Who woulda guessed that I'd be happy for a Monday? But I am.
By the way, I'm right there with Beth--I also require an OCD non-English speaking older woman to come to my house and ream the place out. Ugh. But back to *me* and *my* problems.
On Friday morning, I took the three kids out of school, popped them on a plane, and flew across the country so that we could celebrate my Dad's seventieth birthday. (Note--I know that older people look younger the closer you get to their age, but yee Gods, my Dad does NOT look seventy. Not even close. Maybe mid-fifties, but seriously, I know forty-somethings who look like they could be his contemporaries. Way to go, Dad.) Dear Butcher had to stay in California to watch the business.
On both flights the seats were booked as Window-Center-[someone in the aisle], [someone in the aisle]-Center-Window. Thanks Mom, that was a great bit of ticket booking. (Note to self: buy your own tickets next time.) So, I can sit next to the five year old and leave the eldest girl to take care of her anxious and angry little brother on the other side of the plane, or I can sit next to my son and let the five year old annoy the living hell out of her older sister. Umm, no. What I really need is three across so that I can sit between the youngest two, and a separate seat anywhere else on the plane for the ever-so-mature eldest child. But that means asking some cross-country traveler to give up an aisle seat. (Note to self: bring cash for bribes to fellow travelers next time we fly.)
Fortunately, my son's inability to cope with changes in his environment kicked in at the most opportune time. Just as I was asking the people seated directly behind my eldest daughter and twitchy son if they would switch with me and my five year old on the other side of the plane, my son yells out, "I HATE THIS PLANE! I HATE YOU!"
He twirls in his seat, punches his sister in the shoulder and then starts kicking her in the chest.
Boy, those adults seated behind him moved quite briskly to the other side of the plane. Once I wrestled my agitated son away from his older sister and placed him in the window seat with a blanket over his head, he calmed down immediately. It was very impressive. If only I could get him to do that on cue, we could get any seat on the plane we ever wanted. (I'm not sure the eldest daughter is down with that plan though. Note to self: invest in a chest protector for eldest daughter.) (Joking)
This, of course, left the five year old seated next to the eldest daughter, with me and my son in the row behind them. Eldest daughter Was Not Amused. And I can't blame her, really, because the five year old loses control of the headphones about every 90 seconds and needs an adult to put them back on her head. After six hours of this the eleven year old was ready to explode.
But my son had a lovely trip. Thank god for TV screens on JetBlue. Hiding under his blanket for most of the trip East, he settled in quite well. Man, he does not like change. But I knew that already, didn't I?
That evening, we all curled up in fluffy hotel comforters and watched a lot of Mythbusters on cable. I do love that show.
On Saturday, we went to my parents' house. Oy. What a house.
This is the house I grew up in. It's a New England red brick center hall Colonial in the suburbs outside of Boston. Living Room to the left, Dining Room to the right, kitchen across the back. Off the top of my head I'd say that no room is larger than maybe 12 by 12.
Now, imagine four radios and two television sets sprinkled throughout the first floor, each on their loudest volume, all tuned to different stations. (No wonder I don't like crowds. I never realized until adulthood what cacophony I had grown up with.)
Now add three Yorkshire terriers, Daphne, Julia, and Victoria. Bark bark bark bark bark bark....
Now add about eight parrots in enormous white metal cages. (There's another eight or so in the enclosed porch off the living room--they have their own radio "to keep them company"--but I never saw them because they fly loose in the Bird Room.) Some of the parrots are rather neat, but they're all terrified of my mother. She walks into the room and the cockatoos put up their crests, stretch their necks out, and screech at their highest volume. To which my mother, the bird lover, responds, "SHUT UP!" (Ever helpful, that.) One Double Yellow-Headed Amazon (great talkers) really and truly screams, "Help! Help!" when she sees my mother, which my mother finds amusing. I find it disturbing.
(Eldest Daughter made very good friends with one of the cockatoos by standing near the cage and whispering, "Hello, Good Boy." He whispered back to her, "Hi. Are you a good boy?" and asked to have his neck scritched. They were getting along very well. The moment my mother walked in, Amos screeched and ran behind a large toy. Yikes.)
Did I mention the dolls? No, I forgot to.
I don't know how many dolls there are, but they stand on every horizontal surface, their dresses slowly crumbling away from their kid bodies, hands reaching forward in an awkwardly stiff gesture, which could either be a request for help, or a warning to turn around and go back out the front door. There are dolls in glass display cases. There are dolls on the mantelpiece. There are wax-headed dolls, papier mache dolls, bisque dolls, china-headed dolls, baby dolls, bride dolls, little boy soldier dolls, and, her newest interest, partially clothed religious figures. There are dolls of different sizes lined up two or three deep on the floor in front of the couches so that you have to step over their strangely large heads if you want to sit on the couches. Not that you would, really, because the back of every couch, and the back of every shirt my mother wears has long white streaks of bird dung dripping down it.
It's like walking into a Tennessee Williams stage set designed by a crack addict.
My poor son.
Really, what can I say here? We walked in the house, and I literally cannot hear my own voice over the TVs and the radios (She puts them on to keep the birds calm. Can you imagine?). I'm standing there in the kitchen trying to figure out what in the world to do with my son, who's sensitive to loud noises as it is. Eldest daughter, wise beyond her years, rolls her eyes at me, shrugs her shoulders, and sits down at the table with her sketch book, her shoulders hunched against any attempt to start up a conversation. The youngest daughter skips merrily into the chaos, climbs into her grandmother's lap and sweetly asks, "Grandma? Will you show me your dolls?" My son stands behind me with his fists on either side of my backbone and starts kicking at my legs. "This place SMELLS!" he announces.
Yeah, buddy, I know. Christ, and it's raining. Normally I just run around with him in the front yard when we visit Grandma's, but it's a rainstorm out there.
My father, reverting to his military form of childrearing puts his hand on my son's shoulder and says sternly, "Don't kick your mother."
"I hate you," mutters my son, ever predictable in his expressions of discomfort. I hear my father preparing the "honor your parents" speech for the benefit of my son, so I cut him off with: "He's my kid. I'll be responsible for what he says and does." My father shrugs and goes off to alternately read the New York Times and yell at the pundits on CNN.
My son soon finds the enormous Nordictrak treadmill (Who could miss it?) and announces, "I need a workout." Within thirty seconds, he's figured the whole machine out, determined how the safety lockout works, programmed a twenty minute workout, and is happily jogging along, checking his pulse rate and grinning. Wow. OK, that works. "Mom! Hey Mom! We need to get one of these! I'm going to get muscles! Right, Mom?"
"Sure, Bud." What a great idea! How cool is that? He found a way to run off his anxiety, and he Lurves the treadmill. Score!
Suddenly Grandma looks up from the babydoll she's showing my youngest and yells, "Oh! No! Get off! No! It's not a toy! You'll break it!"
Moment of logic here: He'll BREAK it? He's, what, 80 pounds? No, less than that, even. What in the world is she thinking? It IS a Nordictrak, right? Can we say, "control issues"? All together now....
My son, also quite predictably, starts yelling at my mother. She starts yelling back at him. I get between the two of them to get my mother to stop yelling and I hand my son his blanket. He's so rageful that he swings it over his head like a lasso just before he throws it to the ground. But when Grandma sees the lasso bit, she yells louder than anyone has up to this point, "Oh! THE BIRDS! No!"
At which point I turn full on her and just go after her, raging, screaming, the whole nine yards: Stop yelling at my son. Stop yelling at everyone. If anyone's going to yell at him, it's going to be me, because he's my son. (Yeah, I actually said that. You end up saying dumb shit when you're mad at your mother.) Leave Him Alone.
I got my son upstairs to the only bedroom which still has a bed in it (one is a dollhouse assembly station, the other is a massive TBR pile), turned off the radio (!), tucked him into bed with a book, and promised him that No One was coming upstairs to bother him.
When I went downstairs to get his blanket and pillow, my mother said, "You can't just yell at me and then leave the room."
"Oh, yes I can. When my son's that upset, I can do whatever the hell I need to do. You can just wait. I have greater priorities."
Oooooo. Was she pissed.
(By the way, as I relive this whole thing, I have to admit to not having a clue where my father was during this. I think while I was upstairs he might have taken my youngest daughter out to get pizzas, but I'm really unclear about that. So weird.)
After I had delivered the blanket and pillow, we hashed it out some more.
"I was worried that he'd knock over a bird cage."
"He was across the room from the birds. I've asked you not to yell at him."
"Well, I get upset when people hurt animals."
"And I LIKE it when people hurt animals? You think I'd let him hurt your pets?"
"I was just upset."
"You can't be upset around him. If he tweaks you out, leave the room."
"But I can't leave the birds near him."
"You think I'd let him hurt your pets?"
"Then lock up the dogs while we're here."
"I can't. This is their house too. Cruelty to animals just gets me upset."
And at this point, I swear to the Almighty God or Beast in heaven, at this exact point in the argument, a bird flew right over us. And Julia; the Yorkie who has eaten three of the cockatiels (sequentially named Jason, each one named after its departed predecessor); the Yorkie who has bitten four parrots in the chest, collapsing a lung on the African Grey; the Yorkie who has bitten my nephew when he tried to rescue his pet lizard from her jaws; Julia the Huntress Yorkie leaped up in the air with a twisting jerk to try to snatch the parrot from the air above our heads.
We actually had a pretty good time after that. My son showed his two older nephews how to operate the treadmill, and they all had stationary races. The Birthday Party Dinner on Saturday evening was fine--lots of my Dad's colleagues from MIT came and told stories about how incredibly smart he is. The kids and I hung out in the hotel room Sunday morning, soaking up the yumminess of fluffy quilts, daylight savings time, and someone else picking up the room service tab. The flight home was fairly non-eventful, especially since Eldest Daughter got a seat all by herself away from us crazies. And I am home in the hovel that is my house, secure in the knowledge that my mother is an idiot, and that I did give her "what for" in my most recent battle with her. I also recognize, once again, that I am damned lucky to be as sane as I think I am. Because, hooo boy, that's one crazy fucked up house run by some truly clueless people.
Did I happen to mention that my son's grandfather, just before we left on Sunday morning, managed to gouge the edge of my son's eye with the rotary sanding attachment on a Dremel tool? Yeah. Good thing my son's got a healthy blink reflex, you know. Power tool, meet eye. Eye, meet power tool. Eldest Daughter asked me, "If Grandpa had blinded him, would you have sued?" I dunno, sweetie, I just don't know.
Jesus Christ. How did I manage to survive that chaos?