Fooling around on the most important person in your life

I texted Pammy, Christopher’s girlfriend, to ask if she’d come to the mall with me.

I’ve read it is better to take a seasoned guide when you’re going to places that are unfamiliar and possibly dangerous.

My request immediately put her on high alert: “What do you need that is actually making you go to the store to get it?” came her reply.

She’s right. There is nothing I can’t order online and then wait patiently for it to arrive. I wear stretchy things or leather things, I know my sizes, and my colour palette spans all the way from black to black. I will not lie; my UPS man is one of my closest friends. We discuss whatever I’m driving that week, and he usually comes up the driveway laughing as he says, “Let me guess, a pair of boots you just couldn’t live without.”

And here I thought I maintained an air of mystery.

Which made it all rather odd when Christopher began working for UPS over the holiday season. Things got weirder still when he found out his route was the area around our house. I sneak boots into the house like teenagers sneak in dope or girlfriends. And now here was my son about to discover the sordid truth about his mother.

Soon after he started, I asked if he liked it.

“I like it. People are happy to see you,” he told me.

“Well, of course they are. You’re bringing them boots,” I replied.

I was pleased when he got the job. His last one had been as a bouncer in a strip club.

It’s hard to meet up with the other moms you’ve known since preschool and lead with that.

Before every shift I’d stand on the stairs and kiss him on the forehead and tell him to hide behind the big guys. And every time he would sigh and remind me he was the big guy.

At UPS, the biggest challenge had been finding him a uniform that fit.

I’d overlooked one salient fact when he started. He was working in tandem with a driver — my driver, of course. As they headed down a side street one day, the driver said he had a delivery for one street over. Christopher said, “Let me guess, 1234 Sommerfeld St.” (that is not my actual address, though when I die the city should totally consider it) and laughed as his driver thought he was clairvoyant.

Between all members of this household, we are “known to UPS” like some people are known to police.

My sister Roz is not much better. I’m sure her postman knows she’s a Sagittarius who loves to cook and likes one of her cats more than the other. They chat most days and he could probably fake her signature if he weren’t a bonded professional.

She and her neighbour got into a bit of a tug at Christmas over what they’d given him.

“I gave him homemade truffles,” said Sandy.

“I gave him a gift card,” replied Roz. Smugly.

Dude cleans up on that street.

With the holidays over, things inevitably got quieter on the delivery front. I stopped asking Christopher to hide deliveries in the garage if I wasn’t home, and even Ari started getting fewer deliveries from Computer Heaven or whatever they call it.

My text to Pammy was about going for jeans, because everyone knows searching for the perfect pair of jeans is basically a unicorn hunt unless you’re built like a swizzle stick.

Roz called me laughing yesterday.

Her postman asked her if she’d been seeing someone else.

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When the cat starts gas-lighting you

I’ve been having time issues lately. Little slipknots in an otherwise linear day, tiny burps that are just enough to make me question my consciousness if not my actual sanity.

I do wonder if sometimes the butter is slipping off the old noodle, but I can usually find an explanation I can live with.

When the clocks went back in the fall, Christopher had already moved out. He is the only one tall enough to reach the giant clock in the kitchen, so it has defiantly been declaring the wrong time ever since. At Christmas, his Aunt Roz grabbed him and made him change it. I was not aware of this and continued to add an hour to the time when I saw it. This produced some problems.

I have owned many cats, but the current crop includes a pair of kittens so boisterous and badly behaved we call them instead something that rhymes with kittens. Just a year old, they show no signs of slowing down. Cairo, the girl, likes to sit on my bedside table. She also likes to hit the buttons on my clock radio.

One morning my alarm didn’t go off. She had changed the time on the alarm. Other days I’ve heard music wailing away from my room midday; she’s hit the button that plays music for an hour before you sleep. She has turned the volume button way up. She has turned it way down. I know it is her because she sits beside it staring at me, wondering when she will get her reward for mastering electronics at such a young age.

I already have sleep issues that would rival the greats, like Van Gogh, Abraham Lincoln, and my Dad. If you’re a normal person and you miss a night of sleep, you’ll be a groggy bear. If you’re bipolar and you mess with sleep patterns, it’s like jumping into a volcano.

I balance the beast with a predictable life and a tiny white pill every night. Sometimes that doesn’t work, especially since the arrival of the rhymes-with-kittens. Where my father would roam around the house at 3 a.m. and peer out the blinds looking for loiterers and foul play, I burrow into my bed and read while the cats determine if I can be tricked into feeding them.

The other day I thought lying down for an hour with a book would help offset back-to-back bad nights. I never, ever fall asleep in the day so I figured it couldn’t hurt. I promptly fell asleep, but didn’t know it. I dreamt that I’d broken my bedside lamp and had gone online to find a new one; I dreamt I’d made dinner; I dreamt I folded laundry.

I’m not half that industrious when I’m awake. I also dreamt I’d managed to get eight winter tires into the trunk of an Elantra, which tells you right there I should have known I was dreaming.

When I woke up and figured out I’d been asleep, I spent the rest of the day being grateful my lamp wasn’t broken, making the dinner that hadn’t magically appeared, and folding laundry. No tires were required to be crammed into any trunks.

I went up to bed that night determined to sleep through. I made the bed so I could get in it (don’t ask), and hauled open my laptop. Then I looked at my clock and realized it was already after 11. Cursing a day that had managed to get away from me, I popped a sleeping pill, catching a glance of the computer screen as I shut it down: 9 p.m.

There’s nothing wrong with my noodle; my cat just plays roulette with my clock.

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Mom’s keepsake sparks memories of my first boyfriend

Some anniversaries are more bittersweet than others

When my mom knew she was dying 16 years ago, she spent a lot of her compromised energy worrying about what would happen to the things she’d spent a lifetime accumulating. Always tidy and meticulous, she did a good job dispersing nearly everything. What would the things I chose to keep say about me?

I tugged open a little-used drawer on my dresser a couple of days ago, and spied familiar brown leather. My mom’s keepsake box, where she kept her never-worn earrings, clips of white-blond hair from her daughters’ first haircuts, and tiny silver bracelets we’d each received as babies. I scanned through a collection of birth announcements, but stopped short on a clipping I hadn’t seen in years. Just a few lines, clipped from some paper, announcing the fatal crash of my first boyfriend. Mom’s familiar writing, “Jan. 81″ in one corner. He died 35 years ago this week; it’s like she was putting it into my hand.

The fact she kept this for 19 years tells you a lot of things about the boy. We were never destined to be more than teenage sweethearts, but Allan was always more than just that. Like most of my friends, I’d desperately wanted to have a boyfriend though I had little idea of how to actually have one. Allan was open and kind, full of romantic gestures that seemed sprung from some fairy tale I was still young enough to believe.

In him, my mother found the perfect boy: one she could feed endlessly. He would come to the cottage and happily sleep in a bunk bed far too short for his 6-foot-3 frame. Allan was a big brother to Gilly; he would show up at Roz’s apartment and she would — what else — feed him. The entire time we dated, none of my friends needed to call parents for a ride home. He would blow up his long-distance bill to call me, drive an hour each way to spend my lunch hour with me, and bring me flowers every Sunday. My father replaced a father he could never please, and after our relationship ended he continued to come around. When you date a Sommerfeld, you date all of us, and this was something I learned from Allan.

He was goofy and sweet and genuine; he could leave his tangled early years outside our door and long after we broke up, I realized he may have adored me but he needed my family. I was in grade 11 and Allan was in grade 12, but age wise, I was only 14 to his 18.

My parents quashed the whole idea but Allan slowly won them over by just being who he was, not who he thought they wanted him to be. That our bond outlasted a high school romance reminds me every day why I’ll never underestimate young love.

I stared at the clipping my mother had kept all these years.

Allan has no way of knowing how he has lived on in this family for 35 years after his death. My own kids know of him as a kind of footnote, usually in the context of why I don’t downplay when they fall in love and in my cautionary tales about drunk drivers. My youngest is now older than Allan ever was, and I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge twin pangs of regret and relief.

Maybe they’ll wonder more one day, though. When they go through the box in the basement with cards and letters and dead roses, and the small yellow clipping that I, like my mother, have held onto all these years.

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Sorry for being slightly less thrifty than you were, Mom and Dad

At least I feel guilty: on not following the ways of my parents

The corner of the kitchen where I work is cold. Old double brick houses aren’t famous for their insulative qualities, especially on the north side. My Dad used to keep the heat turned down to something in line with a penguin habitat, but I don’t; I refuse to be cold. Every time I consider this, I think about all the things I do that would make my parents wince.

I’m not particularly wasteful. I turn off lights behind me, but I also leave one on over the stove until we’ve gone up for the night because I hate walking into a dark room. In some ways it’s lazy — I could just hit the switch on the way in — but it’s more philosophical: I want the comfort of that glow in the heart of my home.

I keep the screen on the front door open a bit in the summer because the cats like to look out. I have the air conditioning on at the same time. I am cooling off the great outdoors, Mom. I know. I’m sorry.

I buy expensive food for my cats. Christer calls it câté. My father used to give our cat, Nooly, hunks of gristle and say it was good for his teeth. The silly cat ate anything Dad gave him and lived forever and I know my father would be rolling his eyes as my feline warriors wait for a tin to be opened twice a day. I’m sorry Dad, but once you’ve seen a cat do a butt scoot across the carpet from a UTI, you’ll spring for the good stuff.

My Mom clipped coupons and price matched and drove around to get deals. I admired her for that; I don’t do it. I like shopping as much as a cat likes a UTI and getting me into even one store is a minor miracle. I’ve been known to make lists, but I have never once actually had the list in my hand when I get to the store. I send the kids to shop and trust me, there is nothing more random than grocery shopping done by a hungry boy with his mother’s debit card.

I do a lot more laundry than my Mom did. If I can’t decide the provenance of a towel or sweater, into the wash it goes. It drives them nuts, but quite frankly, kids are gross. My Dad used to hang clothing on hooks all over the place — the door to the garage, the basement, his closet — because he could “get another wear out of it”. My mother would have to grab them when he wasn’t looking to sneak them into the wash. Kids aren’t the only ones who are gross.

Of course, both parents had a lot of do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do moments. I don’t think anyone bought more sheets and towels than my Mom. I’m still using some of them and she died nearly 16 years ago. She went into bedding stores like some people go to animal shelters: she was merely finding them all a good home. My mother could cross-border shop like it was an Olympic sport and whereas I declare anything I bring back, my mother would tell us wearing six layers of clothing and a piece of duct tape over our mouths was normal.

My Dad would shake his head as Mom wasted gas heading to the mall, but he would drive for hours going nowhere on a Sunday. It’s probably the one thing my Dad and I would agree on; he’d curse the temperature of my house, but he’s still riding shotgun on all my restless drives.

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Match.com in the sock wars

When Pammy and Christopher moved out a few months back, I knew what it really meant. It meant I could finally turf through everything they left behind and find all the single socks I knew they were insisting were not in their room.

We have an ongoing sock problem, something common to most homes with more than two feet. By the time we were up to five people living here when Ari’s girlfriend Taryn moved in, I knew the sock equation would only get more complicated.

The kids don’t think we have a sock problem; they think we have a Mom problem. They accuse me of being too OCD when it comes to socks, which is not the case. OCD is my sister, Roz, whom we call 1 2 3 4. Roz would have a stroke if she saw our stray sock problem.

I used to just pile forlorn singles on top of the dryer, believing laundry day was actually a sort of reunification program. Then I discovered the cats like to sleep on top of the dryer and stranded socks were being dumped behind the machines into the land of dust and hoses and sample packets of Tide you have to open with your teeth, and therefore don’t.

So I started neatly piling them on my dresser. The pile grew. I started placing them in a little plastic bin. The pile grew. I got a decorative basket. The pile grew.

I learned new hiding places for socks, like tucked in the fitted corners of not just the sheets, but the sheets for the cottage. I boldly stuck my hand deep into gym bags where no hand had ever dared to go before. I pried back the big rubber gasket on the washing machine to find two small socks huddled there, no doubt believing their entire future was going to consist of going around and around at warp speed, wet.

I loosened my pairing rules. Nothing had to be a perfect match anymore, just the same make and similar colour. This actually made me crazy, but the kids were doing it anyway so it’s like they say about a successful negotiation: neither side is truly happy.

One day I got peeved and just closed my eyes and rolled up socks together willy nilly. Tall ones, short ones, pink ones, black ones. I thought I was teaching my children about restorative justice: they would have to see how it felt to be me, faced daily with their sock shortcomings and their total disregard for Sock Law.

They didn’t notice. They just wore the socks.

But this column isn’t about our past sock transgressions. It’s not even about sharing every household’s dark little secret. Please don’t tell me about sock clips or lingerie bags or any other not-gonna-happen trick that promises to make my life easier.

I have gone through a McDonald’s drive-thru in the morning in order to get a little carton of milk for my morning tea because I don’t want to get dressed. The egg mcmuffin is a red herring; I just want the milk. Anyone who reliably can’t think through milk is not going to clip 1,000 pairs of socks together every week before they go in the wash.

Nope, now what I do is weave my daily annoyance — unmatched socks — into an annual festival. Every New Year’s Eve at midnight, I throw out all the Socks Without Partners. While you were popping Champagne corks, having your last cigarette and starting a diet, I was having a weight lifted from my heart.

I found an unmatched sock today. Gonna be a long year.

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A tool box to make brownies is just wrong

I heard some disturbing thumps coming from the kitchen, but before I could investigate Ari yelled up the stairs.

“What’s vegetable oil?” Not where, but what.

“In the lazy Susan. There’s some canola,” I yelled back.

“Is canola a vegetable? Really?”

“Do I want to know what you’re doing?” I yelled again.

“I’m making brownies for when Taryn gets home from work.”

Of course I went down to look. When your son is doing something darling for his girlfriend, you smile. When your son decides to bake, you worry.

On the counter stood a box of chocolate brownie mix. Beside it was a yellow mixing bowl, from which protruded a medium sized whisk. The bowl was full of a thick brown substance that reminded me of the time I went to a spa and they submerged me in a tub of mud that sucked me in like quicksand and I made them take me out.

It appears I paid a lot of money to be engulfed in boxed brownie mix.

On the counter lay a tape measure, a pair of pliers and tin snips. I’m used to tools lying around. I’ve been doing some finishing work in the bathroom and I never put anything away; I currently have a hammer, an exacto blade and a chisel in my bedroom.

Writing that sentence just pointed out the obvious flaws in my dating plans, come to think of it.

Ari recently built a very cool coffee table with a huge slab of cherry for a top, and as the weather turned, he moved some of the construction inside — to the living room. We have that kind of house.

“I have to measure the pan to make sure the goo will fit,” he explained. I stared at my whisk. One prong was arched straight out from the rest, broken. Before I could ask, Ari took the pliers and bent it outward even more.

“What happened?” A couple of extra words were in that sentence but I try not to swear in print. It was my good whisk.

The brownie goop was too thick, and it had broken the whisk. My son decided the next best step was to snip off the offending appendage and carry on.

I grabbed it from him and pulled the whisk remains from the offending mud. It was like that Sword in the Stone thing. He apologized for the whisk, but assured me it would probably still work OK even down an arm. I was talking to my father, I swear.

“You can’t snip metal over baked goods, you idiot,” I told him lovingly. “Get the other whisk. This looks awful, by the way.”

“It’s actually not bad,” he told me. “And it’s only three ingredients, so you can’t screw it up.”

I surveyed the array of tools on my kitchen counter. I leaned over and put the oven on. “Preheat the oven to 350 degrees” is an awful lot like “welcome to Walmart” — you skip over it on the way to the reason you’re there.

When I heard the timer go off, I came down to watch the big reveal. He pulled a sad little pan of brownies from the oven, smiling with pride.

“Think Taryn will be surprised?” he asked. Mostly grateful she doesn’t ingest some metal whisk, I thought.

As he was cleaning up, he started laughing. “I used more tools to make a pan of brownies than I did to build my coffee table.”

I came downstairs the next morning to find a roll of duct tape sitting on the counter.

I’m not even going to ask.

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Are you a divorced parent? Stay off Facebook this holiday

If you’re divorced with kids, watch what you post on social media this Christmas.

Consider this: most custody arrangements have children alternating holidays with their parents. It’s fair, it’s right and it’s hard. But if your kids are with your ex and you change your status to “so sad and missing my babies” you will suck all the joy out of their time with the other parent. Don’t punish them. Flip side, if you post that you’re lying on a beach sucking up daiquiris while a pool boy waves a palm frond over you, you’re letting them know how much fun you’re having without them.

Fractured families are a fact of life but try being a kid desperately trying to cover the middle ground. They already struggle to acclimate themselves to shifting households (my boys were always shocked when something changed in their absence; they believed I was in some kind of suspended animation until they returned) but navigating their parents’ emotional waters is asking too much.

I’m not on Facebook with my sons and they ignore me on Twitter but that doesn’t stop me from knowing you can send powerful messages on these platforms without even realizing it. I know many parents, especially those with younger kids, are absolutely connected to them on social media. The problem with broadcasting the minutiae of your day is that you’re blasting it out there to everyone. Maybe you’re just fishing for a friend’s invitation or bragging about your trip, but your kids are receiving a very different message.

Maybe this is your year, your turn. Maybe you’ve created the perfect holiday with your children and have the matching jammies to prove it. Put down your trumpet. A dig into your ex is only a dig into those kids as well. They will be concerned about the parent they’re not with. For the same reason, you don’t want that parent posting sad faces; those caught in the middle feeling guilty for being unable to be two places at once.

Our family elected to have Christmas dinner on Boxing Day to accommodate the ever changing configurations of extended family. It’s no big deal; we always find each other and eat too much and laugh until we cry about some things, and cry until we laugh about others.

Ari will be with Taryn’s family on Christmas Day, and Christopher will be with Pammy’s. Every year is different, and this is as it should be. I swore when I had kids that I would never be that pouty mother who insisted that somehow my celebration plans outranked someone else’s. I’m adamant that I don’t want anyone driving around and around trying to get to some allotted house like Christmas Day is a series of dental appointments. Go somewhere or stay home, plant yourself and have fun.

Roz called and assured me I wouldn’t be alone on Christmas Day and I smiled. Alone? I hadn’t thought about it. That’s when I remembered the early years after the divorce, when the alternating holiday clause in the divorce decree kicked in. It looked pretty fair on paper, though in practice it was far rougher. A single day has never defined my family, nor has any holiday, but I have seen the broken faces of youngsters spying a post on a feed the author thought was incidental. It wasn’t.

This time of year is about excitement, presents and food. It’s about family and memories and the start of a new year.

It’s also about peace.

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Socks, underwear … and a man-sized cheese grater

Pammy and Christopher moved out a couple of months ago. I’ve seen or spoken to Pammy most days, and she still brings Alfie around to visit. As dogs go, he isn’t very robust and has to wear a parka to try to deal with the cold that set in when August ended. He shivers.

He’s a rat terrier Chihuahua and she’s letting his hair grow for warmth. He resembles a small furry troll in a parka, sometimes layered with a hoodie. Every time I see Alfie he has a new ensemble.

I have seen Christopher exactly once, and I force hugged him. I have spoken to him on the phone once. We have Skyped three times. Well, he didn’t answer two of them, technically. It’s safe to say the moving out thing is a roaring success. By the time he moved out we were on each other’s nerves so much we were both prepared to risk out of sight being out of mind. It appears, however, absence has made only my heart grow fonder.

Without day to day contact, it’s a little tougher to figure out Christmas gifts. They get their stockings, but they can also have one decent present that isn’t socks and underwear and razor blades. This usually results in my Visa taking a hit at some online computer place. I called and asked what he wanted.

“Socks.”

“You already get socks. Not socks. Something else,” I said. There was a pause.

“More socks.”

“I get you need socks! What do you want for your good present?” There was another pause.

“Underwear.”

“You will get all that. You’ve been getting that for 24 years. I will buy you underwear when you’re 50,” I told him, exasperated. I also realized that was slightly creepy.

“A breadknife,” he said, after some more careful thought. “We don’t have a breadknife, and Pammy says I can just use the other knife, but it rips the bread and it’s just not right. She says we don’t need one. I need a breadknife.” I told him I’d get him a breadknife.

“Oh! And a cheese grater. I can’t use this little hand-held thing that Pammy likes. It’s impossible. I need a man-sized cheese grater. For some reason, if we need a thing Pammy wants, no problem, we get it. But we don’t need a breadknife or a man-sized cheese grater, apparently.”

The idea of Christopher cooking has always been like a raccoon playing a banjo. You guess it’s possible but you doubt it. When they’d been gone a week, I got a note on Skype from him. “Pammy is making a lot of recipe food,” it read. “I’m not sure how I feel about this.” I make peasant food involving no recipes. I knew she’d been dying to have her own kitchen and make real food. They were making a foray into a different country every night. My son was wary. I told him he was spoiled rotten and to tell her everything was excellent. “So far, so good, but I’ll let you know,” he concluded.

Fast forward two months and this same man is requesting kitchen accessories.

“I can’t think of anything else,” he told me. I explained he could have more than a cheese grater and a breadknife. “I know, as I go along not having the things I need, I’ll start a list and send it to you.” I agreed this was a good plan. It’s not like he was going to go all crazy on me and order a melon baller or a pastry bag.

At least, I don’t think so.

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Standardized testing at its best and worst

Did you ever fill in the bubbles carelessly?

When I spied the “careless bubble” headline on a science site, I knew instantly what it meant. Those tests they make kids take by filling in endless lines of bubbles. I asked Ari if they still did the standardized tests that way, and yup, they’re still administering the same torture I had to endure more than 40 years ago.

I am not a good test taker. Never was. To score my knowledge — let alone my potential — based on those results would give you only a version of me. A scared, nervous, resigned version. I was so terrified of doing poorly on the parts I could have aced, like reading comprehension, that I would wear holes in the card writing and erasing answer after answer. The math section was a different story; I usually had no clue what the answers were, so I just made patterns in the bubbles. I did this through the end of high school.

I’ve just discovered that my careless bubble decisions apparently signal that I will never achieve higher education. “Perhaps students who put little careful effort into completing a survey also put little careful effort into the paperwork that impacts future success, like homework or financial aid applications,” says the study’s author, Dr. Collin Hitt, University of Arkansas. Perhaps Dr. Hitt is entirely correct, or perhaps Dr. Hitt has never met a bunch of kids who simply learn and test differently than the rounded holes they so adamantly get jammed into. I’m a square peg; I’m not dumb.

Getting older has taught me a great deal about how we rate people, how we grade them, slot them and categorize them. Despite my pathetic math skills, I had an amazing high school math teacher, Brian Melton, who stayed every day after school to tutor me and actually cheered when I passed a test. I went on to be really decent at accounting (as soon as you put a dollar sign in front of the numbers, I was a natural, it seemed), something he never knew. But I learned something better than math: I learned you don’t give up on the kid when the kid can’t be accurately measured by the system.

It was my English teacher, Arlene Miller, who told me you teach the student, not the curriculum. She knows I’m aware of this; she remains one of my closest friends. My English marks were as high as my math marks were low but it was these opposite ends of the spectrum that taught me the most. I didn’t need straight As to gather everything I needed to be what I wanted. I needed to be allowed to try to understand it without fear of failure.

Nobody wants to fail. I’m far more scared of never trying.

My sons have flunked classes; so did I. I never went screaming down to the school to blindly defend them because teenagers are excellent liars and I needed them to fight their own battles. They would tell me how unfair a teacher was; I’d tell them life is full of people like that and they might as well get used to it. I’ve come across some terrible teachers but I’ve come across far more lazy brats, starting with me as a student. You bully my kid, we’ll be having a talk. You demand they put in the effort, I’ll only be speaking to them.

Tell your kids there’s more to life than acing the bubble test, and then have their backs as they figure out what that is.

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Hello from the other side: remember party lines?

“The fly-around Internet is dead,” I yelled, needlessly. That’s what I call the magic that makes my computer work. Nothing would connect. I checked the little light up box and saw just two of eight tiny lights blinking back at me.

Our connection to the outside world, our very existence, had been snuffed out. I started messing with my handy unfolded paper clip, fumbling around in the back to hit things to reset. I do this blindly because I can’t see back there but I am ever hopeful.

“Stop messing with it, I’ve already called them,” said Ari. “It’s the actual modem and they can’t get someone here until Friday.”

I thought his face would break with sadness. There is nothing he can’t fix himself, except when our supplier needs to actually supply some equipment.

“Well, we can live for a couple of days. I can work somewhere else,” I shrugged. My son, on the other hand, looked ashen.

“I pushed hard to get an appointment sooner. I told them we have a working professional here who has deadlines.”

I looked around, wondering who this working professional could be. My sons think I play minesweeper and watch cat videos all day. I started laughing. I became a working professional because my son wanted his Internet connection back faster.

He talks with most of his friends through an open chat that means I can hear their conversations when he doesn’t have his headset on. When I walk in the room, I hear a chorus of “hi, Ari’s Mom” which I find kind of endearing and a little creepy. But every time I hear them talking, I can only think of one thing: the time my little sister had a convulsion.

I’ll begin at the beginning. It was probably 1968. We had a phone, but it was a party line which was cheaper. When I explain this to the kids they think party means party. I have to carefully describe what this meant back in 1968.

I don’t recall how many people shared the line, but I do remember you were supposed to keep calls short. These other voices were a mystery to me. They weren’t the Eichenbergs next door, and my world essentially consisted of my house and theirs.

You’d pick up the phone and a woman would be talking. All the time. Same woman. Talking, talking, talking. My mother would check in at intervals because nobody was supposed to hog the line and this woman hogged the line. She was like this ghostly member of the family. My mother would silently fume but her manners always won and she never said anything.

My older sister Roz used to shush me and we’d gently pick up the phone and listen, sometimes. I learned about gossip from this woman. She talked so much she never even heard the audible click it made when we picked up.

Having a phone back in 1968 mostly meant waiting to use the phone, until the day Gilly had a high fever and started convulsing. My mother needed to call the doctor. With a limp baby in her arms, she grabbed the phone and heard the usual babbling. She said she had an emergency but the woman told her to wait a few minutes.

Words came out of my mother’s mouth that I had never heard before and would never hear again. The doctor was there instantly and Gilly lived. We got a private line.

I smile now when I realize how much I pay every month so we can always have someone on the other line.

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