Who Wants to Eat at My House?

Yesterday morning I was just thinking how much I would love to have some friends and their families over for dinner some time.  We’ve met so many lovely people since we moved here, and I’d like to have them over so they’ll know they’re welcome.  I thought about it merrily all day, and by yesterday evening I realized that gathering people I treasure around my family table for a meal is a terrible idea.

Just imagining having company over to witness our dinner here last night gives me a nervous tick.  I think it was going okay until Sean excused himself to use the bathroom.  Two minutes later he runs back into the dining room with his pants around his ankles, in a panic that he can’t turn off the water in the sink.  I paused my meal so as to accompany Sean to the bathroom and show him again how to turn off the faucet.  While we were there I also re-rinsed his hands, because for all the water that was cascading down into that sink, his hands were still soapy … as were the faucet handles.

I was just finishing rinsing off the handles when I noticed the toilet.  The water was way down low in that foreboding way that hints at some kind of impending plumbing hostility.  I asked Sean if he had flushed anything down there that might cause a clog.  He gave me an unnecessarily detailed play-by-play of every lavatory visit he had made that day but assured me that he hadn’t flushed anything that hadn’t at one point been inside him.

I decided to give it just one Hail Mary flush before I called in the plunger just in case this was one of those lucky false alarms.  It wasn’t.  I grabbed the plunger and plunged with all my might until the water was a kitten whisker away from overflowing.  Then, mercifully, the floods abated, and the water went swirling down the pipes.  Whew.  No mopping was necessary, so I figured I’d just give the plunger a quick rinse in the bathtub and deal with it after dinner.  So, I put the plunger under the tub faucet, leaned over the bathtub, and turned on the water … the water that (after my older son’s last shower) had been set to shoot out the shower head instead.  I screeched in alarm as a great deluge of cold water flooded abruptly onto my head.  I fumbled for the shower switch and with a wild, flailing motion diverted the water back to the tub.  I stood for a moment while the plunger steeped, watching my hair drip and wondering if I would ever get back to my plate of ever-cooling food.

After washing up I made my way back to the table where Liam and Sean were playing a game they had invented, called “Bobbing for Noodles.”  Had my husband, Peter, been at the table, the boys probably would not have been so bold as to splat their faces down onto their plates and scarf stroganoff like 4-H piglets at a livestock show.  But it was my fault Peter wasn’t there to keep order.  I had been too much of a wussy before dinner to walk out in the dark to Peter’s shop in the driving rain (in my fancy socks) to tell him that we were ready to eat.  I figured “Oh, well.  He knew dinner was almost ready when he went out there; he’ll be back in a couple minutes.”  But I guess not.

I put a stop to all the shenanigans and sat down at the table with my loved ones to (finally) eat and enjoy some delightsome dinner conversation.  Sean got things rolling with his witty repartee, which went something like “I tooted in this room.  My fart was stealth!  Do you smell it yet?  Hey, this hazelnut looks like a butt!”  I suppose I shouldn’t complain.  I wasn’t adding much to the conversation either, but I believe I contributed, “Stop squishing green beans with your hands!” and “Hey, turn around and sit up!  You’re getting the back of your shirt all in your dinner!”

Sean further annoyed me by repeatedly reaching over and stealing my napkin to wipe his goopy face, despite the fact that EVERY OTHER NAPKIN IN THE HOUSE WAS IN THE NAPKIN HOLDER TWO INCHES IN FRONT OF HIM.  Whenever I dabbed my mouth with my napkin I got messier than I was to begin with.  But it’s hard to stay mad at him.  The boys love my cooking and have started rating my dinners mid-meal, and they’re usually quite flattering.  They used to use a simple “thumbs-up-or-down” scale, but lately they’ve been using all their fingers to give me a number.  I must have been really on par last night, because Sean gave my stroganoff “Ten fingers, ten toes, my head, and my penis!”  Aw, shucks.

Despite the crowd-pleasing food, I found my resolve to let another human being into this house at feeding time crumbling quickly.  I think Sean could tell he really put me through the wringer that night, because he walked over to me after dinner and offered me a single hazelnut.  With his big, brown, four-year-old eyes he looked lovingly at me and said, “Here, Mama.  You can have this nut that’s shaped like a heart, because I love you!”

Genuinely touched, I said, “Oh, thank you, honey!  Wait.  Is this heart-shaped hazelnut really the butt-shaped hazelnut upside-down?”

He smiled.  “Yes!”

The Wonders of Nature as Seen from an Outhouse

“Twenty percent chance of rain” certainly isn’t enough to intimidate my husband out of a campout.  So, last Friday we packed up our gear and set off to squeeze in a quick camping trip before the autumn weather turned bad.  And I have to say, the first day was beautiful. 

The boys explored the woods and hiked all around the green Oregon countryside. 

Their dad taught them how to skip rocks and dangle precariously from steep precipices over waterfalls.

And, of course, the boys chowed down on camping food with alarming vigor.  Liam ate so many salt & vinegar chips, I’m surprised his lips didn’t fall off.  I admit I kind of gave them free reign on the treats.  I police them pretty hard at home, and this was the only campout we were going to have this year, so I let them have at it.

I was going to let them stay up late too, but they were exhausted by their regular bedtime, so I tucked them into their sleeping bags with their tummies full of s’mores, and they went right to sleep.  My sleep wasn’t fantastic.  In just one short night I was woken multiple times by children who needed a Kleenex … demanded a drink … asked for another Kleenex … required assistance getting his tangled sleeping bag back onto his air mattress … and, finally, urgently requested a trip to the pit toilet in the dark of night for a fit of violent diarrhea.  Those salt & vinegar chips had landed … and they were angry.

Wood smoked Pop Tart: fine camping cuisine.

Poor Liam had to sit, cramping and sobbing on that awful “toilet” (that was essentially a bucket with a seat) while I rubbed his back and tried to soothe him.  It didn’t smell great in there, but I suppose it was better than it could have been.  The park manager’s clean-up chart showed that it had been cleaned some time back in the middle of September, and that was practically yesterday.  So, awesome.

Liam asked me to tell him a story to distract him from his agony.  I really wanted to grant his simple request and help him relax, but the combination of the lack of sleep, coupled with the trauma of seeing my eldest son in such awful distress, I just couldn’t think.  I wanted to tell him a happy story, because I think in that moment he needed to hear something cheerful.  But I was having a hard time coming up with a story (children’s or otherwise) that wasn’t somehow tragic.  They all had wolves, and witches, and peasants starving to death, and egg-people falling off walls and spilling their guts everywhere.  Plus I couldn’t seem to shake the horror story that was forming in my mind about a little boy who slips helplessly into the maw of a dark, fetid pit toilet, striking terror into the heart of his mother who hadn’t brought a rope.  I ventured a guess that that was not what he needed to hear right then.

But my son needed me!  So, I dug deep and summoned up the most cheerful tales I could recall from a dark, spider-infested latrine in the middle of a pitch black forest.  I went with a Chinese folktale about a little boy who falls down a well and a sweet story about a beautiful, magical unicorn … who stands by as an old woman is ripped apart by a harpy, and an evil king is crushed to death under the ruins of his own castle.  I even retold as much as I could remember from my cheery middle school masterpiece, but under the circumstances I felt it best to just gloss over the part where the main character’s entire family dies in a fiery car wreck.  (I know.  I had angst.)

We were in that latrine for about an hour.  (Poor kid.)  By the time the sun came up I had recited him three stories, two fairy tales, one original work, and a major motion picture.  Peter eventually came looking for us and, mercifully, had one last Imodium in his overnight bag.  Peter gets center square for the win!  Liam recovered quite quickly after some medicine and was ready for more daring camping adventures … and then the rain hit. 

We all piled into the tent in the hopes that we could wait out the weather and get some sun later.  It was nice for the minute and a half that we were all quietly reading.  But then the boys got restless, and it was difficult to focus on my Kindle while having to yell out things like, “Sean!  No spin kicks in the tent!”  Liam and Sean spent the bulk of our confinement playing a game Liam dubbed “Fun With Sean,” which pretty much entailed Liam punching Sean in the crotch until he falls over; then they both laugh hysterically and do it again … and again … and again.

So, yay.  Camping.  I’m not quite sure we did it right.  But if you ask the boys (even Liam), they’ll tell you that they had the time of their lives.  Still, I think next time we’ll try to keep the stories around the campfire and the salt & vinegar chips at home.