Best laid plans

I always start out with such high hopes and good intentions. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving yesterday – truly the very best time with my grandmother and newfound, fabulous friends, all of whom were kind enough to protest my apologies when we ate two hours past our original estimate because that the turkey took far longer to cook than I’d planned (Alton Brown – dude, you’ve never led me astray before; what gives??). It was just perfectly cozy and fun and laughter-filled and delicious, so much so that, while we were doing the dishes after everyone had gone home and girls were in bed, Nick stopped to ask me, “Am I not agreeing strongly enough with what you’re saying? Because you’ve just told me for the fifth time that this was a really great Thanksgiving…”

So, after actually getting enough sleep last night (a Thanksgiving miracle, word!), I awoke today in a delightful mood, ready to throw caution to the wind and, by God, make some pumpkin donuts; today’s breakfast will be more than just juice, in the name of sugar and cinnamon and pumpkin spice, amen. To round out the morning (and perhaps atone for the donuts), I thought I’d do some yoga – after all, the floor was freshly vacuumed for last night’s guests, and I couldn’t let a dog-hair-free carpet go to waste – so I donned new yoga pants and a kicky black yoga zip-up top (thanks, Mom!), even stopping to admire my snazzy I Might Work Out Or I Might Just Strut Around In These Because They Make Me LOOK Like I’ll Work Out clothing in the mirror before heading downstairs.

It was all going to be just wonderful, you know? Right out of a Hallmark Special. I’d make the donuts (okay, does everyone who grew up in the Northeastern US still hear the Dunkin’ Donuts’ guy’s voice in your head intoning, “Time to make the do-nuts…” every time you think of donuts?) in my fantastically clean kitchen (hosting Thanksgiving definitely has its perks) while the girls – who, naturally, would be deeply grateful for my efforts – could either assist cheerfully by my side or play bucolically together downstairs.

perty berries

A fresh layer of snow had fallen last night, adding sparkle to the eight or so inches that we already have on the ground. The sunlight was streaming into the kitchen, giving the entire room a warm, soothing-but-invigorating glow. Ah, yes. A grateful morning. Joy just oozing from my being. I started to get out the ingredients.

Annie came upstairs in tears not shortly thereafter, and, still in my This Is The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of haze, I picked her up and held her close, whispering sweetly in her ear to tell me what was wrong. “Ella hit me, and also scratched my arm.” Why had Ella done so? I wanted to know. “Because she wanted to put the Legos to bed somewhere else.”

Of course.

Not wanting to break my reverie, I soothed her and apologized and reiterated that hitting and scratching are not appropriate ways to behave. I was just about to (kindly, gently, warmly) reprimand Ella for her behavior when I thought to ask Annie if she had, by chance, done anything to her sister to precipitate such an attack. Annie nodded solemnly and said, quite matter-of-factly, “Yes. I hit her really hard because she didn’t give me the Legos I wanted.” 

And so came the first, If you can’t play nicely together, you’re going to be in separate rooms! of the day.

Turning back to the task at hand, I measured and whisked, mixed and stirred. I found my inner peace (or maybe it was just leftover Xanax) and breathed deeply into it, or whatever it is the yoga lady on YouTube says to do. The girls came upstairs, still grumpy, and I suggested that perhaps they were hungry. They denied that they were (even though it was 9:45 and they typically eat around 8:15), but reluctantly agreed to eat a little breakfast. Playing my Best Mommy Ever card, I offered them a slice of leftover apple pie, pumpkin bread, or a dinner roll, and when they asked if they could have little bits of all three, I said sure – it’s the day after Thanksgiving! We are so happy and thankful! We celebrate life! Of course you may have all three!

This, I assumed, would cheer them up and make them see just how very fortunate they are, not only for the abundant riches of our life, but for kick-ass moms like me who allow desserts for breakfast. We might have taken a slight scene break, but we would surely return to our Hallmark Special right after these messages. I was just piping the first globs of batter from the Ziploc bag into the donut maker when I felt this… stickiness… on my hands. Apparently, I hadn’t closed the zip on the bag tightly enough, because the enclosure came entirely open and there was now more pumpkin donut batter outside of the bag then in. And the only place to “catch” it and prevent it from falling calamitously to the floor was to sandwich it between my hands and my kicky new black yoga top.

The girls would chuckle at this, I figured. Or perhaps offer to help.
Instead, “Mommy, why are you making such a mess with our donuts?” was their charming inquiry.

With two donuts already baking in the donut machine and batter completely covering my hands, the only solution was to scrape it from my fingers and into the other donut receptacles. I was madly stuffing the sticky globs into place when the girls attempted to leave the kitchen. Mistake.

Please stay seated – I’m making donuts for you. 

They didn’t leave the premises but, rather than remaining seated, they chose to horse around with the dog gate – the one that is held precariously within the door frame and that must be treated carefully – and succeeded in not only knocking themselves to the ground, but the gate as well.

I might have reminded them that they’ve been told at least a million times not to play with or hang on the gate, and I may have said that they were going to be responsible for fixing it if it took them all day to do so… But I’m not entirely sure, because I was busy checking on the donuts while also scrubbing donut batter from my hands and my now-batter-stained sweatshirt. When they finally succeeded in putting up the gate and attempted to walk away, I’m quite positive that I growled at them to return to the kitchen because I AM MAKING DONUTS FOR YOU.

pumpkin donuts

After they grudgingly ate the donuts (whispering to themselves that they were as tasty as the apple donuts I’d made earlier this year, but, still angry with me for getting in trouble, not even glancing my way), they then headed off to play. Perhaps the morning isn’t all a loss, I reasoned. They’ll play happily now and I can enjoy a donut in peace…

“If you EVER touch me again, I will never speak to you!”

“I didn’t do it on PURPOSE!” 

“Don’t you even know how to use your HANDS?”

“Don’t you even know how to use your MOUTH?” 

THAT’S IT. YOU NEED TO PLAY SEPARATELY. AND IF I HEAR ONE MORE WORD FROM EITHER OF YOU, YOU WILL SPEND THE AFTERNOON IN YOUR ROOM.

I AM SO THANKFUL FOR THIS DELIGHTFUL MORNING.

Something is oozing from my being, but I’m pretty certain it isn’t joy. But let’s be honest: those Hallmark Specials always kind of sucked anyway.

If the YouTube yoga lady tells me to breathe into my toes, I will leave her a VERY nasty comment. Then again, can one even still do yoga if your sweatshirt contains more donut than your stomach? Surely I can burn just as many calories outside in the snow as I could Downward Dog-ing in the living room… Especially while making snowmen. Or throwing snowballs.

I know of two particularly appealing targets right about now.

 

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Like a fine wine (let’s go with Sauvignon Blanc)

Last Friday, it was my birthday; I turned thirty-eight. I’m neither ashamed to admit my age nor to admit my unabashed love of turning every birthday (even – especially? – my own) into a special occasion.

Being in the spotlight – unless I engineer it or am standing at the head of a classroom – generally makes me uncomfortable. I’m not one to go around to strangers blabbing about myself or my life. But on my birthday, all bets are off. Maybe it’s a mom thing, maybe it’s a primary caregiver thing, maybe it’s a female thing, or maybe it’s just a me thing, but for 363 days of the year, I do not come first. (No, I didn’t do the math wrong [although, given my history with The Math, I don’t fault you for thinking so]. Nick rocks at putting me first on Mother’s Day.)

That’s not to say that I don’t sometimes come first, or that my needs aren’t met, or that Nick’s not pulling his weight… none of that. I’m pretty good about speaking up for myself and taking time when I need it, whether it’s grabbing coffee mid-day or having dinner with a friend or telling the kids they’ll just have to wait a minute, I’m busy, for crying out loud. And Nick is really super about encouraging me to take time for myself and of helping to make sure what I need is taken care of. But, with the exception of Mother’s Day and days when I’m sick or have had surgery, I’m not the focus of the day (and, let’s be honest; when I am sick enough to actually be in bed, the girls are crawling in beside me, and when I had laparoscopic surgery a few years back, I was driving Annie to preschool two days later). And that’s as it should be – God knows I wouldn’t want every day to be about me; even I get sick of Starbucks.

But one day? Yep. It can be all about me. I’m absolutely down with that. Am I asking for attention on my birthday? You betcha. BRING IT.

(Except that November 22nd isn’t really the most fabulous birthday if you want a day that’s all about you. Every five or six years, my birthday falls on Thanksgiving, which is a big ol’ bummer, and for forever, the majority of Americans a generation older than I am have heard my birth date and said, “Ohhhh, that’s the day Kennedy was assassinated!” True, and yes, I read the news coverage of the 50th anniversary just like everyone else.

But also? It’s my birthday! HOLLA!)
Annie agrees:
annie's bday card to me

 Let’s go, 38 year-old Mommy.
H-H-Happy Birthday!
Love Annie

I know plenty of people who totally downplay their birthdays. (By people, I mean adults, because I have yet to meet any children who don’t practically wear a neon sign above their heads on their birthdays. AMEN.) It’s no big deal, they’ll say, just another day, I don’t want to celebrate. And that’s all well and good.

But me? No, man. I’m not shy about it; I’ll work it into any conversation that it’s my birthday. This is the day I was BORN, damn it, and being born is a mighty awesome thing. Even more awesome is the passing of another year – in part, as my dad likes to say, because it sure beats the alternative, but in part because another year under your belt, another year of things seen and done and accomplished and lived and learned and loved, is worth celebrating. 

And so celebrate, I did. Last Monday, the rebel moms and I finally made good on our promise to grab some dinner and have a “planning meeting,” and they surprised me with a birthday dessert. On Wednesday, some wonderful friends met me for lunch ’cause it was my birthday in two days, and what better excuse to get together in the middle of the week? Thursday, Friday, and Saturday were filled with some squeezed-in but much-needed me time, taking Ella and Annie out of school to eat lunch at a local restaurant (ooooh, the excitement!), some lovely gifts, phone calls and texts and video chats with family and friends, scads of Facebook well-wishes, a dinner out with just Nick (while GranMary was excellent enough to watch the girls), a birthday dinner in with the girls and GranMary and my own grandma (where I didn’t have to lift a finger), and even a homemade (and quite yummy) cake from Annie and Ella.
bday cake me
Tilting candles make cake taste better.

It was a very good birthday. So far, thirty-eight is pretty rad.

The older I’ve gotten, the less apprehensive I’ve become about sharing my age. With a late November birthday, I was one of the youngest in my class, and was always one of the last to turn whatever age the other 1975ers had turned. As a teen, it bugged me that I was the youngest, so always hesitated to tell folks how old I was. In my twenties, I was constantly told that I looked young for my age (in fact, I still get carded; last week, a department store salesperson asked if I had the store card – when I said no, he asked if my parents did, and maybe I could use theirs?), so I kept my birth date to myself.

Now, I’m no longer embarrassed to tell people my age. Quite the contrary; thirty-eight feels really good. I no longer judge myself by my peers, but rather by my own set of standards, the majority of which include making sure that Nick, the girls, and I are happy, and that I’m choosing kind far more often than not. There are way more lines around my eyes, and when I see them, I’m reminded of the fabulous days I’ve spent outside in the sun (with sunscreen, no worries, I’m a bit fanatical) and of how incredibly often I laugh, even when I shouldn’t.

Thirty-eight means feeling more confident about who I am as a person, while recognizing that I still have a really, really long way to go to become the person I want to be. It means that I finally – finally! – understand that when someone is critical of me (or offers “advice” that’s really criticism wearing shiny clothes), they’re saying a whole lot more about themselves than they are about me. 

Thirty-eight means valuing friendships more than ever, especially as life gets in the way and it can be harder to get together in person. It means valuing family, near and far, and actively working to make the relationships in my life just as I want them to be. It means that my husband has never been more attractive or appreciated, despite the days when we hardly see one another.
ella's bday basket to me
Thirty-eight also means duct tape purses. Word.

Thirty-eight means feeling rooted and grounded and absolutely content, while simultaneously constantly looking to try new things and find the next set of adventures. It means that I’m a whole lot closer to fifty than I am to twenty, or even twenty-five, but that’s just dandy, because I have a heckuva lot of fifty (or almost-fifty) year-old friends, and they’ve shown me that things really do get better with age.

Thirty-eight means reaching the point where weddings and baby showers are replaced by memorial services and funerals, as we lose our parents and our friends’ parents and our parents’ friends. But it also means soccer games and Harry Potter and gingerbread helpers at school and (still!) the wonder of Santa Claus.

Thirty-eight means speaking in a British accent at the grocery store, even when you don’t realize you’re doing it (true story: I was asked today where I’m from, and only then did I realize I was speaking to the woman using a British accent… awkward…), twerking in front of the bedroom mirror when no one is watching, and cleaning dog poop off the wall when your dog has had explosive diarrhea in the middle of the night. It means gratitude and happiness, appreciation and doubt, love and desperate sadness, hope and vulnerability, juicing in the morning and wine in the evenings, and realizing that many things really do get better with a  little chocolate.

Last year was a helluva year, and I don’t know what this next year will bring, but I’m ready. Thirty-eight is where it’s at, and I’m so very glad to be here. It is a time to CELEBRATE, y’all.

Especially when it involves a massage and Caramel Macchiatosbday with my girlies
The best accessories when you’re thirty-eight? New scarf, new earrings, and one child hanging off of each arm.

It just doesn’t add up

It finally happened tonight: neither Nick nor I could figure out how to do Ella’s math homework. We’ve heard about this exact circumstance, tales from friends and in the news stories we read about how the Common Core curriculum is being taught and tested in New York state, where the kids bring home work that contains language so foreign to both the parent and the child, bitter frustration boils to the surface… But we’d never truly seen it until this evening.

While it’s no secret that I am bad with The Math (see: Ella and Annie were supposed to be three years apart but they are two years apart instead; oopsie), I did used to be an elementary school teacher. I’ve been responsible for not only understanding but teaching math to second, fifth, and sixth-graders, and, if memory serves, I taught it just fine. Nick was a far better math student than I, and regularly uses math at work; he’s currently taking a Financial Reporting and Analysis course for his MBA and is nailing it. In other words, while we may not always be the brightest bulbs on the tree (although we do sparkle nicely), we should certainly be able to help our third-grader with her math homework.

Except here’s the first thing: this math is stupid.

ella math2a
Circles? Wha?

Why in the world is it helpful to think of 9×4 as 5×4 + 4×4? Is that supposed to make it easier? Because it seems to me that just knowing that 9×4 = 36 is a lot more efficient than using algebra to solve straightforward multiplication problems.

Second, without instructions, it’s really difficult to know what the question is actually asking.

ella math2b
WTF is supposed to go in these blanks??

Here, for example, Ella thought that perhaps she was supposed to divide 36 into two equal groups and add them up. I said that sounded fine, but did she know what 36 divided by two was? Nope. So Nick suggested that perhaps she was supposed to re-phrase the algebraic equation written above – which is what Ella ultimately did – but, as you can see by my note, we have no idea if this is what she was supposed to do.

ella math2
The little “bite” out of the left side of the page? From Ella’s soaking wet hair dripping onto her homework. Lovely.

In addition (a pun!) to the problems being stupid and confusing, this homework sheet presented Ella with material she’d never encountered before – in this case, the distributive property – and she was completely stumped as to what to do.

ella math1a
Didn’t I see this in middle school? Maybe not; I’m trying to block a lot of those years out.

I suggested that she “distribute” the numbers equally, drawing an array (New York state parents of elementary school kids – we should totally design a drinking game where we do a shot every time our kids bring home a worksheet with the word array on it. We’d be hammered, but the homework would be a lot more fun), but she turned me down. When I Googled the distributive property, I found myself staring at crazy algebraic properties that surely had nothing to do with this worksheet.

ella math3
Nick did his due diligence to confirm that the distributive property really works as it was advertised; he was satisfied that it did.

With no other options, I finally convinced Ella to use the time-honored method of approaching difficult homework: copying from somewhere else. In this case, I suggested that she copy the weirdo circle thing from the front side of the worksheet (which Ella informed me is a number bond); she reluctantly agreed.

ella math1
engageNY, my butt.

So, see, it’s not that my kid’s not listening, nor that she’s stupid. She could tell me all about arrays (DRINK!) and number bonds, but having never been introduced to the words “distributive property” before, she was – understandably – confused.

And here’s the biggest rub for me: we couldn’t help her. I’m not saying that I wanted to do the worksheet for her (oh, hellz no), but I sure as heck would have liked to at least understood it so we could have helped her understand it for herself. Ella’s teacher has (wisely, I think) requested that our kiddos stop doing homework that they don’t understand before they become frustrated with it, in part so that they don’t reach burn-out level, and in part so that she can see just what they don’t understand and can make sure she teaches it in a way that reaches them. All of that is well and good – truly – but the unsaid reason for having our kids go to her when they don’t understand things is that the New York Common Core assessments (and the worksheets and homework “preparing” kids for the assessments) are designed in such a way that they must be taught just so, using exact language (often literally scripted), with details so precise, the only way to fully comprehend it is to have been in the classroom yourself.

Which seems to be in direct contrast with one of the supposed “key” components of a student’s academic achievements: support from parents (or guardians).

You can read study after study “proving” that one of the strongest bolsters of educational success is a solid school-home connection, and I would absolutely agree. I want to have a solid connection with Ella’s school, with her teacher, with what she’s doing in the classroom. But when she brings home work that makes absolutely no sense, that is baffling to all of us, we cannot help her, and we are essentially written out of the equation (another pun; squee!). And that is just bullshit.

Yep, I said it. It’s bullshit.

Like the many articles I’ve read before, I could tell you how, despite our best efforts, Ella’s sense of frustration did reach burn-out level tonight. How she felt dumb and inadequate and monumentally distressed. And it would be true, and it absolutely broke my heart. But being unable to help her through because we, as her parents, are kept in the dark by a vague (yet, paradoxically, exceedingly specific) curriculum, was what really put me over the edge.

I’ve read the Common Core standards. I think they, themselves, are pretty swell. I’ve got less good to say about the near-constant assessments and tests and “demonstrating (lack of) knowledge” that both Ella and Annie have undergone this year. I don’t even want to get into how asinine and maddening it is that Ella – who has never given two hoots before – is worried about her report card, because she knows that she will be graded on concepts that have not yet been introduced to her. That her teacher tells her it’s okay – expected, even – to receive low marks (because, after all, how many kiddos can do well on material they’ve never seen before?) has not made her feel any better.

ella math
No, this actually wasn’t staged; she’d thrown her pencil down with an angry flourish.

As her parent, I’d love to tell her that I couldn’t care less about how well she does on her report card, so long as she tries her hardest. And I have told her that – Nick and I both have, repeatedly. But, if we can’t even help her with her homework, I don’t know that we’ll be making much headway convincing her that her grades don’t concern us one bit.

I cannot say enough awesome stuff about teachers, nor praise their efforts loudly enough. I loves me some teachers. But parents are a really important part of all of this, and we’ve been effectively shut out of the process. It’s ridiculous, it’s crazy-making, and it’s not ultimately going to help our kids succeed.

Not cool, New York. Not cool at all.

All Shook Up

Annie’s fabulous Herb Brooks turkey was, in some ways, to be expected. See, although Herb may have been influenced by Nick, the desire to put her all into school project was definitely inherited from me. There was the school wide make-a-poster contest for the fall festival, where my brother and I — in our own respective grades — took first place each. There was the write-about-a-country project (my country: Saudi Arabia) for which I actually brought in a beautiful head scarf from Saudi Arabia, because my dad had gone there on business trips.

There was the See If White Carnations Still Turn Blue After Mixing Crap Like Sugar And Salt And Kool-Aid Into Their Blue Food Coloring-Tinted Water project, which was set up in the guest room for at least two weeks, threatening to turn the carpet aquamarine. There was the acid rain project one of my best friends and I did in 9th grade, where we asked friends and family to send us vials of water and soil collected from around the country (to analyze the acidity and then pore over actual library books to see, way before Google could help out, if there was a connection between soil content and acid rain), for which we filmed at 15-minute video, complete with several “commercials.”

If there was a project to be done, I was going to DO IT, by God, and DO IT WITH ALL MY MIGHT, especially if a tri-fold board was involved. Man, those boards were cool.

But then, as my mom reminded me last week after I posted about Annie’s turkey, there was the… ill-fated… Tsunami Project Disaster of ’87. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

No? Well, then this is your lucky day.

If memory serves, we had to do a project for science class about some kind of natural disaster. I was quite disappointed to be assigned the tsunami, first because I’d coveted the volcano (you got to blow things up in the classroom, rock on), but also because back then, no one in southwestern Connecticut had really even heard of tsunamis (again, back in the dark ages before Google and CNN and 24 hour news coverage even in the middle of record-breaking typhoons). After doing some research (more library time FTW!), I discovered that tsunamis were actually pretty awesome (in storm-chaser kind of way; work with me, people), and set out to make a project that would aptly demonstrate their awesomeness.

A decent-sized clear plastic bin was procured (undoubtedly by my mother, who had to navigate my ADHD-induced craziness for all of my school projects) – large enough to show what a tsunami was, but not so big I couldn’t carry it to school myself. One half of the bin contained the land, its shoreline and trees and whatever other structures were deemed necessary rendered with clay and things like popsicle sticks, while the other half contained water. By rattling the bin around and simulating an earthquake, the water would slosh ominously toward the land and – voilà – tsunami (or, at least, tsunami, 7th-grade-style), which would knock over some of the houses perched on the beach.

Now, causing the tremors by hand didn’t really work so well — I needed to show that the earthquake (or whatever had caused the disturbance) could happen anywhere, any time, and the displaced water would crest toward land; randomly jiggling the bin back and forth didn’t so much as simulate a tsunami so much as a broken washing machine. I needed something that could be placed just so, rattling, earth-quake like, and then we could all stand back and watch the water roll in. Enter the seemingly perfect solution: my family’s back massager.

We’d had it around for years, and I’d seen it in action many times — for knots just under your shoulders, aching hamstrings, or those extra-fun moments when you placed it on your head and tried to talk, your voice coming out sounding like a robot. You’ve probably seen them out and about; in fact, I just spotted some the other day in Target’s stocking stuffer section:
IMG_5551
No, I didn’t buy one; the girls would probably just torture the dogs with them.

Awesome, right? Yeah… Except that my family’s back massager didn’t look like cute little robotic puppies. It looked more like…

this:
Screen Shot 2013-11-20 at 2.34.58 PM
And now you can’t un-see this. IMAGINE HOW I FEEL.

I carefully described to the class what a tsunami was, how one was caused, and the damage one could render. I showed my little clay model. I added in the water (to many appreciative murmurs from my classmates). But when I pulled out the back massager to demonstrate just how a tsunami worked, giggles – mostly from the boys – began to erupt around the room.

I was stumped. What on earth could be so funny about a back massager?
And then the questions started.

“What the heck is that?”

It’s a back massager.

*snicker* “A WHAT?”

A back massager.

“Uh, yeah… Where’d you get it?”

I brought it from home.

*chuckle* “Where’d you find it?”

Find it? What do you mean? My mom and dad use it, and it was just lying around, so…

*giggle* “Have you ever used it?”

Of course. I use it all the time.

*barely-controlled-hysterics* “YOU DO? What do you do with it??”

(impatiently and a little exasperated at their obvious dim-witted-ness) You know – when I have a sore back, or I’ve gotten a charley horse…

*outright laughter* “Is it FUN???”

Well, I wouldn’t really say it’s fun, but it definitely works – you should try it sometime!

And then I turned the damn thing on and held it up to the bottom of the little plastic display and all hell broke loose — both in the form of the perfectly-formed little tsunami that had brewed in my lovingly constructed project — and amongst my fellow classmates.

The teacher eventually settled everyone down and I soon took my seat, wildly embarrassed but not really certain why. (To this day, I’m not sure how my instructor managed to keep a straight face. Then again, I held it together when my fifth grade general music students created a commercial jingle about an inflatable doll to the tune of “We Will Rock You”, the chorus of which went, “We will.. We will… BLOW YOU!” Teachers are AMAZING, y’all.)

It wasn’t until after class that one of my friends pulled me aside and explained that my innocent little back massager was less chiro and more porno.

If you look up the word “mortified” in the dictionary, you’ll see my name beside it. Use Google, even. It was that awful.

To this day, I’m not sure if my parents didn’t know I was bringing in this delightful device, didn’t realize that it would elicit such a reaction, or thought it would be damn hilarious to have their daughter tote what was essentially a vibrator to seventh grade science (nor, come to think of it, do I know if the “back massager” was ever used for anything beyond easing muscle aches… AND OMG I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW, EVER), but I can promise you that I will not allow my children to make a similarly mortifying mistake.

No, no. I will try my damnedest to prevent them from utterly humiliating themselves in front of their classmates. But if they do – if something slips through the cracks – I will hold their hands and comfort them and tell them that surely it will all be okay.

And then I’ll post about it on Facebook.

After all, they have to have SOMETHING to blog about when they get older.

 

 

Point Taken

Since forever, Nick and I have used a “points” system to call the other out when we’ve unwittingly said or done something simply because we’ve just been together too damn long, and our… peculiarities… have rubbed off on each other. When we’re out with friends and someone refers to workers at the Disney Store as “employees” and Nick corrects them, saying, “Actually, they’re cast members,” I get at least ten points, because my Disney-speak wormed its way into his vocabulary. When I note that Mark Messier must have won more Stanley Cups than Wayne Gretzky because he was with the Rangers when they were the champs in ’94, Nick gets a solid fifty points because his love of hockey has caused me to remember weird hockey stats.

Were you just singing part of Les Mis while you made dinner?
“Shit. I think I was.”
OMG, a hundred points for me. Maybe one-fifty.

“Did you just shake your bag of popcorn to spread out the flavor more evenly?”
Holy crap, did I?
“That puts me in the lead for at least a month.”

Naturally, since marriage is at its best when it’s essentially a competitive sport, we are also keeping points when it comes to the girls. There are some things that Annie and Ella do – ways they behave or phrases they say – that are absolutely because they’re my daughters. Becoming frustrated when someone uses incorrect grammar? Totally my kid. Being physically unable to turn the television off when The Sound of Music is on? That’s my girl! Knowing at least two verses to every Christmas carol? Naturally. WHAT WERE THEY, RAISED BY WOLVES?

And then there are the things that they do that are a direct byproduct of having Nick for their dad. Like last week, when Ella was by herself in the dining room and I heard her cheerfully muttering, “I love scotch. Scotchy scotch scotch! Here it goes down. Down into my belly!”

How do you know all of that?
“From that thing Daddy showed me*.”
You’re actually quoting Anchor Man???
“Yes! It was really funny!”
DAMN IT, NICK, YOU GET TWENTY POINTS.

(* don’t call CPS. He only showed them the trailer for the first movie. It was super fun to avoid explaining what “quite a handful in the bedroom” means.)

Sometimes, the points are given grudgingly. When Annie, age three, returned from a potty run (while we were out. In public) and loudly proclaimed that she’d just been “dropping a deuce,” Nick earned himself a few points, but also maybe the silent treatment on the way home.

Other times, Nick has had points deducted from the Official Points Bank (which is kept in my head; it’s exceedingly accurate). Years ago, as I was changing a then-18-month-old Annie’s diaper, I removed the offending nappy and she murmured, “Fuggin’ diaper.” Making sure I’d heard her correctly, I (stupidly) asked her to repeat herself. Nope, “Fuggin’ diaper,” plain as day. (Lest you think I’m being chaste, I’m not trying to avoid writing the word “fucking” — Annie actually pronounced it as “fuggin'”.)

Oh wow. Where did you hear that?
“Daddy said it.”

BUS.TED. Fifty points from Gryffindor.

(Nick lost even further points as Annie – probably in response to my shocked reaction – decided that it was fun to yell “FUGGIN!!!” at the top of her lungs, especially when we were out and about. “FUGGIN’ LIBRARY!” “FUGGIN’ GROCERIES!” I quickly learned that if I responded in any way to her outbursts – whether to scold or admonish, distract or quickly zip her the heck outta dodge – she would get a charge out of it and would yell even more loudly and jubilantly. “FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN’ CAR! FUGGIN CAR!!!!!” The only thing that would eventually quiet her down was to ignore her entirely, which meant that for a good three or four months — until she finally realized she wasn’t going to get a rise out of me, so it lost its luster — Annie dropped the F-bomb in every store we entered. FUN TIMES, THOSE. I was ahead in points for at least half a year.)

This isn’t to say that the girls haven’t picked up the occasional unsavory phrase from me. When Ella was frustrated with something a couple of weeks ago, she angrily yelled, “Oh, for God’s sake — JESUS CHRIST!!” Um, yeaaah. Oops. My bad.

Sometimes, they’ll tell me “secrets” just to see what I’ll do, like when they returned from a trip to Brueggers last weekend and Annie bounded up to tell me, “Guess what word Daddy taught us but we’re not allowed to tell you? GRAB-ASS!”

Isn’t that delightful.
“He said Grandpa Bill used to say it to him when he was a kid, so that makes it okay, right?”
Not really, but I’ve got to give him points for style.

And I will fully admit that I love how Ella has memorized comedienne Anjelah Johnson’s bit about Nordstrom and Ross employees’ responses** to the Raider cheerleader calendars. It slays me every time she – correctly, appropriately – drops, “I have three words for you – Fan. Tas. Tic!” into conversation. Okay, Nick. You win this round.

(** not the best recording of this, but worth a look if you don’t know who/what I’m talking about. Hilarious.)

But Nick’s greatest coup may have come when he least expected it. Last weekend, the movie Miracle was on cable, so he began to show it to the girls, starting from wherever the movie was at the time. I jumped in and said no, we had to start at the beginning — how else would they know about the Cold War? About the relationship between the United States and Russians in 1980? How could they miss Eruzione almost not making the team? How would they understand the significance of his saying that he played for The United States of America, whereas previously each player had always said they played for such-and-such college?

If we’re going to show them the movie about one of the greatest sports stories of all time – a HOCKEY story, at that – we must start from the beginning, damn it ! We need a Miracle family movie night! Oh, and totally ten points for me for standing up for the hockey movie.

Aside from watching a bit of A League of Their Own, this was the first sports movie the girls had seen, and while we hoped they’d enjoy it, we weren’t entirely sure. Our apprehensions were eased as they gasped aloud when the coach, Herb Brooks, made the team undergo a grueling practice after a half-assed effort in Norway, shouting “Again! Again!” until the players were vomiting from exhaustion. They shook their heads in bewildered disbelief as the Russians beat the Americans 10-3 in an exhibition game just three days before the start of the Olympics. And they were beside themselves during the Big Game, covering their faces with worry, screaming aloud for every goal, dancing around (literally) as Al Michaels called out, “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” It was a good night.

Still, it was just a movie, and after going to bed that night, we didn’t talk more about it. The following day, we sat down to start one of Annie’s school projects, where the entire family was supposed to work together to “disguise” a paper turkey by turning it into something else, so it wouldn’t be eaten at Thanksgiving. We could use anything around the house – markers, glitter, dried pasta, feathers, scraps of paper – but we had to work together.

We began the discussion. Do you want to turn it into a Disney character? Maybe Phineas (of Phineas and Ferb)? How about a soccer player? A teacher? An artist?

Nope. Wrong, all of them. Annie had her own idea.

Once she’d decided, we all worked to help her disguise her turkey, cutting, glueing, drawing. In the end, he turned out pretty damn well.

And so, without further ado, I present you Annie’s Family Turkey:
Herb Brooks.

11.13 family turkey web
I am NOT a Turkey

Hi I love hockey. I coached the USA Olympic hockey team in 1980. We won the golden medal. We beat the Russians by one point because we had 4 and they had 3. They were mad because they never, ever lost. It was called the miracle on ice.

In case you thought the design was haphazard, please compare Herb-the-Turkey to Kurt Russell-as-Herb-Brooks from Miracle:
Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 2.21.36 PM

I’d completely forgotten that he’d worn plaid pants (ohhh, 1980, you really were somethin’ else), a tan blazer, a blue shirt, and a tie. Annie sure as heck didn’t.

Please also note Herb Brooks-the-Turkey’s fuzzy hair (again, 1980, you truly were a gift).
11.14 herby turkey

When Annie presented her turkey to the class, not one of her classmates guessed who it was (which, you know… not exactly a shocker…). But she was so dang proud of our creation, she didn’t care one bit.

Neither did her dad, who won approximately 823 points for Annie’s efforts, at least half of which were given because he hadn’t even tried to influence her choice.

So Nick’s a little ahead right now in the points department, which is fine with me. This is the 2nd first-grade family art project we’ve done, which surely means there will be others, leaving me plenty of time to plot my revenge course of action. A Family Snowman disguised as a Caramel Macchiato would be pretty incredible.

Which would be fitting, since both Ella and Annie could identify the Starbucks logo before they turned one. ADVANTAGE, MAMA.

Times, they are(n’t) a changin’

A little bit ago, Annie had a friend over for a play date. She and this buddy get along famously, and often spend their time together doing artsy stuff. At one point, they each asked for a pair of scissors (and then looked at me rather incredulously when I asked to know why they needed said scissors, seeming almost hurt that I wouldn’t allow two six year-olds to just waltz off with some Fiskars) so that they could cut out these little… squares… they were making.

I watched as they meticulously drew dots on each square – one had a dot smack dab in the middle; another had two dots, one in the upper right and one in the upper left corner; yet another contained five dots, with one in the middle and the remaining four in the corners – and it occurred to me that they were essentially drawing dice patterns on their papers. When I voiced this to them, I was quickly admonished.

“No, Mommy! These aren’t DICE. Dice are ROUND.” (Okay, so we may need to work on our geometry.) “These are CARDS.”

Ah, playing cards! Gotcha. When I then suggested that they could simply use one of the 839 decks of Bicycle cards we have lying around the house, I was dismissed just quickly as before.

“No, we need to MAKE THESE because it’s part of the GAME. We learned it at school.”

So, first grade teaches gambling these days. Awesome.

Once the “playing cards” were drawn and cut out, it was time to write down the rules. Annie and her friend H each wrote down separate versions, then compared them, to be sure they’d each gotten it right.

To wit: Annie’s rules of the game (you can click on the photo to see it bigger)

Top It rules

1. Make sure that you each have 11 cards.
2. Shuffle 3 times.
3. Say “1-2-3 top it,” then have each flip over the card (whoever gets the bigger number wins <—- small print squeezed in off to the right side)
4. Keep doing it over and over
5. Until your cards are out
6. Have fun

H took her rules home with her, and I didn’t have a chance to take a photo of it before she did, but they matched Annie’s pretty closely.

What’s this game called?

“Top It.”

As I watched the girls begin to play – each turning a card over at the same time, with the person who played the higher card winning and taking both cards – I remarked that it looked an awful lot like the old-time favorite card game “War.” They looked briefly up at me and said, “It is.” When I asked why they were calling it “Top It” instead, they simply said, “Because in school we’re not allowed to say ‘war.'”

Really? REALLY?? It has come to this?

To be fair, our elementary school has, I think, done a pretty fantastic job of NOT jumping on the overreaction, EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT THESE DAYS, there-could-be-a-pedophile-around-every-corner, we must protect our children bandwagon. Loads of kids walk and bike to school (many sans parents), there is still Tag and monkey-bar-hanging at recess, the kindergarteners are taken on a bus ride — without parents! without even ASKING the parents! — when they come to meet the teachers in August, and there is still outdoor recess all through our snow-filled Rochester winters (with the stipulation that once the wind chill hits 20 below, it’s officially too cold). It’s a school that, despite the recent push toward high stakes testing and lots of homework and recent tragedies at other schools across the country, has really embraced the idea that we truly are a community, and kids should be allowed to be kids. In short, it’s a fabulous place to be.

So, maybe that was why not allowing first-graders to call “War” War struck me as so odd. Or maybe it’s simply because it’s an asinine rule. BECAUSE PLAYING A CARD GAME THAT INVOLVES THE HIGHER NUMBER “BEATING” THE LOWER NUMBER HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH ACTUAL WAR, you know what I mean?!?

Yes, yes. It’s different now. Increased security, Newtown, Columbine. And our school has taken measures because of that. But I can absolutely promise you that playing “War” wasn’t at the root of any of those tragedies.

I’m trying to imagine what’s next… Since the devastating tornadoes in Joplin and Oklahoma, clearly we can no longer allow kids to play “Twister.” I suggest “Twisted” (too psycho?) or  “Tangled” (save for copyright infringement).

“Candyland” obviously promotes unhealthy choices, but “Veggieland” or “Paleo-land” are probably okay.

“Battleship” encourages violence; “Sink ‘er!” or “Peg It!” are much more benign.

“Hedbanz” will soon be recalled for its glaring grammatical faux pas, with “Guess Me!” arriving in its place (or perhaps “Guess Me?” would be more apropos…?)

I know that my girls will tire of hearing me say it, and no, I didn’t walk to school uphill both ways (although I did have to endure a time when Jams were in style, and when the only way to watch cartoons was to actually find them on the television when they were showing LIVE — and then TURN THE DIAL, by hand, to the correct channel), but in many ways, life was just easier when Nick and I were kids. People didn’t second-guess everything. Nuance wasn’t read into all our interactions. We played “War” and nobody got a yen for actually hurting someone.

I guess it was a different time.
Except… not so much at all, really.

UPDATE:

Annie’s just now arrived home from school, bursting to tell me about her day. After I heard about her Morning Work and playing outside at recess (gleeful, because there was snow on the ground), she proceeded to ask Ella if she’d heard a little “song” that Annie’d learned recently. And it goes like this:

Ella and so-and-so
Sittin’ in a tree!
K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Awwww. Familiar, no? I was reminded, yet again, of just how much childhood has not changed as I chanted alongside her (in my head, not aloud; that would have been totally uncouth, in Annie’s opinion)…

First comes love!
Then comes marriage!
Then comes the baby in the bay-bee carriage!

So beautiful, the connection between the generations, the innocence of childhood. “Top It” instead of “War,” my butt.
I heard the rest of the little ditty in my head before Annie could say it out loud…

Suckin’ his thumb!
And wetting his pants!
And doing the hu-la hu-la dance!

Except… that’s not how Annie ended her version of the ever-famous schoolyard jingle. No, according to Annie, after the baby arrives , he goes on a bender:

Then comes the baby in the bay-bee carriage!
That’s not it! That’s not all!
Your baby’s playing with al-co-hol!

Adorable.

Soooo, it would appear that some things have changed just a smidge in thirty-plus years.

I’m still calling it “War,” though.
And if Annie continues to sing this jaunty tune at the top of her lungs, I’m taking away the remote and making her change the channels on the television by hand. USING THE BUTTONS ON THE TV.

And she’ll still have to walk to school.

When she tells her own kids about that, I certainly hope she lets them know it was uphill. Both ways.

Thin Ice

So many people have kindly been asking how I’m doing.

And I always answer the same way: I’m okay. Some days are better than others. Thanks for asking.
But that’s only part of the (long) story.

————————

Previously, on Homeland (except I don’t mean Homeland, I mean in our lives, but in my head I hear Mandy Patinkin’s voice saying it. Anyhoo. Carry on)…

About a year ago, Ella broke her left foot, quite badly. She wasn’t doing anything crazy – just happened to fall off of her scooter exactly wrong – but every single one of the myriad doctors, nurses, and technicians who looked at her x-rays would literally gasp at the severity of the break, usually expressing how shocked they were that she wasn’t screaming bloody murder (always a comforting statement). She had a temporary cast put on, but we were told we’d need to revisit soon thereafter so another pediatric orthopedic surgeon could examine her foot and give his opinion.

When he took a look – again with the x-rays, and also just, you know, looking at her foot – he told us we had a decision to make: he could cast it again now and, because the foot itself didn’t look crooked (always a good sign), keep our fingers crossed that the bones would fuse together and heal properly – as children’s bones usually do – and that would be the end of it. But… if they didn’t fuse together and heal properly… if, because of the severity of the break, they healed poorly and all wonky… she’d need surgery in about a year — big, invasive, painful surgery with a nice, long recovery time. So, that was option one: cast it and hope for the best (the most likely outcome) – but recognizing that if things didn’t go well, we’d be headed down a rough road in a year or so.

Option two was to simply do surgery right then, which would probably guarantee that her foot would mend correctly. The surgery would be less intense than the one she could possibly need in a year, but would still be, you know, surgery — which would mean putting her under, plus a much longer recovery period than just putting her foot in a cast and allowing it to heal on its own. Since that was the most likely outcome anyway, this pre-emptive surgery was just an exceedingly overcautious measure… but it would be easier on her than the potential fix-it-up surgery.

Both options sucked. What on earth should we do? Make Ella go through surgery just in case? Or take things more slowly, assuming her foot would heal as it should – requiring only a few weeks in a cast – but potentially screwing her over even more in the future? THANKS SO MUCH, PARENTHOOD. THIS IS FUN.

Nick and I were unprepared to have the doctor lay it out like that, to put the decision to us. We choked. We sputtered. We were totally lost. And so, while the doctor went to gather his technicians to remove Ella’s temporary cast, I left the room, too… and called Bill. He wasn’t a doctor, but he’d had a lifetime’s worth of experience in the medical field. Surely he could help us through. (He did.)

10.23 in school

———————–

It’s been been nearly seven years since I was in my own classroom, and man, have I missed it. I love, love, love being home with my daughters (when they’re not maiming one another or painting the bathroom walls with nail polish or wearing my lingerie as dress-up clothes during a playdate; TRUE STORY), but I miss teaching. I miss the students. I miss having my own classrooms and the cheesy teacher posters (“Shoot for the moon! If you miss, at least you’ll land among the stars!” “CAN’T is a four letter word!” “YOU DON’T SCARE ME – I TEACH!”) and even telling the kids that if they use the xylophone mallets one more time before I say go, they’re to hand them over for the rest of the class.

I’d so hoped to be back in the classroom full-time this year, what with Annie in first grade all day, but it just didn’t happen. (Although, with all that’s been going on this fall, can you even fathom if I’d been teaching all day, every day?? Oh, Universe/Karma/Fate, you foxy vixen. I’ll say it: uncle! You knew. Well played.) And then came the chance to sub, and it has been SO GOOD! Back in school again! With kids again! Arriving in the classroom to discover that the teacher didn’t realize that a qualified music sub would be in, and has left a movie, instead; oh hellz no! We will be doing recorders and yes, I CAN teach them to sing that canon in a round, thank you very much! SO VERY GOOD. Once or twice a week, I’m in that classroom, and a little bit of magic happens. LOOK AT ME, I AM SO HAPPY!!

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As school started this fall, Ella needed new shoes and we bought sneakers without incident, but when it came time to buy flats, she could find none – none! – that fit. I took her to (I am not kidding, and yes I actually counted) ELEVEN stores, from WalMart to Nordstrom, and she tried on every single damn pair of flats available, and NONE OF THEM WORKED. At first, I assumed she was just being exceedingly fussy and picky (I believe I may have actually muttered to her something along the lines of, “Sometimes, shoes don’t FEEL GOOD, but you just WEAR THEM ANYWAY!” because that’s always an awesome strategy), but finally, many tears later (both hers and mine; she’s eight, so she has an excuse; I’m just a crier), it dawned on me: her once-broken left foot was wider and shorter than her right. So, in fact, she wasn’t being fussy or picky; truly NOTHING fit.

Patted myself on the back for quite a nice long time after that one, I did. AWESOME JOB, MAMA.

Long story short, I finally tracked down some wide, impossible-to-find shoes that cost as much as the ones I wore for my wedding, and they fit and she was thrilled and the angels sang and chocolate poured forth from the heavens. But the shoe fiasco reminded me that it was nearly a year since Ella had broken her foot, so I’d better schedule her follow-up appointment with the surgeon, especially because they fill up so far in advance, I knew I’d have to book something immediately if I wanted to get her in anywhere near the twelve month mark.

Naturally, they’re not open on weekends, and afternoons are dicey because of piano lessons and Annie, so I chose a weekday appointment, smack dab in the middle of the day so that Ella would miss lunch and recess but as little actual instructional time as possible. Because of TESTING and COMMON CORE and ELA and MATH PROBLEMS THAT I CANNOT DECIPHER BECAUSE THEY SAY THINGS LIKE, “USING AN ARRAY, EXPLAIN WHY EQUAL GROUPS HELPED MIGUEL FIND OUT HOW MANY APPLES TO BRING TO THE MORTUARY.” Third grade is not what it used to be.

Anyway, I made the appointment and, knowing that this office tends to run at least an hour, if not two hours — TWO HOURS — behind, I was in constant communication with the surgeon’s receptionist, the school’s secretary, and Ella’s teacher, keeping the appointment time in flux so that she’d be there to learn how to help darling Miguel with the apples. PRIORITIES, PEOPLE.

————————-

OH! Subbing is SUCH A JOY! Sorry for the excessive caps lock, but it is. I LOVE IT!! Have I mentioned that? No, really. I do.

But, sheesh, the scheduling. If I teach first thing in the morning, Nick needs to get the girls off to school. If I teach at a school that ends after my own kids’ classes end, I need to find someone to watch them until I can get home. All doable, but still… scheduling. If I teach on a day when I have piano lessons starting at 3:00, I need to either only teach a half-day or cancel my first piano lesson. Add to that mix Nick being out of town on a relatively frequent basis, and it’s been a hell of a thing keeping it all straight and figuring out when I am available. There have been days when I’ve received an email — not a first-thing-in-the morning, OH MY GOD WHO DIED? phone call, but just a friendly email — asking if I can sub… and I look at it, and everything in my brain gets a little wavy, like that time I was on Vicodin for knee surgery and Nick and I went to a hockey game and I asked him to get me “a drink” – you know, like a soda – and he assumed I mean an alcoholic drink and I didn’t have anything else to imbibe, so I drank that, and the booze mixed with the narcotics and suddenly I was watching the action on the ice, the teammates sliding prettily back and forth, saying to him, “Wow – the players down there look like a school of fish!”

So sometimes, my brain gets school-of-fish-y just looking at the subbing emails, and suddenly everything is so overwhelming, I can’t even beGIN to think what my schedule is next week, and I just burst into tears. Right there, in the kitchen, and the dogs are all, Was it something we did? We already apologized for eating the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter (also: true story. Except they didn’t apologize). Crying. In the kitchen. Because I just can’t think straight, not even about something I adore.

————————–

The office told me they were running about 30 minutes behind, so I called the school secretary to let her know, then tended to some things around the house and let the dogs out one last time. I called them in and Langston came running immediately, but Jambi did not. Wondering if perhaps she had found another apple from the tree and was ignoring me, I set out to bring her in, but no, she wasn’t by the apple tree. Nor by the playhouse. Nor the garden. Nor, well, anywhere. Both gates were locked, so I knew she hadn’t gotten out of the yard that way, and although Joey (our jackass other dog) can both go under and climb over the chain link fence, Jambi has never indicated that she can, so I was dumbfounded. Where could she be??

I called her, over and over. I walked the perimeter of the fence to look for holes where she might have escaped. NOTHING. She was nowhere to be found. And I had to leave in three minutes to take Ella to her appointment, the one that had taken two months to properly schedule, the one where they’d tell us if all had gone well or if she’d need major surgery. But I couldn’t leave, because I couldn’t find Jambi.

See, it’s not like your own pet just running off, where maybe you could be all, She knows where she’s fed, I’m sure it’s fine! and go about your business. Because Jambi isn’t ours. I mean, she is for the next ten months, but technically she belongs to CCI; she’s just living with us. There was no way in hell I could just allow our 10 month-old service dog-in-training, who had never so much as wandered (alone) ten feet beyond our property line, to just go on an adventure through the neighborhood and assume she’d come back safely. Have fun! Smell some hydrants for me! Catch ya later! No, I had to find her — I HAD TO FIND HER RIGHT THEN — and if I couldn’t, I had to keep looking until I did.

Nick, as is always the case when something unexpectedly calamitous happens, was out of town, and although he was empathetic when I called him in hysterics, trying to calm me down and helping me to see that Jambi had to the the priority here — Ella’s appointment could, technically, be rescheduled, but Jambi needed to be found — it wasn’t long before he had to say, “My flight’s about to board — good luck!” and I was on my own. No one else could take Ella to her appointment, and I couldn’t really ask neighbors to track down Jambi; I needed to find her myself, to make sure she was okay. Minutes ticking by, Ella’s appointment slipping ever further away, I got in the car and set off around the neighborhood, screaming Jambi’s name out of the windows.

————————-

Pinterest is a dangerous place. I don’t just pin madly; if I see stuff that I have no interest in (scrapbooking and making anything that involves a sewing machine, I’m looking at you), rather than be intimidated or self-deprecatory or vindictive or spiteful, I just move on. To each their own.

But when I find stuff that DOES grab me, hoo boy. It is ON. Hermey (our Elf on the Shelf) is going to have some mighty fine adventures this year, let me tell you, and the entire family agrees that that recipe for crockpot cilantro chicken kicked some serious boo-tay.

Such was the case when I found the pumpkins. After all these years of just carving, WHO KNEW?? There was an entire WORLD of pumpkin decorating out there, just waiting for me to bring it into my dining room. Yes, the girls oohed and ahhed over what they saw on my Pinterest page, but who are we kidding? I was the one with pumpkin-decorating fever. It took no prodding at all for me to “convince” them to go to Michael’s at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, nor did I have any trouble filling the cart with the necessary accoutrements. I CAN USE BOTH MOD PODGE AND A GLUE GUN FOR THIS DESIGN? There is a God.

The dining room was filled to the brim with pumpkins for a solid ten days, and they were GOOD days! Happy days! Each time I saw them, they made me smile, big, shit-eating, jack-o-lantern smiles. WE ARE SO HALLOWEEN-Y AND CRAFTY AND LIFE IS JUST HUMMING ALONG RIGHT NOW!!! Once soccer ended, we wound up with a free Tuesday  afternoon (a free day! OMG!), and the girls and I spent THREE STRAIGHT HOURS decorating pumpkins. I could physically feel myself relaxing with the application of each sequin. Ooooh, pumpkins. I love you so!

————————–

I drove around looking frantically for Jambi for forty-five straight minutes, until my voice was hoarse from the screaming and my eyes stung from the crying. She was nowhere. Before I could stop them, the litany of possible horror stories invaded my thinking… She’d gotten hit by a car. Someone had come by and taken her. Her collar had fallen off and no one would know who she was and we’d never get her back. We’d never get her back. What would I tell CCI? How could I ever explain? We’d never have another CCI pup again. This was it. Our darling puppy was missing.

Ella’s appointment time had long come and gone, and after leaving a watery message for the surgeon’s receptionist saying we hoped maybe we’d still get a chance to be seen, I’d told the school secretary to just send Ella off to lunch, realizing that I sounded every bit as frazzled and maniacal as I felt. 

I finally came back home, hoping that perhaps Jambi had returned and wormed her way back into the yard. I stopped briefly in the kitchen, screaming out her name (no, I mean it, SCREAMING) in a way that would put Marlon Brando to shame.

jambi gif
I absolutely deserved an Oscar. Either that, or a padded room.

After a particularly hysterics-filled shout-out, I took a deep breath and said out loud to myself, “Holy shit. Maybe I’m actually going insane.” Wandering aimlessly into the backyard one last time, once again painstakingly walking the fence perimeter, looking behind the shed, looking in the shed (even though it was closed and locked), calling and calling and calling… I couldn’t see her anywhere.

And then, just as I’d turned to go back into the house, I heard something. It wasn’t a yelp, certainly not a bark, but maybe a little bit of whining. I whirled around, trying to see where it was coming from, and happened to notice a tiny bit of rustling behind the wisteria tree that is pressed against our house. Wedged between the tree and the house – the exact same tawny color as the tree trunk, and smaller than it by quite a bit (which would explain why she was essentially invisible) – was my girl, shaking uncontrollably, whimpering, and clearly as glad to see me as I was to see her.

She’d been there all along.

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The pumpkins were SO FREAKIN’ FUN. I genuinely loved each and every one of them, especially just relaxing (much needed) and being with the girls while we got our creativity on, and am so excited that we now have a whole bunch to add to our collection for future Halloweens, as well as a few other (fake) ones I bought on sale for next year, because heavens knows there are a whole bunch of ideas we never got around to. LONG LIVE PUMPKIN PINTEREST!!

But, oh dear god, the mess. The glue sticks that globbed onto the floor. The hot glue that burned my fingers. The paint all over the dining room table, despite careful preparations to protect it. The googly eyes and the stick-on gems and the superfine glitter — oh, sweet baby Jesus, the superfine glitter — that has seeped into EVERY SINGLE CORNER of our home. There was SO MUCH MESS, and only so many hours in which to clean it, which meant that surely I’d be going to bed MUCH TOO LATE yet again.

(For all of the tea in China [wait, is that even an appropriate metaphor anymore?], I canNOT get myself into bed at a reasonable hour. It’s not that I sleep poorly… it’s that I don’t go to bed in the first place. Just put your butt under the covers earlier, you say. And I’d agree. Except if it were that easy, I’d be under the damn covers.)

The girls helped with the clean-up, of course. They’d definitely made a good portion of the mess, so they were really good cleaners, but still a lot was left to me. The best time to do the cleaning was after they’d gone to bed, but it was just so hard. There were so many other things I needed to do — make lunches, fold laundry, answer essential emails — and then other things I wanted to do, like finally looking at YouTube links that friends and family had sent me weeks ago, or editing photos (I haven’t edited my own family’s photos SINCE MARCH, Y’ALL), and by the time I looked up, it was freakin’ 1 a.m., and the dining room was still a disaster, and it was just too much — all of it too much — and there was nothing left to do. Except cry.

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I ran over to where Jambi was, and immediately saw why I’d failed to notice her during any of my prior searches of the yard: she had curled herself into a tight ball on the ground between the wisteria tree and the house, and – being the exact same color as the tree trunk – become invisible. Hiding in plain sight for nearly an hour.

Although she whined some as I called her name, she never barked at me, nor did she leave her perch and bound up to me, which would have been typical. As I got closer, I called her again, reaching out to her, but still she didn’t budge. By now, I was beginning to think that something was seriously wrong – maybe she’d broken a leg or something? – and I leaned down to examine her hind quarters for any injuries, but could find none.

What I did, find, however, were wisteria vines — oodles of them, wrapped all around our sweet Beast and binding her in place as though she’d been tied there by a stagecoach bandit. The harder she struggled to free herself, the more the vines constricted, leaving her  absolutely stuck. It took only a moment for me to reach my hand under one of the offending ropes and snap it in two, which in turn loosened the remaining coils, and Jambi sprang loose like a magic snake shooting out of a fake peanut can. 

OMG I LOVE YOU!! I’VE BEEN HERE THE WHOLE TIME! YOU WERE CALLING AND CALLING AND I COULDN’T GET TO YOU! IT’S BEEN SO GODDAMN SCARY! I LOVE YOU SO MUCH! YOU ARE THE BEST HUMAN EVER! DO YOU HAVE ANY TREATS FOR ME??

After all that – the driving around, the shouting until I became hoarse, the sheer panic and horror, the hysterical sobbing, the wondering if she was gone forever or dead or if we’d ever again have another CCI dog – she was right there all along, not making a sound.

(‘Course, if she’d made any noise while I was looking for her… let out even the tiniest of barks… I could have found her so much sooner… But, ah well, it’s only my sanity we’re talking about here. No worries.)

I so wanted to just play with her, to let her know that I hadn’t meant to strand her all wrapped up in wisteria vines, and I tried to hug her wriggly-fish body… but then had to usher her immediately inside and into her kennel because there was still the slightest chance that Ella could be seen that afternoon. Tears dried, purse grabbed, car started, GO.

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To put it mildly, it has been a crazy fall, with typical back-to-school nuttiness combined with new sports schedules, additional homework (Miguel isn’t going to get the apples to the mortuary alone, y’all), Nick’s MBA program, my subbing… It’s a whirlwind. And so that’s a huge part of why I’ve made very sure to make time for me as often as possible. Sometimes, it’s just a Caramel Macchiato while I answer emails (Starbucks, holla!), or extra time flipping through People while I’m on the can. Other times, it’s making sure that Nick and I watch Homeland together, or going to a concert (even if I come home smelling like a patchouli factory).

Still others, it’s making time to hang out with friends, be it chatting around the soccer field or going out for dinner with rebel Girl Scout moms. Those times have been my saving grace this season; sitting with a group of girlfriends – or just one fabulous pal – talking, sharing a bottle of wine, and laughing. Oh, the laughing! GIRL POWER, PEOPLE!! TIME SPENT WITH MY HOMIES! It is so awesome and healing and just generally fabulous.

It’s taking those moments just for me that make me remember that I still AM me. Thank God for being selfish every now and again.

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I barreled into the lobby of the school (except that you can’t “barrel” into any school these days because of heightened security measures, but anyway), doing my best to look all I’m Not Completely Insane So Sorry For Phoning You 83 Times This Morning Where Might My Daughter Eleanor Be? The secretary, ever-patient with me, directed me to the lunchroom, where Ella’s class had just gotten seated. I tried calling for her across the cafeteria, but that was as effective as trying to light a candle in a waterfall, so, whooshing past the other third-graders in a mad rush to reach her before she dug into her food, I whisper-shouted to her to Hurry up! We need to leave NOW!! Um, please.

She dutifully grabbed her tray and her jacket and we hustled out to the car. While we drove, as she balanced her lunch on her lap and chattered away about her morning, I explained why I’d been late.

“But Mom – Jambi could have gotten hit by a car!” I know, baby. 
“We might never have seen her again!” I’m well aware, kiddo.
“She was by herself and stuck all that time?? Poor puppy!” Breaks my heart, too, sweetie.
“CCI might never have let us get another dog again!” Preaching to the choir, ma’am.

Once Ella was satisfied that Jambi was safe and sound, she turned her attention to the appointment at hand. What would the doctor be doing? Why did he need to check her foot again? If it hadn’t healed properly, what would happen?

I answered the first few questions, but kind of lied about the last one. “I’m not sure, honey. But I bet it’s just fine! How’s that pizza?”

I, myself – still feeling the rush of adrenaline from searching for Jambi and not forgetting my “Stella!” moments in the kitchen – had no appetite, but I ate the leftovers I’d brought, anyway. It could be a long afternoon, and I didn’t want to have an empty stomach on top of it.

—————————–

One morning, after a wonderful evening out with a friend – just a couple of hours, but so very needed and good, with each of us drinking a single beverage, talking the rest of the time about how we were both handling some fairly emotionally harrowing times – I received an email from her, asking how I was doing. The night before, I’d told her I’d been doing okay — actually, pretty fine. I felt good. I was coming out of the fog. I was feeling put together! Yay me!

But, as I answered her email, this is what I said, instead:

Today was okay. Turns out I forgot that it was Crazy Hat Day and also didn’t give Ella her allergy meds this morning, meaning I had a call from the school nurse to see if it was okay for Ella to receive the meds at school because they were having the Bus Safety demonstration, plus recess, and Ella would have turned into one enormous hive. 😐 So there was the slap in the face that, damn it, I guess I’m not as on top of all this as I’d thought. Shit.

Even when I try to take time for myself, to breathe and do right by me, something falls apart. Apparently, I truly just can’t do it all, despite my best intentions.

And then I cried.

—————————

We got the to appointment and I took Ella’s hand as we walked into the building. Walking in, her and me; I remembered what it had been like a year ago, taking the elevator or carrying her up the stairs as she attempted to make her way on crutches. So much had happened in just twelve short months.

Ella took a seat in the waiting room – which was unexpectedly empty – and I apologized to the receptionist for the wacky phone messages I’d sent earlier. She laughed obligingly (a good sign, no?) and said that, as luck would have it, because we were late, there was a gap between appointments, and we’d be seen immediately. Ella was actually annoyed with me when I pulled her away from Toy Story II to go to the exam room.

She was weighed and had her height charted (which, thankfully, produces none of the cold sweat in her that it does in me when I see my own doctor, thanks very much), and then the doctor came in. He remembered us – remembered the severity of the break – and asked how Ella was doing. I let her answer for herself, and she told him that she was great. Aside from not finding shoes that she liked (an unforgivable crime at the age of eight), her foot wasn’t bothering her at all.

The surgeon examined Ella’s foot, turning it over slowly and carefully, and told us that although it looked good, we wouldn’t know for sure until she’d had some x-rays. And so off Ella went (no parents allowed; radiation and all), while I waited for her future to be dictated by a single black-and-white picture. I’m not sure I took a single breath while she was in that room.

Even if I could, there would have been no one I felt I could talk to at that moment. Nick’s plane had yet to land, and the person I’d called a year ago when we’d had a crisis with Ella’s foot is only reachable through a medium. And I didn’t happen to bring one with me to the doctor’s office.

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Every session, my therapist greets me by asking how I’m doing. Except it’s not the perfunctory, small-talk “How are you?” nor the weird, psycho-babble “HOW ARE YOU?” but a genuine, honest, tell me what’s up. What’s REALLY up.

Well, I began. I thought I was doing well. I thought I was doing just fine. I recounted all of the Ways In Which I Am Doing Well: The girls are good – really good. They seem to enjoy school, even when they can’t figure out how to help Miguel get the apples to the mortuary, and they love, love their extra-curricular activities. It’s been a bit wild trying to work our schedules out, but truth be told, I think that having to fit the puzzle pieces together has actually been helpful for me.

I’m subbing and I LOVE it. LOVE IT!! Nick is doing really well with his MBA. We’ve seen concerts and gone to hockey games. We’ve been doing more together as a family, from bowling to watching movies to tossing the football on the weekends, and it hasn’t felt forced or strange but really, truly good. I’ve been laughing and hanging out with friends, and Halloween preparations have been SO MUCH FUN this year. I Am Doing Well.

But… I’m also crying. Like, a lot. And it’s been just so WEIRD, because one day I’ve had such a good day — I’ve felt happy rooted all the way to my core — and I feel like I can conquer the world. And on those days, or in those hours, I make plans! I am a Pinterest fiend! I play games with the kids! I cook something new and fabulous for dinner! I AM THE KING OF THE WORLD!

And then, just like that, BAM. I’m at the very bottom, and the wind has been completely knocked out of me, and I am so Not Doing Well, I can’t even catch my breath. AND IT IS DRIVING ME CRAZY, this whiplash, this roller coaster, this back and forth. What the hell is WRONG with me??

It’s almost, I told her, as though I’m bipolar or manic-depressive, because I have friends who have battled those disorders, and their oh-so-highs, followed immediately by their oh-so-lows, seem an awful like what I’m going through. Except I’m not really bipolar… right?

I hoped the question was rhetorical.

————————-

While we waited for the doctor to examine the x-rays, Ella and I read some of Harry Potter, which served as both a great way to pass the time and a way for me to avoid expressing my fears to her. I might have been terrified that she’d wind up in an operating room within the next few weeks, but she certainly didn’t need to know that.

He made small talk with us as he attempted to pull up the x-rays on his computer, with Ella gamely telling him about the swim team and me sending up a silent prayer to the patron saint of sports that she’d still be able to swim after this appointment. The doctor continued his chit-chat as he showed us the x-ray that had been taken the day she’d broken her foot, then a week later after it had been casted, and my anxiety quietly soared through the roof. 

Please, let it have healed well. Please, let it have healed well. Please.

And then he paused over the final x-ray — the one taken just minutes ago — and ran his finger along the computer screen, up the line of her metatarsals. “You see that?” he asked us. I nodded, unsure what he was getting at.

“You can’t see a thing, can you?” Um, no. I don’t speak x-ray.

“That’s because her bone is perfectly straight. In fact, they all are perfectly straight — all three of the bones she broke. You can’t even tell there was ever a problem.

She’s healed perfectly, and she’s good to go.”

Do we need to come back any time for a follow up? I asked, as Ella put her shoes back on. 

“Nope. And,” he grinned at Ella, “no offense, because you’re a delightful young lady, but I really hope I never see you again.” No offense, doc, but same here.

On the way back to school, Ella asked what would have happened if the bones hadn’t healed straight. And so, with those options now firmly off the table, I told her – about the surgery, about the choice her Daddy and I had made and why we’d made it, about the gamble we’d taken, hoping with all our might that it would pay off.

“Well…” She paused just a moment. “Looks like you’re pretty smart!”

I gave her a half-laugh that I hoped she wouldn’t hear the fear and disbelief behind it.

“The only thing I’m bummed about is now I don’t ever get to use crutches again. They were kind of fun!”

She returned to school less than an hour after I’d picked her up, with plenty of time to learn how to help Miguel with the apples, my healthy girl trotting down the hallway to her classroom.

It all worked out. She hardly missed any school. We had no wait at the doctor’s office. Her foot was great. Everything was good.

I should have felt relieved. Hell, I should have felt elated. But all I felt was numb.

—————————

My therapist’s answer was as swift as it was firm: No. No, you’re not bipolar. (Good to know.) And all of this? This almost fanatical I Must Fill My Time With Something, and the trying new projects, and the feeling so wonderful, followed by the tears and the sadness and the feeling like you don’t know what on earth is going on… it’s not you. You’re not just being impulsive. It’s not your ADD. It’s not you taking on too much because you overestimate what you can handle. It’s not you letting things slip through the cracks. It’s not your anxiety. It’s not depression.

It’s grief.

And I was all, DECORATING PUMPKINS AND FORGETTING CRAZY HAT DAY IS GRIEF??

And she was all, MMM HMM.

(Except she wasn’t quite like that, but suffice it to say she’s excellent.)

Grief, it turns out, is like an unpredictable toddler: you never know if it’s going to make your day the best ever with an enormous hug and a lisped version of the ABCs or if it’s going to take a crap in the middle of your living room and throw animal crackers at you while you’re folding laundry. It looks different in absolutely everyone, and it is no better or worse, no harder or easier, for you than it is for the next person. The worst kind of grief is your own.

And also? The manic-like highs and the deep, dark lows? They actually have a name: Manic Defense. As in, you do all of this stuff (maniacally, wildly) because you want to defend and shield yourself against whatever yuckiness is going on. In many cases, it can actually be a good thing, because it’s self-protective.

YOU HEAR THAT, SUBSTITUTE TEACHING AND THEN STAYING UP UNTIL 2 A.M.?? I’m not doing it because I’m CRAZY. I’m doing it because I am apparently INCREDIBLE at PROTECTING MYSELF.

I am a grieving ROCKSTAR.

BOO YAH.

—————————-

Nick’s plane landed shortly after Ella’s appointment ended, and because he needed to change his clothes before going to the office, I met him at the house. I told him – most importantly – about Ella’s foot, about how it was completely healed, about how we never need to visit the surgeon again. Then, I told him where Jambi had been, how frenzied I’d become, how terrible I felt that she was there all along.

“Em,” he sought to reassure me, “you know this wasn’t your fault, right? You didn’t do anything wrong. The gates were locked, the yard was safe, you checked on her regularly. You searched the neighborhood. There was absolutely no way to know that she’d become tangled up in the vines, especially if she didn’t bark at you. You did everything you could. And look – it all turned out just fine!”

I know I should have felt good about that… pleased… reassured, if nothing else. Instead, I (wait for it…) began to cry.

I’M JUST SO SICK OF IT!

Sick of what?

Sick of all this. Sick of feeling on top of the world, decorating pumpkins with the girls yesterday and feeling like it was the best afternoon I’d had in forever, and then sobbing because the dining room is a mess. Sick of being so thrilled for the girls that GranMary sent them the coolest Halloween cards of all time and then bursting into tears when they open the cards and I know that Grandpa Bill’s name isn’t on them. Sick of Jambi disappearing, and instead of taking it in stride, falling apart and screaming like a lunatic in the kitchen. Sick of some stupid crisis occurring when you’re on a plane and wanting to call your dad so much but I FUCKING CAN’T BECAUSE HE’S NOT FUCKING HERE ANYMORE AND I STILL DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW THAT CAN POSSIBLY BE TRUE.

I’m SICK of it. I’M JUST SICK OF IT.

There were hugs, of course. Lots of them. And then these words before he left for work, promising to return home early because he understood that I was completely depleted, that I’d just had it for the rest of the day, “I’m so sorry that you’re so sad about my dad. But I’m not sorry that you had such a great relationship with him. And I’m sick of it, too.”

—————————

When I told my therapist about the Jambi/Ella incident, I asked for her, again, to please tell me that I wasn’t crazy, because I sure as hell felt crazy when I was going all “Stellllaaaa!” in my kitchen. She looked at me like I had three heads.

No, of course you’re not crazy. YOU’RE GRIEVING.

Yes, yes. I know. Grieving.

You need to cut yourself some slack!

I know, I know. Be gentler with myself. And I am! Or, at least, I’m trying to be… I KNOW that I can’t do it all. I KNOW that I’m likely to forget stuff like Crazy Hat Day – and there’s comfort in that, in knowing it’s not my fault. But I’m still forgetting, and it’s frustrating… And I seriously freaked out about Jambi.

But, Emily… You thought you’d lost her.

I know. It was awful.

It sounded terrible! But think about it for a moment… You thought you’d lost her. FOREVER. You thought she was GONE FOREVER… which is not exactly a foreign feeling to you right now.

Oh yeah. Right.

And you lived in that state – that complete and utter state of terror – for almost an hour, all alone, AND you were worried that your daughter might need surgery. 

When you put it like that…

No wonder you seriously freaked out. If you HADN’T seriously freaked out, I think that would be much more crazy.

Well, I AM a grieving rockstar, after all.

Think of it as walking on thin ice. You’re not going to fall through – don’t worry about that – but it might crack around you, and you’re never quite sure when. You can make it across… you WILL make it across… but you’re going to get your feet wet along the way.

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So… I guess that’s how I’m doing. Practicing my kick-ass Manic Defense skills, inching along, trying my damnedest not to get my feet wet but knowing that it’s inevitable.

Some days, I cover a lot of ground. Others, I slide backward. My feet are prune-y, but overall, there’s forward progress. And I manage to take time, every single day, to genuinely appreciate how beautiful the ice is, cracks and all.

I’d love to sit here and be philosophical with you some more, but there are Christmas catalogs to pore over with the girls – I LOVE ME SOME CHRISTMAS CATALOGS!! And we’re hosting friends for Thanksgiving, and I cannot WAIT to find new recipes to try! Plus, it’s almost time for Hermey the Elf to appear, which means that I have a date with Pinterest tonight.

I’m okay. Today is a good day.
Thanks for asking.