Friday, January 30, 2009

Learn to live without the piece that's missing

There are days I just don't feel the funny. This was one of them.

(originally published August 13, 2008)

This one is for my mom.
A woman whose strength amazes me.
A woman who taught me that laughter helps ease many troubles, but sometimes it takes tears to heal a soul.


***

Kids say the funniest things.
And in their innocence, they also say the things that break your heart.


I stood in the swimming pool and gripped my three-year-old son around his waist, prepared to hoist him high up in the air.

“Throw me high, Mommy!” he squealed. “Throw me so high that Grandpa can reach down from heaven and catch me!”

His words – uttered so unexpectedly as we splashed and played under the summer sun – just about stopped my heart.

Once, when he spotted the extension ladder leaning up against the wall of the garage, he asked me, “Will that ladder go all the way to heaven so I can see Grandpa?”

And when a fierce summer storm rumbled through the air and thunder shook the house, he tried bravely to hide his fear by saying, “Grandpa must be bowling again. He sure is making a lot of noise up there.”

And that’s when it hits me. All over again. As if, somehow, I could have forgotten my dad’s death amidst the crazy business of life and family and work.

The fatal heart attack took him from us a year ago. Some days it seems like yesterday. Other times it feels like a lifetime. Who knew time could be cruel?

***

She sounded so tired.
As she talked on the phone and told me about her day, my mom’s voice shook with exhaustion. Maybe pain. Certainly grief. And heartache.


It reminded me that my mom, like all great parents, becomes more vulnerable as time goes by. It’s a shock to learn our parents aren’t the superheroes of our youth, invincible to pain and anger and fear.

With the wisdom of adulthood you realize they haven’t been softened by time, haven’t grown weaker by circumstances. They’ve always been that way – human.

But as children, we don’t see it. They are our pillars of strength who battle the evils of the world and pick us up when we fall.

The parent takes care of the child.

But there comes a day when the unthinkable happens and life is rocked to its very core.

And the child takes care of the parent.

***

It was a year ago when I walked through the door and took one look at my mother’s face.

It was so pale, streaked with tears, the physical embodiment of grief, an image forever etched on my heart.

She hugged me tight, whispered, “He’s gone. My best friend is gone.” Then she collapsed in my arms.

I could only hold her and rock her gently as she sobbed, the grief shuddering through her body.

The child takes care of the parent.

***

Then – as if life wasn’t cruel enough, didn’t feel as if we had suffered enough – tragedy struck again with my grandmother’s death.

In the span of a few short months, my mom lost her husband and her mother. Both losses were sudden and without warning.

Things are supposed to be easier to handle when it happens quick, right?

Ripping off a band-aid is better than gently peeling it from the skin. Jumping into a swimming pool is better than sitting on the side and dipping in a toe.

Nothing about a sudden death is ever easy.

Like a knife that swiftly, brutally slashes away a part of your soul, you can’t prepare for it.
You only hope to heal and learn to live without the piece that’s missing.


***

Sometimes I’m so scared I could drown in the fear.
Afraid of losing someone else. My husband. My son. My mom.
My life is always one second away from another loss.


But then I take a long look at my mom and am witness to her strength.

She won’t tell me about the rough days. Those times when it’s difficult to get out of bed to face another day.

She won’t tell me how hard it is to run the family farm by herself.
She won’t tell me about dealing with a flat tire or the house needing a new roof.
She won’t tell me what it’s like to cook for one and sleep alone after 40 years of marriage.


So from her I find my own strength to move past the fear.
Life is too short not to.
You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That's what I call a keeper

(originally published January 14, 2009)

Nature vs. Nurture.

It’s an age-old debate on how we humans grow up to be, well, human.

Are we born this way? Do genetics and the complex pattern of chromosomes and science that has shaped us throughout generations mold us into the people we later become?

Or does the environment we’re raised in hold the trump card? Do our life experiences, our education and the people within our sphere of living play the dominate role?

In other words, is there someone else to blame for screwing us up?

Yes. Yes, there is.

And we call him Dad.

***

“Wow! That’s what I call a keeper!” my husband yelled from upstairs.

It was shouted in excitement. In that “I’m so proud” kinda way he gets when our 3-year-old throws the football in a perfect spiral across the yard.

But the fact that his latest bestowal of praise came from the bathroom should have been my first clue to turn around and walk away.

What I should NOT do is let curiosity get the better of me. It was, after all, what killed the cat.

I don’t know whose cat exactly. But it must have belonged to somebody important for the adage to have survived all this time.

And what was it so curious about, leading to its untimely demise? I can see how walking up to – say – a crocodile and asking, “Hey, what do you do for a living?” could end badly for the cat.

But normally cats just lie around, sleep, eat and stare at us as if they know something we don’t.

At least we know to stay away from crocodiles, you big dumb cat.

But I digress.

“Wow! That’s what I call a keeper!” my husband yelled.

(OK, he didn’t actually say it a second time. Just thought I’d get us back on track. And then this is the part where I walk upstairs rather than run for the hills. Stupid, I know. Shoulda just hunted up a crocodile and asked him if he’d eaten lunch yet).

I walked up to the closed door, rapped on its surface and inquired, “Uh, just what are you two doing in there?”

The giggle that answered me wasn’t very reassuring.

Yes, one might consider it none of my business, an invasion, if you will, of what is normally considered Man’s Domain.

His kingdom. The only place in which he can truly be himself. On the throne.

And apparently they were in there holding court together. But like Napoleon at Waterloo or General Custer at Little Bighorn or the even the cat and the hungry crocodile, I failed to sense the danger in moving forward.

I tested the door knob and discovered it was unlocked, so I slowly cracked open the door and leaned in.

There they stood, side by side, in front of the throne. Looks of admiration shone from their faces.

Oh, this can’t be good.

Especially considering the three-year-old still had his undies down around his ankles.

“Mommy!” our son and sole descendent of the family line exclaimed as he pointed into the bowl, “Look at what I did!”

Uh, thanks, but I’ll pass. I turned around and quietly walked downstairs. Wondering how – throughout thousands of years of civilization – these simple, male beings managed to conquer countries, get elected president, were deemed emperors and made kings while those of us - the fairer and smarter sex - were doomed to languish in obscurity.

Life was so not fair.

***

You know it’s gonna be bad when you smell it before you hear it.

My eyes watered and the breath caught in the back of my throat. And a little bit of throw-up was on its way too.

“Holy Mother of God!” I hollered, fighting back the nausea. “What is that smell?!”

I waved a hand in front of my face, a foolish belief that dispersing the odor into a wider area was the way to correctly handle the situation.

I opened my eyes to see the royal heir himself standing right in front of me.

“Don’t be scared, Mommy,” he assured me with the confidence and wisdom of a learned elder. “That’s just my fart.”

He smiled, headed for the bathroom and added, “Daddy says that means I have one honking for the right of way.”

I could only sigh.

Nature – 0. Nurture – 1.
Case closed.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

There went a hamstring

(originally published March 5, 2008)

He’ll come back, I thought.

He’ll stop running, turn around and scamper right back. Any second now.

Hmmm.

OK. He’s still running. Uh-oh. He’s not stopping.

That can’t be good.

I looked down to see the business end of a long, purple dog leash clutched between my cold fingers.

I looked back up to see the business end of the shelter dog I was fostering for the day flying across my backyard.

Maybe he didn’t like the color purple.

His flight for freedom began when my frozen fingers slipped while trying to secure the leash’s hook to his collar. And in that brief moment of untetheredness he was off like a flash, sensing freedom as only…well…a male canine that still has all his parts can.

“Hey...you…there…!” I stammered and yelled like an idiot because in my panic I’d forgotten the poor dog’s name. Bailey? Buster? Rumpelstiltskin?

Then like a bolt of lightening it came to me. “BANJO!” I screamed and jumped and waved my arms in the air. “BANJO! STOP! COME BACK!”

And…nothing. No response at all. Well, I’d probably ignore people too if my name was Banjo, but that wasn’t the point.

The point was he had already streaked across three more yards and was rapidly closing in on a busy suburban street.

So in a voice as commanding as any four-star general’s, I pointed and ordered, “Go get him!”


Chaser, golden retriever and wonder mutt of West Edwards Street, merely stood at my side and looked up at me with chocolate brown eyes that indicated, “You gotta be kidding me.”

“Are you a retriever or what?” I asked her in a shrill voice. “And your name is Chaser, for the love of God!”

She merely blinked at me. So I yelled again, “Go get him!”


She plopped down on her rear and began gnawing on an old tennis ball she’d found abandoned in the snow.

Apparently breeding didn’t account for much these days. This was something I’d have to do myself.

The chase was on.

I took off in the direction I’d last seen Banjo’s fuzzy brown tail. Two steps into my pursuit, Chaser dropped her ball and trailed at my heels, barking like an idiot to say, “We’re going for a run. How fun!”

I ran through our backyard and into the neighbor’s, snaked around their house and out to the street. I caught a glimpse of Banjo three houses up, sniffing a mail box and hiking his leg in greeting.

I sighed in relief. I’d found him. The nice folks at the animal shelter wouldn’t kill me after all.


But in my excitement I made a rookie mistake. Instead of sneaking up behind him, snagging him with one arm and clipping the leash to his collar in one smooth stroke I went in like a narcotics cop on a drug bust at a meth lab.

“STOP, BANJO! STOP!” I screamed.

He looked up and took one step toward me.

Then the little son-of-a-biscuit turned and ran in the opposite direction.

I took off running with Chaser in my wake. I weaved my way through every yard in the neighborhood, trudging through thick snow, dodging bushes, looking under decks and behind trash cans.

I soon noticed a thunderous, gasping sound roaring in my ears.

Then realized it was me.

Apparently my lungs had stopped functioning about four houses back and my brain was just now getting the message.

I stopped to catch my breath and made the mistake of bending over. Blood rushed to my head, and I keeled over onto the ground like I’d been shot.

I laid there as two neighborhood kids ran over to offer assistance.

“Hey,” I wheezed, “you…see…big dog…run…through…here?”

“Yeah,” one of them answered and pointed down the street. “He took off that way.”

I rolled over to get up and felt something pop. Oh, fabulous. There went a hamstring.

“OK, here’s the deal,” I plopped back down. “You find that dog, there’s $20 in it for you.”

And with the vigor of youth they took off after Banjo. But after a few steps one of them stopped and turned to yell out, “Where will we find you?”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be right here,” I grunted, flat on my back in the snow. “It’s not like I’m going anywhere.”

To protect the innocent, Banjo’s name has been changed. He really is a beautiful animal. Honest. You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The handyman gets the worm

(originally published April 18, 2006)

There’s nothing like spraying your husband’s face with worm goo to truly test one’s marriage.

We had begun our spring cleaning by removing some unsightly bushes from around our deck. My husband, Jon, grabbed his less-than-handy shovel and began to dig.

It didn’t take long before the air was filled with the sounds of grunting, thrashing and swearing. Kind of like an adult film convention in Las Vegas but in an arty way so as not to offend folks.

“This shovel sucks,” Jon eloquently stated as he held the tool in both hands, turning it over to inspect its base. “Maybe if I shear off these bolts,” he pointed to where the handle was attached, “I can take it off and put on a new one.”

Upon hearing those words I immediately bolted upright and popped my head up from the other side of the deck where I had been carefully gathering old wood chips to be replaced with rock.

Uh-oh, I thought to myself. Jon’s getting handyman ideas again. That’s never a good thing. My heart began to thump in my chest, blood pounded in my ears, fear closed in from all sides.
My eyes wide, I glanced over to the unfinished dog kennel/work shed/greenhouse that graces the far edge of the yard. Almost three years in the making and it’s still nothing more than a frame and roof. Jon insists he’s just waiting to decide what to do with it. I’m sure our neighbors have some suggestions.

So I played it cool. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s best to stay silent while Jon mulls these things over; before I tell him what he should do. If women can’t be president or pee standing up, we can at least pull our husbands’ puppet strings and rule the world undetected from the shadows.

I shrugged my shoulders, carefully removed my garden gloves and said nothing. Silently praying the afternoon wouldn’t end with a trip to the emergency room.

“But then again,” Jon continued, “by the time I did that I’d have all this stuff dug up.”

Good decision. I let out a silent “whew,” happy that tragedy had been diverted yet again.

Jon returned to his digging until finally calling me over to help cut the root system so we could remove the plant. He bent over and pulled up on the bush while I reached in with long-nosed garden clippers and began chopping away.

I battled a particularly nasty root, its size over an inch thick and covered with slimy, grimy earthworms. I mustered all my strength and squeezed the handles together, letting out a Monica Seles tennis grunt loud enough to scare the dog and send her flying for cover under the deck.

The clippers closed in and the root finally gave way. Jon was thrown back a bit by the plant’s sudden release. But my victory was short-lived. That’s when I heard a loud “Awww, gross!” from Jon’s direction.

I looked up to see him standing with the bush in his arms and the smashed remains of a slimy gray earthworm plastered to his face, thrown there by my battle with the clippers.

I didn’t even bother to hide my amusement. I pointed and howled with laughter while Jon quickly dropped the bush and hastily scrubbed worm guts off his chin.

He didn’t find it so funny. And, for some reason, my help was no longer needed. So he decided it was time to mow the yard. Afterward, he grabbed our hand-me-down trimmer to finish the job.

Three hours later he was still trying to start it. Every few minutes he’d walk back into the house, rubbing his right shoulder that was sore from repeated pulls on the trimmer’s starter, mumbling “that stupid piece of ****” and heading back out to the garage to give it another go.

But it wasn’t enough. I soon heard the car engine fire up and tires squealing in an “I’m going to the hardware store and coming back with a new trimmer; I am man, hear me roar” kind of way.

A few minutes later he returned and pulled out a brand new trimmer. Without a word, he flicked the switch and it roared to life. He quickly finished the yard, turned off the machine and looked over at me where I stood on the front porch.

He smiled and said only one word. “Nuhhhiiiice.”

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Alarming News

(originally published September 19, 2007)

When the alarm clock began screeching like a banshee at the stroke of midnight, my husband was not thrilled to be dragged from his dreams of Marcia Brady running naked through a green Astroturf backyard.


“Gawddamit, wha the hellzat?!” he raged at the darkness. As the clock wailed away, he blindly reached over and began smacking it with the pillow he’d yanked from beneath my slumbering head.

As he continued beating the small plastic box into the next century and took the Lord’s name in vain, he also threw in the names of three saints, at least one Stooge, that nerdy Screech kid from “Saved by the Bell” and wrapped up with our 2-year-old son’s name buried in a curse-strewn epitaph.

“If Gabe doesn’t stop messing around with this thing,” he hit the clock again, “and accidentally set this stupid alarm,” he smacked it once more, “I’m gonna kill him,” and tossed the pillow aside as the clock started making a quiet clicking noise instead.

It kinda sounded like a countdown, so that’s when I became concerned. But I decided to ask a theological question first.

“By the way,” I said from my prone, pillow-less position, “where did you learn the names of those saints? You’re a Methodist.”

He kept silent, listening to the clock ticking like a timer on a nuclear device. So I added, “And that Screech kid? What’d he ever do to you?”

“He’s annoying,” my husband replied curtly as if no further explanation was needed. Then he reached over to yank the clock’s plug from the wall outlet and dropped it with a loud thud onto the floor.

Right on top of Chaser, our golden retriever, who had snored her way through the entire episode. She merely lifted her furry head, took a look around then rolled over onto her back. Sensing no further danger, she immediately drifted back to sleep with all four paws flopped in the air.

I looked at the clock – the one still functioning on my side of the bed – and noticed it read 12:04 a.m. Cripes. I felt my husband shift in bed and begin to rearrange everything so he could get back to sleep with – oh, I don’t think so – MY pillow.

I reached over, tugged hard and jerked it out of his grasp.

“Hey!” he grunted. “That’s mine.”

“I beg to differ,” I answered, rolling over to tuck the pillow under my head. “This one’s mine. You try taking it from me again and you’ll soon understand the meaning of Homeland Security’s Severe Alert.”

He was quiet for a moment then leaned over to ask, “What color is that one again? I forget.”

I growled, “Red, honey, always red,” and shoved him back over to his side of the bed. I continued, “But don’t worry. Chaser’s on it. There’s nothing to fear as long as she’s around.”
Then, out of the darkness, a loud snore from the golden-haired goddess pretty much confirmed she was not on full alert status at the moment.


“Oh, well,” my husband said and settled back under the covers. “We live in Missouri. A tornado will get us before any terrorist does.”

***

“How in the heck did he DO this?” my husband howled in frustration. I walked in to find him violently shaking the computer’s mouse in the air then slamming it back down onto the desk.

“Trouble there, Big Guy?” I asked and leaned over his shoulder to look at the computer.

“Yes,” he snapped and pointed to the screen. “I caught Gabe playing with the mouse and now all the toolbars and stuff are messed up.”

I glanced over to where the accused stood. He was wearing an oversized batting helmet and hitting himself in the head with a baseball bat.

Sure, the helmet was rock-hard tough and rode so low it covered his eyes, and the bat was made of plastic. He wasn’t going to hurt himself.

But still. It didn’t look good. There’s a decent chance that remedial education is in his future.

“That’s it!” my husband yelled. “He’s no longer allowed to touch anything that has a button. No TV remotes, no clocks, no computers, no nothing!”

I tapped him on the shoulder then pointed to our son, the human piƱata. “I don’t think that’ll be a problem anymore,” I laughed and walked away.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Infernal medicine

(originally published July 25, 2006)

Our golden retriever, Chaser, raced over to greet me as I pulled in the driveway that morning.

Tail wagging so fast her entire rear shook like a washer on the spin cycle. Tongue flopping out the side of her mouth. She looked like a mental patient on a crazed hunt for tranquilizers.

I assumed her enthusiasm was in direct correlation to the fact she loves me so gosh darn much.
Or, perhaps because I had promised to return from the store with a new dog chewy.

She jumped into my lap when I opened the door. It was a scramble of long legs and golden hair and doggy drool that landed squarely in my lap. I felt every one of her 94 pounds drilling into my body and pressing me down into the car seat.

This was a new development, I thought, putting up a hand to keep her hot doggy breath from steaming up my sunglasses. What’s the matter, Lassie? Timmy in the well again?

With one giant heave I shoved her off my lap and back out the door. I got out gingerly, leaned over, braced a hand on the car and desperately tried to find the breath Chaser had unceremoniously knocked out of my lungs. That dog needs to go on a diet.

Just as my lungs began working properly again I heard from the garage, “We need to go to the emergency room.”

I glanced over to see my husband, Jon, walk toward me with his left hand swathed in half a roll of paper towels.

Uh-oh. This can’t be good.

Chaser, now sitting calmly at my side and having done her duty to alert me of danger, looked up at me. See? I tried to tell you something was wrong. But you tossed me on my butt. That was very un-neighborly of you, Mom.

Some wives would get hysterical after seeing their husbands in such a state of emergency. Screaming, weeping messes yelling out “Why, God, why!” and “Oh, the blood. So much blood!” But not me. I’m the model of cool and rational thought.

“Well, how bad is it?” I casually asked Jon while strapping our one-year-old son into the car seat for his very first ride to the emergency room. Baby Baldwin giggled as if to say Dada did a dumb-dumb.

I got no response from Jon. Just silence. OK, maybe this was a little more serious than I thought.

“Hey, you,” I said a little louder, “the guy bleeding all over the driveway. Is it just a cut or do I need to go get the cooler so I can pack a severed limb on ice?”

Jon snuck a peak under the makeshift bandage and grimaced, “It’s pretty bad.”

At that point I mentally ran through every episode of Trauma: Life in the E.R. I’d ever seen and jumped into action. I hoped Jon wouldn’t need a chest tube. That’s always a bad sign when somebody needs a chest tube.

As we drove Indy-style to the hospital I tried to keep his spirits up. I asked, “Hey, remember the last time you went to the emergency room?” while blowing through no less than three stop signs.

When Jon and I were dating, I innocently suggested we carve pumpkins on Halloween. No guy wants to do that. But he will if he’s trying to impress a girl.

One hour later we were in the emergency room where Jon got his hand sewn back together after slicing it with a butcher knife while cutting off the top of his pumpkin.

That’s right. Just cutting off the top. We hadn’t even gotten to the carving part yet.

The doctor was quite chatty as he stitched Jon’s hand. “At least she had a good set of knives,” he said. “This is one really clean cut.”

I beamed and thanked the good doctor for the compliment. Jon just glared.

And he hasn’t touched a pumpkin since. Nor did he seem to enjoy the stroll down memory lane that morning, if the look he threw me was any indication.

Fortunately, Jon didn’t need a chest tube. And, much to his chagrin, he didn’t even need stitches. The doctor superglued his finger back together and sent him on his way.

Geesh, I could have done that. I saw it once on Trauma: Life in the E.R.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Who invited Albino Bob?

(originally published June 26, 2007)

“You’re about to see something that hasn’t seen the light of day in about 15 years,” my husband announced to our neighbor as he strolled into his backyard.

My husband grabbed the bottom hem of his white T-shirt and began pulling it from the waistband of his swimming trunks.

Said neighbor was more than a little scared. In fact, he looked absolutely terrified. As if he’d just learned he’d been cast as the lead in a remake of “Deliverance.”

“Uh, man, there are kids here,” he said, nervously gulping a large swig of beer as he backed up toward the pool’s edge.

Perhaps he considered drowning as a preferable alternative to the image he feared would be seared to his eyeballs in about five seconds.

“I agree,” I laughingly told my husband and held out a hand to stop him. “No one wants to see that.”

But he simply ignored our pleas and slowly peeled off his shirt to reveal a chest so glaringly pale, so glowingly white, so gloriously paste-like that if he were standing atop the Great Wall of China, well, the massive structure wouldn’t be the only thing astronauts could see from space.

In one fluid motion he tossed the shirt over his shoulder and cannon-balled into the bright, blue waters of the swimming pool, deaf to the cries of “Don’t look directly at it! It’s brighter than the sun!” “My eyes! My eyes!” and “Who invited Albino Bob to the party?”

It’s not as if my husband doesn’t have a tan. He does. He’s a healthy looking individual from elbows to fingertips and knees down to ankles. But everything else in between is exposed to nothing stronger than the series of 60-watt light bulbs that illuminate our master bathroom on a daily basis.

Oh, so sexy.

And it was while admiring such manliness that I realized something. “Hey, babe, did you put on sunscreen?” I shouted out to him.

“I don’t need it,” he insisted just before dunking our neighbor’s 8-year-old son, who was obviously the more mature of the two.

“Oh, I see,” I answered. “You’re practically a walking advertisement for Hawaiian Tropic, eh?”

“You got it, babe,” he answered, climbing out from the pool then turning right back around to belly flop on top of the floating beer cooler.

But it was just the testosterone talking, and he had run out of such hormone-induced bravery by that evening.

“I hurt,” he announced as he slowly walked into the family room and collapsed onto the sofa beside me.

“What? Your experiment to turn into a human shish kabob didn’t work out like you’d hoped,” I asked.

He snuck a look at me and asked in a quiet voice, “Can you take a look at my back?”

He let out a loud hiss when I slowly peeled away the T-shirt to reveal a set of shoulders that were more roasted than the time I tried to cook meatloaf under the broiler. We had to buy a new oven and have the old one sprinkled with holy water and buried in consecrated ground.

I decided the finger test – poking his shoulder to see if it left an imprint – was unnecessary in this case as his skin was hot enough to cook…well…meatloaf.

And that’s when our toddler ran by and stopped in his tracks when he saw my husband’s back and let out a “Whoa, baby! Daddy has a big ouch-ie!”

“See?” I said to my husband over his burned shoulders, “even a two-year-old knows you should wear sunscreen.”

At that point the doorbell rang, cutting off whatever string of swear words he’d planned to respond with. Standing on the Welcome mat was our neighbor’s 8-year-old son, asking if my husband could “come out and play.”

Apparently the young quickly forget near-death experiences like being dunked by an albino-looking madman.

And as my husband jumped off the couch, grabbed the basketball and set off to shoot some hoops, I couldn’t help but marvel how quickly the old bounce back too.

As long as they have a handful of painkillers, a short memory and a wife who chooses not to say, “I told you so.”

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Where's MacGyver when you need him?

(originally published May 21, 2008)

It was like trying to teach a chimp to work a toaster.

That is, if a chimp had the slightest interest in learning to make toast. Which I doubt. It has opposable thumbs. It can hitch a ride to McDonald’s and have a sausage and egg biscuit for breakfast and read the morning newspaper if it wants.

“OK, here’s what you do,” I said quietly, leaning toward the gray-tinted window. I snuck a look around the parking lot and turned back toward the car. I pointed toward the button partially hidden in the arm rest and mimed a downward motion and said, “Just reach over and push that button.”

Safely belted into his car seat in the back, my two-year-old son just stared blankly like I’d said the words in Japanese.

I rolled my eyes and thought, Brilliant. The kid is a whiz with buttons but picks today to get stupid.

He can use the television remote to locate an episode of “Scooby Doo” any time, any place. If he knew the international telephone exchange for North Korea he could probably launch a nuclear weapon with my cell phone.

But tell the kid to unlock the car door and you’d think I had asked him to explain the concept of Minkowski’s Four-Dimensional Space and how it relates to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

Um, not that I’d have any clue either, but I’d like to think if this guy Minkowski were standing next to me in the parking lot that very moment he’d be able to shed some light on how to get into a locked car.

When the keys are in my purse.
Which is sitting on the passenger seat.
Along with my cell phone.

And my son in the back seat, completely oblivious to the fact he may have to spend the rest of his childhood within that space unless I discovered a way to get into the car before he started high school.

I sighed and tried again. I leaned in close enough to fog up the glass with my hot, trying-not-to-panic breath, held up one finger and said, “Hey, kiddo, why don’t you hold up one finger for me?”

He frowned, held up two stubby fingers, waved them in front of my nose and said with great insult, “But, Mommy, I’m TWO! Not one!”

Thank you, Mr. Smartypants.

“I’m not a baby,” he added for good measure. He held up two fingers and repeated, “I’m TWO!”

“Yes, I know,” I quickly apologized. Crud. Why did I teach the kid to count?! From now on it’s a steady diet of Twinkies and “Spongebob Squarepants” and nothing else.

“OK, let’s use TWO fingers,” I said and held two digits up against the glass. I used my other hand and once again pointed toward the door lock. “See that button down there? Can you push on it with your fingers? Like this?” and punched the air.

He looked at me, looked at my fingers, looked at his fingers.

Then stuck both of them up his nose and laughed.

My forehead smacked the glass in defeat. In growing frustration, I thought about smashing the window to get in. However, two things prevented any further contemplation of that irrational plan of action.

One – it was my mother-in-law’s car.

Two – I was at the post office. On what was probably federal property. In an age of anthrax scares and post-9/11.

Chances are there were trip wires, German shepherds and surveillance cameras all over the place watching my every movement.

I circled the car and tried all the handles. Again. As if – by magic – one of them had opened since the last 14 times I’d checked them.

Defeated, knowing that MacGyver would have unlocked the car by now using a mild explosive made from a gum wrapper, a pen cap and a can of lukewarm Mountain Dew, I (needlessly) ordered my son to stay put and headed inside the post office.

A nice lady let me borrow her phone to call my husband and ask him to retrieve the extra set of keys. And it was so polite of the other patrons to turn a deaf ear to my husband’s loud laughter spilling from the phone after I’d told him what I’d done.

If only I had married MacGyver instead.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

It's a dog eat dog world

(originally published January 23, 2008)

It’s in the eyes.

Lurking there behind icy blue-gray orbs rimmed with a dark ring of inky blackness.

Unblinking eyes. Burning a hole through your very soul, reaching in, grabbing your heart and slowly squeezing until its very last pulse vibrates through your body, your final breath escapes in a tiny, faint gasp and you slip away into the nothingness that is death.

Pure. Unadulterated. Evil.

And its name is Nellie.

***

When my in-laws asked if we’d dog-sit their Weimaraner, Nellie, I thought it best to return the kindness they’ve shown us over the years and quickly said, “Sure.”

It was the last intelligent thought I had that day.

Weimaraners are supposed to be intelligent, athletic animals. Playful and cheerful. I know this because I looked it up on the Web and the Internet would never lie.

Then my husband got home and stopped dead in his tracks when greeted by our beautiful golden retriever, Chaser, and the gray ghost, Nellie.

Immediately on edge, he pointed at the gray one and whispered through gritted teeth, “What is she doing here?”

“She’s staying with us while your parents are gone.”

His reply was two terse words, “How long?”

“Just until tomorrow,” I said as the panic washed across his face and he took a step away from the dog. I quickly added, “Hey, what kind of trouble can she get into in 24 hours?”

His answer was to dash upstairs, pack an overnight bag and race for the door. His SUV shot out of the garage, down the driveway and into the street. He stomped on the gas and tore out of the neighborhood. The sound of squealing tires echoed into the night.

And then all was quiet.

I stood at the window, watching the car’s tail lights slowly fade and began to wonder if maybe, just maybe, I’d been had.

I looked down into Nellie’s sweet face. And then – quick like a cat – was a flash of something that made my heart jump.

There. In the eyes.

Evil.

In that moment of clarity I realized that Weimaraner was German for princess of darkness and all that is unholy.

God help us all.

During the next two hours, she tore the stuffing from our son’s teddy bear (he’s still in therapy – our son, not the bear), she cannibalized a Power Ranger’s right leg, shredded six issues of “Sports Illustrated,” and swallowed whole a Harry Potter movie she somehow managed to wrestle from the DVD player’s grip.

Then she jumped onto the kitchen counter and grabbed a container of grease. She pulled it to the edge and slipped it over the side, slopping the entire contents down the cabinet and onto the floor.

She walked through the mess and tracked it into three different rooms before I had discovered what she’d done.

Because I’d already gone to my happy place and was completely disengaged from reality by that point, rocking gently in the corner and singing the song from the “Beverly Hillbillies.”

Chaser’s sharp bark brought me back to attention. I opened my eyes to see her face inches from my own, fear shining in her dark, brown eyes. Do something, they begged. Save us! Before she finds my milk bones!

Then I looked over to see Nellie calmly walk past with a 12-ounce T-bone steak clamped between her jaws.

My dinner. In that dog’s mouth. I seethed. This is war.

I tore the house apart looking for a crucifix, something – anything – I could use to repel the demon within. And it wasn’t until I was knee-deep in boxes in the basement that I remembered, hey, we’re Protestants.

We don’t even have a crucifix!

I ran back upstairs and quickly fashioned a cross from the left-over chopsticks from countless nights of take-out Chinese. In a pinch, it could double as a stake…just in case she turned out to be part vampire too.

I held it up in front of Nellie’s face and yelled, “Be gone, you four-legged devil!”

She lifted one sleek paw, batted the makeshift crucifix from my hand and sent it flying through the air. She chased after it, picked it up in her teeth and swallowed the thing in one, large gulp.
Then she turned around and burped.

Everything began to turn black and my final thought as I slipped into unconsciousness was maybe it’s not so bad on the Dark Side. I hope they get cable.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Friday, January 16, 2009

FORE! Why keep score?

(originally published June 27, 2006)

I believe a great round of golf isn’t measured by the final score but by the number of golf balls you find while rooting around in the rough for your own errant shots.

Finders keepers. I haven’t bought a new golf ball since the Clinton administration.

A found ball that’s been half-buried 50 yards off the 13th tee in waist-high grass for the past three summers will sail into a water trap just as easily as a $10 ball you bought from a slick-talking sporting goods salesman named Chip who promised such a ball would change your game and your life. Screw Chip.

But finding an old ball, which has been lost in the rough for years, ravaged by time, discovered by no one and forgotten by all, evokes a tremendous “I am a god” kind of feeling.

You reach up, wave the ball over your head like it was the Hope Diamond and shout out to friends standing safely on the cart path, “Hot damn! Found another one! Cha-ching!”

And you ignore the fact that stomping around in tall, itchy grass has also gotten you 36 chigger bites, starting at your ankles and winding their way up to your crotch and places only your OB/GYN is allowed to go. Neither do you notice the skunk hiding 5 feet away. But I guarantee your friends will as soon as you find your way back to the fairway.

The stuffed, hot pink flamingo club cover I keep on my 5-wood has been my good luck charm for the past several seasons. Pinky Tuscadero, I call it. I stole it from my husband’s golf bag after he remarked it wasn’t manly enough for him. But what does he know? He buys $10 balls.

One rub of Pinky’s head before teeing up the ball is guaranteed to…well…do nothing really. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. And he’s too cute to toss in the lake. Kinda like my husband.

A friend and I recently played our first round of golf for the summer. The first time out is rarely pretty since we never play between the months of September and May.

Which leaves only the lazy, hazy days of summer to wow and astound the locals with our amazing lack of talent.

Allow me to give a rundown of the day’s events, beginning with the first hole.

I tee up ball. Take practice swing. Club shoots out of hands during backswing. Friend standing behind me ducks to avoid $200 driver sailing at her head. Friend spills beer. Friend gets mad. I run off tee box to retrieve club. Then flag down drink cart to buy Friend new beer. Friend is happy.

Soon after, three of my balls are lying at the bottom of the small creek that cuts through the hole’s fairway. Said creek is only 20 yards off tee box.

I turn to look at Friend. For the fourth time in the past two minutes she says, “Hit another one” and knocks back a beer.

She looks a little wobbly. I fear if I don’t hit a decent drive soon, she’ll be toasted by the third hole. I worry because she’s driving our golf cart.My fourth drive ends up in the cart of a golfer on next hole over. I would have followed proper golf etiquette and yelled “FORE!” but didn’t bother. He was too busy wading in the lake looking for his own shot. Loser.

Friend decides it’s her turn to give it a whirl. She’s confident as she steps up to the ball. Doesn’t even take a practice swing. Draws the club back and THUNK!

Ball takes off like a rocket, soars a jaw-dropping three feet off the ground and lands with a plunk in the same damn creek. I think I hear that other golfer yell “Loser!” but am not sure.
Friend turns to look at me. I shrug and suggest she put down the beer before swinging next time.

You can e-mail your own golf tips to Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

That's why men don't have babies

"That's why men don't have babies"
(originally published September 17, 2008)

He dislocated his thumb.

One would think he’d severed a limb.

“It hurts. Bad. Really, really, really bad.”

The whine in my husband’s voice echoed through the telephone’s speaker.

“Seriously. I’ve never had anything hurt this bad before,” he continued, his whine beginning to border on downright hysteria.

One side of me – the caring wife who had naively promised to honor (but not obey) until death do us part – answered in a muted and concerned voice, using phrases like “Poor, baby,” and “Is there anything I can do?”

But the other side of me – the one who spent 24 hours in gut-wrenching labor with our son and at one point asked the nurse if she could speed things up by lighting a fire and smoking the baby out – wanted to scream, “SUCK IT UP, YOU BIG, GIGANTIC BABY MAN!! YOU HURT YOUR FREAKIN’ THUMB!! BIG DEAL!! TRY PUSHING A BOWLING BALL OUT YOUR WHOZIT-WHATIZ WHILE YOUR ENTIRE MIDSECTION FEELS LIKE THE CREATURE IN ‘ALIEN’ IS ABOUT TO BUST THROUGH IT...THEN GET BACK TO ME!!”

Whew.

That’s why men don’t have babies.

It’s quite likely they’d give up after the first contraction.

“Whoa!” manly man would say when the labor pains began. “What was that?! Where’d that come from?! Is it gonna do that for very long, doc? ‘Cuz, you know that stuff just ain’t gonna fly. I’m serious. That hurt! Maybe a beer would help…or a sandwich. Or those fancy drugs everyone’s always talking about. Yeah, how ‘bout one of those epiladies or whatever they’re called? Can I have one of them?”

Not that it would matter. One look at the stirrups at the end of the examination table and he’d be out the door, hospital gown flapping in the breeze, looking for the nearest sports bar.
But getting back to Mr. Weenie Man, love of my life and my not-so-better half.

He’d been perfectly fine just an hour before. Hanging out at the barbecue competition he and his brother had entered that weekend at a nearby lake community and doing manly things.

Yes, manly things like grilling meat, drinking beer, swapping stories, uh, drinking beer, playing catch, drinking beer, fishing, and, well, uh, drinking beer.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see where this is going.

“What exactly happened?” I asked, knowing the answer would involve the aforementioned beer, his brother and an activity two 40-something men shouldn’t have been doing in the first place.
So I was surprised when he simply answered, “I went down to the lake to wash off my hands and slipped on a rock.”

OK. Not a story for the ages. He then added, “Holy –. This pain is like no other.”

Oh, my. So simple. So sweet. So stupid.

I could only imagine how he’d be feeling if he wasn’t enjoying the analgesic qualities provided by the alcohol.

The very same alcohol that probably led to the little balancing problem he’d encountered at the water’s edge. But we won’t delve into that just now.

I shook my head and asked, “So you fell and just landed wrong?” I looked for assurance that this didn’t involve falling in the lake, resulting in a water rescue.

Because that would just be flat-out embarrassing.

“I landed on my hand. I looked down, and my thumb was just hanging there,” he said.

He then proceeded to tell me how they popped it back into place, how bruised it was, how swollen it was, how deformed his hand looked, how badly it throbbed, and, yes, how much it hurt.

“It’s like a pain you’ll never know,” he announced with complete sincerity.

My eyes narrowed. I smiled and silently thought, Game on.

“OK, mister. Time for a little perspective here,” I snapped. “Let’s take a bowling ball and try to shove it up your –.” And then realized I was talking to air. He’d already ditched the phone.

Smart man.

“Hey, there,” my brother-in-law’s cheery voice rang down the line, effectively putting an end to my not-so-gentle suggestion of where I was gonna put that bowling ball.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “Everything’s under control. We’ll take good care of him.”

How sweet. He thought I was worried. Naivety must run in the family.

“And good news,” he continued, “we won second place and $400!”

Great, I thought. That should about cover the emergency room bill.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Midnight in the garden of good and evil dogs



People ask, "Did you name your dog Chaser because she chases things?" Uh, no.
But she does take after the stray rabbit once in a while. My husband liked the name Chase and thought it would be easy for training purposes.
Uh, again, no. Chaser's name is a compromise between Chase and a tribute to the crew of the Columbia space shuttle, which was tragically lost on the day we picked up our baby girl. I wanted to pay tribute to their memory. So her AKC-registered name is Baldwins' Chaser of the Stars. She does, however, also answer to Poocher Smooch, Hey You, Bad Dog and What did you eat now?

"Midnight in the garden of good and evil dogs"
(originally published on March 20, 2007)

I’m gonna kill that dog.

The thought danced through my mind as I snuck across our neighbor’s yard during the quiet of the dark, moonless night.

The varmint in question was our golden retriever, Chaser, who had nose-poked my left side so hard I woke up from a deep sleep and bolted out of bed ready to do battle with whomever – or whatever – had invaded our home at precisely 12:03 a.m.

The intruder in question hopped around excitedly, gave a little grrrr and poked me again.

I heard a muffled, “What the hell is her problem?” from the other side of the bed where my husband was snuggled in blankets.

“Maybe the house is on fire or someone tried to break in or there’s a tornado coming. Aren’t dogs supposed to sense danger?” I asked.

I looked over at Chaser who sat on her haunches with one leg raised over her head and her nose stuck in her butt.

I doubted she was capable of recognizing impending doom at that very moment.

Satisfied she’d thoroughly inspected her rump she jumped up and stuck her face an inch from my nose. Having just witnessed the last place her nose had been, I grimaced and leaned back.
I took a whiff then realized what had gotten into our Chaser. Or, rather, what was trying to get out. And it wasn’t going to wait for morning. Or, judging by her increased agitation, it wasn’t going to wait another five minutes.

I said, “OK, let’s go,” to the antsy pile of strawberry blonde fur. I held up both hands in a stop-like gesture and smirked at my husband as I walked from the room, “Really, no need to get up. Please, I insist. Go back to sleep.”

His answering snore earned him the finger and a hex on his manhood.

I opened the back door, and the dog made a run for it like she was training for the Iditarod. Several minutes passed before I realized she hadn’t returned.

I peered out the kitchen window, searching for her long, fringed tail that – when wagging – could be spotted from a distance of at least three city blocks.

I opened the back door and gasped as the icy February air hit my face. Wearing nothing but a T-shirt and shorts, I wrapped my arms across my chest, leaned out and whispered loudly, “Chaser!”

Nothing. I tried again, a little louder, “CHASER!”

Only the wind answered back. I turned and grabbed a large flashlight. I flicked it on and swept the strong beam across the yard, hoping to catch a pair of gleaming eyes in reflection.

Nope. No Chaser. I mumbled several words my mother certainly would have disapproved of, shoved my feet into a pair of sneakers, grabbed the nearest coat – my husband’s – and headed out the door.

Since our neighbors to the left had a fenced-in yard I headed the opposite direction, fumbling with the flashlight while trying to free my hands from the coat’s too-long sleeves. Bad move.
It wasn’t until my left shoe slipped on the grass and I heard a squish that I discovered Chaser may be AWOL but she’d left a present behind.

That’s when thoughts of her unnatural demise slipped into my mind.

I dragged my foot along the ground behind me, trying to scrape the crud off and thankful for the darkness so I couldn’t see it.

I prayed the neighbors wouldn’t wake up to see me shuffling in jerky steps across their yard, mumbling to myself like an escaped mental patient, wearing what looked like an oversized coat and nothing else, and carrying a flashlight as if I were attempting the world’s worst break-in since Watergate.

Sweeping the light toward the rear of the yard, I finally caught a glimpse of a rump I recognized. It was attached to a dog that was sniffing a bush and didn’t have a care in the world.
That was about to change.

I didn’t bother to whisper this time. “Back here! Now!” I stomped my feet, even the one in the stinky shoe. “Or I swear to God no more chew toys!”

Obviously such a life wasn’t worth living. She streaked past me toward our house. It wasn’t until I walked inside and looked down at my feet that I finally smiled.

I was wearing my husband’s shoes.
You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Shake it up, just like bad medicine

My apologies to Bon Jovi....

"Shake it up, just like bad medicine"
(originally published March 6, 2007)

Giving a sick baby medicine is like trying to wrestle a rabid cougar, especially if said cougar is covered in snot.

“Did you shake it?” my husband asked me for about the eleventh time.

I opened the medicine bottle and replied “yes” through gritted teeth since I had already answered that same question at least ten times. “I shook it. I read the directions too, you know.” I bent close to the kitchen counter and carefully began to siphon the gooey antibiotic into the small plastic syringe.

“Wait a sec,” I said, looking a little more carefully at the syringe. I held it up to eye level to get a better look at the black lines marked along its shaft.

“This thing measures in milliliters, but the medicine label calls for 4 cc’s. What the heck is a ‘cc’?”
My husband, the one who majored in pre-medicine, quickly responded, “It stands for cubic centimeter.”

“So?” I asked.

“So what?” he replied.

“So how many cubic centimeters are in a milliliter?” I asked.

“Uh, I have absolutely no idea,” Mr. Smarty Pants said. “I didn’t know we’d have to do math.”

“Didn’t you minor in chemistry?” I asked.

“Didn’t you graduate magma coon latte or something?” he snarked back at me.

“It’s magna cum laude, and, yes, I did,” I answered, “but I worked very hard to avoid chemistry classes in college because the only thing I learned in my high school chemistry class was how to use the fire extinguisher on my lab partner.”

Some wounds, you know, never heal.

“Oh, well,” I said, filling the syringe up to the top, “this outta be close enough.” I turned to look around the room and said, “Where’s the Little Big Guy?”

Judging by the sound my husband made in response, one would think I’d just vowed to send our son to live with wolves. Or Britney Spears.

“WHAT?!” he screamed, lunging for the syringe. “You can’t do that!”

Apparently the “Let’s just wing it” approach that had gotten us through the past two years of childrearing wasn’t the way to go this time.

Apparently he was a stickler about proper medicinal dosage. Apparently he was concerned about poisoning our only child. Apparently he was afraid he’d married Dr. Kevorkian by mistake.

Pansy.

However, I sighed, he was right. So we played a rather heated game of paper/rock/scissors to determine who would call the local pharmacist to ask how to convert the dosage.

My husband wasn’t thrilled when I also asked the pharmacist, “And just how many cc’s are in a shot of tequila? Because I have a feeling that’ll be important later.”

The first dose ended up splattered across the front of my shirt when our son turned his head at the very last second and knocked the syringe from my hand using – what I swear – was the “wax on, wax off” defense method from “Karate Kid.”

The second dose landed on the dog who mistakenly thought it was gravy and licked up half of it before I could stop her.

The third dose went up my husband’s nose when he leaned over at the precise moment our son threw his body into a jackknife position and hurled himself off the couch.

The Allied forces had better luck storming the beaches at Normandy.

“OK, here’s what we do!” I yelled at my husband, screaming over our son’s high-pitched wails as I struggled to maintain a vise-like grip on the squirmy little bugger. “I’ll hold him down and when he opens his mouth to scream, you jam the syringe in there!”

My husband, a little shell-shocked from the earlier attempts, just stood there. A small sliver of drool appeared at one corner of his mouth. Fear etched across his face. His hands shook a little. I was about to lose him.

“We can do this!” I yelled at him. “We are the grown-ups here! We can’t let him win!”

With a deep breath, my husband pumped his fists and yelled, “OK! Let’s do it!”
And five seconds later, it was all over.

“So how much longer does he need to take this stuff?” my husband asked as our son ran from the room like his diaper was on fire.

I capped the bottle, put it back in the fridge and said, “Just ten more days.”
“God help us,” he replied. “Where’s that tequila?”

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

The wonders of Whac-a-Mole

Many of my columns are inspired by the beautiful dynamic witnessed between father and son.

"The wonders of Whac-a-Mole"
(originally published on Feb. 6, 2008)

We heard all kinds of things when we had our first child.

“Having kids will change your life.”

“Having kids means a part of you will live forever.”

“Having kids will bring joy and meaning to your marriage.”

But no one told us what really happens.

Having kids will make you stupid.

***

“I smell something suspicious.”

It was a sentence that would normally put anyone on alert.

But the fact it came from my two-year-old son’s mouth made it particularly troublesome.

Though I must admit I was briefly distracted since he had managed to say and use the word “suspicious” correctly.

Not too shabby for such a little guy. Those hours spent watching “Scooby Doo” were really paying off.

Uh…I mean...“Sesame Street”…all those hours spent watching an educational program like “Sesame Street” were really paying off. He must have learned that word from Elmo.

But I digress.

I walked over to my son, bent down and did the Sniff Test and immediately smelled something “suspicious” too.

“Yep,” I stood up and said, “you went poopy, didn’t you?”

He shouted back, “No!”

“Yes, you did.”

“No, I did NOT!”

“I think you did.”

“Nuh-huh.”

“Yuh-huh.”

“NO-NO-NO!”

“YES-YES-YES!”

Silence followed by a quiet, “Mommy, I love you.”

My sweet baby! I fell to my knees and asked, “Wanna cookie, Poopy Pants?”

Out-smarted by a human who still forgets the number 7 when counting to 10. And I didn’t even care.

***
There they were. My two guys. Sitting together on the couch watching television. The two-year-old with a sippy cup of milk and the older one holding a cold beer.

Then both of them burped.

But it wasn’t until I heard Christmas music that I stopped to pay attention. I took a closer look at the television and saw they were watching that timeless classic, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

I was a little confused.

“Is there a reason you guys are watching that?” I asked my husband and pointed to the screen just as Rudolph and friends fell under attack by the dastardly Abominable Snowman.

He answered without taking his eyes off the screen, “Because this is the greatest Christmas cartoon ever!”

That I understood.

“But,” I stammered, “it’s February.”

They looked up at me and answered together, “So?”

OK. And I kept on walking.

It was a few minutes later when I heard my son yell out, “Bomma omma ma snowman!” followed by my husband’s loud laugh.

Then again, “Bomma omma ma snowman!” and another long laugh.

My husband said, “I’m trying to teach him to say, ‘Aboddinable –.’”

He stopped and started again. “No, wait. I mean ‘Amonidibal –.’” He stomped his feet and tried again, “Monimanal! Ugh! Stupid effin’ word! Abommable!”

He stopped, looked at me and shouted, “Jesus! How DO you say it??!”

***

“No, that’s not how you do it. Watch me. OK? Are you watching me? Put that down. Hey, over here. Pay attention. OK, now here’s how you – hey – I’m talkin’ to you. Focus! Come on! Focus! Hey, come back here with that! Where are you going?!”

I laughed. Trying to teach our son how to play Hungry Hungry Hippos was gonna be the death of my husband.

“What exactly are you trying to do?” I asked when I walked into the room to see his face turn a delightful shade of purple.

He gestured toward the toddler who had just run from the room clutching a small, plastic hippo in one fist and half the game’s white marbles in the other.

“He – I – this stupid game – HIPPO – little balls –!” was his only answer as he struggled for breath and doubled his hands into tight fists.

Apparently he had lost the ability to form a complete sentence and was thisclose to losing consciousness.

I sighed. “You know, getting a two-year-old to play a game by the rules is a great way to induce a stroke.”

“But how –,” my husband started before I interrupted. I put up a hand and gently said, “Babe, let it go.”

I reached down and plucked a plastic mallet off the floor. “Here,” I handed it to him, “go play Whac-a-Mole instead. You won’t lose nearly as many brain cells.”

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Monday, January 12, 2009

One of readers' favorites

"Light my fire"
(originally published Jan. 1, 2007)

It’s never officially a party until somebody burns down the house.

Or at least tries to.

***

I spent three frenzied days cleaning the house for our holiday party. The rooms smelled of apple cider and cinnamon. Bing Crosby crooned “White Christmas” from the stereo. The family room oozed coziness with stockings hung from the mantle and white candles casting soft shadows on the walls.

I smiled. It was just like a freakin’ HGTV holiday special in here.

And it lasted for all of five minutes.

It started when my husband asked, “How about a fire?” So he cranked up the fireplace for the first time that winter.

And ten minutes later every window was open to the frigid December air and the house was filled with a foggy, white smoke.

Welcome to my world. But let me back up a little.

I was in the kitchen, minding my own business, which really isn’t that difficult when I’m in the kitchen. I don’t cook. I don’t know how to cook. And I don’t want to know how to cook.

But I can stir whatever it is my husband is making. So it’s understandable that I was totally engrossed in my task while the family room was burning down behind me.

I leaned over to catch a whiff of my husband’s homemade chili and noticed it smelled a bit smoky. Perhaps my husband had found a new spice to mix into his recipe. He’s such a girl.

The very thought brought tears to my eyes. No. Wait a second. Why are my eyes watering?

I looked up from the stove and slowly turned around to see the family room engulfed in smoke.

“Santa’s on fire!” I screamed and ran over to the fireplace, fanning the smoke with the over-sized oven mitt I was wearing.

I dropped to my knees, threw back the guard and immediately determined the problem. My husband, Frontier Jon, had started the fire without opening the flue. Instead of drawing up through the chimney, the smoke was pouring into the family room.

Coughing and sputtering, I bravely reached into the searing, hot flames and searched blindly for the flue handle.

And that’s how the oven mitt caught on fire. So I tossed it behind me.

And, uh, that’s how the sofa caught on fire.

Insert appropriate swear word here.

I ran to the hall closet and grabbed the fire extinguisher. Then dropped it. On my foot. Damn. That thing is a lot heavier than it looks.

I picked it up again and held on tight. Then tripped over the dog on my way back through the kitchen. I stumbled into the family room on my knees but managed to stay upright.

I pulled back on the handle and prepared to blast the burning sofa with a spray of sofa-saving chemicals, while screaming, “Say hello to my little friend!” like Al Pacino did with a machine gun in “Scarface.”

But nothing happened. No streaming spray of life-saving chemicals spewed from the end of the tiny black hose.

“You stupid piece of ****!” I screamed, shaking the red metal container like it was a Magic Eight Ball.

Oh, wait a second. There’s a pin. Oops.

I saved the sofa then turned my attention back to the fireplace. Oven mitt-less this time, I reached in and grasped the iron-hot flue handle while screaming a rather colorful word but still managed to shove it to the open position. Then I collapsed into a heap on the hearth.

And that’s how my husband found me.

Lying on the floor, clutching a half-empty fire extinguisher. My face and hands smeared with black coal. Ashes scattered in my hair, the ends of which still hissed from their dance with the fire. And a half-burned sofa smoldered in the corner.

So much for the apple cider and cinnamon-perfumed home I had worked three days for. In exactly 13 minutes our guests would begin arriving to a house that smelled like it starred in a Smokey Bear “Only you can prevent forest fires” video.

At least my husband showed adequate concern for home and wife.

His eyes widened with alarm and he worriedly asked, “Did you remember to stir the chili?”
So much for HGTV, I thought as I jumped at him. Our party was going to end up on “Cops” instead.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.

Teaching new dogs old tricks

(originally published Dec. 31, 2008)

I screw up.

A lot.

As a wife. As a mother.

As the person responsible for buying the clog remover for the upstairs bathroom sink before it flooded over and destroyed everything within a 12-block radius.

But once in a while something special happens that makes me stop and think, “Wow. Maybe I’m not so terrible after all.”

***

“You’re going to Time Out!” I heard a voice say.

The voice wasn’t mine or my husband’s, so I was a little curious about its source.

I turned around to see my three-year-old son march down the stairs with his brand new toy, an animatronic puppy that promised to perform a variety of tricks to amaze and astound even the most jaded of toddlers.

It had arrived Christmas morning, fresh off Santa’s sleigh and eager to perform a variety of stunts. He could stand on his head, pounce forward, play tug-of-war and sing.

Chaser, Wonder Mutt of West Edwards Street, was less than impressed. As the little dog performed his bag of tricks, her big brown eyes narrowed.

Can he give a high five? No, I don’t think so. Can he roll over? Nope. Can he hump the sofa pillow until it’s a useless lump of polyester stuffing? Not unless he wants to fight me for it first.

She let out a small grrrr and prepared to perform her own pounce, so I quickly grabbed her collar and said, “You’re still Number 1. And leave the pillows alone. They don’t love you in that kinda way.”

But it was too late. Perhaps the little dog had sensed some bad voodoo from the 94-pound Golden Retriever with an attitude and decided it best to employ that age-old survival trick to ensure he’d live to see another day.

Play dumb.

Suddenly his tricks turned into bricks. Ask him to shake his paw and he stood on his head. Tell him to sit and he’d lie down and go to sleep.

It took my son two seconds to realize that the little doggie was having a canine meltdown.

“Mommy,” he whined, “What’s wrong with him?”

OK, time to start making stuff up. Isn’t that what parenting is all about?

“Oh, he’s probably just tired from his trip,” I said. “The North Pole is a long way from here. He just needs a nap.”

The little guy digested that bit of information and decided that yes, a nap was a good idea and headed upstairs with his new best friend.

However, I was already onto Plan B.

B was for Batteries.

While the North Pole bit worked for now, I needed to perform a Christmas miracle sometime during the next hour. And that miracle must involve a fresh set of batteries.

During the next 57 minutes, I tore the house apart searching the house for four new batteries with enough juice to power up the pup, then sneaked upstairs, slid the toy from under my son’s tiny arm without waking him, discovered the battery compartment would only open with a screwdriver tiny enough to build a ship in a bottle, ended up ripping the entire thing off anyway, replaced the batteries, secured the gaping hole with a generous strip of duct tape, gently slid the toy back under my son’s arm and prayed for the best.

But the puppy had it out for me. New batteries didn’t make a lick of difference. He was just stupid.

Cute. But stupid.

I heard my son shout, “You’re going to Time Out!”I inquired as to why the little dog was being punished and my son snarled, “Because he’s not LISTENING to me!”
He set the toy down on the bottom step and said, “You sit here and think about what you did,” and walked away.

After a few minutes – because apparently he was using his own past punishments as a model here – he walked back over to the dog, sat down next to it, put his arm around the dog’s neck and leaned over to say, “Are you going to listen to me now?”

Apparently the dog answered “yes” because my son smiled, picked him up and carried him off into the sunset.

Maybe I’m not such a terrible parent. After all, he seems to have the punishment thing down. That’s half the battle.

You can e-mail Kelley Baldwin at life-like-mine@hotmail.com.