So our refrigerator door has a dent. Here’s how it got there.

This post contains a little profanity. I know it seems silly to warn about it here when my books contain a little profanity, but I just didn’t want to offend anyone when I’m speaking as myself. I’m including profanity here so you get the full scope of the situation.

Last year, my husband and I had a mouse problem. It took weeks to solve, and scared the crap our of our babysitter, but we got rid of them using sticky traps, snap traps, and lots of alcohol. (The drinking kind.)

(Side note: mice are strongly attracted to sugar cookies. Our babysitter at the time wore “Warm Vanilla Sugar” body spray from Bath & Body Works. The mice were ALWAYS out when she was around.)

Since last year, we haven’t seen a trace of the mice. We thought we’d gotten rid of them forever.

Well, Monday night, I went to make a salad. I love avocados, so I typically buy a bag of them at the store every weekend. You can’t keep avocados in the refrigerator (they go wonky), so they were sitting on the counter. When I picked up an avocado, it had a few tiny chunks missing. So did the rest of them. And the bag was torn.

I said to my husband, “I think we have a mouse again.”

We had a few glue traps left from last year, the small, mouse-sized kind, which are about the size of a deck of cards. I put four of them on the counter, with an avocado in the middle of them.

That night, my husband, who wasn’t feeling well, took a dose of Nyquil and went to bed. I wrote a chapter and went to bed.

Around 10:30pm, I heard, “Scratch-scratch-scratch” from the kitchen. I whisper shouted, “MIKE!”

My poor, Nyquiled husband sat up all groggy. “What? What is it?”

I said, ” Listen.”

Scratch scratch scratch.

There was clearly something on our counter.

We both got up and headed out to the kitchen. I was behind Mike. He said, “Holy. Shit.”

Then I saw what he saw. I saw a big brown furry back. ON. MY. KITCHEN. COUNTER. Emphasis on big.

It wasn’t a mouse. It was a RAT.

ON MY KITCHEN COUNTER.

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m kind of a freak about my kitchen. (The rest of the house, not so much.) I regularly bleach my counters and my sink. I’m anal about food spoilage and unsanitary cooking conditions. I regularly throw out food that’s close to its date or even looks SLIGHTLY weird.

It’s a miracle I didn’t start screaming.

Honestly, it’s a miracle I didn’t start spraying IT with bleach. (That’s what I do to stinkbugs.)

So back to the rat on the counter. Not only is it on my counter, but those little glue traps aren’t trapping it, they’re just pissing it off. It’s also tangled up under the cord for my phone. Mike is trying to get some trash bags so he can get it into one, yelling, “GET ME A BOX. I NEED A BOX.”

Where the F am I going to get a box at 10:30 at night? There was a cooler in the corner of our dining room, one of those red plastic Playmate ones, so I open it and give it to him, thinking he can get the rat into it and slam the lid. So with one hand holding the cooler, and the other holding a plastic trash bag, my husband tries to get the thing into the cooler.

Remember the Nyquil? Not exactly conducive to sharp thinking skills or rapid movement.

The rat doesn’t end up in the cooler OR in the trash bag.

Instead, it bites my husband on the hand. ON. THE. HAND.

So now my husband is yelling, and I’m panicking, saying, “Ohmygod, did it bite you? Are you okay? Did it bite you?”

And he’s saying, “Yes. It bit me. It bit me.”

And there’s blood. All over the place.

AND THE RAT IS STILL ON THE EFFING COUNTER.

So Mike starts yelling that he needs a box. I run upstairs to find one. Upstairs is our finished attic. There are no boxes up there. I know this because we just cleaned it out a few weeks ago. I have no idea why I ran that way, instead of down to the basement, where we have about fifty plastic boxes holding toys. I could have dumped one of those in about half a second.

While I’m upstairs, I start hearing all these crashing sounds. I think my husband is attacking it with a frying pan (which was sitting right on the stove, which also probably would have been a good idea), but no. He’s trying to keep it from getting off the counter.

And then it falls off the counter, and it bolts under the dishwasher.

Now my husband, who is generally a temperate man, yells, “FUCK!” and throws the cooler as hard as he could. He threw it so hard that it flew over the cooking island and hit the refrigerator.

He threw it so hard that a few days later, I noticed the dent and said, “What do you think the refrigerator door ran into?” And Mike said, deadpan, “A cooler.”

So now it’s like 10:40pm. My husband is bleeding from his hand. There’s a rat under our dishwasher. My five-year-old is crying, wanting to know what’s going on. I’m trying to call my mom, a night nurse, to ask her what to do. I then call the ER, and ask them what to do. (Side trivia: rats typically don’t carry rabies, a lot of bleeding is actually a good thing, because it helps flush bacteria from the wound, and while my husband didn’t have to go to the ER right then, a tetanus shot would be a good idea.)

Once we eliminated the immediate worry — the rat bite — we still had to figure out what to do about the rat under the dishwasher.

There was no way I was going back to sleep. My reasoning: if a rat could climb onto a counter, it could climb into a crib or a bed. (All of our bedrooms are on the ground floor.)

So at 11:20pm, I got in my car and drove to the grocery store, and purchased every glue trap and snap trap that they had. I laid them out all over the kitchen to prevent that thing from escaping from the kitchen. Then we went to bed.

2am: we hear it again: scratch-scratch-scratch.

This time, it’s one of the glue traps by the refrigerator. It’s not the big rat.

It’s a baby rat.

O.

M.

G.

My husband got rid of it. The next day, I was on the phone to Orkin so fast it would make your head spin. I didn’t care how much it cost, we wanted someone to come out to the house and fix the problem. A guy came that night. (Side note: I cannot say enough good things about Orkin’s service. This gentleman was at our house for three hours, and did a tremendous amount of work sealing holes and patching areas that could provide access.)

This morning, one of the snap traps from the back basement caught the big rat.

I’m not naive. I know there may be more. But I feel like we’re closer to solving the problem.

This is the most horrifying event since we’ve moved into this house. Merry Christmas, right?

What’s the most horrifying thing you’ve ever found in your house?

(By the way, the contest is still going on! Have you entered? Scroll down to the next post.)

Here’s my tale of thanks…

I found out I was pregnant in the fall of 2006.

I was married, of course. Michael and I had tied the knot in May, and we knew we wanted to get pregnant right away. Actually, we’d been planning to wait until the following spring, but at dinner a few nights before the wedding, Mike said, “Let’s not wait until spring. Let’s just do it.”

So we just did it.

I’m not a hypochondriac, and I’m not one of these women who obsesses over everything she eats during her pregnancy. I just don’t have that kind of temperament. But by February, I started thinking there might be something wrong. I was having terrible headaches, and I couldn’t sleep. I went to my doctor, and he told me everything was fine, I just needed to relax.

At the end of February, Michael and I went to Orlando for a week with some friends. We saw the Daytona 500 (a miserable experience for me, since the weather was 40 degrees and windy, and I only had Capri pants and a sweatshirt) and went to Disney World. I’m a good traveler — I went around to all the rides and got express passes so the others could ride the big roller coasters. Then I would sit on warm benches and read books while they were riding the rides. We had a really nice time.

I was also working full time during that period, and because my team had changed firms, I was extremely busy, and under a tremendous amount of stress. I was pulling 60 hour weeks, and I’d come home and crash.

I still knew something was wrong with my pregnancy. I kept having headaches, and I kept going to the doctor, and he kept telling me I was fine. It was in my head. He said my mother, who is a nurse, was telling me things to make me nervous. My due date was placed at June 18, 2007.

My headaches got worse. I was so swollen, people at work were starting to comment on how bad I looked. I had a baby shower in mid-April, and no one could believe how swollen my feet and hands were. Speculations were made whether I’d need to cut my rings off.

When we left that baby shower, I asked my mom to drive us home, because my headaches were tremendous. She drove — straight to her house, where she went in to get her blood pressure cuff.

My blood pressure was 175/100, very, very high for a pregnant woman.

My mom and my husband rushed me to the ER. This was mid-April, so I was only about 32 weeks pregnant. At the ER, they diagnosed preeclampsia, and they decided they would induce labor, but they were calling my doctor to have him come in.

He did come in. He came in and yelled at me, ordered them to stop inducing labor, and sent me home. I’d been in the hospital all night, with numerous professionals telling me I had preeclampsia, and then he comes in and says it’s all in my head, and my mom was just making me nervous. He told me to come see him in the office the next day.

So I did. Mom went with me. We watched the girl take my blood pressure. The girl said, “Absolutely fine. 120 over 80.” As soon as the girl left, mom said, “She lied.”

I knew she’d lied, too. Growing up with a nurse for a mother, I also knew how to read the dial on a blood pressure cuff.

The doctor still insisted everything was fine. We smiled and nodded and went home. I started researching preeclampsia, and found an incredible support network on www.preeclampsia.org. With everyone there telling me my doctor might be nuts, I went with my gut instinct and called a high-risk OB in Annapolis and asked for an appointment. The girl said, “Well, for pregnancy, we’re scheduled out for 12 weeks.”

I said, “Well, I’m due in 7 weeks, here’s the situation, I really need a second opinion.”

She could have brushed me off. But she put me on hold, spoke to a doctor, and fit me in for an appointment the next day. I didn’t tell anyone I made this appointment.

That night, I went to dinner with my husband, and we talked about everything that was going on. My husband, who is a wonderful man, said, very gently, “Hon, do you think maybe everything is in your head?”

I said no, that I knew something was going on. I couldn’t keep anything from him, so I broke down and told him that I’d made an appointment with another doctor for the next day. I said I wasn’t going to give the doctor my history, that I was just going to have him look at hard data (blood pressure, urine, etc) and see what he thought.

When I went to the office, I found out that I’d been scheduled with one of the head OB’s in the practice, and he’d actually postponed leaving for vacation so he could fit me in. When I sat down with his nurse, she took my blood pressure. It was 180/105, and I’ll never forget her frowning and saying, “I think I need to get another cuff. This is reading really high.”

The other cuff got the same reading, of course.

They tested my urine, which immediately came up as 3+, which means there’s a lot of protein, one of the key indicators of preeclampsia. The doctor did an ultrasound, and said that the baby’s head measured as 34 weeks, right on target, but the body only measured as 30 weeks. He said that was also indicative of preeclampsia, because the body starts sending all the nutrients to form the baby’s brain, because the placenta is starting to fail.

The doctor said his opinion was to admit me immediately, run some more tests, and induce labor the next day.

It was a new hospital, a new doctor, and a new labor unit. But I agreed. What was I going to do, go back to the doctor who said it was all in my head?

I’ll never forget calling my husband from the hallway outside the doctor’s office, telling him they were admitting me. It took the admissions nurse six tries to start an IV because I was so swollen. I weighed 236 pounds at admission, and a huge percentage of that was fluid. After they induced labor and they wanted to start an epidural (which is a needle that goes beside your spine), the anesthesiologist said, “I have to warn you, because you’re so swollen, there’s a possibility the needle could cause paralysis.”

Because I was 6 weeks early, they wanted to try for a normal delivery, to force the fluid from the baby’s lungs. I agreed to the risk, because he said it was better than injecting me with Ketamine, because that could cause more difficulties for the baby. Unfortunately, once they induced labor, the fetal heartbeat started to plummet. Fetal distress, I think they called it. So they rushed me in for a C-Section. The epidural hadn’t had time to take effect. They injected Ketamine anyway, and they pulled the baby out.

Nicholas Parker Kemmerer was born at 12:14am, May 4, 2007.

I didn’t learn until later that his APGAR score at birth was a 1. I didn’t get to hold him. He was immediately rushed to the NICU, and I was stitched up and sent to recovery. I was told I couldn’t see my son until I calmed down and my blood pressure went down. So I held back on my tears and sent my husband to the NICU just about every five minutes.

I finally got to hold Nicholas that night, almost 24 hours after he’d been born. He weighed five pounds, and he had wires everywhere, including a feeding tube that went down his nose.

I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything strenuous, what with the 20 staples across my abdomen, but the NICU was on a separate floor from Labor & Delivery, so I made numerous trips up and down the stairs. I brought books to read, and I’d sit in the rocking chair next to his incubator and read. It was right before Mothers Day, so there were dozens of commercials on television, and every single one would make me sob.

They told me Nick might be in the NICU for six weeks.

He’s a strong kid. They released him after 8 days.

Nick is three-and-a-half now, and I love him to pieces.

But I owe my thanks to all the the people on those message boards, and all the doctors and nurses at Annapolis OB/GYN and Annapolis Medical Center, most especially, Dr. Fred Guckes, the amazing doctor who saw me and made the initial decision to admit me, and Dr. Pablo Argeles, the amazing physician who ultimately delivered Nicholas. Both these doctors saved Nick’s life and mine.

I will never forget them, and I owe them more thanks than I could ever express.

Thanks, guys. You are all amazing.

Prince Charming

My husband, Michael, proposed on a Thursday evening, on the couch in our apartment. He was totally slick about it too. We’d occasionally talked about getting married, and we’d started looking at houses, but nothing really serious at that point. Thursday nights had always been our “date night.” (Even still, I try to be home on Thursdays so we can crash on the couch and watch TV together.)

So we’re sitting there, and I think I was in my sweats, and he makes some offhand comment like, “So how would you want the proposal to go? Would you want a lot of fanfare or something?”

And I remember tilting my head back to look at the ceiling and saying something like, “No, I don’t think there needs to be a lot of fanfare. I think it’s about the moment, and the people. That’s what really matters in a relationship.”

He said, “Good. Because I bought a ring…”

What was the first thing I did? I put some clothes on and ran to the nail salon. Then he took me to dinner at Famous Daves, and then to Borders to buy some wedding books and magazines. What? I like ribs and I like bookstores.

We Kemmerers are practical people.

I remember reading somewhere that your relationship with your spouse has to come before your relationship with anyone else. Even before your children. Because one day your kids are going to be grown and out the door, and you’re going to be looking at someone you haven’t talked to in 20 years. I think about that a lot.

We’ve been hit with some bad karma in the Kemmerer house lately. Both cars broke down. (Mine isn’t even very old.) Our AC went up. We discovered a leak under our kitchen sink that was caused by a broken garbage disposal. The leak had been going on for some time, and the entire cabinet base had been destroyed, not to mention needing to replace the disposal itself. Our entire basement flooded, destroying the carpet and most of Nick’s toys, and insurance wouldn’t pick up a dime. Last Thursday, Mike was driving into his office parking lot, and a construction truck backed right into his car.

So yeah. It’s been a crappy six weeks.

But you know what? I feel closer to my husband than I ever have. When we discovered the basement had flooded, it was a really low point for us. We weren’t sure how to clean up a mess of that magnitude (especially considering we have a three year old running around). We weren’t sure what we were going to do financially. But we talked each other off the proverbial ledge, then we rolled up our sleeves and dealt with it.

Together.

Now the basement looks badass awesome, by the way. (Let me give a little shout-out to Empire Today.)

People make a big deal out of the fanfare, and that’s okay. A guy in my office set up this huge, elaborate proposal for the woman who is now his wife. He wanted to make it snow in July, so he put fake snow on the ceiling fan, and set up a Christmas tree, and dressed up in a suit, then woke up early in the morning…hell, I don’t remember it all. But I think he actually had a list. He loves his wife, and it’s special that he put so much effort into it.

But that’s not really where you find the true love.

When I was in my 20’s, a doctor put me on a Holter Monitor. If you’ve never seen one of these, it’s basically a small machine that’s about the size of a paperback, with long wires that attach to your chest so it can track your heart rhythms for 24 hours. You can’t shower or take it off while you’re wearing it. I remember coming home from the doctor’s office, getting changed for bed, then going out to sit on the couch with Mike. I was feeling really low: I was worried about my heart, and I looked like this freakish cyborg. I didn’t even say anything about it, but as soon as I sat down, Mike looked at me and said, “You’re so beautiful.”

That’s a moment. That’s where you find the true love.

~

(See, honey? I don’t just write about old boyfriends. So suck it.)

Breaking

There’s an old joke that goes something like this:

–What do you tell a woman with two black eyes?

–Nothing. You’ve already told her twice.

When I was in my early twenties, I dated this guy who was an abuser. I didn’t know it at the time, of course. You really don’t know much of anything in your early twenties except how badly you want to discover the world around you. So you put up with more than if you’d been a little more experienced, a little more jaded. You deal with things differently than if life had punched you in the gut a few times to let you know it’s not the only thing out there with fists.

I’m being a little overdramatic. No one ever punched me, except my brother this one time we were kids. A good shot, right to the gut. I was ten.

Wait.

There once was a drunk guy, a father of two, who I tried to keep from driving drunk. I was 19 and I’d been babysitting while the mothers were all away at a baby shower, and the fathers were all in the basement drinking beer and playing poker. When his wife called for him to come pick her up, I knew he was too drunk to drive. If you know anything as a teenager, it’s that drunk driving is stupid. That’s all they talk about in high school, right? Don’t drink and drive? Don’t let friends drive drunk? (That doesn’t mean kids listen. But they know it’s wrong.)

I followed the guy to the car, begging him not to drive. He couldn’t even get the frigging key in the door, so I grabbed them out of his hand. It was surprisingly easy.

Then he grabbed me and slammed me against the car.

Twice.

Now, I knew this guy. I trusted him. I was babysitting his kids for god’s sake. But I will never forget the way he slammed me into his car. And I have no idea what might have happened if one of the other dads hadn’t grabbed him and wrestled him off me. I ran into the house and locked the door, then called the moms and told them they needed to get back to the house because the dads weren’t in any condition to drive.

I never babysat for him again. And, as with most life lessons learned the hard way, I never told my parents about it.

But enough about him. I wanted to talk about the abusive guy. Let’s call him Joe. Joe never punched me. I almost say that like it’s a point of pride. “Well, he never hauled off and smacked me, so maybe I was less of an idiot for staying with him as long as I did.”

I sent a friend of mine a copy of this book called Breathing Underwater, by Alex Flinn. (Exceptional book. Read it.) It’s written in first person, from the perspective of a sixteen year old boy who has beat up his girlfriend. My friend knew some of my history with Joe, and asked if it was hard for me to read.

It was hard for me to answer that question.

For the normal reasons, sure. It’s an emotional history, and one I’m not going to outline right here in public. But more than that: there’s something embarrassing about talking about dating an abusive partner. You ever notice how people tend to look down on battered wives? How people tend to blame them? You figure, hell, she’s staying with him, it must not be that bad.

It’s humiliating. It’s almost humiliating to post this much about it.

After I got rid of Joe, I saw a counselor for a while. He was hell-bent-for-fury determined to get me to say I’d been raped. I refused to say it. Refused. Saying I’d been raped was like admitting I was a victim, and hell if I’m going to do that. Worse: saying I’d been raped seems to cheapen the horror of women who were really raped. It’s like having a hangnail and complaining about it to someone who had their arm amputated. I won’t do that.

When I was writing the character Emily, I checked a book out of the library about domestic violence, and there was a part that really struck a chord with me. It said that abusive guys don’t come out of the gate abusing their partner. They’re usually very charming. Attentive. They just have a need to be in control that stems from being insecure. And when a guy you love hauls off and hits you, or holds you down and forces you to do things you don’t want to do, it’s not like if a stranger does it. I mean, if some guy in the grocery store backhanded you in the checkout line, you’d call the cops.

But when it’s your partner? You love that person. You think, “He’s just in a bad mood,” or, “Maybe I’m overreacting here. Maybe he didn’t realize that I wasn’t in the mood to do that.” It’s like this gradual chipping away of your self esteem. Seriously, if you’re involved with a guy, some guy you love, and he shoved you during an argument, you’d forgive him, right? Especially if he apologized profusely and promised to never do it again?

But then the next time, say he shoved you a little harder. Say he shoved you into the wall. If you complained, then maybe he’d apologize and say, “But honey, you know how I get so mad. You know I don’t mean to do it.” You accepted his apology once–it’s incredibly easy to accept it again.

Then it happens again. And suddenly YOU’RE the one who was wrong for getting him so mad. It’s like this bizarre subtle behavior shift, and before you know it you’re getting slugged or screamed at or forced. And you genuinely believe it was all your fault. He’s the real victim, not you.

That’s why women stay. It’s harder to leave.

(For more on this topic, the amazingly talented Bobbie Goettler has a fantastic post about teaching her daughter to respect herself and really learn what love is.)

Perambulations

It’s no secret that I’ve been in an ambulance or three. There’s an old episode of Home Improvement where Tim takes his son to the ER, and they bring him a cup of coffee in a mug with his name on it. I have a tendency to accumulate bizarre afflictions that turn out normal after awhile, but start out serious. So I can relate to that episode. If I cough or stumble, Mike likes to joke that we haven’t been to the hospital in a while.

Tonight, while out walking, an ambulance with sirens and flashers on passed me and stopped at a house down the street.

Feeling cute, I whipped out my cell phone and sent a text to my husband:

I didn’t know ambulances went to other homes on our street.

He wrote back:

Are you sure they aren’t just following you?

Hey, punches! Let’s roll.

When I was in my early twenties, I met a woman who was pretty much a whack job. We quickly became friends. She was very beautiful, obviously nuts, and ended our friendship when she accused me of wanting to sleep with her husband. Her basis? Someone spotted us cleaning stalls in the barn at the same time.

I’m telling you, nothing brings a man and a woman closer than the smell of manure.

But I digress.

She told me that her first marriage was a disaster. She’d gotten married at seventeen, and the guy basically neglected her, and she was miserable. Suicidal, miserable. She finally went to see a doctor, who suggested she go on Prozac. I vividly remember her telling me that when the doctor said that, she knew she had to get out of her marriage. That if she had to be medicated to stay with a man, something was wrong with her relationship. (Maybe she wasn’t completely nuts after all.)

When she told me this story, she finished it up by saying, “I had to change my life. Because you can’t change others, you can only change yourself.”

It immediately became one of my mantras, and it’s helped me through numerous personal conflicts. It’s so true — if someone is being a jerk, you can’t change that. You can only change how you react to it.

Michael just finished reading a book called QBQ, and he mentioned a passage in which they said, “You create your own stress.” That’s so true. Other people aren’t making us stressed out. It’s our reaction — nothing more. We have the power to release all that stress and anxiety by bringing it back to what we, personally, can focus on.

I don’t mean this post to sound like an ad for a motivational speaker. I have my miserable days just like everyone else. But when things suck, when people are coming at me from all sides, I have to remind myself that there’s only one thing I can change.

Me.

Everything happens for a reason

I’m not a religious person. Twelve years of Catholic school cured me of that. But I do believe that everything happens for a reason.

When I was in my twenties, I saved up money for months to buy a video camera. I owned a horse and we were competing at second level dressage. I bought the video camera so I could record my training sessions and review them later, much like a football team reviews game footage. But one night, not a week after buying it, I forgot to bring the camera in the house when I got home.

So when I went to work the next day, the video camera was still in my car.

At the time, I was driving a huge 3/4 ton diesel pickup truck, but I was working in downtown Baltimore. Because my truck was a massive pile of steel, I was condemned to park in above ground parking lots. On the particular Friday that I happened to leave my video camera in the car, some enterprising thieves smashed my windows and took the camera.

(Years and years working in downtown Baltimore, and the only time my car was ever broken into was the day that my video camera was on the floor behind the driver’s seat.)

I spent three hours waiting for the cops that hot August evening, and I spent much of my Saturday getting the windows replaced. I’d spent months saving money for a camera that was gone in less than a week.

You can imagine my devastation.

Now, at the time, I was working as a computer trainer for Legg Mason. I was one of the people you would call if you couldn’t figure out how to number a column in Excel, or if you couldn’t complete a mail merge in Microsoft Word. Sometimes Corporate Technology received calls from employees who thought something was broken, when it was really a training issue, and the tech guys would then transfer those calls down to us.

On Monday, this happened. A new guy in Corporate Tech called down and got my line. After I answered the phone with my usual greeting, including my name, he said, “Hey, Brigid.” Then, in an attempt to be friendly before bringing his caller on the line, he said, “How was your weekend?”

I said, “Actually, it sucked.” And, unbidden, I proceeded to launch into my tale about the video camera.

The poor guy. I imagine he was rolling his eyes on the other end of the line. Probably muttering to himself, “I’m never going to be friendly again…”

But he listened to my story, making all the appropriate sounds of empathy. When I was done, he said, “Well, that’s really too bad. But I do have a caller on my back line who has a training question…”

D’oh!

Yes, I was embarrassed.

But we shared a laugh, and I remembered his name, the next time he called. He remembered my silly rant about the video camera. That event launched our friendship, and we knew each other by phone for months before we ever met in person.

He was a good guy, I could tell. Funny. Patient. Kind.

He still is.

That’s why I married him.

And you know what? I don’t miss that video camera one little bit.