I guess I just miss my friend

After we visited Minnesota in June to celebrate Bill’s 70th birthday, but before I wrote a post about how it had gone so uproariously wrong, I emailed Bill to ask if he would be comfortable with my mentioning his cancer. See, we knew that time was limited. A couple of months prior to the trip, we’d been told that nothing more could be done, and it was quite likely that this was the last time we’d all be together. And so, when illness struck and planes were delayed and the power failed and the car keys went missing and the painstakingly-created plans slowly but steadily began to crumble, we absolutely did our best to pull ourselves together and enjoy it, damn it! But somewhere, in the back of everyone’s minds, was the thought that this really, really wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. This was our last time together. It was supposed to be different.

Bill phoned me back, thanked me for considering his feelings, and then very politely asked me to not mention the cancer. First, he’d like to think that we would have gotten together to celebrate his 70th, anyway (we would). Second, he didn’t want people feeling they needed to fawn over him after they read the post (fair enough). Bill did want me to write about him, about cancer; in fact, he specifically asked me to do so. “I hope that you’ll talk about this later; I would be honored if you wrote about me.” He simply wanted me to wait until after he was gone, and then he was sure that I would do him justice.

Awesome. No pressure, Bill. Thanks.

It’s been four weeks since we lost him, and I’ve been thinking about what I want to say, how to possibly talk about someone who meant so much more to me than I can ever hope to illustrate. I could go on forever telling stories about him, trying to illuminate who he was as a person (as Nick did so very perfectly at the memorial). But I realize that I’ll never truly capture him the way I want to. Moreover, Nick – along with Bill’s other friends who spoke at the memorial – has already captured him so wholly that I don’t want to just repeat what they’ve said. And so, instead, I am simply going to talk the tiniest bit* about who Bill was to me… because he sure as hell wasn’t “just” my father-in-law.

* I realize that this is relative, given that this is probably my longest post ever. Work with me.

bill and me

Nick and I met over twenty years ago (omg!), when we were freshmen at Connecticut College. We formally began dating the following spring, and I met Bill around that time – whether it was when he came to visit Nick at Conn, or whether it was when I visited Nick in Minnesota that summer, I don’t recall, but I do know that we’ve known one another for over nineteen years – more than half my life. Despite Nick’s and my gag-inducing No One Has Ever Experienced A Love Like Ours behavior, Bill welcomed me cordially and openly; I did not have to “earn” my spot but was, instead, immediately one of the gang.

Bill is well-known for his sense of humor. He found something laughable in almost every situation, could tell enormously funny and clever jokes and stories, and was a terrific teaser. I knew early on that I’d fully been accepted into his world when he began to tease me, mercilously, about almost everything. Since forever, I’ve slept with a white noise machine, while Bill preferred to sleep in silence – or, better yet, with the windows open (something I cannot do, because my ADHD brain causes me to jump at every hint of sound… “Ooooh, some crickets!” “Is that a woodpecker?” “I didn’t know there was a train near here!” “People still listen to Kenny G?”). We each found the other’s sleep/noise preferences to be utterly baffling, and we discussed it – with mock seriousness – not infrequently.

One day – well before Nick and I were married, before I’d “officially” become family – this cartoon arrived in the mail: (click to see original size)
fax from bill
If you only tease the ones you love, Bill clearly thought I was the bees’ knees.

As nineteen years passed, Bill and I communicated regularly, sometimes over the phone or through texting, but mostly via email. Because Ella and Annie’s birthdays are in December, I try to get the rest of our Christmas shopping done early, so I’m not rushing around like a crazy person (well, no more than usual). One year, I’d already asked Bill what he’d like for Christmas, but had yet to receive an answer. In the meantime, Ella had lost a tooth, but the Tooth Fairy accidentally forgot to show that night. Bill, being perfectly him, touched upon both with his reply…

From me to Bill
Subject: Me, bugging you again


Okay, I know I’m being a pain…
But I’m wondering if you’ve had a chance to think of anything that might be on your Christmas wish list.

If so, I’d love to hear it.  🙂

Hope all’s well…
xoxo  🙂

Reply, from Bill to me
Subject: Re: Me, bugging you again

This is me bugging you. You gave me Twins tickets covering birthday, Christmas, father’s Day, fourth of July and Guy Fawkes Day.  No Christmas present for me other than that, thank you very much.
Is it true that the Tooth Fairy reported you to county social services?
Love you

Although not a doctor himself, Bill had a lifetime of experience in the medical field, advising many medical boards and being — to me, anyway — somewhat all-knowing when it came to medicine and medical care. A year ago, when Ella broke her foot, Nick and I were faced with an extremely formidable decision: to allow her foot to heal as it was (without surgery), knowing that, if it healed improperly, she would need a much more complicated surgery down the road… or try to avoid potential problems and go ahead with surgery right then, even though her foot seemed to be healing just fine. Nick and I were absolutely stumped. While the doctor left the room to get his assistants and remove Ella’s cast, I excused myself… and called Bill.


Last summer, when my aunt was dying of cancer and I wanted to speak with her but was uncomfortable picking up the phone, I called Bill to ask him how to talk to someone in a situation like this. His advice gave me the courage to phone her; we had a lovely conversation. She died less than a week later, and I am forever grateful that we had the chance to talk. Likewise, it was Bill who helped me when Ella first developed her allergy to the cold. Not only was her condition scary and baffling, but we couldn’t even educate ourselves on it because of the scarcity of information. Unprompted, Bill emailed me links to scholarly articles on the subject, so that we could be better prepared.

Come to think of it, Bill often sent me links to things I might find interesting, be it an article about storm chasers (because he knew I have a strange desire to see a tornado up close and personal; or, at least I did, until they went all Twister crazy these past few years), or a link to a children’s choir singing at the Queen’s jubilee celebration. But perhaps more than anything else, Bill and I emailed about cooking. We shared a love of all things epicurian, from restaurants to recipes to actually preparing food ourselves, and we bonded over our mutual appreciation of food time and time again. We exchanged recipes, gave one another cookbooks and culinary magazine subscriptions, and sent countless delicious goodies one another’s way, from bread-of-the-month clubs (omg, the chocolate sourdough) to unique oils and vinegars (the peach balsamic is still my favorite).

While I certainly turned to him for advice, he did the same to me; and every single time, I was honored and touched that he’d considered my opinion worthy of the asking. When taking photographs, he would inquire about lighting and angles. A few years ago, as he began teaching a new class at the U of M, he toyed with doing part of the course online, and asked what I thought of it, as an educator. Bill sought my assessment of music and musicians, and listened to me in earnest when I presented my point of view on a political topic. That my thoughts merited deliberation, when he himself was so intelligent and well-educated and witty, never ceased to please and humble me.

to annie from bill
Typical Grandpa Bill humor…

Bill was an extremely eloquent speaker and writer, always able to get his point across quite succinctly (even if his handwriting was atrocious). He also had a gift for reaching out and letting me know when he was proud of me, that he was thinking of me, or simply that he loved me. For the past five years, I’ve made separate photo books of Nick and me with the girls — one photo for each week — and have sent them to our respective parents. Always, Bill would reach out to let me know just how much they meant to him, while also managing to compliment me and make me feel like I was on top of the world.

I’m sure you know how much more than “just pictures” these gifts are.  Please know that we appreciate the effort, skill, caring and consideration involved in their preparation.

And that, really, was one of the things I loved most about Bill: his ability to make me feel fantastic. He did this with everyone he cared for – sharing stories, freely giving compliments, letting those he loved know that they mattered to him – so I know that I wasn’t unique… but I felt unique. I felt special. That’s probably because I was special to Bill. Yes, part of this was because we were related to one another. That he respected and appreciated me as his son’s wife, his granddaughters’ mother, and his own daughter-in-law, was never in doubt.

The following was sent four years ago as a prelude to a poem he’d found and wanted to share with me, entitled “To My Son’s Girlfriend” by Michael Milburn

It was at that point that I was struck by the realization that Nick has been with you for nearly as long as he was at home with me — to the extent that anyone can claim to be the “woodworker” here, the resulting table is as much of your hand as anyone’s.  That thought then led to a brief reverie on how happy it makes me to see Nick in such a wonderful family and how proud I am of you, him, Ella and Annie.  It is one thing to watch one’s offspring take their first steps, do well in school, head off to college.  It is quite another to watch their lives unfold and enfold in the context of the family of their own making.  It’s a wonderful thing, this family stuff.
Our family ties meant a lot to me, too. I was honored and gladdened to have him as my father-in-law, as the father of my husband, and as the grandfather of my children. He and Nick shared an uncommonly strong partnership, and seeing them interact together filled me with awe and deep, unbridled happiness. I reveled in being with the whole clan, watching him as a father to Nelle and Em, and seeing him blossom whenever he was with Mary, our girls’ GranMary. Alongside her, Bill was a superb grandfather, delighting in the girls’ accomplishments and interests and constantly looking for new and inventive ways to connect with them. I relished every one of these familial bonds.

Talking with the tooth fairy via video chat
Posing as the Tooth Fairy for a video chat, after Eleanor lost a tooth.
There can be no doubt that the roles Bill and I played strengthened our relationship. With that said, Bill was not just my father-in-law, nor my husband’s father, nor my children’s grandfather – nor was I, to him, just a daughter-in-law, nor his son’s wife, nor his granddaughters’ mother. What is perhaps most remarkable about Bill’s and my relationship – and what, I think, I will miss the most – is that we loved each another just because, regardless of the roles we played in one another’s lives.
This is not to discredit the relationships where role does play a central, if not the most important, factor. When Ella and Annie were born, I felt an immediate and irrefutable connection to them; they were my children, they were part of Nick and me. I loved them with every fiber of my being and would have thrown myself in front of a car for them or – God help me – braved the line for Justin Beiber tickets, had they asked me to, before their personalities had even emerged – simply because they were mine. As they have grown into the human beings they are today, it so happens that I genuinely like the people they are becoming, and the love I have for them has deepened as a result; but, at its core, I adore them because they are my daughters, and I am their mom.
Likewise, there is a particularly warm and terrific feeling in being my own parents’ daughter, and to having them as my mom and dad. I know that I am loved at the simplest and most profound level, and that is comforting and incredible. On the other hand, it is also incredible to know that Bill loved me, no matter what our roles may have been. I am firmly convinced, if Nick and Ella and Annie had somehow disappeared, and we had nothing left to tie us together, no assigned parts to play in each other’s worlds, that Bill would still have continued to think I was fantastic, just because I am me.
We did not have to love one another; surely, we could have gotten by with pleasantries and some form tolerance or perhaps even mutual admiration, as so many in-laws do. Instead, we chose to love one another, and that kind of love is, indeed, elusive and special. He was Bill, and I was Emily, and I miss him oh so very much.
little family
I miss playing Words With Friends with him. He was an intimidating and daunting opponent (although, not to brag, but I totally beat him a lot), and our games were some of the ones I looked forward to the most. I haven’t played WWF with anyone in at least six weeks (sorry, peeps), because, as he got sicker, Bill had stopped playing, and I was terrified of being informed that our game was over. I still am.
I miss his hugs, the way his long arms circled all the way around me and pulled me in tight; I can’t believe that I’ll never hug him again. It is simply not possible that he won’t be the Tooth Fairy when Annie loses her next pearly white. Bill’s sideline cheering is the stuff of legend, and I cannot wrap my head around the idea that he’ll never attend Annie’s soccer games or see one of Ella’s swim meets or congratulate Nick when he earns his MBA. That he won’t walk through my door again with a stack of photocopied (and annotated) recipes for me to try makes my stomach hurt, quite literally.
I can no longer phone him when a medical crisis strikes, nor ask his opinion on how to comfort a friend in need, nor tell him about my subbing assignments and how ecstatic I am to be back in the classroom. There will be no more games of Hand and Foot with him and Mary and Nick after the girls go to bed, wherein he scribbles “Them” and “Us” or “Good Guys” and “Bad Guys” to keep score. There is no one with whom to discuss the finer points of extra virgin versus flavored olive oil. When we visit his house, I can turn on the sound machine in my bedroom, and know that he won’t be there to shake his head and laugh. God, how I miss his laugh.
And, quite frankly, that’s just shit. It’s not okay. It just isn’t.
A few days ago, I was trying to describe Bill, and my relationship with him, to my therapist. The emails, the articles, the jokes, the recipes. Card games, meals, phone calls, laughs. Oh, how he laughed! He laughed at so many things, but he also laughed at me – not like that, but rather because he thought I was funny – really, truly funny. I made Bill laugh, often; little has given me more joyful pride.
As I rambled on, I began to falter, because I couldn’t put my thoughts into words. He was my father-in-law, yes, he was my family, but he was so very much more. We talked; we shared; we consulted; we hoped. He was Bill, and he meant the world to me.
My therapist listened, thought for a moment, then looked at me and said, simply, “He was your friend; your dear friend.”
My friend.
Perhaps this is odd, but I’d never thought of Bill as my friend. To be sure, Bill was a tremendous friend himself, and had a great many of them, but I’d never included myself among them. I knew, certainly, that he was a phenomenal friend to Nick. In fact, not too long ago, when Nick was at a loss for how to express his sadness, I attempted to help give voice to his feelings by (mis)quoting Red from The Shawshank Redemption: “I guess you just miss your friend.”
But, somehow, I’d never considered that Bill was my friend, too.
After his memorial two weeks ago, a group of us gathered at a nearby bar to more raucously celebrate his life. Although Nick and his sisters were surrounded by marvelous friends and family, and although I knew many of them, I felt out of place. I’d been battling bronchitis and felt like crap, and when sadness threatened to overtake me, I decided that, instead of being the morose, coughing, teetotaler in the corner, I’d take myself away for a bit. Not knowing where to go, I found myself in our rental car, curled up on the passenger seat, tears flowing freely.
To make the maudlin scene complete (because I do so like a good drama), I determined that now was a good time to re-read some of Bill’s old emails to me, including one titled “Brown”.
Hi — on the off chance that you have not seen the TED talks by Brene Brown, I encourage you to watch these two.
I’m using these to teach leadership, but I think her message is widely applicable.  Moreover, she’s a great speaker and reminds me a bit of you, except you’re a better story teller. Love you.
I remembered receiving the emails way back in February, but – to my dismay – realized that I had never watched either video. (Cue lots more tears.) And so, hunched up in the car in my brand new eggplant-colored memorial dress, I resolved that now was as good a time as any to click on those links.
I listened to every word, all forty-one minutes of them. Brené is, without a doubt, a great speaker (and certainly a better story teller than I, despite Bill’s generous assertion); I found myself utterly drawn in. Moreover, I found myself hearing – really hearing – what she had to say; it was a watershed moment.

If I had listened to these talks back in February, they wouldn’t have resonated with me. These last few months have been so nutty, so sad, so unbelievable, I truly don’t think I could have processed Brené’s message – or, if I could, I would have lost focus along the way. Today, although I’m hardly in excellent shape emotionally, I feel much more open, much more receptive… much more vulnerable. Which, by her definition, means that I’m standing at the birthplace of joy and love (holla!). And, man, could I use some joy and love right about now.

Practicing gratitude? That, I can do. Looking for the good and the funny and the beautiful? I think I’ve got that part down. The rest is not going to be smooth sailing, this being accepting of myself, of my imperfections. Breathing through this time is incredibly difficult. And believing that I’m enough? Far easier said than done.

But Bill believed it. For him, I was enough, just as I am. Bill loved with his whole heart and told me – told all of us, for whom this was true – that he loved us, constantly. He was also imperfect, having made a great many mistakes, as we all do; but he embraced his imperfections and moved forward.

As much as I wished I’d seen these talks six months ago so that I could have thanked Bill for sharing them, I think that I was meant to see them now, when I need them most. That I saved them and then magically found them again, when I am actually ready, is surely not a coincidence (right, Bill, wherever you are?). Brené’s words resonated with me to my core – so much so that, upon completing the second video, my very first thought was, “I’ve got to tell Bill!”

Oh. Right.


mn august132a1

“Father-in-law” is such a generic term, and Bill was anything but generic. He was bold. He was thoughtful. He was thought-provoking. He was funny. He was highly intelligent. He was kind. He was empathetic. He was curious. He was impish. He was loving. He was a gifted storyteller. He was devoted. He was good.

He was my husband’s father. He was my daughters’ grandfather. He was my father-in-law. He was my family. 
He was my friend; my dear friend.

My life is forever changed for having lost him, and forever better for having known and loved him. Every day, I am moving forward – partly because I want to, and partly because there is no choice. Yes, there is genuine joy and so very much gratitude. I am trying consciously to live whole-heartedly, to accept myself, to breathe through these days. But Bill is never far from my thoughts and my heart, which still hurts more than I thought possible.

I guess I just miss my friend.

It’s not every day that your six year-old produces a manifesto

… but when she does, it’s awesome.

Annie presented this to Nick and me during dinner prep tonight, saying she’d “worked on a project” this afternoon.

9.26 art manifesto

art manifesto

I, Annie, think anyone in the world could do art. 
But to do art, there’s a secret
And the secret is: do your best.
And if you do do your best, you can do anything.
The end

That pretty much sums it up.
See? Awesome.

A tale of two readers

Although they may be sisters, Ella and Annie have wildly different personalities. There are countless ways I could illustrate this (one of them being this post), but for now, I’m going with reading.

Ella is a good reader; she always has been. Words, spelling, and phonics come naturally to her, and she’s always been precocious (speaking in sentences by 15 months, writing her name at age 2) and a bit “bookish.” Naturally, we assumed that, because she could read well, she would enjoy it, too.

And here is, yet again, when parenthood slaps you across the face and reminds you of the whole when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me thing.

Reading for pleasure has just never been Ella’s bag. She can do it, of course, but she doesn’t particularly like to. While it’s not quite pulling teeth to get her to read, she’s never been one to just curl up with a book and get lost in another world. Individual books and some series have caught her attention, but it’s always been short-lived.

Annie, on the other hand, adores reading. She has had her nose in a book since she could hold one; long before she could even identify letters, she would sit for – truly – an hour and page through book after book, all by herself. So, we’ve long known that Annie liked books, but it wasn’t clear until recently that she, too, was a good reader.

See, Annie’s a brick. There’s really no other way to put it. That kid is solid, and man, does she (quite literally) pack a punch. She is also one of the funniest human beings any of us has even encountered; everyone – and I don’t say that flippantly or with exaggeration – enjoys being around Annie, because her zany and hilarious personality draws you in.

Being the stellar parents that we are, we just didn’t put it together that Annie was a proficient reader. Somehow, between Ella already being identified as A Reader, and Annie’s brute force and magnetic, larger-than-life self, we kind of missed her growing from a kid who liked looking at books into the kid who could actually read and understand everything she was looking at.

(Yep, we’re those parents who attended the kindergarten parent-teacher conference and, despite reading with Annie every night practically since she’s been in utero, were still like, “What? She’s met all of the reading benchmarks and is an independent reader? Well, isn’t that neat!” GOLD PARENTING STARS, PEOPLE. Gold stars.)

Two nights ago, I was making dinner while Ella was at swim practice. Annie had eagerly agreed to help me prepare the meal, but then, after presumably becoming bored when the pork needed to just sit unceremoniously in the marinade for half an hour, she suddenly disappeared. A few minutes later, she reappeared carrying a large stack of books, which she plopped on the counter. She then sat there for the next forty-five minutes and read every single word of every single book she’d brought with her… THIRTEEN books in all. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but I was awed. Well played, kiddo.

9.23 annie's books
Fancy Nancy and Mo Willems are all the rage in first grade, y’all.

I was surprised, on the other hand, when, ten days ago, Ella asked to begin the Harry Potter series. Nick and I were hesitant… not because we’re against Harry Potter; in fact, quite the opposite.

I’ll just come out and say it: Nick and I are Harry Potter nerds. We have both read all seven books at least three times apiece, and we own at least two copies of each book, because there’s no way in hell we could actually share. If there’s ever a dull moment (which there never is, but I’m just saying), all it takes is a, “So… what do you think Dumbledore really saw in the Mirror of Erised?” or an, “Okay, if you couldn’t be in Gryffindor, which house would you choose?” and we’re off and running. I am absolutely not ashamed to admit that I think J.K. Rowling is one of the greatest authors ever (no, not children’s authors, just authors — you know, like Grisham and Kingsolver and Melville and Shakespeare; yes, I just compared Rowling to Shakespeare — aww, snap!), and certainly one of the most clever and thought-provoking story-tellers of all time.

Yeah. We looooooove us some Harry Potter in this here house.

So anyway, our concern was that the books are too awesome, too detailed, just too big to be read in the third grade. For one thing, we didn’t know if Ella was even capable of reading them on her own. Additionally, the stories are so very complex, we weren’t sure she’d actually get what was happening. And, perhaps most importantly (given how magnificently written the books are), we wanted Ella to wait until she could actually understand why it’s so cool that Sirius was given that name, or why it’s funny that Professor Sprout teaches Herbology.

Once she asked to read The Sorcerer’s Stone, however, the cracks in our foundation grew and eventually we crumbled. After all, who were we prevent anyone from the wonder that is Harry Potter??

Turns out, Ella was able to read – and understand – the book just fine. She laughed at Ron’s jokes, tsk-ed at Hermione’s know-it-all behaviors, and groaned – out loud – each time Snape wrecked Harry’s plans. In fact, when she came home yesterday, instead of getting a snack or even saying hello, she raced straight to the comfy chair in the living room to continue where she’d left off (we read the book together at night, but she’s also checked a copy out of her school library so she can read at school, too).

ella and harry
150 points deducted from Gryffindor! DANG IT!!

Nick and I were both with her last night to read the final chapter (a good compromise, since we’ve basically been fighting over whose turn it is; neither of us had read The Sorcerer’s Stone since finishing The Deathly Hallows, and omg, the foreshadowing going on is just unreal — how did J.K. Rowling do it???). Up until this point, Ella had found the magic stuff – and especially the Dark Arts stuff – a bit creepy, but not particularly scary. As we reached the great unveiling, however (do you like how I did that? No spoilers, but oh so clever…), the look on her face began to change from one of curiosity and outrage to one of concern and horror.

We tried our best to smooth things over, with Nick reading in his this is super fun! voice and both of us explaining over and over that Harry makes it to book two, but we just couldn’t quite comfort her. She was scared; actually, she was terrified.

And, really, who could blame her. These books, are, you know, not really children’s books after all. There’s a lot of scary stuff; the Dark Arts aren’t just dark, they’re well and truly evil. People get hurt, favorite characters die. It’s not a chipper little series. But that’s part of why we love it so much – for its complexity, for its depth of character, for its unbelievably imaginative storyline. For its characters, each of whom was given such richness and fullness. And, of course, for the message that, in the end, love wins.

Although we could not promise Ella that nothing bad would ever happen to Harry or his friends (at least, not without telling a bald-faced lie), we tried to remind her of this: love wins. We tried to remind her of her own words from earlier that day: “Mommy, part of why I like this book so much is because the words are so great, I actually feel like it’s happening. Reading this book feels like Christmas.”

Reading this book feels like Christmas.
Couldn’t have said it better, sweet girl.

In the end, it was too much for Ella. She was awake for an hour past her bedtime, spending much of that time crying and begging to know the answers to questions that didn’t have happy or tidy endings (each time I would demure, she would become even more upset, because my refusal to answer convinced her that something terrible had befallen her now-favorite characters). As of this morning, she said she’s not ready for the second book, and for as much as I love it, I’m inclined to agree with her.

Some day, I know she’ll return; once you’ve met Harry and the gang, there’s really no going back. In the meantime, there’s always Fancy Nancy and Mo Willems… unless Annie has hogged them all, of course.



Kinda sorta maybe joining the sisterhood ranks

And in the morning, please be sure to pull up your bed covers.

“I don’t have to do that anymore!”

Ummm… Why would that be?

“Because Annie said she’d do it for me!”


“We made an awesome deal. And Annie’s part of the deal is that she promised to pull up my covers in the morning.”

What’s your part of the deal?


You don’t have to do anything in return?


Sounds like you got the better end of the deal.

“I know. That’s why it’s so awesome!”


I always wanted a sister. This does not say anything negative about my brother, but simply that I always wished I had a sister. We’d spend our days looking at Seventeen magazine, braiding one another’s hair, sharing secrets whispered behind cupped hands into one another’s ears, giving manicures, agreeing that Corey Haim was hotter than Corey Feldman, trying on one another’s clothes (which would always fit perfectly), and hanging out at the mall food court. Although my brother and I shared many things growing up, hair-braiding and Corey-debating were simply not among them. For that, I’d need a sister.

More than once, I snuck our family’s photo albums into my bedroom, looking for pictures of me that bore a tattered edge — the tell-tale sign of a torn photograph, with the missing half containing my twin sister (duh), who’d been given up when we were infants. (What? Like you didn’t watch The Parent Trap [the original, not the Lindsay Lohan version] and just knew with all your being that your identical twin was out there somewhere…) When I first went to sleep-away camp, I scoured the faces of the other campers, certain that I’d discover my sibling in cabin 4. Shockingly, I never found her.

By the time I reached college, I had resigned myself to the knowledge that my sister had been no more than a figment of my imagination (unless my mom and dad are exceptionally good at keeping secrets…), but my freshman-year roommate, Kelly, and I had such fun together — indeed, braiding one another’s hair, papering our ceiling with magazine cologne and perfume ads, and sharing one another’s clothes — that I understood, for the first time, what it might have been like to have a sister.

kelly and me
As mentioned: really and truly doing one another’s hair…

kelly and me2
We actually did share one another’s clothes, which was handy because our sense of style was clearly amazing.
Not really sure what the “Dance Break!” thing is all about, although the photo is next to a picture marked “Sunrise over Harkness Green, November 23, 1993” (the morning after my birthday; surely not a coincidence), so I can only assume we stayed up all night and, at some point, decided to take a Dance Break! in our super-sylish jammies. Of course.

I met Nick’s sisters at the end of freshman year, and was immediately awed by how closely their sister relationship mimicked the one in my imagination. Emily and Nelle are incredibly different people, but their sister bond was like nothing I’d ever witnessed before. I admit, a part of me was envious.

em nelle em
Circa 2002/2003 when we all actually had abs and bonded over running in our sports bras and shorts. And matching shoes, apparently.

As the years have gone by, I’ve come to see how their relationship is similar to my fictional version… and how it differs. Yes, of course, there are whispered secrets and hot-guy discussions… But there are also arguments and tears. There is a shared apartment and then a hasty move-out, because their living styles are just too different. There is, “Hey, I’ve got something stuck to my butt — would you wipe it off?” And there is the time we were standing in line for the bathroom at the state fair and, without provocation, one of them reached out to the other and pinched her boob. Just because. And, in retaliation, the other reached down her sister’s shirt to get back even more fiercely. While in line for the bathroom at the state fair. Just because.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 4.26.57 PM

Ahhh. Sisters.

When Annie was born, Ella didn’t warm up to her immediately; she didn’t try to smother her in her crib or put her in the trash or anything, but she did show some predictable, two year-old, I’m-pissed-because-now-I-have-to-share behaviors. Still, it wasn’t too long before she  not only accepted Annie as her sibling, but took strongly to being her big sister. Annie – having, you know, had a big sister since birth – sort of fell into the relationship by accident… But they’ve been superb partners ever since.

going to school annie
Dressed and ready to go to preschool, leaning over and whispering, “Annie – you are my sister!”
Yes, I remember it. I cannot recall what I had for lunch yesterday, but I remember this.

Their version of sisterhood is probably quite typical – and, as such, not terribly remarkable – but, to me, it is fascinating. Perhaps unlike some otherwise “close” siblings, they have always been one another’s best friends and greatest champions. They seek each other out in the morning and after school, and truly miss the other when she isn’t here. In recent months, they have started vigorously defending each other to Nick and me, letting us know  just how deeply wrong we are to have called them out or given a consequence. It’s both completely maddening and surprisingly endearing, although they’re usually quite disappointed to discover that the time-out still stands, despite their arduous pleas.

Naturally, they have their not-so-stellar moments. Pretty much every day, in fact. There is pinching. There is hitting. There is one stray finger over the imaginary line that’s been drawn down the middle of the car and one last “la” after a demand to stop singing. There is, “You can’t come in my room again EVER!” and “Are you seriously thinking about wearing that?” While on a 30 minute-car ride a couple of days ago – ironically, as I was thinking of stories for this post – they got so deeply involved in a verbal battle of who hated the other more, they actually exhausted themselves and had to stop the debate… And then dissolved into a fit of laughter not three minutes later.

Ahhh, sisters.

Watching my own girls be sisters together has all but taken away any sister-envy I might have experienced in years past. Their relationship is pretty much exactly what I’d always imagined sisterhood to be (deliberately destroyed Lego creations and all), and I feel unbelievably lucky to be able to witness it. Any remaining pangs of jealousy that remained have been eased by the relationships I now have with Nelle and Em. Although, obviously, I am not – and never will be – their actual sister (aren’t you glad I sorted that out for you?), and although I will probably never quite share the bond they have, they feel enough like almost-sisters that my sister dreams have been fulfilled.

nandp weekend13a
At Nelle’s wedding, 2008.

As we all gathered together at Bill and Mary’s house when he was so very ill, my connection to Nelle and Em grew even stronger. Yes, some of that was due to us sharing a traumatically gut-wrenching and life-changing event; they understood my black humor and came right back at me with their own Too Soon? zingers. But some of it (at least, I like to think) was simply due to us being pretty fabulous people, and to developing a true and real – and sister-like – friendship.

Screen Shot 2013-09-24 at 4.43.11 PM
Waiting on baby Annie, 2006.

At one point, I was sorting through pictures to use for the slideshow at the memorial, with Nelle sitting near me in the living room. The conversation turned to our kids, and then to ourselves as mommies, and then to breastfeeding. When she and I began contrasting pumping and latching stories, complete with sound effects and bite mark comparisons, I knew that we’d had our Corey vs. Corey moment; our relationship had really arrived.

Likewise, I was quite a wreck when Ella, Annie, and I left Bill and Mary’s house (to return home for the girls’ meet-the-teacher days, while Nick remained in Minnesota), heartbroken that this might be the last chance I’d have to see Bill before the end (as it turned out, I returned a few days later and spent a little more time with him, but we didn’t know that this would be the case). Tears falling fast, I approached Emily, who gave me an enormous hug; and then, arms still surrounding me, leaned into me and whispered, “By the way, I just used your deodorant.” Shared secrets in one another’s ears; yes!

I feel truly privileged to be an observer of both Ella and Annie’s and Em and Nelle’s relationship, and I am so fortunate that they’ve all taken me into their fold. As Ella and Annie grow older, I can only hope that they’ll remain one another’s strongest supporters and allies (and button-pushers), and that, as adults, they can share the same sort of terrific relationship that Nick’s sister do – boob-pinching and all.

nelle and em wedding

A few weeks ago, we were going out and Ella needed to use the bathroom before we left. Annie, who had been ready to go, was suddenly nowhere to be found – not in her bedroom, not outside, not near the car. After quite a bit of searching (during which I called for her many times over, but received no answer), I finally thought to open the bathroom door… And there she was, leaning against the wall, while Ella finished her business. When I asked if Annie needed to go to the bathroom, too, she looked at me like I had three heads. “Um, no, Mom. We were just talking. Could you please close the door?”

ella and annie cy and john

Ahhh, sisters.
Nelle and Em would be so proud.


So, you just asked Annie and she agreed to fix your bed for you?

“Well, not exactly. I untied her and then she said she’d make my bed.”

Uhhh… ‘scuse me?

“You know how we had the chair up in the tree in the front yard?”

You’re not really helping your case, here.

“Well, Annie had tied herself to the…”

I think you can just stop there.

“And anyway, she asked if I’d untie her, and I said, ‘What will you do for me, too?'”

I love how she needs untying and you’re trying to negotiate.

“So I asked her to pull up my covers, and she was like, ‘Hey, that’s a really good deal!'”

All righty, then.

“I’m going to think of all of the other things I can get her to do.”

I’m feeling the love from here.

“I know, right?”

A dog poops into a store…

Jambi — our CCI puppy-in-training — is supposed to be going on regular outings with us in order to introduce her to as many people, places, and situations as possible. Because of our recent traveling, she hasn’t been out and about and “working” quite as much as usual, so I decided to rectify that today and bring her with me to the grocery store.

She and Langston had been playing outside for a good twenty minutes prior to our departure; the moment I let them in, I put on Jambi-Zombie’s cape and Gentle Leader and ushered her right into the car. She looks so spiffy when she’s working, does she not?photo-46
Thankfully, she never requests gum or candy at the checkout, unlike certain other beings I know…

Although the grocery store is less than ten minutes from our house, and although she’d just been outside, I decided to allow her the opportunity to do her business anyway, after an unfortunate incident a couple of months ago at Target where we neglected to give her the chance to pee and I wound up stealthily cleaning up urine in aisle 7 while Ella and Annie raced Jambi back outside to empty her bladder. Lesson learned.

I brought her to the little grassy median right outside of the store and told her to “hurry” (CCI code for “do your thang”), but she only gave me a funny little glance (see photo, above). I then walked her around a tiny bit, continuing to tell her to “hurry,” but when she sat right down I got the message: all systems empty. But thanks for the stroll.

We jauntily walked into the breezeway where I grabbed a cart, then proceeded to head to the automatic doors – which, naturally, parted graciously for us – and maybe it was the extreme change in temperature lately, or maybe we just hit the store during temperature regulation time or something, but the moment the doors opened, this big ol’ blast of air (conditioning?) burst toward us. I’ll admit, it was a bit unexpected, but having been to the store approximately 3847 times (in the last year, alone), and at least a half dozen times with the Jam-Beast, I thought nothing of it.

She, on the other hand, was thrown for an enormous loop by the sudden blast of air, and clearly thought that something terrible awaited her by the salad bar just beyond the doors, so while my right arm and the cart continued inside, my left hand and the leash were yanked backward, resulting in a lovely suspension ballet right there in the breezeway. Jambi began to reverse so furiously, paws frantically scraping against the tile floor (which provided her no traction, so the gears just kept on spinning) to get away from the Very Scary Door, that I was forced to leave the cart right where it was (exactly in the very middle of the entrance – or, in other words, pretty much the most inconvenient place imaginable) and back up with her.

Sure, I could have just dragged her along like a spooked horse — claws (which are actually quite short, but which she’d extended as far as humanly [doggily?] possible in order to protest the Very Scary Door) digging into the tile grouting — but, given that she’s supposed to learn to navigate things like this, and also that everyone in the breezeway was now staring me with the Special Dog, I decided to help her work through her fears. It took several treats, trading in my voice for that of some angelic fairy/elf, and a little physical encouragement, but after five minutes, we made it safely inside.

This would also be a good time to mention that, naturally, I was in a hurry. We were out of fruit at home, running precariously low on toilet paper, and I’d neglected to purchase anything for dinner when I’d visited the store a mere three days ago, so this trip was essential, but I had to cram it in between unloading and re-loading the dishwasher, working out, mowing the lawn, editing photos, answering emails, showering, and attending a committee meeting, all before the kids got out of school. According to my calculations, I had exactly one hour for this grocery run – but that shouldn’t have been a problem, because aside from the fruit and Charmin (actually, we buy Wegmans generic, but whatever) and some salmon, my list was quite small, and I assumed the store would be relatively empty on a Friday morning.

WRONG. The store was teeming with people, each of them inexplicably stopping right in front of whatever item I needed to place in my cart (is everyone in Rochester out of TP and eating salmon tonight??), making it very difficult to weave through the throngs under normal circumstances, but especially difficult with Jambi. She stayed right by my side, however, obeying my commands, and so we pressed on, weighing bananas and thumping melons, smiling politely at the other shoppers who passed us with an, “Oh, isn’t she beautiful!” or a, “Look, that doggy’s working!

All seemed quite well, until Jambi began panting. At first, I assumed that she was still nervous after her run-in with the Very Scary Door, so I just ignored her. As the panting became more labored, I gave some consideration to the idea that maybe she needed to poop (because this whole panting thing is what she’d done before dropping a deuce right outside of the security line at the airport; lesson learned), but dismissed that idea because a) she’d just freakin’ had the chance to relieve herself only a few minutes before, b) taking her outside would require going back through the Very Scary Door not once but twice, and c) even if she did have to do something, we truly were only going to be in the store for another ten minutes or so, and surely she could hold it.

I can probably just stop this story now because you know where this is going.

I was debating the merits of Gala versus Macintosh apples when I felt the tug on the leash… turned around… and caught Jambi mid-squat, with pieces of poo falling from her butt. (Coincidentally, the poop was full of apple chunks, because she’d recently eaten a few that had fallen from the trees in our backyard; how very discerning of her.) I hissed at her – “Jambi, don’t!” – which shocked her, causing a few more apple-poop bits to plop onto the floor.

In an attempt to hide the evidence, I threw myself onto the ground, dropping my purse as close to the poo as possible (guess I should probably wash that now), while maniacally – but calmly, so as not to draw attention to the incident (’cause there is nothing more awesomely embarrassing than a Special Dog taking a dump in the produce aisle) – rummaging through my CCI fanny pack for a plastic bag and some paper towels. So that she couldn’t do more damage, I attempted to get her to put her butt down on the floor by whisper-screaming, “Jambi, sit!” “Jambi, sit!” “Jambi, sit!” over and over (a training no-no, I understand, but there was apple poop at my feet, people), but she just gave me the same funny little glance as before (again, see above), so I gave up and just finished cleaning the mess.

Once the floor was good, I speed-walked her outside — and, naturally, she had absolutely no problem with the door either time we went through it. Yet again, when she reached the grassy knoll and was told to “hurry,” she sat right down and gave me that funny little glance (see above).

Not so funny anymore, Beast.

The rest of our shopping excursion went off without a hitch (save for me practically slipping a disc in my neck from craning it in her direction every 6 seconds to make sure she wasn’t dropping apple poop anywhere else), and we then found ourselves in the shortest – but, of course, the slowest – checkout lane. Jambi’s demeanor is typically fantastic when we’re out and about (crapping aside); she’s extremely laid-back and easy-going, and so – especially given the wait time – I wasn’t surprised that she curled up at my feet and dozed right off.

She was also probably exhausted from pushing apple poop out of her butt.

As I finished loading the last of our items onto the conveyor belt, a lady approached me from behind, asking about what program we were a part of. I told her about CCI and our involvement with them and, as is often the case, the woman told me what a “great thing” we were doing. (I’m not sure the produce employees agree, but whatever…)

She then leaned toward Jambi and said, “Oh, look at her. She’s so sweet! I bet she’s just an absolute dream everywhere you take her.”

I smiled very sweetly back and said the only thing I could think of: “Aw, you have no idea.”

Okay, Universe. I’m listening.

This was not the post I’d started to write. I’d meant to talk about something entirely different – and maybe I will tomorrow – but then this thing happened this morning and now I’m writing this instead. Funny how that works. (Then again, maybe the universe just didn’t like my other post. Stay tuned…)

So, I’m at the hair salon, right? It’s (almost) fall and, after letting my dark, winter shade gradually fade out and get much lighter over the summer, I figured that now would be a good time to change it up. In addition to feeling all kicky with a new color, I was also really looking forward to the time just for me, especially gabbing with my stylist, and those glorious, quiet minutes waiting for the color to set. Also, what better place for an impromptu therapy session than at the salon, ladies, am I right?

I’d purposely scheduled the appointment as my stylist’s first of the day, thinking that I’d be in and out and there would be no delays. But when I got there, there was, in fact, a woman already in the chair! Not only that, but she and my stylist were all chatty-chatty, sipping Starbucks and giggling away. When I finally sat down (fifteen minutes late), I was champing at the bit to not only change my look, but also to unload my very important thoughts.

My stylist remembered, the last time I’d been there, that we’d been returning from  Minnesota, and she asked how it went. As she started putting in the foils, I began telling her about that trip and the others, about Bill, about how difficult it had been, going all Good Will Hunting and ready to let the healing begin… And then I learned that her grandmother had just passed away last week, only two days before she (my stylist) was to be in an important wedding – and the wake is tonight, with the funeral tomorrow.

Oh. And I was her first customer today. The lady who’d been in the chair before me? Her aunt. Who’d requested a quick blow-out for tonight’s gathering. And who’d also brought along Starbucks as a way of thanking her niece.

I’ll just wear the I’m a Presumptive Asshole sticker right on my shirt, thanks. YES, UNIVERSE. I HEAR YOU.

So, anyway, I’m finally sitting in the chair waiting for the color to set, right? And I just know that now is the time for me. Now, I will relax. I will read. I will accomplish things. It will be beautiful and incredible and angels will sing.

My stylist has taken her next customer to the sinks – a mother, accompanied by a stroller-bound baby – and I just start to write a blog post (see above) when this unbelievable ear-piercing screech emanates from their direction. The baby’s howl soon turns into a wail – not just crying, not yelling, but a make-your-ears-bleed, life-is-ending, what-do-you-mean-there’s-no-more-chocolate-cake screeeeeaming. It’s so loud, it’s physically painful, and I can’t concentrate on even one word of my narrative, so I sit back and close my eyes, hoping that maybe it will just magically stop.

As my stylist returns to her chair, her customer follows, pushing the screeeeeaming baby along in the stroller. As she sits down, she reaches into her bag and hands the baby a large pretzel rod, which quiets her, and I think that maybe my prayers have been answered… But, no. Not five seconds later, the baby has started again, unleashing yet another unearthly, window-shattering scream.

She’s not wriggling around in her stroller. She’s not hurt. There’s nothing wrong — except that her mommy is getting her hair cut and is unavailable to hold her, which, when you’re a baby, means the world is ending. And it’s your responsibility to let everyone know just how upsetting this is.

I’d needed to use the restroom anyway, so I decide that now is a good time to go, assuming that the closed door will provide some protection from the wailing… and it does, to a degree, but I’ve got to give this kid credit. I’ve heard many, many crying babies, and this kid’s scream is, by far, the loudest, most eye-twitch-inducing – maybe in the history of babies. She has lungs, y’all.

In addition to slightly muffling the screeching, the (subjective) quiet of the bathroom also allows me to hear the conversations of the other stylists and customers, who are standing just outside of the door, a bit away from the mom and the baby. At first, they’re saying just what I’m thinking: “That poor baby!” “She seems really upset!” “She really wants her mama!” “Goodness, she’s loud!

But then, as the screaming continues, their conversations begin to shift: “I wonder why she doesn’t do something about it?” “None of the rest of us enjoys hearing that.” “Can you believe it?” “When my children were little, we never let them behave like that.

Until finally, the shift is complete: “This behavior is unacceptable.” “If she wants to get her hair done, she should leave the baby at home.” “When you’re a mother, sometimes you make sacrifices.” “She should just get up and leave right now.

‘Cause, yeah. That’s how this works.

It’s really easy when you have a baby, right? First off, they always behave exactly as you’d like them to. They are in full control of their emotions and are careful to show excitement at appropriate levels, and, naturally, they never cry in public. They come out of the womb with their bodily functions running like military institutions, peeing and pooping on schedule, which means they never crap through their onesies while sitting on your lap just after you’ve boarded an airplane.

They fully understand when they are, and are not, hungry – and, heck, they can feed themselves really easily (my girls learned to make coq au vin when they were about seven months old; such global palates!) – so they never allow their blood sugar levels to drop, resulting in any behaviors that might be considered impolite or testy. They speak in full, elaborate, metaphor-filled sentences and can clearly communicate their wants, needs, desires, and visions of world peace.

That’s one of the best parts of parenthood, is it not? That there’s never any guesswork when it comes to babies?

They wipe themselves (especially after the 4:04 p.m. poop – that one’s always a doozy!). They neatly rearrange the toys in their cribs, careful to fold the hand-made blanket just so and hang it adorably over the railing. They sleep – well… like babies! – which is to say, brilliantly, always sure to get the requisite twelve hours (straight, of course), then awakening at a perfectly acceptable hour in the morning, upon which they delightfully request their bottles (or breasts) like one might ask for Grey Poupon.

In fact, babies are so simple, being the parent of one is a little like owning an iPhone — everything is bright and shiny, easy to navigate, and they’re so stinkin’ awesome, you want to show them off to everyone you know. Plus, on the very off chance that there’s a malfunction, you can always update them to iOS 7 (although you might want to wait just a few weeks until they work the bugs out).

Best of all, babies — and kids in general — never throw you a curveball. If babies are one thing and one thing only, they’re predictable. As soon as you’ve got them figured out, you basically just hit cruise control and enjoy the ride.

And let’s not forget how easy being the parent of a baby is, shall we? Naturally, you’re well-rested. Your clothing is stain-free (unless you’re a klutz – *raises hand*!). Your diaper bags and purses are perfectly organized, because you’ve never needed to frantically rifle through their contents looking for a set of toy car keys when your baby has become fussy in the middle of the first dinner out that you’ve had in four months, and you just know his favorite toy is in here somewhere.

You almost never have to schedule your life around that of your baby, which is so freeing and open, just like you’re living on a baby commune. If you do prefer to arrange your life around your baby, you can rest assured that your baby will stick exactly to your schedule and will never, ever disrupt it. In fact, when you’re the parent of a baby, your whole day is so wide open, you can do virtually anything you want at any time, especially meet friends for surprise lunches, decide to spontaneously begin marathons of both Downton Abbey and The Walking Dead, keep the house spotless, and go on regular date nights with your spouse.

Because your baby is so independent, you’ve also got oodles of time to yourself – to do things like, say, get yourself a haircut (which means you’re never literally months overdue for a cut and your bangs are so long you’ve already cut them twice yourself with Fiskars and you’re trying to cram the haircut in next Thursday between your six month old’s well-visit and your Mommy and Me class before the older ones get off the bus, but that should be no problem because you have a sitter who is always healthy and doesn’t cancel on you for any reason whatsoever).

Your baby’s perpetually sunny disposition, predictability, and level-headedness also mean that you can continue doing all of the activities you used to do pre-baby. Come to think of it, you’re so calm and even-keeled these days, you no longer need therapy or even a glass of wine in the evenings, because taking your baby out in public is essentially a zen experience. Since babies are welcome in every single setting, virtually everyone – especially older folks and people without children – ooohs and ahhhs over your how very cute your little one is, and you’re never, ever given the evil eye over a parenting choice, nor are you ever made to feel like a leper because you’ve brought your baby along.

But I think the best part of being the parent of a baby is how utterly confident you are in all that you do, and how awesome you feel as a parent every minute of the day. Since your offspring never misbehave, you never have to worry about tantrums while you’re out and about, which, in turn, would lead to everyone around you judging you as not only a parent but a human being. Thank God there are never meltdowns in the middle of the grocery store, because then you’d have to be concerned with that age-old question, Do I stay here and let everyone around me think that I’m a horrible person (which they might or might not say to my face) while also knowing that my child’s screaming is louder than that of a jet engine and is causing hearing loss in everyone within a ten mile radius… or do I pack up and leave everything right where it is and hightail it out of the store, knowing that the window of opportunity for grocery shopping is exactly 23 minutes long, and there is just no way I can come back and finish the shopping even if the baby does magically stop shrieking, and so leaving might result in us eating Ramen noodles and Kosher pickles for the third night in a row?

Yes. Thank sweet baby Jesus you never, ever have to make those decisions.

As I’m washing my hands, I mull all of this over, trying to decide what to do. Given what we know about babies and parenting, this situation is – obviously – the first time anyone in the salon has ever heard a screaming child. Clearly, either the baby is defective, or the mother is doing this parenting thing very, very wrong.

And so, after weighing all of the evidence, I opt for the only solution that seems truly reasonable: I leave the restroom, approach my stylist and the mom and the baby, and ask if it would freak the baby — or the mom — out too much if I unbuckle her from the stroller and walk her around for a while. The mom, who is clearly frazzled, mutters that she’s not sure how the baby would respond… but my stylist immediately chimes in that maybe I can simply wheel her about in the stroller. (Perhaps this would have occurred to me, too, had both of my daughters not thrashed about like addicts undergoing drug withdrawal every time they were strapped in a stroller or car seat.)

I turn the stroller away from the mom and walk a few feet away to the brightly-colored bottles of exorbitantly-priced shampoo and styling gel… and, just like that, the screaming stops. Yes, she’s still sniffling and hiccuping the way that all of us do post-hysterical sobbing, but she’s got her pretzel and her mama is no longer just inches away but unable to touch her, and all is right with the world. Phew!

Sure, I could have said something to those ladies, the ones making the absurd statements outside of the bathroom. I could asked if it occurred to them that maybe this mom hadn’t intended to bring the baby with her, but at the last minute, she had no choice? And maybe she would have rescheduled, but sometimes, finding a time when your stylist’s schedule matches yours is more difficult than balancing the federal budget? And, similarly, perhaps she could have left, taking the baby in tow, but then we’d be back at the whole rescheduling thing, and we’ve already discussed this, have we not? (Then again, they might have had a difficult time remembering what had been said, considering that they clearly could not recall what life was really like when there children were babies, unless they actually had one of the mythical babies mentioned above.)

I could have reminded them that perhaps this baby has never pitched a fit in her stroller before, so there was no reason for the mom to assume that she’d go all I’m melting! What a world! today. I might have let them know that, while parents make countless sacrifices, basic hygiene shouldn’t have to be one of them; just because it’s basically a rite of passage for new parents to walk around for days in the same mystery-stained clothes, and sometimes just brushing one’s teeth seems to require more energy than can be mustered, that doesn’t mean that this mom shouldn’t be able to get a damn haircut every once in a while… even if it means bringing her baby along with her.

I gave serious consideration to pointing out what should have been obvious: that no one was more upset by the baby’s behavior than the mom. Here she is, just trying to get a simple haircut, and her kid unexpectedly freaks out, so now not only is she concerned that her baby might give herself a hernia, she’s also worried that everyone around her is going to suffer some kind of hearing loss. And, of course, any shot at her actually experiencing a quiet and relaxing haircut has long gone out the window.

Okay, to play devil’s advocate… Might this lady routinely bring her child to places where children aren’t usually present? Sure. Might she be one of “those” people who seem to think that they, and especially their children, are more important than everyone else around them? I guess so. Might she have not given a hoot whether anyone else in the salon was having a miserable experience, instead thinking to herself, “Babies cry. Deal with it“? Perhaps. Would that make me less sympathetic to her? Probably.

But here’s the thing: sometimes, shit happens. Sometimes, babies do cry, even the best of babies, under even the best of circumstances. And, to me, there’s a vast difference between a screaming baby whose parent is doing everything she can to rectify the situation — within reason — and a screaming baby whose parent seems oblivious or flippant to both the child’s distress and the distress the child is causing in everyone else. (For the record: this mom was definitely the former.)

Was it pleasant listening to this kiddo wail away at the top of her lungs? Hell no. It was downright painful, quite literally. And, given that I’d hoped to use that time to relax — and given that my salon is generally not full of screaming kiddos — the baby’s shrieks were even more disturbing and stress-inducing. Not fun. Not at all. But at least I was just, you know, getting a haircut, rather than, say, performing brain surgery or attending a funeral or doing something important.

Which isn’t to say that getting a cut and color isn’t sometimes absolutely essential. Like Starbucks lattes. I do have priorities, people.

In the end, I decided that more than telling these women what I thought, I’d show them (and, yes, let’s be honest – I hoped that the baby would stop freakin’ screaming). I’d show them that, kidding aside, parenthood is the hardest gig there is, but that it’s made just the littlest bit easier when we help one another out and show compassion rather than contempt. That whole It Takes a Village thing wasn’t made up by accident.

More importantly, I’d show the mom that she’s not alone, she’s not doing it wrong, and that I understand: being a parent is hard stuff. Sometimes, we all need a little help.

And, hey, by actually helping, instead of baby-shaming in the corner, maybe the baby’d stop crying, and we all – mom, baby, the entire lot of us – would be better off, and helping someone else might feel really, really good.

Turns out, being a presumptive asshole doesn’t really get you anything but a shiny sticker.


Oh, and the color? Autumnal and lovely.


Dr. Spock didn’t know everything…

Those moments right before you tuck your kid to sleep are supposed to be their magic minutes. They’re sleepy, they’re cozy, they’re just a bit hazy, like maybe they’ve visited the dentist and received too much Novocain – which, in turn, results in darling and cuddly conversations, delightful musings, and oodles of freely-given hugs.

At least, that’s the theory.

But ever since getting stuck sunny-side-up in the birth canal and requiring an emergency c-section (after many hours of no-epidural pushing, thank you very much), despite being expected to be an “easy” delivery, Annie has taken theories into her own hands and mangled molded them into something much more Annie-appropriate. “Annie” does not appear anywhere in the dozens of parenting handbooks I purchased (pre-kids, naturally), and so we’ve been learning this parenting thing on the fly.

Which is not to say that her bedtimes aren’t very special, indeed.

As Nick tucked her in last week, Annie suddenly began peppering him with questions about his father’s recent death. Not just any questions… but specifics. How did he die? Where? When? Nick did his best to answer, using kid-friendly language that would placate her but not scare her. All appeared to be going well until the gears began turning in Annie’s head just a little too hard.

See, Grampa Bill is really the only person Annie has lost (thankfully), and her other firsthand knowledge of death was formed by our dog, Madison, who was gently put to sleep – at our home – in June. Annie had been at Grampa Bill and GranMary’s house only a week before Bill passed away, and had seen the hospice nurse coming and going, so it makes sense that she’d make a medical-personnel-housecall connection. Still, Nick was unprepared for her to screw up her darling little face and innocently ask,

“So, did the doctor come and put Grampa Bill down?”

Ah, six year-olds. So adorable.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite!


Bedtime, three nights later…

Okay, sweetie. Sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morning.

“Mommy, wait.”

Yes, Banana?

“What does the word ass mean?”

Excuse me?

Ass. What does it mean?”

Ummm… Where have you heard that word?

“I don’t know. Just around.”

(Thanks ever so much, Cake Boss.)

“So, what does it mean?”



Uhhhh… Donkey?
(I wish I could say I’m joking, but I actually said this)

Ass means donkey?”

Yes. Yes it does. Sometimes, that’s another word for donkey.

“Interesting. So, instead of saying donkey, I could just say…”

Well, actually, I think maybe you’ve heard people use it to mean ‘butt.’


Yes. Like your bum. Your behind. It means that, too.

“That’s funny!”

I can see why you think that.

“Does it mean anything else?”

Well…. I guess it kind of means ‘jerk,’ too.

“What do you mean?”

Some people use that word to call someone a jerk.

“Like, you’re a jerkish ass?”

That’s not exactly what I was thinking, but sure, I guess so.

“Jerkish ass. I like that!”

I understand why you think so, but actually, you shouldn’t use that word.

“Which word? Jerkish or ass?”


“Oh, okay. Goodnight, Mommy!”



What Annie’s bedtime lacks in terms of cozied-up musings is made up for by way of the best hugs on the face of the planet. Our girl is strong, y’all.

The parenting books do not prepare you for this. Which is probably why they’re gathering dust on the shelves of our bedroom. I’m just fine with that; they were undoubtedly written by jerkish asses, anyway.

Oh, and all you bedbugs? I’d think twice before biting Annie.
I bet she bites back.

Bugs, Sweat, and Tears

I am not cut out for the heat.

It’s not even so much that I don’t like it (although that’s definitely true) as much as it doesn’t like me. Just looking at a thermometer with a temperature above about 85 degrees makes me break into a sweat — and I don’t mean a glisten or a sheen or a bit of perspiration, but a full-on, pouring-down-your-back (and especially your front, ladies, am I right?) flow of salty, sticky SWEAT. It stings my eyes, it makes my hands unable to swipe the front of my iPhone (and then I cannot obsessively check my email, which is clearly an issue), and people aren’t exactly lining up to purchase my eau de gym socks fragrance at the mall.

First world problem? Yes. Absolutely.

But I still am not cut out for the heat.

Which is not to say that I stay inside all day when it’s hot, hovering in the air-conditioned splendor like a hermit crab, because I do, in fact, venture out – sometimes for things that have to be done (putting out the trash cans) and sometimes for things that need to be done (getting an iced latte). But I sweat like a leaky pig and complain about it (usually in my own head) the whole time.

It’s really not pretty.

The past two days have seen unusually high temperatures here in Western New York. They’d be ungodly just about any time of the year, but were especially unexpected mid-September, after several weeks of lovely, warm-but-not-hot days. And, really, it wasn’t so much the heat as it was the humidity. People joke about places like Vegas and “it’s a dry heat,” but it’s absolutely true. 100 degrees in an arid environment feels infinitely cooler than 80 degrees when the humidity is at 100 percent.

hot day
Yes, I know that where you live, it was over a hundred degrees, and your heat index was almost 200, and there are places on the planet where people would offer their firstborn children to the gods if they could experience just one day of temperatures like these.
I’m not saying any of that isn’t true.
I’m just saying it was damn hot here.

And, good grief, the humidity has been here in full force the last couple of days, like she was ashamed of herself for skipping out on the early September party and decided to make up for it by bingeing and getting sick all over the front seat of the car. GO HOME, HUMIDITY. YOU’RE DRUNK.

As I walked the girls to school on Tuesday morning, we met up with our beloved crossing guard, Mrs. H, at the same time as another family. I could see that Mrs. H felt just as droopy in the extreme temperatures as I did, but she still managed to greet us with her trademark smile. She then said something to all of us about how freakin’ hot it was, to which the other mother replied – before I could get a word out – “Yes, isn’t it just amazing! It feels like you’re all cuddled up in a warm blanket!”

So. Apparently there are those of us who are not cut out for the heat, and those of us who are clinically insane. I’ll give her “warm blanket,” but my blanket was smothering me, not cuddling up, thank you very much.

You know delightful it is, keeping the windows open all summer, allowing the breeze to waft through, eschewing the harsh blast of air conditioning coming through the vents? Yeah. Me neither. As soon as the indoor temperature rises above 73 degrees, we all begin collectively wilting, so our A/C is running from approximately May through September.

Do I love the summer evening air drifting through the trees? Yes, I do. And if I want to be a part of it, I’ll sit outside and enjoy it. But sweating inside the house is simply not an option. This is why air conditioning was invented. And also Frappuccinos.

Realizing that it was likely impossible to teach the dogs how to use the toilet in just one day, I knew I’d have to let them go out back to do their business, but elected not to throw the ball or even let them stay outside very long. Which was probably a wise decision, because less than five minutes after I’d let them out, I went to check on them and found them like this:

hot dog2
Did I mention that I’m covered in fur?

hot dog1
Cannot… keep… tongue… in… mouth…

That evening was the annual back-to-school picnic, and I might have considered not going, but I’d promised that I’d take photos for the yearbook. Plus, I didn’t otherwise have a plan for dinner and we’d already paid for pizza, and at $398 per slice, I was bound and determined that we’d at least make a showing.

Because what’s better on a billion degree evening than eating piping hot slices of pizza outside in the sun?

As we approached the school, I could hear the DJ’s music, but noticed that the playground was suspiciously underpopulated; perhaps we were one of only a few families stupid brave enough to make the trek…? And then I saw everyone, pressed up against the side of the school where the late afternoon sun had mercifully created some shade in which to hide.

We dropped off the brownies we’d made (Wegman’s gluten free, holla!) and the girls got their slices of pizza, then flopped on the ground while they tried to wipe the sweat from their faces and force the food in their mouths. (The snow cones, however, went down without any complaint…) The parents and teachers, on the other hand, were mostly standing – probably because we recognized that the lack of inertia would cause us to permanently dissolve into puddles (and also grass and dirt tend to stick to you when you’re sweating more than Miley Cyrus at a Disney convention) – all with the same glassy-eyed stare. Occasionally, our sense of civility and politeness would take over, and we would actually approach one another, each conversation always beginning with some form of, “SWEET JESUS MARY AND JOSEPH IT IS HOT!”

After melting for thirty minutes, I decided I’d better make good on my promise to take some photos for the yearbook, so I shuffled off to capture the kids in their back-to-school revelry. As I did so, the sweat – which had been just resting there, acting like a little water shield – began freely cascading everywhere, until every single surface of my body was covered. I reminded myself that it could be worse – I could be one of the parents who signed up to actually hand out the pizza (on the blacktop without the merciful cover of the shade by the school), or one of the Cub Scouts volunteers at the folding table under the unyielding sun, or, like, actually living in a location where it’s hot and humid all the time and air conditioning doesn’t exist) – and made myself continue snapping photos of red-faced children who looked like they’d popped water balloons over their heads.

When the kids get the yearbooks next June, just looking at the Back To School spread is going to make everyone spike a fever.

I was lifting up the camera up to take another shot when I felt… something… on my arm. I thought maybe it was a stray hair, so I attempted to brush it off – but that didn’t remove the tickly, skin-prickling feeling. I let go of the camera to more firmly get rid of whatever it was that clung to me, and then noticed that it wasn’t just my arm that was affected… No, both arms, my hands, my knees, my shins, and my face – essentially every single inch of exposed skin – were covered (and when I say covered, I mean covered) with gnats.

hot picnic
Don’t adjust your screen… Those little dots in the background? The ones that look like drops of water or maybe smudges on the camera? Bugs. Gnats. SWARMS OF GNATS, every single one.
See also: the families in the shade pressed up against the school.

The ridiculous heat and humidity had hatched these little devils, and they were had descended upon the school grounds like plagues of locusts. Being very small, they were no match for the coating of sweat that encased me, and, upon flying into me – or upon my walking through them – they became positively glued to my skin. I attempted to rub some of them off, only to have my entire hand covered in little bitty gnat guts.

After managing to remove most of them from my arms, I hurried toward the few areas that seemed bug-free, passing Ella on the way, who looked up at me and said, “Uh, mom, you have all these bugs on your forehead…” Thank you. I’m modeling a new fashion statement. Do you like it?

By the end of the evening, the girls had had a marvelous time in spite of the heat, and as always, it was – truly – nice to hang out with the other school families. I’ve said it before, but I mean it: our school and community are utterly amazing, and we are truly lucky to be a part of it. I just wish Mother Nature wasn’t such a bully.

Today, it is twenty degrees cooler than it was yesterday, and tomorrow is expected to see another twenty degree temperature drop. Sure, the roller coaster is going to get us all sick, but I, for one, will not be sad to see the 90-degree days go.

If you are clinically insane do miss the heat, feel free to come on over. I’ve got plenty of warm blankets for you to cuddle up in.

Which will come in handy, because the A/C will probably be running until at least Columbus Day.


Forgotten, but remembered..

Since school began last week, I have spent some time each day looking through old photographs to find pictures of my father-in-law. Part of this is because his memorial is coming up, and part of it is simply because it helps me to feel closer to him. I’ve always loved photos, wasting roll after roll of film to take “artsy” pictures in the days before digital photography was invented, creating my own scrapbooks before I’d even heard of Creative Memories, and saving nearly every photo I’ve ever taken or been given.

Which means that locating photos of anything specific is a daunting task, indeed. There are boxes of actual prints, boxes with film negatives, scrapbooks and photobooks, dozens of floppy disks bearing helpfully descriptive labels like “Snow” (which can only be viewed on a laptop that is at least fifteen years old, is missing three of its keys, and whose “A” button no longer functions), folder after folder of digital photos on external hard drives, and troves of photos I’ve uploaded to a minimum of six sites online. I recognize that this sounds absurd, but going through old pictures is exhausting, man.

The discoveries, however, have made the search process worthwhile. Nick with his permed hair (I’m not even kidding); the rodeo we attended in Colorado; the cross-country trip my brother and I made when I graduated from college; the one of me with Harry Connick Jr. (I believe I sent it out to friends and relatives that year for Thanksgiving, with the caption “I’m thankful for this…”) – and, of course, many photos of Bill.

I remembered a lot of them, but some were true gifts – ones that I didn’t even know I’d taken, that were likely glossed over because they weren’t “good” pictures. While I’ve forever loved taking photos, it’s only now, finding these, that I’m coming to truly be grateful for the bazillions of pictures I’ve stored up, because each one – even the ones where no one’s smiling at the camera, where something’s blurry, which might even have been taken by accident – perfectly captures him just as he was, and gives me a brief glimpse into a long-forgotten memory, and that makes my heart so very happy.

It was while going through these tomes of photos that I came across another collection of pictures that I didn’t remember taking, this time of a visit Nick and I had made to the Statue of Liberty in March of 2000. Except they weren’t just of Lady Liberty, but of the vista surrounding her… including this:


It took my breath away, quite literally.

At the time, Nick was completing several months of training in NYC, and I visited him once or twice from our apartment in Denver; we must have made the journey to Liberty Island during one of those trips, although I don’t remember doing so.

I do remember where we were a year-and-a-half later, on the day that life changed. Our new apartment was less than thirty miles outside of Manhattan, and I remember the blue of the sky; the silence of the trains; the roars of the fighter jets; the whirls of the helicopter blades; the “All Circuits Are Busy” recording as we frantically called our many friends and relatives both in the city (to see if they were okay; miraculously, they were) and across the country (to let them know that we were okay).

I remember, in the days and weeks that followed, walking through the dust and ash that covered so much of Manhattan, extending a great deal farther from Ground Zero than I had thought possible. I remember the smells, though I wish I could forget them. I remember the posters of the missing, hung from every available telephone pole or fence post. I remember the view from one of our best friend’s Battery Park-facing windows, and how horrifically empty it now was.

I remember reading the New York Times’s “Portraits of Grief” – every single one – feeling, somehow, that the very least I could do was learn a little bit about the lives of those 2500 (plus) who were killed, wanting to get to know them individually, rather than just lumping them together as so many, anonymous victims.

And I was struck by how often the biography mentioned something along the lines of, “The last words s/he said to me that morning were ‘I love you.’” Or, heartbreakingly, “I forgot to say ‘I love you’ that morning.” It seems like such a little thing, but since that time, I have made a point of (trying to) never – ever – leaving Nick, the girls, or my family and friends without telling them that I love them. No matter how brief the conversation, even if it’s just an “xo” at the end of an email, no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I tell them that I love them. Because, well, you just never know. Plus, a little extra love is always a good thing.

(Ironically, the only other trip I remember taking to the Statue of Liberty was with Bill [and his wife, Mary] in the winter of 2002 or 2003. To my dismay, I don’t have photos of that visit, but I remember that it was bitterly cold… and that we were happy.)

So much changed on that Tuesday morning twelve years ago, far beyond the new rules for air travel and the ever-present “If you see something, say something!” signs that are all around Manhattan. Yes, of course, I will never forget. But I will also remember – the sights, the sounds, the smells – but more than that, how we all, however briefly, came together, supported one another, and held fast to hope.

And how very much we loved.
More than anything, I am still remembering that love today, and always.





Who wants to eat some cake?

If you’ve ever watched Cake Boss – even one single episode – you know that this is the line that Buddy utters each and every time he delivers a cake, before brandishing the cutting knife and disassembling the latest awe-inspiring 23-layer creation.

We watch a lot of Cake Boss at our house (along with Next Food Network Star and Chopped and Restaurant Impossible and Mystery Diners and, yeah, so we like food, what can I say). There are only so many times I can sit through part of My Little Pony without wanting to claw my eyes out; the girls and I do So You Think You Can Dance, but we’ve yet to convince Nick to join us; and we’d probably be arrested if we held family-wide showings of Homeland. And so, aside from the occasional game show (a la Minute to Win It), there really are very few shows that all of us enjoy equally.

I know – Cake Boss is hardly the pinnacle of wholesome family entertainment. There’s at least one “ass” in every show, there’s a heckuva lot of yelling, someone is usually throwing a temper tantrum, and while I’m all for pulling pranks, I’d prefer that they not include buckets of flour dumped off of our roof. Plus also… the grammar. OH DEAR GOD, THE TERRIBLE GRAMMAR.

But what Cake Boss lacks in terms of properly conjugated verbs and accurate pronoun usage, it makes up for in happiness. The Valastro family genuinely loves to make cakes – and to make others happy making them. Their work ethic is deeply admirable, and the creativity shown in each episode is off the charts. They problem solve, take responsibility for their mistakes, demonstrate the value of giving back to others, and put let everyone know the importance of family. So, yes, we’re fans.

Plus also? Um, CAKE.

We got into Cake Boss several years ago, just as it was taking off, and managed to visit the original store in Hoboken the very day that Buddy and crew were flying to Chicago to be on Oprah, thereby launching them into megastardom.

See? Hardly even a line out the door.

Eying the many treats (Annie is even wearing her official Carlo’s apron – ordered straight from the store before they had a website).

We got to chat with Mauro when we placed our order. He asked the girls if they liked the Sesame Street episode. They were so starstruck, I believe they just mutely nodded their assent.

Seeing Carlo’s and religiously watching Cake Boss episodes not only inspired the girls and me to want to eat cake, but to learn to make it, Buddy-style (albeit on a considerably smaller scale). We (okay, I ) practiced with various recipes, finding the yummiest ones that were also durable and carve-able. Fillings and frostings were tested. A homemade fondant recipe was perfected as I pored over baking sites and subscribed to decorating blogs. For years, my Christmas and birthday wish lists have consisted of cake pans of all shapes and sizes, specialty food dyes, luster dust, fondant tools, scads of adorable aprons, and even a steamer and an airbrusher. Hey, I may be a (very) amateur cake maker, but I have got the goods, man.

Two summers ago, as their interest in the show reached a fever pitch, the girls had a Cake Boss-themed birthday party.

bday cake
Drop lines can kiss my patootie.

bday caker girls

We now watch the show much less obsessively, making fancy cakes only a few times each year, but we’ve still got all of the stuff, so when the cake-making mood strikes, we’re ready. At the beginning of August, Ella decided that she wanted to make a cake all on her own – and drew up the plans to prove it.

back to school cakes5
This hung on the refrigerator for at least four weeks, taunting us with the reminder that we’d yet to follow through.

I was supportive of the idea, but August threw us a big ol’ curveball, and the cake just never got made. Much to my surprise, Ella took this in stride, mercilessly not declaring me the Worst Mom Ever for preventing her from letting her inner Cake Boss shine… but when she asked last week if she could instead make a “Back to School” cake, I decided that it would be a perfect way to give her some quality attention (something that’s a bit lacking these days as I’m still in a this-can’t-be-real fog) and maybe make her really happy.

Plus also? Um, CAKE.

Annie decided that she wanted part of the action, and they eagerly partook in the Recipe Reading and the Ingredient Mixing and the Cake Baking. And then, when it dawned on them that the frosting and fondant weren’t magically falling from the sky, they decided they’d had enough cake baking, thank you very much, and left the cakes on the counter for three days.

Ah, short attention spans. How I love thee.

At last, yesterday afternoon, after maybe hearing that if they didn’t finish up their cakes, they wouldn’t be able to make any others for a really long time and what about the starving children of the world? they agreed to frost and decorate their cakes.

By themselves.

With no help from me.

Which is always a great idea.

back to school cakes4
Ella chose to cover her cake (which is a single round topped with four cupcakes) with fondant, then add school-themed decorations. Yellow = pencil. Of course.

back to school cakes3
Annie rolled out the fondant and then decided that it was too much work to cover the whole cake, so she used cookie cutters and just slapped little fondant shapes right onto the cake. The orange-y little squiggle? Also a pencil. Of course.

At long last, the cakes were finished, and each girl asked to photograph her masterpiece.

back to school cakes1
Ella opted for my big camera and took twelve rapid-fire photos of her cake.

back to school cakes6
Luster dust FTW! My favorite part is the sheet of notebook paper on the top, complete with holes on the left side.

back to school cakes7
The baker in her element.

back to school cakes8
Annie opted to use my iPhone to capture her masterpiece.

back to school cakes2
So, there’s a lot of luster dust here… and a dolphin on the top (impaled by the candles)… and the orange pencils… and “lots of polka dots because they’re fun.”
My favorite part? Hard to narrow it down.

back to school cakes9
Apparently, we’re also serving Annie’s head alongside her cake, but whatever.

So… We’ve still got a ways go to in the cake decorating department, but hey, at least they’re super-excited for the start of school. Maybe they’ll learn some baking skills along with woodworking. I’m all for bringing back Home Ec and Shop, people.

After dinner, the girls eagerly dug into their creations, and declared them delicious.

back to school cakes10
Annie? Why do you have candles in your cake?
“Because it’s a CAKE.” Duh.

back to school cakes11

back to school cakes12
And Ella? The candle?
“It’s a crayon, so it goes with my theme.” Obviously.

back to school cakes13

I have to admit… Luster dust aside, they actually tasted pretty darn good.

What? Of course I tried them.
One, I’m supportive of all of my children’s endeavors, naturally.

And also? Um, CAKE.