Sarah R. Callender


In General, Parenting, Writing on September 6, 2011 at 6:19 am

I am tempted to mosey over to the bumper sticker store and buy this one for the bumper of my minivan: MY KIDS CAN BEAT YOUR KIDS AT SLUGBUG!

Because they can. And I believe in promoting our kids’ natural gifts and talents via the bumper of our motor vehicle.

Not familiar with Slugbug? I have tried three times to write a description that doesn’t put me to sleep, and I can’t do it. So please, just go here so I won’t have to worry that I have put you, lovely reader, to sleep.

You might also remember it by another name: Punchbuggy. That’s what it was called when I played back in the olden days, as Sweetie likes to call my childhood. As in, “Mom? Did you have that chin whisker back in the olden days, too?”

“No, Sweetie,” I say, using my most soothing Soothing Voice. “That’s just something women get when they’re really old.”

And she nods, running her thumb back and forth over the whisker.

My kids, however, have taken Slugbug/Punchbuggy to a whole new level. In fact, my bumper sticker should say: MY KIDS TAKE SLUGBUG TO A WHOLE NEW LEVEL!

Because they have. My kids play it with PT Cruisers, Jeeps, Scions and Mini Coopers. And they don’t just call out, “Slugbug!” They feel compelled to get really detailed and holler, “Slugbug blue old-fashioned convertible with the top down and with a rusty bumper!” Or, “Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a big white dog sticking his head out the window!”

Of course, if there are three people in the car, The Spotter must holler that exact thing three times, giving all three a slug in the arm or the shoulder:

Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window! Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window! Turquoise PT Cruiser with wood paneling and cool hub caps and a dog sticking his head out the window!

Well. As someone who’s especially sensitive to sudden, repetitive noise (followed by punching) when she’s depressed, Slugbug is not my current game of choice. And while I certainly cannot blame one certain thing or person or car punching game for my summer malaise, I will say that when, a few weeks back, I decided it would feel really good to “check myself in” somewhere, I knew it had to be a place with little-to-no yelling or punching.

But where does one check oneself in to escape such a thing?

At first, I thought this was my only option:

But that seemed like overkill. Kind of. Plus, I don’t recall that Nurse Ratched was able to quell the yelling and punching.

Then I stumbled, (thank you, God) upon The Whidbey Island Writer”s Refuge.

So I picked the latter option and packed a few belongings, and with Husbandio’s and Grandparentios’ and many amigas’ support, I drove up and over to Whidbey Island where I spent five nights in a little cabin in the woods, calling it my Better Than the Psych Ward Week.

My cell phone didn’t work. There was no TV. No one was yelling, “Black Scion with tinted windows and a California license plate and a mattress strapped to the top!” multiple times.

No one was slugging anyone.

No one was crying because of a slugging.

And in the silence, I read and wrote and slept and went for hikes and ate dinners that consisted of tortilla chips and jar-cheese. I finished Round Two of my novel revisions and got those back to my fab agent. I prayed. I dreamed funny dreams about an ex-beau who broke up with me twice (no, not you, Paul). I did yoga wearing weird outfits. I made applesauce and roasted veggies while listening to the Gypsy Kings. I drank Mike’s Hard Black Cherry Lemonade. I wore no make-up. I shaved no legs. I was basically three whiskers (and a bear) shy of becoming a female Grizzly Adams.

It was fabulous. And so quiet.

But then, of course, I started to miss my children.  

But then, of course, I started to get really lonely.

But then, of course, I started talking to things I don’t normally talk to. The tea kettle, for example, was a chatty kathy of sorts, especially when she’d get all snippy and boily. And I wasn’t afraid to let her know it. Oh, simmer down, Sally. I am trying to write. You think I’m at your every beck and call?

Sally would pout for a moment, then realize I was just kidding, that perhaps she didn’t have to take me so seriously, and I’d pour her water over my tea bag and compliment her on her fine boiling abilities, and we would, once again, be the best of friends.

But that wasn’t all. I talked to the spider babies still ensconced in their egg sacs in the rafters of the screened-in porch. 

I talked to the blackberries (before I ate them), the warmest and fattest ones, picked from the brambles that dotted my hiking paths.

I talked to the jar-cheese, Newman’s Own Salsa con Queso, complimenting it on its fabulousness.

I talked to the earnest little nuthatches, so chirpy after the sun elbowed the rain out of the way.

All that talking to kitchen tools, arachnid egg sacs, food and birds, did not happen because I was insane.

Rather, it happened because I was noticing.

It makes me realize how much I don’t notice in my daily life, a tragedy for a writer who relies on her ability to notice things.

When it’s so quiet and there’s no one asking anything of you, when no one’s yelling about cars and then punching you, you have more time and energy to notice things. And when you notice how many perfect and amazing things there are on this planet, spider sacs and jar-cheese to name a few, you want to connect with those perfect things through words. Or in my case, because I was speaking to tea kettles and spider sacs, through monologues.

When I think about it, I’m not surprised that I talked to the tea kettle. Nor that I christened her Sally. After all, fiction writers must animate that which doesn’t exist. We must breathe life into stories and lives and places that exist only in our heads. All this animating and breathing life into things that don’t actually exist requires some dang peace and quiet, so we can notice all the stories that are steaming and boiling right in front of us.

Finally, on the last day, I was ready to come home. 

Finally, on the last day, I started missing my kids.

Finally, on the last day, I felt so saddened by the idea of leaving that I got a little teary and panicky.

To calm myself, I breathed life into this story: I will come back here again. I will come back here again. I will come back here again.

And then I went for one last hike, trying to inhale as much solitude as I could, trying to let nature osmosisize right into my skin pores.

Until, ACK! With so much inhaling and osmosis-ing, I nearly stepped on a big old slug, a plump fellow dilly-dallying with impressive slowness right in the middle of the gravel road. Where he could have been killed or worse, licked.

That’s right.

My former classmates from Sleepy Hollow Elementary might recall Fifth Grade Camp where, on a nature hike, we stumbled upon a banana slug of epic proportions. At which point, we were invited to join the Lick a Slug Club, a teacher-sanctioned club sans hazing.

There we were, all twenty-six of us, lining up to lick the back of this poor sot. I was thrilled to be right behind Drew, my crush du jour, because licking the slug right after Drew was basically like French kissing Drew.

Except, as it turned out, right after Drew licked the slug, the slug must have realized he didn’t have to take this anymore. Apparently, just as I bent down to French kiss Drew via a slug’s back, the dear fellow started secreting some weird numbing agent that made my tongue both slimy and numb.

Served us right. Here he was, probably just out running errands for his wife or maybe training for a triathlon. And then, boy howdy!, out of nowhere there’s this mass of eleven-year-old kids queuing up to lick him. That was probably the weirdest day he had ever had. We deserved to be numbed.

So last week in the woods, when I happened upon this plump fellow, probably a banana slug based on his over-ripe banana peel colored skin, I paused to take the time to notice him.

I squatted over him, marveling at how he was, in fact, making forward progress while not appearing to move a muscle. And I decided it wasn’t good form to monologue with a tea kettle but not monologue with a slug, especially in spite of (or maybe because of) the bad blood between me and whichever ancestor had secreted slime on my tongue circa 1982.

So I got my face real close to his.

“Slugbug banana slug,” I whisper-yelled into his ear. “Slugbug banana-colored banana slug, with big Don Knotts antennae, moving very slowly across the road, dragging a piece of twig along with his slimy underside!”

Then, instead of punching him in the arm, I blew him a little kiss, thinking he’d prefer that to getting licked by a strange woman on a lonely gravel road.

And that’s when I missed my kids a lot just a little. Because it’s not quite as much fun to play Slugbug with a slug. It’s a lot quieter, sure, but I get to have more than just monologues with my children. I can make my kids laugh in a way that I can’t make a spider egg sac laugh. My kids can make me laugh far harder than jar-cheese can.

This week away reminds me of that concept of seasons, that there is a time for everything. A time to be silent and a time to speak. A time to weep and a time to laugh. A time to tear down and a time to build. A time for enduring loud, punching car games, a time for solitude in the woods. A time to talk to tea kettles and slugs and NOT be accused of insanity because, ha ha!, no one’s around to hear.

If I can have these small slices of quiet and peace amid this much longer, louder, more punchy season of Buddy’s and Sweetie’s childhood, then maybe that’s enough to sustain me. Maybe.

Now that I’m back home, I miss my Better Than the Psych Ward friends a little terribly. I miss my sassy Sally. My wee spider friends, too. The chirpy birds. My slug boyfriend. Of course, I miss the jar-cheese. Jar-cheese really does have a decent sense of humor. I miss the quiet most of all. The peace to notice all the less punchy, less yelly aspects of life.

But I’ll be back when I need another week to recharge, when I feel like I can’t really do my job(s) well anymore. When I feel like I need to remember to notice all the things that are too quiet to garner my attention over the sounds of my children, two creatures whom I love a lot with a love so big it roars in my head and my heart. A lovely sound, Love. So noisy in my heart and my brain and in every breath.

  1. laughter to tears…oh can I relate!

    You will survive Buddy and Sweetie’s growing up years. You get to my stage of life (empty nest) and occasionally (alright, rarely) you might miss the noise, the arguments, the hitting, the crying. You will NEVER miss the laughter, the shared secrets, the hugs and kisses.

    Oh, the memories of those growing up years…


  2. I call it Stockholm syndrome. I’m glad you stayed long enough to deprogram a little! Sounds lovely. And the slug give it great symmetry! love it!!!!

  3. Oh Sarah,
    I can relate. I call it nerve-jangling. And I tell the kids “you are jangling my nerves!” And they look puzzled and keep repetitively yelling and knocking things over. And then I feel like Mrs. Bennett. It’s a weird thing for me to love my kids more than life itself but not always love co-habitating with them! So glad you got away. The cabin looks amazing, and not at all like a place you know who would be lurking around. Keep writing!

    • So true. We love our kids so much, but sometimes we (or at least I) don’t especially love being a mom. I feel lousy about that, but it’s true. NO, there were no you-know-whos (did you mean Voldemort or Freddie Krueger?) hanging out at the cabin. 🙂

  4. Sounds amazing! I wonder if they have those cabins for a parent in need of “can’t you and your sister separate” solitude?

  5. Beautiful, Sarah.

  6. Thank you for giving yourself the gift of alone time and for your honesty in sharing it with us, because your honesty gives us all a little more permission to be okay with wanting to be alone and shares the message that craving alone-time does not equate to psychopathic, antisocial, bad mother tendencies. My mother was pretty good at being alone even when surrounded by all of us screeching, needy banshees, but I just didn’t inherit the “tune-out” gene. Maybe because writers are tuned in, we can’t tune out, even when it would be better for our sanity if we did.

  7. I love how you your stories make me laugh and feel like crying at the same time! Funny and sweet.

  8. I love the redemptive power of nature. Perhaps all my years in the backcountry is actually what has kept me sane. Re-entry can be tough, though. I remember coming home after three weeks kayaking the Grand Canyon. I mean, THE GRAND CANYON. The spiders and scorpions down there have been talking to the spirits for eons. I started talking to rocks. Not even the most beautiful, coral-colored granite rocks. Just the regular, stuck-in-the-streams, rocks. To be a rock at the bottom of such a deep canyon takes some gumption. And some fortitude. But coming home to strip malls and gas stations and all the ugly detritus of modern culture was well, a shock. Even bathrooms weren’t all that beautiful to me. And screaming, slug-bugging kids might not have been too fabulous either. But that was before I was a step-mom. Before I fell in love with those little people.

  9. Sarah,
    I love how you can take a handful of apparently disparate elements and weave them into a beatiful tale full of insight. When, exactly, will your book come out????!
    When my kids once got too loud in the car, I said, “Look, you can either quiet down and have a nice, happy mom for the rest of the day, or you can continue to be loud and have THIS MOM for the rest of the day.” They were quiet after that.
    We also have “quiet time” every afternoon, so that I can write (or comment on your blog, like now). I started it when they were young and it takes awhile to catch on, but now it works great. They each play on their own, quietly, and mom writes. Sanity saver.

  10. That was great Sarah. You’re a true talent.

  11. Hi Sarah — I’ve read your blog since meeting you on our UPC service day last spring at the Haas’. I love your writing! What a gift you have, and what a gift it is for me to have discovered you!

  12. Sarah,
    I can feel the relief, rest, peace and quiet.
    Last week, I walked up the Washington ridge across from us, 3/4 of a mile straight up hill, with a folding chair. I sat and looked at the river miles downstream toward Astoria–it was sunny so white yachts were muscling up a deep blue river. I looked at the blue sky and I kept remarking (quietly to myself, of course….) how great it felt, that it was just what I wanted/ needed to do.
    I listened to a couple of gold finches and a breeze hitting the trees. No elk, but I saw their tracks and maybe turkey or eagle tracks for the first time up there.
    Self. Self-care. Thanks for sharing.

  13. I was chuckling about Slugbug. My kids don’t do the full on punching thing but chant at top volume: beetle bee beetle bee red ( other extaneous detail inserted here ) the beetle bee. And like your kids it is constant and applied to Prius, PT Cruisers, Jeeps, subarus, hummers. I got them to agree to only beetles and Prius about 6 months ago or I was going to go cuckoo myself. There was an interview on NPR not ling ago about how car companies take interviews with 5&6 year olds about their car preferences very seriously. It takes 10 years to develop a new car and it is no secret they ARE paying attention to cars and picking their favorites!

    • Hi Julie . . . that is so interesting about car companies listening to the wisdom of a six-year-old. Love that. It’s such a fine line between Fun, Easygoing Mom and Totally Nutters Mom. I’m glad you knew when and where to draw the line. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

  14. First… LOVE the Gypsy Kings! I listen when I’m cooking dinner and feeling *Happy*. Of course, the margarita in my hand helps.

    Second… I would happily, nay, be most grateful to morph into Grizzly Adams instead, had I not shaved the leg hairs… for what was it, ‘five nights’? Give me ten and I’d come out looking like Sasquatch’s hairy cousin.

    Third… I leave hate mail, in the form of a somewhat psychotic scowl from my driver’s side window, for those vw bug owners, with their cute little daisys on the dashboard and their cute little car butts, that wouldn’t fit HALF my first kid’s slug bug vocabulary in to it, if it tried. (If you note any envy here, then you are very observant.) My kids know all the rules and are apparently the only ones who are allowed to change them. I know this because I try to do so often, especially when I have only one free fist with which to reach them all the way back in the mini-van!

    … and for the record. You made me laugh, HARD, when you confessed your ‘crush de jour’ for Drew, that Slug Licker. Still feelin’ it, right there in the middle of my chest, like an unlady-like snort trying to work its way out through my nose hairs!

    Oh, and sharing!

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