Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mountains and Molehills

wor·ry Pronunciation Key - [wur-ee, wuhr-ee] verb, -ried, -ry·ing, noun, plural -ries.
–verb (used without object)
1. to torment oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; fret.

This is the definition of my mother-in-law. As much as I love her - and I truly do - I have never seen anyone with a better ability to take regular, everyday occurrences, and wind them around in her mind until she can come up with the worst-case-scenario. She has perfected the art of building mountains out of little mole-hills. I think she comes by it naturally. And by that I mean I think it's firmly embedded in her DNA. I make that assumption based on the stories she tells about her own mother, and her mother-in-law. And just so you understand where I'm coming from, let me share with you a couple of gems from her past. As Fran tells it, whenever her kids were getting ready to play on the playground in the park down the street her mother would tell them the following: "You kids need to be careful on that playground! There was a little boy who was playing on a playground once, and he slid down the slide and fell into a man-hole that was in the ground at the bottom of the slide. Someone left it uncovered.......and they never found him ever again!"

On other occasions, Fran tells about the advice she got from her mother-in-law when she brought her first baby home from the hospital. It went like this: "You know, you have to make sure that there is a hole poked in the nipple of the baby's bottle. There was a woman who brought her baby home and never checked to see if the bottle nipple had a hole in it and her baby starved to death!" Apparently Fran had to hear that story over and over and over again whenever she brought a baby home from the hospital, regardless of how many times she reassured her mother-in-law that there was a hole in the bottle nipple and her babies weren't going to starve to death.
And so it went. An entire childhood and adult life filled with story after story after story about how awful things - usually resulting in death or disappearance - happened to seemingly benign people going about their everyday activities. So like I said -- It's in her DNA. How can you spend your entire life listening to paranoid stories of how kids died from sliding down slides, or from not getting any milk from their bottles, and God only knows what else, and not have it rub off on you in some way, shape, or form? So now that she's the grandma, I think it's firmly embedded in her psyche that it's her "job" to worry about things that could happen, or what the worst-case scenario might be -- no matter how unlikely. I could cite countless examples, but instead I'll just share with you a few of the best.

One disastrous Christmas, when every single member of the Kafsky family was cooped up in a lodge together for a week, (I think there were right around 20 of us) my sister-in-law, Elise, started throwing up. She had a couple of other symptoms too, but I'll spare you the details, except to tell you that in our house we refer to it as 'butt and gut'. For some reason it was common knowledge that she'd recently started her period, too. Now, just to set the stage for you, I'll give you these details: Elise has a young daughter who attended daycare at the time. And anyone who has had his or her child in daycare knows that, as wonderful as daycare can be, they are also little petri-dishes; just ripe for passing all kinds of lovely things from child to child, from child to parent, and from parent to other unsuspecting adults. So, when Elise started doing the Ol' Heave Ho, I figured that she had a tummy bug. However, that was NOT the the logical conclusion drawn by Fran, who sat fretting away at a table armed to the teeth with a shovel made expressly for piling lots of worry onto the tops of her molehills. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Elise had Toxic Shock Syndrome. And certainly we wouldn't be responsible family members if we didn't rush her to the emergency room. In Fran's mind a virus was not the likely culprit. Yes indeed, the most likely scenario was TSS. "Don't you think she just has a stomach bug?" I asked. "I can't imagine that she has Toxic Shock Syndrome. I guess I don't know that much about it, but isn't TSS pretty rare?" For a few hours I did my best to reassure her, but to no avail. And though we didn't actually take Elise to the emergency room, Fran really, really wanted to. As it turned out, Elise did have a stomach bug. And by the end of the week, so did all the rest of us. It went like wild-fire, taking each and every one of us down, one soldier at a time.

Another time, we were all traveling to Cleveland, Ohio to see some extended family. All 20-something of us. Since our homes are all scattered across the Southeast, we met at Fran's house in Virginia to carpool the rest of the way. Somehow, as we were getting organized to start the caravan, my niece got ahold of a stray pill in Fran's bedroom and ate it. I found her standing in the middle of the room making an awful face and spitting out the remnants. "I think Reid was eating a pill -- but she spit most of it out." I announced in the kitchen. "Do you know what is was?" Through a course of questions the pill was determined to be iron. Everyone was pretty calm about the whole thing until Fran began constructing her mountain. She worried and fretted and then threw her first shovel full: She announced that iron is the number one killer of children in the US!!! There was a pause, and then a mad scramble for the phone to call poison control. "I think she spit most of it out..." I offered again. "Really....." The Poison Control Woman who fielded our call asked if the pills were over-the-counter, or if they were prescription. "Over-the-counter" answered my mother-in-law. "Then she should be fine." said the Poison Control Woman, "as long as it wasn't prescription." Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and got into their respective cars to finish the 5 hour drive to Cleveland. Fran was in our car and I could see her fret, fret, fretting away as she sat in the passenger seat. (Mentally scooping another shovel full of worry.) "I think we should take Reid to the emergency room." she said. No one really responded. She mentioned it again. "Look," I said "I don't think we need to take Reid to the emergency room. It wasn't prescription, and I really don't think she ingested that much of it. And if she does start to feel bad or get sick, we can take her then. It's not like we don't know what she got into. OK?" Fran nodded, but it wasn't convincing. I could see her worrying away...... Then she said "I think it might have been prescription, " carefully adding another shovel full of worry onto the top of the iron-pill molehill. Mike said "Was it, or wasn't it?" She couldn't remember. "How can you not know?" he asked. "Did you have a prescription for them or not?" She didn't know. (Scoop, scoop, shovel, shovel......) She rolled down her window as Reid's dad was walking past carrying the last of their belongings to the car. "I think it was prescription!" she yelled. She simply can't help herself.

Which brings me around to her most recent case of mountain building, worst-case-scenario, worry-wartness. We recently held our 6th annual pumpkin carvin' party, and most of my in-laws were in attendance. It's a great time; Thoroughly chaotic, with lots of nieces and nephews running around, but definitely a great time. We had a lot of prep work to do to get ready to host all the pumpkin carvers, so Fran and my brother-in-law, Ryan, were wrangling the kids. I cooked and cleaned house, and Mike finished mowing the lawn, hanging ghosts, and putting up other spooky decorations outside. After a few hours, Fran came in and told me that Landis was holding his penis a lot. "Oh, that." I said. "He's always holding it. He really likes it. It's no big deal." She went back outside. A little while later she came back in. She'd been outside piling some worry onto her molehill. "You know, I think something's wrong with him. He holds it a lot." she told me. "Trust me," I replied."He just likes to hold it. Seriously. He talks to it and everything. I promise he's fine. You don't have to worry about it." But of course, she did. It's in her DNA. It's her job as a grandmother. She came back. "I do really think it's bothering him, and he gets embarrassed when I ask him about it. Can you ask him if it's bothering him? I told Mike about it and he snapped at me." "Sure" I replied. If asking him would ease her mind, I'd be happy to do it. I went to find Landis. He was in the bathroom with Mike. Mike was turning the shower on and Landis was undressing. "Can you shower him?" Mike asked me. "He's filthy, and we're supposed to check out his penis. I finally lost it with my mom because she was following me around talking about the problems with Landis' penis. I'm tired of hearing about his penis." So I helped Landis take a shower, and I checked everything out. It all looked fine. But just to make sure, I asked him as I was drying him off. "Hey Landis," I said. "How's your peenee feeling?" He looked me straight in the face and answered with the kind of earnest sincerity that only a sweet little blue eyed 3-year old can muster. "Fwesh and cwean!!!!" "Fresh and clean?" I asked, barely able to contain myself. "Really? It doesn't hurt or anything?" "No." "Does it itch?" "No." "So it feels fine?" "Mommy, it feels fwesh and cwean!" Good enough for me. I reported my findings back to Fran. "He says it feels 'fwesh and cwean'. I told her. She looked skeptical, but what did I expect? She can't help it. It's in her DNA.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The evolution of Ma'am

Back when I was in my early 20's, working at a residential camp in the south, a boy of about 12 or so called me Ma'am. I was a water-skiing instructor then, and I was giving him some instructions from the boat. Turns out he couldn't hear me very well over the idling engine, so as well-mannered little southern boys tend to do, he said "Ma'am?" with an expression on his face meant to indicate to me that I should repeat what I just said. It literally sent shivers down my spine. What did he just call me? Ma'am? Seriously? You can save that crap for my mom. As far as I was concerned, "Ma'am" was a title meant for an old lady, and certainly not one that I could wear comfortably. It was like an old wool sweater, all scratchy and itchy, and I couldn't wait to shrug it off. I couldn't even stand for it to touch my skin. "You don't have to call me ma'am" I told him. "You can just call me Rachel."

Fast-forward 6 years or so. I'd gotten married. And you know what else I didn't like? "Mrs." It's another title that I couldn't wear very comfortably. It was like a mu-mu, and I couldn't help but think that it made me sound so matronly. And frankly, I just didn't feel very matronly. I was way too young and hip for that. (On a side note, the only thing I found more uncomfortable than a straight up "Mrs." was a "Mrs. Mike". That's like wearing a corset 2 sizes too small, and a skirt made of nothing but layers upon layers of crinoline while walking for 3 hours in 8 inch high heels. I'm guessing that all you married women out there know exactly what I'm talking about. And in case you don't, I'll go ahead and fill you in. Once you get married, you start getting mail addressed to you as the "mrs. version" of your husband's name. Like I don't have my own first name, or that somehow my identity got swallowed up by him on the day we said 'I Do'. I know, I know....... It's supposed to be formal and polite, but can you imagine if we actually used those titles in conversation? "Hi. It's nice to meet you. My name's Mrs. Mike. Mrs. Mike Kafsky. And this is my sister-in-law, Mrs. Josh. And have you met my best friend, Mrs. Brent?" Is there anyone out there who doesn't think that's ridiculous? I'd love to know. As it stands now, any time we receive a piece of mail addressed to Mrs. Mike, I turn around and start referring to my husband as Mr. Rachel. I find it to be hilarious. I'm not sure he shares the same sentiment.) But getting back to the original topic at hand, I didn't like "Mrs." I prefered to be "Ms." Ms. Rachel Kafsky. And before I was married, I was Ms. Rachel Haynes. "Ms." worked for me, like a good pair of jeans. Not too tight, but not too baggy either, because after all, I still wanted a look that was flattering.

Skip ahead another 6 years or so, and now I have kids. Two of 'em, ages 3 and 5. And occasionally, when they want to impress me, or show their respect, or when they're in trouble and they know it helps them to be as polite as humanly possible, they refer to me as "Ma'am". And you know what? I like it. It's like I pulled that dusty title out of the back of the closet, brushed it off and tried it on again all these years later. And lo and behold, it fits! It fits like a glove! It's perfectly broken in, so it's not at all too tight or constricting. Somehow, all that scratchiness is gone, and it actually feels good against my skin. And not only is it comfortable, I think it looks great on me too!
So here's what I want to know...... When did that happen? When did the title of "Ma'am" stop making my skin itch? And when did it become an appropriate title for someone as young and hip as me? Because I know I'm not an old lady. I may have a few laugh lines, and some crinkly crows feet around my eyes. And I may have a few stretch marks here and there that are a daily reminder of the size of my belly (and butt and hips) during my pregnancies. And I may like to be in bed before ten, and I may even pluck a stray chin hair now and then....(blond, mind you)..... but I ain't no old lady. I'm young and hip and might be possible that I am old-er. And while I still don't love the "Mrs.", when I pull that out and try it on, it's a little more flattering than it used to be. It's still a little matronly for my taste, but maybe now I wouldn't actually refer to it as a mu-mu. And you can trust me when I tell you that no one is more surprised about this than me. Though I think it's safe to say, no matter how much older I get, and no matter how much my sense of "fashion" changes, you can mark these words in stone: You will never catch me running around in that "Mrs. Mike" corset- crinoline-8 inch-heel-combo, ever. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure that'll never be my style.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I've been busy -- I think. (For Janice)

So my friend Jancie sent me an email the other day that said "What is up with your blog? I miss it!" She'd noticed that I hadn't been posting with any frequency lately. "Well," I thought to myself, "I've just been so busy....." And then I took a minute to ponder what is was I'd been so busy doing. Let's see........ I've been.............. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm............. Well.............. Ummmmmmmmmm................... Clearly I've not been folding laundry since my loveseat is literally buried underneath a small mountain of clean, but extremely wrinkled clothing in all shapes and sizes. Washing and drying, Yes. Folding, No. And I certainly wasn't putting anything away. Maybe I was vacuuming................. But judging by the piles of dog hair gathering in the corners and organizing themselves for a mini-revolution, I'd say that's not been the case either. So..............Ummmmmmmmmm.........Oh! I know! I think I was cleaning the bathrooms! Oh, wait a minute...............I just looked them over and I have to admit, albeit grudgingly, that I wasn't. Maybe I was busy dusting? Nope. You can pretty much write your name in it -- especially over by the TV.

I'm so confused. I felt so busy. Why was that?

I guess we have been eating 3 squares a day and still have food in the pantry, so I must have made a couple of trips to the grocery store. And come to think of it, I am the head Chef in our household, so it's fair to say that I was busy pouring cereal, packing lunches, and organizing, preparing, and serving dinners. And my kitchen isn't piled floor to ceiling with dirty dishes, and my counters are clean, so I must have spent a good deal of time in the kitchen. I am, after all, extremely well acquainted with our dishwasher. Oh! And you know what else? Gibson has made it to and from school every day this week! Heck! This year! And even though he climbs into the car in wrinkly clothes from the mountain on the couch, he still goes clean and smelling good from the bubble bath he took the night before. Landis too, of course. And both of their imaginations have been filled up to overflowing with the kinds of good that can only come from reading lots and lots of bedtime stories, and nap time stories, and sometimes in-between stories, and playing with puzzles, and coloring pictures, and endless pretend games outside in the yard. And now that I really think about it, they say "May I", and "Please" and "Thank You" and sometimes, when they want to impress me, they say "Ma'am". They carry their plates to the sink after they excuse themselves from the table, scrape them off, and load them into the dishwasher. I dare say I've spent some time - a good deal of time - working on that. And if I really step back and look at the big picture, I'd say that as they are making their way through their days they are wrapped in a protective shield of invisible hugs and kisses that my mother-in-law swears to them will never, ever, ever come off -- even when they are 50, or 60, or 75. And you know what? All that huggin' and kissin' keeps me from doing other stuff like folding laundry and putting it away. Or from stopping the dog hair revolution in it's tracks.

So I guess I have been busy. (Perhaps I've even been redeemed here.) But you'd better lookout dog hair piles. I'm coming for you. I have the vacuum cleaner cocked and loaded. You may have won the battle, but you won't win the war.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Mary, Mary quite contrary

Here's a conversation that I heard go down in the back seat of the car the other day, when Landis was taking exception with everything that Gibson had to say:

Gibson: Landis, stop arguing with me!
Landis: I'm NOT!
Gibson: Yes you are!
Landis: No I'm NOT!
Gibson: Yes you are!
Landis: NO I'M NOT!
Gibson: Yes you are!
Landis: NO I'M NOT!!!
Gibson: Yes you are!
Landis: NO I'M NOT!!!!

And so on and so forth for quite a while. And as ridiculous as it was, I have to admit that I found it to be hilarious that they were having an argument about whether or not they were having an argument. I choose my battles, so when it's not really a big deal I try to stay out of it and let them work through their tiffs on their own. But if I had to pick sides, I'd back Gibson on this one. Actually, I'd back Gibson a lot. Landis is the button-pusher in our household. For a kid who is so incredibly sweet, he has a remarkable ability to be a giant, contrary, pain in the ass. And I swear he just does it because he likes to stir the pot. So this morning I wrote him a poem. It's a take off on the little girl with the little curl. Wanna hear it? Here it goes:

There is a little guy
He's a Gemini
And he's sweet as a little bing cherry

Except when he's not
And it happens a lot
That he's flat out adverse and contrary