Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Auntie Em – It’s a Twister!!!

Don’t let popular opinion fool you… tornadoes are not a good excuse to grab your digital video camera and run out the back lawn to film destruction. It never has been and it never will be.

A funnel cloud has never fascinated me. Dorothy and the Munchkins did not whet my child’s appetite. Helen Hunter and Bill Paxton did not make me think that Twisters were romantic. Jim Cantore from the Weather Channel might instill a lustful desire for him… but not for the cyclone that is charging toward the camera over his left shoulder.

Perhaps the fear of tornadoes was instilled in my early years. Having moved from Tennessee to San Antonio, Texas for my first year in grade school, I traded in fire drills for tornado drills. We didn’t have tornado drills in Tennessee, but in Texas, we had them once a month, at least. It made little sense to me that when the fiercely whipping winds began to howl and clouds began to circulate, the first grade class was to quickly and quietly assemble ourselves in a straight line and make our way to the hallway. We would then sit down and place a book over our heads. Who thought this was a great idea? Did our top-notch educators really believe that my Dick & Jane reading book would save me from the 400 pounds of sheet rock that was going to bury me alive in the rubble? Would the scent of mimeographed worksheets enable the K9 units to locate our lifeless, mangled bodies?

And the good Lord help you if the twister made an appearance the week you were pulling Tornado Monitor duty… because nothing is wiser than giving a seven year old the responsibility of assembling her classmates into the aforementioned straight line, making certain a textbook was clasped tightly in their trembling hands and steering them, single-file, into the hallway. Don’t forget that once the class was making their way through the door, the monitor herself must quickly open three or four windows so that the building would not implode from the suction of the twister bearing down on you. The last place I want to be when a tornado is bearing down on me is ANYWHERE near glass windows! Surely there are adults more qualified for such a position of responsibility! If my classmates survived, she would be heralded as a heroine and I probably just got a gold star or maybe a free book of choice from the Scholastic Weekly Reader magazine. Where was the teacher during this horrific time? Apparently running through the hallways securing her position and life!

The lucky kids in school did not live on an Air Force base where the cookie cutter homes were simply one level with a carport attached. They lived in a house with a storm cellar! Not only were these peaceful places to play during good weather, they were indeed shelters from the storm. I was more than grateful for one on the afternoon that I was playing with a friend and the tornado sirens began to blare. We ran as quickly as possible to the storm shelter and I had never felt so safe. The entire house, trees, etc., could have blown down around us and we would not have known it. Our greatest fear was that the house would fall on top of the entrance to the cellar (which I believe had been built as a bomb shelter in the 50s) and we would have to live off of Spam (this shelter was stocked with Spam and water) until someone could pick through the rubble and locate us.

I was not as lucky the time the sirens went off and we were in a house without a storm shelter. Nothing is quite as bonding as having five adults and four children crammed into an inner hallway bathroom while the sounds of a train are increasing your fears. As a child you wonder where the train is coming from, knowing you’ve never heard one this close to the house before. Then your fear increases as an older child, much more worldly in the ways of life, informs you the sounds you are hearing are indeed the sounds of your imminent death.

As a fresh-out-of-high-school-waiting-for-college-to-begin young person, you excitedly drive to your dream job – the no-longer-existing Opryland Theme Park. The skies are cloudy and that ugly greenish tint has tinged the clouds as you pull into the parking lot. You make your way through costuming, put your fear aside and your new outfit on to run as fast as your trembling legs will take you to find your supervisor and see to your day’s activities. When you finally meet said supervisor and she looks at you like you’ve lost your mind for attempting to work on a day when they are trying to find ways to close the park, you are told to remove yourself immediately and go home. “What? Are you kidding me? You want me to drive back home through this? Isn’t there a shelter, or a place underneath the park that we can all go to?” “No… go home now. Come back tomorrow.” So you make your way back through costuming, change your clothes again, and pray to the weather gods and the auto gods that your 72 Mustang will make it back home in one piece, preferably with you in it.

You would think that as you approach adulthood your fears would diminish. Not so much. You’ve selected your first apartment to be on the top floor of the complex because (a) you want the vaulted ceilings and (b) you are told as a single girl it is more difficult for the serial killer, who is certainly stalking you now, to get to you on the upper floor than the bottom floor. It is not impossible, but he’s going to really have to want to kill you to go to the trouble of scaling the outside of your building. He’ll get halfway up and decide you simply aren’t worth it and whack the chick with the yappy dog living on the bottom floor. You’ll mourn the girl… but are not distressed over the removal of said yappy dog.

During your second week in your new first home, the wind starts to kick up. The television goes to 24 hour news coverage of the impending catastrophe of the weather bearing down on you and the newscaster tells those in the Hermitage area to take cover. The Hermitage area!? Wait just a second… I’m in the Hermitage area! Crap! You begin to relive your days as Tornado Monitor and quickly open the sliding glass door. You don’t have a Dick & Jane book anymore and the weatherman has just told you to seek shelter under a piece of furniture. Your furniture consists only of a dining room table, a couch and a waterbed. There’s no getting under a waterbed, so you head for the couch.

You thought it was a great idea to purchase a couch with recliners built in to both ends. Your brothers cursed you as they hefted that monstrosity up a few flights of stairs to the top floor of the new apartment complex because it weighs only slightly less than a VW Bug. You cursed it during your first Night of Terror when you realized it was too heavy to turn over and crawl under. Why did I get the top floor apartment? These are the units that get swept away during inclement weather. Oh yeah, the serial killer. Well… bring on the Slasher! I’ve at least got a shot at outrunning that guy; I can’t outrun a tornado.

My last option was the dining room table, but I was told to get to an inner hallway. I live in a one-bedroom apartment! I don’t have an inner hallway! But I do have a three-foot semi-hallway that might work… except MY DINING ROOM TABLE IS TOO BIG! But I drag it as far as I can. Being the good Girl Scout that I was, and wanting to be prepared, I grab a can of beanie-weenies (I had no Spam), a flashlight and a bottle of water (because nothing says “prepare to die” like beanie weenies and Evian). Being the good Southern Baptist that I am, I grab my Bible and being scanning the concordance looking up the word “fear” and reading scripture out loud over the sounds of wind, rain and thunder. With the help of the Trinity, the beanie weenies and water, I survived the Night of Terror no worse for wear.

Then there was the time that I was housesitting for some friends who love animals way too much (they have a dog and three cats). They were vacationing in Hawaii while I was burrowed under a blanket in the bathtub inside an inner hallway while the city was rocked with no less than seven, count ‘em SEVEN tornados back-to-back. Did I get any sleep that night? No I did not. What time did the fun begin? About midnight. What time did it end? About 7:00 a.m. What time did the power go off? About 6:30 a.m. What time did I need to be at work? About 8:30 a.m. What happened to the animals? I don’t know… they didn’t want to seek shelter in the bathroom, so they were left to fend for themselves. Luckily for me, they apparently knew where the super-secret animal storm shelter existed, because they were hungrily staring at me when I finally emerged from the bathroom that morning with bags under my eyes.

There was the instance where I drug a bachelor’s bench into the hallway of my current residence under another tornado warning. I found a battery powered transistor radio that I kept by my side for the latest news that was the news, in case I lost power (the Girl Scout mentality having kicked in again) and some candles and matches. As a child, I measured my growth on that bench, becoming sooo excited the day that I could actually touch my head on one end and my feet on the other. I was still matching my size the night of the tornado by the fact that I had to ball myself up under the bench and it still only covered my torso. But again, my inner Tornado Monitor told me that a bench in the hallway would work better than a book or a blanket.

My greatest fear now, of course, is that I live just a few blocks from the train tracks that run through town. Tornados sound like trains barreling through the countryside. How am I supposed to tell the difference now between the mighty wind that will separate my life from this earth and the 7 o’clock northbound freight? Can’t we get the tornados to sound like something else? Couldn’t we have the music that precluded the appearance of the Wicked Witch of the West flow through about three or four minutes before impact? I really don’t think I’m asking for too much here.

My fear, it seems, continues to grow… just as we hit the new season of tornadic activity here in the midsouth. Only if I’m lucky will I get to meet Jim Cantore in the midst of my fear.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Are We There Yet? A Single Woman’s Guide to Parenting

Having lived my entire adult life without the constraints and restraints of marriage or, thankfully, parenting, I recently found myself knee-deep in that world without having given birth.

My great disclaimer: I love my nieces and nephew. All three nieces and one nephew have intertwined themselves so deeply into my heart; they will never be free from me. Much to their dismay, I am certain. And yet, as much as I love them without condition, this semi-parental time has yet again reminded me that there are those who simply need not reproduce. I am one of those people.

My brother and his wife jetted off to a far away land (Israel) for what I am sure was an absolute trip of a lifetime. I was asked to stay with his children. Before he left, I made my brother sign over a power of attorney so that I would be able to step in and take over should an emergency occur. Towards the end of my parenting tenure, I became certain that should an Al-Quada terrorist abscond with my brother and his wife, all George W would need to do to locate Osama, would be to send me to the Pit. I would rather take on Osama than take on the full-time parenting responsibilities of a 17, 16 and 10 year old any day.

Having a great foundational network of helpers is essential to regular parenting… even more so for the “I-don’t-have-a-husband-to-help-me” single girl who finds herself in the throes of parental responsibility overnight. Grandparents fill that foundation nicely. Throw some money at them and they will cook for you each night, ensuring the tykes will have a well-balanced meal and will not live off of McDonald’s or Fruit Loops for the entire length of your stay. Grandparents are generally retired anyway, so they will also constantly call the children and wear them out, giving you a break from what has been the constant phoning of yourself over the years. Try to catch the eye of the child being tortured at the time and remind them that Nana and Granddaddy are just old people with nothing better to do… and they will take it all in stride.

Having one of the children with a car is a big help too! She can typically fend for herself and help the hauling of the other non-driving children to places of interest and responsibility. Of course, she cannot remember that she needs to fill up her car with gas, and will use that to perhaps get you to call in to her school to explain her tardiness.

Having a 16 year old who makes you laugh until you want to throw up is always fun. Some people just live life to the fullest… and the 16 year old certainly does that! There is always a joke, a snippet, and a story that will leave you shaking your head specifically when she turns into a ravenous eating machine that cannot be controlled. There are not enough Fruit Loops in the world to satisfy her hunger… and the fact that she is skinny as a rail will simply make you want to smack her in the head!

The 10 year old boy is undoubtedly outnumbered and believes himself to be at LEAST 16. But alas, as he still crawls into bed with the 16 year old when he is scared, you are reminded of his tenderness. He will attempt to explain how he made that bad grade and his argument (weak, at best) will be delivered with great passion. He’s the sneaky one of the bunch and will do his best to talk you into renting an R-rated movie. You easily see through his wily ways. At 10, he simply is no match for you.

You must realize that you are still dealing with kids and not throw them into the adult mentality that you are so accustomed to. This will help in dealing with the consequences of being locked out of the home with no way to get back in. Of course, the oldest child has a key… on her key ring… at her new job… on the other side of town. In an effort to teach a lesson, you subject the 16 and 10 year old to spending the entire evening with Nana and Granddaddy, arguing over who gets to be on the computer, or what channel they are going to watch. You patiently wait for the 17 year old to come home and hand over her key and take the now fighting 16 and 10 year old home… it being well past the 10 year old’s bedtime.

On the drive over the 10 year old calls the 16 year old an imbecile. It is thrown back at the 10 year old from the back seat and she is challenged to spell the word. Her first letter is wrong, and you simply shake your head. The 10 year old also attempts to spell the word, and does so incorrectly. Now the real fun begins as the incorrect spelling of a word is debated until you have had ENOUGH and calmly allow that neither child can spell, and you’d really rather they didn’t make another sound until you are at home. They know better than to continue the argument.

You spend the latter part of the Sabbath with the children cleaning the house, it being just a few days before Mom and Dad return. You agree to do the laundry, if they will just bring it to you. BIG MISTAKE single woman! As a single girl, you know that as long as you have clean underwear, you are good to go! As a college student, you learned the importance of buying cheap underwear just so you didn’t have to do laundry more than once a week. You used the same bath towel for a week… hanging it up to dry each day. There has never been… in your single adult life… a reason to do laundry for six hours straight. Ever.

You cannot imagine where all the clothing came from. You have to pause mid-day in order to purchase more detergent. You are still washing, still drying, still folding until the dark hours of the night. You are amazed… you are grateful for your singleness.