grumpy about the handymom

Last night after the kids went to sleep, Anthony and I noticed that we were both feeling extra cold. It’s not outside the norm to feel this way in a drafty old house as the weather turns back to frigid. So we snuggled under a thick blanket to finish off our Legend of Korra Season 3 marathon (wow, what a finale!), and we ignored the coldness except for a nagging feeling that maybe we’re getting sick again.

In the wee hours of early morning, I woke drowsily and felt sort of chilly. Nick and I snuggled up close under the covers to stay warm and went back to sleep. Totally normal in the morning after the heater has been turned low all night.

In case you’re a new friend in my life, let’s make sure we’ve got names and actors straight. I don’t bed down with two men. Anthony is my husband, an adult male with whom I’ve created two spawn. Nick is my five-year-old male spawn. Co-sleeping rules govern our home, so I normally wake to the sight of a tiny little boy’s sweet face near mine.

But this morning, I startled awake to something else. An absolutely enormous human face was just a few inches from mine, staring down at me. GAH!!

Oh. It was just Anthony, standing over the bed and speaking softly. “Carla. Something’s wrong with the heater. It won’t turn on.”

He gave me a few seconds to exit my sleep stupor and then continued. “The thermostat looks funny.”


I knew what was expected of me. As I trotted sleepily downstairs, Anthony added that the thermostat would turn on the fan, but not the heater. He followed me and helpfully demonstrated, turning the fan switch on and off a couple times. Nick had woken up by now and was upset by my sudden departure, so Anthony headed back upstairs to comfort him.

This was easy. Find small screwdriver. Take thermostat off wall. Change batteries. It was slightly complicated by the fact that we used our entire lifetime supply of 400 double-A’s to fill a variety of children’s toys for Christmas day. Anthony  retrieved three of the 82 batteries required to operate a 6-inch-long remote-control helicopter and I shoved them into the thermostat. All fixed.

Why, you might ask, did Anthony have to wake me up instead of just fixing the thermostat himself? Because I’m the resident handymom. I grumbled at Anthony about this very issue after I solved the crisis. His answer was succinct. “I saw screws. If there’s a screwdriver involved, you have to do it.”

This is why he’s a tenured college professor.

Most of the 15-odd minutes I spent working out the thermostat thing, Nick was mewling and whining. Those noises ramped up after Anthony headed out to walk Madeline (the dog). She had come down the stairs and was whining at me while I tried to re-program the thermostat, so I yelled up at Anthony to get out of bed and walk the dog, because dammit I’m not the hired handyman AND dog walker! It seemed worth a yell. Nothing would have made me more grumpy that the trifecta: (1) me, fixing thermostat in 53-degree living room; (2) all other human residents snuggling warmly in beds; (3) dumb dog peeing and pooping on rug in my plain view.

There were even tears from Nick as the repair-and-reprogram episode went down. But all was quiet by the time I finished. I went upstairs and found Jesse snuggling in bed with Nick. They were blissful. Jesse explained.

“I heard Nick crying so I said, ‘I’ll snuggle with you.’ He said, ‘no I want mommy!’ So I said, ‘you can pretend I’m mommy.'”

Now Jesse broke into an impersonation of me, using a sing-song, cheerful falsetto. “Come here, Nick, Come here! We can snuggle, but remember that if you poke me with your feet I will scream at you!”

It was just right. Nick snuggled right up to Jesse and was happy, as the now-operational heater warmed the house up.

grumpy about the holidays – day 25 (Curtains Up)

Merry Christmas! Ho ho ho! I stayed up too late making magic for the kids, so I’m really tired. My fingers are numb and arthritic from putting together 4.2 million Lego pieces. I was almost reduced to tweezers; my eyes are permanently crossed. My grip is exhausted from trying to rip open cardboard boxes and put together the stupid Hot Wheels set Jesse insisted Santa would bring. (He did. It’s awesome. At least, it was awesome for the 5 minutes she played with it this morning.) My stomach is distended beyond all reason from overeating.

But still, it was a really amazing Christmas and I’ll save the grumpy tales for tomorrow. Jesse has never made it through a Christmas season with so much attention to simple happiness, and with so little affectation of anxiety. It was the best Christmas gift ever. Nick was a five-year-old enjoying his first fully conscious Christmas, full of wonder, curiosity, joy, and greed. We didn’t have to get up too early, and I only yelled at the kids a few times (and really, it was my own fault for getting them the three-foot-long light sabers).

The Star Wars Legos, which consumed me for way too many hours, were well received. “Whoooooa, it’s exactly what I wanted,” said a tiny, awestruck voice from the living room.


The hexbot car thingy went over well, and the house wasn’t too trashed.

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Jesse got me an elf apron.


And really, after putting that on, nothing could bring me down. (Except for maybe this picture. Gawd, go on a diet FINALLY girl. Too much chin and cheek.)

Jesse put together an apple galette, and she didn’t even spit or cough on it.


When we were good and stir crazy, we grabbed the remote control helicopters and a few dragons and headed over to a park with a large field, right next to Lake Michigan. We flew things, chased the dog, and wandered down to the lake. On the trail to the lake, Nick and I avoided all the zombies, vampires and witches, probably because he let me vaccinate him with my kisses.

We even found a magic portal.


I told Nick that if he crawled through this strange little doorway created by the two saplings, he might find himself in another place, someplace magic. He didn’t want to do that. I did, but I didn’t fit. Oh well. On we went to the magical lake.

There was no snow on the ground, but the beautiful day made up for it. We wandered cheerfully down the beach, breathing in life and enjoying each other’s company. Anthony found a big stick, and like a good dog he carried it down the beach.


The clouds were perfect; my family even more so. We laughed; we were at ease; there was much smiling and simple pleasure, and always love.


If there’s such a thing as a perfect day, today was it.

grumpy about the holidays – day 24

[Jesse is hovering. I’ve announced she is guest blogging today. She talks. I type:]

Uhhhh, giggle giggle, stooop.

[Okay. She’s gone. That worked like a charm.]

[Oh. She’s back.]

I don’t know how to blog. (more noises) Mommy? Uuuuh oooooh. I’m thinking about how many presents I’ll open. And, let me see… and hoping that Santa does not cut my dog’s snout that close, and I think he will still do that. And I’m imagining Nick screaming about the giant Darth Vader Pez dispenser [that she got him]. Or crying. For joy.

[What are you feeling?]

I feel very excited, but I’m trying to calm myself down by writing.

[In fact, just today, Jesse wrote this “introduction” to her journal of prose and poetry, which she intends to publish someday:]

“Hi! I was a girl that was very uncalm and a little obnoxious, so I tried to write to calm my life down and to help me be more nice. I found out that writing calms me down when I’m angry and sad. I gave a try to write poems and paragraphs when I was about nine. I was much more happy and nice once I started writing. I suppose I found a place inside my heart that I love to write and draw. Before that I was a tense and angry girl that had horrible days at school when I was little. I asked to have a brother and some pets to help me. They helped me for sure but only a little. That was when I figured it out. Now I’m a happy and nice girl. I loved what I was doing, so I decided to make a book. Now I’m delighting my family very well. If you didn’t hear my name it’s Jesse.”

I feel very active writing. I like the workout of my fingers when they type. I just love to type.

* * * * *

Whew. She’s gone. I have guests coming. I have 4000 more Legos pieces to affix into Star Wars shapes. I gotta go.

Grumpy about the holidays – day 23 (counting my blessings)

Yesterday some peeps who matter to me lost a brother and a son and an uncle and so on, in a car accident. They are such decent and good people, and there’s nothing I can do for them except to keep on keeping on. It’s a senseless and untimely death, but for that matter, what death isn’t?

I find that it’s easy, in the face of death, to forget about the silliness and joys of the world, or worse yet, to decide they need to be set aside for a time so that one can devote one’s full energy to, well, suffering. Sometimes grief is so utterly overwhelming you have no choice but to give in to it.

The horrible reality of life is that it’s full of death. And yet here we are, bearing children who are destined to die, and even making the best of it. We live on both sides of it all.

Last week Nick asked me, “Mommy, when I die will I not be real anymore?” It was a gut-punch. I had to catch my breath and dig deep to stop the tears, and I wasn’t even sure why they wanted to come. I answered best I could. You will always be real, forever, no matter what happens to your body, or this world, or this galaxy, or this universe, no matter what else is real and what is myth. The dinosaurs died 60 or 70 million years ago. Most of them returned to stardust long ago. But they’re still real, as real as the mountains we climb and the lakes we swim in, and they’re still shaping our world.

To myself I added, you’ll always be real to me, as real as the extraordinary love and pain and guilt I feel right now, feelings that are bound together in a strange dance as I watch my children awaken to mortality and suffering, as they learn to live on both sides of this journey we’re all on.

Jesse once sat on the can taking a dump, pondering death and heaven. I don’t recall her words exactly, but she put two ideas together as she bore down:

Mommy, you always say that a piece of your daddy is in your heart, even though he’s dead.

That’s right, I answered. He’s always with me.

She continued. My friend at school says when you die, she believes you go to heaven.

That’s right, I replied, a lot of people believe that.

Then, said my beautiful, magical little child, since your daddy is in your heart, it’s like heaven is in your heart.

Right. That’s where I think the people we care about stay, after they die — right here with us, despite all the mistakes, the failures, the fights and regrets, and despite all the love.

grumpy about the holidays – day 22 postscript (letter to Santa)

I got all addled after Jesse discovered her letter to Santa in my drawer earlier today. It made me distractible and when I was wrapping up my post I forgot to mention something that I really enjoyed at the end of Jesse’s letter. “I think my dog comes to the living room when you’re there,” she wrote, “so please try not to trim her snout that closely this time.”


When I puzzled over this, she reminded us that last year, she awoke on Christmas morning to discover that Madeline’s muzzle had been trimmed more closely than ever before, so short that it was a veritable bald shave so that her black poodle muzzle skin showed through. I had forgotten all about it, but when Jesse brought it up, the memories percolated. As I recall, this is what happened last Christmas. Jesse woke up and took a good look at Madeline, and then she started chewing me out along the lines of WHAT HAPPENED TO MADELINE?? She looks ridiculous!! Why would you make her look so funny?? Why did you cut the fur so short??? Jesse was livid.

Reality? Madeline was all fluffy and dirty. Her muzzle needed a trim. Christmas Eve. Gifts. Magic morning coming up, much to do. Booze. Not very good lighting. Me with a pair of doggy scissors, feeling giddy and tired.  I don’t know what got into me, but I guess I cut it a little close.

What I told Jesse last year, in the face of her fury on Christmas morning? Something along the lines of this. What are you talking about? Let me take a look at Madeline… Oh my goodness! What happened to her! She had so much fur on her face when I went to bed last night! Anthony, did you do this?? No? Hmmm… It must have been Santa. Maybe he thought Madeline needed a trim.

I was just trying to avoid a fight, and blaming it on the Big Red Scary Man seemed like a good idea at the time. I had no idea Jesse would remember, but I guess it’s really strange to imagine Santa going at your dog with shears. It may be time for me to stop blaming things on that guy.

Grumpy about the holidays – day 22 (letter to Santa)

Jesse finally wrote a letter to Santa late Saturday.

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So let me do some extrapolating and interpreting on your behalf, dear reader, in bullet point format:

-It slays me that the first item on Jesse’s list isn’t even something she wants. Nick wants Clone Wars figurines, but he can’t write yet. I love that Jesse put this first, without even tooting her own horn about being nice for her brother. Bonus points for Jesse.

-Next Jesse wants a “small night fury dragon that can fly too.” In conversation with me, she admitted that she’s hoping for a remote control robotic night fury. Wouldn’t you know. This year, Santa’s elves didn’t make one.

-Brain Quiz card sets for age 8-9?? One part of me is thinking, cooool, my little dork! The other part of me is thinking that this request is driven by anxiety over school performance and is sad, very sad.

-Underwear and dark-colored clothing? WTF?

-bicycle. Not. I told her Santa is unlikely to bring her a bike because she already has a brand new one. Yeah, she chuckled and shrugged. She’ll still have a go at one.

-Hot wheels. An odd request for an American girl, but apparently it’s a tradition between Jesse and Santa. Hot Wheels at Christmas, and only at —-

ALL STOP. The kids are coming down the stairs. I allegedly put this letter in the mail to Santa Saturday night. I’ll hide it in this drawer right here at the computer desk, no one will look there. I’ll be back later.

* * * * * *

GAAAAAH. Total disaster. Jesse decided now was the time to type up her poem about Grandma’s house, so she was sitting here typing while I played some stupid game with Nick nearby, when suddenly she was coming at me with a grim look on her face. “What. Is. This. Doing. Here.” She was carrying a red card.

I thought fast. I did what came naturally. I acted stupid. “Why is what where.”

“My letter to Santa! Why is it in your drawer??”

“What drawer.”

“THE DRAWER. Why didn’t you mail it??”

“I did. I don’t know why it’s in the drawer. What drawer. Are you sure it’s your letter. Where’s the envelope.”

And so on. As it turns out, some time this morning Jesse spotted a nasty-looking grey heap at the edge of the woods in our back yard. It appears that some time during the night, the elves came into our house and cleaned an enormous pile of ashes out of our fireplace, dumping them in an unsightly mound in plain view. I never clean out the fireplace, and Daddy would never ever ever do something so sloppy. So we speculated that the elves were getting the fireplace ready for Santa’s visitation. Now, this afternoon in the face of the letter to Santa, I hypothesized that perhaps the elves left the letter behind. They’re always causing mischief of one kind or another.

This apparently was good enough. Jesse has written a follow-up note to go with the original. She’s leaving both notes on the hearth tonight.


Also she put some cookies up there. Hopefully the elves will stop by tonight.

* * * * *

So back to the letter. Jesse also wants a stuffed animal dog just like ours, which means a 6-pound white poodle. Wouldn’t you know that when I — I’m sorry, when Santa went hunting for a stuffed animal dog, he found in The Workshop every possible breed of dog that has ever been bred, EXCEPT white poodles. No white poodles this year. The elves apparently went on white poodle strike. But Santa found a white sheep about the same size as Madeline, so it’ll have to do. And no bike. As for everything else, the orders have been filled.

Jesse accepts the idea that Santa won’t bring everything she asks for, or that he may make modifications to her requests. She has frequently been heard to say things like, “I don’t need to write a letter to Santa. I trust him to get things for me that I’ll love. He always does.”

I was apparently not so forgiving as a child. One year I chastised Santa for his failure in the prior year to bring me anything I had actually asked for, and impolitely directed him to do better. I would post the letter here for you to see, except it’s in a box in California somewhere, and I’m in Wisconsin. It’s one of the grumpiest letters to Santa I’ve ever seen. Belligerent, bossy, and oozing with disappointment and seething anger.

I wonder why my mom kept that letter. It’s a good thing I’ve changed so much since then.

Grumpy about the holidays – day 21 (holiday matinee)

Jesse has been champing at the bit for the new Annie movie to come out. So we went to an afternoon show today. In the magic of the 21st century, I ordered tickets and selected seats via the theater’s iPhone app. That is crazy.

We made it to the theater on time with cheerful children (Christmas miracles abound in my life), so I bought snacks for the kids. We got a soda for dad (yes, he counts as a kid in this setting), sno-caps, skittles, a bottle of water, and popcorn. I took out a small loan to pay for the unholy cost of these items, putting up my car as collateral.

Aren’t there any original ideas in the movie industry? The snacks are exactly the same as what was available when I was a kid. Even the movies are the same. The previews were for a new live-action Cinderella, yet another Peter Pan movie (creatively entitled “Pan”), Minions (from Despicable Me), and a Mall Cop sequel. All do-overs and lifts. The only new thing was Home, about a trouble-making space alien who’s terribly unpopular on his own planet, befriended by a little girl on earth… Wait, nope. That’s Lilo and Stitch. It’s been done.

It’s disappointing that Hollywood has been reduced to this, but the previews set me up good for Annie. I haven’t read a single review of the movie, so I have no idea how it’s being received. But I went with a 5- and a 9-year-old as a winter-break Christmasy treat, so let me give you my holiday mommy review.

It didn’t suck. Actually, it exceeded “didn’t suck” by a long mile. The actress playing Annie is sassy and talented. The story modernization, song makeovers, new music, and updated dancing are fun and workable. There are obvious and sneaky references back to the first movie. There’s some tear-jerking action. Jamie Foxx is actually kind of hot, unlike Albert Finney’s strange and creepy Daddy Warbucks from the first movie.

And then there’s Cameron Diaz, who delivers an amazing, over-the-top send-up of a drunken washed-up woman trapped in the late ’80s. She stole the show for me.

I could go into detail but I won’t. Bottom line is this. You got kids who like song and dance? You’ll enjoy Annie. And it’ll give you a chance to talk about foster care and the plight of parentless children, poverty and wealth, generosity and selfishness. All good topics for the holiday season, when many of us are busy giving and receiving expensive gifts and enjoying a lot of familial love — commodities not everyone is blessed with.

Did I just get on a soap box there for a second? I think I did. Ugh. Well then. Never mind.

Grumpy about the holidays – day 20 (gifts for me)

Today my loving family went out en masse to get me Christmas gifts. It was so unpleasant. Jesse’s still grumpy from being sick all week, and Nick was whiny, and now Anthony’s sick so he’s going to be grumpy for a couple days and speak to me in monosyllabic grunts between weak coughs and gross-sounding snuffles.

(Don’t tell him I just said that. Recipe for some maximum grumpy.)

(Anthony, if you’re reading this: I love you anyway. You rock my world. Even when you’re grumpy.)

It took at least a half hour of random whining and noise making for Anthony to get the kids out of the house, and there was much debate and emotion about iPads and what I want and socks and allowance money. I had to help, which turned the whole “yay gifts for mommy!” ju ju into “this sucks and I don’t want any Christmas gifts from you annoying maniacs because it’s starting to feel like another miserable CHORE just like doing laundry and wiping your tiny asses after you poop” ju ju.

But they finally left, my miserable sick husband and his irritating spawn, and I was happy to be alone. Doing intellectually enriching chores. My peeps eventually returned and announced I wasn’t allowed in the basement for a while, la la la, except I had to answer several questions about where the wrapping paper was stashed, and Nick came up the stairs pushing the giant Pilates ball in front of him to get a pen to write with, and he refused to take the ball back to the basement even though I had just cleaned a bunch of his crap out of the living room.

Oh well. Eventually a collection of wrapped packages were carried proudly to the Christmas tree, and my home was populated with much more cheerful people than before.

I’m still shell-shocked by the morning antics, so I haven’t inspected any packages. I’ll give them a good shake tomorrow. Just five more days until I get to open them! I wonder what an economist, a five-year-old boy, and a nine-year-old girl will come up with?

Grumpy about the holidays – day 19 (a spot of relief)

Whew. Both kids went to school today for the first time this week. I feel better too. I actually cleaned up the living room. I managed to get gifts to the right people at school. I remembered to get gift cards for my nieces and I even mailed them to California in time. I washed the dishes. I hid some gifts better than I had before. I went grocery shopping.


The kids felt well enough to go to this after-school party thing, from 4:30 to 7:00. Anthony actually came home from work early so we hit the post office and now we’re at a Mexican joint drinking ‘ritas and eating something that came in a lava bowl.

All hell will no doubt break loose tomorrow, but for now — aaaaaaah….


grumpy about the holidays – day 18 (more boxes!)

UPS delivered a big set of boxes today. It was the full trap set and a bass and amp, which is our big gift to the kids this year. Unfortunately, when the UPS guys rang the kitchen door bell and ran off, the kids were sitting in the kitchen eating lunch. I thought for sure the secret would be out.

Thank goodness for kids who were (a) sick, and (b) lobotomized by the stupid cartoon show they were watching on an iPad. Nick has discovered Transformers Beasthunters. It suuuuuucks. Normally I wouldn’t let him watch it anymore, but hey, it’s the holidays. Anyway, thanks to T.B., this is what I observed from the kitchen door.

They didn’t even bother to turn around. The stairs to the basement are right at the kitchen entrance, so I thought I’d try to sneak down the boxes right away instead of hiding them in the ice cold garage. The two boxes containing the drum set were at least 40 pounds each, and almost too big for my 5th percentile wing span. They were hard to fit through the door, and I made a racket. There was also a box almost as tall as me (I assume that’s the bass) and a small box for the amp.

The kids never looked once. As far as I can tell, they have no idea what I dragged down the stairs. I’ve secreted everything in plain view.


I think it’ll work, unless they inspect closely and see this little picture peaking out:


But I’m hoping they’ll mistake the whole thing for one of my bulk orders of furnace filters, and just ignore it for six more days.