Tales of a stealth mom

I heard a story on Morning Edition on NPR today that made me think, for the first time, that being an FBI agent might be an awful lot like being a mother.

The story was on “Tac Ops,” or tactical operations, which involves bugging, searching, or otherwise legally creeping around people’s homes and offices to gather information. The interview, which you can find here, featured an author who had interviewed these operatives and found out how they go about their covert business.

The mom/FBI Agent connection came near the end of the story, where the poorly timed death of an agent in the middle of an operation was detailed. What happened was the poor man died from heart failure in the middle of an oriental rug in a foreign embassy, with the resultant unfortunate mess that often occurs to the human body when it expires.

The creative operatives rolled up the rug and whisked it to an all-night D.C. cleaners, who promptly returned it to a more pristine state. It was, however, still wet. The agents solved that immediately — they simply painted a faux water stain on the ceiling directly above the wet carpet.

This is the kind of ingenuity we mothers with damp, smelly children have been employing since our water broke.

What mother of diapered dozens doesn’t have a cache of wipies in her bag, or even purse? These things could conquer the world. I remember another woman telling me once they’re even perfect for cleaning ceiling fans. Spit-up, leaking diaper contents, actual bottom clean up: there’s not much these things can’t do. Hail the Huggie wipe.

Another amusing tidbit about the tac-op agents was their bag of goodies they bring along. Say they have to move something on a desk, disturbing the dust pattern that had accumulated since the criminals departed. No problem-o. They bring their own dust. Think about that a minute: they travel with dirt so that they can put a room back to rights after they’ve gone over it with a fine-tooth comb for evidence. I once heard dust referred to by a particularly harried mother as the “protective coating” on her furniture. I’d love to know if there’s any way you can test for the authenticity of a room’s dust. We know (via This is Spinal Tap) that you can’t dust for vomit. I wonder if you can dust for dust.

The bag of tricks also apparently includes small, high-powered vacuum cleaners, to suck up the evidence that walls were penetrated to hide bugs, and some sort of high-tech paint-matching chemicals, for smoothing over the destruction of hiding things in people’s walls.

At home, the Stealth Mom merely moves a recliner or love seat and bam! all evidence of a toddler’s creativity after finding a deep-blue Sharpie is erased. Or say an actual bug or spider met his demise halfway up the dining-room wall. Well, that painting would look better on that wall anyway, now wouldn’t it?

I’m reminded of the old Flintstones cartoon, which featured Wilma in a failed attempt to hang a picture on the stone wall of her Bedrock hut. Predictably, the wall cracked in all directions the instant she hammered in the nail. No problem; Wilma the FBI Agent/Mother immediately painted leaves and flowers along the cracks, creating a unique mural that enhanced her lovely home.

Perhaps the Stealth Mom/FBI agent tie isn’t so surprising, come to think of it. After all, moms are women, aren’t we? Hear us roar! Even if we’re slumping around the house, picking up after children in our jammies or sweat pants, inside all of us are June Cleaver in pearls, daintily following the vacuum cleaner in high heels. I seem to recall rumors that J. Edgar Hoover enjoyed the same sort of attire.

Isn’t that darling? The FBI is one of us.

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There’s an alien in my bathroom

That is all. Enjoy your Friday.

I scream like a girl

Unfortunately the Chez Soileau small-animal problem is continuing and, I am sad to report, has resulted in some uncharacteristic behavior on my part. Specifically, I stood on a tall kitchen chair wearing minuscule, high-heeled ankle-strap pumps (possibly with bows) and screamed for 45 minutes.

OK, it wasn’t a mouse and actually, I was wearing flats — but that’s not the point. One of the adorable rodents living high on the hog in my front garden and beneath the back deck has moved into my garage.

Now chipmunks, exposed and in the daylight, are not scary at all. In fact, they’re laughably benign, except where their garden-gnawing is concerned. But put one of these scampering suckers in a dark garage and you’ve got all the makings of full-on fright.

Take last Sunday. I descended into the garage via the three or four wooden, rail-less stairs. We’ve got a motion-sensor light in there, so usually the first step or two is in the dark. Such was the case on Sunday. Between step two and three, however, roughly at the exact time the light was going on, a scrabbling, scratching scurrying occurred right beneath my feet. That’s when I did it.

I screamed. I did. I screamed like a girl.

Tras, who was right behind me, seized my left arm in a manly grip. On the way to said grip, he managed to scratch a good-sized hole out of my left thumb. (OK, the mere term “scratch” more accurately describes this wound.) All this was in service to his dear wife, whom he thought had lost her footing and was about to plummet head-first two feet down the stairs and into a large bag of hair.

“I’m OK!” I shrieked, beginning the tippy-toe dance absolutely everyone does when confronted with scrabbly, scurrying animals. “It’s one of those damn chipmunks!”

This information sent young Trassie caroming back to my side from the further reaches of the garage on his way to the back seat of the car. “It’s all right, sweetie-pie,” I said. “He’s not going to hurt us. I’m all right. I was just …. surprised.”

This led to some not-so-muffled snickers from the Two Trasimonds.

But it also dislodged a confession from the elder of the two; appropriate since we were on our way to Mass. It seems he spent a semester living with a friend at another university while he took a semester or two off from his.

Like your typical slovenly college males, they lived in squalor in a trailer. One afternoon, what should emerge from a pile of some dank underwear (or maybe it was something else, I forget) but a large rat. The buddy, hilariously, immediately hopped up on a chair and began squealing like the aforementioned little girl.

What makes this story, though, is the conclusion. Upon seeing his friend, Tras started pointing and laughing hysterically at him for his girlie-girl behavior … right up until the time he noticed that he, himself, had leaped off the floor and onto the couch in his own girlie-girl spasm of rat-fright.

So this morning I’m walking down into the garage, wondering again if we still have our onerous little visitor. I pause at the landing. I cup a hand to my ear. And what should I hear but an audible, extremely distinct PLOP from somewhere near the garage door. And then the tell-tale scrabbling.

“THAT THING’S STILL OUT THERE!” I holler toward the other end of the house. “I CAN’T HEAR YOU” comes the reply.

Uggggggh. I punched the button on the garage-door opener, realizing that if the little bastard is indeed in the garage, the noise of the door going up is going to drive him back into the recesses of the garage, where he can hole up in the boat or, more probably, the bag of hair.

What happened next is something that makes me grateful that The Truman Show was a movie and not even remotely likely to occur in real life … that millions of people are daily tuned into The Ellen Show and laughing mercilessly at my ridiculous behavior.

“SHOO,” said I to the vicinity under the boat trailer. “Go away you ratty little chipmunk. Get. G’won, git. Git outta my garage, ya hear?”

In times of pique, I usually revert to talking like Granny Clampett.

I stomped further into the garage, opened the door of the Prius, slid behind the wheel and began backing out. And that’s when I noticed it.

The passenger side window. It was open.

Open. Open all night. In the garage. Where the chipmunk(s) was/were. One could be in this very Prius. Right this very minute.

Little girl? Check.

Scream? You know it.

As it turns out, jumping out of the car and doing the tippy-toe run around the vehicle doesn’t deter rodents any better than it scares away boogiemen who may or may not be creeping around the house when everyone else is in bed.

Further, running in a circle with your hands up in the hair going, “get out of the car you disgusting vermin!” probably wouldn’t flush any disgusting vermin out either. But then opening the trunk and slamming your hand down on the floor certainly doesn’t hurt your chances of dislodging them either.

Not that I would know, of course.

A plethora of tornadic activity

We interrupt your regularly scheduled blog today for an update from the National Weather Service. There is a tornado WARNING in effect for the area directly above your head.

Well, maybe not directly, but that’s just what it feels like when you’re in the middle of a storm and suddenly herded into the basement. In my case, the basement in question was beneath the Cathedral and I was surrounded by about a thousand middle school students.

OK, so it only sounds like a thousand in a basement hallway after we’ve been sitting on the hard linoleum floor for 45 minutes.

But yes — this morning Tras and I were innocently attending Mass, which incidentally was the day that the middle schoolers at the parish school also had Mass. Blissfully singing along, we were — when abruptly the piano trailed off and Father announced, “There’s a tornado warning — let’s all head to the basement!”

When a Man of God speaks, you listen.

So we all trailed downstairs, speaking only in hushed, are-we-gonna-die tones. The children were instructed to sit in the hallway along the wall and, being a good Catholic school veteran myself (although my experience was directly with Catholic School Nuns) I did obediently sit along the wall with them. I yanked Tras down to the floor with me; he, being a newly minted Catholic, wasn’t quite as responsive to instructions from Catholic-school teachers.

It wasn’t our first foray into the basement this tornado season. Last Friday, the first Tornado Warning was issued for our county — a situation about which we were blissfully unaware until I received a telephone call from my mother.

An Aside

This wasn’t the first time I’d gotten a Tornado Warning from Mom. About 15 years ago, the phone rang around 11 o’clock at night. I was already in bed, exhausted from spending the day at the Oaks, which is (for the non-Kentuckians among us) the race for fillies the day before the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.

Oaks has become a tradition in Louisville as a more sedate day at the races than the Derby, which brings out millionaires and mouthbreathers alike for a day of partying at the Downs. Still, I’d spent a day dressed up and drinking mint julips; I was whipped.

Then, the phone. It was my mother’s voice, and when you hear  your mother’s voice when you’ve been awakened from a deep sleep, it sounds something like the Voice of God. In this case, the Voice said, “Get in the bathtub, Ellen. There’s a tornado headed right for your house!”

The bathtub instruction was added because, at the time, I was living in a house without a basement. But no matter, The Voice had instructed me to get to the bathroom, and get I did. Springing from bed and grabbing baby Claire (now 16) from her crib, I launched myself toward the bathroom. I don’t think I became fully conscious until I was almost in the tub itself.

Back to Last Friday

So anyway, Friday evening Mom again calls, this time with less panic-inducing instructions, which were to turn on the TV and listen to what they were saying. We were again under a tornado warning. Still the dutiful daughter, I complied, and we all sat around listening to the weatherman tell us about the incomprehensible radar information appearing on the screen, which was indicative of tornadic activity.

Now, I’ve heard the word “tornado” and experienced “tornado” first-hand since I was a small fry; I did, after all, live through the Super Outbreak that occurred throughout the midwest and southeast in April 1974. But in all that time, I’ve never heard it referred to as “tornadic activity,” and the term strikes me as frighteningly hilarious and ridiculously verbose.

Indeed, why have a tornado when you can have “tornadic activity”? Tornadic, tornadic, tornadic. My son Christopher remarked with a completely straight face, “I can honestly say I have never heard that word until today.” Me neither, son.

So when Tornadic Activity Weatherman announced Friday evening that the hot-zone for the aforementioned tornadics was between the two very roads which bound my subdivision, I herded my offspring, plus one visiting friend, down to the basement for some quality time with the basketball hoop, toy cars and swing.

No such luck this morning, when all I had to entertain me was Tras, the iPhone and some random middle-schoolers. As Tras and I updated the moving weather map on our Weather Bug apps, the girls sitting next to me wanted to know if I liked to shop. (What is it, tattooed on my forehead or something? Sheesh.)

They also asked if I had any cool apps — a rather non-so-subtle hint that they’d just love to get their textie little fingers on my phone, I’m sure — so I showed them the face melter.

They are cute girls, as you can see, even before I melted their faces. They quickly became bored with making polite chit-chat with somebody’s mom they didn’t really know, and went back to drawing on the paper the teachers provided. After a bit, they trooped reluctantly upstairs for school; we rejoined Father in the church after an hour-long gap in morning Mass. Soon we were back outdoors, which still seemed to contain most of Lexington.

Looking at the weather systems brewing west of here, I have a feeling this isn’t the end of the week’s tornadic activity. But maybe if I just say it repeatedly, I’ll scare all tornadic everything away. It’s scared me enough already.