Monday, January 21, 2013

*Attack Of The Toddler Terrors

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published January 24, 2013] © 2013

Over the holidays, it is always our hope to have the company of our four preschool grandchildren. And after they leave, it is always our hope to someday get all of our electronics working again. 

There is something about tiny persons and LCD panels that is just irresistible. In our home, alas, the electronics all seem to be located at perfect toddler eye level.  I always tape covers over the CD player, amplifier, and DVD player, of course, but for the tots this just acts as a flashing neon beacon that there is something Really Neat underneath.  Pretty much everything we listened to on our CD player for weeks after they left was really heavy on the bass.  The lights on the DVD player still blink continuously.

As for the remotes, even Olof, who is an engineer, is sometimes hard put to get them to ever operate a TV again should they be left unattended while the TV is on.  (So many buttons!  So little time!)  The living room light timer is perpetually ten hours off when the tots are in residence casting us into darkness at inopportune times and lighting up the house like a Christmas tree at 3 a.m.
Tragically for us, the electronic touch screen panel on our KitchenAid range is on the front rather than the top.  Exquisitely accessible to someone of the pre-school persuasion is the Options button, which when combined with any single digit between one and seven suddenly makes something that worked before cease to.  For example, Option + 2 turns off the timer bell so that one could, for example, discover that they’ve had one of the back yard sprinkler valves running for seven hours.  

Option + 4, which turns off the Cooking Completion Time bell, is a serious bummer as well. 
Fortunately, you can put the oven control panel in Child Lock mode so that they can’t use it. But you can’t either.  More problematic was the fact that two Thanksgivings in a row, a grandchild took it upon herself to turn off the oven while the turkey was cooking. You walk into the kitchen and instead of the comforting hum of the oven there is an eerie silence and the heart-stopping Black Screen of Death on the touch screen panel.  Has the oven take this extremely inopportune time to crump?  Or was it a stealth toddler operation?  I pressed the On button and the panel (and oven) blessedly sprang to life.  But how long had it been off?  Ten minutes?  Oy, an hour?

Deciding the dishwasher was suddenly on the fritz, I discovered that tiny fingers had simply re-set it to “Rinse and hold.” 
The really odd thing is that we never actually see them do it.  And it’s not like they’re roaming around our small house unattended.   But toddlers seem to have radar for Unattended Electronics upon which they engage in covert attacks.  The Navy Seals could take lessons. 

Realizing three days after the Toddler Invasion had decamped that we had no phone service, we discovered with AT&T’s help that we don’t have three phones but four:  the last one is the small handset on our little-used fax machine that was ever so slightly off the hook.
My computer is in the guest room and should I accidentally leave it up after I’ve checked email, I find that all my desktop icons have been rearranged, my font settings mysteriously microscopic (must ask them how they do this since I can’t change my desktop fonts if I try) and the speakers cranked up to 150 decibels.  I can only wonder what they’ve ordered on Amazon.  

My desk and desk chair, meanwhile, have been elaborately reupholstered with an entire package of Post-It Notes, some with personal “wuv” messages (the author informs me) in the form of Hi-Liter scribbles.  All electronic transgressions are immediately forgiven. 
Ironically, all the grandkids over a year old can actually operate iPhones (to watch videos) and cameras.   At four, our budding-portraitist grandson acquired his own (adult) digital camera with which he shoots away, reviews his photos, and deletes the ones he doesn’t want.  Given his size, it is not surprising that most of his shots are of people’s nether regions.  I have suggested to his mother that he could stage a pre-school retrospective entitled, “My favorite crotches.” 

At Olof’s office Christmas party, he won a Roku 2 as a door prize.  We frankly have no idea what it is, and why it’s better than the Roku 1.   But we have plan:  the next time she’s here, we’re going to ask our three-year-old granddaughter.


Monday, January 7, 2013

**Looking For Mr. Calm

["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published January 10, 2013] © 2013

I think I can sum up my husband, Olof’s, and my different styles by the funeral instructions our estate attorney had us write when he set up our trusts.  Mine went on for three pages.  Olof’s were all of six words:  “I don’t care. I’ll be dead.”

 I’ve always found the topic of why people pick the spouses they do endlessly fascinating, and particularly how some "people" (not mentioning any names) try to compensate for their own perceived shortcomings in a spouse.  In one sense, Olof and I couldn’t be more opposite.  He’s a Cal Tech-educated engineer trained in reactor physics.  I read once that some incredible percentage of “Techers” of Olof’s generation would now be diagnosed as having Aspergers.  (The rest would be simply be considered socially maladroit.) 

(As an aside here, my younger son, Henri, always thought Olof was saying “COW Tech” and kept asking him about the animals.  I thought that would be a cute story to send to the alumni news.  Or not.)

Olof also spent ten years as an Air Force pilot happily traversing the world stopping in exotic places to drink beer.  But three of those years involved extremely hazardous flying, requiring nerves of steel.  I mention this because the one thing no one has ever accused me of is having nerves of steel.  I myself have always embraced the creative but hand-wringing anxious wreck branch of the family.

I was always clear I could never be married to someone like me.  We’d work ourselves into a frenzy of catastrophic possibilities, no outcome too implausibly dire.   So it’s no accident that I managed to marry not one, but two husbands, who possessed quintessential calm.  (My first husband was a physician.)   I’ve always hoped that my spouses’ inherent serenity would somehow rub off on me.  Choosing Mr. Calm turned out to be a choice that had ramifications I could never have imagined.

Several years ago we were coming back from the airport after having gone to the Bay area to visit our newborn first grandchild, Elliott.  We were in the second from right lane on I-5 when a very impaired driver in a white Mercedes roared up behind us and slammed into our car in excess of 80 miles per hour, obliterating the entire back end of the car and sending us hurtling toward the low concrete berm of an overpass.  I was sure that at that speed, we were going to go sailing over the side and end up seriously deceased on the freeway 30 feet below.  Several totally diverse but profoundly grateful thoughts flashed through my mind in what I was sure were my final seconds:  first, that I was so incredibly glad that I got to hold Elliot.  Second, that I’d never have to fly Southwest again. 

Olof’s mind, not surprisingly, went in different directions.  Equally possible to the Thelma-and-Louise scenario, he feared that the car would ricochet off the concrete barrier, bounce back into six lanes of fast moving traffic, and be turned into aluminum foil.  Hence he must get the vehicle under control immediately after impact with the berm.  In the nanoseconds I was musing about Southwest, Olof was already calculating the cosine of the vortex of the velocity, factoring in the torque, and of course, adjusting for mass, instantly concluding he must not over-swerve at this speed or he’d roll the car.  The fact that Olof could so quickly formulate a plan (those might not have been his exact calculations) never mind execute it with a clear head astonished me. But then, I guess the Air Force frowns on you panicking and plunging to your death in their 30 million dollar airplane just because the oil light flickers.

I, meanwhile, was doing what I do best in an emergency:  scream.  (We all have to play to our strengths.)

I didn’t think there was any possibility we were going to survive this crash that excised the front end of the car as well.  So when we did, my third grateful thought (filtered through the agony of a broken sternum as sirens wailed in the distance) was:  “Calm husband.  Good choice.” Had it been me driving, see “seriously deceased,” above.

So I’ve always been clear why I picked him.  (Besides being calm, he’s a total sweetheart and quite possibly the most honest guy alive.)  But why did he pick ME?   Well, we both love anchovy pizza, and believe me, that’s not so easy to find.  One might think techno geek looking for outgoing social type but despite the engineer image, he’s actually as social as I am.  On one thing we definitely agree:  we each think we got the better deal, that the other person could have done – nay, deserved – better. 

In the end, maybe that’s all that matters.