Maria Stuart

Maria Stuart
Howell, Michigan, USA
February 17
Maria Stuart is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer. She lives in Michigan with her husband, their teenage son, and Ted, the hyper labradoodle who keeps her from sitting at the computer too long. You can check out her website at or Follow @mariastuart on Twitter.


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APRIL 30, 2009 2:30PM

Life after newspapers, part 3: Varmints, romance, accidents

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All I could think about last week was Saturday night. My husband and I had a big date planned — dinner and a movie —to celebrate our 23rd wedding anniversary. Our 9-year-old son would spend the night at his grandmother’s; after all, who knows how late we’d be out or what other magic the night might hold?

It’s been a long time since my husband and I have gone out for an evening alone. Our differing work schedules enabled us to take great care of our son, and for that we’re thankful — he is, after all, the source of light and energy around which his parents revolve — but I can’t tell you the last movie my husband and I saw together. While I was working, we’d occasionally grab lunch, but we’ve not had dinner together during the week — let alone a date — in a long, long time.

This is also a pivotal point in my life. After nearly two decades as a newspaper reporter and editor, I’ve joined the ranks of the unemployed, folks whose jobs were “eliminated” to help keep their employer afloat. While I understand the move — this is after all, a horrible time for the newspaper industry — being unemployed is taking some getting used to. Things are different at home — not bad, but different, a big shaking up of the status quo — and it feels like my husband and I are renegotiating our lives.

Against this backdrop, I looked at Saturday night as a chance to reconnect with my husband; however, the road to our big anniversary date would be a bumpy one.

Earlier that week, I was in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, when I heard what sounded like someone walking above my head on the second floor. My husband was driving our son to school, so I knew I was home alone.

Or was I?

“Hello?” I called out.


I shrugged, chalking up the sound as an auditory hallucination. Then came the sound again, but this time it was in the exterior wall of the bathroom. I pounded on the wall and heard something inside moving about.

“Varmints,” I hissed, like Yosemite Sam tracking Bugs Bunny.

Outside, I discovered that part of the under-eave soffit of my old bungalow had pulled away from the roof. Something was living — or trying to live — where it didn’t belong and where it certainly wasn’t welcome.

Now, it’s not unusual in these parts for creatures to take up residence in odd places. My next-door neighbor had a family of raccoons living in her attic for a while. We spent a couple days trapping a chipmunk that had slipped inside our house when the back door was open. A demented squirrel terrorized my sister’s house for a couple scary days; it actually clung to her window screens and hissed at her. Years ago, one of my reporters had a hive of bees inside a wall.

So, why not varmints in my roof?

I found someone to take a look the next day.

“Starlings,” the repair guy said. “These birds got to go.” He removed the nest from the space between the siding and the roof and fixed the damage.

To celebrate the good ending to my varmint problem, I sat down to a cup of my own “fancy coffee,” made by mixing the frothy brew from my Senseo one-cup coffee maker and adding stove-warmed milk: Coffee-house style latte at a price even an unemployed journalist like me can enjoy.

Seeing me drink coffee jolted my husband’s memory.

“I forgot to tell you,” he said. “They’ve recalled your coffee pot. Something about the boiler possibly blowing up.”

He handed me the information he received in an e-mail, which included a number I had to call.

Now, as weird as it sounds, I love that coffee pot. It’s the second one I’ve owned, after wearing out the first. I use it at least three times a day, more when I’m writing. At the risk of sounding dramatic, being without it at this point in my life seems cruel. When the woman answering the Senseo hotline told me to unplug my beloved coffee pot immediately and quit using it, that in six to eight weeks I’d receive a replacement, I reacted like a brat.

“Six to eight weeks? I can’t wait six to eight weeks,” I whined. “I live in Michigan and I just lost my job. I NEED MY FANCY COFFEE. Please, isn’t there something someone can do to speed up the process?”

The woman at Senseo central took my name and number and promised a supervisor would call as soon as possible.

The next day, my husband picked our son up from school. They arrived home with an ominous note: It seems there was a case of head lice in my kid’s class. The note told us what to look for and what to do in case we found that our fourth-grader was infested.

Each day leading up to the weekend, I inspected my son’s hair and scalp: Nothing out of the ordinary. I did a final check of my kid’s head on Saturday and sent him to his grandmother’s with my conscience clear.

Finally out alone, my husband and I had a wonderful dinner. He ordered a frozen margarita and I had a glass of red wine. We talked and laughed our way through a wonderful, multi-course dinner. Then we saw the charming “Sunshine Cleaning” at the local cineplex.

As I always do, I checked my cell phone for missed calls. There was an agitated message reporting that a few things resembling sesame seeds were spotted in my son’s hair.

We fetched our son from his grandmother’s. Sure enough, head lice. I have no explanation as to how I missed them, except to theorize that the nits hatched sometime between my final examination and the end of the movie.

My husband made a late-night run to the drug store for special shampoo and lice combs. I spent the remainder of my romantic anniversary evening picking varmints from my kid’s hair.

The next day, I took my kid outside and shaved his head. It was the only way to get all the nits. Sighing as I washed bedding in hot water and sealed pillows in plastic to kill the nits, I thought that things couldn’t get much weirder.

I was wrong.

On the day marking the one-month anniversary of me losing my job after nearly two decades at the local newspaper, I accompanied my husband to pick our son up from school, an easy enough task, I figured. Little did I know that my husband approaches rides to and from school with the seriousness and precision of a stealth military operation, timed out to the second.

“We’re not going to make it if you don’t hit the next exit by 3:28,” he said, looking worriedly at his watch as we cruised toward the school on the freeway. “The bell will ring at 3:45 and I like to do the sign-out sheet in the office to avoid the parents in the gym.”

So I sped it up a bit, and we made the next exit a whole minute ahead of schedule. Mission accomplished.

When we hit the school parking lot, my husband showed me where to park in order to get in and out ahead of the buses.

“It’s a nightmare if you get stuck behind the buses,” he warned before bounding into the building as I kept the engine running. He reappeared exactly nine minutes later with our son in tow. He climbed into the front seat and my son opened the back door directly behind me.

I surveyed the long line of buses waiting for their passengers. My husband nodded toward them. “Get ready,” he said as he fastened his seat belt. “Now, go. GO. GO. We’ve got to beat the buses.”

As I eased the car forward I heard a thud and then a cry. I slammed on the brakes. There was my son, the one I thought was safely belted into the back seat, sprawled instead in a big puddle, crying, his backpack on the asphalt beside him.

“YOU. RAN. OVER. MY. FOOT,” he said loudly between sobs. “It hurts. Are you trying to kill me?”

The heads of the other parents in the parking lot turned in our direction. “Look at her,” I imagined them saying. “It’s the editor from the paper, the one who got let go. First she shaved the poor kid’s head. Now she’s gone crazy and is trying to kill that poor little boy.”

“Are you OK,” I asked my son.

He nodded through his tears as he pulled himself out of the puddle. “I can walk,” he said. “I’m OK. Just get me home.”

After he got himself into the back seat, we took off, though by now we were stuck behind the buses, punishment from a vengeful school parking lot god, I am sure.

At home, I examined my kid’s foot. It was fine; a little sore, he said, but none too worse for the run-over. The next day, my husband picked our son up by himself.

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Oh, joy. Love the writing. Hope you're catching up on some good books while you job-hunt. :)
Oh dear. How did your son manage to miss getting in the car?
Ouch. I sympathize, having gone through the head lice thing last year. Haven't run over my son yet. But any day now I'm sure. I did finally wean myself off my espresso machine. It just cost too much to maintain. The price of a new coffee maker every year just to get it cleaned. I recommend those one cup bodum french press things. Not as good, but just a strong.
Hi, Gwendolyn – I’ve got a stack of books waiting. Currently, I am scrambling to get through “Julie and Julia” before the movie comes out.

AshKW – Knowing my son, I’d bet he was singing to himself when he opened the car door and that something a lot more interesting than getting in the car caught his attention. The new SOP is that he enter the back seat from the passenger side so I can see him better.

Hi, Juliet – I hope you are spared the shame of running over your kid! I’ll think about a French press after this coffee pot wears out – but I’ll need a teapot then, won’t I? I don’t have a lot of vices in my life, but a great cup of coffee/latte is one thing that I hate to do without.
Very funny, and simply pathotic!

Good luck with the time off (enjoy it!), and its ending when you want it to.
So...I guess your husband gets to keep the chauffeur job?

Very cute.

French Press, use lots of coffee (I love mine.) You might want to try a cheap stove top espresso too, (get stainless steel though)--the results aren't as creamy as a machine, but pretty good anyway.
Loved your post. Great writing. Learned something from the comments. Shite, you're supposed to get fancy espresso machines *cleaned"?
Starlings?! Those are such wonderful, underappreciated birds. The Jays always pick on them.
Heavens to Betsy. You don't need my advice, but that husband of yours either needs to drive the car himself or be quiet. Your poor little son, but these things do happen. Good luck and great writing.
Hello, LuluandPhoebe! I’ve got “My Life in France” on my list. Having time to read (and write) is a real upside to not having a job. Wonder if I can pay my electric bill with old paperbacks!

ConnieMack, I’m not sure I want this time to end. There just seems to be something so wrong about spending so much time working, away from the action of real life. But this is me talking after being off only a month.

Hi, Without a Paddle. I saw one of those stovetop espresso pots in a catalog. It’s hard to believe it can make a good cup, but I’m willing to give it a try. The ones I’ve seen have been aluminum, so I’ll keep my eye out for a stainless steel one. At this point, I don’t even care how much they cost – I NEED MY FANCY COFFEE!

MamaLou, I am glad you learned something from Juliet’s somment. I’m finding there’s a lot to learn from her blog, too.

Hey, Shaggylocks! The repair guy really underappreciates starlings. Me? I’m just happy to have them in a location from which I can appreciate them better.

Latethink, thanks for the good wishes. I think this incident points out the problem and perils of too many distractions when people are in a moving vehicle. We were focusing on the wrong things at the wrong time. Thank goodness we were crawling along in a crowded school parking lot, not zooming along a highway. Maybe this will help Michigan decide on a mass transit plan!
What a vivid recount of your week...and yuck big time on the lice, that is one that always makes me squirm. I think many people assume that the transition from working mom to at home is an easy one, like we were meant to be there all the time and just didn't know it and now should be so thankful. I don't think you can under estimate the bumpy road that this transition often takes -whether it is done by choice or by layoff. Here's hoping for a better week!
Nothing like head lice to suck the romance out of an anniversary, huh?

You're writing is very inviting and enticing. I look forward to reading more.
People have no idea how losing one's job can lead to varmints, head lice, the loss of a coffee maker, and then result in running over one's child. If they did, fewer people would be fire, I am sure.

Hi, mamoore (and fellow Michigander). You put your finger on something I hadn’t thought of, about the difficulty in transitioning from full-time work for a big company to full-time work at home. It’s different, that’s for sure. Thanks for your wishes for a better week – I am praying for the same.

Beth, thanks for the kind words.

Lisa, I guess I could be the poster child for what happens when mom loses her job!

Hi, Brian B. Thanks for the diagnosis. It’s pretty spot on.
I'm sorry, I shouldn't be laughing so hard.... but you write about your trials and tribulations so entertainingly.

(Did you also laugh and cry over Anne of Green Gables and her scrapes when you were approximately 12? This is like reading about Anne all grown up, but in more modern times.)

I remember the head lice, too (many years ago), but I had a daughter and never would have considered shaving her head.

However, as a teenager, she did so many times, leaving a fringe of bangs in the front; she also died it many lurid shades. Thankfully, there were no piercings or tattoos.

I wish you all of the very best luck & good fortune in sorting out your work situation. You are in good company here at O_S, among others who are also unemployed, as well as some who still currently work at newspapers, or once did.
Great writing! Hope your son's foot is okay!
Hello, ktm: I've never thought of myself as Anne of Green Gables! That makes me smile. Thanks for the warm welcome. I am finally figuring out how OS works and I'm fascinated with and awed by all the great writers here. And your daughter sounds like a most interesting person.

junk1 -- My son's foot is just fine. It has the faintest hint of a bruise, and he's using it to his best advantage, as all good 9-year-olds would.
Wonderful story. And I'm truly sad about the newspapers. I only lost half my job. I can handle that but what's the deal with Senseo? That's another story. I hadn't heard about a recall and I, too, am on my second one. I'm off to find the hotline number...
My daughter got lice last year & it was horrible! She came back from my ex-mother-in-law's with a total infestation! I still can't figure out how she didn't see them while putting my daughter's hair in a pony?!
I am so sorry but I had to laugh as I read about you running your son's foot over. I'm sure I wouldn't have laugh had I been there, but the way you told the story I just couldn't resist!
Hey, Maria.
This is the third time I have tried to post a comment. Hope it takes. I believe I have also registered three times, and now have three logins, with three passwords. I am running out of identities.

Hilarious story--and I'm loving the experience of reading Maria Unbound. A different tone and tenor than Maria Constrained. Let's do breakfast. Fancy coffee's on me.