We arrived in my parents' mid-sized California town at 11 pm, pacific time. That meant 1 am, our time. My boys (hubby included) snored through the entire 1 1/2 hour car ride home.
My Dad, you'll recall, is the Mechanical One, the Enthusiastic Gardener, and the Master Packer. He is also the Fidgety Driver. He is patently unable to drive without messing around with something.
He adjusts his seat, turning to explain with enthusiasm the lumbar support in his van's captain's chair. Unlike me, he drives a minivan by choice.
He flips radio stations, searching for one that plays his favorite: classical. When I point out that this might not be the best musical choice, given the fact that my Dad likes to be in bed asleep by 9 pm and it is now past 11, he turns the volume up to something right above mute.
My Dad is classical music. He lights up when a particularly intricate flute passage plays in Handel. He taps out the beat to Beethoven, sways to Chopin, and enthusiastically points out the minor harmony in Bach. My Dad used to be classical music at a volume most people could hear. His tolerated volume level, however, has decreased with every passing year.
When I get home to Tennessee, I vow to blast my Evanescence, my Red, even my Celtic Woman because I don't know how many years I have left before genetics take over and I begin the slow slide into listening to what I love at a whisper.
We are not staying at my parents' house. My grandmother lives with them now, in the master bedroom suite on the first floor. My parents have a room upstairs and the other room is dedicated to the cats.
They have 4 cats. One, Pepper, is a beautiful ball of gray and white fluff who is afraid of my children, with their noise and constant motion. She has an annoying habit of climbing into your arms and then continuing on to your face. She likes to hang over your shoulder with her tail reaching toward the ceiling and her little rump shoved out right beside your nose.
Not the end of the cat I would prefer to cuddle with but Pepper knows how to insist.
Here she is with my Mom. Good times.
Another cat, Buster, a Russian blue, is not just afraid of my kids. He is bone-deep terrified. Of course, Buster is terrified of his own shadow so that's not saying much.
Pepper and Buster get locked into the cat room at night because my parents take exception to cats who get angry with them for sleeping and decide that urinating on their bed is a just consequence.
Their third cat, Pitts, is old now, in cat years. We brought her home when I was a junior in high school. She's sixteen now and she used to be a seriously fat cat (one of the funniest memories I have is seeing her tear down my parents' stairs, her belly swinging wide until gravity, momentum, and fifteen pounds of cat conspired against her and her back end started going faster than her front. Talk about a loss of dignity.). She is skin and bones now and so frail I'm afraid to touch her for fear she'll break. She doesn't really fear our children. She's too old to care.
Their fourth and final cat, Nosy, is the bane of my children's existence. She is tiny too, maybe four pounds of black and white wisp, but Nosy isn't about size. She's all about attitude.
My children will walk clear around the house to avoid the hall she sits in. She hisses if they make eye contact. They are certain if they get within striking distance, she'll bite their toes off.
They're probably right. Nosy's social skills leave a lot to be desired.
So, with a house full of cats and no extra room, we are house-sitting for my mom's friend - taking care of her Finch and her three dogs.
The Finch I don't much care about. I'm not a bird person. But dogs, I love. An empty house with plenty of room for all of us and three beautiful dogs sounds like a great way to spend my vacation.
When we arrive at the house, the three dogs immediately surround us with barking, licking, squirming, and shoving. I'm a big dog person, really, and not used to terriers and little rat-like things that look like something my cat would consider a light snack. But I'm tolerant of this behavior because they've been alone all day and it's always exciting for a dog to make new friends.
The dining room table has a sweet note from the owner of the house and $40 as payment for our trouble. I feel guilty taking it because we're really doing each other a favor.
I feel guilty, but not for long. Turns out I would EARN that $40 the hard way.
The MAX way.
MAX is the little rat-dog of the three. The other are white short-haired dogs approximately the size of a footstool. They are Scruffy and Mishie and they settle down within minutes of our arrival.
MAX does not.
Also, MAX does not walk. He runs. He scrambles. He bounces. I've never seen a dog bounce before. It's disturbing.
MAX has no control over his vocal chords. Or his tongue. Or, it turns out, his bladder.
He pees on the entry way tile when he sees us. I chalk it up to excitement.
He pees on the dining room floor when my kids get excited over the house. I indulgently grab some paper towels thinking, "surely that little bladder has nothing left".
He pees on my son's sleeping bag while he's hopping around the bed, resisting my attempts to drive him out of the room. I don't chalk this up to anything and the tone of my voice pierces MAX's ADD-afflicted brain long enough to send him scrambling from the room.
He goes to the living room and pees on the couch instead. Drips, this time, so I have hope he's close to empty.
I clean it all up, tuck in my kids, send my hubby to our room and praise MAX for the thin veneer of calm he's managed to muster up. I pat his head and he rewards me by peeing on my foot.
I can't decide if I'm grateful to be barefoot or not. On the one hand, I don't have to wash my shoes. On the other hand, it's 1 am my time, I'm exhausted, I've just cleaned up more pee than any little rat-dog should legitimately hold in his bladder and now I have urine between my toes.
This does not make me happy.
I, an avowed dog person, am considering locking the little bugger in the garage for the night.
I don't. It's cold, he's got thin fur, and besides, what if he destroys their garage?
This is a decision I come to regret.
I crawl in bed. Lights go out. The other dogs lay in their doggie beds. MAX does not.
MAX bounces onto our bed. He bounces onto us. He bounces between us, his tongue frantically licking our faces as if he can't decide which of us to attack first so he'll do his best to give us equal time.
We tell him "No".
He does not listen.
We toss him off the bed.
He springs back instantly.
We cover our faces. He claws at our blankets, our faces, our heads.
This does not feel good.
Finally, in desperation, I grab him and make him lie next to me so my hubby, at least, can get some sleep. MAX wiggles and squirms and does his best to reach any exposed skin with his tongue.
I suggest to him that, since his human daddy is a Dr., perhaps they should consider letting him mainline some Ritalin.
MAX begins to calm, as long as I keep my hand on him. I think I am finally going to get some sleep.
I am wrong.
The owners of the house have a clock. One of those miniature grandfather clocks that hangs on the wall and insists on chiming the time every FIFTEEN minutes. Who needs that, I ask you?
If you can't keep track of the time one fifteen minute increment to the next, you have more problems than a chiming clock can solve.
I try to ignore it.
I try to sleep between the chimes.
Not happening. For one, it takes me longer than 5 minutes to hit deep sleep. For another, I know that chime (which plays longer and longer as it gets closer to the next hour) is coming.
MAX is still squirming, still wiggling, still trying to get to my face.
I get up, check the clock for an off switch. There isn't one. There isn't one on MAX either.
Two hours later, with dawn just around the corner, I reach my limit. I get out of bed, an enthusiastic MAX bounding along in front of me, and wrench the clock from the wall. Prying open the back is easy but then, at this point, I could have punched a hole through a cement wall without breaking a sweat. I'm that angry.
The clock is mid-chime when I yank out its battery and silence it for good. I mutter a few unsavory comments about the clock and its mother as I make my way back to bed.
MAX thinks it's play time again. MAX and I quickly reach an understanding. He doesn't try to tunnel through my skull with his little rat-dog claws and I don't make a MAX-sized hole in the wall beside my bed.
Like I said, I earned that $40.