Auntie (and Uncle!) in Bellingham: Let the Games Begin

Previously on A&A's Adventures in Cohabitation: Despair oh ye Trackies for Adella hath wrought torrents upon the Hamlet of Redmond!!! Love is a storm the crashes through with brackish bravado and leaves kelp where once there was gatorade. Yet true love withstands all - even the ravages of track night - and gets a nice hotel stay out of the deal. Adella discovers a new calling in helping children (and skipping work to do so!). Andrew weaves (or prints) orange wrenches out of dreams. A fluffernutter burst its way onto the scene, dragging us all back kicking and giggling into childhood. Or possibly just puzzlement.

Coming up: Three little boys and a van-full of toys pull in to town with frazzled parents in tow. As Daddy take flight to find a kayak, Uncle Andrew slowly begins the tests and trials of Uncledom. He begins the battle deafened by his own internal demons (which might be a good thing - Adella uses earplugs personally). Adella contemplates her Johnnie past and considers going Home where Home once never was, before a rare burst of impulse buys! And we toast the new age with terrifyingly exquisite new glassware. Will Uncle Andrew survive two weeks with his new nephews? Will he ever hear again?? Will we shatter champagne flutes upon the trails of Galbraith? Read on to find out...

Domestic Bliss is a Battalion of Earwax and a Hot Cup o'Joe - If Aeschylus were to write the scripts for 1950's teenage hygiene shorts, he would likely hit upon +Andrew Wright's current little predicament. Mr. (W)right has the mad fortune of prodigious earwax production. This, in turn, means that he can hear a laughably small percentage of my sweetly mordant susurrations; it also means that a large percentage of our married life involves him looking at me with the Andrew "???" face (raised eye brows, pursed lips, and a fight-or-flight anchoring posture just in case I am warning him of impending attack). As I am a soft-spoke introvert, never fully committed to having communicated my precious internal world to the acidified external world, I tend to respond with the Adella "I will remember this grievous lapse on your death bed" face. It's cute, but Andrew's a bit afraid of me, so this succession of faces perhaps does not help.

 To ameliorate this little snag in our superlative domestic bliss, he attempted to solve the problem with some OTC ear wax drops. Predictably they had the opposite effect and currently he is one step closer to Pinball Wizardry (deaf, not-so-dumb, and near-sighted, boy who will definitely come to the mirror at the slightest provocation!)

It raised an interesting conversation to which I shall give short shrift in a fruitless grab at pith. Andrew was saying he had read (I think actually I have told him this several times, but it's nice that he remembers what I say in any way, shape or form) that we only actually hear a small percentage of the words people use, and that from this our brains are able to fill in the blanks to recreate sentences. He wondered if it was that he heard fewer words than others, or if he filled in fewer blanks. I reflected that, as somebody who relies heavily on filling in blanks, I can accurately predict the anticipated content of a sentence by context, body language, tone, and remembered/predicted patterns of communication previously used by my interlocutor. When I'm listening to a person, my brain runs parallel in their voice. From that prediction, my brain also can prospectively predict the sentence being uttered based on the first few words; the predicted sentence serves as a template so I need only flag the operative words and affirm whether they conform or contrast to my initial expectations. I often find myself finishing sentences aloud with them (and for my own part, trailing off in the expectation that others will finish mine.) 

From my observation, Andrew tends to rely less on body language/expression/etc., and has a less accurate memory for ways that others talk or what exactly people have said before, in what tone, and by which tics of speech. He also seems much more focused on single words in a sentence and will have less facility juggling synonyms or different ways of saying the same thing. I suggested this made me think that he probably did less filling in of blanks. Then again, he seems pretty darned congested. Naturally, this is all speculation. But when left to my own devices with a deaf husband, the brain begins all sorts of whimsies of speculation.

At the moment it's not just me and my buttery intonations that fall on deaf ears: Last night he could not even hear the booming timbre of my brother-in-law (the first, not Andrew's biological brother). Yes, this is family invasion season! Yesterday night was only a preview, as they are immediately skipping the country. So far, their byzantine travel plans have involved driving to Chicago, taking a plane to Seattle, renting a car for the drive from Seattle to Bellingham, and then returning one car while pick up another in Bellingham. Prospectively they are now taking this new rental car across the border, hopping a ferry, driving across Galliano Island, and finally taking a Whaler to my father's property in the Gulf Islands. I imagine they will then hang glide to Salt Spring Island, where the boys will grab a jet ski and Rachel will commandeer a helicopter from which she will parachute onto a paddle board in the middle of the Atlantic Coast and eventually, presumably, swim back to shore, while the boys meet up with a train and head their way back. No, really, I believe they take the ferry back here and spend about ten more days in mid-August in Bellingham with us. 

 Shockingly there were snares along the way. The Bellingham rental car was long gone upon their arrival. The boys came to Round Table to meet us and Rachel stayed behind to get a special "upgrade" to an uncleaned Tahoe that apparently "may be running a little low on gas." By a little low, turns out they meant "sucked dry." She did not even make it to the gas station two miles away. Tow trucks were involved, as were some choice words on both ends. 

My nephews have, as always, glommed onto Gramma Pam, our extended family lightening rod for all things exuberant and attention-seeking. Who can blame them, since she is darned fun. Hopefully she doesn't need to sleep for the remainder of August, because she's not going to get a chance to do so. 

I am still on the OK, list, although at a much lower level of immediate interest when Gramma Pam is around. Andrew was accepted but mostly unacknowledged at this juncture. They'll remember him later, but it was a nice way for him to wade back into the fray for his first official turn as an uncle. His comment upon two hours of hanging out at Round Table: "You know, if you just wanted to stop at one, that's totally ok with me." 

Aside from my new turn as a stage actress - I must enunciate to the back row - and the momentary preview of nephew-mania our weekend has followed a generally typical pattern.I cannot say that I suggest laundering your jacket with a ziplock bag of soynuts in in the pocket. But, one must always experiment. 

Home-Going? I'm often a creature of routine, but once upon a time, I managed my life in leaps and lurches of staggering reclusivity punctuated by spells of astounding impulsivity. I still sometimes do things that surprise me.

This week, it's having blown a rather giddy chunk of my special second savings account to arrange for me and my sweetie to attend... DUN DUN DUN the SAINT JOHN'S COLLEGE Homecoming and 10 year reunion thingy this September. That I have done so is odd for a few reasons. First, I'm chronically cheap and usually will spend hours at the store debating whether I could ever possibly bring myself to pay an extra dollar for the organic kale (sure it's twice as big and looks about ten days fresher than the other stuff, but a dollar??), inevitably ending up buying neither as the virtues of each cancel the others' out.

Second, I hate air travel. Really hate it. I've certainly had my share of idle travelling in the past, but to get a bang for my buck it has typically been of the extremely long kind in very budget accommodations. Now that I have to miss work for the escapade - and particularly since Andrew has no vacation time, currently - this approach to travel is a little less feasible. 

And then there's the fact that I didn't really feel all that into Saint John's - read resented many features of it quite deeply - when I attended. And the parallel fact that I kind of dropped out after two years. Well, technically I dropped out about a week and a half into my third year, but hey you say potato and I say "one more week at this school and I might have a nervous breakdown"

I doubt most of my class actually would even remember Ms. Thompson (we all referred to each other by last names, because it was a mandate that all things be slightly quirky an archaic) and certainly will not recognize Ms. (W)right in her fairly drastic contrast to the former student.

Although it was a school of classics-nerds, oddballs, and introverts, it may have been the place where I felt most personally flawed for being introverted. Classes at SJC are almost entirely weighted by participation in seminars and class discussions. I managed to be a certain breed of Johnnie that is both maligned and begrudgingly respected: the very smart, quiet one. I kid you not, there were articles discussing this problem child in our school paper (Socratically named "The Gadfly," because again everything we did was a little archaic and a little quirky). This creature is the one to turn to to demonstrate a particularly challenging proof, the one who makes occasionally brilliant comments in seminars and then retreats before the other students even notice what has been said, the one who excels in oral exams, and the one who writes exceptionally good papers, but who make a minor impact on the community conversation as a whole.

These Johnnies are inevitably put through the ringer in "don rags" (we didn't really get to see our grades so much as have them vomitted in front of us in a session where all of our teachers sat around us and presented their often quite personalized performance reviews of our scholarship in third person form). Mostly there was a strong undercurrent of disappointment in the wasted potential that went along with "the quiet ones..." Although I would like to say that I had many favorite professors from this period and several had a very soft spot for me, as well. One noted in a don rag that while I was not a particularly active contributor, I had a charming presence in class - he also liked my extracurriculur experiment in making beef tallow candles from the remains of a heart we'd dissected. By the middle of the second year, I learned to parse my thoughts out more slowly and fake "learning in groups" but it was stressful and exhausting.  I really didn't learn the skills to be a class and conversational leader until my experiences in the WWU history seminar and later law school. 

Still, I had a niche there that was utterly pivotal to my identity and which still is strongly engrained in me. My first real boyfriend was a man I met at SJC in the first weekend. He was a goofy Puerto Rican Catholic "heretic" with a staggering height of of 5'3" and biceps larger than most babies. He led several clubs, including the pink triangle association since our school had virtually no gay students at the time. I danced my first "swing" with him - strange little mutant version called Johnny swing that's even simpler than east coast swing and something we loved to do at "Waltz Parties" (yes, I blame this for why I still duck during underarm turns, despite the fact that Nathan is significantly taller than I am).  He was happy and miserable at SJC. Like a lot of us.

 I also met my two best friends. Much water under and over bridges, and baggage in the intervening 10 years, but the memories we formed at the time spawned the following 10 years. I also was in a few plays, performed ancient greek dance while reciting the original chorus from Antigone as taught to us by a genuine rhapsode, spent many lovely hours wandering the Naval Academy (and boy do I have some stories about those middies who stored their alcohol in our dorm room...), experienced my first intoxication followed quickly by my first (and only) alcohol-poisoning, performed and soloed in several chorale performances, and studied a crapload of genuinely interesting stuff. In a sense, I think I learned more from my time at WWU in an academic sense, but SJC was my formative college experience. I may have been happy to leave at the time, but it never left me and maybe even rooted in me for future fruition. 

 It's not exactly a place I'd call home for the coming, but then again, it also apparently hold some portion of my heart. It took me several years to come to terms with the truth that I am ultimately a Johnnie and always will be.

It's going to be interesting. As I say, I don't know that 80% of the people from my class would be able to place me. Since my cadre of fellow johnnies were mostly the jaded kind who wouldn't likely clunk down a whole wad of cash to fly out and associate with the place, I'm down to a very select few. 

I find it funny that I've connected with more Johnnies over the last years. Most of the ones I keep in contact with are actually people I didn't know that well when I attended. I have two exceptions, both of whom live close enough to the area to spend a day with me and finally meet the mythical Mr. (W)right in flesh. 

Whatever might come, I've got ticket confirmations in hand and I'm honestly kind of excited. 

(W)rights 2.0: Now With Buttloads More Class, or something - So a few days ago, I opened our front door to a peculiar visitor. It was a large box hobbled together with several varieties of packing tape and box parts, with FRAGILE emblazoned across its torso. Given that it was roughly the size of a golden retriever (with room to spare for breathing equipment), I was a little concerned about bringing it inside, but took the plunge anyways. The return address checked out - my Dad's cousins and people who had not officially received wedding invitations before passing along their surprisingly heartfelt regrets that they would be unable to attend ( I say surprisingly, because I have met them perhaps twice in my life and although I am quite fond of them, I would not say that we have formed a bond spanning time and space). 

Since it was addressed to both me and my trophy-husband, I left Frankenbox sprawled across our couch and forgot about it until +Andrew Wright  came home later that evening. In fact, we willfully ignored it for a bit after that. Large cardboard boxes bring exciting contents, but they also tend to result in quite the mess getting to those items. And it may be that I willfully ignored the box and Andrew simply forgot about it in his rush to log whatever relevant second or two of heart-elevating activity that may have occurred in the past 2 or 3 hours and see how it impacted his Golden Cheetah training lode/recovery graph before he moved again and he had to update it for THAT!!! 

At some point in the evening, however, we returned to the box. Many scissors and knives were prepared and cardboard filaments flew. Inside: several layers of brown packing paper and - drum roll please - a styrofoam container. So, we thought, food! Of course! Food is generally described as "perishable" instead of "fragile," but both are applicable. After a rather spectacular wrestling match between myself, the box and the styrofoam (with a late match intervention by Andrew), I managed to rend the styrofoam from the box enough to open it up. Inside? More packing material and... another box! Nesting boxes with a two pound weight in the middle? This seemed increasingly likely. 

But then the box was a very fine box. A classy, navy blue in elegant matte. Across its chest it wore Bulgari with epicine italics in gold font. Ok, so not food. And finally: crystal. Our relatives gave us crystal champagne flutes. I am quite intimidated. These are a small step up from our default champagne glasses (one pint glass and one measuring cup so far). They have such lanky stems, that they are far too tall for any of our cupboards. 

I stood there for a decent amount of time in a mild panic, imagining that any moment said crystal would explode in my hands having sensed my anxiety or immediately shattering upon being released into the wilds of our kitchen. Rescuing me from an eternal limbo of frozen hip hip chin chin,  Andrew suggested we keep the, on the fire place. So ta da!!! We have new fancy knick knacks and/or beverage containers. 

No more rousing games of spartan madball in our living room, until we get that display cabinet built properly. 

Happy Friday everyone. I drink a toast to you! Kind of an air-toast, since it's just 7 a.m. here and I have yet to start storing alcohol at work... but a toast nonetheless

The Boys are Back in Toooooooown - Well some of the boys. And a gal. And not one of the boys: my BIL, who has fled the state in order to make kayaks out of felled trees. I am informed that once he has done this, the rest of the family will meet him, throw the 19 foot vessel atop their trusty mini-van (mini, at this point is sort of an ironic descriptor: modern mini-vans are far larger than typical vans, as well as many medium sized Humvees, and most adult elephants) and road trip home. Because, of course, the complicated route they took out here was not quite strange enough. I'm starting to think that my sister and family have actually lost their home in an organic pop-tart related inferno, and will be wandering the globe from family trip to family trip for the rest of their lives. 

While Daddy Ryan makes a kayak, the boys shall bravely carry on here making a mess. And a fuss. And a ruckus. And a holly-jolly-Christmas-in-August-good time. Because this is what boys do. I believe that my March visit was something of a test of mettle for Auntidom. Would I survive a week amongst the wee ones with ovaries intact? (I'll let you know after I consult with a gynecologist about ammenhorria and premature progeny exposure). As you'll recall, apparently I did survive with a healthy dose of Stockholm Syndrome, genuinely sad to be leaving.  So, I'm vetted for the loony bin. Of course, the question on everyone's minds this time around: How about Uncle Andrew in his first official turn as uncle? Now, I'd like to ease him into this one, because I do in fact enjoy the connubial bliss that we have attained thus far and don't want to scare him into a life of celibacy meditating in the Himalayas just to be safe. So for the time being, I am parceling out the exposure in increasing doses over the period of the trip. 

Yesterday, for instance, I suggested that instead of spending all day with THE FAMILY, how about he drive me down to my grandmother's retirement/rest/swank-palace home in Oak Harbor and then set off for a little mountain bike while I sang Happy Birthday, ran the children dead on the treadmill, leapt about with my eyes close because Braden challenged me, and occasionally pull one of the children off of the other just shy of actual bloodshed. (I have decided to view the tussles between my 8 and 4 year old nephews as no different than the play-fights between pups or our cats... yes occasionally things cross a line, but until then, call it a dog-pile and step gingerly away with any valuables until the inevitable metaphorical eye gets lost). Oh the treadmill. I will definitely be getting a treadmill if I have to care for children long term. All three were enamored with the damned device, including my two year old nephew who managed to spend about forty-five minutes hanging on for dear life and galloping along as the elder two pushed and pulled each other and demanded I turn the machine up to full speed ("rabbit" on this one). Mostly we feted with lots of leaps and screams and a healthy cake and cupcake orgy. I imagine that frosting is the new it product for supple baby-smooth skin, because all the kids where certainly smearing it on their faces primarily and they are the ones with the nicest skin! Correlation? Oh no, this MUST be causation in play! Call the HuffPo, I'm ready for my health-journalism stint to commence!

I'm happy to say that my grandmother survived the sheer blast of energy that may easily have caused cardiac arrest in a woman half her age. My sister and cousin seem to have developed super-powers of course, so I discount them. And of course my aunt and mom already had to survive us, so although I still believe that the joyful grandparenting is sapping years from their lives in some kind of psychic vampire type scenario, I think they still have some immunity built up. I guess my grandmother must as well. Although we certainly mostly managed to form a protective shield around her and her daughters skirted her out of the activity room to get her settled in after the cake smearing ceremony. After the cupcake orgy and many hours of wandering the halls, I am also happy to report that for some reason all the other residents found our screaming running banging little relations to be adorable instead of obnoxious and nobody complained to management. 

After the to-do, Rachel took the boys to McDonald's for an epic 2 hour play session. My mom and I had lunch with my grandmother (oh the quiet was surreal after that morning), made sure she was doing ok and eating as much as she could stomach (less than me these days, but I still relate). Andrew got to get himself nice and muddy on a bike somewhere on Whidbey Island and reconnoitered with me and the fam in the later afternoon. At this point, the boys had been thoroughly defanged, energy-wise, but this is still quite an experience for a nephew-newbie. There was no screaming or crying (from Andrew, that is), so I'd say he stood up well.  And we all ate at Red Robin's, which was a rite of Americana passage for Andrew (who apparently grew up in a grotto in Eastern Europe as best I can figure). This follows on the heels of our Fluffernutter experiment. Next up: Chuck-E-Cheese?? 

Anyways, the day went well. My mom and sister have reserves far beyond human comprehension. I'm happy to also report that Braden has - for the moment - decided that whether I not I know anything about anything, that I'm pretty cool (and since I really relate to him as kind of the less conventional weirdy second-child, I am glad to chill with him a bit more) and Sam remembered that I am trusty mommy-elevator (when my sister couldn't lift him, it was my March job to put him in her lap) and stair climber (up and down and up and down and up and down), after about an hour of hanging out. He gave me a very thorough tour of the Retirement home. After our treadmill experience followed by several running laps, I am fairly certain that we've got an Olympic track team in the making here. Rachel: talk to your boys about doping immediately! It's not cool and, uh, dopers droool!!

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