Friday, 23 December 2011

Giving

I sit here, shopping done, house decorated, gifts wrapped, Christmas dinner prepped and ready to go in the oven at dawn (or whatever the hell time it is that cooking starts- Jason does all that. I serve booze and make gravy). I am ready. Bring it on.

Given a few minutes of down time, I have a chance to appreciate what Christmas is and how grateful I am. I think a lot about gratitude at Christmas. Our kids are spoiled rotten every year, always getting a few things they desperately want, a few things they didn't know they wanted, and a few things they didn't really want (Underwear. Every year. Love, Santa.) Jason and I usually get each other a bunch of stuff we don't need, and we can shop for our relatives without having to worry overly much about the budget.

It wasn't always like this.

Our first Christmas after Isaiah was born was hideous. He was an August baby, and I had gone back to work at the beginning of December. I felt like the worst mother on the planet. Jason was doing on-call snow removal at $127.50 every two weeks. He wanted to pick up a few shifts somewhere else, but since we couldn't predict the snow, we couldn't always predict when he'd be available for other work, and that generally doesn't go over well with employers. However, the money he made in the summer from that landscaping job was good enough to make it worth sucking it up in the winter. When you added Jason's income to my $165 unemployment cheque every two weeks, it meant I had to go back to work. On the up side, McDonald's was close to the house, so I didn't have to scrape up money for a bus pass.

We were miserable. We were 19, COMPLETELY broke, and had a new baby we couldn't afford. Formula was too expensive, so I was pumping bottles for him before I left each night for work. We could barely afford diapers, had been to the food bank more than once in the last 4 months, and aside from the McDonald's leftovers at the end of the night, had no real source of protein.

We resented each other, and (this was the worst part) we resented Isaiah. We were barely speaking, and if we could have afforded to split up, we would have. I hated that I had ruined my life, that I had been trapped by pregnancy in a doomed relationship, and that my mother was disappointed in me. I despised that when I was out walking with Isaiah, people stared (I still looked about 13 years old), but it didn't matter, because I couldn't stand leaving the apartment anyway. I hated that Jason and I were spending Christmas apart (not knowing how to fix the tension or figure out the arrangements for Christmas with my newly single mom and his widowed mom, we decided to go to our separate ways for the holidays), because I figured it would probably be our last Christmas together.

We had no money for gifts. None. We had no money for food, rent, cable, phone, or electricity, so Christmas had sunk so far down our list that it didn't even register. We'd each scraped together something so we could buy our moms some crappy gift, but that was it. The only small consolation was that Isaiah was too young to remember how bad this would suck. I tried to keep it from our friends and family how truly, disgustingly AWFUL things were, but it's hard to put on a brave face when you're screaming inside.

Someone figured it out.

On the 20th of December, our doorbell rang. There was no snow that day, so Jason was home. He was in the living room, avoiding me, and I was in the bedroom with the baby, avoiding him.

I answered the door, and there was a box. A giant, big box, and my mom standing behind it. She couldn't possibly have carried the thing in there herself.

"I don't know what it is," she answered when I asked her what was going on, "they just needed a key to get it to your front door. I know who it's from, but I'll never tell you, so don't ask. Merry Christmas!" And off she went (scampered?).

We dragged the box into the apartment and opened it up.

Oh. My. God.

The top layer of the box had a new shirt and sweater for Jason, a new shirt and sweater for me, and a set of sleepers and some outfits for Isaiah. There were baby toys, a package of diapers, and baby wipes. There were new books for both of us (we are HUGE readers- it was like giving an addict some heroin- our eyes kept drifting back to them), and a set of dishtowels. And underneath, there were cans. Cans and cans of BRAND NAME food- not the crappy stuff people donate to the Food Bank. There was a frozen turkey, and boxes of Stove Top stuffing (we have used it religiously since- it will for ever and always be my favourite stuffing). There were fruits, and vegetables, and boxes of juice. There was a carton of milk, and a tin of coffee. There was a thing of eggnog, and a frozen pumpkin pie. And at the very bottom, there was a $50 gift certificate to Safeway. Fifty dollars. I had NEVER spent that much on groceries at once.

We stared at the contents of this box, stunned at the generosity it involved. We had new clothes, which we hadn't been able to buy in a year. Isaiah had a gift to open, even if it wasn't from us, and we have that silver rattle to this day. We had more food that we knew what to do with (even though we had no idea how to cook any of it), and we had the guarantee of MORE groceries in the near future (we intended to save the gift card, but the excitement of shopping overwhelmed us and we went first thing the next morning).

I started to sob. I'm crying now as I write this.

It wasn't just gifts and food. It was enough generosity to take an increasingly heavy burden off our shoulders for a few days so that we could breathe. It was the reassurance that although people wanted us to succeed on our own, that we would never be completely forgotten. It was a reminder that however badly we screwed up, someone still loved us. It was recognition that we were trying as hard as we could, and appreciation for the effort.

It was a giant box of hope.

I looked up to see Jason putting things away in the cupboards (some of them had never actually held anything before), tears rolling silently down his face. He would never have admitted it, but that box meant everything to him too.

We set aside our tension, and bitterness, and anger. We put everything away, and cooked a giant (with some telephone advice from both moms) Christmas dinner. We sat in the living room afterwards, full, and happy, and watched our 4 month old ignore his rattle.

We sent a thank you card, signed by both of us (and chewed by Isaiah), and mom promised to deliver it to the right people. We still don't know who sent the box, but we're grateful. Maybe we would have made it through the holidays anyway, and maybe we would still be together today, but I truly believe that moments like that forge bonds that may never otherwise exist.  We have celebrated 17 Christmases since then, and have added three more children to the circle on the floor around the tree. And that first Christmas is the one we talk about.

Not knowing who was behind it made it even better. When you're that low, and that broken, the last thing you sometimes want to do is look into the eyes of your benefactor, no matter how badly you needed the help. It's a reminder that you aren't measuring up. I know that's how I would have felt.

So this Christmas, help someone. Give something. Give time, or money, or food, or love. Pay off someone's Christmas layaway plan. Shovel the neighbour's walk. Put your paycheque into a Sally Ann kettle. Buy the coffee of the guy behind you in line. Do whatever you can, in whatever way you can. But do it anonymously.

And to the person or people who put together that miracle for us so many years ago, that 3 foot by 3 foot box saved our Christmas.

And it probably saved our family.

Thank you again.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Fail

Fail.

Everything I have done over the past 24 hours is a total fail.

Last night I:

Promised the most wonderful person in the world that I would get my husband (who is on the board of directors of our housing co-op) to sign a packet of very important stuff that she dropped off so she could grab it this morning & then completely forgot to tell him about it, thereby screwing up her day today.

Got so annoyed at my baby because she WILL NOT QUIT SCREAMING that we ran out of patience and put her to bed without putting on her pyjamas because we couldn't stand her anymore and she kicked off all her blankets over the course of the night and woke up this morning with approximately the same body temperature as a frozen turkey. 

Told my youngest son to "Please, just shut UP!!!!!" because his stories take 3 years to tell and there's no point anyway, and I just wanted to finish watching the "Survivor" finale that we had already paused 442 times and now he is telling everyone else to shut up. 

A few weeks ago, Liz qualified for the Team Calgary wrestling team at the Alberta Winter Games next February (GO, Liz!!!!!), and because she is a stellar athlete and had also made the school senior basketball team, and the basketball games are at the same time as the Team Calgary wrestling practices, we told her she'd have to choose one or the other so as not to take up a space on the team that could be given to someone who could commit to being at all the games and she was hysterical (What? You’re good at too many things and it makes you sad? Some people have acne or missing limbs, and some have no friends and no food. This is not a big deal.) and I made a nasty comment about her sense of entitlement and sent her to bed. (Note- school principal has since called and asked that I let her play anyway, because she came to him today to quit the team and he promised he would talk to her mother, so she will be missing all the games, but will be playing in tournaments and playoffs, so the lesson I was trying to impart was lost anyway).

Called my husband a name so foul I can't even type it because he went to bed and left his spaghetti plate out and half full Tim Horton's on the end table, and I am apparently expected to clean up after him.

And this morning I:

Caused Eva to have yet ANOTHER temper tantrum because I dared to put coat, hat, mitts & boots on her (the snow pants weren’t worth it), and clothing makes her angry. 

Spilled my coffee down the front of my 'It weighs 378546 pounds and takes 6 months to dry if I wash it' heavy winter sweater. 

Fell off the front steps (apparently they're icy) and am pretty sure I have sprained my wrist. 

And discovered I accidentally unplugged the deep freeze when I cleaned the basement on Sunday night and everything in there (including Christmas dinner) is a write off, and that's what I get for shopping early and getting all my ingredients early and prepping them and freezing them and cleaning the basement, which I had been putting off for weeks and weeks and weeks and finally couldn't ignore anymore.

My goal is to get through the rest of my day without suffering any more injuries or accidentally killing someone else, then I will curl up on the couch, eat the two turkeys and a giant ham and 8 loves of bread that have survived the destruction in my deep freeze, but are now thawed and need to be consumed, and cry myself to sleep.

Please send booze.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Update To The Previous...

My mom called me today, howling, to tell me she read the last blog ('Why I Am The Way I Am').

She explained (through shrieks of laughter and tears of mirth) that she remembers the entire incident like it was yesterday (having previously forgotten all about it), and it seems, after seeing it written down in black & white, that the 'drug dog' scenario may have been a somewhat silly idea after all.

Ah, the sweet, sweet taste of vindication....

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Why I Am The Way I Am

When the big kids were really little and we lived in the condo, we used to have Isaiah's birthday parties outside. The yard was the size of a postage stamp, but it was still bigger than the whole inside of my house smashed together and rolled out flat. Besides, outside gave us adults the opportunity to get really drunk on cheap booze and play rousing games of volleyball with the balloons after my mom and grandparents left.

Anyway, this one birthday party, we're all sitting there, chatting it up, and all of a sudden a GIANT German Shepherd walks in through the gate and sits himself down in the middle of the party and helps himself to a slice of (ridiculously good) birthday cake.

I try not to argue with German Shepherds, ever, so I sat there, quietly fuming, until about 5 minutes later when his owner sauntered over from the bagel place across the street, looked at her dog and the cake, and says,

"Oh- look! He had some cake!"

And walks out the gate with her (much less hungry) dog, not a word of apology spilling from her lips.

My mom was talking to my Grandma (she was awesome, and I miss her to this day, but together, she and mom came up with some WEIRD stuff) about it later, and between the two of them, they decided that it must have been a drug-sniffing dog, sent in by the cops to investigate the party and look for cocaine (Really? You couldn't even credit me with something soft? You had to go straight for the hard stuff?), and when he didn't find any drugs (in the cake???), they left.

Anyone else would have thought that the dog had finished eating his (ill-mannered) owner's bag of recently purchased bagels and had come over for dessert.

When I pointed out that the police don't just send drug sniffing dogs at random into small children's birthday parties, and that there is generally some prior reason for doing it, she refused to back down. Her mind was made up. She wondered about my neighbours.

This is why I'm twitchy.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Hookers and Hit & Runs

A hooker once hit my car.

No joke.

I'm sure she was a very nice lady, but she worked some pretty odd shifts and had some impulse control problems. This does not make for a cautious, defensive driver.

Right after Liz was born, when we were living in our 'slightly less skanky than the downstairs one' upstairs apartment (see my post 'On Poverty'), we figured we were in an ok area. It wasn't GREAT- it was one of the small apartments by the old Ernest Manning High School normally rented by teenagers with babies (Huh. Go figger.), but we didn't think the neighborhood was all THAT bad.

Until one night, the phone rang at about 2 a.m.

When I answered it, a woman identified herself as Constable Whasserpickle, and told me my car had been involved in a hit and run. Because we have friends and family with some seriously warped senses of humor, I politely told her to go back to her beer & hung up the phone.

Ring, ring.

Now I was irritated. I picked up the phone, and in my very best 'I'm bigger than you and I have a stick' voice, told her that if she woke up either of our kids with her screwing around, she could come up here and put them back to sleep herself. At which point she (in her best 'I'm bigger than you and I have a stick AND a gun' voice) informed me that no, she really WAS Constable Whasserpickle, and my car really HAD been involved in a hit and run.

"That's impossible," I told her, "it's outside."

"Yeah." she said. "Yours was the 'hit' part."

Come ON!!! Why couldn't we just catch a break??? That Dodge Aries had cost us at LEAST $20 to buy from my aunt (Ok- she charged us $1- I'm a compulsive liar), and was the first car we'd owned together. And now you're telling me it was destroyed in full view of my front door???

I told Jason what had happened, and while he stood staring out the window, I dressed quickly and ran downstairs.

Constable Whasserpickle met me at the front door and walked me over to my car, which, to my INTENSE relief, had a broken taillight, and no other perceptible damage (good deal, too- we could only afford PL & PD). The mint condition classic Trans-Am behind me, however, which had been pushed into my car by the truck that had done all the damage, had fared much less well. It was still a Trans-Am. It was just....... shorter.

The truck that had inflicted all the pain on our poor, defenseless vehicles was sitting all catterwonky in the middle of the intersection down the street, with the paddywagon pulled up beside it.

I turned to my neighbor, the owner of the Trans-Am, to tell him how sorry I was about his car, when I noticed he was laughing.

Like HOWLING.

Like he was leaning on his hood and tears were rolling down his cheeks.

And that's when I noticed the police officer chuckling. And then I saw the OTHER neighbor, handcuffed and on the ground, swearing like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s Syndrome.

Turns out, one of the guys who lived in the apartment building next door to us had rented some companionship for the evening. It seems that at the end of the night, he realized he had no money to pay the tab (remember- he lived in our neighborhood. I'm surprised she didn't ask for cash up front. Or at least do a credit check), and she decided to take his truck as.... collateral. She hit him over the head with a bottle of booze (which I can only assume was a 1787 Chateau Lafitte or a 1951 Grange Hermitage), grabbed the keys out of his pants’ pocket (which were apparently not on his person where they should have been), and took off out the door, kicking him in the nether regions as she went past.

Luckily, the woman's thought processes were so slowed by the evening’s consumption of fine wine, rare cheeses and innocent fun that our saintly neighbor had enough time to regain consciousness, dress himself, and (here's the best part) CALL 911, before she made it to the end of the block (ricocheting off other vehicles like the little metal ball in a pinball machine).

At this point she abandoned the effort in the middle of the intersection (perhaps she hadn’t taken driver’s ed classes at AMA), switched off the truck, crawled into the back, and fell asleep. When the cops got there, good neighbor was standing out front, angrier than hell at this violation of his civic right and personal property, and she was having a nice nap on a pile of painter's tarps in the bed of the truck.

Never let anyone tell you that you live in a bad neighborhood.

Make them prove it.

Monday, 12 December 2011

It Can't Just Be Easy

The other day while I was at Superstore loading up on groceries, I put the final bag into the van, slammed the hatch and noticed someone had stolen the 2012 registration sticker off my license plate. Seriously? Isn't that a lot of work? I don't know about any of you, but that struck me as FAR too much work to be worth it. I am pretty sure those suckers, with glue adapted for Alberta weather, don't peel off all that easily.

I drove home, fuming, and told Jason about it as we unloaded the groceries.

"Well," he said, with an odd look on his face, "are you sure you remembered to put the stickers ON the cars when you re-registered them in November?"

When I re-registered them???

Shit.

So the next day, as I bundled and loaded my kids up to drive to the Registries Office by our place, desperately praying I wasn't followed closely enough by a cop who might NOTICE that my van's plates had expired 9 days previously, I went to grab the information out of our other car so I could take care of them both at the same time.

This is where it got difficult.

For the life of me, I could not find the pink insurance slip for our Saturn. It wasn't in any of the places I expected it to be (namely, the glove box, the glove box, or possibly, down the back of the glove box), and it wasn't anywhere on the floor. After 20 fruitless minutes, I called Jason at work to see if he had any idea where it was, and in a little bit of a startled voice, he says,

"Huh. It's in my wallet. I have it right here. I wonder why??? But don't worry about it, because I seem to remember that last year you couldn't register that car anyway, because the registration is in my name."

Oh, yeah. Now that he mentioned it, I remembered that, too. At least it took the sting out of the fact that, for no good reason, he was carrying the insurance slip around with him. I locked the van doors, and moved the car into our parking spot, where at least it wouldn't (because this is the way our luck runs) get hit on the street in the next 6 hours and I would get a zillion dollar ticket for having an unregistered vehicle out there, and my insurance company wouldn't cover the damage.

After finally getting to the mall up the hill from us (having promised my younger children a trip to McDonald's, as neither of them were overly excited about the opportunity to stand in line for 3 days with nothing to do), I realized that the gas light was on in the van. No big deal- I would register the van, get gas, get McDonald's for the little kids, and still be back home in time to appreciate part of my day.

I reached into the glove box, grabbed my little folder (containing all the pertinent info, cause that's how you're SUPPOSED to do it) out of the van, un-car-seated the kids, and walked in. Score- there WAS no line up! The time I would be wasting getting gas had been magically redeemed to me! How often does THAT happen?

I stripped the kids out of their winter coats to their 'the heat in a public building is up far too high because winter is starting' layer, and walked up to give the lady my registration and pink slip (explaining sheepishly that I had forgotten all about it). As I pulled my driver's license out of my wallet for her, I realized I had no bank card.

We do everything in cash, and don't use credit cards. Years ago, we figured out how much we were spending on bank fees with both of us constantly going to the bank machine, and cut up one of our bank cards and now existed with just the single one. It halved our service charges, but created many an irritating surprise. Like now. I was going to have to come back.

"We also take cheques, Visa or MasterCard!" chirped the clerk.

Awesome- I knew I had a check left in the car from the last time Liz had to sell something and I wrote a check to cover it (because, as we only use one bank card and are inherently lazy, Jason and I had spent most of the cash she had collected for her poinsettia sales rather than go to a bank machine. Thanks for nothing, Gail Vaz-Oxlade.)

I bundled the little kids back up into their winter coats and ran to the van- yep- there it was- one check, slightly wrinkled, with barely a coffee stain to be seen. I smoothed it out, grabbed the little kids & ran back in, only to see the clerk with a sympathetic expression on her face.

"I can't do it." she said. "The only name on your insurance card is your husband's. It needs to show both your names. I can only re-register the vehicle to the person on the insurance."

"Seriously?" I asked, "Ok- can he come in and register it when he comes in to do his car later?"

"Nope!" she crowed gleefully, "The van is registered under your name, so it can only be you that does it! You'll have to call your insurance company and get them to fax a copy of a pink slip with both your names on it before we can help you!"

I sat the kids down on chairs to wait while I called our insurance company, gave Eva my keys, and handed Squid a piece of pocket gum (You know the stuff that's been in your pocket since probably last winter and is hard and crunchy and you have to chew it for about 10 minutes before it's even really gum??? That's pocket gum. Since it takes them longer to chew it, it takes them longer to lose interest and swallow it. That's why I gave it to him. Not because I didn't want to go back out to the van. That would be silly.)

I got my insurance agent on the phone, who, it having been at least 6 months since last I spoke to them, was not the same guy I had talked to last time, and had no idea who I was and had to look me up in a verrrrrrrry sloooooooow computer system, and proceeded to announce that although I was listed as the primary driver on one of the vehicles, and a secondary driver on the other, my name had been dropped from the actual ownership of the policy for no damn good reason. They could fix it, sure. But it was his lunchtime, and until he could get ahold of the correct people (who, it would appear, were ALSO at lunch), he couldn't do anything about it. Could he fax or email the right slips to me in, oh, say, an hour???

Even the registries clerk felt bad. And this is a person TRAINED to make your life more difficult at every turn.

This trip was a lost cause. It was easier anyway, cause I really DIDN'T want to write a cheque for 84 bucks. I was going to keep my composure, and accept it for what it was. I re-re-RE-bundled the kids up and went back out to the van, only to realize when I turned it on that the gas light was still lit, and I probably wasn't going to make it home on what few fumes I had left in the tank.

I ripped apart the ashtray and glove box, the back seat where my eldest children sit, and the pockets in the door and came up with $8.32. Good enough. It would get me home and I wouldn't have to stop for gas again till my NEXT trip to the registries place that night. I ran into the gas station to give the clerk my pocket change, and went out to the van (Quick note- $8.32 is actually a pretty decent amount of gas. WELL over an eighth of a tank.)

I pulled away from the gas station, grateful to just be going home. I was proud of the way I had handled it. I hadn't lost my cool, divorced my husband, beaten my children, screamed at the registries clerk, or shown up at a pizza place with a week-old pizza (expressly kept for that purpose) only to deposit in on the counter and announce that if they weren't even going to TRY to get my order right or fix the problem when I called, they could have the damn thing back (we don't order from there anymore). I was like a superhero. My own, special brand of superhero. Moms everywhere should admire me!

Right then, Squid's quivery, teary voice piped up from the middle seat.

"Are we still getting McDonald's???"

Never mind.