Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Go ahead and Google it!

In case you ever have a serious need to discover the exact number of Google results for the term "exploding guinea pig" don't bother searching: I got your number right here. It's 55,800. That's about 53,000 more than I would have estimated, but, let's face it, there are a lot of sickos out there.

Count me one of the sickos, because I'm about to push the number up to 55,801.

This is the story of our own exploding guinea pig.

If you are a card-carrying member of PETA, or just really serious about the sanctity of animal life (even those things that I'm sure even Linnaeus wouldn't have considered animals--sea cucumbers come to mind) fear not: the guinea pig in question never breathed a breath of air, never gave one of those endearing little guinea pig "squeaks", never chewed up a $80 textbook in a burst of sheer joie de vivre like some mice I once kept for a science experiment. (I got my revenge. And the high school boa constrictor got lunch. I was cheap and vengeful even then.) No, the guinea pig whose guts now waft over my back porch was a toy.

You see, my kids go to Swedish school. (I believe I've mentioned that before--maybe you've seen the photos or watched the embarrassing footage.) So, there are many occasions when they take part in activities at the local IKEA. I love those occasions, because it gives me a chance to wonder what my life would be like were I to move across the Atlantic and have carte blanche to outfit an abode. (I love my home, but one does get to "if-ing" occasionally.) I ponder deeply the psychological implications of my fondness for certain lamps over others, and wonder if the over-the-sink-strainer would really change my existential outlook on life as it seems to suggest. And then I usually buy a couple of inexpensive sheets. I'm cheap, and I'm a mom.

My children also enjoy these occasions, but not for the same reasons. They love them, because IKEA--being a very progressive company--rewards its Swedish School helpers well. And thus it was that this year, after the Lucia procession and singing (sorry--no embarrassing photos this time, but whoo-hoo, did el Roberto look fab in that white dress!) the children were given very large IKEA bags (which I have appropriated. The grocery baggers' eyes always fall out of the sockets when I whip those babies out. Current record: three gallons of milk, five pounds of rice, and a half ham. Thanks, IKEA!) and cuddly stuffed guinea pigs. One for each child. (Even the one whose sole contribution was to grin and sweetly drool.)

And now for the exploding part.

The other night--being the night before Valentine's Day--my husband and I hired a babysitter so we could do something REALLY romantic: return to the used book sale at the state fairgrounds, and then go to buy a wedding present before grocery shopping. Try not to be jealous. Especially about the part where the book sale mostly smelled like llama pee. Well, at some point in the proceedings/general chaos that prevails around here, the dog found the absolute love of her life: one of the guinea pigs. It was apparently a tender tale of dog meets pig, dog licks pig, dog gnaws hole in pig's neck. Ah. L'Amour. And then. my children being the most helpful brood in the world (most of the time. When I threaten to yank all privileges, including indoor plumbing) tossed the sadly disappointed and unsatisfied guinea pig in the washing machine, where it reposed--probably thinking deep thoughts about love and the inevitable decay of mortality--until I dumped in a ton of laundry and started the washer up.

Poor pig never had a chance. Death by centrifugal motion. Sounds like a physicist's secret suicide fantasy.

And I didn't know until when, in the act of hanging out the laundry (16 days without a dryer, and counting!), I started shaking out piles and piles of pure white fluff.

I am a decent woman. I hung the emptied corpse up to dry. And since I'm both cheap and a believer in the afterlife, I fully intend to make the poor thing into a hand puppet. As soon as I can wrestle it away from the dog.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Normal? What is this thing normal of which you speak?

Well, my friends, I now have three laundry lines hung above the stage in the basement.

I'm sure something about that sentence sounds odd to everybody who isn't a member of the immediate family, so explanations are in order.

First: the drier broke Saturday. Perhaps broke is too nebulous an explanation; gave up the ghost may be more appropriate, but until we can call out a diagnostician whom we trust and who will appraise for cheap (usually, that would be my dad, and he's unavailable currently--something about the desire for a vacation, although I can't imagine why someone would want a vacation when he has a daughter with extremely needy appliances, can you?) we'll just have to call the thing comatose and find a temporary work solution. Thus, the four laundry lines on the back porch were inadequate to the unimaginable washing load this family produces. (Three boys, one girl, one dog. You do the laundry math. If Tide ever wants to sponsor a family for promotional purposes, I'll be pushing to get at the front of the audition line.) Additionally, I must mention that as I was setting laundry out to dry--counting (overly-optimistically, as it turns out) on our wondrous desert aridity for it normal effect--it started to rain. Timing is everything, friends! So, seeking a largish, openish, dryish space--which would eliminate all bathrooms in this house (designed in the 1980s by a male whose ablutions consisted solely of wet wipes and travel-size toiletry supplies to judge by the square-footage and workability of the bathrooms in this house--40 square feet, 40! And you have to sit on the toilet to close the door. You can't tell my a woman drew up the blueprints. No way.), as well as rooms currently taken up by sleeping arrangements, schoolwork, cooking, and normal in-house movements, we (I) came to the brilliant solution that the only truly available space was the basement. And the best spot in the basement was over the stage.

Second: the explanatory bit about the stage. Yes, there is a stage in the basement. It isn't terribly large--slightly larger than a bathroom, though--nor is it professionally equipped. You might call it a stage in embryo. It exists--raised by eighteen full inches above floor level, but no productions have been staged as yet. But they will be. They will be. Mainly because I am who I am, and because we have the darn thing and are going to use it if it kills some of us. Also, because I have a daughter with a very feminine penchant for dressing up and dramatics. (Her bedtime soliloquies are wondrous to behold and be-hear.) The stage in the basement is tradition. It was there when I was a child growing up--the pride of my heart, and the setting for many brilliant productions. One of which, if I remember correctly, was called "How Sun and Rain Got Together." I believe I still have the original script somewhere. It was a triumph of juvenile theater. Naturally, I wrote, directed, costumed, and starred in said production. There are some advantages to being the oldest child. Not many, but some.

So, recap: laundry lines above basement stage. All in all this is whatever passes for normal around here.

And that brings me to the real point of this post (it isn't really about laundry or dramatic production spaces--too bad!). The real point is that there is no such thing as normal around here. Really.

I realized this yesterday as I was walking home from dropping off the boys at their enrichment school. There I was, halfway home on what is usually a three-mile walk, but which yesterday stretched to four miles because of errands which had to be run, crossing a freeway overpass, when the thought struck: "No wonder we have a hard time with our planning--we have no normal to plan around!"

Chalk one up for freeway overpasses as places of inspiration!

Honestly, though, what day would you consider our average day: the one where I wake up at two to write on whatever project is currently at hand, then supervise school until ten, then attempt to motivate the kids to do chores until it's time to hop on a bus, and then the light rail to get to Swedish school and eventually return home at 7 p.m. for dinner? Or the one where I wake up exhausted from a night attempting to teach the most stubborn child in the world to sleep for more than four hours at a time without my physical presence (sixteen months of failure, and still counting!), then rush one child off to his school, then supervise the chaos of the remaining three while attempting to maintain home and sanity until child and spouse return from their respective activities? Or is it the day at the end of the week when I'm frazzled and pooped, but have to teach lessons, and then catch two buses to take a daughter--and her unwilling brothers--to dance class, after which the weekly grocery shopping must be done if there is to be both peace and food in the house the next day? Is there an average in there somewhere? Is it so carefully hidden as to escape my careful scrutiny?

The thing is, I always seem to be making plans (trying to fit in exercise, personal study, reading more than one paragraph at a time, etc.) based on the elusive "normal"--supposing, I guess, that one day all these weird aberrations such as sleepless nights and teething and wildly differing workloads will cease. As if next Tuesday everything will magically fall into place and our life will become predictable and calm on a daily basis.

HA! I know something about what next Tuesday brings--and I'm sure involves at least one child complaining about what is served at dinner. Because even if there is no such thing as "normal" around here, at least a few things come standard.