The Hostage Situation


As we drove, I hit my head against the window, over and over. My brother had a white rat that used to do the same thing, trying to escape from its cage. Sometimes it worked and the lid fell off, leaving the rat to its own devices. It hid out in the laundry basket or my underwear drawer; neither are great places to be surprised by a rat.

Much like the rat, I wished to escape.

I fought the overwhelming feeling that I made a big mistake. It was the kind of realization that turned my stomach and brought a little bile into my throat. Somehow, I voluntarily entered into a hostage situation, expected to last through the weekend. I wasn’t sure I had the strength or endurance to withstand the challenge.

A whiny voice droned from the backseat, stopping only long enough to breath. It was Stinkbug, our hostage taker, extolling her great knowledge of the animal and reptile world that included facts and fiction. “Um…’scuse me. Do you know how to tell if a snake is poisonous? I do…”

She made demands, unreasonable and cruel demands such as, “Look at what I did.” When I turned around, I discovered that she had shredded up a box of tissues and scattered them over the backseat.

“Isn’t it pretty?” she asked.

She demanded other things like, “Hold this.”

I put my hand out, only to receive a handful of dirty Floam that she had picked from the soles of her sneakers.

When I threw it out the window, she screamed. “That’s littering!”

She also provided helpful observations of the passing world like, “It’s dark” and “it smells” and “we’re not in the city, yet.”

After passing two grueling hours in this way, one might think that the child would be tired or sleeping. Instead, she drew energy from the air like an aerophyte. She only needed chocolate milk, constant attention and cartoons to thrive. Recently, she had two of the three requirements and was going strong.

Did she go to sleep when we arrived home, several hours past her bedtime? No, she had compiled a mental list of things that she needed to accomplish before she would even consider sleep.

For a five year old, this was quite impressive.

She needed to turn on all of the lights, find each of the cats for a conversation, get a glass of water, watch a show, check for chocolate milk in the fridge, line up the nine dolls that she snuck into her overnight bag, read a book and tuck us into bed so she could creep through the house unsupervised.

It was a losing battle of the wills, especially since sleep was not necessary for Stinkbug.

Eventually, she fell asleep with her eyes wide open, reflecting the light and truth about her real nature.

The next day, she appeared in front of my face at 5:30AM, arriving as noiselessly as a lion creeping up on its prey.

She poked my face and whispered, “Hey, want to watch cartoons?”

Surprising no one, my answer was, “No, but maybe your uncle wants to watch cartoons.”

Hours later, when normal people are awake, we took her out for donuts and chocolate milk, and then to the zoo, like any other clueless childless couple watching their niece might do.

Penguins, boring. Giraffes, boring. Cheetas, boring. Seals, boring.

Ants crawling through the sand at the bottom of a cage, amazing enough to sit down to watch and refuse to leave.

For lunch, we went to a nearby restaurant where we can never return in the future.

Poor Stinkbug rehydrated on chocolate milk, as expected for a fairy child, and then projectile vomited it with the few bites of mac-n-cheese across the restaurant floor.  Great puddles of chocolate milk and noodle fragments came together to create a brown river, leading directly from our table to the bathroom.  It was lined with angry servers and experienced parents, asking, “Where is her mother?”

And that was it, it was time for Stinkbug to go home.

Let us build up more of a tolerance to a lack of sleep, constant chattering and questions, impulsive behavior, and bodily fluids before we do this again.

That should be in about five more years when our sights are set on the Children’s Museum.

Small Victories

After taking the zillionth call of the day, I knew that my limit was reached.  A red light flashed on my phone, indicating that a voicemail was waiting with more questions and requests but there was nothing left for me to give.  I simply closed my laptop and headed towards the door for a walk.  The receptionist saw me leave and shouted, “Wait, I’ve got a caller on the other line looking for you.” 

I took a lesson from my clients and proceeded outside, pretending that I never heard her plea.   

At first, I walked hard and fast.  The sun was hot and I wore a long sleeve shirt, which was not great planning on my part.  Beads of sweat started to form on my forehead and I slowed down.  I focused on my breathing, like my husband/stress guru advised this morning.  I felt better about life and could think again.  The stress wasn’t controlling me.

I rounded the corner and headed back towards the building through the parking lot when I was spotted by Ms. E, the mistress of custodial services for the ladies restroom.  She was dressed in an all purple outfit and was holding a bucket of cleaning supplies. 

Ms. E called out, “Baby, why you walking when you have a car?”

I told her that I was having a stressful day and had to get out of the office, thinking this explanation to be justified and straight forward.   

Ms. E nodded her head in a knowing (or pre-Parkinson’s) way, “Baby, there ain’t nothing worth stressing over.  It’s like this, either you have the money for the bills or you don’t.   If you have the money, pay the bills.  If you don’t, then you don’t pay the bills.  It’s simple, see.  Don’t make it harder than it needs to be, Baby.”

Well, yes, that does make sense, I thought and nodded to let her know I was listening.  I yearned to look at my watch, sensing that my absence was soon to be noticed.  The sun beat down on my head and shoulders.  Beads of sweat now started to roll down the sides of my face and neck.

She continued, “See, there’s a difference between thinking and stressing.  I thinks about my bills all the time but I don’t let it get me upset, like you are now.”

Ms. E called me out in a parking-lot-style intervention.  She forced me to realize, while sweating and missing in action from my cube, that there really wasn’t anything to stress over.  If I can take action, do it.  If there’s nothing to do or I don’t have the right tools or abilities, then that’s it.   Nothing more and nothing less but no need for stress.  

I am grateful to this strange cleaning angel in purple for helping me to put this Tuesday into perspective.  

I told her so as I walked away and she yelled after me, “Looks like you were meant to run into me.  Be good, Baby.”

She disappeared behind me as I scurried up the back stairs and slipped back into my cube without a stress in the world.   Then the phone rang and it started all over again.