We have some work to do here

Last spring, I became acquainted with the current production of Matilda the Musical (I say “became acquainted with” because, in the span of one week, at least five different people sent me, or posted to Facebook, links to various songs from the London Matilda production. Universe, I heard you: sometimes, you do, indeed, have to be a little bit naughty). In my continued quest to bring culture to the girls’ lives (shall we see how many hyper-links I can include in one paragraph?), and in keeping with their love of Broadway (that’s four!), I showed Ella and Annie the above clips from Matilda, as well as every other clip available on YouTube.

Small children with British accents get me every time.

We agreed to make it our goal to see Matilda the next time we’re in NYC, but in the meantime, the girls rented the movie Matilda from the library. I haven’t seen it yet, but given that it features that adorable little girl from Mrs. Doubtfire, my fingers are crossed that it’s good – even if she doesn’t have a British accent.

We were quite busy this past weekend, out and about and not taking the time to watch the movie (maybe because we were too preoccupied seeing Monsters University in the theatre; that’s just a hunch), and I was feeling slightly nervous that we wouldn’t find time to watch it before it’s due back at the library later this week. (I could try to renew it, or even just keep it past its due date and willingly pay the fine… but, given that we’re already purposely holding onto an overdue library book because the girls are totally into it but we’re not done with it yet and there aren’t other copies available but we’ve already renewed it as many times as we can, I figure I can only toy with karma so much.)

When the courtesy call came two days ago reminding me that I had a haircut appointment scheduled for this week, I was initially frustrated because I knew I’d have to bring Annie and Ella with me. I then realized that this was the solution to our problem: the girls could watch Matilda on my laptop while I got my hair cut. This would both a) ensure that the movie was actually viewed prior to its return date, and b) thwart attempts by my children to open the styling products for sale by the checkout counter.

It took me a good 20 minutes to locate the headphone jack splitter (because I’d rather have my offspring pour volumizing gel all over themselves than turn the sound up on an electronic device – while out in public – without headphones; why do people not understand this premise?!?!), but I finally found it and we were ready to go.

On the way to the salon, the girls peppered me with questions about the movie… and it was then that I finally realized just how “cultured” our daughters really are.

“Are the same songs in this that are on Broadway?”

No, sweetie. It’s just a movie.

“But which songs are there?”

There aren’t any. It’s just a regular movie.

“They made a movie of the Broadway show? Like that one with the lady* in Peter Pan?”
(*the Mary Martin stage version)

No. The movie came first.

“It did?”

Actually, the book came first. There’s a book – Matilda. By Roald Dahl.


Not really, it’s… never mind. Anyway, he wrote the book Matilda. We should read it; I think you’d like it.

“His name is ROLLED DOLL?”

And enough kids liked the book that they turned it into a movie.

“Is the movie happening right now?”

When you say ‘happening right now,’ what do you mean?

“The movie. Is it still happening? Right now?”


Matilda the movie! Are they doing it now??”

Do you mean is the movie being filmed right now, today? As in, are the actors acting their parts and are they making the movie today?


Well, aside from the fact that you’re holding the DVD, so that would be some kind of weird voodoo magic, no, the movie was made a long time ago.

“How long ago?”

I don’t know. At least fifteen years.

“Wow. That’s SO LONG ago. Is the little girl still alive?”

Uh, I think so? ‘Cause she’d only be, like, twenty-five?

“Oh, good. And what songs does she sing?”

We’re still talking about this? She doesn’t sing anything.

“Why not?”

Because it’s not a musical. It’s just a movie.


There’s no singing. It’s just a regular movie.

“But Cinderella sings.”

Yes, I know, but…

“And Tiana sings.”

I understand that, but those are Disney cartoon movies. This is a movie with real people.

“They sing songs in the movie Annie.”

True, but that’s a movie musical, so…

“And in The Sound of Music.”

Which makes sense, because it’s also…

“And Mary Poppins. And Enchanted.”

Wait a minute. Is it possible that the only movies we’ve shown are ones with singing in them??

“Ummmm…. We just saw Monsters University! That didn’t have singing!”

Okay, right…

“And Despicable Me 2! They don’t sing in that!”

So… movies with singing and cartoons. That’s where we stand? This is all we’ve shown you?

“But those are good movies, Mommy!”

That may be, but it’s kind of horrifying that we haven’t introduced you to any other kinds of movies.

“WAIT!! I know!!”


“We’ve seen The Princess Bride! A lot of times!”

YES! A real movie! THANK GOD. We have not completely failed you.

“Oh! And Indiana Jones! We saw ALL of those!”

A questionable move on our part, but still, yes. Indy definitely doesn’t sing.

“And there are all those snakes! And that guy’s face melts off!”

Again, questionable parenting. But I did show you Big. That didn’t have any singing in it.

“He ate the baby corn! And they played the piano with their feet!”

Yep, I remember. You’re still playing “Heart and Soul”, like, 186 times a day.
So… Cartoons, Disney movies, musicals, and 80s classics. It’s a start.

“I’m going to play ‘Heart and Soul’ as soon as we get home!”

That’ll be fun. Speaking of 80s classics, do you remember The Goonies?


I know, right??

“See, Mommy. You’ve shown us lots of movies.”

Thanks, baby. We’ve totally broadened your horizons. I feel much better about myself now.


I think we’d better stop while we’re ahead.

Bitten by the theater bug

For two weeks, Eleanor and Annabelle attended a local Annie Kids theater camp. I’d envisioned a small, revue-type of performance, but it turns out they’d actually be putting on a real production — fully staged and costumed, with each child auditioning for, and being assigned, a part. Ella boldly chose to audition for the role of Annie, whereas Annabelle, on the other hand, auditioned for Molly, one of the orphans – ’cause, truly, what she wanted most of all was to be an orphan.

And, really, who could blame her? Orphans are so chic. Despite the fact that, as a kid, all of the fictional orphans with whom I was familiar wore filthy little rag outfits and were fed unappetizing things like gruel, my friends and I totally envied them – and not just because they didn’t have parents to make them take baths or prevent them from consuming seventeen hotdogs in one sitting. Little Orphan Annie was tough and got to pal around with Sandy. Harry received mail by owl, had a rockin’ scar, and got to wear an invisibility cloak. Barefooted, broom-weilding Cosette eventually landed the only surviving (and handsome!) member of the short-lived revolution. Dorothy acid-tripped through Oz wearing an incredible pair of shoes. Batman had a double-identity and drove one of the coolest vehicles in existence. Tarzan subsisted on bananas and loincloths and eschewed Batmobiles in favor of vines.
And do we even have to discuss the amazingness that was Punky Brewster?

Little orphan envy. I totally get you, Annabelle.

The girls had been given an Annie Kids CD, which they were instructed to listen to “so many times, their parents would go crazy.” Ever the rule followers, they dutifully requested that we pop the CD into the car as we drove home from camp. Rather than actually sit back and enjoy each track, however, we only listened to the first 8-10 bars of each song before skipping to the next one, making it feel like we were frantically scanning an Annie-only radio channel. (It seems they’d only learned that much at rehearsal the first day — enough with which to audition — and they didn’t want to get ahead of themselves.) Thankfully, this fast-forward mania meant we were spared the recorded version of “Tomorrow”, which seemed to feature odd growling noises interspersed with Annie’s cherub-like melody. I chalked it up to a flaw in the CD and gratefully skipped to the first eight bars of the next song.

While they prepared for the auditions, Nick and I did everything we could to help the girls understand that it was highly unlikely that they’d be chosen for the roles they wanted. Partly, this was because there were at least 35 camp participants – but also, realistically, the directors just might decide that other children were better-suited to play Molly and Annie – and that was okay. Not okay as in, Oh well, who cares?, but okay because, sometimes, things just don’t work out as you planned… but life goes on anyway. You don’t get the part. Your team doesn’t always win. It sucks and it’s difficult (and, as an adult, that’s where Starbucks, Godiva, and whiskey come in handy), but this disappointment thing? A pretty consistent part of life.

Still, we gave the pep talk, reaffirming that whatever person they were assigned, it would surely be fun, and they’d ultimately have a great time.
We didn’t anticipate that one of our daughters might not be cast as a person at all.

The cast list was quite late in coming because the director had decided to add another song into the show to accommodate the large number of – in his words – talented singers who’d auditioned… and Ella was given one of the newly-added roles! A solo at that! True, it wasn’t the part of Annie, so she couldn’t sport a curly wig and dress in adorably ratty orphan duds, but it was a great role nonetheless, and I was very happy for her.

I then scanned the email for Annabelle’s name…. and discovered that she would not be playing the part of Molly. Nor an orphan. Nor a servant.
No, Annie had been assigned the role of… Sandy. The dog.


(At least it explained the odd growling during our speed-listen of “Tomorrow”.

Through all of our careful preparations, Nick and I had never considered that the part Annie got might not even be human.

Annie took the news as I’d expected: she cried. A lot. We tried to do all of the “right” things to ease her heartache (including a surprise Bruegger’s breakfast run), and to persuade her that this would still be a great experience. She could still learn and sing and dance and act and have a wonderful time. Plus, Sandy is important! Sandy steals scenes! Annabelle could be the cutest, best damn Sandy ever.

But still… The ball was in her court. Only she could decide if she’d run with it or throw it at someone.

(BTW, these moments – when your big-hearted, sensitive kiddo is cast as a dog instead of an orphan – these are so not in the parenting manual. REFUND, please.)

Annie managed to pull herself together, and the first week of rehearsals passed by with little further mention of playing Sandy. In fact, driving home after each rehearsal, both girls barely stopped talking about what they’d learned and how great the other cast members were. As a bonus, by now, we were listening to the full versions of all the songs (which was both better and worse than our first manic experience), so even I felt that I knew the music backward and forward. Three performances were scheduled for the following weekend, and – not wanting Annie and Ella to look out into the audience and find only unfamiliar faces staring back – I dutifully bought tickets to all three shows.

annie spotlight

As the second week began and they started getting into costume, I noticed that Annie’s spirits seemed to lift. When it was announced that a fourth performance would be added because the first three had sold out so quickly, I asked if maybe I could skip that one, since I’d already be seeing the three original shows… but, no, oh no, the show was fantastic and my presence was definitely needed at every single performance.

Heck, I knew the songs already by heart. Might as well learn the staging and choreography, too.

At last, performance day arrived, and Ella and Annie raced into camp. (“It’s butterflies, right?” What, sweetie? “That’s what’s in my stomach. Butterflies, right?”) I’d planned to spend the hour between drop-off and the performance doing a little window shopping, perhaps grabbing a coffee… But when I noticed that other parents were already staking out spots 55 minutes in advance (damn stage moms), I rummaged through my purse for a stale mint and took a seat myself.

Turns out, the director really knew his stuff (and had some awesome assistants and apprentices), because, after only eight days of three-hour rehearsals, these kindergarten through third-graders managed to put on a mighty fine show.

annie outfits
A Warbucks servant and Sandy (looking rather like a sheep), ready to go…

Unlike the growly groans on the CD, Annabelle’s “ruffing” toward the end of “Tomorrow” was pretty freakin’ adorable.

annie sandy2 blur
annie sandy blur
Real dogs don’t smile. Very professional of her.

In addition to singing a solo, Ella also got to wear the brand-new, hand-me-down high heels that had arrived only a week or so ago. Mighty smug about that, she was.

annie bert3 blur
Ella as Bert Healy, beginning “You’re Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile”.      

annie bert1 blur
“It’s what you wear from ear to ear, and not from head to toe, that matters!”

After the first performance, as the girls ate their lunch, I asked what their favorite part of the show was. Ella told me it was the song “Little Girls”, but Annie replied, “DUH. All of the attention I’m getting!” Not exactly what I was going for, but she definitely took that Sandy ball and sprinted with it.

In fact, Annie not only embraced her role as Sandy but also as a member of the chorus (where she ditched her furry headpiece and actually got to sing and dance, human style). Ella got into character, to be sure, but Annie took things to a whole other level…

annie, taken seriously blur
(Click to enlarge)
Why just sing the song when you can passionately feel it?

Really, all four performances were delightful, and even Nick had to agree that the two shows he saw with me were pretty freakin’ adorable. Nevertheless, after driving to and from the camp for two weeks and then spending six straight hours at the theater two days in a row, I was happy to leave the place behind for a while.

As the girls were packing up their costume boxes, I mentioned that I didn’t think they had everything – a water bottle, a few pairs of pants, and a couple of shirts seemed to be missing. They insisted that they’d brought them home earlier in the week, and – conceding that perhaps the nonstop Annie Kids CD marathon had, indeed, made me batty – I gave up my protests.

Upon arriving home, however, the missing items were nowhere in sight. Five days later, they still couldn’t be found…

And so, less than a week after leaving, we found ourselves back at the theater. Again.

Stage parents are crazy, yo.

annie ending2 blur
“Smile, darn ya, smile!”


Throwback Thursday: Fresh

When we moved into our house in the summer of 2007, we knew that we were inheriting an amazing collection of flower gardens.

new house pose
July 2007. GAH, those grins!

There were black-eyed susans, daisies, purple cone flowers, three varieties of roses, countless lilies in every shade, gladiolas (my favorite), hyacinth, and oodles of other flowers whose names I still have yet to learn. Thinking that perhaps the gardens were limited to flowers, we thrilled to discover the five edible apple trees, a strawberry patch, and a bunch of raspberry bushes in the side yard.

pick 'em
Raspberry in three year-old fingers.

In 2009, we expanded the gardens ourselves, planting a small vegetable garden just outside of the garage. I had no idea what I was doing, but, even at four and two, the girls seemed to enjoy it… especially when we actually got around to eating what had been planted months ago.

7.22 first carrots
I do believe these are the only successful carrots we’ve ever harvested.

7.30 our own corn!
Growing your own corn makes you feel exceptionally awesome.

Every year since then, the garden has grown; this year, I even dug out a large area of grass to make more room (a process akin to approximately 438 hours of hardcore working out; I do not recommend it), ultimately tripling our planting space. I still have absolutely no idea what I’m doing, neither with the flowers nor the food — anything that successfully grows (and can actually be eaten, holla!), I attribute to dumb luck and ADHD-induced midnight watering — and the puppy got behind the fence and ate all of our cantaloupe plants last week (stinker!), but it’s oddly satisfying to step out into the yard and come in with a gorgeous bouquet, a bowlful of berries, or veggies to cook for dinner.

Especially when one has a penchant for thinking the necessary mealtime items were purchased and then discovering, during dinner prep, when the children are ravenous and I’m pouring more wine into my mouth than the pot, that they’re nowhere in sight.
Fresh baseball-bat sized zucchini, anyone?

new house




Last week, we took our first (of what is supposed to be five) family golf lessons. I realize that, to many folks, this will likely sound like a specially designed form of torture (believe me, I realize this), but after listening to Nick talk it up for several weeks, I decided that maybe it could be – at the very least – tolerable.

My father and stepmother are both avid golfers (seeing Grand Meg’s name on the big ol’ plaque as the club champion many years running has given Ella and Annie a huge kick – which is good, because my name is surely not appearing on any golf trophies soon), and Nick’s dad has been known to swing a mighty fine set of clubs, so you might say we come by the game naturally. In reality, while Nick really likes golfing, he only hits the links a handful of times each year (and, as such, could use a few pointers), and I have only golfed a full round once in my life (that is, if you count hitting the ball 20 yards, becoming annoyed with the lie, picking the ball up and walking it closer to the hole, accidentally chipping onto the green, declaring it a “gimme” and pocketing the ball, hole after hole, as a full round of golf).

Still, Nick found a course close to home with a highly-recommended pro who agreed to teach all four of us at a very reasonable price. Rather than purchase full kiddie sets of clubs that the girls might never use again, he wisely borrowed two sets from a friend (I believe he called them “adorable,” a term generally reserved for wide-eyed baby animals, dancing children on Ellen, and, occasionally, my stepmother-in-law). Given that the only golfing the girls have done previously is of the miniature variety (and even then, they’d become bored after about the 11th hole and proceed to try to stop the windmills from spinning or use their putters as swords), I was skeptical that they’d be interested in learning the ins and outs of “real” golf. Yet again proving my that my parental instinct isn’t worth diddly, Annie and Ella were ecstatic at the prospect of lessons – and, although I couldn’t quite ascertain why, I figured — inexpensive lessons; free clubs; nice instructor… What could go wrong?

Pre-lesson and looking spiffy. What, you don’t golf in a tutu skirt?

As luck/Mother Nature would have it, our first lesson fell on the hottest day in the history of the earth. Okay, technically we didn’t set any records in western New York, but it was hot. Ungodly hot. Melt-your-face-off, “No, kids, it’s too hot to play outside today”, get-sweaty-by-just-thinking-of-being-outdoors, how is it even possible for people to survive without central air? hot. Plus, there’s the whole humidity thing, where the air feels thick, almost tangible, like you’re wearing a damp, full-body invisible sweater. While standing on the equator.

In other words: the perfect day for spending an hour in the middle of an open field facing directly into the sun that was shining its menacing little sunbeams straight at you.

As the girls helped gather up their gear, I began to understand why they’d been so ecstatic about these lessons: accessories. Shiny, bright white golf balls. Bags of cute, day-glo tees. And, best of all, brand new golf gloves. If I’d known this family adventure would bring about shopping, I would have agreed to it a long time ago.

After a little coaxing (and some instruction on how to carry awkward bags that are nearly as large as they are), they even agreed to carry their own clubs to the driving range.

Our adorable little sherpas.

Within only a few steps, however, it became clear that the heat was getting to them. Nick tried to snap a shot of the girls jauntily carrying their bags to the course, but instead got this gem, wherein they look like maybe they’re marching to their own deaths:IMG_4429
Yay! Family golf lessons!!

At that exact moment, when it became clear that even one more step might result in heat exhaustion, the golf pro turned up and offered them a ride to the driving range on the cart with him. The girls accepted with the same enthusiasm they’d shown when we first took them on Splash Mountain in Disney World, and I then understood the second reason they’d been ecstatic for the lessons: riding in tiny motorized vehicles is badass, hella fun. Point one for our instructor.

Once we arrived at the range and the girls responded with rabid enthusiasm when he asked us if we’d like to hit a few balls, the biggest reason for their ecstasy became clear: they were being permitted to smack a ball with a stick. Deliberately. As far and as hard as they could. Being totally aggressive and using this metal object to whack one of our shiny, bright white balls out onto that expanse of green (while wearing a brand spanking new golf glove), and we don’t even need to pick them up when we’re done?? SIGN. ME. UP.

It was pretty much uphill from there, as the pro walked Nick and me through the basics of our swings and showed us tiny corrections we could make to our posture, hand grip, etc. He stated things clearly and was extremely friendly, although I admit that I didn’t exactly hear all of what he was saying because I was too busy feeling like a cast-member from A Time To Kill, a movie where not even the gorgeous Ashley Judd and delicious Matthew McConaughey can distract me from the fact that they are sweating out the equivalent of their body weight in every scene. When the sun disappeared behind tiny puffs of cloud, or when the warm wind kicked up, it was surprisingly tolerable, but when the air was completely still and the sun beat down incessantly upon us, I found myself sweating so profusely and being so aware of the perspiration cascading down my torso, I wondered aloud if I might actually die before the lesson ended. So I might not have used my best listening ears.

The girls, however, were having a dandy time, swinging away with all their power, shouting at us to watch them every single time they set up next to the ball (“Watch me, Mommy!” “Look at this, Daddy!” “No, watch me again!” “Watch me this time, Mommy!” “Daddy, make sure you keep looking!”), hanging from the golf cart roof, camping out in the shade of the trees behind us, positively chugging the ice water that the pro had kindly provided for us (point two!), and wiping their brows with an ice-water-drenched towel. About halfway through the lesson, as I walked over to get a sip of water and revive myself, Annie whispered to me, “This is awesome already!”

Nick, who did not seem to be suffering from the heat as strongly as I, followed the pro’s instructions and almost immediately began hitting better shots. Despite sweating so much I could hardly open my eyes, I did actually manage to internalize some of the tips the instructor was giving me, and was pleasantly surprised that my own swing was improving; perhaps this would, in fact, be just as awesome as Annie had declared (three points!).

Then, as she stepped up to hit another ball, she motioned me over, obviously distressed. I had opened my mouth to ask her to please stop whining when she held up her un-gloved hand and showed me one of the gnarliest blisters I’ve seen in a long time.

Thankfully, it doesn’t look so bad here, but trust me, it was icky.

Naturally, being a stellar, always-prepared parent, I had no band-aids on me, nor anything else to cover her open wound. Hence, she couldn’t swing the club again (the pro had warned her that doing so would seriously irritate her already-very-sore finger), and that, combined with the stinging pain, sent her into a crying tailspin. “But I was just having fun and now I have to stop!”

Ella, meanwhile, had been cheerfully dousing herself with ice water – pouring it down her back (“Check it out – my shirt is ALL WET!”), dumping it on her head, and dragging the freezing water towel across her forehead. Because it was so absurdly hot — and, in what is, again, a stellar parenting move — Nick and I somehow didn’t put two and two together to realize that covering oneself in ice water + no antihistamine medication = hives, when your child is allergic to the cold. At first, I just thought that Ella’s rosy cheeks were due to the heat, but when she began to complain that she was itchy everywhere, it finally dawned on me that she was having a full-on allergic reaction.

Weird allergies are a blast.

We limped back to our car (actually, our super pro took pity on us, so we all — all five of us — piled onto the single-seat golf cart, like some sort of golfing clown car; point one million!), one child wailing about her mangled finger, one scratching furiously and moaning that every single part of her was itchy, and we adults — who had shied away from dousing ourselves with water — looking as though we’d walked through a car wash.

In spite of the heat, the blister, and the hives, however, we all agreed that – somehow – it had been really fun. If I were to play another round of golf this week, I’m confident that I’d still pick up my ball and walk it down the fairway, but, to my surprise, I enjoyed myself greatly and am very much looking forward to the other four lessons.

Next time, we’ll make sure Ella is properly medicated. And Annie already has a golf glove for her right hand. I’ll bring band-aids and towels, so the sweat won’t be in my eyes. We’ll be prepared, by gosh.

And then, what could possibly go wrong?


Several days ago, Ella asked me if we could please go to the dollar store. She’s requested this before – usually when she’s been given money by a grandparent or perhaps found some loose change lying around – and always seems truly thrilled to be able to shop for whatever she wants in what is, clearly, The Greatest Store Of All Time.

“Mom! Everything is only a dollar! EVERY. SINGLE. THING!!!!”

I’ve tried to impress upon her that whole you get what you pay for adage, but still, the dollar store is her Target. Or, given that it now carries a hefty selection of frozen and canned foods, maybe even a Super Target. Eight year-old shopping nirvana.

I’d protested that I didn’t want to spend money on junk lovely trinkets that might break within five minutes of purchasing them, but then she reminded me that both she and Annie have their own allowance. When she also reminded me (after pulling out her official allowance ledger) that Nick and I hadn’t actually paid either of them their allowance since last October – so we were just a teensy bit overdue – I felt the guilt take over and agreed to make a dollar store pilgrimage.

Ella was positively gleeful – and her glee even rubbed off on Annie, who had decided against joining us on our previous dollar store visits. The two of them rummaged through their ledgers and each chose a crisp $20 bill. After running a few other errands, we were ready to go. I checked my watch; we’d been gone for only 30 minutes, and so between what would undoubtedly be a quick jaunt into the dollar store, followed by pre-lunch-hour grocery shopping, I estimated we’d be home within an hour and a half. Perfect.

The instant we entered heaven The Greatest Store Of All Time, Annie made a beeline for the school supplies, saying she wanted items to create a “play school” at home. Prior to going in, the girls had settled on buying nineteen items apiece, so that their now-wadded-up twenties could safely cover everything (because, as Ella sagely noted to Annie, “They always add some extra cents onto the twenty dollars”).

Within five minutes of bursting through those pearly gates — I kid you not, FIVE MINUTES — Annie had accounted for all nineteen of her items (after reluctantly putting back the party pack of clip-on earrings, because I’d informed her that they’d break after only one wearing), and then proceeded to roam the store trading things in and out of her basket to maintain her under-twenty status. I encouraged her to be a bit more careful — to maybe check out the other aisles before blowing everything on the first display she encountered — but she held fast to the incredible marvels she’d already collected.

When not roaming, she used the super-skinny squirt gun as a walking cane. Or a tape measure. Or a magician’s wand. Or, really, anything at all, so long as it involved swinging it around madly and nearly decapitating other customers.

Ella, on the other hand… Ella was far more discerning. By the time Annie had found her nineteen treasures, Ella had managed to put three items in her basket. She walked up and down every single aisle a minimum of five times. She’d remove the merchandise, examine it as if holding a holy relic or perhaps looking for crime scene evidence, and then carefully put it back, saying it wasn’t exactly what she wanted.

Never mind that she has no cell phone to put inside this exquisite dollar store case…

Socks were pored over. Which size? Which color? Would they itch? Did they match her clothes at home? Perhaps she wanted some hair accessories. Should she get a pack of glow sticks? If so, how many? After the 287th time of cheerfully saying, “Whatever you want, sweetie!”, I remarked to her that she seemed to be having a very difficult time with these decisions, to which she replied, “I know I am, Mommy. I need to get every one right. It’s just the way I’m made, I guess.”


After thirty minutes of “shopping,” I texted Nick and told him to send help. Twelve minutes later, I asked him please say some prayers for me. Under other circumstances, I would have hurried Ella’s butt right on out of there… but I’d just read this blog post last week, and although I’m often sick and tired of being told to slow down and savor the minutes (because, really, dollar store minutes are not the ones I’m going to be fondly recalling over the Mai Tais Nick and I will be sipping in Hawaii after Annie heads to college), I tried, just this once, to let Ella do her thing. Truthfully, we had no other plans. The grocery store could wait. There was no reason to rush her. Patience, mama. Patience.

As our “brief” excursion neared the hour mark, however, and as Annie began threatening to put the filthy squirt gun in her mouth, I started trying to encourage Ella to maybe speed it up a bit. Not actually hurry, mind you… No. Smell those roses, baby. Examine that sunglasses case for the fourth time. No rush; I love spending the morning in the dollar store. Patience is my thing. But perhaps – just perhaps – if you haven’t found anything you want by now, after having spent so much time in here, the Royal Baby may well have been born, left the hospital, been christened, and started teething… perhaps you don’t actually like what’s available here, so you don’t need to spend all twenty of your dollars.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, so very wrong.
Those dollars did need to be spent, every last one, on essential, important, glorious items. She just didn’t know which ones yet.

At long, long, looooooong last, Ella completed her shopping. By now, of course, the previously-empty checkout register had four other shoppers in it. And, of course, we three shoppers (I’d managed to pick up a few things, too, if only as a sanity-saving measure) could not just lump our treasures on the conveyor belt and pay together. No, no, each girl needed to have her loot rung up separately, reverently forking over her $20 bill as though it were the Dead Sea Scrolls, and then I could place my items on the belt.

By the time we finally exited the pearly gates, I glanced at my phone to see if we’d make it back home anywhere near my original 90-minute mark and discovered that we had spent an hour and six minutes inside. AN HOUR AND SIX MINUTES. IN THE DOLLAR STORE. SIXTY-SIX MINUTES. Sixty-six minutes that I will never get back, but which Ella will remember gratefully and lovingly, forever. She can even put it on my tombstone: Beloved wife and mother; patiently sacrificed her sanity so I could enjoy the dollar store.

After getting home and carrying in the groceries, the girls put off eating lunch to spread out their newly-acquired bounty across the dining room table and adoringly describe each purchase to me. Ella’s scrupulous shopping had resulted in a relatively coherent collection: hair accessories, sunglasses and case, plastic cup and cup holder, and a couple of assorted toys.

dollar store loot2
Those socks? The ones she agonized over? Wrong size.
But the “really super bouncy ball that can bounce, like, to the ceiling” does, in fact, bounce all the way to the ceiling – and can almost take out the chandelier with it. Dollar store, FTW!

Annie’s purchases, on the other hand, while supposedly all “play school” related (save for the squirt gun, although she did say she could use it as a white board pointer), had a distinct Mardi Gras flavor to them – and not just because she bought a plastic string of gold and purple comedy/tragedy beads. There were pens and pencils and drawing supplies, sure, but also coins (to practice counting), jewels and other trinkets (for the mystery kid prize box), and lots of gigantic play money. Plus, most importantly, her favorite item: a glittery pink wand “that won’t break like those cheap earrings.”

dollar store loot1
Except? The wand? Look closely… Bejeweled 15 in the middle of the heart…
Yep. Annie just purchased herself a quinceañera wand.
It’s now officially my favorite purchase of the day, too. ¡Muy bueno!

They both took a good five minutes describing every last one of their nineteen hard-won items, after which we had lunch… and then they gathered their booty, took it upstairs, and – presumably – set up the school. Or maybe they’re hanging out of their windows and throwing their beads at imaginary Mardi Gras floats. They’re not hanging on me happy, and that’s what really matters.

When Nick got home, he took the girls to get new golf gloves, and then announced that the three of them were heading over to the elementary school to hit golf balls, and did I want to come? I told him maybe later, because, as enticing as that sounds, I’m a terrible golfer, and hitting golf balls requires a lot of concentration. And coordination.
And patience. Lots of patience.

And, right now, mama is fresh out of patience.

Culture Club

My sister-and-law, Emily (yes, I have a sister-in-law who shares my name; we both totally rock it) and her best friend, Molly, visited us last week. As always when Emi is in town, we had an amazing time, laughing more often than should probably be legal; Molly’s joining her only added to the general merriment and hilarity.

Due to the extreme heatwave that so much of the country has been experiencing (and also because I am all for supporting our daughters’ cultural betterment), we all agreed that the best option for afternoon fun would be taking the girls to see Despicable Me 2.

movie despicable
Gratuitous too-dark theater shot.

They’d eschewed dessert in order to partake in the kiddie movie snack box (some popcorn, an appropriately sized drink, and some fruit snacks), and as Emi and I made our way to the seats while balancing both snack boxes, another popcorn tub, three additional beverages, and three boxes of candy, I muttered to her that we should take bets on who would be the first person to spill.

Because it was a Monday afternoon, a 2:20 showing, I’d assumed that the theater would be relatively empty – but, shockingly, we weren’t the only people who’d thought that sitting in quiet, un-sunny, below-100-degree, air-conditioned splendor was a good idea.

crowded theater
Crowded theater but no one in front of us. Score!

We settled in, shuffling seats only once and going to the bathroom only twice (yay, us!) before the showing began. As the final preview flickered, and after tearing away at the packaging like a foraging squirrel, Annie asked if I could help open her fruit snacks. Seeking to quiet the rustling, I quickly reached over to take the bag from her… and promptly spilled my popcorn all over the floor. Before the movie even began. I WIN.

Seeing kid movies is always an excellent experience, because kids don’t hesitate to say what they think – during the movie, and loudly. Nick and I still talk about the time years ago when we went to see Shrek, pre-parenthood, and as we were leaving the theater, a father was admonishing his maybe three year-old son, “Just because you don’t think something is funny doesn’t mean you have to call out ‘That’s not funny!’ every time.”

This showing did not disappoint. There were shouts of, “Don’t do it!” and giggles loud enough to shake the seats. At one point, as the heroes were confronted by an enemy… chicken… one child yelled with disapproval, “What??! It’s a chicken???” It was right around then that Molly shifted slightly in her seat… and spilled her popcorn. Alas, having done so after me, she could not claim victory, but it was a valiant effort nonetheless.

popcorn down
We picked up as much as we could, but still… After us, the ushers could definitely use a raise.

I was very much enjoying myself, chuckling at what a cute movie it was, what delightful culture we were soaking up when, minutes before the end, one of the main characters surprised me and I found myself tearing up. Eyes welling with tears! At Despicable Me 2! Not cool, Universal Studios. Thankfully, the one- and two-eyed minions broke the mood by launching into a wordless version of “YMCA” and so I was spared the embarrassment of the tears actually falling. Not that it’s unusual for me to cry at animated movies, but I do try to save myself for Up, where I’m guaranteed to dissolve into a puddle at least three separate times.

After the show, we needed to run to the grocery store, which normally would have elicited angry protests from my girls, but was instead met with gleeful cheers because air conditioning. It wasn’t until we were already inside the store that I noticed Annie was wearing elbow-length white gloves.

flower girl
What? Isn’t this what you typically throw on to visit the grocery store?
Note also: Ella’s first-ever successful bunny ears. We teach maturity early.

Because of the heat, I’d elected to wear a light, sleeveless dress, and everyone else had followed suit. Apparently, Annie thought it necessary to complete her look with some costume gloves from the playroom. At first, she simply swirled around the flower section, deliberately making “glamorous” poses. But as we finished our shopping, she ran ahead a little bit… and we rounded the corner to find her like this:

flower girl2
It’s not at all embarrassing to discover your child posing in white gloves on stacks of toilet paper.

Ah, well. You can never have too much culture.
And, if all else fails, she’ll have a lovely future as a toilet paper model.

ladies who lunch   Ladies who lunch. Or, in this case, ladies who spill popcorn and pose on packages of bath tissue. But not at the same time… yet.

Throwback Thursday: Graffiti, Grammar, and Giggles

Yesterday’s post about my experience during my LEAP summer got me thinking about the many other stories that came out of those two months – some poignant, some sad, others tremendously funny. I then remembered one of my favorite photos from those days in the housing project, and decided it was too fantastic not to share.

If memory serves, the apartment complex consisted of three residential buildings with one “common” area as well. Living there* was an eye-opening experience, to say the least. There was shouting at all moments of the day and occasional gunshots at night. A distinct, unpleasant odor permeated the indoor public areas. The elevators had buckets in the corner, because it’s better to have urine in a container than on the floor. Graffiti lined every wall. We put duct tape facing outward on our bed frames to catch the roaches before they skittered up and into our sheets; more than once, I awoke to find one stuck, legs still kicking.

(*I am talking about the physical space, not what it was like, emotionally, living there, nor what it was like to live so near my beloved campers. Just the buildings themselves. And the smell.)

Right outside of our apartment door, which was on a fairly high floor — the 9th, maybe? — was the door to the trash chute. Every time we threw away our garbage, or really, every time we entered our apartment, we came face to face with this scribbled missive:

raymond aint

Okay. I could have found it depressing – the graffiti and all. Or maybe threatening, considering that  Raymond was so directly “targeted.” Or some sort of commentary on life in the projects.

But, come on – there’s graffiti everywhere, even at my daughters’ elementary school (although probably not quite like this). And really? I just find it hilarious.

Firstly, it amuses me that Raymond – who, I assume, is male – is insulted using derogatory terms typically aimed at females. I also chuckle at the capital B; clearly, the message writer meant business. (See also: the three exclamation points at the end. I MEAN IT!!!)

Secondly, the grammar nut in me is tickled that Raymond is identified as a gardening tool. I imagine that the insulter intended to refer to him as a slut… but perhaps I’m wrong. (I also recognize the irony of me grammatically analyzing the use of slang, but my awkward geekiness just makes it funnier, no?)

And finally – speaking of grammar – the misspelling of ain’t makes me laugh out loud. Well, maybe I giggle rather than laugh outright, but still… Whoever wrote this was DETERMINED to use the word ain’t (clearly, isn’t or is not would not have sufficed), but somehow knew it just didn’t look right.

anit… No, that’s not it…

an’t… Damn it, I know there’s an apostrophe in here, but this is still not right!


If you can’t find humor after riding up a urine-filled elevator to your roach-filled apartment, where can you find it?



Privileged; Through the Peephole

You know those essay contests, where they invite you to name something that changed your life, or your Ah-Ha moment, or your biggest regret, or your celebrity crush, or whatever? (I’m looking at you, Ben Affleck.) I’ve never considered entering those contests, mostly because I don’t want to write an essay (I left grad school behind long ago, thanks), but also because I didn’t really think I’d had any of those moments. Life-changing experiences, sure. Influential people, absolutely. Middle school ceiling plastered with posters of Charlie Sheen (pre-winning and much more Ferris Bueller), oh hellz yes. But I didn’t think there was a singular moment.

Turns out I was wrong.

It was the summer of 1995, between my sophomore and junior years at Connecticut College. I had signed up to work for the LEAP program, an organization that — back then, anyway (it may have changed somewhat over nearly two decades) — paired up college-aged kids with inner-city children in a summer camp environment… except much more hardcore. Rather than bunking in a quaint cabin or hiking through woodsy trails, we counselors would live in the same housing projects as our campers, spending our days pounding the hot inner city pavements while doing educational and fun activities together. I knew that it would be intense, but I was looking forward to working with the kids, to maybe making a difference. I didn’t anticipate that the greatest difference would be made in my own life.

When I arrived in New Haven to begin several weeks of training before meeting my campers, I quickly discovered that mine was one of very few white faces. Nearly everyone — all but a handful out of many dozens of people — was black or Latino, college students from Conn (like me), Yale, or nearby Quinnipiac University. I had never before been a racial minority, and it was both intimidating and eye-opening. As the days passed, I began to see that difference not as a burden, but as a gift, peering through a peephole to see what it might have been like to be a person of color, someone who is a racial minority moving among white peers. I soon learned, however, that despite my seeming newfound understanding, the brief glimpse I’d been granted was just that: a passing glance, a toe dipped into an enormous lake.

As part of our training, our New London crew (leaders, counselors, and junior counselors) embarked upon an actual camping trip — tent sleeping, cooking over fires, engaging in trust falls and writing exercises, all designed to help us get to know our co-counselors more closely. I thoroughly enjoyed the activities and found my fellow counselors – many of whom were from Conn, but who I hadn’t really known prior to LEAP – to be funny, trustworthy, and fascinating.

On the other hand, I was unsure how they felt about me. Me, the privileged white girl. The girl who had few non-white friends, and whose previous introduction to diversity consisted almost solely of joining a Jewish friend in trying to convince our middle school principal to include Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah alongside Christmas on the school calendar. (The principal had promptly phoned my mother, asking her if I was considering converting to Judaism. She asked if he was insane [but not in so many words], and informed him that, shockingly, friends sometimes help other friends. The Jewish holidays were added to the calendar the following year.) I was keenly aware that I was different, that I’d never before experienced how unsettling it can feel to be in the minority. I liked my fellow LEAP-mates tremendously, and so wanted to be thought of as a buddy and not an outsider.

Doubts continued to plague me until the final night of our trip. Sitting at a picnic table next to the fire, we were asked to share our impressions of our camping experience. When it was my turn, I was hesitant, but decided to risk embarrassment and admit that I’d been nervous, afraid that I wasn’t accepted, that no one liked me. The moment I uttered those words, I felt arms encircle me from behind in an enormous bear hug as David (not his real name), one of my co-counselors, squeezed me tight and said, “Aw, Emily! We love you!” I was elated.

David was a big guy, a tall black student who was also going into his junior year at Conn. I vaguely recognized him from school — an art major, perhaps — but knew little else about him. He had been relatively quiet during our camping adventure, which I initially thought indicated his indifference, or perhaps even contempt, toward me. Now, I knew that he had simply been keeping his thoughts to himself, and – to quote Miss Sally Field – that he liked me. He really, really liked me. I was a buddy. Yes!

Upon returning to New Haven, our training continued for at least another week. At some point, David, two other counselors, and I went out to lunch together, dining at a small restaurant near the Yale campus. I was again the only white participant, but by this point, it had become a non-issue for me — for all of us. We talked about race, about our upbringings, but it wasn’t a problem, merely a starting point for conversation. We also talked about much more than race; we were, after all, friends.

Once lunch was over, we had some time to kill before we needed to return for training, so we decided to peruse a few nearby shops. I can’t remember what they were, but given that they were within walking distance of Yale, they were undoubtedly typical college town establishments: record shops, clothing stores, drugstores, places to buy beer with fake IDs. The final shop we entered had long aisles with numerous shelves and hanging racks at the back, so we split up to check out the merchandise. And that’s when I noticed her.

The clerk – the only salesperson in the entire store, and the only other white person I’d seen in a while – had been sitting at the cash register by the door when we came in. Now, although we were the only customers, and although we weren’t touching anything or asking her any questions, she had gotten up from her cozy chair and begun to walk slowly around the store. I remember thinking that it was so strange, her moving around all of a sudden for no reason. She wasn’t engaging us in conversation, wasn’t hovering to make sure we didn’t unfold the t-shirt stack. Instead, it seemed almost like she was following us.

I soon realized, to my horror, that I was only partly right: she was following. But she wasn’t following all of us, and she certainly wasn’t following me. She was following David. Every aisle he turned down, she was there. Each time he stopped to look at an item more closely, she slowed, keeping him within easy view. She wasn’t blatantly on his heels, but it was incredibly obvious that she had fixed her attention on him and was watching his every move. It was flabbergasting. There were three more of us in the store. We were all the same age, from the same program, in town for the same purpose. If any of us was touching the merchandise, it was me or our other two female friends; David merely kept us company as we window shopped. But he was followed, for absolutely no reason… other than that he was a young black male.

I was dumbfounded. David! She was following David! David, who had bear-hugged me and welcomed me into the group, accepted me as a friend, despite my starting off as an outsider. David, who was no more likely to have stolen anything or committed a crime than my grandma. David, who was spending his summer in the New London projects in order to help inner city kids. David, who would soon welcome my presence as the only white person at a true (and awesome) “Yo’ Mama” contest (my first and only). David, who, later that summer, would help shepherd me into my apartment after one of the residents accosted me in the urine-filled elevator, and my male LEAP counterparts – fearful of my safety – put themselves at risk to make sure I made it home safely. David, who was doing nothing at all except being himself. An artist. A student. A counselor. A son. A friend. A young black male. And that was all it took to make him worthy of close observation.

I’d heard of things like this before, of course. I may have been living as a sheltered white girl, but I wasn’t entirely stupid. Still, I had never seen it with my own eyes – I’d never watched, aghast and mortified, as a completely innocent person was assumed to be up to no good because of his race. At first, I was horrified. As time went on, I became livid.

I attempted to find some kind of justification for her behavior. Perhaps she had recently been robbed by a young black male, or perhaps some kids who looked like David had vandalized her shop or other shops near her, and she was nervous, even prudent. Perhaps, however, she had simply been indoctrinated into the idea that black men do bad things, and so every black male automatically looked suspicious to her. Regardless of her reasoning, the outcome was the same: David was assumed to be doing something wrong simply because of the color of his skin.

I approached him about it, indignant, furious, and shocked. How could this have happened? It was blatantly unfair. It was awful. I was so sorry.

He listened to what I had to say but then, for all intents and purposes, shrugged it off – not because he didn’t notice, not because he didn’t see exactly what I’d seen, but because he had become so accustomed to being viewed as suspicious, it no longer even occurred to him that it was newsworthy. That was just the way it was. Perhaps he seethed inside; maybe he swore under his breath every time he was treated like this. But all I ever saw was him shrug it off, and then go back to being David. We had training to complete, kids to work with, and our lives moved on.

For him that experience was nothing to get worked up about, commonplace. For me, it was life-changing, and I’m not using that term just because I have a flair for being dramatic. Even though the clerk wasn’t being overtly racist – wasn’t calling David names or refusing him admission to the shop – her actions spoke volumes. I’d grown up assuming that such attitudes were long extinct; that woman proved me wrong.
I’ve never forgotten it.

I am not trying to make sweeping statements about race in America, nor about race relations in 2013. I am not tying this to the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case, although certainly the discussions regarding the verdict have gotten me thinking and led to my writing this post. Since that summer, I have been out with black and brown friends (and, of course, my husband and my daughters) and have seen them treated with respect and kindness, not because of their behavior or their skin color, but because they are human. Likewise, I have seen people of all races and genders — some of them my own students — be presumed guilty of crimes they never committed, because those proclaiming guilt made false assumptions with no facts in place. I am not saying anything is irrevocably broken, nor do I consider myself to be an activist. I am simply talking about my particular experience that day in New Haven, and how it shattered my notion that people no longer judged others because of the color of their skin; and, therefore, how it changed the way I see and move in the world.

It’s only recently that I’ve realized that the lesson I learned that day had a flip side, one with equally important consequences. I never worry that I’ll be stopped by the police, unless I’m actually doing something wrong (no texting while driving, I promise). I don’t get followed around stores. I have never been instructed to use a bathroom separate from the main restroom, and the only time I’m detained at the airport is when I have one of our service-dogs-in-training with me. I float through life largely unnoticed – by my neighbors, by authority figures, by other adults. Some of this is because I don’t purposely draw attention to myself, and some of it is that I, like many of us, generally find myself surrounded by people who, by and large, look like me. But part of it – the part I’m not consciously aware of, the part that many of us are not doing consciously – is because I’m a white female, someone who, we tend to think, is not up to no good, so there is no reason to pay me any unnecessary attention. I absolutely take this lack of attention for granted; in fact, it’s so not on my radar, I almost don’t know it exists… until I think back to that summer of 1995.

Having only been a white woman (at least, that I remember…), I, obviously, don’t know what it’s like to walk in anyone else’s shoes, and certainly not those of someone with black or brown skin. But I remember that glimpse through the peephole, that toe in the lake. I remember being the only peach face in a sea of tans and browns, being instantly doubted by my campers’ parents because I was a well-off white girl, and being shown outright hatred (because I was white; they told me as much) by some inhabitants of the housing projects where I’d spend the summer. I can still feel their withering glances and how it almost physically hurt to be called horrible names. I can also still feel my own indignation and confusion: But you don’t even know me. Why do you assume that I won’t be a good counselor? How can you distrust me when I haven’t given you any reason to do so?

It was easy for me to avoid their judgement and persecution if I’d really wanted to; I could simply, literally, walk away. I could return to my dorm at Conn, or even just drive down the street, and I would no longer be the only white girl around. How fortunate for me, no?

Eighteen years removed from my LEAP summer, I am still just as fortunate. In fact, I am privileged. I live in a wonderful, safe neighborhood. My daughters attend a fantastic public elementary school. Nick has a stable job with a good company. We make enough to make ends meet, but still have enough left over to take vacations and buy random apps for our iPads. I am healthy. I am happy. I am privileged.

I know, too, that I am privileged to be a white female. Truthfully, it’s not something I think about often, but perhaps I should. With privilege comes responsibility, and while I don’t feel that I can easily change the world and make it a fairer place, I can change my world. At the very least, I can acknowledge how fortunate I am, and be grateful for it.

I’d rather not do the very least. I’d prefer to do a bit more. I’m not really the attend-a-rally type, and my thoughts on race are too jumbled and discombobulated to turn them into a soapbox. But I do like to think, and I sure as hell like to talk. And so that’s what I’m going to do. Think, and talk – in my head in the shower, out loud to myself in the car, and now “publicly” in this forum. Then maybe I’ll think some more and talk with friends… and, who knows, maybe someday I’ll lead a rally. But for now, this seems right.

I owe it to David to tell this story. (For the record, David and I fell out of touch when our LEAP days were over. Although I haven’t seen him in years, I have it on good authority that he’s a married dad now, and has started his own consulting firm. I hope he counsels women like the one we encountered that day in New Haven.) I owe it to all of the Davids out there to tell this story, not because it’s unique, but because it is so commonplace, it’s often overlooked. I owe it to my friends who have never experienced such judgement. I owe it to myself, so that the lessons I learned are not forgotten.

Perhaps most of all, I owe it to Ella and Annie (who, themselves, are not white) – not because I want them to know how horribly people can treat one another, but because I want them to know how awesome David was, and how his story is too important to be disregarded. Peering through that peephole was an incredible gift; I want to share it with my daughters, so that they, too, can think and talk, and eventually, do.

Maybe, just maybe, one day, that they’ll share David’s story, too… And I hope it’ll begin with, “This is the craziest thing — can you believe it?” We have a long way to go, but the journey will never be made if we don’t start. I’m starting today – with this leap.

The Young and the Restless

For many (most?) kids, the idea of summer is fantastic. Free time! Sleeping in! Seeing friends! Staying out late! Days with no schedule and nothing to do!

For Ella, the idea of summer is also fantastic. In practice, however, days with no schedule and nothing to do! quickly loses its exclamation point and becomes, DAYS WITH NO SCHEDULE AND NOTHING TO DO OMG OMG OMG.

It’s not so much that she’s bored (a word that, in our house, is regarded with even greater contempt than the curses they’ve learned recently) but rather that she has a very difficult time playing by herself/figuring out how to fill her time, and so unstructured hours make her want to tear her hair out and double-fist caramel macchiatos and fuzzy navels (or maybe that’s just me as I watch her flop around, groaning about not knowing what to do).

In an effort to help Ella feel like something is predictable, we’ve attempted to follow some sort of routine — wake up, put on clothing, consume something, maybe not just lounge around all day, consume something else, leave the house at some point, probably get wet, and be sure that everyone is still alive at bedtime. Very rigid, our days. For the past several summers, we’ve also created a Summer Fun List — a collection of things that we can do to A. have fun (hence, the name) and B. not kill one another.

summer fun list
Feel free to click to see our absolutely incredible ideas, like, life-sized.

Some days, we’ll check off more than one activity. Other times, an entire week will go by and we won’t do a single one, but it’s somehow comforting to have the list available – and I enjoy having everything spelled out for me so that when they beg for the 297th time to go to the amusement park, I can cheerfully point to the poster boards and reply, “Aww, bummer. No time today. But it’s on our list! Check back again later!”

For the most part, the SFL is effective in helping Ella stave off that OMG MY DAY IS A BLANK SLATE feeling, but there are still many times when we don’t have the ingredients to make root beer floats, the kite string is knotted, and I’d sooner gnaw off my arm than make a tinfoil river 30 minutes before dinner. It’s in these moments, the open spaces, when Ella really begins to struggle. She simply cannot entertain herself easily – whether that’s a product of her firstborn-ness (and us having “entertained” her as a baby) or simply an innate part of her personality (yes, I realize it’s both, just thinking out loud here), I’m not sure, but when she begins to pace the rooms, push every one of her sister’s buttons in the span of two minutes, and hover over my shoulder so closely I can feel her breathing in my ear, the emotional temperature of the room definitely takes a nosedive.

To be fair, it should probably be noted that I wasn’t, um, exactly the best self-entertainer as a child. It’s been rumored that I might have awakened on more than one occasion and approached my mother with the delightful phrase, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” Ah, youth. These days, my to-do list is not a piece of paper but rather an entire book (literally), so although I can’t entirely remember being unable to find something to do, I absolutely remember that feeling and how itchy and uncomfortable it is. (And, hey, I still don’t enjoy having stretches of time with “nothing to do.” See above: Summer Fun List.)

Seeking to stave off both Ella’s sense of helplessness and the terrible bad mood that accompanies it, I suggested that she make a list of things that she could do to entertain herself. (Coincidentally, I had this conversation with her only one day before Dooce posted about doing something similar with her daughter, Leta. If they ever got together, it could be the perfect partnership — Leta could do Ella’s reading and Ella could eat whatever Leta won’t touch. Symbiosis, bam.)

Upon hearing my suggestion, Ella immediately seemed game. As a big fan of making lists and writing notes, she already had paper and pens set to go, and so she brought her supplies to the living room and sat down, ready. I’m pumped! Let the brainstorming begin!*

But first, she wanted a clarification. “This is a list of things that I can do?” Yes. “All by myself?” Yep. “Like… when I don’t know what else to do, I can do these things?” Mmmm hmmm. “So… I’m thinking of things. Things I can do on my own.” That’s the idea.

And then she sat. And sat. And looked around the room. And sat some more.

Finally, several minutes later, she looked up and said, “Mom?” Yes? “Can you help me think of things that I can do?”


This is a marathon, people, not a sprint. And we haven’t even crossed the starting line yet. I really hope the oranges taste good at the water stations.

Eventually, Ella did come up with a list – a pretty good one at that. (I particularly like #16: Clean.) So far, summer has been a solid enough combination of busy and relaxing that she’s been able to keep her hand-wringing to a minimum and the list hasn’t really been necessary yet.

Which is a good thing, because the one time she did want to refer to it, she couldn’t find it. Because she’d lost it. She was quite distraught until I remembered that I’d taken a photo of it (again, see above), so I could just print it off for her. She waited patiently while I located the photo amongst my bazillions of other photos, opened it up, refilled the paper tray, and printed a copy… And then took one look at it and declared that she didn’t really want it – she just wanted to know where it was.

Ah, youth.

*totally adopted from one of my favorite lines in Good Will Hunting, “Let the healing begin!” I can’t find a good YouTube clip to it, but if you’re not sure what I’m talking about, check it out. Such ballyhoo.

Throwback Thursday: Crazy

It was my cousin’s 23rd birthday last week. Because her birthday is so close to Independence Day and her family visits the lake each year for the Fourth, we actually get to celebrate in person with her annually. As the festivities wore on, it occurred to Nick that, despite not “officially” joining the family until 2001, he had celebrated nearly all of Grace’s birthdays with her, having first joined me at the lake when Grace was just five.

It was my grandmother’s 75th birthday, and her three daughters, all of whom live out of town, were flying into town to surprise her. In turn, they were each bringing their own daughters – so it was to be the six of us all together. Happy Birthday! A girls’ vacation!
And Nick.

We had been dating for a little over a year. The previous summer, I’d felt practically apoplectic because he was in Minnesota and I was in Connecticut. It was that outrageous, blinding, gag-inducing kind of love, where nobody understood us and surely no one in the history of humans had ever experienced a connection as profound as ours. Except for the performers of the songs we included on the mix tapes we made for each another, with titles like “The Long Summer” and “Dreaming of You”. Dire Straits totally got us, man.

Vintage 1994. A shared love of gigantic bangs will take you very, very far.

Anyway, because I was still in that but he’s my soulmate haze a year later, I brought Nick with me to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday. I don’t remember too much from that trip, except that he brought his guitar and sat on the dock and played They Might Be Giants songs for my cousin, which I thought was just the sweetest, awesomest thing ever. Dear God, we were dorks.

What I do remember from that trip was the tumultuousness of being newly in love. The you are my everything feelings, and how very necessary they seemed at the time… but how exhausting they seem now. It’s not that I’m not still crazy about my husband, because I am… but a lot has changed in 19 years, and there’s just way less crazy in the crazy.

It is bigger that it used to be. There are two other beings who we created and need to keep alive, which is, you know, kind of all-consuming. Plus, there are car payments and doctor’s bills, jobs and home improvements and parent-teacher conferences. It is big, this life stuff. But it’s smaller than it used to be, too. We’ve found our spot, the place where we’re meant to be, both literally and metaphorically, and we’re comfortable here. It’s not the place I necessarily envisioned 19 years ago, but it’s a very good place to be.

It is easier. So much of the guesswork is over. I know that he always sits before he puts on his socks, that he’s changed his order from “well done” to “medium,” and that The Jerk never stops being funny. He knows that I sleep with white noise, that I compulsively watch My Cousin Vinny every time it’s on cable, and that I pack the grocery bags according to item type (cold stuff together; dry goods elsewhere; chocolate in my purse). It’s harder though, too. As job challenges and extended-family crises arise, it can be really difficult knowing just how to support one another while still being good parents, good partners, and not relying too heavily on wine and Chopped marathons.

Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii. Honeymoon style.

It is calmer than it was before. Gone are the moments of Could that conversation mean we’re over?? and impromptu getaways with friends. In its place are impromptu Bruegger’s breakfasts with Daddy and the girls, offered to them after they’ve received disappointing news from their theatre camp and Nick instinctively knows that they need some special attention. It’s also wilder than it was before. You never know who’s going to vomit in your car, require a visit to the emergency vet on the Fourth of July, or when you might deal with a 21-hour flight home.

It’s so much slower. We watch Homeland and Modern Family instead of heading out at night. A feverish child requires hours of couch cuddling, and chores and emails are swept aside. There are days when I can all but promise you that either Ella and Annie or I will make it until bedtime, but not all three of us, and I swear that each minute has been designed to prove to me why some animals eat their young. But it is also ridiculously fast. College memories seem a couple of years old, not decades old. It is impossible that our wedding was a dozen years ago. And if the girls don’t stop growing up so fast – so very quickly that I have to catch my breath to try to hold onto them – I’m gonna have to pull a Superman (the original Christopher Reeve version) and fly backwards around the earth, turning back time to have just a few more all-important minutes.

It’s predictable. There’s nothing to prove, no one to impress. Wednesdays, the garbage goes out. The girls have swimming on Mondays. After work, he’ll retreat upstairs to play games on his iPad before dinner; once the kids are in bed, I’m glued to the computer. And yet, it’s surprising. Nick said he was going to start swimming in the mornings, but honestly? I knew better. Pfft. Until yesterday, when the alarm went off at 6:30 and damn if he wasn’t done with laps by 7:15. His birthday gift this year was a trip with his dad to a Minnesota Wild game, orchestrated by me in secret (including contacting a buddy of his who is a sports writer and, amazingly, winding up with free tickets to the game). Not that I’m bragging, but it was a hell of a gift. Surprise!

It is sillier and more stupid. It’s rapping the lyrics to “Parents Just Don’t Understand” while the girls look away in horror. It’s singing bad 80s music in the shower while the other one of us harmonizes at the sink. But it is so much wiser. It is knowing when is an appropriate time to have an important discussion, recognizing that right after a Wild loss is a poor choice. It is ignoring nasty words that are said when someone is tired, understanding that they don’t mean what they’re saying, and that engaging in a counter-argument would be unproductive and dumb. It is knowing when to offer help and when to let the other person do it alone, when to suggest that another beer is a poor idea and when to join in for the next round, and that, through it all, there’s still no one on earth I’d rather be living this life with, and so long as we do it together, we’ll come out just fine.

It has become repetitive. We have the same argument over and over (oddly, Nick has yet to see that I’m right). I can quote you Looney Toons episodes by heart, not because I have seen them (not a single one), but because the girls have memorized them and quote them to us (please don’t be too jealous). There is the bedtime routine: let the dogs out, take Annie to the potty, check on Ella, finally get some shut-eye; lather, rinse, repeat. Yet, it is also exciting. We fly to New York for our anniversary, eating our way around the city. Nick receives an A in his first MBA class and has a Facebook post go viral; I look for a new teaching job. We’re planning a 40th birthday getaway that will (thank you, Macklemore) be effin’ awesome. Or… maybe there’s even a new Trip Flip on the DVR – and the crowd goes wild.

It is chaste and clean. The girls need to get off to school in the mornings, there is homework and email at night. We share a room with our daughter when relatives visit or we go to the lake. Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated because (according to someone I know, *cough*) it’s too commercial. But it is also passionate and provocative. It is stolen moments when the kids aren’t around. It’s flowers sent just because and perfume worn because it’s his favorite. It’s knowing that little is sexier than watching him read to the girls before bed or bring the trash cans into the garage without being asked.

Circa 2002. Borrowed puppies make everything cuter.

It is louder. There is constant singing (especially “Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” – betcher bottom dollar that tomorrow, there will be 392 renditions of “Tomorrow” and my head will be sore from all of the banging). There is clomping around in high-heeled dress-up shoes and barking dogs and Stop touching your sister. It is also quieter. It is hearing him bemoan that he needs some desk space to do his homework, and then taking hours that evening to clear out cupboards and rearrange furniture for him so that he has a workspace. It is sweeping the floor but then having him reach for the dustpan and gather up the dust bunnies so I don’t have to.

It is sad. It is losing loved ones and fearing losing others. It is saying goodbye to our Golden Girl. It is the girls’ heartache over a broken foot, a troubled friendship, a lost blanket, and knowing that a kiss will not make things better. But it is also happy. Sometimes deliriously happy, but mostly just content, satisfied – joyful. It is watching our daughters read to one another. It is Annie and Ella giggling as Nick tickles them or I slip into an accent mid-sentence. It is Disney World before Christmas with our best friends. It is returning to Minnesota and showing the girls the bridge where we got engaged. It is card games with family after the kids are in bed. It is attending The Book of Mormon and our mouths being sore from all the laughing (in that omg I can’t believe I’m watching this kind of way, which is pretty much the best way).

It is kisses goodbye every morning and snuggling close every night. It is days when we hardly even see one another, much less have a meaningful conversation. It is hands held in the car and purposeful, over-the-top smooches in front of the kids, because we know it bugs the heck out of them – but also because, you know, we’re still in love and all that. It is acceptance. It is anger. It is forgiveness. It is my heart still skipping a beat when I see him across a room. It is his picking up chocolate-covered caramels on business trips and calling each night to talk to the girls before they go to sleep. It is saying something and having Nick chuckle at it, and feeling a smug sense of pride that, nineteen years later, I can still make this man laugh. Which is a good thing, because he does the same to me every single day.

It is not what I expected it to be; instead, it is so much less… but oh so much more.
Which, when I think about it, is pretty crazy.