Thursday, February 4, 2016

Swim Monsters

Swim lessons are one of my non-negotiables: my kids will take lessons until they learn to swim, end of story.  They complain, but mostly because they complain about everything.  I’m the one who has created an hour-and-a-half of chaos and madness for myself as I wrangle them through the bowels of the YMCA twice a week for a 30-minute class.  But I don’t complain; I just have a glass of wine when they’re all in bed and congratulate myself on surviving.

While I continue to get the pitying looks from the other parents (“Wow,” they seem to say, “three boys!  I’m glad I’m not her.”), I’m trying to be sage about the whole swim lesson process.  Charles and Jamie get into their suits at home to minimize pre-lesson time in the locker room because being in the locker room is akin to giving them a direct injection of high fructose corn syrup: they immediately turn hyperactive and stop listening to anything I say or shout in that echo-y space.  All they have to do when we get to the Y is try not to die in the parking lot as they race into the building, then take their shoes off, put the bags in the lockers, go potty, and take a shower.

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We’ve only gone two days so far, and Jamie only got locked in a locker once, so I’ll call that a win.

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Freddie wishes he could swim, too.  He wishes it so much that several times a lesson he makes a beeline for the water, shrieking with joy that he escaped my clutches.  The lifeguards must have mild heart attack every time they see us walk in.  I bring books, snacks, and toys to keep him busy, but we still spend a goodly portion of the class walking around the pool and looking at the kids, his tiny hand in my iron fist to keep him from jumping in.

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Selfies only distract for a few seconds.


Charles swims like a fish.  No, a shark.  He’s fast and he wants to be faster.  He has always been a rule follower, and in the pool is no exception.  He does what his teacher asks, he listens, he overshares completely irrelevant factoids about how well the characters in Ninjago swim before diving in and racing underwater or practicing his strokes.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he graduated out of the swimming lessons by next year.

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Jamie, on the other hand, is a total spaz in the water.  Last year, he was apprehensive about the whole deal, eventually ending our three months of lessons by graduating to the second of the lowest pre-K classes.  This year, he cannonballs into the water, dog paddles away when his teacher asks the class to kick while holding onto the wall, and turns endless circles in the water when he’s supposed to be practicing his strokes.  He could not give a flying fuck about what his teacher wants him to do in swim class.  I’m certain the other parents are looking at this disrespectful kid who just goofs off the whole time (“Oh, it’s her child, the one with the three boys.”) and are grateful he’s not theirs, but honestly, he’s just so damn happy that it’s tough to get angry.  And what would getting angry help, anyhow?  Jamie marches to the beat of his own drummer, he’s not rude, he’s four, and he’s having fun.  Maybe he’ll even learn to swim in the bargain.

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Blue lips – this kid has not an ounce of insulating fat on his body


Remind me to give his teacher a tip at the end of class, though.  She’s working hard to keep his flailing to a minimum.

So, should you endeavor to take three kids to swim lessons, here are a few tips:

Let them shower (with soap) for a nice, long time after the pool.  Free bath for the day!  One you don’t have to fight about or clean up after!  And bonus, if the kids shower long enough, the locker room clears out so you have plenty of room for the toddler to repeatedly slip and fall on his ass.

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Eventually, he just sat down.


Take double the towels.  The first towel is used to quickly dry the hair and down the body and then goes on the floor to stand on.  The second towel dries the body after the suit is off.

Pack snacks.  My kids are ravenous after swimming and I reserve the purchase of the Y’s Red Vines for when they’ve been especially good.

Make them carry their own shit.  I carry enough.  Even Freddie has to get up the stairs by himself.

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Swimming: the tax-season activity that may or may not kill me this year.

Friday, January 29, 2016

January Joy

I’ll admit, I’m having a bit of a rough month.  January and February are like that for me; the days are short, tax season is looming, and the gleeful anticipation of the holidays are behind us.  What do we have to look forward to?  Spring break.  In APRIL.  Lord, help me.

These are the months in which I most struggle with self image.  I startle myself every time I catch a glimpse in the mirror.  Who is this wrinkled, wrung-out, pudgy woman?  Why is she so pale?  What is wrong with her hair?  As my pots of makeup and jars of potions on the bathroom counter increase in number and their effects on my visage decrease, as it gets more and more difficult to gain strength and maintain fitness (not to mention lose my spare tire), as my breasts sag and my hips stubbornly refuse to slim, I am realizing that Sisyphus is my spirit animal (spirit Greek myth?  Is that a thing?  I’m making it a thing.)  Push that boulder of self-hatred, self-doubt, and negative self-image up the hill.  Let it roll back down, feel free for a minute or two, pick it back up and roll it again.
It’s not healthy, so I’m focusing on counting my blessings, as one does.  I’ve also come up with a new strategy: instead of photos like this, where it’s obvious that I didn’t get enough sleep the night before and I had a hideously large mimosa with brunch…

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At the Seattle Opera last Sunday


…I’m going to surround myself with photos like this, in which I look fabulous:

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Taken at an auction in November

We’re not sleeping because Prince Frederick is a fucking tyrant.  Tony and I took the side off of Freddie’s crib a couple of weeks ago in the hopes that he would sleep in it.  Not like, sleep more in his crib, but sleep at all in his crib.  After two weeks of feeling so tired that I probably shouldn’t have been driving, we have relented.  My philosophy with regards to my children has always been “I get to win,” but not this time.  This time, Freddie wins.  Freddie sleeps with us and will likely do so until he has all his teeth.  His mouth is in no hurry to develop, so that could be until he’s six years old or so.  My guess is that, at this rate, he’ll get his last baby tooth when he loses his first baby tooth.

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Yep, that’s my bed.


Okay, so maybe it’s not helping my mood that one of my “strengths” is hyperbole. 

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Right before the popcorn fight that resulted in popcorn EVERYWHERE, including the goddamn light fixture


The bigger kids are getting busier all the time.  We are invited to a minimum of two birthday parties a month, they take ninja gymnastics classes each Saturday, they have swim lessons twice a week for the next two months, and they still expect to be fed three meals every. damn. day.  In addition to my normal workload at the office, I went ahead and built myself another (unpaid) job by organizing a much-needed after-school program at Charles’s elementary school.  And when I get free time, I like to… ha ha ha ha ha!  I have no free time.

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Ninjas climb ropes at lightning speed.

Trite as it is, these kids are worth the stress.  Some days, they’re like three small Tyrannosaurus Rexes, eating their way through the cupboards, fridge, and freezer, leaving a swath of destruction in their path.  Other days, they are sweet as sugar, playing nicely together, building elaborate train tracks or fighting imaginary foes as a team.


All in all, January was filled with joy.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Big Kid Files

The other morning Charles said, “Mom, I’m the only one in our family who is thin.”  And I said, “What about me?” in mock horror.  He just looked at me like I was crazy.  The kid is, it turns out, old enough to know when to keep his mouth shut.

*****

For Christmas, my in-laws gave me a lovely box of handmade chocolates.  They were so good and even though they were in a one-pound candy box, they were really stuffed in there.  There had to have been nearly two pounds of chocolates that tasted remarkably similar to See’s Milk Bordeaux.  I might have cried a little bit at their sheer beauty.

I limited myself to one or two chocolates a day for approximately two days.  No, eighteen hours.  Okay, maybe one or two throughout the day on the Saturday after Christmas (when I received the chocolates) and then another one or two in the evening after the kids were in bed, and then another one or two on Sunday.  There were still so many!  It was the never-ending box of chocolates!  Heaven!

On the Sunday after Christmas, Tony and Jamie went to a friend’s house to watch football while Freddie napped and Charles and I read stories and played with the new Christmas toys.  Then Freddie woke up, so I went upstairs to snuggle him for a bit.  After Freddie was good and awake (this was during about a month of crankiness due to the appearance of two molars, so it was a bit touch-and-go with waking up for awhile), I called to Charles to come upstairs and snuggle with us.  He arrived and gave Freddie a big, chocolaty kiss.

I think you know where this is headed.

I asked him if he’d had one of mommy’s chocolates and he nodded his head. 

“How many did you have, Charles?”

“One.  No, two.  I’m sorry.”

“Okay.  Those are mommy’s chocolates and you need to ask before you eat one.  I forgive you.”

Later, I discovered that he had consumed THE ENTIRE BOX.  At least a pound of delicious, delicious handmade truffles.

He wasn’t even sick to his stomach.

I have since decided to hide all chocolate from my children.

*****

You might think that since I have all boys, I have escaped the daily fashion crises that mothers of girls deal with.  I’ll admit, the problems are usually uncomplicated; Jamie has a hard time deciding which “footies” to wear (he got several new pairs of footie pajamas for Christmas, and he rotates through his collection every day of the week) and neither of the boys has more than one pair of shoes or boots.  However, Charles is DEEPLY concerned about which pants match which shirt and can I just tell you that his opinions on matching are DEAD WRONG?  For a while he would wear all one color (black pants and black shirt or dark jeans and dark blue shirt) and now he wears only pants that “go” with his favorite shirts.  I’ve tried to apply years of matching colors and styles to his daily dilemmas about clothing, but logic and experience mean nothing to Charles.  Jeans that look great with a certain shirt “don’t go” and cause prolonged weeping and gnashing of teeth.

I came up with a couple of solutions.  First, I bought Charles more pants.  Now that the variety is greater, he has less trouble “matching” or whatever.  Second, we made a deal that resulted in more more TV for the kids (that’s the kind of deal they jump at).  I figured out that the fashion problem was a symptom of a larger issue: too much time in the morning.  Time to complain about clothing choices, time to stall before brushing teeth or donning shoes, time to bounce off the walls.

I’m not big on screen time, but in order to restore some sanity to my mornings right before tax season, I instituted the following program for both Charles and Jamie:

1. Get dressed
2. Eat breakfast
3. Brush your teeth
4. Do two pages in your workbook
5. Watch a 22-minute episode of one of your shows on Netflix (Ninjago, Clone Wars, Rescue Bots)

The boys have to have the first four items done by 8 am in order to earn the show and they have to agree on the show.  Any arguing and the deal is off.

In the three weeks since we have adopted this morning routine, fighting, fashion crises, tantrums, and yelling on my part have diminished considerably.  Plus, they’re learning.  Sure, they’re watching TV, but they’re also working through their workbooks.  Compromise: it’s what I do.


It’s just possible that I won’t disown them before the end of tax season.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

One Thing

Freddie, as all 18-month-olds do, has reached Chaos Level: Expert recently, becoming a master of happy-shrieking, good-natured destruction.  Jamie, on the other hand, has reached the pinnacle of the Fucking Fours: angry defiance, extreme tantrums, and huffy pouting over such injustices as having to wear shoes or brush his teeth.  Charles is distracted and lethargic; he only wants to do what he wants to do.  Ninja class, reading, LEGOs: yes.  Chores, homework, participating in family anything: no.

The kids are inside almost all the time this time of year – the outdoor excursions end quickly and always demand immediate application of hot cocoa and snacks to offset the calories burned sustaining life in the just-above-freezing “so cold my toes are falling off!” arctic weather here in Northwest Washington.  Consequently, toys, costumes, crayons, and snack droppings are scattered among wet boots and discarded gloves ALL OVER THE DAMN HOUSE DO WE LIVE IN A FUCKING BARN and I can barely keep the three of them and any friend who comes over from tearing each other’s eyes out in shocking displays of acute cabin fever.  I’m campaigning to buy a trampoline so that when these boys are literally bouncing off the walls, I can send them out to bounce off each other instead.  Tony does not think a trampoline is necessary.  Tony thinks a trampoline will take up too much room in our yard.  Tony is not often home with these fire-breathing monsters.

When I’m not home making meals or holding my wee Tasmanian Devil because his teeth hurt and he simply MUST be held at all times or reading stories or negotiating truces between dueling brothers, I’m at work or ferrying children to and from their activities.  Also the gym, I go there a lot.  I won’t say it’s my “happy place,” but it is my “without children” place and I always feel better after I bust out a few quick miles on the treadmill or sweat through a boot camp class.  Despite this, my house stays relatively clean and organized, the laundry done, the dishes clean.  In fact, you might walk in and think to yourself, “Wow!  This place is amazing!  How does she keep things so clean and organized?  And her hair is awesome, too.  What is her secret?”  (As long as I’m dreaming, let’s make it good, shall we?)  (You would not actually think any of those things.  But you might think that things could be SO MUCH WORSE than they are.)  (My hair looks awful.)

First secret (it’s not a secret): I have a housekeeper, who is fantastic.  She comes every other week.  I think we can all agree that two weeks is long enough for a house with two adults, three boy children, and a dog to go to shit, but for at least a day after she visits, the floors, bathrooms, counters, and mirrors are all sparkling clean.

Second secret: The One Thing Rule.

The One Thing Rule is where I look around at my house/life in disarray and I ask myself, “Self, what’s one thing you can do to make it better?”  I don’t aim high, oh no.  I aim low, and I usually find that the one thing I can do right now to make things better is minor, like wiping up the table after breakfast or clearing the mail and newspaper detritus from the counter or starting a load of laundry or cutting some vegetables for dinner or organizing the pile of hats or making myself a cup of coffee and raiding my secret chocolate stash.  Then I do that one thing.  Often, when that one thing is done, I have time to ask myself again, “Self, what’s one thing you can do to make it better?” and I see yet another spill I can wipe up or I think of the meat I can take out of the freezer for dinner or any number of things that I immediately notice as I look around.  I continue to ask myself what one thing I can do until I either run out of time or I look around and feel better about my life and my house.

In the aggregate, all of these little things I need to do cause stress.  They’re overwhelming.  I look around and I can’t see the end of all the picking up and the putting away.  Feeling messy and disorganized leads me to feel like I’m sliding into mediocrity, which leads me to think such super helpful and inspiring stuff as “Why do I even try?” and “You’re never going to have a nice house” and “YOU ARE FAILING.”  I think we can all agree that no one wins when we pursue that line of thought, so I just ask myself “What’s one thing you can do to make it better?” and then I do that one thing and then I feel a small sense of accomplishment.

Yesterday, my one thing that I could do was to put something away in the garage closet (yes, we have a closet in the garage.  It’s just as stupid as it sounds).  Junk started falling on me because it’s a fucking closet in the garage and so of course it’s a convenient place to toss anything you’re too lazy to put away correctly.  I got cranky and frustrated with the mess that NO ONE CARES ABOUT BUT ME (seriously, do we live in a barn?), so I decided that one thing I could do would be to reorganize the boxes of gift bags and ribbons I had on the shelves (the source of much falling junk in the closet).  It took me ten minutes, which cut into my gym time a tiny bit (I ran faster to make up for it), but the closet is organized now.  I also threw away a bunch of garbage and moved some boxes around so I can walk around the entire car when it’s parked in the garage.  I can’t pretend that anyone else even noticed, but it made me feel much better.

The One Thing Rule works best in the afternoon or when there is plenty of time to burn before the next event (dinner, bedtime, etc.).  It does not work well when you’re trying to get out of the house in the morning and you know that life would be easier later if you just started the dishwasher/put in a load of laundry/prepped dinner for that evening.  There’s never enough time before work to do these things, so I don’t even bother.  I use the One Thing Rule when I have a few minutes of “spare” time and sometimes I even do just the one thing I can do with one hand, since Freddie is often in the other hand.


Go ahead.  Try it.  Just one thing.  It could change your life.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Life with a Toddler

It is slightly amazing how much I repressed or forgot about Charles’s and Jamie’s toddler stages as they have grown older.  There’s always so much going on, and they’re so interesting to me now, that the previous developmental stages have sort of faded into the background until, occasionally, I realize that I don’t have to do *that* anymore (nurse while cooking eggs, puree baby food, stop sixteen times to go potty on the way to the grocery store).  Except that Freddie is now a full-blown, speed-demon, illogical toddler with the advantage of two older brothers to distract his parents.  I should have realized by now that I need to do *that* again, whatever *that* is (lock up the dog food, for instance, because Freddie is intent upon feeding Buster the ENTIRE CONTENTS of his food drawer every time I turn around and so help me God, I cannot stand another episode of dog flatulence in MY ROOM in the middle of the night).

Signs You’re Living With A Toddler:

The toilet paper in your bathroom has had the top twenty yards unrolled and then rerolled recently.

Toothbrushes are scattered throughout the house and most of them look like they’ve been used to brush the dog’s fur.

Does is smell like poop in your house?  Or at least in one room?  You can’t tell anymore, but your guests always wrinkle their noses upon entering your home.

Mouthfuls of food are seemingly dropped at random, leaving a disgusting Hansel-and-Gretel-like trail to follow, the end of which is NOT a gingerbread house, but rather a small person who somehow gained access to a stash of peanut butter pretzels.

It requires advanced knowledge of lock-picking to access any of the toddler-proofed cabinets, especially where you store the alcohol.

Toddler-proofing the alcohol supply seemed legit at the time, but has turned into the worst idea ever.  You’re basically brain dead at the end of the bedtime routine, so gaining access to the liquor cabinet is of the utmost importance and also has turned into a bizarre Olympic event with one spouse straining to de-childproof the damn lock and the other spouse alternately whispering encouragement and offering criticism, neither of which is well-received.

There are smudgy fingerprints all over your glasses… and your walls… and your windows.

If you lose focus on your child for five seconds to do some important dinner preparation, the child will vanish, only to reappear at the top of the stairs with several pairs of your panties and a bra on his head.

Your shoulders are like an abstract art installation that is also a visual history of what your child had to eat today.

Your child prefers to eat all meals sitting in the middle of the dining table, digging his hands directly into the bowl of spaghetti or cauliflower or salad.

Your daily physical fitness routine consists of bending over to pick up the truck/cup/bowl/paper/ball that was tossed on the floor a second ago with an insufferably cute “uh-oh!” but is now vital for the continued existence of the universe.

It’s always loud.  Until it is quiet, and then you just know that someone small has discovered where you hide the Band-Aids and is busy covering himself with them.

Nothing in the whole damn world is as sweet as that littler person laying his head on your shoulder for a snuggle, wrapping his sticky fists in your hair.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Yes, We Will Talk of Poop

I do not understand why “potty humor” is humorous, but let me tell you, my kids understand.  I have come to accept it, and I think that’s all we can really expect of this poor, outnumbered soul (ME) whose days are filled with fart noises and peeing contests (their favorite thing is to cross the streams while peeing into the same toilet or onto the same patch of grass – it always makes me think of Ghostbusters).

 

In addition to the funny stuff, we have many serious discussions about poop in our house.  Did you go today?  Does it hurt when you go?  Are you done yet?  (Honestly, WHY does it take the male half of the human race SO LONG?  Do they want to hang out with their own stink for half an hour?)  Since this summer presented my children with some constipation issues (not enough water, among other things), we have been militant about fiber and water consumption and as a parent, I’ve been on a crusade to make it all work out, so to speak.  We’ve seen the chiropractor, the kids take supplements, and then there’s this:

 

 

Each person in our family now poops with a stool under his or her feet (with the exception of Freddie, for obvious reasons), and I can assure you that the whole process is much faster and better.  The problem, of course, is that one of my children is too short for his feet to touch the ground in a public restroom and is no longer willing to poop without a stool. 

 

So guess what?  I get to be the stool.

 

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I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve had to kneel on the floor in a public bathroom stall just so my kid can poop happily.  If that’s not a mother’s love, I don’t know what is.

 

I did, recently, find one poop experience funny: I had made some beet salad and was enjoying it when Freddie reached for some.  I let him try it, thinking that I would be treated to another of his “what the hell, mom?” faces, but instead he started shoveling in pieces of vinegar-soaked beets hand over fist until my lunch was gone (another example of maternal love: foregoing lunch for one’s tiny monsters).  We all know what beets look like, umm, later, so I warned Tony not to be surprised (spoiler: he was surprised).  After dinner, in a shocking display of good timing (for me), I left the boys to bounce off the walls together (I used to think that was just an expression, but oh no – it’s literal) while I ran an errand.  When I came back, there were purple spots all over the carpet, along with rags and carpet cleaner just waiting for a break in the action to be used (or, more likely, waiting for me to come home and deal with it).  Turns out the beets went right through Freddie and the resulting, fiber-rich movement could not be contained by his diaper.  I know I shouldn’t laugh at my husband’s distress, but I couldn’t help imagining him wandering around the house, wondering why on earth there was purple shit all over the floor.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Detritus of My Brain

Here are a few odds and ends of late:

 

Tony’s birthday was yesterday, but despite his best effort to be enthusiastic about his gift (a T-shirt for him that says “Sleep Deprived” paired with a onesie for Freddie that says “Sleep Depriver”), it was an utter disaster and we’re staging a re-do tonight.  You see, my dear husband was sick yesterday.  Violently ill is not something anyone wants to be on their birthday, so we’re planning the steak dinner and candles in the chocolate chip cookies for tonight.  I think maybe he doesn’t much care about birthdays anyway, but the kids and I do.

 

***

 

Charles and Jamie have been working on their Christmas lists all year long.  Their most-desired items:

  • A rocket launcher
  • Night-vision goggles
  • A jet pack
  • A skateboard
  • Rocket shoes

 

I’m thinking there’s going to be some disappointment on Christmas morning.

 

***

 

We were at dinner the other night, talking about robots (as one does).  Jamie had been on a big trip with Grandpa Roger to pick up a large toolbox at Harbor Freight Tools for my business.  He got to watch the forklift unload the toolbox and was super excited about all of the new tools and claimed that he was going to go to the office to build a robot with all of those new tools.  Charles was excited at this prospect, too, until Jamie exclaimed, “Yep, and my robot will pick you up and put you in the garbage!”  Best purpose for a robot ever.

 

***

 

We have an Elf on the Shelf named Cheese (curse you, Liz, for starting this time-intensive tradition).  Much like Toy Story, the damned elf comes “alive” every night and encourages lying to my children in the name of Christmas.  They love the fucking thing.  Most nights he just moves from place to place throughout the house, but since this is the first holiday season in a LOOOOONG time that hasn’t been plagued by illness, pregnancy, hospitalization, or a major business event, I’ve started to get a bit more creative.  Thankfully, I have boys, so if Cheese the Elf’s antics reflect my disdain for the added stress of creating elaborate scenes for an inanimate object, they think it’s hilarious.  Pretty soon, the Elf will devolve to drinking whiskey with a straw.  Cheese was already strung up in Spiderman’s web (dental floss) the other night; even our other toys are already tired of Cheese’s shit, and it’s only December 2nd.

 

***

 

I continue to amaze myself with the words that come out of my mouth.  A few recent gems:

 

“Don’t sit on your brother’s face!”

“Don’t lick your shoe!”

“No, you may not pour syrup on the dog!”

 

***

 

My life is so glamorous.  The other night, as the kids were winding down before bed, I curled up in the recliner with a book.  Charles climbed in with me to snuggle and read his own book.  Just as I was thinking, “Ahh, this is so nice, the two of us snuggling and reading together,” he farted on me.  Loud and STINKY, I had to abandon my perch quickly or risk passing out.  Charles laughed uproariously.  Tony lectured him that farting on people is rude (speaking of conversations that I didn’t think we’d ever have: that bit or politeness seemed self-evident), but just as I began to breathe normally again, Charles came over, apologized, then FARTED AGAIN and laughed like he was the funniest person on the planet.  I screamed and began to asphyxiate on the indescribable stench – I swear, that kid can compete with the stupid dog for a stinky flatulence award, and if you have a dog, then you know how bad dog farts can be.  Then I promptly sent him to bed so as to confine the reek to his room.  Poor Jamie.  His dreams were undoubtedly noxious that night.