Auld Lang Syne

There’s so much I could write tonight – stories of our trip (both fantastic and disastrous), of the girls’ escapades, of how (just yesterday!) we were standing in the middle of Times Square where the tens of thousands of revelers have gathered tonight, or thoughts on the passing of another year and the beginning of a new one…

But, right now, I just want to savor what’s right in front of me, while still remembering New Year’s Eves past.

In 2010, we celebrated December 31st with Grandpa Bill and GranMary. The girls made their own hats.

new years hat girl
We do so like to be thrifty.

We laughed and clowned around.grandpa bill laugh
Another tickle game? Must be so.

We watched videos of previous ball-droppings in order to ring in the New Year several hours early.
countdown musicBill’s face, as he delights in his granddaughters’ shenanigans – complete with homemade crown atop his bald head – makes this photo awesome.

There was much merriment, believe you me.

As we ring in 2014, we are, again, with some of the girls’ grandparents, this time my mom and stepdad, Grandma and Pops. And again, there has been merriment and celebration and goofiness and laughter and laps-sat-upon and hugs abounding and noise-making and just pure joy.




All the coolest grandfathers wear pointy hats on New Year’s Eve.

Excellently festive photo courtesy of Pops. 

It is sad and bittersweet, this passage of time, but it is also just plain sweet. With family (and friends) and noisemakers and hats and crowns and these two girls and more love and blessings and generosity than we can possibly count, how can it not be?

I don’t know what 2014 will bring, but with these folks by my side, it’s bound to be damn good. Crazy… loud… maddening… exhausting… chocolate-filled (one certainly hopes)… and really, really damn fine.

Are We There Yet?

Greetings from the highway.

Two days after our truly magical Christmas, we’re off to begin the second half of our holiday festivities, this time visiting my mom and stepdad in Westchester County outside of New York City, where we used to live before we moved to Rochester. And, due to the wonders of modern technology, I can actually write about it live – from my computer, not my phone. I know you’re thrilled.


Nick and I have a long history of road trips together, starting back in college when we thought it was no big deal to jump in a car and drive five or six hours just because, and continuing on our trips to Colorado and Minnesota, plus literally dozens of sojourns around the Northeastern USA. Many of them come off without a hitch and fade into a blurry mesh; others are much more… memorable.

There was the time, as college students, when Nick and I were visiting my family’s condo in Okemo, Vermont and decided to drive to Montreal – a good eight-hour journey – to see the Canadiens play. We left early enough to tour the city a bit, then scored tickets to the game that night. When the usher guided us to our seats, speaking in rapid French, we were to embarrassed to admit that we hadn’t quite understood what he’d said, so we  muttered, “Oui!” and hoped it would suffice. Disgusted, the usher glowered at us and reprimanded – in English – “You didn’t understand a word I just said, did you?” Um, nope. “Then why did you say ‘yes’?” Merd.

Newly married, we made a similar one-day round-trip trek to visit my BFF, Kiki, for her dad’s 60th birthday. My mom was out of town at the time, and we were watching her dog, a Sheltie named Jasmine, who got along just fine with our Madison. Knowing we’d be gone for, oh, fifteen hours or so – with no one available to let the dogs out mid-day – we opted to take both hounds along. Jazz was used to traveling in her crate, so we set her up in the back of the car, with Maddy chilling on her dog bed nearby. All went well until Mads got up to shift positions and a low, menacing growl emanated from the kennel; it seemed that Jazz didn’t so much like being cooped up in a moving vehicle with another dog encroaching on her territory, and began snarling viciously, snapping at the crate’s wire walls, each time Maddy so much as breathed. I managed to crawl over the seats and into the way back, where I draped a blanket over Jazz’s kennel to block Madison from her view, which worked nicely until we rounded a corner, and the blanket would slip, and Maddy would move, and suddenly it was Wild Kingdom all over again. The dogs were more than a little frazzled by the time we arrived in New Hampshire for the celebration. Surprise! Happy Birthday! We’ve brought dogs! Let’s party! 

Come to think of it, we’ve done a heckuva lot of driving with dogs, from our cross-country disaster with Madison to taking our CCI pups with us anywhere and everywhere. On one such occasion, we had our first CCI dog, Diamond, with us as we again made our way to Vermont. About halfway through the trip, we began to notice this… odor… enveloping us any time Dizey stood up to circle and lie back down again in, in that dizzy-making way that dogs do. Yep, Di had gone into heat and was making a mess all over the floor of the minivan. Awesome. 

In case you’re wondering, WalMart does sell doggie diapers. They’re gross, but effective.

Diamond isn’t the only one of us who’s had… trouble… in the car. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of kid-vomit moments, but those are a dime a dozen, no? More unique was the time we were driving with a potty-training Ella who desperately needed to make a pit stop. Careening off the highway, we looked for a gas station, restaurant, or anyplace with indoor plumbing, only to be met by the northern Massachusetts wilderness. We decided our next-best bet was to find a safe spot to pull over and have Ella let loose on the side of the road, but everywhere we turned, the road either had no shoulder, or we were in a residential neighborhood. As Ella’s pleading became ever-more dire, we finally found a field-like area and skidded to a halt. Vaulting out of the front seat, we undid her carseat buckles with lightning speed and placed her on the ground to take care of business, careful to hold her hands and help her squat down…

… when this man appeared out of nowhere. “What are you doing here?” Um, sorry, but our daughter really needed to go to the bathroom… “Well, you’re on my property.” Right. Our daughter is now peeing on your lawn. Super. Reeeally, really sorry about that. We’ll just clean her up and get on our way.

There was also the time when we were visiting my sister- and brother-in-law in Colorado, and Nick was working all day, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to drive the girls up into the foothills, because when you’re this close to the Rockies, you can’t not see them up close, right? Ella had said she didn’t really feel well – and, in fact, she did have a fever – but after a dose of Tylenol, she perked up considerably. By the time we’d cruised west out of Denver and were winding our way amongst the peaks of the mountains, the Tylenol had begun to wear off, and Ella started to fade. Not wanting to let this first-in-a-lifetime moment pass by, I found a spot with a beautiful view and had the girls get outside for a photo op.

Best mom, ever.


We flew home the following morning with the sickest, most feverish, vomiting, hacking kiddo, then raced her to urgent care as soon as we landed, where they immediately proclaimed she had severe pneumonia. But at least we have the photos.

Most of our road trips these days are taken with just the four of us (and our hounds), but occasionally, friends or family will join us. On one such occasion, when Ella was about two, we were dragging my sister-in-law, Emi, along with us, and things began to go south. Both of our kids have always hated being trapped in their car seats (you know how people say they’d go for a drive to calm their kids down? HAHA. I would rather take a 12-hour flight than a 3-hour drive with our girls), and have generally been miserable travelers after the first hour or so. On this particular trip, Annie was screeching like a banshee despite my attempts to calm her (ever tried to breastfeed a kid from a moving vehicle? NOT EASY, MY FRIENDS), and Ella – who was growing ever-more agitated with being stuck in her own seat and listening to her sister’s wailing – requested “Daddy’s song.”

And so Nick began singing “Faith” by George Michael, a song he’d sung to Ella countless times before, but whose lyrics he’d never really contemplated. “Well, I guess it would be nice… if I could touch your body… I know not everybody has a body like you…” Emi’s head whipped around so fast, I thought she’d injure herself. So this is how it is with your family. Not awkward at all.

Today, it’s just the four of us again – the dogs are happily home with our fantabulous house sitter – and, three hours in, it’s already been an adventure. The moment we closed the doors, Annie began watching newly-downloaded episodes of Sofia the First, oblivious to everything around her.


Ella, preferring to wait till halfway through the drive to watch the 6th Harry Potter movie, began chatting with Nick and me, laughing out loud about that time when every single one of us forgot something and we had to turn around and return only minutes after we’d departed. The chuckles had barely escaped her lips when Ella drew a startled breath and confessed, “I left my American Girl doll at home.” Another time, we’d have said too bad, but this trip, her brand-new, much-beloved doll might actually be… important… so Nick and I both took our own deep breaths as we turned that car right around. At least we were only twenty minutes from the house – let’s add forty minutes to the trip! It’ll be fun!


As we rounded the bend in the park near home, Ella poked her sister to show her the mushroom house, and Annie – still wearing headphones, looking up from her screen for the first time since sitting down – clearly registered that we’d been in the car for quite a while (so we should be well on our way to Grandma’s), did a double-take, and stage whispered, “Why are we going home??” 

Look kids! Big Ben! Parliament!

Family bondage bonding is the best.

A Very Harry Christmas

Sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d planned or hoped. Maybe your expectations were too high, or the circumstances just don’t pan out, or something goes wrong.

Other times… It goes exactly the way you’d imagined.
Amazingly, our Christmas was one of those times.

My dad and stepmom – Papa and Grand Meg – joined us for the fourth year in a row, and although they were accosted by the girls the moment the came in the door (and barely made it home in one piece, having been thoroughly climbed on, jumped on, hugged, shouted at, danced with, and sat upon for the past three days), it was, as always, a marvelous way to spend the holiday.

We ate.
Looking for some decorating tips?
Dog beds, unwrapped packages, and Swiffer WetJets are magnificent accessories.
Cute black Lab not included.

We got ready for Santa.

What? Santa doesn’t get cookies, milk, and whiskey at your house? PITY.

The big guy came…
Apparently, the whiskey went to his head…

And brought Annie and Ella just what they’d asked for.



In our house, we eat a big ol’ Christmas breakfast before digging into the bulk of our gifts – but, to keep the Ella and Annie sane, we let them open a few presents in advance of the rest. For the third year in a row, the girls requested that the first gifts they open be the ones they’d picked out for each another.

They were a hit!



Not to be outdone by a guy in a red suit who breaks and enters, Nick and I had a few gifts up our sleeves – including Harry Potter wands.

The girls were…
well, these speak for themselves.


(These are the best pictures ever, are they not?)
(Yep. Best ever. Definitely.)


christmas joy

A couple of weeks ago, Nick had mentioned that he and his siblings had played a game called Trac Ball with their dad when they’d visit the North Shore of Minnesota. Lo and behold, Trac Ball still exists – and it so happens that it’s a blast.

Not sure why I have no photos of Nick playing Trac Ball… but my dad took Ella on this morning.

Grand Meg plays to win, yo!

I won’t bore you with the details… but the rest our Christmas was pretty damn fine.

christmas38 christmas37
Don’t mind Annie’s nervous smile; we were in the middle of a lake effect snow squall and the flakes were really flying.

It wasn’t entirely sunshine and unicorns. Annie has a cold, Langston ate the entire wedge of brie right off the coffee table, we missed Bill an awful lot, and the lasagna I’d so carefully made ahead of time (so that we could just pop it in the oven on Christmas day and eat it 90 minutes later, no fussing or fretting necessary) might have not really cooked so well, leaving us with delicious sauce and lasagna noodles that were still crunchy. Oops. 

But it was still pretty fantastic.

Growing up, I’d assumed that the best part of Christmas was being a kid. Turns out I was wrong: the best part of Christmas is watching your kids experience it*. The wonder… the awe… the joy… the exhaustion… the seven extra bags of trash that had to be dragged to the curb…

This year was a really good one. Magical, really.
Hoping yours was the same.

My BFF, Kiki, sent us these Harry Potter glasses with the instructions that they were for “the entire family, even the dogs, with the hopes of a PHOTO!” How could we not oblige?

Side note: not sure whey I look like Professor Trelawney.
Side note two: Jambi totally rocks the glasses Very studious.

* That is, when they’re not crying or hitting one another or ripping through the packages so fast, you’d think they were competing in an opening contest – five year-old Annie, I’m looking at you.

** Thanks, Grand Meg, for sharing some of your photos!

Living and learning… and cookies

Growing up in southwestern Connecticut, which only saw an average of 24″ of snow each year, was a bit rough for a snow bunny like myself. Because of the relative rarity of measurable snow, even a little bit brought everything to a halt; you could count on school being cancelled at least three times a year, sometimes at the mere prediction of snow.

Moving to Rochester was, therefore, a thrilling experience for winter lovers like Nick, the girls, and me. With an average of 100″ of snow per year here, there’s no shortage of the white stuff to go around, which is awesome for folks like us. (Lest you get the wrong idea, the volume of snow does not lessen our enjoyment of it; we still gleefully celebrate the first nighttime snowfall each year by waking the girls up and carrying them downstairs from their beds to watch the falling flakes, just like my mom used to do with me.)

This is our seventh Rochester winter, and I think I’ve finally got it figured out. Which probably sounds strange – what is there to figure out? It’s just freakin’ snowy all the time – but it’s not quite that simple. Here’s the thing: our snow doesn’t usually fall in large increments. It’s not like we get a foot of snow one day, eight inches a few days later, and another foot the following week. Although we do get a bunch of snowfalls that total over six inches each season, the majority of our snow comes in rather small amounts: an inch today, half an inch tomorrow, the two more inches the day after tomorrow. An inch of snow doesn’t sound like much – and it isn’t – but when you have an inch of snow for 10 out of 14 days, and it’s remained cold enough for the snow that’s already fallen to stick around, it adds up.


The exception to this rule is an odd thing we have here called lake effect snow, which technically means that the Great Lakes (in our case, Lake Ontario) gather up moisture which then comes down as snow in the winter. Practically speaking, it means that even when we don’t have a storm moving through, if the conditions are right over the lakes, it can snow pretty much any time, and that snow is entirely unpredictable. Dealing with lake effect snow is like anticipating Pope Francis’s next move – he might deliver a homily in Latin or take a selfie in the Vatican square. On any given day, it can be clear and dry, and suddenly there’s a snow squall so thick you can’t see across the street for fifteen minutes – and then, just like that, the snow is done. It’s kind of cool, in a geeky weather way, but is also maddening because you never know when it might pop up next.

(Side note: I think Pope Francis rocks.)

So anyway, now that the meteorology lesson is over, I’ll get on with the actual story. Oh yes, there is an actual story. Last week, Annie was scheduled to attend an evening Girl Scout outing where we would be caroling at a retirement community. (I know, I know… I said we would be caroling, which goes against everything that the Slacker Moms stand for. But people, it was singing Christmas carols. I just couldn’t help myself.) I also say we because I’d signed up for this to be “my” activity, so I definitely needed to participate.

See, although we may be slackers, we still want our kids’ scouting experience to be a good one, and the troops don’t run themselves, so each of us agreed to be in charge of one meeting or field trip. Because my piano lessons prevent me from attending any of the meetings, I knew I’d have to do an extracurricular activity, and the caroling seemed tailor-made for me. First of all, singing. CHRISTMAS CAROLS. Check. Second, since it was an already-organized activity (our troop was tagging along with several other Girl and Boy Scout troops, one of whom had arranged all of the sing-along details), it was really easy to make it “my” event: all I had to do was bring song sheets, cookies, and hot chocolate. Check. And finally, since I was already attending a(n adults-only) Cookie Exchange later that night, I needed to be making cookies anyway, and I am nothing if not efficient. Check.

Beyond that, the only thing that Annie and I had to do was show up at the retirement community. When she got home from school, this seemed like it would be no problem; she was excited to go, the cocoa and cookies were ready, all was well. It was quite cold that day, with temperatures in the teens and twenties and a decent wind chill. Given that we’d be caroling outside from house to house, bundling up sufficiently would be necessary, but that wasn’t really a big deal. With about an hour to go before our scheduled departure, I glanced outside and noticed that it had begun snowing, but I didn’t think anything of it; no snow had been predicted for the day, so I only just barely registered the falling flakes.

Annie was in the middle of playing – nothing particularly earth-shattering, just, you know, playing – when I gave her the heads-up that we’d be leaving soon. She called back to me that she didn’t want to go because she was busy. Playing. I told her that I was sorry that she didn’t want to stop playing, but we definitely needed to attend, so we’d be out the door in a bit.

Well. Little Miss must have been in a mood, because when I told her it was time to put on her boots, she began having a world-class meltdown. Had I not heard her? She DIDN’T WANT TO GO. She’d NEVER wanted to go! SHE WOULDN’T GO. 

I tried to calmly talk her down, and then glanced outside again. The flakes that had been fluttering to the ground an hour ago had apparently been gathering steam, because, in those sixty minutes, a good two inches of snow had piled up on the lawn, the driveway, the road. As I surveyed the white-out, I was momentarily confounded: I didn’t think we were supposed to get snow today. With that much already on the ground and more continuing to fall, I knew that boots wouldn’t quite cut it; she’d need full-on snow gear.

When I broke this news to Annie (who was lying on the dining room floor, writhing about as though perhaps the subject of an exorcism), she didn’t exactly take it well.

Have you ever attempted to wrestle a sobbing orangutan into a pair of overalls? It is a good time, let me tell you.

As the snow fell ever more steadily and the time of our departure drew nigh (first time I’ve ever written that word, holla!), I considered my options. More specifically, I considered that we didn’t have any options. On another night, I might have said, Ah, forget it. It’s snowing like crazy and Annie’s behaving like she’s possessed. We’ll pass. But this was MY ACTIVITY. I had vats of steaming hot chocolate (carefully packed into dispensers nestled within an insulated carrier) and dozens of cookies and had spent a good hour printing and stapling together packets of Christmas carol lyrics. Plus, the other girls in our troop were counting on us to be there and take the reins… Because it was my activity. Seeing as how Annie is the Girl Scout – not moi – she needed to come along, too.

I finally managed to get Annie into enough snow gear to cover her, but it wasn’t pretty. I can’t remember if I worked out that morning, but after the wrestling match, I’d easily burned enough calories to account for the cookie dough I’d consumed making the treats earlier in the day. After stuffing Annie into her booster seat and heading down the driveway, I attempted to reason with her. She could choose to continue to be upset, growling like a wounded animal, or she could choose to have fun. We would be spending the evening with some of her closest friends. We would be singing! THERE WERE COOKIES AND COCOA, FOR GOD’S SAKE.

Also, if she didn’t stop crying, her tears would freeze to her cheeks and then she’d really be miserable.

Crazy-mom threats. Always a good strategy.

I’d worried that, after our short drive, Annie would still be a hot mess when it came time to join the rest of the troop – but, as luck would have it, she had plenty of time to get herself under control because the road conditions were horrendous. Rochester is typically pretty good about clearing the roadways quickly and efficiently, and even in decent storms, we tend not to have much trouble getting around. This night was different. I’m not sure what happened – maybe the road maintenance crews had read the same forecast I had and didn’t know we were going to get snow, either? – but there were at least three inches of snow in the streets and nary a plow in sight.

As I crept from our street into the main drag, I could see nothing but brake lights up ahead, so I – very wisely, I was sure – chose to take the highway for our ten-minute sojourn. Wrong. The moment I merged from the on-ramp onto the freeway, the traffic was absolutely bumper to bumper. We never drove faster than 13 mph, and that’s when we were moving at all. THESE HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS ARE SO MUCH FUN.

Forty minutes later, I exited the highway, and asked Annie if she was feeling a bit better. When she didn’t answer me, I turned to ask her the question again and saw this:

annie caroling

My little wounded animal had howled herself out.

After driving the wrong way – twice – at last I found our meeting spot, parked, and gently shook Annie awake. She was… not particularly happy with this development. Given that we were more than 25 minutes late, there would be no hot chocolate or cookies before the caroling, so I dragged the insulated carrier with me as we started off on our slippery jaunt around the retirement community. Naturally, the carrier had no straps, so I had to carry the enormous container in my arms, like I was toting a boulder up a mountain. (Does anyone actually do that? Perhaps I need a better metaphor…)

We joined up with the rest of our troop, trudging off through the snow that was far deeper than it had been at our house. As soon as I caught the eye of one of the other moms, she gave me a bewildered look back and said, “I didn’t realize it was supposed to snow…”

Annie came along for the ride, but she wasn’t exactly festive. Partly to defy me and partly because her body temperature hovers somewhere around volcanic, she refused to wear her hat, and within the first ten minutes, at least five adults asked her if she was okay, or offered to loan her their hat. No, that’s just my kid being defiant and stubborn. I realize it’s a blizzard out here, but I’m sure she’ll be fine. When she began literally dragging her feet and stomping on residents’ bushes, I pulled her aside and whispered violently to her that if she didn’t pull her act together, there would be a very serious consequence. I had no idea what that consequence was, mind you (another stellar parenting decision), but with my arms full of the hot chocolate and cookies, I couldn’t very well lug her around, too.

As we reached the third of seven houses, Annie’s demeanor began to change a bit. Rather than stand off to the side and murmur her “thumpity-thump-thump“s, she took the lyrics from me and sang a little louder. At the fourth house, she miraculously perked up when the residents offered the pint-sized carolers some Hershey’s kisses. By the last three houses, I could hardly even see her – partially due to the ridiculous conditions, and partially because she ran so far ahead, laughing and singing with such gusto, I could scarcely keep up.

annie caroling2

When we had completed the final sing-along, our troop members were more than ready to hightail it out of there. We were frozen to our core and covered with snow; my feet were thoroughly soaked, because – not knowing that the snow was going to be so deep – I had worn my sneakers, which proved greatly ineffective. We Slacker Moms don’t sign up for such hardship, damn it! But there were two things that needed addressing before we could hop in our cars and inch our way back home: hot chocolate and cookies.

We – parents and girls – milled around for a good twenty minutes after everyone else had left, sipping and chomping and discussing how none of us had had any idea that it was going to snow that night… And now, here we were, with five inches on the ground in less than two hours. At last, we said goodbye, commenting about how crazy we must be to be out in this weather, how terrible the driving was…

… but also, how rather sweet it had all been. The kids, rushing from house to house, “singing” with such force that the tunes were sometimes unrecognizable. The octogenarians stepping outside and onto their porches, joining right in with the chorus despite the swirling snow. The catching of snowflakes on tongues. The richness of the chocolate, and hugs shared between friends. Knowing that we’d made people’s evenings just a little bit brighter, that we’d genuinely spread some cheer and happiness.

On our drive home, even Annie had to concede: that was really, really fun.

The return trip was much quicker than the journey there, which was a good thing because I still had a Cookie Exchange to get to. It struck me, as I crawled along the streets to my destination, that this kind of snow would have closed school in Connecticut (indeed, our friends who live in Connecticut, southern New York, and New Jersey had already had a snow day due to 4-5 inches of predicted snow), and here I was, blithely driving to a friend’s house to trade cookies.

But hey. Cookies are cookies, man. You don’t mess with cookies, not even in a blizzard.

By the time I reached my destination, the snow had largely stopped. When I left two hours later, I could glimpse the moon.

Turns out it was just lake effect snow after all. Nothing to be concerned about.
The cookies, on the other hand? So totally worth it.

Getting to know you

Birth-day. 2004.

Ignore the lovely IV, my big zit, and my double chin, please. But I did have my nails did. Priorities.

We have been parents to Eleanor for nine years now. NINE YEARS. Nine years is a freakin’ long time. Nine years pre-dates the Obama years and the iPhone. Oprah was the queen and Ellen had barely gotten started, Friends and Sex and the City had only just gone off the air, and no one had even heard of the Kardashian sisters. Nine years ago, Abu Ghraib was in the news and Abu Nazir hadn’t been created. Miley Cyrus was not only not parading about half-naked, having split definitively from her Disney days, she hadn’t even begun her rise to infamy stardom, given that Hannah Montana wouldn’t premiere until 2006. Nine years is definitely before Starbucks graced the world with the wonder of the Salted Caramel Mocha.

NINE YEARS, people. Hot damn.

You’ve gotta admit… That early hair was really spectacular.

Over the course of those nine (!) years, I thought I knew Ella pretty well. I mean, I’m her mom and all, and we mothers know these things. She’s also a pretty decent conversationalist, so she’s told me a lot about herself, like how she used to dig broccoli but now she really doesn’t care for it, and how she thinks it’s crap that the snow pile in our circle is spread out in a round instead of in a big tall heap, and how she can make any number of different Rainbow Loom creations, but the triple single is one of her favorites.

I also know the things she doesn’t say, like how she prefers to be the first one downstairs in the morning because she enjoys having the house to herself. Nick and I have known forever that change is very difficult for her, and whenever we have guests or go away or Daddy’s out of town, she will react poorly or even become downright mean. I know that, for as much as she yells at me to leave her alone when she’s frustrated or angry, there are times when she desperately wants me by her side, regardless of what she says.

And so it came as quite a shock this fall to see Ella develop into an entirely different person right before our eyes, to blossom so fully and completely, she was almost a new kind of flower all together. First, came the swim team. Ella has always adored swimming, being able to swim on her own when she was three (“mermaid girl,” we called her), but this swim team thing was not at all the same as frolicking about at the lake or taking lessons at the Y.

Ella’s not inactive by any means – she likes getting outside and, as Nick would put it, blowing the stink off, and she’s done dance and gymnastics in the past, but these were always once-weekly classes, not teams, and were over with in an hour and then not thought of again until the following week. With swim team, there were honest-to-goodness weeknight practices, something I didn’t experience until I joined the cross country team in high school. Let’s just say I didn’t really add too much to the team, and even then I avoided or minimized actual practicing at all costs, so wanting to attend practice as often as possible is a foreign experience for me.

It’s not just the frequency of the practices that have made a difference in Ella, though, it’s the entire atmosphere surrounding being part of the team. She is becoming herself — Eleanor 9.0 — a deeper, truer version than Eleanor 8.0 and its previous iterations. She’s gotten to know the other swimmers (the vast majority of whom do not attend her school) and has actually been initiating conversations with them. On her own! Even when her best friend isn’t there! She’s worked up her courage to ask her coaches questions, where previously, she’d just ignore what was bothering her or would beg Nick or me to step in.

We didn’t know how meets would go; would they be too much pressure? Would they make swimming about competing, rather than swimming for swimming’s sake, and take all of the fun out of it? Nope. Ella loves meets. No pressure – once she hits the water, she comes alive. (Once I hit the water, I’d drown. Sometimes the apple falls very, very far from the tree.) Working to beat her own prior times? BRING IT ON.

heat winner
Just a wee bit proud of herself – can you tell?

We’d been nervous that, if she didn’t swim as well as the other kids in her age group, she’d quit – stick-to-it-ness isn’t exactly her forte. But no, she’s not intimidated or disheartened if they swim faster than her. Sometimes, she doesn’t give one whit, caring only about how fast she, herself, swam, and whether or not she dropped her time from the previous meet. Other times, she cares a lot about what the other kids have done – and is absolutely thrilled for her teammates and their accomplishments.

She’s become so much more confident in herself and her abilities. She feels strong and capable and worthy and comfortable in her own skin. Sure, she still struts and strikes a supermodel pose in front of the mirror, checking out her earrings and throwing her hair over her shoulder, but she also now flexes her muscles and admires the lines and the newfound strength she sees before her. It’s been pretty fabulous.

Despite being underwater half the time, it’s as though, by swimming, Ella’s finally come up for air, and is taking the deepest, to-her-toes breaths imaginable, being filled to her core. About a month or so ago, I told her how much I enjoyed watching her swim, because she seems to enjoy swimming so much. Her reply? “Mommy, I just love it. I can’t quite explain it, but when I’m in the water… I’m me.”

The parenting books do not prepare you for comments like that.
Our girl has discovered what makes her feel the most like herself, and it is confounding and awe-inspiring and awesome.

25 Breaststroke; her favorite (and her best; coincidence?).

The other thing that changed Ella this fall was Harry Potter. I know… I’ve written about it a lot. But, if you could see how thoroughly Harry has taken over every aspect of our lives, you’d know that I’ve only barely scratched the surface of Harry-mentions. You don’t have to thank me, but I know you’re thinking it.

Back in September, full of Mommy-knows-best-itis, I’d said I was sure that Ella was done reading the series – the ending of the first book had frightened her so much, she didn’t want to go on, and Nick and I supported her decision. Naturally, the next day she took my smugness and wiped the floor with it, as she began the second book at school. She is now about 30% of the way through the seventh – and final – book, and the ways that reading this series have affected her are nothing short of remarkable.

The most tangible effect is that Eleanor is as bitchy and moody as a sullen teenager. Fantastic, right? Harry Potter rocks! She snaps at us at only the slightest provocation, is surly at utterly inexplicable times, and has occasionally been so grumpy, so ugly, so yucky to be around, we’ve wondered if there was something seriously wrong with her. Perhaps losing Grandpa Bill made her sadder than we’d realized?

While that’s certainly possible, I am all but sure now – after months of observation, many discussions with Nick, and expressing my confusion and frustration to my therapist – that Harry and his world have seeped so deeply into Ella’s very being, she can hardly extricate herself from it. She wants nothing more than to crawl inside the books and live there, right in a four-poster outside of the Gryffindor common room. She doesn’t read about Hermione’s exploits and adventures; she is Hermione going on adventures.

the harry infatuation begins

This is thrilling for her (she’s told us so many, many times), but also, I imagine, must be quite unnerving. She doesn’t know what’s going to happen, beyond that either Harry or Voldemort will have to die at the hand of the other, but she does know that any of the characters she’s come to adore could be killed off at any moment, which is terribly unsettling for her… and yet, it prompts her to want to read more, to learn more, every minute of the day.

There was a time when we debated taking the books away from her. They’d become so all-consuming, we were afraid she’d get lost inside of them; and, in the meantime, we were being greeted by a snarling, grouchy, anxious girl where our formerly even-tempered, kind, sweet-hearted Ella used to be. But we eventually came to understand that she needs to finish these books; no, I mean it, actually needs to. They are fully real to her, so authentic and true that she can smell them, and as with anything in real life, unfinished business is uncomfortable indeed. She will not fully exhale until she knows what happens, for better or for worse.

And until then, we’re all holding our collective breath. (Collective breaths? The grammar fails me on this one…)

It’s not all bad, this Harry-consumption. As avid fans ourselves, Nick and I have loved taking the journey with her, loved watching our home go from impromptu dance recitals to imagined spell-casting and wizarding duels. Through reading, Ella’s learned a hell of a lot about friendships, about determination, about what people can do when they band together. She’s seeing firsthand – again, because this is so real to her – that love wins. In the end, no matter what you’ve lost, no matter how dark and bleak things have seemed… Love. wins.

She’s also seeing magic in every aspect of her life, which makes just about anything possible. There are no closed doors, nothing that can’t be done. What an amazing thing to feel, to believe, to know about the world. I’m more than a little envious.

nine - really?!
New dress, hand-me-down shoes, “that fancy thing those ladies wear to parties” fashioned out of a piece of scrap fabric from the dining room cupboard. SO VERY NINE.

For nine years, we’ve known our Ella. She is empathetic, almost to a fault, crying for the victims of far-away tsunamis and tornadoes and requesting that we send money to disaster relief organizations. She is smart, ahead of her grade level benchmarks in virtually every subject,  but hurrying through her work, making sloppy mistakes, and giving up the moment something becomes too challenging. She is an excellent cook, having already created several of her own recipes. She still holds my hand when we’re out running errands, and asks to be checked on twice at night before she goes to sleep. A bit silly for nine? Perhaps. But I have no plans to stop.

ella 7th bday collage
As with Annie’s collage, I somehow skipped 2012, so there’s no “Eight years of Ella” collection… Ah, well. I am utterly stupendous in so many other ways, why be perfect at everything?

She is a darn good friend, putting the other person first, asking questions, being genuinely interested in the answers. She is neat and tidy, freaking out when things in her room are out of place, but leaves her jacket on the front hall floor every day. She still loves Disney and thinks that Maleficent is the greatest villain of all time. She adores her sister with a passion that is unrivaled, but shrieks the moment that Annie crosses into her bedroom uninvited.

She is our Ella Bella, our E-Bean, and we have known her so completely… Or so we thought. This fall, she showed us sides of her personality that even she didn’t know existed before, and now here she is, still her, but oh so much more so.

Eleanor 9.0, it’s damn fine to meet you. I’m so glad you found yourself. And I’m even gladder (yes, I said it) that you shared your discoveries with us. Happiest 9th Birthday, Eleanor Elizabeth. xo

ella is nine
Now… nine.

* This was to have been published yesterday, on her birthday, but sweet girl was sent home from school sick, and although she (thankfully) felt good for the rest of the day, getting this post out on time just wasn’t happening.

Take Me Out To The Ice Rink

Living with a certified Hockey Maniac, it was inevitable that we’d introduce our girls to the sport early. They wore their first ice skates before they were two (not necessarily gracefully or skillfully; being on the ice is different from being good on the ice); they know that the NHL rules the television from November through May (which isn’t the length of the season, but is the length of the bulk of the televised games); they craft a bazillion Rainbow Loom bracelets out of Minnesota Wild colors; they await the construction of the backyard ice rink that we erect each year; they cheer Daddy on with his beer league teammates; and they have seen a good number of Rochester Americans games (our local AHL team, usually referred to as the Amerks), although they have yet to make it to see the Wild (or any NHL team, for that matter) in person.

This year, the Amerks decided to up their game (see what I did there?) and host a 10-day outdoor hockey fest on a rink that would be erected in Frontier Field, where our AAA-league Rochester Red Wings play baseball in much warmer months. Over the course of these ten days, there will be all sorts of hockey played on the rink, from high school tournaments to private skating parties, but the Amerks kicked off the festivities on Friday with a nighttime game against the Lake Erie Monsters.

An outdoor hockey game. In a baseball stadium. Opening night of a ten-day celebration. Frozen Frontier, they’re calling it. There was pretty much no way Nick was going to miss it.

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That seemingly iiiiiiitty bitty little pond out there? A full-sized rink.

And, in turn, there was no way that the rest of us were going to miss it, either, because we are nothing if not all about introducing our girls to as many cultural opportunities as possible. Especially where hockey sticks and beer-wielding fans are involved.

As Friday loomed, it became increasingly clear that it was going to be a really cold night. Sitting in a baseball stadium in the middle of December in Rochester is pretty much guaranteed to be cold no matter what, but we’ve endured a particularly chilly December thus far, with temperatures not really rising much out of the teens and “real feel”s well below zero. While we Rochesterians are known for our snow, deeply frozen temperatures are not really what we’re about.

But, as much as tried to argue with Mother Nature, she gave us the cold shoulder (ah, see, I did it again!) and told us to suck it, so we had no choice but to embrace the frigid temperatures. “Bundling up” took on new meaning, as we donned shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, skiing “shells,” gloves AND mittens, our warmest socks, leggings, pants, snow pants, our winteriest boots, hats, and scarves. Actually, we didn’t don these right away, because we were meeting friends for dinner – the same fabulous friends who’d joined us for Thanksgiving – pre-game, because the idea of removing one’s gloves in order to eat a tepid hotdog in 14-degree weather just wasn’t really appetizing. And so we wore only our under layers (which still made us, how do I put it… thick) as we dined, then put on the rest of our outerwear in the car before heading off the game.

Have you ever tried that? Putting on snow pants (while you’re already wearing your snow boots) and two jackets and gloves and hats and opening up hand warmer packets and shoving them inside your mittens while you’re in your car? If you haven’t, I have a recommendation: don’t. You will need to remove your boots, which will already have snow on them, and said snow will plop unceremoniously onto your car seat or onto your daughter’s hair. Or you might slip slightly while putting on said pants – shoeless – and put an un-booted foot into a pile of snow, which will then make your feet feel oh-so-lovely for the rest of the freezing evening. You might also realize that you can only find one of the super-warm waterproof mittens you’d brought to wear over your not-at-all warm gloves, which will set you into a panic. But that panic will be nothing compared to the meltdown that will be had in the back seat as your cherubs attempt to wedge themselves into their boosters and buckle their seatbelts while essentially being unable to move. Can the Michelin Man buckle himself into his booster seat? Enough said.

While we love Rochester for many, many reasons, well-executed crowd-control is not one of them. Nick had assumed that there would be “pomp and circumstance” before the game — introductions of all of the players, some sort of commemoration of this Frozen Frontier awesomeness — and that the game would probably begin at least a half-hour late, by which time our girls would be a) icicles, b) bored, and c) begging to go home before the puck had even dropped, so we were in no hurry to arrive on time. Which was a good thing, because we got stuck just outside of the stadium in traffic so terrible – despite the police officers “directing” the cars – that it took us over twenty minutes just to move one block. We had three blocks to go. At least we got to stare out of our windows from our warm, cozy car seats, onto the chilly field… at the players zooming around on the ice, because of course the game had started absolutely on time.

Thankfully, the other blocks were quicker than the first, and we eventually found parking and tumbled out of the car. Ella announced that she had to go to the bathroom as soon as we set foot in the stadium (which was odd, considering that she’d just been given the opportunity to use the facilities when we’d left the restaurant and she’d declined; none of your children has ever done this, I assume?), but we elected to forgo the line of port-a-potties immediately inside the gates because we both wanted to at least find our seats and also, port-a-potties? No, thank you. We’ll wait for the real thing.

Finding our seats wasn’t quite as easy as we’d imagined, however, in part because they were (of course) located a good distance from where we’d entered, and also because the stadium was absolutely packed… with people layered up as though ready to tackle some black diamond slopes. You know how everyone moves in a ski lodge (even without the robot-step-inducing ski boots), with wide, just-got-off-a-horse steps, and how everyone is always bumping into one another because you’re all so padded, it’s like banging about in a slow-motion pinball machine? Imagine doing so in the bowels of a baseball stadium when it’s 15 degrees out and… yep.

This being Rochester, sufficient snow gear is not exactly in short supply, so our fellow attendees had also come prepared. Seventy-five percent of them were wearing snow pants (this is an extremely well-researched fact), fifteen percent were wearing full-body hunting gear (I had no idea that “camouflage” came in so many colors), and although it wasn’t clear what the others were wearing to stave off the chill, they were also doing the slow-motion ski-lodge walk, so they must have been sufficiently layered. The toddlers in attendance were particularly amusing, because their parents had (wisely) bundled them up so fiercely, they could scarcely bend their knees, so they waddled and tottered everywhere they went, swaying back and forth like chiming bells.

We eventually hobbled to our seats just in time to hear the announcement that the period would be ending in one minute. Fantastic. Ella still needed to use the restroom, so – hoping to avoid the crush of onlookers flooding out of their seats and toward the loos – I ushered her and Annie (just for kicks and giggles) back out in search of the toilets. We were greeted by these signs instead:
frozen frontier6


The girls and I fought through the teeming hordes all the way back to the entrance, where gigantic lines had formed in front of every port-a-potty because a) THERE WERE NO WORKING BATHROOMS (have I mentioned this yet?) and b) the majority of the crowd had – perhaps in a bid to stay warm – been consuming copious quantities of alcohol, which, having gone in one end, had to come out of the other sooner or later. Also? Port-a-potties and ridiculous amounts of snow gear do not mix. It was like trying to peel off a full-body wetsuit inside a disease-ridden gym locker; don’t touch the walls unless you want to lose a hand to gangrene.

As a result, it took approximately 4.57 minutes for every single person to do their business, which, when you multiply that by a minimum of five people in each line, meant… well, I still suck at The Math, but it meant a really long wait. By the time we finally emerged from the johns and had gotten ourselves all suited up again, both of the girls declared they were starving and freezing, so we attempted to scrounge up some food and drinks that could be consumed without needing to remove our gloves. It was almost surreal, seeing the vending stations – which we normally visit in the summer – surrounded by icicles and snow piles up to the counters.

frozen frontier1
The chili was selling like it was liquid gold.

frozen frontier7
Just a typical evening at the ballpark…

At long last, we waddled our way back to our seats – hot chocolate, a big ol’ pretzel, some popcorn, Twizzlers, and Swedish Fish in hand. The hot chocolate and the pretzel were immediately consumable, but the other items proved a bit trickier. Turns out that Twizzlers and Swedish Fish become rock-solid when the temperature hovers around 15 degrees, making each bite a bit of an adventure — who might break a tooth today? Popcorn is deceptive; it seems easy enough to scoop some up in your gloved hand and then shove a handful into your face, but apparently human beings actually use their sense of touch when they eat popcorn – a sense that is lacking when one’s hands are covered – and, as a result, we were unable to determine when the popcorn was actually in our hands and when it had fallen out. Not to worry, though; more popcorn fell into my purse than went in my mouth, so if we’re hungry later, we can go back for more.

Bladders empty, food and drink in hand (and purse), and nestled into our seats, we were finally able to just sit back and truly take in everything around us. The cliché at sporting events is that the feeling amongst the fans was electric. I could say the same, but instead, I will say it was electrified – there was such a charge running through everyone, it was as though the entire place was humming. Although there’s a certain general loyalty shown to the Red Wings and the Amerks, none of the games we’ve attended previously has been all that well-populated, so enjoying the true “roar of the crowd” has been virtually impossible. By contrast, this Frozen Frontier game was sold out; there were people almost literally hanging from the rafters and they were extremely excited to be there, which added to the carnival-like atmosphere.

The majority of adults were – in Nick’s words – well-lubricated, which also gave the event a Mardi Gras flare. You know, if Mardi Gras were held in a baseball stadium in the middle of a very wintery December and onlookers threw snow, not beads. People were chanting raucously, singing with gusto whenever there was a break in the action. It was the first time that the girls got to see people at a sporting event successfully do the wave, which was awesome but looked pretty freakin’ hilarious with everyone bundled up to within an inch of their lives.

Annie and Ella were particularly taken with the Amerks’ mascot, a large moose very cleverly nicknamed The Moose. The Moose took the job of whipping the crowd into a frenzy very seriously (not that the crowd was all to hard to whip, given the level of revelry and intoxication), and became especially excited whenever the Americans scored, pumping his hooves into the air with a very un-Moose-like flare.

frozen frontier5

We jammed along with the music. We stood up and cheered like maniacs whenever the red goal light went on (which was pretty much our only indication that the puck had crossed the goal line, since we couldn’t really see the puck from where we were sitting). We threw our hands in the air and waved them like we really, really didn’t care whenever the wave came crashing our way. We clapped madly for anything and everything, which was a particularly amusing phenomenon, because gloved and mittened hands make no sound when they are smacked together. We marveled at the people who’d been smart enough to bring sleeping bags and goggled at the beer seller wearing shorts.

As for the game? Well, I know that the Amerks eventually won (in a wildly exciting and unexpected finish, as the Monsters tied the game with 0.1 seconds left – I kid you not – which had the inebriated party sports-goers shouting BULLLLL-SHIT!!! over and over again, to the shocked delight of our friends’ 9 year-old son, and the victor was eventually decided by a shoot-out). But the truth of the matter is that we really couldn’t see a damn thing that was happening on the ice.

In a hockey arena, the action is right there – quite literally, with only a couple of inches of glass separating the fans from the players. In a baseball stadium, the players are typically yards and yards away (save for the odd ball that is caught right at the bleachers) and the field is vast, so the hockey rink was positively dwarfed. Add to that the angle of the seats and the boards along the rink’s edge and we could only see about half of the sheet of ice, anyway. We could “follow” the play by watching the players swarming about the ice, but had no idea where the puck actually was.

But that wasn’t really the point. We weren’t there for the game; we were there to say we’d done it. We’d braved the frigid elements and donned every drop of winter gear we owned to teeter our way into a bathroom-less baseball stadium in the middle of December with a crap-ton of drunken revelers, just because. Because that was what it was all about. The hot chocolate and the singing. The wave and the bright lights. The nearly palpable joy and anticipation surging through the air. Come to think of it, it was, in fact, one of the most Christmas-y things we’ve done yet this season.

By the end of the second period, with the action stopped and The Moose taking a potty break (good luck with that), everyone seemed to realize all at once just how unbelievably cold they were. The universal Dance Of The Cold sprung up all around us, with people standing and jitterbugging about back and forth in a futile effort to get their blood pumping again. Our girls were frozen through, and asked to go home; as soon as the third period began (and the majority of fans returned to their seats, making navigating the stadium far easier), we obliged.

Naturally, Annie needed to go to the bathroom on our way out, so our departure was delayed while we waited for her to de-robe in the e-coli infested portable john, but we could still hear the patrons cheering frantically. By the time we reached our car, we could hardly feel our fingers and toes and the girls were beyond exhausted. We agreed that we had, indeed, been there, done that – just because – but we were glad that it was over.

And yet, somehow… we had a total and complete blast. Do I want to brave another Frozen Frontier game? No, thanks. Been there. Done that. But I’m awfully glad we did, because it was pretty much the best damn hockey game I’ve ever been to.

The popcorn that’s still in my purse is just a bonus.frozen frontier4
Why are the girls not wearing their hats even though they’re allergic to the cold? I DON’T KNOW. They must have terrible parents.

frozen frontier2

Twenty four days of magic and insanity

Since Ella’s been a little girl, I’ve put together an advent calendar for her and Annie to do in the December days leading up to Christmas. We’ve always had chocolate calendars, of course (sent by my grandmother) and my mom can be counted on to send some traditional paper or otherwise fun-filled countdowns, and the girls love it all. But I’ve found that I really enjoy making something for the girls to “do” each day – our advent activities are among the most special parts (for me, anyway) of our Christmas season.

advent 2013e That’s the calendar on the left; the loot/activities are in the purple bin behind it.

The calendar has changed over the years. When Ella was still a toddler, her calendar included nothing more than trinkets – a shiny quarter, a piece of chocolate, a bouncy ball. As a preschooler, she might discover that the day called for her to do something – make a Christmas craft, make hot chocolate, go caroling.

“Stained glass” ornament.

Rudolph the red-nosed candy cane.

xmas headband2 annie reindeer2
Wearing goofy Christmas stuff.

xmas silly dancing2
Christmas music dance party!

When she entered elementary school, I decided that I’d like to help remind her (and Annie) of what Christmas really means to our family, and I geared the advent activities toward that goal.

I’ll just come right out and say it: We’re not big Jesus people. The girls and I go to church, but it’s an Episcopal church that’s about as liberal as they come. There’s certainly talk of Jesus, of who he was and why he’s important, and in Sunday School, we’re reading Bible stories and learning about God’s and His love… But, at home anyway, we don’t focus so much on the Jesus part.

We have nativities – several of them, in fact. The girls know who all of the figurines are, and they know the story of Jesus’s birth, but realistically, it’s unlikely that any of us will be found saying a prayer beside the manger. It is likely that the Wise Men are going to end up chatting with Barbie in the corner by the stable and that Jesus will be found in April at the bottom of a child-sized purse.

The angel Gabriel appears to have fallen from his perch…

We’re not one of those families advocating that the Christ be put back in Christmas. I have no problem with people who feel that way (including a great many of my friends), but it’s just not our thing. Yes, Christmas originally began with people celebrating the birth of Jesus, and we still acknowledge that as a family… But for us, it’s come to encompass much more. It’s a time when songs that are only heard for a few weeks each year are played in every (and I do mean every) store we pass, when entire radio stations scrap their usual format to play us seasonal tunes. It’s a time when homemade treats and bars and goodies are overflowing, and when it’s okay to have a cookie for breakfast.

It’s a time when, for just a little while, people are especially kind to one another. (It’s also a time when people are especially stressed out and total pricks to one another, but that’s not so much the part of Christmas I like to focus on, you know?) It’s a time when wonder and hope are not fleeting but abundant, when the air is practically alive with anticipation. (In our house, it’s also alive with mice – are we the only ones who’ve had unwanted furry visitors this season? – but that’s neither here nor there.)

So, when I say that I wanted the advent calendars to focus more on what Christmas really means to us, I mean that I wanted it to focus more on enjoying the moments rather than just racing for the finish. I wanted to talk as much about giving as we did about receiving. I wanted some time each day to remember how wondrous this season can be. I wanted to cultivate joy.

And hot chocolate. Because, really, what’s Christmas without hot chocolate?


In years past, I’ve had the girls go through all of their toys to donate some to needy children. We’ve written notes to soldiers who can’t return home to their families.

advent day5

All of this has been very well and good, but this year was already so crazy (have I mentioned this in any of my posts? That our lives have been really nutty this fall? Maybe once?), I knew that adding too many to-dos in the calendar just wouldn’t be feasible. And so, this year, the focus is more on enjoying the moments we have together as a family, in enjoying the moments that make the Christmas season so special… Because, really, there’s something to be celebrated every day – at least, if we make it so.

It’s a mix of silly and serious, of things that will be over in an instant and in others that will last for hours… but it’s ours. (Well, and also Sarah‘s sons — for the past five years, at least, our Christmas present to them has been an advent calendar that matches ours.) I’ll sadly admit: I’ve been such a maniac these first couple of weeks of December, I haven’t taken nearly the time I’d like to enjoy the calendar with the girls. For the first time ever, we’re even *gasp* behind on a few activities (the cookies still need to be made, for example). But the items in my to-do book are steadily getting checked off, and I’m starting to breathe more easily, and I’m ready to just dig in and celebrate.

And drink hot chocolate. It’s snowing like the dickens out and we’re heading to an outdoor hockey game tonight (holla!) and I needs me some hot cocoa.

popcorn gals

Anyway, because I’m always searching the internet each November for activities to include in our calendar, I thought I’d put these out there for anyone who’s looking for ideas for their own families. That’s right – I’m becoming a Pinterest Bitch again. Rock with it.

Happy advent!

1. It’s the first day of Advent! Read “The Elf on the Shelf” with your family. (While we read, the girls enjoyed some peppermint chocolates.)

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2. Enjoy a Christmas tradition from somewhere around the world. (The girls ate panetonne, which is a type of sweet bread that’s enjoyed in many parts of the world, especially Italy and South America, on New Year’s or Christmas Eve.)

3. Birdseed activity.
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4. It’s time to write a letter! You can write to Santa or to anyone you love. (They received a Santa pen to do their writing.)

5. Many children don’t have enough food at Christmas. Go through your cupboards or buy some food at the grocery store and donate it to a food bank or anyplace collecting food for those in need. (Just for fun, the girls also got Christmas-themed window gel clings.)

6. Make wrapping paper!
This year, the idea for ours came from here. Cute!

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Annie, naturally, chose to do her own thing…

7. Make an Shrinky Dink photo ornament.

8. Christmas cookie time! (The kids received sprinkles and edible food markers.)

9. Read a new Christmas book. (Ours was The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie DePaola.)

10. Read or eat by the light of the Christmas tree. (This is always a favorite.)

11. Give someone a compliment.

12. Eat a special candy cane!

13. Listen to new Christmas music.

14. Watch a Christmas movie. (This year’s is “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” – we read the book last year.)

15. Hang up a new ornament.

16. Hot chocolate time!

17. Drive/go around and look at the holiday lights.
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18. Roast marshmallows over your fire.

19. Do something nice for your teachers.

20. Play a game with your family. (The girls are receiving a super-cool looking new Jenga Tetris game.)

21. Decorate a pillowcase for Christmas. (Fabric markers and pillowcases provided.)

22. Gingerbread houses!

23. Decorate luminary bags to put out for Santa’s reindeer.xmas reindeer bag2

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24. Put out food for the reindeer (the “food” is ready to go in a baggie) and set out your luminary bags filled with candles or tea lights. Merry Christmas!

xmas eve reindeer food3
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Collapse. And drink more hot chocolate. Preferably spiked.


Some things were meant to be

This life stuff doesn’t always go as planned. I suppose that’s what makes it, you know, life, but still, when things don’t work out the way you’d thought they would, it can really be a shock to the system.

New Coke: I’m looking at you.

Nick and I had always talked of having two children, but we’d wanted them three years apart. We’d carefully reasoned it out: Ella would be out of diapers and we wouldn’t be dealing with a toddler and a baby at the same time, but she and her younger sibling would still be close enough in age to share some of the same toys, go to the same school, etc. It was going to be great.

Then, when Ella was a mere fifteen months old, I unexpectedly got pregnant. I realize that some people find it difficult to believe that a pregnancy can be “unexpected,” especially after having already birthed a child (so we clearly understood the whole birds and the bees thing, if you know what I mean), but it was. I’d carefully done the math, but – sparing you the details (you’re welcome) – The Math and I have never been real tight, and I’d gotten something wrong, and suddenly, there we were, pregnant.

For those of you who also struggle with The Math, 15 months (Ella’s age) + 9 months (gestation) = our kids would be two years apart rather than three.

Not only that, but this baby was also due in December – Ella’s birth month – which was really not cool with me. Like many teachers, I’d hoped to give birth in the spring, take my 6-8 weeks of maternity leave, and then back up the end of the leave right into summer break, giving me the maximum amount of (paid) time home with my newborn. Again, sparing you the details (and again, you’re welcome), we became pregnant with Ella sooner than we’d thought we might, and our “spring” baby arrived right before Christmas.

I had no childcare lined up, and didn’t plan to get any, because the following school year, I’d be job-sharing with Sarah, a wonderful friend of mine who’d also recently had a baby.  For half of the week, each of us would teach, and for the other half, we’d watch both babies. It was a fabulous win-win, so I didn’t want to search for temporary childcare for Ella knowing I’d just give it up in a few months. Instead, Nick and I managed to cobble together a network of family members and friends, with each of us also using personal days, to watch Ella when I returned to school. We made it happen, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Giving birth in December also meant that I was essentially homebound for three months, because our pediatrician had warned that we shouldn’t take the baby into any “crowded spaces” — malls, restaurants, libraries, stores, basically anything with walls and a roof — because of germs! And RSV! And you never know who’s carrying a deadly disease! Given that it was, you know, winter, it was too cold to be outside with the baby (and even if I’d dared to brave the elements, there was no place to go outside with a newborn in the winter; it’s not like she’d enjoy checking out the local playground). So that kind of sucked.

And then there was the whole birthday-a-week-before-Christmas thing that was a big ol’ pain in the neck. Christmas is already its own unique kind of crazy; adding a birthday to that each year seemed ridiculously daunting, and I wasn’t really excited to take on the challenge. Plus, I worried for Ella’s sake. She’d get birthday presents wrapped in Christmas paper! Her special day would be outshone by Christmas’s glare! Not fun.

We would make it work, of course, but back then if I’d had to choose, Ella wouldn’t have been born in December. So I vowed: absolutely no more December babies.

And then The Math and I had a tussle, and suddenly the little plus sign was taunting me from its perch on the bathroom sink.

I’m not going to lie: I was not excited. Nick and I have always felt that everything happens for a reason, and we never considered terminating the pregnancy, but I did wish fervently that I wasn’t pregnant right then. In fact, more than once, I peed on yet another pregnancy stick and hoped that it would come up negative. I didn’t want to lose the baby, not at all… I simply didn’t want to be pregnant at that time, if that makes any sense. Happy just wasn’t happening.

More to the point, I was downright angry. Actually, I was terrified — of having another baby so soon, of having another being growing inside me, of the whole December-baby thing, of how having a sibling would disrupt the lovely life we’d built for ourselves and Ella, of the logistics of the whole thing. The details just seemed insurmountable: we lived in a small, three-bedroom house that was just barely big enough for Nick, Ella, and me. I couldn’t possibly ask Sarah to watch the baby AND Ella when I was only watching her son, so I’d have to scrap our arrangement and return to teaching full-time, putting Ella and the baby into daycare… But, thirty miles outside of New York City, the cost of living was so high, I’d actually take home LESS working full-time and paying for daycare than I was bringing in working half-time.

It was just impossible.

In our calmer moments, Nick and I reasoned that, somehow, we’d be okay. We’d always wanted another baby. This one was just coming a little sooner than we’d expected. We would figure out the job/childcare/housing thing. Everything happens for a reason. We’d make it work.

But the part I couldn’t wrap my head around was why I got pregnant when I did. (Okay, I know why I got pregnant, because… I’ll shut up now. You’re welcome.) Why another December baby? Why NOW? The universe and God work in mysterious ways, yes, but the reason behind the timing absolutely eluded us.

Spring turned into summer and still I wasn’t excited about being pregnant. I did all of the things I should – I ate right, I took my vitamins, I exercised, I cut out caffeine, I didn’t consume a drop of alcohol – and, as my stomach expanded, we did our best to prepare Eleanor to become a big sister… but I just wasn’t into it. Summer ended and I returned to teaching and, as the months crept toward my due date, despite my own personal scolding and pleading and chiding and stern talkings-to, I simply could not muster happiness about the arrival of this baby.


And then, right around Halloween, I was watching something on TV featuring a pregnant woman who lost her baby. It wasn’t A Baby Story or anything like that, and actually may have just been a dumb sitcom, but as I watched, I felt this terror take hold of me and I realized that I did not want to not be pregnant. I could not lose this baby.

It was quite the shock, that: realizing that I no longer wanted to not be pregnant. (Yes, it took me until I was SEVEN MONTHS along… Mom of the year before I’d even given birth, that’s me…) It wasn’t exactly the same as actively being excited to have another child, but it was a helluva lot better than outright dread.

As November progressed, my indifference slowly shifted to acceptance, until finally, by December, I was – at last – looking forward to meeting this wee one who’d been renting space with me for the past 8.5 months, THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS AMEN. Nick and I still had no idea why the timing worked out the way it did, but at least we were psyched to become a family of four.

Being psyched, however, could not guarantee a smooth delivery. Alas, the baby was sunny-side up and became trapped in the birth canal – and so, after laboring for seven hours, completely turning down the epidural so I could “feel” where to push, then pushing for nearly three hours, an emergency c-section was ordered. (Good thing, too; poor babe came out with a bloody mark on her forehead where she’d been smooshing up against the bones of my pelvis.)

Annabelle Grace arrived at 8:11 p.m. and was healthy as could be. Damn cute, too.

annie birth wink
Showing some ‘tude straight out of the womb.

Nick went home that night to be with Ella, and I phoned him around 2 a.m. asking if he could find any Allegra or Claritin to bring me — it seemed I’d forgotten mine and was developing hives. (Have I never mentioned that I have chronic, unexplained hives [technical term: chronic idiopathic urticaria] and, every night since I was thirteen, if I don’t take an antihistamine, I break out in full-body hives? No? Well, I do. They’re swell.) Even after taking the medication, however, the hives never abated, and it was finally determined that I was allergic to the Percocet they’d given me for pain. My other drug allergies ruled out Vicodin and the like, which meant that my only options were Advil and Tylenol.

Advil. And Tylenol. For pain from an emergency c-section, after which the doctor ordered that I remain in the hospital an extra day because, having pushed for so long and so hard, it was “as though (I’d) given birth twice.” Super fun.

The second night of my hospital stay, I received a call from Nick at 2 a.m… Ella had thrown up all over her crib. Yep, our almost two year-old had come down with her first-ever tummy bug, and there Nick was, in the middle of the night, trying to change crib sheets and clean up a pukey kid, while I was in the hospital, unable to even lift Annie from her bassinet without tearing my stitches (I’d taken to just holding her in bed with me so I could nurse her when I needed to and not bug anyone for help), all hopped up on TYLENOL AND ADVIL.

Extra super fun.

annie and ella
Taken in the hospital before Ella began her barf-a-thon.

The following morning, Nick’s mom – who’d flown in from Minnesota to help us out – became ill (unrelated to the stomach bug) and had to fly back home. Nick’s dad and GranMary were able to catch the next flight from Minnesota to offer their assistance, and none too soon, because the day after I returned from the hospital, Nick came down with the pukes… which meant, clearly, that he couldn’t be near Annie, because a five day-old really isn’t supposed to catch the stomach flu. And I couldn’t really help out with Ella, because I wasn’t allowed to lift anything heavier than Annie…

So, yeah. Extra super duper fun.

Still, pretty much from the moment she arrived, Annie was magnificent. I wasn’t stuck inside with her like I’d been with Ella; when you have your first December baby, you stay home for three straight months because the thought of germs is paralyzing. When you have your second December baby, you understand that your two year-old is harboring more germs on her right forefinger than the entire children’s section at Barnes and Noble, and you give up and just get on with things already.

Sometimes this works brilliantly, and sometimes your newborn develops RSV. Ah, well. Builds stamina!

It became clear almost immediately that our family, while perfectly happy, had been incomplete without her. She was a precocious baby, immediately engaging, and an obvious daredevil from the word go. Eventually, Annie would come to command the attention of everyone in the room everywhere she goes — she has the most magnetic, draw-you-in personality of anyone I’ve ever met (and she’s freakin’ hilarious, so that helps) — but in her early months, she definitely took a backseat to Ella.

It wasn’t that people weren’t interested in Annie, who was, by all accounts, an adorable and fun baby, but rather that Ella was so full of life, so talkative, so bold, people naturally gravitated toward her and didn’t pay Annie too much mind. That is, until she met my grandmother.

phoofsy plays2

I don’t know what it was, but from the moment they laid eyes on each other, Annie and Phoofsy were smitten. Phoofsy had always loved Ella – there was no worry of that – but there was something special about her relationship with Annie. They lit up when they saw one another; where everyone else would be captivated by Ella’s stories and songs and dramatic reenactments, Phoofsy would go up to Annie and coo at her, instead. Annie’s biggest fan, we called her. It was pretty damn neat.

After mulling over (and over… and over…) our options post-baby, Nick and I decided that his 90 minute commute into lower Manhattan was simply too much. My going back to work full-time was too much. Finding childcare that would cost more than my half-time salary was too much. We could not stay in Bronxville any longer. As luck would have it, Nick’s company had a branch in Rochester, and because we already knew the area (with my mother and her sisters having grown up here, and my grandparents still living here, with a house on the lake where we visited each summer), we decided it made the most sense for him to change jobs and for us to move here. And so, in July of 2007, when Annie was seven months old, we did.

great and annie
With “Great” in August, 2007

We split the time that summer almost evenly between moving into our new house and going to the lake. I’m pretty certain that I saw my grandparents more in those first few months than I had in the previous thirty-one years of my life. The girls had the incredible experience of spending unlimited time with their great-grandparents. Things were good.

At the very end of September, my grandfather went in for surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. Although that sounds scary, the location of the aneurysm and his overall good health caused his doctor(s) to predict an easy fix; they expected him home within a day or so. At 2:38 p.m. that Friday, he sent all of us the following email:

going to hospital at 4.   TTYL

Very sadly, there would be no “later.” The operation wound up being much more complicated than they’d anticipated, and although they successfully repaired the aneurysm, he never woke up; we lost him on Sunday morning.

The weeks following his death were a blur, with family coming and going, but eventually, everyone left and it was just my grandmother (and my brother and sister-in-law, who were living locally at the time) and us. We made sure to see her often, both because we didn’t want her to be alone and because we really enjoyed her company. Thanksgiving eventually rolled around and my extended family came back into town to celebrate together. While I was thrilled to have them visit, it struck me that it felt a little funny with them there; we and Phoofsy had fallen into a kind of (irregular) routine, and interrupting it was a bit uncomfortable. We were the ones who were supposed to be here.

Wait a minute: we were supposed to be here. HERE, in Rochester, right exactly then. If we hadn’t moved when we did, we wouldn’t have had that summer with my grandfather. We wouldn’t have been there when he died; my brother and I wouldn’t have been the ones to stay with him in his hospital room and say goodbye to him after they turned off all of the machines. We wouldn’t have been there with my grandmother after his death, dragging her gamely along to the children’s museum and the apple orchard, and accompanying her to mother/daughter celebrations at her social club. If we hadn’t moved when we did, she certainly wouldn’t have had Annie and Ella nearby to cheer her up, to make her smile, to give her hope.

It was all so ridiculously clear: If Annie had not been born when she was, we never would have moved when we did, and life as we know it would not exist.

Everything happens for a reason, indeed.

12months of annie
Click on it to see it bigger; it’s worth it.

It wasn’t just my grandma who benefited from Annie’s timely birth, of course. We’ve all – everyone who meets her – been so tremendously fortunate to have Annie in our lives. She defines the word character. She is vibrant and exceedingly full of energy. She never stops talking. No, I mean it… Never. Stops. Talking. Wait, I take that back; she stops talking when she’s singing. Does that count?

She wakes up happy nearly every single day, and greets me – whether it’s first thing in the morning or when I pick her up from school – with the broadest grin imaginable and an elated, “MOMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!” She’s one of the most hilarious people I’ve ever met, as evidenced here and here. She certainly has no shortage of self-confidence and purpose, as is shown in her frequent use of phrases such as, “I’m going to give them a gift… It’s called The Awesome of Annie.”

She can turn on a dime and be the crankiest kid you’ve ever come across; and then, just like that, she’s laughing again. For three parent-teacher conferences in a row, her teachers referred to her as a “pistol.” She’s so exuberant and funny and delightful and just plain crazy, we kind of didn’t realize that she’s also crazy smart; her kindergarten and first grade teachers let us know that we’d greatly underestimated her.

annie 5th bday collage
I looked, but apparently I didn’t turn my “six” photo from last year into a collage… Oops.

She’s utterly exasperating in the mornings before school, when I head downstairs to let the dogs out and she’s got her pants on and is putting on her shirt and tells and will be down shortly — and then, twenty minutes later when I realize she’s never appeared, I go upstairs to check on her and discover that she’s now undressed and is rolling around on the floor, teeth still needing to be brushed. She’s similarly exasperating in the evenings before bed when it takes fifteen minutes to put on her pajamas.

She is kind and generous and sweet and a truly fabulous dinner-making partner; she now makes all of our salads every time and has, more than once, been responsible for cooking virtually all aspects of the meal. There is nothing she cannot turn into an art project (no, really, nothing; I know this from experience). She idolizes Ella and would do anything for her – just today, she earned a prize at school for twelve consecutive days of good behavior and “spent” her points to buy a gift for her sister instead of herself – but also purposely needles her – gleefully – with all of her might.

Annie is unbridled joy and to-her-core happiness. When I say that our lives wouldn’t be the same without her in it, I mean that in every possible way; we’re literally here today because of her. She fills us all with her light; we didn’t even realize how bright things could be until she came along. We may have been thrown for a loop when I got confused with The Math and became pregnant with Annie, but I’m so very glad we’re along for the ride.

And it turns out that December birthdays aren’t so bad after all. Go figure.

Seven years, Banana. Seven years of awesome.
Lucky, lucky us.

Happy Birthday!

annei 7th bday
7 tonight

Stepping back

A couple of weeks ago, I was headed to the bathroom when I happened to notice that Nick was watching the end of Amadeus in the living room. (The fact that I was heading to the bathroom is largely immaterial, but I do like to be precise.) I hadn’t seen the movie in years, and found myself absolutely fixated, unable to move until the closing credits.

I’ve loved Amadeus since I first saw it in the theater when I was eight (let’s just pause here for a moment, shall we, and ponder that my parents took me and my brother — who was SIX — to a movie about Mozart, where nude women run amok and the focus is about, you know, Classical music… Yes, yes they did… Which, I think, gives me latitude to show Ella and Annie just about any movie I choose and receive absolutely no sideways glances whatsoever, no?). The ending – where Salieri is frantically scribbling out the Confutatis maledictis from the Requiem as Mozart dictates the parts to him from his deathbed – is one of my favorite, most chill-inducing passages of any movie, ever.

I have always loved that scene, but, having not seen it in years – since well before I became a music teacher – I’d never gotten it in a technical music sense. Now, as Tom Hulce hummed and pounded out and sang each line, each section, and F. Murray Abraham put notes to paper… and then as the music came together, piece by piece, until we finally we heard Mozart’s unbelievably beautiful vision for the first time, I was completely enthralled. It wasn’t just gorgeous; it made sense. It clicked.

It’s not that Mozart died and left the Requiem uncompleted that makes it so awe-inspiring (although that certainly adds to the mystique); it’s the work itself, Mozart’s genius being so definitively and wondrously realized. I have yet to hear the entire Requiem live, but it’s absolutely on my bucket list. (Lest you think my bucket list is all classy like that, you should know that it also includes learning how to properly wolf-whistle and smashing truckloads of tomatoes into perfect strangers at the Tomatina in Buñol, Spain.)

Fast forward to last Friday, when I was subbing for a high school music teacher – not my typical gig. Although I’m qualified and certified to teach music K-12, my professional experience (subbing aside) has only been K-8, so I always regard high school music subbing with a bit of curiosity. Friday proved to be a fantastic experience, and one that I was not expecting.

Yes, it was great that one of the classes was AP Music Theory (which might sound either terrifying or horrendously dry, depending on your perspective); I was psyched, because although I hadn’t dabbled much in theory since college, I did genuinely enjoy – and excel at – it way back when. I wasn’t disappointed. Despite it being students-bring-in-a-song-to-share-with-the-class day — a classic, dummy-proof move for when you have a sub, especially if your sub might not be a music teacher — this was no throwaway class. The kids brought in everything from Zeppelin to instrumental celtic songs, and used phrases like “I thought it was interesting how the measure of 3/4 immediately bumps up against the 4/4 measures, giving them a heightened tension” and “I enjoyed how that measure doesn’t end on the tonic, but rather how the dominant sets the stage and leaves you hanging” to describe what they heard (no, I am not making this up). It was pretty rad.

And, yes, there was the 10th grade choir, who were almost entirely student-led and sang a raucous version of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus. But it was the Polyphonic Choir – arguably the school’s most prestigious group – that really took my breath away.

For one thing, it was like stepping into an episode of Glee, or what Glee might be like if the students actually read music and were concerned with phrasing and diction and warm-ups. Each of these kids wanted – really wanted – to be there, from the obviously gay young men in their smart pants and patterned sweaters to the grungy girls with their heavy eye-liner and spiky earrings, and the moment they came into the rehearsal room, they were focused, poised, excited, ready. You don’t really get that in your average Calculus class.

For another, these kids could sing. They were good. And not just with their voices; they could read music like it was nobody’s business, play piano with prodigious skill, and fine-tune their singing when something wasn’t quite right. They fully directed themselves (I was really only there so they could claim that an adult was in the room), doing warm-ups alone for a full twenty minutes, and sounded stupendous.

But also? They had a concert the following Monday (like, two days ago), and one of the pieces they were performing was Mozart’s Requiem.


I couldn’t believe I was hearing it – live – and that these seventeen year-olds were not only singing it, but conducting themselves, and singing it well. Their voices rang and echoed, filling the space with wonder and satisfaction (I realize the phrasing is weird there, but really, there was wonder and satisfaction just floating around the room. For real). It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced as a  teacher; I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be there to witness it.

As soon as the period was over, I texted the following to Nick:

The choir I was subbing for is performing Mozart’s Requiem; they led themselves in rehearsal. Felt like Salieri. SO COOL.

Before Nick and I went to sleep that night, I just had to talk about it more; I couldn’t quite let it go. I relived the rehearsal, dissecting each warm-up and playing for him the audio recordings I’d surreptitiously made of the choir with my iPhone. We both agreed that this was a damn good choir.

And I couldn’t help but wonder: does their teacher feel this way every day? Does he go home every night, rushing to share the delicious details of every rehearsal with his wife (who happens to be a friend of mine; first time I’d ever subbed for someone I “knew”)? Does he sit back and let the music wash over him, soaking up the choir’s soul-stirring abilities, reveling in his AP students’ knowledge and interest and abilities?

Does he come home every single day thinking, Holy crap, I get to do THIS for my JOB?? I must be the luckiest person on the face of the planet!

Well, let’s be honest: no. He probably doesn’t. Not if he’s human, anyway. In part, because not every day is like the day I witnessed. These kids had been rehearsing for months for a concert that was one day away; no wonder they were so good. Surely rehearsals back in September bore little resemblance to what I witnessed on Friday.

Also, let’s not forget that these kids didn’t learn how to conduct a choir rehearsal or identify when the melody ends on the tonic or dominant all by themselves. They learned it from someone – I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess maybe they learned it from the teacher for whom I was subbing – and that someone likely had to work damn hard to get these kids to come so far. While I’m sure it’s been gratifying to have such motivated and talented kiddos in your classes, I’m also sure that there are days when – as with all professions (or, let’s say, being a parent) – you want to pull your hair out.

But I hope, for this teacher’s sake, that he has some of the moments I experienced. I hope that, between the pressures of putting on a concert and helping kids understand voice-leading and working to make sure the tenors aren’t sharp and having the warehouse fall behind on the sheet music shipment and figuring out how Common Core affects the curriculum and budget cuts and colleagues who raise eyebrows and question whether or not you’re a “real teacher” because you “just” teach music, there are genuine moments of joy and gratitude and awe, moments of, I truly must be the luckiest person on the planet, if only for this one song.

Truth be told, I could stand a few more of those moments myself these days. Like everyone else, I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. This fall/early winter have been so freakin’ busy, and now with Christmas and two birthdays on the horizon (I will have a seven year-old in two minutes, omg!), it’s just become absolutely insane. There are days when my “free time” begins after midnight, when I awaken in the morning to have my FitBit tell me I’ve already walked 800 steps that day. Only once in the past ten days have I gone to bed before 1:30 a.m.

It’s unsustainable. I realize this. I’ll wind up making myself sick, and then my holiday spirit will really go to hell in a hand basket.

I need to stop and breathe. I keep thinking, if I just get this done, just accomplish this one more thing, then I can relax… But I keep a to-do book, not a to-do list, and it’s absolutely never-ending, so I have yet to reach the relaxation point.

And yet, surely there are bits of the Requiem going on around me. Maybe it’s in my girls’ faces as they find Hermey our elf in his new location each morning. (Shit. Note to self: Hermey must be moved to Annie’s room tonight. Birthday girls always get a visit from Hermey.) Maybe it’s in the fresh falling snow we’re getting each day. Maybe it’s in the irresistible toffee my aunt sends us each year (we received it two days ago and it’s nearly gone; send more!).

I’m not entirely sure where it is, but I’m going to make it my mission to find it. Every year, I lament that this season has gone by too fast. I can’t make it slow down, but I can at least try to find some joy and gratitude and awe, if only for one song.

Come to think of it, maybe the Requiem is hidden in the chocolate chip cookies I made for the cookie exchange and the Girl Scouts caroling. They did taste pretty damn good.

You can call me Queen Bee

Let’s just get this out of the way: I really hate going to the dentist.

Which, when you’re a parent, sucks, because you have no choice but to take your kids to the dentist (especially once they reach grade school and have regular visits from the school nurse to teach about things like drugs and nutrition and fire safety and hygiene and suddenly your offspring come home talking about plaque and tartar and you realize the last time they used floss, it was to wrap their Barbies to their bedposts like spiders cocooning a meal). And you can’t tell your children that you despise the dentist, because then they’ll hate the dentist, and you don’t need any more reasons for tantrums, thanks very much.

It’s tough, carefully balancing the threat of cavities (to get them to brush) with abject terror of cavities, sending them screaming from the hygienist before they’ve even taken off their coats. BRUSH YOUR TEETH OR ELSE THEY’LL ROT AND FALL OUT! But if they do, no worries — it will be fine! Yaaaaay, dentist time!!

My hatred of the dentist is actually based on very little personal experience. Mercifully, I’ve had few dental issues over the years; aside from a couple of cavities that were filled, like, twenty years ago, I’ve pretty much only seen the dentist for cleanings. But the sounds of the drills… the smell of the drills (omg)… the grit of the toothpaste that’s whirred up from the ring worn on the hygienist’s finger (my precious, my ass), the weird plastic-y things they put in your mouth to take x-rays that taste vaguely of the tongue depressors you used to sneak as a kid while your pediatrician was making notes in the chart… No. I don’t like it. None of it. I look more forward to the stirrups at my OB-GYN’s than the plastic-lined dentist’s chair.

TMI? Sorry.

Naturally, I couldn’t hold out on needing dental work forever, and yesterday, I found myself  in our dentist’s office. A few weeks ago, I’d been eating dessert – something soft, I can’t remember what, but it was definitely not anything that caused me to question whether or not it was lethal – and suddenly it felt like a piece of one of my molars just cracked off. While that didn’t make much sense to me – how could a piece of my tooth just come off?? – I visited our dentist anyway just to be certain, and sure enough, I’d broken my tooth.

Broken my tooth? WTF?

I should probably revise the story to say I was gnawing through iron chains, rather than spooning up ice cream. And then I BROKE my TOOTH. RRRAWWR.

Turns out, broken teeth don’t get casts… they get crowns. Which are really just fake teeth, but crowns sounds way cooler. Queen Emily, at your service.

So anyway, yesterday, I was at the dentist’s for my crown. I knew it would be bad… Not pain-wise, necessarily (I certainly hoped not), but anxiety-wise. The week before, when Dr. M had filed down the rough edge of my cracked tooth, the sensation of the vibrations and the smell of the drilling caused me to practically pass out; I knew I wouldn’t make it through my coronation without some assistance. I knew that Xanax would help ease my nerves, but there were still the sounds of the procedure to contend with.

And then it dawned on me: I had the solution right in my purse.

While sitting in the chair, waiting for my tooth tiara to be made (how cool is modern dentistry, BTW? They churn out those suckers right in the back. Queen Emily is very pleased), I posted the following to Facebook:

So, I’m *that* person… The one who brings the Mifi to the dentist (because I’m a wuss about dental work and music makes things better) so I can stream Christmas songs on my phone from Pandora while the dentist does his thang. And, apparently, I’m also the person who updates her FB status while sitting in the dental chair. It’s not like Nick plays hockey with our dentist, so my holiday cheer isn’t embarrassing or anything. Thank god.
K.A… The Novocain and Xanax will have worn off by the time I get the girls after school. Promise.

At least I didn’t post a dentist chair selfie. You’re welcome.

True story: Nick and our dentist play hockey together; it’s weird for me to refer to him as Dr. M. I think of him as Greg. Greg is a really good guy. I don’t dislike dentists. I just can’t stand going to the dentist – not even Greg.

Also, true story: Ella and Annie had a half-day of school and we were hosting one of Annie’s good buddies for a play date immediately after school. Or, in other words, while I was still full of Novocain. I always make excellent decisions like this. Do send your children over.

The coronation went as planned (Claire Danes was even on Kelly and Whoever She’s With Now That Regis Is Gone – handsome, engaging fellow – so I got a Homeland fix), with Greg informing me that he didn’t think I’d need a root canal — we avoided one today — but he’d put the crown on with temporary adhesive just in case. I was to call him if I experienced deep pain or throbbing. OH GOOD.

Dire warnings aside, I was out of there after just a couple of hours. And five hundred dollars. And that’s with dental insurance. No wonder Greg wears such nice ties.

I kid, I kid.
He wasn’t wearing a tie.

While listening to “Holly Jolly Christmas” and trying to ignore the thundering vibrations in my skull, I’d made an executive decision that I deserved Starbucks afterward. I called Nick to tell him about my appointment and how I was now on the lookout for throbbing pain, but that I’d avoided a root canal for the time being, so I was going to reward myself with Starbucks. Except he practically needed an interpreter to understand me, because half of my face was still entirely numb, and my lips just weren’t working the way that they should. He sagely warned me that I might not be able to drink properly, and we joked that perhaps I should get a straw.

After getting my drink (I decided against the straw; it wouldn’t fit in the little sippy hole anyway), I returned to the car to drive home, and discovered that, indeed, I was having trouble with my beverage. Specifically, I couldn’t feel the cup, so I drooled out as much liquid as I swallowed. How very royal of me. Additionally, the heat of the latte seemed to interact poorly with the adhesive on my tooth, so instead of tasting coffee, I tasted hot glue. Which is not delicious.

I attempted to drink some of the water that I had on hand in the car – out of a reusable Starbucks cup with a large straw – only to discover that using a straw was even more difficult than drinking straight from the cup, because my lips refused to fully close around the straw — which, in essence, meant that I was attempting to put water in my mouth by inhaling it from six inches away.

And so, despite my earlier entreaties, I did the only thing possible: I took selfies of inability to use a straw, and sent them to my husband.

Left… side… won’t… cooperate…

Somehow, I thought I’d look more regal with the crown…

When I arrived at school to pick up the girls thirty minutes later, the secretary gave me some sideways glances when I signed out Annie’s playmate, but she didn’t say anything. Maybe she thought I’d had a few too many Bloody Marys to steel myself for the half-day of school. (Which, FWIW, would never happen, because a) I hate Bloody Marys, and b) I’d already taken Xanax, so I needed no further steeling. Actually, the Xanax had long worn off by then, so maybe a Mimosa wouldn’t have been such a bad idea…)

I decided to preempt any possible embarrassment for Annie (or me) by explaining to her and her friend what had happened, and why Mommy was talking so strangely. Annie cocked her head to one side and declared that she thought I sounded perfectly fine.

Oh, good. I must always slur like this. Super.

When I showed her that I was incapable of whistling or rubbing my lips together to smear chapstick around, however, her eyes lit up and she nodded, “Ohhh, NOW I see it. Yeah. You definitely sound weird.”

Um… thanks?

I made lunch for the girls and settled into a plate of my own when I discovered that although the Novocain didn’t affect my appetite, it did affect my chewing capability, so it took twice as long to consume my meal because I had to put back into my mouth what had just fallen out of it with each bite. Also very queenly. Perhaps I’m not cut out for this Royals business after all.

A couple of hours later, things finally felt back to normal, and I decided to reheat my Starbucks and give it another go. I was taking my second sip when Ella, who was sitting beside me in the kitchen, reared back ever-so-slightly (not wanting to appear too horrified) and whispered to me, “Uh, mom… You just drooled. Like, all over.”

I proudly (albeit undeservedly) accept this coronation, and shall immediately take up my new duties as your monarch.

My first royal decree: dentistry is henceforth outlawed.
Don’t worry, Greg; I hear you play a mean Left Wing.