The Anatomy of a Breakdown (Through the Eyes of Vodka)

Haikus written drunk
Lack insightfulness, wit, depth,
But who the hell cares.*

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Ahhh, vacation. A few days of sun and pollen-drenched blossoms. Restful sleep and a modest sunburn. All the ingredients required for a few days R&R.

And then you have the return drive. Nine plus hours up and down the mountains that criss cross I-75 through Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky on the way to my beloved Ohio.

We were 34 miles away from home – 34 MILES!! – when AB, the 5-year-old, announced he could no longer hold it and we needed to stop. Since we couldn’t convince him to pee in a bottle (yes, I’m a horrible mother, this was a viable option for me… we were making fantastic time and I wanted to get home), we were forced to take the next exit, where we pulled into the Pilot Truck Stop. I like gas stations that service truckers. The bathrooms tend to be better than most, they have the widest variety of junk food, and the people watching exceeds all expectations.

So Frank and AB departed to the bathroom, while my girl and I sat in the car, enjoying the momentary silence and the air conditioning. Ohm. Then the boys returned, the car was put into reverse, and we began our departure.

Five feet later, the departure stopped. The car died. Died. As in dead. As in no-go-no-more. 34 MILES FROM HOME!  Below is my dissection of the event through the steps of emotional change I experienced. Kubler-Ross has her 5 stages of grief. I present to you my 7 stages of a breakdown…

1. Command and control. The car was dead in the water. Actually, it was dead in the middle of a high traffic area in the parking lot. The instant it was clear to me that there was no instant recovery, I jumped out, having acquired super human strength, and told Frank I would push while he steered. (Note: We were driving a Chevy Tahoe, not a Mini Cooper.) I waved off the people patiently waiting, blinker on, for our parking spot, and assumed my line-backer position behind the car. Heave ho, with a little help from Frank who assisted from the driver’s side, we pushed the car back into the parking spot. Alexander Haig’s famous line “I am in charge here” echoed in my head briefly.

2. The Adventure. This stage is marked by a sense of fun and a dash of gratitude. “At least it didn’t break down in the high-speed lane during rush hour!” I told the kids. This is something new – “we’ve never been in a situation like this” so let’s have some fun while we are at it. Adventure attempts to cover over the anxiety of other participants. I’ve employed this tactic on midnight ER visits with the kids with some success, so I readily reapplied it here. It is mildly successful.

3. Wary Problem Solving. This is where you realize things are no longer going your way. Of the few things your incredibly-smart-car-savvy-can-fix-anything-husband thinks have gone wrong, none of the easy ones are showing up. I start to participate in the problem solving, pushing the gas pedal just so, turning the ignition as instructed. Other car guys are stopping by to offer help and ideas, none of which fall in “the part is available in the truck stop and is easy to replace” category. I have started to count how many apples we have left and begin turning off cell phones to save battery life. The preparation has begun.

4. Taking Action. There we are, both Frank and I, on the phone trying to figure out how we are getting 4 people, a car load of crap and the car itself 34 MILES to our home. I’m calling American Express to find out if our gold car has any road side assistance features. He’s calling AAA re-upping our long expired membership so we can cheaply obtain a tow. The kids, who have begun to whine in earnest, have started to get nervous and fidgety… I decide to have a whining contest to give them a creative way to express themselves that doesn’t make me want to put them up for adoption. (This part was fun, actually. I gave each a scenario and they had to produce their best whine: “Moooooommmm, but I don’t want to brush my teeeeeeth”.  “Mooooommmmm, I don’t like to eat green beeeeeeannns.” They had a lot of fun.) Overall, this was progress, as we were making decisions, moving forward, no longer just waiting for a solution to stick.

5. The In Between. This was our darkest moment. Just like depression precedes acceptance in Kubler-Ross, we were in a dark place. The tow truck was going to be a while. The cab even longer (no room in the tow truck for us all).  I took the kids into the Subway restaurant in the Pilot Truck Stop to get them food that contained some semblance of nutrition, and they were like wet cats. At one point, I leaned over, demanded eye contact, and told them they had better stick with me or, well, I didn’t provide an alternative but rest assured they understood unpleasantness would ensue. I was incapable of communicating with the poor Subway clerk – I couldn’t make eye contact; I responded in single syllables; I took deep breaths before speaking; I was unable to make anything make sense. Words failed me and I found myself resorting to single syllables and doing nothing more than tell my children to sit down and be quiet (actually, I ejaculated the phrase “sit down now” so vehemently that they listened). It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t well. This was a bad place…

6. The Release. The cab arrived just as the tow truck was ready to depart. The driver was a delightful woman with children the same ages as mine. She took over – put the car seat in, put me at ease, got us on our way. We talked easily about kids and the news of the day. AB was a joyful, delightful boy intent on relaying his entire medical history during the commute. Salvation was upon us. The end was near. 34 MILES was traversed at last.

7. The Drinking. The bags are unpacked, mostly. The kids are in bed. I’m here, thoroughly enjoying my second Cosmo, replaying the day’s events for you, my delightful reader. I’m a little drunk, and more than a little resentful that I have a 8:30am conference call tomorrow (boo! hiss! what was I thinking!). We are all well; we even managed to pick the dog up in time (only 5 minutes after close) so that the whole family is now back together again.

That brings to a close our day returning from vacation. I provide these stages as a guideline should any of your find yourselves in such a situation. May this provide needed guidance and reassurance that you will, you WILL, arrive on the other side of such tragedies.

If not, here is my recipe for a good Cosmo: 2 parts (part=shot glass) vodka (I’m not picky, any brand will do, you are mixing it for crying out loud so pick the medium cheap brand); 1 part Triple Sec; 1 part cranberry juice; 1 part Rose’s lime juice. Mix all together; introduce an ice cube to cool it briefly; then poor into a drinking container without the ice. Snobs will tell you a martini glass is required. I use a wine glass because I am not a snob, but rather a cheap drunk. Enjoy.

 

*This is the best haiku I’ve ever written. This took 20 seconds to write. Viva la Cosmo!

It’s My Birthday!!

My birthday demons:
vanquished thanks to a Cosmo,
Cake and nice strangers.

“““““““““““““““““

Yesterday was my birthday. And it was a fabulous day. I don’t have a history of great birthdays.

Long time ago; with Kaye, Melody, Stephanie's sleeve... others?

As my parents are CPAs and my birthday falls in Tax Season, my birthday wasn’t always celebrated on the specific day. It was usually deferred (with my awareness and somewhat reluctant agreement) to a more convenient day. Growing up I can remember spending the actual day in several less-than-celebratory ways:

–          Working at my parents’ office. Nothing says happy birthday more than bookkeeping or data entry.

–          At a college class with my dad, who was getting his degree. In one memorable biology class they were experimenting with mice. I’ll leave out the details here lest any PETA people see this.

–          Watching the Brady Bunch and wishing I had MarciaMarciaMarcia’s hair.

As a result, many years ago I made the terribly mature proclamation to my husband that no matter what – come wind, rain, appendicitis or Armageddon – we would celebrate my birthday ON THE ACTUAL third of February. He has no issue and has obliged.  Birthdays have been better since then.

But this one was borderline great. It didn’t end in a zero or involve gifts or parties, so why was it so great? Here is what I did…

–          I told everyone it was my birthday. With arms spread wide, I boldly declared it and basked in the well wishes from people I knew as well as complete strangers. Two guys in the elevator at work thought I was a little mad, but they complied. In a meeting where half were visitors from another company I didn’t know, I found a birthday buddy – it was her birthday too.  The people at the hibachi grill sang to me with gusto.  Now I didn’t walk around shouting this or wearing the birthday crown like my kids do at school, but you’d be amazed at how easy it is to slip it into otherwise natural conversation topics.  Meeting introductions are a perfect way: “Hi, I’m Maureen and I work in HR. Been with the company 22 years and speaking of that, today’s my birthday.”  Or in chit chat: “Yes, it is Friday. I love Fridays. This is an especially good Friday because it is my birthday.” See, not awkward at all.

–          I shared my age when asked, 44, and left it at that. Usually I share this expecting someone to say “Surely not, NO! You couldn’t be that age! You look far too young!”  When you have that expectation and no one says such things, it can be a real downer. This time I had no such delusions. I officially look about my age. On a well rested day, I might get away with late 30’s/early 40’s, but Friday wasn’t a well rested day. Regardless, I’ve lived 44 years, I have a good life, and if you think I look older than that, I’m learning to be ok with it. (Don’t get me wrong, I slather 7 different potions on my face each day and really believe they make a difference. I’m not so much into embracing my age that I won’t impede its progress with hair color, good skin care and a decent bra.)

–          I left work early to surprise my daughter by picking her up from school (my son was already home). My company allows really great flexibility – and since I had put in a 12 hour workday the day before, I had no qualms about leaving at 3:15. Seeing my daughter’s face when she was expecting a black car and not my red one was a treasure.  When I got home, the weather was such that I all played outside for over an hour with both kids, something else I rarely get to do during the week. Glorious.

–          We ate cake first. Since it was a date night, I wanted to be sure I celebrated at some point with my kids. So at 5:30 the Bonbonerie Opera Cream Torte came out of the fridge, a candle was lit, the kids sang to me and I read my cards. Then we ate. Nothing like cake before dinner to make any day special.

–          My birthday dinner was kid-less. I know I just spent several lines talking about how much I like my kids, but my birthday dinners with them, I have learned, historically suck.  Dinner with small/medium kids are “squat and gobble” meals.  You eat fast, don’t really know what you’re eating and at the end are shocked at how much it costs since you barely tasted anything. Either that or you park your kid with your smart phone playing Angry Birds while you finish your meal, hoping the people at the next table won’t think you are a horrible parent and report you to some kid-snatching state agency. Neither are appetizing.  This time we left the kids with our well trusted babysitter and the two of us went to a new Japanese Hibachi restaurant and shared a meal with strangers. It was delightful! The younger couple next to me were soon to vacation in London and thusly had to endure a list of recommendations from us (we lived there for 3 years). The older couple next to Frank had grown kids who had gone to the same school our kids attend (and have also lived in London) – more story swapping. She was also a writer who hadn’t yet embraced the web and gave me her card and asked me to get in touch about writing blogs. We all had too many things in common for it to be mere chance. It was just great birthday karma.

–          I had two Cosmo martinis at dinner. I don’t drink often, but I enjoy its effects when I do. That’s all I really need to say about that.

–          Facebook. Why? Because people I haven’t seen in 25 years take the time to wish me happy birthday. I know people don’t really remember my birthday, they just see the reminder, but there is something fun about seeing a few dozen birthday wishes from the people you call friends, regardless the tightness of the relationship.  Add to that that this posting might result in even more people I don’t know commenting with “happy birthday”, well, I’m back to my first point – bring on the well wishes!

So that’s my recipe for a great birthday. I’m ever so hopeful I remember this come next year. It will be a Sunday thanks to leap year – hey, I just realized, it will be Super Bowl Sunday!  Maybe I’ll have a Super Mo Sunday party!  You will all be invited.

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