My parents and I are spending a relaxing weekend at their lake house in western New York. The relaxing begins promptly at 5:45 am, when my father wakes up.
He stomps to the bathroom. Drawers open. Cabinet doors swing and slam. The toilet flushes. The streamlined commotion of a morning routine, 65 years in the making.
I hear my mom’s voice from her bedroom. She’s talking high pitched and sing-songy.
Mom: “Time to get up boy. Time for a walk with your daddy.”
She’s talking to Duncan, our 14-year-old, mostly deaf Border Terrier.
In the meantime, my dad has made it to the ground floor. He hollars from the kitchen.
Dad: “PEG! WHERE’S DUNCAN’S LEASH?”
My mother doesn’t respond. In the meantime, she’s gone to the bathroom.
The toilet flushes. My mom emerges from the bathroom and yells down the steps.
Mom: “WHAT IS IT?!”
Dad: “DUNCAN’S LEASH! I CAN’T FIND DUNCAN’S LEASH!”
Mom: “IT’S BY THE BACKDOOR! WHERE IT ALWAYS IS!”
Dad: “I DON’T SEE IT! IT’S NOT HERE!”
Ferocious Duncan cannot be walked without his leash.
My mom clambers down the stairs. I assume she finds it by the backdoor, where it always is. The screen door slams and my father and Duncan are on their 10 minute walk.
But I will not have peace. Mom is in the kitchen, preparing a weekend breakfast of bacon and eggs. The kind of breakfast that’s welcomed at 10 am, but is sickening at 6:27 am, when I am called down.
Mom: “Annelia! Breakfast is ready!”
I know. I’m already out of bed. I’m putting in my contacts.
Mom: “Annelia! The eggs are getting cold!”
Me: “I know! I’m coming!”
Mom: “Nothing’s worse than cold eggs!”
I enter the kitchen and click on the electric kettle for tea.
Mom: “Coffee’s in the pot.”
My entire life I have always drunk tea in the mornings. I wait until the afternoons and evenings for coffee. My mother has never registered and retained this information.
Me: “I’m having tea. I always have tea in the morning and coffee in the afternoon.”
Mom: “Oh, I’m just the opposite!”
Me: “I know. We’ve talked about this a thousand times.”
Mom: “Well, sorrryyy. Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed today.”
My dad is at the living room table, squeezing in some work between returning from the dog walk at 6:22 am and eating breakfast around 6:27 am. The table is piled with documents and manila folders. Dad hunches over a will, editing it with a #2 pencil. He loves vacations because there’s so much free time, to do work.
Vacations–great for getting work done.
Mom: “Howie! Come on already! The eggs are getting cold!”
It’s been about five minutes and my tea water has yet to boil. I check the electric kettle. It is unplugged. My mother insists on unplugging appliances because three years ago, a house one street over burned down. Lamps, toasters, microwaves. She keeps them all unplugged except when in use. It’s one of those slightly irritating habits that becomes unbearable over time—and when I finally snap about it, I sound psychotic.
Me: “The kettle was unplugged.”
Mom: “I saw that house burn down three years ago!”
Me: “But it’s plugged into a surge protector! That’s what a surge protector does. You don’t have to unplug everything.”
Mom: “I don’t care. When you have a house someday, you can leave everything plugged in.”
I sigh audibly and obnoxiously—to signify begrudging armistice.
Mom: “My heavens, you’re in a crabby mood this morning.”
Of course nothing puts me in a crabbier mood than being told I’m in a crabby mood.
Dad: “Is the toast ready?”
Me: “I’ll get it.”
I remove three pieces, but the final piece is stuck. I reach in with one finger to tilt it so I can snatch it with the other hand.
Mom: “Don’t reach into the toaster without unplugging it!”
Dad: “Let me help you.”
I am 28 years old. I have traveled alone in three continents. I have trekked through rugged lands, performed dissolutions with hydrofluoric acid, worked at a nuclear research reactor, and built Ikea furniture. I am capable of removing toast from a toaster without my parents’ assistance.
Me: “I can get the toast.”
The thin edge is lodged in the metal grate. It’s the trickiest situation a piece of toast can get into.
Mom: “Howie help her.”
Me: “Seriously, I can do it.”
They are watching me expectantly—expecting me to fail. The maintenance of my pride is contingent on me successfully extricating this slice of toast.
Dad: “Let me help you.”
Me: “It’s fine.”
This deluxe, top model toaster is too large for me to lift upside down, by myself. Normally I could reach in and deftly snatch the toast without touching the searing metal grate, but my hands are too shaky from the performance pressure.
Mom: “You’re going to electrocute yourself.”
Me: “I can do it if you just stopped watching me.”
My competence is being tested. My adulthood is at stake. I pull the plug and try to fork it out. The toast fractures and the pieces become securely wedged between the grate and toaster wall.
Me: “The toast is stuck.”
Dad: “For the love of god.”
We’ll have to wait a few minutes for the toaster to cool down in order to remove the toast shards. But recovering from this catastrophic failure to demonstrate my independence—that will take me years.
And it’s only 6:42 am.