We Really (really) Had It All

To borrow from Lin-Manual Miranda, it was a bit of a weekend*.

Ten long months ago (looooong months ago), I’d been among the throngs of people hovered over their laptops and Ticketmaster apps to press the “Search for Tickets” button at exactly 10:00 on a Thursday morning in December with the hopes of getting to see Adele in concert. Amazingly, I got through and was able to secure tickets for the four of us to attend her final show in Toronto.

Thus began the waiting. And the secrecy. Nick and I knew ten months would be an eternity for the girls, so we deliberately kept knowledge of the concert from them until an unexpected Adele radio moment last month where we caved and told Ella and Annie that what they thought was merely a weekend getaway to Toronto was more than just seeing the sights.

(Cue ebullient mayhem.)

Ana so, at long, long last, after wondering if after all these (months) we’d be like to meet…
Hello.
img_7319Giddy outside the Air Canada Centre.

This was the Ella and Annie’s first concert (okay, first real concert; they did see the Laurie Berkener Band when they were about 1.5 and 3.5) and, after having watched 738 YouTube videos of other Adele performances, we knew it would be one helluva show, an experience that would be hard to top.

We never dreamed it would become a once-in-a-lifetime event.

We arrived at the Air Canada Centre with plenty of time to settle in. Knowing the kiddos would be uber-tired by the end of the night (and that we wouldn’t want to leave mid-show to shop), I took the girls to check out the souvenirs before the show. When we made it to the front of the line, Ella and I quickly chose t-shirts. Annie hemmed and hawed, saying that she wanted the black notebook tucked in the glass case and “a pencil.” Because pencils were only available by the $25 package and the notebook cost $40, I told her she would have to choose one or the other (even with the exchange rate, $65 for pencils and some paper wasn’t happening).

She chose the notebook.

As the woman who was helping us brought the book out of the case, the employee standing next to her leaned over and beckoned me close so I could hear him. In a whisper, he told me, “You’ve selected a unique and special item. Open the first page.”

My stomach immediately jolted. Why would he have us check the page if nothing was there? Holy shit. WHAT WAS THERE??? There was no way – NO WAY – that Adele had anything to do with that page… Omg…

My hands actually began to shake as I handed the notebook to Annie. “Open it!” I barked, startling her (apparently, my “filled with excitement and anticipation” voice sounds a lot like my, “you’re in deep doodoo” voice). She did… revealing what looked to be a signature.

Adele’s signature.

“Oh my God, Annie. Oh my God. OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD.” (We typically ask the girls to say “Oh my gosh” and try to do the same ourselves, but in this case, all bets were off.)

As she stared reverently at her autographed notebook, I handed over my credit card, half expecting the employees to tell us that our “unique and special item” cost $400, not $40… but no. They rang the transaction up as if nothing had happened. Growing skeptical, I asked the woman who was bagging up our shirts, “Is this for real??”

Again, the man beside her answered. “It is. She signed five of them after the VIP event this afternoon and we’re selling them randomly around the arena. See? They even have today’s date. Your daughter made a lucky choice.”

OH.
MY.
GOD.
img_7321Posing before the show with the world’s luckiest notebook.

I’m not sure that the girls fully appreciated the incredibleness of this (although my near-hyperventilating probably clued them in), but it certainly caused us all to be in a state of wonder as the concert began.

And the concert itself? Adele, live and in person and singing and talking and laughing that marvelous cackle?
Breathtaking. Hilarious. Astounding. Powerful. Triumphant. Joyful.

Amazing. Just… amazing.
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We had floor seats and assumed the rest of the floor-goers would remain seated for most of the concert. HAHAHA. For a few songs, Adele actually instructed us to park our tushes and sit, but for the rest? FULL ON STANDING for the entire show… which meant that Ella and Annie could see nothing but the shoulders of the people in front of us for the entire show.

We attempted to stand the girls on their folding chairs, making sure they weren’t taller than the folks behind us… but, since we were on the end of the row and, thus, easily accessible, the security guards put the kibosh on that quickly (By contrast, the family in the middle of the row ahead of us stood their children on chairs the whole time.) “Our” security guard (Richard) couldn’t have been nicer, explaining he felt terrible our kids couldn’t see; it was just a safety issue. It was frustrating to have the rules enforced only for those within reach, but we understood and readily complied.

Making the best of things, we watched Adele on the overhead screens and held the girls whenever possible. Midway through the show, as Adele made her way to the small, closer, middle-of-the-floor-seats stage from which she’d emerged at the beginning, Richard tapped my shoulder. “Would your girls like to come with me to a spot where they can see a little better?”

Um. YES?!?

Annie and Ella would later tell us they were brought to a clearing closer to the small stage, offering an unobstructed view. At the time, we had no idea where they were, only that Richard was in charge. Every so often, he’d catch our eye and give us the thumbs-up that all was well; we trusted that it was. Several songs later, the girls returned to us, all smiles.

Ninety-or-so minutes after she began, Adele disappeared from the small stage. Richard confirmed that she wasn’t quite finished, silently holding up two fingers and mouthing, “Two more!”

We were enjoying the penultimate number (“When We Were Young”) when yet another security guard tapped me on the shoulder. “Would your children like to see the last song from the front of the stage?”

The girls were actually hesitant – the stage was pretty far away – but when you’re offered the chance to see Adele from the freakin’ best spot in the arena, you do not turn it down. That said, I had no idea how we’d find them in the mad crush when the concert ended so I, too, became hesitant. Sensing my uncertainty, the guard leaned in again. “Mom, you’d be coming, too!”

Oh. In that case? LET’S GO!!

I took a moment to confirm with the guard that Nick was also welcome (yes), and then, t-shirts and notebook and bags in hand, we began following her down the outer aisle of the floor, past row after row… after row… after row. I kept saying aloud to the girls, “I can hardly breathe. Oh my God, oh my God. I can’t believe it! I can hardly breathe.” They probably thought I was insane.

When, finally, we reached a temporary barrier approximately ten rows from the front, we stopped… but were beckoned on by the security guard, who adroitly pushed the gate aside and continued to make her way ahead. When we reached the seeming end of the aisle several feet from the barriers in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guard asked other people to move out of the way and told us to keep going.

And when we reached the metal barriers immediately in front of the stage and, again, it seemed we could go no further, the guards physically moved the people who were already standing there, instructing, “Let these little girls in!”

What alternate reality is this???

Thus it was that we found as close as humanly possible to Adele (without being on the stage) as she sang “Rolling in the Deep” for her final encore. Nick kept back a few yards, not wanting to crowd the space, while I remained near enough to the girls so when all hell broke loose at the show’s conclusion, I could easily locate them… which meant when Adele walked by and waved, she looked all three of us directly in the eye and smiled.

We made eye contact with Adele and she SMILED AT US.

So basically, we were privately serenaded by Adele.

SWEET. FANCY. MOSES.

img_7353Ella with her iPod to record this mind-boggling turn of events.

img_7355Annie waving madly to Adele – WHO FREAKIN’ WAVED BACK.

img_7357AND THEN ADELE WAVED AT ME. And I died and went to heaven right then and there.

No, for real – see?!

img_7363House lights on: final goodbye before the confetti cannons exploded.

On our way out, we made sure to pass Richard and thank him for – well, for making it the best concert imaginable. I have no idea what prompted him to do everything in his power to give us such an unbelievable night, but I am ridiculously grateful and awed that he did.

Although the girls managed to fall asleep almost as soon as their heads hit their pillows, I was up for at least three more hours, running on adrenaline and shock and kettle corn. Had that really happened? The notebook? Finally hearing Adele in person? Being escorted to the front? It seemed impossible… and yet, there it was. Videos and photos on my phone, confetti in my purse, smile plastered to my face.

The girls’ concert bar has now been set so high, they’ll likely never even glimpse it again. But that’s okay. For one night, we really had it all.

* this was actually two weekends ago, but life got in the way and so… here we are

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Osmosis Love

We’re in South Carolina again, visiting Papa and Grand Meg on Kiawah Island, as we do every spring. This time, we deliberately scheduled our trip for later in the season (even pulling the girls out of school for a couple of days), hoping that we’d encounter weather that was warm enough for us enjoy being outside. (See also: swimming, the girls’ kryptonite.)

Although it’s been cloudy since our arrival, we were pleased to discover that it is, indeed, warm enough to swim. Yesterday, the girls hit up the pool. Today, we ventured over to the ocean. It was super low tide, leaving us with a vast expanse of beach in which to search for shells, play in tide pools, and collect hermit crabs. When we’d had our fill of exploring the sand, we took to the water.

To be more precise: Nick, Ella, and Annie took to the water.
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No sun… Low tide… Warm air… Empty beach… Happy kids.

As I’ve documented before, I’m not an ocean person. It’s not the ocean itself that’s a problem; I love the tides that are – fascinatingly – both ever-changing and constant; the rise and fall of the waves; the rush of the water as the swells crash upon the shore; the birds that fly just along the waterline, skimming the surface in beautiful unison; the soft, squishy bottom beneath your feet; the rainbow colors of the oceanic landscape; the endless horizon.

It’s just the sand and the salt that are a problem.
I like neither all up in my eyes or my lady parts.
If we could get rid of those, the ocean would be perfect.
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Having the water to themselves (and some blue sky).

Nick and the girls, on the other hand, love the ocean. Whereas I can’t get enough of the lake, Nick vastly prefers the sea. He can almost always be counted on to join the girls, swimming beside them, shaking the water from their hair, looking for waves. Although I will occasionally swim, snorkel, and bodysurf, when given the choice, I would almost always rather wait on the beach or wade in to my ankles (and then wash off the sand and the salt asap).

Today, I stood for a solid hour on the shore while Nick, Annie, and Ella were in the water. For some of that, my dad joined me and we engaged in lovely conversation. For the rest, it was just me – watching… listening… as they splashed, jumped the waves, called to one another, and scouted which frothy peaks would make for the best bodysurfing. They were pure joy and ebullience; their happiness radiated in all directions. Watching them, it was all but impossible to not feel that happiness, myself.

When anyone loves something that much, their love is bound to rub off on everyone around them. Or something like that.

Either way, it was a truly magnificent sixty minutes.

I may never fully enjoy frolicking in the briny deep, but today? I absolutely loved the ocean. (Bonus points: my lady parts were sand-free. SWEET FANCY MOSES.)
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No “fancy” camera today; just blurry iPhone closeups and crazy-happy family.

Speed

I had a moment on the playground today.

I volunteer as a helper a couple of times a month and this morning, as I watched the second graders run by in their half-constructed Halloween costumes (their parade was this afternoon), it was as though I was actually seeing one of those uber-fast time-lapse sequences that are shown in movies whenever the director wants to particularly toy with your emotions.

And I saw Ella in her costume in second grade – and kindergarten and first and third and fourth – but, like, actually SAW her in my mind’s eye, tromping confidently in the Halloween parade. Glowing Skeleton! * change scene * Maleficent! * change scene * Snow Queen! * Ice Witch! * Bellatrix! *

They flew by in an instant, melding into one another in a faded blur. And then, in my head, I heard the voice of our neighbor – one of Ella’s closest friends – telling me how excited she is for Halloween but how bummed she is, now that she’s in sixth grade, that her school no longer has a costume parade.

The realization hit me with actual force. I felt it, somewhere deep in my stomach and my chest: This is Ella’s last Halloween parade. This is the last year that I’ll see her stroll by with her friends, laughing with her teachers. The last year I’ll hug her each month as she runs across the playground to join her friends. The last time I’ll be able to volunteer in her classroom, get to know her teachers, drop by just to see how things are doing.

She will be in a new school, middle school, navigating it on her own. We’ll know what she wants us to know and will see what she brings home, but beyond that, we will be largely in the dark; the window I now have into her days at school will become a door, maybe even a wall. Which is exactly how it’s supposed to go, this Growing Up and Maturing thing.

But somehow, in that moment on the playground, watching the little ones squeal and climb, remembering how Ella used to do the same but now would rather just talk with her friends than play, these past five years came barreling into me so hard and fast, I had to collect myself before I could resume my responsibilities.

—————

Last week, we flew to Las Vegas for my brother’s wedding. It was a wonderful trip but unfortunately, Annie wound up not feeling well in the middle of it. She and Nick headed back to the hotel to rest up before the rehearsal dinner, leaving Ella and me with a few hours to explore part of The Strip. I’d been talking for weeks about bringing the girls to see some of the hotels – the roller coaster at New York New York, the tigers at The Mirage, the Bellagio fountains, the decor of Paris or Caesar’s or The Venetian – and they had responded with mild enthusiasm. Now that my words had become reality, Ella was unconvinced that she would enjoy herself; perhaps it would be more fun back at the pool.

Seeing as how I didn’t want to drag her from hotel to hotel if she wasn’t into it, leaving both of us miserable, I searched for the right way to phrase it so that maybe she’d acquiesce. It didn’t take long for me to find the perfect olive branch: “How about we go shopping?”

My girl loooooves to shop. Not necessarily to buy things (although she likes that, too), but just to look, to see, to hold trinkets up close and examine how they work, to pick up clothes and feel how the fabric falls between her fingers. And so we window shopped, marveling at the French-inspired “streets” in Paris, devouring a banana and Nutella crepe, looking with awe and horror at the absurdly high-end shops at Caesar’s.

I’d asked an employee when the fountains at the Bellagio would be going off, so I positioned us at the water’s edge just moments before the show began. I commented to Ella that everyone had their cameras out; she, in turn, asked for her iPod and began videoing the performance. The fountains were set to Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman’s “Con te Partiro” and they followed the melody accordingly – lightly swaying, gently rising. Ella seemed to be paying attention but not really thinking too much of it.
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Then, the voices came together and the music rose and crested and the fountains soared into the air. I looked over just in time to see Ella’s jaw literally drop. It was comical, really, the absolute stereotype of shock and absolute awe. Her joy and astonishment were practically tangible. I didn’t know what to do for the rest of the show – watch the fountains or watch my girl watch the fountains.
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I know it’s blurry but I don’t care – I was too busy trying to capture her glee to bother to refocus.

I loved every bit of the (less than) five minutes of the show. I loved walking with Ella through the hotels, contemplating which souvenirs were worthwhile, imagining what the rooms were like. I loved strolling The Strip with her, giggling at the ridiculous outfits, admiring the architecture, stopping to take in street performances. We took a cab to the restaurant for the rehearsal dinner, sharing sideways glances about our driver’s cringe-worthy braking. Together, after talking with several employees of the large mall, we figured out where the dinner was being held… and then she was off, visiting with her grandparents, talking with her uncles, checking in on Annie.

But for those few glorious hours, we two took on Vegas. That Ella is old enough now to be a genuine shopping and tourist partner (albeit a short one who thinks heavily bejeweled iPod cases are to die for) is… incredible. I cannot wait to see what her future – and my future with her – holds.
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—————

I know this is all going just as it’s supposed to. She is growing up and I am enjoying it, really and truly. Each age is better than the last; I don’t miss her being little, don’t yearn for the days when shoe-tying was a major affair and there were tantrums thrown because the lunchtime cup wasn’t the right one. I love being able to reason with her, to share a joke, to use sarcasm, to have fascinating and interesting conversations.

It’s just that every now and again something comes along to remind me of the lightning speed at which her Growing Up is happening and I have to deep breathe on the playground and stop the tears so the second graders don’t think something catastrophic has happened near the monkey bars. My friends who’ve done this – whose children are older than mine – tell me it will all be okay. Yes, there will be hard times, times when maybe I will, in fact, long for lunchtime cup tantrums… but it will be good. She’ll just be an older version of the Ella she is now, and our relationship will grow and change to match.

I know this.
But still.

Today was Ella’s last Halloween parade. It was chilly but there was no rain; she was psyched to don her Luna Lovegood (of course) costume, the one that she designed herself, and walk with her friends and teachers, past the hordes of parents. I watched her go and didn’t cry, not even a little.
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But tonight, I’m going to watch her video of the Bellagio fountains just so I can hear her catch her breath in the background. Maybe I’ll even watch it in slo-mo… just to take it in a little bit longer.

It goes by so. damn. fast.
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Unexpected Duet

Last month, we visited Minnesota as we do every summer to see our extended family. This trip included attending a minor league ball game with GranMary, welcoming my sister-in-law, Nelle, and her family back to Minnesota (they’re moving home! Woo hoo!), spending time with our hilarious and awesome nephews, visiting with Gigi and Grandpaw Ray, and getting to meet and hold and hug and oooooh and ahhhhh our new nephew (baby of my other sister-in-law, Emi), who is an absolute shoe-in for the CUTEST BABY IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OMG WITH THE CUTENESS award.

It was a superb week – family-filled, relaxing, fun – and although we were sad to leave before the state fair (and Baby O’s 100 days party), we were looking forward to meeting the girls’ teachers when we got back home. We arrived at the airport relatively early; it was crowded but not too crazy. After getting the girls some breakfast at one of the to-go restaurants, I decided to grab a coffee for myself before we headed to the gate.

Although it’s no secret that I’m a Starbucks devotee, I try to patronize Caribou Coffee whenever we’re in the Twin Cities. I like the local-ness of the chain, and the Caramel High Rise is particularly delicious. The line at the airport Caribou was fairly long; they were brewing more decaf, which caused a bit of a back-up, so there were a lot of people milling around. Factor in that the patrons were, you know, due to leave on airplanes soon, and you get a relatively tense and impatient atmosphere.

The cashier asked for my order in a no-nonsense manner (not rudely or brusquely, but she was definitely trying to just move things along) and I was about to reply when one of her coworkers – standing behind her – leaned toward her (and me) and sang, with a tiny, sly grin, “Whaddaya want from me?”

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but I was quite the fan many seasons ago and immediately recognized the barista’s query as a line from the chorus of (season eight runner up) Adam Lambert’s pop hit, “Whataya Want From Me?” (I never knew before right now that it was spelled like that. Hm.)

(If this makes absolutely no sense, check out Adam’s video…)

The barista looked pleased with her sing-song joke but seemed positively stunned when I sang right back, matching my new words to the melody of Lambert’s tune: “I’d like a coffee, please!” Looking up, she grinned back at me without missing a beat and crooned in kind, “I’ll get that right a-way! I’ll get that right a-way-ay!”

No one else seemed to pick up on the barista’s attempt at humor (and song); we didn’t care. Neither of us really knew the melody beyond a few lines of the verse (or, if she did, she preferred the verse because that’s all she mimicked), but it didn’t matter.

“I’ll take it with caff-eine! I’ll take it with caff-eee-eine!”

“Right now she’ll give you change!”

“Hey, I ap-prec-i-aaaate that!”

Nick had asked me to get him a decaf (which I had to wait for), so our “conversation” lasted longer than it otherwise would have. The cashier – the one who was actually taking the order – looked mildly annoyed at first that her coworker and I were slowing down the transaction… by singing… but as we escalated our back-and-forth duet, a slight smile began to tug at the corners of her mouth.

“Would you like a muffin, too? Or maybe a croi-sa-aaannt?”

“No thanks, I’ll be okay! Don’t want the cal-or-ieeeees!”

When I moved over to allow the person behind me to place their order, the cashier could no longer hide her smile. By the time I finished adding sugar and cream, she was laughing out loud at the goofy audacity of the barista’s and my exchange. SINGING. MADE-UP WORDS! ABOUT COFFEE!! AT THE AIRPORT, FOR THE LOVE!!!!

“I’m going to add some cream!”

“Hope that your flight’s on ti-iime!”

“Thanks, have an awesome day!”

“You too! I hope it’s grea-aaaat!”

In a moment, Nick’s coffee was ready and it was over; I was walking to my terminal, backpack on, coffees in both hands. There were planes to be caught, miles to be traveled, bags to be unpacked, dogs to be petted upon our return.

But for that moment? In that moment? It was awesome.
I mean, does it really get much better than an impromptu, ridiculous musical exchange with a complete stranger about coffee? No. No, it does not. 

I hope that barista is still singing to her customers, and I hope at least some of them are singing back. Maybe she’ll still be there the next time we’re in Minnesota. I’ll be sure to brush up on my pop tune knowledge, just in case.
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The Ten and Eight Summer: Just Right

Summer and I have not always gotten along well. As has been well documented in years past, there are two main problems with summer: 1) my own expectations, which are never quite realistic and, therefore, are never realized and then there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax, and 2) my discomfort with the lack of schedule and predictability that comes with summer, also resulting in much wailing and gnashing of teeth and Xanax.

Basically, as soon as the kids head back to school, I split the time between my dentist and my therapist.

This year, I was hesitant to even attempt to envision what our summer would look like. I have learned from my past mistakes. As soon as I would I declare that I was going to let go! and enjoy! and just breathe!, the girls would be fighting again and I’d realize that my to-do list was getting longer, not shorter, and the familiar disappointment that summer was both too long and too short would settle over me. So this year? I just didn’t really think about it at all. I lay forth no expectations or dreams for The Great Summer Of 2015!! What would happen would happen.
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Also, I knew this year would be different. Given that we’ve spent virtually every single summer (since moving to Rochester) visiting my grandma at the lake, I knew that her not being there changed things significantly. It’s not that we couldn’t visit, but rather that it felt so very odd not having her there, so sad and just plain icky, we didn’t get down there as often as in the past; the change was noticeable and jarring.

And so I approached summer feeling… detached. I knew that the girls would be spending time with their grandparents while Nick and I went to Mexico, and I assumed that we’d all enjoy ourselves but I didn’t know if the change in routine would be a problem upon our return (as it has in the past). I knew that both Ella and Annie were signed up for only one week of half-day summer camp and I didn’t know if those few “free” hours would be enough for me to accomplish all that I wanted to, nor if only a single week of scheduled activity would be enough to entertain them.

I simply didn’t know.
So there seemed little left to do but take it in stride, one day at a time, and see how things went.

The result? Well, pretty much awesome. See, Ella and Annie are older this summer than they were last summer. I realize that this is kind of how life goes – miraculous informercial claims aside, people do tend to age – but still, I don’t think I was prepared for just how much their older-ness (yes, that’s a word) would impact things.

What I’m saying is, I think eight and ten are pretty terrific ages.
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Riding the Splat-O-Sphere (aka the Up And Down Ride) at the Mall of America.
Without me. Because I don’t like up and down rides. So they went, just the two of them, and loved it – while I got to sit on the sidelines and locate the nearest Starbucks. CAN I GET AN AMEN.
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We did, however, do the ropes course thingy together.

They’re old enough now to bike with friends around the block and to spend entire afternoons flitting between several neighborhood houses. When they’re hungry for a snack, they get one. By themselves. Sometimes, they even put the dishes away, too.

Sure, they needed refereeing now and again – and if I never hear another one-finger piano rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” or another verbal retelling of the cartoon “The Amazing World of Gumball”, it will be too soon – but, for perhaps the first summer ever, they didn’t need me to provide entertainment. They didn’t even look to me for guidance; in fact, most days, they preferred that I not intervene at all. They can even stay home alone for short periods of time (let us all enjoy a moment of silence at this incredible advancement) should I need to run a quick errand.

All of this is pretty much a win-win for everyone. The girls are happier because they’re doing what they want, on their own, without me hovering over them. I’m happier because I actually can accomplish things in my To Do Book, so this summer was much less of an empty vortex than previous summers (meaning I spent less time writing here, too).

We still have our Summer Fun List, of course, and have checked off many items. Unlike in years past when, a few days prior to the start of school, I would glance at the list and panic because we hadn’t gotten to everything, this year it hasn’t bothered me nearly as much. I mean, don’t get me wrong; I still feel that familiar anxiousness catch in my chest when I look at all that hasn’t been done, all the wonderful crafts and adventures and foods (how have we not made root beer floats this year??)… But the girls have made it clear that they’re happy with their summer. They don’t care that we didn’t make root beer floats. If we don’t manage to hike up a glen, that’s fine.

If they’re content with not making glow-in-the-dark slime, why should I feel bummed that it never got crossed off the list?

The time we’ve spent together – and there’s been plenty of it – has been lovely, too. They’ve become some of my favorite shopping buddies; they are a true pleasure to take out to lunch. They are wonderful boating companions and Harry Potter audiobook partners. Our conversations are multi-layered and filled with giggles and shared jokes and sarcasm (which I speak fluently, so this is a bonus). They’re just really super people to hang out with, which makes everything more enjoyable, really.
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Playing with the moon.

Ten and eight have created something magical: the most perfectest summer. The perfect mixture of doing and nothing, busy and relaxed, planned and spontaneous, me-time and them-time and us-time and family-time. Our travels didn’t phase them. Only one week of camp was all that any of us needed. The Xanax has been untouched and my teeth are still in good shape. We have had ten blissful weeks of summer and in the end, it was all… just right.

Today is the first day of school. While, as always, I find that I’m dumbstruck and sucker punched by how quickly the days have flown by, this year – for the first time – I’m neither mourning what could or should have been nor am I gleefully shipping them back to class, embracing the return to routine. I’m just loving who Annie and Ella are at this moment, grateful for our Great Summer of 2015.

They’ve got two days of school and then four days off for Labor Day weekend (I know; it doesn’t make sense to me, either), which – I’m thinking – will actually be a nice way to ease out of summer and into third and fifth grade. Plus, if they have trouble with the transition, I’ve got some glow-in-the-dark slime supplies just waiting to be opened.
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We went to a local amusement park on the day before school as our Last Hurrah (we do one annually; the activity changes from year to year). A good time was had by all, even when I was totally holding onto the ride’s handlebar for dear life so as to avoid squashing my children.

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.
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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:

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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.

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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.

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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…

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

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 Fantabulous coffee at the delectable Caficultura.

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

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

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

… to the bioluminescent bay…
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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.
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 Looking slightly pensive about having to board a plane in a few hours…

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

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Taking in a little native culture.

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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.
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This little guy really gets around the Caribbean…

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

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.

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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.

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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).

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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!

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