Just call me McGyver

We’ve been experiencing an unusually cold winter in the ROC.

Wait, stop me if you’ve heard this one before…

The snow amounts, on the other hand, have pretty much been status quo – which is to say a lot. Like, we’re gonna reach our usual 100″ a lot. We live around the corner from our elementary school, so close, in fact, that Ella and Annie walk to and from school each day. A little while ago, I noticed that the snow was so deep, it was standing well past the top of Ella’s boots, meaning that she was arriving at school looking like she’d accidentally walked past a snow-making spigot at a ski hill.

She miiiight also have deliberately sashayed through some higher banks just for effect, but nonetheless: white-out. Or, as my long-ago kindergarten buddy who lives in Stockholm called them, “Swedish legs.”

A few days later, Ella began complaining that the inside of her boots was wet. I chalked this up to tromping through a couple of feet snow each day, plus recess, and threw her boots in the dryer. (I’m probably not supposed to do this, but I was in a hurry and also kind of desperate; when your kid is getting hives on her feet after walking home from school, you might embrace the dryer, too. And some Pinot, but that wasn’t making the shoes any less wet.) It took more than one cycle, but at last the inside of her boots felt dry, so I set them out overnight and off she went in the morning.

After school, she declared that her feet felt wet all the way to school. I chided her – she must have been mistaken. They might have felt cold, but I’d double-checked them the night before and they were dry, dry, dry. Unless someone had accidentally poured the Pinot in them, it was simply impossible that they were wet before she even got to school.

They were, however, good and wet by the time she was home from school – not just a little damp, but wring-it-out wet. Was snow sliding down into her boots while she played? Did she take them off at recess and dump water inside? Why on earth were they so damn wet? She turned down all of my suggestions, and so I, once again, set about drying her boots that night, even going so far as to Google ideas on “how to dry wet boots.” After removing the inner liners, stuffing her boots with newspaper three times over (the newsprint absorbs dampness; who knew?) and running them, again, through the dryer more than once, I was certain – absolutely positive – that they were DRY.

But the next afternoon, you guessed it… Wet. Soaked. And she hadn’t even gone outside for recess that day. Completely stumped, I asked her to take off her boots so I could examine them – for what, I wasn’t sure, but I was sure that something wasn’t right.

Upon looking them over, I discovered this:

Um, yeah. So maaaaaybe that’s why the shoes were a little… leaky.

Miraculously, we had some spare time that afternoon, so we rushed out to four (yes, FOUR) shoe and department stores… but nope. No dice. Either they were all sold out (’cause, you know, it’s the middle of winter, and most people already have boots) or they were super-uncomfortablre, an unfortunate side effect of Ella’s broken foot. I might have been able to order some online, but they wouldn’t appear instantaneously, nor could we be guaranteed that they’d fit. Our best best was to find another time when we could shop in person for shoes… which meant that Ella needed to continue wearing the ones with the four-inch holes in the heels.

(Side note: I did suggest that she wear several pairs of socks and some rain boots, but she would have none of that. Apparently, ’tis better to have freezing, wet, hive-y feet than to wear rain boots to school in the dead of winter. Or something.)

Because I couldn’t just send her to school like that – with gaping holes in her boots – I decided that I would do something to help. I do have a (small) crafty side, and I’ve got a great relationship with Gorilla Glue… and so, ten minutes later, BAM! Problem solved!

Eat your heart out, MacGyver:
Why, yes, there are two layers of Gorilla Glue and Superglue on each shoe, as well as three layers of silver duct tape. Of course I let them dry overnight – what do you think I am, stupid?

I’d been fairly convinced that Ella would see these monstrosities beauties and decide that rain boots made a lot more sense, thanks very much… But no, she was quite excited to wear her patched-up boots to school. I crossed my fingers all day long (not really, ’cause that would be really awkward) hoping that she wouldn’t come home with soaking wet feet AND ugly, taped-together shoes… And, amazingly, she she got home, she informed me that they’d stayed dry all day long.


Our afternoon and evening were booked solid that day, but by the following afternoon, I decided that the taped-up boots weren’t really cutting it anymore, and so while Annie was at chess club, Ella and I booked it over to L.L. Bean. I usually shy away from buying the girls “good” winter boots because I know that they’re just going to outgrow them in, like, five minutes, but in this case, I was willing to purchase almost anything so long as they fit and didn’t, you know, have holes in them.

Plus also, perhaps the least expensive boots are prone to the heels falling apart. Hm.

On the first try, Ella found a pair that not only fit, but that she liked (AMEN), and we were out of there in five minutes flat.

An added bonus to her new boots is that they come up higher than the old ones, so her Swedish legs are a thing of the past.

Which is probably good, because it sure as hell doesn’t look like winter’s ending any time soon.

Have I mentioned that yet?

Let’s get away from it all

If we took a holiday…
Took some time to celebrate…
Just one day out of life
It would be (it would be), it would be so nice.
– “Holiday”

Thanks, Madonna, for so eloquently summing up our recent vacation experience.

In my last post, I’d told you that we were heading out of town and I’d fill you in soon – today seems to be a good place to start.

We needed this holiday. No; I mean, we neeeeeeded this holiday. The months (years?) leading up to Bill’s death were not exactly easy. As anyone who’s lost someone important to them – especially to a disease like cancer – knows, it’s emotional whiplash. You can’t figure out which end is up, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, you’re constantly on edge, every phone call is tinged with anticipation, you literally make yourself sick with worry, and then there’s the damn sadness that’s hovering around. It. Is. Exhausting.

Couple that with our completely insane autumn and winter, with work changes and school changes and after-school activities and work travel and birthdays and holidays and and and OMG MOST OF THIS IS GOOD STUFF BUT IT DOESN’T MAKE IT LESS TIRING. We needed a break. We needed to well and truly get away, just the four of us, to do something fantastical and new and inspiring and really freakin’ fun.

Nick and I had been toying with the idea of a Disney cruise for a couple of years. When we found an unbeatable deal on a three-day cruise to the Bahamas that perfectly aligned with the girls’ February break, we jumped on it – and then added a day at Universal to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, plus a trip to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in Downtown Disney just to really gild the lily.

We don’t take family vacations very often – we travel a helluva lot, but the vast majority of that is to visit family (which, while great, isn’t always a “vacation” in the truest sense of the word) – and on the rare occasions when we’ve done so, “escaping the cold” hasn’t really been among our priorities. As a foursome, we live for winter, and the snow in Rochester is right up our alley, so I’ve never had a longing to go somewhere warm before spring finally blooms. Even this year with our endlessly, unusually cold days, I was excited to get away, but I didn’t think I was excited to be someplace warm… until we were surrounded by the Orlando heat and humidity, deliciously blanketing us with tropical bliss, and suddenly there was nowhere else I wanted to be. WARM WARM WARM. Amen.

Our trip is now complete, and… well… I can’t quite find the words (nor the time) to adequately describe how utterly incredible it was, nor how much it meant to all of us, at least not today. And so I’ll show you a few photos instead, to give you a glimpse into pure, unadulterated joy.
















There’s lots more to say – and I will, in the coming days – but for now, these will suffice.

While we were on the trip, it was as though time stood still; every minute was both magically extended and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quick, as though we’d been transported to another dimension. We are now firmly back to reality. When we landed last night, it was 18 degrees, and we had to shovel fresh snow off the driveway this morning. Today, it feels almost as though our six-day sojourn never happened, a very bizarre space/time continuum.

But it did happen. And it was so totes amazeballs.

Just six days out of life… and they were so so SO SO SO SO ridiculously nice.

A kingdom of isolation

I love winter. There is no sarcasm involved in that statement – I truly love it. I love the white blanket that the snow drapes over every tree branch and vista, filling our world with crystalline glitter. I love the excuse to drink hot chocolate any time you feel like it, and the chance to cozy up on the couch in one of our absurdly thick, warm blankets. I love fires in the fireplace just because, I love the way fresh snow squeaks under your boots, I love velvety red scarves tucked into jackets. I love the way fresh snow smells, the crispness of your breath on a cold morning, and finding new, hot Starbucks drinks to add to my menu. I love not having to shave, not having to worry about your hair because it’s going to be smooshed under a hat anyway, not picking up dog poop for weeks at a time because it’s hidden under the snow and I can’t find it (which means no one can see it so it’s not really there, la la laaaaa), and not washing the kitchen floor, like, ever* because it’s just going to get mucked up again in three minutes.
*exaggeration. Slightly.

Love. Me. Some. Winter.

This Rochester winter is on-track snow-wise (nearly 80″ so far, on our way to our typical 100″), but in terms of temperatures, it has been SO DAMN COLD this winter. Yeah, we get snow, and I’m used to that (hell, I’m one of the weird ones who even enjoys that), but this winter’s bitter, biting cold — the cold the keeps the kids from playing outside, the cold the unexpectedly closes schools, the cold that leaves you chilled to the bone nearly all day long — has really been a challenge.

In case you’ve been wondering just how cold it is (and, oh, I know you were), Canandaigua – the lake on which my family has a house – has actually frozen over this year. Big deal, you think (sarcastically, I might add). But it is a big deal. When my grandmother, who grew up in Rochester (and who, you may recall, is nearly ninety-four) says she cannot remember a time when the lake has frozen completely over, you know that it’s a pretty crazy thing. Even without my grandma’s extensive knowledge, you’d know it’s a big deal because Canandaigua is not only long (15.5 miles) but deep — 276 feet at its deepest spot, to be exact. For that much water to freeze over, it’s got to be effin’ COLD, y’all!

Tuesday was a bit nutty at our house; Nick was finishing up a whole slew of things at work (having not been at work on Monday due to our country’s festive celebration of our Presidents’ many achievements) and the girls and I were in a manic packing frenzy to get ready to go out of town on Wednesday. (More on that later…) Still, we made a point to find time in the afternoon to pick up Phoofsy and bring her down to the lake with us so we could see this tundra-like spectacle for our selves.

To say it was otherworldly is a ridiculous understatement.

Taken at the north end of the lake, looking out over the vast expanse of white…

The wind was absolutely wild.

Couldn’t keep it  in heaven knows I’ve tried*

*if you have no idea what’s going on here, you need to see Frozen. Or at least google “Let it Go”. Fo’ real.

We then decided to attempt to venture to our house, because passing up the chance to see our own beach redone in Elsa’s magic was just not happening. I say “attempt” because our house sits at the end of a long private road, half of which is unplowed, and the last part of which is uphill. We knew it would be an adventure, but hey, if you can’t add a little adventure into your February break, what good are you?

When we got there, we discovered that there was still a good foot of packed-down snow on the road, but forged ahead anyway… until the car got stuck. We managed to back up and re-drive and inch our way forward, with Phoofsy, as usual, being an extremely good sport about our “exploring.” When we were still two houses away, it became clear that we could go no farther – but there was no way that we were going to come this close and not go down and check things out. And so, despite the snow being up to the girls’ mid-thighs at some points, we hiked the remaining distance to the house (this time, Phoofsy wisely chose to take the pass, and remained in the car).

After arriving and checking things out, the girls soon announced that they were getting awfully cold, and their cheeks were becoming really itchy – as their stellar mom, I’d forgotten to give them their antihistamines that day. Whoops. If you’re allergic to the cold, falling through the ice is probably a pretty quick way to go into anaphylaxis. So, we didn’t stay all that long… But, hot damn, am I glad we made it.


For perspective, here’s our typical summer view…
boats at night

And here… is Tuesday.

A kingdom of isola-e-tion…

frozen6 frozen5   frozen1frozen2
Here we stand, in the light of daaaaaay!

In the end, the cold did bother us anyway, so we hightailed it out of there and back up to the warm car where Phoofsy was waiting. I later learned that this was the first time in her life that she’d had the opportunity to see the lake like this, so to say that I’m glad we took her… doesn’t quite cover it.

This brutal winter’s cold may not have been good for much, but it did bring us this potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And that is pretty freakin’ cool. Literally.

A Sporting Chance

Having not grown up near any of my grandparents, living only ten minutes from my grandmother for the past six-and-a-half years has been a novel, and excellent, experience for me. It’s especially fantastic that Ella and Annie have the opportunity to grow up with their great-grandmother (whom they call Phoofsy) just around the corner. She’s been the girls’ “important person” at school Halloween parties, attended soccer games and dance recitals and swim meets, joined us for each and every birthday or holiday celebration, and has endured enjoyed countless impromptu “shows” in our living room  (“Oh, another rendition of ‘Let It Go,’ but this time you’ve got a full costume change built into the performance? Isn’t that neat!”). She even watches the girls for me every Thursday when I teach piano.

Plus, you know, there’s the lake – where Phoofsy lives from Memorial Day until Labor Day and where we spend at least half of our summer days. Annie and Ella have spent eons more time with Phoofsy since we moved here than I did in the previous thirty-plus years of my life. Which is cool in its own right, but which is really super because Phoofsy kicks ass.

There are plenty of great-grandparents who, understandably, aren’t exactly firecrackers. Not Phoofsy. She may be a few months shy of ninety-four (and she doesn’t mind that I’m sharing this with you), but she’s got a more active social life than I do. She’s played bridge online for years and has a Facebook account that she uses daily, commenting on our photos and accidentally “liking” pages that then continue to appear in her feed. (“Why do I keep seeing pictures of this Lady Gaga? She dresses very strangely…”) We used to email but now we Facetime. She also reads this blog and is okay with me calling her kick-ass. (Right, Phoof? ‘Cause you totally are.)

While all of the above is true, one of the best things about Phoofsy is that she is a tremendously good sport. She has hula hooped in our garage and downhill skied standing on the Wii board. She gamely wears Rainbow Loom bracelets to bridge and has attempted to catch broccoli in her mouth when it was flung at her by the chef at the Hibachi restaurant.  She even refused to take the pass we offered her when we played our ridiculous Lake Game last summer, and thus wound up wearing a life jacket inside the house and going all the way down to the dock – in the dark – and trying to hit the raft with a piece of shale.

And so it was no surprise, really, when she was over the other night for Nick’s birthday, took notice of the hockey gear he’d brought inside to warm it up before his game, and then proceeded to try on the various garments to see what they felt like.

It started innocently enough: “Do you really have to wear these enormous things?”
“Yes, Grandma. They protect my hands.”
good sport6
Side note: Phoofsy is always impeccably dressed
Side note two: I knew I’d have to act fast to get these photos, so I didn’t turn on the flash on my phone, meaning that they’re blurry. But that’s okay, because their bodacious awesomeness more than makes up for their poor quality.

Knowing he was already halfway there, Nick’s eyes took on an impish gleam as he suggested that, so long as she had the gloves on, she might as well wear the helmet, too.
good sport
“It just slides on like this… Oops, your glasses are in the way – no, you can’t reach them because of the gloves… Here, I’ll take ‘em off… One second, just about there…”

good sport1
Annnnd this just became one of the best moments of my life.

Weighing the success he’d had, Nick decided to press his luck even further and get really cheeky.
“But Grandma – that’s nothing. You should see what I have to wear when I play goalie!”
good sport2
“You have to hold a stick, too? AND try to catch a puck? But these are already heavy as lead!”

good sport3
“Can you believe that your dad has to wear all this? How does he even move?”

Which prompted Ella to join the fray…
good sport5
She would like you to know that it wasn’t bedtime; she was wearing her robe because she was cold. Which makes total sense, ‘cause her closet isn’t full of at least two dozen sweatshirts or anything…

And finally… the pièce de résistance… The goalie stick.
good sport4
Bring it, Oshie. She’s ready.

I loved getting together with my grandparents as a kid; each visit was eagerly anticipated and memorable. I didn’t miss living near them because I didn’t know anything different.
But I’m damn glad that my girls do know something different. We may not live near any of their grandparents, but we live near their Phoofsy, and the wonder of that cannot be understated, nor can it be fully quantified.

When we’re out and about with her and people discover that we’re her only local family, they always remark how lucky she is to have us nearby. That’s probably true; after all, we’re happy to shovel her walkway in the winter and we’re generally awesome people. But I’m always quick to point out that, really, we’re the lucky ones. It’s not everyone who has the ability to spend time with their grandmothers or great-grandmothers, and it’s exceptionally rare to spend time with one who is as good a sport as Phoofsy.

Just wait until we decide to take up skydiving. That will really be something.

Twenty-one and thirty-nine

Today marks the twenty-first consecutive year that I have celebrated Nick’s birthday with him.

That first year of college, our friends and I were determined to celebrate first thing… but we still needed to get to class. After a series of unusually large snowstorms, Connecticut was blanketed in white, so we loaded up bagels, OJ, and other accoutrements and went for a sledding breakfast at 7:30 in the morning.

nmh bday1994
Happy 19th!
This may not look impressive, but given that we all lived on campus and didn’t have cars, we must’ve put forth considerable effort into procuring the supplies necessary to make this birthday breakfast happen.

I’m sure I did something absolutely fabulous for Nick’s 25th birthday when we were out in Colorado – going to the mountains, exploring Breckenridge – but it seems to have slipped both of our minds as of right now. For his 26th, I told him we could either go to the NHL All Star Game or get a dog… He chose the latter – and we wound up with a birthday present that lasted a dozen years.

Sweet Mads shortly after coming home.

We were married shortly thereafter, and as with his 25th, I’m sure Nick and I celebrated raucously for his remaining 20-something birthdays… and then we had Eleanor.

OMG the amazing hair.

To show I hadn’t lost my mojo, I surprised Nick and flew Bill in for his 30th. (He was probably so tired from having a two month-old, he couldn’t really enjoy the visit, but hey – it’s the thought, no?!)
3generations of henrys
There was a story here involving some misplaced luggage on my behalf (who, me?), but I cannot recall it; would that Bill could remind me.

Nick’s early thirties’ birthdays were filled with the girls dressing in his favorite Wild gear… wildfordaddy
Damn cute fans.

And providing cookies with candles.
2.17 happy birthday dear daddy
Freakishly, Nick doesn’t really like cake. Or dessert. Or sweets.

For his 35th, I decided to surprise him with “thirty-five hours of celebrating,” which involved getting his boss’s approval for him to miss work…
2.16 nmh bday hat
Real men wear pink birthday crowns when their daughters surprise them at work.

… then having his friends meet us at a sports bar to watch Olympics hockey, getting a babysitter for the girls so we could go to to a hotel overnight, and checking out a local microbrewery.

nmh bday brewery

Next year, forty (holy shit, FORTY) will be epic. But this marks Nick’s final 30-something birthday, and our plans are… simpler. Yeah, we totally destroyed the sake challenge at the local Hibachi place on Saturday with the girls, but the rest of things have been decidedly low-key — coffee from a new Keurig machine, shows on a new Apple TV, homemade gifts from Ella and Annie, lunch at a new burger joint, and having my grandmother over for dinner.

But that’s okay (right, babe? Nick? Bueller?). After twenty years of celebrating, sometimes it’s good to just sit back a bit and enjoy life right in front of us. Plus also, we’re going on a Disney Cruise in four days (omg omg omg!), so it’s not like we don’t have some excitement on the horizon.

Besides… It’s not so much the birthdays that matter, but the stuff that happens in between – and our in betweens have been pretty damn fantastic. Happy Birthday to the man I adore, the one who’s made twenty-plus years the best imaginable. I can’t wait to celebrate twenty-one more with you, babe. xoxo

birthday beard
Celebrating last year with his bearded hat and a Charleston hooker.
For real. 


No celebrating? No problem.

Nick and I stopped “doing” Valentine’s Day years ago. Actually, I’m not sure that we ever “did” it (although I do give him Valentine’s Day-themed boxers every year; I’m romantic like that) because Nick has always maintained that it’s a silly holiday drummed up to make money and “you should show someone you love them all the other days of the year, not just Valentine’s Day.”

Okay. I get his point. I mean, I was all girl-silent angry over it for a few years (“No, really, it’s FINE… Yes, I’m sure… Wait, you didn’t get me anything? WTF?”) but I’ve gotten over it. Really. For one thing, it’s been twenty years (OMG), so I’m either holding the world’s most fabulous grudge, or I’ve moved beyond. Also, once we had children, I had other ways to channel my Valentine’s Day energies.

(And, to be fair, Nick really does do a pretty good job of holding up to his end of the bargain. The girls get little tokens from every business trip he takes, and flowers will magically show up at the door if I’m having a bad day. He routinely buys stuff for us “just because” [occasionally to my chagrin – *cough* $40 Swatch watches five days after Christmas *cough*] and takes each of the girls out regularly for special Daddy-daughter dates. Our own dates are pretty good, too. So, he really does walk the walk.)

It’s not Valentine’s Day itself that is such a big deal; it’s any excuse to celebrate. I am all about taking anything and turning it into something more than just ordinary, not for any greater purpose (and certainly not to achieve some sort of goal or be Super Mom; if you’ve seen the coating of dust on all of the furniture, the Karo syrup that spilled in the cupboard at least two months ago but I was too lazy to clean so now it’s hardened into a half-inch layer of shellac, the boots my daughter wore to school this week that were DUCT TAPED together, or the rug in our living room that is literally threadbare, you know that I’m not Super at all that much). No, I simply do it because it’s fun. FUN!!

First day of school? Par-tay! Last day of school? Fiesta! St. Patrick’s Day? Let’s do a leprechaun-themed treasure hunt! Mardi Gras? Time to make beignets! April Fool’s Day? Better watch your step. Cinco de Mayo? Bring on the Mexican food! If I could think of a way to make Arbor Day more fun, you can damn well believe I would.

Life is just too freakin’ short not to find moments to celebrate, to break up the everyday activities, to be silly and make something special.

So I’m not at all upset that Nick and I don’t “do” Valentine’s Day… because I get to do these instead:

The hearts are hung up after the girls have gone to sleep on the 13th, so it’s all VALENTINE’S WORLD when they wake up.

Nick gets tired of bumping into these pretty much the moment that I hang them, but I think they’re fun. I don’t mind not getting chocolates so long as I can hang shit from the door frames – fair compromise, no?

Lunch. With hearts. And lots of red food.

No, the photo isn’t discolored; the pancakes are pink.
And I made them last night and then nuked them this morning. I don’t have that kind of time before work, people. 

But I do have time for this, because it took maaaaybe three minutes. 
Such is life when you spent two years addicted to hair blogs.

What I did not have to do this year were the girls’ valentines. (Grammar tidbit of the day: it only has an apostrophe when it’s Valentine’s Day, as in the day belonging to St. Valentine. And it’s only capitalized when it’s a proper noun; the cards the kids bring home from school in droves are simply valentines. Just learned that last night myself; you’re welcome.) For the past several years, Ella and Annie have elected to send their classmates photo cards, meaning that I take photos of them, design the cards in Photoshop, print ’em out, and get ’em ready for the girls to sign.

annie valentine card1
A mini Snickers was taped to her hands…

ella valentine card1
 She gave these along with Pop Rocks…

vday card a1_1 vday card back a
Yup. Taped a Hershey’s Kiss to her hand.

vday card back e vday card e1b
Ella wrote her classmate’s names on the hearts.
Never mind that she looks naked.

vday card front avday card front e2
Looks like I’ve had a thing for those decorative hearts fonts for a loooong time…

vday card front
I had to literally throw them into the center of the heart in order not to trample it, but whatever. It was done in the name of the art, man.

But this year? They wanted to do it ALL. And so, despite practically having to tie my hands down to keep from interfering, I let them… from Photoshopping their cards to cutting them out to attaching (and, in Ella’s case, making) the various accoutrements to stuffing them in their classmates’ bags.
Are they just how I’d have designed them? Nope.

They’re better.

annie's valentine 2014
Her Photoshopped card…

annie's valentine
The final product that made its way into her friends’ valentine bags.

ella's valentine2 2014
That’s still only some of the Rainbow Loom stuff she has lying around…

ella's valentine2 ella's valentine
 The actual finished cards, front and back.

Tonight, we’ll have a dinner that we *love* (get it? SO CLEVER) and either watch the Olympics or Despicable Me 2 (the only real gift I’m giving to the girls) and even though it won’t be romantic, it will be filled with fun and joy and love.

And chocolate. We have chocolate cupcakes. Don’t worry.

Flashback Friday: I can’t resist including this photo taken for Annie’s first Valentine’s Day, where I didn’t realize until after I’d uploaded it that Ella’s pigtail makes it look like Annie’s wearing a bodacious wig.

vday hair

p.s. You can bet your butt I’m putting this on my Pinterest page. I can’t begin to come up with any of these ideas on my own, so if this helps anyone else not to have to reinvent the wheel, let’s do it. I’m a giver.

Guess I should’ve just walked to the mailbox

Before Ella was born, and despite the bazillions of books on babies that I’d read, I felt really alone and clueless. Enter the December 2004 message board on one of the popular All About Baby websites (specifically established for moms, like me, of babies born in that month – I thought I’d state the obvious for you).

Even though I wasn’t (and am still not) a message board person, I soon became a regular poster there. Because I didn’t personally know any other moms with December ’04 babies (and I didn’t want to be phoning my pediatrician every twenty minutes), the women there became my sounding board, my reference library, my dear friends, and my lifeline. They were able to answer my every question – Is your baby’s hair totally businessing in the front and partying in the back, but also with a bald spot? How do you put your baby down for a nap without having to dance a two-step? What flavor Gerber Puffs do you prefer (yes, I assume you’ve eaten them… and tried the formula. And probably the breast milk)? Amazingly, they were genuinely interested in the minute details of babydom that even Nick tired of quickly. She reached for an object today! She is droolier than usual! I can snap a onesie using only one hand!

We shared everything with one another… and I do mean everything. I can tell you more about these ladies’ living room furniture, bra sizes, and candy preferences (Reese’s versus Hot Tamales is a very real rivalry) than I can about many of the women I know “in real life.” Nine years and countless birthdays, weddings, separations, deaths, and the birth of many other children later, I consider approximately twenty of these ladies to be extremely close friends – but now we talk to one another on Facebook.

Last week, one of these Dec04 mamas asked if anyone was interested in exchanging valentines – just one, not to the whole group, like a Secret Santa except Secret Cupid (and except it wasn’t a secret). It sounded like fun so I agreed – certainly Ella and Annie could put together a valentine and I could pop it in the mail; all we had to do was get an envelope in the mail on Monday, Tuesday at the latest.

Naturally, as Monday night rolled around, I realized that I’d completely forgotten about said valentine… and if I wanted the girls to actually contribute (which I did), they’d have to do their part after school on Tuesday, meaning our envelope wouldn’t get into the mail until Wednesday.

I am such a good friend!!

After the girls finished their contributions, including several Rainbow Loom bracelets, I decided that a plain envelope wouldn’t do – I’d need to use something larger. I also decided that this called for Priority mailing, which promised a Valentine’s Day delivery; score! I printed out the postage at home and sealed everything up. All I had to do was put the package in the mailbox yesterday morning.

It seemed chilly yesterday when I loaded up my bags to head to school, but I didn’t think too much of it; this winter has been so bizarrely cold, it’s all starting to blend together. I let the car warm up a bit, and then, after backing down the driveway, I rolled down my window to put the package in the mailbox… but when I attempted to roll the window back up again, it wouldn’t budge.

Frozen. Solid.
And frozen open.

As the cold began to seep inside, I glanced at the dashboard and noticed the temperature: five below.

stuck window3
The car is in Drive but I was stopped, promise.

There was nothing I could do about it – I had to get to work, like, now. I couldn’t warm the car up anywhere. I couldn’t trade cars with Nick. I just had to go. OH GOODIE. And so I did, window down, heat blasting, looking like an absolute moron with my window all the way open when it was five degrees below zero.

Now, you might wonder why the car was parked outside to begin with, given that we have a lovely two-car garage… And that is because, over the weekend, the cable on my garage door broke, sending the door crashing to the ground and rendering it unusable – so I couldn’t park my car inside and had to leave it on the driveway instead.

Yes, I see the irony in the fact that my window was stuck open because the garage door was stuck closed.

Thankfully, I had loads of cold-weather gear in the car, so I was able to don a hat, scarf, and gloves to protect me against the gale that was rushing in through the wide-open window. If it was five below without the windchill, do you know how cold it was with forty mph gusts blasting into the car? EFFING FREEZING, LET ME TELL YOU. Even with the heat pouring in at its highest temperature, it was like standing outside in a snowless blizzard while trying to use the hairdryer.

stuck window1
Don’t mind me… just admiring the view… La la laaaaa….

Thinking that, eventually, the full-blast heat would melt the frozenness of the door and the window would unstick and roll up again, I kept one hand on the wheel and one firmly on the window’s up button (I had to keep trading hands because the one at the window risked frostbite after about twenty seconds). I also thought that perhaps I could somehow rattle the window out of its frozen grasp, so at every stop sign or light I would pound furiously on the door and then open and close it as firmly as I could.

Yep. Opening the door at a stop sign. And pounding on it. WITH THE WINDOW OPEN IN NEGATIVE FIVE DEGREE WEATHER. I’m sure that didn’t look weird at all to the drivers in the cars behind me.

After a few minutes, the window did start to move… approximately one inch. And that is how it sat for the remainder of my drive to work.

stuck window
Hello, sir. Why, yes, my window is open on this chilly February morning. How are you today?

By the time I arrived, my hands and feet were so cold, I had to pry them open in order to gather my belongings and hobble into the building. There was no way I could operate the remote lock on my key fob without removing my gloves – which was not going to happen – but hey! It didn’t matter anyway, because THE WINDOW WAS WIDE OPEN. See anything you like? Then come on over! Help yourselves! Just don’t try to crawl in and warm yourself up because I can promise you it is NOT WARM inside the car.

I’d worried that I’d have to engage in some crazy mechanics to get the window operating again, but miraculously, after it sat in the sun for four hours (and the ambient temperature warmed up to a balmy 17 degrees), it unfroze and just rolled right back up, almost like it was mocking me. Oh – were you cold this morning? PSYCH!

The important thing is that I got the valentine in the mail. Sure, if I’d remembered sooner, none of this might have happened… but then I wouldn’t have this endearing story to share, would I? And I also wouldn’t be me. So, there’s that.

As always, we Dec04 mamas pull through for one another, even if it means freezing to death on our way to work. It’s all good, though; I know they’d do the same for me.

It’s been a (very) sweet trip

I came by my love of recorded media – movies, television, music – honestly. My great-grandfather, whose stage name was Colonel Stoopnagle, was something of a radio star back in the 1930s. He considered himself a wordsmith, and often did bits (and wrote books) showcasing the cleverness of the English language.

He also did print ads, like this (copy of) one that hangs in our bathroom. I’d like to think he would have gotten a kick out of looking over us on the loo. I imagine he also got a kick out of the apostrophe erroneously place in the word PROs; oh, the irony.

Stoopnagle’s son – my grandfather – spent his working career with a local Rochester television affiliate. A tinkerer who couldn’t stand to sit idle, he built a television set for the family (including my mom) in the days before you could easily go out and buy one. As I understand it, there wasn’t much to watch on said television, but hey – they were ready when things changed.

My mother, a theater major in college, loved all recorded media, and she shared that love with my brother and me. Her record collection was (is?) extensive, and although I know we had a car that played eight-tracks, the memory is distant, because we always ventured into new media technology as soon as it became available. When I was in the third grade, my mom picked up a friend and me from school (I was having the friend over – back then, there was no such thing as a “play date;” friends just “came over”), and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was playing from the stereo. Impressed (rock on, Mom!), I told her that I loved that song… and POP! she ejected the brand new “Thriller” cassette from the player on the dashboard. How funky and strong is my fight now?!

Similarly, while I imagine that we must have had Beta tapes, I don’t have specific memories of them because as soon as VHS became available, we were in. Not just for playing, either – for recording, too… except that independent hand-held VHS video cameras hadn’t come into play yet (although, the moment they did, you can bet we had them) – you had to tether the video camera to the VCR in order to record. For movies taken, say, in the living room where the television was, this wasn’t so bad. The recordings were live-streamed to the TV, which meant that our home movies feature the profiles of all of the video participants (i.e. me, my brother, our unwitting friends who’d come over for a birthday celebration) because we were enthralled with seeing ourselves on the TV screen – looking toward the camera was so not fun – but they were relatively easy to do, technically speaking. For anything more than, like, twenty feet from the TV, however, my dad would strap the VCR to his shoulder – yes, really, the entire VCR machine – and follow us around, video camera in-hand, tethered to the recorder.

Those were the days.

Having just one VCR was lovely – and I think, for a little while, that’s what we did – but it was limiting; all you could do was record from a single source and put it right on the tape. It didn’t take long, then, for us to acquire two VCRs, and for my mom to put them to good use. Sure, you could record things from two different televisions at the same time (which my mom continued to do right up until DVDs became the rage; more than once, I remember calling her from college – frantic – and asking her to please tape a crucial episode of Friends for me). But, more importantly, you could record from one VHS tape to another.

This was handy for creating home movies. No longer did we have to save entire school plays when all that my parents really wanted were the thirty seconds that my brother and I were visible from behind the towering third-graders; instead, the play was recorded onto one VHS tape and then – through the magic of more tethering – the crucial thirty seconds were recorded onto a second VHS tape. In this way, we were able to winnow down entire years’ worth of footage into bite-sized clips.

What I really remember, though, are the collections of show tunes that my mom culled together. I grew up in the era of mix tapes, but I think my mother may have invented the mix VHS. She would record a favorite movie musical off of the TV – The Wizard of Oz, perhaps, or Singin’ in the Rain – and then transfer just a snippet, maybe “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or “Make ‘Em Laugh”, onto another VHS tape, so that it contained clip after clip after clip of her most beloved songs and dances.

It wasn’t just movies, either. Any time there was music on the TV that was worthy of watching again, from songs performed at the Tony Awards to orchestral selections from Fourth of July celebrations (complete with fireworks) to bits and pieces from talk shows or even commercials, it went on the mix VHS collections. And this is how I so vividly remember Shirley Temple being a part of our lives.

I was introduced to Shirley so long ago that I don’t remember life without her; she came into our living room, beaming her dimpled smile at us and boing-ing her perfect curls, and dancing – oh, the dancing! – up a storm. She was adorable and sweet, sure, but it was really the dancing that had me hooked. How was it possible for someone that tiny to tap dance like that? I was in awe.

We watched her movies (which my mom had recorded from the TV onto VHS tapes) – The Little Colonel, Heidi, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, The Littlest Rebel, Captain January, Poor Little Rich Girl, The Blue Bird – and I loved them… but I was more interested in seeing the musical numbers – which was convenient, because my mom had them cued up on her VHS mixes.

Shirley Temple was just so stinkin’ fabulous, wasn’t she? Admonishing the kids in “Animal Crackers in my Soup” or bopping along the train in “On the Good Ship Lollipop”. She was charming and cute, an exuberantly dynamite little powerhouse who held her own against her adult co-stars. They held their own against her, too, simultaneously talking to her like a child (because, um, she was one) and treating her as their equal, undoubtedly fully aware that this ringleted moppet was the real reason so many people would flock to the theater.

I could have watched for hours (and probably did) as Shirley swished alongside Buddy Ebson in “At the Codfish Ball”, nimbly hopping on and off wooden crates while, you know, tap dancing – but not cutesy kid tap dancing, where you go Awwww, she’s pretty good for her age! but real tap dancing, where you go, DAMN! She holds her own against other hoofers! My very favorite, though, was whenever she would dance with Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a man for whom a special place is reserved in the tap dancing pantheon. Here was this little – and I mean little, like seven year-old – girl, dancing brilliantly alongside a seasoned veteran… who happened to be Black. Yes, he played stereotypical roles for a Black man in the 1930s (in this case, most often a butler for white folks), but Shirley and Bojangles broke that color barrier (as the first white female and black male to dance onscreen together, fo’ real) and it was awesome.

Just try to watch the two of them dance up the stairs and not smile. No, really. Try it.

shirley and bojangles
I found this at this site and, even though it’s not from a movie set, I love it. Actually, I think I love it more because it’s not from a movie set – they’re just buds.

As soon as my girls were old enough (by which I mean as soon as they could sit still and watch a television screen for ten minutes at a clip… which, for Annie, was around 4 months old; that’s what having an older sister will do for you), I began introducing them to Shirley Temple’s songs and dances – only this time, we used the modern-day version of my mom’s old VHS mixes: YouTube. I’d plug in the song that was in my head and up would pop a clip, instantly available, for the girls and me to enjoy and laugh and gasp about, just as I did sitting beside my mom on the living room couch while the VCR whirred away.

True to my mother and my grandfather and my great-grandfather, we have embraced technology, especially when it comes to recorded media. While I am far from a fan of all modern technology, and while Nick and I impose pretty strict screen time limits, I will forever be grateful to the likes of YouTube for enabling me to share those bits of my childhood, of my own story, with Ella and Annie. Heck, I can even show them clips of Colonel Stoopnagle on Youtube – which is pretty damn incredible, if you ask me.

Which you didn’t. But I’m telling you anyway.

I was really bummed to learn of Shirley Temple’s passing today… but her legacy will live on. For one thing, my children (and my cousins – howdy, Andrew and Brian!) are unlikely to stop ordering ginger ale and grenadine any time soon, so Shirley is here to stay. For another, Annie’s perpetual washing-of-her-face using only her forefingers a la the song “Early Bird” from Captain January makes me wring my hands each time I see it.

(Seriously, this part of the song has bugged me since I was a kid. STILL DIRTY!)

And, of course, we have Shirley’s body of work to entertain, enthrall, and enlighten us from now until, well, forever. I plan to purchase some of her movies on DVD to show the girls (in addition to the couple that I already own, courtesy of my mom, naturally), but in the meantime, YouTube clips will happily tide us over. She is a part of our lives, ingrained, woven in, and I can’t imagine it any other way.

As the girls came home from school, I was in the middle of writing this and had the various YouTube clips playing so that I could link to them properly. Without even being in the room, Ella heard three bars of “At the Codfish Ball” and said, “Is that Shirley Temple?” Yes, honey. It is. She made our lives richer and more colorful, and I’m sad that she’s gone – but I can’t wait to watch her with you tonight.

Nor can I wait to see how you share her with your own children; it’s in your genes – I know you will. And they will laugh and roll their eyes at the thought of us using something as antiquated as YouTube to watch her – but I’m good with that, because I know that I’ll have embraced that kind of media, too. Right after my mom does.

The day Bob Costas ruined my daughters’ childhood innocence

I’m absolutely not ashamed to admit it: we loooove us some Olympics. Summer, winter, doesn’t matter – the pageantry, the history, the amazing feats of athleticism, the sappy TV-produced backstories – I love every single bit. I’ll cheer both the underdog and the world record-setter; I’ll cry over the heartbreak and the triumph; I’ll avoid online updates so that I can watch the events on TV. Just hearing the Olympic theme (actually titled “Bugler’s Dream,” which I am so totally teaching my students about) brings goosebumps – which, while overdramatic, is not an exaggeration.

For two magical weeks, the world comes together* and laughs and cries and cheers its ass off, and it is Nick’s and my absolute most favoritest thing.

* unless they’re being boycotted, and then we don’t come together, and it sucks. But I digress.

* true story: my dad and stepmom’s sister-in-law (married to my stepmom’s brother) is a crazy-amazing, world record-holding swimmer who was favored to win gold in, like, six events at the ’80 Moscow Games… but then the US boycotted the Games and she, along with all of our athletes, got totally screwed. She did, however, win a silver medal at the ’84 Games in Los Angeles. She regularly sends Annie and Ella her daughter’s hand-me-downs, and they think that wearing clothing that was touched by the same hands that have held an Olympic silver medal is maybe the coolest thing ever. But I digress more.

At age two, Ella couldn’t exactly understand the 2006 Winter Games (Annie, at two months old, probably took in even less, but perhaps my own new-baby brain fog is clouding my memory). I seem to remember them tumbling about the living room emulating the gymnasts during the 2008 Summer Games, but it wasn’t until the winter of 2010 that they really got the Olympics – or, at least, they got that their Mommy and Daddy were batshit excited over something on the television.

Watching the opening ceremonies is akin to the Super Bowl or the Oscars ’round these here parts, and I vividly remember tucking in with the girls for the Vancouver celebrations. For reasons that escape my memory, Nick was out of town, so it was just the girls and me. The coverage began at 8 p.m., which was at or past the girls’ bedtime, but I reasoned that this was such a special occasion, it warranted the privilege of staying up late. I anticipated that Bob Costas would welcome us, his eager audience, to the games – and then, after a few pomp and circumstance montages (during which I would cry), we’d be whisked away to the start of the ceremonies. I figured, if I let the girls stay up until, say, 9 p.m., they’d be able to catch some of the pageantry.

As the broadcast began, we piled into the reclining chair, all three of us, so that I could keep them close and explain the fantastic things they were about to behold. There was Bob – just like I’d imagined! – welcoming us to the Games; surely the ceremonies were only minutes away. THE EXCITEMENT!!!

2.28 usa hockey
What? Don’t you wear bathing suits in the dead of winter to avoid getting paint on your clothing when you make a bigger-than-you GO USA poster?

But then, without warning or preamble, the tone of the broadcast shifted dramatically. I was mid-sentence, likely doling out some Canadian history tidbit or maybe explaining (for the 37th time) what the Olympic rings symbolized, so I didn’t really register what Bob was telling us… Something about an accident… A practice run… The tragic death of a luger from Georgia (near Russia, not near Florida)…

It was the word “death” or “died” that suddenly piqued the girls’ interest, and they turned toward the television screen to see what had happened. I was still trying to process what Bob was calmly explaining, like a doctor giving an expectant family bad news in the waiting room. Someone died? Is that what Bob just said? A luger? Is that the technical term for someone who does the luge – luger? When did this – wait, did someone die? I thought we would be seeing the opening ceremonies by now…

… when BAM!, my processing was interrupted by video footage of the poor Georgian luger hurtling down the luge track… then flying off the track (leaving his lonely sled behind)… and then, horribly, smacking into an unpadded metal pole, after which he lay crumpled on the ground, surrounded almost immediately by paramedics and spectators.

Okay. Hold the phone.
Did we seriously just watch someone die on national television? When we were supposed to be seeing the opening ceremonies of the damn Olympics? Instead, we just watched someone die right before our eyes? AND THEY DIDN’T EVEN WARN US to maybe, I don’t know, look away or even just be prepared, because you are about to watch another human being die???

Horrified at what had just unfolded before us, I tore my eyes away from the screen, hoping, by some miracle, that Ella and Annie had not really been paying attention… and found them literally – almost comically – open-mouthed, staring mutely at the television. Turning back to the TV, Bob was now showing us photos of this athlete in happier times, then photos – closeups – of him lying in a heap beside the track. Is that – oh my God, is that blood on his forehead?

“Mommy? What happened to that man?”

“Why did he get hurt?”

“Is he dead right there?”

“But you said that there would be singing and dancing!”

Before I could answer their barrage of questions, NBC was airing the video again! There he was, racing down the track… Oops, there he goes, off to the side… SMACK!, now he’s down…

There was no avoiding their questions; it’s not like I could pretend that they hadn’t seen what they’d just seen, because there we all were, gaping intently at the television, poised with excitement and rapt with attention. And there was Bob, telling us exactly what had happened (so there was no possibility for doubt), and there was the video. Again. AND AGAIN.

I reasoned that, surely, the coverage of this terribly sad and unfortunate event would dim and we’d be seeing the opening ceremonies any moment now… but no. LUGE LUGE LUGE. By the third showing of the accident, I knew enough to place my hands strategically over the girls’ eyes so they wouldn’t have to witness the horror anymore (which, don’t get me wrong, was indeed awful and undoubtedly newsworthy… just maybe not so much in primetime when we were expecting prancing maple leaves and festive mounties). I answered their questions as calmly as I could – physically turning them toward me so they couldn’t see the TV screen – and then began talking up other parts of the Games.

And there will be skating! And hockey! And something called snowboarding with a guy who has wild red hair! Did you know that there’s a crazy event where you ski and then shoot a gun? Should I be talking about guns? WHY NOT – WE JUST WATCHED SOME GUY DIE! The Olympics are so much fun!! LA LA LAAAAA!!!!

usa hockey
The artists hard at work…

As nine o’clock rolled around (yes, we kept “watching” because I reasoned that they would switch over ANY TIME NOW), we still hadn’t seen any of the opening ceremonies, but I promised the girls that I was recording the broadcast and, tomorrow, I would show them the highlights. They could not wait, let me tell you.

Eventually, the ceremonies did start, and I watched the coverage for the rest of the night. At least once an hour, there would be a break so that Bob could tell us again about the death of the luger – but I noticed, by the fourth or fifth announcement, that NBC had changed their presentation somewhat. “Be forewarned – the footage we’re about to show you may be graphic for some viewers. Children are advised not to watch.”

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who was bummed that her three and five year-olds had spent a cheerful family evening gathered around the television set to watch someone die.
Also, apparently NBC pays attention to Twitter and Facebook feedback.


By the following day, NBC had shifted its coverage entirely; they no longer showed video footage of the accident, and Bob even apologized for terrorizing us the night before. All well and good… but too little too late, Peacock. Are none of your producers parents? Or even just human beings? It’s the OLYMPICS, for crying out loud. THE OPENING CEREMONIES, not something potentially dangerous like slalom skiing or speed skating or, heck, even figure skating (okay, so a lot of the Olympics features potentially dangerous events, but I digress yet again). The most “dangerous” coverage we were preparing for that night were Proctor and Gamble commercials of mothers hugging their wee ones after falling on the ice rink. Instead, we got Evel Knievel meets CSI. MY CHILDREN CAN NEVER UNSEE THAT.

Or, at least I thought they could never unsee it. Like all good Olympics-loving families, we have been talking up the 2014 Games for several weeks now. In one of our recent discussions, I was reliving my incredulity over the 2010 “opening ceremonies” – laughing at what a horrifying gong show it had been, complete with lunging to cover the girls’ eyes – when it dawned on me that, four years later, they likely didn’t even remember it. A lot has happened since then; certainly they’d forgotten.

And so I asked: Do you actually remember any of that?

They were quiet for a moment, deep in thought, and then…

“No. I’m not sure that I do remember.”

YES. Childhood innocence restored!

“But wait… I think maybe I do remember it…”

“Were we all on the black chair together?”

“Was that the time with that guy on the little sled?”

“Weren’t we all cuddled together watching TV? Except Daddy wasn’t there?”

“And that guy fell off his sled?”

“And then he hit that thing? Wasn’t he bleeding?”

“Yeah. He was lying on the ground.”

“And then he died. We watched him die.”


You might think this would have turned us off from Olympics-watching, but no. Oh, no no no. We are still rabidly pro-Olympics. And although we may be gluttons for punishment, we will absolutely be watching the Sochi opening ceremonies tonight. The girls’ bedtime is later now, so Nick and I are confident that, no matter how much air time is devoted to stories about terrorism threats and diverted planes and stray dogs and unfinished hotel rooms, they will still see at least part of the actual festivities.

And don’t worry, Bob. We’re still tight. Even with your unfortunate eye incident last night (yes, of course we were watching), we still adore you. You can tell us about someone’s death anytime.

But when you do, if you could just warn us a little, that would be great. Or at least sandwich it between sappy stories that will make me cry happy tears.

I’m hearing the theme in my head as I write this, which means I’m typing with goosebumps on my arms. But I don’t care – the Olympics are worth it.

ech 8 of 52 go usa

I’m a lover, and I’m a sinner…

I heard her in the hall as she shuffled quietly, calmly, demonstrating no concern over what was about to happen. “Mama?” Her voice was even, sweet. “My tummy hurts. I think I need to throw up.”

It was 1:30 a.m. – I should have been asleep – but even in my exhausted stupor, I knew that standing around chatting about vomiting was probably a bad idea, so I ushered Annie to the bathroom just in time for her to empty her dinner into the toilet.

After getting cleaned up, she seemed no worse for wear, so off to bed she went, tucked in with wishes of sweet dreams and hope your tummy feels better, before I returned to my own bed and stage-whispered to Nick, “Shit! What are we going to do??”

This was completely new for us –  not the sick kid, not the puking in the middle of the night – but what to do the following morning. Since Annie’s birth, I have always been the one to stay home with the girls when they’re not feeling well. (Given that I don’t have to take a sick or vacation day to do so, nor do I have to shuffle my schedule to work from home, it just makes sense that I’d be the nursemaid.)

We can’t call on help, either; with no family close by who can watch a kiddo with a low-grade fever or a tummy ache (save for my fabulous grandma – who, at 93, I’m not willing to expose unnecessarily to kid-germs), it falls to Nick or me (in this case… me) to cancel appointments or rejigger things in order to sit by a sick one’s side. Thankfully, my piano students’ families have been tremendously understanding of my occasional need to cancel lessons for an ailing daughter. Part of that may have to do with them not wanting me to sit right next to their offspring for thirty minutes with plague germs emanating from my sweater, but still. They’re really good about it.

These days, though, taking care of sick children isn’t quite that easy. Last Tuesday, I started an 11-week, long-term subbing job as a middle school General Music teacher (oh yes, I did. HOLLA!), and so for the first time in seven years, I felt an unfamiliar terror grip me as I slid back into bed: OMG, will I have to miss work? Who would cover for me? Who do I even call in order to get a sub? Wait… is that funny? A sub for the sub? I haven’t even been there long enough to leave a set of emergency lesson plans behind…

Nick would normally have immediately offered to watch Annie, but – Murphy’s law – one of the “big bosses” was in town and there was a very important lunch meeting that he absolutely could not miss. We entertained several possibilities other than my just staying home all day… Perhaps I could go in for the first few periods and then ask someone to cover for me so I could cover for Nick? Perhaps a neighbor could watch her for a short while? Each seemed less appealing than the last.

And so I did the only thing I thought made sense: I crossed my fingers and prayed fervently that Annie would be fine in the morning. Annnnd, thusly, I committed Cardinal School Parent Sin #1: Contemplating the possibility of sending your child to school within twenty-four hours of vomiting, despite the very clear school rule prohibiting such activity.

But… you see… I had excuses. Or, perhaps better, I had explanations. After dinner, I had discovered that the brand new shredded mozzarella I’d included in that night’s baked pasta was covered with mold. A quick 10 p.m. Google search confirmed that it was entirely possible for moldy mozzarella to make people sick to their stomachs… So, perhaps that was what was wrong with Annie.

Translation: she wasn’t contagious, so there was no reason not to send her to school, despite vomiting.

Translation #2: I freaked out about missing work on only my third day, so I was willing to do almost anything to avoid such a possibility.

Because I am awesome like that.

I was still slogging through my thoughts, nearly incoherent, when Annie appeared – silently – at our bedroom door a little after three a.m. “Mama? I just threw up in my bed.”

Much like Uh oh! or It’s even bigger than I thought! or Promise you won’t be mad!, the words I just threw up in my bed will startle even the heartiest, been-there-done-that of parents. Prying my stinging eyes open, I immediately sprang to action (after waking Nick for some help), changing sheets, offering a toothbrush and a glass of water, and once more tucking Annie back into her bed.

You might think that this second bout would cause me to rethink my earlier stance on possibly sending her to school, but no. She had puked up the rest of the pasta, which clearly indicated that it – the moldy mozzarella – was the source of her trouble. Smart little tummy for getting rid of the offending junk! She had no fever. She said she felt fine. Surely, she could go to school.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #2: Continuing to consider sending your child to school after she has vomited not once but twice.

Come the morning, Annie, indeed, felt fine. Her temperature was normal. Her appetite was solid. She was energetic, despite the lack of sleep. Plus, earlier in the year, Ella had been sent home early from school (on her birthday, no less!) because she’d vomited once in class, which subsequently caused her to miss all of the next day of school… and, turned out, that one little blip was her only hint of illness; she was completely fine otherwise. Although I understand – and agree with – the school’s policy, I was bummed that Ella had had to stay home from school, completely healthy… and so I reasoned that Annie would be equally okay.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #3: Actually sending your child to school after she has vomited twice because you think she’s okay, even though you know the policy prohibits such behavior.

One of the best things about my new (temporary) job is that my schedule is an 0.6, meaning I teach three classes and a study hall and I have to be at school from 8:48 – 11:40 a.m.. Three hours! That’s it! And then the afternoon is mine! Most days, I stay after school for a quite a while because teaching is not exactly a punch-your-time-card kind of job, but that Thursday, there was a class at the Y I wanted to attend. I’d carefully chosen my outfit that morning – black yoga pants, black tank top, cute (long) sweater and scarf – so that it would look professional with black boots… but then I could pull a Superman, throw on some sneakers, whip off the sweater, and be ready to work out.

I am so clever like that.

I left school immediately following teaching and arrived at the Y with a few minutes to spare. Even though I was running on, oh, about three hours of sleep, I managed to feel like an exceptional badass. I am so on top of things. I can change my clothes on the fly. I can work out AND teach. I. am. AWESOME.

It wasn’t until I accidentally touched the screen of my iPhone (yes, I keep it nearby when I work out; I’m addicted weird) that I discovered I had a voicemail, left fifteen minutes ago. From the school. Or, more specifically, from the school nurse… Who was calling to tell me that Annie was really not feeling well, and would I please come get her.

Cardinal School Parent Sin #4: Having to admit your asshattery and pick up your sick child.

In the blink of an eye, Nick and I had become those parents: the ones who put their own agendas before the school’s. The ones who decide that they are better arbiters of school rules than the school officials. The ones who are struggling with everything in them to figure out how to honor their own job commitments while simultaneously doing right by their children and their children’s classmates.

In short: we become the parents we have long criticized, the ones we bitch about on Facebook or over coffee. And, man, was that a slap in the face.

But it was a weird kind of slap – like a fake stage one, maybe – because, although it stung, both sides of the argument suddenly became crystal clear. Do the rules exist for a reason? Sure. Did we push it by sending Annie? Yes. Should we have kept her home? In hindsight, yes. But, in a nearly identical situation, Ella absolutely did not – medically – need to remain home that second day… And so the doubt, understandably, crept in.

Although the rules do exist for a reason – a good one, at that – they can also be difficult to follow. It’s awfully easy to complain about a parent who sends their feverish kid to school so that she can go to work; after all, it’s “just” work. Our children always come first, right? What about their classmates’ well-being? Since when are your wants and needs more important than everyone else’s? Just keep them home, damn it.

And yet… It wasn’t that easy. It just wasn’t. I knew my students – my brand new students – had no lesson plans awaiting them, and I had no idea what would be done with them that day, especially at the last minute. It’s just one day, you’ll argue, and I agree… but this one day, this early on, was one I wanted to be there for. I had just started my job; I wanted to make a good impression on my superiors. I wanted to be a team player. I wanted to continue to establish a good relationship with my students. I also knew that Nick was going to be out of town all this week… and so, if one of the girls became sick or there was an emergency, there would be no choice but for me to stay home. Doing so on my third day of work just seemed… not okay.

Nick and I also, of course, wanted to do the right thing by Annie. In that moment, the right thing seemed to be sending her to school. Yeah, so we made the wrong choice; but it was not a choice that was made quickly, callously, or without a lot of consideration.

I’ll be honest: Do I feel bad about sending Annie to school? Yes. She wound up feeling icky (although she felt otherwise that morning), and I’m sad for her that she was at school feeling gross. I also feel guilty about breaking the school rule, given what transpired. Ahhh… but that’s the rub, isn’t it… Given what transpired. Because, faced with a similar situation – a kid who’d been briefly ill but rallied and did not seem remotely contagious –  I’d do it again.

Yep. I said it. Would I keep her home when she was obviously sick? Feverish? Sore tummy? Vomiting or diarrhea? Absolutely. But if she felt great and exhibited no current signs of illness and I had a super-pressing reason for going to work? I would. I’d send her to school.

It’s only been eight days since I started my new job, but that has been the hardest part: the balance. Some of it is logistical balance – prepping for things the night before, finding time to do my lesson plans, getting the girls off to school in the morning before I head my way, navigating the ins and outs of our schedules with Nick – but the bulk of it is mental and emotional. How much time can I spend researching beat versus rhythm lesson ideas before the girls start to feel that I’m ignoring them? Can I still fix their hair and make it to school with enough time to run copies and organize my classroom? Should these “free” thirty minutes be spent watching my kids put on a Frozen medley (for the 835th time) or making sure I’ve graded the assessments for my other kids?

Which explains why I was still awake at 1:30 a.m. last Wednesday. (Okay, I guess it was technically Thursday. But it felt a lot like Wednesday.)

Don’t get me wrong… I’m loving this. The job is absolutely perfect for me, and I truly don’t think I could have found a more supportive school, district, and staff. The students are hard-working, respectful, and genuinely kind – even though, at age thirteen, this should practically be an oxymoron. I’m being challenged mentally in a way I haven’t in… well… seven years, and it’s fantastic. I’ve even learned how to use a SMART board (mostly).

And when this little ditty arrived in my school mailbox, I did a not-so-little happy dance. It’s OFFICIAL!!

teacher ID badge2I realize that loving this so much makes me a dork. I’m good with that.

Part of why I’d been so excited for this position was that it would still allow me to continue to teach piano and do most of the mom/wife/volunteer/me stuff that is so important to me. I know myself well enough as a teacher to know that I wouldn’t do it half-assed; I’m going to give my students everything I’ve got, and then some. This amazing job enables me to give them that, while still being able to help out at Ella’s third grade Valentine’s Day party or walk Annie home from school.

Having spent these past seven years with the girls, I imagined that it would be difficult being away from them when I returned to work, and that they would always be prioritized above anything teacher-related. It came as more than a little bit of a surprise, then, when I found myself concerned about missing school when Annie got sick – when, in that particular instance, I prioritized work above being by her side.

Not above her well-being, no. If she’d been more obviously sick, I wouldn’t have hesitated to call in a sub for the sub, however it needed to be done. If she or Ella gets sick again, and Nick isn’t able to take off of work (as he did last Friday, when Annie was still home with an ailing tummy; maybe that mozzarella wasn’t the culprit…), I will be home with them, no questions asked. But, given that she seemed okay, the immediate priority became my students and their well-being… and suddenly, the thought of committing Cardinal School Parent Sins went from shameful to possible to definite.

I’m sure there are parents out there who are abusing the system, who routinely send their kids in when they know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they’re too sick to be in school. I’m sure that some of them do it callously and without consideration for their child’s classmates or teachers. And those parents piss me off.

I’m equally sure, however, that for every parent who doesn’t care, there are three more who hem and haw about sending their maybe-sick child to school, who weigh the possibility of rescheduling meetings or finding childcare or taking their last paid sick day or falling behind on their lessons against the possibility that their kiddo might simply have a headache through math, but otherwise, feel fine. Some days, the decision turns out to be good for everyone involved. Other times… it doesn’t go the way you’d hoped.

Turns out, most of those parents are simply us, doing the very best we can with what we have. We deeply admire their teachers. We respect the school rules. We love our kids to pieces. And, occasionally, we commit Cardinal School Parent Sins – because we are frazzled and stretched thin and we make mistakes because we are human.

Lesson learned: enough with the judging. You just never know what’s going on in another person’s life.
And also: make emergency sub plans the first day you accept a teaching job. They might come in handy… immediately.