Around the bend: Holiday brought full range of stress

As it is, I get pretty stressed out around the holidays. So, had I been able to choose the optimal time for my kitchen range to burst into flames, I would not have picked the week before Christmas.
It’s a frantic time of year anyway, when I get so distracted that I do things like forget appointments and put the Kleenex in the fridge and the milk in the linen closet. But this year was particularly crazy.
For one thing, our teenager was just days away from being installed in a newly renovated bedroom. Having been relegated to sleeping on the couch for over a month, she had resorted to marching in protest throughout the house, carrying placards and chanting, “Who wants a bedroom? Me! When do I want it? Now!”
And then there was the kitchen wiring. For no apparent reason, that week a breaker had started tripping, rendering everything, including the fridge, useless every other day or so. (In typical old-house fashion, much of the downstairs, and more, all ran on one circuit. Every time we used the microwave and the toaster at the same time, our neighbor’s lights went out.)
I simply didn’t have the time or fortitude to deal with the conflagration of a major appliance right then. But one night, while I was broiling pork chops, an electrical fire broke out under the stovetop, with flames and pops and hisses and the smell of burnt wires.
The fire quickly burned itself out as I looked on, screaming as appropriate. But it raised several issues, such as how I was going to cook anything for Christmas, much less entertain 20 guests on Christmas Eve; how we were going to pay for repairs, what with our Christmas money all tied up in ill-fitting sweaters and windshield scrapers with NFL logos on them; and how you get an electrical fire in a gas stove, anyway. (It happens.)
The next morning, while the repairman inspected the stove, I fell back on my coping strategies: biting my nails and walking purposefully into various rooms and then forgetting why I had gone there.
But instead of fixing the stove and letting me get on with my life, he shook his head and explained that unless I wanted to put over $800 into the burned-out shell of an appliance, it was time to buy a new range.
That did it. As he left, I reached into the fridge for a Kleenex and sat down for a good cry.
My husband had already gone to work, so my only recourse was to vent my feelings to a defenseless electrician who at that moment was finishing the wiring in our daughter’s room. I sobbed and listed the crises that, though minor individually, together exceeded my supply of holiday cheer.
After an awkward pause, he said, “OK, then,” and turned back to his work.
But even this outpouring of sympathy could not solve the immediate problem: I needed a new range, and soon. And when the propane company told me they could hook it up either in two hours or in early 2013, I went into full panic mode. As a person who (a) hates to spend money and (b) makes major purchases only after weeks of research, I ran to Sears feeling unprepared and resentful.
I picked a new range from the showroom floor by closing my eyes and pointing. I glared at the woman behind the register, as if she had snuck into my house and set the old stove on fire. (I’m pretty sure she hadn’t.)
But after that, life got better. That night, I cooked dinner on the new stove and even baked a few dozen Christmas cookies. And for the first time in days, I felt that things might be all right after all.
The next morning, the electrician warily returned to the house, this time to fix the kitchen wiring. I apologized for the previous day’s meltdown.
“It’s just with the stove, and the electricity, and the renovations, and the holidays, I reached my breaking point. I’m sorry you had to see me that way but I’m totally fine now.”
He looked doubtfully at me. “Sure,” he said. “But sometimes the effects of stress can, um, last a while.”
When I got to work I realized he wasn’t being cryptic; just polite.
What he had really meant was, “Hey, lady, look down. You’re wearing one brown boot and one black one.”

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