You just never know; count them

My phone vibrates with the receipt of a new text; I receive an email and a phone call as well. A member of our school community has died unexpectedly – a man who is only forty years old, who is our high school’s Cross Country coach, a teacher, and the father of three little girls, two of whom attend our daughters’ school. I pause momentarily to take this in, and then realize that I know his wife. We have only met a few times, and casually, sure, but I know her. Ella and Annie know their oldest daughter, who is in second grade, sandwiched between them.

It seems surreal. Forty years old and otherwise healthy? The father of young children? The husband of a woman I know, a woman who lives just down the street from us, and whose life has now been forever upended? I am crushed for her, for her daughters.

And I am terrified, too: it could be us. It could be any of us.

We receive word the following day that the second-grade teacher did a wonderful job of shepherding the class through a discussion about their classmate who had just lost her father. I read the email in the bathroom, and I cry – big, huge sobs. Eight year-olds shouldn’t even know that it’s possible to lose a parent just like that, much less have to navigate their way through grief and fear and questions with unknown answers. None of our children should. It breaks my heart.

We tell our girls that if they can absolutely speak to this second-grader who has lost her father, to not be afraid to talk to her, to just say “hi” and let her know they see that she’s there, she’s not invisible. But also that if they don’t want to talk about it, it’s okay, too. We don’t have to dwell on it: what’s most important is that we be so grateful right now for what we have, and that includes each other.

And so we are. So, so tremendously grateful.

But I am dwelling on it. Not consciously; I can’t seem to help it. It invades my thoughts. Just like that. How can it be? Is everything we know really as fragile as that?

I join the Lotsa Helping Hands community that’s immediately been established for this family, and sign up to bring snacks for the little girls. It’s such a little thing, but it somehow makes me feel better, knowing that at least no one has to worry that they’re out of Goldfish. Maybe they don’t like Goldfish. I don’t really even know them.

But I simply cannot imagine… I don’t want to imagine. But if I do allow myself to imagine, even for a moment, before the horror of it comes washing over me, I realize that it would probably feel good to have the support of our neighbors, even if they didn’t really know me. And so I will bring Goldfish and Cheddar Bunnies and granola bars.

And I will continue to try to count my blessings, to give my girls an extra hug. Annie is obviously feeling under the weather and doesn’t want dinner; in fact, she’s crying because she thinks she’s going to throw up, and she just keeps saying, “Mommy, MOMMY! Help me! PLEASE HELP ME!” And I cannot help her, I cannot make the pain in her stomach or the nausea go away… But I can sit with her and rub her back, and so I do, and I don’t look at my phone or do anything else but be with her for a solid hour on the couch, just us two, until she falls asleep with her head on the coffee table.

We tuck her in night, grateful that she has yet to vomit, that she doesn’t have a fever, and say a small prayer that sleep helps her to feel better. It’s such a little thing in the scheme of it all, a child with a potential tummy bug, but still I cross my fingers and offer up a prayer – please, let her stay healthy.

I cannot fall asleep, even though I’m exhausted, even though I have a cold and I desperately need the rest. At long last, I drift off, but I’m up at least eight times in the night, and each time, my first thought is of this family, even though I hardly know them – of how inconceivable their lives are right now. Nick is snoring; I nudge him.

Wouldn’t this other woman give anything to have her husband snoring next to her again? I’m being selfish. So he snores. So I’m awake. At least he’s still here. Blessings; count them.

It’s early morning when it dawns on me: perhaps that’s why I keep waking up. The snoring. Or maybe it’s just my own stuffed-up nose. Either way, I can’t sleep.

Should I move to the guest room?
And leave my husband alone in the bed? The husband I am so very lucky and grateful to have?

At last, exhaustion takes over: Yes. I’m moving. I can be grateful but still need my sleep. I move to the guest room bed.

On my way, Annie meets me in the hall. “Mommy! It’s morning!” I inform her that although it may, technically, be morning, I am still sleeping. “No, you’re not! You’re in the bathroom!” I let her know that, despite appearances to the contrary, I am, in fact, still sleeping… But that I am so glad she’s feeling well this morning.

Thank you.

I am tired, my cold is raging, but Ella has a rough morning and needs some extra attention. Usually, there is no time for this. Today, there is. She uses my scarf to dry her tears and then holds my hand as I walk her all the way into the school building, despite saying – back at the house – that she wanted to be alone.

I’m glad I didn’t listen to her.

I’m glad for all of it, every last damn thing.

But I’m still dwelling. I can’t help it.

It’s beautiful today. The sun is shining (finally), the temperatures are rising (finally). Blessings; count them.


* this post is unread and un-edited. Apologies for glaring errors or run-on sentences.

Found it!

So, yeah. It’s winter here. Same for you, too?

Rochester is known for its snow, and its lack of sunshine for, oh,49 months of the year, but it’s not really known for being absolutely frigid. We get loads of the white stuff but almost never a true Snow Day (where the kids are home from school due to, you know, snow preventing them from attending). Last year, when Hurricane/Superstorm/ Generally Badass Sandy came roaring up the east coast, school was called for a totally random Hurricane Day, but that’s one of very few weather-related delays or cancellations I can remember.

Until today.

They didn’t even call it a Snow Day – no, school was cancelled due to “extreme temperatures,” which basically meant that they were worried that the wind chills would cause everyone to freeze to death if they attempted to enter the school buildings. While that seemed a bit nutty, I will say that, as I walked the girls to school yesterday morning when the temperatures were in the single digits, I promised that if they had school today, I’d drive them… but then I realized that our beloved crossing guard, Mrs. H, would still be at the corner, no matter what the weather. Death by Polar Vortex seems like a really poor way to go, so I’m awfully glad that Mrs. H didn’t have to brave the elements today.

Plus also, if school had been in session today, you know there’d have been those yahoos who would have pulled the fire alarm, just ’cause they think it’s funny to be asshats.

So, anyway, no school today. I won’t go on about the cold – half of you can hardly read this anyway because you’re shaking uncontrollably in an effort to generate a little body heat and keep your blood flowing. You get it. I know.

Nick was supposed to be on a business trip all week, but after spending seven hours at the Rochester airport yesterday (given that there is not enough to do in the Rochester airport to entertain oneself for even thirty minutes, Nick deserves a medal for surviving seven hours), he was unable to board a plane to anywhere. Today proved just as difficult, so his trip was cancelled, and as such, he volunteered to take the girls to the office with him this morning. At first, I was hesitant – oddly enough, after several discussions last night of the fun ways we’d attempt to fill a no-one-is-sick-but-we-can’t-go-outside-because-we’ll-freeze-to-death day, I’d sort of looked forward to having the kids home with me, and thought that their being gone for several hours might screw up the plans.

I can hear you laughing from here.
I’ll wait.

When Annie and Ella jumped at the chance to join Daddy at work (it’s hard to beat lots of iPad time, unlimited Post-Its, free multicolored folders, and food from the vending machines), I reasoned that I could spend the time while they were gone crossing a few items off of my To-Do book. Specifically, I thought I’d change all of our sheets, wash our towels, take down the Christmas tree and put it outside (the ornaments had been taken off yesterday; all that remained were the lights), exercise, answer some emails, and finish putting away the Christmas decorations. And then I’d figure out how to fill the third hour, because, naturally, all of the above would take only 90 minutes or so.

Again with the laughing.
I’ll still wait.

See, here’s the thing about the ADHD mind: you always think that you can accomplish way more than is actually possible within a given period of time. I know this about myself, and yet it’s still very difficult to accurately gauge what’s realistic and what’s not. Assuming that it would take, oh, thirty minutes to take the lights off of the tree, wrap ’em up, jauntily remove the tree from its base, and cart it outside (in frigid temperatures) to the curb was a grave error on my part. The base was still entirely full of water, meaning that if the tree tipped to the side, the water would slosh over the floor (bad), so that meant I’d need to lift the tree straight up into the air… but that meant that I’d need to unscrew the bolt-like-thingies that were holding the tree in place in the stand, and unscrewing the bolts meant that the tree would be, um, tippy… So it was a whole exercise in physics and geometry and towels and gating the dogs in the kitchen and swearing out loud to myself.

And that was just removing the lights.

Plus also it was, like, cold out, and, given that I was doing this alone, I had to prop open the front door to drag the tree through it. In reality, de-lighting the tree and getting it to the street probably took twenty minutes or so… but cleaning up the detritus took another forty-five. I don’t even know how the tree on the corner still looks like a Douglas Fir, because I’m certain that it dropped at least half of its needles between our living room and front hall. It was like Hansel and Gretel leaving entire loaves of bread with every step, this shedding tree, and the sheer effort it took to sweep and vacuum and corral the needles off of every surface in the house was nothing short of Herculean. Zero to hero, baby.

So, the tree-removal underestimate was my own fault. Changing the sheets, however, should have been predictable; it’s not like today was the first time I’ve done it. I’ve got it down to a science, and even though it sucks every time (because the girls each have a bunk bed that’s pushed up against the wall, making it difficult to access the sheets; also, they are very specific about how they like to sleep, and one wrong move can spell a meltdown later in the day), I know what to expect.

Except… Annie.

Annie is – how do I say it? – a hoarder. There is nothing, and I do mean nothing, that she feels is unworthy of holding onto, especially if it is an actual item that might have been used by someone at some time. I know this about her… but I didn’t know that, over the past couple of weeks, she’d decided to hoard everything on and in her bed.

As I pulled off the comforter, I found a few stray pencils between it and the duvet. Between the duvet and the top sheet, a couple of stuffed animals and a pair of underwear. But it was in the space between the bed and the wall and in the actual sheets – you know, the area where she sleeps – that I found the motherlode.

Normally, when I make the girls’ beds, I just toss back the pillows and stuffed animals and allow Ella and Annie to do the dirty work of actually putting them away. Today, however, it became apparent that Annie would require yet another Cold Day off of school to accomplish such a feat, so I decided to put things into logical piles for her.

1.07 annie's bed
Plenty of room for a seven year-old to squeeze in, don’t you think?

In case you can’t quite make it out, the above photo contains the things that were found on and IN Annie’s bed, including (but certainly not limited to):

  • 1 pair of pants
  • 3 pairs of pajama pants
  • 1 sweater
  • 2 shirts
  • 3 pull-ups
  • 4 pairs of underwear
  • 9 socks (only four of which matched one another)
  • 4 blankets
  • 1 box of Amber Brown books
  • 3 library books
  • 11 of her own books
  • 3 journals/drawing pads
  • 5 pens and pencils
  • 1 eraser
  • 1 new package of colored pencils
  • 1 wooden letter E
  • 1 poofy Candy Corn Fairy wand from Halloween
  • 1 construction paper Nimbus 2000 Harry Potter broom
  • 1 orange beaded bracelet
  • 8 doll outfits/shoes/accoutrements
  • 19 stuffed animals
  • 2 stuffed animal pillows
  • 4 decorative pillows
  • and 1 American Girl doll

In other words, Annie’s bed could singlehandedly have outfitted a small coop preschool; maybe she’s found her calling.

Which meant that a simple, predictable changing-of-the-sheets suddenly turned into a 90-minute re-stocking, which meant that my morning to “get things done” disappeared in an instant – and this part had to do with my ADHD, thank you very much. By the time I’d managed to disentangle everything and pick up the Christmas tree needles, it was time to meet Nick and the girls for lunch.

In case you’re keeping track, the exercising and email-answering never were accomplished. I did manage to wash the towels, however, and damn, do we ever have nice clean sheets to sleep on tonight.

Tomorrow, the temperatures are on their way back to normal, which means the girls will be back in school – and none too soon; I need a day to recover from this Cold Day. I wonder how much I can accomplish in the two hours before my first appointment of the morning? Not sure, but if I can’t find my To-Do book, at least I know where to look: inside Annie’s bed.

If the shoe (doesn’t) fit…

For Christmas, Nick (and the girls, but really it was Nick because he spent all of the time fighting crowds and searching the web and putting things in his “shopping basket” and pressing “order” and having the boxes delivered to our house) gave me two pairs of Merrells, something I’d been coveting for a long while but hadn’t wanted to pony up and purchase for myself. I loved my old Merrells, which were easily slip-on-able and paired perfectly with an array of outfits, from substitute teacher (a tidy top – perhaps a well-fitted sweater – and khakis or slacks; yes, I said slacks) to piano instructor (a clean shirt that’s not a t-shirt and pants that aren’t jeans) to school volunteer (a mostly clean shirt and probably jeans) to errand-runner/dog walker/ chore-doer (anything that doesn’t smell from five inches away). So much did I love them, in fact, they were worn through — and so new Merrells appeared on my Christmas wish list.

The first pair I opened were similar to clogs, except more stylish, so that when covered by the hem of my pants, they resemble attractive boots. Very good. The second pair was different than any Merrell style I’d seen before – a low-cut boot – but they also seemed good. I immediately removed the inner padding from the left shoe (in this case, wadded up brown paper and a cardboard insert that matched the mold of the toe of the boot), slid it on, and remarked that they were fab. Hooray for husbands who a) remember what I asked for for Christmas and b) chose wisely. Happy me.

These be the ones

On Christmas, I bummed around in my indoor/outdoor slippers (I call them this because they have a really thick, rubber sole with a wicked tread, enabling them to easily make a trip to the mailbox… or, say, into the third grade classroom to help out with Math Facts. What? These? Yep, my slippers. Forgot I even had ’em on! Super comfy, though), so it wasn’t until the 26th that I officially christened my Merrells. I wore the clogs in the morning to run errands and then decided that the boots might be a better choice for the afternoon, as my feet were getting chilly.

I popped those babies right on and began to walk around, but was slightly discouraged to discover that the right shoe (the one I had not tried previously) felt a little tight. This is not an uncommon occurrence; I broke my left leg thirty years ago, so my left foot has been smaller than my right since then. Also – not to be graphic, but this is important to the story – it seems that I’m developing a bunion on my right big toe. Aside from being unsightly, this bump is mostly frustrating because it can make certain shoes uncomfortable — like, apparently, my new boots.

As I went about my business, putting away the previous day’s bounty, packing for our trip to visit my mom and stepdad, and getting the house ready for our dog sitter, the discomfort in my right foot gave way to outright pain. Still, I pressed on, thinking that perhaps if I wore the shoes for an extended period of time, I’d stretch the right one out and it would fit better. Also – and I realize that this makes no sense – I kind of got pissed. Like, seriously, this stupid bunion is effing up my new shoes?? This bunion is ruining my awesome Christmas gift? I WILL SHOW IT WHO’S BOSS.  

I’ve never claimed to be the world’s most rational person.

The hours wore on, and the pain in my right foot became more and more pronounced, and I became more and more upset. By this time – many hours later – I was practically limping, and was sure that, when I removed the shoe, the aching would be so severe, I’d be hobbling around for the rest of the night, and maybe the following day as well. Nick asked how I liked the shoes, and I said that I liked them fine, but that the right one was just a wee bit tight – it must be my stupid bunion. He felt terrible for giving me shoes that didn’t fit properly and asked if I was planning to bring them with us on our trip. When I told him that I’d love to, but I didn’t think it was possible because I didn’t want to lose half of my toes due to lack of circulation, he suggested that we put a tennis ball in the right toe to stretch it out while we were gone. This seemed like a good idea, but I wasn’t about to start now — I was still showing my bunion who was boss.

I’ve never been a very good boss, however, so I’d also begun to panic a bit (who, me?). Hadn’t the podiatrist said that I was fine so long as my foot wasn’t in pain, but if the bump started hurting consistently, I’d need surgery? This must be it – I’d reached the end; there was no hope. Could he get me in as soon as we got back from our trip? When would the surgery be scheduled? How long would it take to recover? BUT I DON’T WANT TO DIE.

Again, rationality is not my strong suit.

Just as I was about to vacuum, Nick noticed me Tiny Timming my way around the living room and told me that enough was enough: take off the damn shoe right now, and he’d stuff a tennis ball inside. He even offered to do the vacuuming while I located and put on my indoor/outdoor slippers (sold!). I gingerly took off my right shoe, breathing an enormous sigh of relief as soon as my foot was released, and handed it to Nick, who turned around to go find one of the dogs’ tennis balls (an un-chewed one, I assume, although at that point I didn’t really care). Before he’d even left the room, however, Nick turned back to me with a quizzical look on his face.

“Uhhh, Em?”


“You said that this shoe was the only one that was tight?”


“Just in the toe area?”

(exasperated sigh) YES. Because of the bunion. The bunion that will need immediate surgery as soon as we return. How many days do you think you can take off of work?

“Ummm… Just wondering, but do you think that this might have anything to do with it?”

And from the shoe Nick withdrew the cardboard insert that matched the mold of the toe of the boot… the insert that I had already removed from the left shoe, but which I had completely forgotten was even in the right one.

Huh. Look at that.

“Maybe it will fit better now?”

Could be. I can certainly try it on.
(shifts vacuum from one hand to the other as I slip on the boot)
Well, hot damn!

“It fits?”

Yes! Yes it does!

“Does it feel okay?”

It feels great! 

“There’s no pressure or anything?”

Nope! There’s plenty of room! WHO KNEW THESE WERE SO COMFORTABLE??

“Thank God. I was really worried that I’d given you a gift that didn’t fit.”

And I was really worried about writing a living will.


THESE ARE AWESOME BOOTS. I am so wearing them on our trip.

“So… I’ll skip the tennis ball thing…”

Yes, please.

“Glad we got that solved.”


And I’m really glad I married a man who is not only an excellent gift-giver, but also a genius. Or, at least, a little bit more rational than I.
But, man, let me tell you – I vacuum like a champ.