Dr. Spock didn’t know everything…

Those moments right before you tuck your kid to sleep are supposed to be their magic minutes. They’re sleepy, they’re cozy, they’re just a bit hazy, like maybe they’ve visited the dentist and received too much Novocain – which, in turn, results in darling and cuddly conversations, delightful musings, and oodles of freely-given hugs.

At least, that’s the theory.

But ever since getting stuck sunny-side-up in the birth canal and requiring an emergency c-section (after many hours of no-epidural pushing, thank you very much), despite being expected to be an “easy” delivery, Annie has taken theories into her own hands and mangled molded them into something much more Annie-appropriate. “Annie” does not appear anywhere in the dozens of parenting handbooks I purchased (pre-kids, naturally), and so we’ve been learning this parenting thing on the fly.

Which is not to say that her bedtimes aren’t very special, indeed.

As Nick tucked her in last week, Annie suddenly began peppering him with questions about his father’s recent death. Not just any questions… but specifics. How did he die? Where? When? Nick did his best to answer, using kid-friendly language that would placate her but not scare her. All appeared to be going well until the gears began turning in Annie’s head just a little too hard.

See, Grampa Bill is really the only person Annie has lost (thankfully), and her other firsthand knowledge of death was formed by our dog, Madison, who was gently put to sleep – at our home – in June. Annie had been at Grampa Bill and GranMary’s house only a week before Bill passed away, and had seen the hospice nurse coming and going, so it makes sense that she’d make a medical-personnel-housecall connection. Still, Nick was unprepared for her to screw up her darling little face and innocently ask,

“So, did the doctor come and put Grampa Bill down?”

Ah, six year-olds. So adorable.

Don’t let the bedbugs bite!

———————————

Bedtime, three nights later…

Okay, sweetie. Sweet dreams. I’ll see you in the morning.

“Mommy, wait.”

Yes, Banana?

“What does the word ass mean?”

Excuse me?

Ass. What does it mean?”

Ummm… Where have you heard that word?

“I don’t know. Just around.”

(Thanks ever so much, Cake Boss.)

“So, what does it mean?”

*silence*

“WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”

Uhhhh… Donkey?
(I wish I could say I’m joking, but I actually said this)

Ass means donkey?”

Yes. Yes it does. Sometimes, that’s another word for donkey.

“Interesting. So, instead of saying donkey, I could just say…”

Well, actually, I think maybe you’ve heard people use it to mean ‘butt.’

“Butt??”

Yes. Like your bum. Your behind. It means that, too.

“That’s funny!”

I can see why you think that.

“Does it mean anything else?”

Well…. I guess it kind of means ‘jerk,’ too.

“What do you mean?”

Some people use that word to call someone a jerk.

“Like, you’re a jerkish ass?”

That’s not exactly what I was thinking, but sure, I guess so.

“Jerkish ass. I like that!”

I understand why you think so, but actually, you shouldn’t use that word.

“Which word? Jerkish or ass?”

Both.

“Oh, okay. Goodnight, Mommy!”

Goodnight.

——————————–

What Annie’s bedtime lacks in terms of cozied-up musings is made up for by way of the best hugs on the face of the planet. Our girl is strong, y’all.

The parenting books do not prepare you for this. Which is probably why they’re gathering dust on the shelves of our bedroom. I’m just fine with that; they were undoubtedly written by jerkish asses, anyway.

Oh, and all you bedbugs? I’d think twice before biting Annie.
I bet she bites back.

Forgotten, but remembered..

Since school began last week, I have spent some time each day looking through old photographs to find pictures of my father-in-law. Part of this is because his memorial is coming up, and part of it is simply because it helps me to feel closer to him. I’ve always loved photos, wasting roll after roll of film to take “artsy” pictures in the days before digital photography was invented, creating my own scrapbooks before I’d even heard of Creative Memories, and saving nearly every photo I’ve ever taken or been given.

Which means that locating photos of anything specific is a daunting task, indeed. There are boxes of actual prints, boxes with film negatives, scrapbooks and photobooks, dozens of floppy disks bearing helpfully descriptive labels like “Snow” (which can only be viewed on a laptop that is at least fifteen years old, is missing three of its keys, and whose “A” button no longer functions), folder after folder of digital photos on external hard drives, and troves of photos I’ve uploaded to a minimum of six sites online. I recognize that this sounds absurd, but going through old pictures is exhausting, man.

The discoveries, however, have made the search process worthwhile. Nick with his permed hair (I’m not even kidding); the rodeo we attended in Colorado; the cross-country trip my brother and I made when I graduated from college; the one of me with Harry Connick Jr. (I believe I sent it out to friends and relatives that year for Thanksgiving, with the caption “I’m thankful for this…”) – and, of course, many photos of Bill.

I remembered a lot of them, but some were true gifts – ones that I didn’t even know I’d taken, that were likely glossed over because they weren’t “good” pictures. While I’ve forever loved taking photos, it’s only now, finding these, that I’m coming to truly be grateful for the bazillions of pictures I’ve stored up, because each one – even the ones where no one’s smiling at the camera, where something’s blurry, which might even have been taken by accident – perfectly captures him just as he was, and gives me a brief glimpse into a long-forgotten memory, and that makes my heart so very happy.

It was while going through these tomes of photos that I came across another collection of pictures that I didn’t remember taking, this time of a visit Nick and I had made to the Statue of Liberty in March of 2000. Except they weren’t just of Lady Liberty, but of the vista surrounding her… including this:

towers

It took my breath away, quite literally.

At the time, Nick was completing several months of training in NYC, and I visited him once or twice from our apartment in Denver; we must have made the journey to Liberty Island during one of those trips, although I don’t remember doing so.

I do remember where we were a year-and-a-half later, on the day that life changed. Our new apartment was less than thirty miles outside of Manhattan, and I remember the blue of the sky; the silence of the trains; the roars of the fighter jets; the whirls of the helicopter blades; the “All Circuits Are Busy” recording as we frantically called our many friends and relatives both in the city (to see if they were okay; miraculously, they were) and across the country (to let them know that we were okay).

I remember, in the days and weeks that followed, walking through the dust and ash that covered so much of Manhattan, extending a great deal farther from Ground Zero than I had thought possible. I remember the smells, though I wish I could forget them. I remember the posters of the missing, hung from every available telephone pole or fence post. I remember the view from one of our best friend’s Battery Park-facing windows, and how horrifically empty it now was.

I remember reading the New York Times’s “Portraits of Grief” – every single one – feeling, somehow, that the very least I could do was learn a little bit about the lives of those 2500 (plus) who were killed, wanting to get to know them individually, rather than just lumping them together as so many, anonymous victims.

And I was struck by how often the biography mentioned something along the lines of, “The last words s/he said to me that morning were ‘I love you.’” Or, heartbreakingly, “I forgot to say ‘I love you’ that morning.” It seems like such a little thing, but since that time, I have made a point of (trying to) never – ever – leaving Nick, the girls, or my family and friends without telling them that I love them. No matter how brief the conversation, even if it’s just an “xo” at the end of an email, no matter how angry or frustrated I am, I tell them that I love them. Because, well, you just never know. Plus, a little extra love is always a good thing.

(Ironically, the only other trip I remember taking to the Statue of Liberty was with Bill [and his wife, Mary] in the winter of 2002 or 2003. To my dismay, I don’t have photos of that visit, but I remember that it was bitterly cold… and that we were happy.)

So much changed on that Tuesday morning twelve years ago, far beyond the new rules for air travel and the ever-present “If you see something, say something!” signs that are all around Manhattan. Yes, of course, I will never forget. But I will also remember – the sights, the sounds, the smells – but more than that, how we all, however briefly, came together, supported one another, and held fast to hope.

And how very much we loved.
More than anything, I am still remembering that love today, and always.

xo

 

 

 

One day at a time

If you asked me what I liked best about being a parent, I might reply that it’s incredible seeing these beings who Nick and I created turning into actual, amazing humans. Or maybe something about what fun it is to watch them be sisters together. Or how great it is to have an excuse to watch Aladdin any time I want.

But, really, one of the best things about being a parent is the ability to tease my offspring, give them a hard time, and generally pester them all day long. As Ella’s embarrassment threshold has lowered, with instant looks of shock and horror the moment Nick or I do something that doesn’t suit her, we have become all the more determined to dance in public, call her by her code name (Vanessa Stinkbottom), and kiss one another when other people are watching (oh mah gah).

Lest you worry that we’re causing permanent damage, a) we never act up for too long, b) she plays along gamely, and c) she always knows that we’re kidding. We talk about it with her and make sure that we’re not actually torturing her. Plus, we’ve volunteered to pay for her future therapy, so it all evens out in the end.

As we were driving home from the lake on Labor Day, both girls were in rare form. They’d been at the lake for five days visiting with their Grandma and Pops, as well as their Uncle Taylor and my grandma, Phoofsy, while Nick and I were out of town, and they’d had a marvelous time. The end-of-summer festivities had filled them to the brim, and they were melancholy about returning home and starting school a couple of days later. That melancholy met up with their general apprehension about new classes and teachers, and created a delightful combination that might be described as complete and utter freakishness.

Hands could not be kept to selves. Feet could not be kept to selves. Voices were impossible to lower. It was just too much, this end of summer nonsense, and they were not to be contained.

At first, we ignored them, understanding how they were feeling and appreciating that they couldn’t just kick back with a glass of wine and let it all out. But as their tomfoolery gave way to pokes and kicks and pinches and screams, we could feel the change in the air, and knew that if we didn’t do something fast, one of them wasn’t getting out alive. To get their attention, I told them about a friend’s Facebook post: her sons had been playing the Quiet Game at bedtime, and had been silent for a good ten minutes when she checked on them (hoping they were asleep)… heard one brother fart… and other say, “You lose!”

Annie and Ella thought this was maybe the most hilarious story ever, and were intrigued with the Quiet Game. This isn’t something we’ve played with them too much, in part because we really haven’t needed to, and in part because I, personally, hate losing, and keeping my mouth shut is not exactly one of my strengths (in case you hadn’t noticed). Given their level of bat-shit-craziness, however, Nick suggested that we play right there in the car and see who could be the quietest for the remainder of our drive. Thrilled that we’d be playing with them (thanks so much, Nick), the girls were immediately sold, and the game began.

For the first minute or so, everyone just sat still, which was lovely and all, but pretty boring, quite frankly. I knew that my chances of winning would increase dramatically if I could do something to get the girls to make sound, so I decided to do what typically elicits the loudest protests: make a fool out of myself and embarrass them. And so the seat dancing began. With gusto.

I looked back in the rearview mirror to see Ella’s eyes widen with horror, then flash with indignation as she realized that if she told me to knock it off, she’d be out of the game. Nick immediately picked up on what I was doing and began epically rocking out in his seat as well.

Not ones to let us get the upper hand, the girls quickly upped their ante. Feet were pressed against the backs of seats, knowing that we couldn’t tell them to put them down. Spare car socks were plucked from their little pockets and chucked in our direction. They made faces at one another and stuck their tongues out at us.

Windows were lowered and feet were waved out of the car. I honked at every house we passed (including several where we knew the occupants, thereby exponentially increasing the embarrassment potential). I raised the stereo volume to deafening and opened all of the windows. Nick removed his shirt and hung his bare torso out the window. When I came to a stop sign, he leaned over and we locked lips for an absurd amount of time.

By the time we arrived home, the car was a complete disaster… but no one had uttered a word. It had probably been the rowdiest version of the Quiet Game, like, ever, which was kind of the opposite of what we’d originally intended, but which wound up being just what all of us needed — Nick and me, especially.

This past week has been incredibly difficult, to say the very least. Everything is surreal; it is simply impossible that Bill is gone, and that we are going on without him. There are moments when it’s hard to breathe, when the crushing sadness of it all threatens to overcome me, and I wonder how anyone survives a loss like this. And I know that Nick is feeling it so much more deeply than I am, and his sadness makes my heart ache and my stomach hurt.

But, with kids, you cannot wallow in your sadness. That’s not to say that we feel the need to completely stifle our emotions – we don’t, and we’re real and honest with them when we’re feeling sad – but we also don’t want to scare them or make them sad. And also, I don’t want to be sad around them. I want to enjoy them, to laugh with them, to be with them – really with them – and not lost in a surreal cloud of grief.

At times, having Ella and Annie makes all of this more difficult. Frankly, it’d be nice to occasionally have the chance to just stay in bed, or to not stop my tears because I hear them coming down the stairs. Grieving and parenting are not good bedfellows.

But, on the other hand, Annie and Ella make all of this so very much easier. They’re not bogged down with sadness, and seeing them continue to laugh and live and just be kids makes my spirits lift every time. When they’re around, I pull myself out of my sadness and focus on them…

… and the bean and tomato salad Ella created last week from our garden…
8.27 garden fare
It was actually quite tasty, especially served on the Mickey plate.

… on Annie taking my hand and skipping with me through Target…8.28 holding hands in target
I know the picture is wicked blurry, but that’s what happens when you take a photo while giddily skipping through Target.
Bonus points for our skipping embarrassing Ella to no end.

 

… on Ella finally deciding to have me change her earrings (five months after she got her ears pierced), and flashing the most enormous grin ever – after crying about it for a good twenty minutes – on the night before third grade…
9.03 giddy earring changer
Mickey Mouse earrings FTW!

… on Annie losing her first tooth on the first day of first grade…
9.04 first tooth
Well timed, kiddo.

… on the final boat ride before school begins, and jumping gleefully off the back of the boat…

9.01 last lake day jump

I know these coming weeks will be far from easy, but with these girls around, I know that I’ll have something to smile about every single day.

Especially if we play the Quiet Game. Next time, they’re going down.

9.04 back to school girlies
All smiles after the first day of school.
I may or may not have toasted with a glass of Pinot. What happens at home stays at home, y’all.

 

Move over, Jackass

The start of school smells good. I don’t just say this because today was one of the most perfect days, weatherwise, we’ve experienced maybe, like, ever, nor because of the girls’ fresh, clean, new school stuff, all of which comes with its fresh, clean, new smell… New backpacks, new supplies (erasers, I heart you), new clothes, new lunch boxes… Each has its own crisp aroma, un-stained, not yet having taken on the stank of leftover spaghetti or forgotten sneakers.

Beyond that, however, there’s still the geeky kid in me who always loved the start of school each year, and that kid sits eagerly beside the teacher in me, who met the beginning of each September with equal parts trepidation and exhilaration. Yes, the year holds the possibility of something dreadful, of birds pooping on your head while you wait in line to go inside from recess (first grade, true story; Sarah Tallman was kind enough to help get the poop out of my hair while everyone else laughed), of classmates who are tyrants hiding behind polo shirts and jeggings, of parents who think that little Junior deserves special treatment and plays the not my child card every. single. time. But there’s also the promise of new friends, of clean notebooks and smooth desks, of games at recess and giggles during library, of field trips and science experiments, of fall and cinnamon and hay rides.

A month in, school begins to take on the metallic, pungent smell of tiny, sweaty bodies who defy logic and seem to need deodorant, despite being only eight. But the start of school? Those first, unblemished, ripe-with-promise weeks? They smell great.

Each year, as the girls begin school, I try to do something special for them – a fun first day breakfast, a treat when they come home, a dinner of their choosing, notes in their backpacks – something to make this day stand apart from the other 179 days of the school calendar. This year, with the (very) recent loss of my much-adored father-in-law (there will be more to say on this in coming weeks – I promised Bill it would be so – but right now, I need to wait and process and grieve, and think about just what I’d like to write), I have had to cut myself a break and be patient with my lack of focus… but I still want to be doing these special things. Not for any grander purpose, not because of any outside pressure, not even because of expectations that I may have inadvertently raised in my children, but simply because they make me happy.

And, I’m learning, that’s a pretty damn good reason for doing most things.

Except watching Real Housewives (of Anywhere). Or wearing Uggs year-round. Or preferring dark chocolate to milk. There are rules, people.

I’m also learning what I can and cannot do, and I’m learning to be okay with it. Which isn’t such a novel concept, except I recently read two seemingly opposing blog posts and found myself agreeing with basically everything they both said. Which means… thinking. And growing. And learning. Or something. And all that jazz.

First, I read this post, and loved it not only because “Pinterest Bitches” is a fabulous phrase and they worked “explosive diarrhea” into their narrative, but also because, hell yes! Crazytown! A stitched-together pencil caddy? “Yay school” and a little globe? Have we all gone insane?? Reading that post made me feel instantly better about getting the time wrong for Ella’s meet-the-teacher day, and going to Target yesterday in biker shorts and a dirty Zumba t-shirt.

But then I read this post today. Michelle had me with “braless in the drop off lane”(and also made me feel a little like maybe she was stalking me with the whole, Does Emily pause before posting about finally, finally having her depression under control because she knows there are other moms still struggling? thing), but also got my attention by mentioning, despite her house never being company-ready, that she does throw “Pinterest worthy” parties… both of which sounded awfully familiar. (Not because the parties I throw are necessarily Pinterest worthy, but because I, um, did post photos here specifically so I could put them on Pinterest.)

So… It seems that the Pinterest Bitch would be… me.

Conundrum, no?

The more I’ve thought about it, however, the more I’ve decided that the dichotomy not only makes sense… it’s okay. It’s good, even. It’s just me; it’s who I am. It hurts no one (except myself, when I stay up too late making Looney Tunes birthday cakes or getting pancake batter ready to go for the first day of school). It’s a bit nutty, but that’s fine. It makes me happy.

And it’s high time that I reconcile what I can and cannot do, and become okay with it. Or, as Michelle puts it, it’s high time that I “quit being a jackass” to myself.

I can make cute first-day-of-school breakfasts with pancakes shaped like school buses and the girls’ current grade numbers. first day breakfast
Don’t worry; Annie eventually received more than 1 cut-up strawberry. We are all about equity in this house.

I can make brownies for when the girls come home from school, with their newly-begun grade levels powdered-sugared onto them.first day brownies
Notice how these are the corners? I ate the gooey middle piece. It was delicious.

I can send my kids off to school, and welcome them home from their first day, with a bang (a bang that is created with the help of boxed mixes from Wegmans, but a bang nonetheless), and they love it, and I love it, and it’s just the way it goes. I cannot, however, manage to keep our fridge and cupboards stocked with actual necessary food, so when my kids request a sandwich with pepperoni and cheese, they’re going to get some pepperoni and a torn-up cheese stick instead.
IMG_3537
Yep. Real lunch from last year. Super proud moment.

School bus pancakes. Cheese stick sandwiches. Pretty much me in a nutshell.

I can send my girls to school each day with a joke in their lunch boxes (or a joke told over the phone)…
first day joke
Ellen” and her Facebook page FTW!

… But I cannot organize the papers in the kitchen – nor manage to replace the window shade that’s been broken for at least two years – to save my soul.

messy papers
I know you’re jealous. Just keepin’ it real.

I can make number signs the night before and pose my adorable children in front of the house on their first day…

ella first day 3rd
HOLY CRAP, she has gotten so absurdly old.

… But, for the life of me, I cannot get ahold of the weeds that are overtaking every spare space in our garden, in the yard, and on the sidewalk.
annie first day 1st
The foot-tall “bushes” to the left, in front of the bricks? Yeah. Weeds. Every last one.

It used to be that both sides of this coin bothered and embarrassed me. I didn’t want to admit that I studied hair blogs so that I could send the girls off to school with cute and fancy ‘dos, because that somehow felt like something I should be ashamed of – as though admitting it would somehow be showing off, or trying to put other non-hairdo-ing parents down, or saying that I had too much time on my hands, or making a judgement one way or another.

And yet, I also didn’t want to admit that the third seat of the car is so filled with dog fur, we cannot have people ride there without producing a towel for them to sit on. That was also something to be ashamed of, an admission that I cannot keep everything together, that I let some things go.

But lately – and quite uncharacteristically – I’ve been going easy on myself. I’ve come to realize that I don’t always have it all together (a shocker, I know, I know), not even in a scattered sort of way, and that’s okay. I’ve certainly never felt that I’m Super Mom, but I’m coming to see that my priorities are just that — my priorities — and that automatically makes them different from everyone else’s… but it doesn’t make them bad or wrong, nor something to be bothered by or ashamed of.

Again, to paraphrase Michelle (can you tell I really liked her post?!), I’m being a good parent. I’m loving my kids. I’m doing the best I can.

And it makes me happy.

I’m going to scour Pinterest for ideas and then send my girls to school with Halloween-themed Bento boxes – because it makes me smile – and doing so says nothing about anyone else who thinks that Bento boxes are as absurd as The Real Housewives. It says only that I like them, and that’s okay.

I’m never going to knit the girls a scarf, nor make them fabulous scrapbooks, nor send them to school with stitched-together pencil caddies, because that’s just not my bag… which is also okay. And I will always have a perpetually messy stovetop, because making Halloween-themed Bento boxes takes priority over stovetop scrubbing (plus also, hello ADHD), and that says nothing about people who do prize a gleaming kitchen. It only says that I don’t, and that’s okay, too.

Some things I can do.
Others, I can’t.
Or maybe I just don’t. Either way, it’s okay.

I’m going to give myself more of a break, cut myself a little more slack, and allow life to slowly come back together, without rushing it or being impatient with myself when I need to take a little more time. I’m going to do the things that make me happy, and worry far less about the things that don’t (except for, like, mowing the lawn and paying bills, because when I let those slide, it doesn’t work so well), and I’m going to stop apologizing for both. And I’m going to encourage everyone around me to do the very same.

In short, I’m going to quit being a jackass to myself.

Epic *

* both the trip and the length of this post…

It started out so simply: a family gathering for Bill’s birthday, a weekend spent together – which is, in and of itself, a revered once-a-year occurrence. When Mary (my stepmother-in-law) upped the ante by saying she’d envisioned a weekend of games, Minute to Win It style — an all-ages tournament complete with prizes and, surely, plenty of opportunity for embarrassment and hilarity — we were even more stoked. If there’s anything this bunch does well, it’s competition and laughter. Bring it ON.

The end of school is always bittersweet for Ella and Annie, so this trip provided a welcome distraction from their sadness. We arrived at O’Hare on Friday morning with no trouble and began to get even more excited that we’d totally be Brady Bunch-ing out soon.

MN pic47
Jambi was an expert aviator.

Four hours later, after our layover was “extended” by two hours due to weather-related issues and my sister-in-law called to say she was ill and her family wouldn’t be coming, Nick and I turned to one another as we sat for 60 minutes on the runway and wondered aloud if this trip was cursed.

By the time we arrived in Minnesota, ravenous and grumpy, we told ourselves that surely things would be superb from here on out. His sister was feeling better and, happily, they were coming after all, so Nick and I hightailed it to Target to purchase a gift for our nephew, who’d turned three the day before. (We’d already sent him his “real” birthday gifts, but a family celebration had been planned for the following day, and we wanted to be sure he wasn’t empty-handed.) While I perused the aisles of Target that were clearly marked Appropriate Kid Stuff Available Here, Nick perused the automotive and camping aisles, which were clearly marked Stuff Appropriate Only For Grown-Ups, where he found a little red lantern that he insisted our nephew would enjoy. I tried to talk him out of it — some bubbles? Color Wonder markers? A puzzle? — but Nick was adamant that our nephew would get a kick out of turning the light on and off. I skeptically put it in the cart and remained ready to explain, when the time arose, that this was all Nick’s fault.

We returned to the house in time for a delicious dinner and proceeded to get dressed for a birthday performance we’d planned for the night. All started out beautifully… Then the storm came. And the power left. And suddenly, the weekend seemed less The Brady Bunch and more Little House on the Prairie.

After procuring some candles, we tucked the girls into the truly fantastic new bunk beds that Grandpa Bill and GranMary had gotten for them, finished the performance, and went to the airport to get Nick’s sister and her family. The drive was dark and terrifying exciting, having to dodge the literally dozens of live power lines and downed trees that had been uprooted in the absurd winds and 2.5 inches of rain that fell in less than an hour, but we got them and made it back safely, only to discover that the candles we were using wouldn’t quite cut it, because a) wax drips, and b) three year-olds and fire don’t mix well. We did, however, have a brand-new lantern… so we stole it right out of the birthday gift bag (tag still on to preserve its not-used status) and turned that sucker on. Let there be light!

MN 27
Alas, no lantern in our bedroom, but I think Laura Ingalls would have approved.

I awoke on Saturday morning feeling filthy, and not in a good way. Despite sleeping as close to the open window as humanly possible, it was still hot and so humid, you could practically hold the air in your hands, and the “sleep” I’d gotten had been fitful and sweaty. I also hadn’t showered in two full days (and, in that time, had mowed the lawn and traveled for 11 hours), so I desperately needed to get clean. After overhearing a brief discussion the night before on whether or not we still had hot water after the power had gone out (the verdict at the time: there would be some hot water for a short while), I decided that I didn’t want to waste the precious little we still had, so, as Little House on the Prairie gave way to Survivor, I cleaned myself up using water so freezing, it would surely be illegal in most countries.

After a quick trip to the store for some absolute necessities (ice, bagels, and – most of all – coffee, duh), the adults filled coolers with items from the refrigerator while Ella and Annie met their baby cousin and played with his brother. We discussed the possibility of playing some of the games that Mary had so thoughtfully planned and prepared, deciding that we’d begin the official festivities after lunch.

MN pic43MN pic40
Feeling mighty proud of themselves while holding the baby for the first time.

MN pic45
Thank God for windows with lovely natural light…

MN pic41
Enjoying the most awesome playhouse ever.

Nick’s other sister (who lives locally) and her best friend arrived shortly after noon, bringing with them not only lunch but a gluten-free slice of cake for me to enjoy while everyone else devoured birthday cake later on. Additionally, they brought four entire containers’ worth of gluten-free goodies — brownies, cookies, spice bars — treats so delicious-looking, I’d have endured several more glacial showers just to show my appreciation. Mercifully, a thank you sufficed, and after lunch, we were ready for the games to begin!

Except… it was nap time, both for the wee ones and the old wise leader of our tribe… And so we took Ella and Annie bowling (electricity AND air conditioning, hallelujah!).
MN pic48
Jambi approves of Cosmic Bowling.

Returning home, we found… everyone still asleep and the power very much still off. And, as her awesome activities sat idle and the weekend continued to careen off the rails, I’m pretty sure that Mary started utilizing calming breathing techniques. This was not what we’d planned, damn it! Right about then, my sister-in-law returned from a run, dripping with sweat, and declared she needed a shower. I was about to warn her that doing so might cause frostbite when we learned that, actually, the water heater wasn’t affected by the power outage. Meaning we’d had hot water all along.

As a toddler, stomping feet and screaming are acceptable responses when things really don’t go your way, but, to my dismay, such tantrums become far less okay if you’re thirty- or sixty-something. Drinking lukewarm beer, however, is always appropriate.

MN pic46
Yes, that’s sand, not mud.

We took the girls down the road to a nearby lake, where they splashed happily and played in the sand. Once the nappers had awakened, they joined us at the beach. We agreed that dinner back at the dark, sauna-like house wasn’t terribly desirable and elected to have a pizza picnic and birthday celebration by the lakeshore instead. I returned to the kitchen briefly to bring back some paper plates and other needed accoutrements and decided to grab the refreshing-looking watermelon on the counter. Pizza, cake, and watermelon on a hot summer night? Perfect, no?

Well, actually, no. When I mentioned the possibility of consuming it right then and there, Mary was visibly stricken. Apparently, the melon was being saved as part of the Minute to Win It games and, so help us God, something would go as planned this weekend and we would be playing those games!! (Except she didn’t freak out on me at all; exclamation points are mine because, if I’d been in her shoes, I’d have just about lost my mind.)

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Good photo? No.
Until you notice Bill’s adorable blond ponytail.

The pizza hit the spot (best GF pizza I’ve eaten – word!) and the birthday cake was divine (or so I’m told; I was giddily stuffing one of my sister-in-law’s fabulous gluten-free treats into my mouth). The treat was so good, I’ll even concede that Nick’s idea was fantastic: our nephew was, indeed, ecstatic to open his new-to-him lantern.

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Yes, the candles blew out early – 24 hours after the storm, it was still crazy windy.

As the meal was winding down, we decided to introduce my nephew to his first game of telephone, with the rest of us passing simple one- and two-word phrases down the line: Swimming. Happy Birthday. Ice cream. Then it was one of my girl’s turns to start the chain, and we all dutifully passed on the word until my brother-in-law caught Mary by surprise, turning to her and whispering, “Watermelon.” Her face registered an odd combination of confusion, frustration, and what might be categorized as rage, as she clearly had not realized that we were still playing telephone – and thought, instead, that he was asking her if we could eat the fruit.
We’ve been through this already, people!! How many times do I have to tell you that the watermelon is being saved? For the games! FOR THE GAMES THAT WE WILL HAVE, I SWEAR IT, THERE WILL BE GAMES!!!

After the kids went to bed, we stayed up to play our favorite cut-throat card game, Hand and Foot (with Nick and me both on teams that lost spectacularly), and then headed to sleep ourselves. Or, at least, we tried to sleep, but between the heat and the deafening thunderstorms that caused me to awaken levitating – not one part of my body was touching the bed – it wasn’t the most restful night.

Nick and I were the morning’s designated coffee-runners, and we were surprised to see — two days later, in the daylight — just how much damage had been wrought all around us. As we groggily stood in line waiting for our to-go coffee box (the barista had taken one look at us and simply said, “No power?”), I asked if he’d “ever lived through” a power outage like this. Nick barely stifled his delirious laughter, because although I meant, Have you ever been with a dozen people in one house for what was supposed to be this special weekend with 80-degree temperatures and no power for 48 hours?, it came out sounding more like Have you ever lived through a famine and a plague of locusts while asking for asylum as you flee a war-torn country. Ah, first-world problems. Reality check accomplished.
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Notice the power pole hanging diagonally over the street…

After a candlelit breakfast (watermelon, anyone?), we agreed that the time had come: we would play games, and they would be awesome.

And, in fact, they were. Mary’s careful research and preparation meant that the games were totally ready to go; all we needed to do was show up (and I mean that both literally and in the sports metaphor way – clever, no?).

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Tossing marshmallows through a hula hoop.
Which seems easy until they hit the wet ground, become soggy, and congeal together so that you’re forced to throw a softball-sized marshmallow.

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Our official scorekeepers.

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Bouncing ping-pong balls into cups filled with water. Not to brag, but I totally won this one.
See, kids! You don’t have to drink your way through college to dominate at Beer Pong!

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Distance bubble blowing.
Which we would have nailed, if the gale force winds hadn’t been blowing at us.
Also, please ignore my Cowardly Lion mane; no power and natural curl result in some interesting ‘dos.

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Tallying the scores so far.

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Examining the leader board.

When the festivities were over, it was time for lunch, and Nick suggested that we order some sandwiches. Right before he and his sister left to pick them up, he announced that he couldn’t find the rental car keys — which seemed impossible, because he and I had driven home from getting coffee that morning and no one had left the property since then. After a brief search, we decided that surely they’d turn up any minute now – but we were so hungry, we might crack open the watermelon, so procuring lunch needed to take priority. As we divvied things up, everyone began hungrily digging in… Except Nick. Because, despite his being the one to suggest them in the first place, we’d neglected to actually order him a sandwich. It just wasn’t there.

And neither were the keys.

Hours later, we finally paused our search for the entire crew to go bowling – another of the originally scheduled tournament games – and reveled again in the air conditioning and light.

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Cosmic bowling is less mysterious when it’s fully lit…

With bowling complete, as we pulled into the driveway, we noticed that the outside lights were on: the power had been restored!! And, with it, our spirits — and our resolve to find the keys. Despite combing through virtually every inch of the house, the yard, the garage, the trash, and our suitcases, however, and despite my insistence that it was, technically, impossible for them to be gone, the keys remained missing. This is definitely not what we’d planned, damn it! Nick and I may have thrown actual tantrums, but the fact remained: the keys were lost. Meaning that a 6 a.m. tow to the rental car repair lot was in our future for Monday morning, which is so totally what you want to be doing on your vacation.

As it turned out, Bill accompanied Nick and the tow truck to the lot (where Nick was informed that he didn’t even need to be there in person, which made him super happy), and I took a shower. A nice, un-freezing shower. We played one final game before divvying the prizes that Mary had stashed away — at last, something had gone as planned.

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Balancing M&Ms on straws stuck in a raw baking potato. (What, you don’t do this at home?) Again, not to brag… But I won this one, too.
And we never did get around to the watermelon game.

We said our goodbyes, joking about how we would never, ever, ever forget this weekend, as his sister and her family flew home and Nick, the girls, and I went on to visit my mother-in-law and stepfather-in-law for the afternoon. Bill and Mary drove us to the Mall of America, a relatively central location, where we transferred our gear from their car to Karen and Ray’s and then hit up a few MOA amusement park rides.

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No, they didn’t ride this one…

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I tried to get them to pose with SpongeBob, but they wouldn’t have it.

The remainder of our visit with them was delightful – so delightful, in fact, we felt assured that our traveling curse had ended.

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My mother-in-law sewed them dresses. On the spot, just like that.

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Modestly modeling their new duds.

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Rehashing their performance from the other night…

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One last story before bedtime.

And then we tried to get home.
Twenty-one hours later, at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday, we pulled into our driveway, feeling less Survivor and more Walking Dead. Zombified, we immediately fell asleep, vowing to do nothing on Wednesday but try to become human again.

Two days later, having had the chance to reflect on the trip, I can definitely see that it was not without its advantages. For one thing, I learned how to use the commode in total, astounding blackness, a skill that could be useful someday, especially in the event of a real zombie apocalypse. I also discovered that, unlike I’d previously thought, I will not keel over and die if my children don’t brush their hair, although I might experience a few slight body convulsions.

An added bonus to living without power for a couple of days is that it gives you the perfect excuse to offer up absurdly stupid excuses. Mismatched shoes? Couldn’t see. The kids subsisting almost entirely on soda, strawberries, and birthday cake? No way to properly cook a meal. Single-handedly consuming fifteen (yes, I counted) gluten-free goodies that my sister-in-law had so generously purchased for me? Without refrigeration, they wouldn’t last anyway, and I do hate to let things go to waste.

Most of all, though, this trip reaffirmed what I already knew: that my in-laws are fantastic. Throughout everything, no one lost their temper (except those under the age of five, but they got a pass). At each turn, with each this cannot possibly be happening, the gasps of disbelief would be followed by repressed giggles that gave way to peals of laughter, not only because it was better laughing than crying, but simply because they’re incredible folks and we crack one another up. The entire experience, simply put, was epic.

No, it wasn’t what we wanted. This was definitely not what we’d planned. Damn it. And that was hard, in part because it’s always difficult letting go of long-held expectations and hopes, but also because, as adults, you understand the importance of making your time with loved ones count, especially when they live across the country. As parents, Nick and I tell our girls not to dwell on the negative, not to focus on their disappointments – but instead that it’s okay to grieve for what could have been, to then acknowledge what actually is, and to pick themselves up and move forward. Easy to say; not so easy to do.

Nonetheless, my in-laws — no, my family — and I took that advice to heart, coming to terms with how the reality of the weekend diverged from our fantasy of the weekend, shedding a few tears, and then dissolving into laughter as we moved forward. I’d be totally lying if I said we didn’t complain — because, oh, did we bitch and moan maybe literally beat our heads against walls and tables — but it was always done with the understanding that this was simply the way it was, and it would be okay. In fact, it would be good. Not so much because we’d “make the best of it,” but because it already was the best of it — just being together.

They say that when you marry someone, you marry their family. I can easily say that I married very, very well.
We are getting together again in August, and I can hardly wait. I’ll be bringing my sense of humor.

And a generator.
And definitely a watermelon.

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Apocalypse? Now!

I am sticky.

The power went out over 40 hours ago, it is 80+ degrees with the humidity at approximately 400%, sleep has just not been happening, I awoke at 6:00 a.m. this morning *levitating* due to an especially sonic thunderclap, the children have been threatening mutiny, and we are redefining “family togetherness.” I love summer!!

We are in Minnesota to celebrate my father-in-law, Bill’s, milestone birthday. This trip had been in the works for months – all of Nick’s family coming together! Celebrations! Cakes! Gifts! Games! Prizes! An entire weekend’s worth of activities carefully and thoughtfully planned, eagerly and excitedly anticipated.

And then.

While our 2-hour layover turned into a 4-hour weather-related delay, we learned that my sister-in-law had a stomach virus, so she and her family would be unable to make the trek from Denver. Although we understood, we were crushed (we hadn’t even met our 5 month-old nephew yet!), and we got onto the airplane with heavy hearts.

And sat on the runway for an hour.

Once in the air, we learned that all flights from O’hare had been grounded – only minutes after our takeoff – and we breathed a sigh of relief that something was going our way. The flight was 30 minutes longer than scheduled as the plane was diverted around the storms, but we finally landed, ready to rock. Only after navigating baggage claim and collapsing into the rental car did Nick and I realize that it was 5 p.m. New York time and, thus far, we’d fed our children breakfast, popcorn, and a handful of almonds. Seeking to remedy our neglectful parenting choices, we quickly purchased “lunch” for the Ella and Annie, and thus pulled into my in-laws’ house with them clutching Happy Meals as if their lives depended on it.
Winning.

Plus, they hadn’t exactly dressed up for our flight and, after the 11 hours of traveling, looked a bit like tiny, adorable hobos who had foraged for dinner in a nearby dumpster.
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Yes, Annie’s shirt has a cactus and says “Hugz?” and Ella’s reads “I (heart) NICK”.
Still winning.

Happy Meals aside, we were thrilled to be here, and even more thrilled that my sister-in-law had begun to feel better, so she and her family had rebooked their flights and were coming after all.  We ate dinner and changed our clothes just in time for the guests to arrive — Nick (a forever guitar player and singer) had long wanted to perform for his dad, a concert of sorts, and we had prepared several songs as the evening’s entertainment.

We began with our family’s favorite song, “L.O.V.E.” by Nat King Cole.

The Von Trapp Family singers? Not…

Toward the end of song, just after the last of the guests arrived, the winds began to pick up. Mid-second song, the rains came. Ten minutes into the gathering, the apocalypse surely seemed upon us and lights began to flicker.

Apocalypse or not, as performers, we knew that the show must go on, so onward we went,  singing, strumming, and playing in the dark.
 
Those trees outside the window? Bending all the way to the ground? Yeah. It was like that.

We remain in the dark today. Except with less singing. And more stickiness. And by now, we – all eleven of us – definitely look and smell like hobos.

I’d say that “someday” we’ll laugh about the events of this weekend… except that we’re already chuckling, because my in-laws are generally awesome – and because, really, what else can you do?  Except drink, but we’ve already established I’m not so great at that, and the beer is all warm anyway.

I’ve got plenty more to share, but the car adapter isn’t happy with me draining all of its power, and there are, like, eight more cell phones and i-devices that need charging. Also, it’s time to go bowling (electricity and air conditioning for the win!). Or maybe look for the lost keys to the rental car.*
Either way, it’s sure to be an adventure. And we’ll still be laughing.
I think.

* This post was originally written at 2 p.m. but couldn’t be published until later because the computer died. We did get power back by dinner, nearly 48 hours after it had gone out.
The car keys, however, remain missing. A 6 a.m. tow to the Hertz repair lot has so totally been on my bucket list. Winning!!!

A Few Good Men

When I was a kid and Father’s Day rolled around each year, the only person I made rubber-cement-and-glitter cards for and gave “WORLD’S GREATEST DAD” mugs to was my own dad. My grandfathers were dads, of course (the word father being in grandfather is helpful; thank God for college), but they were my parents’ dads, so I didn’t really give it much thought. And although my mom always made certain that my father received gifts from my brother and me (likely with input from us; lots of ties, if I’m remembering correctly – sorry, Dad), I still viewed him as my dad — or my brother’s and my dad — and not really as a person connected to anyone else.

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It never occurred to me that, in addition to thinking of her own father on Father’s Day, my mom might also be thinking of the man who was the father of her children.

Until Nick and I had kids of our own.

Suddenly, Father’s Day became a time to not only remember my father (although I’ve moved beyond ties), but a time to celebrate Nick (and by “celebrate” I mean, at the very least, that he doesn’t have to feed the dogs in the morning; I’ve always been generous). And I find that pretty damn cool, in a whole circle-y, past, present, and future way (don’t worry, I’m not getting all new-agey or anything. It’s just kind of neat is all).

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My dad and Nick really couldn’t be more different, and it’s truly a great testament to both of them that, despite these differences — in personality, in political beliefs, in likes and dislikes — they get along so well. And it’s also a testament to my dad, to both of my parents, that they clearly encouraged me (and my brother) to search for partners in life who best-suited us and made us happy, rather than fitting some kind of pre-determined mold that they created for us.

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And yet… There are similarities. My dad and Nick both make me laugh. They make me smile. They make me shake my head at their ridiculousness. They make me think, often when I don’t want to (which, I’ll reluctantly admit, can really be the most important time to think). They support me (or at least don’t disown me) through all of my crazy decisions. They make me feel lucky that I have them in my lives, and they make me incredibly grateful that Ella, Annie, and I get to have them as our fathers (even when they make us sigh and roll our eyes). Perhaps most of all, they love us, their daughters, unconditionally and wholly.

Happy Father’s Day to two of the best fathers I know, and certainly to the two I love the most.

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That’d be my brother with us.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I would be highly remiss today in not mentioning my superb father-in-law, who also makes me do all of the things above, especially laugh. And think. He’s much more than just a father-in-law to me – he’s Bill – and is one of the three best dads I know. And certainly the third I love the most.

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