Found: The Pink Sleep

Yesterday's photo challenge was "Found," and I had all sorts of achy-sweet ideas for how to depict the finding of true love or inner strength or childlike happiness or... none of this happened.

Instead, Mike went up to Perth to see the The Desolation of Smaug with Chris and Nathan, to eat carnitas, and to visit his mother, since we hadn't been able to go at Christmas. Yes, it's a bummer that I can't go to the movies at the moment, especially when I had to see The Hobbit alone last year and ever since we'd been talking about how great it would be to see this installment together, but mumble mumble concurrent at-home bootleg screening forgive me Peter Jackson but I'm a crippled child and not getting to watch in 48 fps should be punishment enough mumble COUGH.

Mike's mom is - by all accounts including her own - impossible to shop for. I'm just glad her birthday is near Christmas so all of the futile brainstorming only comes once a year.

Still, I thought the gesture of a gift - now that she can't be put off by seeing the cost to ship something she doesn't like - would be better than no gift at all. Mike repeatedly assured me that this was completely wrong. Going against everything I've learned from popular TV shows, movies, and books, he kept insisting that sometimes the thought really doesn't count. Not that Mike's mom isn't grateful or loving, just that it would genuinely cause her more grief to have the unsuitable object in her home and knowing that perfectly good cash was wasted on it than to enjoy the sentiment behind it. (Shrug.)

But then I got An Idea. (Oh Dear.)

Back when I was teaching in Vegas, insomnia was a problem. One day I discovered "Simply Sleep," which was Tylenol PM without the Tylenol. (So, just PM. )

It worked. Those of you who've gobbled the 'ludes and Valium in your sophisticated pasts can laugh all you like, but those little over-the-counter sleep aids put an end to monthly sick days for sleep catch-up (and generally feeling like crap). It would've been better to have addressed the insomnia, yes, but I couldn't see the Clark County School District adjusting its policies so I could sleep better at night. (And, as evidenced by my eventual resignation, I was never going to be zen enough to take so much dangerous stupidity in stride.)

Then Tylenol stopped making "Simply Sleep," and I didn't want to regularly take Tylenol PM due to some acetomenaphin sensitivity. The "sleep aid" aisle offered no alternatives.


When Mike went back to Australia to do his student teaching, he packed most of our remaining Simply Sleep stash, hoping a few doses might help him on the long flight. (They didn't.)

But then one night his Mom couldn't sleep, and he offered her some of the pills.


Now all three of us wanted to have a habit, and Big Pharm refused to deal. EMPTY FIST SHAKE.

I couldn't see how an effective product could just be discontinued unless there was some brouhaha (a la the good NyQuil), so sometime after I came to Australia we finally decided to look up the ingredients in Simply Sleep.

Twenty-five milligrams of Diphenhydramine HCl. Where does one get that?

Um, right there on the shelf at the chemist, it turns out... if you want to pay ten bucks for a small pinch of pills. (Oh, Australia, with your affordable doctors yet your steep cost for pill-poppin' sleep. Are we supposed to butch up and drink a can of lager in our jammies instead?)

And then it was just one click and hop to the internet, a faceslap of "OH DUH," and presto-bango a lifetime supply of Simply Sleep-equivalent arrived in the mail at a puny price.

Or, as many may know it, "Allergy Medicine."

(I don't know why I didn't go down this path before, but I'm going to blame sleep deprivation.)

Now we had more adorable pink pellets than anyone would ever need. "We'll have to give some to your mother," I said.

And that's when the Idea blazed across my brain.

"Mike! Let's get a frou-frou vintage-y bottle and fill it with the pills. It will be a gift she actually wants! AT LAST!"

Mike protested, broadly saying nope, his Mum was hard to shop for, let's not bother, the usual spiel. I figured he was just too cynical (or lazy), and so everywhere we went, I kept an eye out for the right bottle. (Ideally an antique since Mike's mother works in an antiques shop and her home is a study in Tudor/Dickensian mashup.)

I could already picture the carefully weathered label and string I would hang around the simple but evocative (corked?) bottle. The finished project was so going to end up on Pinterest.

"Mum likes her things neatly put away. She won't want a medicine bottle just sitting out."

Yes, true, Mike's mother hates mess, but the decor of her home is one of artful clutter. To me, a little apothecary bottle of yore would fit right in. (Sure, sunlight and corks might cut down the efficacy of the meds, but now we knew to get more. If anything, this seemed to fit the surprising fashion-over-function attitude that my mother-in-law is known to adopt, for all her otherwise practical nature.)

Days before Christmas, we were out for our nightly stroll and one of the little gift shops in town was open late for the holidays. That's when I saw it. An assortment of small, cut-glass bottles. A little Nouveau, but I could totally picture this little jar boosting the already dense charm of my mother-in-law's suburban cottage.

"MIKE!" (I was even louder about this than about the gollywog dolls on the next aisle, which I double-promise I will post about as soon as I can get a photo, because, whoa.)

"Mike! Those bottles!"

Mike's usual disinterest on the topic was clearly resistance now.

"Mike? Those bottles?"

... "She wouldn't like them."

"What? Why?"

"She'd... she'd find them vulgar."


"Bright pink pills showing through the glass. It would be too vulgar."

The worst thing was that I could see his point. Bright pink. Of course. Would my own mother have wanted such a thing when I was growing up? What would've come next? Rings worn on each finger and a visible belly button in street clothes?

But my mother had loosened up over the years, coaxing out the battened-down playful spirit who'd been robbed of a university drama scholarship just because she was a girl. ("Your grades are higher, but you might drop out later to get married, as girls do.") She would still have regarded a ring on each finger as playing dress-up, not dressing, but she came to enjoy breaking her own invisible rules.

This isn't a criticism of my mother-in-law at all. We each have different tastes, and I've been known to call perfectly good decor accessories "vulgar" or "flashy" myself (perhaps even with a shudder). I know better, and I don't really assign a moral value to style, but it's a habit to express myself that way. 

What threw me about Mike's rationale was that I felt a little criticized. I know I make deliberate "vulgar by textbook definition" choices sometimes (every f-bomb, initiating frank conversations with strangers), but surely I wasn't so far gone that I couldn't tell when I was trying to foist a hideous and déclassé gift on another person?

It's always funny, the surprise moments when you miss your mother. So much time has passed since I've been able to phone her up and have a real conversation. (Or any conversation. I guess 2012 was the last time Dad could put her on the phone, but even now he turns up the speakers on Skype and sometimes she comes over to the desk and laughs.) I try not to think about how ringing my mother no longer feels like an ordinary thing. (Is there a word for something that heals and wounds all at once?)

But my instinct on that night was to call Mom and say, "This is okay, isn't it?"

Mom, an expert gift-buyer (she could read people as well as she could read the yardstick of catalogues burdening her mailman), probably would've had an even better idea for a present for Mike's mom. (I hate to do that thing where you give deceased or terminal loved ones superhero status, but if anyone could've solved this annual problem, Mom could have.)

If nothing else, though, Mom would've told me why my gift was beautiful and not vulgar at all.

Just one opinion versus another opinion, neither worth more than the other, except I'm stuck with the last opinion standing, save my own. (And my opinion is that I wouldn't give my mother-in-law a present where she'd feel burdened to pretend liking it or, worse, wouldn't pretend at all.)

Mike is asleep right now, having driven the ninety minutes back from the late and long movie in the middle of the night. I don't know yet what his mother thought of the ugly worn baggie of pills that are now hers to package and store as she sees fit. "At least tell her what I wanted to do," I begged Mike before he left.

Simply Sleeping

Found: Sleep.

Found: A gift for my mother-in-law.

Found: Another hole to patch with memories instead of experience.

06 January 2014 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)