Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Thing Under the Bed

Saturday night, I was reading in bed, something I increasingly find I have to do in order to fall asleep.  I had re-read the same paragraph for the third time and considering calling it a night when the mattress beneath my feet moved.  The movement was accompanied by a thumping sound, as if something were under the bed.  I froze, as I often do in nightmares when I'm unable even to speak, let alone jerk away and escape.  What was it?  I tried to rationalize myself out of my panic.  Even if ghosts were real, which they're not, I told myself, no ghost in its right mind would wait over 13 years to make its presence known.  

The movement and thumping continued as I worked my way down my mental checklist of what couldn't be causing it:  An animal?  It sure sounded like one, but how big would an animal have to be to be felt through the box springs and mattress, and how could one have gotten into the house?  Even though I knew it wasn't an animal, I reacted as if it were - by kicking the mattress where it was moving.  I was rewarded when the motion and noise stopped, about half a minute or so after it had begun.

I lay there, my heart pounding.  I didn't dare get out of bed - not because I thought there was anything more nefarious than boxes of too-small sweaters underneath, because that would be crazy, but I couldn't make myself dangle a foot over the edge, let alone get up.  I wanted to call out for my husband but didn't for fear of waking my daughters and - more importantly - looking like a fool.  It was all too easy to picture his patient, indulgent smile as he reassured me that I couldn't possibly have felt anything and that he'd take a look at the flap over the drier vent sometime soon.  Instead, I turned my cell phone back on, in case whatever it was returned and I needed to summon him immediately.  I moved to the center of the bed, away from the spot where the Thing had attacked, opened my book, and tried to concentrate.  It was a long time before I turned off the light.

The following morning, when I read about the late-night earthquake near Oklahoma City, I felt relieved ("Oh, not an animal, just an earthquake!") and vindicated ("I'm not crazy!").  My husband, who'd been in the basement at the time, had felt a vibration and heard a noise like our front-loading washing machine on spin cycle but hadn't let it trouble him beyond a fleeting "that's odd."  Both my daughters had slept through it, much to my fourteen-year-old's disappointment.  In our sun-lit dining room, around our cluttered table, it was easy to make light of the fear I'd felt the night before and my illogical solution to the bed's shaking.

It was even easier to joke about it the following day when a coworker and I regaled our fellows with tales of the big quake - none of them had noticed it.  "It was like someone was under my bed, banging on it," my coworker said.  

"Yeah, exactly," I agreed.  

"When it stopped, I ran into Carter's room to make sure he was okay."

Oops.  Does this mean I'm a bad mom?  I'm no Sarah Conner, but I like to think I'd fight to the death to keep my children from harm.  Then a little bump under the bed unnerves me so much I can barely move.  Having spent most of my life in Kansas, the thought that I was experiencing an earthquake never crossed my mind, but neither did the thought that I should check on my kids - do I get bonus points for not wanting to wake them, at least?  I reassured myself with the thought that I wasn't a bad mom, we're just raising our children to be self-sufficient. 

My eleven-year-old, for the past two evenings, has taken great pleasure in saying things like, "Watch out for 'animals'" or "Don't let the thing under the bed bite" when I'm tucking her in.  Worse, she says this with a completely earnest face and just a hint of snark.  I love being the butt of an eleven-year-old's jokes.  Maybe we've raised them to be too self-sufficient... I'll see if I can go convince my husband to help me give her bed a few quick shakes.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ribbons and Saints

Warning:  This is not a particularly nerdy post.

Several weeks ago, I received three dusty boxes of ribbon and bows from my father-in-law, who was widowed for a second time last February.  Unlike my late mother-in-law, I am merely adequate when it comes to wrapping gifts - when I can't find an appropriate gift bag to re-use, I'll drag out our one roll of birthday paper (currently a unisex blue striped pattern) or choose from one of several jumbo rolls of Christmas paper we've had since our children were in preschool.  I don't mind the wrapping process and can usually get the corners nice and square, but rarely embellish beyond a hastily scrawled: "To _, From Mama and Daddy" or a bow recycled from a more conscientious wrapper - until recently, usually my mother-in-law, Vernilea.  

I tell myself I'm being "green" by not bothering with ribbon, but my laziness may also have something to do with it.  So when my father-in-law offered me three boxes of ribbon and bows, I wasn't about to refuse - how much greener can you get than rescuing stuff from a landfill, or at least using it once before sending it there?  And even someone as lazy as I am can retrieve a roll of ribbon and a matching bow from the basement.

Admittedly, when Don handed over the boxes, I felt disappointed and a bit overwhelmed.  There were several little plastic spools of ribbon like you buy at Target, but mostly there were cardboard reels 8 1/2 " in diameter, each originally holding 250 yards' worth - probably enough for me to host a neighborhood Maypole dance every year until my 11-year-old graduates from high school!  
All photos courtesy of the Nerd in Chief.  He can make anything look good!
Adding to my ribbon angst was the uncharacteristic dustiness of the boxes and their contents.  Vernilea and I weren't quite polar opposites when it comes to housekeeping, but she was at the far right end of the tidiness Bell curve, while I am at least one standard deviation (maybe two) left of center.  Receiving something dusty from my mother-in-law just felt wrong, so I did what I always do with items I can't immediately face - I piled two of the boxes at the far end of our dining table, set the third one under the kitchen table, and refused to make eye contact with them.

On Thursday I finally forced myself to sort through the ribbon - maybe because it seemed preferable to cleaning out the freezer.  I found a box of glittery pine cones and ornaments that cheered me right away, reminding me of Vernilea's elaborate bow arrangements on Christmas gifts.  I dusted the spools and reluctantly threw out stuff that was too faded or that I knew I'd never use, including gummed gift tags so forlorn they could only have come from a solicitation for a charitable organization.  At the bottom of one box, I found four gold gift tags that were heavy when I picked them up.  I realized they were thin metal Christmas tree ornaments like the ones my husband's parents had given him as a child - how cool that Vernilea's family had gotten the same kind!  Then I examined the first one and found my brother-in-law's name, Michael, and the date1978.  The next two were dated 1979, one for my husband and one for his brother.  The last one bore the name of my first mother-in-law, Margaret, mother to my husband and his brother Michael. 

We're lucky to live in a community where both All Saints Day and Dia de los Muerto are celebrated.  Tomorrow, when we go to a Dia de los Muertos celebration at our local art museum, we'll take this photo to put on the altar in honor of both my mothers-in-law, Vernilea and Margaret.  The two of them couldn't have been more different from each other, but a love of Christmas and gift-giving was one thing they shared.