Small changes

It’s already started. But that’s too babyish. I don’t like how I look in this. She said we can’t be friends if I won’t let her use my pencil. Stop it – someone might be watching! They’re just seven and nine, but their awareness of how they’re perceived, and of judging their own worthiness by others’ perceptions, is steadily growing.

Part of this is a good thing. As preschoolers, they didn’t give a damn what anyone thought about how they dressed, what the ate, how they carried themselves. At times, this was adorable (wearing a full-on princess get-up to the grocery store); at others, it made me proud (girlfriend doesn’t care one bit if anyone else thinks it’s stupid to still be into Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – rock on!). Other times, it was not only embarrassing (“So sorry that she started singing right in the middle of the eulogy, sir”) but just plain frustrating (knocking over the entire display at the checkout because of obliviously executed dance moves). Having some awareness of others, of the fact that you are not actually the center of the universe, of how to be respectful – even if it means that you need to stifle the urge to wear your jangliest bracelets to Easter brunch – is super.

11.5 evening dressup

But a lot of it really just plain sucks. Being aware of others and their feelings is fantastic (three cheers for empathy!), but being so aware of others’ feelings that you begin to deny your own is just not cool. Having been a young girl myself once, having survived elementary and middle school and adolescence (mostly), I can certainly remember what it was like to obsess and worry about what your friends – and not friends – would think about virtually everything that you did. I can vividly recall the physical feeling in the pit of my stomach wondering what everyone would think of my Keds, of my carefully-styled bangs, of the fact that I still enjoyed Sweet Valley High well past eighth grade.

So I get it, I really do – that near compulsion to find out what others think of you, and then to base your own opinion of yourself upon it. Getting it and being okay with it happening to my own children are two very different things, however, and I’ll be damned if I just sit idly by. And so we talk a lot, about what it means to be a good friend, about whose opinions really matter, about being confident in just who you are and not worrying about what other people think.

The problem is, you’ve kind of got to walk the walk, and I know I’m not always setting the best example… especially when it comes to compliments. Like so many women (and some men, although – in my own very unscientific case studies – they seem to do this far less than women), I find it nearly impossible to accept a compliment graciously.

“That’s a really cute outfit!”
Oh, well, I just threw it on at the last minute.

“I love your hair today!”
I haven’t even washed it!

“You were really sweet to think of me.”
It was the least I could do.

“Your students must love having you as a teacher!”
Ha, I wish!

As women (or, at least, as this woman), we’re constantly told not to be too pushy. Not to seem too boastful. Not to seem too confident. Not to make it appear that we think we’re better than anybody else. And so we – I – deflect. I demure. I’m afraid that if I accept the compliment, it will maybe somehow mean that I’m trying to brag, that I’m cocky, that I’m conceited.

But here’s the thing: I actually do think I’m a pretty fabulous person. A person with a helluva lot of flaws, a person who takes forever to make dinner because I get so easily distracted, a person who makes mistakes constantly, a person with a lot to work on… But, overall? Yeah. I’m all that and a bag of chips. Or at least a caramel macchiato.

I don’t even know that I realized just how frequently I was deflecting compliments until I heard Ella and Annie begin to do it.

“That’s a beautiful dress you’re wearing!”
Uh, thanks, but it’s old.

“You sang that so nicely!”
I really messed up at the ending.

“Your math has improved so much!”
I still can’t do flash cards that fast, though.

At first, I was naively flummoxed. We’ve taught them to be polite! They know to thank people! WTF?! But it didn’t take long for me to realize that, although society certainly works hard to teach them that accepting praise is not okay, I wasn’t exactly being such a stellar role model myself.

You can’t spend five minutes online, watching the news, or reading a newspaper without seeing some awful something that’s happened to women. Hundreds of Nigerian school girls kidnapped. A young, pregnant Pakistani woman stoned to death in front of a crowd of onlookers while police did nothing to intervene. Women in California hunted down by a misogynistic gunman intent on enacting “revenge” for their lack of interest in him. And that’s just in the past month alone.

I’ve pored over the #YesAllWomen tweets and articles and posts that have sprung up in the wake of the Santa Barbara murders. I was so tremendously moved by the stories and examples of how omnipresent sexual harassment, objectification, and intimidation are for so many women… But I was pleased, almost sheepishly, that I couldn’t quite relate. I mean, I’ve only been sexually harassed one time (back in college when I was working and living in the projects; after the incident, Nick would drop me off and then phone my – male – roommates to let them know I was coming into the building. They then stood watch for me until I was safely inside my apartment). I didn’t think that I really experienced all that much objectification or intimidation.

Well. Except for that time in the Bahamas when I was seventeen, visiting with my high school jazz band (music geek alert), and the guy who was manning the parasail boat strapped me into the harness, leaned over and chuckled, “This is the second-best ride in the Bahamas, baby – ’cause I’m the first!” and then actually smacked me on my ass as he sent me up into the air. Or all of the years before Nick and I were married when I carried a whistle on my keychain in case I needed to call for help. Or the number of times my girlfriends and I have been wolf-whistled at. Or how I still, to this day, announce to any strange male who comes into the house (plumber, cable guy, etc.) that my husband will be home soon.

As the stories flooded my consciousness, the embarrassment quickly followed; not at the incidents themselves, but at how they’d become such a commonplace occurrence, I didn’t even recognize them. It has somehow become perfectly acceptable for me to make sure that my clothing isn’t too revealing, even if all it “reveals” is my shoulders, lest I attract unwanted attention. Checking a parking lot at night to be sure it’s safe? Duh. Worrying that the guy who screamed at me in a fit of road rage because I didn’t get out of the left lane “fast enough” might actually get out of his car at the next light and accost me? Just par for the course.

As the mother of two young children, I worry about a lot of things – if they’ll remain healthy. What school will be like. Whether or not they’ll find good, supportive friends. If they’ll root for the Yankees or the Twins (or, God help me, the Red Sox). As the mother of two young girls, I worry for their safety – not so much as children (my Free Range thinking has helped me not freak out too much), but as they grow up. The statistics are so alarming; I can’t seem to find an agreed-upon percentage, but, in their lifetimes, between one in three and one in six women will be the victims of sexual harassment. That’s not just worrisome, it’s terrifying.

And also hard to ignore; after all, I’m already a part of those statistics.

There can hardly be any doubt that we need a full cultural change around women, men, and how we’re perceived and treated. That change needs to come from all of us – every single one – and it’s going to take time. But, by God, it has to happen, otherwise the stories that have been permeating the news recently will become so commonplace, we will cease to even recognize them as unacceptable. And that?
Unacceptable.

Changing the entire world is a bit beyond the scope of my abilities (despite my aforementioned fabulousness), but changing the world for my daughters is not. They may grow up in a society that devalues them, but they can learn to value themselves. They may be told by others that they are not worthy, that they are too loud, that they shouldn’t dress like that, that they should act like this instead… But they can learn not to listen, and to listen, instead, to their own voices telling them how incredible they are.

silly girls

First, though, Annie and Ella have to believe it. They have to believe that they are smart, strong, capable, funny, delightful, kind, and beautiful, and everything else that makes them such remarkable human beings.
And, quite frankly, I have to believe it for myself, too.

There are plenty of awful things that are said about and toward women. When something wonderful is said – when kind, supportive words are offered instead, it is oh so important that they’re not brushed aside.  Part of believing that we’re worthy and special and awesome means that when we’re complimented, we feel confident enough in ourselves to accept the compliment, and to not worry about how such acceptance may be interpreted by anyone else. In theory, it’s really simple…

“Your presentation was great!”
Thank you!

“I love your necklace.”
Thank you.

“This jello surprise is absolutely divine!”
Thank you!

In practice, it’s quite difficult. I’ve found that it comes off as just a bit disingenuous if you say “THANK YOU” through gritted teeth. It takes almost physical will to force a sincere “Thank you” out of my mouth without offering some side comment, making a sarcastic remark, or immediately changing the subject. But I’m trying, hard.

It’s a small change, but I hope it’s the start of something oh so much more.

For all women.
For myself.
And especially for my daughters.

5.30.14 my girls

 

 

All together shattered

Right after Nick and I went on our juice diet (in a word: don’t), I began to add dessert back into my daily regimen as soon as my stomach could handle it. One of the juicing websites I’d been looking at had a recipe for a yummy (enough) sounding smoothie using a banana, ice, almond butter, almond milk, and some cocoa powder – basically all of which were “good” ingredients: no dairy, no grains… Nothing to make anyone jealous, in other words, but basically nirvana after five-plus days consuming only liquified vegetables.

It was delicious, and not just because I was going through chocolate withdrawals. No, actually really tasty – so tasty, I began making these smoothies for dessert on a fairly regular basis. (If you frequent Pinterest, you might notice them called a “healthy” Wendy’s Frosty. They don’t really taste like a Frosty, but I don’t have the heart to tell anyone that.) I have a thing for snacking after dinner (pretzels and a bowl of ice cream and some almonds and cheese puffs and a handful of dark chocolate? Don’t mind if I do!), so I’ve been trying to hold off the bingeing in favor of these frothy beverages. My blender and I are real tight.

For reasons I don’t quite understand, the stupid juice diet kind of ruined breakfast for me, by which I mean that if I consume anything more than a small piece of fruit in the mornings, I feel ridiculously, uncomfortably full until well past lunchtime and then my blood pressure drops and I’m like a foraging truffle pig by mid-afternoon. So I still juice each night and then Nick and I drink up in the mornings (although I no longer even consider “green” juices because that stuff is nasty, man).

One night several weeks ago, I had just finished creating my veggie-fruit masterpieces and was about to pour them into our juice glasses when I somehow lost control of the glass pitcher (who, me?) and accidentally tapped the side of the cup as I added the liquid. Meaning, naturally, that the glass now had a large crack running all along its side and needed to be thrown away.

Strike one.

broken glass
Don’t mind the orange-y funk. That’s what happens when carrots get pulverized.

After filling new glasses and getting on with the rest of my evening, I was taking out the ingredients for my nightly smoothie when the almond butter… slipped… and knocked into the container of the blender, sending it toppling to the kitchen floor. In a feat of contortionism far beyond my abilities, I attempted to catch it mid-fall (which, I’m sure, looked as comical as it felt), but I wasn’t in time.

Strike two.

Have you ever dropped the top part of a heavy glass blender onto a tile floor? If not, let me save you the trouble of guessing what it looks like: INSANITY. Tiny glass bead-lets everywhere, under appliances, in crevices ten feet across the room, on top of furniture (wtf?). The poor dogs didn’t know what on earth was going on (GET BACK! LEAVE IT! GO LIE DOWN! DON’T! FOR GOD’S SAKE, KENNEL – KENNEL!!) and it took me at least thirty minutes of sweeping, vacuuming, and mopping to feel that the floor was finally safe again.

Without a functional blender, you might think that my smoothie dreams were over… Ah, but then, you’ve got another think coming. In no time at all I’d hauled the Cuisinart onto the counter – if it can chop salsa and essentially liquify salad dressing, surely it could make quick work of a banana-chocolate-almond smoothie!

Quick work, kind of.
Effective work, not really.
Ridiculously messy work: OH HELL YES.

See, apparently a Cuisinart isn’t really meant to hold lots of liquid at a time, and as a result, nearly as much of the smoothie wound up on the counter (and cabinets. And coffee maker. And toaster) as remained inside the machine.

Strike three.

broken glass2
I have no idea what the spatula is for. Perhaps to scrape bits of smoothie off the counter?

And so you might, logically, think that this would have stopped me from drinking said smoothie that night. YET AGAIN, YOU WOULD BE WRONG. After all that work, there was no way in hell I was going to let everything go to waste. I drank that damn smoothie, all right… except, I kind of chewed the damn smoothie because I guess Cuisinarts and ice don’t really get along so well.

Strike… Oh, forget it, I’m already out.

Knowing that I wouldn’t last long without the ability to blend things (and seeing that the Cuisinart was clearly not up to the job), I immediately went on Amazon to search for a blender… with a plastic container, because obviously, with my track record, I’d be destroying the new one before I’d even removed it from the box. This one seemed to have the best reviews and was nicely affordable, so if I did happen to, you know… slip up… it wouldn’t have cost me too dearly.

Plus also: it’s name is Ninja. ‘Nuff said.

(Side note: I ordered these pub glasses at the same time because Annie just might have broken another of our original ones the day before, making our glass “collection” look a little like something you might find at a flea market. I prefer to look like a well-stocked bar.)

My Ninja Prep Master arrived two days later (Amazan Prime, holla!), and – whaddya know – it rocks. This thing blends like nobody’s business, pulverizing my smoothies into delicious silky goodness as quietly and swiftly as, well, a ninja. If a ninja blended things. I was immediately smitten and have been using it nightly ever since.

ninja blender
Mine isn’t quite this clean, nor have I made guacamole with it yet, but I’m in love nevertheless.

This past long weekend, we’d planned to go to the lake on Saturday and Sunday nights, but, at the last minute, Nick suggested that we head down on Friday instead. I was hesitant – Ella had a birthday party to attend that night, the girls needed to wash their hair, and we wouldn’t even be at the lake for twelve hours before returning for Annie’s soccer game in the morning. We also needed to do some cleaning and yard work before just heading off for the weekend.

The girls were – naturally – totally psyched to go, and Nick seemed ready to take on the mayhem, but I wasn’t convinced. I hemmed. I hawed. I grudgingly gave my “okay.” But I didn’t really want to go. It was then that Nick – perhaps not entirely seriously – informed me, “You know, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to. I can just take the girls by myself.”

There was a time when I would have said absolutely not. A time when I wanted to be there, both to spend the time with the girls and Nick, and also because maybe I like to be in control just a bit. Besides… staying in the house overnight all by myself?

But the more I thought about it, the more the glorious possibility stretched out before me: I could stay overnight in the house ALL BY MYSELF. No one needing to be read to. No one needing mid-night checkings-on. No one waking up at ungodly hours and tromping downstairs to play “Let It Go” on the piano. No one snoring next to me (well, Jambi snores, but that’s different). No one to help make breakfast for in the morning.

THE HOUSE ALL TO MYSELF. ALL NIGHT LONG.
Sign me up!

The girls were a little concerned (for me) that I wasn’t going with them. Would I be okay? Did I mind staying alone? I assured them that I did not mind staying alone (with three dogs, you’re never really “alone” anyway) and that I would be very, very okay… and off they went. And so I did what any part-time stay-at-home, part-time working, full-time mom would do when faced with twelve hours to herself: I spread mulch. I ran an errand at The Home Depot. I made my juice for the morning. I tidied up.

Okay, okay. And then I curled up with Pinterest and several episodes of “Modern Family” and my ubiquitous, Ninja-made smoothie… except, this time, I added Kahlua. And Bailey’s. Yes, both. Together. And, oh my sweet baby Jesus, if that wasn’t the very smoothest, creamiest, most amazing beverage I have had in a very, very long time.

Batter. Up.

This time, I didn’t even break the glass.

photo-73
Looks like a milkshake. Tastes like awesome.

 

Broad stripes and bright stars

For Ella’s first Memorial Day weekend, we drove from our home in Westchester County (30 minutes outside of NYC) to visit my grandparents on Canandaigua Lake, 30 minutes outside of Rochester. It was a nearly six-hour drive – Ella’s first big trek – and, given that I’d only recently returned to teaching full-time after finishing up my maternity leave, we were more than a little overwhelmed by the whole packing-with-a-baby road trip thing… but, if memory serves, it was a delightful weekend.

And it introduced us to: the swing.

2005
swing3

 

 

Every Memorial Day weekend since – this marks the tenth (the TENTH, omg) – we’ve ventured to the lake (something that is considerably easier now that we’re only thirty minutes away instead of five-plus hours). And, every single Memorial Day Weekend, we’ve taken pictures of Ella – and then Annie – swinging away.

2006
eleanorswingergirl

 

We’ve done other things as well – help clear the beach, bring out the furniture, restock the fridge and freezer, air out the bedrooms, and generally help to get the house ready for the summer, which unofficially begins… NOW.

2007
memlakeswingermemswing2

 

 

We’ve eaten hot dogs and hamburgers (every year, without fail) and baked beans and potato salad, lit bonfires, and – when the weather cooperates – have even donned bathing suits and gone for a dip. (After this year’s punishing winter, the water remains at a balmy 55 degrees, so dipping was out. Bonfires and beer, however, were still very much in.) There is red, white, and blue attire, laughing with the neighbors, gasping over how the kids have grown, and hitting the pillow each night thoroughly exhausted, with dreams of the sparkling summer days that are sure to follow.

2008
mem day swing08
mem day swing3

 

 

And, ever since the girls have been old enough to understand – even a little – every single Memorial Day weekend, there is a discussion about why we are so tremendously fortunate to have this last May Monday off of school and work, why we can revel in these ever-longer early summer days and dip our toes in the lake that holds so many of our memories.

We talk about the wars our country has fought – the ones, less well-defined, that we’re still fighting – and about the tremendously brave men and women who have served to protect our freedoms. We talk about the girls’ great-grandfathers, their Grandpa Ray, their daddy’s cousins, and the myriad other members of our armed forces.

2009
lake visit11
lake visit9

 

 
We have long had these discussions, about what Memorial Day means, about how it’s more than just a three-day weekend where we grill to our hearts’ content, about why there are flags decorating the headstones at the tiny graveyard around the corner. We don’t always watch a parade, and we don’t have anyone in our immediate neighborhood to thank for their service… but we certainly remember.

2010
memorial weekend21
memorial weekend26

 

 

 
It was only this year, however, that I read two different stories (that had been posted by friends on Facebook) and learned when the first unofficial celebration of our troops, and of those who died preserving our freedom, took place. I was surprised and quite moved to discover – back in 1865, just after the Civl War’s end – that newly freed slaves in Charleston took it upon themselves to unearth the bodies of Union soldiers (that had been hastily and disrespectfully buried by Confederate troops) and properly bury them. Following that, the freedmen marched together, alongside some Union troops – with song-singing former slave children and flower-bearing women, too – and celebrated their newfound liberation, while simultaneously paying their respects to the men who had fought (and died) to free them.

2011
annie memorial day 2011
ella memorial day 2011
Just baaaarely squeezing into the baby swing…

 
We all know that our servicemen and women have fought to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our country itself – including the freedom to not be judged by the color of your skin.  Despite these hard-won victories, the pathway to equality has hardly been without stumbling blocks (nor have we reached its end). It is not lost on me that interracial marriages were only legalized eight years before Nick and I were born – and that, not a generation before us, Ella and Annie would not have had the legal right to even exist. The efforts of those recently-emancipated slaves to honor the men who struggled and died to free them, as well efforts of those men themselves, is absolutely humbling. I am so deeply grateful to them, and to all of the men and women who have served since then.

2012
memorial swing annie7
memorial swing ella1
Okay. So perhaps she’s truly outgrown the baby swing…
memorial swing ella7
Ta da!

 

 
We fill up on hamburgers and hot dogs, knowing that we are allowed to eat what we please. We listen to music, knowing that our government does not tell us how we should celebrate and how we should not. We go to church – or not – knowing that we are free to worship whom and what and however we want. We disagree vehemently on everything from gun rights to sports teams (GO YANKEES!), global warming to whether or not Botox is liberating or nasty… because we have the freedom to do so, a freedom that was, and is, given to us by hundreds of thousands of men and women far nobler than I.

2013
memorial swing3
Ever following her big sister’s lead, Annie ditched the baby swing, too…
memorial swing2

 

 

 

We celebrate today, and all of this weekend, because of the sacrifices of these amazing men and women. Our girls laugh on the swings, growing before our very eyes, because of their courage, valor, and selflessness; we are forever grateful. America still has many injustices to overcome, more battles to fight, more wounds to be healed… but one thing is certain: we are absolutely the home of the brave.

 

Today
(See also: MY GOD, WHEN DID THEY BECOME SO OLD.)

mem day swing14 annie
mem day swing14 ella

 

 

 

I don’t think it means what you think it means

As a grammar stickler, I often find myself holding my tongue. It used to be that I’d correct people when they misspoke… but, turns out most people don’t appreciate being confronted with their grammatical mistakes. Especially not in public.

Go figure.

And so I simply “like” the photos on Facebook that are labeled, “Check out how close the killer whale came to Jim and I!” instead of slipping in a subtle, “I believe you mean, ‘Check out how close the killer whale came to Jim and ME!” I chuckle to myself when people claim that they are “nauseous” rather than “nauseated,” but I really want to tell them that they look perfectly un-sickening to me. (Nauseous means something that causes nausea because it’s disgusting – so, a roller coaster could be nauseous and the smell emanating from your teenager’s bedroom may be nauseous, but it’s extremely doubtful that YOU are nauseous. If you’re nauseous, it means you’re so nasty-looking, you’re making other people feel sick.)

And, although I practically have to tie my hands down, I do not correct mistakes in communications that come from my workplace or my daughters’ school and then return them to the sender. I do have scruples.

(I also do know that you’re not supposed to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.” Nor are you supposed to use sentence fragments. But I tell myself that it’s okay because I’m using it as a brilliant – if ironic – stylistic tactic.

I’m also lazy. Go with it.)

Having bitten my tongue to the point of nearly drawing blood for all these many years, however, I can no longer stay silent on a point that has been irking me more and more with each passing week: the extreme overuse – and misuse – of the word literally.

IMG_7126
Nick got me this t-shirt for my birthday last year.
The man knows me well.

For several years now, literally has slowly been sneaking into our daily lexicon (at least here in ‘Merica), popping up in sentence after sentence – where you would never have found it before – and even being used by super-intelligent, well-spoken individuals who, one might think, would avoid it.

I know you know what I’m talking about.

“We were literally about to get in the car when the crow attacked the groundhog.”

“So, I’m on the phone with him when he literally tells me that I look like Cher.”

“She can’t come to the funeral because she literally just found out that her uncle is moving to Guatemala.”

“I’m so angry, my head will literally explode.”

That last example is the most galling because, of course, literally means… well, what it says: it’s literal. True to fact. Not exaggerated or metaphorical in any way. If a person’s head is literally going to explode, you’d think they’d be in agonizing pain. Heck, you’d better haul their ass off to the ER immediately because otherwise you’re going to have a nauseous* mess on your hands. (*See what I did there.)

Much like Vizzini in The Princess Bride… I do not think it means what you think it means.
literally

So, no. It’s highly unlikely that something literally scared you to death… because you’d be, um, dead. Gas did not literally cost you an arm and leg unless the pump was stationed over a land mine. If you literally cannot wait to use the bathroom, you’d better invest in some Depends.

Or perhaps you could just substitute the word figuratively for literally and call it a day.

Misuse of literally aside, I find it so odd that this particular word has wormed its way into our conversations – especially because, the vast majority of the time, it’s completely not needed. You were literally going to the store when “Danger Zone” played on your Pandora station? NO WAY! She is literally going to eat her lunch in five minutes so she can meet us at the rodeo? How… precise?

Literally seems to have replaced really or honestly in our lexicon, but it doesn’t quite mean the same thing. It’s become an unnecessary intensifier, a throw-away word to express a strong emotion. Saying that you were literally standing next to the rabid beaver may be correct (if, in fact, you were standing right beside a rabid beaver), but it’s sort of a weird qualifier to add. If, upon meeting Chuck Norris, your buddy was literally so excited… um, okay, I guess.. but why bother using that word? There’s a whole English language out there at your fingertips (figuratively, duh).

There are times, of course, when literally is not only appropriate but helpful. When you sneak up on someone and get hit by the rock they’ve accidentally chucked in your direction, you could laugh and say that you were literally only a stone’s throw away. If your daughter is holding a flaming marshmallow atop a s’more and waving it around the yard, she might literally light up your world. In these times, go ahead. Use that word. You rock with your bad self.

But, the rest of the time, can we please give literally a rest? There are so many other worthy words out there, just longing to be attached to something important. Simply. Frankly. Truly. Actually. Absolutely. Definitely. Positively. Indubitably. They’re good, strong, deserving words. All we need to do is give them a chance.

The fate of the English language is in our hands.
Or, at least, our mouths.
Literally.

IMG_7130
This collage is apropos of absolutely nothing except I wanted to include something cute in this post and the pups are literally dog tired. HOLLA!

* For the record, I have not literally been holding my tongue when I see grammatical errors. That would really be incredible, wouldn’t it? And quite disgusting. Nauseous, really.

** Fingers crossed for no grammatical errors in this post. OH THE IRONY.

 

Girls, Girls, Girls

Every year, I ask for the same thing for Mother’s Day: some time to myself, some time with Ella and Annie, and a card or picture “saying something nice.” Everything beyond that is all gravy.

This year, my Mother’s Day was full of gravy – seeing my mom and my aunt and my grandma, oodles of time alone, lovely and beautiful gifts (I did get that GoPro I’d been coveting – lucky girl!) – but, due to some unusual circumstances, I wasn’t able to spend time with the girls.

And, apparently, making Mother’s Day cards didn’t fit into the curriculum, because neither Annie nor Ella brought anything home from school – and then the little stinkers forgot to make me something on their own! I’d love to say that I took it graciously, but I totally did not. I pulled out the Mom Guilt and requested* a card or a note by, oh, this past weekend (a week after Mother’s Day).

* by “requested” I mean “told them that if I didn’t get one, I’d be heartbroken forever.” I usually avoid Mom Guilt at all costs, but when I lay it on, it’s thick.

Fortuitously for us, Nick was going out of town this weekend (unusual, as he is usually away during the week), which meant that it was going to be just Annie, Ella, and me for forty-eight solid hours — more than enough time to make up for not really hanging out together on Mother’s Day. Seeing as how we had only a few obligations and responsibilities, I decided to make it a full-on Girls’ Weekend.

Y’all, it was one for the books.
Or the blog, in this case.

For the past five-ish years, we’ve planted a vegetable and herb garden. The cold weather had caused us to fall behind, but this weekend offered the perfect opportunity to get started – and so, after school on Friday, we headed to our local nursery to pick up the seeds and baby plants we needed to begin our garden.

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She was a wee bit excited to take home our plants…

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They each got to choose their own veggies… and did sherpa duty, too. Score!

IMG_7090
Fifteen vegetables and six herbs (plus strawberries), ready for planting.

Once the car was packed up and smelled like fresh basil (omg delicious), we beelined for the girls’ most favorite store in the entire world: The Dollar Tree. I might have been nominated for Mother of the Year for this decision. By now, I’ve wizened up, so they each had a fifteen minute time limit during which they could spend their allowance to their hearts’ content.

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ALL THIS AMAZING CRAP STUFF FOR ONLY A DOLLAR APIECE!

Following The Greatest Store of All Time, Ella needed to go to swim practice – which, while not quite Girls’ Weekend fun, did provide Annie with the opportunity to draw a picture for her class’s Teacher Appreciation gift, so that was kind of perfect. (Was she off drawing my picture? No. But I chose to ignore that in a mature fashion.)

They’d opted for pizza for dinner, which was eaten on the couch while we watched videos on YouTube before crashing into my bed for the night. I’d envisioned a relatively leisurely sleep-in — recent heavy rains had cancelled Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, so we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be right away — but we were all wide awake at 5 a.m. when the birds outside my window decided to scream at us that it was MORNING! IT’S MORNING! ARE YOU UP? MORNING!!

I realize that many people enjoy waking up to the dulcet chirps of these winged creatures, but those people are insane I do not, because they never fail to awaken me at an ungodly hour and then I can’t return to sleep while they continue to shriek their greetings at one another. HAVE YOU EATEN BREAKFAST YET? LOOK, IT’S GETTING LIGHTER! HAVE YOU NOTICED? IT’S MORNING!! As a result, our windows are always shut tight when I crawl into bed each night – but, turns out, in the tangle of arms and legs and misplaced bedding, I’d forgotten. And so I shimmied out of bed (the girls prefer that I sleep between them, which is super comfortable) and closed the window, crossing my fingers that we’d all be able to go back to sleep. YES, I CAN SEE THAT IT’S MORNING. YOU WANNA KNOW WHAT I’M HAVING FOR BREAKFAST? EGGS.

Miraculously, we did manage to snooze again… but, at 6:30 a.m., were greeted by my second-favorite wake-up sound: the lurching voopahs of a dog about to vomit. As I’d predicted the night before (when I caught him mid-yard with a long tail hanging from his mouth, omg omg omg), Langston’s stomach could not handle the… rat? vole? mouse?… that he’d ingested (WHY DOES HE KEEP DOING THIS??), and so up it came. At least he was considerate enough to expel the creature’s remains on the hardwood rather than the carpet.

Dogs are so much fun!
And also? Sleeping was pretty much over.

Lack of sleep aside, the morning was beautiful – in the 60s, mostly sunny – and after I got the garden ready for planting, the girls jumped at the chance to get their seedlings and seeds into the ground.

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Ella was quite giddy about her cherry tomato plant.

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Please ignore my hand in the photo; I’m still figuring out how exactly the GoPro works…

Our “big deal” fun for the weekend was seeing the touring production of Beauty and The Beast, which we ventured to after enjoying a yummy lunch at a tiny restaurant in our little town. Even though Annie declared that she wouldn’t marry the Beast because he was too ugly (um… but… the whole moral of this story is… never mind…), we all thought the show was pretty darn good.

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They’re still singing about how Gaston and Belle would be the perfect pair… just like Gaston’s thighs…

I gave them the option of Saturday dinner at home, dinner ordered in, or dinner out — and they chose to dine at one of my most favorite places in the entire world: Wegmans. Which meant we all got exactly what we wanted from the prepared food bar and I could eat Indian food without Nick complaining that he can’t stand Indian cuisine. Bonus!

It was obvious that the day had been just about as deliciously full as either girl could have hoped… so I decided to really gild the lily and take them out for ice cream. Hey, on a Girls’ Weekend, calories don’t count. (At least, that’s what I told myself when I asked for extra hot fudge.)

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Why, yes, they are wearing different outfits than in the previous (two) photographs. Three daily clothing changes is the accepted bare minimum ’round these parts.

After our restless Friday night, I gave Annie and Ella the opportunity to sleep in their own beds on Saturday… HAHAHA. That was a good one, Mommy! Thankfully, our second night together was more peaceful than the first (no open windows or puking pups), and our Sunday morning was every bit as slow and easy as I’d hoped Saturday would be. We snuck out of church early (surely God understands) to head to our final official Girls’ Weekend destination: The Lilac Festival.

See, Rochester is kind of known for its myriad summer festivals, but Nick doesn’t really enjoy festivals all that much (too many people and heat and crowds and have I mentioned people?) and I’d been reluctant to brave them solo with the girls. But Ella and Annie seemed more than old enough to be successful festival-goers, so off we went.

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The walk into the park was not exactly short, but the girls entertained themselves by running amongst the lilacs and climbing on this absolutely enormous, full-branched tree.

We ogled the food trucks, raced one another on an inflatable obstacle course (well, the girls did; I cheered them on), and stopped at every single kiosk and vendor’s display in the arts and crafts area. Although they’d shown excitement for the doll clothes that we’d found (“They’ll fit my American Girl, Mommy!”) and the trinkets that they insisted they purchase with their allowance money, their biggest grins were saved for the gentleman selling bow ties. Nick wears bow ties almost exclusively these days (largely in honor of his dad; Bill was an avid bow tie wearer) and the girls were ecstatic to find an entire booth of just bow ties – CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?? After purchasing the tie selected by the helpful and informative seller, Annie skipped away declaring, “The Lilac Festival is the best EVER!” So that was kind of awesome.

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They also got airbrush tattoos. Annie’s was slightly more visible than Ella’s.

On our way out, the girls made me promise that we’d come back to the festival again next year, something that I was more than happy to agree to. We laughed and sang for the duration of the car ride home – and then, shortly after our arrival, Nick returned from his trip and our Girls’ Weekend was technically over.

I used to bemoan his being out of town, especially on a rare weekend, because it was just so difficult – parenting alone, bedtimes, mealtimes, nap times… basically all of the times. But now, it’s so different. Ella and Annie are just plain fabulous human beings – fun and funny and entertaining and great listeners and game to try just about anything – and spending the weekend with them isn’t difficult anymore. It’s fantastic. (That they can wipe themselves and no longer require their food be cut into bite-sized portions is also a huge plus.)

More weekends could be like this one, I suppose – relaxed, full of adventures, devoted to having a blast. But, then again, maybe not. There’s always something that needs to get done, a project that needs tending, rooms that need cleaning, and spending the entire weekend devoted to just hanging out with my children is simply not possible most of the time.

Maybe that’s why this weekend was all the more sweet: because it’s a true rarity. The housecleaning and chore-doing went to crap (although I did manage to mow the lawn and do the dishes) and, instead, every moment was spent enjoying Annie and Ella – enjoying them, enjoying their company, enjoying being their mom.

I know that this weekend was its own special kind of bubble. (Indeed, by this morning, Ella had stomped off to school after being so rude about her breakfast, I’d saved it to give her again at dinner (true story) and Annie forgot her school shoes at home. REALITY CHECK, stat.) But I’ll take it.

It was the best Mother’s Day gift I could have received… and I even got some cards by the end of Sunday, too. (Mom Guilt, FTW!)IMG_7120

 

Wild Thing

When I met Nick twenty-plus years ago, I knew absolutely nothing about hockey, except that it was played on ice and a black disk was involved. And sticks. But only sometimes helmets, because back then, helmets weren’t yet required. (Say what?!) Knowing Nick meant that it was inevitable to not hear about hockey; he was even the mascot for our college’s hockey team, which meant that he skated around the tin can of a field house in a life-sized camel costume. Let me just reiterate that: a camel. On skates. One time, he removed the head of his costume and scared the coach’s (toddler-aged) daughter so much, she hyperventilated.

As luck would have it, my inauguration into the world of hockey couldn’t have come at a more precipitous time, because the New York Rangers were headed for a playoff run in the spring of 1994. In fact, they were actually poised to win the Cup… for the first time in fifty-four years (I don’t normally keep sports stats like that in my head – that space is reserved for far more important information, like the years that “Like a Virgin” and “True Blue” were released – but Rangers fans were so hungry for the win, I’ve never forgotten it).

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Living an hour outside of New York City, the Rangers were a logical team to root for, and an especially fun team – given their chances at taking home the title – if one had only just been introduced to hockey. I fell for the team hook, line, and sinker. Nick and I were tremendously fortunate that my dad, who worked in midtown, was able – through his company – to get us tickets to game five of the Stanley Cup finals, with the Rangers up three games to one in the series, and thus poised to win the championship that very night. We watched with depressed resignation as the Canucks were ahead 3-0 several minutes into the third period, then felt the floor reverberate (I’m not exaggerating; the stands at MSG actually moved) as the Rangers soared back to tie it 3-3 — the Cup was ten minutes away!! — only to have the Canucks refuse to back down and win the game 6-3. GAH, THE HEARTBREAK.

I turned down a ticket to game seven (Nick was back in Minnesota and it was a single ticket; I was nervous that, as a solo eighteen year-old female, I might not quite make it out of the arena in one piece, regardless of the game’s outcome), but watched – on the phone with Nick – as the Rangers finally “beat the curse” and won the Stanley Cup. If you’ve got to be indoctrinated into a sport, I highly recommend falling for a team that wins the championship ten minutes later.

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Lousy photo of an already super-lousy photo, but still… We were there, man!

Over the years, I’ve come to not just tolerate hockey, but to really enjoy it. Nick and I have seen NHL games in Manhattan, New Jersey, Long Island, Hartford (so long, Whalers!), Boston, Montreal, Columbus, Denver, and St. Paul, and each one has been a thrill (although my all-time favorite game was actually the AHL Frozen Frontier game we shivered our way through in December). I am fully able to follow the games and understand what’s going on, even with the refs’ hilarious hand gestures (I think “tripping” is a particularly ridiculous movement) – and, despite their often bumpy noses, I’m more than happy to root for players from all teams who are particularly easy on the eyes (Mike Modano and Patrick Sharp, I’m looking – happily – at you). I’m more than a little proud to say that it’s gotten to the point where, when we take girls to games, I’m able to answer the majority of their questions (correctly, thank you very much) and can narrate what’s happening in language that they actually understand. I’d probably make a great color commentator. Now that my long-term sub job is over, perhaps I should look into that.

It’s no secret that Nick lives, breathes, and sweats the Minnesota Wild. He dreams in dark green and red. He knows every player’s position, alma mater, height, weight, and whether or not they prefer iPhones or Droids. (This is an exaggeration. But only slightly.) It’s been a tradition of ours for several years running to try to catch the Wild in person somewhere across the nation – this year, saw them play in Buffalo – but Nick watches the rest of the games at home.

And when I say “the rest of the games”… I do mean ALL OF THE REST OF THE GAMES. Every game. All of ’em. Right in our living room.

I’ve heard the term “football widow” used to describe women (or, perhaps, male partners of gay football fans?) who are essentially left alone on Sundays during the NFL’s season – which runs for, what, five-ish months? Sixteen games in the regular season, plus a few weeks of playoffs, right? So, we’re talking, like, twenty days devoted to football, plus some Monday nights too, maybe. Let’s bump it up to thirty just to be crazy. Thirty days spread out over five months. SUCH HARDSHIP.

By contrast, the NHL regular season lasts for SEVEN months, with each team playing 82 games. EIGHTY-TWO GAMES spread out over the course of SEVEN MONTHS. Or, to be more specific, that’s eighty-two nights, afternoons, and evenings where Nick was watching the Wild play. I’m not so good with the math, but that appears to be a crap-ton more hockey than football.

EAT MY JERSEY, FOOTBALL WIDOWS.

To be fair, although Nick makes us all recite the Wild roster every night before dinner, he does not require that he be home for each game. It’s not that he’ll skip them (don’t be absurd), but rather that he’s absolutely willing to “miss” a game to do something else – spend a holiday with family, coach soccer, have a conversation with us that doesn’t involve the words “penalty” or “icing” – and then watch the DVR’d recording at a later time. Which doesn’t necessarily mean that fewer hours are devoted to the Wild, but rather that watching the Wild live rarely gets in the way of anything else on our calendar.

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Our backyard rink last year.
Helmets are apparently not required here, either.

When the calendar is empty, however, all bets are off (unless you’ve bet that Nick will be watching the Wild). The good news – for me – is that I really enjoy hockey (see above). The other good news is that Nick is one of the most amazingly fair-minded sports fans I’ve ever encountered. I don’t just mean that he’s a good sport – although he is certainly that – but that he always, always roots for the good game — the fair, evenly-matched, well-called, proper-sportsmanship-displayed game. He’ll be the first to say when the Wild has played badly, or to admit it when they score a goal that shouldn’t have been allowed. He also can’t stand what he calls “homer” announcers – the ones who call the games as though the Wild are the second coming of Christ and the opposing team is Satan – who cannot be objective and even. I mean, he wants the Wild to win, of course… but if the other team beats them fair and square, if they were truly the better players, then so be it. They deserved to win. The Wild did not get “gypped.”

Basically, while Nick may be a fan of the Wild (maybe their biggest fan, like, ever), he is an even bigger fan of the game of hockey. And, actually, of sports – and sportsmanship – in general. We have watched as our favorite baseball teams (Yankees for me, duh) lose, but if the other team’s pitcher is throwing a perfect game, we’ve cheered for the perfect game. Because as Nick has taught me, sport transcends teams. Even the Yankees or the Wild.

Last night, the Wild’s season ended. They had made it into game six of the second round of the playoffs, but couldn’t quite pull off the win against the Blackhawks. Throughout the game, Nick yelled, loudly, each time the Wild had a good scoring opportunity – which was often, with pucks bouncing off goal posts and coming *this close* to going in. But the Hawks’ goalie was on fire, making seemingly impossible saves time and time again, and every time – alongside the anticipation that the Wild might score and the crushing disappointment when, yet again, the puck didn’t enter the net – Nick would proclaim it a good save.

He’d said all along he’d be satisfied with the season if the Wild made it to the playoffs. They did, and then some, so I know he’s pleased. He’s also readily acknowledged that the Hawks were the deserving winners of this series. But I know he’s bummed that the Wild won’t be playing game 7 – or any games thereafter.

Well, at least not until October, when the 82-game madness begins all over again.

For my part, I’ve got mixed feelings about the end of the hockey season. On the one hand, it’ll be nice to not begin family meetings with a rousing rendition of “The Good Old Hockey Game.” Plus, now that the TV won’t be dedicated to hockey, maybe I can finally catch up on the dozen “Modern Family” episodes on our DVR. On the other hand, I love how much Nick loves the Wild – how fully invested he is, how much it psyches him up – and I’m sad for him that those days are over. Also, now that he’s more available to hang out in the evenings, some of my Pinterest time may have to give. *sigh*

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First skate this year. It was really, really cold… so Nick’s wearing his Wild hat. Of course.

———–

Because Nick is out of town today, I was the one to have the following conversation with Ella this morning:

“Mommy, did the Wild win last night?”

No, sweetie. They didn’t.

“Oh, that’s too bad. Daddy’s going to be bummed.”

Yup.

“But did the other team play well?”

Yes, they did.

“That makes it better, then!”

———-

Like father, like daughter

p.s. Go Rangers!!

Hear… and now

I grew up in the hang-out house. You know the one – that place where people are always gathering, especially in junior high and high school. In a lot of cases, the hang-out house is the one where the parents are the most lenient, where the kids can get away with the most, from drinking to overturning tables to debating how to TP the neighbors. My house was… uh… not that house. My friends and I were dorks nerds just not into that kind of thing. Our get-togethers consisted mostly of us just relaxing in my basement, playing music, drinking soda and eating junk food, and talking about God knows what.

Which sounds really lame, now that I write it all out.

In our defense, we did kind of have the most awesome basement of all time. It was really big – the full length of our house – large enough to hold a bowling lane (although we didn’t have one. Duh). But we did have lots of other amazing amusements – real arcade games (pinball was my favorite, although the guys seemed to enjoy the race-car game), a ping-pong table, a pool table, a great seating area with couches that we could totally destroy (although, again, being rather straight-laced, we did not), and a jukebox. That held records. You know, the things that came before CDs. Which are the things that came before MP3… Never mind.

Oh, and access to the fridge in the storage room. That was critical.

So, anyway, that’s where my friends and I spent a great deal of our middle and high school days, be it for actual parties or just, you know, chillin’. (Once, our school’s Valentine’s Day dance was cancelled due to snow, but having already bought our dresses and corsages and whatnot, we didn’t want to skip it… so my friends just came over to my place, semi-formally dressed, and we held our own dance right in the basement, all Footloose-ing it out to the records from the jukebox. That was a particularly… pungent… night.)

Except that at least one of my friends was usually missing… because she (it was usually a she, although it was known to be a he from time to time) was upstairs in the kitchen, chatting with my mom. Invariably, at some point during the gathering, someone would be looking for another friend – not playing pool, not on the couches… – and it would finally dawn on somebody else, “Oh! She must be upstairs talking to Emily’s mom!”

And there they’d be, sitting on the high bar stools at the kitchen island, gabbing away about anything and everything – soda for the friend, iced tea for my mom.

(As an aside: my mother adores iced tea. At home, she prefers the Crystal Light variety and almost always has a pitcher of it in her refrigerator. You know exactly how much water to add because she’s drawn a fill line with a Sharpie around the edge of the pitcher. Anyway, that’s been her go-to drink for almost all occasions – my mom doesn’t drink alcohol – and at least 90% of the time, she’s got a small glass of it waiting for her, which she drinks slowly, and then refills. Lots and lots of iced tea.

Except I found out at my wedding – when I was almost 26 years old – that at least one friend of mine was convinced, all those years, that my mom had been nursing a glass of bourbon. MULTIPLE GLASSES of bourbon, just a little bit at a time, resting happily at the island. I’m not sure that my mom has ever even touched a bottle of bourbon, much less consumed it daily – for more than a decade! – in front of all of my friends. I think I nearly peed my pants when I found out my friends thought she was a quiet lush.)

I’m not sure what they talked about, because I rarely joined them – in part because, hey, it was my house and my party (or nerdy get-together), and I wanted to be with the rest of my friends… and in part because, well, to be honest, their conversations seemed kind of private. Not in a, This is a secret! kind of way (after all, they were sitting in the middle of our open kitchen, with people ostensibly coming and going throughout their chit-chat), but there was a subtle vibe that this was a special conversation, to be had between the two of them. I would often lean in and add a sentence or two, but then I’d gravitate back downstairs, leaving them deep in laughter and thought.

Maybe they discussed school. Perhaps extra-curriculars. My girlfriends might have told my mom something they were nervous about, a crisis, a problem. They might have shared boyfriend woes (or lack-of-boyfriend woes) or told her that something special was on the horizon. I do know that she gave them advice, and I know that they appreciated it. But, mostly, I think that she just listened to them and made them feel heard.

And maybe that’s another reason why I never wanted to butt into their conversations: because I already felt heard by her. It’s no secret that I like to talk (*ahem*), so, as my mother, she didn’t really have much of a choice but to hear me. But to really listen is something different altogether… and, man, did she listen. To my oral school projects and my concerns about friends. To my sobs as I cried over a loss or a boy. To my shaking voice as I expressed something I was afraid of. To my elation. To my switching subjects a dozen times in thirty minutes. To my piano pieces. To my rambling stories.

Whatever it was, she listened.

So, having already felt heard, I didn’t mind sharing her with all of my friends. Many of them referred to her as a second mother; rather than be jealous, I was proud. Yeah, she’s an amazing listener, isn’t she? And she’s got enough listening to go around. How cool is that?!

It’s been years since I spent Mother’s Day with my mom – living away from her, it just hasn’t been possible – but this year, she was coming to Rochester for a few days, and they happened to coincide with Mother’s Day, so I got to spend yesterday with her. And also Friday night, where she (and my stepdad, Steven – Pops, if you’re a granddaughter) attended Ella’s 90-minute swim practice. I talked almost non-stop for the entire hour and a half. She listened. She and Pops came to Annie’s soccer game on Saturday morning, where she and Ella sat on a blanket. Ella talked… and Grandma listened.

All Saturday afternoon and much of Sunday, my girls chattered away – let me tell you this! And then! Guess what! – and Grandma listened. And, even though it was Mother’s Day – a day I might have enjoyed with just my girls, or just my mom – I didn’t mind. In fact, it was just right. My children talking, Grandma listening. Full circle.

It doesn’t even feel like sharing anymore. It just feels like happiness.

I admit: I may not always give my girls my full attention. Sometimes this is by choice (they do not need to have my undivided concentration for everything that they do, no matter what “they” say about making every single moment count!!). Other times, I’m distracted but should – or would like to – be paying them more mind. But, when they talk, I make it a point to listen. To really, truly listen. Sometimes, I even have an iced tea at the ready.

I know how important that can be. After all, I learned from the best.

Unless they’re singing “Let It Go” again. And again. And again, for the love of God.
Then, I think it’s best for all of us if I just tune out.

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My mom with my brother, Taylor, and me.
Taken well before middle and high school, but with cool Maid of the Mist rain gear, so it’s okay.