Tuesday, December 23, 2008

House-Hunting and Some Observations on Children

The Russian and I went house hunting with our agent, Paul, in Kansas City Saturday. We looked at 9 houses in 3 hours. Since we're buying the house as an investment for Russian friends, I have to be careful not to become too concerned about what I like or don't like. I constantly have to remember that I will only be in the house for 2-3 years. It does not need to express my personality or be somewhere I can imagine entertaining my brother's progeny's progeny. All that matters is that in a couple years the place will sell for more than we pay for it now. That's cool. It's just hard to remember. Oleg does not seem to have as much a problem with this as I do. Anyway, we found one house that was 2600 sq. feet with three bedrooms, a huge walk-out basement, and two cat doors--one to the basement and one into the pantry. We don't have cats, but cat doors seem like a real selling point to me.

We're staying at my parents' house in KC, which means being around my dad who is pretty much bonkers. He's entertaining and infuriating, at times terrifying. He is frequently inappropriate--really inappropriate. He's been downstairs opening and closing doors for 15 minutes. We don't know what he's doing and discuss the possibilities. Oleg suggests that he's rearranging the basement or building a safe-room in which to hide from birds. Yesterday, Oleg and I saw a tornado room in one of the houses we viewed--it was a tiny space with one open side and three, three-foot-thick concrete walls and ceiling--so he's got that on his mind. My mom has no guess and simply says, "who knows" and continues her game of spider solitaire--but then supposes he's looking for something. My guess is that he's killing a bug. He's made a lot of noise killing a bug before, so this isn't as stupid as it may seem. Neither is Oleg's idea about the birds, since my dad is terrified of birds and there were two or three thousand of them sitting on the roof of the house earlier in the day. We would hear nothing for five or six minutes, and then the birds would scrabble around, making a sound like the frozen tree branches that scrape our roof in Vermillion on windy nights. Then, all at once, the birds would lift silently and, in a body, pass flickering across the sunlight coming through the windows, settling finally in the limbs of the hackberry trees that line the yard. The trees used to act as a windbreak for the farm field behind the houses on my parents' street. In the summer, starlings gather in the same trees and laugh at us. My mom shoots them with a pellet gun because she claims that otherwise they poop on her new deck. All of this causes my dad distress. He suffered some kind of childhood trauma that involved his mother and an aggressive goose, so he has a true phobia of birds--totally loses his mind when birds fly around near his head. Screeches and whimpers. As it happens, he was not building a shelter from the birds, though, or killing bugs. When he came upstairs later, he said he was looking for something, but nothing in particular--just looking around. That seems reasonable to me, since I like looking around, too.

Today, my brother's kids are here. My mom watches them once or twice a week. They're nine, four, and two. She just gave the younger two a bath and supervised the shower of the nine-year old. Like my dad, the presence of these children puts me in a state verging on catatonia, a deep-seated exhaustion that precedes any effort at entertaining--or bathing--them. It's 11:00, and Oleg is still in bed, evidence of the fact that he experiences an extreme version of the same uneasiness. Plus, he has a cold. Mom has been jumping from room-to-room, running baths, drying hair, putting green or pink frosting on waffles (uh, gross), playing alphabet games, finding socks. All I've done of any note all morning is send the four-year-old girl into hysterics by freaking about her putting a plastic bag on her head. I was trying to find a picture of a cicada on Google Images to scare the two-year-old with, and I look up, and Maggie has a plastic bag over her head. I very sternly told her NEVER to put a plastic bag on her head. Told her about six times in a deep, booming voice with blue fire shooting out of my nose and sharp claws poking out of my fingertips. Her very-large-to-begin-with eyes got bigger and bigger, and I could feel exactly how she felt--frozen with fear and mortification and not knowing why this big person suddenly doesn't like me. But my adult brain, feeble at best, I was thinking, "at least she'll remember not to put a bag on her head. I may be saving her life!" But then the walls crack and it's heartbreak and she's four and I'm her Aunt Mandy and there are tears and we "want GRANDMA!!!" Now, she totally hates me. She's standing on the steps staring down at me. I say, "you have Winnie the Poo on your shirt!" and she goes back up the steps, starts crying, and says quietly to my mom, "I don't want to wear these pants." My mom says, "Why? why are you crying?" And she says, "I don't like Winnie the Poo." Winnie the Poo is on her shirt, not her pants, which my mom points out, and then they change her clothes. After the drama, Mom asks what she wants for lunch, and she says, "birthday cake." The two-year old has poked a head-sized hole in his blanket and is walking around like Pig Pen in Charlie Brown, with the blanket trailing after him. The nine-year old is sick and bored. I have a headache that knows no bounds.

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