A Forgettable 4th

China

Another post from my archives, this one from 2012. This was not a good day, but even then I knew it would be hilarious someday. Maybe I’ll even have it read at my son’s wedding. 😀

July 4, 2012, a day that will live in infamy. Well, maybe not, but it was definitely a day I won’t soon forget. As much as I’d like to.

It started off just like many other mornings in our crazy household. I was awakened out of a semi-deep sleep by my older son Wesley before 7AM. His urgent voice reached into my subconscious, and I pried my eyes open to see him standing next to my bed, just a silhouette in the early-morning sunlight streaming through the window. “What…?” I asked thickly, my mouth trying to form words my mind was hardly awake enough to think.

“I just heard something big hit the deck, like a bird or a big fish,” he replied in all earnestness.

I rolled over to peer bleary-eyed at my husband, who was now also awake. He shoved his pillow out of the way to look at the clock, then groaned and grunted and got out of bed to check it out. I really wasn’t very concerned, so I let Mike look into it. Honestly, if a big fish had hit the deck, I figured we were in more trouble than I could remedy anyway, since we live nowhere near enough water to hold fish. In any case, most of the bumps and bangs the kids or I hear turn out to be nothing. At least once a week one of us is startled by a bird slamming into one of the windows or against the siding, so Wes’ first suggestion was the most likely scenario. A quick check revealed nothing amiss, so the incident was soon forgotten.

An hour later, everyone was up and about their business. The kids settled in for cartoons and video games, while Mike headed out to wash and wax the car. I set about the futile task of sweeping and mopping the kitchen and dining room floors, wondering as I worked how long my efforts would last this time around. As I knelt down to sweep under the dining room table, I shook my head in amazement that our house hadn’t been completely overrun by ants. There was enough food beneath my younger son Wayde’s seat to feed a small army for a day or two. As I looked at Wayde, I wondered how it was possible for him to look as healthy and well-fed as he did when it seemed that not much food actually made it to his mouth.

After I had swept up Wayde’s stockpile and mopped up all the sticky watermelon footprints and assorted other spots and spills that always seem to grace my floors, I began my next task: preparations for an epic 4th of July feast. Well, maybe not epic—Martha Stewart has absolutely nothing to fear from me—but at least memorable. Actually, given the fussiness of the eaters in my household, I would actually settle for a meal that everyone will eat, whether it’s epic and memorable or not.

I put eggs on to boil for deviled eggs and got out the cake mix (hey, I told you I’m no Martha Stewart), the mixer and the cake pans and got ready to whip up a French vanilla cake that I planned to top with white frosting, strawberries and blueberries.

The first indication I had that my epic feast would fizzle faster than a damp firecracker was when I turned on the mixer to mix up the cake batter. As the eggs, oil, water and cake mix began to blend, I quickly realized there was something not right about the batter. It seemed to have the consistency of taffy. Hm, that had never happened before, so I rechecked the package instructions to make sure I hadn’t missed anything. Three eggs, check. One cup water, check. A half cup vegetable oil, check. Cake mix, check.

I mixed it another thirty seconds, just for good measure, as if an extra half minute under the beaters might remedy whatever was wrong, and then ladled it the best I could into the cake pans. The batter wouldn’t even come out of the ladle on its own; I had to scrape it out with a spatula and then pat it down to get it to reach the edges of the cake pans. If only the biscuit dough I had mixed up awhile back had looked like that…

Hoping for the best, I set the cake pans in the oven and set the timer. In the meantime, I made up the deviled eggs. Thankfully, that task was completed uneventfully, and the eggs came out the way they should. Good, I thought. Maybe the cake will turn out all right too.

The oven timer went off, and I opened the oven door to find two round, very flat vanilla cakes. They hadn’t risen at all. I wailed, “How can someone possibly screw up a cake from a cake mix?” Well, it is possible; just leave it to me.

I took the cakes out of the oven and placed them on the stovetop, looking at them dejectedly. As I stood there with my mismatched oven mitts on my hands and my hands on my hips, I felt more like Payne Stewart than Martha Stewart. Mike and the kids came out to survey the damage. Mike was unphased; he said as long as it tasted all right, who cares what it looked like? The boys were less forgiving. They both stared at the cakes and then poked them several times before declaring they didn’t feel like cakes and probably wouldn’t taste like cake either.

Setting the cakes aside to cool, I turned to the task of putting together the chicken kabobs. As I began alternating the chicken, fruit, and vegetables, Wayde came back out to the kitchen to see what I was doing. When I told him I was making kabobs for dinner, he responded in typical Wayde fashion, “Oh, I hate kabobs! I’m not eating anything but eggs and cake!” As I looked down at his pouty face, I wondered again how this child was not just skin and bones.

With a sudden inspiration and an attempt to make the detestable kabobs more appealing to my five year-old, I told him they were “P-kabobs,” because they were made with potatoes, peppers, pineapples and…Perdue. Or pollo, if you wanted to be bilingual. He wasn’t buying it. He said he still hated kabobs, and he still wasn’t eating them. Suit yourself, Wayde.

Once the kabobs were assembled and placed in the fridge till it was time to cook them, I turned my attention to the cakes. I got out a plate and turned the first cake pan upside down on top of it. Of course, the cake refused to come out of the cake pan. Of course. I put that one aside and tried the other one. Same result. Really? I tapped, I banged, I pounded, I dropped the cake pan onto the plate several times, and I even bent the sides of the metal cake pan trying to coax it out. At last, I ran a knife along the edges to see if that would help. This time when I turned the pan upside down, I felt the cake drop onto the plate. But when I picked up the cake pan, what I found was a mess, some cake pieces lying crumbled on the plate, the rest still clinging to the cake pan. Resigned, I repeated the process with the other cake, with the same results. Obviously, I was not meant to make a layer cake today.

Determined to do something special for dessert, I rummaged through the pantry and the fridge, looking for inspiration. I found a package of instant French vanilla pudding and half a tub of cinnamon-flavored Cool Whip. I mixed up the pudding and folded in the Cool Whip, then grabbed a big bowl, cut the demolished cake into cubes, and layered the cake, the pudding and the berries in the bowl—a red-white-and-blue trifle. Perfect! As I set the trifle in the fridge, I smiled proudly at my resourcefulness, thinking there may be a little Martha Stewart in me after all.

The rest of dinner preparations went as they usually do in the Lerew household, laden with interruptions and punctuated by loud disagreements between the boys interspersed with equally-loud disciplinary shouts, mostly from me but occasionally from Mike. Honestly, who needs firecrackers to celebrate the 4th? We have enough explosions around here just between the boys.

Finally, with about five minutes to go before supper, everything seemed to be in place. The table was set, the water was poured, the rice was just about ready, the kabobs were in the oven (okay, so we’re one of the un-American minority who doesn’t own a decent grill), and the eggs and trifle were cooling in the fridge. I looked around the kitchen, feeling like something was missing. Suddenly, I looked at the stove, smacked my forehead and cried out, “Aw, man!” The sweet corn was still lying in the bag, unhusked and obviously uncooked. Mike asked if there was time to get it ready for supper. Nope. Absolutely not. Oh well, I consoled myself. We have more than enough food already, right?

Time to eat. True to his word, Wayde refused to eat the kabobs or the rice—and just for the record, he wouldn’t have eaten the sweet corn either—and he threw a brief but ear-splitting tantrum when Mike removed the deviled eggs from the table, declaring them to be for after supper. Another forehead smack from me as I shook my head over the things that resulted in arguments in this house. I did notice, however, as he carried the plate to the fridge, that there were some eggs missing already, and I wondered who had been sampling them before supper.

After a loud stomp to his room and an ensuing door slam, Wayde soon returned to the kitchen and made himself a ham sandwich. Whatever. At least he’s eating. And getting it into his mouth instead of dropping it under his seat. The rest of us ate kabobs and rice. Wesley only ate one kabob; he preferred kabobs made with only fruit over chicken kabobs. He didn’t complain, bless his heart, but I could tell he was less than impressed.

Dessert time! I brought the trifle to the table and uncovered it, my face glowing like a lit sparkler. It wasn’t as pretty as the ones that graced the covers of women’s magazines, but as Mike had already said, who cares what it looks like, as long as it tastes good?

I scooped out generous servings for Mike, the boys and myself and sat down to evaluate my efforts. The berries were good, although I should have added more. The pudding mixture was at least palatable—I wasn’t entirely sold on the cinnamon-flavored Cool Whip, although the vanilla pudding made it a bit less intense. The cake left a lot to be desired, so it was a good thing it was drowned in pudding, Cool Whip and berries. Mike seemed to enjoy it. Wesley wasn’t too impressed, although he ate most of his helping without complaint. Wayde, however, was the harshest critic, declaring it tasted like soggy shirts. Now before anyone asks, no, I do not serve soggy shirts to my children, even on laundry day. But Wayde does habitually chew on the collars or the hems of his shirts, so he is well-acquainted with the flavor of a soggy T-shirt.

After our less-than-epic holiday feast, I washed all the dishes and got everything put away before giving the boys their baths. Finally, I could relax a bit before the neighbors set off fireworks. Unfortunately, the day of the less-than-memorable feast was about to become a day I’d want to forget.

As I sat at the computer in our bedroom, I heard Wayde go out into the kitchen and open the fridge door; obviously, he hadn’t had enough for supper, as usual. The next thing I heard was a loud THUD followed by Wayde shouting, “Dang it! That stupid dessert just fell on my foot!”

I brought my hand down hard on the computer desk. You have got to be kidding! It was my turn to stomp loudly down the hall and out into the kitchen, where I found Wayde standing next to the open fridge, an indignant expression on his face, holding one pudding-covered foot in the air. I came around the corner to find the trifle bowl upside-down on the floor, with pudding, cake and berries splattered all over the front of the meat and produce drawers, as well as on the freshly-mopped kitchen floor—well, at least that lasted a few hours longer than it usually did.

Well, the fruit of my spirit done got rotten, and I quite lost it at that moment. “Why do I even bother?” I shouted in complete exasperation. “Why do I try to do anything around here? I give up; I just give up!” Wayde stomped back to his bedroom, pudding foot and all, leaving me to clean up by myself.

I used the last of our paper towels to scoop up the remains of my doomed dessert. And of course, when it rains, it pours. As I tossed a handful of trifle-laden paper towels at the garbage can, I missed, and the whole mess splattered over the entryway’s hardwood floor and up onto the wall. Really? REALLY?

With steam pouring from my ears, I yanked out the bucket and filled it with soapy water to scrub the floor—I was way too angry to mop. Hey, some people run or lift weights when they’re torqued-off. Me, I scrub the kitchen floor. Please don’t tell my husband that. He may get it in his head to start ticking me off on a regular basis just to send me on a cleaning frenzy. I scrubbed the floor vehemently, splashing so much soapy water around in the process that the kitchen floor looked like a swimming pool.

Several times during my clean up, Wayde foolishly tried to venture into the kitchen. Not to help clean up, mind you, but to finish his attempt to get a snack. I felt like a demon dog guarding the gates of hell as I crouched there on all fours, with a scrub brush in my hands and my eyes flashing more sparks than the neighbor’s fireworks display. Even Mike told Wayde he’d be wise to stay in his room for the rest of the night. Of course, Wayde being Wayde, he ignored that advice.

By the time the kitchen floor was cleaned up and the worst of emotional Hurricane Debby had blown over, I was a soaked, sore, emotional wreck, feeling defeated, discouraged, and utterly ready to pack a bag and hitch a ride to some undisclosed destination. I briefly wondered if anyone wanted to trade places with a washed-up Martha Stewart wannabe for a week or six. Somehow I doubted it.

Now a few days later, I’m sitting here reflecting on that day. Had I overreacted to the day’s series of minor mishaps? Probably. Was I blowing things out of proportion and making the proverbial mountain out of a molehill? Most likely. I knew the events of the Forgettable 4th would probably be funny in a decade or two, but right at that moment, I was truly at a low point in my domestic journey. I felt unappreciated. I felt unimportant. I felt as though I were a failure as a wife, a mother, and a homemaker. I felt like one of the losers on those stupid reality shows that are so popular nowadays—hey, there we go! Do they have one yet called Really Bad Housewives or Epic Failures of the Domestic Kind? I might be able to star in one of those.

But really, I know there are worse things that could happen on holidays, and I know that I will face many more disastrous days like this before my kids are grown, and probably even after. I need to remember to keep my wits about me, my sense of humor intact, and all things in perspective. After all, I am well aware that it is family fiascoes like these that often become the memorable stories that are passed down to children and grandchildren. My kids may not remember me as a Martha Stewart clone, but I hope they will remember the things I tried to do to make special memories for them, and I hope they know that I keep trying because I love them.

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2 thoughts on “A Forgettable 4th

  1. Poor you. I felt the distress as you went through your day. I remember a rotten Christmas run up and it wasn’t getting any better by Christmas Eve. I’m not religious but I adore Christmas Eve services so went with a friend to one. The Bishop of Aberdeen gave a sermon on getting ready for Christmas and to do that he took us through the first Christmas and how bad it smelled etc I went home forgot about the mess and determined to enjoy the day and the food we did have. Turned into an excellent Christmas and all celebrations have gotten easier since then.

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    • I’m glad your Christmas sorted out for you. I’ve learned to accept the bad with the good, noting that stressful and unplanned things will always happen, but they’re usually not long-lived, and as I stated in the post, most often they turn into those funny family stories that are shared every year. 🙂

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