The Rockwood Files: Shock to the system

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It was a dark and stormy October night. Tom was out of town on business and the kids and I were home watching television. Suddenly we heard a loud crack while a bright white light flashed out from behind the flat screen television mounted on the living room wall.

The television and half the lights in the house instantly went dark as the home security system started a high-pitched beeping. I jumped off the sofa, feeling my heart pound in my chest. Once I’d determined the kids weren’t hurt, I walked toward the window and stopped a few feet away, remembering that standing by the window during a lightning storm isn’t a great idea.

Assuming the storm had thrown a breaker, I went to the circuit box in the garage to check it out. As soon as I stepped out there, I walked into a wall of odor that smelled like burning rubber. That’s when I decided that perhaps a lightning bolt had hit too close to home.

I flipped the thrown breaker and went back in the house to check for signs of an electrical fire, but there was no smoke and no smell. I tried to turn the television back on to check the weather report, but the TV’s power light flickered and quickly faded to black. The kids raced around the house to see if other TVs would work, but they were totally unresponsive.

“What’s wrong with the TVs, Mom?” asked the 9-year-old.lightning

“I think the house was struck by lightning,” I said. “And it might have fried the TVs.”

“So they’re broken? All of them?” she asked.

“Looks that way,” I confirmed.

Then the 14-year-old and his 12-year-old brother burst into the room with a breathless announcement. “This is bad, Mom. There’s no Wi-fi!”

Losing televisions is serious, but when kids lose Internet access, it’s like someone has sucked all the oxygen out of the room. The panic was palpable.

After I reassured the kids that they could, in fact, live without Wi-Fi for at least 24 hours, we checked the rest of the house for damage and waited until the acrid smell of burning rubber dissipated in the garage. One of my neighbors came over to help confirm there was likely no electrical fire smoldering within the walls.

The next morning, our electrician came to assess the damage. He took one whiff of the garage and confirmed that the lightning strike had caused the motors inside the garage door openers to burn and melt. The same thing happened with the computer router, modem, printer, the air conditioner thermostat, the security system, a sprinkler system, a refrigerator, four televisions, and a long list of other electronic devices plugged into the wall that night.

Almost all of them, by the way, were plugged into surge protectors. But according to our electrician and the insurance adjustor, that doesn’t help much when you’re dealing with the kind of surge supplied by a genuine lightning bolt that lands too close to your house. We think it may have hit a tree in the front yard because, the next morning, we found a dead squirrel at the base of the tree with a rather shocked expression on his furry face.

Tom flew home the next day and we spent the next two weeks calling repairmen, answering insurance questions and replacing the electrocuted appliances and electronics. After meeting a painful deductible, we’ve been able to replace everything lost in the storm – minus that one unfortunate squirrel.

But the whole experience has been a literal shock to the system and has left me feeling like the lightning strike short-circuited my brain, too. And you can’t find a new one of those on the shelf at Best Buy. Believe me, I checked.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Marital mind-meld

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When Tom and I were young and dating, we’d sometimes notice an older couple sitting in a restaurant in total silence. We wondered if perhaps they were mad at each other and using the silent treatment. But their facial expressions didn’t hint at an argument.

Were they mute? No, that couldn’t be it because they’d occasionally ask for refills on their iced tea.

So if they weren’t mute and they weren’t mad, then why weren’t they talking? We finally decided it must be boredom. Maybe they’d been together so long that there was nothing left to say. “So sad,” we’d say. Then we’d stare into each other’s lovey-dovey eyes and feel privately smug because we knew that would never happen to us. Because we were young and in love and endlessly fascinating.

Then we got married. And had kids. And years went by – 18 years as of November 14th. And now we know exactly why those older couples in restaurants aren’t talking. And it’s not because they’re dull. And it’s not because they’re bored. It’s because they don’t have to.

An interesting thing happens when you’ve been married for a while. Betrothed brains begin to operate on the same frequency. They become so finely tuned to each other that thoughts from one brain can jump – invisibly and wordlessly – into the other brain.

During the past few years, it has happened to me and Tom more times than we can count. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s downright creepy, as if someone has tunneled into your brain and can pluck your thoughts like grapes off a vine.

Skeptics might dismiss it as mere coincidence or a predictable thing that happens when two people’s daily lives intersect in so many ways. But married people can tell you it’s not just coincidence or familiarity. Because sometimes the randomness of the thought and the timing convince us there’s something else going on.

Our theory? It’s “marital mind meld” – when two married brains join forces and instinctively know what the other one is thinking. I’m not sure if it means the couple is now using a combined super-brain or that, over time, each spouse ends up with half a regular brain that functions best when it’s in close proximity to their spouse’s half-brain. The jury is still out on that one.

But I can tell you that marital mind meld is often convenient – like when one spouse knows the other one is ready to leave a party and helps out by telling the host that they need to get home and pay the babysitter. Or when, during a long car trip, one spouse wishes out loud for a Dairy Queen Dip cone and the other person was – just at that very second – craving a Dip cone, too.

This brain-sharing phenomenon isn’t fool-proof, however. There are lots of times when Tom says the very thing I was just thinking, but sometimes our wires get crossed and we end up in a tense face-off yelling things like, “What were you thinking?”

But after 18 years of marriage, he’s still the person who makes me feel the most joy and the one who makes me the most furious, too. He knows the best and worst of me.

So if you see us in a restaurant one day and we’re not talking much, don’t feel bad for the quiet middle-aged couple in the next booth. There’s actually plenty of conversation going on, but you can’t hear it. It’s just between his brain and mine.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Simon Says

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Do you remember that old game kids played in elementary school? It’s called “Simon Says.” One person (who plays the role of Simon) stands in front of a row of kids and calls out commands like “Touch your ear” or “Take three steps forward.”

The only rule was that you absolutely could not do any of those commands if they weren’t preceded by the phrase “Simon says,” as in “Simon says quack like a duck.” rubber-duck2If Simon didn’t say “Simon says” and you started quacking like a duck anyway, then you’d be out of the game. Simon’s job was to try to make you move even when the command didn’t include that critical phrase. The last person still standing and following Simon’s commands would automatically become the new Simon, and then the game would begin again.

I started thinking about that game last week when I realized an unsettling yet undeniable truth: My smartphone is Simon.

When the phone pings or sounds an alarm, I spring into action. The myriad of electronic reminders, appointment alerts and alarms I’ve programmed into my phone help me function like a responsible grown-up. Simon says it’s time to pick up the kids from school. Simon says the orthodontist appointment is at 4 p.m. Simon says pick up eggs from the store. Simon says text your cousin on her birthday.girl-smartphone

The other day a friend mentioned an event that’s coming up in the next two weeks, and I scrambled to my smartphone to load the information into the calendar app. Then I set up several reminder alerts leading up to the date. “Sorry,” I said as I quickly typed the details into my phone. “If the phone doesn’t tell me to do something, it doesn’t get done.” She nodded her head knowingly. “I get it,” she said. “My reminder alarms are the only way I get through the day.”

That’s when it hit me: We do what the phone tells us to do. It’s just like being back on the playground in second grade, lined up next to a mob of other kids all waiting for our “Simon” to tell us what to do next. Only instead of touching my ear or taking three steps forward, Simon says to pay the property taxes on time, go to a business lunch at 11:30 and sign the kid’s permission slip for his field trip.

This explains why people will turn the car around and drive back home to fetch the smartphone they accidentally left on the kitchen counter. It’s not because they desperately need to make a phone call. (Who uses these things for actual phone calls anymore?) It’s because the smartphone is our personal “rememberer.” It guides us through our days, giving us a digital nudge or a screaming alarm when we need one.

But it makes me wonder. Is this phone dependence an example of how I’m making use of the modern-day tools available to me? Or have I outsourced my brain to a digital dictator? Why do I get the feeling I’m on an electronic leash? Perhaps the phone is running me instead of the other way around.

Even more frightening, what would happen if the Russians hack our phones and take control of all these electronic leashes? We’ll miss appointments! Our cousins won’t get birthday text messages! The kids won’t get picked up from school on time! No one will be home to meet the cable guy between three and five o’clock! It’ll be anarchy!

Those sneaky Russians might just have us all quacking like ducks in no time.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Chick-fil-A just “gets me”

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

When the staff at my nearest Chick-fil-A started calling me by name, I knew I’d probably crossed the line from “frequent guest” into “tea addict” or “chicken stalker” status.

Since I work from home, slaving away all day over a hot keyboard, I often use Chick-fil-A like my own personal kitchen – one that’s around the corner and down the street. It’s much better than my real kitchen because I’ve never once had to cook food in the Chick-fil-A kitchen, nor do they expect me to clean it up. You can see why it was so easy to fall in love, right?

When Chick-fil-A launched a new smartphone app last June, my relationship with the restaurant went to a whole new level. The app remembers what I like to eat, including special instructions like “extra ice” or “more sweet than unsweet” tea. It already knows I want ranch dressing with my salad. It feels like this app just “gets me.” Even my own husband doesn’t know my favorite order the way Chick-fil-A does.chick-fil-a-app

Using the app allows me to bypass the line both inside and outside the restaurant. Although the drive-through option was nice, the line at my Chick-fil-A typically stretches all the way around the building – sometimes meandering into the adjacent parking lot (which means I’m not the only one with a committed relationship to waffle fries.) But with the app, I submit an order via smartphone and request to pick it up “curbside.”

Then I park in the designated spot and wait for a well-mannered employee to magically appear at my driver’s side window with order in hand. Not only do they walk it out to my car, they also reward me for using the app by giving me free “treats” that occasionally appear on the app screen like a gift in my smartphone stocking.

Sometimes I fear that all this extreme convenience may have eliminated the last good reason I had to put on real pants. With curbside service, you can wear pajama pants, your rattiest t-shirt and zero makeup, and the lovely Chick-fil-A people will still act like it’s their pleasure to serve you. The only person who has seen me looking worse is Tom, who was present when I gave birth.

My co-dependent relationship with Chick-fil-A was going so well until a few months ago when something shocking happened. The restaurant replaced my beloved barbecue dipping sauce with a new version called “Smokehouse Barbecue.” The package was the same, but the taste was different. The next time I was there, I asked for the regular barbecue sauce, but they said it was gone.barbecue-sauce

“Gone?” I asked. “Forever?”

“Yes, I think so,” she replied.

I felt blindsided. I hadn’t even had time to say goodbye to the original barbecue sauce or stockpile extra packets of it before they put it out to dipping sauce pasture. I asked if they thought it might come back one day, as if it was just gone on an extended safari to Africa. But they shook their heads no. It was the first time a Chick-fil-A employee had replied with anything other than “my pleasure.” I’m not going to lie. It stung.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who felt that barbecue-flavored betrayal. After a national outcry on social media, the restaurant did what good spouses do when they realize they’ve made a mistake reminiscent of the New Coke debacle. They listened and then they made it right. Last week, my local Chick-fil-A staff confirmed that they are bringing back the old barbecue sauce this November.

It might be a little thing, but it feels like a big deal when someone listens and takes care of you, even on the little things. When the original sauce returns in a few weeks, I’ll be there waiting anxiously at curbside, proof that absence does indeed make the stomach grow hungrier.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.

The Rockwood Files: Out of place

rockwood files colorBy Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

It happened again. It started out as an occasional twinge of discomfort between my shoulder blades, just a little to the right of my spine.

I felt it when I turned a certain way or looked over my shoulder to back out of the garage. After a day or so, the annoyance became more insistent, like a door-to-door salesman who won’t quit knocking. After hearing me grumble about it, Tom reminded me I still had a spa gift card I’d received for Christmas last year. So I scheduled an appointment, certain a massage therapist could work out the muscle spasm.Spa-Girl-Graphic

As amazing as an hour on the massage table was, it only temporarily soothed that angry area of my back. Two days later, it was back and felt like someone was sticking a broom handle into my back and leaning into it. No matter which way I turned, I couldn’t escape it.

As I picked up the kids from school that day, I squirmed in the driver’s seat to find a more comfortable position. I arched my back and tried to stretch it, but the sticking pain made me feel like I couldn’t take a deep breath. (Ironically, the exact moment when you feel like you can’t get a deep breath is also the moment you feel like you desperately need one.) That panicky feeling was accompanied by a strong surge of déjà vu, and I finally recognized the pain in my back for what it was – a slipped rib.

I’d felt it once before about this same time last year, and it took a visit to my chiropractor to pop it back into place. I called and made an appointment for the next day. In the meantime, I Googled “how to pop a rib back into place” and found some questionable methods on the Internet that my better judgement told me not to try at home.

The next day I arrived at the chiropractor’s office, eager to get my rib and my daily routine back in place. When the doctor came in and asked if I’d had an injury that could have caused the rib to slip out of joint, I had nothing interesting to offer. There was no extreme workout to report. No rock-climbing adventure. Not even a session of brisk jogging. I had no choice but to go with the truth. “I think I may have slept on it funny.”

The doctor nodded her head sympathetically and jotted down a few words in her notes. I’m guessing it was something like “Whiny middle-aged woman injured while napping.”

She ran her hand up my spine and then went to work, turning me every which way and applying just enough pressure to snap, crackle and pop my rib back into its proper place. I stretched my back and took in a nice, deep breath that felt incredible.

I asked the doctor if she thought my wayward rib would be an ongoing problem, popping out without provocation. She said it was possible. “Sometimes we have a weak spot and this might be yours,” she explained.

I wanted to tell her I have many weaknesses – cheese dip, sweet tea, fudgy brownies – and that a rebel rib isn’t something I’d like to add to the list. But I knew there was no point grouching about something I can’t change. The rib, just like people and our life circumstances, can get out of whack from time to time.

Whether it’s a wayward rib or a bad habit or a difficult situation, perhaps the best we can do is to call it what it is, find help when we need it, and get what’s out of place put back in line.

gwen-headshot-2014Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here. To check out Gwen’s book, “Reporting Live from the Laundry Pile: The Rockwood Files Collection,” click HERE.