, I thought. And isn't it banal? It was middle morning on an empty street. I was wearing flip-flops, my hair pulled back in a ponytail… An image of utter ordinariness. I looked back at my girls. Evie was sleeping soundly after a long night of wakefulness while Audrey chattered some delightful nonsense about going in the big pool...and sliding down the big slide.

I considered that if someone ten years ago had presented me with a snapshot of just this moment – driving in the car in the bristling heat at 10 in the morning to a friend’s house, to fold laundry – I would have bristled myself. At that time, ordinariness, in any arena of life, was an absolute anathema to me. I’d have preferred any other adjective - even stinky, slimy, or sordid! - to describe my existence. But ordinary?! Faugh.

But now that I was on the inside of this very ‘ordinary’ picture – (and perhaps it took being on the inside)—I realized that you can’t determine the quality of something merely by observing its exterior.

Stereotypes, I defy you!

Regardless of how ordinary my life may appear, each moment is, in actuality, completely unique and original. Never before in the history of the world has there been an Audrey Sophia, or an Evangeline Grace, thrown together at this particular time, in this particular set of circumstances, with this particular Mommy … nor will there ever be again.

That is the joy – the thrill, even – of motherhood: being physically and emotionally present in both the monumental and mundane moments; and being (or attempting to be) the Mother they need. The challenge is to allow those moments, particularly the seemingly mundane ones, to be my ‘tutor,’ not just my children’s.

After all, isn’t that the real miracle – not just of motherhood, but of life in general? That God can use the ‘ordinary’ moments of our lives to teach us extraordinary things? The trick is, to let Him.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Italian Job

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Dinner

Surprise Face

Pop was not expecting to enjoy the (shall I say) privilege of meeting his newest grandchild, Evangeline Grace, nor the unprecedented perk of having the weekend revolve entirely around him … completely and entirely!

Being her always-set-on-realism-Irish-self, Mom had told him in the car on the way to the airport, “Set your expectations low.”

He did.

But after arriving on an American Airlines flight into Tucson, sampling a slice of chocolate cake, and holding the ever-so-cuddlesome-Evie in his arms, his expression changed from tiresome to tickled.

I asked whether he was enjoying himself. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I was setting my sights on the dunk tank at the county fair. This is better by far than anything I could have imagined!”

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pop's Birthday Bash ~ Preparations

I loooove surprises – particularly when I am not the recipient of them.

My dad’s 60th birthday was five months ago – according to some people’s math (you know who you are!) that makes today his half birthday. Since we (Dutch, Audrey and I) were unable to attend his birthday extravaganza (thanks to Evangeline who while in utero gave me the ‘gaggy vomits’) we decided to surprise them with tickets to fly down into the desert for our own birthday celebration.

Audrey and I spent all day preparing. We made a chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting and adorned it with fresh blueberries.

We filled Easter Eggs with miniature Almond Joys (his favorite)...

...And spent almost all afernoon crafting an enormous bow for Pop's present.

PLUS we picked up a family favorite movie, "The Italian Job," which is very apropos - for the tone of the weekend and the spirit of the man.

MY FAVORITE PART? Torturing my parents – particularly Mom – who knew nothing other than that they were about to be the recipients of some sort of 'surprise' involving a trip to an undisclosed location.

She called me two nights ago as I was running into the grocery store.

“I can’t stand it,” she squealed (seriously, squealed). “Please tell me.”

“Can’t,” I said matter-of-factly. “Dutch made me promise.”

“Can’t I have just one hint? Just one little one?”

(I know from my spies that she had been trying to needle it out of my brother and sister for days).

“Well…” I said, feigning reconsideration. “I suppose I could give you one hint. But just one little one! And you have to promise not to breathe a word to Dad”

More squeals - this time of delight. “Oh, yes! I promise it will be our secret.”

“Okay… well... I can’t say much but how would you feel about a lifetime supply of singing telegrams?”


“That means you could look forward to one singing telegram every day for the rest of your life.”

More silence. Then: “That would be horrible.”

“I thought so. But how about yours and Dad’s …very own… personal… midget masseuse?” (Sorry if you find this humor distasteful but this is a family joke - Mom hates massage or, as she puts it, "strangers touching me," and has been frightened of midgets for years…).

“This isn’t funny.”

“No, but it’s fun, isn’t it?”

I called again yesterday afternoon.

No answer on Mom’s phones so I left a somewhat urgent message: “Mom, I can’t believe I forgot to ask you before now… but it’s of the utmost importance… for Dad’s surprise… that you pack your snowsuits. Call me as soon as you get this!”

I received a frantic call back 20 minutes later. “Snow suits?! We don’t have snow suits!”

“Well, don’t you at least have hats and gloves? I could manage to get you the suits myself but it will be much easier on everyone involved if you bring your own cold weather accessories.”

“Is this a joke? Where are we going that we will need snow suits?”

“You know I can’t say. But it’s very important that you bring them.”

I made a similar call to Dad 20 minutes later. “Dad, hi. I almost forgot to remind you. Can you pack your splunking hats?”

“B-but I gave my splunking hat away years ago!” (Incidentally, Dad gave an identical response last fall when we planned our trip to be photographed with President Bush in the Oval Office (thanks to my sister, Kate). Dutch (teasingly) suggested that we color-coordinate: me and Mom in blue, Kate in red, and the boys in white suits. Dad's response was not, 'What, are you crazy?' but rather 'I gave my white suit away years ago!').

“That’s too bad," I went on. "I suppose you could rent them but-”

“Are we going in a cave?”

“I really can’t say but I promise you this: you’ll thank me later.”

Finally, on the way to the airport the rents received one last kindly set of calls from yours truly.

“Hi, Heather,” mom said. Her voice was humorless.

“Mom, hi! So glad you answered. Listen, I know it’s last minute but can you run into the airport bookstore and grab a book called Swahili for Dummies?”


“Seriously. You’ll also want a Chinese dictionary.”

“For what?”

“Well…I don't want to give too much away but I promise that when you get to where you’re going, you’ll be so glad you brought them.”

I made my last call to Dad as he was about to go through airport security. “Dad, hi.”

His voice was likewise without mirth.

"Can you go into the bookstore with Mom and grab a book called, Walking Tours of Mexico City? It has a great section on the most polluted areas to avoid; as well as a chapter on which streets have the highest incidence of tourist kidnapping … If there’s one thing that could put a damper on the ‘surprise’ it would be Mom getting kidnapped and having her ear cut off for ransom. ...I want this weekend to be memorable but not in that way."

This time he laughed, hard.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Weekend Top 10

Having added another arrow to our quiver I have significantly lowered my expectations for what can be 'accomplished' in a day... or two...or three.

This weekend we:

1. Admired one 'Miss Fix-It' as she assisted Daddy in refurbishing an industrial-style espresso maker (oh, the things Dutch does for fun!):

2. Laughed at Daddy's ineptitude when it came to dressing for the pool:

Then we said 'bye-bye' to Daddy as he headed off to work. Or in Audrey's words: "Daddy going work... going his house. I - I staying here. Staying Mommy's house."

3. Bathed ONE baby TWO times (poor child sleeps in our room which is the hottest in the house and she woke up sweaty; by 10 am, having sat in her stroller, in the shade, while we swam, she needed another chance to cool off:

4. Blew up a dozen balloons - and chased them around the house - just for fun!

5. Fashioned our friends Ella and Kate out of playdough:

'Ella' is featured here in a pink dress:

'Kate' wore a lovely green and blue number (not pictured). When Audrey observed me inserting toothpicks for Ella's arms she grabbed the as-yet-armless-Kate and said, "I do it! May I do it, please?"

The result was strangely reminiscent of... voodoo! Sorry, Katters!

6. Drew pictures of Pickles, Peas and "Audrey Flowers:"

7. Made Popcorn Soup (then proceeded to spill Popcorn Soup; Mommy is certain she will be finding stray kernels for the next two years...):"

8. Made (and spilled) "Monies" Soup:

9. Brushed up on "Evangeline in Literature:"

PG Wodehouse is sooooo funny. Evangeline features prominently in this story, "Farewell to Legs." You Hemingway fans will pick up on the pun...

10. Saved the best for last: dishes

Friday, July 17, 2009

Telepathically Perfect

"O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You understand my thought from afar.
You scrutinize my path and my lying down,
And are intimately acquainted with all my ways.
Even before there is a word on my tongue,
Behold, O LORD, You know it all."

-Psalm 139

For some unknown reason I awoke this morning with these words from Psalm 139 flitting through my mind… It has always been one of my favorite Psalms. Even before I could fully grasp its meaning, I loved the poetic wording: "If I fly with the wings of the dawn, and dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me..." How can you read this and not be moved?

But this morning - for the first time - I considered these verses in the context of marriage. As unreasonable and unrealistic as I know it is, I realized that I want Dutch to be this person... The one who "understands my thoughts from afar"... who is "intimately acquainted with all my ways" ... and who "knows the word before it is on my tongue."

After all, telepathy is the epitome of intimacy, right? Just think how much closer Dutch and I would be if he were capable of reading my mind?! (Very often after a communication breakdown he will teasingly ask when I'm going to acquire this skill. "I know you can do it," he'll say, "and then all our problems will be solved!")

I may be wrong, but I would venture to add that I think all of us women want to find someone who will fulfill this role in our lives. Be this telepathically Perfect Man.

Hence… the overwhelming number of disappointed and resentful women out there.

It almost goes without saying that no mere mortal could ever boast of possessing such powers of omniscience and omnipresence! But the existence of this Psalm inadvertently affirms the idea that God created us with unspeakable – and well near unquenchable – longings to be perfectly known and understood; and never, ever, to be left alone.

I recently read the story of a heroic couple who survived a horrific plan crash, leaving the wife wth severe burns over %80 of her body (read more about her here). Six long months after the crash, having undergone countless reconstructive surgeries, she finally awoke from a medically-induced coma, and described her husband’s attempt to rescue her this way:

“He opened the airplane door which was on fire, cleared a path for me breaking his toe and his back. It was heroic and knightly. He was motivated by love. He found his way to safety and looked back only to realize I was not following. His heart sank. He ran around to the other side of the plane just in time for it to go up in flames. He yelled and screamed my name over and over and I his...we just couldn't get to each other.”

Despite being passionately in love with his wife – he couldn’t save her.

Reading about this "failed" rescue attempt wrenched my heart... Then I began to consider the fact that this is so often the case in relationships. Although the circumstances are less harrowing, the substantive truth is the same: men often 'fail' to rescue their women - whether physically, emotionally, or otherwise. ...

And in most cases this is not for lack of effort or desire!

Let me offer you a rather mundane example from my own life:

At approximately 5' 5" I am not a tall person but I never considered myself particularly short until I married into Dutch's family (which consists of a vast array of tall, blond, nordic types) and my height became a subject frequently alluded to in conversation.

When, for example, Dutch first introduced me to a very strident female relative we exchanged salutary remarks. She complimented my shoes (3-inch heels) and then abruptly added something to the effect of, "I suppose you short types have to do what you can to stack up..."

Apart from being genuinely taken aback, I was hurt (by her comment) and (afterwards) angry at Dutch who, having failed to grasp the implications of her insinuation, said nothing in my defense.

While I would like to project an attitude of total indifference to what was obviously a trivial and meaningless slight - in that moment, I did want Dutch to rescue, defend, understand, and commiserate with me.

If he really knew me, wouldn't he have recognized and understood why this statement was hurtful? Wouldn't he have rushed to my defense?

If we are truly honest, I believe this is the thing we so often long for our men to do. Even (I might add) the strongest and most independent of us.

But alas, they often either cannot or do not...

One of my favorite lines from the "Sound of Music" is spoken by Mother Superior to Maria after she is confronted with her myriad "failures" as a nun: "When God closes a door," she says, "somewhere He opens a window!"

Though I am married to a fabulous man, God - in big and small ways - often "closes the door" on his being able to 'rescue' me.

But this, I realize, is the beginning of the real fairy tale. Men cannot save us; and what a tender mercy this is because it is only then, when we cease to look to them to satisfy our needs, that we realize only God can.

I'm sure that He (God) has been trying to tell me this all along… that He never meant for Dutch to meet my need for rescue and intimacy because He didn't design marriage this way. But I am convinced - as was my case - that we will not look to God until we absolutely have to; until we have faced our own 'proverbial plane crash.'

"Come to Me," says Christ, for "whoever drinks of the water I give him will never thirst." And look to Me for "I will never leave your nor forsake you."

He is not only the God who formed the mountains; He knit me together in my mother's womb. With claims as colossal as these, why would I look elsewhere for the satisfaction of being "fully known?"

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

He is not afraid...

My love will sail this ship
through great storms and ice floes.
He is not afraid as I am,
he is not afraid.
And this is why he knows the way.
And this is why he knows the way.
He knows the way.

- “Migration,” The Innocence Mission

Dutch and I took the girls for a walk after dinner this evening.

The days are so hot that we waited until it was almost sunset before we put little Evie in the Baby Bjorn pressed up close against her Daddy’s chest. Audrey was given permission to select two babies – tonight it was Bella and Betsy – to stroll around in her little miniature stroller (thanks, Nanny!).

The sky was lit up in every possible color. Gold. Orange. Vermillion. Lavender. Violet. And (my favorite) flamingo pink! As we walked through our neighborhood we were dwarfed by a spectacular view of the Catalina mountains. Every second the light changed as another brilliant color cast itself across the wide expanse of sky, altering the look and texture of every cloud. Dark silhouettes of saguaros dotted the horizon… An occasional bird swooped and soared above our heads. Everything was still and glistening in the half-light.

In such moments of unspeakable beauty it is easy to see why countless poets and painters have tried and failed to capture the extraordinary and yet commonplace beauty of a sunset… “I have never seen a realistic painting that comes close to doing this justice,” I said. Dutch agreed. “There is just no way to capture it is there.”

… God truly is the Master Artist.

I looked down at my daughters. Beautiful little beings. At only five weeks old, Evangeline is already so full of whimsy: “Trailing clouds of glory did she come / From God, who is [her] home…” With her jet black hair, olive skin and dark blue eyes, she reminds me of a magic creature escaped from some nearby lily pond. Wordsworth was right: “Heaven truly lies about us in our infancy.”

And Audrey – precious Audrey – is so full of things to say. ‘Bella disobedient; Bella go time out!’ she exclaimed in that quintessential tone of a big sister. ‘Watch out, mommy; car coming! Go to the side!”

A twig cracked. Audrey started.‘What’s that noise, Mom? What’s that?’ she asked. We turned just in time to see the white cotton tail of a jack rabbit dart through the desert brush and disappear. ‘Where’d he go Mom? Where’d he go?’ I explained that even bunnies must go home for dinner. Audrey’s lower lip jutted out an acrobatic distance. “Oooooohh,” she moaned and her head began to wag. “He going home. Not… not stay here. He going home eating his dinner.”

My heart almost burst with joy - that deep down and welling over feeling of satisfaction and well-being. It was deeper than any I have experienced before. Here we were. A family. Together. Healthy. Loving each other…

Then in crept an unwanted voice of fear: It can’t last… said the voice.

My eyes welled with tears. "What if...something tragic happens," I told Dutch. "What if I lose one of you. Or we live to see a nuclear holocaust. Iran and North Korea would love to see us go up in smoke!"

Dutch laughed.

"Hey," I said and socked him in the arm. "I can't help but feel that moments like these are just too good. Somewhere an ax must be about to fall…”

He put his strong arm around me. “Woman,” he said, his voice full of affection. “You can’t think like that. You’re right, we don’t know the future. Anything can happen. But we do know that God is good. Just look at what incredible gifts He is allowing us to enjoy right now! He is in control and we have nothing to fear.”

(Or as Oogway the Turtle says in “Kung Fu Panda:” “You are too concerned with what was and what will be. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift; that's why it's called the present.")

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Seven Year Itch

I realized something tonight – with a little help from Hessel (henceforth referred to as Dutch).

We were sitting beneath the misters at one of my favorite restaurants – a little Italian bistro that specializes in thin-crust pizza and scrumptious salads – enjoying the view of the mountains and watching Audrey cover herself in tomato grease. Evangeline slept soundly in her stroller.

Having celebrated our 7th anniversary on July the 6th, I had been reflecting all week on the “B.M.” (Before Marriage) Heather and the “A.M.” (After Marriage) Heather.

There have been some positive changes: Coming from a highly expressive Irish-Italian family and marrying into a reticent Dutch one has, for example, taught me that it is possible to exercise control over one’s emotions. Who knew?

But alongside the positive changes – or should I say, in their shadow – have crept some negative ones too: I don’t know whether it’s my willingness, courage, or capacity to be vulnerable that’s been damaged but… somehow, somewhere along the way, something has been lost.

How did this happen?

Dutch, describing our tumultuous first year of marriage, offered this explanation: “So much went so wrong - so fast and for so long – that I think a part of you still struggles to believe that God is really good; and that life, in spite of its pain, can be beautiful.”

Rifles raised. Ready, aim, fire – I had been hit right between the eyes.

Like all good stories, the story of our first year of marriage is a long one (if you are interested in reading a detailed account you can find it here).

The short version may be summed up in Yeats’s words: “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold… everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned.” Or in the words of Jeremiah the prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

In one sense our wedding was, like all marriages, a ceremony of innocence – both of us passionately in love but completely na├»ve as to what our so-called “love” would reveal and require of us. Though we had each experienced some significant hardship, neither of us was convinced of the resident evil within our own hearts.

We also learned – after watching our dreams of conjugal life hopelessly dashed – that “things fall apart.” The center cannot hold. No matter how hard you work or how desperately you will yourself to move in one direction over another, man is not the ultimate master of his own fate.

It wasn’t always like this…

While we were dating friends gave us the nickname “H-bomb” because, in our early days as a couple, we sort of, well... exploded into rooms. We were filled with hopeful determination, the kind that often accompanies youth. We looked at the world – and, more importantly, each other – through rose-tinted glasses. In retrospect, I imagine we projected a certain kind of saccharine sweetness for life! For love! For raindrops on roses! And whiskers on kittens! And – well, you get the idea – being around us was probably, to some people, mildly nauseating.

After our first year of marriage, the nickname (now our initials) took on a more tragic – but no less accurate – meaning.

My cousin Jon described receiving our first Christmas card, in which we elected to publicly ‘rejoice in our sufferings’ by chronicling the series of unfortunate events we had encountered during our previous six months together, this way: “Most people just write to say, ‘Happy Holidays. I hope you had a good year.’ Reading your Christmas card was like having a bomb detonated in your living room. ‘Season’s Greetings,’ it seemed to say, ‘We hope your year was super! Ours made Dante’s journey through hell seem like a walk in the park.”

H-Bomb certainly did explode. Undoubtedly for our good; and hopefully for His glory.

“Life is 95% perspective,” Dutch told me as the last sliver of sunlight sunk behind the now violet mountains, “And 5% circumstances.”

Again, he was so right (boy, did I marry well!). Contentment in life has little or nothing to do with circumstances; and everything to do with how we view our circumstances.

I asked myself whether I was choosing to see my life - and our marriage - as a work of art that God, in His goodness, was in the process of perfecting? Or was I becoming a cynic, unwilling to believe that two hopelessly flawed people can, over the course of tentwentythirtyforty or fifty years, actually fall more in love with one another. Even more, that they can act as tools in the hands of God, helping to make the other one perfect?

I admit I often oscillate between these two opinions; and I realized that part of what helps me maintain the right perspective is... writing.

So I am giving myself a little summer challenge: write one entry a week and post it here. Don’t be afraid: of who is listening and, perhaps more importantly, who isn’t; of the person you are; or the person you are not. After all, none of us, this side of heaven, will ever be "perfect and complete." We are all in "process" - moving in one direction or another, either toward God or away from Him.

If Dutch was right - as he (seemingly) always is - and a part of me did die during those earliest, darkest days, all is not lost. For as is commonly held, death often precedes new life; though its subject matter is ominous, Yeats's poem even suggests this by its title, "The Second Coming." In order for something to be reborn, it first must die.

So here is to - not just small beginnings - but new ones.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Come Home Now, Dad..."

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the vast majority of women – married or single – HATE bugs.

Some women marry for no other reason than to have a man around to kill them! I am not quite in this category but I do rely SOLELY and EXCLUSIVELY on Mr. Baker for the destruction and disposal of all insects.

But this week - this week during which Hessel has been working literally around the clock - I have encountered a vast and seemingly limitless array of creeping and crawling things. I believe this is due in part to the monsoons. After a hard rain the road is filled with small green lizards doing what look like push-ups under a cloudy sky. While driving to the grocery store on Monday I saw a gigantic black snake slithering across the road. I seriously considered pulling the car over just so that I could scream hysterically for an undisclosed period of time.

For the next three days, every time I climbed into my car, I had to resist succumbing to the irrational fear that there was something curled up under my seat, waiting to sink its teeth into my heel.

On Friday a friend dropped something off in my garage and then knocked on my door to inform me that she had seen a gigantic black spider – the circle she formed with her hands was roughly the size of my face – lingering in the corner near my front tire. I’m not gonna lie: terror struck my heart. It diminished slightly – but only slightly – when her husband kindly informed me he had “shooed” it away into the darkness. Somehow the idea of a future surprise encounter with the creature was almost as unsettling as an anticipated one.

Ironically, the very next night, while Audrey and I were outside in our pajamas watering the bougainvilleas, I happened to notice, out of the corner of my eye, the silhouette of a giant black something, roughly the size of my face, stealing its way up the side of the house. Its failure to make any kind of staccato movement – like most lizards or geckos – led me to conclude that it was our dear friend Mr. Spider. Panic once again descended upon me and, clutching Audrey by the arm, I pulled her inside for a flashlight so we could unequivocally “identify the buggie.” But by the time we returned Spidey was long gone and no amount of spraying the hose or flashing the flashlight into the bushes could lure him from his lair.

Apart from my decision never to exit my house again without shoes – ever – nothing much changed. Life went on as usual…until tonight when, as I was about to enter the shower, I noticed a cockroach the size of my daughter’s fist waving its antennae at me from above the showerhead.

I screamed and ran – literally, ran – to call Hessel.

After breathlessly informing him of our ‘emergency’ he said, “Go get the bug zapper.” (A friend recommended this tennis racquet-shaped device to me and it is the best I’ve found to kill bugs and can be purchased here).

'The bug zapper! The bug zapper!,' I thought. 'Thank God for the bug zapper.' However my elation quickly turned to trepidation as I considered two distinct possibilities: 1) having already turned on the water I could cause the zapper to short out by touching it to a wet insect; and 2) the sheer size of the roach might be no match for my machine.

Both suspicions proved correct.

I shocked it three times but still its little antennae waved. I zapped it again and this time the device short-circuited. I was out of power.

I looked down at Audrey and took a breath. “Okay, mom? You okay?” she asked. She was so adorable in her little pink jammies with her blankies wrapped around her neck I couldn’t bear to disappoint or upset her so I rallied. “I’m okay, Audrey. I’m okay. I just have to kill this buggie.”

"Kill it, Mommy, kill it," she said, cheering me on.

Meanwhile, Hessel, still functioning as my 911 emergency dispatcher, urged me to knock the bug down onto the floor of the shower and then, as though it were nothing – a mere trifle! – simply smash it with my shoe. But I wasn’t wearing shoes, I told him, and I didn’t want to leave the scene of the crime!

Suddenly the bug made a move in my direction. I screamed, hit the shower head with the zapper, and braced myself as the bug tumbled to the floor. More screams followed as I struggled to pin the bug beneath the zapper. For the most part I succeeded however the bug was still very much alive and wriggling.

“Oooooh,” Audrey moaned and for a moment I thought she might begin to cry.

“Get a shoe,” Hessel repeated. “Tell her to go get one of your shoes.”

“It’s going to be alright, Audrey,” I said, “I just need you to go into the living room and get one of Mommy’s shoes.”

She tromped off down the hall and came back a few seconds later. “I can’t find one, Mommy, I can’t.”

“Go look by the door next to Evangeline’s carseat,” I told her.

To my delight (amazement would be too strong a word but she is only 2 years and 4 months old after all) she said okay and disappeared again.

A pair of my tennis shoes lay right inside the door and I told myself, or rather Hessel told me, that all I had to do was lift up the zapper and use one to smash the bug before it could get away. Sounds easy, but have you ever seen a cockroach scuttle? Them suckers move fast! (My preferred method would have been to squash the bug while it was still under the zapper which, Hessel also pointed out, would likely have completely broken the blasted thing – a price I would have gladly paid if it meant certain death for the insect.)

When Audrey returned she was carrying - not tennis shoes, but my pointed-toe three-inch stilettos which also happened to be sitting by the door. What can I say, the girl’s got taste!

It was a miracle which can only be attributed to God’s grace (for me and Hessel), given the tiny triangular-shaped size of my shoe, that I managed to hit my target. The bug was dead. Victory at last!

Hessel sighed heavily.

“I don’t think you understand,” I told him. “We are a housefull of girls over here. Like a ship without a rudder... a horse without a rider... a coffee cup without its little spoon... We need you.”

Or as Audrey put it: "Come home now, Dad. Please come home."

Thursday, July 9, 2009

First Smile