Category Archives: Vignettes

MaMaw and PaPaw’s House

After a warm and blustery day, a spring storm blew through St Louis sometime in the early morning hours. I had been asleep on the couch – long boring story* – and was awakened by the sounds of thunder and the strong winds trying to blow our grill around the deck. I don’t know if it was the boom of the thunder or the scrape of metal on wood that was what woke, but that’s not important. I lay in the darkness, the DVD music restarting every 35 seconds, and smelled the rain through the open window.

I don’t know why I started thinking about it, but I was reminded of sitting on my grandparents’ – MaMaw and PaPaw – sun porch whenever we visited them in the summers and watching the storms pass by, the wind gusting along the creek that ran behind their house.

I tried to remember what their house was like, but my memory is getting fuzzy. It’s been a little more than ten years since PaPaw passed away – at the end of my first semester of college – and MaMaw has been gone fourteen years. So, I lay there in the dark, smelling the rain and tried to remember:

Their sun porch had dark green astroturf. There was a ceiling fan, of course, to dispel some of the heat and there was a little glider-type swing that us grandkids would sit on and watch the world.

In the backyard there were porcelain animals. A family of ducks – we used to joke that they confused the real ducks that would wander up from the creek. Ah yes, the creek. Like many families in that part of Sugarland, Texas, MaMaw and PaPaw had a paddle boat. Since we couldn’t go swimming in the water – I seem to remember it was possibly polluted from the sugar processing plant – we would paddle around in the little boat.

We had kiddy pools to splash in and the spray of hoses to run through to cool off. Grass would stick to my bare feet and legs. We would chomp on huge fresh watermelons. To this day, I can’t even stand the smell of melon because I gorged myself on them so much one day that I made myself sick.

The are other weird little things that I remember about their house. How they were the only people I knew who had juice glasses. That they had cable television but the set was so old that you still had to turn a knob to power it on. They had a weird little round table that had tiers that rotated open. I would lay on their soft brown couch, with my face pressed into a pillow and stare at the tchotchkes that were collected on it.

There was a blue room and a pink room. The pink room had a big pink puffy armchair. There were pictures on the wall of my mom when she was young – she looked so glamorous to childhood me.

MaMaw would give me her old clothes to play dress up on. She was so little that they fit tall skinny kid me. I remember distinctly a red velvet dress with pearl buttons that I wore all the time.

Snippets. They fade. I don’t even know if everything I’ve written here is a hundred percent accurate. How much is just me trying to fill the gaps of my memory with something that looks pretty? Last night, when I couldn’t sleep and the thunder and lightning surrounded our little apartment, I thought of my MaMaw and PaPaw and the time we visited and there was a hurricane and tried to hold onto the images that remained in my head.

*I was really wired last night and was keeping Brian awake. Also, I have well-documented cure to insomnia: watching a favorite movie. So that’s what I was doing and why I was on the couch. Brian and I did not have a fight or anything because if we had, it would have been him sleeping on the couch.

I Don’t Look Like I’m in Pain

My seat was taken. By someone’s bag.

I dutifully arrived for my first physical therapy appointment half an hour early – ostensibly to finish filling out paperwork – and after some initial confusion as to where I was signing in, I had settled into a seat right across from the “New Patient” desk. I had just cracked open my book when the receptionist called me up to get my insurance card and collect the questionnaire I had completed at home. Yes, apparently they think this would take half an hour. As I was standing there, shifting my weight to take the pressure off my bad leg, she processed my (ridiculous) co-pay and my seat was taken. A woman swooped in and plopped herself in one of the two chairs and her enormous bag in the other chair. (I would like to note that I had only been occupying one and sat with my purse clutched in my lap.)

“Oh, there’s a problem with the printer,” the receptionist said, apologetically. “I can’t get it to print your receipt.”

I was more upset by the fact that I had to hobble farther away from the entrance to the actual “treatment rooms” and wedge myself in next to a man who reeked of cigarette smoke and stale alcohol. It was ten in the morning.

I went back to my book like I always do. Okay, I might have shot entitled woman an annoyed look from my second-class seat. I did not make the mistake of taking my things with me when the receptionist motioned me back up for a hand-written receipt. I risked my belongings for not having to sit in the parking lot while I waited.

“I’m going the one time and that’s it,” the smoke man said to his friend.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but agree.

I don’t look injured. I stick out in a sea of canes, walkers and wheelchairs. I walk with pain. But I walk.

I’m sure the woman with the big bag that needed a seat of it’s own, saw me and thought that it didn’t matter if I had to sit a little further away. There was probably nothing wrong with me.

The thing is: arthritis runs in my family. My mom has bad knees. The other thing: I fell down my front steps when I was almost seven months pregnant. I sprained my ankle – what originally appeared to be the extent of the damage – but I also landed badly on my rear end and lower back.  At a time when one’s body is all out of whack, joints under increased pressure and ligaments stretched, I went and fell down the fucking stairs.

You can see it on the X-rays. Right now, my case is classified as “mild,” but that doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt. I do. Hurt. A lot. I can be sitting or standing or walking or laying in bed not moving and I feel pain starting in my back and reaching all the way to my knee. Maybe it’s not as bad as your* pain, but it is pain.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be there. I don’t want to be told that my poor posture isn’t helping things, or that my ankles roll inwards.

But I don’t want to be in pain.

So I go.

*The undefined you. That other person that I may or may not be talking to

In the Waiting Room

Disclaimer: This might fall under the categories of TMI and CHEESY. If that’s not your thing, come back tomorrow for more cute baby pictures.

I’m carrying my small purse, just enough room for my book, a wallet and my phone. On this day, I’m just Kirsten. There is no diaper bag filled with snacks and toys. No crayons, no baby wipes. On this day, I am not a mommy. I’m wedged into the back corner of the elevator, behind the wheelchair and the guy who almost gave me a concussion with his backpack and the elderly couple wheeling an oxygen tank. I ride it to the top and even though I’m alone for the last few floors, I still stand in the corner, trying to make myself smaller.

The waiting room is empty when I arrive. Still blinking, my eyes adjusting from the bright corridor and sunlight outside, I approach the check-in slowly. I’m seeing someone new. It wasn’t time for an annual check-up and I had only called the day before. My usual doctor wasn’t available. I don’t like change, but I remembered who I was seeing and gave my name to the receptionist. I had to endure the embarrassment of giving my new address – spelling out the street name and repeating my apartment letter three times – and, oh yeah, I have a new phone number, too. I don’t remember if you allow debit cards for co-pays? I mumble, feeling my face get red.

The appointment went fine. We talked about everything that had been bothering me for the last several months. The intense back pain, the abdominal cramps and my seemingly endless exhaustion. Is it possible you’re pregnant, he asked. I tried not to laugh and just said No. Blood work was  ordered and I was off to get it drawn. Six vials of blood. Then, it was downstairs to radiology.

I’ve only gotten two (maybe three) x-rays in my life (not counting the dentist) and I had no idea what to expect. I imagine my face said WHAAAT? when they asked me if I knew where the pants were kept. I was lead back to a huge cabinet filled with paper pants and hospital gowns.  The receptionist surveyed my outfit and told me I would have to wear those voluminous trousers and take off my bra. Did I want to wear a gown or just keep my shirt on? Oh wait, my shirt had buttons so I didn’t get a choice. I was pointed towards the changing room – a small curtained area behind the front desk – and I stripped down to my underwear. The pants were so huge that they bulged out from my hips like clown pants and the gown wouldn’t stay tied in back.

I sat in an uncomfortable flowered chair and surveyed my feet. The only article of clothing – other than my underwear – that was still mine were the battered sandals that I had bought last summer. Staring up at me was a line of nail polish on my left big toe, the last bit of the pedicure I had given myself three months ago that I hadn’t chipped off. I didn’t have long to contemplate what it could mean – perhaps my chipped polish was a sign of how poorly I have been taking care of myself which was why I was spending my Friday morning in doctors’ offices – before the tech came back to get me.

I have arthritis in my lower back on the right side. I will be spending more time in waiting rooms as I begin a course of physical therapy. Everything else came back normal. No wheat allergy and no thyroid issues were the two highlights of my results. This coming Thursday, I will drag myself out of bed at the ass-crack of dawn and get an abdominal ultrasound . I should probably get the nail polish remover out before then.

Conversations in the Children’s Section

It’s no secret that I’m apprehensive about approaching the other mothers at story time. I’m making an attempt, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome – my lifelong shyness being only one.

The Big Name bookstore that I go to is in a really nice neighborhood (average home price: almost a million). Of course, it’s adjacent to other neighborhoods which are less affluent and I’m sure there are plenty of regular story time attendees like me who don’t spend an average of ten thousand a year on vacations. I’m dead serious, that’s one of the stats I got when I was checking home prices. Holy crap. Anyway, the point I was trying to get at was that a good chunk of the adults are not parents. While I have nothing against striking up a conversation with the 26-year old grad student who is “just the babysitter,” there isn’t much potential for long term connection.

Of course, there is the daughter herself. The crowds at story time have gotten bigger post-Christmas, partly because Miss T is awesome and partly because it’s a frozen wasteland and entertainment options are limited. When there were only a handful of other children – five or six, tops – it was easy for me to keep her calm. Unlike me, Lorelei seems to be really outgoing and when there are so many people it’s as if she needs to say hello to EVERY! SINGLE! PERSON! It’s adorable, I won’t deny it. Unfortunately, when there are so many people to say hello to, it’s harder for me to navigate the kid’s area and keep her from trying to climb up the stage and get into the story time closet or pulling all the Sesame Street books off the shelf (why she gravitates to these, I do not know).

More people also mean more opportunities to steal things from the other kids. As much as I try to stop her from digging into the snack container that isn’t hers or taking a drink from that other baby’s sippy cup, I can’t always catch her in time. When it happens, I die of embarrassment on the inside. I don’t want to come across as one of those mother’s who just smiles like “isn’t my baby adorable” when she does something like that. So far, I’ve never had anyone get upset with me or her when she “steals” something, I’m sure the day will come when the mother is not so understanding. Luckily, Lorelei has a smile that can charm even the most “that’s mine!” kid – it helps that I’m usually prepared with a toy or snack for trade.

To sum (because I think I rambled quite a bit there), vast difference in economic status plus chasing a very active fourteen month old who tends to steal things does not lend itself to having a comfortable conversation with the other parents (when I can differentiate them from the nannies).

Today, in an effort to step out of my comfort zone and stretch myself, I made a point to stay a little longer and chat. I’ve talked Eve* and mother Sadie* before but I also met Dan* and his mom (whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch). Lorelei is the youngest of the three kids but Eve and Dan are only a few months older. It was all superficial, our eyes always on the kids as they colored on each other’s papers or keeping them from running to the other side of the store. Topics didn’t get much deeper than what a pain it was to travel with little ones – all three of us having recently made a trip to Ohio (what are the odds?) – and how none of them seemed to like cow’s milk. We’re all still breastfeeding, so there was a bit of bonding over being the “weird” mothers who still nursed their kids when they were over a year old. Maybe this was the first step.

One more quick story time related story: Lorelei loves Miss T. Loves. She was one of the first people she would wave to with any sort of regularity and without much prompting from me. Today, as she was getting into everything, she spent a good portion of the second book hugging Miss T. Then she would do a funny little shuffle dance back over to me and then go back over for another hug. It killed me. I love my affectionate little girl.

*Names changed

Walk in the Snow

I remember when I was little and playing out in the snow meant piling on the layers.  Turtleneck, sweatshirt, parka, long underwear, snow pants, hats, mittens.  Even with all those layers I would still be freezing.  These days, the only time I put on that many layers is when the temperature is in the single digits and I plan on spending more than five minutes outside.  If I’m heading to the store or mall and the only time I plan on being in the elements is the minute it takes to walk from the apartment to the car, I skip all those extra layers.

Lorelei, however, isn’t allowed to get away with that.  We bundle her up like Randy from A Christmas Story. Her coat is so big and puffy that she can barely put her arms down.  Somewhere in the depths of her sleeves, her tiny fingers are tucked into mittens that are slightly too large.  Tights and socks are stuffed into pink cowboy boots and covered with a layer of heavy sweatpants.  Then, and only then, is she ready for a walk in the snow.

The last time Lorelei saw snow – real, cover the ground snow – she couldn’t walk.  She couldn’t crawl.  She could barely even sit up.

But now, she can take hesitant steps in the fine white powder.

She can slip and fall on her butt

She can wriggle her way back into a standing position.

Success!

All the cabin fever and hair pulling, eye stabbing boredom is forgotten.  My little girl is growing up so fast and I’m really lucky that I get to see it all happen.

As the Apartment Turns…

Very early Sunday morning, probably around 3 am.  Or was it 2 am.  3?  I hate daylight savings.  Also, Sunday was THE!  LONGEST!  DAY!  EVER!  Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, really early Sunday morning – at some indeterminate time – I was sitting in the rocking chair in the baby’s room trying to get her to go back to sleep.  I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but WHY WON’T SHE SLEEP?  So, she was having some sort of night terror and would not be calmed down unless I was holding her and then I hear Bmm! Bmm! Bmm! (translation: thumping bass).

The dulcet tones of bad techno are not that rare of an occurrence in our building since we are sandwiched between college students and mid-twenty year olds with no kids.  Most of the time, it doesn’t bother me.  Maybe it’s because it doesn’t sound as if the music is actually coming from somewhere in our apartment.  Maybe it’s because it doesn’t go on for hours and hours ALL DAY LONG!  Mostly, I think it doesn’t bother me because our neighbors are respectful and don’t hassle us if we go downstairs and ask them to turn it down.

Small Side Note: A month or so ago, Brian was out of town and I had just put the baby to bed.  It was a Saturday night and the downstairs neighbors were having a party.  I realized that I had forgotten to get the mail, so I ventured down there in my pajamas to retrieve it.  Little did I know that they were sitting outside on their patio (about 10 people and 2 dogs), drinking and smoking and listening to their music.  I probably had a very shocked face and the first thing they asked was, “Is the music too loud?”  And then they offered me a beer which I declined because I don’t drink Natty Light.  Beer snob.  Anywho, they are usually considerate is what I’m trying to get at.

So, although loud music is not uncommon, it is uncommon very early in the morning.  But it didn’t seem to be bothering Lorelei and I managed to get her back down in the crib.  I dragged myself back to our room and tried to tune it out so I could go back to sleep.  Yeah.  That didn’t work so well.  I had just asked Brian to go down there and say something when the yelling started…

It was really bizarre.  I felt like such a bad person for taking an active interest in what they were arguing about, but if they’re going to be loud enough to hear it’s their own fault.  I think it was about laundry.  I shit you not.  I think Ava* was mad at Mario* because he stayed up late to do laundry and she wanted to go to bed.  Mario goes on a rampage because he was doing the laundry for her and he wasn’t making her stay up.  (I beg to differ, loud music dumbass.)  I could barely hear what she was saying but he kept yelling, “AVA!  AVA!  WHY IS EVERYTHING SUCH A FUCKING ARGUMENT WITH YOU?!?!”   He yelled that probably a dozen times.

There was a lot of door slamming.  The music would be turned on again.  And then back off.  Ava would start yelling at him again.  He would come back with some more dumbass comments.  I think the last bit he said, “How did we end up like this?”  Valid question but seriously Mario, asking it and then going into the other room and turning your music back on is not the way to have an argument.  Just saying.  At some point someone, possibly the older couple who live in the adjoining building, came over and pounded on their door.  The whole thing ended with a door slam so violent that it shook the entire building.

Although I saw Ava’s car and thought I heard her dog barking yesterday, nothing today.  Dog didn’t bark when I went to get the mail and the sign that used to be outside their living room window (A spoiled rotten dog lives here) is gone.  Hmm…

Stay tuned for more on “As the Apartment Turns…”

*Names changed

Outsider

Despite the fact that an infant (OH.EM.GEE. almost a toddler!) makes it extremely difficult to be anywhere on time, I’m still early. Even though I wrestled with her to get her diaper changed.  Even though she crawled away from me as I tried to slip her pants on.  Even though she screamed as I tried to bundle her into a hoodie – it was a little chilly this morning.  Once we’re in the car, however, she babbles happily at her socked feet – no shoes today – and watches the world speed by.  We pull up to the bookstore a full fifteen minutes before story time is set to begin and I park easily in a space right near the front door.  I hoist my purple plaid bag – a change from the bulky brown diaper bag I usually carry – onto my shoulder and unbuckle Lorelei from her car seat.  She rides in my arms, sitting easily on my hip.  She turns her head excitedly and surveys the change in her surroundings while her hands are busily trying to pull my necklace off.

Even though I had promised myself I was not going to get a coffee – I’ve been trying to limit this treat – I make my way back to the cafe and order the usual.  Iced caramel macchiato.  Lorelei tries to pull the straw out but somehow I manage to hold the beverage out of her reach.  I set her down in the kid’s area and wave hello to Franny*, a little girl of about 2 who adores Lorelei.  The two girls greet one another.  Well, Franny says “Hi, baby!” while Lorelei attempts to pull the decorations off of her shoes.  Her mother is polite and mentions her daughter had been asking if the baby was going to be there today.  Thus ends our exchange as I settle down on the floor to keep an eye on the ever-more-mobile baby girl.

Others filter in.  Everyone seems to know everyone else and although they don’t ignore me, interaction is minimal.  I feel uncomfortable.  Lorelei is curious and social.  She goes up to the other kids and although she will most frequently just touch them or point at them, at least she’s trying to say hello.  I could try, too.  But I don’t.

I feel like I did on the first day of high school.  I didn’t go to the same middle school as everyone else.  They all knew one another and everyone already had someone to share a locker with.  I shared one with my older brother.  Groups already had formed in the cafeteria while I – already the nerdy outsider – didn’t fit in anywhere.  Again, I shared with my brother.  His friends were my friends.  I don’t know how many of them liked me for me or just because I was Clayton’s kid sister.  Over time I made a few friends but I never really fit in.

I don’t want to get hurt again.  I hold back from trying to form friendships with these other mothers because I’m afraid.  I’m afraid that they might get to know me and not like me.  Worse than that, I’m afraid that they won’t tell me that they’ve decided they don’t like me.  One day, I will show up at story time and even though I thought these people were my friends they will all talk to each other and, despite my best efforts, will ignore me.  Then what will I do?  Lorelei has so much fun going to the bookstore, I couldn’t stop going just because I didn’t feel comfortable anymore.  I would have to keep going and fight the urge to cry because I was on the inside for a brief moment but now I’m on the outside again.

All of this rushed through my mind in those few brief minutes before story time began in earnest.  Then we started singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” and I saw Lorelei light up and laugh like crazy.  She is so incredibly happy.  She hasn’t yet learned what it’s like to be hurt by a friend.  So, after story time, I made sure that I said goodbye to Franny and her mom.  I’ll see them again next week and maybe we’ll talk a little more.  Maybe this time will be different.  Maybe this mother is just as nervous and awkward as I am.  Maybe I will make a new friend and I won’t go through day after day feeling all alone.

Eventually, I have to take a step inside.

*Name changed for privacy

Apple Picking

Just a short drive away from St Louis is Eckert’s farm in Millstadt, Illinois.  Flying down Highway 163, one can almost forget they just came from a major city.  The type of businesses one usually associates with “the sticks” line the road – used car lots with names like “Pay Later” and auto service centers selling used tires.  There might have been a dilapidated sandwich shop that had not yet open for the day’s business as well.  And once you make the turn – assuming you don’t miss the sign, Brian – there is nothing but fields on either side of you.  “I want to live on a farm someday,” I said at least once.

I can’t honestly remember if I’ve ever been apple picking before.  Certainly, I’ve never been as an adult; but had I ever gone when I was little?  I’m sure there were many opportunities for me to do so – there was even a pick-your own farm right near my dad’s work – but did I ever go?  I don’t think so.  We had an apple tree in our yard, there was a plum tree in the field by the storage unit, we had strawberries and blueberries and blackberries growing either in our yard or nearby, so why would we ever need to go to a “real farm.”  And despite the fact that I’ve lived in St Louis (off and on) for the last ten years where Eckert’s is an autumn tradition, I’ve never been.  This past weekend, since fall decided to make a bit of an appearance, it was time to rectify this.

There were trucks with hay bales and “souped-up” tractors to pretend to ride on.  Also, a “Jack-o-Lobber” which is a pumpkin cannon.  It’s as awesome as it sounds.

Mountains of pumpkins dominated the center of the main pathway.  If you continued down past the country store and the food stands, there was a petting zoo.

That camel on the left bit me.  Yes.  I was bitten by a goddamn camel!  Almost every time I told someone about the camel biting, they did not believe me.  That camel was a real jerk though.

A hay ride cart – pulled by a nice John Deere tractor – transported us away from the “Fun” Farm and into the orchard.  Despite the screaming children running wild among the trees, it was very peaceful.  Brian and I wandered away from the big crowds and picked some Jonathan apples (soon I will make them into a pie).

We also scored some really delicious golden apples.  It was a really wonderful fall day and I hope we get to turn it into a family tradition.  A few more of my favorite shots from the day:

Front Porch

In the evening, another hot St Louis summer day gone by, we sat on our porch and enjoyed the cool breeze.  The sun was sinking down and the heat had abated a little.  Our little family of three.

The maple trees which grow big and tall in front of our building had dropped a number of seed pods on our porch.  Little helicopters to be discovered by small hands.  Brian would gather a handful of them and throw them in the air.  They would come back down to earth, spinning.  Lorelei was fascinated and delighted by this and even the cats got in on the action:

We are all enjoying the peace and quiet that has come from our move out of the city.  It didn’t happen in the best way, but it has turned out better than we could have hoped for.

Tornado Warning

As I write this, the sky is a clear blue with just a few wispy white clouds.

Two hours ago, the sky was dark and tinged with green.

I was in the car, after picking up Brian from the Metrolink station, and headed for home.  Lorelei was chattering happily in the backseat, sucking on her binky and playing with her monkey rattle.

The storm came suddenly.  One minute it was a bit of light rain and the next it was coming at us horizontally.  I pulled off to the side of the road and turned the engine off.  It started to hail.  The wind shook my tiny little blue car.

I kept saying over and over, “I don’t want to die in my car.  I don’t want to die in my car.”  I could imagine a tornado coming by and lifting us into the vortex.

When it let up enough, I drove white knuckled on surface streets until we reached the Target with the underground garage.  At this point, the rain wasn’t too bad, but I was so tense from driving in the storm and feeling like the car had no traction as we went through enormous puddles from backed-up storm drains, that I needed a break.  And the husband wanted crack coffee.

As quickly as it came, it was gone.  Leaving a flooded sunroom in it’s wake.  But at least it wasn’t the basement and at least the ceiling in the living room didn’t start leaking again.  That’s one bit of good luck I suppose.

It would have been really nice if a tree had fallen on my neighbor’s car, but alas, it did not.