Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 24-03-2008

One upshot of my week as Supreme Commander is that I ended up cleaning the stove so it wouldn’t be outstandingly gross for the appliance repair guy. I pulled it out of its alcove and degreased every visible surface. If you’ve never pulled your stove out of its alcove, trust me: there is stuff stuck to it that words can’t describe.

My wife made slugs seem lively. Since last Monday, she has been in bed, or in her easy chair in the living room. A nasty cough and sore back muscles had made sleep difficult, and a fever had sucked away her will to do anything. This made me supreme commander of the household.

I’m already supreme commander of the kitchen—when my wife went to work as a school teacher, I wrested control of the cooking gear and the weekly grocery shopping. But as my wife’s motivational crisis unfolded last week, I took near complete control of our little world (she was in no condition to contest my coupe).

As supreme commander, I tried to keep things running smoothly for everyone. Of course, the cooking and grocery shopping had to continue. But now there was the certainty of cleaning the kitchen each night. Under normal circumstances, I clean the kitchen several times a week—but my wife has been bigger about doing it than I tend to be. Last week, I owned the nighttime cleanup.

I also owned the morning school preparation. It’s not huge work, but lately I’ve lost the up-at-dawn habit, so getting up to pack lunches for the kids and get them to “early morning” rehearsals when necessary cut an hour or more out of my sleep schedule. The trips to my wife’s school to drop off stuff the substitute would need to teach class each day ate up time I might have spent writing.

Kids continued to have places to go in the evenings. By Tuesday, I’d already messed up some of that, but we made it to all events through the rest of the week. I felt some guilt abandoning my wife on Friday, but it had been several days since she’d been even the least bit scintillating, and I suspect she hardly noticed she was alone when I took the kids for a trip around central Pennsylvania (see the March 21st entry for a report).

Then things really tanked: I started cleaning a kitchen cabinet, which meant throwing out outdated cans and boxes, and stacking the good items on the counter. Then, through her mucous-induced haze, my wife requested crafts supplies for a project she hoped to teach in school on Monday… and one of my kids got invited to lunch on Saturday (the Von Trap family from the high school musical had a reunion). Our neighbor called and asked us to walk their dogs on Saturday night and Sunday… a minor distraction when the household is running normally. Turns out their new puppy didn’t want to befriend the intruder who couldn’t remember its name; it took an hour for the dog to warm up to me before I got a leash on it.

So, on Sunday the kitchen counter was buried in food products, and I danced around it as I stuffed and roasted a turkey for our Easter dinner. But to keep myself centered, I carried 47 tons of dirty clothes downstairs, sorted them, guessed which settings to use on the washer, tried not to shrink or melt anything in the dryer, and folded 45 tons of clean clothes (with that many clothes—and kids—you wash out at least two tons of dirt… never mind the weight of the socks that never make it out of the laundry.)

With about twenty minutes of roasting to go, I put a pot of potatoes on the stove to cook, and the stove went blooey. In fact, the burners and the oven died; nothing was cooking.

The neighbors were still away, so I finished cooking the turkey there. I cooked vegetables in our microwave oven. The meal was ready only forty minutes later than planned, and it was all reasonably edible. Even my wife remained upright long enough to dine… and she went to school this morning; I hope she can remain upright until the dismissal bell rings and then some. I’m ready to relinquish command.

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Filed Under (rural life, rural living) by admin on 18-03-2008

In 20 years, with the exception of a dicey pregnancy, I haven’t seen my wife debilitated for more than a day at a time… and that only rarely. Now she has an illness that resembles one I had about three weeks ago. My illness sucked nine days out of my life; I hope hers is more merciful.

It’s my wife’s first year as an elementary school teacher, so planning, preparation, and grading her students’ work keeps her very busy. Sadly, she has had a nasty virus since early last week. She’s stoic, and she’s a volunteer junky. As her Odyssey of the Mind team’s run ended at the regional competition, she immediately jumped in to help with the High School musical. She worked backstage at several performances. Her cold raged on, and she actually excused herself from helping one evening when she realized her illness had become overwhelming… but she was back the next day as if her symptoms were subsiding.

When she returned from school yesterday, she didn’t pop in to say hi. In fact, I knew she was back only when I heard thumping and squeaking above me as she climbed into bed (my office is directly beneath our bedroom). The kids and I left her alone, and it became apparent that she wasn’t getting up any time soon.

Our lives became much more challenging. My daughter had stayed home from school yesterday with a cold of her own. We needed to cancel her horseback riding lesson, but only my wife knows how—so we ended up standing up the instructor. My son’s cello teacher called to try to move my son’s lesson from Thursday night to Friday night—but I deferred because we hadn’t yet made a decision about how we’d spend our four-day weekend. In the morning, I bumbled together school lunches, delivered a kid to “early morning” band practice, and zipped out to my wife’s school to drop off her day’s lesson plan and pick up her students’ completed homework assignments.

The additional tasks cut into the day. They’re manageable, but I get edgy at unexpected diversions from my work—especially when I’m behind (and I’m close to a month behind on some key projects). If my wife is out for long, I expect I’ll make peace with the shifted focus: more taxi service and household logistics, less writing and web-development.

Still, I don’t look forward to coming days when there may be more early morning, and new after school transportation challenges. My wife is generally very upbeat, so it’s uncomfortable to see her so beat down… and the only thing I can do to help is to try to handle some of the tasks she usually does. The household has a different, less comfortable cadence. We’ll get by, but I want my wife back.

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