The Crumble Incident

In 2002, I was living in Inverness, Scotland. My fiancé and I were renting a fantastic little apartment that looked like something straight out of a catalogue. My favourite part was the kitchen. It was a tad on the small side, but perfect for two people. The floors were terracotta tile, the cupboards were light pine, the appliances were stainless steel, and the walls were painted a pleasant buttery yellow. There was even a washing machine.

The apartment came to us looking the way it did, but if the decorating were left to us, we would have probably done it the same way.

There was one little thing about the kitchen that was a little odd: the “hood” above the stove wasn’t really a hood… it was a piece of decorative wood in front of an empty space. We never knew why the landlord didn’t install an exhaust fan, but it was never really an issue.

In April of that year, my sister and her then-boyfriend were supposed to be coming all the way from Canada to visit us for a little vacation. It was the first time I had ever met The Boyfriend.

Knowing that my sister had a few dietary issues that we would have to plan around, my fiancé and I came up with a series of sister-friendly meals so that she wouldn’t have to feel left out. The day after they arrived, which also happened to be my sister’s birthday, the dinner menu was to include roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and gravy, steamed vegetables, and a mixed berry crumble for dessert.

I practically hibernated in the kitchen, making the dinner. There were dishes and ingredients everywhere- not a space to be found on the counters at all.

The Boyfriend popped his head into the kitchen and asked if there was anything he could do to help. I directed him towards a small baking pan, and practically threw some ingredients at him, telling him to put the crumble together… preferably in the dining room.

Put it together, he did. Like a boss. That thing was practically beautiful.

My man was doing what he did best, whenever I was busy making a big dinner: getting in the way. He got in the way at a champion level, picking that exact moment to “come in and help tidy up”.

By “come in and help tidy up”, I really mean “come in and magically be everywhere the wife needs to be”.

As I stood in front of the gas stove, sweating over my glazed carrots and mashed potatoes and dodging my man, The Boyfriend popped his head back into the kitchen and asked where he could put the pan of mixed berry crumble.

Knowing he’d never find a spot on the counter, I said: “Put it on top of the cupboards, it’s clean up there.”

To this day, I do not know exactly what made him forgo all the other cupboard tops.

I didn’t even think about what he was doing as I moved aside a little to let him squeeze into an available space in front of the stove. I simply moved aside, and kept stirring seasoning into the mashed potatoes.

In retrospect, that was probably what saved me.

As The Boyfriend was about to set the pan down on what he thought was a surface just above the stove, I looked up in horror.

There was an instant of panic in my eyes as the crumble began its downward spiral.

“Crap!” I shrieked, as the pan hit the stove top. The berries, and all their juices, went everywhere. Dark purple juices went all over the carrots, potatoes, nicely roasted chicken, the walls, counter, floor, you name it.

Everywhere but on me, apparently. I still have no clue how that happened.

I turned around. There behind me stood my man and The Boyfriend, with nice dark purple berry juice all over their white t-shirts and khaki shorts.

“Right!” I commanded. “Strip, you two!”

“Huh?” The Boyfriend asked, stupefied.

“You two are about the same size. You can borrow some clothing from my fiancé while I wash your clothes. If I get them into the wash right now, I can save them.”

I have to admit, I took no small amount of pleasure in the fact that there were two good looking men stripping down to their skivvies in my kitchen.

I managed to save their clothing from an evil stain, even if I never could get the berry juices completely off my nice yellow walls after that.

The dinner turned out to be oddly delicious. We had berry-flavoured roasted chicken, berry-flavoured glazed carrots, berry-flavoured mashed potatoes, and berry-flavoured gravy.

Needless to say, I never let The Boyfriend live it down after that. I made sure to tell everybody that I had him strip for me practically the day after meeting me.

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The Christmas Competition

frustrationIt’s Christmas evening, and I’m sitting here with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

No one had a serious meltdown.

No one got hurt.

I didn’t give in and take up drinking as a hobby.

Our day was split up, as it always is- we spent the morning opening presents at home, and then went to Gran and Papa’s house, and opened more presents there. It’s not Jack’s first Christmas, obviously, but it’s his first truly interactive one. He finally understands the concept of unwrapping presents, and I had been looking forward to seeing his reaction to the whole experience and the new-found freedom that is represented by tearing into brightly wrapped packages.

Now, my kids’ autism means that I can usually expect some sensory or behavioural issues to pop up when they are in an environment that is hyper-stimulating. After all, there are blinking lights everywhere, little decorations piping a constant stream of carols, a television on, tons of things with different textures, and a lot of general chatter going on.

Still, I had somewhat rose-tinted expectations. You’d think this was my first rodeo, or something.

In my head, Christmas was going to go something like this:

I’d get the kids out of bed. They wait in their bedroom every morning until I open the door. It’s freakin’ awesome.

I’d sit them at their table, and hand them the usual peanut butter and jam toast, before we all gleefully tore into our presents and stockings.

I expected giggling and happy faces on both kids, lovely mealtimes, and a general sense of wellbeing and accomplishment at the end of it for us parents.

I figured that after we all happily ransacked the space under the tree, I would get them dressed in their good clothing, and we’d bundle them into the van and truck the whole damn family off to Gran and Papa’s house for more presents and dinner.

In my head, it was going to go smoothly and not morph into a game of “Us Against Them.”

For Jill, this was pretty much how it happened. Well, more or less.

For Jack… not so much.

We managed to get them out of the bedroom and fed with no incident.

Parents: 1

Kids: 0

They finished cramming their chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam toast, flung their thankfully plastic plates onto the dishwasher and then high-tailed it (with cheeks still full) over to the tree, where they gazed raptly… at the blinking lights.

Getting them to sit next to each other on the floor so they could have space to tear open their gifts was a bit like herding cats. We’d get Jill to sit down, while Jack wandered out of the living room. Then, we’d get Jack to the floor, and Jill would stand up to play with one of the ornaments. This went on for a good ten minutes. Every time we managed to talk one of them into sitting down, the other would find some reason to get up and walk off.

Parents: 1

Kids: 1

The thing that worked was a stroke of genius on my partner’s side. He set up his camera. Did I mention he’s a photographer? Jack and Jill saw the camera, and promptly sat down with a big smile and a resounding chorus of “Cheese!” (it’s sort of a reflex). The only problem was, they were facing the camera, and not the tree. It was really half a victory, but hell, I’ll just round up the number. This one’s ours, baby.

Parents: 2

Kids: 1

When I started handing out the presents, Jill did her part with flair.

Jack… not so much.

He took the first present, and gently started to tear off the wrapping paper. I think perhaps one piece of tape was actually pried off.

Then, the wailing started. I figured he was frustrated, so I bent down to show him what to do. Every time I held the present out, he started crying again. Even though I know that he knows how to rip paper, I had to “show him what to do” over and over again until the entire present was unwrapped.

Parents: 2

Kids: 2

It was a couple of colouring books, to go with some crayons that were still wrapped and under the tree.

He fixated on the colouring books, and wouldn’t unwrap any of the other presents that we put in front of him. He accumulated quite a little pile of gifts at his feet, and wouldn’t so much as take his eyes off the colouring books until I took them out of his reach…

Parents: 3

Kids: 2

… and then the crying started again.

Parents: 3

Kids: 3

Jill, for her part, eagerly tore into her gifts, and only had something to say when we went too long without giving her something else to unwrap.

I figured the waterworks would stop when we bundled the kids into the car, and headed to Gran and Papa’s house.

Nah…not so much.

When the gifts came out from under their tree, Jill gleefully went into action. She was in her element! Jack… sat with the first present on his lap, and started crying. This bit kept on, until all the presents were doled out and Jill was happily playing with her new things. It has since dawned on me that I really don’t know what makes my son “tick”; I just got frustrated with all the crying, when the kids should have been happy, and “showed Jack what to do” until all his gifts were unwrapped.

By that time, it was past noon, and I hit upon a brilliant idea: I would stuff his little chipmunk cheeks full of peanut butter and jam sandwiches. It was lunch, after all, and he couldn’t wail if his mouth was full.

Finally, I found something that made the crying stop.

Parents: 4

Kids: 3

The afternoon was blissfully quiet, more or less. Jack and Jill took turns stealing each other’s toys, and then they each took turns being pissed off because the other one stole their toys. Dinner, which was delicious, was pleasant and only marred by the occasional frustrated wail when Jack couldn’t get food in his face fast enough. A lovely dinner was topped off by an equally lovely Christmas pudding.

My kids do love their Christmas pudding. If it had been the sort to be made with alcohol, they would’ve gotten rip-roaring drunk on it.

Thank the gods for small miracles.