So, the thing is... nothing ever turns out the way you think it's going to turn out.

Wednesdays are normally my night off. My husband single-parents the kids while I go work out or meet a friend for dinner or simply go sit in my car and take a little nap. But LAST Wednesday, Austin had a rare winter weather advisory. We were actually prepared for one to three inches of snow! It might actually accumulate! In the eighteen years I have lived in Austin, it has snowed about three times. Each time the entire city shut down --all the schools were closed, the roads were impassable (or at least it was inadvisable to drive on them since most Austin drivers are unfamiliar with snow and ice), commerce ground to a halt. The whole city stayed home and we drank hot chocolate and unearthed snow-related paraphernalia from our attics (and our youths) and went out in the streets with our children. It was wonderful.

Anyway, snow is a rare occurrence and we simply love the stuff so we were very excited, as you might imagine. It really looked like we might get some real winter weather. My husband took our three-year-old Ana and went to the pet store to get dog food, and to the grocery store to make sure we had stuff to make chili. (I think it's a law that you have to make chili if it snows in Austin. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.) We coaxed some food into the kids, and managed to keep Jane (13 months) out of the fireplace, where we actually had our first fire of the season! Meanwhile, we were winter-proofing fast and furiously-- bringing all the plants in and wrapping our pipes and putting coverings on the shrubs we thought might be damaged by the cold. It was a level of chaos at a higher pitch than even our NORMAL level of chaos.

And then, the bulldog showed up.

Seriously. In one of those "this could only happen in MY life" moments, suddenly there was this 45 pound lost bulldog snuffling at our door. He wasn't just hanging around our yard. Oh no, he started SCRATCHING at our front door, ready to come in! We tried to call the phone number on his collar (despite the fact that it was out-of state number and probably not very helpful) but the line was busy. So we give him food and water but we couldn't let him in because he has some kind of intestinal distress evident (don't ask) and we were afraid he'd give it to our dog, who was already fairly stressed by his presence. (Not to mention potentially giving the cat a heart attack.) The bulldog kept crying to come in, I kept dialing and then he went on his way.

That night, as we were going to bed, my husband suddenly started to laugh. "Nothing is ever the way we expect it to be," he said. "I mean, how much more different could tonight have been from what I THOUGHT it was going to be? I thought you were going to that scrap-booking thing and I was going to have the girls to myself. Instead, we ended up running around like crazy getting ready for this storm and trying to keep the kids from killing themselves and in the middle of everything, out of nowhere, a bulldog showed up on our doorstep. I mean, of COURSE it did!" We just cracked up laughing. Now our catch phrase whenever our plans go awry is "And THEN, the bulldog showed up!"

Needless to say, we got absolutely NO snow and nothing was closed and we didn't even get to make chili. I was so incensed that I woke my spouse up at 5:00 AM to tell him he had to go to work AS USUAL in the morning. (He was grateful to be notified. You bet.) We felt cheated, we got over it and life went on.

So, this past weekend, which was rainy but not even cold (not that I'm bitter), my husband and I sat down and made our December to-do list. It's a long one, as you might imagine, given the holidays and shopping and baking and decorating. I mapped out my column schedule and got pretty excited that I had enough ideas in advance to actually assign them weeks! I mapped out a game plan for preparing for my trip to see my best friend, during which the kids and their dad will be keeping the home fires burning (so to speak since it's 70 degrees here. Not that I'm bitter.) We got really organized, in other words. We had a Plan.

And then on Monday, the Bulldog showed up.

While out running errands and just feeling so darn EFFICIENT, I slammed my hand in the door of our Explorer and broke my index finger in two places.

Well, you know how I like to try to take some sort of lesson away from these kinds of events? I just really feel the need to find some sort of deeper meaning in every event of my life, some sign that if things aren't exactly going according to MY plan, there is some greater power at work with a greater plan, you know? Well, here's what I learned:

I learned that breaking your finger hurts like hell.

It really does! I hate to whine but it HURTS! OUCH! I want my MOMMY!

I also learned that my husband can make it from one end of town to the other in about eight minutes when he gets a distress call. I learned that you can use a disposable diaper as a tourniquet while you're waiting for the minor emergency clinic staff to see you. I learned that I don't really have a lot of faith in the doctors at this minor emergency clinic, given that they had to make my splint out of some stuff they had just laying around.

And I learned that I really need my index finger to do a lot of things --like changing diapers and unbuttoning my jeans and, unfortunately, typing. So I guess the point of THIS column, other than to serve as a warning to you to not get in such a hurry that you hurt yourself, is to let you know that I probably won't be writing another one until some time in early January, unless something miraculous happens.

May you have a joyous holiday season and hold those dearest to you tightly. May you slow down enough to enjoy yourself --especially if you live in a snowy climate! And may you find peace and a sense of humor in the midst of all the chaos, even when the Bulldog shows up. Because really, we have a choice. We can let the season stress and stretch us until we are worn to a frazzle, or we can let the absurdity of our world wash over us like laughter while we rediscover what's really important.

And you know, if a strange bulldog DOES appear at your door, maybe you should let him in!


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(c) Barbara Cooper 2001

Barbara Cooper is the mother of Ana (3.75) and Jane (13 months). She lives in Austin, Texas where strange bulldogs are more frequent than snowstorms.