Broad stripes and bright stars

For Ella’s first Memorial Day weekend, we drove from our home in Westchester County (30 minutes outside of NYC) to visit my grandparents on Canandaigua Lake, 30 minutes outside of Rochester. It was a nearly six-hour drive – Ella’s first big trek – and, given that I’d only recently returned to teaching full-time after finishing up my maternity leave, we were more than a little overwhelmed by the whole packing-with-a-baby road trip thing… but, if memory serves, it was a delightful weekend.

And it introduced us to: the swing.




Every Memorial Day weekend since – this marks the tenth (the TENTH, omg) – we’ve ventured to the lake (something that is considerably easier now that we’re only thirty minutes away instead of five-plus hours). And, every single Memorial Day Weekend, we’ve taken pictures of Ella – and then Annie – swinging away.



We’ve done other things as well – help clear the beach, bring out the furniture, restock the fridge and freezer, air out the bedrooms, and generally help to get the house ready for the summer, which unofficially begins… NOW.




We’ve eaten hot dogs and hamburgers (every year, without fail) and baked beans and potato salad, lit bonfires, and – when the weather cooperates – have even donned bathing suits and gone for a dip. (After this year’s punishing winter, the water remains at a balmy 55 degrees, so dipping was out. Bonfires and beer, however, were still very much in.) There is red, white, and blue attire, laughing with the neighbors, gasping over how the kids have grown, and hitting the pillow each night thoroughly exhausted, with dreams of the sparkling summer days that are sure to follow.

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And, ever since the girls have been old enough to understand – even a little – every single Memorial Day weekend, there is a discussion about why we are so tremendously fortunate to have this last May Monday off of school and work, why we can revel in these ever-longer early summer days and dip our toes in the lake that holds so many of our memories.

We talk about the wars our country has fought – the ones, less well-defined, that we’re still fighting – and about the tremendously brave men and women who have served to protect our freedoms. We talk about the girls’ great-grandfathers, their Grandpa Ray, their daddy’s cousins, and the myriad other members of our armed forces.

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We have long had these discussions, about what Memorial Day means, about how it’s more than just a three-day weekend where we grill to our hearts’ content, about why there are flags decorating the headstones at the tiny graveyard around the corner. We don’t always watch a parade, and we don’t have anyone in our immediate neighborhood to thank for their service… but we certainly remember.

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It was only this year, however, that I read two different stories (that had been posted by friends on Facebook) and learned when the first unofficial celebration of our troops, and of those who died preserving our freedom, took place. I was surprised and quite moved to discover – back in 1865, just after the Civl War’s end – that newly freed slaves in Charleston took it upon themselves to unearth the bodies of Union soldiers (that had been hastily and disrespectfully buried by Confederate troops) and properly bury them. Following that, the freedmen marched together, alongside some Union troops – with song-singing former slave children and flower-bearing women, too – and celebrated their newfound liberation, while simultaneously paying their respects to the men who had fought (and died) to free them.

annie memorial day 2011
ella memorial day 2011
Just baaaarely squeezing into the baby swing…

We all know that our servicemen and women have fought to ensure our freedoms, our rights, our country itself – including the freedom to not be judged by the color of your skin.  Despite these hard-won victories, the pathway to equality has hardly been without stumbling blocks (nor have we reached its end). It is not lost on me that interracial marriages were only legalized eight years before Nick and I were born – and that, not a generation before us, Ella and Annie would not have had the legal right to even exist. The efforts of those recently-emancipated slaves to honor the men who struggled and died to free them, as well efforts of those men themselves, is absolutely humbling. I am so deeply grateful to them, and to all of the men and women who have served since then.

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Okay. So perhaps she’s truly outgrown the baby swing…
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Ta da!


We fill up on hamburgers and hot dogs, knowing that we are allowed to eat what we please. We listen to music, knowing that our government does not tell us how we should celebrate and how we should not. We go to church – or not – knowing that we are free to worship whom and what and however we want. We disagree vehemently on everything from gun rights to sports teams (GO YANKEES!), global warming to whether or not Botox is liberating or nasty… because we have the freedom to do so, a freedom that was, and is, given to us by hundreds of thousands of men and women far nobler than I.

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Ever following her big sister’s lead, Annie ditched the baby swing, too…
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We celebrate today, and all of this weekend, because of the sacrifices of these amazing men and women. Our girls laugh on the swings, growing before our very eyes, because of their courage, valor, and selflessness; we are forever grateful. America still has many injustices to overcome, more battles to fight, more wounds to be healed… but one thing is certain: we are absolutely the home of the brave.



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mem day swing14 ella




Not As I Do

Like many second graders, Ella raised caterpillars/butterflies this year (hers, inexplicably, was named “Cookies”). During the captivity period larval stage, she kept a journal, in which she was encouraged to include both facts and fictional elements. After the butterflies were released, she brought the journal home over Memorial Day weekend, and I was pleased to see how much she’d used her imagination. I was also struck by the frequent pop culture references she’d woven into her narrative, especially the ones where she had only a vague idea what she was talking about…Image
No, she doesn’t have a Facebook account. And following strangers? WTH??Twitter/Facebook mashup, perhaps?

Then, I arrived at a chapter of her journal that contained mostly dialogue (albeit without any quotation marks, making it read like a very disjointed poem), a conversation between “Cookies” and another caterpillar friend, about heading to a restaurant called Nectar for something to eat and drink when they came out of their chrysalises. It was cute and charming, until I stumbled upon this delightful morsel:

“Yes! Yes! I got you to go!”
“But Cookies, the only drink is alcoholic nectar. Gross! Okay, I immediately regret going.”
“Why? Nectar’s good!”
“No, not that.”

It’s always super fun when your second-grader mentions alcohol in a caterpillar narrative. No wonder her teacher was looking at me like that when I came in as the Mystery Reader.

What’s particularly amusing/ironic/bad karma is that I don’t drink very much. I mean, yes, I sometimes enjoy a glass of wine, and on special occasions, we’ll create fun drinks for us and our guests to enjoy, but I’m hardly what you’d call a lush. I didn’t drink at all – not one drop – before college, not because I had a moral problem with it, but because my friends and I were dorks just never got into it. Even as a college freshman, drinking wasn’t my thing; my roommate declared that “my” song was Adam Ant’s “Goody Two Shoes,” because I neither drank nor smoked. In fact, it took until May for me to actually get drunk, and on that occasion I called my mother — not to “confess,” but because it somehow seemed like a good idea to check in with her while I was hammered. (On the other hand, given that Natty Lite, wine coolers, and Boone’s were the most accessible alcoholic beverages on campus, I was probably wise not to imbibe too often.)

Now that things like Pinot, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cosmos have become part of my vocabulary, I have a drink more often, but still very rarely in large amounts. So infrequent are these bouts of over-indulgence, friends who have actually witnessed such occasions trade stories like they’re talking about the war (“I remember where I was when ‘Thriller’ first aired/the Challenger exploded/baby Jessica was pulled from the well, but do you remember where you were when you saw Emily get drunk???”). So it came as more than a little surprising that Ella featured Cookies talking about alcoholic nectar.

It finally dawned on me that she must have been recalling some recent conversations we’d had about drinking. A couple of months back, Nick and Ella had read Because of Winn Dixie, where one of the characters is a recovering alcoholic. Ella’d also just had the perennial favorite Drugs Are Bad lesson from the school nurse, after which she’d asked us about what it means to be drunk. I told her to call my mother. Plus, there are times when we go out to eat and Nick or I will order an alcoholic beverage and the girls will ask for a sip, a request we’ll (obviously) decline. When they were little, we’d simply say, “No, sorry, this is only for grown-ups,” but now that they’re old enough to understand, we explain that there’s alcohol in the drink, so it’s off-limits. At least until they’re tall enough to reach the top of the liquor cabinet and refill the bottles with water so we don’t know what’s missing.

Mystery solved, I reassured myself that surely her teacher wouldn’t think of us negatively — if anything, she’d get a chuckle out of it — and patted myself on the back for my excellent parenting skills. Right about then, I heard knocking at the front door and asked one of my offspring to open it. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, Ella and Annie had been in and out all day playing with the neighborhood kids, one of whom now stood at the door. I called out a hello, thinking that she wanted to play with the girls, but she then made it clear that she needed me: in the coming-and-going commotion, a door had been accidentally left open, and our jackass dog Joey had gotten loose and was running in the street. Knowing what a pain it can be to corral Joey, I immediately headed toward the neighbor girl and stepped outside, thanking her for holding the door for me. She looked at me a bit quizzically but, being polite, said nothing and came with me to help grab the dog.

It was only then that I realized why I couldn’t exactly “grab” Joey, nor even answer the door myself: my arms were too busy holding these.

Memorial Day strawberry margarita, anyone?

At least Cookies’s caterpillar buddy thought that alcoholic nectar was “gross.” Maybe I’m doing something right after all.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

I love a parade.
My husband does not.

Hence, on Memorial Day, in the interest of marital harmony, instead of attending our small town’s local parade and snapping pictures of adorably red-white-and-blue-clad children waving tiny American flags as they watch Boy and Girl Scouts and marching bands and Elk’s Lodge members and collections of veterans merrily stroll by — possibly tossing candy or maybe beads (wait, wrong parade) — we pledged to spend the day “as a family” and, at some point, talk with our daughters about Memorial Day and what it means.

And if I wanted candy, I had to rummage through the candy bowl in the dessert cupboard.
(Beaded plastic necklaces, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen around here.)


Today’s other highlights included eating lunch outside on a delightful, cloudless, 70-degree afternoon, riding bikes, listening to the girls’ gleeful shouts as they ran about barefoot with the neighbors, making virgin and leaded strawberry margaritas, eating hamburgers and corn on the cob (see: Memorial Day), sitting by a roaring fire in the fire pit and crossing our fingers that the 4-foot flames wouldn’t melt the telephone/electric wires above, and watching our adorably red-white-and-blue-clad girls practice cartwheels and handstands.

We also did take a moment to actually discuss Memorial Day, as well as who in our own family has served in the Armed Forces: their great-grandfathers, their daddy’s cousin, their Grandpa Ray. When Ella and Annie peppered us with questions about Grandpa Ray’s military days, we set up a Skype chat to ask him personally.

ImageAnd so, glorious weather and delicious burgers and bike riding and chocolate aside, the best part of our day, hands down, was Skyping with Grandpa Ray, a retired Lieutenant Colonel, and hearing about his Air Force career and service. We’re so grateful to him, to those who served but never made it home, and to all those who have served, and continue to serve, our country. Thank you so very much.

Yes, that’s a virgin margarita in the photo. Skyping makes them thirsty.