Basement Archiology.

I know that using the TV as a babysitter is not going to win me “Parent of the Year,” but there are moments where there just aren’t a lot of other options. To be fair to myself, I don’t actually own a television and haven’t for well over a decade. What I do have though is a laptop and my own personal “Leaning Tower of Pisa” built entirely out of the kid’s DVDs and the empty cases in which they are supposed to be put neatly away. I do my best, but the cases often do far less of a job protecting the movies that came in them than duty as coasters for either my coffee or beer, depending on what time of day you happen to catch me. Either way, provided that a disk remains relatively scratch free, popping one in will buy me about a half hour of productivity as Short Stack and Lulu Belle learn about something wholesome and educational. Thus far, I haven’t mistaken a Miffy DVD for say… The Guns of Navarone or Big Trouble in Little China, but I could see that happening eventually. THAT will be a fun time to explain.

Being the Christmas Season and I, being a sucker for the trappings thereof, I’ve been slowly tarting up the house with the trapping of the Holiday. It’s something that I get form my Mom and though the gene isn’t as strong with me as it is with her, it’s there nonetheless. Her house is always decorated like something out of a children’s book and it was magical to watch the transformation happen as a child. As a kid, I just assumed that everyone’s Mom went bonkers with the seasonal decorations and cookie making. I’ve since learned that’s not the case, so I do what I can with my own meager attempts to carry the torch for the sake of my own children’s holiday memories. The DVD that the kids were now successfully glued to gave me the chance I needed to do some rooting in the boxes that lurked in darker corners beneath the house.

Let me explain my house, just briefly. It’s small. No. It’s VERY small. We have exactly one closet in the entire structure and that is crammed to the bursting point with coats and boots. When we moved in here seven years ago, it was only a summer camp with no pretensions of being anything but that. It sat on posts and scoffed at the notion of insulation. I’ve spent the last seven years and a wheelbarrow full of cash changing all that. We now mostly have insulation in the walls and ceilings, but most importantly enough, we also have a basement. A FULL basement that is about seven and a half feet high at its shortest and nearly nine and a half at its highest.

It is also, do to the lack of storage anywhere else in the house, packed to the point of horror/hilarity. Finding anything down there requires persistence, the ability to balance on one foot for extended periods of time and very strong arms so you can carefully tilt four stacked boxes at once so you can peek into the fifth one. This can often result in something that Action Girl and I refer to as a “stuffalanche.”

With the few moments I had and the baby monitor turned up all the way and clipped to my belt, I moved boxes and totes in an effort to find a missing piece in my Christmas preparations. I didn’t find it, naturally, but as is often the case when I go spelunking through boxes of odds and ends, long forgotten, I did find something else that made me stop cold.

A rapidly disintegrating cardboard box spilled its contents at my feet, and among the old pay stubs, bank statements and notes to my self to do things in 2006, I saw a red binder.

My red binder.

THE red binder.

Once, I had a business that was based some distance from my house. It was a drive to get there and though it was hell on my car and the gas I burned up was impressive, it did give me one thing that I don’t really have any more. Solitude. I’d leave in the morning for work and since Action Girl works mostly night shifts, she’s be too groggy to be calling me as I drove on my commute. Content to leave the radio off, I’d spend that time in my car just letting my mind wander and observe things as I whipped by. It was a very nice way to start the day, to be honest.

One day as I trundled along the highway, I started to compose a little poem in my head. By the time I made it to work, I had worked most of it out and was pretty happy with it. Once my coat was hung up and the lights turned on, I sat down and scribbled it on a bit of lined paper. The next day, I did it again. Then again. I really grew to enjoy what quickly transformed into a morning ritual, and though I did not write something everyday, I did put my mind to it pretty often. By the end of the year, I had quite a little pile of prose. I’m hardly the one to judge its quality in the world of poetry, but it was good to me.

At some point, I got concerned about the scraps of paper with all that work and thinking poured onto them and decided I needed to transfer it all to my computer. I put them all in a red binder and brought them home. Then we lifted the house and the binder disappeared.

Normally, I’d not be too concerned about this. My attitude about these things tends to be, “Hey, it’s got to be here somewhere.” and I’m usually correct. This time though, I was worried. Very worried. After the house was picked up, had a basement put in and plopped back down on it’s new underpinning, my Father-in-law had come over and “helped” This is a dangerous thing. Though he has a good heart and the nervous industry that most twenty year old do not, he also has a very bad and well earned reputation for throwing things out that do not belong to him or that no person in their right mind would toss, all without clearance from the owner. Here I’m thinking about the bag of nuts and bolts that held my table saw bench together. No joke.

Long after the visit, I discovered that he had “helpfully” cleaned up an area in the house that, though I admit it, was knee deep in… stuff and debris, it also contained my binder of poems. It had been hastily put there with everything else during the house construction and was going to be dealt with… later… whenever that would be. When I looked at the spot now, it was empty. I knew he had also been to the dump at least twice during his time here. My heart sank. I never asked him if he saw it. I didn’t want him to feel guilty for only trying to help.

I actually wrote one last poem about my book of poetry moldering away under piles of trash at the city landfill, and then I didn’t write again. For whatever reason, the spirit to write poetry just sort of went dormant for me. I tried here and there over the years, but it just didn’t flow like it did before. Not having the commute to quietly reflect anymore, no doubt was a major impact, but thinking of a year’s worth of writing, gone for good also killed the joy.

With a lightning fast snatch that would have caught a fish by surprised, I grabbed it with both hands before it disappeared once again. Eye’s wide, I fearfully examined the open edge of the binder to look without really looking. I had other red binders like this one. It could easily be filled with receipts or old product information, long since irrelevant. No. It wasn’t that.

A smile spreading across my face, I opened it up to see sheet after sheet of hand written thoughts and personal observations. A year’s worth of thinking and writing. I scanned quickly and then snapped it shut and hugged it to my chest, eyes held tight.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was all I could say.

The little spy speaker on my waist told me that the show upstairs was coming to an end and thus too, my ability to remain here any longer. Holding the long lost binder under my arm, I headed back to the living room where Short Stack immediately burst into a long and accurate description of the show they just watched as Lulu Belle scurried off in search of a lucky stuffed animal with whom to have tea. I listened with half an ear as I made a new home for my memories in a safe and easy to remember location upstairs.

I still have a lot of Christmas-ing to do around the house and that’s the main priority for me, but it will be over soon as well. Once it is, and the kids are tucked into bed, I have some transcribing to do. I don’t know what is in store for me present-wise this Christmas, but I’m already as happy as I could be. What was lost is found and with the distance of time, I’ll be reading these again with new eyes as I type away in the night.

Merry Christmas to me!

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Miffy, To The Rescue

We are a TV-less family. I have to admit that I do rather wear it as a badge at times but to be completely honest, it didn’t start out as a noble experiment to better our lives and save my quickly softening brain.

When Action Girl and I got our first apartment together, we were… shall we say, on a highly restrictive budget. Back in those days, we were both working as substitute teachers for the Vermont School System and to say that the pay was spotty and meager, would be charitable indeed. It was also a little slice of hell, but that’s another story.

Our apartment was simple, a third floor walk up on a winding road, tucked in a valley. Most of Vermont, as a matter of fact, is on a winding road, tucked in a valley. What this meant was that though we did not have enough money to purchase a TV, it hardly mattered. With the best rabbit ears on the planet, all we could possibly hope for was possibly two channels, only watchable if I made a tinfoil hat and hung on to the end of one of the antennas like a deranged stick bug.

Cable? Ha! Not only was that not in the cards, but I’m pretty sure it had been removed from the playing deck before we got the pack out of the cellophane. No. No cable.

So, for the first time in my life, I was TV-less. Let the D.T.’s begin. It didn’t take long actually. As soon as you’re a month or so out from the shows that you follow, you realize that as far as the stories go, there is no way to get back on the crest of that wave and you might as well let it slip along with out you and paddle home.

Then, a discovery was made. Suddenly, I had time. LOTS of time! I really got into reading for fun, again. Hobbies that had been set aside years ago were once again picked up and enjoyed. Once the hallucinations and the shakes had subsided, I really got into doing fun things rather than watching other people do them on the tube.

The other side to this component is that I’m a TV whore. I’ll sit there and watch a 2 hour documentary on felt making, no problem. After an evening with a TV at my dispasal, I tend to look up and wonder what just happened to that six hours that I had. I’ve really come to dislike that feeling. If we go anywhere with a TV playing in the background, I have to sit with my back to it or I won’t hear a word my friends or relatives say. I’m that hopeless.

So, it’s been about fourteen years now with out a TV and I’ve never been happier. Now, there’s YouTube and the like to keep up on the things that are culturally important, but for the most part, I’m pretty disconnected with what’s playing on the black boxes all over the country. Then, we had kids.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I still don’t own a TV and I really don’t intend to. My problem is that I also don’t want to cut my kids off from what is really the strongest social bond we have in this country. It’s what kids (and adults) tend to lead off conversations with and so many little TV sayings are sprinkled throughout our everyday chatter, that it doesn’t seem right to make the awkwardness of youth any harder by missing out on such a huge part of the culture. Here again, I call on YouTube.

It’s a wonderful bastion of new and old. On YouTube, we watch a lot of good ole’ “School House Rock”, coming straight out of my childhood memories. Short Stack likes them, especially “Conjunction Junction” but his all time favorite request, is Miffy. He adores Miffy!

For the uninitiated, Miffy is a little white bunny who lives in a small house with Mother Bunny and Father Bunny. She has a red scooter, a proclivity for exclaiming things like “Oh dear!” or “Thank you, Mother.” and plays with various other woodland friends including Poppy and Grunty Pig, Boris Bear and Melody Bunny. I don’t mind him watching this on the computer. Miffy’s been around since 1955, is very easy going, teaches nice, simple lessons such as, ‘butterflies come from caterpillars’ and is pretty slow paced. That and because it’s not on TV, there were no commercials to tempt him and thus, the evils of merchandising were held at bay.

Wrong!

I miscalculated… and I really should have seen this coming. My two year old doesn’t have any money. I have it. The other things I have are access to the internet and the burning desire for my children to have things that make them happy. So, one trip to EBay and bingo, I’m ordering Miffy merch. It started off with a DVD. All the episodes I found on YouTube are pirated, naturally, and thus, being constantly taken down by the powers that be. With the happiness of a two year old at stake, reliability is more than a little important, so, I bought one Miffy DVD. That’s fine. No biggie. It’s not like I’m hooked.

Then, I noticed that Amazon was offering a new Miffy DVD. By now we had watched the other DVD until images from it were burned into my computer’s screen. Short Stack was now capable of quoting long passages and started narrating everything he was doing to an invisible audience. The new DVD wasn’t out yet, but you could pre-order! I didn’t even have to think about it. Out came the plastic. Hey, I can quit any time I want.

Then, one night as Action Girl and I were relaxing in the half hour we get after the kids go to sleep and before we fall apart, I found the motherload. It was the Miffy equivalent of heroin. It was a fifteen inch tall, plush Miffy WITH an accompanying DVD. Needless to say, it was quickly ordered. Ok… We’re hooked.

I was starting to feel a bit ashamed now. After all my high falootin’ talk about no TV and it’s endless barrage of “buy, buy, buy!”, here I was taking up the challenge of finding this stuff on my own and getting it for my kids. What had I become!? AAGH! I’m a consumer of kid’s merch!

Then, a couple of nights ago, as related in my last story, Short Stack had a life changing moment. He learned to be afraid of the dark. It’s the most basic human instinct and an inevitable stage for the vast majority of us. As a parent, it made me feel powerless to help. After all, I can’t stop night from coming.

The day after his first frightening night, a package arrived on our porch. I honestly forgot all about what was inside. It was Miffy. All fifteen inches of happy, white bunny. Short Stack was beside himself with glee. It was the bunny whom he had come to love and quote at length, right here! In his house! In the fur! That night, Miffy went to bed tucked tight in Short Stack’s embrace. The happy little bunny had a place of honor on his pillow and kept the night safe. Nothing could go wrong with Miffy at your side.

So, consumerism isn’t all bad. With the DVD’s. we still get to avoid the annoying ads for various plastic items that your child didn’t even know they needed. We can watch them when ever he wants and more importantly, can pause them to watch later, or over and over and over again.

Now, if I can just cut back on my Miffy habit, I should be all set.

Yah. Right. I’m doomed.

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