I’ve always loved that “aside” in folktales. (From Aladdin and the Magic Lamp by Kunstler:)
The magician howled and flew into such a rage the earth shook, and the boulder rolled back into place, sealing Aladdin inside the cave.
Now it can be explained. This magician was nobody’s uncle at all but merely an evil schemer. He had selected Aladdin only to help obtain the magic lamp.
A smile turned his thin-lipped mouth up at the corners as his bony hand grasped the ancient lamp…. And bidding the princess and her retinue good day he was heard to cackle with strange glee as the massive jade doors were thrown open for his exit.
Now it can be told. This seemingly selfless peddler was none other the evil magician of Barbary, Africa.
It is with relief I may now exhale and say with joy that my family is whole once again.
Jay has been traveling the globe (or, at least the parts of it that lead to Antarctica) for the past four weeks, and I have been dealing with bedbugs, heartsick children, and a sick cat. Alone.
And yet not alone, because there is always more to do than the emergencies. What is to follow is the involved saga of the month of single parenting, condensed into a single post in order to spare any faithful readers the agony of being dragged through the content of the past four weeks in real-time.
Jay left on the morning of November 15th, before any of the rest of us were up. My Dad drove him so we wouldn’t have to wake three young children five hours before the sun rose.
I already knew what we’d be doing that day, and I did it with forced cheerfulness: visiting the store to buy Elisha his own baby doll (and the girls tiny dolls to ease the blow– they already had their own babies). He was an adorable “little daddy” for the (approximately) 42 hours the doll was in the house.
I woke Sunday morning with an ominous triangle of welts on the back of my hand. I knew from my brief reading in Bermuda that bedbugs (which we observed running singly across the floor, the blankets, and my laptop) often bite in sets of three.
Still mulling the implications of this–
Jay had put our suitcase outside when we got home Sunday, not bringing it in until Thursday or Friday night, setting it directly on our bed to begin packing.
I showed my hand to the friend at church who asked how the absence was going so far. It was she who came over with my mother after naptime that same day, helping me bag everything in my room and take it out into the cold.
What followed was maybe the highest level of awareness I’ve yet had when it comes to winter temperatures. While I enjoyed every day above 0° for the simple ease of living (0° F is my personal line for easy/complicated outings), but I mistrusted it to the bugs. I knew the above-0/below freezing hadn’t killed them in the 5 days they were outside, so I had to wonder how many days would.
And their resistance to annihilation is legendary: the bugs’ natural livespan is only about a year, but deprived of food (e.g., sealed away in plastic storage) it seems they go into some kind of hibernating state and can still be wakened by the kiss of warmth and CO² between 18 months and 2 years later.
I vacuumed everything, naturally, but then I had to put the bag and even the vacuum outside as well, to keep the little buggers from climbing back out to me or the nearest warm blood source.
Over the next week or so I juggled bringing in the vacuum (still in its bag until the motor thawed out) and re-vacuuming everything I could reach, along with using a hand-held steamer on every crack and seam in my bedroom.
I suppressed the impulse to wig out when my cat or dog (on successive nights) would have scratching fits.
My parents came and helped dismantle the old wooden frame and headboard my dad built decades ago (moving the mattress to the floor) removing it, too, to the 10-foot strip that is our backyard.
Every morning I would inspect the plain white sheet for “evidence” before throwing it, my anorexic pillow and the assortment of blankets I’d collected since the purge into a plastic garbage bag. This bag I would drag out to the garage before cramming its contents into our washing machine.
Then I’d go back to the room and tilt my mattress up against the wall, reasoning that this way any bugs that were possibly left would have less real estate to camp in for the day. Then before bed I’d either steam or vacuum this space along with the seams and other openings in the mattress.
~ ~ ~
With fewer blankets than usual and no spares (the blankets I found as I slowly worked through washing items to bring in went to the kids) I started wrestling with the hyper-efficient pre-set thermostats that my husband had programmed back when heating fuel was $5/gal.
I’d wake in the night, very aware that my only warm patch was the cat against my feet or knees and shiver to the thermostat before confirming, yes, the night temperature was 60-degrees. For months this had been no big deal, because I slept next to my own personal-sized furnace. The fur-covered hot water bottle was nowhere near adequate.
When I finally complained to Jay (it was more like a confession really: “Hi, I’m turning up the temperature 10º every night”) he told me there was a hold button, that I should just set and forget about it.
Never considered how much a single button could simplify my life.
~ ~ ~
Then there was the dog.
I am *so* glad I had her all this time. I was able to relax and simply “live,” in a way I hadn’t been able to during the trip Jay took before we adopted her.
She always wants to be near me, and we were never surprised by anyone,
Not even the random (unrequested) paper delivery at 7:30 one Friday morning.
I was really annoyed with that delivery person waking up the whole house (via the dog) but I felt pleased, too, at a safe example of Joule’s vigilance.
But balancing this comforting presence was the reality that she is still new to our home, and we’re still in the process of training. Training which I did not have the resources (emotional, time etc.) to continue while Jay was away. And so certain behaviors continue despite my frustration over them (like barking at men who came over– invited!– to help with things). Along with a palpable *frantic*ness when the opportunity arose for a visit to the dog park and true exercise.
This dog can almost fly. I am not exaggerating. We’re going to have *such* fun when we can start agility.
~ ~ ~
Then, last week as we realize we’re rolling into the homestretch, the Cat announces he’s ill by peeing where he sleeps.
Now, anybody who knows, *knows* that cat pee is the opposite of a delight to deal with, but I had to deal with it on the foot of my bed, and as a symptom of God-knows-what’s-wrong with my cat.
I took him to the vet (with three children who that day were traveling about as well as the cat) who was the definition of unhelpful. I had to ask very clear questions to get any useful information out of her, and even then my inquiries invoked very closed answers rather than prompting a discussion as I had hoped.
Without a doubt it took all my interviewing skills, and I’d never want to repeat the scenario.
The result was the need to bring the cat back the next morning to hang out until they could pull some urine (as in, with a needle. I’m wondering about costs and having to ask then wait while they go look stuff up.
(Maybe this is normal, but I get uncomfortable when people casually talk about what they’re going to do– as in, going to charge you— without even knowing what that is in real dollars.)
When I called (after waiting for them to call me as they said they would, and didn’t), the procedure was done. When I went to pick him up the vet confirmed, yes, there was bacteria, and here’s a mess of pills to give him twice a day for two weeks, but there’s stuff in that pee we’ve never seen before.
She looked at me expectantly, and I felt like she was waiting for me to have the aha! moment to explain the enigma. More probably she was waiting for me to say “do more tests” or something.
Anyway, I paid for the pills and said we would start there. Two days ago I saw a wrapping ribbon in what I scooped from the litter box. She may blame me who will when I say I hope that was the end of the issue.
The good news in all this is how easily Thorin takes his medicine. I opened a can of tuna the night I started his pills and he will still come out of his corner for it a whole week later.
~ ~ ~
In the midst of all this– that is, for the 10-days following Thanksgiving– I was on my first diet. Ever.
I tried out the Fast track detox diet that Barbara Curtis has talked so much about. Mostly I did it because I was feeling really miserable about Jay being gone, and I was trying to think if there was anything I could do with him gone that I couldn’t do with him here, and this was all I could come up with.
So I lost 7 or 9 lbs in the 10 days (I’m not sure where I started from) which I didn’t trust a whit, being so fast, but it was something of a thrill or relief that my body did respond so immediately to a change in consumption. Sometimes I think I’ve never tried a focused diet change because I didn’t know if it would “work” and I don’t need that kind of bad news.
So I’m back to my pre-sprain weight (even with the expected partial return) and it’s a delightful surprise to feel the different way my clothes fit.
~ ~ ~
For more than two weeks of this time my laptop was in a clear plastic bag: on bug-watch to see if it had become a harbor for little vampires. I’ve been able to check blogs and e-mail, but typing has been a slog.
Do you remember the commercials for mattresses that involve a wineglass full of some dark liquid and a bowling ball? I think the emphasis is supposed to be on the way one part of the perfect mattress can be depressed without affecting the precarious cup nearby.
Well, my typing experience for two weeks (or more) was the precise opposite of that. Both speed and accuracy were down, and the corresponding lack of screen clarity (that made me think at least once that I was reading through phlegm) made my visits with the computer much less trance-like.
This digust, as much as any prudence, were what enabled what discression I could maintain to refrain from telling the world I was home “alone.”
So there you have it: the highlights of my season of single parenting; again, rolled together to minimize the number of posts dedicated to a depressing topic.
I can see how someone (military wife, for example) could adjust, out of necessity, say. But while I felt a measure of coping kicking in, I didn’t feel any of my methods were particularly sustainable or healthy (5-6 hours of sleep, focusing on minutia, and emotional disconnection). But then, that’s why they’re called coping mechanisms, and not living strategies.
Jay was back at work today, but I was more productive around the house than I’ve been in a long time, and a girlfriend commented that I looked “radiant” and definitely more relaxed than I’ve been in a while.