Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesday - Adventures in a Taxi

Today, I bit the bullet and went sightseeing in the city. And I was successful, mostly. Did I see everything I wanted to see? No. Did I see anything I wanted to see? Actually, no. But I made it back to my hotel room in one piece and saw one thing I had hoped to see at some point, so I count it a success. Mostly.

I left my hotel room at about 9:30 and went down to the front desk to get some advice on how to get somewhere interesting. The woman couldn't give me a bus schedule or anything like that, but said that the Curve,which is the mall our hotel is connected to, runs a shuttle bus that stops at a bunch of hotels and comes back to the Curve. She gave me the schedule for that, but the hotel stops don't have locations or anything to let me know what is interesting to do near that hotel. She also told me that the mall across the street has a shuttle that makes a stop at a light rail station, which, presumably, I could take into the city.

That sounded more my style, so I was given instructions to take the elevator upstairs and cross the skybridge, and then go downstairs to catch the shuttle. I got to the elevator, hit the button for the second floor, and then wandered around offices until I found someone to ask where the skybridge was. "Go down to the first floor," was the answer. I realized I made a fairly obvious mistake - I started on the ground floor, and should have gone to floor 1, but went to the second floor instead. I knew it was numbered funny like that, but I totally forgot.

I got back on the horse and went to the first floor, found the skybridge, which was closed. Closed. The whole bridge was closed. That's when I remembered the second piece of information that would have come in handy earlier. The malls here don't open until 10 a.m., along with most of the restaurants. Even the Starbucks doesn't open until 9, which I just find to be so bizarre. What do people do for breakfast here? Cook? And can they be trusted to make their own coffee?

It was 9:45, so I figured the skybridge would open when the mall did, at 10, but I didn't want to go back up to my hotel room, so I ended up at the only open place with an English menu, Starbucks. I got an apple juice and a croissant and held a fussy Darcey while I ate, slowly, so that time would pass. 10:00 finally came and I headed back up the elevator, across the skybridge, and down again, only to find out that the shuttle had left at 10:00, so I missed it by like 3 minutes. The next shuttle wasn't until 11:30.

Defeated, I wandered around the mall while I decided what to do next. This mall has a grocery store, too, but this one seems a little more geared towards tourists and not locals, so I could find a jar of peanut butter and a box of oatmeal, since there is just so much eating out we can handle. (I'm not saying I've reached my limit, but it's helpful to have some regular food on hand.) I decided that Darcey, who had been fussing ever since we left, needed to go back to the room so I could feed her and regroup.

So we ended up back in the room, and I perused the KL guide book for what I was going to do. Poor Ryan ended up not coming back to the hotel until 8 pm last night, and it's looking like he won't get to do much sightseeing during the week. I wanted to pick things to see that Ryan won't care about seeing, and save the really cool stuff for the weekend so we can do it together. I chose the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden at the Lake Garden area. The Lake Garden actually has several interesting sights, including a Bird Museum and some other stuff, so I thought this was a good place to start and I could explore as long as we could handle it.

Back down at the front desk, I ask the woman working there if she could call me a taxi. I've never called a taxi, or been the sole adult in a taxi before, so this was a new experience. A couple of minutes later I was ushered into a waiting cab, the stroller folded into the trunk, and I put Darcey in her car seat into the back and slid in next to her. The driver pulled away while I was still buckling my seat belt. I reached over to buckle Darcey's car seat, and discovered that there were no more seat belts in the car. How is it possible that a country can be so relaxed about personal safety that they don't even have seat belts, when my country is so strict that my 6 year old is still in a booster seat? It can't be because they drive so slowly and safely here that seat belts are just unnecessary. It was too late to switch seats with Darcey to give her the seat belt, so I held on to her for dear life.

I told our driver that I wanted to go to the Lake Gardens and he said, "Oh, the Eye on Malaysia?" I had forgotten about this, it's a giant Ferris wheel type of thing, similar to the Millenium Eye in London but smaller. I hadn't known it was located at the Lake Gardens, and I couldn't decide if I was going to do it by myself or wait for Ryan to join me and just do the orchids instead. My driver's name was Zul, and I had to fight the impulse to tell him that I am the Keymaster and Darcey is the Gatekeeper. It's hard enough to communicate normal thoughts with the language barrier, let alone obscure quotes from Ghostbusters.

After about a 25 minute drive, he pulled up in front of the Eye and let us out. I was tempted to ask him to drive us around to the orchids, but I figured, I'm here, I may as well do this now, so I bid goodbye to Zul and bought a RM15 ticket for the Eye just as it started to rain. We went around the loop 4 times in the Eye. I took pictures as fast as I could the first time around, and then just sat and enjoyed the view the rest of the time, trying really hard not to think about how far up we are and are the mechanics who built this thing the same ones who couldn't manage to install seat belts in the back seat of my cab? I got out and the rain was really coming down now, so I put a blanket on Darcey and got out the umbrella. We passed a bride and groom who were here to take wedding photos, but were now under the canopy of the Eye's ticket counter, waiting for the rain to pass.

I took a couple of pictures of the Eye itself, and then made my way over to an information booth to ask where the orchid garden is and how to get there. In my tour book it says that the Lake Gardens has a shuttle that goes around the park. The woman looks confused and tells me that I could either take a taxi to the orchids or take the hop on hop off bus. Really? I didn't realize the gardens were so big. There's no shuttle? I ask if she'd be able to call a taxi for me if that's what I wanted to do and she said no, so it looked like my only option was the tour bus. I asked for the brochure that has all of the stops, and wouldn't you know, I was at the wrong lake. There's only two lakes in KL and that darn Zul took me to the wrong one. The one with the Eye and pretty much nothing else to do, not the one with the gardens and the national monument and the historic buildings and all sorts of stuff. If I was reading the map correctly, I think he also took me to the lake that was the farthest away from our hotel as well. That darn Zul.

Fortunately, the bus pulled up right then, so I hopped on the bottom level of the double decker bus and settled the stroller next to me. The bus was kind of pricey at RM38, about $13. At this point, I was re-evaluating the plan. I had no way to call a taxi, only a vague idea of where I was, and even less of an idea of where my hotel was. I'd say I was lost, except I was on a bus and every so often we'd stop and I'd know exactly our location for that minute. I just didn't know how to get home from where I was. But not to worry. One of the stops on the bus was KL Sentral, the largest train and bus station. I figured that should be my ultimate destination, because from there surely someone would be able to tell me which bus to take to get back to my hotel.

But in the meantime, I decided to make a stop along the way, and take advantage of the hop-off privileges. This is a very multi-cultural city, especially in the sense of religious diversity, and I decided to get off at stop 9B, to see the Hindu temple of Sri Mahamariamman. When I was done there, I'd head over to stop 11 for the bus station. Sounded good to me.

Unfortunately, there was a ton of traffic. As Zul informed me earlier, there are about 3.8 million people in the city during the day, and when it rains, like it was currently, more people drive than normal. I really wanted to read the maps and other touristy information that was available on the bus, but I started to get carsick, especially since I was on the bottom of the bus and it was a lot of stopping and going. I ended up with a distraction, in the form of the 19-year-old young woman who worked on the bus and made the stop announcements. She took one look at Darcey and could not get enough of her. Darcey was continuing her new tradition of being fussy the entire day, so I picked her up out of the stroller and held her on my lap. The young woman kept oohing and ahhing and touching her hands and feet and asking questions about her. Finally she got up the nerve to ask if she could hold Darcey, and I said yes. it was like handing her a present. She laughed and cooed and played with Darcey's feet and kissed her cheeks, she was going nuts. But she was super nice, we had a nice conversation, probably the best I've had with any of the locals so far, and every time we got near a stop, she'd hand Darcey back to me and run off to make the announcement, and then come back and hold her again.

She eventually had to get off, and a new employee got on. The driver came back to where I was sitting and punched my ticket, and then left me alone down there, in the bowels of the bus. I was bored by this time, and my head was starting to hurt, so I was thinking about ditching the sightseeing and just head home - it would be easier, and since I didn't know exactly how I was going to get home, there would still be some amount of adventure involved. But no, I decided, since I was going to be sitting in this bus for well over an hour, I might as well get some actual tourism out of it. I packed up my stuff and got ready to hop off at stop 9B.

But at stop 9B, the back door didn't open. It didn't open. And I wanted to get off, but I was stuck down there, alone, and the doors weren't opening for me. I had my backpack, Darcey in her car seat, and the stroller to carry the seat, and the only way to get out if the back doors didn't open was to haul all of that stuff up the stairs to the top level of the bus, and then down the stairs again to the front door. That was simply not going to happen without some serious preparation, and I could tell my time was running out. The average stop was maybe 30 seconds, and that's only if someone is waiting to get on.

So naturally, in keeping with the "how stupid can I possibly look" theme, I started yelling "Can you open the door please? I want to get off!" I banged on the door with my fist, and tried to pull it open. I yelled again, "Hey, I want to get off at this stop!" I poked my head up the stairs, and there was some tourist sitting there at the top of the stairs, but I couldn't see a driver or anyone official to open the door for me. And then it was over - the bus pulled away and left the temple of Sri Mahi-Mahi behind, and took me with it.

I now knew that if I was ever going to get off this bus, I would need a plan. I only had one more stop to get ready before my stop was here, so I buckled Darcey back in her car seat, disconnected it from the stroller, which I then folded up. I put my backpack on and grabbed all of my stuff, and when we got to stop 11, I was ready. I hauled Darcey to the top of the stairs, then dragged the stroller up behind me, and waited there for the front door to open. A couple was sitting at the top of the bus and asked if I needed any help, but I said no, I'd be okay. I had the feeling that they heard my desperate pleas for help earlier, and I wanted them to know that I was, in fact, capable of getting off a bus when I want to.

It took some wrangling, but I did get all of my belongings off the bus at stop 11, and I headed into the train station. Taking my cue from the Amazing Race, I thought I'd ask someone to help me figure out which line to take to get back to my hotel. I saw a sign for Tourist Information, and thought "Bingo!" but when I got to the office, it was dark. And then on second glance, not only was it dark, but it was cleared out of any furniture, it was just an empty room. Quite unhelpful. So I went over to a ticket counter and asked what did I need to do to get home from here. The man, who was really selling long distance train tickets, like to Singapore, told me that my best bet was to take a taxi back home, and pointed out where the pre-paid taxi counter was.

I got in the second taxi of the day and realized that this taxi had even fewer seat belts than the last one. The traffic was light, and he was able to get going pretty fast. I was debating whether fast drivers were more dangerous than the slow, darting in and out of traffic drivers and thought I'd see how fast he was going. Well, according to the speedometer, which I wouldn't take as the last word on the matter, the driver was going zero. That's right, no seat belts and a broken speedometer. I checked the rest of the gauges, and was hoping the gas gauge was also broken, because otherwise we were running on empty.

Luckily, Zul Jr. did know where my hotel was, and was able to get me home in one piece. I came upstairs to my room and my relief at having made it through the afternoon and home again was palpable. I wasn't ever scared, just concerned, about making it home. I knew I could figure it out eventually, with some luck and enough money and the kindness of strangers. And tomorrow I'll be back in the saddle again. Zul told me about a craft market that is having a show tomorrow that I want to go see. But I might find a different taxi driver this time.

Kuala Lumpur, Sunday

If you know anyone that's getting a little too big for their britches, just send them to a foreign country - it'll deflate their ego pretty quickly. I've never felt so stupid in my entire life. And I'm not a big fan of feeling stupid.

The airport ion Taiwan was easy enough to handle. All of the signs were in English, it was easy enough to figure out where our connecting flight was. (Which didn't stop us from going to the wrong terminal, but that was our own fault, not Taiwan's.) Ryan was all but convinced that there were no drinking fountains in the whole place, until he discovered a large rectangular box that dispenses water into little paper envelopes. That was more amusingly quirky than troublesome, though.

I ran into my first hang up when I wanted to buy some food. I had looked up the currency conversion between Malaysian Ringgets and US dollars (.29 RM to $1) but I didn't have any idea what currency Taiwan uses and what that means in real money. So I took the chicken's way out - I paid with a credit card for my 250-something ham and cheese croissant and cup of orange juice that had never seen an orange in it's life. I think it must have been Tang.

And what's the deal with no ice cubes? Is is that much hotter in these countries that it just isn't feasible to keep ice frozen? Are the natives so tough that they prove their prowess over lazy Americans by taking their water warm, shaken, not stirred? Or have they not discovered the joy of drinking a freezing cold glass of ice water when you are thirsty? My Tang and the water served on the airplane was room temperature, and the water dispenser box had options for "hot" "lukewarm" and "cold." Ryan said that, believe it or not, the water he poured for me was "cold." We decided that the cold and lukewarm options must come from the same hose, they just label one "cold" to make Americans feel more comfortable. As if drinking water from an envelope already had us kicking off our shoes and putting our feet up. All we needed now was to watch some sports match on tv and drink our "cold" water.

So, back to feeling stupid. I knew going into this trip that I would be out of my element and would have to wing it until I understood how the place works. I am okay with that, trying to be adventurous. I keep repeating the mantra my mom gave me - If Mirna and Schmirna can do it, you can too. (For those of you who prefer real reality to reality tv, Mirna and Schmirna were a team on The Amazing Race. We sometimes refer to them as Whiny and Schminey.) But you know, on the Amazing Race, they don't show you the kinds of things that have been tripping us up so far.

For example, I think we'd still be in the elevator, pushing the #6 button, wondering why in the world the button didn't work, if another man hadn't gotten in at the same time and put his key card into the slot in the control panel and *then* pushed the floor button. Ah ha!

Once we got into the room, though, it was no better. Somehow, only one light in the hallway worked, and nothing else - not the lamps, not the A/C, not the tv. We tried the plugs, the light bulbs, nothing worked. Ryan called housekeeping and they said they would send someone up, but after 10 minutes of sitting in the dark, he went down to the front desk to ask. When he came back up, he stuck his key card in a slot in the wall, which turns on the power to the room. I love technology as mush as the next guy, but honestly, isn't this a bit too much? And is this so common place that it is just understood that cards are needed just to keep the lights on?

After sleeping like the dead for about 14 hours, we got up this morning and tried to call the kids. Par for the course, we couldn't get the phone to work, either. Everything I tried to dial kept saying, "That number is not authorized." I tried the calling card. Nope. Tried all sorts of various numbers. I called the operator about 600 times trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Wrong country code? Need a different number to call internationally? We picked up the phone and looked it over, trying to see if we needed to slide in our keycard. We must have looked like two monkeys banging on a computer keyboard.

Ryan tried calling Alice, his contact at the school who was going to pick him up, but even that didn't work. Eventually, he left for work and, knowing that if I waited too much longer the kids would be in bed, I swallowed what was left of my pride and called the operator. This time instead of trying to diagnose the problem myself, I told her what the phone was saying. She said that we can't make phone calls because we didn't leave a credit card number with the front desk when we checked in. Oh for crying out loud. I practically ran down to the lobby to solve another man-made problem.

I told Ryan that we were going to consider this our "practice hotel" - make as many mistakes as we need to, ask the front desk staff all the stupid questions, like how to turn on the lights, that prove us to be as stereotypically American as possible, and then we'll check out of here and move to some new hotel where we can act like uber-travelers who are just too, too cool to have problems with the elevator. That way maybe we can reclaim some of our dignity.

The difference I’ve loved most about Malaysia is that everyone here loves babies. I don’t mean that restaurants and hotels make special accommodations for people with babies, but that individual people love babies. We got an inkling of this from an American we chatted with at the Taiwan airport who lives in KL. She said that Asians love babies. I got off the airplane in KL and three flight attendants spent an entire minute cooing and ahhing and otherwise fawning over Darcey. Then I carried her to the end of the gate where we were to pick up our stroller, and an entire extended family of 10-15 people came over and did the same. She’s so cute! What’s her name? How old? She’s so cute! They left, then another couple, older this time, then as we walked away, more people, all just enthralled with Darcey. It’s like she’s Paris Hilton at a paparazzi convention.

It’s not just women, or children, or old men. Everyone seems to love babies. At Immigration, there were 3 men in their late 20’s who were smiling and waving at her. It is the most amazing phenomenon. And while none of the fawning is ever directed my way, and the only attention I get is as a baby-fact-dispenser (answers provided in a handy paper envelope, to go with your lukewarm water), it is still somehow incredibly fun for me. Ryan decided we need to find some hand sanitizer and cover Darcey in it, after two women working at the immigrations desk came over. One asked to hold her, the other proceeded to kiss her cheeks and touch her face and hands. Better hope SARS isn’t catching right now.

We passed the family from earlier, and Darcey happened to be screwing up her face for a big cry, and the whole entire family gave a chorus of “Awwwww!” Honestly, this is so fun I might never leave.

Monday, July 30, 2007

19 Hours in Coach

Everyone move to Orem so you can vote for Chris Cannon, the congressman whose office is single-handedly responsible for saving my trip!! I spoke with them on Tuesday evening, they called the passport office (the one in San Francisco) and poked them with a sharp stick to get them moving. I hope it hurt. When I called on Wednesday afternoon to get the status, the passports were completed and ready to be mailed. This was the first progress that had been made on the passports in all of my days of calling.

Cannon's office called me on Wednesday to tell me that they were being mailed, and again on Thursday morning to tell me they would arrive at 10:30 via Fedex. Which, remarkably, they did - all four of them. What? Four passports? Are four of us going on the trip? No, silly, for some reason Ryan, mine, Darcey's and Zack's passports got expedited, which I can only assume someone in San Francisco thinks is a sign of going "above and beyond." Brad's and Noah's, naturally, are still in limbo somewhere. Hopefully they'll get here before they leave for their missions.

So yesterday I spent my day polishing off the laundry, packing for myself and Darcey, and grocery shopping. I wrote several pages of information to help the various relatives that are watching my kids, which Ryan said was too long for anyone to actually read. He said it is going to be like the scene in "Night at the Museum," where the security guard doesn't read the instructions until the giant dinosaur comes to life and is chasing him - I wonder what event will be the metaphorical "giant dinosaur" that will cause them to read the instructions!

I've wondered how specific to be. For example, no one I know can pack as much into the dishwasher as I can. I am tempted to take pictures of the full dishwasher, to show what the best way is to arrange the plates, bowls, small and large cups, and various pots and pans. And then I am reminded about how crazy that would seem, inflicting that level of micromanagement on something as minor as dishwasher arrangement. After all, what do I care if the dishes don't get totally clean, or they have to do more than one load? I'm not suffering here, and I doubt they would "suffer" either.

I do have a history of offending people via micromanagement. One time we had a couple over for dinner, and we were all in the kitchen finishing the cooking, when the husband asked what he could do to help. I gave him a cutting board, a knife, and a pile of strawberries and asked him to cut off the stems and then cut them in half for a fruit salad. He got the tops cut off just fine, but when I looked, I saw him balancing the strawberry on the pointy end on the cutting board, and attempting to slice it from top to bottom. Well, that's just ridiculous, why not turn it over so it can rest on the flat end and make cutting that much easier, and less dangerous? However, when I showed him the "better" (read: "right") way to cut the strawberry, he snapped at me, "Why don't you just do it then??" Whoops, that's not what I meant to happen. Fortunately, the guy turned out to be a lying, cheating thief who left his wife and toddler after deciding to be an actor in Hollywood. Which indescretions mean that I don't have to take anything he said and use it to examine my own behavior.

Ryan's parents came in about 1pm today, and we started the tour of the house and all of it's defects, as well as a tour of the kids and their defects. The kids' defects are known already, and it is a measure of the love of grandparents that they've agreed to watch the kids anyways. What they didn't know they were signing up for was the dryer that started working only on one setting (and of course not the one I use regularly), which needs to limp along until my dad comes on the 8th and can fix it. And then this morning, as if it was a going-away present from the house to us, the swamp cooler started making a clicking noise. Brad likened it unto a telegraph sending morse code messages. What message would my swamp cooler be sending? "The British are coming! The British are coming! And the St. Georgians, too!" I would say that maybe my dad could fix that, too, but my guess is that the clicking will be so annoying that my in-laws will call someone to fix it tomorrow. (Can I throw in that both the dryer and the swamp cooler had about $300 worth of work done to each of them in the last 3 months? That just doesn't seem fair.)

I've decided that the next time I travel, I'm going to put off packing until the last possible minute. The problem with packing yesterday is that I spent all day today thinking of things that I just have to have, which I won't touch again until I unpack it 11 days from now, back at home. Like the spiral notebook and pen, in case I need to jot down thoughts and the laptop isn't nearby. Or the ipod adapter that plugs into the cigarette lighter of a car - what are the chances I will be in a car when my ipod batteries run out? Especially considering that I have Tim's AA-battery powered backup and 16 batteries for it. But I had too much time on my hands, and too much room in my backpack, so in it went.

When Bob dropped us off at the airport at 6:45, we found out that the flight was delayed an hour, and wouldn't be leaving until 10:15, leaving us 3 whole hours to kill in the airport. It was Douglas Adams that said "No one ever invented the phrase, 'As pretty as an airport.'" I'd add that there's no such thing as "As entertaining as an airport." Not that they don't try, there's some shopping and some restaurants, if you don't mind paying enough for your Big Mac as you do for a semester's tuition. Ryan and I kind of forgot to eat dinner before we left, so he ate a plain bagel in the car and I grabbed the box of animal cookies for the car, but that does not make a meal.

I have a really hard time deciding where to eat in the airport, because you are passing all of your options well before you get to the gate, and there's no way of knowing if a better option is up the hall, except for schlepping all your stuff up there. And I am not one to let a potentially better option pass by just because I don't want to walk a quarter mile through the airport, especially when the chances of getting better food than Cinnabon or Burger King is close to none. We actually got lucky by persevering today - we had passed a Burger King, Sbarro, TCBY, Cinnabon, some kind of grill, and a coffee shop, and that seemed to be representative of all of our choices. But I left Ryan sitting at our gate to keep searching for the best possible place to eat, and I scored - there was a California Pizza Kitchen just past our gate. I think the best part about spending time in foreign airports is that all of their hackneyed fast food chains will be completely new and unique for us - I won't have to say, "No, I don't want to eat at Konichi-wa's again - we just ate there last week! And I can't stand their chicken nuggets."

Darcey so far has spent the entire time at the airport sleeping. Is that so she can wake up the minute the plane takes off? And cry until the passengers revolt and the pilot turns the plane around, like every father has threatened his children he'd do if they didn't stop whining. And we'd never leave Salt Lake City, I'll be doomed to never leave the country until my children are adults and world-travelers themselves and I'm too old and broken to sit on a plane that long. When I left home at age 18 and drove from Maryland to California, my mom predicted I would leave the house, circle Baltimore for three hours, and then come home. So this isn't the first time I've almost not gotten where I wanted to go.

They've started boarding the plane, which means that the entire population of our plane is now standing, crowded around the boarding area as if the plane will leave without them. Brian Regan mocks the situation by saying "Push and shove, people, push and shove! This is the last flight out of Vietnam!" We better go join the crowd, or they might give our seat away!

Flight Update #1 - Darcey was a perfect angel - slept for the first half and then ate and laid nicely in her car seat for the second half. The plane had several empty seats so the flight attendant arranged for her to have her own seat with Ryan and me. We landed in LAX and instantly I knew that this second, longer leg of our trip was not going to be so easy. First we had to hike down to the Tom Bradley International Airport, which seems to be geared towards making passengers feel like they are already in a third world country, all without having to leave Los Angeles. The terminal is a wreck, apparently they are remodeling it, but if you can picture the abandoned terminal in the movie, The Terminal, you get the idea.

The security line seemed long to me, winding back and forth several times. And then Ryan showed me the rest of the line - it crossed an aisle, then went down a windy hallway so you couldn't actually see the end, kind of like a ride at Disneyland. And to continue with the similarities, the line was long, the hallway ended up feeding into a second back-and-forth thing, and the ride at the end wasn't worth the wait. There was a railing against the wall at one point in the line, and apparently it is tradition to put your half-full water bottles on the railing instead of, I don't know, finding a trash can or something quaint like that. Maybe it's part of the new terminal decor.

The smell in the terminal reminded me of a subway in D.C. or New York. Damp and musty with poor air circulation, with the smell of sweaty bodies and urine. And near the security checkpoint, they added the dirty sneaker smell, plus a bonus today, somebody let one rip in the narrowest, most congested part of the hallway in line. Disgusting. I didn't want to breathe at all. (In contrast, I'm typing this in the airport in Taiwan, and it is just about as clean as an airport can be.) The departure gate looked like the hallways at UVSC outside of the testing center, with students camped out on the floor, lining the hallways, taking a few more minutes to cram before a test. The floor was covered with travelers, and the only space left for us to sit was in front of an emergency door. This was the first time that being on the airplane had to be more comfortable than waiting at the gate.

The flight was completely packed, not a single empty seat on the plane. I knew that when we checked in, and felt lucky that the gate worker could change our seats so we could sit together. When we got on the plane, a bonus! We were sitting at the bulkhead, with just a wall in front of us, so no people reclining their seats into my lap. And, double bonus! We were assigned seats F and G in a row of four seats. Well, as it turns out, seats D and E in our row were bassinet seats (a bassinet can be attached to special bolts in the wall for the baby to sleep in), so the flight attendant asked the man in seat E to switch with us. Another flight attendant came to check our boarding passes and told the man he needed to move back to his assigned seat. This culminated in a fairly heated discussion between the man and three flight attendants, all of whom were standing over us and none of whom were speaking English. The man was standing up for us, trying to get us to have the better seat. The bummer came when the owner of seat D was a mother traveling alone with a baby, who had been assigned the bassinet seat. So the squad of flight attendants (or would they be a flock?) the flock of flight attendants moved the man sitting between two babies to a window seat across the aisle, leaving an empty seat next to me (which the other mom instantly appropriated). Then yet another flight attendant (how many do they need on this flight?!) told the man he had to move back to his seat, again. None of this was this poor guy's fault, he wasn't the one trying to get an upgrade or anything. So Ryan and I made a huge mistake - we were nice. When the man came back after having moved like 5 times, Ryan said, "Why don't we let him sit on the aisle and you can sit next to the other baby?" It made sense, in a way, and the guy was grateful - I think Ryan really didn't want to be stuck next to some other nursing mom, but it was a really nice gesture. And since no good deed goes unpunished, I paid for this niceness for the next 13 hours.

As it turns out, a flight attendant (I don't know if it was one of the original flock, they might have recruited someone from another flight to deal with such a difficult case) asked a couple who happened to be sitting in another bassinet seat if they would be willing to trade. They had a aisle and a middle seat, but since we now occupied two middle seats, they said no. Which I don't really blame them for, but I'm ticked because we blew that. I ended up holding Darcey in the borrowed Baby Bjorn carrier the entire time. I also didn't know the size of the bassinet. After we took off someone connected it, and it was so big that it went halfway into my leg area, which as you can imagine, is less than luxurious to begin with. So for the entire flight, I couldn't cross my legs, or reach anything at my feet. Once it was installed, I couldn't pick up my tv screen, which was on a swivel arm down by my feet. So I spent 13 hours with someone else leaning over me to tend to her baby with her elbows in my face and no matter how far over into Ryan's seat I leaned, her arm kept brushing mine. And I had long since abandoned any claim to the armrest. I found that my trips to the bathroom were my favorite part of the flight, just because of how much space there was in there to move without anyone touching me.

(Ryan was particularly insulted by the couple who wouldn't trade seats with us, they spent the entire flight turning around in their seat to stare at us. It was kind of creepy, actually. And Ryan also said that the mom next to me look disturbed when I started crying during a particularly emotional part of Harry Potter.)

The best part was that Darcey slept amazingly well the entire time, and only whimpered a little to let me know she was awake and hungry. The third leg of our trip was actually enjoyable - we not only had the bassinet seat for her to lay in, but we had the entire row to ourselves, and the leg space between us and the wall was fairly generous. Darcey slept and when she was awake, she was content to lay in the bassinet quietly. Ryan and I watched "Blades of Glory," the ice skating movie with Will Farrell and Napoleon Dynamite, and I watched "Premonition" with Sandra Bullock. The 4 hour flight passed pretty quickly, and we got to KL at about 1:30ish in the afternoon.

My first thought at seeing the Malaysian landscape was how green it was, and how flat. There are palm trees everywhere, palm oil being a big export here, and the ground is just flat, flat, flat. It is green like Maryland, which I love, but in MD, the trees growing alongside of the road were so tall and lush that it blocks out everything around it. Even on the freeway, you feel like you're driving through a forest. For some reason, the trees here don't feel the same. Maybe it's their height, or maybe Maryland has more hills, I'm not sure what, but it's not quite the same feeling. Still, green is beautiful, and I love seeing so many green trees.

Our driver came and picked us up at the entrance to the airport. Ryan thought he'd feel all special having someone holding a sign with his name on it, but sadly, his was just one in a hundred, lining the entrance way. Apparently, few people here drive themselves anywhere, taking a cab is the preferred means of transportation. And after one trip in a car in this town, I can see why. People here drive like maniacs. There was one short stretch of road that literally did not have any lanes painted on it, and Eric, our driver, just kind of wandered back and forth across the wide street. In the 45-minute drive, he used his turn signal a total of one time, and trust me, that was not the only turn he made. The road leading to our hotel was a one-way, single lane street, lined with parked cars on both sides so that we barely had room to squeeze past, but that didn't stop him from driving faster than the 5 miles per hour that would have felt safe, and other cars would just dart out in front of us from connecting streets. Ryan and I both spent a lot of time thinking, "Brake, Brake, BRAKE!!!" but of course, we didn't say it out loud. I think we were too busy praying.

We are staying at the Royale Bintang (Bintang means "star") hotel - it is fairly upscale, beautiful lobby, pianist in the corner playing Frank Sinatra songs, a nice room with a king size bed and a view of some shopping malls, houses, a tall building, and a hill, all surrounded by green, green trees. It's rained both mornings we've been here, so at 7 a.m. the sky is gray and misty, but somehow still beautiful. I'm excited to get to know this place.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Get Me Out Of Here

The difficult situation I'm in started three months ago, when I naively believed the post office guy who told me that passport processing was running about 6-8 weeks, 10 at the outside. We had 13 weeks until we traveled, so that would give us three whole weeks extra. Surely that was plenty of time, I thought to myself, passing on spending an extra $100 per passport to expedite the application. Feel free to laugh at my stupidity, go ahead, I'll wait.

Done now? Good. I'd laugh too if all of my hope and optimism hadn't been drained out of me from the many weeks of waiting. I think the passport office is staffed by Dementors.

All of the information on the passport website says not to call and attempt to talk to a dementor, I mean, live person, until you are traveling within the next two weeks. Which led me to believe that two weeks would be plenty of time for them to get their act together and get me my passport. Ha! This might just inadvertently be the funniest blog entry I've ever written!

Two weeks ago, (on the 16th, a Monday) I called the office. Person #1 tells me that our passports are halfway through processing, she would send an email to the people working on it and change our applications to "expedite" status, request overnight delivery, and remind them of our travel date. I was told to call back in 48-72 hours to get the status. Darcey's passport was already expedited, so there was nothing they could do to speed that up.

I gave them 72 hours. On Thursday I called again. Ryan's and my passports were still in processing, but good news! Darcey's was being mailed and I was given a tracking number! One down, two to go. At least someone in the family could go on our trip!

I called again on Saturday. Person #3 is kind of a curmudgeon, and tells me that if I haven't gotten our passports within 3 days of our travel date, she can get me an appointment at a passport processing center, where they can make me a passport while I wait. If they have that kind of turn-around time, why exactly is it that they can't get mine done in the 12 weeks that they've had the applications? I'm not going to ask that, this poor person who is probably making $8.50 an hour dealing with panicky travelers like me doesn't need to get yelled at. She then tells me that my application is being processed in San Francisco, and I'd need to go there to get it. "But I'm in Utah," I said. "In that case, you can go to Denver," was her oh-so-helpful reply, but only if we have copies of our birth certificates or some other proof of U.S. citizenship. A love of baseball and apple pie is apparently not sufficient proof, so we've got nothing, since our birth certificates are being held hostage by the passport workers in San Francisco.

After talking to the passport office, I called the post office guy who originally sold us the bill of goods I'm now living with. At the time, he had given us a slip of paper with the due date of our passports (July 7) and the phone number of the passport office, which he circled and wrote the number 100 next to it. The "100," he tells us, is to signify the number of times I need to call that phone number before I bother him. I'm sure he didn't say bother, it was just implied. Well, at this point I figure we are as close to 100 as we need to be, so I call him. I explain that we are traveling on Friday, and what can he do to help? "You're traveling in a week? Boy, I wish you had given me two weeks, you've really tied my hands here!" This is the first time I actually get heated on the phone with anyone, as I tell him that he specifically said to call the other number 100 times and they would only help me within 2 weeks of my travel date, so how exactly was I supposed to give him two weeks? He was quiet for a minute and then told me to call him back on Tuesday, because naturally the San Francisco office is closed over the weekend and he has Monday off.

I get off the phone, look up plane ticket prices to SFO, and fortunately they are a bargain at only $600 each! Unfortunately, my dad calls just then and asks, "How's it goin'?" At which point I spewed all the venom I've been bottling up - apparently, I can be nice and polite to the moron who can't get my passport done in a quarter of a year, but can't control myself in talking to my dad, who actually loves me. He was sorry he asked.

On Sunday I called again. More good news! You know that passport of Darcey's that I was given a tracking number for? Strangely enough, when I looked up the tracking number, it didn't have a status for it. I assume the post office is as good at "tracking" as the passport office is at "passports." When I asked Person #4, who had just given me the "in processing" spiel, to look up Darcey's application, she said something along the lines of "Well, I don't know why you were given a tracking number, her application is still being processed." The phone in my hand proceeded to melt under the heat of the fire I was now breathing. I very politely finished the phone call before I exploded like Mount Vesuvius.

Darcey has now been waiting half of her life for a passport. I think, so have I. Is it this time consuming to determine if a 7 week old baby is a terrorist? How intensive does her background check need to be? Has she been flagged as an alien because she sleeps more than any human I've ever known?

Monday rolls around, and I talk to the most helpful person yet, and this time I'm not being sarcastic. Actually helpful, she tells me that Ryan's and my passports have about three steps left, the background check, something else, and quality control. I'm thinking at this point that "quality control" is a pretty stupid step, and can't we just skip that and move on to "mailing it"? Darcey's passport is about one step ahead of ours, and they should all be done either tonight or tomorrow. I thank Person #5 with actual sincerity, and feel like we've got some hope after all.

Tuesday's Dementor drains me of hope yet again. Person #6 is the most abrupt person I've dealt with yet, who tells me for the millionth time that the passports are still being processed, and would I like her to make an appointment for us in San Francisco? I ask if there is anything else she can do and she basically says no. I hang up before I have to start crying.

I called back the post office guy, who rivaled Dementor #6 in abruptness. "Hi," I said, "I talked to you last week and you told me to call you back on Tues..." He interrupts me, saying, "Who is this?" Like I'm some kind of telemarketer that just called him during dinner. I hadn't heard him because, strangely enough, I was finishing my sentence, so I said, "Excuse me?" and he said again, "Who is this?" I gave him my name and he said, "Didn't I call you already?" Yeah, right, you called already - I'm just calling again because I wanted to hear your lovely voice one more time. No, I know for a fact he never called me because the first time I called, on Saturday, he never even got so far as to ask me my name. But I humor him as he puts me on speakerphone and I hear him shuffling papers and saying to someone else, Didn't I call her? Eventually he takes my information and tells me he'll call San Francisco and see what he can do.

Nothing, as it turns out. San Francisco won't answer the phone. The entire city is in on the conspiracy against me leaving the country, so they all took their phones off the hook and now the entire city of San Francisco won't answer the phone. Helpful Post Office Guy tells me that he'll keep trying (fat chance) and that my best bet is to call my congressman.

I had emailed Congressman Chris Cannon's office on Sunday, but forgot to call on Monday like I had intended. So, motivated by Person #6's desire to give me an appointment, I call Cannon's office in Provo. Which naturally is closed because it is Pioneer Day. So I call his office in D.C. because it isn't Pioneer Day in the rest of the civilized world (as civilized as you could call our nation's capital). I was pleasantly surprised when someone actually answered the phone, despite it being 6:15 there. The person I talked to took my name and phone number and promised that someone would call me back in a few minutes who would be able to help me.

Here's the shocker - he did call back in a few minutes. A guy here in the Provo office, who most likely was called away from his Pioneer Day barbeque to deal with my passport issue. He took all of my information, and said that he or someone else would get back to me that night. He was heartened by the fact that our flight doesn't leave until 9 p.m. on Friday because it gives them a whole extra day to get my passport to me.

He called back while we were singing "Happy Birthday" to Brad (I could only find 7 candles, so we had to re-light three of them to be blown out a second time) but no one checked the message for hours. I took Brad to an Orem Owlz game, which was exactly the kind of relaxation I needed after such a stressful day. (An aside - I asked Brad at the game what he would like us to bring back from Malaysia for him. He said, maybe a shark's tooth necklace, or something from the flea store. Flea store? No, he said, he means flea circus. What?? I'm laughing because now I know what he's trying to say, and he says, You know, the flea place! Flea market I eventually tell him, trying not to cry I'm laughing so hard. He says, "Are you going to put this in your blog?" You betcha!)

I come home from the game to a message saying that they are aware of our travel date and it should be done by Wednesday morning and on it's way to us. This might be odd, but I felt like I could finally relax because someone else was worrying about this, too. Someone with some amount of power. He did, after all, manage to get San Francisco to answer the phones.

I'm planning on calling the passport office again this afternoon, hopefully they'll be able to confirm that it is on it's way. I'm not holding my breath. This is the same crackpot organization to which I had to spell "Malaysia" to two different employees, and had to tell a third that Malaysia is NOT in the Caribbean. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, plus it makes me wonder how we'll ever keep terrorists out of our country. Apparently, all they need to do is tell them Al-Qaida is an island in the Caribbean, or maybe in Mexico somewhere, and they are good to go. They can get in the country, but can I ever get out? We'll see.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Going Off The Grid

The new Harry Potter book is out, so excuse me while I check out of society until I finish reading the book. There is just too big a chance to accidentally hear details about the plot, and I don't want anything to ruin the final book for me.

Let me start by waxing rhapsodic about the phenomenon that is Harry Potter. I love books, and have since the early days of my youth, when I misread the "otter" sentence in The Bath Book to read "Elders don't take baths in water, they just play and swim there." I guess I had seen too many stinky, sweaty missionaries by the age of 4. Childhood foibles aside, books have always been a central part of my life, and I tend to get absorbed in whatever I'm reading. There's a line in a song that says, "All I can do is read a book to stay awake - it rips my life away but it's a great escape." That is so true I'm thinking of cross-stitching it into a wall hanging. Books are a great escape.

Harry Potter is one of the best escapes I've read. World-class literature? I'm no English major, but probably not. It is, however, a fantastic world to delve into, filled with people you know (the shy girl who has a crush on her brother's best friend), people you want to know (Fred and George, anyone?), people you love (everyone's favorite, Dumbledore) and people you love to hate (oh, that detestable Snape!!) We get an underdog to root for, and a classic good vs. evil story, laced with humor and experiences that make me grateful that I never have to be a teenager again.

Harry's character is so authentic that I relive my awkward first dates, my anger at the world, my petty squabbles with friends, my idolization of teachers. His world seems so familiar that I feel like I could run into Harry, Ron, and Hermione at the local pub ... if I lived somewhere other than Orem, where we have no pubs. I support the cause of the Order of the Phoenix and am eagerly awaiting the downfall of He Who Must Not Be Named, since I have perfect faith that good will triumph in the end.

So it is with great anticipation that I start the final installment, which I purchased this morning in hardback and on CD, a splurge of about $60 for the two. I'm excited to get the answers to my questions, to see if my predictions are right. My guess is that Snape really is evil, Voldemort is going to die, Neville will sacrifice himself for the cause, and Harry will become the permanent Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Will Harry and Ginny get married? How about Ron and Hermione? Will Dudley ever lose weight? Will Draco get what's coming to him?

But with our latest delve into the world of wizards, I live in mortal fear - not of You Know Who, but of having the ending ruined for me. The danger lurks from every corner, and my closest friends might be the ones to betray me in the end. When Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix came out, several children in the neighborhood ruined the ending for some of the adults who hadn't finished the book yet. My own children told their grandmother the ending, and while she claimed not to be upset by the spoiler, deep down I know it must have hurt.

I know this is a danger, because I am four or five chapters into the book, and I'm already hunting for someone to talk to about what is happening! Fortunately, my brother Tim hasn't read book 6 yet and doesn't mind if I ruin book 7 for him, but I can definitely see the temptation to either cheer or commiserate with someone, anyone, who is going to be sad along with me, stranger or friend.

And that is the reason I am going off the grid. I am no longer frequenting my favorite websites for fear someone will spill the beans. I am changing my home page from Google News to my bank's login page. I will have any email with the words "Harry" or "Potter" in it automatically sent to my junk folder. (Sorry 'bout that, Pottery Barn.) When I answer the phone, I will preface any conversation with the disclaimer, "I have not yet finished Harry Potter so please don't discuss it with me!" I will sit by myself in church and cough loudly, to discourage people from making polite conversation that might tread into dangerous territory. In public places, I will cover my ears or hum loudly to drown out overheard conversations. I can't even look at the pictures on the cover of the audiobook, because they've already spoiled a suspenseful moment for me - now I will change CD's with my eyes closed.

But what I won't do is speed through the book just to get to the end. Like a rich piece of chocolate, I want to savor this book, enjoying it bite by bite, letting the flavor and scent wash over me so I can close my eyes and revel in the experience. Good luck, Harry, I hope you end up successful and happy, and most of all, thanks for letting me share your world. Now excuse me, I've got a book to read!

Monday, July 9, 2007

Luck o' the Whatever

It's really too bad that I'm not Irish, because I seem to have their luck. So far as I know, on my mom's side I'm French and possibly British - my mom's maiden name is Darcey which we think comes from a town in France called D'arcey. I couldn't have kept the apostrophe in my daughter's name, though, because it wouldn't have come across as French and sophisticated, it would have come off as Utahn and hick-ish.

On my dad's side we are American, American, and American - from the genealogy I've seen of his family, the Mudgetts have been around since like the 1600's, which would make us seem like a blue-blood, WASPish, upper class, snooty Mayflower descendants, except that really we are the offspring of Connecticut farmers. Frankly, I think I like the Connecticut farmers better than the Kennedy's anyhow.

But I ought to be Irish. My dad thinks I'm the luckiest person he knows. Not lucky in the take-on-Las-Vegas kind of way, and I don't invest in lottery tickets, but in that good things happen to me that don't seem to happen to other people.

For example, when Ryan and I took the kids to Hersheypark two years ago, we stopped at a McDonald's for dinner. Wouldn't you know that after we had placed our order, the cash register stopped taking credit cards, which naturally was the only form of payment I had on me. The worker gave us our meals for free. They fixed the problem within like 2 minutes, and the people after us had to pay. That's pretty lucky timing.

Some other lucky things that have happened to me: I found a $20 in my office's parking lot when I worked for G.E. I turned the money into the office manager, but no one claimed it so I got to keep it. I won a door prize at a scrapbooking expo, and another at a chocolate expo. I won a large pizza at the Taste of the Valley for answering a trivia question right, which didn't actually feel all that lucky because of how stuffed we were. I won a t-shirt and a hat when I tried out for Who Wants to be a Millionaire, when the radio people covering the tryouts chose me out of the hundreds that were there to answer some trivia questions. (The only one I remember was something about the statue in Hans Christian Anderson's hometown - it's the Little Mermaid.)

What is luck all about? Why are some people lucky and others aren't? I watched an episode of 20/20 that discussed this topic, and the consensus was that luck is a combination of being prepared (i.e. right place, right time) and having a good attitude. I've always thought that people who think they are lucky end up being luckier, but it could very well be that because they think they are lucky they are on the lookout for lucky things to happen, or to call things that happen "lucky" instead of just accepting them.

Ryan has a small beef with the word "lucky." There are some things that one person could consider mere luck, while a different person would consider them a blessing from God. The $20 I found was lucky, but if I had no gas in my car and had spent my remaining money on tithing instead, the $20 would have been a huge blessing! As it was just lucky money, I'm sure I blew it on a meal at Taco Bell.

The latest incident of luckiness is definitely more of a blessing instead. Darcey last night slept for 8 hours straight. From 10:30 until 6:30, with nary a peep in between. This is an amazing feat, especially for one of my children, as the previous three did not sleep 8 hours straight until I had to do the cry-it-out torture sessions, at around 7 months. So Darcey's actions are absolutely astounding to me, and since it was quite unlikely that the fourth child would be so different from the first three, I wanted to call this lucky. But Ryan's right about this one - it is nothing but a blessing from God. I've never felt so good after having a baby, due mainly to the fact that I'm getting enough sleep. I've also never found it so hard to keep up with so many kids - four is throwing me for a serious loop and if I wasn't sleeping well I would have gone off the deep end weeks ago.

So whether it's the luck o' the whatever I am, a mere coincidence, or a blessing, I am so appreciative of my good night's sleep. I'm going to keep a lookout for other lucky things that happen, too, because I want to generate more good fortune for my family. I wonder if the same theory works on parenting - if I think I'm a good parent, will I end up being one? If I think I'm patient, or say that I am, will I generate patience? If I say that I've got the best, easiest kids in the world, will they in fact be better and easier? I'm thinking yes, or at least I'll start looking at the whole situation differently if I'm expecting patience, good parenting, and easy kids. Hmmm, maybe I'll give some positive self-talk a try. Who knows, maybe I'll get lucky!

Mock of the Day

I marry you because everything reminds me of you.
Yep, everything. Remember the poop in the bathtub? Reminds me of you. Horrible traffic jam? You. Root canal? You guessed it.

Mawage is What Bwings Us Togevar

Ryan and I have been married for 11 years now, which I recognize is not anywhere near world-champion marriage length, but it's a start. (Wait, picture with me for a second what kind of competition would make up the World Championship of Marriage: A bunch of 80-year-olds jumping hurdles? Old men throwing their wives' fine china in the Discus? Maybe some figure skating?)

Anyhow, we haven't been married too long that we've forgotten what it was like to be young, stupid, and in love, back when he was the center of my universe and I couldn't bear to be apart from him for more than 10 minutes, when we could talk for hours and never be interrupted by anyone other than a waitress, because we could go out to dinner as often as we wanted and not have to tell anyone that, no, you can NOT eat the french fry that fell on the floor, and PLEASE would you stop crawling under the table and sit in your seat, and FOR CRYING OUT LOUD leave the salt shaker alone!! And NO you cannot have dessert, we need to get out of here five minutes ago!!

Well, if you know of anyone who is still under the crazy delusion that marriage is just a continuation of the head-over-heels romance that led to the altar, we've found the perfect book. On a date on Friday night, courtesy of my brother who we love, Ryan and I wandered into Deseret Book in the mall. Browsing in the Family and Parenting section, looking for the book that is going to turn my kids into good eaters, good readers, good friends with each other, and isn't going to make me feel guilty at the same time, Ryan picked up a gem of a gift book called "I Marry You Because..."

White and gold, with a picture of a cherub on the front and full of Victorian images throughout, this book is a tribute to all the reasons that two people get married. Ryan started reading some out loud to me in the bookstore - and we both burst out laughing. They are the cheesiest, sappiest, most ridiculous sayings ever written down. For example:

I marry you because the love I give you is second hand: I feel it first.
I marry you because we believe in meeting life's challenges heart-on.
I marry you because God loves our love.

Barf-a-rama! Oh my gosh, the worst is that I can remember being so smitten that these sayings would have melted my already gooey heart. Now they are nothing but a huge joke in the face of what married life is really like, once you get far enough into it. As Ryan and I read these sayings in Deseret Book, we knew there was only one thing we could do with a book like this - buy it and mock it.

"I marry you because I can make you laugh." Oh yeah? I can make my dad laugh, should I marry him too?
"I marry you because familiarity breeds consent." Wait, what? Familiarity breeds contempt, doesn't it?
"I marry you because in you I am complete." Nice try, but that's been done before, by Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in the movie "Jerry Maquire". And it was catchier the way they said it.

So I decided that, to justify buying such a ridiculous book and actually rewarding it's author with our hard-earned $7.95, I needed to turn this into blog-fodder. I'm going to start including a Mock of the Day to each post, for as long as I think they are funny. The "I Marry you because" statement is quoted directly from the book. The "I Stay Married to you because" statement is my own little reality check.

Mock of the Day

I marry you because of what I know and what I want to find out.
I stay married to you because of the tax break.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Holy Crap!

Today is my brother's second wedding anniversary. And Zack pooped in the bathtub. The two topics are related, and if you give me a minute, I'll explain.

So there I was, minding my own business, trying in vain to scrub the Kool-Aid stains out of the countertop, when the yell came from the upstairs bathroom. It sounded like Ryan was choking on his own words as he tried to yell "What are you!! I told you!! Go on the!! And now!! Poop in the Bathtub!!!!!"

Poop in the bathtub is, fortunately, a pretty rare occurrence. The first time it happened, when Brad was a baby, Ryan not only laughed about it (gross!) but got out the video camera!! (double gross!!) Needless to say, after 8 or 9 years of random poop in the bathtub incidents, it has lost its humor, and is now a source of major aggravation.

I am a girl, and in stereotypical girl fashion, I dislike most bodily functions, especially those that make noise, smell, are done at the dining room table, or are done by another person. I once watched a friend's child sneeze so hard that a string of snot about a foot long hung out of her nose. I just about puked on the spot, which would have added to the bodily function disaster unfolding in front of me. So to say that poop in any form is among my least favorite things would be an understatement.

But if the stereotypical girl dislikes bodily functions, why does it end up being the mother's job to deal with things like this? Why was I the one who, when Brad was sick at age 2, instinctively put her hands out to catch his throw up, in order to save the carpet? Why did I have to pick up the dead mouse that was in the garage, blocking the door to the car? Why do I kill the spiders, clean up the bloody nose messes, or the carpet after an "accident," arrange for the disposal of not one, but two dead birds, all while trying not to breathe or even look at what I am dealing with?

The answer is, because I'm the one there. I am around more, therefore the likelihood of me being the one to have to deal with the messes is increased. I happened to see the dead birds, to have to step over the dead mouse, to be standing next to the throwing-up boy, so it ends up being me who cleans it.

But tonight is different. I am, after all, in the kitchen, cleaning the Kool-Aid mess, while Ryan is the parent in charge of the bathroom when the pooping took place. Which is why I felt it was so unfair for me to be the one to clean it up. But Ryan pulled out the trump card, "I can't handle this!"

"I can't handle this!" is typically what we say to let the other parent know that if they care about the particular child that is causing a problem, they better get over there and step in. This code phrase originated in the pre-dawn hours when Brad was a baby, when we'd take turns rocking him to sleep until the crying got under our skin enough that we needed to be in a different room than the crying.

The bummer is that the magic phrase works on a first-come, first-served basis. It's kind of like calling shotgun, or claiming something before your siblings. The first parent who throws in the towel gets to avoid whatever pain is being distributed, because there's really no way to respond with "No, I can't handle this more than you!" That just leads to an argument about who is the absolutely least capable parent at the moment, and that's just a lose-lose situation.

So Ryan, who has been dealing with insomnia for quite some time, decides that he's not the right person to deal with Zack, who is sitting on the toilet trying not to cry, and a bathtub full of a prodigious amount of poop. I'm called in as the relief parent and trudge upstairs. I take precautionary measures, such as only breathing through my mouth, and throwing away every toy in the tub. I tell Zack to get off the pot (heh heh) and I use a cup to scoop the poop and dump it in the toilet. Afterwards I throw the cup away too.

Then the water gets drained, and I proceed to use the greatest invention of the 21st century to clean the tub. No, it's not the new iPhone, it's Lysol Disinfecting Wipes, which promises to rid the world of 99.98% of horrible, disease causing germs. I wipe the tub, hoping that poop germs are not in the .02% that don't get eradicated by my wipes, and vowing to never take a bath in there, just in case. I still am not breathing through my nose, and Ryan comes in with a lovely, baby powder scented candle to try to get rid of the smell, which is what brings me to my original statement.

The matchbox he used was a favor at my brother's wedding, it has a picture of him and his wife with the date of their wedding, July 2, 2005. Why, that's today! As I stood at the sink, scrubbing my arms to the elbow as if preparing to perform open-heart surgery, I thought about their happy day two years ago, a beautiful wedding in the DC temple, where I was also married, the love of their family and friends, their peaceful life together, where they can talk to each other without being interrupted.

Drew and Kim, happy anniversary. I wish you happiness, love, and a bathtub free of poop.