Our latest weird interactions have revolved around the fact that he seems to not have typical inhibitions. This is not cultural. It’s him. It isn’t a Latino deal. A few times I’ve walked by when he’s in the bathroom peeing. He doesn’t close the door. Everyone pees, I know. But every visitor I’ve had has made sure they close the door securely when they do it. The norm is to use the bathroom closest to the bedroom they are staying in (and close the door). When he didn’t close the door to the bathroom he shares with Jasper, it sort of amused me. It more than sort of disturbed Jasper.

When he used the main floor bathroom (just off the living room) and left the door open, I found it surprisingly disconcerting. To walk into the living room and realize there is a man (who isn’t even my kin) in the next room urinating is weird. But like usual, I tried to talk my self out of it. What’s the big deal. He obviously feels completely at home here. That’s great. It means I haven’t come off as nearly as stressed as I feel. Good for me.

But after the third time I went to use said bathroom and sat upon a wet toilet seat, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how it was all wrong. I’d hear him go into the bathroom and I’d start obsessing, he shouldn’t be in that bathroom, he should be closing the door, he should be lifting the seat, he should aim, he should clean up his mess… And I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to tell him that it wasn’t OK to pee on my seat and on my floor. I even know how to say “aim” in Spanish.

I have boys. I’m not easily shocked. That said, what’s the right way to bring urinary etiquette up with a 21 year old man? Why did I care? If it embarrassed him, good! But for some stupid reason, I was too embarrassed to bring it up. So I fussed and festered and fumed (and diligently checked the seat and floor before I used the toilet). I got to be like a dog. You know how they can be sitting peacefully and then the dog satellite passes by, and their heads jerk up? And their ears prick up? I could be visiting neighbors and suddenly hear this guy go into the downstairs bathroom back at my house, that’s how obsessed I got.

My boy-raising experience has prepared my to not be surprised by things that turn up during laundry or room cleanings. While cleaning the room of someone who shall remain nameless, I found a book under the mattress that made me chuckle. It was “Lesbian Vampire Tales”. I threw it onto the charity pile (because the poor deserve bad porn just as much as anyone else). But Roberto happened by soon after and immediately zeroed in on it. He picked it up and asked (no glint in his eye, no bashful smile) if he could read it. I smiled and said, “Sure, I bet it will be pretty interesting.”, knowing that both lesbian and vampire translate quite directly.

For weeks after he picked up the book, he could be found sitting in front of the fire in the living room, Lesbian Vampire book in hand, pencil, notepad, two Spanish dictionaries and an English dictionary at the ready. He read, wrote, flipped pages and muttered to himself. I checked out his list which was usually parked on the footstool by the fire: moan, nipple, thighs, take-off, arch… He was getting the gist of the story.

I always tried to answer his questions as if it were the most normal thing in the world for this 21 year old house guest to be asking his 38 year old host-mom about whatever the word or phrase might be (“toe-curling, making out”). I never like to make people feel ashamed, but sometimes I wish they’d just do it themselves. I felt like the conversation about precocious puberty in American girls could have been treading on thin ice, but I wasn’t sure until he started to talk about when he got his semens, and when his cousins got theirs. I could easily have gone the rest of my natural life without ever hearing about his semens or what it meant for someone to actually get them. Clearly an what my friend Maggie would call an OverShare.
When I taught English I prided myself on teaching all the body parts to my adult students. If it made me uncomfortable, it was important enough that I just pushed ahead anyway. So even if I got creeped out by Roberto sitting in one chair reading the lesbian vampire tales, and Jasper next to him reading Japanese comic books , I just went on making dinner. They were both reading. Good for them.

Then I cleaned out the bathroom closet and what should pop out from between some linens but a little red book with the title, “1001 Ways to Drive a Man Wild in Bed and Satisfy Him Every Time” or something close to that. Thinking that how to satisfy him seems like it would be a pretty short chapter, not an entire book, I didn’t put it into my reading pile. It went into another charity pile. This time I put it face-down in the hall. I didn’t really want to have to explain it to anyone who happened by while I was cleaning.

Later in the day Roberto came up to me with the book in hand, “May I read this?” I looked up and winced, “Well yeah, but I bet it’s pretty stupid.” to which he responded, “But I like so much to learn the things.” He was headed back upstairs when a thought occurred to me,” Roberto, maybe don’t read it in front of Jasper, OK?” He seemed puzzled, “OK, sure…” And then another thought occurred to me, “And I think you shouldn’t bring it to work with you.” This made more sense to him and he headed up the stairs again. But then he had a thought, “I brought the other book with me (biting lezzies), but I only read it on the bus.”

He teaches in an elementary school. But the fact that he rides the school bus to school sort of escaped me. I started to try to explain to him that if he read a book on the (city) bus about satisfying a man every time, he might get attention he didn’t want. He looked at me blankly when I said I thought he shouldn’t read it on the bus. “No? Why?” If he were anyone else, I would have thought he was yanking my chain.

“Don’t read it on the bus, just trust me.”

After I realized that he was probably talking about the school bus, I felt better about telling him I couldn’t explain it further, but that he shouldn’t do it. (Note to self: look up Spanish word for “creepy”.)

I think the final thing that snapped me was when he started to get his bus money from the family change jar. What a petty and stupid thing. But once I latched onto it, I couldn’t let it go. The first time he asked if I had some quarters, I tipped over the change jar and handed him his 50 cents. I thought it was a one time deal. Over the next 7 days every time he left the house, he’d tip the change jar and get his bus fare.

I started to get resentful. I could hear the change jar from across the house, from the back yard. My hearing became more acute, almost bat-like. I complained to my friend. I was not just bothered about the fact that he was harvesting all the quarters from the jar, but I was bothered by the kind of person I was becoming. It was making me crazy.

Diane said, “He’s taking your money. That’s a boundary. You have to have boundaries.” But how could I bring it up without calling him a thief? “Move the jar.” Diane is a genius. I moved the jar to the third floor. Two days later he came looking for me.”Um, Lisa? Where it is the change jar?”

I had to say, “Roberto, you have to pay for your own bus ride. You can’t take money every day for your bus. ” He looked confused. I got him fifty cents from my purse and said he had to get his own change from now on. “Where I can get the change?” We talked about banks and stores. During the whole discussion, his brow never unfurrowed. I felt like a miserly biddy.

But now he’s gone. Every day at 4pm I watch the neighbor kids get off the bus and I have no sense of dread. He stopped by the other day to pick up some things and he stayed just long enough, which was not long at all. Watching him leave was like watching a whole flock of chickens, a couple goats, a pig, a bat and a dog all head back out to the barnyard where they belonged. I was happy.

Oh My Goodness 2

We had issues early on about his refusal to eat any vegetable matter. He did try to start eating vegetables after I talked to him. And when I told him it wasn’t polite to pick all the meat out of a stir-fry or hot-dish, he was aghast. He’s been trying, poor thing. Some of his food habits though, shook me to my core.

I mostly got over the fact that he’d microwave a bowl of milk every morning, sloshing it all over the kitchen. Hot milk sounded like a not good breakfast, but who am I? Here’s his favorite breakfast: A bowl of hot milk with a handful of cornflakes or shredded wheat left to swell for at least 20 minutes. He ate it when it had cooled to warm and when the cereal was bloated enough to evenly float across the top of the bowl.  I stopped coming down in the morning until I heard him leave the house.

Which worked fine except that he didn’t like wearing boots or a hat.  Stay with me here.  He didn’t like boots, so his feets would get cold (he’d come in saying, “I can’t feel my feets”).  The hat messed up his hair.  So he’d wait inside until he could see his bus coming, then run out.   The day I put up the heavy winter curtains, he missed the bus because he couldn’t see out the windows.  About three days a week the front door would be open when I came down (“I didn’t have time to close the door. I would lose my bus.”)  But damn, he looked good when he got to school.  I’d find his bloated bowl of cereal next to the living room window on the days when he woke up really late.

The worst food incident was the potato-noodle episode. He really didn’t like my cooking. He wanted more starch, more meat. He asked on a Friday if he could make a soup. I wasn’t enthusiastic since he had already almost ruined two pans and a teapot by burning milk onto them. But I told him it was OK as long as he stayed in the kitchen while things were cooking. Which he did not.

He boiled noodles with onions and milk, and diced a potato into the pan. He walked away while the noodles puffed up and burned to the bottom of the pan. I called him back a few times. He checked on it and walked away again. Little did I know that it’s really hard to stay with noodles if you need to cook them for an hour. Which he did. When there was no liquid left in the pan, he scooped out a glob of noodles (he was kind enough to offer it to all of us) and ate them happily in front of the computer. After two bowls he was full. But there were lots and lots of noodles left.

I asked before I went to bed if he wanted me to put the noodles in the fridge. Nope, he didn’t. They sat out over night on the counter and he had another bowl for breakfast. By Saturday afternoon the noodle-gel-potato-mass had started to dry out on the top and pull away from the edges of the pan. For lunch he had a little more, warmed in the microwave. Yum.

I’m going to admit here that I  stopped asking him if he was finished with the noodles because I was curious just how long he was going to eat this thing (which was most surely NOT a soup). By Sunday evening I had been broken. When he ate it, I actually started to gag. I told him we had to throw it away now. What was left plopped into the trash in a single noodley pan-shaped blob. He was fine by the way.

Oh My Goodness!

You know that proverb (or is it a joke?) about the guy who goes to see the guru because he’s unhappy? The guru tells him if he wants to be happy he has to invite the cow into his house to live with them. He goes back because he’s still not happy, so he is directed to invite the chickens, then the goat, then the pigs. The last time he goes back,what the guru says to do is get all those animals the hell out of the house. And the guy is freaking jubilant.

That’s the story of my life, I think. I feel the need to host these foreigners. And so many times it has been really great. Enriched our lives in ways I never could have imagined. Really. But the thing they consistently do that makes me feel so good is leave. A select few have actually made me sad when they left. But most of them become burrs under my saddle to the point that when they go, I’m exhausted with joy.

My insightful friend Terry(ya gotta love Terry) has suggested, and I think he’s right, that I seem to be setting up a pattern lately of getting house guests who drive me berserk. It can’t be that a select few South American Idiots are being drafted to drive me crazy. It’s me. I’m getting cantankerous. That’s right. Like bunions, cantankerousness is reserved for people of a certain age, and I’ve reached it.

I’ve sent our latest guest on to his next host family. And I am SO glad to get rid of him. He left a couple weeks ago.

Today I am going to detail why he drove me crazy. Here we are: big, big house, bilingual kid who needs to keep up his Spanish or risk losing it, and a deep abiding love for the public schools.  I used to be outgoing and friendly, and loved having another adult in the house to chat with. Now it seems the interns are getting younger and I keep getting older. I guess that explains some of it.

But some of it is them. This guy could have been a sit-com character. He was great. A young man with fabulous talents, beautiful teeth and I’m sure other good qualities. He can draw beautifully and play guitar. But I think he’s got something wrong with him. Or let’s just say that he’s not a good fit with our family. Or we could even say I’m turning into an intolerant old biddy. I understand that’s one possibility.

The first day he arrived, it was Zach’s birthday. He put his suitcase in his room and came down while we were cutting cake. He picked up a guitar and asked, “Can I sing a song?” with a huge smile. Of course, we said. All eyes were on him. He proceeded to serenade Zach and our guests with a birthday song. A really LOUD birthday song. His guitar was decent, his singing just slightly worse than bad. But louder.

It got to be one of his favorite things to do, sing and play guitar. In his room, at the computer, in the living room. When he sang, he sang loud. He got quite taken with  “Stand By Me” and “El Condor Pasa”. He sang them over and over. And over. He was obviously deeply moved by these songs. The combination of sincere emotion and inability to stay on key was troubling every time. The problem was that more than once I would walk in the back door and freeze, wondering who was wailing in pain, only to realize it was Roberto and his muse duking it out upstairs.

What I Meant to Say

Antonio loved ketchup. He was mister easy as far as house guests go. “We to going shopping? Cooool!” When I asked him what thing he wanted people to know about Chile, he said, “Chile is Real. I want people to know that Chile is Rrreal.”

He was party to my single most memorable Spanish-English snafu. Antonio was nothing if not easy-going. He was affable and enthusiastic. My Spanish was just barely passable. I knew enough to get myself into trouble, but not nearly enough to get myself out. But I soldiered on, muddled through.

Antonio spoke almost no English when he first arrived. When I needed to fill spaces with conversation I usually made small-talk in Spanish as I went about the business of my day. I was primarily a housewife, so my business involved a lot of running down to the abasement to do laundry. Our basement was damp and smelly at the time.

I’d run down to the basement and come up and comment, “Uff, the basement is so damp, and it stinks.” or maybe I’d drop at, “Don’t go looking at my basement, because it’s gross.” He always smiled in a puzzled and surprised, but polite way. It never started a long conversation.

Here’s me, huffing and puffing up from the laundry, with or without the attendant basket of clean or dirty laundry, “Uff, el sosten esta tan sucio.” or “El sosten huele muy mal hoy.” or “no miras, porque mi sosten esta un disastre.” Giving him a little start.

He had returned to Chile when out of nowhere, it hit me: The Spanish word for basement is one of two things. It’s either bésman (mexenglish) or sótano. Then what, pray tell, is sosten? Hmm. Sosten. sustain, support… Dang. It isn’t…? Yup. It can be either jock strap or brassiere according to the English/Spanish Dictionary.

I’m surprised Antonio didn’t just pack up and leave after the first time I told him not to look at my bra because it was a smelly disaster. He was such a good sport.

Doubt 3

Forgive me if this isn’t completely gelled. It’s a rant.

Liberals, Conservatives, I’m talking to you. Who do you think you are? Where do you get off judging those of us who are medicated or choose to medicate our kids? We live in a time of horrors and a time of miracles. And you begrudge us the miracles? Because it makes you uncomfortable on some level you haven’t totally hashed out, you blather on about, “People who just want to take a pill and feel better.” Well, yeah… Yeah they do. Here’s some news:

In the great state of Minnesota, as of 2005 the second highest cause of death among teens age 15 to 19 was suicide.

“Following a decline of more than 28 percent, the suicide rate for 10- to-24-year-olds increased by 8 percent, the largest single-year rise in 15 years, according to a report just released in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). ”, September 2007.  ( The italics is mine.)
Guess what that coincides with? The decline coincides with the increased use of antidepressants in kids between 10 and 24 years old. Guess what the spike coincides with? Hmm.. Could it be it coincides with lots of media hype about the increased risk of suicidal thoughts in a few kids who were depressed and on medication? A jump that caused parents and doctors to second guess themselves and not medicate depressed kids, even though the evidence pointed to lives being saved? Yes it could. And it does.

I’m not a doctor, but I know that kids killing themselves is lots sexier than kids popping their meds and feeling better. Sex and fear sell, they’re what people remember. Right now we know what works best for depressed people, kids and adults. It’s cognitive behavioral therapy and antidepressants and good self-care (diet, sleep, exercise). It works. Not always, but for the first time in history we can help people with mental health problems, whose relatives a generation before couldn’t get better. This is true for lots of mental health issues that have just been a morass until now. It’s fabulous news. But we hear almost nothing about it.
So before you start talking about back in the day when kids didn’t need all these fancy medications, do a little homework; look around you. I’ve known wonderful, beautiful young people who killed themselves before psychiatry and psychology had any consistently effective tools at its disposal. I have people in my family who are still paying the price for the untreated mental illness that was evident in their childhood. Live with one of these people, and then come back to me and say there’s something wrong with a pill that can make them feel better. Watch what mental illness does to a family and tell me why medicating the sick is the wrong thing to do.


It’s not that I’m gung-ho for any and all medical interventions. Medicating personality in childhood makes me a little uncomfortable. The whole ADHD thing for kids falls into that category for me. I think any diagnosis that encompasses so many symptoms (many of them direct opposites of each other) is casting a net too wide to be really medically valid. It’s an area I have had to think long and hard about, because every school we’ve had our kids in has suggested (sometimes in a veiled way, sometimes not so much) we should medicate our kids for being wiggly, spacey, disorganized or unfocused. Our kids weren’t unhappy, they weren’t sick; they just didn’t fit the school model very well. They were hard to manage.

I remember a little girl who used to play with my son. They were in the same class in 2nd grade. She was having trouble learning to read (as was my boy). Her parents switched schools for third grade, then tried one of the ADD drugs. Last I checked she was reading at grade-level, doing well. But another neighbor asked why I supposed that little girl stopped skipping to and from school. It made us both sad to think it was the Ritalin (or Dexedrine or whatever).

I chose to do different things for my kids when they struggled in school. But I surely don’t judge that family for the decision they made. The system? Maybe.