Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Hardest To Learn Was the Least Complicated

My eyes snapped open and my head sprang from the pillow. Silhouetted in the bedroom door was Daughter. Having arrived well into the first act of this particular story, I struggled to fill in the details. It was night. Daughter must have said “Mommy…?” causing my maternal alert system to spring into action, which puts me in a totally wakeful state without actually switching on my brain.

“What is it?” I asked, trying to remember her name. “A nightmare?” She shook her head no.

“The blanket came off, and I couldn’t sleep.” Ah, there’s the brain coming online. I could feel it whirring away in there, spitting out such questions as “And it seemed easier to walk all the way down the hallway than pull up the blanket at your ankles…?” and “When it’s nearly eighty degrees in the house, how much did you need that blanket, anyway?” But what she was really saying was “I have a mammalian need to be near my pack”. I’m all too conscious of how brief this period of her life is, so I wiggled over a bit and patted the pillow.

Even in the near-darkness, Daughter saw the invitation and leapt nimbly into bed. Within a minute, she was asleep. I knew she was asleep because she started expanding.

My daughter is a perfectly normal-sized girl for her age, but when sleeping in a small space, she has developed the ability to lengthen her arms and legs by up to a yard. Interestingly enough, this new length is entirely comprised of elbows and knees. The first shot across the bow was a baby giraffe-length leg flung across my hips, six or seven knees grinding into my ribcage. When that was placed back next to her, she tried for a five foot-long arm, inserted into my ear.

Consort, on the other side, has a more subtle approach. When we first moved in, I offered him whichever side of the bed he wanted, and he chose. He swears he has never reconsidered his decision, but each night, once asleep, he longs for my side of the bed, and he will achieve it, one patient inch at a time. I call it the Kudzu approach, after the invasive climbing plant you find in the Southern part of the US. This vine, if given enough time and lack of attention, will cover barns, outbuildings and slow-moving livestock. Consort, given eight hours, will claim the entire bed, leaving me a nearly unrecognizable lump huddled between the pillows. I have taken to sleeping with a fork.

Between the two of them, I was a relatively small country with no natural borders staving off constant sorties from aggressive neighbors. I think this made me Poland.

I lay there, flinging off non-Quinn body parts and clawing at my eye. Three days before, I noticed my eye was itchy. I assumed I was having allergy attacks because the air was especially foul all week and because Lu the cat has been especially eager to nap with her ass ground into my pillow. I kept taking Benadryl, which is effective but turns me into the dormouse from Alice in Wonderland, randomly falling asleep into my lunch. Being as I was so rarely awake, it took two days before I noticed it didn’t seem to be working. Not only was the pill not alleviating the symptom, the allergy only seemed to be localized to one eye and the eye looked puffier and more tired than usual. Considering how I kept falling into a Benadryl-induced coma, an asymmetrical look of exhaustion hardly seemed fair. Also, I was acutely sensitive of every time I blinked and I longed to scratch my eye until there was nothing left but a non-itchy socket.

A typing-in of symptoms into Google indicated I probably had a stye. Very close scrutiny found a small white bump on the lower eyelid, which proved my diagnostic skills but gave me a new level of exasperation, because if you had asked me what the sensation was like, I would have said “There is a huge, irregularly-shaped boulder wedged in my tear duct”, and now I was going to have to carry around a magnifying glass if I expected any pity at all. The most maddening part was that we stye-owners are told specifically DO NOT SCRATCH and scratching was simply the most wonderful sensation in the world. I skirted the law by creating a sort of vicious rubbing which didn’t legally fit the parameters of scratching.

Styes, I am pleased to note, can be brought on by stress.

The eye was not the only new onus in my life. Daughter’s school had sent out her school-supply list back in July. I had carefully placed it on the fridge and forgotten all about it, confident that September was very, very far away. September remained far away until August 31st, wherein I said something astute like “Oh, CRUD!” and ran for the list. The school encouraged me to involve Daughter in the process of supply-buying because, as they so optimistically noted, school supplies are “Fun”. They actually put “Fun” in quotation marks, as in “We’re not saying buying pencils in bulk is fun for the average child, we’re saying that someone said it once, and we’re quoting them”. I decided it would only be “Fun” if I were to “Drink before noon”, so I opted to leave Daughter at a friend’s house.

I scanned the rest of the list. It was copious, but nothing stood out as being especially difficult to find. It seemed like nothing more than a trip to Mother’s Little Helper, Target.

You know why they sent the supply-letter out in July? Because the supplies arrived in the stores in July. By the last day of August, every child in the Los Angeles area had picked, and picked through, the school supply inventory for the entire Pacific Rim. Within seconds, my priorities changed; I was no longer just looking for “4 notebooks, lined”, I was desperately hunting for “4 notebooks, lined, not already scrawled in, preferably without a cover declaring my daughter’s love for NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon or Pikachu”. Instead of “Box of colored pencils, twelve”, I sought “Dented box of no fewer than ten colored pencils which aren’t all burnt umber”.

It was school supplies for the Island of Misfit Toys.

And then there were the objects notable for their specificity. Daughter needed “Six-inch ruler, American and Metric, metal”. Six-inch rulers they had, in every color and major summer movie tie-in of my choice. All of them had both Metric and non-Metric measurements, which I think augers well for America’s ability to play well with others. But they were ─ every single one of them ─ plastic. I even toyed with getting her a twelve-inch ruler, but chickened out because the list seemed so specific: “Six-inch ruler, American and Metric, metal”.

Maybe the school wasn’t covered for any ruler-related injury over six inches. Maybe if given a foot-long ruler too early in one's academic career, a student was more likely to sniff glue. Whatever created this kind of absolutism on the part of my daughter’s school, I wasn’t prepared to risk it. Besides, all the twelve-inch rulers were plastic as well. I stood in front of the supplies, consulted my list, and clawed at my eye. I had everything but a certain weight of construction paper, a pocket-sized dictionary and that ruler. A thorough search of Target produced some adorable bathmats and a sudden need for a bag of toasted almonds, but no more school supplies.

Regretfully, I left Target and drove to Staples.

If Target is candy-colored fun, Staples is beige in a box; the only excitement coming from buying your envelopes in bulk. I clawed and walked around, finally seeing someone sporting a name-tag. I grabbed him and chanted “Metal ruler, six-inch; construction paper; pocket dictionary.” Obligingly, he walked me to three rows, each row containing one of the items. I’d have asked for iced-tea/valium Arnold Palmer, but that struck me as greedy. I eye-clawed and thanked him. As he was about to walk away, another woman ran up and nearly yelled “A watercolor kit, but only ten colors, blue erasers for pencil tops and three by five-inch label-stickers”.

“Wow”, I said sympathetically.

“I know", she moaned. "It’s like the world’s most boring scavenger hunt”.

I noted the cold sore on her lip, a malady also associated with stress. In fact, while waiting on line (because in the week before school starts, why on earth would Staples have more than one person working a register?), I noted that every single customer in that store was a woman in her thirties or forties. Many had decided to partake of the “Fun” of shopping with their children, which meant they were now handing out Red Vines like communion wafers in a vain hope of improving everyone’s mood. I was the only one trying to remove her own eye, but no one looked their best. Even those without stress-induced skin conditions had at least an inch of roots. I humbly suggest to any parent of a school-age child to avoid having their drivers’ license picture taken in the last week of August.

Back in bed, I fought off Dervish Daughter and Creeping Consort. I thought about the stye and the school supplies, thought “I have to write about this”. And then I thought, “Why?”

Even the most self-absorbed among us (read: Me) might declare both topics to be less-than-compelling. But, readers please forgive me: I love this life I have right now. I don’t want to forget it, any of it, and I keep relearning how easy it is to lose great chunks of your life due to lack of attention. For example, my eye itches like mad and I’d like to think I’d remember that, but when I first self-diagnosed, I thought Have I ever had a stye before? But I couldn’t remember. I’d be more than happy to forget four days of warm wet compresses and moist shirt-collars, but if I forget that, maybe I forget Daughter’s head next to mine on the pillow, snoring and flailing and never exactly like this again.

I can give her back to school, and later on to her life without me, much more easily if I can keep these mundane little pictures in my pocket.


Blogger ZoesMom said...

It is unfortunate, but Staples is the way to go for school supplies. Our school didn't even send the list until 2 days before school so I took a chance and used the list provided by Staples and they had everything right! Down the correct number of glue sticks.

My own daughter has that same uncanny ability to expand in my bed. I went on vacation with her this summer and we shared a bed and the nightly flinging of her limbs became downright comical. How she stayed asleep while I shoved her and her kicking feet back over to her side of the bed, I have no idea. You're right, though. I loved it while I hated it and would happily do it over again.

5:59 AM  
Blogger Dodi said...

"I can give her back to school, and later on to her life without me, much more easily if I can keep these mundane little pictures in my pocket."

Yes! Exactly! The above words? Is why you're going to be a published author. Do you mind if I keep this quote forever?

7:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen to every word. Well put.

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, I searched high and low for a Expo 2 thin-tip black marker set. The list specifically said this item could be found at Staples, but I could not find it online nor in our local store. I finally ordered something very close (Expo low-odor thin-tip black markers) from a web-based office supply warehouse company (along with germicide cleaner, a gallon of Dawn dishwashing liquid and a big box of Rice Krispie Treats -- to get the free shipping, of course!).

I ordered 10 of them, because I wasn't sure how many were supposed to be in a "set." I sent six of them to school in a plastic bag, and the teacher's assistant gave me the a-ok. Ah, to be an obsessive, only child Kindergartener mother!

11:04 AM  
Blogger OHN said...

I just sent the oldest of our 3 off to college...don't even get me started!

5:17 PM  
Blogger Paige said...

Really, Quinn, only you could turn a stye and Staples-hell into an essay that made me sigh and cry. Now, when you must travel east for your important book-related meetings and such, don't you think you need a farm experience? I want to help you make more memories... ;-)


5:35 PM  
Blogger cbahm said...

This post was absolutely charming, and I loved the image of the expanding young mammal in bed.

FYI: Our weirdest school supply requirements this year were:

3 report folders, which must have pockets AND brads (Wal-Mart folders never have both), must be plastic not paper, and have to be in red, green, and blue. (Boring scavenger hunt indeed.)

1 box of patriotic Kleenex. I swear. (For oldest daughter's government teacher.) Try finding that in August. We bought a plain box and some scrapbook stickers of flags.

6:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh yes I read every word. But it was tough getting past the "Kudzu Approach" of consorts bed invasion. If ever there was a time my LCD needed a spittle guard it was now.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Valerie said...

oh i agree with Jeff. if ever there was a time when i was glad our laptop has a screen guard, it is today. the mental picture of Consort's kudzu approach of occupying the bed - such is the way in our home with my Husband. between him and the dang cat, i'm lucky i get six inches of bed for my 40 inch bum.

7:25 PM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Beautiful, Quinn! =)

8:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for this, even that last part where I got whiplash from being yanked out of my wet eyed laughter into my wet eyed crying.

Now that the cold sores are gone from both corners of my mouth, it's time to touch up my roots.

8:14 PM  
Blogger Heksje said...

I'm fortunate that my children don't have any weird school supply requirements (yet), but I had to smile at the giraffe-legged expanding child in your bed, because my daughter does that, too. My son is a snuggler, so I always feel as if I've grown a few more arms and legs in the night, but my daughter is a complete starfish. ;c)

And I seem to have kudzu problem in my bed as well. Perhaps it's an epidemic?

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have enough trouble buying juice for my boyfriend. Juice. It sounds so straightforward. Until you buy something with corn syrup. (Which is the devil's elixir, if you were wondering.)

The thought of buying school supplies for future offspring is enough to make me twitch. Or maybe that's the corn syrup.

9:17 PM  
Blogger Pearl said...

Really, don't scratch the stye. And don't listen to anyone who tells you that you need to rub it with a gold wedding ring. All that will happen is that you'll spread the infection and end up with styes on your upper AND lower lids, and then a nurse with fingers that smell of garlic will poke you in the eye. The wrong eye. Gah.

9:57 AM  
Anonymous La BellaDonna said...

My life has reached a point where having a, one, single, stye is a good day. Because that means I'm not dealing with several, or on both eyes, or in addition to, the two eyelashes and seven cat hairs embedded behind my eyelid.

And I carry a battery of fine-tipped needles with me to deal with those d@mned styes, too.

It's a real eye-opener in the morning.

3:31 PM  

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