Category Archives: Non-fiction

The Price of Yarn

I was tempted to begin this story with something trite like: “Today started like any other…” That would be accurate, in that I awakened in my bed. Or, I could go with: “When I awoke, I discovered I was still human.” I think that would be a true statement, if bland and unhelpful.

Today was a lesson in exceptions, and recently that feels like the rule. There we go. There’s an opening sentence. I’m enjoying one of those exceptions right now, as a matter of fact, as the first thousand words of this were written while my children and husband were still awake and inhabiting the same house as me. One of the miracles I’m choosing to tally.

First, let’s set the scene.

The Cat Situation

Let’s rewind to last weekend when I was up late working on revisions to ‘Onyx:05.’ Our three cats were supervising my late-night efforts, in their way. Namely, the two younger cats were napping with their heads angled toward me and the eldest cat was weaving restless circles around my lap, face, keyboard and nearby furniture. He slipped, causing a deafening ruckus. All three cats scrambled out of the room in terror, ending in a high-pitched squabble downstairs.

An hour later, that squabble refreshed itself, escalating into a full-fledged three-way cat fight. I separated them into different rooms for the night, hoping all would mend itself in the morning. It didn’t and hasn’t. My husband and I have been learning as quickly as we can this week about how to handle fear-based feline aggression, which is, apparently, a thing. The end result, it seems, is that we have to separate our cats and re-introduce them after about a week, as if introducing a new cat to the house.

We removed the smallest cat, Arya, to our basement. Don’t worry, it’s a finished basement with plenty of room, light and feline comforts. Her biggest hardship through this last week was loneliness. Through painful trial and error, we identified that the issue was between her and our eldest cat, Caspian. Of the two, our five-pound street-rescued Arya is decidedly the one most likely to turn a squabble into a brawl. She’s gentle with the children, and after two years living with us she became fiercely affectionate toward me, but underneath it all, there’s still the kitten who survived on city streets for six months before walking through our kitchen door one cold night with the tip of her right ear chewed off and a sassy little attitude to compliment her sweet little face.

Legolas, our largest cat, seemed to be playing the role of moderator between Arya and Caspian, inserting himself, to protect Caspian, into the high-speed kitty hurricanes that erupted amidst the hisses and screams. Legolas would stay after Caspian escaped, staring Arya down until her anger subsided. I’m sure that if I wasn’t so emotionally invested, this would have been fascinating insight into inter-cat dynamics. At the time, I was just grateful to Legolas. He was able to coexist upstairs as well as in the basement, and we shifted him around to help ease the loneliness of our separated cats while we were at work or sleeping.

Unfortunately, Legolas and Arya discovered the boarded-up dog door left by the previous owners of this house and escaped cats became a new concern. We tried reintroduction prematurely and inadvertently added a layer of drama to the mix. Caspian stood hissing in fear at Arya, who was silent but exuded “I’m stalking you and about to attack” in her body language. Caspian ran, Legolas followed, and I heard yelling upstairs, presumably from Caspian. We now have a situation where Caspian is afraid of both of the other cats. Arya’s reaction is to attack, whereas Legolas, being the largest of the three cats and pretty secure with himself, just stares down whoever is hissing, howling, growling or screaming at him until they stop.

Keeping the Kiddo Breathing and Hearing

Our youngest has been struggling with either ear infections or upper respiratory infections for the last couple of years, which translates to most of his life. Only months ago now, during the summer, we were debating ear tubes to help him hear and worrying that his speech delay was the beginning of lifelong challenges speaking.

Running through last due diligence options before pulling the trigger on surgery, we were encouraged to add probiotics and remove dairy and wheat from his diet, to give his little body a better chance at fighting things off on its own. The effect was immediate and remarkable. We were able to move forward without surgery, he began speaking, and every word we hear him say clearly still feels like a triumph. That said, though, the moment he starts getting congested, we know we’re in for either breathing treatments or another ear infection within a day or two.

The Yarn Situation

The project began on a whim, showing my inquisitive kindergartner how crocheting works by making a scarf. A hat followed, and both boys wanted to model it during the construction process. It was sized to my eldest, so I knew I’d need to recreate it, quickly, in dimensions to fit my youngest. And, naturally, the navy-blue yarn ran out.

I had picked up the last skein of it at my go-to craft store during the week and doubted they’d have restocked it yet, so decided I’d need to visit another craft store nestled in a happening new shopping center that I typically avoid due to the amount of traffic and enthusiastic consumerism that goes on in that area. Just the thought of it was exhausting. For my kids though, I’d brave it.

The Mamavan

I don’t think anyone who knows me would assume I drive a minivan. I probably give out more of the “I drive a high fuel-efficiency sedan or hybrid while sipping my tea from an eco-friendly cup” vibe than anything. Maybe I’ll get there someday. For now, I do drive a minivan, with doors that often fail to latch and a good long history of battery troubles. Having replaced the battery recently, I’ve become lax in my habit of backing down our driveway nose out (so it’s easier to get jumper cables attached). No, I’ve been gliding down our driveway nose first like there’s no automotive care in the world.

And Here Comes Saturday

My day started, in a way, at 12:30am. I heard my little one coughing and crying and went to check on him. He was mostly asleep but barking like a seal through his tears. It was heart-breaking. I brought him to my room promising solutions. I drifted downstairs in my sleep-groggy fog and explained the situation to my husband, who was still up watching television. I gathered the nebulizer and medicine and brought it all upstairs. Forgot the mask. Went searching for the mask and finally found it in the kitchen behind a cereal box. It needed washing.

Upstairs again with a washed and dried mask, I fired up the nebulizer and watched my little guy drift off to sleep with confidence that he’d be able to breathe freely again soon. At the conclusion of the medicine, I turned it off, removed the mask and let him continue in whatever dreams had him invested. I found sleep shortly after that. I awoke a few times to check on his progress through the early hours of morning, and we both watched the sunrise illuminate pink dotted clouds on an early morning sky. It’s hard to say when we were awake officially. At some point when clouds were peach and the sky was a light turquoise, it was time to begin our Saturday.

I set the kids up with cartoons and went to the basement to check on Arya and Legolas. After giving it some thought and running the idea by my husband, I let those two upstairs and carried Caspian down to the basement instead. A change in litter box, food and water bowls completed the reversal and I came up to worry about feeding my children and the other cats.

The morning progressed. I planned things, cooked things and got the crocheted scarf as far as I could take it without the navy-blue yarn. A Saturday adventure was discussed for me and the kids. I wrangled clothes onto the children. Loaded them into the car. Turned the key. Heard a click. Not a problem, we’d been through this before. A door must not have closed properly, thereby draining the battery. I sent my eldest inside to rouse up my husband with tales of a dead battery.

The kids watched nervously from our front step as my husband’s truck pulled me and my Mamavan up the driveway to the road. We let them hop in and strap into their car seats while we hooked up jumper cables and charged up the battery, which was suspiciously giving enough energy for all of the power doors and windows to work. After a few minutes I hopped in, and ‘click.’

I won’t draw through every agonizing detail. My husband arranged for a tow truck and a repair shop. The Mamavan’s starter was under suspicion. My children watched the tow truck load our van with awe and hesitant expressions of loss then went inside to play.

I still needed that navy-blue yarn.

Now, a reasonable adult might write off the yarn and decide to do home-bound activities with the kids. Half an hour later, I was rumbling down the road in my husband’s truck, kids gleeful at having a ride in “Papa’s truck” in the back seat. They informed me Papa has the best music. I informed them he just plays the radio. The radio was requested.

It was midday and, radio blaring through surprisingly heavy traffic, I made the decision that I’d treat them to lunch in one of the eating establishments near the craft supply store. They begged for pizza. Knowing what you do now of my youngest’s diet, you might think, “that’s essentially wheat and dairy personified. Surely, you said no.” Oh, but there is this pizza place in that shopping center that caters to customer preferences, including wheat and dairy free. You sidle along a conveyor line of sorts, designing the exact pizza you want. It was a seemingly perfect solution.

We walked in and waited in line. I ordered a gluten free pesto pizza when it was our turn. No, nothing else, just crust and pesto please. Edgy music thumped through our bones while people stood contemplating toppings. I couldn’t hear myself think. I have suspicions as to the sobriety of the men working behind the counter because it took a while to locate the gluten free crusts. When they were located, it turned out there was a healthy stack of them being roundly ignored. I watched in confusion as a crust was finally thrown onto the spot for our order, then immediately smothered in tomato sauce and heaps of cheese.

When I spoke up, I was mortified to watch them pick up the food and chuck it in the waste can. That had been food. Clean, edible food. There had been no discussion of whether we’d be okay with eating what they had made. There was no setting it aside in case someone else might want it. They slapped down a new gluten free crust while the next family moved ahead of us with awkward glances at the mother with two small children who had something going on that was disrupting their flow on the conveyor line.

Now salty, the men squirted a few lines of pesto onto the newly supplied crust and tried to throw cheese on it, which I thwarted before they had a chance to waste more food. The line behind us was long and the music relentless. My children were hanging on whatever part of me they could reach and asking why it was taking so long. I grabbed a couple of juices and paid, remorseful now over telling them we were going to be eating in the restaurant. I just wanted to go.

We found a table and our sad little pizza was finished cooking within a few minutes. The kids were thrilled with it. “Green pizza” is their favorite. For my part, I thought it tasted like cardboard that was both bitter and suspiciously sweet, but I kept that to myself. Not that I would have had a chance to voice much of anything because my little one overturned his entire bottle of juice and I spent most of their eating time mopping up the mess so nobody walking by would slip.

Then I noticed I had missed a call from the car repair shop. I tried to listen to the message they had left, but it was hopeless hearing it above the music. I encouraged the kids to wrap their last slices in napkins so we could step outside. A request for a bathroom pitstop altered our plans, and once in the restroom I found myself juggling the half-eaten slices they handed to me. Recognizing this as a big boy moment, my youngest decided to embrace the pit stop and, before I could do anything beyond the juice bottles and pizza slices in my hands, he’d peeled off his diaper and was climbing up onto the toilet seat.

I’ll skip a few details here and leave you with the impression of all business handled and hands washed with soap, food and drinks preserved, and a not-fully-potty-trained toddler now exiting the restroom without a diaper. Yep, those are stored at the back of the Mamavan, not Papa’s truck.

We still needed to buy navy blue yarn.

Debating the wisdom of not driving home directly, I called the car repair shop and learned that the car had been received and the starter was, in fact, the culprit. Yes, please do the work.

Then, throwing caution to the wind, I decided to go for it.

We traversed parking lots back to Papa’s truck. Despite my insistence that this was going to be a quick operation, my youngest seemed to have slipped into an alternate reality where quicksand was pulling at his every step. Somehow, we finally made it into the craft supply store. We encountered a hundred items that were must-haves in the opinions of my small people, so a long string of negotiations allowed for the purchase of a little paint set and a ribbon of blue and gold sequin fabric. For my part, the yarn was the wrong shade of blue. I got it anyhow because it will look good in another project I’m planning.

Standing in line, examining walls full of impulse buys, the kids seized on a couple of lollipops with plastic cases that open at a switch. I caved. It kept them happy and we were so close to the registers. Any minute now. My youngest, displaying his growing prowess with language, opened his little lollipop case and proudly exclaimed, “fart!”

I stood there, being “that mom.” I could actually feel the mom-judgments wafting my way. For my part, I was more focused on how clearly he’d pronounced it. Can a deeply uncomfortable moment also be a proud one?

“Yes, good job honey,” I think I stammered.

Purchase finally accomplished and no accidents beyond a little loss of pride so far, I shuffled the now two quicksand-walking children through the parking lot and strapped them into their seats. By the time we got home, the little one was fast asleep. I carried him in, and my husband helped me research other possible sources for the now critically essential navy-blue cotton yarn.

Within a half hour, we got the call that the car was ready. We roused the youngest, put everyone’s shoes back on, and piled into Papa’s truck, this time with Papa at the wheel. Both boys opted to follow me on my next adventures when we arrived at the car repair shop, so the kids and I piled out and headed in.

“I like the way this place smells,” my eldest remarked when we stepped inside.

It smelled like tires. I wondered if it was a boy thing. Like somehow boys were instinctively wired to appreciate even the smells that have to do with cars. The thought passed when I had to pull my toddler away from dangling windshield wiper displays and say something acknowledging to the other one in response to how he was flashing his new blue and gold sequin ribbon around in a creative way for the benefit of everyone standing in line around us.

The man behind the counter probably couldn’t have said less words to me had he tried. He asked for my last name, which I gave. That was troublesome, apparently. He finally mentioned my husband’s first name, which I acknowledged, realizing they must have flipped his first and last. The man behind the counter didn’t find that to be anything worth smiling about or discussing. He indicated the credit card slot with a pointed finger, so I paid, trying not to let my hand tremble over the amount. At a certain point, I noticed my key on the counter. When he handed me a few papers and a receipt, I took that as our cue to leave.

At long last, across town in a fabric store, I found the navy-blue cotton yarn I needed. The kids talked me into a couple of small plushy toys, mainly because there was little resistance left in me after the week I’ve had, and partially because I agreed the toys were well chosen and will keep them happy for some time to come. We got to the counter and I realized my wallet was in the van.

One more adventurous dash across parking lots and waiting in another labyrinth of impulse buy items (which this time around got a firm “no”), I had finally purchased the navy-blue cotton yarn. I bought four skeins, just to be sure I have enough.

It feels good to be at the other end of today. As I finish this telling, I’m wrestling for keyboard space against Caspian’s back paw. We’re in the basement together. The rest of the house is asleep. The Mamavan is backed into the driveway, just in case. Three and a half skeins of navy-blue cotton yarn are sitting together upstairs, waiting for the next project. The hats and scarves are finished and look terrific. The boys are over the moon about their new plushies. One of the plushies is wrapped lovingly in a ribbon of blue and gold sequin fabric. The day ended like all could be called normal. I plan to try for a good night of sleep.

And if I find I need any more yarn tomorrow, I think I may just switch to writing. Crocheting is expensive.