Friday, February 27, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 3

To read part 1, go here.  To read part 2, go here.

~Things Get Ugly~

(note: if you are especially squeamish, skip part 3 and tell yourself we all lived happily ever after, together)

I arrive home from my lovely evening with Ben. The SpongeBob Movie was cute and funny, but Ben was cuter and funnier. He insisted on wearing a big flowered sun hat and bringing his stuffed monkey (named Coconut) to the movies and to dinner, I am so relaxed and carefree, I almost forget about Phillip Johnson.

As I enter the house and hang my winter coat in the front hall closet, I see Frank sitting in the living room, his image partly obscured by shadows. He calls to me to come in and sit down. I am afraid of what he will tell me. He begins by saying, "The story I'm about to tell you has some good parts, some bad parts, and some very disgusting parts." And so, Dear Reader, consider yourself warned. Here is his story.

Nat, recreating her reaction to seeing P.J.
I laid down on the couch, thinking I might take a quick nap. From my vantage point on the couch, I could see the gap under the basement door and my final thought as I drifted off to sleep was, "I wonder if Phillip Johnson will try to come upstairs..."

I was awoken by the most blood-curdling scream I've ever heard. Natalie ran into the living room screaming and yelling "I saw him, he's in the laundry room!".  I started yelling at her to stop screaming. She kept screaming. She and Sam ran upstairs.

Phil put that piece of dog
 food on that glove

I ran to the laundry room. I saw Phillip Johnson take a piece of dog food from Violet's bowl and drop it onto a glove in the closet. I told Joe to go get Violet, she wouldn't come so Joe carried her in. She sat in the laundry room while Phillip Johnson ran behind her. She did not react.

I told Joe to put Violet in her cage and I went to get a mousetrap from the basement. I set up the mousetrap with a piece of dog food in the trap with the peanut butter. Joe and I got out of the way to watch the trap. I saw Phillip Johnson sniff the food in the trap but he didn't take it. He took another piece of dog food back to the closet.

He came into the kitchen and hid under the stove. At this point I went into the laundry room and got the broom. I saw Phillip Johnson run along the cabinets to the back door, then under the dishwasher. I told Joe to open the dishwasher to see if  Phillip Johnson was in there while I stood at the ready with the broom. Joe didn't see anything inside the dishwasher so I told him to close the dishwasher and run it, hoping the noise would scare him out.

About 30 seconds later Phillip Johnson ran out from under the dishwasher, scurried under the table, and squeezed under the door to the basement. He popped back out and traveled to the doorway between the kitchen and the playroom.

An artist (Natalie's) rendering of the broom
I had a clear shot, I had to take it.  With an overhead swing, I slammed the broom onto the vole, killing it and breaking the broom.

Joe went upstairs to tell the other kids it was dead. At this point I realized it didn't have a head. I started searching for the head, but didn't see it anywhere. When the kids came down. Joe found the head in the living room. The kids were amazed.  Then I used the bottom half of the broom and the dustpan to clean up the remains of Phillip Johnson. 

Frank's story left me feeling revolted and relieved. I took some pictures of the scene. We were curious as to how far Phillip's head had flown from his body and we measured it at 20 feet. I was not kidding when I said Frank does not like rodents.

The kids measuring the distance between head
and body of Mr. Phillip Johnson
We learned many things from this experience. We learned that Violet is completely useless in emergency situations. We learned after examining Frank's crime scene photos of Phillip Johnson that he was actually a mole, not a vole as we originally determined. We learned that Tupperware consultants are unflappable. We learned that moles like dog food. We learned that our kids are fascinated by disgusting things. But most of all, and I just cannot stress this enough, we learned that Frank really, really, really hates rodents.

Goodbye Phillip Johnson, I'm sorry it had to end so violently, but I'm not sorry that it has ended.

The End.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 2

The Hex-Bug we hope Phillip Johnson will love
(To read Part 1, go here)

~He's A Slippery Little Devil~

We start tossing ideas back and forth about how to capture or kill Phillip Johnson. Frank wonders if someone will lend us a cat.  I suggest getting our hands on an owl. Natalie and Sam think if they can just get their hex bug downstairs and have it walk around, Phillip Johnson will fall in love with it and we can catch him while he's distracted.

Frank decides to try to trap Phillip Johnson in a bowl. He spends some time in the basement and sees it, but doesn't get a chance to trap it.

We can speak of almost nothing but Phillip Johnson as the hours pass. Have you checked the traps? Has anyone seen him? I tell my Tupperware consultant that there is a vole named Phillip Johnson running around our basement. I am assured this is totally fine.  (Tupperware consultants are brave and ready for anything.)

I walk past the laundry room just as Frank is taking a load of clothes out of the dryer. "You know what I'm thinking?" he asks, "Leaf blower in reverse!"

Frank is ready to vacuum up Phillip Johnson
He travels out to the garage and retrieves the leaf blower. He plans to sit still until he sees it, then quickly turn it on in reverse and vacuum up Phillip Johnson. I suggest that once it's captured in the leaf blower, he should drop the leaf blower bag into a snow drift in the front yard and run. But alas, all of our good plans go to waste as he sees Phillip Johnson several times but by the time he turns on the motor, Phillip Johnson has scurried out of leaf blower range.

I need to send Joe downstairs for a Q-tip. I explain where they are and that he needs to be careful to avoid mousetraps. He agrees and while there, has a run-in with Phillip Johnson. While he hands over the Q-tip, he details the experience. "He scurried around near Dad's office, it looked like he wanted to get under the pantry shelves, but he bumped into a blue plastic Easter Egg then ran off."
Now I have to leave. I have had plans to take Ben out on a "date" since Christmas. We are off to see the SpongeBob movie and have dinner together at Applebee's. I am happy to leave Phillip Johnson behind for now.
Will Phillip Johnson still be terrorizing our household when I get home? Will he make an appearance at the Tupperware party? Will he ever sample the peanut butter in one of the mousetraps? Will we have to fight him off every time we need a Q-tip? Why are there blue Easter Eggs lying around on the floor of my basement? Many (or some) of these questions will be answered in our next installment of The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson, Part 1

~We Have A Problem, And His Name is Phillip Johnson~

Natalie drew this as the events unfolded
It's Friday night.  Our house is trashed.  I have been sick with the stomach flu for four days. The kids have spent four of the last five days home from school because of two vacation days and two snow days. I'm snuggled on the couch, eating oatmeal (hopefully it will stay with me!) watching old reruns of Good Times. A yell erupts from the basement. It sounds like Joe.

In a moment, Joe is at the top of the stairs, telling us the thing we really, really, really don't want to hear.  "I just saw something small and furry run by me in the basement!"

Oh no. Oh no, no, no, no, no.

Frank springs into action. Frank hates all rodents with a firey hot passion that bubbles forth from the deepest, darkest center of his soul.

He laces up his shoes and grabs the broom, ready for battle, while the kids and I huddle on the couch. Natalie starts crying. She believes she will never see her roller blades again, as they are at the bottom of the stairs and none of us ever plan to enter the basement again.

Frank reports that he saw it too. After some (disgusting) google image searches, he determines that the creature is a vole, not a mouse.  This is good news, as voles don't really want to live in our house, because they eat things like flower bulbs and grass.  He must have found his way in by mistake.  Frank leaves to buy some mouse traps.

While he is gone, the kids and I take a tentative trip downstairs.  The kids want to retrieve their valuables.  I make them hit everything they want to bring upstairs with Sam's souvenir miniature baseball bat.  I also bring Violet, our two year old labradoodle.  I'm hoping she can find and kill the rodent.

I am nervous. Why do our kids have so many furry black toys? I keep randomly hitting chairs, walls, and toys with the baseball bat. I turn to Violet and tell her the only thing I can think that might make her understand the situation. "Violet!" I say, "There's a deer in the basement!  Go get it!  Get the deer!"  At this point the tension in my voice, along with the fact that I'm randomly whacking things with a bat while making ridiculous claims that there's a deer in the basement causes her to decide I've lost my marbles. She whimpers and lies down where she's standing. 

I have no idea what you want from me, Crazy Human Lady
Frank comes home, and sets four mousetraps.  He proceeds to check them several times over the next few hours.  Before we go to bed he rolls up a bath towel and uses a butter knife to shove it into the gap between the basement door and the kitchen floor.  Will a bath towel keep the vole from venturing out of the basement?  We choose to believe that it will.

Day 2: Our first thought upon waking is the vole. Frank goes down to check the traps. The traps are empty, but he comes face to face with the vole, who just stands there, staring at him.  He tries to kill it with a broom, but it escapes.

I call an exterminator.  He agrees that it sounds like a vole.  He's happy to come check out the situation.  I feel genuinely relieved.  He continues that he's happy to check it out...on Monday.  Today is Saturday.  On Sunday Frank leaves for a business trip and I am having a bunch of people over for a Tupperware party.

Natalie is huddled in the corner of the living room. She is afraid the vole is coming to get her. I decide this extreme fear is over the top and we need to do something about it.  I remember a friend telling me that she would name the snakes in her yard to try to feel less afraid of them.  I tell the kids that the vole needs a name.  Frank suggests Voley.  I suggest Victor Vole.  Natalie quietly but strongly states, "His name is Phillip Johnson."

Now we call him Phillip Johnson.

Will Violet ever understand what she is being asked to do? Will Natalie get over her fears? Will she ever use her roller blades again? Will I ever see the end of that episode of Good Times?  Some (or none) of these questions will be answered in the next installment of The Chronicles of Phillip Johnson.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Sick Day Thoughts

I'm sick this week. I have the stomach flu and have been feeling pretty awful for about four days. These four days just happen to coincide with the kids' mid-winter break and two snow days, so all four of the kids have been at home with me almost the entire time I've been feeling like this.

I have been very blessed to not get sick very often, so I didn't realize the emotions that would come up from this experience.

When I feel sick like this, and work to take care of my kids, I feel so much sympathy and empathy for what Sue went through.  It is HARD to take care of kids when you feel so terrible. She felt like this, or actually worse than this, for YEARS. How did she do that?  How on earth was she able to be a mother to her children at all during those years?  I'm in awe of my sister.

Today my heart is filled with so much gratitude that I am getting better, feeling stronger from this mild illness by the hour.  I'm so lucky to have a functioning immune system. I am so fortunate that I have the opportunity to raise my kids as a healthy person.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

My Biggest Trigger

It makes me uncomfortable to talk about my struggles sometimes because it feels like I'm broadcasting my flaws and I want so badly to seem like I am doing okay.  When I thought about posting on this subject, I didn't want anyone to think that I have "emotional problems" which is sometimes how I feel when I deal with my biggest trigger. But then I thought about the person who may have just lost their loved one and stumbles upon my blog, I thought of that person and what he or she may be feeling, and I changed my mind.  I'll share it.  I'll share whatever I can to help someone who is in so much pain and wondering if they are losing their mind. 

Here's my biggest grief trigger: feeling like things are out of control in my life.

Not long into my grief journey, I read a book about what trauma does to the brain.  I can't remember the name of the book, or much else about it, but I do know that the main message I got from it. The book explained that when a person is traumatized, the brain takes kind of a "snapshot" of what all is happening at the time. It is a brain's mechanism for self preservation.

Let's imagine you just wandered out of your cave with your fellow cavewoman and she gets attacked by a lion. The brain takes this snapshot to remind you of important details like where you were, what you were wearing, what smells and sounds you experienced, to help you make sure you don't walk to the same place and do the same things and get eaten by a lion yourself.  The brain works overtime in these situations and says, "DANGER! REMEMBER ALL OF THIS SO IT DOES NOT HAPPEN AGAIN!"

It's the reason that some people might have a hard time wearing the same shirt they were wearing the day their mom died.  Or someone might not want to drive down that road where they were in an accident.  Or someone can't eat pudding anymore because they were eating pudding when they got the phone call that their husband had a heart attack and died.

At the time of Sue's death, my life felt like it was spiraling out of control in a lot of areas.  My husband had lost his job, our finances were a huge source of stress, and of course there was nothing I could do to save my sister's life.  When my brain took the snapshot on the day that Sue died, it wanted me to remember that I was feeling out of control in almost every area.  And because my brain is not perfect, it has made the connection that feeling out of control = somebody is going to die or is already dead.

So now that I know and understand all this, I should be able to figure out why I've locked myself in my bedroom, sobbing, during the second consecutive snow day, right?  No. You see, it's not just the snow day. First there was the furnace breaking down on Thursday, which meant I couldn't do anything I had planned to do because I had to drop everything to wait for someone to repair it.  Then on Friday Sam called home because he had a sore throat and I needed to drop everything and take care of him.  Then came a busy weekend, followed by a snow day a home with the kids, followed by another snow day with the kids.  There is now a pattern established in my mind that I cannot accomplish anything I would normally do. I put everything on hold for days to take care of the needs of everybody else.  I'm not complaining, this is my job and what I have chosen for my life, I'm just saying that when things spiral out of my control (or what feels like out of my control) I panic. And sometimes it takes me a long time to figure out why I feel so awful.

My brain is sounding alarms all over the place telling me that if I don't regain control, somebody is going to die.

There it is, my biggest trigger. I become panicked, sad, weepy, cranky, and fearful at these times. The best part is that I understand what is happening and why.  The worst part is that it doesn't seem to help much. I white-knuckle my way through these times and repeat to myself that a normal day is right on the horizon.

I'll make it though, but this is a difficult part of grief.