Epic *

* both the trip and the length of this post…

It started out so simply: a family gathering for Bill’s birthday, a weekend spent together – which is, in and of itself, a revered once-a-year occurrence. When Mary (my stepmother-in-law) upped the ante by saying she’d envisioned a weekend of games, Minute to Win It style — an all-ages tournament complete with prizes and, surely, plenty of opportunity for embarrassment and hilarity — we were even more stoked. If there’s anything this bunch does well, it’s competition and laughter. Bring it ON.

The end of school is always bittersweet for Ella and Annie, so this trip provided a welcome distraction from their sadness. We arrived at O’Hare on Friday morning with no trouble and began to get even more excited that we’d totally be Brady Bunch-ing out soon.

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Jambi was an expert aviator.

Four hours later, after our layover was “extended” by two hours due to weather-related issues and my sister-in-law called to say she was ill and her family wouldn’t be coming, Nick and I turned to one another as we sat for 60 minutes on the runway and wondered aloud if this trip was cursed.

By the time we arrived in Minnesota, ravenous and grumpy, we told ourselves that surely things would be superb from here on out. His sister was feeling better and, happily, they were coming after all, so Nick and I hightailed it to Target to purchase a gift for our nephew, who’d turned three the day before. (We’d already sent him his “real” birthday gifts, but a family celebration had been planned for the following day, and we wanted to be sure he wasn’t empty-handed.) While I perused the aisles of Target that were clearly marked Appropriate Kid Stuff Available Here, Nick perused the automotive and camping aisles, which were clearly marked Stuff Appropriate Only For Grown-Ups, where he found a little red lantern that he insisted our nephew would enjoy. I tried to talk him out of it — some bubbles? Color Wonder markers? A puzzle? — but Nick was adamant that our nephew would get a kick out of turning the light on and off. I skeptically put it in the cart and remained ready to explain, when the time arose, that this was all Nick’s fault.

We returned to the house in time for a delicious dinner and proceeded to get dressed for a birthday performance we’d planned for the night. All started out beautifully… Then the storm came. And the power left. And suddenly, the weekend seemed less The Brady Bunch and more Little House on the Prairie.

After procuring some candles, we tucked the girls into the truly fantastic new bunk beds that Grandpa Bill and GranMary had gotten for them, finished the performance, and went to the airport to get Nick’s sister and her family. The drive was dark and terrifying exciting, having to dodge the literally dozens of live power lines and downed trees that had been uprooted in the absurd winds and 2.5 inches of rain that fell in less than an hour, but we got them and made it back safely, only to discover that the candles we were using wouldn’t quite cut it, because a) wax drips, and b) three year-olds and fire don’t mix well. We did, however, have a brand-new lantern… so we stole it right out of the birthday gift bag (tag still on to preserve its not-used status) and turned that sucker on. Let there be light!

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Alas, no lantern in our bedroom, but I think Laura Ingalls would have approved.

I awoke on Saturday morning feeling filthy, and not in a good way. Despite sleeping as close to the open window as humanly possible, it was still hot and so humid, you could practically hold the air in your hands, and the “sleep” I’d gotten had been fitful and sweaty. I also hadn’t showered in two full days (and, in that time, had mowed the lawn and traveled for 11 hours), so I desperately needed to get clean. After overhearing a brief discussion the night before on whether or not we still had hot water after the power had gone out (the verdict at the time: there would be some hot water for a short while), I decided that I didn’t want to waste the precious little we still had, so, as Little House on the Prairie gave way to Survivor, I cleaned myself up using water so freezing, it would surely be illegal in most countries.

After a quick trip to the store for some absolute necessities (ice, bagels, and – most of all – coffee, duh), the adults filled coolers with items from the refrigerator while Ella and Annie met their baby cousin and played with his brother. We discussed the possibility of playing some of the games that Mary had so thoughtfully planned and prepared, deciding that we’d begin the official festivities after lunch.

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Feeling mighty proud of themselves while holding the baby for the first time.

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Thank God for windows with lovely natural light…

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Enjoying the most awesome playhouse ever.

Nick’s other sister (who lives locally) and her best friend arrived shortly after noon, bringing with them not only lunch but a gluten-free slice of cake for me to enjoy while everyone else devoured birthday cake later on. Additionally, they brought four entire containers’ worth of gluten-free goodies — brownies, cookies, spice bars — treats so delicious-looking, I’d have endured several more glacial showers just to show my appreciation. Mercifully, a thank you sufficed, and after lunch, we were ready for the games to begin!

Except… it was nap time, both for the wee ones and the old wise leader of our tribe… And so we took Ella and Annie bowling (electricity AND air conditioning, hallelujah!).
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Jambi approves of Cosmic Bowling.

Returning home, we found… everyone still asleep and the power very much still off. And, as her awesome activities sat idle and the weekend continued to careen off the rails, I’m pretty sure that Mary started utilizing calming breathing techniques. This was not what we’d planned, damn it! Right about then, my sister-in-law returned from a run, dripping with sweat, and declared she needed a shower. I was about to warn her that doing so might cause frostbite when we learned that, actually, the water heater wasn’t affected by the power outage. Meaning we’d had hot water all along.

As a toddler, stomping feet and screaming are acceptable responses when things really don’t go your way, but, to my dismay, such tantrums become far less okay if you’re thirty- or sixty-something. Drinking lukewarm beer, however, is always appropriate.

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Yes, that’s sand, not mud.

We took the girls down the road to a nearby lake, where they splashed happily and played in the sand. Once the nappers had awakened, they joined us at the beach. We agreed that dinner back at the dark, sauna-like house wasn’t terribly desirable and elected to have a pizza picnic and birthday celebration by the lakeshore instead. I returned to the kitchen briefly to bring back some paper plates and other needed accoutrements and decided to grab the refreshing-looking watermelon on the counter. Pizza, cake, and watermelon on a hot summer night? Perfect, no?

Well, actually, no. When I mentioned the possibility of consuming it right then and there, Mary was visibly stricken. Apparently, the melon was being saved as part of the Minute to Win It games and, so help us God, something would go as planned this weekend and we would be playing those games!! (Except she didn’t freak out on me at all; exclamation points are mine because, if I’d been in her shoes, I’d have just about lost my mind.)

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Good photo? No.
Until you notice Bill’s adorable blond ponytail.

The pizza hit the spot (best GF pizza I’ve eaten – word!) and the birthday cake was divine (or so I’m told; I was giddily stuffing one of my sister-in-law’s fabulous gluten-free treats into my mouth). The treat was so good, I’ll even concede that Nick’s idea was fantastic: our nephew was, indeed, ecstatic to open his new-to-him lantern.

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Yes, the candles blew out early – 24 hours after the storm, it was still crazy windy.

As the meal was winding down, we decided to introduce my nephew to his first game of telephone, with the rest of us passing simple one- and two-word phrases down the line: Swimming. Happy Birthday. Ice cream. Then it was one of my girl’s turns to start the chain, and we all dutifully passed on the word until my brother-in-law caught Mary by surprise, turning to her and whispering, “Watermelon.” Her face registered an odd combination of confusion, frustration, and what might be categorized as rage, as she clearly had not realized that we were still playing telephone – and thought, instead, that he was asking her if we could eat the fruit.
We’ve been through this already, people!! How many times do I have to tell you that the watermelon is being saved? For the games! FOR THE GAMES THAT WE WILL HAVE, I SWEAR IT, THERE WILL BE GAMES!!!

After the kids went to bed, we stayed up to play our favorite cut-throat card game, Hand and Foot (with Nick and me both on teams that lost spectacularly), and then headed to sleep ourselves. Or, at least, we tried to sleep, but between the heat and the deafening thunderstorms that caused me to awaken levitating – not one part of my body was touching the bed – it wasn’t the most restful night.

Nick and I were the morning’s designated coffee-runners, and we were surprised to see — two days later, in the daylight — just how much damage had been wrought all around us. As we groggily stood in line waiting for our to-go coffee box (the barista had taken one look at us and simply said, “No power?”), I asked if he’d “ever lived through” a power outage like this. Nick barely stifled his delirious laughter, because although I meant, Have you ever been with a dozen people in one house for what was supposed to be this special weekend with 80-degree temperatures and no power for 48 hours?, it came out sounding more like Have you ever lived through a famine and a plague of locusts while asking for asylum as you flee a war-torn country. Ah, first-world problems. Reality check accomplished.
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Notice the power pole hanging diagonally over the street…

After a candlelit breakfast (watermelon, anyone?), we agreed that the time had come: we would play games, and they would be awesome.

And, in fact, they were. Mary’s careful research and preparation meant that the games were totally ready to go; all we needed to do was show up (and I mean that both literally and in the sports metaphor way – clever, no?).

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Tossing marshmallows through a hula hoop.
Which seems easy until they hit the wet ground, become soggy, and congeal together so that you’re forced to throw a softball-sized marshmallow.

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Our official scorekeepers.

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Bouncing ping-pong balls into cups filled with water. Not to brag, but I totally won this one.
See, kids! You don’t have to drink your way through college to dominate at Beer Pong!

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Distance bubble blowing.
Which we would have nailed, if the gale force winds hadn’t been blowing at us.
Also, please ignore my Cowardly Lion mane; no power and natural curl result in some interesting ‘dos.

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Tallying the scores so far.

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Examining the leader board.

When the festivities were over, it was time for lunch, and Nick suggested that we order some sandwiches. Right before he and his sister left to pick them up, he announced that he couldn’t find the rental car keys — which seemed impossible, because he and I had driven home from getting coffee that morning and no one had left the property since then. After a brief search, we decided that surely they’d turn up any minute now – but we were so hungry, we might crack open the watermelon, so procuring lunch needed to take priority. As we divvied things up, everyone began hungrily digging in… Except Nick. Because, despite his being the one to suggest them in the first place, we’d neglected to actually order him a sandwich. It just wasn’t there.

And neither were the keys.

Hours later, we finally paused our search for the entire crew to go bowling – another of the originally scheduled tournament games – and reveled again in the air conditioning and light.

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Cosmic bowling is less mysterious when it’s fully lit…

With bowling complete, as we pulled into the driveway, we noticed that the outside lights were on: the power had been restored!! And, with it, our spirits — and our resolve to find the keys. Despite combing through virtually every inch of the house, the yard, the garage, the trash, and our suitcases, however, and despite my insistence that it was, technically, impossible for them to be gone, the keys remained missing. This is definitely not what we’d planned, damn it! Nick and I may have thrown actual tantrums, but the fact remained: the keys were lost. Meaning that a 6 a.m. tow to the rental car repair lot was in our future for Monday morning, which is so totally what you want to be doing on your vacation.

As it turned out, Bill accompanied Nick and the tow truck to the lot (where Nick was informed that he didn’t even need to be there in person, which made him super happy), and I took a shower. A nice, un-freezing shower. We played one final game before divvying the prizes that Mary had stashed away — at last, something had gone as planned.

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Balancing M&Ms on straws stuck in a raw baking potato. (What, you don’t do this at home?) Again, not to brag… But I won this one, too.
And we never did get around to the watermelon game.

We said our goodbyes, joking about how we would never, ever, ever forget this weekend, as his sister and her family flew home and Nick, the girls, and I went on to visit my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law for the afternoon. Bill and Mary drove us to the Mall of America, a relatively central location, where we transferred our gear from their car to Karen and Ray’s and then hit up a few MOA amusement park rides.

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No, they didn’t ride this one…

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I tried to get them to pose with SpongeBob, but they wouldn’t have it.

The remainder of our visit with them was delightful – so delightful, in fact, we felt assured that our traveling curse had ended.

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My mother-in-law sewed them dresses. On the spot, just like that.

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Modestly modeling their new duds.

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Rehashing their performance from the other night…

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One last story before bedtime.

And then we tried to get home.
Twenty-one hours later, at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, we pulled into our driveway, feeling less Survivor and more Walking Dead. Zombified, we immediately fell asleep, vowing to do nothing on Wednesday but try to become human again.

Two days later, having had the chance to reflect on the trip, I can definitely see that it was not without its advantages. For one thing, I learned how to use the commode in total, astounding blackness, a skill that could be useful someday, especially in the event of a real zombie apocalypse. I also discovered that, unlike I’d previously thought, I will not keel over and die if my children don’t brush their hair, although I might experience a few slight body convulsions.

An added bonus to living without power for a couple of days is that it gives you the perfect excuse to offer up absurdly stupid excuses. Mismatched shoes? Couldn’t see. The kids subsisting almost entirely on soda, strawberries, and birthday cake? No way to properly cook a meal. Single-handedly consuming fifteen (yes, I counted) gluten-free goodies that my sister-in-law had so generously purchased for me? Without refrigeration, they wouldn’t last anyway, and I do hate to let things go to waste.

Most of all, though, this trip reaffirmed what I already knew: that my in-laws are fantastic. Throughout everything, no one lost their temper (except those under the age of five, but they got a pass). At each turn, with each this cannot possibly be happening, the gasps of disbelief would be followed by repressed giggles that gave way to peals of laughter, not only because it was better laughing than crying, but simply because they’re incredible folks and we crack one another up. The entire experience, simply put, was epic.

No, it wasn’t what we wanted. This was definitely not what we’d planned. Damn it. And that was hard, in part because it’s always difficult letting go of long-held expectations and hopes, but also because, as adults, you understand the importance of making your time with loved ones count, especially when they live across the country. As parents, Nick and I tell our girls not to dwell on the negative, not to focus on their disappointments – but instead that it’s okay to grieve for what could have been, to then acknowledge what actually is, and to pick themselves up and move forward. Easy to say; not so easy to do.

Nonetheless, my in-laws — no, my family — and I took that advice to heart, coming to terms with how the reality of the weekend diverged from our fantasy of the weekend, shedding a few tears, and then dissolving into laughter as we moved forward. I’d be totally lying if I said we didn’t complain — because, oh, did we bitch and moan maybe literally beat our heads against walls and tables — but it was always done with the understanding that this was simply the way it was, and it would be okay. In fact, it would be good. Not so much because we’d “make the best of it,” but because it already was the best of it — just being together.

They say that when you marry someone, you marry their family. I can easily say that I married very, very well.
We are getting together again in August, and I can hardly wait. I’ll be bringing my sense of humor.

And a generator.
And definitely a watermelon.

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Throwback Thursday: You Neek, You Nork

It has only been just over a week since school got out, and already the girls have uttered the “B” word. (No, not that B word. I reserve that for yelling at the television. Or at other drivers when the girls aren’t in the car with me.)

Three years ago, we attempted to stave off boredom with a few tongue twisters.

Today, they put together their Summer Fun List. It’s got over fifty activities on it, so I’m betting it’ll provide them with at least twenty-three minutes of entertainment over the course of the next nine weeks. Thirty, if they attempt to sell sea shells by the sea shore. I’ll start collecting shells now.

BTW: We’ve discovered an even more difficult tongue twister: Willy’s real rear wheel.
Have fun with that one.

Or WORSE, Expelled

Walking home last week…

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So, how was your day, lovey?

“Great, Mommy! We got to meet the first grade teachers today!”

Oh, that sounds like fun!

“It was! All of the teachers are really nice.”

That’s good. Because you’ll have one of them.

“I know.”

Unless you flunk.

“What’s that?”

Only kidding. So, anyway, you met the first grade teachers?

“Yes! And also we played a game where we were robbers.”

What kind of game is this?

“You know, where some kids are the robbers and stuff.”

Are there cops?

“No. Just robbers.”

Um, okay. So you’re all just thieves?

“Well, some of us are good guys.”

Did you get arrested?

“Mommy! We’re not really stealing anything!”

Well, that’s a relief. ‘Cause stealing’s, like, illegal and stuff.

“I know. It’s bad to steal.”

Indeed. In real life, you could go to jail.

“Or even to the principal’s office.”

Oh, my little Hermione, I do believe you need to sort out your priorities.

Shuffle off to… Buffalo??

“Heeeeey, there, Emily’s family! Have I got a sweet deal for you! You know how you’ve got this amazingly special birthday trip planned?? How ’bout I spice it up a bit by throwing in crazy weather so you’ll be 3 hours late? And what if I also make your SIL get sick so she and her family won’t make the trip??”

Thanks, Universe/Fate/Mother Nature/Satan, but we’d rather…

“But wait, there’s more! How ’bout your SIL gets better, so they’ll come after all, but those crazy storms will knock out the power for 48 hours, so the 11 of you will be ‘celebrating’ in the dark? I’ll throw in 80+ degree temps with a bazillion percent humidity for FREE!”

No, thanks, that really doesn’t sound like much…

“Act now and you can also get one lost set of rental car keys, a 7 a.m. tow truck pick-up, annnnd a several hundred dollar fee!! (Offer only good while supplies last; prizes may vary.)”

That does sound tempting, but no thank…

“Order in the next 20 minutes and you can also get a 3:30 a.m. wake-up for a 6 a.m. flight home, but then MORE nasty weather will cause you to need extra fuel so your plane can be rerouted around the storms, which will cause the tire pressure to be too low so they’ll need to change the tires… And by the time all is said and done, you’ll sit on the runway for 2.5 hours and miss your connection home!”

Well… I do love waking up at ungodly hours for a flight that’s super delayed…

“In fact, for one day only, all flights to Rochester will either be full or cancelled, so you can get stranded in Chicago – in the rain! With your service dog-in-training! All day long!! AND THEN you can fly home to Buffalo, rent a car and drive to the Rochester airport, transfer everything to your car, return the rental, and drive home… All by midnight!”

You drive a hard bargain, Universe/Fate/Mother Nature/Satan…

“As a bonus, I’ll throw in softly candlelit rooms…

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Bowling alleys with power and air conditioning…

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A few of your originally scheduled birthday games and activities…

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Visits with family (who needs power when you have cousins?!)…

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Lunch at the Mall of America (your family can pick you up after the rental car has been towed)…

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Visits with more of your family…

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And, last but not least, some delightful Windy City experiences.”

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Do we have a choice?

“Nope!”

Well, then… Sold, I guess…

“Trust me: this will be a trip you will never forget.”

Thanks ever so much, Universe/Fate/Mother Nature/Satan

“And remember… no exchanges or refunds.”

I had a feeling that would be the case.

*written from Navy Pier in Chicago. The adventure continues…

Apocalypse? Now!

I am sticky.

The power went out over 40 hours ago, it is 80+ degrees with the humidity at approximately 400%, sleep has just not been happening, I awoke at 6:00 a.m. this morning *levitating* due to an especially sonic thunderclap, the children have been threatening mutiny, and we are redefining “family togetherness.” I love summer!!

We are in Minnesota to celebrate my father-in-law, Bill’s, milestone birthday. This trip had been in the works for months – all of Nick’s family coming together! Celebrations! Cakes! Gifts! Games! Prizes! An entire weekend’s worth of activities carefully and thoughtfully planned, eagerly and excitedly anticipated.

And then.

While our 2-hour layover turned into a 4-hour weather-related delay, we learned that my sister-in-law had a stomach virus, so she and her family would be unable to make the trek from Denver. Although we understood, we were crushed (we hadn’t even met our 5 month-old nephew yet!), and we got onto the airplane with heavy hearts.

And sat on the runway for an hour.

Once in the air, we learned that all flights from O’hare had been grounded – only minutes after our takeoff – and we breathed a sigh of relief that something was going our way. The flight was 30 minutes longer than scheduled as the plane was diverted around the storms, but we finally landed, ready to rock. Only after navigating baggage claim and collapsing into the rental car did Nick and I realize that it was 5 p.m. New York time and, thus far, we’d fed our children breakfast, popcorn, and a handful of almonds. Seeking to remedy our neglectful parenting choices, we quickly purchased “lunch” for the Ella and Annie, and thus pulled into my in-laws’ house with them clutching Happy Meals as if their lives depended on it.
Winning.

Plus, they hadn’t exactly dressed up for our flight and, after the 11 hours of traveling, looked a bit like tiny, adorable hobos who had foraged for dinner in a nearby dumpster.
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Yes, Annie’s shirt has a cactus and says “Hugz?” and Ella’s reads “I (heart) NICK”.
Still winning.

Happy Meals aside, we were thrilled to be here, and even more thrilled that my sister-in-law had begun to feel better, so she and her family had rebooked their flights and were coming after all.  We ate dinner and changed our clothes just in time for the guests to arrive — Nick (a forever guitar player and singer) had long wanted to perform for his dad, a concert of sorts, and we had prepared several songs as the evening’s entertainment.

We began with our family’s favorite song, “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole.

The Von Trapp Family singers? Not…

Toward the end of song, just after the last of the guests arrived, the winds began to pick up. Mid-second song, the rains came. Ten minutes into the gathering, the apocalypse surely seemed upon us and lights began to flicker.

Apocalypse or not, as performers, we knew that the show must go on, so onward we went,  singing, strumming, and playing in the dark.
 
Those trees outside the window? Bending all the way to the ground? Yeah. It was like that.

We remain in the dark today. Except with less singing. And more stickiness. And by now, we – all eleven of us – definitely look and smell like hobos.

I’d say that “someday” we’ll laugh about the events of this weekend… except that we’re already chuckling, because my in-laws are generally awesome – and because, really, what else can you do?  Except drink, but we’ve already established I’m not so great at that, and the beer is all warm anyway.

I’ve got plenty more to share, but the car adapter isn’t happy with me draining all of its power, and there are, like, eight more cell phones and i-devices that need charging. Also, it’s time to go bowling (electricity and air conditioning for the win!). Or maybe look for the lost keys to the rental car.*
Either way, it’s sure to be an adventure. And we’ll still be laughing.
I think.

* This post was originally written at 2 p.m. but couldn’t be published until later because the computer died. We did get power back by dinner, nearly 48 hours after it had gone out.
The car keys, however, remain missing. A 6 a.m. tow to the Hertz repair lot has so totally been on my bucket list. Winning!!!

Throwback Thursday: Blender, 1… Girls, 0

Spring, 2008; Ella is 3, Annie is 1.

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You can see what’s about to happen, no?

If you ever decide to allow your toddlers help make homemade fruit popsicles, be sure to watch the delinquent youngest one to be sure her hand doesn’t, like, accidentally turn on the blender before the top is on…

Otherwise…

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Completely. Shocked.

If you do neglect to pay sufficient attention, before helping calm them down and clean up the mess, at least do the civilized thing: take a photo.*

*To really feel their angst/surprise/horror, click on the photo to see it bigger.
So worth it, I promise.

Bittersweet

I admit it: I can be sentimental. I cry over children’s books. I cry when I hear the NBC Olympics theme. I cry at commercials (Google Chrome, I’m looking at you).

I do not, however, generally get all mushy about my children growing up. Sure, I feel pangs of nostalgia when I see their pictures or old videos, but I don’t miss them as babies or toddlers. In fact, I find that I enjoy them more with each passing year — every age is better than the last.

Part of this is due to them simply being more capable, with their level of self-suffience correlating directly in inverse proportions to my level of needing to poke my eyes out. Gone are the days of Dora and her curiously Brooklyn-accented Backpack, of cutting food into bite-sized morsels, of  “Moooommy, come wipe me!” and “But I can’t do my zipper!” and “We do not lick the table, not even if there’s chocolate on it.”

Okay, maybe some of us are still licking tables (especially for chocolate), but the daily grind of parenthood is a little less exhausting. Conversely, I love that, as they grow, we can do more together: see movies that don’t only involve singing woodland animals; read books where the plot isn’t written in poorly rhyming couplets; travel and not have to pack enough items for the plane to entertain a group of monkeys; go on hikes where no one has declared they “can’t go another step!” five minutes in; understand – and use – sarcasm (or, as I like to call it, English).

So, I like it, this growing up. I really, really do.
I just don’t like how fast everything goes, because suddenly, bam!, they’ll be 34 and pregnant and we’re whining because we don’t see our grandbabies often enough. SO. FAST.

Life has been really crazy, end-of-school and say-goodbye-to-Maddy busy, so actually thinking about Annie and Ella finishing school — being done with kindergarten and second grade, leaving their friends, moving on — just hadn’t happened… yet. On Tuesday, Annie began drawing her teacher thank-you pictures while I did work on the computer, grateful that we were able to conduct our business side by side. And then it began to dawn on me that this was how it had been all year — Annie and me, side by side every morning, until she got on the bus. At first, I’d worried that this together-time would be a pain in the neck, but it actually turned out well. She could entertain herself sufficiently enough that I could accomplish other things, was a genuinely good helper, and she loved to play games. Pretty much every morning before school, we’d play something together, and it quickly became one of the things I looked forward to the most: just relaxing for a moment, no calls, no emails. Just Annie and me. And tiny little game pieces.

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If you click on the photo, you can see the game pieces, like, life-sized.

As I sat there next to her, typing away, it occurred to me — out of the blue, and hit me with an actual force that I felt somewhere in my chest — that we wouldn’t be doing this ever again, not in the same way. Our side-by-side mornings were ending. Forever. And, despite how thrilled I was to have more time to myself, to look for a teaching job, to get things done –  I would miss her. A lot.

I quickly finished up what I’d been working on and suggested that we do something together. She happily agreed and invited me into her room. Once there, I looked wistfully around… And noticed her pajamas strewn on her floor. Her quilt all bunched up on her bed. Her stuffed animals lying Tasmanian-devil-style about the room. And I began to feel my skin crawl, and the urge to escape the mess began to override my desire to hang out with my child. I heard that little voice in my head urging me on, “Ignore it! Enjoy her!” and went over to where she was coloring. I picked up a marker and began to draw a fish… and fought the urge to pick up a stray sock sock that was lying on her desk. “Focus on Annie!” I doodled a seahorse and tried to chat with her… but my eyes kept wandering to the books on her bed, the ones I’d asked her to put away maybe 4,832 times, give or take. “Don’t worry about that! Have FUN! She can clean later!” With renewed purpose, I set out to help her color in the ocean’s water… and realized that there was a stuffed animal hanging from her ceiling fan. “SCREW THIS! WERE YOU BORN IN A BARN?? THIS IS WHY PEOPLE DON’T HAVE CHILDREN! SINCE WHEN IS ‘COLORING’ AN ACCEPTABLE TWO-PERSON ACTIVITY?? MY STARFISH LOOKS LIKE CRAP. I WON’T MISS THIS. WHEN IS THE BUS COMING???”

I managed to finish the ocean landscape and then informed her — a bit too gleefully — that it was almost time for lunch and school. She ate up, hopped on the bus, and I eagerly set about my afternoon work. Three o’clock rolled around all too quickly, and I sighed as I went to pick her up, bemoaning all of the to-do list items I’d yet to check off.

When I asked her how her day had been, she – as usual – told me it had been great. But then she paused, looked up and said, “Mommy? I was scared to start kindergarten. Now, I’m scared to leave.”

Daddy says that’s called bittersweet.”

Well, baby, sometimes Daddy nails it (if you know what I mean, *wink wink*… Ahem. Sorry). And yes. That’s what it’s called. *sigh*

On Wednesday morning, after taking last-day-of-school photos, I bid Ella goodbye, savoring one last second-grade morning joke. Annie attended art class and we played a game of Ludo. At lunch, nostalgia taking over, I attempted to have a meaningful conversation with her about how delightful these kindergarten mornings had been, but she was more interested in riding her bike, so I decided I’d had enough nostalgia for one day.

I went to school to meet with the other room mom and drop off the class’s teacher gifts, thinking we’d be in and out in ten minutes and I’d soon have a Starbucks in hand, enjoying my last few hours of freedom. Within moments of arriving, however, her teacher was in tears, recalling the amazing year it had been, the other room rep was weepy, Annie’s helper teacher was thanking me for “allowing” her to teach both of my incredible daughters, and suddenly there I was, choking out, “But they’re only ‘incredible’ because of teachers like you!” and Anne was all, “MOM!! Seriously, with the tears!

Well, after that, the afternoon was a blur, and again – all too soon – it was time to pick them up… But this time, I wasn’t bemoaning my undone to-do list. Instead, I was steeling myself for one of the greatest traditions ever:

School ends, but no one leaves. All of the teachers and staff line the sidewalks, the walkers and bike-riders remain behind, parents come to the school instead of taking kids away, middle-schoolers return for five minutes, and neighbors, even those without young children, set up chairs on their lawns to watch as the buses circle three times, honking like mad, students hanging out of the windows. There is waving and cheering and more than a few tears.

It is the start of summer!
It is freedom! It is watermelon! It is later bedtimes and un-rushed breakfasts! It is water balloons and squirt guns and popsicles dripping down your chin! It is vacation and raspberry picking and no homework!
It is moving on from one grade and into another, leaving your teachers and classmates behind for a couple of months, unsure what the future holds.

It is bittersweet.