The Handy Truth

Periodically, we have people come out to the house to work on things. Over the years, we’ve seen our fair share of plumbers, electricians, tree trimmers, HVAC specialists, chimney sweeps, cable/internet/phone installers, and handymen.

Since Nick works full-time and I work part-time, I’m the one who is home for 99% of these appointments. Whenever the folks who come out to Do The Fixing are able to complete everything themselves, they hand me a copy of the bill, pack up, and go. Occasionally, however, there are things that they can’t do (time constraints, part not in stock, outside of their realm of expertise, costs as much as a mortgage payment) and the project remains unfinished.

If the work is of the DIY variety (i.e. no electrical or major plumbing), they’ll usually give me a brief rundown on how to get started. And every time (as in every single one of these instances), before they give me their spiel, they’ll ask: “Is your husband handy?”

Um.
Excuse me?

First off, for the record – no. No, Nick is not “handy.” He is many awesome things – funny, intelligent, supportive, well-read, creative, a hockey fanatic – but handy isn’t really among them. This isn’t to say that he can’t do the DIY stuff, but he can’t usually do it off the top of his head (aka without Google or YouTube), so I don’t think of him as handy.

Secondly, why the everloving eff does it matter?? What difference does it make if my husband is handy or not? (I could also kvetch about the automatic assumption that I have a husband, but I don’t want this entry to get too War and Peace-y.) I mean, if he IS handy, then sure – I suppose that’s swell because he can easily wield the hammers and read the tape measures and twist the screwdrivers and grout the heck out of the tile. Yay for not having to call in another professional; handy husband to the rescue!

But if he’s not handy… Then what? Then we’re doomed? Gonna need to take out a home equity loan? Might as well move?

‘Cause, thirdly: Guess what, serviceperson? I can handle it. Yep, me. ME – the woman. The wife. The mom. The lady with the double X chromosomes. I’ve got this.

SHOCKING, I KNOW.
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Washing machine: undone.

Would I describe myself as handy? Oh hell no. I can break things just by looking at them (and not in a cool, Matilda telekinesis kind of way) and couldn’t begin to repair something just off the top of my head. But what I can do is read directions <insert stereotypical joke about men and directions> (Nick often reads directions, btdubs). I can watch YouTube. My Googling skills are second to none; I could probably have helped find El Chapo just through a couple of expert online searches.

It doesn’t hurt that I’m pretty damned strong (not to brag). But mostly? I have the determination to get shit done. If it’s possible for one regular, non-bodybuilder layperson to accomplish a job, I am hellbent on giving it a try. (Also I’m cheap frugal and don’t like spending money where I don’t need to.)

I mean, I pushed one baby out of my hoohah and labored for several hours without an epidural, 10 centimeters dilated, with the other before she was taken from my stomach via emergency c-section. DO YOU NOT THINK I CAN HANDLE A LEAKY FAUCET ON MY OWN?

All by myself, I have: installed our dishwasher; taken the kitchen plumbing apart, found/removed the blockage, and put the pipes back together; diagnosed running toilets and replaced their inner mechanism thingies; torn up and gotten rid of carpeting; moved loveseats and recliners up and down several flights of stairs; detached, cleaned, and reattached the dryer vent; and built furniture. I’ve caulked, grouted, drywalled, sanded, painted, and drilled. Numerous broken, small appliances have been rescued from a trashcan fate because I cozied up with Google and un-broke them.

AND THAT’S JUST WHAT I COULD THINK OF OFF THE TOP OF MY PRETTY LITTLE, NON-HANDY HEAD.

Most recently, I replaced a part in our washing machine, thereby allowing it to function properly again. True, the leaky washer contributed to an unexpected panic attack, so I can’t say that I necessarily take the discovery of faulty stuff in stride. But once it comes time to either buckle down and get ‘er done or fork over cash to have someone else do the work, I tend to roll up my sleeves a la Rosie the Riveter, flex some (legit) muscle, grab my computer (to look stuff up and to listen to my Pandora stations; I cannot do silent reparations), and get moving.

Taking apart the washing machine was easy (and kind of fun). Actually installing the bellow required some pretty intense manual labor that was a lot less exciting – and nearly pulled the skin out from under my thumbnails (ouch ouch ouch) – but once I completed it, I felt like a total badass. (As for the lawn mower? The Internet and I diagnosed that problem, too; a replacement cord is on the way, to be installed by moi next week. Stay tuned.)

Most importantly: the washer no longer leaks! And it didn’t cost us anything in labor (I paid myself in Starbucks and wine).

My husband? Not even home. He did, however, offer up a helluva lot of support via text.

I’m not necessarily good at any of this. I’m more of a Measure Once, Cut Twice kind of girl, so sometimes things wind up a little askew… but they work. And I can do them all by myself. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a division of labor that has the man doing most of the physical work, I’m damned proud that my girls know that women don’t need men to do tough stuff.

Sure, sometimes Nick does house projects on his own. Sometimes, we do them together. Other times, we call in the pros. But most often, I’m the one doing the fixing. I was a little tongue tied today when the guy from the mold company asked if my husband was handy –  “Actually, I’m handier than he is” – but next time, I’ll try to have a better retort.

Or I could just use Ella’s. When I told her about today’s exchange, her eyes widened with scorn. “Doesn’t he have a wife? I mean, who else does everything around his house?”

BOOYAH.
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Knocking Down Hurdles

In a matter of minutes, all hell broke loose.

We’d just returned from Minnesota – 12 lovely, fun-filled, family-rich days. It was a great trip, especially watching Ella and Annie enjoy the heck out of their cousins. Still, 12 days is a long time (for us; okay, for me), and – creature of habit and structure that I am – I was looking forward to being home.

The Re-Entry Itinerary contained some standard hurdles to leap (or, in my case, to knock over; according to the Olympics, basically anything goes with regard to hurdles, right?). Dirty clothes, empty fridge, unpacking. The grass was at least 8″ tall and we had the usual back-to-school litany: teacher meetings, orientations, sports, shopping.

All perfectly do-able — but, still, a rather jam-packed couple of days that would require me to turn off my Summer Brain and dial back into something vaguely resembling Competent School Year Brain. I just needed to keep my old, uninvited visitor, Anxiety, in check, and all would be well.

I’ve done pretty well making Anxiety talk to the hand this summer. I mean, summer and I will never be BFFs, but I’ve learned how to acknowledge Anxiety’s presence while not allowing her in.

Although the flight home was uneventful, traveling is always a bit exhausting, and I was doing that self-talk thing that we who struggle with anxiety know all too well: It’s all good, just keep going, I’ve got this. Not ten minutes after walking in the house, we discovered that Langston had a double ear infection. An Urgent Vet Visit had not been in the Re-Entry Itinerary. But, in between the grocery store and mowing and swim practice, I could slip in a trip to the dog doctor. Deep breaths. Hurdle added. I’ve got this.
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Pitiful vet-visit face.

Since, in that moment, I couldn’t help poor Lang out, I decided I might as well accomplish something and took the first load of Minnesota Trip laundry down to the basement. There, in front of the washer, lay a strip of dried-up blue duct tape – the “fix” I’d applied to the tear in the rubber seal to prevent it from leaking. Anxiety raised her hand, contemplating knocking, but I told her to back off – then took another deep breath, gave myself another pep talk, applied another strip of tape, stuffed a towel at the base of the machine, and hoped that it would hold.

It wasn’t until I turned around to go upstairs that I scanned the room and saw, clear as day, at least an inch of standing water covering the far side of the basement. A further scan revealed a wide-open window (screen still attached), the cinder block wall damp beneath it.

Hurdle. Added.

(Our best guess was that a huge rainstorm must’ve overloaded the window well, causing the window to burst open from the pressure. GOOD TIMES.)

A review of the damage revealed that my teaching boxes, stacked under the window, were soaked, their cardboard frames flimsy and soft. Nick’s music equipment – guitar pedals, sound-effect-thingies (that’s the technical name), microphones, speakers – sat on the floor, surrounded by water. Without thinking, I grabbed a towel (not the one protecting the washing machine, thank you very much) and threw it into the lagoon; instantaneously, it sank to the bottom, useless and drenched.

My old, uninvited visitor was now persistently banging on the door. I could feel warmth rising in my chest; my pulse began to throb in my ears. When you regularly deal with anxiety, you learn which “helpful” strategies work for you and which make you want to punch someone. For me, mindful, slow, feel-like-an-ass-but-it’s-actually-calming breathing is my go-to. Deep breaths. Come on. Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

Surveying the mess, I understood this was not something I could tackle on my own. I don’t have this. Not right now.

I went to get Nick.

Together, we got the music stuff out of harm’s way, closed the window, picked up the sopping wet rugs and dragged them outside, rearranged the furniture so it was no longer in the lagoon, gathered enough towels to actually absorb the water, and made sure the dehumidifier and a fan were running. The non-stop action enabled me to momentarily suppress the panic that was waiting impatiently on the doorstep.

Hurdles: not gracefully leapt, but definitely knocked down.

The dog to the vet. The soaking wet basement. The potentially ruined items. The discarded rugs and the water they tracked through the house. The towels that now needed washing – in addition to our Minnesota Trip clothes. The faulty window. The mold that appeared to be growing on the basement wall.  It was a lot to process, and my processing skills – exhausted from the deep breathing and Anxiety-fighting pep talks – were zilch.

When everything goes wrong at once, it’s probably a lot for anyone to handle, but for those of us who battle anxiety, it can seem temporarily insurmountable. Anxiety is a real bitch. She whispers in our ears that we do not, in fact, have this. She reminds us of all that can go wrong – and then, when we attempt to counter her, counters us right back.

This is a disaster.

If I take it step by step, it’ll seem more manageable.

Maybe someone snuck in through the broken window. It might not be safe here.

The screen is still intact and the petsitter would have noticed.

If the infection has been there for a while, Langston’s hearing could be affected.

I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll bring him in tomorrow.

What if that’s not enough? What if you aren’t enough?

I’m trying. I’ve got this.

Do you, though? I bet other people don’t feel this way. You’re obviously broken.

That’s the real kicker. In addition to causing you to feel nervous and unsettled over even minor things, to making you go down every absurd rabbit hole and through all the obscure What Ifs, anxiety makes you question yourself. Can I really handle this? Why don’t other people do this? What’s wrong with me?

It was now well past 6:00 and the girls were starving, so I ordered dinner. I’d planned to cook but I – mercifully – decided to give myself a pass. It’s most important that they eat. It’s okay. Give yourself a break.

IMG_8422August sunset on Long Island.

While waiting for the order to be ready, I ventured back to the basement to change the laundry… and found, yet again, a puddle in front of the washer. The duct tape hadn’t held. We needed a repair person ASAP.
More hurdles. The course was getting long.

Anxiety, impatient, began to open the door.

Before returning upstairs, I stopped to check on the drying-out process – and was stunned to discover another big ol’ pile of water in the middle of the concrete. Assuming there was some scientific explanation (the water was sucked back to the surface through blah blah, science-y words), I knelt down with yet another towel to sop things up… and heard the dripping.

The air conditioner unit was leaking. A lot.

Somehow, not only had the window burst open in a torrent – flooding the basement – but the A/C was also hemorrhaging water onto the floor. How this twofer managed to occur at the exact same time is clearly the work of the devil.

Anxiety stepped in and closed the door behind her.

The sides of my vision began to darken. The warmth in my chest turned to heat. My stomach began to knot. In addition to my heartbeat flooding my ears, there was also this rush of nothing – like white noise – that grew ever louder. My hands started to shake.

Innnn two-three-four… Out two-three-four…

I debated getting some medication – the kind specifically prescribed for times like this – but heard Anxiety telling me it was a stupid idea. “Other people don’t need that. Don’t be weak. Shouldn’t you be able to manage on your own?”
Another ironic kicker: that anxiety can make us too nervous to take our anxiety medication.

Nick found me in the kitchen standing at the counter and immediately knew something was up.

“I’m having a panic attack.”

Rather than running, rather than ignoring, he came closer. Putting down what he was holding, he took me by the shoulders and told me, measured and calm, “Okay. Let’s do this. We can figure it out.”

Yes, we can. I can. Breathe, breathe, breathe.

I told him about the air conditioner (we added more towels). He hugged me; tight, long.

“I’m sorry that I’m sort of broken.”

“No. This situation just really sucks.”

I’ve had panic attacks before and know their paralyzing horribleness. I also know, every time, I’ve gotten through them. I know that they end. I know, if I’m persistent, I can shove Anxiety back out the door. But I still need to remind myself each time it happens.

Between Nick’s reassurance, my breathing, the eventual return of my self-belief, and deciding that taking Xanax was actually the smart, strong way to go, things got better. My heartbeat returned to normal. My vision cleared. My stomach relaxed.

By the time dinner was ready, I was back to myself. The girls never even knew what happened – which was both reassuring (I wouldn’t want to worry them) and disquieting… because I want them to know that this is nothing to be afraid or ashamed of. In fact, my hearing Anxiety’s self-doubt-filled warnings, flipping her off, and doing whatever it took to kick her out are not only not shame-worthy; they’re powerful and awesome.

We, as a nation, do such a poor job handling things like anxiety and depression. Their taboo nature makes difficult situations even more difficult. I want to show the girls that, despite my own statements to the contrary, I’m not broken. I’m me – strong, smart, kind, Starbucks-loving, kickass me – and just because Anxiety has barged in, those things don’t change.

Also? I’ve got her number.

Less than 24 hours after the panic attack, the A/C guy had come (sweet fancy Moses), the groceries were purchased, Langston got to the vet, the floor was dry, and I’d made appointments with the washing machine and mold folks. I also mowed the lawn – where, mid-backyard, the mower cord snapped and I sprained my toe. Two more hurdles. But this time, instead of panicking, I boldly kicked them aside.

I wrote about the whole shebang on Facebook, treating it more like a joke. 24 hours later, it was a joke –  but that was only part of the story, and I know that so many other people have similar stories… but we rarely share them. That’s why I decided to write about it: so that all of us who struggle with anxiety – or who recognize ourselves in this scenario – might feel a little less alone. Only by talking about it can we de-stigmatize it. So here I am, talking about it.

If you, too, battle anxiety, know that you’re not alone. You can do it – maybe on your own, maybe with the help of friends and family, maybe with the help of medication – but you can, and all of that is okay.

The hurdles will always appear… but remember that you don’t have to clear them. You just have to knock them down and keep going.

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The girls having a blast at the Minnesota State Fair.
They keep me going.
Them… and caramel macchiatos. And Xanax. Amen.

Opioid Bill – Coming to a School Near You!

Remember back in, say, kindergarten when special “characters” would visit the classroom? Like whenever a letter of the alphabet was introduced, its corresponding Letter Person would appear to herald the new sound? (If memory serves, my kindergarten Letter People were small, anthropomorphized inflatables in the shape of each cipher; according to my kindergarten journal, Miss A was my favorite because she “goes aaa-aaa-choo and I do too.” So introspective, me.)
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Please tell me your grade school also began with these fantabulous creations…

My own girls had the likes of Zero the Hero, who swooped in every tenth day and enjoyed unrivaled popularity on the 100th day of school. They also had Dirty Dan, about whom I expressed some concern on Facebook:

“Tomorrow, Mrs. B said she’s going to bring in Dirty Dan!”
Pardon me?
Dirty Dan! She says she really loves him.”
Shouldn’t Mrs. B keep these things at home, like, in her bedroom?
“What? No! Dirty Dan loves to do dirty things.”
I bet he does.
“He’s really fun to play with.”
Mmmm hmmm. Is he inflatable?
“I’m not sure. Mrs. B can squeeze him and his mouth comes out.”
Does Fifty Shades have anything to do with this?
“Fifty what? We haven’t done fifty. Zero The Hero has only come twice.”
Does Mrs. B’s husband know about this?
“Yes! She brings Dirty Dan home and shows him!”
Kindergarten is way different than I remember it.

I’m still not sure what Dirty Dan was doing, but I trust it was… special.

Although my girls have long passed kindergarten, I still encounter these characters as a substitute teacher. Plus, I have a gazillion teacher friends whose Facebook feeds keep me abreast of current instructional practices, like the wedding of the letters Q and U (no joke; how fun is that!). So this line of thinking is alive and well in my brain.
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Please tell me I’m not the only one who sees this and thinks of the movie Hercules

 

All of this might help explain why I was puzzled when, a few weeks ago, I noticed a headline titled “Opioid Bill Reframes Addiction As A Health Problem, Not A Crime” on my NPR news app and immediately jumped to some… unusual… conclusions:
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Opioid Bill.
Hm. That’s interesting. Never heard of him before.

It seemed a bit odd to be anthropomorphizing drugs and making them cutesy, but maybe schools decided that scare tactics don’t work? I mean, everyone my age sat through the “Just Say No” campaign and watched the “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” commercials (the one with the egg in the frying pan was particularly… memorable) and drugs were still, you know, available on my high school and college campuses, so maybe they have a point…

Heck, if a cuddly Opium critter can help kids avoid getting hooked on morphine, who am I to judge?

First, I tried to imagine the various scenarios in which Opioid Bill might be useful in the classroom and what points he’d help to make. “Hey, kids! My name is Opioid Bill and I’m here to tell you about the rise in opiate use and how they’re being abused! Addiction is a serious issue, and there are consequences for doing drugs… but addicts need medical intervention, not jail time! Let’s sing the ‘Opes are for Dopes!’ song together!”

Next, I began to envision what exactly Opioid Bill looked like. A plush medicine capsule that giggles when squeezed? A flexible, dinner-plate sized Fentanyl patch that could double as a frisbee? A Vicodin bottle hand puppet? A rubber, foot-tall poppy plant with google eyes and a winning smile? ALL WOULD BE TREMENDOUS.

After pondering the physical characteristics of Opioid Bill, I then considered if he was a stand-alone guy or part of a team. Was there a Demerol Dan who discussed the dangers of injection? Narcotic Nellie, accompanied by crosswords and word searches that introduced kids to alternative pain treatment options? Did Stimulant Sam sing catchy ditties to warn children not to crush and sniff Ritalin?

SO MANY OPTIONS, SO LITTLE TIME.

As I ran through all of these possibilities, perplexed as to why my teacher friends had never shared the wonders of Opioid Bill and his Drug Brigade on their Facebook pages, I glanced again at the NPR story. It was only then that I saw the text written above the photo: the lower case b in “bill” and its article, “the.”

The bill about opioids.

Not “Opioid Bill.”

I actually laughed out loud.
Clearly, I have reached the B Side of summer. Only four more weeks (not that I’m counting) until the cherubs are off, life returns to normal, and my Summer Brain is put away until next June. NONE TOO SOON, my friends.

I realize that opioid addiction – and the terrible problems associated with it, including incarceration versus treatment – is a very real and complex issue. I can also see how maybe it would be have been a little… inappropriate… to use cuddly, animated creatures to discuss this subject with grade-schoolers.

BUT OH!, admit it.
If Opioid Bill did suddenly join Zero the Hero and Dirty Dan in kindergartens across the nation, it would be KIND OF AMAZING.

 

Natural Consequences (Full Circle)

When I was about 13, the world came shattering down around me: literally.

I was my best friend, Kiki‘s, party. Whereas my middle school parties had been all-girl gatherings where we did things like wear pajamas and eat brunch or attend musicals at the local dinner theater (Guys and Dolls, holla!), Kiki’s parties involved things like hanging out and talking.

With – omg – boys.

I played my first game of Spin The Bottle at Kiki’s and was so mortified when the bottle “chose” me, I ran and hid in a closet.

Not only was I a bit out of my league at these affairs, Kiki and I also attended different schools, meaning I knew few of the parties’ guests (likewise when she attended my dinner theater fiestas), so I felt even more awkward. Thankfully, I did know Kiki’s family. Our families had lived in the same Upper East Side apartment complex when we were babies, moving to the Connecticut suburbs two years later. We were constants at holidays and birthdays and went on vacations together. John and Linda were the first adults I was allowed to address by their first names, something I found immensely fantastic.
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Me and Kiki, circa 1977-78.

Whenever I came over, there was no formality, no stiffness; just a familial enfolding, as I joined Kiki and her younger sisters on their adventures. John and Linda were very different from my own parents, often permitting us to get away with things that my folks didn’t (staying up late at sleepovers, drinking soda around the pool, not brushing my hair when I woke up in the morning… CRAZY STUFF, y’all). But that wasn’t why I liked them.

They took me in and allowed me to be part of their craziness and loved me for who I was. They were family, plain and simple.

I don’t remember much about this particular party except that, in my attempt to feel less awkward around the boys, I decided to play a game of keep-away (obviously). One boy attempted to have a conversation with me, which was waaaay outside my comfort zone, and rather than engage in discussion, I ran. And he followed. So I kept running.

We continued these shenanigans throughout the house like a one-sided game of tag. Ultimately, I wound up in the bathroom shower (?!), closing the door behind me. Because the shower walls were glass, I was hardly cleverly hidden, so the game was still afoot as the boy tried to follow me into the shower.

With my back against the tiles, I lifted my feet off the ground and propped them against the door to keep it closed, laughing and shouting and making general mayhem.

As the boy continued to shove from the outside, I pressed my feet as hard as I could – wedged perfectly between the door and the wall – to forestall his entrance. We remained like that, pushing mightily, for maybe five seconds… when, all at once, the glass just disappeared, sending me to the shower floor.

You know how in the movies when glass breaks, there’s a cracking before everything implodes? Yeah, not so much here. There was no warning; the entire door, under the stress and pressure, shattered instantaneously, crashing to the ground in a million tiny pieces.

THE ENTIRE DOOR.
We shattered THE. ENTIRE. DOOR.

Neither the boy nor I was hurt in the destruction, but the room was (to say the least) an absolute disaster. I was paralyzed. What the hell do you do when you’re at your best friend’s party and you’ve just played tag through her living room and shut yourself in the shower (of all places) and then put your feet on said shower’s door and DESTROYED THE DOOR?? WHAT DO YOU DO?

I remember feeling tiny and shattered, myself, as the horror – the embarrassment, the astonishment – became so overpowering, I could barely breathe. Sobbing, unable to move (from shame, not pain), I sat frozen, hoping to disappear or hide the evidence… but a crashing glass door isn’t exactly quiet, so the boy and I were soon surrounded by curious party-goers… who, in turn, went to get John and Linda.

Most important: were we hurt? Upon learning we were fine, they moved on to cleaning up the mess. I was dumbfounded, offering to help. But even then, they didn’t want me to do too much because they didn’t want me to cut myself.

They never yelled. They never said horrible things. They didn’t cry or lash out in frustration. In some ways, this made things even harder; maybe if they’d just let loose, I could release some of my awfulness. THESE FEELINGS ARE REALLY HARD. PLEASE LET ME UNLOAD THEM. But no. There was none of that.

I apologized – profusely. I believe the party continued. I know, when I was picked up, John and Linda talked to my parents. I know, when we left, the shower was still broken, essentially unusable. And I know, the next time I was invited over – which was soon – there was no mention of my error, save for maybe joking about using the upstairs shower if I really needed to get clean. It was kind of incredible.
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Walking like crimped Egyptians, right around the time of the Shower Incident.
(OMG I just noticed the boom box…)

Yesterday, Ella and Annie had their own Shower Incident. They were playing with friends, pairs of siblings who are over often, roughhousing and getting loud upstairs (as they do). The volume and antics escalated and I’d just said to Nick, “At what point do we tell them it’s too much?” when there was this earsplitting CRASH that shook the dining room ceiling.

Turns out, they’d been taunting one another from either side of a bedroom door when, to keep one faction out, the other had pressed against a wooden hutch, sending the upper piece – and its contents – thudding to the floor. When I arrived, the kiddos stood in shock, surveying the splintered wooden top of the shelf, the skewed books, the fractured picture frames, the demolished clay creations from summer pottery camp.

As I observed the damage myself, getting ready to lose my shiz, this odd (and completely foreign) calm washed over me.

“Is anybody hurt?”
“No.” (Thank God.)

“How did this happen?”
They explained.

“Okay. Since there’s broken glass on the floor, please get your shoes so you don’t cut yourselves. Then, I’m going to ask you guys {the friends} to head out for a bit so the girls can clean up. Afterward, maybe they can play some more.”

Everyone apologized. I thanked them and said it would be okay. As the kids were donning their shoes, one of them turned to me, saying, “I was sure you were gonna yell!”

“Nope!” I think I surprised us both.

My girls were horror-struck, devastated by the loss of their treasured possessions and the dents in the hardwood floor (shelving units are heavy, yo), but also by the terrible understanding that they had caused the loss. It was then, as I saw them accept their role in the accident, that I remembered the Shower Incident.

I wasn’t sure which was stranger: re-living that moment from my 13 year-old perspective and suddenly understanding how Ella and Annie were feeling… or looking in on my 13 year-old self, from John and Linda’s perspective, and suddenly understanding how they must have felt.

Nobody was hurt. NOBODY WAS HURT! It’s a mess, but it can be cleaned up. Some things can be replaced. Others can’t, but we’ll survive. It wasn’t intentional; sometimes, kids get ahead of themselves and these things happen. It’s okay.

I actually sensed my own heart break a little at the girls’ sadly accepting responsibility for the damage their silly roughhousing caused; maybe Linda and John had been a bit broken-hearted, too.

Despite the lost treasures and damaged floor, there was also this: Now, when I tell the kids that things are getting out of hand, they will finally understand what I mean and will (maybe) tone it down. I sure as hell never raced through Kiki’s house again (which I now understand John and Linda knew). NATURAL CONSEQUENCES, YOU GUYS. A BEAUTIFUL THING.

Is it just me, or is it strange when this parenting thing comes full circle?

I hope our girls and their friends always feel comfortable in our house and its craziness. I hope they feel loved and respected as themselves. I hope they feel safe coming to us when mistakes are made, and welcome again after things are cleaned up (literally and metaphorically). I hope I’m able to see what’s really important even when things get messy. I hope our home is inviting and fun and joy-filled and awesome.

And I hope, the next time I say, “It’s too much. Tone it down!”, they’ll listen and TONE THAT STUFF DOWN before any other natural consequences occur, for the love.

FullSizeRender-4Kiki and me, Disney World 1991, loved even after the Shower Incident.
Yes, I have a perm. #winning

(This story was shared with Ella and Annie’s enthusiastic permission.)

Harry Potter Birthday Magic – Chapter Two

So, as mentioned in Chapter One, when the kiddos finished up with Quidditch, we still had half of the party to go. What followed was the activity I’d spent the most time planning (and the part that Ella knew the least about, so she could still be surprised): Potions.
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After rather exhaustively searching the internet, I’d decided on six different experiments for the kids to complete. Everything was assigned a Harry Potter-ish name (white vinegar was Phoenix Tears, Basilisk Venom was blue dish soap, etc.) and the experiments were typed up, step-by-step (as part of the spell books). The ingredients and tools were set out, science-lab style, and the kiddos got to work.

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One of the tables, from above, ready to go…

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They were divided into two groups (mostly for crowd control) and we went through the experiments together, to ensure that the steps were followed exactly (in order for some of them to work properly, they had to be completed just so).

We started with “Exploding Filibusters” (combine vinegar and baking soda in a small container with a cap; shake vigorously; stand back) because I knew it would grab their attention. (I knew this because when I’d tried the experiment myself, the top exploded so violently off the vial, it hit the kitchen ceiling. That woke me up, let me tell you.) The kids had similar results; they were hooked!
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Spider Expulsion” and “Unicorn Milk Diffusion” – both involving dish soap as repellents – were met mostly with success… although if you’re going to do an experiment that calls for food coloring, I don’t recommend that you use the super-thick, “good” stuff you might have purchased when you fancied yourself a budding Cake Boss. Globs of food coloring are swell for fondant but not so swell for Potions. Trust me on this.
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HPparty36See above: large blobs of food coloring in the milk. Don’t do this.

For “Effervescent Elixir,” each kiddo had his/her own “cauldron” in which to mix their potion, with explicit instructions to follow – including placing their cauldron on a tray and giving some space.
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As the solutions frothed and bubbled deliciously, Ella and her pals understood why it was wise to keep their distance.
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The penultimate experiment – “Mandrake Restorative Draught” – was quick and fun, with some “magic” color changes occurring at its finish.HPparty43

We ended with the experiment I knew would be the most sensational, if only because it involved flame. I called it “Incendiated Basilisk Skin” and made up some story about defeating a basilisk with fire; they ate it up (not literally. That would have been a problem). If you try this one at home, be aware that you really only need a *tiny* bit of rubbing alcohol… anything else might, say, burn for over an hour in your kitchen (which will make you grateful that you tried the experiment in advance, but also annoyed because FIRE and KITCHEN are bad).
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When at last the fires had died out, leaving the basilisk “shells” in their wake, we took the kids to the backyard for their final activity: Defense Against The Dark Arts. Nick and Chris worked up a tale involving spells and charms, then sent them off to duel with their newly-acquired weapons: cans of silly string.

This was Nick’s idea, and it was brilliant. Although Ella and her guests had thoroughly enjoyed the Potions class, they’d had to focus and follow precise instructions for a good 45 minutes – so they were thrilled to have the opportunity to run themselves ragged.

And use silly string. ‘Cause that’s always a hit.
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While they went bananas in the yard, Sarah and I took the opportunity to put away the Potions lab, rinse out their cauldrons (which were party favors), and get the dining room Great Hall set up for the end-of-term feast. When, at last, the yard resembled a Jackson Pollock creation (and the kids ran out of string), we called them inside to begin the feast.

HPparty48After looking up faux castle wall backdrops, I decided – as with the Platform 9 3/4 brick wall – to just make one myself. I found grey shower curtains at the Dollar Store (sweet!) and felt pretty good about my genius design… until I began to actually hang the curtains in the dining room and the paint flaked off, piece by piece, piling up on the floor.
Turns out? Shower curtains don’t only repel water; they also repel paint. 

At least it looked kinda cool.

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Some additional feast food and drinks…

Ella had requested angel food cake as her birthday goodie (yum!). She also requested it entirely plain (um…). I was able to convince her to have one entirely plain cake (see above: the ridiculously-named “Meringue Gateau”) and one whipped-cream-frosted cake (with strawberries on the side).

As mentioned in the first post, Sarah was in charge of the cake-frosting, with instructions to make the lettering look like Harry’s 11th birthday cake from the Sorcerer’s Stone movie.HPparty49
Making Hagrid proud!

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Following the feast, we invited everyone to  fill up at Honeydukes Sweet Shop.HPparty51

Each kiddo got to take home an awesome butterbeer that Sarah and Chris had driven up from Westchester…HPparty52

… as well as an assortment of Muggle candy, all named after Wizarding sweets.HPparty53
From left: Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (gum balls), Chocolate Frogs (made with a frog mold and chocolate discs), Pepper Imps (big, chalk-y peppermint candies), Chocoballs (malted chocolate balls), Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, Toothflossing Stringmints (coils of red and black licorice), and Acid Pops (lollypops dipped in Pop Rocks).

HPparty54The Acid Pops were a cool idea, but the execution – dipping the lollies in water, then pressing them into the Pop Rocks – left a lot to be desired… Sarah helped out as best she could…

Before everyone departed – wands, spellbooks, cauldrons, butterbeer, and candy in hand (or bag) – we made sure to get a couple of photos by the (crumbling, peeling…) Great Hall backdrop.

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Yes, it was a nutty six days leading up to the party. But I would do it all again to see our wonderfully Harry-obsessed eleven year-old feel – for a couple of hours – like she was maybe, just a little bit, at Hogwarts with her friends. Giving her that magical experience was really our birthday present to her; seeing her celebrating, wizard-style, with her friends was so very worth it.

Plus also we had leftover candy and butterbeer.
I’m calling it a win.

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I bought customizable labels for the Potions at this neat Etsy shop.
I found ideas – and the sign – for the Potions class herehere, and here.
The Honedukes and Defense Against the Dark Arts signs were from here.

 

 

 

 

Harry Potter Birthday Magic – Chapter One

In mid-November, Ella made up her mind: she wanted a Harry Potter birthday party (obvs). Because she had her heart set on a handful of friends attending, she sent an email to the invitees offering up several possibilities, hoping that most could make it on at least one of the offerings. Miraculously, everyone was available on exactly one of the possible dates…

… which, of course, happened to be six days from when she sent the email.
So we had six days to prepare for Ella’s Harry Potter birthday party – her ELEVENTH birthday, no less (the age when Hogwarts letters arrive). Six days to leave our Muggle lives behind and create something magical.

No pressure!

Given that this was November and not summer break (when we have usually held birthday parties), those six days were already jam-packed with Regular Life. Still, I was not about to let Life get in the way of giving Ella the Harry Potter birthday party that I she had always dreamed of.

It was crazy, but I won’t even pretend to complain. ‘Cause, let’s be real: I loved it.

The very afternoon Ella received the go ahead on her party date, she set to work designing the invitations.HPparty1
Using her quill pen and ink (duh), she dutifully wrote out Hogwarts letters for each friend.

HPparty2These took FOREVER, but she was determined…

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Official Hogwarts wax seal!

Next, the invitations had to be delivered… But Muggle mail would not do. They would arrive by owl.HPparty4
Ella convinced her sister and next door BFF to create owl balloons for her — which we then dropped off at the invitees’ houses.

For the next six days, we gathered supplies, scoured the internet, decided on menus and games and activities and take-home goodies, made decorations, created spell-books, designed an “order” of events, and got very little sleep. It was kind of incredible.
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After strategizing how the Quidditch match should go, Ella was in charge of spraypainting the hoops.

In addition to Ella, I had the invaluable assistance of my BFF, Sarah, who – last minute – was bringing her family (including her sons, J and Z — some of my girls’ best buds) to visit for the weekend, meaning they’d be here for the party. Sarah listened patiently to my incessant rambling about activities, decorations, and food. She found butterbeer at a local grocery store and had her husband, Chris, drive it up from Westchester. She insisted that, not only would she help get everything set up on Saturday morning – she was excited about helping set everything up.

Sarah gets me and my craziness and joins me in the crazy.

She also made me promise her I wouldn’t get too carried away.
Sarah knows me very, very well.

The morning of the party, we sent the kids off with Nick and Chris so we could prepare. Sarah instinctively knew where things should go and how they should look; I just had to tell her what was next. She’d arrange an activity, text me a photo (so I wouldn’t have to stop what I was doing to check things out… but also because she knew that I’d eventually want photos of everything. THIS IS A GOOD FRIEND), and then move onto the next thing. She talked me down from the ledge at least twice and convinced me that it was okay to let go of certain expectations (the candles hanging from the Great Hall ceiling were just not happening; I saved them for Ella’s actual birthday). She even frosted Ella’s birthday cake – a task I would have entrusted to approximately two other people in the universe (and one of them is not Nick).

In short, the party could not have happened without Sarah. (Nick and Chris, were tremendous helpers, too… but it was Sarah who really made it work.) When it was all said and done, Sarah was also the one who made me promise that I would blog about it. It’s taken me 3.5 months, but I’m finally keeping my promise.

—————

NOW PRESENTING:  Ella’s Harry Potter Party (part one)!

Naturally, when the guests arrived, they had to go through Platform 9 3/4 to get to Diagon Alley.
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I researched pre-made faux brick “walls” – like theater sets – but they wound up being so expensive, I decided to “just” sponge-paint an old curtain.
Turns out you don’t “just” sponge-paint an old curtain, but whatever. It worked… eventually.

As the guests came in, they were invited to drop off donations for our local Humane Society at Eeylops Owl Emporium.
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They could also flush their way to the Ministry of Magic, should they choose…
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Other Diagon Alley decorations included some recognizable Harry Potter posters – with the kids’ photos replacing Harry and Sirius Black.

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Designing these cracked me up maybe a little too much…

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I hadn’t been sure where I wanted the posters; Sarah quickly hung them above the fireplace, which was where we’d planned on taking photos, which turned out to be perfect. (Notice also the three extra Quidditch rings for dramatic effect.)
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Traveling by fireplace? You’ll need floo powder, obviously…

Ella wanted to start out with the standard Diagon Alley activities: wand-getting, wizard robe-trying-on, and procuring school supplies at Flouish and Blotts. After asking for her guests’ wand color preferences at school in the days preceding the party, Ella dutifully cut, sanded, and painted wands for everyone – and then attached labels with their lengths. Nick dramatically doled out the wands, making sure they “chose” correctly, and then the kids finished them off with hot glue and paint.HPparty11You can vaguely see the descriptions attached to each wand…

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In the end, the Ollivander’s decorating table was more detailed than this, but we were so busy helping the kids navigate Diagon Alley, no one got a photo…

While some students visited Ollivander’s, others stopped by Flourish and Blotts to grab their spell-books. (These were more than just decorations; we used them throughout the party.)
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The cover of the book, as it looked on the computer…

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Z and Annie showing off their wands and spell-books. And their semi-evil looks.

We didn’t have enough time (or resources) to procure everyone a robe, so we set up a try-on station at Madame Malkin’s and invited kiddos to take photos with their costumes.HPparty15

 

They took posing – individually, in pairs, groups, you name it.
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Annie, in her Gryffindor robes, looking appropriately brave and clever…

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Z, in his Slytherin robes, looking appropriately naughty and bold.

Ella and her buddies were in on the action, too.
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Group shot!HPparty20

Once everyone was sufficiently outfitted for Hogwarts, they took their places in the Great Hall (no Hogwarts Express, pity) for the Sorting ceremony.
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I’m not sure that Hogwarts used plastic, gold Dollar Store tablecloths, but at least our scuffed wooden benches are authentic…

The best part of Sorting was that the hat actually talked. Well, to be more precise, Chris talked… into a cell phone (from a different part of the house)… that was dialed into a cell phone we’d placed in the tip of the hat. I’d theatrically announce each kid as loudly as possible (so Chris would hear me) as s/he put on the hat.”AND NOW, WE WILL FIND OUT WHICH HOUSE MISS ELEANOR WILL BE IN!” Chris would then – using a British accent and rhyming couplets (no joke) – “sort” the kids, which we would hear coming from the hat… as though it were talking.

It was kind of insane. And also kind of epic.HPparty22
Fingers crossed for Gryffindor (she was a Hufflepuff instead)…

Once everyone was sorted, the activities could officially begin! First up: attending a History of Magic review/study session, which took place in the Gryffindor common room. Naturally, they had to give the portrait of the Fat Lady the password to enter…
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Ella designed the study/review game herself. Step one: close your eyes and reach into a bowl containing strips of paper, on which were the names of different Harry Potter characters. Step two: lick (!) and adhere the paper to your forehead. Step three: face the other kiddos and, based on their clues, guess the character attached to your forehead.

I created the paper strips so Ella could play, too.
The game itself? Pretty freakin’ hilarious.HPparty23
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Trying to get J to guess that he was the Fat Lady had everyone in hysterics.

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No term at Hogwarts would be complete without a Quidditch match! After much consideration on how to tackle this imaginary sport, we went for simple: if the Snitch (aka gold-painted golfball) made it through all three hoops and landed in a cup without knocking it over, your team got a point.HPparty26HPparty27

Turns out, landing a (heavy) golfball into a (light) Solo cup is actually kind of challenging, which made it more fun. The kids played House against House, round robin-style, until we had a winner. HPparty28

Score!

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By this point, the party was only halfway over.
There was still Potions…HPparty40HPparty44

… Defense Against the Dark Arts…HPparty46

… the end-of-term feast…HPparty48a

… and a trip to Honeydukes…HPparty53

… but that will have to wait until the next chapter.

(CLIFFHANGER, I know.)

 

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I found several of the party signs here and here.

We saw the Quidditch idea here.

 

 

 

Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

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There’s something about traveling – especially to a place that caters to families – that tends to bring us all together… in a fashion, anyway. Last week, after returning Fenwick for Advanced Training, we headed down to Florida for a Disney Cruise followed by a day at Universal Studios.  Both adventures were generally excellent — and both reinforced something that we’ve been telling our girls for years:

Families are families. We say the same stuff.

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Don’t all Caribbean pirates drink smoothies in light-up cups?

This realization/reinforcement started a good number of years ago, while visiting Disney World, when we heard another family utter one of the parental phrases that Nick and I use in our own house (I honestly can’t remember which phrase it was, but imagine something along the lines of “Leave your sister alone” or “I don’t like your tone” or “We don’t put glitter on the dog” [wait – is that just our family?]).

The moment our girls heard these words, their heads whipped toward us with incredulity. “Wait. You mean other families say that too?” Which led to our asserting that Families are families. We say the same stuff.

This was especially true at theme parks (big and small) and family-friendly destinations – from the Rainforest Cafe to the Mall of America to baseball stadiums. These phrases seem to coalesce and crystalize in places like Florida, where half of the state is dedicated to families riding roller coasters and taking photos with adults in animal costumes.

The more we paid attention, the more we noticed the same basic admonishments and sentences being uttered over and over again. Race didn’t matter; we saw people of every skin tone saying these things. There was no religious divide; we heard families wearing crucifixes, hijabs, and yarmulkes making these statements. Different cultures meant different accents (or languages), but the basic gist remained the same. Socio-economic status, age, sexual orientation, family size, political bent, and milk-or-dark-chocolate preference similarly played no role.

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We got to Diagon Alley early enough to see it nearly empty in the morning…

IMG_6861… and then found ourselves amongst the final visitors that night, too, so we saw it nearly empty again. Quite magical, indeed!

After listening long enough, we decided to start keeping track of what we heard. Eventually, the items on the list began to repeat… So we figured we’d conducted enough of a social experiment to share our findings with y’all.

If you and your family take a vacation – whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or a staycation – one of the adults in your group is all but certain to speak (or yell. Or hiss. Or growl) at least one of these phrases during your sojourn.

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And so, without further ado (and in no particular order), we bring you:
Stuff Families (with kids) On Vacation Say

  1. “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”
  2. “If you don’t knock it off, we’ll leave and you’ll have to walk home.”
  3. “You really don’t have your sunglasses? REALLY? Okay, fine. No. We’ll wait.
  4. “You’re not allowed to touch him and he’s not allowed to touch you.”
  5. “That is not a toy.”
  6. “If you don’t stop, we’ll go right back to the hotel.”
  7. “We didn’t come all this way just to sit in our hotel room.”
  8. “What do you say?”
  9. “Don’t touch that.”
  10. “Do you see any other little girls behaving this way?”
  11. “Hands to selves.”
  12. “This is your last warning.”
  13. “We are just looking. We aren’t buying anything.”
  14. “We already bought you three things yesterday.”
  15. “Do you have any idea how much that costs?”
  16. “When it’s your own money, then you can buy one.”
  17. Excuse. Me.”
  18. “Do they sell alcohol in here?”
  19. “Don’t hang on that.”

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    I’m just now noticing Nick’s left hand on Ella’s arm… probably to separate her and Annie and prevent them from destroying the statue.
    Why, yes, I did come in first in the Disney music trivia contest – and, yes, I did choose to wear my Winner medallion to dinner. Thank you for noticing.

  20. “Sit down.”
  21. “Get up!”
  22. “Just keep walking.”
  23. “Please be still!”
  24. “You need to move!”
  25. “One… Two…” (Alternately: “Un… deux…”, “Uno… dos…” and “Eins… zwei…”)
  26. “Don’t eat that.”
  27. “You need to take at least three more bites.”
  28. “There’s a trash can right over there.
  29. “Can you hold it?”
  30. “You just went.”
  31. “Why didn’t you think of that before we got in line?”
  32. NOW.
  33. “Where’s the bar?”
  34. “Leave. Him. Alone.”
  35. “Be quiet.”
  36. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
  37. “I’m not going to say it again.”
  38. “I know. Everyone is hot.
  39. “This is the Happiest Place On Earth! WE SHOULD BE HAPPY!”

 

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Ahhh, vacations with kids. SO RELAXING.

By the time we all get home, though, and the luggage is put away and the clothes are in the wash and we’ve bathed ourselves in Purell and we’re finally kicking back with a glass or a cup, you can bet at least one adult can be found saying…

40. Can’t wait to do it again.

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