Complaining about the Ice Bucket Challenge? Just Stop.

We’ve all seen them by now: the countless videos of people – men, women, children, pets, even Legos – dumping containers of ice water over themselves, then challenging others to do the same or donate $100 to the ALS Association. This extreme proliferation and rapid viral sensation has garnered loads of enthusiastic endorsers but also a good number of blog posts and social commentaries denouncing the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

In theory, the challenge exists to “support” ALS research and to “bring attention” to ALS itself and the ALS community. In practice, so say the complainers, the likelihood is that many (most?) people take little to no time to research or learn more about ALS, and they probably don’t donate any money to the cause, either – instead, they’re simply in it for the fun of making a fool out of oneself and watching others do the same. They note that the original Ice Bucket Challenge had nothing to do with ALS; it was just an opportunity for sports celebrities to watch their buddies be goofballs. More effort is taken to buy the ice than to spread the word. It’s a waste of water. It’s silly.

It may, in fact, be all of the above.
But when it comes right down to it, what on earth is wrong with that?

Summer is hardly known as a Serious Season; winter has claimed that title. No, summer is a time for wearing bathing suits that have seen better days and not caring that the entire neighborhood can see that you haven’t waxed. It’s a time for accidentally missing a spot on your thigh and winding up with a smarting sunburn that resembles the state of Florida. Summer is when grown adults willingly hurdle themselves down all manner of slippery surfaces and when we imbibe foods and drinks that are so startlingly blue they could be mistaken for windshield washer fluid. Socks with sandals become an embarrassing part of the landscape and ice cream becomes an official food group. In the summer, Having Fun becomes a mantra, the ultimate goal.

Seeing your fully clothed buddies dump ice water over their heads on purpose? That’s absurd. It’s ridiculous. It’s hilarious. It’s fun.

There’s also something to be said for a phenomenon that’s shared by celebrities and regular folks alike. Perhaps I’ve considered the Us Magazine “Stars – They’re Just Like Us!” pages a little too seriously, but I’m a sucker for famous people – the ones who usually seem to orbit an entirely different atmosphere – suddenly seeming completely down to earth. Yeah, yeah, I know that they’re people, too, and that their “celebrity” only exists because we, the peons, afford it to them; there’s not necessarily anything inherently special or admirable about them. Still, I’m unlikely to find myself on a movie set any time soon, nor to run out onto a field filled with adoring fans wearing t-shirts with my face emblazoned on them, nor to take the stage and be greeted by thousands of people cheering my name. Much of the time, the so-called stars do not seem “just like us.”

But when Ellen Degeneres tweets a group selfie from the Oscars and the ensuing fervor briefly shuts down Twitter, it feels like we’re all in on the joke. When Brad Pitt tosses a beer to Matthew McConaughey from a New Orleans balcony, it feels like we’re part of the family. And when all of these celebrities – from athletes to actors to performers to talk show hosts – are posting videos of themselves doused with ice water, it’s like sharing a collective secret. Momentarily, they really are just like us; we’re reminded that they’re human. Plus, it makes me laugh to see Jimmy Fallon and The Roots pour water over their heads. Why is that a problem?

Does the Ice Bucket Challenge waste water? Technically, yes. The liquid that is dumped out of those containers is not being used to do what water is usually prized for: providing essential nourishment to humans, animals, and plants or providing a way in which to wash bodies and clothes and everything else that gets dirty and needs cleaning. I can understand that glibly pouring water over one’s head instead of drinking it or watering crops with it or bathing in it may feel like a slap in the face to those in the world – of whom there are far, far too many – who lack access to clean water, who are facing dangerous droughts, or who have to conserve every drop of water they can find.

And yet… I still think that the Ice Bucket Challenge is okay. Realistically, the vast majority of the water that’s being splashed over people’s heads would (sadly) not make its way to those who desperately need it. If it were that easy, people in flooded New York could simply FedEx gallons of it to arid California and, bam! Problem solved. It just doesn’t work that way. It is, indeed, an incredible privilege to live in a place where we do have access to plentiful, clean water, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Conserving water is important. But it’s also okay to sometimes use water for fun. People are griping and moaning about the Ice Bucket Challenge but I haven’t seen any movement behind closing down swimming pools or outlawing Slip n Slides. That meme of the child (who, presumably, lives someplace where water is scarce) questioning the Ice Bucket Challenge has made its way around social media, but there’s no similar meme denouncing squirt gun fights or water balloons. The Ice Bucket Challenge is an easy target, but really, I think people are just annoyed at the sheer volume of videos clogging their social media screens.

The fact of the matter is, the world isn’t fair and equal. That sucks, but it’s true. I’m not – at all – saying that it isn’t our job to try to make the world a better place or to do our part to help others (to the contrary, I believe the very opposite), but just about everything somebody does can offend somebody else. Those never-ending Instagram photos of the burger and fries you’re about to inhale or the special meal your honey prepared for you or that brunch buffet the size of Delaware? Rude; there are millions of hungry people in this world. Loudly celebrating with a keg and a margarita? Insensitive to alcoholics. Laughingly declaring that you conceived your baby just by looking at your man? Hurtful to people who struggle with infertility. Posting that picture of your kids with the cast of Ringling Brothers? Terrifying to people who are deathly afraid of clowns. Hell, now that I think of it, the Ice Bucket Challenge is particularly offensive to my family because if my own children submerged themselves in a vat of ice water, they could freakin’ die. SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE.

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This is the closest my children will come to dumping freezing water on their heads. The last time they attempted doing so, it didn’t go well.

So, yeah, it’s technically wasting water, and I can understand why that may annoy people from a conservation angle – but, given the joy and the fun that the challenge is spreading, I don’t think it’s fair to call it a “waste.” Anything that makes people laugh and momentarily forget the other troubles in their lives cannot be entirely wasteful.

Which brings us to the whole But You’re Not Actually Learning About ALS So You’re Missing The Point thing. I agree: most people who take the Ice Bucket Challenge probably aren’t educating themselves about ALS. They’re not learning what it is, how it affects its sufferers and their families, how debilitating and devastating it is – they’re just in it for the fun. But, you know what? It doesn’t matter, because the Ice Bucket Challenge is working. Yes, most people aren’t educating themselves about ALS, but some people are. Some people are Googling it or reading articles about it or watching videos about the courageous gentleman who inspired this whole viral craze. And even better? People are donating money to ALS Association. Not just a little bit of money – tons of money. Millions of dollars. 15.6 million dollars (as of August 18), to be precise.

Does every person who learns about the Ice Bucket Challenge donate to the cause? Um, no; if they did, each one of us would have forked over some cash. Does everyone who douses themselves in icy water give money? No. Would it be incredible if they did – would it be even more amazing if, instead of opting to submerse themselves, they gave the requisite $100? Of course. But millions of dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

The whole point of this iteration of the Ice Bucket Challenge was to raise awareness and funding for the ALS Association. I think it’s damn fair to say that it worked.

Clearly, the American people love to watch their fellow humans – celebrity and non-celebrity alike – make asses out of themselves. Equally clearly, the American people are an incredibly generous bunch. If there’s any issue I take with the Ice Bucket Challenge, it’s that it seems something of a shame that only ALS is benefiting from the public’s benevolence. I have absolutely no problem with the ALS Association benefiting from this internet sensation but, now that they’ve done so well, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could pay it forward and collectively choose another deserving organization? Wouldn’t it be something if millions more dollars could be donated to another cause, then another, and another, quite literally sharing the wealth?

Having not yet been challenged to complete the Ice Bucket Challenge, I’d been simultaneously celebrating my not having to soak myself while also lamenting the lack of an opportunity to donate to the ALS Association. But then I realized that if the goal of this latest viral trend is to raise money and awareness, there’s no reason to wait to be challenged to donate. And, given my earlier lament, there’s also no reason not to donate to other needy organizations.

So, I have. This afternoon, I donated to the ALS Association as well as the following organizations, all of which are particularly important to me:

The National MS Society/Bike MS, because MS sucks
Project Stealth, which is revolutionizing cancer research
NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Health), because we need to seriously overhaul our approach to mental illness and how it’s perceived and treated
Shatterproof, because addiction is no joke and protecting our children from it is super important
The Water Project, because although dumping ice water over your head is fun, helping everyone have access to safe water is even cooler (pun totally intended)

Bottom line: the Ice Bucket Challenge is working, big time. If you’re annoyed with so much of your social media being devoted to friends and strangers participating in this phenomenon, then don’t watch their videos. Yeah, it’s technically wasting water, but I’m okay with that in this particular instance. Perhaps most of all, it’s brought joy and laughter to hundreds of thousands (millions?) of us at a time when, frankly, we could use it. Between ISIS terrorizing religious minorities in Iraq, the Israelis and Palestinians going at it, Amish girls being kidnapped, the killing of Michael Brown and subsequent protests and riots, the death of Robin Williams, and the Yankees’ sub-par performance (in Jeter’s last year – c’mon, guys!), we all could use a little levity.

Quite honestly, the Ice Bucket Challenge is one of my favorite things that’s happened this summer. Seeing so many people come together for such a good cause is pretty damn awesome.

And seeing people hilariously humiliate themselves is pretty great, too.

* Note: as of the writing of this post, I had not yet been tagged in – or taken – the Ice Bucket Challenge. When I went to add the link to Facebook, I learned that I’ve been challenged by my brother (the twerp). In the interest of being a good sport, I’ll be sure to complete the challenge within the specified timeframe, so stay tuned (and I’ll definitely be tagging others, so look out, folks). In the interest of continuing to support original mission of the challenge, I’ll also make an additional donation to the ALSA. Summertime fun FTW!

 

 

 

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This Part Sucks

Today, we returned our third CCI puppy for Advanced Training. After seventeen months with us, we’ve given her back with the tremendous hope that she eventually graduates and changes someone’s life. We know that what we’re doing is good and worthy and helpful and all that jazz… but right now? It hurts a helluva lot.

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Jambi in her hilariously adorable matriculation cape – see the yellow tassels?

Everywhere we go with our CCI pups, someone we meet says the same thing: “I could never do that because I could never give a dog away.” Everywhere we go, someone asks the same question: “Isn’t it hard to give the dogs back?”

The answer is yes. Yes, it is hard. It’s enormously hard. You grow more than a little attached to a dog that has been a part of your family for almost a year and a half, a puppy you got at 8 weeks old, a pal and sidekick who went absolutely everyplace with you. It isn’t quite the same as when a pet dies, but yes – saying goodbye to a beloved pet is never easy.

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One last hug before she was on her way…

Today at matriculation/graduation, I noticed that another puppy raiser was wearing a homemade pin/button made out of Scrabble tiles. It read: This Part Sucks. I teared up and laughed at the same time, turning to her with an emphatic, “Damn straight”

So, therefore, we come to the other question that someone asks us everywhere we bring our dogs: “How can you do this?” That answer to that is easy.

We do this because of the little girl today – eight years old, maybe – who received her dog at graduation. When the Lab who would change her life walked across the stage to greet her, the girl’s face lit up brightly enough to be seen in the very back row, and she threw her arms in the air with ecstatic jubilation.

We do this because of the woman today – in her sixties, maybe – who received her dog, the one that will help her now that she’s had a stroke. But before this? The woman raised FIFTEEN puppies for CCI. Now, she has finally received her own assistance dog. Funny, how the world turns, isn’t it?

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Poor, long-suffering Jambi…

We do this because of the man today – in his forties, maybe – who proudly walked across the stage to greet his dog using his cane instead of his wheelchair. His wife said that even though he and his dog had only been together for a few days, already her husband was more confident, more secure, stronger.

We do this because of the parents today who said that their hope – now that their children had assistance dogs – was that people would approach their previously isolated sons and daughters more readily and they could make new friends. We do this because of the dog who will be working in a crisis shelter, providing comfort and much-needed joy to victims of domestic violence.

We do this because we get to have an adorable bundle of puppyness live with us for over a year. We get to snuggle with this bundle, receive kisses from this bundle, and scratch this bundle behind its ridiculously soft ears. We get to bring this bundle with us absolutely everywhere – to restaurants, on airplanes, to movies, to the grocery store, to the girls’ classrooms – and spread the word about what an incredible organization s/he’s training for.

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Chillin’ with her best bud, Langston, and our other dog, Joey, the night before we left.

We do this because we get to bone up on our obedience training skills. With each dog, we learn more about how to be good dog owners and caretakers and – we hope – to become better each time around. We do this because we get to work with all sorts of teachers and dog sitters, and to introduce them to the world of service dog training.

We do this because we want Ella and Annie to grow up learning what it means to be responsible for raising a pet – feeding, walking, training, keeping healthy. They get to experience the unconditional love that only a dog can give. We do this because they get to learn how to give back to others, even when it’s difficult. We do this so that they can understand that the world is bigger than what they see around them and that they are so very fortunate to have the lives that we live. We do this to show them how important it is to help those in need. We do this to show them that this is what life’s really all about.

We do this because it makes us feel incredibly good. No matter how our days have gone, no matter what mistakes we’ve made, no matter what we haven’t yet accomplished, at the end of the day when we’re raising a service dog puppy, we can know that at least we have done something right. Some good has come out of each and every day that our pups are with us, because there is the chance that these little furballs will change someone’s life for the better, forever.

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Proudly wearing their Jambi the Zombie t-shirts immediately before turn-in.

We do this because, when all is said and done, that’s really why we’re on this planet in the first place: to love, to laugh, to learn, to find joy, to spread joy, and to help out whenever we can. Sometimes, doing so is easy. Other times, helping those in need is really, really hard. Giving back a dog that we’ve grown to love is miserable – but that doesn’t make it not worth doing. On the contrary, sometimes, the more difficult something is, the greater the return.

Jambi (which rhymes with zombie; this is important) was an absolute delight to raise. She was playful, gentle, loving, and unusually calm. She had patience beyond her years, a wonderfully sweet disposition, and was unflappable even when faced with the loudest, craziest situations (often involving our own children). She was so overjoyed to see us after we returned from being away – even if only for an hour – that her entire body wriggled with elation; we called her Wiggle Butt. She also earned the nickname of Miss Piggy because she had a habit of snuffling like a pig whenever something interested her. Jambi had the best cold, wet nose of any dog I’ve ever met. I really miss that cold, wet nose tonight.

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My constant companion for seventeen months…

We have no idea how she’ll do in Advanced Training (which is typically six months long); most pups do not make it all the way through to become service dogs because they need to be perfect, and perfection is a difficult standard for any of us to attain (even me). Jambi is pretty damn near perfect, but you just never know. For now, we’ll cross our fingers and hope like crazy – that she isn’t lonely or homesick, that she makes fast friends with her new kennel-mates, that her trainers adore her as much as we do, that we’ll get another puppy to raise soon, that Langston isn’t too depressed over her departure (this is a real fear for us – no, seriously), and that the rest of our hearts heal soon so that we can focus again on why we do this in the first place.

(Hint: it isn’t the abundance of dog fur all over our house.)

Most of all, we’re crossing our fingers and hoping like crazy that she makes it – that she’s just the right material to be a service dog and that she’s able to change someone’s life forever.

Well, someone else’s life, that is. She’s already changed ours.

We love you, Beast! Go on and wiggle your way into someone’s heart – and also learn to turn on lights and pick things up from the ground, too, while you’re at it. You were the very best; thank you so much for being our girl and for teaching us all that you did.
xoxo

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Note: We are always looking for people who would like to become CCI puppy raisers, especially in the Rochester area (we’re the only ones! Come on now!!). I know, I know… you think you can’t do it. You could never give up a dog. I’m here to tell you that, yeah. This part sucks. It really, really sucks. But when you see that graduate cross the stage with the dog that is finally allowing her to feel human, to be confident, to be independent… You know you could give up a dozen more pups to help other people lead happier, more fulfilling lives. This is the good stuff – why we’re here on this planet in the first place – I promise you. Won’t you consider it?

We Are Not Alone

I had an entirely different post planned for today, but recent events have changed that. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with the punches.

As I wrote on Facebook last night, it’s not often that the death of a celebrity affects me so strongly, I cannot stop crying. It’s very rare that anyone outside of my own personal sphere affects me profoundly enough for their passing to be completely overwhelming. But as I learned that the world had lost Robin Williams – that he had lost his own battle – I was just gutted.

I’ve spent last night and this morning attempting to understand why, indeed, I – like so many others – am so deeply upset by the loss of this particular man. There have been other comedians who have made my sides hurt from laughing. There have been other actors whose dramatic performances have taken my breath away. There have been other celebrities whose demons have overtaken them. Why is this so different for me?

I finally was able to narrow it down to two driving factors: Robin’s body of work, which so strongly impacted me; and the manner in which he died, which hits very, very close to home. Combine these and, well, I’m a mess.

You didn’t ask for a critique of his movie catalogue, so I won’t give you one (you’re welcome), but I still have a few things to say. The first time Mr. Williams really affected me was through the Good Morning Vietnam soundtrack. Not the movie itself (which I wouldn’t see until years later), but the soundtrack, which included many of Robin’s hilarious bits as disc jockey Adrian Cronauer. I listened so often, I could quote him word for word, and was quite taken aback when I finally did see the movie, which was far more serious and tragic than the album suggested.

It’s no secret that I have a flare for the melodramatic. This was probably never more obvious than when I was a teen, filled with typical teenage angst and turbulence, but with a serious bent for things that were “deep” and “moving” and “thought-provoking.” Dead Poets Society arrived at precisely this time and utterly swept me away – except, contrary to the other gag-inducing nonsense I was absorbing, it actually was a moving and thought-provoking film – so much so that one of my best friends and I created our own secret Dead Poets Society. Given that it was, you know, a secret society, I won’t give away the details here; suffice it to say that it was an incredibly important, transformative part of my adolescence – all thanks to Robin Williams.

Ever the Disney fan, I was blown away by Aladdin’s humor. By the time my college roommate and I arrived on campus, we were each more than familiar with Aladdin. Other students would play the movie on their itty bitty dorm-room TVs, which we could see from the windows outside of our own fourth floor room; the two of us would sit in the window wells and watch the entire film. We couldn’t hear a word, mind you, but that didn’t matter, because we’d already memorized the entire script, with the Genie’s lines being our best-loved, of course.

Although I didn’t fully realize it until yesterday, Robin Williams’s film work impacted me tremendously. (His stand-up and interviews – with his appearance on Inside The Actor’s Studio being absolutely epic – were mind-blowing in their intensity, genius, and hilarity. I loved watching those moments, but they didn’t affect me the way that his movies did.) I cannot quite believe that his body of work has ended.

Williams’s death has struck me in a much more personal way, however, because of the horribly tragic manner in which he died. Mental illness is something with which I am all too familiar. I have friends and family who have struggled with depression, anxiety, OCD, and bipolar disorder. I’ve had friends and acquaintances who have committed suicide. But those are their stories; I don’t feel comfortable sharing them. Instead, I will share mine.

It’s often cited that mental illness – or a predisposition toward it – runs in families. For my part, I seem to have lucked out by inheriting the depression and anxiety genes. Looking back, I see now that I’ve struggled with anxiety for most of my life – nothing crippling (typically), but certainly present. It’s still something that I work to keep in check, something that’s always bubbling below the surface.

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and I am no exception to that. My first and strongest bout of depression – not just feeling a little down and out, but an actual, diagnosed clinical depression – occurred during the summer of 2008. As with so many people who suffer from depression, there was no single causal factor, no specific trigger. I just gradually stopped caring – stopped feeling anything, really – until it seemed that I was floating through the world without a place to land.

Sadness doesn’t accurately describe it; hopeless comes closer. It just felt like nothing would ever be good again, and then I stopped caring whether or not things would ever be good again. I cried at everything and nothing. I hid behind corners in the grocery store so I wouldn’t have to see anyone. I closed myself behind bathroom doors in my house so that I could cry away from the girls, who were both very little at the time. I had no desire to engage in any of the activities that normally appealed to me. I didn’t care about seeing my in-person friends and didn’t care about communicating with my online friends.. I felt suspended, drifting, lost.

But, despite the bizarre, floaty nothingness, I knew enough to know that I didn’t want to go on like that. I wanted to be the kind of mom who delighted in her children, not one who looked off in the distance, completely disengaged while they played at her feet. I wanted to have meaningful – or even lighthearted – conversations with my husband instead of avoiding him. I wanted to find joy again.

And so I sought help, both through talk therapy and medication. It wasn’t easy; I was embarrassed and ashamed, not to mention that just getting myself out of the house was a feat because I had zero motivation or energy. I knew, though, what the consequences could be if I didn’t get help, if I didn’t make a damned good effort to get better. I wasn’t about to do that to my family or even to myself; when I could see through the haze that had settled in around me, I knew that there were oh so many reasons to keep going. It’s just that believing that, in that moment, was all but impossible.

Thankfully – miraculously? – I never considered suicide, even when I was in the darkest depths. I wanted to feel better. I needed to feel better. It took a good deal of time, but with the help of several professionals as well as medication (which I no longer need, save for the Xanax, amen), I slowly climbed out of the hole and began to see daylight again. The air was cleaner up there; it felt good. Six months later, I felt like I’d regained solid footing. I had beaten depression… this time.

I know, though, that for the rest of my life, I will be fighting. There have been many, many times in the past (now) eight years when I have felt those walls closing in, when I began to feel suspiciously, awfully detached again; and every time, I have steeled myself to push back. Depression likes to lie low but it never goes away; it is always ready to rear its hideously ugly head, often at the slightest provocation – to start another fight. It is a battle that I fully intend to win, but the enemy is ruthless and mean and cunning; it can creep back in when I least expect it. Living with depression – not being depressed, but as a person in whom depression resides – requires a constant level of awareness and vigilance that, quite frankly, is sometimes exhausting.

But there’s no choice, so the fight continues. Forever.

These may seem like extremely personal details to be sharing; they are. But part of why depression is so powerful and devastating is that it makes you feel alone, that you are fighting all by yourself, that no one else understands. It makes you feel embarrassed and ashamed of being who you are. It convinces you that no one else cares what happens to you – or, at its worst, they would be better off without you.

I am here to tell you that you are not alone. You are not fighting by yourself. I understand – not your exact circumstances, but that terrible, bizarre, detached feeling? I understand.

We, as a society, are rocked by the aftereffects of mental illness and addiction (which are so closely linked) time and time again – from school shootings to overdoses – and yet we very rarely talk openly about what it means to suffer from mental illness, nor how to help those who do. There remains a stigma surrounding it, which is largely perpetuated by our continued silence, shame, and lack of discussion. Today, I am breaking my silence.

Depression isn’t a game. It isn’t something to be treated lightly or messed with. It is not made-up and “thinking happy thoughts” does not make you feel better. Admitting that you’re struggling with depression doesn’t make you weak or pathetic or pitiable. Not addressing it can be deadly… in the most literal of ways. And that is why depression is so scary, and why we must connect with one another, why we must reach out to those of us who are in darkness or are hurting. That is why we must talk about it.

I feel tremendously fortunate, and to-my-core grateful, that, while in the throes of depression, I have never contemplated ending my own life. I am devastated that Robin Williams saw no other alternative, and that the demons won. His death is especially poignant for me because… well… there but for the grace of God go I.

If you suspect that a friend or family member may be depressed, talk to them. Show them that you aren’t ashamed to discuss this beast, that you’re there to listen, and that you love them, no matter what. If you are depressed, or if you think you are depressed, or if you just don’t know which end is up, please seek help. There is no shame or vulnerability in doing so; in fact, it takes tremendous courage and strength (which totally sounds like I’m bragging, but after working so hard to kick depression in the face, I think it’s okay to feel a little badass). If it seems like no one understands, please talk to someone; so many people do get it. If it seems like you have no support network, please reach out; nets of encouragement and love can spring up seemingly out of nowhere, buoying you until you have the ability to stand on your own again. I know they did for me, once I finally mustered the courage to extend my arms and legs.

And if you feel like all hope is lost and the only answer is to take your own life – or if you believe that someone else is considering doing so – please, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Like millions of people around the world, I am heartsick that Robin Williams is no longer with us, while I am also profoundly grateful for the gifts he gave us and the ways he touched my life – the ways he made me think, made me cry, made me laugh. At first, I thought that it would be pointless to add my voice to the endless chorus of people who have expressed their grief over Robin’s suicide; I have nothing new to add, nothing unique or special to say. But now I think that perhaps our shared perspective is exactly the point. We are all in this together. We are here for one another; we are not alone.  We can change how mental illness is perceived and treated. We will get through this world side by side – by supporting each other, encouraging each other, helping each other, challenging each other, and loving each other.

And by spreading laughter and joy every chance we get.

To you, Mr. Williams… I’m so very sorry. You were astounding. Thank you, thank you.

In the words of Adrian Cronauer: “Take care of yoursel(f). I won’t forget you.”

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* For one of the first times ever, there are no photos to accompany this post – not even irreverent ones of my kids – because none seemed right.

Nick and I do plan on watching Mrs. Doubtfire with them as soon as possible**, however, because Helllllloooooo… that is more than right.

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** Update, August 2015: We have watched Mrs. Doubtfire with the girls; not surprisingly, they adored it. Now we can’t wait to show them The Birdcage — in a few years, of course.

The sounds of summer

This past week was our first entire “free” week of the summer – no camps, no visiting family, no visits from family. It marked the first opportunity for girls (and me) to be as lazy as they wanted to in the mornings, play to their hearts’ content, pull out long-forgotten toys and games that they’d been hoping to get to, and just relax and be. Before summer began and I saw that we’d have a whole week with absolutely no plans, my initial thought had been to fill the empty space. In the end, other thoughts prevailed. One day we went to a local amusement/water park, so that was kind of “scheduled.” But otherwise? Whatever struck the girls’ fancy.

seabreeze

Which meant that our week sounded a lot like this:

If you’d just strip your sheets for me, I’ll make the rest of the bed.
“Why do you have to make us work so hard?”

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“There are no towels here!”
You’re in luck – I brought some down and you may use them.
“I GET THE STRIPED ONE!”
“No, *I* get the striped one!”
“You can have the polka dot one!”
“No, YOU can have the polka dot one.”
“I said it first!”
“But I SAW it first.”
IF EITHER OF YOU ARGUES ANY FURTHER ABOUT A TOWEL THAT YOU DID NOT EVEN BRING DOWN HERE, YOU WILL FORFEIT DRYING PRIVILEGES FOR THE REST OF THE AFTERNOON.

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Since you can’t listen to music right now, why don’t you come up with a song to sing?
“Okay! I like this one: We will BURN DOWN the enemy! We will burrrrn dowwwwn the enemy! WE WILL BURN DOWN THE ENEMY!!”
What does that even mean?
“I don’t know. I only sing it to annoy you.”

—————————————–

I’d be happy to get you a snack. In addition to fruit, what else would you like?
“Doritos.”
*blank stare*
“Come on! Just a few Doritos??”
*blank stare*
“I’ll take pretzel Goldfish, please.”
That’s fine.

I decided to surprise you! You both have pretzel Goldfish and a few Doritos, too!
“But I didn’t say I wanted Doritos.”
*death glare*
“OKAY, okay… I’ll eat them… It’s fine, really… It’s fine… You don’t have to look at me like that…”

—————————————–

cad

On your way up, please put the yellow floatie back in the shed. Since you both used it, you can both put it back.
*begins dragging floatie down the dock* “I’ve got it this far! You can bring it the rest of the way!”
“But *I* wanted to bring it to the end of the dock!”
“But *I* grabbed it first!”
“But I WANTED it first. You’re the WORST sister EVER.”
“No, YOU’RE the WORST sister EVER.”

—————————————–

“I’m still a little bit hungry.”
You can have more cherries, then.
“Never mind. I’m not hungry anymore.”

—————————————–

It’s time to eat lunch! Please come to the kitchen!
“We’re busy! We’ll be there later!”

You left a big mess in the dining room! Come pick it up!
*crickets*

Which outfit do you think you should wear on our trip?
“Sorry, mom – gotta go. No time now.”
I feel like Harry Chapin. Since when did this become “Cat’s In The Cradle”? 

(**At long last, I pull up a stool and, for the first time all day, take a few minutes to answer emails or write a blog post while the girls are playing happily and do not need my assistance in any way, shape, or form…**)
“Mom? Can you help me with this?”
“Mom? I need to ask you a question.”
“Mommy? I think I hurt myself.”
“Mama? Mommy? Mom??”
WELL, LOOK AT THAT. HERE YOU ARE. FUNNY HOW THAT WORKS.

—————————————–

“Can I melt all of your chocolate on the stove and then freeze it just to see what would happen?”
The Godiva chocolate?
“Yes.”
I’d rather you not.
“You never let me do ANYTHING.”

—————————————–

“There’s nothing to do.”
You have an entire summer fun list you could check out.
“I don’t wanna do any of those.”
You could play outside.
“It’s too hot.”
You could read a book.
“I’m tired of reading.”
You could stop standing here and pestering me.
“Everything here is so BORING!”

—————————————–

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. In addition to the above, there have also been lovely moments, like when they created this incredibly detailed Harry Potter experience that utilized the entire upstairs of the house, or when we dropped the car off for new tires and then walked into town for breakfast at a wonderful dairy farm, or the terrific evening we spent picking beans and tomatoes at our farm share, or the marvelous new Pinot I discovered from one of our local wineries… Yes, there have been happy, giddy, quiet-Mommy-has-wine sounds, too.

But this week has been long, people. Turns out my kids actually do crave structure. I can’t imagine where they get that.

I do believe we’ve officially reached that point of the summer when thinking about the start of school elicits cheers instead of groans. Don’t worry – we’ve got plenty more to do and enjoy, and I plan to make the very most out of our remaining 3.5 weeks of summer.

But September is looking awfully damn inviting over that horizon.
That is, if everyone makes it out of August in one piece.

Ahhhhhh, summer!

soccer!
Taken at our first-ever professional soccer game; it’s one of my all-time favorite pictures, because it so perfectly sums up both girls’ personalities.

Throwback Thursday: Grandpa’s voice

I don’t believe in reincarnation. I’ve never seen a ghost. I’m not so sure about angels. But I absolutely believe that people who have left us can communicate with those of us who are still here – not necessarily because it’s true, but because it makes me feel better to think so.

(Kind of like how I believe that Starbucks is a panacea for any number of ills. Can this be proven true in a science lab or a court of law? Doubtful. But it makes me feel awfully damn good, so does it really matter? I THINK NOT.)

My grandfather passed away seven years ago this September. We’d just moved to the Rochester area, and I’m pretty sure that I spent more time with him (and my grandmother) in those few months before he died than I had during my previous 31 years. It was delightful.

This is not to say that my grandfather was “delightful.” I’m not saying he was the opposite of delightful, but “delightful” really isn’t a word that anyone would have used to describe him. He wasn’t exactly the pull-you-on-his-lap, tussle-your-hair, call-you-“Squirt” kind of grandpa. (My extended family, and everyone who knew my grandpa well, have all spit out their beverages at the mere thought of this.)

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My grandfather with Ella, who has “borrowed” one of his many hats.

He was a good many other things, though – wickedly clever, music-loving, handy, creative, gruff and grumpy, witty, smart, difficult, funny – and that 2007 summer was delightful. He loved technology and kept abreast of any number of “modern” conventions that eluded so many other octogenarians; after becoming an early American Idol devotee and watching Ryan Seacrest close each show with a hip, “Seacrest out!”, Grandpa began signing emails to me with “Taylor out!” Likewise, the very last communication he had with all of us – a brief email – ended with “TTYL”.

I can’t begin to summarize him here; he and his personality and my relationship with him don’t fit into tiny, tidy boxes. I will say that, when Ella was born, we originally started off referring to him as “Great Gramp,” but after only a few months, he requested that it be shortened to simply “Great… because that’s appropriate, don’t you think?” Simply put, I miss him.

We routinely take the back route to the lake, a road that brings us past a well-stocked, open-air fruit and vegetable store. Last weekend, I’d been asked to stop by the store on our way down to see if there were fresh peaches. As I sorted through the quarts and pints, an elderly gentleman — easily in his eighties or nineties – approached and began talking to me. At first, I thought he was just making conversation (“Have you got everything you need?”) but when he began talking to me as though he knew me (“Will we be paying for the peaches up front? Did you get them all? How many do we need for dessert?”), I realized that something wasn’t quite right.

I’m still not sure what exactly was going on – whether he had some form of dementia, whether he was just confused, or whether he merely had mistaken me for the girl working behind the register (she was a gorgeous young brunette, so it’s entirely possible) – and I didn’t want to be rude, so I cheerily answered his questions as kindly but vaguely as I could (so as not to further confuse him)… but it was so freakin’ hard because he sounded just like my grandpa.

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Great with Annie, summer 2007.

Yes, he looked vaguely like him too – the square-ish face, the familiar jowls, the wrinkles around his eyes – but it was his voice that nearly did me in. It wasn’t bad, really – it was just completely unexpected, because, aside from videos, the last time I’d heard my grandfather speak was when Annie was nine months old.

And it wasn’t just a close facsimile; this gentleman sounded exactly like him. The nuances, the cadence… For the first time in forever, I was hearing my grandfather’s voice. It was strange and startling and completely overwhelming. I paid for the peaches, bid the man goodbye, got back into the car, and promptly burst into tears (which my children totally appreciated).

Nick was wonderfully supportive of my little breakdown, telling me he’d be weirded out, too, and that I wasn’t an utter nutball. There was a pause before he added, “That was totally your grandpa saying hi, you know.” I looked at him as though he’d lost his mind – um, I don’t know how to break it to you, but grandpa’s been gone for, like, a long time now – but he simply smiled and continued. “We’re on the way to the lake. He and Phoofsy stopped by here a lot. So it’s the perfect place for him to just pop by – not literally, of course – and let you know that he’s still thinking about you. “

This cannot be proven, but I have no doubt that Nick is right. Of all the traits my grandfather possessed, being complimentary wasn’t one of them; not to your face, anyway. Instead, he would regale his friends with tales of your accomplishments and they, in turn, would come to you and say, “Wow – your art opening was really something incredible. Your grandfather told me all about it.” (Okay, so I never had an art opening – don’t be absurd – but if I did, I’m sure he wouldn’t have told me that he liked it. Everyone else would have on his behalf.)

So it makes perfect sense that my grandpa would be checking in through someone else, even if it was just to say hi. Or to talk about peaches.

And if it wasn’t him reaching out from the great beyond? Well, that’s okay, too. I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of the ride (after I’d stopped crying and assured the girls that I wasn’t insane) at the mere thought that it could be, and that’s all that really matters.

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One of my favorite photos of Great and Ella – he’s “threatening” to take a drink out of her sippy cup. The look on his face pretty much sums him up.

 

Good For Us

“I don’t really care about any of this anymore. I think I just want to give up and go back.”

We’d been driving for nearly two hours to reach a restaurant that was supposedly 90 minutes from our hotel – a restaurant that we were only headed toward because I’d read that it had a fantastic gluten-free menu. It didn’t have an official webpage; I’d gleaned everything I could about it from reviews I’d read on TripAdvisor and Facebook, and I was essentially operating on faith.

Still, it was in Isabela, which was in the direction we already wanted to head that day – west, then south, toward Rincón – so I figured that we could find it easily and simply be on our way. At worst, we could just check our phones and use one of our navigation apps and BAM!, we’d be there in no time.

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Because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and uses the American dollar as currency, delegates English as a second official language, and seems, in so many ways, to simply be an exotic 51st state, we had naively assumed that our cell phones would work just as they had on the mainland. Turns out your phone won’t just magically function and we actually had needed to configure things before we left, because although we could make (expensive) calls, we had no internet or email access unless we could make a wifi connection.

At first, I thought that my mad map-reading skillz would save us (not to brag, but I’m basically like Magellan with maps), but – hey! Whaddya know! – the roads in Puerto Rico aren’t so well marked. You don’t rely on signage as much as intuition to determine when to make a turn or if you’ve long since passed your destination or even which town you’re in. Likewise, assuming that a numbered street – Route 451 or whatever – will be larger or more important than their non-numbered counterparts (as they are back in the States) is an enormous mistake. Route 724 may sound important, and it could be a well-marked four lane highway… but it also could be a partially paved street with absolutely no painted lines whatsoever that technically is designated as two lanes but which is actually barely wide enough for a Radio Flyer.

Additionally, given that we were app-less and had to rely solely on tangible, old-school, omg how the hell do you fold this thing up? maps, we really needed the ones we had to be super-clear, up-to-date, and detailed. Naturally, the maps we did possess were either entirely missing the streets that our directions called for or wildly inaccurate, indicating that roads began and ended when they absolutely did not (as we discovered more than once when we were certain we’d be coming to an intersection only to find ourselves at a dead end). This made driving exciting and certainly kept us on our toes, but did little to actually help us get anywhere.

What began as a smooth, well-maintened freeway suddenly, and without warning, turned into a meandering suburban highway a la the Boston Post Road but with four times as many red lights and only half as much asphalt. I’d hoped to be on the road by 9 a.m. and digging into my gluten-gree breakfast sandwich around 10:45; instead, we’d left at 9:30 and, although it was nearly noon, were nowhere near our destination but instead were coming to a stoplight-ed halt every thirty feet. It was at this point that Nick uttered the words at the head of this post, and I began to contemplate whether or not to acquiesce and turn the car around.

Instead, we stuttered along in silence, creeping down the coastline but unable to see the ocean at all. When at last we found the road that the directions had listed and followed it as it wound its way toward the shoreline, through hairpin curves and up and down impossibly steep hills, passing cars that surely should have hit us because there was simply no room for the both of us (but somehow there was – we were on the automotive equivalent of the Weasleys’ tent at the Quidditch World Cup), we expected to be at our destination momentarily…

… but failed to find it at all. It simply wasn’t there. Whether the directions were incorrect or our maps were wrong or we just had no idea where the hell we were going and didn’t know who to ask, it didn’t really matter. It was just no use.

Two and a half hours in the car for nothing.
AND we were still starving.

We’d known all along that this third day of our vacation would involve a lot of driving; we’d expected that much, had planned for it. When we’d told Annie and Ella our itinerary, they had balked at a day that included so much driving, saying it would be boring, but my sister-in-law chimed in that adults enjoy that kind of time because it allows us to just talk to one another, check out the scenery, etc.

As Nick and I headed back on the road toward Rincón (after throwing in the towel and admitting defeat on the GF breakfast) and 2.5 hours became 3 (after stopping at the only skating rink in the Caribbean) and I contemplated the caloric content of our poorly printed maps, my sister-in-law’s words came back to me… and it was all I could do not to laugh. Or maybe cry.

To say that Nick and I were not enjoying this little jaunt was a ridiculous understatement. Our blood sugar was so low, it was barely measurable. We had no idea where we were, where we were going, how to get there, or if we even wanted to get there. There was no “checking out” of scenery because a) sometimes there was no “scenery” save for strip malls and red lights, b) when there was “real” scenery, it was hardly noticeable because were were scanning every road sign for possible directional clues, or c) we couldn’t even attempt to look at the scenery because we were focusing on staying alive and not being driven off the pavement, in part because of the tiny twisted roadways filled with crazily confident drivers, and in part because the rain clouds that had been off to the north were now causing torrential downpours that overwhelmed even the fastest setting on the windshield wipers.

And talking with one another?
Um, no.
Unless swearing and muttering under one’s breath counts. If it does, we are communication experts.

At last, we essentially gave up and settled at the first restaurant we found that was even halfheartedly mentioned in our Fodor’s guide, where we watched the rainstorm slide down the beach. We also purchased food that could, at best, be considered mediocre (is chicken salad supposed to contain gristle?), but that was pretty much the only thing keeping us from dying a low blood sugar death, so we devoured it as though we hadn’t eaten in sixteen days, not sixteen hours.

On the way to Old San Juan – three-plus hours back exactly the way we’d come, except slower – we decided to stop and see these amazing-looking petroglyphs that I’d been dying to explore. Which meant that we drove out of our way for another thirty minutes, still couldn’t find what we were looking for, realized we didn’t have enough time to take the time to find it and still make it to our dinner reservation (on time), and just headed back to the hotel.

Whiiiiiich meant: seven hours in the car. Essentially an entire day of our vacation. Seven frustrating, exasperating, disappointing, hungry, soggy, exhausting, uncomfortable hours. They were not the highlight of our trip.

While we drove the final hour to Old San Juan (or, if I’m getting the facts right, while *I* drove; Nick gave up 2.5 hours in so I drove the remaining 4.5), sitting in brooding silence beside one another, I heard my sister-in-law’s cheerful words in my head once again, and noted that we were hardly the picture of marital happiness, or even a moderately content couple. Not only were we not talking – we weren’t really enjoying one another’s company, period. The more I considered topics we could be discussing, and the more I decided that I didn’t want to be discussing any of them at that moment, thank you very much, the more disheartened I became. We came on this trip to celebrate twenty years of being together and we can’t even take a little adversity and laugh it off? We can’t even manage to hold a conversation? WTF is wrong with us?

It was only after we handed the car over to the valet (a little too eagerly, but I don’t think they noticed) that I realized my entire upper body hurt. Yeah, some of that was due to the (incredible, once-in-a-lifetime, not-to-be-missed) kayaking we’d done the night before in the bioluminescent lagoon, but the majority of it was due to the tremendous stress from our drive. I’d been so busy trying to navigate, read nonexistent street signs, avoid potholes, see through the wall of rain, and evade drivers who wove in and out of lanes like pinballs, I hadn’t considered that my fingers were permanently welded to the steering wheel. Uncurling them was physically painful; my shoulders hurt to the touch.

So, hey. Perhaps when you’re that stressed out, cheerful conversation isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. Maybe not talking is just fine. Maybe nothing is wrong with us.

When we’d told friends that we were taking this trip, the most common response was, “Good for you!” Sometimes, this meant exactly what it sounds like: “I’m genuinely happy for you guys that you’re able to take this vacation together! That alone time is really important. I hope you have a great trip!” Other times, it carried a slightly snarky edge: “Oh. How lovely that your boss doesn’t mind you taking time away from the job. Interesting that you’re comfortable leaving the kids like that. Would that we all could be fortunate enough to take such a trip.”

But most often, it was said with an air of envious but dubious incredulity. “Wow. I’d love to take a trip like that, but we don’t even take the time to go out to dinner together. Good on ya for making it happen.”

Every time I heard it – “Good for you!” – I was surprised, because not taking the time to do stuff just the two of us simply isn’t an option for Nick and me. It’s not that we think our relationship comes before our family (although plenty of people do, and that’s dandy), and, in fact, most of the time it’s the exact opposite; it’s more that we know that our family won’t exist if we don’t put our relationship first sometimes. That, and – for as fabulous as our daughters are – it can be awfully nice to not be actively parenting every so often. The time we spend away from our kids is important and awesome. Plus, we genuinely enjoy one another’s company. (As evidenced by our blissful Puerto Rican drive, duh.)

It doesn’t have to be a full-on VACATION, just the two of us – the last time we did that (which was only our second solo vacation ever after having kids) was three years ago. Mostly, it’s not. But, when we are fortunate enough to afford it, it is leaving the girls with a babysitter and going to a concert or a game or a show. Or even just Barnes and Noble and Starbucks. Or it’s leaving the girls with their grandparents overnight while we go to a hotel. Or it’s a lunchtime date while the kids are in school. Or, when time and finances and life’s curveballs don’t allow for anything more, it’s talking and watching TV after Ella and Annie have gone to bed. No matter what it is, it’s something, and that’s what’s important.

Back when the girls were three and five, we were driving home from a (family) trip to Vermont when Ella threw up. All over. In her carseat. After stopping and getting things cleaned up (and the girls quieted down), Nick and I engaged in a lengthy and heated conversation as the girls napped. It was just a difficult time, with the butt-wiping and the crying at the drop of a hat (the kids, not me; not most of the time, anyway) and the refusing to eat broccoli one day and gobbling it up the next. He adored the girls, but this stage was hard. I asked him how I could help and expected to hear any number of solutions except for the one he gave me: He wanted to eat dinner with just me one night a week after the girls went to sleep.

BOOM. Of all the things, that was what he wanted: a little more alone time. A little more conversation. A chance to hear and be heard without having to cut somebody else’s meat or refill sippy cups.

We had those dinners for years, albeit not at regularly scheduled intervals, up until last year when the girls’ sports schedules changed our dinnertimes. Although we rarely eat together anymore after the kids are in bed, the premise remains: we two are important. Spending time together, alone, is important. Even if it’s driving aimlessly down the Puerto Rican countryside.

After our day spent ziplining and food kiosk-dining and kayaking in a glowing lagoon, I actually said to Nick that such a perfect day would be impossible to top. I didn’t anticipate being stuck in our rental car for seven hours in torrential rain, but indeed, the previous day proved un-toppable.

As we ate our dinner that night – the greatest meal of our lives – we discussed our disappointing day and what it symbolized… and what it didn’t. Upon reflection, we realized that there was nothing we could have done to prevent it; we were going on the best information available to us, using the resources at hand, and we got stuck. It was no one’s fault – it just happened. No, it hadn’t been how we’d wanted to spend the day. In fact, it sucked that fully one half of our sightseeing days in Puerto Rico had been wasted driving to nowhere. But it was what it was, and it was over now, and next time, we’d know more and could make better-informed choices. In the end, it was a small portion of our total vacation, and our tremendous meal – and subsequent, unexpected performance of native Puerto Rican music and dance – far overshadowed the bad parts of the day.

Which, the more we thought about it, pretty much summed up our twenty years of being together. Yes, there have been bad times – days and weeks and months of them. Sometimes, they’ve been avoidable, but more often than not, they just happened – no one’s fault. Rather than giving up, we’ve chosen to continue the journey – and some days, that brings us to something delicious. Others, we drive around in circles. We can become so stressed, we can scarcely communicate, but we don’t realize that’s what’s happening while we’re in the thick of it.

Sometimes, life throws crap at us that we don’t want, that we didn’t ask for. We are prepared for it to be tough and long, but sometimes it’s different than what we expected, and that sucks. Still, we’ve kept on – in silence, if need be – knowing that the other one is there. And, when all is said and done, the bad days are outnumbered by the good ones time and time again. There is rain, but there are rainbows. There is silence, but there is so damn much laughter. There are peanut M&Ms and Skittles purchased at the only gas station in Puerto Rico where the attendant doesn’t speak a word of English (not that I’d know), and there are singular meals that make an entire vacation worthwhile. The journey isn’t always easy, but in the end, it’s so totally worth it.

I knew that I was excited to go to Puerto Rico with Nick, but I didn’t realize how much we needed this trip together until we took it. It was, indeed, “good for us” — in every possible way.

Especially where plantains or wine were concerned.

That night, after we returned from our epic dinner and native dance/music watching, I asked Nick to please take a “real” picture with me…
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Picture 1: VERY NICE, NICK.

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Picture 2: He goosed me *exactly* as the shutter went off.
“Em, don’t worry… maybe it didn’t actually take the photo then…”
OH YES, IT DID.

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Picture 3: Nick cooperates; I look like a hunchback.

At last, I declared that we’d taken enough of these, but we should try one more – sitting on the chair, just for good measure…
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 annnnd that’s, like, the creepiest picture ever taken.
Plus my ass looks enormous.
I guess we’ll quit while we’re ahead. Or whatever. 

 

 

And the living is lazy

We’re halfway* through summer break, so this seems as good a time as any to look back on what’s already occurred and decide if the second half of summer should look like the first, or if some drastic changes should be made.

* We’re technically two days past the halfway mark. Close enough.
** I realize this only applies to those of us in the northeast and on the west coast; some of you have children returning to school in about ten minutes, which, frankly, is just crazy talk.

Upon reflection, it seems that summer has passed by in a pretty summer-like fashion: family visits, vacations, s’mores, camps, fresh veggies, swimming, humidity, and fruity cocktails. The girls have gamely checked things off of their Summer Fun List, but have also been happy to just hang out. Hell, Nick and I have even managed to have a good time along the way.

The problem with summer is this: it’s a total wasteland. Everything just floats about without any boundaries or structure, because hey, It’s Summer! Weekdays resemble weekends – no early bedtimes to enforce, dinner whenever it suits us, “exciting” activities that would typically be reserved for Saturday taking place any old time. I wake up each morning and have to check which day of the week it is. This past Wednesday, Annie asked me if it was Thursday and I told her yes – not to mess with her, but because I truly forgot which day it was – and she promptly burst into tears because Thursday is the day we pick up our farm share, and she thought we’d missed it.

garden girls
The haul from our garden, not the farm share…

I understand Annie’s freak-out. See, I’m someone who craves predictability (even though I’m wildly impulsive). I like to know when things will happen and how long they’ll last. The open days of summer don’t fill me with joyful anticipation; they fill me with anxiety. (It’s no coincidence that my Xanax supply wanes between Memorial and Labor Day, if you know what I’m saying.) I’m not necessarily unhappy at the lack of structure; it just feels really bizarre, like everything’s slightly off-kilter.

It’s kind of bizarre for my girls, too. The routine that they’d become used to is gone, and it’s exciting and unnerving all at the same time. They don’t see their school friends regularly during the summer. For a while, this is good – a much-needed break – but right about now they start to really miss their pals. With vacation and camp schedules colliding, though, getting together can be hard. Summer is challenging in other ways, too. We eat boatloads of crappy food, which is delicious (cheesy bread and Helluva Good dip, holla!), but also feels… well… crappy. In July and August, we spend as much time away from home as we do at home, which is a blast and all, but can feel somewhat shiftless. The girls have been putting themselves to bed early (whaaa?) because I’ve had to awaken them in the mornings for camp, and they’re tired of being tired.

Summer is weird, man!

aerial arts camp
All dressed up for their performance at their aerial arts camp.

People don’t return phone calls in the summer. You, me, the aquatics director at the Y – messages are left but no one seems to care. I don’t know why this is, but people lose the ability to call anyone back the moment the kids are out of school. Actually, I do know why this is: because our Call Back Time no longer exists. That portion of the day when you’d routinely sit down and make sure you got in touch with folks? Gone. We’re on Summer Time now, which essentially means we’re like the contractors in The Money Pit who keep insisting that Tom Hanks’s house will be repaired in “two weeks” and then taking twelve million weeks to actually complete the job.

That may be the biggest kicker of them all: in summer, there is ALL THIS TIME, and yet NOTHING GETS DONE.

During the school year, Nick will come home at the end of the day and ask how my day went, and I’ll be all, “Oh, it was fine. I’m really glad I was able to take the dogs for that walk before it rained, because after I subbed this morning – four kindergarten music classes, really cute but lots of nose pickers – I got completely soaked when I went to Wegmans, but at least I remembered to pick up the toilet paper. So I was still soaked when I went to the Y, but that was okay, because I was sweating, you know? And then I put the groceries away and got cleaned up, but while I was in the shower I noticed that the tiles were looking kind of gross, so I re-grouted the lower three layers of tile and decided I might as well reorganize the linen closet as long as I was in there. After the girls and I walked home from school, they had a snack and we went to Target – they did their math facts in the car and I picked up the prescription – and while they were finishing the rest of their homework, I spoke to the insurance agency; they said we just need to resubmit the proposal and they’ll take care of it. Watch out in the dining room, I just mopped in there – hey, while I’m thinking of it, are you able to come home early tomorrow night? I’m teaching piano late and the babysitter cancelled. Oh, and I finally got the mango chutney when I went to the store, so we’re having that new chicken recipe we saw on TV the other night. How was your day?”

Now, when Nick comes home and asks how my day went, I’m either, “Where have you been? Why are you working on Sunday?” (and he’s like, “It’s Tuesday”), or “It was so good. We made brownies and the girls showed me their new dance routine six times and I actually managed to sort through the mail. Oh, and the leftover mango chutney chicken should be thawed in about an hour.”

Some of this, I understand, because I impose limits on myself. “Yeah, you should be answering those emails/editing those photos/cleaning out the art cabinet/eating something other than Starbursts… but it’s SUMMER! Will you get the chance to sit on the dock/play with the kids/do a crossword/stuff your face with Starbursts once the school year rolls around? No, you will not.” 

And that’s kinda good, right? The Letting Go and Being In The Moment?

ropes course1
We went to a local ropes course…
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… and it rocked. 

Yes, yes, it is, and I’m glad I’m enjoying myself – and now that I think about it, my Xanax intake has been pretty nonexistent lately – but I seriously don’t know which end is up. The hours blend together and time passes both slowly and wicked-fast and suddenly it’s dinnertime and I realize I haven’t been to the store in over a week. I’ve got at least a dozen potential blog posts in my head that I really, really would like to write, but nope. No writing. My children often wash their hair in the lake, but we’re not at the lake every day, so I seriously cannot tell you when the last time was that they bathed.

Does that matter? Does hair need to be washed in the summer?

We had new neighbors move in next door yesterday – the former ones had lived in their house for 35 years, with us beside them for the last seven – and it was bittersweet. We were sad to see our awesome neighbors go, but Ella and Annie are excited because the new ones have young kids, including two girls. We haven’t met them yet, but I’m hoping we make a good impression. I’d debated pulling up the weeds that were growing on our side of the fence – you know, to show them how tidy our yard is so they don’t think they moved in next to people whose yard is a mess – but then I was like, “Ehhhh… Why give them the wrong idea?”

That’s what happens when you move in during the summer: you meet Summer Emily. I mean, it’s not exactly like I’m Weeder Extraordinaire during the school year, but I’m somewhat more put together, you know? Then again, maybe this is a good thing; they can meet Summer Emily now, and then when September rolls around and, like magic, the yard is properly maintained and the children leave the house with their hair fixed and I actually know what day of the week it is, they’ll be all, School Year Emily is really impressive!

Yep. That’s probably exactly what will happen.

After looking at the calendar, the second half of our summer looks really similar to the first. All things considered, it seems to have been a nice balance thus far, so I don’t really know that anything needs to change in August. Which is a good thing, ’cause let’s face it – they’re not going to change, because Summer Emily has absolutely no momentum. Except when it comes to eating ice cream; I am a whiz at that.

So, welcome, new neighbors. Welcome to our cul-de-sac, to this fantastic neighborhood that we could not be luckier to call home. We plan to formally meet you once you’ve settled in (and might even bring baked goods, if I can manage to cobble together the ingredients), and we’re looking forward to getting to know you. I hope you like dogs.

Oh, and if you need anything, I’d recommend just ringing the doorbell and asking for it. Whatever you do, don’t call and leave a message; Summer Emily is apparently not returning calls until after Labor Day.

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