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March 9, 2012 / schulerbooks

Schuler Guest Author Spot presents Michigan author Jeni Decker

Welcome to the Schuler Guest Author spot! This week I am so tickled to present Michigan author Jeni Decker, who wrote the hilarious memoir I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames: My Insane Life Raising Two Boys with Autism. She visited one of our Grand Rapids location in early February, and will be visiting our Lansing store for a Girls’ Night Out event at 7 p.m. on June 21. Make sure you save the date!

Oh Mother, Who Art Thou?

There are a few things that have to happen once I decide to leave the house and go anywhere my mother. First, the event must be worthy of me leaving two autistic children home alone with my sister or husband, knowing there will most likely be fallout which has to be mopped, cleaned, or scraped up when I return.

Next, I have to remind Mom of the rules. Like most mothers, mine embarrasses the hell out of me in public places. For years I thought she did it on purpose – that she believed she wasn’t living up to her maternal obligation if I didn’t slink away multiple times due to her volume level, or the spirited way in which she engages strangers.

While I’m sidling up to menopause with all the grace of an incensed cat careening down a Slip-n-Slide, my sister Reese is prone to anxiety attacks brought on by any number of things – high on the list being our mother’s driving habits. For all three of us, these days, our patience (to say nothing of bladder control) isn’t what it used to be.

But, bringing my children on one of these excursions is something we rarely do because they feed off our mutual (but loving) malevolence. Things can go from bad to “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, just get me home” in under sixty seconds.

EXHIBIT A: An excerpt from my memoir, “I Wish I Were Engulfed I Flames.”


            I was about to be stuck inside a car with my mother and Jake, traveling in bad weather conditions, headed Christmas shopping. The country roads we’d be forced to negotiate were icy, and because we live near the ass-crack of oblivion, the snow plow hadn’t seen fit to visit.

There were so many things wrong with the scenario about to unfold, including but not limited to Mom and I in the car together, without the benefit of a ball gag for her mouth and a handful of Valium for mine. Add to that, my ass was still smarting, and you’ve got a recipe for a real hemorrhoid of a day.

Jake was already in the red on the Obsess-O-Meter about braving the inclement weather, and I was lamenting the fact that I’d be at the mercy of my mother’s driving.

I love my Mommy Dearest, but I don’t have the same faith in her ability to keep me alive as I did when I was ten and still believed in Santa. Mom is prone to losing her glasses, keys, cell phone, and/or anything else not tethered to her. Her train of thought also wanders away on occasion. This does not breed optimism with regard to her driving prowess.

It had, however, given me a fabulous idea for a new invention.

The Senior Keeper-Upper: a Velcro belt with pockets and tiny attachable stretch-chords to keep track of phones, keys, eye-glasses, dentures, Life-Alert bracelet, and any other daily necessities the elder among us might require. Other features include a tiny GPS device, in case they misplace themselves, and a shock button, should the ’ole ticker need a jump start. It’ll be a steal at four easy payments of nineteen ninety-five.

**Patent Pending.**

Unfortunately, there’s nothing on that handy-dandy senior belt for her train of thought problem. I’ve promised her that when she’s slipped so far into dementia that she can’t remember my name, I will remember hers; though I’ll probably start calling her Gertrude and fabricating scenarios for my own personal amusement.

“Didn’t we have a great day on the Hubble Space Station, Gertrude? Well, yes I know I’m a great daughter. Did you enjoy dining with President Oprah Winfrey, today? She’s a lovely woman, isn’t she? Here, let me wipe that drool from your chin…”

We trudged through the snow to the car and I could see Jake eyeing his grandmother suspiciously as she climbed behind the wheel of my Chevy Tahoe.

Mom had never driven my car, but Jake refused to travel the snowy roads in the rolling deathtrap she called her Jeep. Sure, the brand name inspired safety, but my knees hitting the dashboard in the passenger seat of the two door sport vehicle led me to believe a head-on collision would leave all occupants in nothing less than a minced condition.

She acted calm and confident as she turned the key in the ignition, adjusting the heater. I knew better. Mom was a good actor and had been using truthiness to her advantage way before Steven Colbert entered the scene.

I was bordering on a panic attack, so I decided to distract myself by bastardizing Christmas songs in my head.

Edna the red-nosed crack whore…

Jake fastened his seatbelt, “You guys aren’t going to argue, right Mom?

“Right, honey.”

Mom smiled, pulling a tape recorder out of her purse. She pushed the red record button and set it on the center console between us, then pulled down the driveway.

Good idea, I thought. My next chapter will write itself; I’ll only have to provide the stenography.

            The rear end of the car jackknifed slightly as Mom made her first turn. She immediately informed me her Jeep would have handled the road better. I immediately rebutted, saying that sounded like a blatant excuse for her less than stellar driving.

Grandma got run over by a snow-plow…’

“See, this road has almost no snow on it, Jake. Nice and comfortable and relaxing. I’m pretty good at driving in the snow.” This was antithetical to the actions of her fingers, which began fidgeting with the four-wheel drive buttons.

As she drove a little faster than the fifteen miles an hour I’d have preferred, she rattled off questions to Jake, hoping to distract him.

“How many gifts do you have to buy, Jake?”

“Mom, you, Dad, Bob…”

I sat on my clenched fingers and wished they’d both just shut the hell up. While driving, Mom is prone to fiddling with her cell phone, her purse, the heater buttons and radio–all things that caused my sphincter to clench– and I needed to be prepared in case her hands started wandering.

‘I saw Grandpa fondling Santa Claus…’

I glanced at the speedometer and noticed she was going ten miles over the speed limit. “You need to slow down, Mother.”

“Mom, be quiet. Don’t start arguing.” Jake yelled at me from the back seat.

“Jennifer,” Mom warned, and I could swear she pressed on the gas pedal harder.

‘No, Gertrude, honey. We don’t shower anymore, as a people. President Winfrey has put a ban on all bathing. Now scamper on over and wash those dishes, and maybe I’ll take you to Disneyland tomorrow.’

“Don’t push on the gas so hard,” I hissed, gripping my seat.

“I didn’t, Jennifer. The car is in four wheel drive so it’s hugging the road.”

Hugging, my ass. Hugging is an affectionate word. What the car was doing wasn’t even remotely affectionate.

No, Gertrude, honey. Pink hot-pants are all the rage with the old folks these days. Now put on that sequined blouse I bought you and let’s head up the Japanese Steak House. You love watching those guys cook at the table, don’t you? But, lest we forget what happened the last time, just remember: Stop, Drop and Roll.’

“I prefer silence in the car. Then nobody gets upset.” I offered, to finally shut everyone up.

“Yeah. What happened to the no talking rule in the car?” Jake asked.

“Exactly.” Mom glanced down at the tape recorder. Suddenly, it dawned on me that I was a worse backseat driver than my autistic son, and Mom’s intent with regard to the recording device might not have been so…innocent.

Grrrrrr. So, that’s how we’re gonna’ play it, huh?

            Oh Gertrude. You have no idea how much fun we’re gonna’ have together…


            If you’d like to see us in action, here’s Mom, Reese and I outside Schuler Books just prior to the first public reading of my book, “I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames.”


Jeni Decker lives on a farm in rural Michigan with her husband, two autistic sons, some chickens, the occasional pig, her dog, and an albino frog named Humbert Humbert.  She is the author of I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames and co-author of Waiting for Karl Rove. You can find her on her blog:



Leave a Comment
  1. Susan Stec / Mar 9 2012 3:46 pm

    WARNING: Before reading this book, empty your bladder. Eating or drinking while reading the book can be hazardous to you wellbeing. Reading before bedtime my cause interruptions in your sleep pattern due to random giggle reflexes which usually only last for several hours. Depends are recommended to alleviate issues of embarrassment while reading this book in public places.

  2. Sarah / Mar 31 2012 8:31 am

    1) What is title insurance? How much does it cost? Should I buy it?
    thanks again! 🙂

    • schulerbooks / Apr 3 2012 9:17 pm

      Have never heard of it Sarah – sorry!

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