Make Room For Puppy

Four days ago, our family grew by one: we welcomed Fenwick, our fourth CCI puppy, to the fold.
Don’t mind the green around his ear; that’s just a little extra ink from his uber-cool tattoo.

We’d been planning to get another CCI pup since before we turned Jambi in for Advanced Training, but a puppy wasn’t available to us until last week. We met him at the airport, a howling bundle of fuzz that couldn’t wait to get out of the kennel where he’d been cooped up for more than twelve hours. Annie had stayed home sick that day, so she ventured with us to get Fenwick; on our way home, we drove by their elementary school right at Ella’s lunchtime… so an impromptu meet-and-greet was held in the school parking lot.

What? Don’t all the sick kids wear magician star skirts on their days home from school?

Half Golden Retriever and half Labrador Retriever, Fenwick (we don’t name them, btw, but I think his name is very dignified – in a Brit-lit kind of way – and pretty rad all-around) has a very clear Golden look. He’s absurdly fluffy and soft, not at all wiry like Labs tend to be, and by far the smallest puppy we’ve had. He is also crazy loud when he’s left alone and prefers not to be, screaming in a freakish way that is almost human. Aww, puppies!

The girls took to him immediately, declaring him “The cutest dog ever!” and cuddling with him and carrying him around in that way that children do with puppies and cats that makes you question whether small humans and small animals should ever share the same space. Then they torture play with him and help wash him and any Hey, you dropped me on the tile floor and could’ve killed me memories are all but forgotten.
See the leaf? You can’t eat it! But you can look at it! See it? Don’t eat it! Look – a leaf! Leaves aren’t for dogs! I CAN DO THIS ALL DAY.

Okay, okay… so maybe peeing in my kennel wasn’t such a good idea…

Nick seems to think that Fenwick is just dandy, but he went out of town less than twenty-four hours after picking him up, so his opinion doesn’t fully count. Which leaves me as the lone hold-out who isn’t completely smitten with this adorable little furball.

I’m not sure why, exactly. I knew it would be difficult – eight week-old puppies almost always are. They wake you up at night to go to the bathroom, they whine when they’re displeased, they pee and poop in the house indiscriminately and sometimes wind up soaked in their own urine. (This is eerily similar to most two year-old humans.) They nip at your fingers and hemlines and shoes, they put everything in their mouths – especially the things that shouldn’t go there – and they are utterly unpredictable. (This is exactly like most two year-old humans, except it’s legal to lock them in cages.)

I knew all of this going in, and I was prepared. Cleaning up the umpteenth mess of the day (five minutes after I let him out and with absolutely zero warning or preamble) is exhausting – but that’s not really why I’m not crazy for this boy yet. I don’t dislike him – he’s got that delightful puppy breath and is and full of zany puppy energy and makes little grunting noises when you hold him and likes to drag a stick around the backyard that’s six times longer than he is, which cracks me up to no end. I’m just not all in quite yet.

I know – I know! – how can I not be completely taken in? I mean, look at this guy.
Seriously? SERIOUSLY.

I think part of it is that we’re going out of town next weekend, so I’m almost afraid to put too much into it because I’m half-worried that he’ll forget us entirely in our absence. I’m also worried that he’ll still be up in the night and will be soiling the floors at regular intervals when our petsitter is here and, well, I’m just nervous, so I’m not jumping in fully to enjoy him. I think part of it is that I miss Jambi – not just any old puppy, but Jambi specifically – and when Fenwick’s personality diverges from hers, it’s a reminder that she’s gone, and that’s hard.

But I think the biggest reason I’m not totally head over heels for this puppy is that Langston isn’t head over heels, which is not at all what I expected. He and Jambi were ridiculously good pals, playing and lounging and napping together from day one. He’s also been really friendly with other dogs, though, so we assumed that he would love having a puppy around again – especially since he’d been practically bouncing off the walls with boredom since we turned Jambi in. When we brought Fencick home and introduced them, I actually said to Lang, “We brought you a present!” (Yes, I talk to my dogs as though they’re human. Preach it.)

To my dismay (and surprise), Langston doesn’t care. In some ways, he’s even annoyed by Fenwick – which, upon closer inspection, I guess I can understand. Fenwick bites at Langston’s wagging tail, causing him to yelp with pain; he attempts to gnaw on his hind legs as though they were teething toys; he jumps up on him in a never-ending game of Notice Me! Notice Me! Notice Me!

I’d been so convinced that Langston would be thrilled that we were bringing home another puppy, I didn’t even consider how it would feel if he wasn’t completely taken with the new dog. Turns out, I’d been putting a lot of stock into the two of them getting along, to being buddies, and now that it hasn’t played out that way (yet), I’m really bummed.

I say “yet” because I know that it’s only been four days… four days out of the sixteen months that Fenwick will be with us. He’s only a baby. We’re all still adjusting. Hell, he’s still on west coast time – jet leg will do strange things to a dog. I know that there’s plenty of time for Langston to come around – or not. Maybe they’ll never be the best of pals. But there’s plenty of time to adjust to that, too, and for me to fall in love with this smooshy little buddy simply because he’s him, rather than because he’s Langston’s companion.

And yet… Last night, I’d invited Langston up on the couch to chew the new favorite bear we’d gotten him, keeping it safe from Fenwick’s shark puppy teeth. A moment later, however, Langston had gotten off the couch – bear in hand mouth – and walked over to Fenwick… to play. With his bear. Langston wanted to play with Fenwick by sharing his bear. Oh, be still my heart!

They played longer than this, but I was so busy watching like a giddy buffoon for the first minute or so, I didn’t even think about grabbing my phone until Ella said, “Mom! Don’t you want to record this??” She is so my daughter.

You guys, my heart soared. So yeah, they only played together for about five minutes today, and that was only because Langston grew so tired of Fenwick trying to nip him to death, he decided to nip back and some dog-mouth-play ensued, but still. It’s a start! And a good reminder to me that, like people, no two dogs are alike – and it’s pretty unfair to judge one based on the other. Today, Fenwick ate all of his dinner (woo hoo) and let me know each time he needed to go out to poop, so overall, it feels like a win. He’s responding to his name and walking better on a leash and feels just absolutely perfect in my arms.

We’ll get there. I’m not worried. Neither is Fenwick. It’s all good – doggone it.

Dog tired.

Just subbing again this year? Nope.

“Are you looking for a full-time job, or are you just subbing again?”

It’s a reasonable question, and one that I get asked quite frequently. Friends and family – even acquaintances or parents of the girls’ friends – know that I used to be a teacher and that I began subbing a year ago. They also know that I had looked for months for a music teaching position but that none had been available, so I applied as a substitute. I was thrilled to be back in the classroom, but remained somewhat disheartened that I was “only” subbing instead of teaching my own group of students. Hence, last year, the answer to the question was some version of, “Yep, still looking – but for now, just subbing.”

This year, my answer has changed only ever-so-slightly, but the meaning behind it has shifted dramatically. “Yep, still looking – but actually, I’m very happily subbing!”

The exclamation point is important, ’cause I’m gonna tell you a secret that not many people recognize: subbing is awesome.

With all due respect to the hilarious Dave Barry, I swear I am not making this up.

First, some caveats. If my family was relying on my income to make ends meet, substitute teaching would not be the best way to put a roof over our heads because it is inherently unreliable. You are not guaranteed work, instead waiting for other people to become ill or be absent, so – short of poisoning the water of local teachers’ homes – your salary (and I use that term loosely) is really inconsistent.

Second, if my family’s schedule did not allow for any variability – if it had to be set in stone and not budge – subbing would be a really poor fit. Barring a long-term gig like I had last spring, subbing means that no two weeks are alike, so your “schedule” (such as it were) is bound to be constantly changing, oftentimes not materializing until that morning.

Thankfully, my family does not need to rely on my income to pay the bills, and I am fortunate enough to have supportive and flexible folks in my life who can help put all of the pieces into place, even at six a.m.

But wait, there’s more!

All ready to go this morning…

Substitute teaching isn’t just about avoiding the negatives; it has its own set of really stupendous positives, many of which I didn’t even realize before I began subbing last fall. Sure, on the one hand, each day and school are different. Your hours aren’t the same, you might be five minutes from home or twenty, you have to learn the ins and outs of each school where you teach. But on the other hand? The hours aren’t the same! No up at 6:00, out of the house by 7:00, home by 4:30 if you’re lucky drudgery. No mind-numblingly similar commute every single day. Because each school operates differently than the last and each school’s culture is uniquely its own, you have the privilege of getting to know all of them. Plus, each time you sub, you’re doing something new, so it’s virtually impossible to get bored. How cool is that??

Subbing is like being a grandparent: all of the fun but almost none of the stress. You know that ridiculous amount of extra teaching stuff that makes it so exhausting? Doesn’t happen when you’re a sub! I arrive when I’m told to and depart when I’m done teaching. Lesson plans and grading? Nope. I just follow the plans in front of me and leave the rest when I go. There are no faculty meetings to attend, no field trips to proctor, no parent-teacher conferences to prepare for. But working with kids, watching them get those ah-ha moments, introducing a new concept, trying to reach the one student who seems unreachable? Absolutely!
And then I go home.

When you’re a “regular” teacher, you work with the same kids day in and day out. Even as a music teacher, although I had well over a hundred – sometimes well over three hundred – students on my roster, I still saw the same faces each week. This is great, of course, for building relationships and establishing continuity, and you do really get to know a particular age group quite intimately, but it does mean that you’re only working with one cross-section of kiddos. Subbing, I get to work with everyone – kindergarteners to seniors, individual saxophone lessons to entire orchestras, a sixth grade homeroom to third grade reading, students classified as gifted and those with special needs. Absolutely everyone is included, every age and class size and ability and race and socioeconomic status, and that is exciting as heck.

It’s also challenging, but in the best way, that Oh wow, I hadn’t thought about it like that before way where your brain almost hurts afterward – but it’s a good kind of pain. Teaching twenty-five first graders how to add doubles calls on way different skills and resources than teaching fifty tenth graders how to play that symphonic section adagio or teaching six ELA middle schoolers how to decode a sentence — and you guys, there is something so freakin’ exhilarating about having to use different parts of my brain, having to think outside the box, and having to do it on a dime. Growing up, I was one of those dorks people who adored learning, especially if it was a fast-paced lesson, and that’s what subbing is like every single day.

Learning? you say; I thought you were teaching. Well, yes, of course, but as everyone knows (they do, right?), one of the best ways to be a good teacher is to be a good learner, and I am learning so damned much in these classrooms – in a different way than I did as a “regular” teacher. Then, I learned the ins and outs of middle school music and it was wonderful – truly – but now I’m learning about teaching, period. I had never conducted a high school band before I subbed, but let me tell you, when you have a hundred impatient teenagers staring at you as they await instruction that will help them prepare for next month’s concert, you figure it out fast. I’ve been shown games to help beginning readers, seen classroom management techniques that had never crossed my mind, and heard songs from across the globe that I’d never known existed. Yes, I’m teaching… but I’m also getting the best education of my life.

And that whole unpredictable, no-set-schedule thing? Amazeballs. Subbing is ridiculously flexible. Because I am fortunate enough to not have to work every day in order to support my family, I get to pick and choose. One week, maybe I’m available Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; the week after that, perhaps Monday and Thursday only. If I only want to work a half-day, that can be arranged. If I need to leave a little early for an appointment, no worries; they’re grateful to have me anyway. Until I actually accept a job, I’m never locked in – if my schedule has changed but I still receive a call, I simply say, “Sorry – I’m no longer available that day!” and no one thinks a thing of it. It doesn’t get much better than that!

Today’s job began late enough that I could still take my morning walk with the dogs… and the girls. ‘Tis the mark of a good situation, my friends.

Best of all, I’m teaching. I’m back in the classroom, back with kids, back to what I feel called to do. From the moment I walk in those doors to the moment I turn in my ID badge, I come alive and give it everything I have. Sometimes, all I’m asked to do is clerical work – making copies, cutting out decorations, sorting papers – which is not exactly teaching, nor why I applied for this job, but you know what? I totally don’t mind. For one thing, I’m no dummy; if I can get paid to hang bulletin boards, sign me up! But beyond that, I know that I’m helping teachers do their jobs better. For each stack of homework that I file into take-home folders, a teacher is gaining extra time with her students, for his grading, for their professional development. Sign me up for that, too!

When I am in the classroom working with those kiddos, there’s nothing better (professionally, I mean; I do love hanging out with my own kiddos and seeing a movie with my husband and a mean Sauvingon Blanc and a Salted Caramel Mocha… sorry, where was I?). It used to be that I was irked at my subbing status, embarrassed even. It was only what I was doing temporarily, what I felt forced to do because what I wanted – my own classroom – wasn’t available. Each of those early times that I subbed, I felt compelled to explain myself to other teachers, to let them know I’d spent years in the classroom and why I decided to sub, to prove that I wasn’t just some wannabe who couldn’t get herself a “real” job. I wasn’t ashamed, but I was definitely defensive.

Now, a year in, I’m completely content with my decision and my position as a substitute teacher. I don’t need to prove myself – I just need to continue doing the best that I can and let my teaching speak for itself. At the end of the day, I leave the classroom feeling solid about myself and the job I’ve done.

We – all of us, society as a whole – need good substitute teachers. We need our children to receive excellent educations and to be taught by excellent teachers, but those teachers simply cannot be in their classrooms every minute of every day. When they’re gone, it does little good to hire people who cannot be counted on to take their places effectively. Subs play a critical role in education; good subs are even more important. Not to toot my own horn (HONK), but… I’m a good sub.

I’m no longer on the defensive; in fact, I’m proud of what I do. Don’t get me wrong – if a “regular” music position opened up, I’d still go for it. But right now, I’m thrilled with being a sub. It keeps me on my toes, it makes me think, it teaches me more than I thought possible. I’m out there, back in the classroom with kids, making a difference while still being able to make the difference that I want to in my own daughters’ lives. And let’s face it – the hours can’t be beat.

So, no. I’m not just subbing again. I’m subbing again because it is exactly where I want to be.
And I love it.

Sun coming up over the hills. Which I still get to see, because I get to pick and choose my own schedule, because subbing is the bomb.




Pretty Little Liars

Dear Ella and Annie,

You really put on a good show today. If I judged your relationship solely on the performance you put on as you walked in the door from school, hissing at one another that “You started it!” “No, YOU started it!” “You shouldn’t have said anything!” “You shouldn’t have hit me!”, I might have assumed that you cannot stand one another, that you are enemies. Come to think of it, when anyone asks you if you think of your sister as your friend, your immediate response is to wrinkle your noses in disgust, raise your eyebrows as if to question their sanity, and quickly respond with a “No way!” or “She’s awful!” or “Well. sometimes…” or, if they catch you on a particularly good day, “I guess so.”

I’ve got to give you an A for effort; you certainly do try to verbally convince everyone that you don’t think the other is worth the ground she stands on. As a parent and an educator, I realize that it’s important to listen to what kids say and all that, but… well… how do I phrase this?

You’re full of crap.

I know, you hate that word – and rightly so – but in this case, it’s true. You’re absolutely full of beans. Liars, really.

Don’t believe me? That’s okay. I’ve got proof.

Sure, you refuse to share the bathroom sink because merely standing beside one another while brushing your teeth results in such pushing and hip-checking, the NHL might consider allowing women to join their ranks. But then, when you’re getting ready separately, one of you will take extra time – and time away from bedtime reading, a treasured evening activity – to dutifully prepare the other’s toothbrush, face toner, and water, complete with labeled note.

note for ella from annie
The water isn’t filthy – it was just a wee bit bubbly after being freshly filled.

When you’re left to your own devices, you’re all buddy-buddy (when you’re not threatening to strangle one another). You create together, you seek each other out to make new games, you giggle and spirit yourselves away, just the two of you, refusing to let me – or anyone – into your private sister-world. When we went on the Disney Cruise, you spent ages in the kids’ club using one of their computer typing programs, sometimes apart and sometimes together – like this.

It’s long, but if you’re actually curious, it’s larger if you click on it…

You started out like gangbusters, clearly working together and sharing happily. But then you must have realized what you were doing – admitting that we like one another? The horror! – and took steps to clarify.


“(Ella) I think she is really annoying sometimes but it’s one of those things that if something happened to her, I would be very very sad.
(Annie) I think Ella is an annoying stink bomb but also the same thing she said about if something happened or whatever.”

How very diplomatic and charming of you.

I couldn’t help noticing, however, that despite your acknowledgments that you each think the other is a pain in the ass but you’d be bummed if she, like, got maimed or whatever, you still deliberately mentioned your relationship in your sign-off.

If “By: Ella and Annie” didn’t suffice, you could have added another disclaimer. “By Ella and Annie, two kickass rockstars.” “By Ella and Annie, two wicked smart gals.” “By Ella and Annie, the world’s most awesome daughters.” But no! You chose to highlight your sisterhood. Curious, no?

Publicly, you sneer at each other when there are struggles, mocking your sister’s difficulties or pooh-poohing her accomplishments. And yet, when one of you reaches a personal goal three nights in a row, you are the first to offer up homemade signs of congratulations, immediately and genuinely with nary a condescending word.

I was unfamiliar with a “turkey” meaning three in a row, but your father swears it’s true.

Similarly, you will swear up and down that the other’s passions and interests are bogus; that you don’t give two hoots about the things she likes, that she goes on and on about the same old nonsense, that you couldn’t care less if she succeeds or fails at her most hard-fought endeavors. How, then, do you explain the signs of encouragement that you draw up, cheering on her current attempts by reminding her of the other things in her life that mean the most to her? WHAT SAY YE, LITTLE FIBBERS?

cheering on
Those are glasses and lightning bolts surrounding Harry’s name, obviously. To the left… a quidditch broom, maybe? Artistic license, yo.

One moment, you’re offering your sister an olive branch – let’s play! You worked so hard on that drawing! That dress looks awesome on you! You’ve really improved on that piano piece! Want to make a fort in the backyard? You’re sweet and adoring and kind.


The next, you’re spewing vitriol, talking about how your sister is THE WORST, how you can’t even be in the car next to her, how all you want is TIME ALONE for God’s sake, how you’ve NEVER liked each other. Your barbs are sharp and quick and aimed to hit right where it counts, even when you’re just being silly.

And yet… right beneath it all (in this case, literally)… is the unmistakable love.

At least you’re using your manners. 

‘Cause here’s the thing: deep down, deepest down, you are crazy about one another. You think your sister hung the moon. You think about her when she’s not around, bringing her the extra goody bag from the birthday party, saving her the last piece of cake instead of eating it yourself simply because you knew she’d like it. You know one another so well, better than I know you, that you practically breathe together. You are, unquestionably, each other’s best friend.

You’ll deny this with every fiber of your beings, stiffening your bodies and huffing – actually huffing, pushing air out your nose in indignation – that I am wrong, wrong, wrong. But then, like last week, Ella will volunteer to be the first (secret) Mystery Reader for Annie’s class. Her teacher might be contacted to ask permission for Ella to miss class in order to read to her sister’s class, and such permission might be granted. There might then be some hemming and hawing, with Ella perhaps insisting that she didn’t really want to volunteer at all (“People change their minds, you know!”), and some choice words being said (by me, *ahem*) about commitments and following through and not going back on one’s word – but all the while, I will know the truth: that, in her deepest down, Ella so very much wants to surprise Annie as the Mystery Reader, but she is terrified of reading aloud in front of all those kiddos, and so she is faced with an awful choice: her sister or herself.

In the end, she will choose her sister (agreeing at the very last minute, of course), and will walk down the hallway on wobbly legs, the book held in shaking hands. She will take deep breaths and steady herself before entering the classroom on Annie’s teacher’s count, awaiting her sister’s response when she realizes who the surprise reader is…

… and, upon recognizing her, Annie will respond from her deepest down with joy that radiates from below and up through her absolutely delighted face, smiling so broadly she can barely contain herself.

I’d videoed the grand reveal but, because I was several paces behind, had missed recording all of Annie’s reaction (plus also she was hidden by the desk partition), but I did manage to take a screen shot (during those first moments of recognition) and enlarge it. 
It may be blurry, but that smile doesn’t lie.

And then, as Ella takes the seat that has been placed at the front of the room and prepares to read to the class, Annie will come and sit beside her and… will realize that she has been displaying an unacceptable show of affection – for her sister, of all people – and will adjust her visage accordingly.

Oh. It’s you – how special. Not.

That’s your story and you’re sticking to it; anyone who asks you will get the same answer. And really, so long as you’re not rude about it, that’s okay with me because I know the truth. Hell, the whole world knows the truth because the two of you are lousy liars. Although I don’t think it’s always the case, in this instance, your actions drown out your words a million times over.

In the meantime, feel free to keep on insisting differently, and I’ll keep on saving these moments to show you later. (I’d love to pretend otherwise, but when that day comes I will totally say, “I told you so!” because I am nothing if not mature.)

With that said, if you could please save your arguments until at least a few minutes after you come home from school, that would be fantastic; I go from really excited to see you to awfully damn grumpy when you slam the door shut behind you and continue the sparring you’d apparently started on the four-minute walk home.

I do appreciate the work you put into attempting to convince me of your dislike for one another, though. At this rate, you could have stunning careers as actresses, and I’ll be second in line for tickets. After your sister, of course.




Change Is Good

For as long as I can remember, my dad and his job have always gone hand in hand. Sure, there were other ways that he filled his time – for example, he loves to golf. He plays tennis. He enjoys history books (I believe that the Civil War and presidential biographies are particular favorites). He golfs. He sips a glass of wine with his wife in the evenings. He reads The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal religiously (and frequently sends me links to articles with nary an introduction). He runs and works hard to stay healthy. He loves being a total goofball with his granddaughters. And have I mentioned that he likes golf?

But, alongside all of that, my father worked. Every morning, he would awaken at the crack of dawn (for real, like four- or five-something a.m.), put on his suit and tie, and take the train into Manhattan. He would walk to his high-rise, almost always arriving to his desk before 8 a.m., work all day, and then reverse the process back home, usually pulling into the station around 6 p.m. When I think of him commuting, he is always wearing a long tan trench coat, smooth and crisp. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the rush of air that accompanied him in the door – clean and leathery – and feel his cool cheek, chilled from traveling in the autumn air, against my face.

He took a briefcase with him, too – when I was a kid, one of those hard-backed kinds, the ones with the brass-colored latch that would snap and lock into place, and more recently a briefcase that was more like a leather satchel (although never, ever a backpack or man-purse). Growing up, I didn’t really understand what he did – something with stocks? Assets? Investments? (Not a trader, but he did work in the investment industry.) I did know, however, that he was good at it – really, really good.

I remember a math assignment in 5th grade where we had to pick three stocks from the NYSE – any stocks we wanted – and follow them for a few weeks to see if the prices went down or up. (I’m using very technical terms here, I know; do try to keep up.) The top three individual stocks – the ones that had earned the most over the course of those weeks – would receive a prize, meaning that three different students should have received top honors… except that I swept the awards because my three stocks – chosen with my dad’s advice – were the most successful. (Lest you think this was a fluke, three years later when my brother and a friend tapped my dad for his advice again on this very same assignment, they each swept their class’s awards, too.)

Work defined my father. I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but simply that his job was an incredibly important part of his life, of who he was. He put in long hours, sometimes traveling around the country and the world, but although the commuting was a drag, he truly loved what he did. He came alive at the office  – not more than when I saw him at home, but different. It was challenging and fulfilling and you could just see it in his eyes, that spark of curiosity and intelligence. Although I didn’t visit him at the office very much when I was younger, as an adult I loved watching him interact with his coworkers; he spoke with authority and honesty, and they so clearly respected him.

There were times when my dad’s job was hard for me – when he had to travel and missed piano recitals, when he had to work late and wasn’t home for dinner – but I was proud of him and what he did. I couldn’t imagine him not doing his job; it was woven into his fabric. For forty-three years, dad and work were practically synonymous with one another…

… until this past June, when he retired.

I’d long known it was coming. He’d made the plans well in advance, rather giddily – he even had an app on his phone that counted down the days and hours until he was done. He’d loved it, had put everything he had into it, but enough was enough. I understood – he wanted to live life while he could, it absolutely made sense, I was so happy for him – but it felt weird. You mean you’re not heading into the office today? You don’t have any meetings scheduled? We don’t have to wait to call you until after you get home? WHAT IS GOING ON??

The first day of his retirement, my dad called us at 8 a.m. and asked to speak to Ella and Annie. “Do you know why I’m calling you right now?” he questioned; they were stumped. “Because I’m not working, so I can! How about that!” When he said that part of what he hoped to do when he retired was visit more often, I nodded politely but didn’t really put too much stock (oh ho, a pun!)  in it – not because I doubted him, but because the idea was so foreign. (Just come visit? Not during a holiday or school break? For no reason other than because? Really?) But then last month I got a call from him saying that Grand Meg was going out of town for a few days in September, and he would also like to take a trip… to Rochester. To see me. And the girls – because he wanted to, because he could.

It happened that Nick was slated to be out of town then, too, and so this past Sunday the girls and I found ourselves being paid a visit by my dad – just to hang out. Although he’d visited me in college (making a point of arranging business trips nearby so he could check out my dorm room and take me out to dinner), this was really the first time that it had been just me and my dad in, maybe… ever. I will admit, there was a small bit of me that was concerned – what would we do all day??

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried.

We played with Ella and Annie. We went out for dinner. He walked the girls to school.   IMG_8600

We took the dogs for long walks around the neighborhood. He threw the ball for Langston. We visited the girls at school and ate lunch with them.
It tickles me to no end that my dad – the former super-duper investment guy – ordered a school lunch. 
He chose the fruit and yogurt option and totally cleaned his tray.



We talked. He patiently occupied his time while I did work. We went to one of the girls’ swim practices. He peeked into their classrooms and they showed him their desks.



We drove around town. We checked out some TV. He looked over the girls’ school papers and listened while they read to him. He endured watched as they attempted to perform magic tricks. We ate dinner at home and tucked the girls in at night.

In short, we did a whole bunch of stuff but also nothing at all except be together, and they were some of the best two days I’ve ever had.

It’s still a little strange thinking of my dad without his job, but I believe I’m liking this retirement business. It seems to be suiting him well, too. Whereas there was a time – all of the years, really – when he didn’t seem too interested in pop culture (save for what’s discussed in the WSJ and NYT), now that my dad’s days are a little less busy, he has the opportunity to explore certain cultural touchstones that were previously off limits. Just yesterday, he emailed my brother and me to express his concern that Cameron Diaz is dating Benji Madden. In what quickly became one of my favorite email exchanges of all time, he then explained that he had read this news… in People magazine. MY DAD IS READING PEOPLE, Y’ALL, AND IT IS AWESOME.

Yes. I’d definitely say that this retirement thing is working out quite nicely.



It’s Not Easy Being Green… Or A Parent

When you become a parent, you anticipate that certain aspects of parenting will be difficult: not being able to soothe your infant when she’s crying; convincing your toddler that pooping in the shower isn’t funny; the year your kid gets a teacher that he just can’t stand; dating in any way, shape, or form; convincing your middle schooler that pooping in the shower isn’t funny; sitting shotgun and physically restraining yourself from pretending to step on the brake while your 16 year-old gets his learner’s permit. What you don’t necessarily anticipate is how difficult the day-to-day interactions can be, how much seemingly insignificant frustrations can completely throw you off your game, how utterly helpless and confused you may feel over what – you think – should really be easy, silly stuff. Those are the moments they don’t talk about in parenting books, the ones that your Lamaze instructor neglected to mention while she was glossing over words like perineum and crowning and don’t be alarmed if your partner has a bowel movement right there on the birthing table because pushing a human out of your hoo-hah can sometimes cause your body to do weird stuff.

Although we originally attempted to parent them in exactly the same way (it was all we knew, after all), it became apparent really quickly that Ella and Annie were – surprise! – very different people with very different personalities (yes, I did earn myself a Master’s Degree, why do you ask?). Some of these differences became glaringly obvious this past week, presenting me with parenting hurdles I had no idea how to jump.

Same outfit… same hair… do not be fooled.

This hurdle surely had to be something big, something important, something really mind-blowing, right? Um… nope. In fact, it was a worksheet from their new art teacher asking them to draw a picture telling her a little about themselves. When the first kiddo brought it home from school, she kept it private, refusing to show it to me at all. I didn’t push her to reveal her masterpiece, but did remind her (the night before it was due) to complete it. She did and then showed it to me – a pencil sketch, drawn with care but not particular effort. I thought little of it and asked her to place it in her school folder.

That same afternoon, the second kiddo brought home the identical assignment and set to working on it immediately, crayons and colored pencils flying as she added details and nuances and flourishes. Upon seeing this, I asked the first kiddo if she, too, was supposed to have colored in her paper; she said no. After clarifying (“You’re sure? No coloring?”) and being told, again, that no additional work was required, I let the matter go.

As I was straightening up before bed that night, however, I double-checked her folder to make sure that the paper was there – it was – and, for the first time, took a closer look. The directions stared back at me, very clearly stating that not only was the assignment to be colored in, it was also supposed to contain a decorative border and the instructions were to be cut off of the completed work. And suddenly every bit of parenting advice and prep work I’d undertaken up until that moment flew out the window as I thought, “That little twit!” and also, “What the hell do I do now?”

I had asked her about the assignment. I had specifically mentioned coloring, and she had specifically told me it was not required. MY GOD, WE’RE RAISING A LYING DEVIANT. Should I haul her butt out of bed at 11 p.m. to right her wrong? Should I awaken her in the morning and insist that she complete the work to the standard of which she’s capable? Should she receive some sort of punishment for her flippant attitude and disrespect for her art teacher? Should I inform her that, in our house, we complete our work and I expected more of her?

Or was I not a part of this at all – was it all on her? Since it was her assignment, should she just have to return to school with it unfinished and face the consequences? Was it okay for her to have her teacher see that she didn’t really give a care, to potentially form a negative opinion of her? Shouldn’t she be responsible for her own school work?

(It should be noted that Nick was already asleep, so these were conversations I was having with myself. Aloud. I always have self-conversations aloud, don’t you?)

And then it dawned on me that perhaps – and more likely – she had not actually read the instructions. Perhaps, instead of deliberately deciding to blow off the assignment (and, in the process, flip her teacher the bird), she genuinely didn’t realize that it was incomplete. Reading the directions – all of them – is still her responsibility, of course, but intent matters (or at least I told myself that it did). So, after running the tale of my little miscreant and my subsequent dilemma past some dear friends, I opted for an approach straight down the middle: I highlighted the instructions that she hadn’t followed, left the paper out on the kitchen counter for her to find in the morning, and then didn’t say another word about it. If she decided to do more, she could. If she decided to turn it in as-is, she could, and then deal with the consequences. But at least I knew that she was aware that the directions called for something else.

(She chose to color in her picture. I have no idea how well/much she colored, nor if she added a border; we never spoke about it. I may have superglued my mouth shut to achieve this, but still.)

Y’all, it was hard. How do you know when to push and when to let go? When is it time to back off and when is it time to move in? Is she old enough to be responsible for her own self or is it still time for me to insist on specific behaviors? Perhaps most of all, how do I understand and accept a child who is fundamentally different from me – I, who (despite my wait-till-the-last-minute, disorganized ADHD-ness) always made sure that my school assignments were just so? Not stepping in and hovering over her until the work was spot-on was almost physically painful; worrying that she’d be perceived as a slacker, as someone who doesn’t care was even worse… but I worried more for me, not for her. She isn’t concerned with her reputation – I am because, deep down, I’m afraid of how it reflects on me. How do you parent a child who goes about life from a completely different perspective than you do? How much of you and your beliefs do you thrust at her, and how much do you let her navigate her own way?


GAH, parenting. Bite me.

As the first child trundled off to school with her homework, I told myself that this was the hard part – parenting a kid who approaches life in an unfamiliar way (to me). With the second kiddo, the one who tucked into her homework so ardently, the one who is more like me, it was bound to be easier. Famous last words.

You probably know where this is heading, no? So, we arrived at the morning when the second child’s assignment was due. She had worked on it several times over the course of the week, adding color and finesse, and it was not only clear that she had put in a great deal of effort – there wasn’t really even room on the page for anything more. After reminding her the night before that it was due and being met with silence, I assumed that it was finished and tucked it into her folder for her to take to class. (Normally, this would be her job, but we’ve had a bit of a tough time segueing back into the school routine – okay, I’ve had a tough time keeping everything on track and making sure that the girls go to bed at an hour that allows them to get enough sleep – and she was so exhausted the night before, she had left half her dinner at the table and fallen asleep an hour prior to her “normal” time, so I took pity on her and loaded her backpack.)

Dutifully, she checked her folder before heading off to school… and immediately took out the crayons again, attempting to fill in the very few empty white spaces. She was still coloring when I announced that it was time to head to school, thinking this wouldn’t be an issue – the requirements had obviously been fulfilled, so she was good to go.

BUT NO, she was not good to go. Although she may have technically followed the instructions, she was not finished. The more I tried to coax her into getting out the door, the more she fell apart – she had a vision, damn it, and now it would be ruined. RUINED!! She clutched the paper to her chest (if I were a romance writer, I might say “heaving chest” because she was sobbing so hard, her chest was… well, heaving…), folding it up into a tight square as she shrieked that she could not turn it in like this – SHE COULD NOT.

I tried to reason with her – she had put in a nice, solid effort. It looked neat. It was clear that she had worked hard. Didn’t matter – it was pitiful; she wanted to do more. I tried to gently remind her that I had mentioned this the night before and she had essentially ignored me and that if she had wanted to work on it, then would have been the right time. But she DIDN’T, and now it WASN’T DONE and OMG SHE COULDN’T WORK LIKE THIS.

By that time, neither could I, and so I marched her off to school – still wailing – alternating between feeling empathetic and feeling infuriated. She continued to sob, and I do mean sob, for the entire walk, which was simultaneously heartbreaking and maddening. Yes, I get it – you don’t feel good about it. It isn’t done to your standards. You don’t want to turn it in like this. But guess what? SCHOOL IS STARTING IN THREE MINUTES AND BY GOD YOU NEED TO GET YOUR BUTT IN THAT DOOR AND DOWN TO YOUR CLASSROOM.

I offered her solutions: she could turn it in just like this and no one would be the wiser; it looked finished, bam. Or she could speak to her teachers – her homeroom teacher, the art teacher – about it and explain her dilemma, that she wanted to add more and could they help her? Could she finish it in class? Could she have more time at home? Or she could choose to not turn it in, period, accept whatever the consequence was, finish it at home, and then turn it in the following day.

(Side note: Why I was completely comfortable with one child deliberately not turning in her work at all because she was unsatisfied with it while I was horrified that the other might turn in an incomplete assignment is probably something I should look into…)

None was acceptable. What she wanted was more time – right then, to complete the vision she had for the assignment – with absolutely no consequence. Alas, while I sympathized with her plight (so much so, I actually debated allowing her to stay home to finish the paper, because my God, I remember that awful feeling when I’d neglected to do my work the way I’d intended to), I now have the strange perspective of time: the world would not end if the homework wasn’t done to her specifications. This was not a thesis. She had had the opportunity to complete it the night before but hadn’t taken it. And, most importantly, sometimes the choices that life gives you aren’t the ones you want, but you still have to make a decision.

Which totally sucks. I love parenting!!

At last, I physically pulled her by the hand into the school lobby, where we had a rather long conversation with the secretary, who could not have been more sympathetic. Her daughter had been this way, she told me, a perfectionist, but turning in work that wasn’t exactly just so was actually good for her. She also informed my still-sobbing daughter that of course she could talk to her teachers about it, but that she absolutely had to go to class – nothing could be accomplished by standing in the hallway. We were given a late pass, much to my – not her – dismay (the first ever in four-plus years at the school, *gasp*) and told to be on our way.

My girl nodded and trudged glumly down the hall but was unswayed; when we reached her classroom door, she refused – absolutely refused – to go in. She was in such hysterics, she could hardly breathe, and I knew she was embarrassed to have her classmates see her in such a frenzy. I hugged her. I reminded her to talk to her teachers. I told her that it would be okay. And then? There really was nothing more that I could do short of completely disrupting the class, so… I left. I left her crumpled against the school wall, gasping (heaving?) for breath as she continued to weep, unconsolable.

Remember when, last week, I’d assumed that parenting the kiddo who was not like me would be harder than parenting the one who is like me? Yep. Total walk in the park with this one. HA HA HA.

This was so not in the Lamaze brochure.

As I left the building, I passed the secretary again, who was on the phone with the art teacher explaining the situation and asking her to come down and talk to my little perfectionist. She then turned to me and said, “You did the right thing, Emily. It’s hard, but you really did the right thing. She’ll be okay.”

I knew that much – surely, she wouldn’t be in the hall all day long. She would eventually calm down and, more than likely, forget about the assignment a few minutes later. I wasn’t really worried about that (although what these I-have-a-vision-and-it must-be-realized-exactly-to–my-specifications tendencies may mean down the road, I don’t know) – but, dang, it was sure nice to hear straight to my face that I wasn’t an ogre.

Or, even better, that I was doing it right.

In hindsight, I have no idea if I actually got either scenario right. Both girls seem fine and there appear to be no lasting repercussions, but there are things I might do differently another time. I fully recognize the irony that the silly, no-sweat, introductory homework assignment turned into a parenting struggle not once but twice, for totally different reasons. Well played, assignment. Well played.

When I first became a mom, I’d anticipated difficulties with friendships. I know, despite my insistence that time slow down, that puberty is just around the corner, and I’ve got the cute American Girl book lying in wait. I dread the body-image issues that could crop up any time now. But a Tell Me About Yourself! assignment for art class? Nope. Not on my oh-shit-this-could-be-hard radar.

I can hardly wait until the intense homework starts.

I’d say we should just skip ahead until they’re, oh, 20, but then I’d miss the chance to show them Dirty Dancing for the first time and watching them navigate their first middle school dance and traveling abroad for the first time and introducing them to Starbucks lattes. So, yeah, I guess we’d better keep on going.

I’ll just remember to be on my toes – it’s amazing how quickly molehills (that you didn’t even realize were there) can become towering mountains. Good thing don’t mind climbing.

first day 2014





Throwback Thursday: I remember the love

Whenever I think of September 11th, 2001, I am – like everyone else – immediately transported back to that morning. Nick and I had recently moved to New York from Colorado, and our apartment was absolutely fantastic. With its two bedrooms and two baths, it was pricey by any standard other than those found around enormous metropolises, but man, did we get bang for our buck — parking, storage, hilarious and helpful old-school Italian landladies, a washer/dryer right in the apartment (those stacking miniatures that could hold three socks and a sweatshirt without overloading), and best of all, it was in a tremendous location thirty minutes from Manhattan in the heart of a darling little village right on the train tracks.

I do mean right on the train tracks. When a Metro-North train pulled into the station, we could be inside the apartment and still make it out the door, down the stairs, onto the platform, and into the train on time. This did mean that there were commuter trains going past our windows at nearly all hours of the day and night but really, it didn’t bother us. In fact, we scarcely even registered that they were there.


That Tuesday began like any other, except that Nick was preparing for a job fair so he was getting all gussied up. It was, of course, a picture-perfect September morning, topaz blue skies unblemished by clouds, warmish but not hot, the just-right segue from summer into fall. (It still strikes me as odd that I took stock of the weather at all. I can’t recall what the weather was on other important days, but I so vividly remember staring at the expanse of blue later in the afternoon that day and being dumbfounded that the world had fallen apart on such a beautiful day.)

We were going about our routine when my mom called around 9:00 – unusual for her, as she is truly a night owl – to ask if we’d heard the news that there was an accident and a plane had struck the World Trade Tower. In an attempt to save money, Nick and I didn’t have a television (and internet news wasn’t really happening yet), so we turned on the radio in an attempt to get more information. There was confusion – was it a small, personal plane? How had the pilot not seen the tower? – until the second plane hit, and then we all knew that this was no accident; something was terribly wrong.

Although we didn’t have a regular television, we did have a miniature one that fit right in your hand, so I pulled out its antenna as far as it would go until I was finally able to find – and keep – a televised broadcast of the unfolding attack. It was on that itty bitty set, no more than 3 inches across, that we watched the towers fall, disappearing into enormous gray clouds at the bottom of the screen.

I remember covering my mouth in shock and horror. I remember crying. I remember the desperation and frenzy as we attempted to make contact with the great number of people we knew who lived and worked in the City – including my father and stepfather – only to be met with maddening recordings informing us that all lines were busy. I remember the relief and hysteria upon finally hearing their voices, which was echoed by the relief and gratitude that we heard in the voices of our out-of-town friends and family who had been desperately trying to reach us to see if we were okay.

I remember the silence; for the first and only time during our tenure in that apartment, the trains stopped running.

Twenty five days later, Nick and I were married in a small, charming stone church thirty minutes from Manhattan. In the few weeks since the attacks, the United States had – understandably – discussed little else, and we had briefly considered marrying privately and celebrating more formally later. Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with the big day as planned; it would be a shame to change things up so late in the game, we reasoned, but more importantly, we figured that we could really use a reason to celebrate.

wedding photo

That everyone came is the most humbling experience I’ve ever known. On one level, it’s always pretty amazing that people are willing to show up and support you. But this? This was different.

We all remember those This Can’t Be Happening weeks following September 11th – the omnipresent sense of uncertainty and fear that crept into every area of life, unfurling like fog in the night. We were on edge, tense, scared. For many of us, the mere thought of pursuing “normal” life was overwhelming; traveling – by plane – was inconceivable. And yet, that’s what our guests did. Very few of our friends and family lived locally. To get to us, they had to travel – a good 80% of them, nearly half by air. That they had the courage and strength to get on those airplanes and highways remains utterly awe-inspiring to me.

As for those who were local? Well, these were the folks who lived and worked in Manhattan, the ones who could smell the still-smoldering ruins from their apartments, the ones whose vistas were now missing two anchors, the ones with apartments on the train lines like us, the ones who were surrounded, every minute of the day, by the aftermath of the attacks.

So, yeah. Our wedding guests pretty much kicked ass.

We didn’t talk about September 11th during the wedding, deciding instead to focus on why everyone had so generously come together, but we didn’t have to. It was everywhere – the faces of the people we had lost or who were still missing, the news “crawl” that began on CNN, the feeling that nothing would be quite the same again. But at the wedding, there was joy. There was music (lots and lots of music). There was laughter.  There was seriously delicious food and seriously raucous dancing.

Maybe it was because we’d all been followed around by clouds for the past twenty-five days, but we were here and it was fun and we were celebrating and there was singing and eating and alcohol and holy crap did everyone let go and have a freakin’ blast.

The most poignant moment of the night didn’t come during the ceremony, however, nor during any of the letting-loose afterward. Instead, it was a surprise moment that perfectly honored the somber-but-celebratory mood, forever linking our wedding with September 11th in the most wonderful way possible.

Given the musical theme running through the wedding, Nick and I had informed our guests that we would not kiss if glasses were clinked but rather when an entire table stood up and – in unison – sang a song containing the word “love.” It didn’t take long for people to get into the spirit of things and we found ourselves serenaded by the likes of The Beatles’ “She Loves You” and David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” – all cute, all light, all sweet.

By several hours in, one of the few tables not yet to stand was the one at which my grandparents were seated. This was reasonable, perhaps even expected – requesting octogenarian participation was maybe reaching a bit. But then my grandfather stood and, in his booming voice, began to sing “God Bless America”.

God bless America
Land that I love

Within a few words, his table had joined in. Within a line, the entire room sang together. By the end, everyone was standing, hands on hearts, as the band accompanied us. It was, quite simply, one of the most moving and beautiful things I’ve ever been privileged to be a part of.


No other tables stood after that.

When we decided to go ahead with the wedding, I knew that it would be somehow joined with September 11th. I never anticipated that one of my strongest memories of one of our country’s darkest days would come from our wedding reception, nor that it would be so lovely.

Despite our collective haze and shock, there was something special about the place we found ourselves immediately post-9/11, something connecting and almost comforting. While I certainly wouldn’t wish for another terrorist attack to bring us all together, there are times when I wish we still could feel that camaraderie, unity, and collective determination to rise, rebuild, and heal.

I will never forget, but I will also always remember. I will remember the sky and the silence, the “Missing” posters and the fighter jets overhead. I will remember the way so many people joined together, at Ground Zero, at makeshift triages, across bridges and over dinner. I will remember those incredible family members and friends who chose strength over fear, joy over sadness. I will remember the hope we shared, the laughter, the hugs.

I will remember the singing.
I will remember the love.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Cheesy Souvenirs

Nick is going out of town again next week, which is always a little hard on the girls. He travels often enough that we can get into our own groove pretty easily, but they still miss him when he’s gone. One of the ways that Nick works to ease their sadness is to check in with them at least once a day, but more often twice – in the morning before school and at night before bed. He also tries to bring them back some sort of trinket or souvenir, which they can’t wait to get their hands on – even if it’s just a Washington D.C. pencil or a Welcome To Kansas City keychain.

When Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico, we knew that we’d be bringing back some kind of memento for Annie and Ella (in this case, little packages of cookies that we can’t find on the mainland and some cute seashell jewelry boxes that broke pretty much the moment we handed them over). In order to help us stay more connected to them while we were gone, we also knew that we’d be sending them photos of a figurine posing at many of our destinations.

Enter: Coqui.
Remember back in July when I’d mentioned this little guy and told you I’d explain more later? Well, it took me 6 weeks, but here I am.

It all began three years ago when Nick and I went to Jamaica for three days to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. This was the first time I’d been away from the girls for more than a night and, honestly, I struggled. It wasn’t that Jamaica’s gorgeous beaches didn’t hold my attention or that my fabulous husband wasn’t good company, and it certainly wasn’t that the “free” rum drinks at our all-inclusive weren’t delicious; I just plain missed the kids. I didn’t want them with us – oh, no – but it took me a good 36 hours to relax and stop aching when I thought about them. (Ironically, having become accustomed to being away from the kids more often than I, Nick was able to settle in immediately… but 36 hours later, he began to get antsy and homesick. So we kind of met in between – and, man, were those middle four hours amazing!)

Calling home wasn’t easy (and even if it had been, I was adamant that I at least try to pull away), but we were able to use the wifi in the resort to send a few communications back and forth each day with our babysitters. It was the promise of these connections that caused me to pick up this little fella and decide to make him a part of our trip:

photo_2 (1)
He’s a little cross-eyed but rum will do that to a person cat…

We named him MoBay (after the local nickname for the Jamaican city of Montego Bay) and after texting our sitters a photo of him along with a caption – “Here’s MoBay the cat sitting by the pool!” (or something like that; it was three years ago, folks, so I’m exercising creative license) – we were told that Ella and Annie loved it, so we kept taking photos and sending them along once or twice a day. What began as a bit of whimsy wound up making the transition to Vacation/Enjoy Time With My Husband Mode much easier. I got a kick out of posing MoBay at various hotspots, knowing that the girls would be tickled and, even better, the hot sting of missing them began to dull as soon as I’d taken the photos. Win/win!

We brought MoBay home with us – after all of the photos, it was like meeting a celebrity – and he was promptly gnawed to a little pink nub by one of the dogs, ending his illustrious career… But the memories (and out-of-focus cell-phone photos) remain.

photo_1 (1)

Nick and I knew that, this trip, we would do the same – and so as soon as we left the hotel and began to explore Old San Juan, Nick hightailed it to a gift shop and returned with an itty bitty, glum-looking ceramic frog that we named Coqui (ko-KEY) after the native Puerto Rican amphibian.

We were starving, so Coqui’s first photo was beside food.

Our serious-faced green dude did, indeed, connect us to our girls, and I had a blast deciding where to take the pictures – but to my surprise I found that he didn’t ease the missing of them… because I didn’t really miss them. I thought of them, sure – a lot. But they were smile-inducing thoughts, never tinged with sadness. Whether that’s because they’re that much older, so I knew they’d be okay… or because I’m that much older, and I knew I’d be okay… or because we’ve had a little more practice being apart from one another… I’m not sure. But I do know that it was awfully damn fun hopping onto that airplane and being all, “LATER, DUDES!”

MIssing the girls or not, Nick and I loved placing Coqui in his photo spots. There were the obligatory This Is What We Ate Today pictures, of course…

Puerto Rico’s signature dish, mofongo. Deeeelishus. 
Is that a plantain in your dinner or are you just happy to see me?

 Fantabulous coffee at the delectable Caficultura.

Dessert following the best meal we’ve ever eaten, at Marmalade.

Coqui also joined us on all of our adventures, from ziplining…
Yes, I kept him in my pocket while we zipped.

Nick’s nod to Where’s Waldo… ¿Dónde está Coqui?

… to the bioluminescent bay…
It was pitch black (sort of critical for this excursion) plus also we were in kayaks and I had this waterproof case-thingy over my phone, so this was the best I could do.

… to the incredible forts and Old San Juan sights.
 Looking slightly pensive about having to board a plane in a few hours…

If we did it, Coqui was with us.
Perched atop our favorite restaurant’s sign.

Taking in a little native culture.

Chillaxing at the beach.

We knew that this trip would be good for us – getting away, spending time together, finding us among everything else that life throws our way – despite friends saying how difficult it would be for them to leave their own children. How could we do it? Wouldn’t we think about them constantly? Would we forbid all talk of the kids and focus solely on other things?

Ummm…. hell, no. If we did that, we’d have about five minutes’ worth of things to talk about; there’s only so much we can say about the situation in Ukraine and discussions about how much we’d love to redo the basement but can’t find the time/money usually end with at least one of us leaving the room. Okay, so this is an exaggeration (not about the basement but about not having anything besides the kids to discuss), but we absolutely talked about the girls; they pretty much dominated our conversations.

It was in a good way, though. When we visited the dungeon at the Castillo de San Cristobal, we remarked that the kids would love this place. As we walked the tiny streets of Old San Juan, we noted which stores the girls would have wanted to browse, but how grateful we were that they weren’t trudging around in the heat. We considered whether or not they would actually enjoy ziplining and if they were old and mature enough for the nighttime kayak adventure. We heaved sighs of relief that they didn’t join us on our epically failed coastal drive and clinked glasses blissfully noting that we were enjoying the best meal ever without small children who would not appreciate the food.

And, of course, there was Coqui and his photo series, which connected us with one another any time we wanted. Ella and Annie were everywhere – and, next time we visit Puerto Rico, we intend for them to actually come along – but that didn’t take anything away from our vacation. In many ways, talking about them as often as we did made it easier to unwind and relax because we weren’t trying so hard not to think about them. Coqui helped being apart be even more fun, in spite of his contemplative nature.

Because I hadn’t desperately missed the children, I expected that returning home to them wouldn’t be all that big of a deal – oh, look. We’re home. Here’s a seashell box that you can break. When Annie came running into our bedroom the morning we were back and threw her arms around me with a monstrous hug, however, my expectations took a backseat. When Ella then crept into the room – cautiously, so as not to wake us – and glimpsed me for the first time in four days, her face widened into a smile so broad, so deep, so joyful, I thought I might be knocked off my feet just by looking at it. To receive a smile like that from a kid who hand-holds but is not terribly effusive… well, that was just about the best part of the whole trip.

That is, until we introduced the girls to Rock Star Coqui… and this other colorful creature we’d found in one of the gift shops.
This little guy really gets around the Caribbean…

We’ve pretty much been granted their blessing to go away any time we’d like.

Jurassic Kitchen

Now that we are finally back to life (back to reality), the process of de-summering the house has begun in earnest. Beach towels that hung on the hooks in the front hall have been folded and put in the closet, making way for fall coats. Stale snacks that never got consumed (because of the ice cream, duh) have been pitched, with fresh school-year snacks taking their place. Toys that had been left on the counter since June were finally shelved, replaced by a new caddy (on sale at Target, score!) filled with school supplies (that must remain in said caddy under penalty of death because, for the love of God, how do the scissors disappear so quickly up in here and did you really need to use the entire roll of tape for your “special project”?).

The art closet remains on my to-do list; stay tuned.

While happily helping the orphaned items find their homes, I was reminded of another (perhaps the only other?) time this summer when I reorganized a portion of the kitchen. Except it wasn’t really reorganizing; it was more excavating. Back when Nick and I went away to Puerto Rico in July, my sister-in-law, Emi, came to watch the girls… which meant I had to do a serious house-clean. Okay, I didn’t have to – but I really wanted to.

You see, Emi is one of those uber-organized, super-clean people (yes, we get along extremely well; stop laughing). Whereas my motto is It’s Time To Vacuum When The Dog Hair Starts Rolling Across The Dining Room Like Tumbleweeds, Emi’s motto is Why Vacuum Three Times A Day When You Can Vacuum Four? Nearly every time she comes here, she re-sorts and reorganizes the Tupperware and makes sure our counters are always nice and shiny.

Although this is, indeed, lovely – and, one might think, motivation for me to not tidy up before she arrives, since she’ll do it better than I would, anyway – I nevertheless want to at least try to have things in some semblance of order before she visits, not because Emi judges me (she doesn’t at all), but because I like to prove to myself that I’m capable of holding to a higher standard. For a couple of days, anyway. This time, I went for shock value and actually went through the Tupperware on my own (ah ha!) and made sure the food in our cupboards was safely accessible (by which I mean re-stacking the canned goods so they didn’t conk you on the head when you opened the cupboard to get yourself some cereal).

As I attempted to sort through the baking supplies, I discovered that some of them didn’t move, and was mortified when I remembered the reason why: they were still stuck in the Karo syrup that had spilled. When we were making Christmas cookies. Last December. I mean, it wasn’t a surprise; I’d known that the syrup was there all these months. In fact, I’d deliberately left it there when it spilled, sloshing its thick sweetness all over the drawer, because how in the heck does one even begin to clean up that much Karo syrup? (For the uninitiated, Karo is a brand of corn syrup that is occasionally used in baking. It is dense, like molasses, but clear – and sticky, like… syrup – and makes an excellent ingredient in cookie frosting because it causes the icing to harden to a glossy finish. For this same reason, it is a complete nightmare when it, say, spills and covers a drawer.)

By the time I realized what had happened (back in December), the other baking supplies were nestled in a bed of syrup at least a quarter inch thick. It made my head spin just thinking about removing everything – dragging strands of syrup through the air like tacky mozzarella – and then getting the Karo off of each box, bottle, and bag. And then there would be the mess of syrup in the drawer that would need scrubbing… I simply couldn’t even.

So I did what any other (procrastinating) person would have done: I just left it there. Another day, I’d tackle it. Another time, when I had the energy. But then the syrup, um, hardened, creating its own little veneer, and suddenly cleaning it up became far less urgent. The baking supplies were still stuck, of course, but they were relatively easily pried out – and when I did, I was met with a thin layer of sugary plastic rather than sticky terror, so I just kind of forgot about it.

Until I knew that we’d be gone and Emi would be here and she’d see the fossilized remains in our drawer and would be all, How the heck did this happen? and I’d have to explain that it had been there since December and I’d been too lazy busy to clean it up, and, well, that was just too much, even for me. It had to be taken care of.

drawer debacle
Yup. Just a little bit of a mess down in there.

After removing everything that broke free without a fight, I was left with what essentially amounted to an archeological dig. Remember in Jurassic Park when the mosquito is trapped in the amber? That was basically my kitchen, except with Anise Extract and a rubber band instead of a fossilized bug.

drawer debacle1
You can’t really see it here, but the things that I’d pulled from the resin-y bottom left impressions behind, so it was totally like an archeological expedition. This was right above the mesozoic layer.

I tried to remove the remaining veneer by hand but soon discovered that doing so was impossible because it was, you know, stuck to the drawer. As it had hardened, it left no room between itself and the laminate, so I couldn’t reach beneath and pry it loose. I considered removing the drawer and filling it with water to, I don’t know, melt it down but that seemed to be pure folly.

“You know,” I informed Nick, “I’ve decided that it really isn’t a problem. I mean, it’s been here for seven months. Do we really have to clean it up?”

He just gave me a look.

“Okay, fine. Be all sanitary. Whatever.”

It became clear that the only option would be to chip away at it – literally – using some sort of chisel. We don’t happen to have chisels lying around, but we do happen to have my grandfather’s old toolbox filled with all sorts of random utensils, including this delightful file-like thing.
drawer debacle3
We like to get all 
Home Improvement up in here.

drawer debacle2
What, like you don’t ask your husband to snap photos of you chiseling away fossilized corn syrup in case you ever decide to blog about it. Psh.

It was tedious – and surprisingly tiring – work but eventually the veneer came up, one little plastic bit at a time. Twenty minutes later, the drawer was filled with shards of see-through rock candy, which was fairly easy to dump into the trash. A few paper towels and some GreenWorks squirts later, and voila – good as new!

drawer debacle5
Please ignore whatever schmutz is on the front of the drawer. It’s always what’s on the inside that counts anyway, right?

After re-filing the contents, I stood back and admired my handiwork. Quite amazing, really. THIS DRAWER IS SO WONDERFULLY ORGANIZED. Surely you would feel welcome in our tidy, cozy home, Emi. Would you like to put leftovers in some Tupperware? BOOM. Right there. How d’you like me now?

I’m pretty sure it was the methodically catalogued baking cabinet that allowed Emi to not totally lose her mind when all three dogs got into the trash and wound up recycling its contents – out both ends – on her bedroom floor. I hope we left the carpet cleaner out, because if not, she’d have to have waded through the cupboards containing the cleaning supplies, and let’s just say they’re not exactly as easy to sort through as the Tupperware, if you know what I mean. One can only order so many areas of the house, no? Plus, I appreciate the irony of untidy cleaning supplies. Or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

So, in closing, if you were concerned that the stash of Easter candy you just found – in September – was horribly negligent on your part, allow me to assure you that you are are in very good company. Also, by way of a Public Service Announcement, I can now say with confidence that if a bottle of Karo syrup spills in your baking drawer, it is much easier – and more fun, in an archeological kind of way – to just let it harden before attempting to remove it. True, you could probably chisel the stuff out sooner than seven months later, but hey, why rush it?

drawer debacle6
I could try to convince you that, seven weeks later, the drawer is still this neat… but I prefer not to waste anyone’s time.







Back to the Here and Now, Yeah

* you’ve totally got that song stuck in your head now, don’t you?

So, yeah… It’s been awhile… We had this thing going on – summer, they call it? – and there just hasn’t been much chance to sit down and type. Or clean. Or get organized. Or do anything remotely productive.

But, maybe for the first time ever, you know what? It’s been okay.
Actually, it’s been really, really good.

summer fun accomplished
Missions: accomplished!

If you’ll come a little closer, I’ll tell you something: I didn’t really believe it was possible. I know, I said back in June that I was looking forward to summer, to having the time off from teaching, to taking the break. I know, back in July, that I said I had already become annoyed with how little I was accomplishing, how the lack of routine was jarring. As I wrote both of those posts – as the days of summer ticked off, one by one – I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for School Year Emily to emerge from my sunscreen and bug spray-encrusted shell (butterfly-like, not Sigourney Weaver Alien like, that’s gross), assuming I’d be so done with all of this No Structure nonsense that I’d ignore my children for two hours straight while I attempted to feel human again.

I’ve just never been good at relaxing, at doing nothing. Not ever; even back in elementary school, I would come downstairs in the morning and ask my mom, “What fun thing do you have planned for me today?” (No joke. I was a riot.) But for some reason, this summer was different. I wouldn’t say it came naturally to me – I essentially had to force myself to try to chill out, which I realize is both ironic and oxymoronic – but, by God, I did it.

Previously, I would have hidden this photo because of my rather, um, unflattering stance. Now, it reminds me of the helluva good time the girls and I had this summer. #GirlPower!

It’s been weeks since the garden was weeded, but every time I thought about doing it, I saw that I’d have to not do something fun with the girls in order to make it happen. This summer, I chose fun. “Reorganize the Art Closet” has been on my To-Do list for three months, but each time I considered taking it on, some (completely foreign, believe me) voice in my head reminded me that there were crossword puzzles sitting in my bag, just waiting for me, and would I really take the time to do crosswords once the school year began? I would not. And so, very uncharacteristically, I did those damn crosswords, dozens of them, and I loved it. Posting here has been sporadic at best, not because I haven’t had anything to say (oh, ho! Come now!). I have probably twenty ideas for blog posts that I really, really want to write… but doing so would have meant less singing with Nick in the dining room after the girls have gone to sleep (we’re totally like Sonny and Cher except not at all), and so – quite to my shock – I opted not to write.

For ten straight weeks, I ignored everything that normally takes up my “spare time” – tidying, editing photos, getting together with friends, exercising, writing, making sure we have enough toilet paper – and focused only on the absolute necessities (food, sleep, wine) and just enjoying the hell out of summer… and what do you know? The world didn’t come tumbling down!

It did start to crack a little at the foundation, however. Don’t get me wrong; it was a blast going with the flow, really taking each day as it came, savoring the moments, for real and not like on a motivational poster. But it was a bit of a battle with myself to HAVE FUN and RELAX DAMN IT, and after 70 days? I’m plumb worn out. I’m tired of damp bathing suits. I’m done with unwashed hair. I’m over not being able to find a single crayon because the freakin’ art closet is completely overflowing with yarn and tangled Christmas pipe cleaners. I’m through with not seeing my friends. I’ve had it with the girls’ epic bickering (to their credit, they were amazing playmates and buddies for the vast majority of summer, but given that they basically haven’t played with anyone else since June, they are sick of one another; believe me, I get it).

back to school2014a
I took this last night because I was so giddy to be have our systems back on track, but looking at it now, all I’m seeing are the piles of shoes beneath the bench,the random Fourth of July decoration lingering above the white boards, the games that are in total disarray… I’m not sure how it’s possible to be so simultaneously on top of things but also messy, but HERE WE ARE.
Omg, tangent – can you even imagine what a hilarious disaster it would be if this were an organizational/ house decoration blog? HAHAHAHA.

This summer, I kicked back with the best of ’em, and I’m so very glad I did, but today? SCHOOL BEGAN TODAY AND I COULD KISS THE GROUND THE CALENDAR WALKS ON. Real life starts again, SIGN ME UP! Sure, it’s only been one day, but already I feel more like School Year Emily. The laundry has been done (times three), the sheets have all been laundered (and the beds done up perty), the towels have been washed and rehung (it was okay that they weren’t really washed all summer because we were out of town so much, right?), and errands have been run. Plus also I exercised and then cancelled out the burned calories by going to Starbucks, so it’s a total win.

Next week, I’ll be back to subbing. Our home will (hopefully!) be in better shape, along with my thighs (too far?). The art closet will be sorted through if it kills me. Blogs will be written (maybe even about What We Did This Summer) and photos will be edited and emails will be answered. I might even throw in a crossword or two, if I’m really on the ball.

For now though? These girls have started second and fourth grade (THANK YOU SWEET BABY JESUS but also HOW DID THEY GET SO OLD??) with hearts full of awesome summer memories (and more than a few bug bites)… and for the first time ever, I can truly say I loved it, right alongside them.

Especially now that they’re back to school, holla!