(PICTURES will come soon! I still don’t have that part of my computer available yet)
End of April
Excitedly anticipating the arrival of our new washing machine from Lowe’s, Military Man received a call that it was now backordered (on the day it was due to arrive). The new arrival date would be the end of June, just in time for the kids and I to move into our house on the base. “Thanks God,” I thought to myself. “Even when I try and fix the problem, you cut me off at the pass!” (Military Man is scheduled to go to Safety School in New Mexico a week after we move into our house, so he will be living in the Crowded Camper for another month while I unpack our house… It’s always the way it goes, right, military families?) We would not be getting my washer in time to do me any favors, but it would still be here for Military Man to easily cleanse his flight suit while he is gone to Safety School in New Mexico. Cursing my miniature living, sick of hunting for quarters to pay the “Laundromat Troll” (as my kids call it), and ready to just give away my worldly possessions to become homeless, (“Well, they don’t have to wash stuff do they,” I told Military Man in a huff), Military Man handed me a bag full of change, some detergent and dryer sheets as he left for another overnight squadron trip. “I’m sure you’ll be fine,” he said with a kiss as he drove off for another flight of family freedom. As he was backing out, I’m pretty sure he shouted “No soup for you!” with a cackle, reminding me of the Seinfeld episode where all the people stood in line for the best soup ever, and the “Soup Nazi” would pick and choose who got a bowl. If you didn’t get chosen, he would shout “No soup for you!” just like Military Man did to me, referencing my desire to get the washing machine and I just can’t have one. I replied with my middle finger, as he was too far away to hear any words coming out of my mouth.
Picturing my life homeless, standing around in my one pair of designer shoes (Christian Dior that I paid a car payment for from the discount rack at Neiman Marcus about 10 years ago and still wear as I’m confident they turn me into a princess until the clock strikes 12), my favorite bonfire jeans and my old Mississippi State University soccer team training sweatshirt, now all holey and mangled from a long life of homelessness, definitely smelling like an un-drained black tank that stunk up an RV parked in outdoor storage, in the summer, in Arizona, after baking for three months.
“MAMA! Why are you smiling like that,” Morgan asked with an eyebrow raised.
“Like what,” I retorted, realizing my daydream brought me evil happiness, as I was standing on the corner not doing a damn thing…
“Like the bad guy!” Jake chimed in clearly thinking of our game of good guys vs bad guys, and they always make me play the bad guy.
Even later in April
“JESUS WILL FORGIVE YOU!” Morgan shouted at the pediatric neurologist, who was administering an entire toolbox full of Botox injections into her left arm and leg, to help relax the muscles from her spastic cerebral palsy. In a heavily sedated state, she was awake enough to scream with every injection, but not enough to ever know or remember what was happening to her. A mother’s nightmare to watch, it lasted about ten minutes. Ten minutes of my life that equated to more stress and suffering than my whole life combined, and it wasn’t even happening to me. I turned 36 just a couple weeks before, but witnessing that procedure aged me to 50. I’m sure of it. Feeling a desperate need to swoop her from the situation yet knowing how much the Botox helps her when she has a growth spurt, I watched and held her hand, when she wasn’t punching me in the eye, and right when I was sure my heart burst in pain, she yanked free of me, sat up and shouted those words to the neurologist. “JESUS WILL FORGIVE YOU!” I first thought “Preach it girl, cause he is THE supreme bad guy” and then I envisioned how well she would be able to play tee ball when this was done and held tight to her hand again hoping for the end of it all. (I was led to believe the procedure would be done under full anesthesia, not like this), and the neurologist laughed out loud while Morgan lay back down in a sedated haze. The nurses and support staff all looked bewildered, and I finally felt the need to justify her words… “She just started at a private Christian school. They trade Common Core for religious fervor.”
The very end of April
“Holy crap!” I shouted at Military Man. “What!” he came running expecting a snake somewhere in the RV, and I pointed at my computer instead. “It’s dead!” Playing with my computer, doing nothing really, except pushing buttons and hitting the space bar like it was a million dollar miracle, he declared, “I think it’s dead.”
And that was it, my only computer (a Mac Mini that I hook up to the TV monitor in the RV) quit on me. Being that my backup external hard drive is full and our get out of debt plan doesn’t cover additional computer storage, I went into panic mode trying to restore the Mac, because it holds the entire unpublished second book of the Crowded Camper series, all of my artwork, photos, etc. I “save and save often” but not to an external source. Trying to figure out how I was going to restore my entire second book, (nevermind blog) I felt transported into the Little Rascals movie…
“And the clouds opened up and God said, ‘I hate you Alfalfa.’” Grabbing the moneybag, I went to feed the Laundry Troll, because I had nothing left to enable my life’s procrastination.
“You’re leaving again?” I said irritated, to Military Man, who was packing for his next trip. With his new job he doesn’t deploy, he tests things that would possibly be adopted by the Air Force for the J-model C-130’s within search and rescue. So once he tests stuff that passes, he flies to other squadrons and shows off that stuff, let’s them play with it, and then he comes back home. It’s the show circuit for nerds, and while he’s out being nerdy and playing with new rescue toys, I do my chores, plus his and lately it’s been driving me crazy.
“Yes, I’m leaving again, but my mom will be here today to help you this week.” Hallelujah, my partner is retail crime, is staying in the Crowded Camper for a whole week, Military Man will be gone, Morgan will be at school, and she, Jake and I could spend MM’s extra travel pay before he even gets it from the finance office! (That’s the military way after all… ‘While you’re away, we spend your pay’) That doesn’t work so well on deployments, because they only get paid $3.50 extra a day to be fighting a war, so I can basically get a tall mocha from Starbucks, without any extra fluff in it. (See everyone has to suffer and do without during a family member’s combat tour).
The first night of her arrival, I pulled out the couch and inflated the air mattress. It was our third replacement in the Crowded Camper, because our heathen children think they make good trampolines. A jumbo double layered queen size mattress, she and Morgan went to sleep happy and woke up to a nearly flat bed. Jake, asleep on the cot was oblivious to the mattress leaking, but the other hens in the house certainly were not.
“The mattress is flat!” Morgan grumpily declared. “I can see Morgan,” I replied. “You’re lucky your dad’s not here and Gran-D (his mom) is, because he said the next time the mattress goes flat he won’t buy another one and you’ll be sleeping on the floor. We can’t let Gran-D sleep on the floor so let’s go shopping!”
Trying to save just a little money, we went to the Base Exchange where shopping is tax free, and I bought the only air mattress in stock.
The next morning, Morgan woke me up by storming into my room and shouting at me, “This mattress is too lumpy!” “What are you talking about?” I asked her. “Let me show you!” she hollered back.
Walking downstairs to the fold out couch, Gran-D was sitting in the recliner, looking like she didn’t sleep a wink. “How was this mattress,” I asked her, “because Morgan said it’s too lumpy.”
“Well, you can feel all the dents in the top,” she replied in her kindest voice. Peeling the sheet off of the single layer mattress, I looked and saw what they were talking about. It had a billion dents in the top, built into the design, but when you lay down on them, you feel them regardless of how many blankets you pile on top.
“Shoot,” I said. “I will take it back.”
“No, don’t do that,” Gran-D commented. “Maybe tonight, we can put this thin dented one on top of the double layer one, and we won’t notice it going flat underneath.”
It sounded like a good idea to me, so that night, we inflated the leaking jumbo mattress, then we picked up the thin dented one, and placed it on top.
“WOW,” Jake said, looking at the great towering stack of inflated beds. “You could swing from the fan now!” He said excitedly, as he tried to race to the pile and live out his dream. If you looked at them, they really did almost reach the ceiling fan. “Don’t sit up tonight,” I said, “Or you’ll get a haircut.”
“Maybe you could just leave the fan off,” Gran-D suggested. “Oh, I guess that makes sense.”
Watching Morgan and my mother-in-law climb the towering cliff of inflated plastic, I thought about the Princess and the Pea and giggled. (A lonely prince wanted a wife, so his mother said one day a princess will come, and we will give her a test. We will pile all of the mattresses from the palace onto one bed, and place a tiny pea under the bottom one. Only a true princess will know it’s there.)
“More like the Mother-In-Law and the Air Mattress – a trailer park version” Military Man said over the phone. Laughing together over the mayhem that was the bed downstairs, I prayed Jake wouldn’t secretly turn the fan on after I went to bed, and attempt a reality of that fantasy he had.
I woke up to muffled talking and thumping around downstairs, so I went down to check it out. Seeing shadows moving around, I asked if everything was ok.
“Well, the bottom mattress is going flat,” said my MIL. “I’m trying to stack things in the back to keep us from falling behind the couch.”
“What if we just re-inflate the bottom one, since the leak is so slow, and y’all can go back to bed. It won’t deflate on you over the next couple hours.” I said.
After putting the air back into the mattress, I watched as the first tiny princesses crawled her way back up the tower, giggling as she went, and finally disappearing at the top of the mountain.
With the camper covered in shadows, my MIL stepped up on the recliner, and then jumped to the top of the top mattress, and what happened next was a blur! Apparently she hit the top, but in the quest to get up there she landed on a corner, and everyone knows that air mattresses are never stable on the edges. Doing a backwards roll, she picked up speed, head leaving the edge of inflated plastic, then her feet, flipping up and over, until she completed a full airborne flip, nightgown flying like a parachute behind her. Landing on the floor, with a massive BANG, Morgan squealed for her nighttime Cuddle Queen (because we all know grandma’s love cuddling with their grand babies) and at the same time somebody farted. When the fart happened, Jake woke up, “what’s going on? Who farted?” he asked, rubbing his eyes, trying to decipher the shapes in the dark all around him.
I laughed, Morgan laughed, Gran-D laying somewhere on the floor was laughing, although it sounded like she was in a tunnel, and Jake, finding it all hilarious, kept thinking he was the reason for the 2am side-splitting humor, kept repeating his question, “who farted?”
Turning on the lights, because I couldn’t find my MIL, I realized she landed upside down, and was wedged, still with her feet over her head, but under the folded out couch and right next to Jake’s cot. “I’m stuck,” she said through tear-inducing laughter. “Who farted?” Jake shouted again, and Gran-D replied, “I think it was Morgan,” and Morgan from her elevated tower shouted down, “I did NOT!” and she started bouncing in total defiance of the blame placed on her, smacking her head on the ceiling of the camper.
“Don’t pop that air mattress!” I screamed, while helping unfold our poor Gran-D.
“So basically Jake has been re-enacting the whole thing all day,” I told Military Man over the phone. “He flips backwards off the couch, while simultaneously making a farting sound upon impact, then jumps up to tell Morgan to quit farting so much.”
“So how does the Camper version of the princess and the pea end?” asked Military Man. “Basically you’ll know you have a good mother-in-law when they can suffer the worst trailer induced torture and still stay another day with you.”
“She’s one in a million,” said Military Man. “That she is,” I replied; with total joy that without a doubt I’m so lucky to have her when I can’t have him. “I still won’t ask her to drain the black tank while I walk the dogs.”
“Yeah, that might be pushing it,” he replied.
Feeling like the laundry champion of the camper for once again suffering the drudgery of the Laundromat, I received a phone call from the Maytag repair company that we forgot even existed.
“Ma’am, we have the parts needed to fix your washing machine, and we’d like to come out this week if that’s ok.”
As I was about to say “don’t worry about it, we gave up on y’all and ordered a new one,” something imaginary slapped my face and reminded me that it’s on backorder and costs a lot more than the cost to repair the one we already have…
“YES! The sooner the better!”
I couldn’t believe it! Actually I really couldn’t, and would be shocked at all to see them show up, much less have the right parts.
A few days later, the original repair guy was at the gate to the base, and eventually inside our RV taking out the washing machine, removing the drum, showing me where it appeared to have been shattered from an external force, and installed a new one.
We ran a test load of laundry and no floods, bolts of electric lightning or explosions occurred, so I sent him on his way with payment and a $25 bottle of wine as a thank you. “I was saving that for our anniversary, but he won’t be home, so you might as well take it with you!” I told him.
Having already done the laundry for the week, I picked up a pile of clean kitchen towels and washed them again, while the kids and I sat in the floor watching them spin around and around, suds and water flinging past.
“The laundry troll is going to go hungry,” said Morgan. “No he won’t,” I replied. “He was getting tired of Crowded Camper food, so it’s better that the new campers feed him a while.
Around Mother’s Day
“Do you know why all the police cars and fire trucks are at that new camper over there,” I asked Military Man, as we looked at one entire section of Fam Camp that was shut off to everyone.
“I have no idea,” he replied.
With Morgan at school, Military Man, Jake and I watched the light and show most of the day, until we saw a police car arrive with a photographer, and people carrying forensics kits. That’s when we knew something bad must have happened in the campground and we went inside.
“She passed away,” one of our neighbors told us. “He and his wife just arrived, planned to stay for a night, and the next day he found her unresponsive and called 9-1-1. They were pretty young, he was retired Military, about 60 years old, and she was around 58.”
“How horrible,” I thought. “The day before Mother’s day, and somebody’s mother has unexpectedly died. Instead of kissing his wife on Mother’s Day, he’s fielding phone calls from relatives while forensics teams conclude an investigation. Talk about heartbreaking.
“Whether she had kids of her own or not, she still most certainly was involved at some time in her life, with helping someone else’s children, or their pets, or even a friend. I guarantee she was “a mother” to someone out there, and they will miss her dearly.
Finding it hard to be happy on the day to celebrate me, I just wished I was near my own mom to hug her and tell her how much I loved her. Phone calls leave such a void, and being all the way across the country made it even harder. Even my sister and grandma’s and all the other ‘mama’s’ to me in my life, I just missed them all.
Stuffing my face with my Mimi’s Café Mother’s Day brunch, beside my family and campground friends that joined us that day, I emerged from my funk because both kids had to pee, they were covered in syrup, their cups were empty, and they were getting fidgety.
It’s hard to be moody when your children have needs.
Later in May
End of the school year approaching for Morgan, washing machine doing a happy dance every time I fed it dirty clothes, we agreed a change in scenery was needed for the Memorial Day weekend. The campground was getting hot with the Arizona heat, and I was sick of looking at the depressing parking spot where the campground stranger passed away.
“Let’s go camping with our neighbors,” said Military Man. Memorial Weekend – another opportunity to be moody for those we’ve lost, I quickly remembered my the beliefs I adopted from an Army Ranger on a deployment – “What I do in my life has nothing to do with my grief or sadness. How I mourn is my own business, and no single day will replace them.” I quickly shook off the grumpadumps I’d been wearing for a couple weeks now, replaced them with strength and happiness, and I found myself very excited to be back in my own life, taking the Crowded Camper out of Fam Camp for the weekend and parking it at Catalina State Park next to new friends!
We hiked, the kids had mud and water balloon fights, there were no curfews, no agendas, and none of our Military Men had to be at work for 5 days. My Military Man grew his vacation beard, which I love, as it symbolizes the fact that our family can finally be first for this moment in time. We had bonfires, we searched for scorpions at night with a black light (they really do glow!) and we listened to old country music on the radio. With Johnny Cash singing about A Boy Named Sue, we realized our own boy was going to have a birthday very soon. Recalling the fact that it was Johnny Cash songs that served as the catalyst to help Military Man and I to talk again after Jake was born and tucked away in the NICU, I looked around at my happy family and our new friends and felt a peace that we are all together for now. (Military Man was deployed when Jake was born a few weeks early, and we reconnected over country music and 3am feedings with the night nurses.)
The next morning, with the magic of a campground bonfire left in a pile of ash, and our campground sitting only 45 minutes from the military base, I had to bring Morgan back to town for an eye exam, something she’s never been able to focus on until now.
“She’s farsighted,” said the optometrist. “This explains her struggle with reading, and glasses should help solve the problem quickly.”
Making it back to the campground, I told Military Man the results, and we both felt relief at understanding the reason she fought us so much over books until now.
Beginning of June
“I LOVE my glasses,” squealed Morgan over the pretty pink frames with silver hearts on the sides. Ever since they came in, she wants to read and write all of the time, and is finally finding the joy in stories.
“I wish I had a pair of glasses,” pouted Jake, his little lip stuck out in patheticness.
“Your birthday is just a couple days away little man,” said his daddy. “I’m sure you’d rather have something else besides glasses.
“Ohhhh, I would! I want a door!” he shouted, eyes wide in excitement.
“A door?” asked Military Man.
“Yeah! A door and my bedroom!” he said while clapping at his own ideas.
Today, Jake turns 4-years-old, and even though we still don’t have a door to give him, that leads to his own bedroom, with his old toys and “wemote kertrol cars” we DO have a second-hand kid sized Razor Quad (a 4-wheeler) waiting just outside the door to the camper. So when he does open THAT door, he will see his shiny prize, just for being born.
I can’t wait for him to wake up, so he can throw on his new helmet and terrorize all the neighbors in his pajamas, inspect the tires on all of their campers (because that’s what he does) now at alarming speeds, and cause general mayhem and heart palpitations for all 98 campers in the vicinity.
I can’t wait for Morgan to wake up, and wish him a happy birthday, and read him the card that she wrote all by herself, words finally spaced far enough apart to realize they were words, because she couldn’t see that they weren’t before. I can’t wait to eat his “emergency vehicles” cake and ice cream (I’m totally taking the piece with the fire truck so I can shout “nee ner nee ner” with every bite, and I’m sure, like he does every year, Military Man will play us some old country that includes Johnny Cash songs.
I also can’t wait to move into our house on base. It won’t be long now. I’ve gotten to the point where I just can’t wait in line for the toilet anymore, we don’t have toddler toilets now as the kids are both potty trained, and there are no woods for me to use in the event of an emergency.
There’s just a bunch of crappy campers, all around us, and thankfully no more of them have died. Even if they did, nothing can steal my joy today. This day, finally, I think the clouds have opened up and God said “I love you Alfalfa.”
Don’t forget, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read The Crowded Camper goes to Little Rock, FREE here
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