Home Alone

You know what readers? I should stop making promises in this journal. The longer I have been blogging, the more I am beginning to realize that my writing inspiration is as unpredictable as my state’s weather, and as cool as my internship experience has been, I feel more inspired to write about a different kind of exciting experience I had recently. If you are a Facebook friend, you know what I’m talking about! Since several Facebook friends have sent me messages mentioning how much they are looking forward to this entry, and since I have found that if I put off writing something I am inspired to write, it isn’t nearly as well-written as it could have been if I had struck while the iron was hot, I am going to have to break my promise. I should be ready to write about my internship experience in the next entry, but I’m not making any promises this time!

     So, my experience home alone didn’t come about because my whole family went to Paris for Christmas and forgot about me. I didn’t have to invent booby traps to hinder robbers. And no, I didn’t attempt to score a free pizza of my own like the kid in the movie who cued up a clip from a scary movie to play when the pizza delivery man came to the door. I don’t remember the quote from the movie clip word for word but it involved a guy saying something like, “I’m going to count from one to ten, and if you aren’t out of my house, I’ll shoot you. One, two, ten!” Ah, that’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie! Generally I am not the type to draw comparisons between my life and movies because I don’t watch that many movies since most are difficult for me to follow. But I found that I could pretty much follow Home Alone when I first saw it, which I think was when I was ten years old, and as you can tell, I love it! (On a funny side note, I’ll never forget how when I was in seventh grade, all of the teachers showed different movies to celebrate the last day of the school year and we could pick the movie we wanted to see. I was thrilled to learn that Home Alone was one of the choices, but slightly embarrassed when the teacher showing the movie took attendance and I was pretty much the only girl who chose this movie!)

     But anyway, this movie came to mind again last weekend when for the first time, my parents allowed me to stay home alone for a whole weekend while they went on a trip. When I was ten years old, my parents started allowing me to stay home alone when they ran errands or to my delight, when my brother had evening school basketball games, as those games were the most common cause of tantrums when I was little. My dad, being a worrying protective father did not want me to stay home alone when in seventh grade, my sister went off to a college about an hour and a half from home and he just had to get season football tickets for this college’s team. With my mom working on the other side of town, my siblings at other activities and him out of town, he feared something terrible would happen. Despite how many times I told him I wouldn’t answer the door, that I knew how to get out of the house if there was a fire, that I was a notoriously slow eater and thus wouldn’t choke, that I knew how to use a telephone if I needed to call 911, that I am the type of kid who would just sit quietly and read or listen to the radio all day, not the type to swing from the chandeliers or play with matches (To this day I still don’t even know how to light a match) and I would continue to be that quiet responsible kid if left home alone all day, and even when Mom tried to assure him I would be alright because I have done just fine staying home alone, he wouldn’t give in. Heck, he wouldn’t have even had to worry about me burning myself cooking lunch because I didn’t own a braille labeler back then so the microwave buttons weren’t even labeled. Thus, I was planning to just make a cold sandwich for lunch!

     I was so angry the whole time I was at these loud, visual games, sitting on hard bleachers in the beating sun, that I was going to forbid him from buying season tickets when I was in eighth grade, but fortunately, that was the year my grandma moved closer to us. I still insisted that I be given my space. Grandma was welcome to call and check on me or come over if she felt like it, but I didn’t want a babysitter. But just having Grandma in town made my dad more comfortable and my home alone privileges extended to these day trips to the football games. The following year, my parents both had schedules that required them to work long weekend days, so again I got to stay home alone. But since that was the year the microwave was labeled, my experience evolved from sandwiches to frozen dinners! And, since my parents often had to work too late to cook dinner, they would sometimes stick a frozen pizza in the oven when they got home, but sometimes, I got to be the one to cook dinner! My parents didn’t want me using the stove or oven alone which was fine with me because while my orientation and mobility teacher taught me how to use them, I didn’t, and still don’t like using them. Even with oven mitts on, it still scares me to have my hands that close to pre-heated metal wracks and sizzling pans. But since crockpots don’t have to be pre-heated, they were a much less scary cooking method for both my parents and me. One day while shopping at the grocery store, Mom noticed these really easy frozen crockpot dinners. Banquet Crockpot Classics, I think they were called. They came in three different flavors. Beef stew was our favorite, but they also had chicken and dumplings and beef stroganoff. There may have been other kinds, but those are the ones my parents bought. Anyway, preparing these meals was so simple even I could do it! First, you dig out the sauce pouch, thaw it under warm water for a minute, tear it open and squeeze it in to the crockpot. Then, you add water and stir the sauce, which was still a mostly frozen lump even after being warmed by the water, until it dissolves in the water. Then, you pour the big bag of meat and vegetables in to the crockpot, stir it all in to the sauce, put the lid on, make sure the crockpot is plugged in (very important), turn it on and enjoy the wonderful aroma as it simmers all day. Half an hour before serving these meals, you were supposed to add the potatoes or noodles and then finish cooking the meal on high. When I would first lift the lid for this last step, the sizzling and steam in my face would make me nervous, but I could just back away for a second, let the sizzling die down and add the last ingredient without fear.

     I loved those couple years of making these dinners every weekend. They smelled wonderful as they cooked and tasted even better. My parents loved coming home to a hot, sort of home-cooked meal after an exhausting day of work. But most importantly, even though I didn’t chop the vegetables or brown the meat myself, I loved the feeling of independence that preparing these dinners for my parents gave me. As much as I love the fact that my parents both have work schedules that allow them to be home more nowadays, I miss the independence I felt in those days. (My mom actually said she doesn’t see those crockpot bag dinners in the grocery store anymore, so it is rare that I make dinner since even a crockpot meal now requires the preparation of ten million ingredients and the browning of meat on an angrily sizzling stove.) But last weekend, that thrilling sense of independence returned, only this time of course, it was a lot more thrilling an opportunity than preparing a bag dinner.

     So my family was invited to a relative’s wedding, but since I don’t know this relative as well, hate getting dressed up for formal events and didn’t want to spend sixteen hours in the car over the course of only two days, I asked my mom if I could stay home. To my joy and amazement, she said “Sure! You are 21 now after all.”

     My dad is still a protective father and thus wasn’t comfortable with the idea at first. This time, he couldn’t shake worries that burglars might get in to the house while I was home alone at night, or that someone might abduct me. I pointed out that Elizabeth Smart was abducted from her bedroom with her parents sleeping next door, and my mom pointed out that we live in a safe area and that since the forecast called for hot, humid, air conditioner worthy weather, all the windows and doors would be securely locked and the drapes closed. My siblings who normally tease me and drive me crazy even came to my defense and persuaded Dad that their little sister was an adult now and would be just fine. So as long as I promised to have my cell phone with me at all times, answer that phone when my parents, brother or Grandma called to check on me and make sure all the doors were locked before I went to bed, both parents finally agreed to let me stay home.

     So last Friday night, my parents oriented me to a daily pill box stocked with all the medications I needed to take and the refrigerator stocked with food, then said goodbye to me Saturday morning at about 6:30. I fixed myself my usual breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, a banana and a glass of milk, only this time, I wasn’t tripping over my dad who is usually also in the kitchen preparing his own breakfast or my mom’s lunch for work. When I finished that and wanted just one more thing to top off the meal, I opened the refrigerator and remembered the left-over container of my dad’s delicious, tomatoes topped with olive oil, basil and mozzarella cheese and helped myself to two slices. Not the typical breakfast fare I know, but who was going to stop me? No one, I realized!

     I didn’t feel like throwing away my banana peel or oatmeal packet, or putting my dishes in the sink. But that was alright! My parents wouldn’t be home for 36 hours. I could do it later!

     After breakfast, I went up to my room and sat in my cozy rocking chair to read and listen to the radio with no interruptions and no one giving me a hard time about being the hermit I like to be. At about 11:00, I checked in with my parents to tell them I was going on the treadmill. After my incident where I passed out after walking on the treadmill last year, they didn’t want me walking on the treadmill unless Grandma or my brother was there. I thought this was so silly as that only happened once in the four years I have been a serious treadmill walker and since that incident, I have become a lot smarter about drinking water beforehand and not going on if I feel sick to my stomach. But since that incident did happen and I may be a worrying parent someday, my parents and I agreed to the compromise that I would call them before I got on and as soon as I got off. If they didn’t hear from me that I had gotten off the treadmill and was safe, they could call me, and if I didn’t answer, they could alert Grandma who could race over to the house and call 911 if need be. But my treadmill walk went off without a hitch as I knew it would.

     Then I made myself a Lean Cuisine fish dinner for lunch and tossed the empty tray on the breakfast pile to clean up later, took Gilbert out and went up to my bedroom for more quiet, uninterrupted reading.

     At about 1:30, I took a shower and got myself dressed for church. I really wanted to have a totally uninterrupted weekend where I could live in my pajamas the whole time, but being the good granddaughter that I am, I accepted Grandma’s offer to take me to church.

     I was kind of looking forward to going to church with her, as this was a weekly tradition in the days when my parents worked on weekends. But what I had forgotten about since those days was the fact that my grandma is one of those people who likes to get to church super early to pray. I don’t want to be late to church of course, and it is nice to maybe get there five minutes early to pray before mass starts. But Grandma would always insist on getting there half an hour early, which was a source of playful arguing between us. But last weekend, Grandma was really worried about not being able to find a place to park because of our parish festival, so she insisted on getting there a full hour early!

     I got used to being half an hour early. When I couldn’t think of any more prayers to say, daydreaming passed the time pretty quickly. But after doing all of the praying and daydreaming I could handle, and finding out from Grandma that there was still twenty minutes to go before mass started, I said a prayer for forgiveness, then found a bible and proceeded to count its pages. This was one of my favorite ways to pass the time when I was too little to sit still for the sermons and I remember it being an excellent time killer because those onion skin pages that are used in bibles stick together, so separating the pages kept me occupied longer than counting pages of a typical book would have. To my embarrassment, Grandma caught on to what I was doing at about page 80, but by that time, church was about ready to start! But she more than made up for that hour of boredom when she took me out to dinner at Perkins after church, where I ordered grilled salmon, herb rice and broccoli.

     When I got home, I fed Gilbert, and then watched an interview with Jaycee Dugard on television with no one pausing the show all the time to get something from the kitchen or interrupting my listening to the show with commentary that could wait until the commercials. This was followed by the 10:00 local news. I was a little aggravated when I dozed off and was jolted awake by my cell phone ringing, but had to laugh when it was my brother who said he was just calling to keep Dad happy and wouldn’t bother me anymore. On Saturdays, my parents and I like to watch the opening skit of Saturday Night Live, as sometimes they are really funny. (My favorite opening skit ever by the way was a spoof they did after Joe Wilson, that congressman from South Carolina, interrupted one of President Obama’s speeches with “you lie!” It is totally worth looking for on YouTube or something if you haven’t seen it!) But that night’s skit was a repeat and not one of their most funny ones at that. I was about to do what my parents do when Saturday Night Live is a repeat, which is turn off the television and go to bed. But I didn’t feel like going to bed. I felt like singing!

     Without even bothering to turn off the television, I found myself in the foyer dancing and singing at the top of my lungs, imitating the happy Broadway ladies. “Haul out the holly! Put up the tree before my, spirit falls again!”

     My parents have seen me dance around the house singing Christmas songs in July and have never given any indication that they were annoyed by it. I’m not sure if they love my happy disposition, or if they have just resigned themselves to the fact that their daughter is odd and silly and there is nothing they can do about it. But even though my parents don’t mind my silliness, there is something thrilling about the freedom to sing at the top of your lungs with total disregard for the time of day and with no one home to hear you.

     After all that singing, I was kind of hungry again. What should I have? That’s when I remembered my sister’s family-famous mashed potatoes she made for dinner the night before, made with butter, sour cream, onions and bacon. I didn’t feel like going to the trouble of getting out a plate and heating them up, but realized I didn’t have to. I pulled out the serving bowl they were in, got a spoon from the drawer, scooped a big bite out with the spoon and ate it right on the spot standing at the counter. I could have double-dipped and eaten several more spoonfuls right out of the bowl, and when I get my own place, I will. But since I wasn’t sure whether spit left on the spoon would change the color of the potatoes or something and get me busted when my parents came home, I only took one bite and then put the spoon in the sink.

     When I finished that, it was about 11:00, so I took Gilbert out and then called my parents to tell them I was locked in for the night as I promised to do, put Gilbert to bed for the night and fed the cat. But I didn’t feel like going to bed myself yet. Instead, I read blogs until 12:30!

     I generally stay up late reading anyway because now that I am an adult, my parents no longer enforce bed time. Mom will sometimes suggest that maybe I should go to bed and get a full night’s sleep, but whether or not I take that suggestion is totally up to me. I never realized how awesome it would be to have no one around to even suggest, directly or indirectly when they got ready for bed and said goodnight to me, that I should go to bed!

     The night was totally uneventful. There was only one time I got a little uneasy when at some point in the night, I heard Gilbert growl from his crate downstairs. But then I remembered he does occasionally growl at animals that get close to the house and went right back to sleep.

     The next morning, with no noise from my parents waking up to disturb my sleep, I slept until 7:30.

     “I guess I better get dressed,” I started to tell myself after taking the dog out, feeding him and the cat and eating another quiet breakfast of oatmeal, peanut butter crackers, a banana and the last tomato with mozzarella cheese and basil. “Oh wait! I don’t need to get dressed because there’s nobody here and thus no place I’ll have to go! The whole day is mine!”

     After checking in with my parents, I settled in for another wonderful morning of listening to national public radio and reading. I couldn’t wait for lunch when I planned to heat up some breaded chicken from Trader Joe’s and a big heaping scoop of my sister’s mashed potatoes. But when I opened the freezer, I discovered to my disappointment that my dad had forgotten to bring the bag of chicken up from the deep freezer in the basement storage room. I held a Lean Cuisine dinner in my hand and debated changing my plan and eating that instead, but I really wanted that chicken, so I decided it was time to face my fears and go get it.

     For some reason, that room gives me the creeps. It shouldn’t because my sighted family members go in there casually all the time and they have always come out alive. Maybe it is simply because for so many years, that room was off limits to me as it was so cluttered my parents feared I would get hurt. So although it is cleaned up and safe now, it doesn’t feel like part of my house. Anyway, I think I went down there for the first time last winter and the first thing I noticed was that it seemed to be totally sound proof. Although my parents were both home, I couldn’t hear them moving around upstairs at all like I could in the main part of the basement where I walk on the treadmill. It made me wonder, “if I got lost or an axe murderer jumped out from behind the fridge and I screamed for help, would anyone hear me?” Even though my parent go down there regularly, to me this room just had the aura of a room where you could die and not be found for years. To add to the creepy effect, our dishwasher was running upstairs that first time and it so happened that the water was draining through the pipes that ran through the walls of this room. So with the gritty floors, musty odor and this utter silence accept for the weird loud whoosh as the dishwasher drained, I grabbed that food and re-traced my steps back to the door as quick as I could. So I wasn’t looking forward to going back in to that room when I was home alone, but just like a dog, if there is a food reward to look forward to, I’ll do anything.

     But this time it wasn’t nearly as creepy because the dishwasher wasn’t running, and to my delight, I discovered that unlike winter, this time of year I could hear the dehumidifier humming from the main basement, which eliminated some of the eery silence and which I used as a reference to get me back to the door so I didn’t have to worry about getting lost. The fact that I had overcome my mild fear of this room and made it safely back upstairs made my chicken “treat” taste even better. After lunch, I saw my pile of dishes on the table and decided I was going to be better than my older siblings when they stayed home from trips and clean up after myself. I didn’t know how to start the dishwasher and wouldn’t have had enough dishes for a full load anyway, but I piled all the dishes, even a couple glasses that weren’t mine but were used before my parents and sister left, neatly in to the sink. I threw away all banana peels, napkins, wrappers and packages. When I saw that some peanut butter and cat food smudged up the countertops, I found a rag, wet it with warm water and washed the counters too.

     Then, maybe the heat and humidity had effected my brain, but after taking Gilbert out it occurred to me that when no one is home, I don’t even have to call Gilbert by his proper name, so the rest of our time alone, his name became Mr. Woof-woof! My parents wouldn’t mind if I used silly names for him, especially my dad from whom I think I inherited my silliness as he calls Gilbert by hilarious names too. But Mr. Woof-woof took silliness to a whole new level!

     “Come here Mr. Woof-woof!” I called to him from my room after taking him out. He responded exuberantly! Yeah, maybe it’s a good thing my parents got home just a few hours after that. Who knows where my silliness would have taken me if I had another day without human contact!

     The rest of the afternoon was spent quietly reading until 5:30 when I watched the news and part of Dateline which featured the children of poor migrant workers who work in the fields alongside their parents.

     At about 6:45, my parents got home. They said it was a wonderful wedding, but I wasn’t sad about missing it because I had a wonderful time too. And judging by how well my parents said I handled everything, this first weekend home alone most likely won’t be my last.

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