On the day I turned 35 we joked that I could run for president now (that was nearly a year ago, before our current election circus). It was a funny thought. There was no magic in the idea of becoming president. No dreamy "you-can-be-anything-you-want" vibe in our conversation that might have been there even a decade earlier. It was just odd to imagine that I was the age associated with such a serious, powerful, and important position.
I resolved to have a "grown up" birthday that day -- not in the sense of cocktail dresses and tinkling bone china. We were in the midst of several stressful months, and I wanted my birthday to be an easy day focusing on What's Important, with no frivolous extras. I accompanied my parents to doctors' appointments, managed school pick up and drop off, ran other errands, and even exercised. I let my daughter pick out a cake (okay so one frivolous extra was acceptable, for the children), and we enjoyed a lovely evening with dinner and dessert at home.
It was a quiet, comfortable end to what had been a surprisingly pleasant birthday. Unfortunately, the peaceful evening did not last long. Once the kids were in bed, my husband and I settled in front of the television with tea and more cake (remember, I exercised). We were in the midst of season three of House of Cards when I heard the first little shuffle, a bit of rustling from the kitchen that I initially attributed to the ice maker.
I tried to ignore it, convinced I was hearing things, focusing instead on the drama on the screen. Still the faint scratching persisted. Then there were sudden squeaks. We both stood up, alarmed. Though neither of us dared utter the word "mouse," we knew what must be making the sounds coming from beyond the stove.
Have you ever seen those comical images of an enormous elephant cowering in fear of a tiny mouse? I have giggled at that image many times, and I owe that elephant an apology. I am that elephant.
I know I am a giant in comparison to whatever creature was cowering behind our appliances that day, yet all I wanted was to run away and hide until someone else dealt with it. But of course, we were the grown ups in that house, and dealing with the mouse was our job. I wanted to scream or cry. Instead, I looked at my husband, and we both laughed.
It must have been a funny picture, the two of us tiptoeing hand-in-hand toward the kitchen, ready to holler at the sign of anything verminous. Several minutes passed, and there was neither a suspicious sight nor sound, and yet I could not rest. Not until later, when I was sitting in the living room reading alone, did I hear noises again. This time the loud squeaks were followed by the emergence of two black mice scurrying from under the dishwasher and back under the sink.
The whole scene was horrifying, and ridiculous because of my horror. Those tiny creatures had transformed our comfortable, safe home into a suspicious hideout for invaders. We went into full panic mode, scrubbing every surface, setting up whatever traps we could find, leaving messages for exterminators, and ordering every five-star anti-vermin product available online. We spent the night anxious and uneasy, trying to find a way to make our house feel like home again.
Almost a year later, I still look back on that day with a mix of aversion and amusement. I hadn't asked for much on that birthday because we were facing a lot of uncertainty at that time. I wanted to keep the day simple and small so that I could feel in control. Well, the universe was not willing to oblige, and I was forcibly distracted from my many serious preoccupations with this more immediate need. I could not do much at all about the various health concerns and heartbreaks affecting my loved ones, but I could at least step up and deal with those mice! And laugh while doing it.
I suppose the ability to laugh at yourself is a gift of growing up. You can step out of yourself, out of the fear, sadness, or horror of a moment, and briefly appreciate its absurdity.
That day is a constant reminder that things can change in an instant. I made plans, but even with low, safe expectations, things did not go as expected. All I can truly control is how I react, whether I cower and hide, or become bold and take charge. Whether I burst out in tears or in laughter.