Dog Days

So. For a moment there, we thought we might have killed our black Lab, Langston. This dog loves, loves to run and fetch a ball, but we avoid doing so when the temps get too high because he seems to become overheated really quickly. This morning, I knew the front lawn needed to be mowed and, seeing that it was already warm and humid, wanted to get it done as early as possible. As such, I decided to skip my daily dog walk, but didn’t want Lang to get zero exercise, so I asked Nick if he’d throw the ball for our boy. He agreed.

At 9 a.m., it was hazily sunny and 77 degrees (“real feel” 82) with 60% humidity — warm, for sure, but not what either of us considered even remotely dangerous in terms of a short ball-throw. Still, they came inside less than five minutes later — which is not atypical, given, you know, that our pup is covered in a thick layer of black fur. Langston, as usual after a fetch session, was panting like a maniac, tongue lolling from his mouth, and he slurped up water like he’d never been hydrated before. All typical. We even joked – “Sorry that run was so short, dude, but we don’t want you to get heatstroke, hahaha.”

We started to go about our business – Nick on an errand, me to the front lawn – when Nick’s voice took on a different pitch as he said, “Uhhh, Em… It looks like Langston’s legs are shaking. I think he’s having trouble standing.” Indeed, he was, so we watched him more closely and saw, without question, that he was in some major distress: completely disoriented, walking into walls, staggering and stumbling, falling down to the ground. He didn’t seem to recognize his name and responded to none of our attempts to calm or communicate with him.

It didn’t take long to put two and two together to realize that, joking aside, Langston suffering from very real heatstroke — or, at the very least, he was so overheated, he couldn’t think (or stand) straight. We knew we had to cool him off, fast, and decided to guide him back outside so we could thoroughly wet him with the hose. The moment we helped him out the door, he began to wander through the lawn, with me running after him – and him becoming both confused and freaked out that a strange person (he really didn’t recognize me) was freakin’ chasing him – while he circled aimlessly (but fast; that boy can move) until I finally caught up with him and took a hold of his collar.

Worst game of tag ever.

At last, I led Lang to our front walk (cooler than the grass), where Nick soaked him with the hose… and then he collapsed in a heap. Still panting, still awake, but having no strength to hold himself up anymore. For the next twenty minutes, we ran the hose in a trickle under him, creating a cool puddle in which he could lounge, and drink, until gradually he seemed to be out of the danger zone: perking up when he heard his name, looking at us with brighter eyes (Hey – when did you guys get here?!), and thumping his tail in the puddle behind him, happily splashing us all.

When he finally reached “fine” — still hot and panting, but otherwise okay — we turned off the hose and brought him back inside; this time, he was able to walk in entirely on his own. After another half hour or so of resting, his breathing slowed to normal, his strength had returned, and he seems to be no worse for wear.

Nick and I, however – and our girls, who watched, terrified, from inside while we helped our boy get back to good – will not forget.

All of this is my long-winded way of saying:
Dog owners: please, please be super careful with your pups out in the heat. This may seem like a no-brainer – it certainly was for us (or so we thought) – but, as we learned, heat can cause trouble faster than you may realize.

It did not appear to be too hot. Langston did not run for any longer than he usually does. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary… and yet, it was too much for our boy.

Will we run him again this summer? Of course. He loves it, and we love watching him love it. But we will be more cautious. With that heavy fur coat, what seems “warm” to us can obviously be “omg sweltering” to dogs, and so even walking him – and our other pups –  around the neighborhood is going to be a careful, slow, water-filled endeavor.

I started to post this on my Facebook page, but decided to put it out here publicly hoping that if even one other person reads it and is a wee bit more careful with their dogs in these sticky, sunny days, it will be worth it. Or, heck, if even one person who has gone through a similar experience reads it and feels less alone, it will be worth it. ‘Cause it can happen to anyone, to any dog. Even ours. Even yours.

Dog Days of Summer, indeed.

(Note: We did consider taking Lang to the vet, but knew it was most important to cool him down as quickly as possible, so we didn’t want to load him into a hot car for a 20 minute ride when he was already in obvious distress. As he began to cool down, we researched heatstroke in dogs and noticed that he was no longer exhibiting any of the danger signs, so it then seemed unnecessary to bring him in. We will, of course, keep an eye on him, and if anything changes, you can bet your ass he’ll be off… but for now, all is well.)

Taken just ten minutes ago, with his happy tail wagging so quickly, it’s a blur beside him.

Throwback Thursday: Birthday Girl

phoofsy movie1
June 26, 1995
Looking extra, super fine, especially my bangs.


For my grandmother’s 75th birthday, my mom and her sisters surprised her and flew/drove in to the lake to celebrate – bringing their daughters (my cousins and me) with them, so it would be a true girls’ weekend. (Except that I was in the throes of angsty adolescent love and insisted that Nick – my college boyfriend whom I’d been dating for only a year – accompany me. Nothing says romance like joining your girlfriend’s female relatives to celebrate her grandmother’s 75th birthday. And nothing says family time like bringing your teenage boyfriend along on a girls’ only getaway. I was cool like that.)

For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my grandfather rented an 1860s-era replica paddleboat – one that still plies the waters of our lake (albeit not by water wheel) and serves meals to those making the journey – for all of their family and friends. I remember having a blast listening to the band play and waving to our house from the boat, as opposed to the other day around.

memorial day lady
We weren’t riding this time, but this is the boat. Very Huck Finn, no?

For her 90th birthday, my extended family came to celebrate. By now, Ella and Annie were around, so they participated in the festivities, too.

Birthday card giving…

Post birthday card hugging…

The next day, while we lounged on the dock, my grandma – whom my children (and often we) refer to as Phoofsy – took herself out in the kayak.Phoofsy kayaking one day after turning 90
Isn’t that how you plan to observe your 90th? On a freakin’ solo KAYAK RIDE??


For her 92nd birthday, we decided to nearly kill her by presenting her with a musical, spinning, flowery candle of death. She was thrilled, but that might have been because the temporary blindness messed with her reasoning abilities.
phoofsy bday3
Instead of a cake, I’d made her a peach cobbler, which is currently her favorite dessert – or so she says…
Peach cobblers hold flaming balls of death very nicely.

Until I was 31, I lived a minimum of 5.5 hours away from my grandparents – which meant that I didn’t see them more than a few times each year, and very rarely celebrated birthdays with them. Since moving to Rochester seven years ago, it has been our honor to spend all of our birthdays together – especially when flaming balls of fire are involved.

Today marks my grandma’s 94th birthday, and we have come to the lake once more to be with her. Again, we gave her cards and talked and devoured peach cobbler. Don’t worry that the repetition means that she’s lowing down, however; she is currently playing bridge with a friend via iPad.

On the one hand, I sure hope I make it to 75 and 80 and 90 and 92 and 94. But it has to be worth the ride, you know? As Phoofsy is fond of saying, “It’s no good if you can’t have fun anymore.” Thank God, she’s still having fun – be it through cobbler or kayaks, bridge or boats, family or friends.

Looking at the candles that adorned the dessert, Ella marveled that, if we switched them around, Phoofsy could be turning 49. Given that every medical professional we meet does an actual double-take upon seeing my Gram’s birth date (“OhmyGod, I thought you were only 80 at the most!”), Ella might not have been that far off. If I can kick even half as much ass at 49 as my grandmother is at 94, I will consider that I’ve lead one hell of a wonderful life.

That is, i I can survive the musical candles of death. Those things are crazy, even if, like Phoofsy, you do kick butt and take names.

Change of Heart

Mmmmm, summer.

Longer days, swimming, sun. Who doesn’t love summer??

Well, actually… me.
But wait. Lemme ‘splain.

The activity parts of summer – the beaches and the splashing, the ice cream and stargazing – I’ve always loved those. But the rest of summer, with months of days and nights with nothing to do? Not really my speed, especially once the kids came along.

When the girls were babies and toddlers, summer was nice enough as a season (yay, warm!), but – other than increasing our intake of watermelon and icy pops – little else really changed. Bedtimes didn’t get later, no one slept in, no one went to camp. In fact, summer was almost more of a hassle than the rest of the year because of things like sunscreen and bathing suits and swim diapers and preventing drowning and OH MY GOD SHE’S ABOUT TO FALL INTO THE FIRE PIT.

As preschoolers, Annie and Ella ditched the Little Swimmers diapers, but activity- and schedule-wise, summer mimicked spring except with more bug bites. Once Ella entered elementary school, things began to shift a little. Suddenly, summer became a time of NO SCHOOL! – which meant delirious mayhem – but also NO SCHOOL!, which meant bittersweet sadness. The change of routine was jarring; she missed her classmates and her teachers. For as much as she and Annie liked not being in school, they – like their mama – weren’t so good at just hanging out. Two days in, they’d be at each other’s throats, and so to ensure that all of us actually made it through summer alive, I did a lot of refereeing while secretly wishing I could just let them go at it Hunger Games style.

Plus also? They were home. All the time. With me. (Or at the lake, or on a trip, but still… Not at school. With me. ALL THE TIME.) The schedule I’d so carefully created during the academic year flew out the window, and for the life of me I couldn’t quite get back on track. I will be the first to admit that I, too, like routine, and that endless of stretches of nothing make me itchy. Despite how much I loved homemade popsicles and exploring creeks with hidden rope swings and creating – and completing – our Summer Fun List, summer was not really something that I looked forward to.

This year, things feel… different. As the school year wound down and the first day of summer break – omg! – loomed on the calendar, I felt almost none of the all-too-familiar apprehension. My entire attitude seemed to have shifted, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.

Last night, after the girls went to bed, I began to think about what needed to be done for today… and realized how little needed to be accomplished. No lunches to be made. No white board notices to write. No backpacks to check. (Have I mentioned no lunches to pack?) I was practically giddy.

The pieces started to fall into place: for the first time ever, we have been running around so much during the school year that summer break is actually that – a break. A respite. A reprieve. No more rounding up cleats and water bottles to get to soccer practice on time. No more being unable to eat dinner until after 7:30 because of swimming. No more making sure that math facts are practiced and reading logs are filled in. No more arguing over hairstyles every morning. No more IF YOU DON’T LEAVE RIGHT NOW YOU WILL BE LATE WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T FIND YOUR SHOES.

It also dawned on me that, for the first time in seven years, I was coming into my own summer break. No lesson plans to write. No early-morning texts about potential jobs. No worrying about looking professional (you laugh, but omg, having to dress in “real” clothes is just exhausting). No childcare arrangements for particularly early or late subbing assignments. Whenever idiots people complain about teachers or say that teaching is a cushy job (HAHAHAHA), they always bring up summer break. You’re done at 3:00 (HAHAHA) and you’re off all summer! Trust me, no one teaches simply to have summers off; that lovely perk does not begin to outweigh the difficulties and challenges of the job.

But it is still an awfully lovely perk.

As I unloaded the dishwasher but did not make lunches (thank you sweet baby Jesus), I thought about how easy the afternoon and evening had been. Instead of trying to cram homework in before sports and dinner, we lounged. The girls forgot to put away their clean clothes last night, but guess what? They could do it this morning because – surprise! – no school! All of those things that we’ve been putting off because there’s no time, when will you do your homework?, you can’t do that and get to bed on time… we can finally get to. It feels glorious.

And so, whereas the ten weeks of torture summer used to stretch before me as an anxiety-producing collection of NOTHING TO DO, I am now very much feeling how incredible it can be to have NOTHING TO DO!! This was a very good year – a busy, exhausting, happy, fulfilling year; I wouldn’t change it, and am excited to start up again in the fall. But I hadn’t appreciated how very much we all could use a real, honest-to-god break.


Yeah, I’m still a bit apprehensive about the whole They’re With Me All Day thing, but I’m not nearly as worked up about it as I was in the past. While I know there will be plenty of refereeing moments, Ella and Annie are just a bit older now, that much more independent (even though they still don’t sleep in worth a damn). Also, we’ve done this summer thing before, and I know that – needing a break aside – some structure will be good for everyone, so our days aren’t going to be complete free-for-alls. We have camps and trips and family visits and the lake and I imagine we will still make our Summer Fun List; but also, we have time at home to just hang out and for once, I’m good with that.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Five minutes ago, Ella declared that she was bored. She and Annie will be having fistfights by Monday. There will be tears (theirs? Mine? All of the above?) by midweek. By the Fourth of July I will be counting down the days until they go back to school. But, right now, at this very moment, summer holds delicious promise. (Remind me to check back here in a month to laugh at my foolish naiveté.)

This morning, for the first time, Ella joined me in taking the dogs for a walk, riding beside me on her bike as we traversed the neighborhood. It was raining slightly, but neither of us cared; if anything, it felt refreshing. As we neared home, Ella looked over her shoulder and flashed me a huge grin.


Yes, love?

“If this were a school day, we’d never have time to go for a bike ride. And now we’ve walked the dogs and it’s not even breakfast yet. Summer is the BEST!”

By August – hell, by July – I may deny I ever said it… but this morning, I couldn’t help but call back, Yes, indeed. It is.

Right here waiting

Four-ish years ago, Annie developed a peculiar – and very difficult to describe – game that she called “Mark Off.” The premise was simple enough: Annie would ask a variety of questions, quiz-show style, to the game’s participants, who would then receive points for correct answers and be “marked off” for incorrect ones. (The consequence of the “mark off” was never properly explained, but it turned out not to matter anyway.) For proper effect, she stood on the piano bench (to be taller and more important, one would assume) and wielded a microphone to make things game-show-official.

No piano bench, but you get the general idea.

Actually, the game was a lot more frenetic – kind of like this.

Easy, right? Except, see, the issue was that the “correct” answers were entirely arbitrary, with points being awarded at random (a la “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) and “mark offs” being declared even we were sure we’d gotten things right.

To wit:

“Okay. The game is starting! What color is my hair?”


“Yes! A point for you! {scribbling in notebook} What is Mommy’s first name?”


“WRONG. MARK OFF!” {angry flourish in notebook}

“But Mommy’s first name IS Emily!”

“That’s another point gone for you! Mark off again!” {frenetic checkmark-ing}

“I don’t understand how this game works.”

“What is my friend Jenny’s favorite snack?”

“What? How could we possibly know the answer to that?” 

“MARK OFF!” {yet another angry checkmark}

“Is it cheese?”

“No! You get two points!” {cheerful tally mark added}

After a while, the questions themselves didn’t even make sense, and the “mark off”s becomes even more frequent (and hilarious).

“If a dog could fly, would it eat mangoes?”

“No, because they don’t smell like fish.”

“Yes! Ten points for you!” {ten meticulous tally marks scribbled on her paper}

“Do you like chocolate or vanilla ice cream?”


“MARK OFF!!” {disappointed head shake and a final checkmark}

I’m not doing it justice here, because it was really one of those things you had to witness, but it was epic. We played battled our way through with Grandpa Bill and GranMary (they were visiting at the time), and by the time the game had (mercifully) ended, every one of us was in stitches. Since then, Mark Off has become something of a family legend, evoked whenever we need a quick chuckle or want to marvel at just how nutty our second born really is.

I know there are folks out there who are like, Good God, with the taking of a million photos and the saving of stuff, already. Dozens of drawings from the kids, ticket stubs, old notebooks… Who needs all this crap?? 

I am decidedly not one of these people. While I’m not a hoarder or anything (ask my kids, who look on with absolute horror as I flip through the contents of their take-home folders each day and unceremoniously dump almost everything in the recycling bin), I do save every card, every photo (as I’ve mentioned before), and enough odd scraps of paper and drawings to create my own landfill. They don’t just rot, though – part of why I save them is that I periodically go through them, and the memories make me feel damn good.

Ever since the Mark Off days, I have regretted that I didn’t think to go and pull out a camera and video Annie in action. It all was happening so fast, and we were laughing so freakin’ hard, I didn’t even consider pulling myself away (plus, it was such an organic moment, running for a camera might have broken the spell). But – especially considering that I really can’t do it justice by describing it, and also because each of our memories of the event is fading slightly – I’ve really been bummed that we have absolutely no record of it. I’d assumed that our recollections would have to be good enough.

A few weeks ago, I happened upon a long-forgotten notebook in my bedroom, one that had once been a combination diary/to-do book but that had been commandeered by my young’uns for drawing and writing and coloring and generally making sure that I understood that “my” notebook was no longer “mine” at all.

These are fairly typical entries.
I’m not sure why Nick has such thick legs, nor why my thigh is coming out of my stomach at a perpendicular angle, but whatever. 

After flipping through the pages, I came upon the following and it caused me to – yes, literally (for real) – gasp aloud:


It’s a conversation between Ella and Bill, written in January 2010 (I did a lot of sleuthing through the other drawings to deduce the exact timing; Columbo, that’s me). The left side – Ella’s message – reads: “Thank you for visiting.” (Or, more precisely, THAK YOU FOR V ISITIN… but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. She had only just turned five, people.)

The right side containing Bill’s response is a bit harder to see, so allow me to provide a close-up:


Grandpa Bill
Ella and Annie – Thank you for letting us stay with you and for a wonderful time.

Beneath that is a drawing of a sun (I think?), a rectangle with squiggly lines, an I Love You heart from Ella, and an adorably small I Love You Too heart from Bill.

Which, in and of itself, was enough to make me gasp – a heretofore unknown conversation with Grandpa Bill? His handwriting, his sentiments, the memories of him and his wonderful relationship with the girls… And it just fell into my lap?


But when I looked more closely, I realized that this was even more amazing than I’d originally thought, because that drawing in the middle of the page? That’s not just a box with squiggles… Take a look for yourself:
Scribble… OFF
Scribble… OFF

Yep, in his thank-you note to Ella, Bill included his own illustration of one of the best parts of their visit – Annie’s legendary game of Mark Off.

For the past four years, we’d all thought that there was no “proof” that Mark Off had ever even existed, as though it were a figment of our imagination. Now, there’s not only evidence that it happened – there’s evidence from Bill, in an adorable note written to his granddaughter. It had been waiting there for us all along; we just had to find it.

Tomorrow is Bill’s birthday; he would be seventy-one. Last year at this time, we were embarking on our hilariously catastrophic visit to Minnesota to celebrate his 70th. This year, the timing is just right for GranMary to come for a visit, so we will happily be spending the weekend with her (and dragging her to soccer celebrations and movies and heaven knows what else; thank God she’s a great sport!) – perhaps celebrating, but more likely simply wishing and remembering.

Whatever we decide to do, I know that the memory of Bill will be right there with us – we just have to find him. But that shouldn’t be too hard; he’s always waiting for us, all along.

gp visit26
Photo taken during the infamous gameshow visit.
Why is Annie barefoot and Ella wearing Valentine’s socks? MARK OFF!



Throwback Thursday: When I Grow Up

june girlies being cute
June 2009

“I can’t wait to grow up!”

She is insistent, indignant. Her words burst forth with a combination of excitement and frustration.

Why can’t you wait to grow up?

“Because then I’ll be able to do exactly what I want all day long!”

Unable to stop myself, I recall some of the lyrics to “When I Grow Up,” a song from Matilda, The Musical:

When I grow up, I will be tall enough to reach the branches that I need to reach to climb trees you get to climb when you’re grown up
And when I grow up, I will be smart enough to answer all the questions that you need to know the answers to before you’re grown up.

And when I grow up, I will eat sweets everyday on the way to work and I will go to bed late every night
And I will wake up when the sun comes up and I will watch cartoons until my eyes go square and I won’t care cause I’ll be all grown up

When I grow up

I will be strong enough to carry all the heavy things you have to hold around with you when you’re a grown up.
And when I grow up I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grown up

I empathize with her sentiment; who among us didn’t wish to grow up faster, right now!, to be an adult and not have all of that terrible kid-stuff to worry about? (In particular, I was eager to have my own phone – the corded kind that attaches to the wall – and to be able to watch R-rated movies, which seemed to me to be the height of maturity.)

“I wouldn’t have to do homework. I wouldn’t have to eat fruits or vegetables before I can eat my crunchy snack. I’d be able to have a car and a license and drive anywhere I want.”

She can’t see what I see: that she is growing up, so freakishly fast, it makes me catch my breath. She and her sister, both; they’re outgrowing their clothes, they care about their hairstyles and dress wearing clothing that “makes {them} look good,” they correctly use complex words and phrases that I didn’t even know they knew, and they are worried about hungry children in the world.


This is not bad, really, not at all. Nick and I are truly fortunate to have loved each age they have been – six and eight were great, seven and nine are even better, and I imagine that eight and ten will be really peachy. Just yesterday, Nick and I were chuckling and groaning over a Buzzfeed collection of “The Thirty Five Dumbest Things That Have Ever Happened” – Tweets and Facebook posts about things like people complaining about being stuck on an escalator that stopped running (??) or asking where the Brazil World Cup is going to be held (omg). The girls pestered us to tell them what was so funny, and we were hesitant at first, thinking that they wouldn’t even understand the vast majority of the references much less why they were funny… But they got it! They thought they were hilarious (which also means that my seven and nine year olds are smarter than a lot of really stupid adults, holla!). And I marveled to Nick how incredible this was – sharing these moments, these times that would not have been possible even maybe a few months ago, because our girls are growing up into real, amazing humans and it is just so very cool.

But, oh… it’s so very fast. There are hardly any words that they confuse or mispronounce anymore, and although they still enjoy being held and carried, they’re getting awfully heavy (or I’m getting weaker). I know, it’s such a cliché, the whole It All Goes By So Quickly thing, and I know that I’ve commented on it before… but it doesn’t make it any less true now than it was then.

In fact, the older they get, the more quickly time seems to speed by.

And as for that whole wanting-to-be-a-grown-up thing… Well, shit, honey. In the past two weeks alone, we have drawn up and signed our wills, started the process of getting life insurance, had the lawn mower break (while mid-mow), had the vacuum cleaner break, brought the car in for two recalls, DUCT TAPED a portion of the underbelly of said car onto the bumper so it will stop dragging on the ground, cleaned up vomit, and pondered why the overhead lights in the kitchen mysteriously keep going out despite replacing the bulbs even after having the electrician out.

On each of those occasions, I have – no joke – looked around for the actual adult in charge so that s/he can take responsibility for the deed… only to discover that, through some practical joke the universe is playing, *I* am the adult in charge. HOW IN THE HELL DID THIS HAPPEN??


I watch her brush her teeth, resisting the urge to step in and tell her that she’s missed a spot, and ponder the song lyrics again. I am, indeed, tall enough to reach many of the branches, but my body isn’t quite nimble enough to climb the trees the way I used to. I do, in fact, eat sweets every day and stay up way too late, but those things aren’t really working out so well for me in the long run. I don’t wake up with the sun all that often, and I’m not watching too many cartoons, but my eyes definitely go square after a “Modern Family” marathon and it is so totally worth it. (There are some benefits to being grown…)

As far as the answers to the questions, I still don’t have those – not nearly. I am strong, yes, but sometimes the weight of all of the heavy things I am carrying threatens to send me to my knees. And I try to fight the creatures beneath the bed, but I rarely feel brave.

Being grown up is not all it’s cracked up to be.

first and last days
First and last days, 2010

They are nearly done with school, my girls. This is both wonderful and terrifying, the open expanse of summer already looming ominously while simultaneously seeming too short. By the time the nine weeks have gone, they will be a grade older, even more grown up, with the days having flashed by in an instant.


I hug her before she goes to sleep and then put my hands squarely on her shoulders. You need to stop growing, I tell her.

She giggles. “I can’t, Mama!”

No, I’m serious. I love that you’re getting older, I love all that we can do together. I think you’re one of the greatest kids on the planet and I’m so thankful that you are mine.

“Um, thanks.” She is embarrassed but obviously pleased.

But, seriously. It’s happening too fast. You’re getting too old. Please stop growing.

“MOM!!” She’s actually laughing now. “I CAN’T!!”

Could you at least promise me you’ll try?

“But I WANT to get bigger!”

I know. I want you to, too. Could you at least slow it down a little?

“I don’t think so.”

That’s not very nice of you.


Well, can I at least have another hug, then?



“You can have two!”


I feel her arms pressing into my shoulders and back, notice their weight on me exactly, trying to take this in so I will always remember perfectly how this feels.

After she’s asleep, I check on her before I turn in myself, kissing her cheek and smoothing her hair. Then I look underneath her bed – just in case – and, for a moment, feel the tiniest bit brave.


Look away, baby, look away

Welcome to today’s session of What Life Looks (Or Sounds) Like Through The Eyes (Or Ears) Of Someone With ADHD. Thanks for your attention! (See what I did there?)

Listening is a challenge for me. No, not just because talking takes precedence over listening (although there’s some of that, sure; it’s definitely something I’m working on, that whole You Don’t Need To Think Of An Immediate Response – Just Listen! thing). And no, not just because I’m easily distracted because of my ADHD – well, okay, that IS it, but probably not in the way you might think.

It’s not that I don’t hear things; it’s more that I hear everything. Television at normal volume often feels like it’s screaming at me. If Langston comes in after a particularly exhausting session of ball-fetching and is panting like a maniac, I hear his frantic breaths more loudly than everything else in the room. Last weekend, we went out to The Melting Pot to celebrate the girls’ – and my students’ – successful piano recital. The empty fondue pot was warming up, waiting for the mouthwatering cheese to be placed into it by our server, and the heat from the burner was causing the pot to rattle ever so slightly. Once I noticed it, it was essentially all I could hear; I absolutely could not block it out, even though I tried (I mean that literally – I held my hand coyly up to my ear to attempt to muffle the sound). It took superhuman effort to focus on the conversation we were trying to have, and only once the pot was finally full – and, mercifully, quiet – did I turn my complete attention to Nick and the girls.

I don’t want to be hearing these random noises so loudly – I just don’t really have any choice. It’s part of my wiring, a portion of the ADHD code that is who I am. A lot of times, it’s actually a good thing. I can make out someone’s voice from around a corner before anyone else even knows they’re coming and I’ll be the first to realize that the faucet is dripping, thereby saving our house from devastating flooding (go, me!). Others, it’s a real nuisance because it’s not such fun when you can’t read a sentence in your book (or on your Kindle, although I don’t have a Kindle, but whatever) because you can hear the ticking of the watch so loudly – the one being worn by the person three seats over – that it’s making you develop an eye twitch.

There are ways that I help myself tune out those extra sounds. Let’s just say that we don’t have any wall clocks in our house and Nick knows to hold any potential wristwatches-as-gifts up to his ear to ascertain whether or not I’ll be hiding them in the bathroom closet ten seconds after opening the box. (True story: our bathroom closet really does hold, like, three clocks.) I also sleep with an extra pillow so that I can put it over my head in case some random noise is keeping me awake, and I am super fun on family vacations.

I would really like to drown out the extemporaneous nonsense; I simply can’t.

It may seem like a contradiction, then, that I really prefer to do work – or make dinner, or clean, or mow the lawn – with music on, what with the music-being-a-distraction and all. But if I have the right kind of music, it actually works to cover up other potential distractions (the “right” kind is almost impossible to pin down; my Pandora list is really varied, although Nick just was scrolling through my iPhone and announced with genuine disparagement that a “shockingly high percentage of these songs are Christmas songs”). When the girls are playing and giggling and shrieking at one another – even happily – it can make me lose focus almost immediately if I have a task at hand… so I just crank up that play list and, suddenly, I’m able to refocus. Until someone’s bleeding. Or hanging off my back like a monkey. That’s harder to ignore.

These funny little “tricks” have been hard-earned over the years – trial and error, success and failure, melded into one. But one of the favorite tools in my ADHD box is the very purposeful act of not looking at someone when they’re talking… so that I can hear them better. On some level, this makes no sense, I know; why would you look away from someone who’s talking? If you’re really paying attention, shouldn’t you be taking visual cues, looking for facial expressions and body language?

Well, yes and no. Obviously, those things are really important and can contribute tremendously to understanding what someone is trying to say. But also? They’re really distracting. When someone is waving their hands to emphasize a point, my eyes are drawn to their fingers – but unlike most people without ADHD, I don’t just take a quick glance and then look toward their face again.

No, suddenly I’m noticing that her fingernails are painted a really neat shade of plum – and don’t I have one like that in the cupboard? If not, maybe I should swing by Target on the way home… Which reminds me, oh crap! I never got that birthday present! Wait, is the big day this Friday or next Friday? STOP, EMILY. FOCUS. Right, right. What was he saying again? Oh, yes. Field Day is coming up, the girls need to bring sunscreen… Speaking of which, now that I’m looking at his face, maybe he could use a higher SPF himself. Is that a mole or a freckle? Who was that actor again in the Austin Powers movie with the “molé molé molé” thing? Kevin Savage? Wasn’t he in The Wonder Years?

kevin savage mole
“My mole-stake..”

And then I’ve completely lost the thread of the conversation and instead of remembering what she was telling me about her son’s recent softball game, all I remember is that Ms. Starbucks Barista has really lovely eyebrows.

Hence, when something is really important – when I really want to hear what someone is saying, or the film dialogue in a crowded movie theater, or whether or not the woodwinds or the brass are responsible for the eighth notes in this section of the symphony – I look away. Not just anywhere, though, because there are myriad other distractions lurking everywhere, just waiting to grab my (already fleeting) attention — the blinking EXIT sign, the way the kid in line to the left is picking his nose, how the poster on the wall is missing a pushpin. Bueller? Bueller?

Thus, in order to really listen, I’ll look down at my own hands (which is also part of why I rarely wear nail polish – because the chipping and uneven color distracts me even when I’m trying not to be distracted, for crying out loud!). Or, if I’m not actually holding a conversation with someone, I’ll close my eyes. Yeah, I may miss the lead actor’s facial expressions, but at least I’ll hear what he had to say.

I have no idea if other folks with ADHD do the same thing, but I’m a fan. Concentration and focus, FTW!

So. If we’re having a chat, you and I, and I suddenly look down – or you see me working fervently to give make appropriately polite eye contact while also, oddly, glancing at my own fingers from time to time – don’t take it personally. Actually, do take it personally, because it means that I care enough about what you’re saying to really listen, and this is the best way I know how to do it. And if you’re a teacher and that highly distractible kid is looking out the window instead of staring at you? Sure, maybe she’s not listening. But, then again, maybe she is. Maybe give her another chance.

Also? You might want to check a mirror when we’re through, just in case the thing I was finding the most distracting was the salad stuck between your front teeth. You’re welcome.


To the point

It’s *occasionally* been remarked upon that I tend to talk a lot. (Or, as I like to put it, why use a few words when dozens will do?) Sometimes, this is a nuisance – not only for those listening to/reading what I have to say (because there are only so many hours in a day, I get it), but also because my brain simply does not think in small phrases. One of the reasons I have yet to Tweet – despite having a Twitter account so I can follow random celebrities (especially of Harry Potter movies fame *ahem*; also Ken Jennings and Eric Stonestreet are hilarious) – is that I absolutely cannot condense anything into 140 characters. Even ordering a pizza takes me a good while.

On the other hand, being overly loquacious has sometimes come in handy, like when I’m teaching and need to fill the last few minutes of a class with anything to keep the kids occupied. I might have even won several Talk-Offs (you know, those “competitions” where you and an opponent are given random topics to discuss and whoever stops talking first loses. The word “competitions” is in quotes because, people, please), and I carry a certain swagger in my step as a result of those definitive victories.

My father, on the other hand, is a man of few words – and even that might be an overstatement. He’s not one of those stoic, grunted-response kind of guys, but more someone who speaks as succinctly and pointedly as possible. This has certainly gotten him very far in business, but when I was a kid, we didn’t really have a lot of heart-to-heart conversations. (I did tend to use up all of the oxygen in the room, so there’s that.)

As I became a teenager, my relationship with my dad began to change. It’s not necessarily that we began having long, detailed conversations, but rather that I began to appreciate his way of communicating just a bit more. (In fairness, although I think he’s often practically knocked over by the steady stream of words coming out of my mouth, he has always seemed to appreciate that that’s just how I roll.)

He would write me cards for all sorts of occasions – birthdays, milestone events, just because – and, rather than gloss over them because of their lack of expanded prose, I began to see them as perfectly him: direct; to the point; honest. I called them “Dad Cards” and saved every one, tucking some of my favorites into scrapbooks and diaries.

dad card1 dad card2
His penmanship is not quite as clear as his message, but it all evens out in the end.
Somehow, this looks like it was Photoshopped – very weird!

The cards continued all through high school, college, and beyond, with more and more arriving for no reason at all other than that he wanted to let me know I was on his mind. A cute card, a few words (unlike the paragraphs I would write to my friends). Each time I received one, it was like a smile coming through the mail.

In addition to the cards, with the advent of cell phones, my dad began calling and leaving voicemail messages. Some asked me to call him back because he had a matter to discuss with me, but more often than not they simply said, “I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you. Talk to you later!” 

As email has taken on increasing importance, so, too, has my dad adopted communicating with me electronically – in brief. Every once in a while, I’ll receive a message that requires me to actually scroll past one screen on my iPhone, but the vast majority are one or two liners that convey exactly what he’s trying to say. In fact, because he now frequently sends them via iPad – a device whose keypad is not exactly conducive to typing long diatribes – his emails are consistently just a few words per email. (For example, to comment on one of my blog entries, I’ll receive an email whose subject line is the title of the blog and whose message says: “Great post” or “Never knew you liked olives.”)

Just as often, he’ll forward me an article from the Wall Street Journal with no preamble or additional writing at all. Although I usually understand why he’s forwarded me the story (Ah, yes, a discussion of Disney Cruises), I’ll sometimes have no idea if the article was meant as an encouragement or an admonishment (Wait, does he think I should be drinking Starbucks beverages daily, or is this a subtle hint that maybe I’ve got a problem?).

No matter, the underlying message remains the same: You’re on my mind. You’re awesome. And I love you.

dad n me2
Vermont, 2011

My dad and I do talk a lot more these days than we used to when I was growing up – like, actual, for real, back-and-forth conversations. Admittedly, I’m probably responsible for 85% of the words used between us, and his responses are still short and sweet – but hey, old habits die hard. At least there’s dialogue.

Still, despite our increased discourse, some of my very favorite communications – not just from my father, but from anyone on the planet – are the brief cards, emails, and voicemail messages from him that are so perfectly Dad. There’s no one (at least, no one I know) who doesn’t enjoy being remembered, being thought of. Far harder (for me, anyway) is actually taking the time to reach out and let that person know that they’re on your mind.

For a man of few words, my dad is an expert at this. He has taught me that communication comes in all forms, and that sometimes, bigger isn’t better. Obviously, I haven’t quite managed the art of this myself, but I know my dad doesn’t care. (Although if I receive the link to a Wall Street Journal article detailing the detriments of too much talking, perhaps I’ll change my mind…)

So, this post is my very long-winded way of simply saying:
I know this is a day late, Dad, but I’m thinking about you.
You’re awesome.
And I love you

dad n me3
My first birthday, 1976.
I am undoubtedly getting ready to say something to him.

What He Does

He introduces them to Van Morrison and Van Halen; they know all of the words to “Crazy Love.”

He plays guitar and sings with them; sometimes, they sing in harmony.

He teaches them the “right” way to throw a football into a spiral, hold a bat to hit a ball, wield a hockey stick, and kick a soccer ball.

He cannot wait to show them every episode of “Trip Flip” and wishes that I’d give my okay to sharing “Bar Rescue” with them, too. (Not gonna happen.)

He takes a shower in the master bathroom (the tub with the plastic shower curtain and the single shower head, which he does not like) rather than the “main” bathroom (the large tile shower with the multiple, awesome shower jets, which he far prefers) so that he doesn’t risk awakening the girls when he has to catch an a.m. plane at the perfectly wrong time.

He agrees, without the slightest hesitation, to fully assume kid and dog duty in the morning, presiding over breakfast and get-to-school wrangling, every morning that I teach.

He laces up their skates so that they are just tight enough to support their ankles and never come untied (unlike a certain Mommy we know who has no patience for tightening things properly).

FD post5

He never, ever refers to being with the girls as “babysitting.”

He compliments the girls on their personalities, their intelligence, their wit, their humor, their efforts, and their accomplishments far more than he does their appearance.

He still makes sure to tell them that they are beautiful, often.

He volunteers as a Math Fact Helper whenever there’s a need, quizzing third graders on multiplication and division tables before he goes to the office. The first graders requested that he return as a Science Action volunteer because he was so funny the first time he came in.

He attends Daddy/Daughter dances even though he really doesn’t want to, because they want to, and never complains about it (to them, anyway).

FD post6

He never misses calling or FaceTime-ing the girls whenever he’s out of town, asking about their days (if there’s time) or, at the very least, making sure to catch them before bedtime to wish them good night. (Well, except for that one time he didn’t call, and that didn’t go over so well, and now he never misses calling. Voila!)

He phones the girls every morning before school if he’s off on a business trip, even if it means awakening at some ungodly hour because he’s in another time zone.

He brings them back trinkets from each trip he takes – partly to soften the sting of his being gone, partly because the man cannot resist purchasing stuff, and partly because it’s their thing now, shared between the three of them.

He coaches first grade soccer with humor, encouragement, and patience that I know I do not possess. (As a teacher, this is saying something; mad props, man.)

FD post2

He’s far more likely than I (by, oh, a million times) to buy something completely unnecessary when he and the girls are out, either because they were clamoring for it or because he just couldn’t help himself from loading the air hockey table into his cart; they know this, and they love it.

He introduces the girls to iPad games, which they could play with him – over his shoulder – for hours on end. I sometimes complain when they’re glued to the screen “helping” him build a city or defeat an army or whatever it is they do, but really, aside from it being electronic, is this so different than a game of Risk?

He has never – not once – hinted that he’s even remotely upset that he doesn’t have a son. In fact, sometimes I think he prefers having only daughters.

He tickles and pokes and roughhouses in ways that drive me absolutely insane but that the girls not only love, but need.

He apologizes to them and he means it.

FD post4

He never misses an opportunity to loudly call the girls by their absurd, imaginary nicknames (Vanessa Stinkbottom and Julianna Snotnose), choosing his moments carefully so as to inflict maximum embarrassment (but never too much).

He’s starting to swear a little more around them; sometimes I admonish, sometimes I don’t. The girls just think it’s funny.

He invites them to curl up on his lap when they’ve become overwhelmed or sad or tired; they almost always accept.

He graciously escorts them from dinners and gatherings for a little alone time when it’s clear that they’ve just had enough.

He will not fix their hair. Ever.
Coincidentally, they’ve grown quite good at fixing their own hair. Funny, that.

He makes certain to spend time with them individually.

He is better at getting them to bed on time than I am.

He is sure to give them hugs when he’s accidentally bonked them in the nose with the Track Ball ball.

FD post3

He oohs and ahhhhs over every gift and present, homemade to recycled (“I just knew you’d want this old gum wrapper collection!”) to the items that were actually on his wish list, and every one is treated with the same amount of appreciation and enthusiasm.

He has different secret handshakes with both of them.
I don’t know what they are.
Because they’re secrets. Duh.

He tells them that they are awesome, every single day.

He tells them that he loves them, every single day.

He tells them that he loves being their daddy, every single day.

They tell him that they love being his kids – and, oh, how they do.

He will be missing his own dad this Sunday – his dad who was so tremendously proud of him as a father – and, damn it all, there is nothing that we can do to take that ache and sadness away.

But we can celebrate him anyway because, by God, he deserves it.

He is the very best daddy they could ask for, the very best father I could hope for them, and we are so lucky that he is ours.

We’ve also got a few Father’s Day gifts up our sleeves (fingers crossed that Annie remembered that item he wanted at EMS… It was kind of touch and go in there for a while…). Even if we get it wrong, I know he’ll smile and thank them and pull them in for a hug. And then probably tickle them until they scream.

Because that’s what he does.

FD post7






Throwback Thursday: Melodrama

You’ve probably already noticed that both of my girls tend to be just a bit theatrical. Their make-believe play is not just straightforward Everyone Is Happy And Life Is Peachy. No, the characters they create – for themselves, for their Barbies – are always facing some terrible predicament… Someone is gravely ill. Their house is falling apart so they have to move to a mansion. Their clothing has been reduced to rags (I mean this in literally; they tear old clothes into rags and toss them about for effect). Their parents have been murdered or died years ago or have mysteriously gone missing (why are there always no parents?).

I listen and I can’t help but chuckle because, as a kid, I, too, leaned just a bit toward the melodramatic (this is a shock, I know). If a story involved a tragedy, being poor, or orphans (seriously, orphans were awesome), I was entranced. One of my favorite books was The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, a tale of the five turn-of-the-20th-century Pepper children who grew up in ridiculous poverty with only their mother around (except she wasn’t really around, either, because she had to be off as a seamstress or something to try and make a meager living to support her five littler Peppers).

I didn’t just love reading about the Five Little Peppers… I wanted to BE the Five Little Peppers. Or, at least, to live like them. I would have traded all of the delicious Betty Crocker Stir ‘n Frost cake mixes (please tell me that you remember these) that my mom made for our special occasions for just one Pepper cake that was cobbled together with flour, water, an egg, and a handful of raisins.

Today, while attempting to tidy the basement (“attempt” is key here), I came across some childhood papers of mine, including this gem of an illustration from when I was in fourth grade:
like mama1
You understand now why I’m not an art teacher.

Although I don’t remember this particular drawing, I definitely remember this type of drawing. Please note that the children are wearing clothes that are too small, riddled with holes and patches. Everyone is filthy (that’s dirt, not smallpox). The black-haired child is obviously on death’s door. The girl holding the sick child? That’s not her mother, silly; that’s her sister – they have no parents.

This was not a drawing of a family to be pitied. This was the family I wanted to join. There was probably a raisin cake baking just around the corner.

In addition to physical and illustrated theatrics, both Ella and Annie manage to slip rather dramatic proclamations into their writing as well. Annie is currently writing a story where the main characters (young girls; again, no parents) are fighting for their lives. It’s a chapter story that she fully expects will be hardbound when it’s done. I’ll keep you posted.

Ella tends to use save most of her drama for when she’s a) writing about Harry Potter (duh), b) trying to convince us to get her something that she absolutely must have, or c) woefully proclaiming how difficult her life is. She especially likes to write us little notes that make sweeping, absurdly melodramatic generalizations (“I think maybe I’ll never have another friend again because everyone in this house hates me”) accompanied by spots for us to fill in the blanks (“Can we please get a pet chinchilla? Write your answer here”) or  “Circle Yes or No” to let her know that we’ve actually read what she’s written.

I’ve been saving most of these pleading missives because, for one, I think they’re hilarious; for another, I think that Ella might get a kick out of them in the future; and also, I want to remind myself that these seemed “dramatic” when she’s calling us from college at four a.m., drunk, declaring that she will never love again. What I didn’t realize was that maybe I was saving them because they’re awfully… familiar…

To wit, a note that was tucked away inside the same Emily: Fourth Grade folder in which I found my Pepper family drawing:

like mama3

Can’t read it? Oh, please. Allow me:

“READ ME 1st!
DEAR Mom + Dad,
On this note DO NOT write back! I wanted to say that tonight I was thinking of all the fun times we’ve had lately, but I couldn’t because we haven’t had any.
No more playing baseball, riding bikes (for Dad). No more sitting on laps just cuddling (for Mom). Am I getting to (sic) old? I hope not. So since it’s close to Christmas time, let’s try to get together more.
OK       NOT OK
Please circle one of these and bring the note back to my room.
I hope you had a good time tonight.
(I assume they went out for dinner? Also, passive aggressive much?)
Love, Em


like mama2

READ ME 2nd!
P.P.S I really missed you tonight + last night.
(ed note: omg, the second best thing I’ve ever written)
circle one
GOOD NIGHT. SLEP TIGH (I assume this meant “sleep tight”?)
I love you
You love me right?
Yes No
Love Em

You’ll note that my mom or dad indicated that, yes, they could read the note, but did not respond to the “You love me, right?” question. VERY CURIOUS.

I can only assume that my mother saved this note for the same reason I’m saving Ella’s: because she laughed her ass off when she read it, and because she thought perhaps one day I would, too.

She was right. I almost hurt myself over these.

And also: apparently the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe I’ll humor Ella the next time she writes us such dramatic notes and be sure not to giggle when she can see me. I’ll also be sure to actually circle “YES” when asked “YOU LOVE ME, RIGHT?” because, come on Mom and Dad, can’t a girl get a little love around here??

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Fourth grade class photo day.
Looking like Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls.
I bet she loved raisin cake.


An Open Letter To Ms. J.K. Rowling

Dear Ms. Rowling,

There’s a large part of me that feels more comfortable calling you Jo, because I’ve seen and read so many of your interviews, television programs, and articles – many referring to you as Jo – that I feel we’re almost on a first-name basis. That’s an important distinction, though, isn’t it — that *almost* part of things — because although you are, indeed, a household name here, uttered as often as beloved relatives and best friends, I am just one of bazillions of your fans, blending into a cacophony of Potterdome that must feel simultaneously wonderful and overwhelming.

Rest assured, I have no illusions that you will ever really read this letter (the fact that I will not actually send it to you doesn’t really help my cause, either). But that’s okay. I’m not writing to gain answers or guidance, but rather because I simply cannot go any further without formally stating these things, to you and to everyone.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to make any bizarre declarations. No need to tighten the security detail. It’s just – see, you’ve completely changed my daughter’s life – and, in so doing, have changed mine – and I kind of think that deserves recognition.

(Long recognition, in this case. Get comfy.)

Her name is Ella – Eleanor, if you’re feeling proper. Or British. She’s nine and in third grade and, until a year or so ago, didn’t particularly care for reading. It’s not that she wasn’t a proficient reader (she was), it’s that she didn’t like reading. Nothing grabbed her. My husband and I were somewhat flummoxed; Ella had access to hundreds of books at our house. We, her parents, love to read. We’ve read to her, we’ve read with her, we’ve read in front of her. Her younger sister has loved to curl up with a book since before she could recognize letters. But Ella? No.

Last spring, she become somewhat taken with The Boxcar Children series. While not terribly excellent literature, I was nevertheless thrilled, hoping that maybe this would be what unlocked her love of reading (because just not liking reading wasn’t really flying for me). It didn’t. Summer came and went, and although other children may see unstructured days as an opportunity to voraciously consume as many books as possible, Ella believed that No School meant No Reading Any Time Ever, and so very few pages were turned.

Thus, it came as quite a surprise this past fall when Ella declared that she wanted to begin reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. (I know, Philosopher’s Stone, originally; I also know where and when you wrote it, how long it took, all about your daughter, Jessica’s, first years, and… well, you catch my drift. See why “Jo” seemed appropriate?) At first, my husband and I balked – not because we thought she wouldn’t like it, but because we thought she was too young to really get it.

ech 52 of 52 harry potter finale
New Year’s Eve – last book, last page

He and I have been fans since the beginning. Those fully-grown adults who pre-ordered books (one for each of us, because no way in hell we could share) but then still went out at 7 a.m. to purchase a third copy, because waiting until the UPS carrier arrived was torture. The ones who explored Harry Potter message boards in the internet’s infancy, when dial-up modems buzzed and clicked us online, because we absolutely had to see what other people thought of Sirius at the Ministry. (Full disclosure: I’ve never actually posted in any of these forums, because that seems to be crossing some kind of Geekdom line that even I cannot condone, but I’ve read. For hours.)

We’re the ones who sobbed our way through the last two hundred pages of The Half-Blood Prince and whose book club’s Deathly Hallows discussion was the most well-attended in the history of the club, and the only one for which nearly everyone gave a perfect ten stars. We drank it up – every book, every word, every article we could get our hands on discussing plots and themes and spoiler alerts.

So, we got it, this Harry Potter thing. (Or so we thought.) We loved them. They were special – so special, we thought perhaps they deserved to be read when they could be wholly understood, when the subtle nuances and scores of impressive literary, historical, scientific, musical and artistic references could be fully appreciated. When Ella had lived a little more life, and could bring those life experiences to her reading. Perhaps she should wait.

But no, as anyone who’s read this blog or met us in real life this past year knows, Ella did not want to wait – not for the first book, at least – and so we reluctantly consented. And so it went, with some pauses (especially after The Goblet of Fire, when everything becomes so much more intense) as Nick and I determined whether or not to let her finish. (Nick’s my husband; since you’re on a first-name basis with me, I thought it only fair that you know him, too). It soon became apparent, however, that not only did Ella want to finish the series… she needed to finish the series. I summed it up this way in her birthday blog post:

“But we eventually came to understand that she needs to finish these books; no, I mean it, actually needs to. They are fully real to her, so authentic and true that she can smell them, and as with anything in real life, unfinished business is uncomfortable indeed. She will not fully exhale until she knows what happens, for better or for worse.”

And so she completed them – Nick and I actually joined her for the final chapter on New Year’s Eve, the perfect way of capping off the year – and we thought maybe, now, it was done, this Harry obsession. Ella knew the story, knew what happened, she could let it rest, let it go, relax.

Um, yeah. Not so much.

Written three days after she finished the series, when we’d told her to go back and reread if she was really missing it…

In fact, her love of All Things Harry Potter only grew stronger.

Like most American families with elementary school children, Frozen has taken over our lives — but, at our house, quietly beside it is Harry. It’s not flashy like “Let It Go” or “Do You Want to Build a Snowman,” but it’s there, a steady, constant companion. I am not exaggerating when I say that not one single day of our lives – since mid-September – has passed without a Harry reference, be it to the books themselves, the characters, the movies, the actors who portray the movie characters, the movie directors, or you yourself, Ms. Rowling.

There’s the general Potter-stuff mania, of course, largely fueled by us at Christmas and then further supported when we took the family to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter this past February. Our house is bursting with authentic wands, Gryffindor robes, time-turner necklaces, Deathly Hallows pendants, a Marauders Map, “Mischief Managed” wall adhesives, Harry Potter cookbooks, chocolate frog cards (and actual chocolate frogs, both the candies and the make-it-yourself candy molds), platform 9 3/4 earrings, Harry Lego games, “Hogwarts” and “Hagrid’s Hut” Lego sets, Harry-esque glasses, tomes dissecting Harry “from page to screen,” biographies on Dan and Emma and you (Rupert’s has been more difficult to come by), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Hedwig stuffed animals, golden snitch quizzing games, Nimbus 2000s, extendable ears, Gryffindor uniform ties, and numerous books of spells.



And that’s just stuff that’s been purchased (or given as gifts), which doesn’t begin to account for the other ways that Harry been woven into our family fabric. Entire sections of rooms have been dedicated to stories about Harry and the gang, drawings of the characters, and letters to directors. Nearly every game of dress-up and make-believe (that’s not devoted to Frozen) finds the girls on the grounds of Hogwarts. More hours than I care to admit have been devoted to scouring websites like Mugglenet and Pottermore and TheLeakyNews for information on everything from the new Gringotts expansion at Universal to what Robbie Coltrane likes to eat for breakfast. On Twitter, I now follow Emma Watson, Rupert Grint (Daniel Radcliffe remains Twitter-free), Matthew Lewis, Tom Felton, Evanna Lynch, Oliver and James Phelps, Warwick Davis, Devon Murray, Bonnie Wright, and – of course – you, even though I don’t actually Tweet, myself, all so that I can occasionally update Ella on what’s going on with the much-beloved actors who become so important to her.

Clearly, we have become completely Harry immersed, Harry obsessed…
But, believe it or not, not in a bad, unhealthy way.
(I hope.)

I say “we” because this truly has become a family affair. Sure, Nick and I were kind of givens, but Annie (Ella’s little sister; again, I feel you might as well know us all by name) has not yet read the books… but I’m certain that she knows more obscure Harry-related trivia than many people who have completed the series, partly by osmosis, and partly because Ella thinks it’s The Best Game Ever to quiz Annie on All Things Harry until she gets the right answers.

From Annie’s – yes, ANNIE’S – “All About Me” book, written last week at school

So, there’s one way that you, Ms. Rowling, have changed Ella’s – and my – life: the characters and the worlds you created have now invaded the very fiber of our beings, with an entire Potter dialect running through half of our conversations, a house full of wizarding gear, and a compulsion to check in weekly and see how Neville’s transformation from geek to gorgeous is coming along.

“Something About Harry,” if you will, with bangers and mash instead of franks and beans.

But there’s so much more to it than just a fad, a passing fancy, the way that some kids become fascinated with an activity or a television show or a sport and suddenly every morning is filled with Minecraft updates and bedrooms are adorned with basketball pennants and posters of the cast of Family Ties (wait, that might just have been me…). The Harry Potter series changed the very way my girl approaches the world, the way she feels about herself, the way she interacts with others… everything. It changed her, forever.

Through reading your books, Ella has learned to be far more confident in herself, in exactly who she is. It used to be that she worried desperately – even in second grade – about what her friends thought. She would play games at recess that she didn’t care for because she didn’t want to stand out as different. Once she began the HP series, she began to care far less about what the other kids thought of her. The books were so absorbing, she read them at recess, and felt no stigma in being that kid alone on the bench. Once she finished the seventh book, she still continued to hold her own. All of the other kiddos wear sneakers to play, while Ella prefers white canvas slip-ons; a year ago, she might not have had the confidence to wear them but now does so proudly. I occasionally volunteer to help out during recess, and I’ve noticed that her playing habits have changed – sometimes, with a big group. Sometimes, with a few friends. Other times, all by herself, simply wandering. She is comfortable in her own skin, and while part of that may have come naturally as she’s gotten older, I can’t help but think that a large part of it is due to your books.

At recess, with a friend… and The Prisoner of Azkaban

They are her security blanket. They are real, so very, almost tangibly real, that they practically swallow her whole. Once inside, it is a place of warmth, of familiarity, of deep comfort – in her own words, “a world that makes me smile.” Whenever she is unhappy in the real world, the everyday – when things become overwhelming or confusing or just plain piss her off – all she has to do is close her eyes (or, even better, pick up a book if one’s immediately available to her) and she is wrapped in happiness and calm.

We all tend to call on positive memories when crappy things happen – or, heck, whenever we need a pick-me-up. (Personally, I revisit eating jerk pork in a little shack on the side of the road when Nick and I traveled to Jamaica a few years ago. Or the corn on the cob at the Minnesota state fair. Come to think of it, a lot of my best memories have to do with food… But I digress.) Ella has loads of happy real-life remembrances that she reminisces about – often – but if she wants instant, sheer, to-her-core joy, she will simply recall a Harry memory, and BAM! Bliss. Anywhere, any time, no matter the circumstances or how poor her mood, she can turn it around through Harry. It’s kind of… like… magic.

(Yeah. I said it. You didn’t think I could complete this without it, did you?)

The HP series showed Ella a world of possibilities, and I mean that both figuratively and more tangibly. Her imagination ran wild as she read the books, of course, creating pictures in her mind so that she could truly envision Harry’s adventures. But it’s continued long past the final page and has extended into very real areas of her life. Sure, some of her curiosities are related directly to the stories (“When Harry’s kids go to Hogwarts, do you think they’ll go to the Forbidden Forest like he did?”), while others take the stories and bring them into our real world (“Would you rather have an invisibility cloak or be able to apparate?”). Still more leave Harry behind all together, with Ella using her mind creatively in ways we had not seen before (“Do you suppose time travel will really be possible? Can I use the sewing machine to turn this shirt into a dress?”). Again, this may have happened organically, but I don’t think it’s a coincidence that her fantastical ideas took off after reading these books.

A little creative writing while on our Disney Cruise… and, yep. There it is.

I know that, for many, many kids, the Harry Potter series ignited their love of reading. The same was true for Eleanor… kind of. You see, she certainly loved to read these books; she truly could not spend enough time with them, with many a bedtime being delayed because she “needed” to read “just one more page.” The problem is, she doesn’t really want to read anything else, because nothing compares to those seven tomes. She loves reading YOUR books… but everyone else’s books? Sub-par.

Basically, Ms. Rowling, you ruined reading for her. Thanks ever so much.

Nick and I get it, we really do, because let’s be honest: nothing does compare to those seven tomes, does it? When Ella says that no other books will ever be as wonderful as the Harry Potter books, it’s very difficult to argue with her, because… well… she’s pretty much right. Not as a whole, anyway. The world of Harry Potter is so rich, so unbelievably well-developed, so deep and intricate, so thrilling and nuanced, so inspiring and clever, so tremendously well-written — not well-written for children’s books, but well-written, period, the way that all “good, quality literature” is well-written — that I have yet to find anything that tops it. And so when Ella laments that nothing will ever be better, I can’t help but tell her that she’s absolutely correct… which makes the whole reading thing a bit tough.

(There are, of course, still umpteen incredible books out there. Books that will capture her imagination as HP did, books that will inspire her, books that will whisk her away, books that will comfort and confound and enlighten her. Books that, individually, will mean as much to her, will be as good, as your seven. Worry not, she’s still reading [grudgingly], and although she has yet to find anything that comes close to Harry, she’s not given up.)

ella poem

So, Ms. Rowling, your books truly did change my daughter’s world. She is more confident, more secure, more curious, more alive, and much, much more happy as a result of the Harry Potter series. And as for me (’cause remember how I said that they changed my life, too)? Well, see, when your books changed my kid, they changed how I approach her, how I interact with her. Through discussing the stories with her, I’ve learned so much more about her as a person. How would she have handled it if her team lost the Quidditch match? What does she see in the Mirror of Erised? Why does she love Luna so much? Her answers have been more honest and more raw than the vast majority of the rest of our conversations, and for that, I am endlessly grateful.

I’ve also had the privilege of seeing the books through her eyes, which has been an astonishing experience. By the time I met Harry, Ron, and Hermione, I was already an adult myself. It was fascinating to watch them grow, but I did so with an emotional distance – they were kids, and although I was extremely drawn in by the power of your storytelling, I never once imagined what it was like to BE eleven. Ella, on the other hand, is viewing the stories through the eyes of a child, almost as a peer. She doesn’t just envision the Gryffindor common room (as I did); she envisions herself IN the Gryffindor common room.

Perhaps this difference in perspective may seem inconsequential, or to be splitting hairs, but I can assure you that it is not. It has allowed Eleanor to submerse herself in the stories, in the characters, in ways that I never even considered… until she told me about it. By seeing the books from her vantage point, I gained a newer, deeper appreciation for the stories as a whole – it was like reading them anew (which, as a Potter fan, was AWESOME). But, more so, it’s helped me to see Ella’s entire world from her perspective just a little bit better, to hear her a little more clearly, to not brush off or disregard her opinions simply because she’s young and “overreacting” or silly or “doesn’t get it” the way an adult would. And that has been a marvelous gift, indeed.

As a parent, you’re always looking for ways to motivate your offspring, whether it’s to clean their rooms or to eat their vegetables to be their best selves. Some might call this bribery; I prefer persuasion. In any case, Harry has provided us with endless opportunities to persuade Ella to do any number of things. You want to re-read more of the first book? Sure; as soon as you’ve put away your clothes. I just read a tweet from Tom Felton – I’ll tell you what it says if you help me with the dishes! The next time you spit on your sister, I’m taking away all seven of those books. Forever.

In fact, this letter has been percolating for many months – since Ella completed the books on December 31st, actually – but I’m finally writing it now because, just this past weekend, Harry Potter motivated/persuaded/bribed my child into playing a piece far beyond her level for her piano recital. Ella has a lot of facility at the piano (I’m a piano teacher, so I can say these things with Great Authority), but no desire to practice (you’ll note that she approaches most things in life this way, from reading to music). Once she came upon the music for “Hedwig’s Theme,” however, all bets were off. Defying all precedents, she not only learned that song – she read the music and taught some of it to herself. Yeah, I’m more than a little sick of hearing those music-box-like twinkles, but I’ll never complain that Harry brought my girl to the piano.

adhd kitchen ella

Finally, simply put, sharing Harry Potter with my daughter has been ridiculously fun. It’s been such a trip watching squeal with delight as she learns that Emma Watson graduated from college or howl with frustration and sadness when one of her favorite characters met their demise. If I want an instant connection with her, all I have to do is ask her a Harry-related question, and her face fills with delight. She knows, too, that I adore the books as she does (okay, I’ll be honest here – she might actually enjoy them more than I do), and that knowledge has created a special bond between us that I couldn’t have engineered if I tried. Plain and simple, Ella’s enjoyment of Harry Potter makes me a happier person, and that is a beautiful thing.

“Reading this book feels like Christmas,” she told me.
How can that not make a mama happy??

This is not to say that it’s all been sunshine and unicorns. There are times when all of this Potter mania becomes juuuust a bit too much; where I’m ready to break the next wand that I trip over, where I can hardly even manage a smile when I’m making dinner and am suddenly bombarded with, “Mommy! Can you tell me the name of the woman who made Dumbledore’s costumes for the third movie? ‘CAUSE I CAN!!” There are days when I feel more than a little stalker-pervy for checking on the whereabouts of twenty-something actors, times when I’m just done with trying to convince Ella that, no, she may not re-read a chapter from The Goblet of Fire and count it as her homework.

But, really, the good outnumbers the bad so greatly, it’s not even a contest. And that might be the greatest thing that the Harry Potter series has changed about our lives: it has given us perpetual hope. I was hopeful, myself,  when I originally read them – but, I’ll fully admit, as the years passed, I’ve grown more jaded and cynical. Rereading them with Ella showed her – and reminded me – that, in the end, love wins.

Love. Wins.

It’s such a simple concept, really… but it’s one that I believe down to my core. Does love win every battle, every skirmish? Of course not. There are days, weeks – hell, entire eras – where love does not prevail. But, in the end, I believe that it will, and that if we continue to have hope, to have courage, to be true friends, to look for the good, to fight for the good, that we will find it.

These are not just words, either, but almost a mantra. We have seen many tragedies, some on a small scale and some enormously large, and Ella and Annie have – understandably – been scared, worried, unconvinced that things will turn out all right. Since Ella began your books back in September, on more than one occasion, I have found myself summoning the phrase, “Don’t worry – it will all be okay. Because love wins. Remember that. Love wins.” And then we are okay.

You can’t get much more life-changing than that.

It truly is a family affair…

And so… in summary…
Thank you, Ms. Rowling. Thank you for your stories. Thank you for your characters. Thank you for creating a world beyond anything we ever could have imagined on our own. Thank you for helping us to create our own memories. Thank you for bringing us closer together. Thank you for making us laugh (and cry; OH MY GOD, WE HAVE CRIED SO MUCH OVER THESE BOOKS). Thank you for making us deliriously happy. Thank you for giving us hope. Thank you for all of it.

Annie is still too young to read the books on her own, but in another year or two, I know she’ll be ready; I absolutely cannot wait to go down this road again, and to see the story – and the world – with her and through her. In the meantime, summer is coming, which means that Ella will no longer need to slog twenty minutes of “approved” reading every weekday afternoon… which means that she can read whatever she wants – even things that she might already have read.

Unlike last summer, I don’t think that she’ll have any trouble finding a book (or seven) to keep her occupied.

I hope that your summer is similarly joy-filled, that you’re able to sneak into the new Universal park if you and your family so desire (you can probably just tell them to open it up for you guys, right? Totally private tour and all?), and that your work on the “not-prequal” movie is coming along swimmingly.

With best wishes (and immense gratitude),