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:

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Did I mention that I’m covered in fur?

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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:

towers

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.

xo

 

 

 

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.

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See? Hardly even a line out the door.

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

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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.

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

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

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The baker in her element.

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Annie opted to use my iPhone to capture her masterpiece.

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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.

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

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

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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.

One day at a time

If you asked me what I liked best about being a parent, I might reply that it’s incredible seeing these beings who Nick and I created turning into actual, amazing humans. Or maybe something about what fun it is to watch them be sisters together. Or how great it is to have an excuse to watch Aladdin any time I want.

But, really, one of the best things about being a parent is the ability to tease my offspring, give them a hard time, and generally pester them all day long. As Ella’s embarrassment threshold has lowered, with instant looks of shock and horror the moment Nick or I do something that doesn’t suit her, we have become all the more determined to dance in public, call her by her code name (Vanessa Stinkbottom), and kiss one another when other people are watching (oh mah gah).

Lest you worry that we’re causing permanent damage, a) we never act up for too long, b) she plays along gamely, and c) she always knows that we’re kidding. We talk about it with her and make sure that we’re not actually torturing her. Plus, we’ve volunteered to pay for her future therapy, so it all evens out in the end.

As we were driving home from the lake on Labor Day, both girls were in rare form. They’d been at the lake for five days visiting with their Grandma and Pops, as well as their Uncle Taylor and my grandma, Phoofsy, while Nick and I were out of town, and they’d had a marvelous time. The end-of-summer festivities had filled them to the brim, and they were melancholy about returning home and starting school a couple of days later. That melancholy met up with their general apprehension about new classes and teachers, and created a delightful combination that might be described as complete and utter freakishness.

Hands could not be kept to selves. Feet could not be kept to selves. Voices were impossible to lower. It was just too much, this end of summer nonsense, and they were not to be contained.

At first, we ignored them, understanding how they were feeling and appreciating that they couldn’t just kick back with a glass of wine and let it all out. But as their tomfoolery gave way to pokes and kicks and pinches and screams, we could feel the change in the air, and knew that if we didn’t do something fast, one of them wasn’t getting out alive. To get their attention, I told them about a friend’s Facebook post: her sons had been playing the Quiet Game at bedtime, and had been silent for a good ten minutes when she checked on them (hoping they were asleep)… heard one brother fart… and other say, “You lose!”

Annie and Ella thought this was maybe the most hilarious story ever, and were intrigued with the Quiet Game. This isn’t something we’ve played with them too much, in part because we really haven’t needed to, and in part because I, personally, hate losing, and keeping my mouth shut is not exactly one of my strengths (in case you hadn’t noticed). Given their level of bat-shit-craziness, however, Nick suggested that we play right there in the car and see who could be the quietest for the remainder of our drive. Thrilled that we’d be playing with them (thanks so much, Nick), the girls were immediately sold, and the game began.

For the first minute or so, everyone just sat still, which was lovely and all, but pretty boring, quite frankly. I knew that my chances of winning would increase dramatically if I could do something to get the girls to make sound, so I decided to do what typically elicits the loudest protests: make a fool out of myself and embarrass them. And so the seat dancing began. With gusto.

I looked back in the rearview mirror to see Ella’s eyes widen with horror, then flash with indignation as she realized that if she told me to knock it off, she’d be out of the game. Nick immediately picked up on what I was doing and began epically rocking out in his seat as well.

Not ones to let us get the upper hand, the girls quickly upped their ante. Feet were pressed against the backs of seats, knowing that we couldn’t tell them to put them down. Spare car socks were plucked from their little pockets and chucked in our direction. They made faces at one another and stuck their tongues out at us.

Windows were lowered and feet were waved out of the car. I honked at every house we passed (including several where we knew the occupants, thereby exponentially increasing the embarrassment potential). I raised the stereo volume to deafening and opened all of the windows. Nick removed his shirt and hung his bare torso out the window. When I came to a stop sign, he leaned over and we locked lips for an absurd amount of time.

By the time we arrived home, the car was a complete disaster… but no one had uttered a word. It had probably been the rowdiest version of the Quiet Game, like, ever, which was kind of the opposite of what we’d originally intended, but which wound up being just what all of us needed — Nick and me, especially.

This past week has been incredibly difficult, to say the very least. Everything is surreal; it is simply impossible that Bill is gone, and that we are going on without him. There are moments when it’s hard to breathe, when the crushing sadness of it all threatens to overcome me, and I wonder how anyone survives a loss like this. And I know that Nick is feeling it so much more deeply than I am, and his sadness makes my heart ache and my stomach hurt.

But, with kids, you cannot wallow in your sadness. That’s not to say that we feel the need to completely stifle our emotions – we don’t, and we’re real and honest with them when we’re feeling sad – but we also don’t want to scare them or make them sad. And also, I don’t want to be sad around them. I want to enjoy them, to laugh with them, to be with them – really with them – and not lost in a surreal cloud of grief.

At times, having Ella and Annie makes all of this more difficult. Frankly, it’d be nice to occasionally have the chance to just stay in bed, or to not stop my tears because I hear them coming down the stairs. Grieving and parenting are not good bedfellows.

But, on the other hand, Annie and Ella make all of this so very much easier. They’re not bogged down with sadness, and seeing them continue to laugh and live and just be kids makes my spirits lift every time. When they’re around, I pull myself out of my sadness and focus on them…

… and the bean and tomato salad Ella created last week from our garden…
8.27 garden fare
It was actually quite tasty, especially served on the Mickey plate.

… on Annie taking my hand and skipping with me through Target…8.28 holding hands in target
I know the picture is wicked blurry, but that’s what happens when you take a photo while giddily skipping through Target.
Bonus points for our skipping embarrassing Ella to no end.

 

… on Ella finally deciding to have me change her earrings (five months after she got her ears pierced), and flashing the most enormous grin ever – after crying about it for a good twenty minutes – on the night before third grade…
9.03 giddy earring changer
Mickey Mouse earrings FTW!

… on Annie losing her first tooth on the first day of first grade…
9.04 first tooth
Well timed, kiddo.

… on the final boat ride before school begins, and jumping gleefully off the back of the boat…

9.01 last lake day jump

I know these coming weeks will be far from easy, but with these girls around, I know that I’ll have something to smile about every single day.

Especially if we play the Quiet Game. Next time, they’re going down.

9.04 back to school girlies
All smiles after the first day of school.
I may or may not have toasted with a glass of Pinot. What happens at home stays at home, y’all.

 

Move over, Jackass

The start of school smells good. I don’t just say this because today was one of the most perfect days, weatherwise, we’ve experienced maybe, like, ever, nor because of the girls’ fresh, clean, new school stuff, all of which comes with its fresh, clean, new smell… New backpacks, new supplies (erasers, I heart you), new clothes, new lunch boxes… Each has its own crisp aroma, un-stained, not yet having taken on the stank of leftover spaghetti or forgotten sneakers.

Beyond that, however, there’s still the geeky kid in me who always loved the start of school each year, and that kid sits eagerly beside the teacher in me, who met the beginning of each September with equal parts trepidation and exhilaration. Yes, the year holds the possibility of something dreadful, of birds pooping on your head while you wait in line to go inside from recess (first grade, true story; Sarah Tallman was kind enough to help get the poop out of my hair while everyone else laughed), of classmates who are tyrants hiding behind polo shirts and jeggings, of parents who think that little Junior deserves special treatment and plays the not my child card every. single. time. But there’s also the promise of new friends, of clean notebooks and smooth desks, of games at recess and giggles during library, of field trips and science experiments, of fall and cinnamon and hay rides.

A month in, school begins to take on the metallic, pungent smell of tiny, sweaty bodies who defy logic and seem to need deodorant, despite being only eight. But the start of school? Those first, unblemished, ripe-with-promise weeks? They smell great.

Each year, as the girls begin school, I try to do something special for them – a fun first day breakfast, a treat when they come home, a dinner of their choosing, notes in their backpacks – something to make this day stand apart from the other 179 days of the school calendar. This year, with the (very) recent loss of my much-adored father-in-law (there will be more to say on this in coming weeks – I promised Bill it would be so – but right now, I need to wait and process and grieve, and think about just what I’d like to write), I have had to cut myself a break and be patient with my lack of focus… but I still want to be doing these special things. Not for any grander purpose, not because of any outside pressure, not even because of expectations that I may have inadvertently raised in my children, but simply because they make me happy.

And, I’m learning, that’s a pretty damn good reason for doing most things.

Except watching Real Housewives (of Anywhere). Or wearing Uggs year-round. Or preferring dark chocolate to milk. There are rules, people.

I’m also learning what I can and cannot do, and I’m learning to be okay with it. Which isn’t such a novel concept, except I recently read two seemingly opposing blog posts and found myself agreeing with basically everything they both said. Which means… thinking. And growing. And learning. Or something. And all that jazz.

First, I read this post, and loved it not only because “Pinterest Bitches” is a fabulous phrase and they worked “explosive diarrhea” into their narrative, but also because, hell yes! Crazytown! A stitched-together pencil caddy? “Yay school” and a little globe? Have we all gone insane?? Reading that post made me feel instantly better about getting the time wrong for Ella’s meet-the-teacher day, and going to Target yesterday in biker shorts and a dirty Zumba t-shirt.

But then I read this post today. Michelle had me with “braless in the drop off lane”(and also made me feel a little like maybe she was stalking me with the whole, Does Emily pause before posting about finally, finally having her depression under control because she knows there are other moms still struggling? thing), but also got my attention by mentioning, despite her house never being company-ready, that she does throw “Pinterest worthy” parties… both of which sounded awfully familiar. (Not because the parties I throw are necessarily Pinterest worthy, but because I, um, did post photos here specifically so I could put them on Pinterest.)

So… It seems that the Pinterest Bitch would be… me.

Conundrum, no?

The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more I’ve decided that the dichotomy not only makes sense… it’s okay. It’s good, even. It’s just me; it’s who I am. It hurts no one (except myself, when I stay up too late making Looney Tunes birthday cakes or getting pancake batter ready to go for the first day of school). It’s a bit nutty, but that’s fine. It makes me happy.

And it’s high time that I reconcile what I can and cannot do, and become okay with it. Or, as Michelle puts it, it’s high time that I “quit being a jackass” to myself.

I can make cute first-day-of-school breakfasts with pancakes shaped like school buses and the girls’ current grade numbers. first day breakfast
Don’t worry; Annie eventually received more than 1 cut-up strawberry. We are all about equity in this house.

I can make brownies for when the girls come home from school, with their newly-begun grade levels powdered-sugared onto them.first day brownies
Notice how these are the corners? I ate the gooey middle piece. It was delicious.

I can send my kids off to school, and welcome them home from their first day, with a bang (a bang that is created with the help of boxed mixes from Wegmans, but a bang nonetheless), and they love it, and I love it, and it’s just the way it goes. I cannot, however, manage to keep our fridge and cupboards stocked with actual necessary food, so when my kids request a sandwich with pepperoni and cheese, they’re going to get some pepperoni and a torn-up cheese stick instead.
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Yep. Real lunch from last year. Super proud moment.

School bus pancakes. Cheese stick sandwiches. Pretty much me in a nutshell.

I can send my girls to school each day with a joke in their lunch boxes (or a joke told over the phone)…
first day joke
Ellen” and her Facebook page FTW!

… But I cannot organize the papers in the kitchen – nor manage to replace the window shade that’s been broken for at least two years – to save my soul.

messy papers
I know you’re jealous. Just keepin’ it real.

I can make number signs the night before and pose my adorable children in front of the house on their first day…

ella first day 3rd
HOLY CRAP, she has gotten so absurdly old.

… But, for the life of me, I cannot get ahold of the weeds that are overtaking every spare space in our garden, in the yard, and on the sidewalk.
annie first day 1st
The foot-tall “bushes” to the left, in front of the bricks? Yeah. Weeds. Every last one.

It used to be that both sides of this coin bothered and embarrassed me. I didn’t want to admit that I studied hair blogs so that I could send the girls off to school with cute and fancy ‘dos, because that somehow felt like something I should be ashamed of – as though admitting it would somehow be showing off, or trying to put other non-hairdo-ing parents down, or saying that I had too much time on my hands, or making a judgement one way or another.

And yet, I also didn’t want to admit that the third seat of the car is so filled with dog fur, we cannot have people ride there without producing a towel for them to sit on. That was also something to be ashamed of, an admission that I cannot keep everything together, that I let some things go.

But lately – and quite uncharacteristically – I’ve been going easy on myself. I’ve come to realize that I don’t always have it all together (a shocker, I know, I know), not even in a scattered sort of way, and that’s okay. I’ve certainly never felt that I’m Super Mom, but I’m coming to see that my priorities are just that — my priorities — and that automatically makes them different from everyone else’s… but it doesn’t make them bad or wrong, nor something to be bothered by or ashamed of.

Again, to paraphrase Michelle (can you tell I really liked her post?!), I’m being a good parent. I’m loving my kids. I’m doing the best I can.

And it makes me happy.

I’m going to scour Pinterest for ideas and then send my girls to school with Halloween-themed Bento boxes – because it makes me smile – and doing so says nothing about anyone else who thinks that Bento boxes are as absurd as The Real Housewives. It says only that I like them, and that’s okay.

I’m never going to knit the girls a scarf, nor make them fabulous scrapbooks, nor send them to school with stitched-together pencil caddies, because that’s just not my bag… which is also okay. And I will always have a perpetually messy stovetop, because making Halloween-themed Bento boxes takes priority over stovetop scrubbing (plus also, hello ADHD), and that says nothing about people who do prize a gleaming kitchen. It only says that I don’t, and that’s okay, too.

Some things I can do.
Others, I can’t.
Or maybe I just don’t. Either way, it’s okay.

I’m going to give myself more of a break, cut myself a little more slack, and allow life to slowly come back together, without rushing it or being impatient with myself when I need to take a little more time. I’m going to do the things that make me happy, and worry far less about the things that don’t (except for, like, mowing the lawn and paying bills, because when I let those slide, it doesn’t work so well), and I’m going to stop apologizing for both. And I’m going to encourage everyone around me to do the very same.

In short, I’m going to quit being a jackass to myself.

Last Hurrah

For the past five years, on the day before school begins, we’ve had an official family Last Hurrah. It’s never anything particularly momentous (last year, we got ice cream; two years ago, we went on a hike), but it’s a way of putting a parenthesis around the end of summer, giving us one more opportunity to have some lazy, delicious fun before the glorious   OH THANK GOD   incredible predictable routine of fall gets underway.

This year, we’d already planned to go out for dinner tonight, and asked Ella and Annie if they’d like to declare that our Last Hurrah. WRONG. Wrong. Very, very wrong. “Um, Mom, it’s just eating food out at a restaurant.” It seems that their idea of “lazy” and “delicious” fun diverges slightly from mine. And also requires more actual parenting and stuff. Damn it.

When asked what they’d like to do for their Last Hurrah, the girls mulled over several possibilities (painting nails? going to a waterfall? doing a craft?) before settling on the most obvious choice: making something with wood. Because, duh. Who doesn’t want to Make Something With Wood to mark the end of summer?

And so we found ourselves at The Home Depot, waiting impatiently for the orange-aproned helper man to saw ten-foot boards into 6″ and 12″ segments.last hurrahDOES THIS NOT LOOK LIKE FUN??

Once home, the girls enlisted our neighbor (and one of their best friends) in their scheming, and immediately got to the work of Making Something With Wood. Edges were sanded…

last hurrah3
That pile of wood pieces is still in the garage. Thank God it’s still warm enough to park the car in the driveway.

Hammers were wielded…
last hurrah6
No fingers were harmed in the Making of Something With Wood.

Paint was procured…
last hurrah2Yes, the little “shelf” in the back does take after Pisa.

And, a few hours later, they proudly displayed their creations:
last hurrah4
A “shelf” for our neighbor’s soccer awards. I hear she’s got four trophies she’d like to put atop these boards. That should be neat.

last hurrah5
Annie’s “little table” for holding “little parties.” Paint on the garage floor is just for kicks.

There was much grumbling as we pulled them away from their workshop so that we could head out for dinner (“But the legs aren’t painted yet!!”) until I assured them that tomorrow, after school, if they actually make it through the first day alive and still have the energy to pick up the paintbrushes and hammers, they can finish their projects. Won’t that be fun.

Nick and I decided that our version of Last Hurrah would take place at The Melting Pot, which, although the opposite of “lazy,” was certainly a delicious end to summer.last hurrah7

We had a particularly awesome server who asked – twice – what grade the girls were going into, and then presented them with dessert plates displaying said grade.

last hurrah8
First grade or bust! En garde!
Except I kind of mean it. I hope Annie’s teacher got a good night’s sleep.

Okay, if I’m being honest, I think it’s pretty damn cool that our girls chose to bash hammers into nails and Make Something With Wood. I love how they’re not afraid to get down and dirty, how the allure of pounding something to smithereens is difficult to ignore, how they don’t hesitate to make a shelf even though they have no idea what they’re doing, how little they care that the shelf is so lopsided the trophies will probably slide right off, and how awesomely they use their imaginations. They looked at fall’s fast-approaching sunsets (um, how is it already almost dark at 7:30?!?!) and said, HELL NO!, and gave summer one last fabulous go.

Their backpacks are waiting by the front door. Their carefully-chosen clothes have been laid out. Water bottles have been filled. They’re ready. Tomorrow, they’ll head off to school, eagerly anticipating what this year has in store.

Personally, I’m hoping for a few lessons in geometry and physics, because if I’m getting a “shelf” for Christmas, there’s definitely some room for improvement.