Cracked by The Nutcracker

“One must never be late to the theatre.” I said as we were leaving the house.

Let me back up just a bit. My in-laws were making a trip to come visit us. It’s a big deal when they visit, as we don’t get to see them all that often and my daughters are incredibly close to them. Each year, they are kind enough to come visit around Christmas, so we can do a little Christmas celebration and also a pre-birthday party for Hadley. They live in Canada, so you can understand how special it is for all of us—especially the girls—when they get to see them.

They had planned to do the fifteen hour drive down to us. They would stay for a few days and then leave on a Sunday, as my mother-in-law (Shirley) had an event she needed to attend the following Tuesday. That was a pretty short turnaround to begin with—two days on the road and then a business event an hour and a half away the day after she returned home. 

About a week before they arrived, I heard on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio) that The Nutcracker ballet was being preformed in town. The Nutcracker. It’s a tradition in my life since as long as I can remember. I would dress up and attend with either my parents or my aunties. I loved going and I affiliate it with Christmas and happy memories. Once I had my girls, I vowed when they were old enough I would carry that tradition on with them. We started it in Texas. It was the first year Tia and Hadley were really old enough to attend and I can’t tell you how much joy it brought me to take them. This was our first season with it back in Iowa and I knew I wanted to take the girls—Carolyn was still too little. I actually thought about taking her for a second before my mom reality check mechanism quickly kicked in. Check yourself before you wreck yourself Lauren. I looked at the dates and realized we had missed the first weekend and the only weekend left was when Shirley was in town. This was perfect. She loved theatre and arts and traditions like these and I quickly called her to see if she wanted to attend. It took a little pleading on my end and it certainly wasn’t the perfect option because that meant they had to stay an extra day. It also meant that they had to do the 1,000 mile road trip back to Canada in one day. Yes, in one day. Then she would have to turn around and drive an hour and a half the next day for her event. I told her I understood if they couldn’t—and trust me, I did understand. But she said they would talk it over. She called back the next day and said it was a lovely idea and to snag the tickets. 

So there we were the day of the ballet, ready for the Sunday matinee. I couldn’t wait to take everyone. My tickets were purchased (we were a little late to the game but I still had grabbed great seats). We were all dressed in our Sunday best and ready to go. I was a little anxious because getting my girls ready and out the door to attend an event on time takes some effort. I double checked the time and date about a million times to make sure I had it right. I was so happy. These were the types of moments I lived for—taking my girls to experience a time-honored classic while also hosting my mother-in-law. I was feeling quite grown up. 

As a child, my theatre major mother and my theatre loving aunties had always, always instilled in me that one must NEVER be late to the theatre—ballet, opera, orchestra, you name it. They emphasized it was rude, tacky and totally unacceptable. I’m telling you, they might as well have beaten it into me (they didn’t, but still). So as we were loading up into the Yukon, I said the same thing to Tia and Hadley, so that they understood why I was acting slightly psychotic about getting to the show in a timely manner and not dilly-dallying. “One must never be late to the theatre!” I said as we loaded into the vehicle.

We pulled up to the downtown theatre– the old Orpheum in Dubuque now better known as the Five Flags. Memories of attending the ballet as a child came flooding back. We arrived about a half hour early—but doors were to open promptly fifteen minutes before the show. It also clearly stated in an email I received that if you were late, you were locked out until intermission. I couldn’t believe our luck as we parked nearly right at the front of the theatre. Usually it was crowded and hard to find spots on the one-way streets downtown. We walked in and I was shocked to see only a handful of people there. We checked our coats and I asked a lady at the ticket booth, “This is where the show’s at correct?” She smiled and said, “It sure is.” I showed her my tickets and she told me to hang on to them for now and show them to the usher when the doors opened. The girls picked out a few snacks from the concession and we got in line by the doors. Shirley and I were catching up on things and chatting while people began filing in. When you’re a writer, you learn to observe things—all things. As people were walking in, I couldn’t help but notice that most of them were over the age of sixty. My heart sank. This is what was happening to our youth I thought to myself. Gone are the days of taking your children to the ballet on a Sunday. They’ve instead been replaced with sitting at home on video games with a complete disregard or care for the arts. I mentioned this to Shirley. She too, said she was surprised there weren’t more children. 

In front of us, a mom (let’s call her Kelly) with her friend had about five kids and they were as dressed up and ready for the ballet as we were. We chatted a bit and talked about how excited we were to be sharing this experience with our kids and how much we loved The Nutcracker and how important it was for them to know about theatre and composers and operas and all the things. As we were chatting, I kept glancing back at the people as they arrived and now, aside from the fact there were no children, I was surprised at the number of work jeans, fleeces, John Deer hats and tennis shoes. Back up on my soapbox I went —well not only were gone the days people took their kids to theatre, but apparently gone were the days where you dressed up for the theatre as well. These people looked like they were ready to attend a ball game. They were casual as all get out. Again, I mentioned this to Shirley who also was a little shocked by the ball caps. 

It felt like we had been waiting quite a while and when I checked my phone I saw it was ten minutes to two. Two o’clock was showtime and they were supposed to have opened the doors five minutes ago. Now I was really getting antsy. We needed to get seated and settled. Kelly in front of us with her children and friend was getting a bit nervous as well. She kept looking at her ticket and checking her watch. The kids had even started trying to peek in to see if anyone was there by the door. Ten to two turned into two o’clock, which turned into ten after two. Now I was getting cranky. If you haven’t realized it yet in my posts or by following me on any of my social media, I’m a bit (ha, that’s an understatement) of a Type A personality. I am slightly rigid and a stickler for following rules and being on time. Tardiness is one of my pet peeves. The ballet was supposed to start at two o’clock and it was now ten after. The crowd in the building was getting congested and I was over-peopled. I have a small personal bubble and Rhonda behind me kept bumping into my back and bumping into my back and bumping into my back. The girls were bored and I was losing them before we were even seated. “What is going on?” I kept asking to no one in particular. “This is ridiculous. Did something happen to a dancer?” Exasperation.

Just when I was about to blow, the door opened. A woman in uniform appeared with her scanner and Kelly in front of me handed over her tickets. The usher scanned the ticket. “This isn’t the show.” She said. Oh man did I feel for Kelly. Could you imagine waiting all that time with your kiddos in tow and accidentally showing up to the wrong showing. I felt for her. I was embarrassed for her—you could tell she was near tears. She literally almost fell into her ticket trying to read it as if to will the numbers to correct themselves. “The ballet is at the Grand.” My head jerked and the pity party for Mama Kelly in front of me came to an abrupt halt. “I’m sorry, what?” Chirped the soapbox woman from behind (that’s me). “This showing is Jim McDonough’s Holiday Grande.” Who in the actual F is Jim McDonough was on the tip of my tongue, but I was too choked up to even get it out. We were at the wrong place too. We were those people. I wondered if Rhonda behind me was having a pity party for me as I had been for Kelly in front of me. Shirley and I looked at each other in shock. I didn’t even know where the Grand was to be honest. I’d just moved back. I hadn’t lived permanently in Dubuque for over fifteen years. 

All we could do was leave. I started pushing my way through the shoulder to shoulder crowd like a salmon trying to swim upstream. Halfway to the door Shirley, who hadn’t followed me and was over by the coat rack yelled about our coats—which I one hundred percent would’ve left without. I was flustered and in shock. We got our coats and made it outside—I may have thrown an elbow or two but it was a desperate situation. We hit the street to biting cold air and I stood there, traumatized. Kelly was there too. It was one of those moments. I wonder if you’ve ever had them? You go through something—anticipate something—put the work in to go to something and be ready for it and be excited about it, stress over it and then it blows up in your face. In that moment, I wanted to calmly walk to my car, buckle up and drive across the Illinois bridge and just keep going. I quit. I was actually standing there in my head with these thoughts while people were talking (to me I think) when I caught Kelly’s friend saying the Grand was just up the street a block or so. “Let’s go”. I said. “We might make it if we run.” Shirley almost fell over—she had actually started heading toward the car thinking we would drive over. Not happening Shirls. We would be late for sure by the time we did that—I was already pretty sure it was over but we were going to try dammit. I might’ve failed but I’m not a quitter. I was in four-inch stiletto boots, she was in heeled boots and I had two little girls in dresses and inappropriate coats for the weather. “LET’S MOVE.” I said, and into a dead sprint I went with my family, surely concerned about my mental well being, trailing behind me. The other family followed suit for some reason (the blind leading the blind, clearly) and we all ran the four blocks up the street in heels, with kids, in ten degree weather, cheeks rosy, lungs bleeding and praying to baby Jesus that they were still doing announcements and we weren’t too late. As we neared, I saw a family trotting in and was immediately thankful we weren’t alone.

We arrived right before they closed the doors. Fifteen minutes late. “I’m so sorry” I wheezed. “You have no idea what we did” (hacking up a bloody lung as I started to explain). The usher looked at me with glassed, annoyed, judgmental eyes. “Of course.” She said and smiled a plastic, you were late, you have no class, you are tacky and your mom would be so disappointed in you kind of smile. Ok, I made that up but that’s sure as heck what I swore she was thinking. We went barreling onto the floor, found our seats— which were thankfully on the end of a row—sat down and literally had gotten our coats off just as the overture began. 

The show was fantastic and we didn’t miss any of it. I wasn’t present for a single moment of it though. Thoughts were going a mile a minute in my mind—I almost killed Shirley, they stayed late purposefully to see this ballet and we almost missed it, why didn’t the lady at the ticket booth tell me the tickets weren’t for this show, no wonder people were casually dressed and the crowd was older, I’m such a snob, I can’t believe we were late after I talked about not being late the entire week, what were the chances the people in front of us did the same thing, I need a drink, the girls think their mama is losing her mind, how did I run that far in heels? I mean on and on. Needless to say, when we made it back to our car—remember we had to walk back to it in even colder temps after the show—we both burst into hysterical laughter. How that happened I will never know. I am seriously thankful for laughter because it was either that or succumbing to a complete and total mental breakdown. The laughter continued well into the evening over wine.

In the end, we enjoyed the performance. The girls had fun. The tradition carried on and we were able to share it with Shirley. We also have a pretty decent memory out of it. The moral? Well, don’t be late to the theatre, yes. Also, when double-checking your ticket, best to also look at the location. 

Sucker Punched

I punched Kurtis in the face once. Not pee wee punch no return punch, but left hook with every ounce of strength I had behind it right into his eye socket punch. What could he have done to warrant an assault like this? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I was walking down a grocery aisle, pregnant. The tile beneath my feet was an older pattern in a speckled cream tone and the florescent lighting cast a yellow glow down the cereal aisle I was perusing. I didn’t have a shopping cart because I was only there for a few things. As I made my way down the aisle, a sudden dread came over me. Do you know that feeling? It’s heavy and unexplainable. Sometimes it’s justified and sometimes it’s not. I felt I was in danger. Panic set in to the pit of my stomach. I wanted to run away but I wasn’t sure what I was running away from. Also, I was quite pregnant, so running would’ve been waddling. A large man turned the corner and started lurking up the aisle towards me. He was in a gray hoodie and I couldn’t see his face. As he neared, I could see his fist and he was pulling back as if to punch me aiming for my stomach. I covered my pregnant belly with my right arm and, as he leaned in, I punched him with every bit of power in me. Turns out I didn’t punch him. I punched Kurtis. 

I sat straight up in bed–rising from the dead–turned and threw a left hook into the face of my peacefully slumbering husband. The second my fist made contact with his eye, I woke up. I was dazed, scared and then horrified. I imagine he felt the same. He woke immediately, covered his swelling eye and choked out a groggy, “WHAT THE HELL.” He looked at me like I was a lunatic. Ok, it was dark and I don’t know what his face looked like, but I assume it was that. I couldn’t get the apologies out fast enough. I’m so sorry! OH MY GOD Kurtis! It was a terrible dream. I’ll get you some frozen peas! Was it a good punch? 

This wasn’t my first episode, although it’s the first one where I physically acted out. Actually, that’s a lie…I’m literally just remembering one other time someone was assaulted by me acting out a dream. 

We used to go to a little dive resort in Wisconsin called White Lake. It wasn’t ritzy but it was perfect in my eight-year-old eyes. It was small, safe and the essence of a summer getaway just right for our small family. We looked forward to every year. One fateful summer, I fell off 8′ monkey bars and broke both of my wrists. Into matching hot pink casts went my arms for the summer. That year at White Lake, we stayed in a little resort room and I shared a bed with mom while dad has his own. We woke the next morning and mom was mad at me. Not really mad, but mad the way I’m mad at Kurtis when I have a dream he cheats on me. Ya know? I didn’t understand why she was giving me heck. Turns out it was because I was bashing her in the head all night with my casts acting out a dream I never woke from. It’s still a standing joke, but now as I remember it while writing this, it makes my episode with Kurtis all the more intriguing. 

For years I’ve suffered from some kind of sleep issue. I’ve never had it tested or been to a clinic but it’s been a constant my whole life. I’ve always talked in my sleep—which lots of people do, so that’s not all that weird. I also physically jolt awake in my dreams if something painful is about to happen—like if in my dream I’m about to fall down stairs or crash into a car I will suddenly jerk awake. I remember once when I was younger waking myself up acting out a dream. In my dream, I was trying to cross monkey bars (there are those stupid monkey bars again) and I kept hitting my head on them. In reality, I was hitting my head against my headboard over and over and over again. I finally woke up after one brutal smack against it. 

Things got creepier as I aged. I get what I now believe are sleep paralysis episodes. It’s the strangest feeling. You’re floating between knocked-out sleep and drifting sleep. It’s that muffled in-between that a professional would likely say is transitioning from Non-REM to REM. Usually something scary happens in this dream state that terrifies you. I scream for help at the top of my lungs but nothing comes out or what comes out is muffled like someone is covering my mouth. Half the time I don’t remember what makes me so terrified but a lot of times when I finally wake and can move and talk, I’m reduced to tears I’m so scared and hopped-up on emotion.

Sometimes I do remember that in-between and it’s always the same—I think my eyes are open but they aren’t. Everything is dark grayish brown and I always see a dark shadow lingering at the end of my bed. I can never make out what it is but it’s there and it’s petrifying. According to Kurtis, my screams come out in muffled wails and I shake but don’t really move. Norbert used to get so upset by it he would lick Kurtis’s hand or try to lift his arm to wake him and help me. 

Over the years, I’ve tried to figure this all out. You can imagine my feelings when I watched The Haunting of Hill House. Part of me was ready to commit myself to an asylum because suddenly I was convinced I had a Bent Neck Lady in my life. The other part of me was grateful because I totally, totally experienced Nell’s terror. Now, I’m not going to kill myself, it’s not an everyday thing and I never lived in a haunted house (I don’t think so at least), but that show brought to light a legitimate occurrence that people–me– go through.  I remember when we first saw the show I was on the davenport like, omg I’m not alone! Kurtis was even creeped because everything described in the show he had already heard from my own personal experiences. Ghosts and demons aside, it is likely a true sleep disorder called sleep paralysis that I have along with a slight case of REM Sleep Behavior disorder. What’s interesting…concerning…is I have symptoms of both. Paralysis you can’t move, REM disorder you act out. So I’m over here all kinds of wiggidy-wack with BOTH. Maybe I should go to a sleep study… 

Needless to say, it happens most when I’m overly stressed or tired and what’s odd is it’s worse in some homes than others. I know, totally weird. It was at it’s worst in my home in Canada and our first home here in Dubuque. Those were also during the same period of life, which is also intriguing. I can’t explain it and whether I ever get tested or not, it’s likely unexplainable. In the large scope of knowledge, people actually know very little about sleep–even the experts. Yes, there are lots of studies and theories but it’s still quite an unknown. What I do know, is that my poor darling husband was the victim of my messed-up sleep issues. However, now that I have him thoroughly convinced of it, if I’m ever particularly angry with him some night I have an alibi for “accidentally” socking him in the face again. I kid, I kid…

Good Effort, Kendra!

I watched her dump the volleyball into the net for about the fifth time that game. I put on my frozen smile—which by now likely looked similar to the Joker’s—and clapped encouragingly. I waited for it. I knew it was coming. There, from the top row of the bleachers it came raining down, “Good effort, Kendra!”

I played on a traveling volleyball team for the better part of my youth. Truth be told, I had some talent. Unfortunately, talent only got you so far in my volleyball world. What I had for talent I was lacking in last name, relation and financials. I was also a little chubby. Maybe that was it? We played on a team called Lightening. There were three teams in this particular age group in this particular club. Lightening was the middle talent team after Thunder. I maintain to this day that a few of us should’ve been on Thunder but whatever. Politics of youth sports—what can ya do? There was a girl on my team named Kendra*. She was not one of the people that probably should’ve been on Thunder. 

Looking back at how the teams were stacked, I’m wondering if it was just an age thing for us girls at the time. You were either good or you weren’t. In-between didn’t really exist. Thunder was good. I can’t even remember the other team name—Cloud? Rain? Hail? I don’t know, but they, well, weren’t. Lightening was a mix of people who should’ve been on Thunder and people who should’ve been on third team I can’t remember. That made for a mess of a team. So there I was with my frozen smile, internally screaming at Kendra because I had no clue why the heck she was even thinking she could’ve hit the ball that she took away from Emily. And all the time that voice, “Good effort, Kendra!” 

Why do some people have such a lasting impact on us? I have boyfriends who left less of an impression on me than she did. It wasn’t because we were bosom buddies. We were two very strong personalities. I may have also accidentally chuckled when she sprained her ankle. That was actually rotten of me but I remember it clear as day. She went up to hit a ball—pass, set, Kendra jumped (maybe an inch off the ground) spiked it directly into the net (which was to be expected) and came down. Next thing I know, she’s on the ground screaming. Kendra had a loud voice. I didn’t mention that. You know people who have loud voices and then people who have loud voices. Hers was the latter. Anyway, we learned that her loud voice also translated into a loud crier. Screaming. Screeching. Some kind of dying animal cry. When I looked over at her, I was expecting to see bone coming out of her skin it sounded so bad (it was a minor sprain). Her dad, taking two stairs at a time, came leaping down to carry her off the court because she couldn’t even get up to hop off with our help. It was just too much. I chuckled. It’s terrible. I don’t wish pain upon anyone. But I chuckled, so there’s my confession. I’m sorry Kendra. 

It got to the point that Kendra was super reliable for being unreliable during games. At thirteen I wasn’t ok with losing games. You know how you get put on a group project with a C student when you are a straight A student? Suddenly, your entire grade depends on this person magically bringing his or her “A” game? So naturally you just take over everything and tell them you got it? Or was that just me? Maybe that’s why the checkbox for “works well in groups” was always a zero on my report cards? The point was, that was the unreliable feeling driving me crazy during games.

I wanted to play the sport moving into high school and I was highly competitive. I’m also the type of person that when I make a mistake, I want to acknowledge it and try to find out what I did wrong so I can improve on it. Kendra was not that person. She was a it’s-all-just-for-fun-this-doesn’t-matter-participation-trophy-kind of person. So were her parents. After every single error her dad would shout from the rafters between cupped hands, “Good effort, Kendra!” I kid you not, after every single mistake. Missed serve. Good effort. Whiffs the pass. Good effort. Dives for a ball that’s five feet away. Good effort. Good effort, good effort, good effing effort. If hashtags were a thing back then, his would’ve been #goodeffortkendra…on a t-shirt. To make it even worse, he started thinking he could good effort me anytime I made a mistake. No, no Mr. Hawkins* it was not a good effort. It was a terrible serve that I missed and should’ve made. Don’t you start good efforting me! I never said that to him—but I thought it. My parents understood. They weren’t good effort type people either. The first time he said it, I think my mom said something like, “Well it wasn’t really. She should’ve made that serve.” God bless moms for knowing you to your core. For two seasons I lived through the good efforts. Two trying, painful seasons I was haunted by them.  

All sarcasm and joking aside—these were good people. I have nothing against them and I appreciate they were so supportive of their daughter. We were just very, very different. I mean, I just watched Tia play basketball the other day and there are the really nice, good effort moms and then lunatics like myself yelling for her to focus on the ball and stop waving at Payton. So neither is right nor wrong and we are all, quite frankly, just doing the best we can. I get that now Mr. Hawkins. Totally. Little did you know that after all these years, “Good effort, Kendra” is a staple term in my family.

A few years after I hung up my volleyball spandex shorts, I was playing tennis and totally missed a shot. Laughing at the folly (tennis ended up being my sport), my dad yelled down, “Good effort, Kendra” and I busted a gut. It stuck. I mean, stuck. Mom makes a homemade lemon pie that resembled lemon soup? Good effort, Kendra. Kurtis falls out of the penalty box at a playoff game? Good effort, Kendra. Lauren plans an epic dinner and a family fight breaks out? Good effort, Kendra. Friend hits a terrible golf shot? Good effort, Kendra. Friend looks at us, confused, who’s Kendra? She asks. Months later, she’s saying it to other friend who hits a bad shot. I mean, people in my circle hear this phrase often—likely without a clue as to where it came from or who it’s referring to. But it lives on…and I think of her. I think of thirteen-year-old Kendra and me playing volleyball on our mediocre team. I don’t have a clue where she is these days or how her parents are doing. I do, however, look back fondly on those days. Somehow, that loud-voiced little girl and her effort-loving father have managed to be a part of my life for the last twenty some years. And with each folly in my life or that of anyone around me, their legacy lives on—good effort, Kendra. Good effort. 

*Name changed.

When the Cat’s Away…

Nothing says I love you like your darling dog bringing you a deer leg. I looked out our living room picture window and saw Norbert trotting up from the woods. He was awkwardly carrying a log that was too big for him up the hill. So cute. But then I looked a little closer at the oddly shaped log. I wondered what he could’ve gotten in to in the short time he was outside. It was brisk and there was a dusting of snow on the ground, so I threw on my new Ugg boots to check. When he met me at the bottom of our deck stairs, I screamed. It was a deer leg. A disgusting, bloody, rotting deer leg. Hoof and all. He dropped it at my boots, licked his chops, wagged his tail and looked at me with those big loving brown eyes of his like, “I thought you’d like it mama.” Normally, I would go get Kurtis. That’s what Kurtis is for. I make the dinners, he handles the deer carcasses. You know, each marriage has those unspoken agreements. Here’s the problem, Kurtis wasn’t there. He was working and wasn’t going to be home for a month.

I had a few options. First, leave it. But who wants a rotting deer leg on their patio? What better way to attract the animals from the woods—coyotes, raccoons, mountain lions, tigers and bears. I actually envisioned an eagle swooping down to snag it. No, leaving it there wasn’t an option. I could call someone. My dad would’ve helped or maybe a neighbor? “Hi John, it’s Lauren. I have a deer leg over here. Haha, no not for dinner. Could you come get it for me?”

Kurtis had taken a new job and I was bound and determined to survive without him. I could do this. I was a brave little toaster. So, I went and got Kurtis’s work gloves he kept in the garage. They were a few sizes too big and awkward but I was able to manage. Throwing up in my mouth as I caught the lovely scent of the rotting leg, I picked it up by the hoof—which was hanging on by some sort of…ligament? I’m not a doctor. Maybe it was a tendon. Aren’t those the same? I hope you aren’t eating. Anyway, I picked it up and carefully walked it back down the hill and gave it a huge heave-ho side throw into the woods. Bits of rotting meat flew off the leg into the air. I’m pretty sure some landed in my hair. Norbert started to bolt after it. Sweet, mom wants to play fetch with my new stick. NO! I grabbed him as he was about to charge and back into the house we went. Traumatized.

Isn’t it lovely that happened when Kurtis was gone? What were the chances? Turns out, chances were pretty freaking good because that wasn’t the fist incident. It’s turned into a running joke in our family that while Kurtis is here, nothing happens. When he’s gone, random, weird annoying incident after incident —usually animal related—happens. I’m not sure if you know this or not, but I’m a bit of a city girl. I don’t love getting dirty. I don’t like dead things. Mice, snakes, bugs in general scare me. Sometimes I think it is God playing jokes on me. Like, this is good for you Lauren, here’s a deer leg, a mouse, snakeskin and all sorts of fun things. I’d love to say this was the only time it happened, but alas, it was just the beginning. 

Not long after that, spring thaw hit Dubuque. The ground was soft and you could tell that life was gearing up for a new spring season. I was out front one day walking some trimmings to dump into our woods. I was proud as punch to be doing yard work. I’m not a fan. I would rather clean the inside of my house ten times over than do yard work but darn it, I was going to get this yard whipped into shape. As I was walking down the hill, something caught my eye on the ground. I sidestepped over to it and almost dropped my armful of clippings. It was a pterodactoyl skeleton. At least that’s what I thought it was. This thing was scary as heck, huge and perfectly in tact. Wings, beak, talons. Right there in my front yard. Guess what? Kurtis wasn’t there. What does one do with the remains of a dinosaur? I didn’t want to keep this thing in the front yard because given our past deer leg episode, Norbert would likely bring me a wing or gnaw on the bones. So I put on my big girl panties and went to work.

I went back to the garage and grabbed Kurtis’s handy-dandy gloves again–still stained from the deer leg–and switched from sneakers to my wellies. I also found a shovel and traipsed back outside. I bravely faced the skeleton with my shovel and tried to scoop it up as if sliding my spatula under the most perfectly formed pancake for a flip. Unfortunately, the head fell off, so I had to make two trips to the woods. I often wonder what the neighbors thought. There I was in my boots and oversized gloves screaming “ew, ew, ew,” as I delicately carried a dead eagle carcass out in front of me and flung it into my back woods. 

Want more?

It was late summer. The days were getting shorter and there was that crisp whisper of fall in the air. I came home from my Wednesday night tennis drill, parked my Yukon in the garage and went inside to chat with my auntie, who had watched the girls while I played. Dusk turned into evening and auntie went to leave. I opened the door to my garage and there my worst nightmare became a reality. I saw something sliding across my garage floor in the silhouette of an “s.” I slammed my door and went running back into the house. The range of emotions I was experiencing is hard to describe. Tears welled in my eyes while I simultaneously wanted to jump out of my skin. Bear with me on this. Snakes terrify me more than anything in the world. I mean terrify. I’ve been afraid of them my whole life—from teeny tiny ones to big ones that could swallow me whole.

At the ripe age of ten, I heard that the best way to beat a fear is to face it. I was so committed to beating my debilitating fear of snakes that I began checking out every book available at the library on snakes. I’d love to say it worked but, quite frankly, that piece of advice was absolute rubbish. I think my fear tripled after reading up on all the different species and looking at picture after picture of their disgusting, devilish faces. I hate them. Straight up.

Previously, I had only encountered them in museums. Today, there was one in my garage. My knight in shining armor, who would totally understand my panic, was gone. So there I was with a snake in the garage and no one to get rid of it. I wouldn’t be able to go into the garage ever again if there was even a millimicron of a chance that the snake was still in there. The only way I would ever be able to step foot in there again was knowing that it was dead. Who could I call though? Not Ghostbusters. Auntie wouldn’t help and on top of that, she loves every stinking animal that walks the earth. My parents were gone, so my only option I could think of was my neighbor. I texted him a desperate 911 asking if he would come help me with the snake. He didn’t hesitate and even brought his son to help.

They came up with a shovel ready to tackle the problem. I had kept the garage door open but after a twenty minute sweep of the area they told me it wasn’t in there anymore. Lies. Snakes are terrible, rotten, sneaky creatures and I knew that little bugger was still in there. Auntie was still around too chanting out every two seconds, “if you catch it don’t you kill it!” So I sent her home. I didn’t need that negativity at the moment. I could tell my neighbor and his son were over the situation. They came, they helped as best they could, they likely thought I was a little crazy because I was freaking out like a sketching addict and it was getting late. I could tell they were going to leave me. They were going to leave me with the sneaky snake that I knew was still in my garage. It would probably get into my house and slither into my boot so that one day I’d put it on and it would be there to terrify my and give me a heart attack. It’s not crazy. I’ve seen stories on that.

Resigned, I thanked them and went to grab my keys out of the car. As I did, the rotten terrible beast of a snake slithered out towards me. Michael Jordan’s vertical had nothing on me that night. Screaming, jumping, running, possibly wetting my pants a little, I went flying from the garage. Luckily, they were only halfway up the driveway. They came back and my neighbors in shining armor smoked it. Yes, I know snakes kill mice. Yes, word on the street is they are good for your yard. No, it wasn’t an endangered species. No, I didn’t tell auntie we killed it.

I’ve mentioned this before and I will say it again. In my book of life, a good snake is a dead snake. I never felt so relieved. While I was sure it was about eight feet long when I initially saw it, turns out is was possibly a foot in length.

Needless to say, after cleaning the blood off the garage floor and dispensing of the guilty party, my heroes left. I’m pretty sure I followed them the whole way home with tears of joy streaming down my face as I thanked them. I called Kurtis to let him know what happened and then proceeded to yell at him for not being here for me in my most desperate time of need. He asked why I left the garage door open.

I would like to say I slept better knowing it was dead, but to add insult to injury, within the next two weeks the girls and I found three sheds in the yard. One was intertwined in the back steps leading up to our deck and I was positive I had a colony living in our stone wall. I imagined them plotting against me and watching me daily. Did I mention I have a wild imagination?

That winter we had a mice. Get off your high horses people I hear you—you shouldn’t have killed the snake. He would’ve helped with the mice. Serves you right for killing the snake. Yea, yea, I get it and you’re probably right. I’m still happy it died.

Have I mentioned yet that we practically live on a farm? We have woods all around the back of our home and a creek running in the back. It’s out a bit from town, so as you can tell from what you’ve read so far, we get critters. The mice moved into our comfy cozy garage for the winter and then the little buggers tried to take it a step further and move into the house.

After a mouse interrupted my homemade peierogie making near Christmas—Kurtis was home thank goodness—he started setting traps for them. Traps are good. Catching mice is good. Dead mice in traps are good when your husband is home. Not as good when he’s gone. My poor dad became my go-to for coming out, disposing of the mice and then re-setting the traps. Here’s how my winter went. I’d be running a business meeting and SNAP. Dead mouse. That lipstick color looks great on you Fern and SNAP. Dead mouse. Sunday dinners with the family? Yes, the buns are homemade and SNAP. Dead mouse. To help with my anxiety of it all I pretended they were Gus Gus and Jacque. Just sweet little friends that meant no harm. I mean, I killed them but the thought helped. At one point when I was yelling at Kurtis on the phone…again…he kindly told me this is farm living and to get used to it. Soon after we moved to Texas.

Let me just say there were incidents in Texas as well, but luckily, Kurtis was always around. A rattlesnake to my left as I went to let one of my consultants in at the front gate sent me flying back to our apartment (in my director suit and heels) screaming for Kurtis. A tarantula we named Tito who visited on the daily. Cockroaches the size of my lipstick that came out to join us for evening cocktails on the porch. A mockingbird that lived outside our window and sang from midnight until four in the morning. But I’ll save those stories for another post.

I was well aware that moving back to my farm meant I would likely encounter some more fun-filled events. Kurtis was again working a hitch two on and two off, but I was hoping this time my luck would change. I mean, he spent almost four months home before he started his new gig and nothing. Absolutely nothing. We power washed the exterior and no snakes came flying out of the stone wall I dreaded. No sheds. No mice. The only incident was when a snake apparently crawled across our patio on a sunny afternoon when the girls and their nanny were out back. They named him Fred. I pretended it didn’t happen. Denial is a beautiful thing. In the meantime, we also got three little kitties. These garage/outdoor cats, contrary to what my girls say, were brought into the family solely to kill mice. I was feeling pretty good about it all.

Naturally, the week before Kurtis left, karma reared its ugly head. Kurtis killed two mice with his flip flop (not even kidding, he’s a beast). First, one was running around down behind our bar. WACK. Second, Hadley came running out of her room screaming. WACK. The kitties mutilated one in the garage and left it for us and then literally the day before he left, double SNAP, SNAP. The Mary Poppins in me thought, perfect, they all were handled before he left, so now we won’t have problems. Dad was onboard to help with any caught in traps again, too.  

About a week after Kurtis left, I had put the girls to bed, shut off Hadley’s light and was walking into the hall when I heard a sound no mother alone in her house with her babies wants to hear. It was a strange, scratching, something alive kind of sound that alerts you to the fact that you are not alone like you thought. The fight or flight adrenaline hit me like a ton of bricks. I was in the back corner of our basement with two babes in rooms to my right, precious cargo upstairs sleeping and a presumed intruder between me and the staircase to her.

I stood paralyzed in the hallway. The sound was coming from the family room in front of me. I had nothing to grab at the moment but thought about using a lamp. My phone was upstairs to call for help. Suck it up Lauren and face it was my last thought before forcing myself to move. I took a few cautious steps toward the sound, fully prepared to see a hooded man standing in the living room. As I turned the corner…nothing. Then the sound again, but this time behind me. It was the creepiest sound. A scratching, tapping, fluttering sound. But it was impossible to place. It was right out of Hill House but I knew it wasn’t a ghost. A thought occurred to me…a raccoon had gotten in the house. Some crazy sized critter had gotten into the house and was stuck.

By now the girls were on to me because I was pacing the hallway. I told them to get upstairs fast. I wasn’t prepared to take on a raccoon so I was right up behind them. Memories of the time a chipmunk got into my parents’ house and the time a bat fell from a tree onto my shoulder suddenly flooded my memory (no, I’m serious).

Once I was upstairs I grabbed my phone and called Kurtis. He didn’t believe me and basically told me I was crazy. Maybe I was? I stood at the top of my staircase listening. Nope. Not crazy. It was still down there. I was fully prepared for a raccoon to come walking down the hallway. Do you know how mean they are? Likely rabid, too. I called my mom and dad. I mean, what else do you do? I will say this. At thirty five, I still call my mom and dad an awful lot for help. Anyway, they were next on my people to call after Kurtis, who was worthless in this situation and, quite frankly, ticking me off. I asked both mom and dad to come–dad for brute force and mom for brains. So, at around 9:30pm, when they were likely settled in for Chicago Fire, they came rolling out.

I waited at the top of the stairs and continued to hear the strange, very much alive, sound. When mom and dad showed up I couldn’t help by laugh. Apparently, I may have eggagerated the situation. My dad was in long pants and boots wielding an axe, butcher knife, a lob wedge, two putters and a big can of Raid bug spray. Mom came in her jammies. The sound had stopped (of course) but after a few walk-throughs we picked it up again. Mom and I and the girls stayed upstairs while my dad went room by room with his putter and bug spray. Door slowly opening. Door closed. Opening. Closed.

At one point he came up as confused as I was. He had heard it and he too thought it was moving around but then it would be gone. We started knocking on walls and low and behold, after much trial and error decided that it was, you guessed it, a mouse…in the wall. Can I just say something? My house is pretty nice. It was just recently gutted top to bottom. How a mouse was now living in my wall was beyond me and beyond annoying.

Dad started talking about cutting a hole in the wall and setting a trap to get it but I was over there like, oh hell no. We just got the place put back together after the reno and the last thing I wanted to do was start punching holes in it again. My animal loving daughters and mother came downstairs and were horrified at this poor darling mouse stuck in the wall. The girls named it, tapped the wall for it and then told it good night and went to bed happy as can be about the whole adventure and their new friend. I wanted it dead. After chatting with Kurtis, we decided to let it go for the night. As cruel as it sounds, it would eventually wear itself out and die. I was worried about the smell of rotting mouse but we figured we’d deal with that if and when it happened. The next day, nothing–no sound, no movement. Quite honestly, nothing ever since. To this day it’s a mystery. Did Squeaks get out? Is Squeaks lying there rotting? Not too sure. 

There are more. I’m sure there will be more, too. But just when you think I’m out here with it all together living life on a perfectly staged farm, remember these disasters and know that you couldn’t be more wrong. When I introduced this blog I told you about my gong show dumpster fire moments and my friends, these are just the tip of the iceberg.