What do you mean my hair is on fire?

I seem to have a knack for setting stuff on fire lately! Which is relaxing for everyone.

Last night my mom complained that the light by her bed was too bright -- she's had a bare 100-watt bulb hovering over her right shoulder for maybe two years now, so I said, Hmm, let me see what I can do about that!

You know that scene in Annie Hall where he puts a scarf over the lightbulb for "a hint of old New Orleans"? (Really, that was the first thing that popped into my head. To turn my mom's house into an old-age bordello.) No, but the only thing handy was a pile of white washcloths so I folded one in half and balanced it on top of the bulb, thinking that if I could sort of leave half of the bulb uncovered the washcloth wouldn't, you know, get too hot. Right?

"Something's burning!" my mom called from the bedroom while I was off chatting with my brother about where we could buy a lampshade.

"What's she saying?" I said to Chris. He shrugged. I sauntered down the hall to find smoke streaming upward from her lamp. I ran in and grabbed the washcloth off the lamp and then ran back down the hall to drown it in the kitchen sink. The house, as you can imagine, smelled fantastic after I'd spread the smell of burnt cotton from one end to the other.

"We can bleach that out," said Chris. The thrifty one.

"We can throw it out," I said, showing him the giant hole in the center of the washcloth. Then I went and got a brand new lamp from my dad's old office and switched it out for the old bare-bulb lamp in my mom's room.

But I wasn't done setting shit on fire, oh no.

This afternoon I was making a late lunch out of an Archer Farms tikka masala kit I'd bought at Target. I had just set the rice on to boil when Jennifer, the home health aid who comes to bathe and change my mom three days a week, knocked on the door. So I took her back to my mom's room, put on some rubber gloves, and did my bit to help her out, which generally means teasing my mom, or wiggling my eyebrows, or drawing from my vast repertoire of child-distraction techniques*, anything to take her mind off the fact that she's lying there naked and wet and can't do a goddamn thing about it.

So we got through the whole hygiene routine and then put my mom back together cozy and dry, and I reassured her that yes, I'm still looking for the gray worsted yarn and needles she needs to finish the vest she's making for her father for Christmas (her dad died in 1970, whatever), and Jennifer went off to update my mom's status in the hospice notebook on the kitchen table. After looking under the bed several times and reassuring my mom that no, the yarn wasn't there, I came out to say goodbye to Jennifer and I go, "Hmm, what's that smell?" Smoke is pouring out of my rice pot, which I'd left not on simmer but on high when I'd gone to answer the door for Jennifer fifteen minutes earlier.

Repeat the opening windows and fanning around with dish towels and etc. from the night before.

I finally ate lunch at about 3:00 and my nose was running and the spices made my tongue hurt. I thought about saying something like "my tongue was on fire!" but I probably shouldn't push the fire theme that hard.

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* I neglected to mention that last Wednesday night I had to take Jackson to the emergency room.

Tuesday night he'd woken up with an ear ache and I'd given him some Motrin and told him to go back to sleep, thinking he'd just slept on it funny and got that weird achy ear-feeling you get sometimes, right? Kids, they're always faking it. But by dinnertime the next day he was still complaining about it, so I said, Come over here and let me take a look at it. And there, just above his right ear and just below the hairline, was a big black dot with little legs sticking out of it. Tick!

Tears, crying. Jack, tweezers. Walk-in clinic, closing. Emergency room, yay.

Did you know that the emergency room at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has free valet parking? And some really depressed guys who probably don't make much in tips waiting to take your car after you abandon it in order to carry your trembling child inside?

It turned out to be a good night to be in the ER, the only case in line before us was a highly articulate teenager with stomach cramps. Jackson was scared out of his mind, on account of the whole bug-burrowing-toward-his-brain thing. The nurse who checked us in gave him a teddy bear, which he held onto very tightly. We were assigned to an exam room. After the fourth curious nurse had come through Jackson said very quietly to me, "I don't want anyone else to look at my ear."

Eventually a kind of spindly young doctor came in, did a thorough exam with giant magnifying glasses, and gave me a choice: (a) I could pin my panicked little boy to the bed and let him have a go with a scalpel, or (b) I could let the dead tick head stay embedded in Jackson's skin and hope that his body just sloughed it off eventually.

"I PICK B," said Jackson.

The doctor clearly didn't think Jackson would cooperate. He said, "You could go either way. I was just searching on the Internet and found evidence to support either course of action." Doctors look for medical advice on the Internet? What, like Web M.D.? I took a moment to imagine him leaving snarky comments on an irritable bowel syndrome message board.

He left the room to let me think it over.

"Pick B," said Jackson. He put his hands in a prayer position. (Where the hell did he learn to do that?) "I'm begging you mom."

A nurse came in and put some numbing stuff on a cotton ball and then taped it to Jackson's head. "Let's make a break for it, mom. We can do it, I know we can. Please."

Make a break for it?

Then Jack called. I told him the choice the doctor had given me. I felt bad for Jackson, but, you know, LYME DISEASE. "Get the tick out of there," said Jack.

"This is the worst day of my life," said Jackson.

I don't really enjoy restraining a crying, squirming, begging child using my entire body weight, but I'll do it if I have to.

"Buddy, you have to stop moving, I have a needle right by your ear!" warned the doctor, who apparently has no experience in pediatrics.

"He's just using the needle to squirt numbing stuff on the tick," I whispered to Jackson, my face just inches from his. I told him to grab my thumb and squeeze it as hard as he could. Then I buckled my knees and made a crosseyed face. "Holy shit, what are you trying to do, break my finger?" You can always make Jackson laugh by swearing at him. He laughed and let go. We did that again, over and over, until the side of his head was completely numb. Squeeze, curse, release. Squeeze, curse, release. Doctor with needle -- poke, poke, poke. Squeeze, release. Scrape, scrape, pick, pick. Done.

"This is the best day of my life!" said Jackson as we waited for the valet to bring our car back around. He was practically trembling from relief and endorphins. He wouldn't shut up. I'd meant to give the parking guy the last five bucks I had, but I ended up giving it to Jackson instead to feed into the soda machine in the lobby -- and then, of course, I had to let Jackson keep the change. Dollar coins don't just fall out of trees, you know.