Category Archives: death

Defective Parts

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to request an exchange on my son’s olfactory parts.  It seems that when you supplied all the parts for this child of mine, you accidentally inserted a vulture’s sense of smell into him in lieu of a human’s sense of smell.

I submit the following as evidence:

Most human beings like the smell of such things as:
Flowers
Chocolate
Perfume
The ocean
A good steak

My son likes the smells of such things as:
Anything burning
Gasoline
Used model rocket engines
Boxes in the freezers at the grocery store
Farts

Used model rocket engines smell very much like sulphur, which smells like rotten eggs.  And rotten eggs smell like something dead.  And vultures like the smell of dead things.  And my son, as I indicated above, likes the smell of used model rocket engines.

Thus, the following equation must be true:
My son’s nose =  vulture nose

A vulture, as you know, is a bird.  My son is, for all other intents and purposes, human.

So I respectfully request an exchange of parts.

I understand my request may be outside the limits of your normal service agreement, as my child is approaching the age of seven.  However, it took this long for me to really notice the problem.  Yes, I suspected something was off when he was three and would open the freezers at the grocery store and deeply sniff the frozen pizza boxes.  I thought it strange as well when he asked me to leave the car door open while I filled up the car’s gas tank  because he liked the fumes emitted from the pump.  But honestly, it wasn’t until he said he was going to start collecting used model rocket engines because they “smelled so good” (with deep sniffing inhale) that I really became suspicious.

When some toast burnt recently, he was very excited when he asked “What smells so GOOD?” 

And the clincher, what prompted me to write, was the day he was home from school because he was sick and he proudly announced “my farts smell like burnt rocket engines! Doesn’t that smell GREAT?!”

If you would kindly mail the replacement olfactory parts to me I will insert them myself.

Thank you,
Belle

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Filed under boys, death, humor, kids, life, parenting, rotten food, sick, Snags, steak, things kids do

M-m-m-magic!

I’m just finishing up my breakfast when my son says: “So mom, the first people on the earth, how did they spread?” 

“What do mean ‘how did they spread?’” I ask, feeling a bit defensive as I shovel the last bite of french toast, the last bite of bacon, into my mouth.  Is he setting me up for a fat joke, I wonder? 

“Well, how did they spread around?  Did God send down more or were some of them girls and they had babies?”

Ah!  It’s not a fat joke after all.  In my mind I picture people floating down from the heavens in a tunnel like band of light. The opposite direction of how you might imagine people being sucked up by an alien space ship hovering in the clouds.

The voices in my head start up.  They gasp, and wonder why he is thinking about this.  The voices rise as they start to panic in my brain, Why?  Why are you asking me this?  You are SIX, just go watch some cartoons already.  Be a couch potato for half an hour.  Quit playing ‘inquiring minds want to know.’  Let your mother get back to thinking about piercing her nose…

“I think some were girls and they had babies,” I tell him.

To which he replies, “Oh.  So when the babies grew up if they were girls they had more babies.”  And I agree that sounds about right.

Then he says, “Well, the first people, they were all family right?  So then if they were family, then everyone in the world today is really family to each other.”  In my mind I sigh, and out loud I agree that at some level, he is probably right.  I wait for him to go on, to take it to the next level and tell me that if everyone in the world is family and people get married, then that means they are marrying family, so it should be okay for him to marry his cousin Emma after all.  But luck is on my side, and he doesn’t go there.

I don’t feel like playing religious education teacher this morning.  I don’t have the strength of will to explain the Catholic’s concept of God as the one and only father because I know it will lead to more questions.  And probably defiance.  I can picture it clearly, Snags arguing with his father: “Mom said you aren’t my REAL dad, so you can’t tell me what to do.  I don’t have to pick up my LEGOs unless God tells me to!” 

And then, “How did you have a baby with God anyway, Mom?” I know if I try to explain he will ask me that next.  So yes, I think, best to let this one sit there for now.  Maybe the Scooby Doo cartoon on TV will capture his interest.

At dinner time, just as I get a mouthful of turkey Snags asks, “So who invented Disney World, anyway?  And how did they invent Disney World?”

“A man named Walt Disney had a dream,” I offered.

“A dream about what?” Snags asks.

“A dream to build the happiest place on earth,” my husband helpfully chimes in.

“But how did Mickey Mouse come to life?” Snags wonders.

This one, I’m confident, I can handle.  I sit up a little straighter.

“Well,” I say, “a cartoonist was drawing cartoons on a piece of paper, and there was this strange little bottle sitting on his desk.  He had never seen the bottle before and he didn’t know what it was, but he didn’t give it much thought.  While he was drawing, he accidentally knocked the bottle over and the cork popped out and the liquid inside spilled all over his drawing.  It turned out that the liquid was growth serum and when it hit the drawing of Mickey Mouse, the paper started to bubble and Mickey Mouse grew right out of the drawing!  He popped right out and was actually standing ON the desk.  Then he waved at the man who drew him, and he said “Hiya!” and the man fainted from shock right there.

I imitate what I think a man fainting from shock right where he is sitting might look like.  Snags giggles.  I’m proud of my explanation, it sounds good.

Only…

“What color was the growth serum?  Was it blue?  Was it green?  Was it red?  Can we get some? Where did it come from? Let’s get some! Can we make some?  Where do they sell growth serum?  Tell me again what happened…”

And the questions continue until Snags decides that maybe we can get some growth serum and use it to bring the dead back to life!  I shudder at the thought, wondering who he would use this on, if he could.  With visions from W.W. Jacob’s The Monkey’s Paw in my mind, I gently explain how that might not be such a good idea.  With Easter around the corner I consider telling him that only God can bring the dead back to life, but decide to leave it alone, for now.  I stick with a watered down explanation of zombies and the decaying dead, and how if he used the growth serum he’d be bring back nothing but skeleton bones.  It sounds plausible enough.  But later, my husband asks me why I didn’t just tell him that Mickey came to life from Disney Magic.  Damn! Why didn’t I think of that? I wonder.  But it’s okay.  I can use the Disney Magic explanation the next time Snags asks about how people came to earth and started spreading around. 

The only problem, as I see it, is how to explain things once Snags realizes that Mickey Mouse isn’t real.  That Mickey Mouse at Disney World is really just a person inside a costume.  I guess I’ll have to teach him about cannibalism then. 

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Filed under death, Disney, God, humor, life, Magic, Snags

Ode to Mr. Fish

When I walked in the door he was crying so hard you would have thought someone had died. Then I found out someone had died. Only, that wasn’t why he was crying.  He wasn’t crying because someone he loved had died.  He was crying because “DADDY FLUSHED HIM DOWN THE TOILET BEFORE I COULD DRAW HIM!” 

And that’s how I found out that Mr. Fish had bit the dust.

Mr. Fish, we got you at a school carnival back when Snags was three.  You were small, no longer than half an inch, I think.  And orange, that typical goldfish orange color.  You were swimming around in a plastic cup, hoping not to get bonked on the head by a ping pong ball tossed by little hands.  But you were. Snags landed a ball in your cup, and you were knocked on the head and likely a little stunned.  Some of the water in your cup sloshed out, but you were his. Someone manning the “Win a Fish” game dumped you into a baggie and you came home with us, glub-glubbing along, eyes bulging, but ever the strong one.  I imagine that you were still in a daze from that ping pong ball. We set you up in a fish tank all by yourself and with all that space and no other fish to fight with over food, you grew and grew into the size of a small Mrs. Paul’s filet.  And yet, we didn’t eat you. We kept you. We fed you. We loved you.  Eventually we moved you into a larger tank and got you some friends.  Snags insisted on that, he didn’t want you to be lonely.

But tonight my husband found you floating listlessly at the top of the tank.  If all the fish were playing a game where they were imitating letters of the alphabet, I understand that you were pretending to be the letter “U”, folded floppily in half, bobbing ever so slightly by the miniature current made by the tank’s air bubbles.  So my husband scooped you out.  He didn’t want your rotting remains to bump into the other fish, so he scooped you out and flushed you down the toilet.

You should know that Snags cried.  And cried and cried and cried and cried.  Then he sobbed incoherently for an hour more.  I thought, at first, that he was overcome with sadness at your death.  But it turns out that he was furious with his father for flushing you down the toilet. He wanted to draw a picture of you.  A picture of your sad and lifeless body floating in the toilet…

I’m glad he couldn’t find his camera. I fear that he will grow up to take photos of the dead in their caskets. Photos of me, perhaps.  He’ll print them out on his home printer and take them to work to share with his co-workers.  He’ll say, “Doesn’t Belle look so peaceful?” and his co-workers will think, “FREAK!”

Or maybe he will grow up to be a crime scene artist…  I am not sure why it was so important that he capture you all bent in half and floating like that. Something in a six-year old’s mind…

He is still barely talking to his father.  He claims that he is so mad he won’t buy his father a birthday present. I tried to reason with him through the tears. “Maybe Daddy didn’t hear you say that you wanted to draw him,” I suggested. Snags responded by deciding that if he does decide to buy his father a birthday present, he will buy him a hearing aid so he can hear him scream “STOP! I WANT TO DRAW HIM!” the next time a fish bites the dust.  His father’s birthday is in November.  It’s January right now.  I hope he forgets this whole ordeal, forgives his father, by then. I suppose I ought to raise his allowance a bit so he can save more money between now and then.  If he does decide on the hearing aid, well I think those things are pretty expensive.

Good bye Mr. Fish.  I hope you made it through the pipes okay.

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Filed under death, fish, life, Mr. Fish, Snags

Why?

How is it, when something really bad happens to somebody good, that the world doesn’t  just stop?  It seemed so strange to me, to walk outside a few days ago and see that the sun was shining, the sky was robin’s egg blue, the air was cool and breezy, just the perfect temperature.  Most people, I imagine, would have declared the day to be “perfect” or “beautiful.”  I can even hear the conversations in my mind, of people outside, walking in the park, on their way to lunch “I wish every day could be like this…”  and the response, “Yeah, me too! Isn’t this fantastic?” 

But most people would not know that a friend of mine just suffered a parent’s worst nightmare, just lost her first child to a stillbirth, little more than a week before the baby was due.

And I cannot fathom it.  I swear that on the day it happened the skies should have darkened, storms should have raged, the seas should have churned black waters as lightning bolts were thrown from the heavens.  And yet, they didn’t.

The day was bright and clear, in absolute contrast to the drama and horror and sadness that was unfolding in a hospital room across town.  The darkness…  Darkness of spirit and emotion and grief and pain over a life dreamed of, sought, achieved, nurtured, then lost, in the blink of an eye, for no apparent reason at all.  A life that ended even before drawing its very first breath.  A life that can now only be remembered for what might have been, was so close to being, but never was… at least not outside the womb. 

And yet, other lives go on.  People have their daily routines and they continue…  lunch dates, business meetings, dinner reservations, homework, television, football practice, errands, music lessons, baths, bedtime, whatever the routines are, for most people, they carry on, the world spins on it’s axis as it always does. This is true for me, and it’s probably true for you too.  That’s the way the world works. 

But suddenly it seems bizarre that it should work like that.  It seems like there should have been some other kind of notice of what was happening, of what had happened.  Perhaps a tiny blip in the earth’s rotation, a slight bump, a sudden storm, a “let me have your attention please,” kind of moment.  A funny feeling, an intuitive knowledge.  A notice other than a ringing phone…

It’s not my tragedy, I know that.  But I am a mother.  And the loss of a child is the fear of every mother.  It hits, as they say, close to home.

And so I grieve for my friend and her husband and their lost child.  And I simply wonder WHY?  and  NOW WHAT?

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Filed under death, loss

Memories of My Grandmother

My Grandmother died yesterday.  She was 98 years old.  I don’t think many people live to see ninety-eight these days.  The average life expectancy in the United States, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, is 77.9 years old.  But my grandmother passed 77 right on by.  I don’t think she gave it a second glance.  I wished, up until a few weeks ago, when it became apparent that her health was deteriorating rather rapidly, that she’d make it to 100.  We could send her picture in to Willard Scott, have him wish her a Happy Birthday on The Today Show.  Some things just aren’t meant to be, I guess.  It was finally her time.  

My grandmother was from Pennsylvania, and she could speak Slovak.  Still!  Even though she had nobody who knew how to speak it back to her for probably the past 50 years.  My dad, who doesn’t speak Slovak, learned a holiday song or two in that language when he was a child.  Sometimes when the family would gather at Christmas he’d sing it to her, and she’d smile.

I spent a fair amount of time with my grandmother when I was a kid.  These are my memories…

She liked to play Bingo. Actually, “like” is too weak a word for what she felt about bingo.  She LOVED Bingo.  That might be why she died.  All those little letters and numbers floating around her bloodstream, one of them just got caught, lodged in a way it couldn’t get loose again…

Actually, the truth is that she had congestive heart failure.  It outpaced her body’s ability and the doctor’s efforts to keep her healthy.  About a week before she died she became very weak, then mostly unresponsive.  She may have suffered a stroke.  If she did, I’d like to think it was a tiny clot in the shape of a Bingo number that got her. B98, maybe.

My grandmother went to the Bingo hall as often as she could; not forgoing a night even when she had company in town.  She’d invite the company to come along and play with her!  I went with her often over years, from the time I was a little kid until I was a teen.  At some point, the smoky hall began to bother me and I spent more time in the bathroom trying to breath than I did sitting there marking numbers on my card.  But my grandmother could play about 25 bingo cards at once, and still point out the numbers you’d failed to mark on your card, and that the people sitting on her other side and across the table from her had failed to mark.  Sometimes she’d win and give some of the money to me, or she’d take me shopping and buy me things with her winnings.

One time she bought me a doll that had a battery compartment in its butt,  The doll crawled and rolled over.  I think I still have that doll, shoved in a box somewhere.  I wonder, if I find her and dig her out, and shove new batteries in her butt, if she’d work again.  I might try that some day.  I could get back at the dog after she’s peed on my floor again.  She’d hate that.  Toys that move, seemingly of their own accord, scare her.  My grandmother liked animals though, and I think it would give her a laugh to see my dog barking like a fool at that doll.

Another time, my grandmother bought me a globe.  I’m not saying she’s responsible, but I did grow up to be a geographer…

She used to cut my bangs, which I hated.  She’d tape an IBM card to my forehead and use it as a guide to cut my bangs straight across.  Only she’d tape it too high, and so I’d come home from my visits with her practically devoid of hair, my forehead visible like a billboard.

She was always, even until she died, busy crocheting or sewing or quilting.  She especially liked to make afghans, usually of two colors and with a zigzag pattern.  I still have one that she made me when I was 4 or 5 years old.  It’s pink and white, just like the poncho she made me.  My son has an afgan that she made for him when he was born. It’s pale blue and white.  My son called her “Great Grandma” and has dubbed the afghan his “too nice blanket” because it’s too nice to mess up.

I wish I had asked my grandmother to teach me how to sew.  It’s a skill that would come in handy.  If I knew how to sew I could hem my son’s pants instead of rolling them up or letting him walk the bottoms off.  All of my grandmother’s neighbors, and half the town, would bring her items of clothing to mend and alter.  She’d replace buttons, hem pants, repair torn linings inside of jackets.  Bring her a pattern and she’d even make you an outfit.  She made my First Communion dress. And I remember one green jumpsuit in particular that she made me, and that I favored.  I think I wore it everyday of my entire 4th grade year.  I felt like a Girl Scout in it, or a jungle explorer.  And there then there was the pair of matching mother-daughter vests and skirts that she made, crochet overlaying another material, and which my mother and I wore back in the 1970s.

My grandmother had an old coffee can full of buttons that I used to play with when I visited her. It’s probably more appropriate to say I lusted after that can of buttons.  Hundreds upon hundreds of beautiful little buttons of plastic and wood!  The colors!  The shapes!  They were like miniature treasures.  I loved to dip my hand in that coffee can and let the buttons run through my fingers before pulling them out and inspecting them, one by one, searching for my favorites.  I don’t know whatever happened to that coffee can and all those buttons, it’s been gone for years now, but I would have loved to have had it. 

My grandmother’s attic floor was forever covered in bits of thread and scraps of material, small squares cut out for whatever quilt she was working on.  Sometimes she’d forget a straight pin or two that she’d inadvertently left in a quilt.  You’d cover yourself up only to get stuck by a pin hidden in a seam.  It’s funny how I remember the scraps of material, but I don’t remember seeing her sewing the quilts.  She probably put them away when she knew the grandchildren would be over, getting into everything.  But I still have the quilt she made for me when I was a child.  It too is pink and white on one side, but it has a fabulously ugly pattern of odd twisted shapes made up of pink and brown circles that I used to look at and see things in — animals, monsters, birds.  I can pick out shapes from the back of the quilt like you might pick shapes out of the clouds in the sky.  The quilt is warm and weighty, heavy enough to pin you to the mattress when you try and sleep under it.  It’s old now, and some stitches have popped, and so I’ve stored it away for safekeeping.  It’s one of those things that can’t be replaced.

My grandmother loved to listen to baseball games on the radio or watch them on TV.  She always rooted for the Pirates and she always watched The Price is Right.

She kept a pot holder I’d woven for her when I was a kid on her refrigerator for years.  I don’t think it was replaced until I was in my 20’s and another granddaughter, one of my younger cousins, had made her one.  I admit I was a little bit jealous to see that mine had been replaced.

Her kitchen was filled with delicious snacks.  In her cupboards she had cans of Pringles which we never had at home. She had the fun sugary cereals like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch and Applejacks, whereas at my house, we had only Kix and Cheerios.  Dishtowel covered loaves of Kolache filled her countertop, and plates of it, sliced, appeared at breakfast.  The kind with the apricot filling was, and still is, my favorite. 

Once in a while my grandmother would come to visit us.  She’d spend her days watching my brother and me, while my parents were at work.  She’d do some mending and cooking for us, cleaning, and ironing.  Once, she even saved me from what I envisioned was to be supreme wrath and certain punishment, if not death, for ruining my parents bathtub!  I was in 5th grade, and one of my chores was cleaning the bathrooms.  I hated that job to no end and so I’d often try to make it more entertaining by pretending that I was actually starring in a commercial for tub and tile cleaner.  On that particular day, I remember I’d been pouring everything I found under the bathroom sink into the tub and pretending I was comparing the ability of the various substances to clean the tub.  Only there must have been some type of chemical reaction that occurred, because the white porcelain of the tub turned a bright yellow of which my 5th grade elbow grease could not remove!  My grandmother found me crying in despair and without asking for explanation, she took the scrubby sponge from my hand, got down on her hands and knees, and scoured that yellow stain away.  I don’t think my parents ever knew about it. 

My grandmother was fond of playing cards and taught me how to play her favorite games: Gin Rummy and War.  I remember many, many, many late nights at her house, sitting at her kitchen table and playing War, willing my eyes not to close, my head not to smack the table as I fought off sleep at 1:00 a.m., trying to stay awake while wishing desperately for a game of war to end so I could crawl into bed.

Two weeks ago I took my son to visit my grandmother.  She was in an assisted living facility and she was hooked up to oxygen to help her breath better.  Something, most likely the oxygen, had energized her.  She was out of her wheelchair.  She was walking unassisted, her cane and walker shoved in a corner.  There wasn’t a whole lot to do there in her room so we pulled out her deck of playing cards.  She taught my son, her five year old great-grandson, how to play a card game called Piggy.  We played several rounds of the game with her.  When we tired of that we talked.  But since her hearing was poor, even with her hearing aid, I wrote her notes so I wouldn’t have to shout at her.  She read them and responded.  I told her we had been to Disney World.  When she remarked that she had never been there, my son decided that he would build Disney World in our back yard for her and she could come to our house to see it. Later, he insisted on telling her about a Starship he was building, how he would bring it back and show it to her one day.   She couldn’t really hear what he was saying, so I wrote the words “He’s building a Starship, like a space ship…” on my pad of paper.  I think I rolled my eyes a bit, to let her know “Hey, he’s a kid, it’s unlikely his Starship will even fly.”  But she shared his enthusiasm. “Ah! A Starship!” she said and she nodded at him, vigorously.  Like that was right up her alley.  As if she’d won one playing Bingo before, sewed one from a pattern, or crocheted one perhaps.  Her eyes twinkled and she smiled.   

That’s the last time I saw my Grandmother. But I think, perhaps, it’s my best memory of her.  A 98 year old woman teaching a five year old how to play cards, and smiling about his plans to construct Disney World and a Starship in his own backyard.    

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Filed under death, grandmother, life, memories, tribute

Dead Santa

Tell me, just WHAT do you say when your 5 year old child, riding in the backseat of the car asks you out of the blue, “Mom, does Santa Claus die? And what do they do if he dies? Do they get a replacement for him? How quickly can they get a replacement for him? And what about Mrs. Claus? Does she die? Or can Santa just live forever? How could he be that old to live forever?”

You can only stall for so long. Eventually, you have to answer the question.

After I did as much hemming and hawing as I thought I could get away with, I responded with something like: “Wow! Um… That’s a good question! I never thought about it. I mean, I don’t know. I suppose he might live forever, I mean, he does have Christmas magic. But then, he’d be the only person around that could live forever, so maybe he does die. But if he dies, I mean, they never announce it on the news. At least, I’ve never heard anything on the news about Santa dying.  I’ve never read anything in the paper about it.  And I watch the news and read the paper a lot, so I think I would have found out about that if it happened, you know?  But Santa’s been around as long as I can remember. I mean, they’ve always had Christmas, as far as I know.  I never heard anyone say they didn’t have a Christmas when they were a kid.  I know he was around when your grandparents, and great-grandparents, and great-great-great grandparents were kids. But some of those folks are dead now, so I guess that would make him really old… Or maybe he does die but they find a replacement before Christmas and they just don’t tell us about it so people won’t be worrying about whether there’s going to be a Christmas…” and then, just for that extra special touch, I added, “You must be the smartest kid in the world to ask that. I mean, I don’t think many kids even think about that to ask. I mean, I’ve never thought about it before. Wow! So, um… How was your day at school today?”

Really, I tell you, it’s hard to come up with an answer when your head is spinning from the shock and you haven’t been given a copy of “The Parent’s Guide to Answering Difficult Questions”.  And even if you had a copy, it’d be a little difficult to look up the answer while you’re driving.

After we got home, I distracted my son from his thoughts of a dying Santa with some comic relief in the form of Sponge Bob cartoons on Nick Jr.  Then I pulled my husband into the garage where I hissed “HE ASKED ME IF SANTA CLAUS DIES?!”, and I proceeded to tell him the rest of this horrifying exchange. When I finished, my husband said, (rather smugly, I might add), “Santa doesn’t die, he RETIRES and he trains a new Santa in his place. Didn’t you know that? That’s what all the Santa’s in the malls are, Santa’s in training, hoping one of them will get picked to be his replacement when he retires. That’s what you should have told him…”

And I’m thinking, “No. I didn’t know that. And since you’re so damn smart, YOU answer the question next time.”  

And there will be a next time.  My son was quietly playing the other day, and I heard him talking to himself, something about babies in tummies, and then something that sounded suspiciously like “and the mom eats a babysicle… ”   I closed my eyes and pretended that I didn’t hear him.  But when it comes up again, I’m going to hem and haw and say, “Hmm… I’m not sure…”  Then, I’m handing him the cell phone and say, “Here, call your dad, he’ll know!”

Merry Christmas in July!

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Filed under Christmas, Christmas in July, death, humor, kids, life, parenting, Santa Claus